Thursday, June 28, 2012

Meeting My Long Lost Argentine Relatives

(I'm the one on the far right)
I hadn’t even made it halfway through my first week in Argentina when my mother informed me that three of my cousins had planned a family dinner to get to know me. Now, let me tell you a bit about myself. I've suffered from social anxiety since I was a child. I'm a total mess during social functions. So, when my mom told me I was meeting these strangers, I almost had a heart attack. 

The only two people I vividly remember before I left Argentina when I was 5 are my maternal grandmother and my uncle Luis. Sadly, she died about 12 years ago from natural causes, and he died in a tragic bus accident at the age of 40. I never even met these people before, or if I had, I don't remember them. Now these so-called family members wanted to get to know me as if I was their version of a celebrity, and I was very nervous about the upcoming reunion.
 Growing up, my parents and I kept to ourselves. We didn’t really have a group of friends coming over on Friday night, or family visiting us during the holiday, because we were living thousands of miles away. So, I learned to accept this anti-social way of living, even after I moved out on my own. As a result, I had a hard time socializing with new people. Now I’m back in the country of my birth after a 35-year absence, and thirteen people are anxious to meet me, except that all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and hide. 

First impressions can be fatal, especially when you come from another country with a different way of thinking and talking. Yes, people speak Spanish in the States, but the Spanish spoken by Cubans and Puerto Ricans, two cultures that were highly prominent in South Florida where I grew up, are worlds apart from Argentine Castilian. This was something I had learned over the last few days when I tried interacting with the locals at convenient stores and supermarkets. Add to that the fact that I rarely spoke Spanish when I lived in the States, except with my parents. My friends, my classmates, my teachers, my co-workers, my bosses, all spoke English regardless of their nationality. Well, there might have been two or three exceptions, but I'm digressing here.  The point is, that I was really nervous about saying the wrong thing and embarrassing myself.

Then, the night I was dreading had finally arrived! My cousin, Vani was the first person I met, but we had written to each other through e-mail for several months before my big move to Argentina. I was also introduced to her son, who’s adorable. About half an hour later, my cousin, Sandy and her husband arrived with their son. Then, my cousin Hugh and his wife arrived with their teenage kids. They were delightful people. Within moments, I felt like I’d known them for years. 
At first, I had some trouble explaining things to them in Spanish, especially when they asked me to explain to them what life was like in the States. I could tell there was some confusion from the expressions on their faces, but they understood me for the most part. What I loved the most about my family is that they were very welcoming to my spouse. He's the one in the red shirt.  Then, right before we ate, we received a standing ovation at the dinner table, which felt great! 
In the States, I didn't have family, except for my spouse. Children seemed out of the question since we talked about it to death, and we couldn't agree on adoption or a biological child through a surrogate. Being a parent is still a dream for me, but in life and in marriage, you learn to compromise. However, I felt a bit sad, thinking that my bloodline would end with me. Then I met my cousins, and their children, and realized that the bloodline is alive and kicking, so that's one less burden off my shoulders.  

I just hope that this newfound family will fill the emptiness that I've felt my entire life. 

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