Maria Esteva left her native Argentina and settled in Austin with her son. She met her future husband — but there were challenges, especially when it came to the holidays.
Earlier this year, we asked for your personal stories of overcoming differences for our Common Ground project in partnership with the Austin Public Library and the Library Foundation.
Maria wrote about building new traditions with her partner and his family.
Read Maria Esteva's story below:
“Christmas Eve dinner will be at uncle Larry’s in New Braunfels” said Kevin. “Would you and Simon come with me? “
I did not want to.
At the time, Kevin was 24 and I was 40. We had met at UT Austin, where he was finishing college and I was starting a doctorate. Far from the turmoil of my life in Argentina, the phrase “gone to Texas” resonated with me. I became the best student, enjoyed motherhood, and led a simple life at the university apartments for families.
Born and raised in Texas, handsome and outdoorsy, Kevin taught my son Simon to fish, and cheered him during soccer games at Zilker Park, while I read at the side of the field. My household was a continuous source of daily little dramas, new flavors, and child care routines that he clung to, and I leaned on him.
Without prospects and with little explaining, our connection was that of two people running together, each of something different. Meeting his family was probably a mistake. I could see how our relationship would cause concern and disappointment.
That afternoon we arrived around 4 p.m., just in time to stand at the end of the line of a buffet of Cornish hen and slow-cooked pork ribs. Timing was of the essence, the family was attending an evening service at their church so we had to be out by 6:30 p.m. Gift opening started right after the last bite in the small living room, every space packed with foliage, lights, and seasonal décor.
Standing by the corridor, I fell back to observe the parade of everything that was different from what I knew.
Everybody was there: Larry’s blended family, Kevin’s brother with his wife and toddler, and his mother and stepfather. At the center, cheering every moment, was grandma Bessie. Jeans and red and green shirts, the laid-back Texas style contrasted with my formal black outfit, which had the opposite effect of making me invisible.
As the mountain of gifts disappeared, and paper wrappings and bows filled black trash bags, I mused about waste, the marketing behind gift giving, and the squandering of electricity.
I was longing for my Christmas celebrations. Dinners served by the host, endless conversations around the table, the ritual of kissing loved ones at midnight, and gifts — only for the children — brought by the three Wise Men on January 6th.
The party was winding down and Bessie called me and asked me to sit by her side.
“I so wanted to meet you!” she told me. “Look, I even dressed in your honor, I got this blouse during a cruise to Mexico!”
I looked at her brilliant, colorful shirt — most likely made in China — and smiled with sincerity. From the other side of the room, Kevin walked over and hugged her. Turning back to me with an expression of joy and complicity on her face, she told me that Kevin was her favorite grandchild.
Since then, many more-or-less awkward family gatherings followed. Simon and I would always sit with Bessie and talk. I never felt the need to clarify that we were not from Mexico. That was beside the point.
She passed away and we miss her very much.
As for Kevin and me, we got married many years ago. Over time, we have created our own traditions. On Christmas Eve, we set up a tree and lights inside the house, and I wish that passers-by perceive the warmth. Each year we cook a dish from a different part of the world and serve a sit-down dinner. I have realized that we do not need to wait until midnight or January 6th. After the guests leave and without rush, we exchange gifts and comment about the party.
All these years, our differences have kept us together.