This Isn’t Exactly a Feathertale…
This weekend, I attended my cousins wedding. A cousin I had lost touch with, who I had once been so close with, we were practically like sisters.
Let me start from the beginning, or at least the part where things got tangled up. There was a time in my life when I moved away from home to a new place. An armpit of a place, also known as, Bakersfield, California. I had moved away from my family, my friends and my first boyfriend. I was fragile, sad and lonely. Fortunately for me my cousin and her parents lived there too. They took me in, and she spent almost every day with me. She was there for me when I needed someone to laugh with, some guidance in life and a shoulder to cry on when I got my first ever heart break. She was my only friend for a time and she helped me through my personal struggles with social awkwardness and body image. Over the years I spent in Bakersfield, I got the chance to get to know my cousin and my aunt and uncle in a way my brothers and other cousins would never get the chance too. They were not perfect people. My uncle, was not one for female empowerment, had affairs of his own and often lashed out at his stay-at-home wife, my aunt, who held fast to her youngest daughter, my other cousin. They both had their own prejudices and passed those stigmas on to some of their children. For this reason and more, I stopped talking to my cousin. I stopped going out of my way to see her, because I wasn’t enjoying my time with her anymore. I was getting tired of it. I didn’t want to sit there while she said hurtful, frankly, racist words. I didn’t want to sit there while she body shamed others. I didn’t want to laugh with her while she judged our family members. And yet, when I first came to live in the same city as her, that is exactly what I did. It didn’t occur to me at first, that by appeasing my cousin, I was going against my own fundamentals.
“Why were you making fun of those girls on Facebook with your cousin? That wasn’t even funny. It was straight up mean. That’s not you, Nina.” My boyfriend at the time had pointed out to me one late night studying. I was working on my undergrad and my cousin was taking a few science courses for a change in career paths. She loved to join us for “study nights” which were meant for studying. However, my cousin never wanted to actually study, instead she wanted to laugh, joke and pick apart our other cousins on social media. I have so many bad memories with my cousin that sometimes it clouds the good ones. There are the phrases she likes to put to use, and often at that. Her favorites were “riff-raff”, “trash” and my least favorite, “dirty _____.” (Some phrases I can not bring myself to type out fully and post because they are too hurtful, so bare with me please). Her sister once told me that my cousin has said “there was nothing worse than being ____ and fat.” Her father once told me that the reason Bakersfield is so polluted is because of the hispanic population. Needless to say, they are both trump supporters.
My cousin and I had a lot of spats because of this, one of the worst was when I actually talked back. See the other times I would take to avoiding her or picking a fight over something else. It’s a good time to mention that we are Arabs, and despite this fact, when my cousin sees a hairy olive skinned man driving recklessly, she refers to him as a terrorist. Repeatedly. During the viewing of this individual’s careless driving and afterwards. There was also the time when we were, again, “studying” with a friend of hers. Her friend mentioned there was a Muslim girl in her class who wore a hijab. This girl was white and not too familiar with why people of the Islamic faith chose to cover up and she asked us if we knew any Muslim girls. My cousin responded with “no, I don’t know any ninjas.” I was annoyed with this jab, because it wasn’t the first time she had made fun of Muslims. She had been known to say things like “those girls must be so dirty under those scarves, who knows what they’re hiding under there.” I reminded my cousin that she did know a Muslim girl and that she was my friend. They had met a few weeks ago and that I didn’t appreciate her remarks. She of course laughed this off, as she so often did and chided me for being so serious. For the first time, I didn’t laugh back. I looked at her and told her that her comment was racist. It was mean. She left the room in tears and I eventually had to go console her, tell her that I had been too harsh. That’s what my cousin excelled at. Manipulation. I don’t really think it was on purpose. Her parents instilled this prejudice in her and no one had ever told her that she was wrong.
Let me elaborate on this note, my aunt, her mother, had once completely cut off a family friend because she converted to Islam and took on the hijab. When my cousin began to date a Hispanic man, her mom stopped letting him in her home when she found out they were seriously dating. My cousin has kept it a secret from her parents for over a year, because he was Mexican. Based off her mother’s reaction and influence, my cousin broke it off with this man. They actually had a pretty good relationship. They laughed for hours together and he didn’t even mind when she made fun of him for speaking Spanish or saying “quesadillas” the right way. She had once told him that if they had children, she wouldn’t learn Spanish and didn’t want them to know it. She told me, privately, that she couldn’t imagine a life of backyard parties with hispanic music playing and his family there. Or quincinyedas. I had to sit and listen to all of this whenever I hung out with her, which was often because the two of us had been close.
