I haven’t had the greatest experiences at family holiday get-togethers. I actually dread them. And not because I don’t like seeing my family but rather, I don’t like being in the same room with all of my immediate and extended family members at the same time.
Of course, I am appreciative of the fact that I do have a family that I can celebrate the holidays with. Despite all of their flaws, quirks and dysfunction, they’re the only family I have here in the U.S. Besides, it’s only once a year when I am forced to endure holiday dinners anyway. Thank goodness.
When I talk about family in this context I’m thinking about my extended family, my dad’s siblings who immigrated to the U.S. together in the 1970s. They are a lovely bunch. My favorite group of people, I swear to you. There’s just those one or two or dozens of times that stick out that cause me to throw things. Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner I’d like to take you down memory lane to Thanksgiving 2009 spent with my family.
2009 was a difficult year for me academically. I was getting to a point of frustration with not being able to transfer out of community college and having to balance work at the same time. But I had finally felt a connection to the materials I was learning in school. That fall term, I took my first intro to ethnic studies course and I instantly applied this new lens to how I viewed the world. When I attended Thanksgiving at my Aunt Jeanine’s house that year, I had no idea that I’d be sharing those worldviews then.
My dad’s side of the family predominantly lies on the conservative end of the spectrum. They were born and raised by the Catholic religion and therefore the teachings are very much ingrained into every aspect of their lives. For Filipinos, the Catholic religion is grounded in our identities as an ethnic group. Although I was raised as a Catholic as well, over the years I have gradually strayed away from the organized religion and walked along the paths of being agnostic to engaging in Buddhism.
I’m still not sure how it happened but at one point we were eating dinner, basking in pleasantries and the next we were screaming at the top of our lungs, pointing fingers at each other. The topic of marriage equality came up in discussion and being that my family firmly believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman only, the consensus in the room held to the fact that the institution should be maintained in that manner. Of course, being the social justice-minded person that I am, I immediately disagreed.
Aunt: It’s so disappointing that gay marriage is becoming more of an issue in politics today. Everyone knows that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. AND I have nothing against two men or two women wanting to be together — they can do whatever they want. But they need to stay out of the sacred union of marriage.
Mostly everyone in the room nods in agreement.
Me: Well, I think that marriage is also an institution of the state, not just within the church.
Aunt: Yes, but marriage, as stated by the government, is only between a man and a woman. We need to abide by that.
Me: But what does LGBTQ people’s marriages have anything to do with anyone else? Like, we’re not in their marriages.
Aunt: It’s morally wrong.
Me: Some of my really good friends are gay or lesbian, and I would love for them to have a chance at having their relationships recognized by the state. Marriage equality is more about having the same rights as heterosexual couples, rather than morals. It’s about having federal benefits that are only given to heterosexual couples at this time.
Aunt: Maybe that’s a sign then that gay marriages should not be recognized because they are different than straight couples.
Me: That’s prejudice, discrimination and not even aligned with Christian values. What happened to “Love Thy Neighbor”? But, you’re saying that we, as a nation, can only love certain neighbors.
This conversation went back and forth for about an hour, so I’ll spare you the long-winded details. I tried everything from using evidence and statistics to prove that there can only be good that comes out of passing marriage equality laws. Unfortunately, at the end of our heated discussion, tension and frustration hung in the air from both sides of the argument. Being the respectful niece that I am, I still said bye and hugged everyone, in hopes of decreasing the distance that was made.
A week later my mom sat me down one night and revealed to me that my grandma had called her to complain about me. My grandma (we called her Mama) called my mom to tell her that she had raised a “monster.” A monster who had no respect for her elders and was too radical in her way of thinking. Mama claimed that because my mom had not been fully present during my childhood due to holding a career, that had been the reason for my straying away from God and being too American.
Thankfully, my mom defended me. She told my grandma that she didn’t have a choice but to work in order to provide for the family. She explained that she was proud of my accomplishments and that my confidence is apparent when speaking about my passions. My mom still pointed out that she didn’t exactly agree with my stance either, but that she supported my views and encouraged me to be vocal about it. She told my grandma that she didn’t see anything wrong with the way I handled myself at Thanksgiving dinner.
After the dinner and hearing about my grandma’s comments, I carried a lot of bitterness and hurt towards my family. I didn’t like and still don’t like the feeling of being demonized for my thoughts and views. Not much progress has happened since the event, and there was a more combative discussion that took place online a year afterwards that completely solidified the distance I still hold from my extended family.
However, since this particular event and being in a peace and conflict studies graduate program (surprise! why do you think I was drawn to the program in the first place?), I’ve learned to articulate myself in a much more effective manner that still gets my points across but simultaneously exhibits compassion and understanding towards opposing parties. Through my studies, I’ve also been able to examine conflicts more intensively, especially within ethnic groups and those conflicts that are internalized.
Overall I think Thanksgiving 2013 will be fine. I’m really just going for the food this time around.