In my family, there are three distinct generations. The members of the first generation are the immigrants. Their ages range from late 40’s to early 60’s. The ABC (American-born Chinese) members of the family are the second generation. We are between the ages of 18 and 26. The third and youngest generation is between the ages of 7 and 13.
Every weekend – and I mean every weekend – at least two families get together to eat. Eating dinner together three or four times a week is not uncommon for two-family meals. The multi-family meals occur every other weekend. There is no set schedule. This is just the pattern.
Western holidays and birthdays are simply excuses to have a party. This past Sunday, for instance, my fourth aunt put on an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids (members of the 3rd generation, that is). The kids went around her small house, rummaging through furniture and odd places for plastic eggs that held money. Every kid will have the same number of eggs (we have socialistic tendencies, you see), but three kids will find and keep the special $5 eggs (we love capitalism, too). Ironically, though Easter is a Christian holiday, no one in our family is Christian. At best, religion for the adults extends only to the occasional rituals of polytheistic Buddhism. Yet, the purpose of the egg hunt was not to celebrate the rebirth of Christ, but to celebrate the coming-together of families.
These family get-togethers facilitate everyday talk between all three generations. Each family member generally talks within his or her own generation. Yet, I can see how the third generation parrots the problems the adults are facing, (i.e., all the kids strongly dislike the third family for its members’ selfish nature).
Stories are told at dinner. Rumors about family friends or friends that the families know are exchanged. Since the second generation has flown from the nest, the parents update everyone on how they’re doing. Nothing public that I tell my mom, for instance, goes unknown to my relatives – Mom keeps my secrets but blabs away about everything else. Plans are made for future three-day weekends. They are usually camping trips that my fourth uncle organizes. And, if the adults don’t want the kids to know what they’re talking about, they’ll start talking in Vietnamese. [To tease my parents and relatives, I would string together all the Vietnamese dishes that I’ve learned to say in that language into a non-sense sentence. For example, my aunt would whisper in Vietnamese about how my third aunt is being difficult again, and I would interrupt with “beef-noodles-vermicelli-pork-wrap-ice-cream!” To someone who doesn’t speak Vietnamese, it sounds very much like I was saying something coherent in that language.]
The celebrations and rituals in the Chinese culture are many. We celebrate the Harvest Moon with specific foods. Once a year, we visit my grandparents and brother at Rosehills Cemetery. Lunar New Year is the time when all the kids get paid for their hard work at being kids. When the elder family (headed by the eldest brother of the Diec family line) visits, there is always a special dinner every night of the week. This past summer, when the youngest sister of the Diec line came with her family from France, we had the first family reunion in fifteen years! That was an amazing celebration: non-stop fun for the kids for over a month and a challenge to the adults’ stamina.
I am fortunate to be a part of a large family that has so many celebrations, rituals and excuses to get together.