When I had gone to phlebotomy school I once complained to her about a class mate who kept prodding at my arm, missing her target every time. She asked me “was she mexican?” I responded, “no, she was a white lady.” She looked at me perplexed and said, “oh, but they’re usually good.”
A few years later, I moved away from Bakersfield and my cousin did too. I moved to San Francisco to live with my now fiancé and she moved to the Pleasanton to find herself a new life. When I visited her for the first time, she relented to me that she was so relieved to live somewhere without “riff raff.” Pleasanton is one of the whitest places you could find on a map of California. I should also mention that I have three brothers. One of them has been in a relationship with a Hispanic woman who I have know since I was a teenager and love dearly. The other one was also in a relationship with a Hispanic woman. That relationship ended, but that’s hardly important to my point. I also was dating a Honduran man at the time. Once visiting, my uncle asked my mom, “why do all your kids date Mexicans?” To which my mom responded, “who cares?”
I can not fully blame my cousin for her predispositions on nationalities. Her parents are the main culprits for her narrow mindedness and perhaps it is my fault for not pushing harder to set her straight. Instead I chose to walk a cowards path, I stopped answering her texts with enthusiasm. If she asked to hangout, I made excuses for why I couldn’t. I posted many progressive and inclusive statements on my social media accounts during the 2016 election. She deleted me off of Instagram the day I posted a picture of myself at the Women’s March. She had texted me earlier that day to see if I wanted to go out to dinner with her and her new boyfriend for my birthday. (The march happened to be on my birthday that year). I replied saying I had other plans. Her disapproval was clear and I let that suffice as enough of an excuse to not reach out to her at all.
That was two years ago. Since then, I have met up with her four times. In early fall to meet her new fiancé and to have dinner with her and catch up before I moved again, this time to Atlanta with my fiancé. The last time I saw her was yesterday for her wedding. She and her sisters who I haven’t seen in years, looked exuberant, happy and in good humors. I had a great time seeing them and couldn’t remember all the reasons I let the disconnect happen in the first place. That’s why I wrote this. So I could remind myself that there are always reasons behind the decisions we make. Not always easy ones, not always great ones, but, alas, they are what they are. Paths I have set for myself. People I have let into my life and those I pushed out. My other cousins frown at me for my distance. They do not understand my reasons because I never told them and never plan to. Somethings you have to learn for yourself. As for now, I think the relationship of long distance is for the best. The day my cousin comes to me and says, “you’re right my view point was skewed. I said some ignorant things,” is the day I would do almost anything to rekindle our broken relationship. But there’s about a 0.25% chance of that ever happening and I have to keep living my life. I now chose to surround myself with people who actually care about the implications of ignorance and arrogance. I know that when I post this, if anyone actually reads it, some will think to themselves, why didn’t she do more? And, yet, others will be offended by my words.
If I could change the past, I would have spoken up at all the right times. I would have clearly and gracefully shown my cousin and her parents why they should be more open minded. But I didn’t and I can’t change the past. I can not change how my arguments were emotionally fueled. I can not change how my temper rose every time I felt their ignorance was impenetrable. But isn’t that just it? Isn’t that the problem we face today? Haven’t we let our emotions, not only cloud, but rule our better judgement? How do we get better? How do we cross the line of pride and the barrier of stubborness and bad influences? Maybe we can start by being vulnerable. Maybe we can start by being honest.
One thing I purposely did not mention earlier, is that my cousin did reach out to me and ask why I was so distant. This was a year ago and I decided to tell her. She was hurt, but, ultimately, she ignored it and we remain distant. I can’t force her to see things from my perspective, but that doesn’t mean that other people will be the same. Things haven’t changed with my cousin, but maybe they can with yours. Maybe they can with someone else. All I can do is learn from my mistakes and try to be better. That is really all any of us can do, but let us not walk away before trying.