That’s the amount of times I’ve been to my homeland. My parents were born in Guatemala. I’ve discussed how it’s been about 20 years since I visited where my aunts, uncles, cousins and the final rest place of my paternal grandmother are. This week those feelings came up again. This avalanche of who I am, where I came from, who my family is… I know their names, well some of them. But who are they really? Do they share some traits with me like my stubbornness, my wild impulsions, my eccentricities?

People remember hearing stories from their grandparents at the holidays. Those same old classics. They know their aunts and uncles well, the loud one, the quiet one, the one who always eats the last slice of pie… There’s warmth and drama and sweetness.

My holidays and family gatherings were very isolated, somewhat cold. Forming traditions that were not really ours. My family never really had a core identity in being Guatemalan, we tried to embrace being American but that shoe didn’t quite fit either. Speaking mostly English, going to bed early on Christmas Eve, making a habit of not going to church and then when we did it didn’t feel right either, it was all just us trying to be this American version of ourselves.


A group picture with family in Guatemala City.

I still very much identify as American but there are plenty of things that don’t resonate with me. On my Guatemalan side, there is a lot that doesn’t either. Even when we ate food, it wasn’t the dishes of where we came from–my mother disliked cooking. There are some things we did savor, these boxes of stew mix that were Guatemalan stews: Jocon and Pepian. My dad grilling, his steak never tasted like anyone else’s. We would eat out at Mexican places, I feel I know Mexican dishes so much better than my own.

I think if I ever have a family, how can I ever share my life, culture, and identity with them when I know so little. I don’t want them to ignore my side, the Guatemalan half because it’s not as exciting or well known. But that would probably happen because what do I have to show or impart? It makes me cry to imagine that my whole life up until this point has me trying to be the best version of myself yet… Part of my identity as a first generation Guatemalan-American has me only showing up as the American part.

So many people from immigrant families have such strong connections to their families (despite being miles apart) and to their Latin selves. A hand on their past and a hand reaching out for the future, my hands are just trying to search for parts of me that make sense.

I know it’s not too late to get to know family, I just don’t know how to make that first step happen. With all the ease of communication be it social media or messaging apps, I struggle with how to phrase the fact that despite sharing blood ties I barely know them. I feel pressure like, soon my chance will be gone and it’ll be MY fault because I couldn’t figure out the words, the time, or anything. It’s insanely personal and then my parents will find out, it’ll turn into this thing about my parents and it’s not even about them. It’s about family that they are comfortable with that were always at a distance (emotionally and geographically) from my brothers and I. One thing I am lucky to have is that my brothers understand the isolation and for both of them, it didn’t stop them for starting families of their own. They’re forming their own identities with their family, something new.

I’m not there yet but I want to be. A little bit.


Family Secrets

Soon it will be 20 years since I last set foot in Guatemala. The last time I went, I was 9 years old and it was an anxious trip for me. I think that’s when my anxiety fully started. I didn’t know it then, what it was. These feelings bubbling inside me. I didn’t understand and my family sure didn’t. I was supposed to get my shit together because this was a major family reunion. My Spanish had to improve and I had to be polite. I was excited to see the Mayan ruins at Tikal but there were a lot of other things that happened–many photos captured were of me in tears and splotchy faced; forced to be in front of the camera.

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