My family is from South Texas, the border, but I grew up in L.A. I remember really clearly growing up how strange all my cousins seemed to me when I’d come to visit; then again, they thought I was pretty odd, too.
First and foremost, we literally spoke different languages. I didn’t speak Spanish as well as they did, which made for some interesting interactions with my grandparents, who spoke only limited English. Secondly, the way I dressed, the slang I used, everything was different. It wasn’t until I lived on the border myself many years later that I was truly able to grasp the way of life that had formed my family.
But there was one Christmas that we were able to make the trip from L.A. to South Texas when I was a teenager that none of these differences mattered. I remember that trip because it was one of the last times we were all together when it wasn’t because of a funeral. I guess the first thing I remember was being amazed at how many of us there were! We were the only ones in L.A., so being around dozens of people with whom I shared the same blood was really astounding to me.
There was so much food and everywhere you went there were people talking — in English, Spanish, English and Spanish, Spanglish, whispers, you name it. In every corner there was a different conversation concerning a different matter or point of view; I remember moving from one conversation to the other in wonder at the fact that I had so many to choose from.
Then there was the food! Everything from menudo and tortillas to ice cream and cake and tamales and every other possible bad thing for my soon-to-be-diabetic family was on hand. You can eat ice cream in South Texas during Christmas, you know.
But the thing that stands out the most to me in my memory is what a strong presence my Guelita had. When she spoke, everyone listened. Where she went, everyone followed. What she said, went. It was incredible to see that, all these dozens of people, so transfixed by a single personality. So she was the one who directed when we ate, when we opened presents, when we stopped to say goodbye to people who were leaving. It was a really special time and I’m glad to have those memories — not just mexicano or americano memories. Mine are truly pocha memories that come back in English and Spanish and celebrate being over here, even if we came from over there.
[Photo By Ed Bierman]