Growing up, my white friends would inevitably ask where the rest of my family lived. I was usually met with a mixture of pity and fascination when I explained that the only blood relatives in the US I have live in Washington, California, Texas, Nebraska and Ohio. However, this sprinkling of people does not include my parents’s siblings, their children, or my grandparents who live in India and New Zealand. I used to be really jealous of said white friends. Many of them grew up alongside their first cousins, had a favorite aunt or uncle they were really close to, spent weekends at Grandma’s house when they were little.
I spent this past Christmas with my dad’s side of the family in New Zealand. My grandma tends to hold on to things, and she had a drawer full of old letters dating back to the 70s until email and Whatsapp replaced snail mail. There were even a few from me as a child, written in my careful and strangely adult cursive. Those letters catalogued much of her adult life. From the death of her parents, to the death of her own husband, the emigration of her children to far off lands, the birth of her grandchildren. Sifting through them, I was struck by enormous efforts immigrants take to stay connected to their families, and how though we may not live even in the same hemisphere, we cultivate those ties across oceans and across generations.
Technology of course has made this easier. We have Facebook, Instagram (for the trendier older relatives), and looming large in the South Asian diaspora: Whatsapp. My mom Skypes her sister in Dubai weekly, using Skype Business because all other video chat platforms are blocked in the UAE. Both my parents call their parents weekly, and we have a highly active family groupchat on both sides. When these connections are stretched across the years, held aloft by the digital world, what does it mean to be close to your family?