“Wait, which cousin is this?” is what my friends usually interject when I am telling them a story about my family. I don’t blame them. It’s never the one I had told them about before — not the one that just had a baby (three of them,) and not the one currently on a vision quest in the the canyons of Arizona. One of the most defining parts of who I am today is that I have a very close family and there are a lot of us. My dad was born in Barranquilla, Colombia as one of six siblings and my mom was born in Quito, Ecuador, the last of nine.

They each came to the United States while they were teenagers and although many of their brothers and sisters have migrated down to South Florida, many still live in the Northeast and a few are still back in South America. Well, a "few" is all relative.

Our first big family trip ever was to Ecuador. After gawking at the majesty of the Andes through my airplane window, I was immediately struck by the smells the moment we landed. I'd never thought about what a pig would smell like if it were hanging in 90 degree weather in an open market. My brother and I were a bit overwhelmed to say the least. Then we were greeted by what seemed like an entire town before we sat down for our first lunch at my grandparent’s home. We were seated at the kids table with cousins we had never met and I poked at a bowl of soup with an indiscernible animal hoof sticking out, shyly trying to chat them up in my broken Spanish.

Ecuadorian family
photo: Daniela Cabrera

After getting through the most intense culinary experience a vegetarian little girl could have, we all shuffled into the sala. Abuelito poured shots of rum and invited live musicians to greet us. This was a celebration! They were proud of their country, proud of their food, proud of their people and they wanted us to savor every moment of it. My brother and I warmed up to our new cousins and the bond was immediate — by the end of the trip we were wearing matching sweatshirts and planning their first trip to Disney World.

At this house in Andrade Marin, I realized my family was not just the ones that I'd left back in the States and were also not just determined by blood. My grandparents also knew people who had lived across the street their entire lives. They came over with baskets of fresh baked bread and the girl had been watching my grandparents since she was sixteen years old. They loved her just as their own.

We danced and shared stories and I knew that I would always have a home in my mother’s country. This is where my wanderlust was born. I was thousands of miles away from Miami, but the people and the land that embraced us. When younger, you don’t understand that not everyone has the same family you have. I feel incredibly lucky to have a tight-knit circle that weaves all over the globe of people who are always rooting for each other. I didn’t ask for the (sometimes) wild mess that comes along with having a massive family, but they are dynamic, passionate and they are mine. That is one thing I will always be proud of.

Ecuadorian family
photo: Daniela Cabrera