The Demented Cousins

First off, thanks to Eddy for commenting on my post “Witnesses Described Him as Brown…” He supplied one of the best, bravest, and most poignant comments that I’ve received.

Thanks also to all who have commented on “From the Motherland,” the post about my mom. Most of the comments have been via email or verbal, but it’s still good to know that certain pieces resonate.

Along those lines, I will continue with the theme of family by introducing you to the cousins.

Let me be clear that I’ve never related to the the whole concept of extended family. I don’t have distant relatives I’m forced to visit or creepy old uncles who make everyone uncomfortable or anonymous children who just show up at Thanksgiving.

Rather, I have the cousins. There are eight of us, and we were basically raised as siblings. Growing up, I thought it was normal to see your cousins at least once a week (usually more) and go to stay at their houses for days at a time and share inside jokes and get into fights about what TV show you were going to watch.

It wasn’t until I was an adult, and talked to other people about their childhoods, that I realized most Americans think of “cousin” as that weird kid they saw at funerals or the exotic older relative who bought them beer.

It wasn’t like that for us.

Perhaps this is because in Hispanic culture, valuing family is not just lip service. It is a hardcore component of life. There are good and bad aspects of this principle, which I’ll address in a future post. But regardless of its consequences, I can verify its existence and strength with Latinos.

Among the cousins, I’m the oldest, and my brother (about nine years my junior) is the youngest. That means all eight of us are within a decade of each other.

We remember being children together, piling into our parents’ cars and jostling for space. We recall being teenagers and going through goth or grunge or rave phases. And now as adults, we go out to dinner together or visit each other’s houses or do other respectable grown-up things that would have amused us to even contemplate back when we pulled each other’s hair or stole one another’s CDs.

We are not as close as we used to be, which is inevitable in even the tightest of families. But we see each other, in various combinations, when we can. And our spouses have become de facto cousins, and the children are our collective nieces and nephews (again, we don’t keep track of all the “second cousin, twice removed” jargon).

This is not to say that everything has gone smoothly for all eight of us, or that feuds haven’t erupted along the way, or that some relationships are at this point, more tangential. But for the most part, we pretty much like each other, which took me a long time to realize is a rarity in American life.

I’ll profile each of the cousins in future posts. Suffice to say, I’m grateful that in one respect, at least, we were raised old-school Hispanic style – you know, like a family.


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June 2008
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