Cousins as Siblings: Preserving The Meaning of Familia

My girls, all smiles.
My girls, all smiles.

Raising multicultural children presents several challenges for parents. That’s especially true for Latino families who are trying to raise kids within their cultural, religious and moral believes. One of the most important things for our community is family, la familia, and our understanding of it is different, loud and all up in each other’s businesses.

As an immigrant who has the larger part of the family back in the Dominican Republic, it is crucial that my kids grow with that sense of belonging to a larger and more meaningful group. The just mom and dad “nuclear family” is not the concept of familia I want them to know. There is nothing wrong with the nuclear family and considering the rest as an extended family, is simply not the way I learned what familia means, and I want them to experience what I know as much as possible.

Last year we made the decision to move south, as a family. When I say family that means my sister and her husband, my mother, my grandmother and my husband and I. We were living in different states at the time and made it our mission to find common ground, researched states and cities that were appealing to all of us and once we found one, we visited and chose which will be our new home.

Almost a year into it, I have confirmed what I knew to be true: my children and my sister’s children are bonding, fighting and growing together, as familia. They are facing the prejudice that comes with being multicultural, mixed-race and a Spanish speaker in this country, but they are doing it together.

Cousins and Sibling-2
Just by growing together my children (son, daughter, niece and nephew; yes, they are all my kids!) are learning what is like to love and care for one another even when you look or sound different. My nephew, for example, who was refusing to speak Spanish and will answer in English every time, feels now at ease in either language.

On the other hand, my niece has loosened up and dances with my kids and me. She is shy and had always refused to do it. I am convinced it has a lot to do with having people around you feel safe with, and also with the wonderful feeling of belonging.

My son and daughter love going to sleep over with their cousins (which live a block away) and some weekends if I have a lot of work, they’ll go there for a visit and that’s a treat for them. Of course, that’s only on the weekends because the rest of the week the meeting place is my house.

It is not easy to have four kids under one roof being loud, running, fighting for toys, competing who’s smarter and who won at lunchtime by finishing first. Many times is exhausting. However, I cannot imagine my children growing and knowing the cousins as a reference, as people that are related to them but who are not “close” to them.

I want them to look back and laugh about all the mischief they get into and the awesome moments, like watching the fireworks on a 4th of July or visiting the Dominican Republic to see the other cousins. There is a special term we use in DR to call this kind of relationship and that’s what we are achieving here, a group of primos hermanos (literally cousin-sibling).

It took a lot to get us all here in the same place and it takes a daily effort of compromising and understanding each other to make it work. However, I have no doubt about the future, the coming years full of love and the endless memories we’ll create together as one familia.