If I close my eyes hard enough, I can see the humor of what we are living out these days. I see the wicked machinations of a Robin Wright in “House of Cards” or a Joan Collins in “Dynasty.” I have always praised such calculated deviousness as the best in high art or Nolan Miller-dressed camp. But when it is happening in real life to people you know, suddenly having a Lady Macbeth or a Soraya Montenegro in your midst is both sad, enraging and mystifying all at once.
In this week’s episodes, las hermanas y hermano Coraje wanted to make sure they aren’t lost in the swell of emotion as their aunt bravely fights cancer. One marriage is in trouble and they have taken to broadcasting their malice in the most extraordinary way. Hermano C, who during a brief visit to see his dying tia, makes sure to tell his grief-stricken tio that he’s disappointed she’s chosen the side of his soon-to-be estranged wife?
It isn’t that any of us is choosing sides. It is our reaction to his actually pulling focus away from the gravity of our aunt’s situation. What is appalling and what is so disappointing is: 1) the manner in which he’s chosen to handle his failing marriage, and, 2) the fact that he thinks this is the time to issue ultimatums on family loyalty. What. The. Fuck!
Meanwhile, las hermanas are in the background, stirring the pot like the witches that appear at the opening of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. They have sprung from a special hell to unload the same message of enforced distancing to their nieces, who are also their goddaughters. All I can do is shake my head over their recent phone calls, peppered with such overripe novela dialogue as, “I choose to have only positive energy around me now!” or “I’m cutting out the negative people in my life!” Again, how is it you can make such calls, which were supposedly made in the name of support, only to turn the entire conversation around to focus on you and your needs? All while your nieces’ mother is fighting for her life in the next room?!?
But the worst part of this? The B plot, where las hermanas Coraje maneuver and plot the destruction of their brother’s marriage. This is where my cousin in-law needs to take a page from the Katie Holmes Playbook. Lord knows La Prima Coraje has been trying to repair whatever damage has been caused by her union with the Ball Less Wonder. But with the sisters Grimm making sure every avenue is razed, La Prima Coraje is running out of reasons to stay. Don’t miss this episode recap, where the younger Hermana Coraje (with her frigid husband in tow) take Hermano C to a divorce lawyer without his wife’s knowledge! Oh, and you’ll thrill to the cameo appearance of the elder Hermana Coraje, who makes sure to phone in to this pow wow so she can contribute her thoughts via speaker! (And, wait until you see the scenes for next week, when las hermanas counsel their hermano to, yes, text his ex-girlfriends.
As one side of my family prepares itself for the loss of a parent, the other side of the same family is enduring the loss of their compassion and sanity. Somewhere in all of this, my immediate family is in the middle. Apparently they are dwelling on how everyone is choosing sides now, a state of affairs the saddens me to no end. Because it didn’t have to turn into this. From the conversations that I’ve had with my younger cousins, who are also my goddaughters, it appears we are part of the problem for being “negative people.”
I have run all of this information in my mind without pause. And I think I understand why Los Coraje feel the way they do. It isn’t the negative that they want to excise. It is the fact that we represent the truth about who they are, of their humble, complex origins. They are terrified that we will expose them. As if we would dare to pull the curtain on their Oz-like fantasy. Don’t they realize we don’t care about the positions they hold in this world? If they stopped to think about it, we are actually proud over how they took negative circumstances and turned them into positives. But they are hell bent in keeping up appearances, surrounding themselves with people who only feed their delusion. Syncophants, yes people, minions who do their bidding because that’s the way they’ve always lived their tragic, small, human lives.
I know we can be a very meddlesome unit. I don’t know how it is in your family, but mine can be a smidge overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion and it doesn’t matter the topic, either. From the outside, it can appear that we are rather antagonistic. Plenty of button pushing goes on this group, but there’s never any malicious intent. I like to think my parents created a tribe of too many chiefs and not enough indians, but that’s another story.
We are not always acting at fever pitch, screaming, “Sergio! Sueltame! Esta es mi hacienda!” or “Largase de aqui, babosa!” or “Vieja zorra! Te voy a dar una paliza que nunca vas a olvidar!” We have never resorted to pulling hair, slapping each other silly or plotting to destroy the Carrington family once and for all. Apparently, some of us do see the world in such terms. But my extended family has turned what should have been a defining moment into something that trivializes their humanity in the process. Here the sins of their parents have been internalized and manifested into something beyond cruel and narcissistic.
We will never know the truth behind any one family’s dysfunction. But I know enough of their complicated family history to postulate my own hypothesis. They are the perfect Orwellian family in that they have perfected their abilities to maintain a revisionist history. They have invested so much of their emotional energy in keeping up appearances, they really can’t discern between truth and lies anymore.
Is it my place to put all of this down in black and white? No, but I’m doing it anyway. I have always been the one to defend them, to not let the animosity boil over, to try and meet them halfway. But I can’t do it anymore. When you say the word “family” in the Latino context, it encompasses a large number of people. Several of my white friends have to remind themselves of that whenever I start a sentence, “My family is…” I still see them as my family, even with this line drawn across the sand.
They can declare that we are all just jealous and envious of their material lives. Yet, they can’t ignore the facts. My father helped them when their father needed assistance. My uncle took them in when they had nowhere else to go, offering shelter at great sacrifice to his own family. We were there when their father died without fail or judgment. We were there when their grandmother died, a woman who either ignored us or kept us at arm’s length when we were children. I delivered her eulogy, even though my own heart was conflicted. Why would we as jealous or envious people EVER take such steps to help them? Yet, the damage is done. All that self-editing has taken a personal angle. We are being erased, too.
I can list so much more, but I won’t. It doesn’t matter. They’d deny it anyway. I have already validated their perceptions of being negative at this point. We’ve lost them, probably for good this time. But I don’t want any of us to forget what made this entire family split in two, especially them. All we can do now is accept the terms of the dissolution, move on and stop these ridiculous confrontations. No one is going to win. There are no spoils to reap. We are going to lose something that is going to matter in the end. The question is who will be the ones strong enough to stand in the middle again because you know how life can be. Sooner or later, they will need us. And I am certain some, not all, will be there to lend them a hand.
We all need a moment to step and back see the big picture. We are losing one of our own in the most awful way as cancer doesn’t give a shit if the family is fighting. We were supposed to be better than this. Better than our parents. Better than the dominant culture that has warped our basic values and morals. Just better, period. Instead we have turned ourselves into something so shameful.
Being part of a strong family is such a gift. I couldn’t survive this world without my family, here and in Mexico. They are my reason to live. Because that is how I have been raised. My siblings and I may have our moments, but we’ve never plotted against each other. But let’s just say, we may need to do some rewrites, too.
In the meantime, I am going to ponder how these days will affect the next generations. That’s going to be interesting, how the children of the Corajes will grow up after witnessing their parents’ own sizzling narratives. I already have my bag of popcorn ready, because you know it’s going to be good.
“Los hijos de los hermanos coraje,” coming soon.
Written, produced and posted from Wayne Ave. Manor in South Pasadena, CA