Liz Alarc贸n: Maribel, can you believe it’s already December? Didn’t this year fly by?

Maribel Quezada Smith: Absolutely, I feel like once we hit June, it was over.

Liz Alarc贸n: I know, it’s probably because of the post-pandemic life that we’ve actually been more out there this year. But I think it’s also been because so many wild things have happened this year, between Roe V Wade, the death of the Queen, war in Ukraine. Just so many things are going on.

Maribel Quezada Smith: I know! Twitter imploding, November elections that by the way are still going on. And then all of a sudden the end of the year just got here. But that also means the start of the holiday season and large family gatherings, which is always interesting because you never know what kind of drama and fights are going to go down at the holiday parties with familia. Especially when you have all these generational differences, political differences, religious differences. Sometimes, at least for me, it makes me think, “Are we ever actually gonna get along again?”

Liz Alarc贸n: Exactly, and just with so many things that could be possible, very dangerous topics at the dinner table this year when we’re celebrating the end of the year…ooh, it gives me anxiety just thinking about it. And that’s our question for you all, Pulso fam. What can we do to make this year different? And how can we take care of ourselves while still enjoying quality time with nuestra gente? That is exactly what this week’s episode of the Pulso pod is about. Our Producer Jackie, talked to several people who know this struggle intimately, and even found us some helpful tips about how to keep the peace.

Jackie Noack: To start, could you just introduce yourself?

Gaby Chavez: My name is Gaby and my pronouns are she, her, ella.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Gaby is Salvadorian and Bolivian, and she grew up in LA.

Gaby Chavez: Specifically Orange County.

Maribel Quezada Smith: But she decided to leave sunny California and moved across the country to Boston for her grad school.

Gaby Chavez: Since 2014 just out here braving the cold.

Liz Alarc贸n: And her family back in California, they know how to throw a party. She told us about the last big family gathering they had for her Grandpa’s birthday.

Gaby Chavez: We had like a mariachi and a taquero that like will make tacos on the spot for people. We had a pupusa lady making pupusas. Obviously had like a lot of beer and a lot of music which was really cool.

Jackie Noack: That sounds so good.

Gaby Chavez: It was so good. Oh my God. It was the greatest thing. Um but it was really nice to have all my family there.

Liz Alarc贸n: But it’s not just fun and parties with her family, for Gaby there are more challenging aspects to coming home for the holidays.

Gaby Chavez: We have a variety of like religious beliefs in my family and navigating those have always been um, a little tricky at times.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Most of Gaby’s family is Christian, and when Gaby was 30 years old, she felt called to start exploring Islam, and this didn’t sit well with some of her family.

Gaby Chavez: one of my uncles who is a very strict, conservative evangelical Christian sent me as a gift, a book about like how Muslims are waving jihad on people or something. It was very clearly Islamiphobic. He was not a fan.

Liz Alarc贸n: And these are the kinds of issues that get carried over into the family when they get together.

Jackie Noack: Is there an unspoken agreement or a spoken agreement about like, what we talk about, what we don’t talk about, or don’t talk to that person about that thing?

Gaby Chavez: It’s kind of like this unspoken thing that we don’t talk about religion but it will come up in like weird ways.

Maribel Quezada Smith: So these days Gaby mostly tries to just stay away from the big gatherings.

Gaby Chavez: I have made it a point to kind of avoid going to things where that portion of my family will be present. I care about them, but I don’t want them to ask me about anything. I don’t want to like have a discussion about my beliefs. I don’t think that’s a part of my life that they need to know about necessarily.

Maribel Quezada Smith: But of course this carries its own challenges.

Gaby Chavez: Then everyone’s gonna be like, But that’s your family. You should love them no matter what. That’s your blood. You need to stick it out like even if you disagree. And so I鈥檓 just feeling very uncomfortable around this.

Jackie Noack: Has there ever been a situation where you felt the need to, either intervene or distance yourself or create some kind of boundary?

Gaby Chavez: I differ very strongly in my opinions and I don’t want to be in a position where I’m having to like fight with them about it and maybe I should be fighting with them about it more. I don’t know if that’s a healthy approach maybe to things. But like, I think the reality is it’s just like for self-preservation purposes and like not wanting to discuss or justify my beliefs or my values or my existence or anything to my family. Like I’m just making a choice to kind of like create some distance.

Liz Alarc贸n: All this being said, Gaby hasn’t given up completely.

Jackie Noack: For this Christmas season, are you, you’re going back?

Gaby Chavez: I am, I’m flying back in probably a couple. Or not, probably actually a couple weeks, like I bought my ticket.

Liz Alarc贸n: But of course religion is not the only conflict prone subject when it comes to family get-togethers.

Jonathan Borge: my brother, his wife, one aunt, and then my dad voted for Trump.

Maribel Quezada Smith: Yes, politics, the other perilous subject.

Liz Alarc贸n: Jonathen Borge is a writer and editor of Nicaraguan descent. He lives in Hialeah, Florida as part of a large family.

Jonathan Borge: it was a crazy, loud, dramatic Nicaraguan family. You know, we grew up with like 10 people literally in the house, so used to a lot of chaos.

Liz Alarc贸n: He was always close with his family, but during the 2016 presidential campaign, a big split started to emerge when half of his immediate family started to support the new candidate, Donald Trump.

Jonathan Borge: There were moments when somebody would bring up the election in a family group text, and I would get heated and I would just get very upset and call my sister and. Why would this person choose to share this topic that affects us?

Maribel Quezada Smith: Jonathan and his sister are both gay, and it wasn’t particularly easy for either of them to come out to the family. For them, it felt quite personal that their family was supporting a candidate who they felt didn’t support them, or Latinos in general for that matter.

