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Published July 26, 2012, 11:30 PM

My loud Latin summer in North Dakota

“Mom … MOM … He is calling me a liar!” My 6-year-old daughter was screaming as her Brazilian cousin chased her around the house, football ball in hand, calling out in Portuguese, “Mentirosa! Mentirosa!”

By: Chris Linnares, INFORUM

“Mom … MOM … He is calling me a liar!”

My 6-year-old daughter was screaming as her Brazilian cousin chased her around the house, football ball in hand, calling out in Portuguese, “Mentirosa! Mentirosa!”

For the first time in his life, my 5-year-old, soccer-playing nephew held an American football. With certainty in his voice, he tried to justify his behavior as he said:

“She is lying because she told me this thing is a ball, but this can’t be a ball because balls are round!”

It took me a few minutes to calm them both down and explain to my nephew that this giant, almond-shaped thing is defined as a ball in this country.

And this situation of kids screaming in Portuguese and English, running around my house is an example of my definition of my loud Latin summer.

For the past two months, my Brazilian family has been visiting us in Fargo. For some reason if I call my family in the winter and invite them to visit us then, the only response I receive from the other side of the line is “Chris, who?”

I don’t blame them for not venturing to Fargo mid-winter because the Brazilian definition of a harsh winter is hitting 50 degrees (precisely when Fargoans break out the shorts and tank tops). But when the temperature finally climbs here in the northern Midwest, my Brazilian family’s desire to spend some time with us also increases on the other side of the equator.

When I say they’re spending “some time,” I am not talking about four days or even a week, but a solid month or more. My husband used to suggest that for “their comfort” we could put them all up in a nice hotel. That, he found out, just doesn’t fly with my Latin family.

It took a few years for my North Dakota man to adjust to “living” with my Brazilian family during the summer (that’s how he defines their “vacation time” in our home). It was never his dream to be in the same house with his mother-in-law for two months at a time, and it’s not in his nature to feel comfortable at the dinner table when my sister-in-law bursts into tears while sharing intimate details of her relationship with my brother.

The words “privacy” and “boundaries” are not part of my family’s vocabulary. We have a passionate tribe culture. Whether speaking, crying or laughing –whatever comes out of our mouths – it will be loud. When we are together, we do everything and share everything together. In my Latin family, your business is everyone’s business and our philosophy is “mi casa es tu casa.”

My husband experienced the full implications of my culture last week. Every day he has the same ritual: As the first one to wake up in the morning, he eagerly retrieves the morning newspaper and sequesters himself in his Kingdom for almost an hour to read in solitude. (The part of his ritual that gets on my nerves is when he inevitably leaves the paper strewn all over the floor as if marking his territory.)

A few days ago when he picked up the paper and proudly held it in his hands like a delicious loaf of bread just out of the oven, my brother, who has a similar “macho ritual” in the morning, unpredictably took the paper right out of my husband’s hands and said with his Portuguese accent: “Thank you, my brodder, for getting da paper to me.”

He then boldly invaded my husband’s sacred kingdom and locked himself in. I could see the disappointment in my husband’s face.

For me, a family vacation is like ordering something from an infomercial: You can hardly wait to receive your products. Oh, how wonderful your life will be only once everything arrives! But before long, the novelty and excitement wears off, and you realize that the idea had been a lot better than reality.

The reality of my summer vacation with my North Dakotan-Brazilian family is that we have a lot of fun, but there are a lot of ups and downs, too. Ultimately, everybody learns something from one another.

Last week, my nephew learned that balls come in many shapes; my husband learned that he can share his kingdom without feeling a sense of defeat; and I am realizing that, no matter where we are from and the differences we have, we are still part of the same, big family.

When I see families together – kids screaming and overwhelmed moms complaining about screaming kids and about the husbands who take mini-vacations to Menards to escape from screaming kids – I am reminded of a story about porcupines:

When the Ice Age came, porcupines had to find a way to survive. At first, they decided to group together for warmth and protection, but their spiky quills made it uncomfortable to stay in such close proximity, so they dispersed.

Their numbers started dipping as they froze to death. They realized they needed to make a choice: stay apart and surely die, or tolerate and accept their fellow porcupines’ thorns and survive.

Wisely, they chose to stay together, knowing that the small wounds they receive from one another are worth it in the end.

Chris Linnares is an international author, Brazilian psychotherapist and creator of Diva Dance. She is the founder of Naturally Diva and Diva Connection Foundation for women’s health and empowerment.

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