My Small Cuban Family Contrasts With Latino Stereotypes Which Has Often Made Me Question My Latinidad
Recently, I attended my cousin’s wedding and it was everything you’d expect from a beautiful Texas ceremony. The nuptials and reception took place on a farm, and the bride and groom were glowing as their guests ate tacos, drank margaritas, and danced into the night. The only thing missing from the affair was something I had seen in the dozens of pictures of my Latinx friends: a huge family.
One of the well-known stereotypes of Latinos is that we come from big, loud families filled with dozens of first, second and third cousins. The family is expected to be tight-knit and able to depend on any of their members at any time. My friends have happily complained about big family gatherings, cousins they’ve been best friends with since childhood, and holidays filled with love, laughter, and tables that seated over twenty people. I, on the other hand, have always felt like a bit of an outsider in these conversations because my own Cuban family often makes me feel as if it could be one of the smallest in the world.
On my papi’s side, my abuela is one of eight and close with several of her brothers while my abuelo only has one sister that I know of.@msirinagonzalez /Instagram
My dad, meanwhile, has two siblings — but only his sister ended up having children. One child, to be exact: my cousin who recently got married. Meanwhile, my mother has one sister who also has one child. That brings my first cousin count to a total of two, with my dad’s side being made up of only Latinos (my mom is Russian).
I know that both of my parents had first and second cousins. That they had been close with each other earlier in their lives but, that eventually, between my father going to college in another country and us eventually moving from Russia to the U.S., nobody kept in touch. My papi’s siblings and my abuela eventually moved to the U.S., too, but otherwise, my family tree is severely lacking. When I’m being honest with myself, it’s a dynamic that often leaves me feeling severely missing out. I’m not one to enjoy stereotypes, particularly when they’re pushed on me by non-Latino outsiders. I know that not all Latino families are as big, loud and boisterous as movies and TV shows would like us to believe. Still, growing up as a child, I often couldn’t help but pine for a big, happy Latino family of my own. One where cousins abounded and had a close presence in my life from childhood into adulthood.
Growing up in my own small Latino family felt like a cosmic joke at times.@msirinagonzalez /Instagram
I didn’t know anyone back in Cuba, except for my abuelo who has now passed away, and while the cozy little family foursome made up of my papi, mami, brother and me have family in the U.S,. we could have been closer. Truthfully, we let the long distances that made up the space between us make it difficult. My abuela, aunt, and her own nuclear family moved to Texas for job opportunities when I was younger while my parents took us to another part of Florida for their own work. I rarely saw any of my extended family growing up, and the divide has grown even further as I became an adult.
If I see my uncle, aunt, cousin or abuela once every two years, that’s a lot. My cousin’s wedding was likely the last event where we would all gather together for a long time. When I’m honest with myself, and I hate to be morbid, but I think that’ll be once old age takes my grandmother. It’s something I hate to think about, but we just aren’t the kind of Cuban family who makes an effort to see each other very much. Still, thinking back to the stories my friends share about family drama and closeness that I’ve heard from friends over the years, a part of me feels empty and broken because I don’t have those same stories to share.
Although I loved getting to attend his wedding, I don’t foresee my cousin and I getting any closer in the coming years.@msirinagonzalez /Instagram
The truth is that growing up far apart created more than just a physical distance between us, it’s put gap made up of emotional differences and extremely contrasting worldviews there as well. We don’t have much to talk about when we do get together and we have very different temperaments and views of the world. For one, he is a conservative gun-loving Cuban who voted for Trump, and I am quite the opposite. I struggle with being close to someone with whom I disagree with so deeply on a fundamental level, family or not.
Luckily, I am close with my immediate family. My brother and I get along extremely well and are very close. I’d call him my brother as quickly as I would call him my friend, and for that I am grateful. My parents are always there for me as well and have always been a reliable and loving presence in my life. Still, when I’m playing the toxic game of self-comparison, I can’t help but feel that as a Latina I come up a bit short. Admittedly, seeing that my family is far from large, which is often one of the big markers of our community, makes me question our own validity as Latinos. My brother and I often joke that we have the “worst Cuban family in the world” because there’s so few of us. It makes us laugh, but deep down I know that it also makes me question my Latinidad. This self-doubt happens, even more, when I think about what my small family unit has impacted my knowledge of our Cuban culture. Our small family means that the information I have received about my culture and understanding of Cuban history comes from a pretty limited pool of resources.
While I still struggle with how my view of my small family makes me view my own identity as a “real Latina,” I am slowly adjusting my perspective.@msirinagonzalez /Instagram
I know that, when it comes down to it, the size of my family isn’t what makes me Latina or not. It’s my background, my culture, my language, the food I eat, how I grew up, and a million other little things that make me proud of who I am. Just as I know that Latinxs come in all shapes and colors, from many different countries, and with many different backgrounds, I also know that one stereotype doesn’t make or break who we are — or determine much about my own identity.
The other thing that I have come to learn is that family is what you make of it. Although many of us are born into large families, some of us make large families of our choosing. I didn’t have a big family growing up but my circle of friends is wide and ranges in all different kinds of people of many ages and backgrounds. I’ve also found comfort in knowing what I have to look forward to: the family I am going to create with my husband, and the family I have adopted by marrying him. The truth is there are many sides to a family, and it’s not exclusive to those we are born into. Big or small, a family is best defined by the love shared — and I definitely have no lack of that.
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