My Aunt Chi-Chi’s memorial service was last weekend. She’s my mother’s aunt, and Chi-Chi comes from Tia, which is aunt in Portuguese (pronounced chia). My mother and I went and it was a lovely ceremony. Simple, small…family and a few friends.
After the service, the family took over most of a local deli. We stayed two hours, then a smaller group of us left for another restaurant for dessert and more conversation. It’s this time that I love, the time for stories.
I grew up surrounded by my mother’s family. Although I’m biracial, I identify with the Brasilian side of my family much more, because that’s who I know the best. It’s comforting to listen to mom and her cousins teasing each other in Portuguese. (I wish I was fluent, but I’ve picked up some over the years and one of these days I’m going to teach myself, and all my kids.)
And the stories…! I really got a better sense of my grandfather’s side of the family during these post memorial service conversations. My mother came over to America with her parents, Chi-Chi, and Chi-Chi’s family. They and their friends formed a tight-knit Brasilian community. Back in Brasil, my grandfather had taken care of his family after his father died, even though Grampa was a child himself. Chi-Chi was in charge of raising her youngest brother. When they came to the US they had nothing, but they made it work. Like I’d imagine with many poor immigrants, it didn’t always work well. But, we’re a tenacious people. It takes guts, stubbornness, and ingenuity to move to another country with nothing, and the same for my mother, her siblings, and their cousins to make their way here. Can you imagine going to school without knowing the language, and your parents couldn’t help you because not only did they not understand English either, but they were working long hours doing manual labor to try to put a roof over your head and food on your plate?
This visit, more than others, I understood the sacrifices my grandparents and Chi-Chi made. I understood their flaws in a different light as well. And I’m even more grateful.