Thursday, June 8, 2017

"Families Aren't Born, They're Made"

Dear friends, 

     Greetings from my last month in Mexico City! Words are not sufficient to describe the mix of emotions tearing at my heart as I watch the calendar date of my departure grow closer and closer-excitement, panic, fear, exhaustion, joy, but overall, a deep bittersweet sadness-sadness knowing that this transformative experience is coming, as all good things do, to an end. They warned us that this year would be the fastest of our lives, and that has certainly been the truth.

    While navigating all these emotions, I try to focus on being as present as I can. On appreciating all the small moments that I will miss like crazy a few months from now-talking with the owner of the juice stand near my work, the way the late afternoon light hits the white and yellow walls in my neighborhood, the cries of the newspaper vendors walking down the street, talking with my friend Anabel as I eat my morning fruit when I arrive to the office, the sound of my host dads´laughter, even the wide variety of smells within the city.

    At times of closure, it is important while walking the line between nostalgia, sentimentality, and presence to take specific moments to reflect and tell people what they mean to you. I recently had an opportunity for a more formal conversation about this year, when my friend Carlos, who is a colleague of another YAGM volunteer, reached out to me about the possibility of talking with Nef, Danny, and myself about our experience of being a family this year. The resulting interview turned out to be one of my favorite moments from this year. But first, a little context.

   When I learned I was going to be living with Nef and Danny, I knew it was going to be a special experience. While some of the other volunteers in our group live with larger families in less urban contexts, I live with a very small family in one of the biggest cities in the world. And as someone who comes from a heterosexual family, I was curious about how the dynamic was going to be living with a gay couple, especially one so close in age to me. We knew very little about each other when we first met, and they had only received about two weeks notice that I was going to live with them. Upon meeting them, I was nervous and excited, hopeful about all the year would bring.

   Reflecting on that moment, almost 10 months later, I feel extremely jealous of that Maddie. Of all the time that stretches out before her, all the moments ahead of her. Because in that moment when Nef first saw me and gave me the bear-hug of my life, I could not have imagined all the joy and love that was awaiting me in this year. That today we would be the family we are.

   Because the truth is, I couldn't have asked for better host dads. Nef and Danny are kind, wise, warm, strong, loving, generous people who have never met a stranger, and have radically redefined my idea of hospitality. They are hard-working, and determined, and manage draining work schedules always with a positive attitude, knowing they are one step closer to achieving their dreams. They have welcomed me as their daughter, and have hugged me as I´ve cried, advised me as wrestle with discernment, made me laugh so hard that I have almost peed my pants, thrown me a surprise birthday party, iced my back when I pinched a nerve so bad I couldn't walk, and been pillars of support and joy. Seeing them is always the best part of my day, and I thank them for sharing their lives with me and welcoming me into their family. I am very proud of them, and proud to be their daughter. They are my heroes here in Mexico.

     Having the opportunity to formally reflect on a year together and all the everyday, holy moments we have shared is something I will always treasure, especially as this year winds up much faster than I would like. Below I have shared my translation of the interview, and I hope yall enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the experience. Goodbyes are never easy, and I know I will be a sobbing wreck when the day comes to say goodbye, especially goodbye to mis dos mas queridos. I ask for prayers for strength, and of thanksgiving, for all the love I have recieved this year, but especially for mis papás and the family they have given me.

Maddie and Her Two Dads: Families Aren´t Born, They Are Made

By Carlos Díaz

“Family is not defined by color, race, or nationality.” So Maddie describes her new nuclear family in Mexico. Her arrival to the lives of Neftalí and Daniel has redefined the concept of family for this couple, and has placed them in a situation in which their experience of fatherhood has left them with new ideas of what it means to live as life-long partners.
En Mexico, in accordance with the survey of the 2010 population census, conducted by Cecilia Rabell, of the Institution of Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), estimated that there are 229,777 homes made up of same-sex couples, 172,443 of which are considered “nuclear”, or families that have children.
The family of Maddie, Neftalí, and Daniel increases this number- however, shortly it will come to an end. Not because the ties of affection and commitment will be broken, but because “la niña”, as the couple calls Maddie, will return to her home in the United States.

Host Dads: “La niña” arrives to the house

Neftalí and Daniel had not anticipated becoming host parents, but they mutually accepted the opportunity with joy. The arrival of this new family member allowed them to experience another family dynamic, which first implied reorganizing their time, as both work a complicated work schedule. They also had to overcome barriers which differences of language, gender, and culture naturally bring.

Maddie, who is 23, arrived to Mexico as part of a program for young adults who work in global mission projects in various countries, which is sponsored by a protestant religious institution in the United States. The church that “Nef” and “Danny”-as Maddie calls them-belongs to a network of churches in Latin America that have ties with the program that their “host daughter” is a part of. As part of the experience of being immersed in a community and culture, the young missionaries are matched with a host family that gives them not only a physical space in which to live, but accompaniment, attention, and affection. Additionally, joining a family, in this case a Mexican family, allows them to expand their learning and experience, with respect to of the traditions, culture, and idiosyncrasies of their country. That is to say, it creates an immersion experience that is as authentic as possible.

