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Aunt Paula Sounds Very Familiar To Me

For the SV Moms Book Club this month we read Girl in Translation, the story of an immigrant Chinese girl, Kim, and her mother's struggle to make it in the U.S.

My mom is an immigrant, which most people don't realize about her. She moved here from Venezuela as a young girl, but it isn't something that has shaped our lives too much. She doesn't speak with an accent, my sisters and I aren't bilingual, and we don't have any traditions that seem foreign. It's a non-issue, for the most part. In this way, she was very different than the Chinese immigrants in the story, who held tight to tradition and their own culture. However, my mom's relationship with her siblings is very much like the relationship between the book's main characters and their family.

In the book, Kim's Aunt Paula takes advantage of her family's desperation, attempts to control their choices, and then punishes them for their achievements. She is a terrible character, one most people may not believe could be real. Except, I know that family can be that way. I've experienced it first hand with my mom's family. All of the emotions I saw play out between the aunt and her sister and niece are the same my mother has struggled with for years. While Aunt Paula did help Kim and her mother through health issues and travel costs. The debt was far too great and was made only worse by the issue of family pride and respect.

I have aunts who are very similar to Aunt Paula. We've never been indebted to them, but the idea of family and pride has manifested itself in vicious ways. Like Kim, once I became old enough, I started to see through the fog of family. Years ago I vowed that some of them would not be welcomed into my own family once I had one. I've drawn the line. My mom, however, has held onto hope that things will get better, that they don't mean what they say or do, that one day she'll have a normal family. Other than an aunt who I love dearly, the rest have continued with their charades and my mom has tried to excuse everything they do with the understanding that they're "family."

As Kim did in the book, I've seen through their antics and am now a threat to them, so naturally I've become the center of their attacks. My aunts have decided that I've turned my mom against them, that I don't show them enough respect, and have made up incredible lies about me, which have resulted in personal attacks. The things is, I don't care what they say, because they matter so little in my life.

For my mom it's heart breaking. She is trying to learn to accept that her siblings are toxic, yet still loves them despite it. She has accepted a lot from them over the years, made excuses for why we have to see them, put on a happy face when people ask about her family. Maybe it was that initial feeling of "otherness" that they shared when they first moved here that makes her feel like she has to stick by them. And, maybe it was the frustration of being in a foreign land with new customs and a huge language barrier that has been translated into anger by my relatives. It couldn't have been easy for them to be dropped into the North Shore from a life in Venezuela with an Italian father and Venezuelan mother. I know it was difficult to be Hispanic in white, upper class America in the 1960's, even if they were only half. Was that the experience that created the situation they're in today?

I'm sure my mom won't be happy that I'm writing this post, airing my feelings toward the family that isn't. But, they don't read my blog. And after I finished the book all I could think about was how familiar Aunt Paula felt to me and how sad that is for all of us. Acceptance and openness about the things you can't change is the first step in moving forward, so I'm trying to move forward for all of us.

This post was inspired by Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok, which I received complimentary as a part of Chicago Moms Blog (Silicon Valley Moms Group) Book Club. See how other moms were inspired by this book here.


Emily said...

Oh wow. That's amazing that you felt like you "knew" Aunt Paula. I was under the impression that those type of family ties are very specific to Chinese culture, but you have shown me that it is more universal than that.

Windtraveler said...

Oh boy....


Wow. I would never want an Aunt Paula. Your post really does a nice job relating your situation to Kimberly's.

My post on the book is at:

Jean Kwok said...

I am sorry you've had to deal with such relatives. I think it must also be hard to see your mother so unwilling to let go of them. It's difficult to let the people we love make their own decisions, esp. when they get hurt. I wish you and yours all the best, and am honored that my novel inspired such a wonderful post.

Jean Kwok

julie` said...

Oh yes, Aunt Paula was very real. She was frightening, she was evil. She was everything you described. And she is real.
I'm sorry to hear you have Aunt Paula's in your life. I've known a few.