On Feeling *Extra* Brown This Morning

Baby Barron Trump.JPG

Every weekday morning as I make my way towards the looooooong escalators which lead to red lines, I smile at the man who is employed by the Washington Post to hand out their freebie paper The Express (a.k.a. WaPo Lite). It’s stapled and tabloid-sized which makes it convenient to manage but more importantly, it’s interesting enough to make the trip to work fly by; I especially like the back pages, where they choose pithy quotes from blogs, mention things like FREE Haagen-Dazs and update us metro-riding DCists on celebrity-related crap.

I don’t read Trent or Perez because I’m not THAT interested in whether Britney is wearing knickers (Shamita Shame Shame on the other hand…) but I don’t mind learning enough to keep me clued in to what might be considered conversational fair-game. That’s why I skimmed the following blurb about Junior Combover and his spouse, while waiting for the next train:

Donald Trump became a grandfather over the weekend, 14 months after he became a dad all over again. The baby girl, Kai Madison, was born to Donald Trump Jr. and his wife, Vanessa, both 29, on Saturday in New York, according to published reports. She weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces. Trump Jr. said the girl’s name comes from her maternal grandfather, a Danish musician. Kai will grow up alongside her uncle Barron, born to Trump and his third wife, Melania, in 2006.

Fine, fine…but what caught my attention was the title:

Family Tree Irrevocably Mangled by Trump Scion

I was so perplexed by this, I didn’t hustle like a normal person and I almost missed my opportunity to evade Sliding Doors. Seriously? Wasn’t “mangled” a bit much? I know, the writers at Express are delightfully snarky, but this immediately and consummately reminded me of all the times when I was younger and my classmates were weirded out by my byzantine family tree:

5th grade Teacher: Anna, your turn. What did you do this summer?
Me: I visited my cousin in New York.
5th grade Teacher: How nice! And how old is your cousin?
Me: 45.
5th grade Teacher: Oh…okay…I was about to ask if you did anything fun with them…but…
Me: I did fun stuff with my nieces.
5th grade Teacher: Your cousins…kids, you mean? Wouldn’t they also be your cousins?
Me: No. They’re my nieces.
5th grade Teacher: And are they your age?
Me: Of course not. They’re 16 and 12.
Jackass who sat across from me: Is there anything normal about you, cow eyes?

My father was the tenth out of eleven kids, ten of whom were boys. He didn’t bother getting married until he was 37 (and you wonder why I’m in no hurry at 32) and he didn’t have us until he was 38 and 41, respectively. This meant that my family tree was irrevocably mangled, too.

It never seemed odd to me though, because all of my Father’s nieces and nephews were his age, since many of his elder brothers were having kids when he was an infant, much like Trump the sequel having daughter Kai Madison a year after his half-brother Barron was born.

So, I grew up knowing that my Father’s favorite relatives were all “junior” to him, even though they were not. Don’t ask me what the specific title for Father’s Younger Brother’s Wife and all that other confusion is, though. I’m as perplexed as non-desis when it comes to that. ;) And they’re pretty baffled—none of my unhyphenated friends understand why I consider my first and second cousins my brothers and sisters, which logically forces me to regard their offspring as my nieces and nephews.

To my unBrown friends, every person in that teeming group is merely a “cousin”, no matter what age or whom they popped out of…though to be fair, I’m not so enlightened either; I can’t for the life of me figure out what this “once removed”-phrasing refers to, i.e. “He’s my Mom’s cousin twice removed.”

The one time I asked my Mother what that meant, she muttered, “Typical! In this country, they try and remove family, we, we try and preserve it.” Then she launched in to why Thanksgiving is a stupid holiday and how Halloween was barely-legitimized begging, but I won’t traumatize you with those tales. ;)

67 thoughts on “On Feeling *Extra* Brown This Morning

  1. my mom is the seventh of eight, so my older uncles/aunts are the same age as everyone else’s grandparents… and I’m really confused as what to call my cousin’s children. I just call them my cousin’s babies I guess. I have always marveled about how complex the desi family naming system seems to be compared to that of a non-desi’s ;)

  2. Re#43 “In Kannada, the word for nephew is the same as the word for son-in-law (aLyaa). Up until recently, it was normal for a guy to marry his mom’s brother’s daughter……” This is correct, except it is qualified with “sodara” meaning sibling. e.g One’s nephew would be referred to as sodara aLiya and niece, sodara sose etc.

