Have You Ever Traveled to Meet Overseas Family?
I was nervous as I stepped off the plane in Buenos Aires. I had no hotel reservation, no taxi waiting to pick me up, no tour guide holding out a welcome sign. For the next three weeks, I was relying on complete strangers for my food, my lodging, my well-being. Sure they were family, but other than two I met ten years prior, I only knew this side of my relations through the occasional phone call or letter. After all, they were a continent away.
I remember emerging from immigration slightly bewildered. The flight from Ecuador (where I was studying) was long and turbulent. I thought about how to greet my relatives, what their homes looked like, what they looked like, what they ate, would they even be there to greet me. The crowd outside of security for international arrivals was large as people anxiously anticipated the arrival of loved ones. Through the crowd I recognized two faces from ten years ago – Armando and Rosanna.
Three carloads of relatives along with Armando and Rosanna made the drive from Escobar to Buenos Aires to meet me. Before I knew it, cousins whose names I didn’t know were carrying my suitcases to the caravan of family. I felt a little like royalty and at the same time quite uncomfortable. Who was I to them but a stranger? What did I do to deserve this outpouring of love and generosity? The rest of that first evening was a complete blur through the jetlag, nerves, and language barrier. As I laid my head to rest that night in my cousin Andres’s bed, I thought about how I ended up here.
After a move that separated siblings across three continents with some remaining in Italy, two immigrating to the United States and six immigrating to Argentina, the re-connection started decades ago with a visit from a priest. One brother followed his heartache from a mission in Argentina to a church parish outside of Youngstown, Ohio in my hometown of Niles. Here, he became reacquainted with his brother and sister and met two generations of their offspring that had been born after the initial separation.
This was during a time before the Internet, email, and cell phones. Communication had been done via mail with months between correspondences. I can only imagine the reunion as two brothers reunited after decades apart. They were barely men when their journeys separated them. Father Fagnano’s visit sparked a relationship with lost family a world away that has continued through the generations.
My mother served as the catalyst that kept us together through the years and the distance as the only one in the family who could communicate in Spanish to Argentina. The visits continued in 1980 when my grandparents and great aunt and uncle flew to Buenos Aires in the midst of the Dirty War to Armando and Rosanna’s visit in the mid-nineties. I followed in my mother’s footsteps and studied Spanish in college. Together, her and I lived our dream and made the journey to Argentina in 2000.
On our second day, Chiquita invited the entire family to a traditional Argentinian Asado at her weekend home outside of Escobar. We feasted on an endless supply of meat – two kinds of sausage (one a blood sausage), chicken, two types of pork, three types of beef – and drank countless bottles of hearty, Argentinian red wine. The only thing green was a salad that nobody touched.
Through my elementary understanding of that Argentinian accent, I listened as the next three weeks were planned out. I agreed to things I didn’t know I was agreeing to including attending the South American Championship Soccer Game between Boca Junior of Buenos Aires and Palmeira of Sao Palo (opposing fans were killed in Boca’s stadium just a few months prior), nights out with younger cousins, and the Flag Day parade in Rosario. The rest of the three weeks was a tour of family, food, laughter, heritage lessons, and Argentina. From Escobar to Buenos Aires to Rosario, rich or poor, my relatives were proud to open their lives to us and show us their city.
I came away with many lasting memories of that trip from the soccer match where Mauricio saved me several times from being trampled by a heaving crowd, to the teenage relatives treating me like a rockstar (even telling onlookers at a mall where they snapped countless pictures that I was Ricky Martin), to the tango bar we stayed at until 4 in the morning dancing and laughing.
Have you traveled overseas to meet relatives for the first time? Please share in the comments below. Or, if you want to guest post your experience, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!