Monday, July 12, 2010

This Family

My daughter, Cecelia, and her partner, Jamie, celebrated their wedding in Las Vegas amidst 50 friends and relatives who flew and drove from Boston, New Jersey, Colorado, Phoenix, and California. Among Cece's friends were a young woman from second grade, high school friends from Amarillo and Colorado, and law school classmates. Aunts, uncles and cousins rounded out the guests.

I've known my daughter her entire life (duh!), but I must admit that her ability to maintain long-term friendships amazes me as much as the importance of family in her life. When Herb and I visited Cece in her freshman college dorm room during parents' weekend seven years ago, we were surprised to see the wall surrounding her desk covered with computer-printed color photos of all our relatives. Until that time, I had not realized how much Cece values her familial relations.

So, you can imagine the profound gratitude and love I have for my aunts, uncles and cousins, knowing Cece's feelings for them, that they turned out en masse to support the first LGBT marriage of the first out LGBT person in the family. You've got to get that we are a traditional Chinese family, with roots going back centuries to villages in China, and that tradition forms the foundation of who we are and how we relate to one another.

You might find us American-born occasionally verbalizing disdain or disregard for Chinese tradition, but the truth is that we - at least my generation still - are shaped and bound by tradition inescapably. Cantonese is still in our blood - the language, the food, the holiday rituals, and the stories from our childhoods and from our ancestors.

It was 40-some years ago that I was the first to marry outside the Chinese ethnicity to the consternation of all the aunties and uncles. Many of them swore that their children would never marry a non-Chinese. Yet, with the passage of time, several of my cousins did marry non-Chinese, and their parents, my aunts and uncles, learned to love their children-in-law and their hapa (Asian mixed race) grandchildren without reservation.

I now realize that the negativity directed at my first marriage was more surprise at a new and unanticipated situation, a harbinger of a new era, than pure bigotry. Getting used to the idea of non-Chinese in-laws and grandchildren took some time, but to their credit, the aunties and uncles all made the journey to acceptance and love.

By the same token, it is heartening to me to see the connection that my daughter, my youngest child, has to her Chinese heritage and her Chinese relatives. My cousins and I have made tremendous efforts to maintain the family ties for our children, hosting and traveling to family gatherings on both coasts. My children are the oldest at ages 40 and 24, and my cousins' youngest children are ages 9 and 11, the same ages as my two grandchildren. Our generations are accounted for by position in the family tree and not by proximity of ages.

It is this family that has surrounded Cece for 24 years of growing up and at her wedding and that will surround and support her when I am gone and only a memory in her life. It is this family that includes my two grandsons, now only a quarter Chinese, as integral members of the clan. When Cece and Jamie have children and adopt children, as they plan to do, those children, too, will be part of this extended Chinese family, because family is who we are and what we do.

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