I wanted to begin this post by stating the actual number of Tias* that I have. Two seconds later I abandoned that attempt because math is not my strong suit nor is remembering exactly how many Tias I have. My mother has five sisters and my father has four. But, as a good Mexican daughter and niece, I cannot say I only have nine Tias because Mexicans live forever and I have great-Tias and great-grand Tias and people that probably are not actually related to us but I’m still required to call them Tias. My abuelito‘s sister just celebrated her 100th birthday a few months ago! I think that makes her my grandaunt. I did some very lazy research and by research I mean that I googled, “What do you call my grandfather’s sister?” The short but possibly incorrect answer is that the proper title is “grandaunt” but people commonly mistake this title for “greataunt.” The point is, I have a whole lot of aunts. Many of which I probably haven’t met or do not remember and I can assure you the Tias I am close to me van a regañar por no acordarme. (They’re going to tell me off for not knowing every extensive branch of my huge family tree, for those of you who do not speak Spanish).
Having a multitude of Tias I am close to is a wonderful thing. It’s like having extra mothers who are also your friend and your sister and your grandmother. By no means am I diminishing my own relationship with my mother. Sara will always be World’s Best Mami to me. But the relationship we have with our Tias has its own magic. My father, who is a Chatty Cathy and the friendliest man on the planet (seriously, he cannot go into any supermarket or business around town without knowing somebody) loves to tell his sisters almost every detail of my life. He especially likes to do this when I’m going through a difficult time and have confided in him about it. Next thing I know, my Tias are calling or sending me texts to tell me things will be okay or to say a little prayer for me or just to ground me and say calm the hell down, you’re being exagerada and life is good. Ponte a limpiar. You would think that this would bother me, but I actually love it. They’re my support system and they will never miss a chance to come to my rescue – even when I don’t ask them to.
When I graduated high school, I could NOT wait to leave for college in San Antonio. I actually wanted to attend New York University, but my dad said hell no. San Antonio is far enough. For reference, I am a Valley girl through and through. That means I live on the Texas-Mexico border and San Antonio is a mere four hours north of my hometown. Anyway, I rolled my eyes and counted the days till move-in day for my college dorm. But as the day got closer, the more I realized how much I was going to miss sitting around with my Tias in their backyards and sitting around the dinner table laughing so hard until two in the morning. And I knew that I would DEFINITELY miss playing loteria with them for hours on end. And thank our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that my dad kept me close because I was beyond home sick the first year and a half I was away. I came home every other weekend and spent the weekends in between also driving halfway down south to stay with my cousin who was also in college at Texas A&M Kingsville at the time. I may as well have attended Texas A&M Kingsville for my freshman year of college because I was attached at the hip to my cousin. I didn’t know how to be away from my family! And as funny as it sounds now, at the time I grew increasingly depressed. I was attending all of my classes and doing well academically, but crying myself to sleep in my dorm because I missed being home so much. At the height of my depression, I even went so far as to go to class in the morning, drive four hours home just for that day, drive four hours back the next morning, and go to my afternoon classes. What I was most afraid of was telling my family I wanted to come back to the Valley and study at the local university. Even though it is a great school, for me it was the feeling of attempting something and failing that I couldn’t make peace with. What would they all think? Of course, my dad eventually told my Tias I was having a hard time. And, OF COURSE, they told me I could go to any damn school I well pleased and they didn’t give a shit where it was so long as I was happy. That’s putting it in a nutshell, but after lots of “therapy sessions” with my Tias, I found the strength to keep trying. They gave me the permission to fail. To come home. To try again. And it was that permission and knowing that I actually had that option that kept me from submitting my application to transfer schools at the end of every semester. I kept telling myself to just try one more semester. And after three semesters, I finally found my place and comfort away from home and learned to love San Antonio.
The same thing happened when I moved back to my hometown from Boston after moving away after college graduation. And the same thing again during the time I took my bar exam last summer. They encouraged and supported me, but most importantly, they gave me permission to fail after trying my hardest. And then just try again! Who gives a shit?!
When I left to Boston for my first year of law school, one Tia secretly helped me pay for my rent. She did it secretly because she wanted my mother (her sister) to keep hustling her ass off to help me with my bills because she didn’t want anyone in our family slacking off. (See?! Always keeping it real. They take no shit.) When I secluded myself to study for my bar exam, another Tia made homecooked meals for me, like mole and arroz and fideo. She packed it all up so I could eat for days and not waste time picking up food. (Also, my mouth is now watering thinking of her food because Tias are the best cooks). I could make this a devotional love letter to each of my Tias for the individual goodness they have given me, but I would spend my 100th birthday still typing this post. So I’ll end with this:
Our Tias are the women that are telling us to stop drinking ese mugrero de Estarbucks con puro azucar because it’s going to make you fat, but here, eat six more tamales por que estan bien ricos y acaban de salir.
Our Tias are proud as hell of the work that we do, but they’re also going to keep it real and tell us we can’t ever stop working hard and earn our own way.
We love our Tias because they each have a little bit of our mothers and our grandmothers in them. They are strong. They are resilient. They grew up in a generation that didn’t exactly support them. They grew up without the resources they give us so generously. They grew up with significantly less opportunities in a culture that assured their subservience. They had to teach themselves to speak another language or find their way in a world that didn’t speak theirs. But they pushed through. They found a way. And here they are. Educators. Business owners. Bakers. Nurses. Housekeepers. Lawyers. Artists. Writers. Doctors. Babysitters. Cooks. And the hardest job of all – Mothers. Salieron adelante and they brought us with them. A veces a chingasos, but here we are nonetheless.
*Yes. I am going to capitalize “Tia” or “Tias” out of respect, although I do not think it is grammatically correct. It just feels wrong if I don’t.