Good Times

I’ve said it here before but it’s worth saying again: I’m mentally and emotionally colonized.

I’ve been living in institutions of higher education for the majority of my life–more than 30 years. As a result, those institutions have a dominating influence on me and my thinking. Their values and patterns of being inordinately become my own.

Nowhere is this more true than in the timing of things. The rhythms and pace of higher ed are the rhythms and pace of my own life. My life follows the predictable course of the semester. My autumns move fast and ebb and flow. My springs are marathons that end with a grind. This is true for my work as much as it is for my life. Maybe the most powerful evidence of this is in the fact that I speak of years not in terms of the calendar year but in terms of the school year.

This has been a crazy year. It was a comeback year, going back to work and stepping back into the classroom after a summer of major surgery. It was a year of familial adjustment. My wife started working full-time (more than full-time, actually) and that meant changes for us all, individually and as a family.

You can get a sense of what this year has been like just by observing how frequently (or infrequently) I’ve posted on this blog. Over the thirteen years I’ve been writing here, the frequency of my posting has always varied as family or work take precedent. (Maybe that happens more because I tend to favor posts that take time to put together like a mini-essay, another example of how I’m colonized by academia.) I was on a a pretty regular pace for most of 2018-19 until the fall semester got fully underway and my wife started working. And then COVID happened.

I don’t like to complain about it because I’ve got a job, my wife has a job, and we’re all healthy and happy. Still it’s been a whole mix of ups and downs for us, just like for everyone else. Most days it feels like we’re keeping our heads above water alright and doing okay, but not much else. It’s boring most of the time. My kids know how to find their way out of that better than most but they’ve also grown a little accustomed to this new pandemic life.

Like I said, it’s not all bad. In fact, a whole bunch of it is pretty good. I wish we were all back to the lives we had before but it has been pretty great to have the kids with me all day, every day for more than 140 days now. Our relationship has evolved in good ways, deeper ways, and I really enjoy watching them grow and learning about them as the people they are and are becoming. It’s my silver lining, and I’ll miss it like crazy when this is over.

My #3 starts 4th grade tomorrow. The other two don’t start school (first day of middle school for one and first day of high school for the other) for a few more weeks. And I start my online semester in two. I’m scrambling like crazy to prepare myself and we’re all baby-stepping our way out of summer and into some form of a more scheduled, homeschooling life. We don’t know what it’ll be like but we do know the familiarity and predictability of the the fall semester won’t be there to lean on.

It’s going to be crazy times ahead for us, no doubt, but it’s all good. We got good kids and a good family, everything we need to be safe and cared for, and we got each other. It’s crazy times but good times. Like the song said–ain’t we lucky we got ’em?

“Your cousin from Mexico is here!”

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.