I often think of the courageous decision of my parents to leave their families, friends and country to seek out a more opportunity filled life for their children. Undoubtedly, the benefits of the immigrant journey for our nuclear family unit have been many. However, one aspect of being an émigrée that has been disconcerting for me has been the proximal loss of my extended family.
Having left the country of my birth as a small child, my large clan has been lost to me. Knowledge of grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles has been limited to short visits, infrequent letters and the occasional slightly awkward phone calls. I have often wondered what my life would have been like had I had access to the shared experience of living in a large family, of raising my own children within the “village” of an extended family.
Within some feminist theory, there has been much critique about the insular nuclear family and the effects not only on the women, but also on the family unit itself. Regardless of those criticisms, I have found a practical concern about raising children within a small familial structure instead of the large gran familia that my cousins enjoy back in the homeland. And although societal structures in Latin America are also changing, my relatives are happy to share with me that the burdens of the expense and anxiety about leaving their children in day care or in the hands of “desconocidos” are not a worry for them. Abuelita or Tia, or Prima seem always at the ready to help raise the young.