For the first seven years of my life, I was an only child. My younger sibling, fantastic little gremlin they are, didn’t come around until 2009. My mother worked night shifts at a meat processing plant while my dad did construction work out of town up until the early 2010s.
I was fortunate to grow up in an environment like my little corner of Dallas. Pleasant Grove, the neighborhood we lived in up until 2016, is a predominantly Latine neighborhood. To this day, I cannot measure the happiness I feel as I take the exit off of I-20 and onto St. Augustine Street.
I drive until I reach my grandparents’ home; there’s nothing like running into my Abuelo while he’s outside tending to the gardens. He opens the gate for me so I don’t have to get out of the car. As I park, our old German shepherd, Sammy, runs up to greet me. Soon enough, I manage to get her off me long enough so that I can open the passenger door and grab the mandado that my mom had tasked me with delivering.
My Abuela comes from the back door. She saw me step out of the car and rushed to greet me, her eldest grandson and her pride and joy – her words, not mine. She holds the back door open as I step into the kitchen and see my aunt enjoying a brief meal. She greets me and asks what I’m doing around these parts. I tell her “I finally managed to escape country living for an afternoon.”
Off in the distance, I can hear the washer and dryer going, my uncle humming some song that I can’t place at that moment. By the time he comes around to see what’s going on, I already know he’s got plans later that night. I ask him, “What’s the big idea?” He says, “It’s grown-up business.” I just laugh and tell him “I get it.” All the while, memories of my childhood paint a portrait of a comfortable existence.
Don’t get me wrong, we had our challenges and hardships, me especially. I was a weird little kid. While I might not have been the most popular growing up, at least I had my family to fall back on.
If my mom was working, my grandparents were the default option to look after me, seeing as how they slept one room over from me. If my mom wasn’t able to take me to school in the morning, someone in the household would drive me down to the school and still get there with ten minutes left before our teachers had to pick us up.
If no one was home, then the task of taking care of me fell to the aunt who lived ten minutes away. She would make sure I ate my dinner, got some rest and was ready for school the next day.
No matter what, I had a support system there to catch me whenever the need arose. It might not have been a village, but it was enough and infinitely better than anything the nuclear family could have offered me.
I lucked out, quite frankly.
I was born into a family that made an effort to remain close-knit, that insisted on the importance of respecting and looking after one another.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that my sort of arrangement wasn’t the norm. There’s a noticeable stillness when you walk into a house with only two parents and a child. It deeply unsettled me for so long to even step foot in a home as quiet as a grave. For so long I’d accepted that something felt off about certain households, but I could never find the words to describe it.
Even now, it’s still a struggle to think that it’s commonly accepted for different units of a family to cut contact with one another. It’s not something that I can easily imagine, the notion of willingly severing yourself from your support system.
I can only imagine the fear that an immigrant feels in their loneliest hours. To be in a country where you are unwelcome, where your language marks you as an outsider and your documentation status makes you vulnerable. I can see why a family like mine would make an effort to stick together as adamantly as we have.
There’s safety in numbers; it’s us versus the people who don’t want us here in this country.
So, we cling to one another, we look after each other until someone gets their documents. Then, when they get a better job, it falls to them to help the others sort their documentation status out until we’re all standing on terra firma and we have no reason to fear deportation and losing one another.
Familia amada, la joya de mi vida. ¿Quién sería yo sin ellos?
So I look after my mother and my younger sibling. I end my phone calls to my dad con un “te quiero mucho; te extraño papa.” I hug my Abuelo and Abuela that much tighter before I leave. I joke with my tias y tios y primos as if I had only been gone for a minute and I have nowhere else to be.
Where else could I be rushing to? I’m already home.