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When you’re here, you’re family

In every Chamorro family, there is one member who knows the family history by heart. This person knows the names of every extended cousin, niece, nephew, godchild and grandchild, dead or alive. In my family, I am not that person.
When people find out what my maiden name is they immediately ask the following questions: “From what village?” and “Are you related to so-and-so from such-and-such?” My answer to the second question is often “I’m not sure” because the truth is, I didn’t grow up roaming the backroads of the village with my twelve hundred cousins, getting to know the extended family. I know my first cousins, the ones who are always at family fiestas, christenings and rosaries. I know the ever-growing number of nieces and nephews by the way their parents tell them to “Go kiss your Auntie Josie.” While I recognize their shiny faces, I’ll admit I don’t know all their names. You have to understand–there are literally hundreds of them and their sizes, shapes and hairstyles are constantly changing. I just can’t keep up.
My roots grow shallow as the family tree branches out beyond that. In high school I worked at a local music store and during that time I got to know some of the regular customers. One of them gave me his business card one day and I pointed out we had the same last name. After telling him who my father was, it was discovered his father and my grandfather were brothers. From that moment on I knew him as Uncle Customer. I worked a year at an office across the hall from a bank and one day I was sent by my boss to ask the Bank Manager for a favor. The Bank Manager’s last name was the same as mine. He’s now Uncle Bank Manager, first cousin to my father. And those are just some of the legit ones. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve met who have proclaimed themselves relatives by association. “Nene (baby), I used to ride the bus to school with your father everyday when we were little! Girl, come and kiss your auntie!”
I know someone who gets annoyed when people declare themselves auntie or uncle to her children, even though they are not related by blood. She will not let her children call anyone auntie or uncle if they aren’t blood-related because “it isn’t proper.” I, on the other hand, think it’s charming. Especially since the other day it was confirmed that I’ve also become a relative by association. I ran into the best friend of my ex-boyfriend from almost ten years ago. He was having coffee at Jungle Java while his daughters played by the fountain. After exchanging how have you beens, he called his girls over, saying, “Girls, come and kiss your auntie!”

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