  3. My dad was married previously, so I had a half-sister (may she now rest in peace) who was 30 years my senior by the time I was born, and I had a neice who was 10 years older than me, and a bunch of cousins many years older than me, and I played with all of their children, so this post very much described my family.

    Add in now the fact that my father-in-law just adopted too kids the ages of my own children, and now my kids have an uncle and aunt the same age as them and they hang out and play like brothers and sisters…

  4. since, we’re all contributing honorific titles in our families. here’s mine. my family is hindu-christian mix and there are variations depending on where in kerala you’re from, but this is how nayar hindus (my dad) refers to relatives dad’s elder brother- velliachan, his wife- velliamma dad’s younger brother- kochachan, his wife- kunjamma dad’s sister- mami or ammayi, her husband- maman or ammavan grandfather- appuppen or muthashan or muthachan grandmother- ammumma or muthasi or muthachan

    syrian orthodox christians (my mom) mom’s elder brother- vellichachan, his wife- velliamma mom’s younger brother- kochuchachan, his wife- kunjamma or kochamma mom’s sister- kunjamma, her husband- chachan dad’s sister- ammayi, her husband- chachan grandparents are technically velliammachi and velliappachan, but most kids now use appachan and ammachi

    can anyone else who is malayalee tell me if this is true in their family. i’m curious as to how it changed in mine because we are mixed and also because of regional differences within kerala.

  5. amen! my mom’s siblings married in their twenties, but she waited till she was 37 (lucky me), and was 42 when i came along…which means, yeah, i’m in the same boat as anna…nephews 6 years older than me, 60-year-old cousins et al…me mangled too, i guess!!!

  6. Also, maybe only other folks of South Indian origin can appreciate this, but my dad always got a kick out of introducing his brother to non-desis, and having them be utterly confused at the fact that they were brothers, but had different “last names.”

    Ummm, can someone please explain this to me? I know, I know… in my defense, I’m a non-desi married to a North-Indian boy (and chachi to an adorable niece).

    I have a feeling the “removed” stuff is only used in Anglo-cultures. I’m from a Slavic country, and of course I think of my cousins’ children as nieces and nephews.

  7. Not sure if someone one-upped me already. My neice had a baby…so what am I to her? Her grand/great aunt (maybe a koach-amma?)… I dunno…

    Still trying to figure out if you are supposed to call older neices “chechy” still…

    Any insight?

  8. Ummm, can someone please explain this to me? I know, I know… in my defense, I’m a non-desi married to a North-Indian boy (and chachi to an adorable niece).

    It’s because of the way naming conventions work in the south. Let’s say a South Indian gentleman is named P.N. Krishnan. Krishnan is actually his first name, the P stands for Puliyur (a place, probably his ancestral village) and N stands for Nagesh (his father’s first name). His brother is going to be P.N. Vijayan (the P and the N stand for the same thing). To an American (or even a non-South Indian), this would seem odd, because technically, the two brothers have the same first names (P.N.) but different last names!

  9. Let’s say a South Indian gentleman is named P.N. Krishnan. Krishnan is actually his first name, the P stands for Puliyur (a place, probably his ancestral village) and N stands for Nagesh (his father’s first name). His brother is going to be P.N. Vijayan (the P and the N stand for the same thing). To an American (or even a non-South Indian), this would seem odd, because technically, the two brothers have the same first names (P.N.) but different last names!

    That’s very interesting! Thanks for explaining it, hema. How would the names be listed on a passport?

  10. “Let’s say a South Indian gentleman is named P.N. Krishnan. Krishnan is actually his first name, the P stands for Puliyur (a place, probably his ancestral village) and N stands for Nagesh (his father’s first name). His brother is going to be P.N. Vijayan (the P and the N stand for the same thing). To an American (or even a non-South Indian), this would seem odd, because technically, the two brothers have the same first names (P.N.) but different last names!”

    this isn’t true for all south indians. it doesn’t work that way in my family. my uncles (father’s and mother’s side) all have the same last names. i think what you said above depends on which part of south india you’re from.

