We are a multi-cultural family. A mobile family. We were built during small periods of settled-ness across multiple continents and countries, and from the beginning we learned to be excited for change. We are a loose family, open-handed and open-hearted and accepting. Always willing to be loyal, always willing to let go. Unattached. Somehow we forged our family bonds without the promises of commitment, and sometimes I wonder if we are the lesser for it.
So it has been an ongoing debate for years now – who is my family? It is a question perhaps unique to us, because most people don’t have to wonder. They can look around and see clearly, see it in the blood and the law. We are open-minded though, and this question became difficult. If I love them, are they my family? If I would choose them, are they my family? Who is a friend? How is a friend different than family? How is my family distinct from my friends?
I think the problem stemmed from our view of family. For us, family does not mean anything more than friendship, loyalty, and love. So it was only natural that we should begin to refer to our friends as family too, until suddenly it came time to cross continents and the definition of family mattered. Who would come with us? Who was “us”? This wasn’t just a trip for visiting, wasn’t a choice to be made lightly and redone in the future. No, this was for forever. This was an uprooting.
My parents dragged us out of the dirt of Africa and set us down on the concrete of America, and we were lost. Our roots had stretched out through an entire community but now it was just “us” and we began to wonder who it was that got to decide who was “us” and who was not. Why should it be up to our parents alone? And thus began the debate. Who is my family? Do our definitions have to overlap completely? What if someone is in my family but I am not in theirs? Is family a choice? Does blood mean anything?
I tell people I am the oldest of five or the middle of seven, I announce my family ties with apologies and rationalisations and explanations and caveats. We post pictures on the internet of “family” and “friends” interchangeably, unable to distinguish the love. My family is not the same as my family’s family. We all live in our own personal definitions of the word, gathering our own people around us in groups of inclusion and exclusion. We are all agents of our own lives, choice-makers. Unwilling to accept what others tell us we should be.
Am I the lesser for it? Sometimes, when my family is splintering apart and we are scattered across the face of the earth, I feel lesser. I feel like family ought to matter more and maybe I should be a little more attached and a little less open-handed. But sometimes, when I am in a group of people I call family, I feel larger for it. To have such an extensive family, such a variety of history…it’s a large safety net of community. And on those days, I feel like the word doesn’t matter nearly so much as the love does, and if we have all learned to love and be loved then maybe it doesn’t matter that we can’t agree on the definition of family.
How has your definition of family expanded during your time overseas?