5 april 1999  

a rusty nail

As the theme music of death and resurrection played in the background all weekend, Viv, Amy, and I traveled once again into deepest Orange County for my family’s annual Springtime Dysfunction Festival. Years ago, when I was a tiny tot, these fetes would be splendid affairs looked forward to by everyone involved. Grandparents were the hosts, sitting at the top of the Mexican Family Pyramid, and a good time was (or seemed to be) had by all. Nowadays it’s a sad replica in twisted miniature.

In the old days, Easter always meant a giant tamale party, the typical holiday fare for us back before we became uncertain about whether to call ourselves Latinos or Hispanics or Mexican-Americans. We were just Mexicans then, citizens of this country, most of us born here, but still with a view of ourselves as Mexicans, like in Irish families, or Japanese families.

For the most part, the family was middle-class. The husbands worked in aerospace or sales or the government, while the wives stayed home and raised the kids. But, as is also typical in richly ethnic families, as the elders grew older and could no longer host the rituals, the practice became the responsibility of the next generation, a generation more assimilated into the mainstream U.S. culture. Gradually, in an irreversible march toward complete adaptation and adoption of consumerism, the parties became generic in their nature with what had once been the essence of the family now serving merely as a theme. Tamales were still on the menu, but as nostalgia, to transform a family gathering into a sort of "come as you were" party.

A generation later, as economies shifted and memories faded, the parties lost their flavor completely. The cousins who were once my little playmates now headed families of their own, and having married into other clans from other places, we all began to scatter. Even the recipes succumbed to convenience – where tamales had once been tied on the ends, they now were merely folded over. The Secret of Good Beans was gone, now cooked lardless in a microwave. Tortillas were store-bought and infused with marketing gimmicks. They don’t even call them tortillas anymore, do they? folding

The Last Tamale Party was years ago, a last grasp at the dearest memories by the now lemony-fresh triple-action descendents.

We do it separately now, absorbed by our own smaller family lives and surrounded by whatever cultures or habits we married into. Illness and divorce ride in every year to take a member or two. We hear about it in the Christmas newsletter.

The Glory That Was Once Mi Familia was not all skittles and beer, however. Well, okay, not all skittles. There was a lot of beer, and while it may have seemed to fuel togetherness, alcohol is and always will be a solvent, not an adhesive, eventually dissolving the fabric into which the threads of our lives are sewn. That’s true in my family, at least. Just ask the coroner.


And how was my Easter this year?

The thing is, my parents are nuts. Hard-shelled.

When I first got to know Viv, I would tell her stories about my upbringing and what it was like to be a kid in my house, and she was skeptical about the severity of the dysfunction I described. Now, twenty years later, after getting the delightful opportunity to witness the madhouse firsthand, I’ve found blessed corroboration. The fact that I am still alive amazes her.

To some folks, this is a shame. To other folks, this is a pedigree. Me, I think I’d be self-actualized enough to avoid a martyr syndrome if it weren’t for these holes in my hands.

The truth is I’ll never get over my family. I may get past them, but never over them. Familial love is the most insidious bond of all.


    with natives
today's music:

"Cathedral In A Suitcase" -- Pat Metheny -- SECRET STORY


today's wisdom:

"I read about the evils of drinking so I gave up reading."

- Henny Youngman