Jonathan Borge: It is a house divided in that sense, where we have people who are voting in different, in different ways. Politics really can divide family.

Maribel Quezada Smith: So Jonathen did what he knows how to do best, he wrote. At the time he was working for Oprah Daily, and he penned an article titled: “I芒鈧劉m Gay and Latino芒鈧漚nd My Family Supports Trump. How Can We Survive the Holidays?” In this article, he detailed the difficulties of navigating this massive political divide. He shared the frustration, the difficulty, and how, eventually he had to let it go and realize he could not change their minds.

Jonathan Borge: Now it’s almost like ignorance is bliss in a way where I just have chosen not to engage in that capacity.

Liz Alarc贸n: But while this works for some of the family, Jonathen told us about how the relationship with one of his brothers never really recovered. And even though he gets invited to family gatherings at his brother’s house, he doesn’t feel like he can go.

Jonathan Borge: I have opted out because I just, I know that I’ll be uncomfortable. I wish we could live in harmony and put our differences aside, but they’re just so, the differences are so big. A huge part of why we’re not close is because when I came out, they were not very warm nor accepting, and I never was able to work through that with them. Um, so you know, them extending an invite is very kind, but I need a conversation. You know, I need clarity.

Liz Alarc贸n: So obviously we all know the difficulties of interacting with our family, all the differences, the drama. But what can we do to try and keep things feeling good over the holidays?

Maribel Quezada Smith: Dr. Lydiana Garcia is a Puerto Rican psychologist and therapist specializing in trauma.

Dr. Lydiana Garcia: I’m just holding space, but also helping them problem solve. Okay, here we are. What can we do? Because you are important. So how can we decrease stressors? How can we manage the stressors? How can we work into acceptance and surrender?

Liz Alarc贸n: And Dr. Garcia told us how much she’s noticed life getting harder for people over the past handful of years, especially due to the pandemic and divided family politics.

Dr. Lydiana Garcia: When Trump won, that year was very, very intense for most of my clients. And it just brought a lot of things into the surface. And the bottling up or, or avoiding, which is a very normal response when we are stressed, when we’re overwhelmed, with trauma. It just was not enough. And then people were having more difficulties holding back, so they were more like mood swings, explosion, or saying things to family or caregivers and then be like, ay ay ay, I should not have said that.

Maribel Quezada Smith: So, what does she recommend to help navigate family issues? Well to start, we don’t want to bottle up our anger or frustration, but we also have to be careful in how we express ourselves when entering difficult conversations.

Dr. Lydiana Garcia: Sometimes younger or folks and clients do it based on an expectation. If I confront them, they’re gonna change. If I say this, then I’m gonna stop doing that. And that’s technically usually what doesn’t happen. So then that brings like frustration and then that creates sometimes a loop of like, okay, I need to express more. Maybe I need to express it in a different way, or maybe I need to set more boundaries this way.

Liz Alarc贸n: Dr Garcia says that we need to understand what our intentions are when we are expressing. Are we expressing because we are expecting someone to change or because we need to share how we feel?

Dr. Lydiana Garcia: Is it more for me to release that and that’s gonna be enough no matter however they react, no matter if they don’t change their behavior? Or am I expecting some change of behavior or some boundaries?

Maribel Quezada Smith: And when things don’t go the way we want, it’s important to not take everything personally.

Dr. Lydiana Garcia: Maybe it’s like it’s not about me, it’s about them. They have their stuff. Because as soon as we internalize it’s about me, then we are gonna respond or we’re gonna feel more attacked. So a lot of it is perspective.

Liz Alarc贸n: But even with all these tools, it’s important to understand that not all battles are worth fighting.

Dr. Lydiana Garcia: There will be people, honestly that I honestly think that is not even worth it. That it might be just a letter that you send, like a one way of releasing them or just saying everything, but not expecting to have in person conversation. Whether it’s alcohol, whether it’s their own mental health, whether it’s their ego, whatever. They’re not gonna be able to see you or validate you, and it can create more suffering.

Liz Alarc贸n: So what are some things we can do this year to avoid confrontation?

Dr. Lydiana Garcia: Set a time and maybe have something before and after. They’re still gonna get upset if you leave early or leave late. Remember in the Latine culture is much like that. Have a timer. Oh, I have something else I have to leave by this time.

Maribel Quezada Smith: And don’t forget to set boundaries if you feel comfortable and able to do so.

Dr. Lydiana Garcia: If there’s a topic that you don’t wanna talk, then finding a way to either say, you know what, I don’t wanna talk about it. And if they continue, then removing yourself from that space as much as you can. Or like, oh, I have a call. Or getting you put in your headphones. Or start starting a conversation with someone else.

Liz Alarc贸n: Another tip, if your family gathering involves travel, make sure to take some time for yourself when you can.

Dr. Lydiana Garcia: Create other plans that you also enjoy, even if you’re going to a family gathering, even if it’s your hometown already. Put things on your schedule that you wanna do that are fun for you, like be a tourist in your own town, and if you can rent a car or find public transportation. Don’t be at the mercy of your family. That’s another thing that tends to be really hard. And if not, find Uber, Lyft, whatever it is that you can have and have those plans ahead of time.

Maribel Quezada Smith: We hope you don’t feel like it’s all doom and gloom. Remember that the holiday season is about spending quality time with loved ones. When possible, bring that sentiment of togetherness to your gatherings. Hopefully that intention setting can remind your people that the differences between you all are not stronger than the love and bond you share.

Liz Alarc贸n: And you know what, if all the things fail, surround yourself with those who mean the most to you, whether it’s relatives or found family, too.

This episode was produced by Charlie Garcia and Jackie Noack, Audio engineering and mixing by Charlie Garcia, additional audio engineering and music by Julian Blackmore.

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