After a successful first meeting with my immediate family, my husband, then boyfriend looked relieved to have finally ticked that box. And then I mentioned he’d have to meet the rest of my family. Coming from a Filipino background, I’ve certainly been blessed with an assortment of relatives, blood-related and honorary, and they’d all have to give their unspoken sign off.
When it comes to family trees, my husband and I view them quite differently. While he sees them as quite rigid, I consider them a little more fluid. To him, an aunty is your mother or father’s sister or a female relation acquired through marriage, while to me, I’ve always had more aunties than I’m probably supposed to have. I bestow that title to those who fall into that dictionary definition of the word, and also to family friends who are as close to a relative as one can possibly get. It makes for a rich familial tapestry, but for a newcomer it can be downright confusing. In the early stages of our relationship I would often field questions from him about how I was related to particular person, and when I would explain our connection, he’d often be left wondering how we’d managed to extricate that particular familial tie. But strict titles don’t matter too much to Filipinos, family is family regardless.
To him, an aunty is your mother or father’s sister or a female relation acquired through marriage, while to me, I’ve always had more aunties than I’m probably supposed to have.
As you can probably surmise, family is an extremely broad concept in Filipino culture. In my case, it means my extended family comprised of cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles, nieces and nephews both in Australia, and also the Philippines and the US where both sides of my family are dispersed. And then there’s the family my parents built with their close friends when migrating to this country. I’m as close to them as any aunt and uncle I have, and their kids, who I grew up with I will often refer to as my cousins because they’re so much more than friends.
To throw a further complication into the mix, Filipinos are extremely deferential to those who are older. Whether it’s a family member or otherwise, you will often refer to someone your senior as Tita (aunt) or Tito (uncle) or Ate (older sister) or Kuya (older brother) as a sign of respect, when they may not technically be any of those things. When I had to learn to call my husband’s family members by their first names, particularly when they were older, it took awhile for me to adjust as I felt like I was breaking the rules every time I did it. On the flip side, my husband found it difficult to identify when he had to refer to someone using a particular title. Over the years he’s learned that if in doubt, just call them Tita.
Being raised in a culture where family is everything, it was always a non-negotiable for me that my partner not only understood this but appreciated it. So that first initial meeting with my entire family was always going to be telling. I always knew my husband was a keeper, but my instincts were confirmed when I brought him to our annual family Christmas party to introduce him to everyone for the first time. Not only did he wholeheartedly throw himself into the event, he good-naturedly put up with being grilled by virtually every single person there and by the end of the night was joking around with everyone like he’d always been there.
Confusing and a little overwhelming as it may be at times, the one thing my husband has always appreciated is the inclusive nature of Filipinos.
Confusing and a little overwhelming as it may be at times, the one thing my husband has always appreciated is the inclusive nature of Filipinos. He’s always loved how welcoming our culture is. Social occasions are always a hive of activity, comprised of a mixture of immediate, extended and honorary family members, who are so close you’d be hard pressed to find where the “official” family branches start and end. And it’s that togetherness that I’ve always cherished, and is something that I was proud to introduce him to.
It’s not to say we haven’t had the occasional teething issue. When we got married, I had more family than actual seats at our reception, making for an interesting process of trying to cull the guest list. While events to this day are still a big affair. Then there are times where he still sometimes has difficulty keeping track of how a particular person fits into the whole family dynamic.
After being together for almost a decade however, my husband has learned that when it comes Filipino families it’s always going to be a network that’s hard to define. That I will eternally have more relatives than he can keep track of. And that there will be more branches in my family tree than is probably actually allowed. It can be a touch chaotic, yes, but as someone who believes family is everything, what’s the harm in having more than you know what to do with?