It has been occurring to me lately that nobody is coming anymore.
Growing up as part of an extended family that spanned a national border, one of the regular occurrences I came to expect (in particular near the holidays) was a visit from a “cousin” or “tío” or tía” from Mexico. While these were most often the cousins, uncles, and aunts of my mom and her siblings, if you know how family works in a large Mexican clan, just about everybody is a cousin, uncle, or aunt.
You see, my grandparents are from Mexico. My dad’s dad was actually born and raised in New Mexico, although his family’s life and sensibility straddled the literal border as much as it situated itself on the southern side of the cultural one. My dad’s mom immigrated to L.A. as a young child, just before the Depression. For all intensive purposes, she is the generation of Mexican ethnic discussed by historian George Sánchez in his book Becoming Mexican American.
My mom’s parents were both born in Mexico and did not immigrate until the 1940s, in their respective adult lives. They left a lot of family behind, although my abuelita was later joined by one of her brothers and one of her sisters. For both, the vast majority of the people they called family–brothers, sisters, and those siblings’ children–lived in Mexico City and its surrounding environs.
As part of the family in L.A., we were a popular destination for visits from down south. These varied in their frequency and size depending on the economy of Mexico and the price of airfare, but on a fairly regular basis I could expect to meet, hug, and kiss somebody I had never before met or do the same to somebody I had met at regular intervals in my life.
These visits were fun, awkward, mysterious, significant, and loving for an acculturated Chicano kid growing up in the 1980s. These were people whose visits often brought joyful tears to the eyes of people I knew and loved well. They were periods of the abscence of the English language. They meant fantastic food and trips to Disneyland. They were moments of cultural significance for me and, in many ways, historical as well. This is when the “real” Mexico came to our watered down one.
Over the past decade, most of my grandparent’s siblings have passed away. Many of their nieces and nephews have also died or grown too old to make the travel. (Even my abuelita, who is the youngest of her siblings, made her last trip to Mexico years ago.) We still have a lot of family in Mexico, but they are increasingly the “new” generation, the children of people my mom and her siblings remember as children and young adullts. Even for the ones who used to come visit and remain healthy in their middle-aged lives, the economic situation of the hemisphere and the price of fuel make the hopes of a visit pure fancy.
As the holidays approach, I just started to think about how I hadn’t heard of a visit in a long time. What does this mean for our family? Our connection to Mexico? What does it mean for our family in Mexico and their connection to the United States? Maybe it’s just part of the assimilation process.