Virtual Families

The extended Venezuelan family is a thing of the past. It has now been replaced by 0’s and 1’s, by cold LCD screens, beeps and buzzes.

I wake up and instantly blind myself with a beam of light. I can’t help it. The first thing I see is a green icon and a red circle with three digits. It’s my family’s WhatsApp group.

In a few seconds I’ve scrolled past messages and memes, cadenas and family pics. I’m happy to confirm everyone’s okay, and I smile when I see how fast the youngest cousin is growing up. I can’t help but notice how diluted the feeling is, however, so mellowed out by digital layers and cold glass screens.

La familia used to be the center of my life, like for every Venezuelan. Not only mom, dad, and siblings: aunts and uncles, grandparents, second cousins, my tíos to whom I’m not technically related to but are my parents’ best friends.

They’re all my family, to the extent that it makes me uncomfortable to have to call them my “extended” family or “relatives” in English conversations.

My maracucho grandpa was always running the show. The entire family would meet at his big house in Campo de Carabobo on Sundays, right after mass, for the almost-equally religious parrilla; Venezuelan barbecue. He would give us chores to do: feed the parrots, take the ice to the caney, go to the corner store and buy Coke. He was an indisputable source of authority, even for those of us who’d become rebellious teenagers: nobody wanted to deal with my grandpa’s cariacos. Por las buenas, though, he was the sweetest, despite his stern looks.

My dad, always with the cuatro at hand, played the funniest Venezuelan traditional songs for all of us. My great-grandma baked elaborate cakes, the tíos were in charge of the punta trasera, the tías handled the guasacaca. As the oldest cousin, I would make up games to play outdoors with twelve other kids of all ages. Man, we had such good times. Every. Single. Sunday.

Today’s Sundays? Electronic pulses being set back and forth.

We’re keeping informed, but not really in touch. We’re being entertained, but not really fulfilled. My family is now split across continents, leaving group chats and video calls as our only tools for maintaining our meaningful connection. I appreciate these feeble bridges that digital technology is tending, but, having lived the real deal, they don’t fully cut it.

We are away because the crisis became too dire, opportunities sprung up elsewhere, and we took them. We were extremely lucky to be born to this loving family and to not have been victims of the real tragedies happening to Venezuelans every day.

Alas, the crisis turned my family to a virtual one, and it hurts.