  11. i think what you said above depends on which part of south india you’re from.

    Yes, of course. Goes without saying. I should have been more specific. In any part of the south where people don’t use caste identifiers or “house names”, you’re likely to encounter the problem I described above. In other cases, not so much.

  12. Not Desi (though I love this blog for some reason), and my parents’ cousins are my uncles and aunts, their kids are my cousins, and my cousins’ kids are my nephews and nieces. And the grandchildren of my grandparets’ cousins are my counsins too! It seems it’s just generally a non-western or non Anglo-saxon way to conceive of family relationships, since (for me at least) there is a lot of importance attached to the hierarchy between relationships. Jumbling everyone who’s not immediately related into the “cousin” catch-all takes that away.

    Also, to add to the craziness of my family tree, my uncles and aunts on my father’s side span in age from 7 (1 year older than my youngest brother) to 55. On my mom’s side the diff is “only” 20ish years, and my mom’s older sis was pregnant at the same time as my grandmother. My youngest uncle is already a great-uncle, and the craziness will only get worse with my generation…

  13. I am so glad to hear other people experienced the “you never told me you had SO many brothers and sisters, why are they in India and you are here?” problem as a child. I also call my cousins kids my nieces, which throws people off who know that my bio brother is only 17.

    MuraliMannered…speaking of intra-family marriages, and you know all you Southies have it in your family too, my paternal grandparents were first cousins before they got married–absolutely cute couple. And i think my great uncle married some sort of niece-cousin of his (not sure how they are related). It makes naming relations on that side extremely confusing! My brother and I just end up calling people by their age range (really old–grand-titles, mid age-aunt/uncle title, and everyone else by their name) We also have the whole generational thing because my mom’s uncle is basically the same age as she is so she calls his wife sister-in-law (mani, babhi). My dad was only 15 years younger than my patti and so he mentioned that when he was little he used to call my great-grandmother ‘adu ma’ or ‘that mom’ and my grandmother ‘akka’(didi, behn, etc) for a long time.

    It was the effect of small-town to big-town migration, rapid forced change, within a generation, to developments in the economy, education, professional environment, female entry into the workforce, etc. The social adjustment from all that, and more, is still under way, and we are all dealing with its effects…

    Chachaji, you are so right.

    P.S. I never got the ‘cow eyes’ insult but i did get the ‘cow lover’(as if that was something bad) and ‘curry pooper.’ (which, lets face it…happens)

  14. Is there anything normal about you, cow eyes?

    In Arabic, “cow eyes” connotes beauty. IIRC, there was some breed of cow in pre-Islamic Arabia, called “Maha,” that had large, white eyes surrounded by kohl-like coronas. It’s like “doe-eyed,” I guess.

    That’d be a neat name for the daughter of Arab & Brown parents: Maha-Maha — Grand Cow Eyes.

  15. Anglo culture leaves me totally cold when it comes to the way they view family relationships. You can tell a lot about how important something is to a culture based on its vocabulary for that concept. For example, eskimos having several words for snow (which is sort of a myth but still illustrates my point), because snow is important to them. All this ‘once-removed, twice-removed’ stuff is bullshit in my opinion, and speaks to their utter coldness as a people, and the extreme individualism they take life to. I hate their catch-all phrases like ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’, which have no emotional resonance, and no nuance to them. I also can’t stand that once you get further than 1st cousin level in that culture, you’re already in the realm of ‘distant relative’. I love how in the northern Indian cultures at least (I’m not too familiar with southern Indian nomenclature), virtually every single relationship has its own term. In one or two words, you can express a relationship that would take you whole sentences in English. And women when they get married have a whole new bunch of terms for their new family…jeth/jithani, nand, etc. Bhabhi/devar, jija/sali, etc. are all such rich terms. I have some THIRD cousins I know, and when their kids call me chacha or mama, it really makes me feel like there’s a connection there, across all those generations. These terms inspire warmth and a feeling of relatedness. In gora culture I don’t think too many people even know their 3rd cousin.