Opinion: How family became my wake-up call this summer


Credit: Katya Luzarraga

WSPN’s Katya Luzarraga discusses the impact family has on a world recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katya Luzarraga

After all these years, I almost forgot what it meant for me to see my whole family together again. We’ve all put these walls up between each other. For the last two years I thought it was okay because we could blame it on a pandemic, but now that the world is slowly shifting back to normal, these family connections are all we have.

Health was the number one priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it should have been. Unfortunately, the mass paranoia that every one of us fostered made us pull away from the people who cared about us and needed us the most. We lived in a constant state of fear that our family could get sick and die, and logically, we isolated ourselves to save everyone else.

Every day, I look back on those two years trapped in a bubble of fear and restrictions. I lost perspective of who I was, as there was never a chance for me to breathe, relax or take time to discover who I was before the pandemic.

I spent all of my sophomore year in high school dealing with expectations set by myself, my parents and society to be this overachieving student who did all the right things.

Then, my whole world changed when my parents told me they were divorcing. I didn’t know how to react or how to adjust my identity with this monumental news. Along with all of the drawbacks that COVID-19 had on my schoolwork, friendships and sense of self, my parents divorcing felt like an asteroid determined to destroy my path to perfection. I had to dig deep within myself to realize that situations outside my family life, like dealing with rocky friendships and bad grades, had no effect on me. It all came down to family. Family was the missing piece to my puzzle.

My family is made up of a lot of parts that don’t work in synchrony anymore. The rhythmic flow of the household has been interrupted permanently, and it has disturbed me with it. Now, my parents time their appearances in the kitchen so they don’t see each other, and everyone has a quadrant of the house that they call their own, barely seeing each other even when we’re all under the same roof. I knew that this summer I needed to regain some sort of connection to my family in order to feel whole again.

This summer, I was open to all opportunities to see my family, both near and far. In August, I went to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware with my mom’s side of the family. This is an annual trip that my aunt plans, where she changes the destinations of where we go each year. We walked along the beach, spent late nights talking and laughing on the deck, and ate copious amounts of guilty pleasure “vacation foods,” as we liked to call them. It was a vacation to strengthen the already solid relationship that I had with my mom’s side of the family.

Even though I saw my mom’s side of the family much more often than my dad’s side, it still felt special to reconnect with them and put all our worries aside for one week. Taking late night walks with my aunt and ranting about the stressful day we had had with our crazy family was enough for me, because I never saw her and for once it was us, uninterrupted.

Later, I traveled to New York with my dad. We were on a journey to the US Open Tennis Championships, but first we carved out a weekend to see his family, who resides in Huntington, NY and Queens, NY.

Family was always important to me, but sometimes the familial customs that my dad cherished so deeply were overshadowed by other pressing issues in my life like finishing homework on time or talking to my friends. I would leave the dinner table without asking to be excused or not greet people I wasn’t familiar with, things that should have been ingrained in my brain.

As the daughter of an Ecuadorian father, I’ve always known that Latin culture valued family above all else, but I never realized how much I was missing in my mixed Latin and European family until I visited my dad’s side of the family.

Even after not seeing us for over three years, my dad’s brother opened up his house to us in Huntington. The hospitality that I saw was awe-inspiring and opened my eyes to the role family had in my dad’s life. He knew that he could just ask my uncle for a place to stay for a few nights, and my uncle wouldn’t hesitate for a second.

My abuelita Maria is a person I value a lot in my life, and she’s who my middle name is inspired by. Not only is she one of the most dedicated mothers I know raising five kids, but she also taught me the lesson of treasuring every single moment in life. The way she talked about her family and showed me the picture of herself standing behind her five children made me realize how I’ll never have the close-knit family that my father had while growing up.

Simply walking into my abuelita Maria’s apartment in Queens felt like a whole different world. It was tender and warm inside, with family blooming from every single corner of the small space. Latin traditions ensure that every single person gets a pleasant welcome and a kiss on the cheek from their family members, no matter how long you go without seeing them. The sound of my aunts praising me, saying “Katya Maria, you’re so big and beautiful,” is all that I would ever need to hear to feel sure of myself.

Pictures lined an accent table across from the living room. They depicted all of the milestones in my dad’s family – adolescence, careers, marriages and family. Not only were they there to remind my abuelita of her memories, but they reminded me of who my family was.

I sometimes wish that COVID-19 had never happened and that I could regain the old idea of who I was, but it took being isolated from my family to truly understand the impact they had on my life.

I got to find myself again. No moment was perfect this summer, but when I was with my family, letting myself be vulnerable, that felt pretty close to perfect.