I think it is appropriate that one of my first blogs is about family since marriage is a merging of families. In my case, two VERY distinct families. I’m realizing that I was a little disillusioned about how this whole thing was going to work out. In my head, it was going to be a mix between My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that Windex isn’t a cure-all, and that not all Latino families have steamy dance parties at family get-togethers.
I’m not really sure what Albin expected life with my family to be like, but I do remember his look of despair during a hundred-person party my mom threw during his first few days in Ohio. People kept coming up to him and slowly, but loudly, greeting him (since you should obviously speak as loudly and slowly as possible when you think someone doesn’t understand you). Though he often answered them with excellent English, many quickly split from the conversation thinking he didn’t speak any English beyond the basic introduction. He was a good sport, but I remember him going to bed with a headache that night and I can’t imagine why.
The whole family transition has been hard, humbling, and hilarious. Some examples:
– It took me years to convince my suegra (mother-in-law) that North Americans can actually cook and contribute something to a family dinner other than two liters or a bag of chips. One day I brought chicken salad sandwiches and pasta salad to a picnic and it blew her mind. She’s been making it ever since. Crushed it.
– It’s taken me years to prove that I speak and understand Spanish, despite the fact that my gringo accent will never completely disappear. Speaking of language, Albin refuses to use the word “beach” in front of my family because the first time he said it, they laughed for days thinking that he said, “I love the b#$@h.” He sounds incredibly proper now when he asks, “Will we go to the sea today?”
– It’s taken my family years to learn that Costa Rica and Puerto Rico are different, and even more time to learn that Costa Rica is not an island where everyone speaks Mexican.
– I remember when we first got married, I told a certain family member that we would have a shower when we got back to Costa Rica (referring to a wedding shower). This unnamed family member got a huge look of relief on her face and mentioned that she had worried about how I was going to stay clean in a country without showers. .
Costa Rica lives, eats, and breathes fútbol (soccer) and thinks baseball is borrriinnnggg, while my family is all baseball and thought that soccer is what you played in elementary school if you weren’t good at anything else (ouch). My dad was a professional baseball player and everyone in my family (including my grandma) has been basically able to throw and hit a ball since birth. When Albin first came to meet my extended family at a grill-out, obviously a “friendly” game of whiffle ball started up. Albin is athletic, but I think that was the first time he has ever swung a bat. While my 8 year old cousin was hitting homeruns over the barn, Albin was struggling to make contact. Then my uncle, who is a professional softball player, suggested Albin use one of those big, fat, kid whiffle ball bats. Even then, the struggle was real. After too many strikes, I finally yelled “My goodness, just let him kick it and get out of the inning!”
Despite self-esteem crushing moments like that, the family transition has been beautiful. Both of our families have had their eyes opened to a new culture and new people. It’s been fun to see my family start watching and cheering for the Costa Rican national soccer team as they did awesome (holla!) in the last world cup. I’ve loved watching my mother-in-law and mom have whole conversations speaking cave man and using gestures. It’s been wonderful to have family and friends come to explore beautiful Costa Rica. I loved finding Albin’s grandma staring at our frozen pool out back and being amazed at that much water being frozen. You should have seen her face when I took her to our park, which had a huge frozen lake.
Once again, I know this isn’t just a bicultural marriage thing. When you get married, you marry a whole family, and it can be complicated whether they speak another language or not. My guess is that every suegra from every culture gives her opinion whether it was asked for or not…I know my mom shares hers with Albin quite willingly and that Albin’s mom will give hers, with no questions asked (especially when she not only disagrees with family salsa nights, but dancing in general…tear). It’s all good though, and I’m enjoying how things have “evolved” over the last four years. It may not seem like a big deal, but hearing a baseball game on TV at our house in Costa Rica or a fútbol game on at my parent’s house in Ohio shows just how far we’ve come. And that is music to my ears.