Thursday, August 5, 2010
Family Reunions: Living History
Today's TALK OF THE NATION (NPR Radio) covered the upcoming 85th Quander Family Reunion.
What's remarkable about this particular reunion is this:
The Quander family, one of the oldest and largest black families in America, celebrates its 85th reunion this year. They'll convene at Mount Vernon, where the first Quanders were held as slaves.
I was impressed with how this family has organized itself into a folkloric machine, complete with its own non-profit historical society. The Quander Quality is devoted to preserving the family legacy that began on this continent in slavery. The society also strives to keep the family together by coordinating reunions like the one they have planned this year.
Throughout the radio interview, callers also chimed in about their family stories, each of them as unique as the caller and reminded me of my last family reunion.
95 members of the Pizante-Abouaf family took a Mexican cruise in 2008. Family from as far away as Greece were on the ship that, at times, it felt like we owned. Jokingly, I suggested that there were enough of us on the ship to redirect the boat to Rhodes which was once the heart of our family tree. Well, maybe the branches.
Our family were Spanish Jews (Sephardim) who had been forced to leave Spain during the inquisition. With relatives all over the world (thanks to the diaspora) the strain that ended up in Rhodes included my grandfather who arrived in this country in 1917. He paved the way for his brothers and then for his wife and her brothers to find a new life north of San Francisco.
Raphael Pizante's name is on the wall at Ellis Island as it that of his wife Fortunee Abouaf (Pizante). Fortunately for me, most of the Pizante and Abouaf siblings who immigrated lived near one another in Vallejo which was one a thriving port of call. A few siblings found their way to other parts of the country; cities where the Sephardic community still gather together. Those cities include Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.
In the mobile nature of our fast-paced American society, we are spred out. Cousins I visited weekly now live up to 8 hours away from me by car. My own siblings live anywhere from 1 to 9 hours away and each of us live such full lives that we rarely see one another. The larger family is even harder to get together. We try every five years or so to have a reunion the one we had on the cruise ship. We select different locations and activities and price points so that everyone has an opportunity to participate.
But I am inspired by the NPR show I heard today. The Quander family is looking towards its 100th Family Reunion. Their story made me away of mine: in seven years our family will have been in this country 100 years!
Looks like it's time to start working on our next one. In the meantime, congratulations to the Quander's family and may they continue to prosper!