Thursday, April 05, 2007

From the archives, in honor of me being able to eat meat in three days, a little diddy about Easter:

It's holiday season again. And while one would usually wait until Thanksgiving or Christmas time to write a scathing something about the hurt that is family, I find that Easter says it best for me. My pain began with a frantic call from my mother.

Let me preface this by saying that as a Latina, more specifically a Mexican-American (or Chicana or Xicana or Revolucionaria or whatever the kids are calling it these days) I was born with a little black cloud of guilt over my head and it has followed me around my whole life. It's a mix of the ethnic, a mix of the cultural, a mix of the women in my life with a dash of Catholicism thrown in for good measure. Nia Vardalos thought she gave you a lesson in ethnic loving -- that girl ain't got nothin' on this shit.

The Gonzalez Family Reunion: where my family supposedly celebrates the resurrection of Christ. But if you were to poll them, you would hear their relief to return to things like soda, alcohol and American Idol after four long weeks of Lent. Four weeks can mean a lot of pent up anger and frustration and evil scenarios that make me think that my family is one step away from organized crime. Evil scenarios like the Great Church Hall Theft of 2003.

I'm from a small town in Central California. If we want entertainment, we go see Friday night high school football. If we want culture, we travel north to Fresno for the national touring company of Michael Flatley's The Lord of the Dance. This year we wanted drama, so we went to church.

In keeping with tradition, we rent the outside of our church hall on an annual basis. Steaks and tripas are barbecued (we get the meat free from our connections at the local grocery store). Kids hunt for Easter eggs (filled with money and confetti rather than candy). A horseshoe tournament is played (with a sweet pool). Alcohol flows freely (from my cousins who work for The Budweiser Corporation. Thank you, Budweiser.) All this to celebrate the resurrection of Christ and in the shadow of the giant 25 foot tall Virgin Mary statue that sits outside Sta. Maria de Guadalupe's Church Hall.

But this year something went terribly wrong. The phone rang one evening. It was my mother. The scandal in her voice was thick and quick. "Mija, we've lost the hall." She just said it. That was it. We had lost the hall. Someone had very unceremoniously stolen it out from under us and reserved it for themselves. "Don't people respect the fact that we have it every year?" she spat. "Who's family is as big as ours?" And that was it. The mortal truth. No family in town came close to our 200 plus members. But now that was all over. The church hall was a symbol of our power and presence in this little corner of the world. We had been duped. Someone had threatened the one thing that made us, family pride.

Deeper investigation from my aunt, the local gossip with connections because she taught catechism, led la familia to more clues. Seems that Tencha, one of the women who worked in the parish offices, was the key. Word was that Tencha had used her power on the inside to get the Church Hall for her family. "Her family isn't even as big as ours!" my grandma barked scandalously.

Suspicions were confirmed when, at mass on Sunday morning, Tencha gave us all mal ojo from where she sat perched on the church choir. "Ves, ves!" my grandma murmured during the hallelujahs. I was family and that meant that I couldn't get out, so along with my grandma I gave Tencha mal ojo back. All this on Palm Sunday. I felt dirty.

Like any well-oiled machine, we sent in the big guns in to fight the good fight on Monday morning. The self-appointed patriarch of the family, my mom's cousin Chonito was the head of the church building fund, organizer of the annual summer church festival, and a high up in the Knights of Columbus. He was also a wiz at strong arming local politicians and council members. Hell, even I'm a little afraid of him. Today, was the official drawing of the proverbial line in the sand as Chonito paid the Priest a visit. Chonito calmly asked the Father to "reconsider [his] decision". Hell, he might as well have brought the olive branch. Instead, he got a shrug and the big pass off. "The girls in the office handle those things, not me." The man who espoused the world of the Lord to us every week had no power over the catty ladies who sat in the front office typing the Sunday bulletin? Come on. In other words, no pleading with the greater good was going to work. So Chonito did what he does best. He threatened the Priest. "Father, you have a lot of people in this parish who are unhappy with you and now you have one more. I'm not someone you want unhappy with you." The Priest was shocked. Chonito stormed out of the parish office and rolled away in his giant Lincoln Navigator (limo tint? Of course. 20 inch rims? Hell yeah.). When I heard, I crossed myself. Oh Lord, was this sacrilege?

That Monday afternoon, everyone in our clan got a call instructing them never to go to that church again nor to give a single cent to the orchestrators of the Great Church Hall Theft of 2003. Fine with me, hell I didn't need to be getting mal ojo on a weekly basis or feel guilty for only giving change during collection because I couldn't break a $20.

We fight, we bicker, but the one thing that you can never do to a family is insult their pride, self-perceived power, or their ownership of a big piece of grass outside holy grounds. Of all of the trip ups and infighting that has occurred in my tenure with this clan, nothing has united us more than the Great Church Hall Theft of 2003. Secret family meetings were held about la situacĂ­on (yes, the situation). I have never seen a phone tree develop so quickly, people volunteer their homes, or the homes of guys who know guys who may or may not have done jail time, tu sabes.

It all worked out in the end I guess. My parents still have to drive 30 minutes away to the next closest Catholic church and attendance of mass at Sta. Maria de Guadalupe's is down about 200 plus. But this Easter, steaks and tripas were barbecued, kids hunted for Easter eggs, and alcohol flowed (Thank you Budweiser). All this at our new location, found when we all put our heads together and got over the fact that in the end it was about the celebration, not where it was celebrated. This year's Gonzalez Family Reunion was perhaps more of a blow-out than any in years past. The location helped. But I can't tell you where it is. Your family might try to steal it. Then people would have to get hurt. Amen.