This weekend Gayla Weng and some of her family are visiting. Gayla went to SFSU with Ron back in the 80s. He was studying film and she was studying broadcasting. They rode into the city together from Berkeley several days a week for class and we have remained friends with Gayla and her family ever since. We last saw them a couple of months ago when we attended the memorial service for her dad, whom we had the honor and privilege to know rather well. He was a remarkable man with an enthusiasm for life that could not be beat. Just for example, one of the things I loved about him was that he attended Harvard Divinity School and received a degree in theology when he was in his 60s. Gayla and her older sister Kirsti are both part of multicultural families they have created and I want to describe their families a bit.
Gayla is ¾ Chinese, ¼ Finnish, and a convert to Judaism. Several years back she met and married her Euro Jewish husband, and (at the youthful age of 48) Gayla had a baby girl in December. So Gayla, husband, and baby Stella are here this weekend. Also here is sister Kirsti and four of her nine children. Kirsti’s husband is Euro. Many years back they adopted twin boys when the boys were about 11 years old. The boys are Black. When those boys were teenagers, Kirsti and her husband started their biological family. They had a son and then, a few years later, by a weird coincidence, they had twin boys! The adopted twins had an older sister, who Kirsti and her husband never formally adopted (she was over eighteen by the time she moved near them), but they swiftly came to consider her their oldest child. Sadly, the older sister died two years ago. She left behind three children (two girls and a boy), whom Kirsti and her husband were actively grandparenting at the time and they adopted them. So they have twin Black sons, twin Asian/Euro sons and their biological brother, and a Black grandson and two Black granddaughters whom they are raising. Mind-boggling. This weekend, Kirsti is here with the three grandchildren and one of her biological sons.
In many ways, this big multicultural family is a tribute to their dad, who was always everyone’s dad. The 50s-TV-Show Dad. The quintessential DAD. And the family that emerged from his life is swiftly becoming the quintessential American family. In my generation of Wachspress cousins who grew up with me, we have me and my Black husband, two Black stepsons, and three multicultural children; one of my brothers is unmarried and childless; my other brother married Jewish and had three children. I have two first cousins. One of them married a Catholic, had three children, raised them Jewish; the other cousin is gay and her partner gave birth to a set of twins (through artificial insemination) that the two of them are parenting. I have four second cousins that I grew up with. One of them married Jewish and had three children; one of them is a single mom who adopted a Chinese baby girl; one of them remains unmarried and childless; and the fourth married a non-Jewish Euro woman with whom he adopted two East Indian babies (from India) and had one biological child. That’s just in a small segment of my father’s family that is close to me! If I went to the wider family, there would be everything. And I come from traditional Ashkenazic Jewish families on both my mother’s and my father’s side, families in which no one “married out” for many generations (until mine).
I suppose I don’t really need to say more. I think you get my point by now. But I just can’t resist adding that last night we had a few other friends over for dinner with Gayla and Kirsti’s families. We had a couple who live here in Ukiah and the woman is American-born, but lived in Africa for many years working with Doctors Without Borders and her husband is Dutch, born in India, grew up all over the world because his Dutch parents worked for the World Health Organization, and the two of them met in Mozambique. Our other dinner guests were a wife born and raised in Ukiah and her husband who is ¾ Chinese and ¼ French (his Dad sold groceries for years and years to the French who were building the Panama Canal and he has a whole branch of the family living in Panama). Whew!
The world is a small place, a global community, and I am constantly reminded that if we can’t manage to get along as individuals, families, communities, and, on a broader level, as cultures and nations, then we will not survive on this planet. We have nowhere else to go. But I have high hopes because we are (quite literally) becoming family to one another.