“Being considered to receive a young adult, just like other families in the congregation, was, for us, an acknowledgment of our family by our religious community. That is to say, for them we weren´t just a couple, but a family that can accommodate, care for, and provide affection for a new member, in this case, a daughter”, Neftalí comments.

Living in two different family models

When I heard the story of Maddie and her two dads, it was inevitable to question how she thought of the concept of family from two angles, hetero- and homo-parental, what differences she recognized in both, and what it is like being a host daughter of a gay couple in a country where there still exists machismo, homophobia, and misogyny.  
Maddie, like any other child in the world, did not choose her Mexican family. Her arrival to the life of Neftalí and Daniel was fortuitous. During the placement process, carried out by the coordinator of the program, she and her fellow volunteers were notified of the opportunity to live with a gay couple. All were in agreement with the idea, but Maddie knew in that moment that she would be the host daughter of that family. And that´s exactly what happened.

When I asked Maddie how her parents felt about her living with a gay couple, her response is clear: “They didn´t have any problem with it.” To the contrary, her family, and her home congregation in the United States are part of the one of the most progressive congregations in the country, a church that ordains female ministers, and recognizes and accepts same-sex marriage, as well as trans-people.

Her family situation has also been well-received in Mexico. Fortunately, her community respects and accepts her new family model. Although it´s inevitable that when she says “Vivo con mis padres”, which generally means “I live with my parents”, but also can mean “I live with my dads”, she has to clarify that she lives with her two host dads, and not a host father and mother. This act can seem insignificant, but reflects the invisibility that still covers same-sex families, specifically families made up of two dads, that are culturally seen as incapable of caring and being responsible for raising a child.

“What differences do you see between your family in the United States and your family in Mexico?” I ask Maddie. She smiles, as do her host dads. In general terms, she responds that the most obvious difference is the absence of a mom. However, on an emotional level, she doesn´t see major differences between her two families. She clarifies her view of her Mexican dads isn´t based in a heteronormative context, which is to say, she doesn´t see one as “the mom” and the other as “the dad”. She sees in both of them characteristics of her biological family, for example, the more reserved nature of “Danny” and the more extroverted nature of “Nef”. On the other hand, the fact that Neftalí and Danny are young men reduces the generational divide and influences their dynamic.  In addition to having a father-daughter relationship, they are also friends. As a result of this dynamic, Nef and Danny do not oppose rules on their host daughter. Instead, they try and give advice and strategies for navigating the city.

Neftalí recognizes that he would like to give Maddie more time than his academic and work schedule allow him, but emphasis that the time that they spend together is quality. Meanwhile, Danny, teary-eyed, comments that Maddie has changed their lives, from things as simple as decorating her room in their apartment to the conscious decision that the couple has made: for the near future at least, to not have children. Not because they don’t want to, but because their experience with Maddie has shown them that children require consistent accompaniment, dedication, and care. Although their “daughter” is a well-behaved, independent young woman, focused on her work as a volunteer in a non-profit organization, they recognize that with a young child, things would be different.

“My Heart is not a Condominium”: Neftalí

Maddie returns to the US and to her family the first week of July. She and her Mexican dads know that the moment to say goodbye grows close. Goodbyes are never easy when such a strong emotional connection has been established. Although they know the distance isn´t an issue, thanks to technology and social media, they recognize that they will miss each other. Maddie from here on out has two families. Two models of parents, who she loves equally. While we talk, everyone gets emotional, and the scene makes me wonder: Why do we insist that the ties between children and parents are biological? This afternoon Maddie is a daughter speaking with love about her host dads, and Neftalí and Danny are host dads proud to see that their daughter is an independent young woman.

“Do you plan on receiving another young missionary this next year?” I ask the couple. The answer is no. Neftalí explains “I couldn´t do it-my heart is not a condominium to receive and watch my kids leave.” Danny agrees. They know that now their heart belongs to Maddie. She is their daughter, their kid, that they will soon see leave. They are not ready to grow close to someone again, only to watch them leave with a piece of their lives, time, and love.

The interview ends and I say goodbye to the family. I leave hearing a promise that Maddie makes to her Mexican dads: on her wedding day, they will be in the first row. The tears that flow with the imminent goodbye will surely flow again when they meet again. The truth is that know their lives are intertwined. They will never forget that they have a daughter, and Maddie will always have a home in Mexico, a home that will await her with open arms.     That´s what a family is made of. 

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing combination of articles. Absolutely one of the sweetest, kindest and most sincere articles I have ever read. So proud of Maddie and grateful for Nef and Danny.