Greeting from family matriarch means total acceptance

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LAGRULLA, Texas _ On the first day that we arrived here, at about 1 p.m., I met the entire Martinez family. I met the other 10 children, 13 grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and all the in-laws. There must have been 100 people in the house that day.

I felt rather awkward because they all know I am a newspaper reporter living with the family for a year to document their lives. Yet everyone came up and spoke to me as if I were a member of the family.

Raul and Maria Elena Martinez introduced me to their other children as ``the newest addition,'' or ``their other sister.''

To the grandchildren, I was introduced as ``their newest aunt.''

To a certain extent, I felt like I had known the rest of the family as well. While we were living in Boardman, Ore., from July 22 to Oct. 28, Maria Elena and I would spend our days cooking, cleaning and washing while talking about our families.

After four months, I guess it would be easy to know every member of the family by name, although we had never met.

As soon as we arrived, the Martinezes' youngest daughter, Doris, 20, took me to the bedroom designated for me. The sons began unloading and washing my car, asking me how I was after the long drive. Meanwhile, I'm trying to take pictures to run in the newspaper.

The most flattering moment and one I'll always remember is when I met Maria Elena's mother, Manuela Solis.

She had walked out to the back yard to greet her daughter and son-in-law. As she hugged Maria Elena, the rest of the family gathered around in a semicircle, all with smiling faces and laughing. I was in the background, taking pictures.

Almost instantly, she stopped, looked at me and said in Spanish, ``This is the young lady I want to meet.'' Silence fell over the crowd. I stopped taking pictures and lowered my camera. She walked over and extended her hand. ``Welcome to the family,'' Manuela said. We hugged, and with that everyone started talking and laughing again.

To be accepted by the matriarch of the family means to be accepted by the rest _ and it was at that moment that I realized I was.

Later in the evening, Doris and another daughter, Ellen Herbert, sat down at the table and looked me in the eye. ``So how has it been living with my family?'' Doris asked. We talked and joked for hours about the past four months.

I also found it fascinating that the older Martinez children would ask me, and not their parents, how Jimmy, 10, and Billy, 7, did in school. Ellen also pointed out that Billy's English had improved dramatically.

``I guess a lot of that is because of school and by having you live with them,'' she told me in English. ``Mom said you speak nothing but English to the boys.''

And then I saw Charlie, 15, after two months. I was a little weary of seeing him again.

When I first moved in with the family in Walla Walla in July, Charlie was the hardest one to get to know. He had built a huge wall between us, and I remember asking friends of mine in Walla Walla what I should do to get him on my side. I even asked his parents. I was always told, ``Just give him time.''

I did. And with a lot of effort on my part and after traveling with him for four days on the bus to Texas in August, we got to be rather good friends.

Yet, I still thought that maybe once again that wall would be built and once again I'd have to find a way to tear it down.

I was wrong.

When he arrived home from school, the first person he greeted was his mother, of course. I was in the bedroom and heard him arrive, so I walked out into the hall only to find him half way coming to see me.

``Oh, there you are,'' he said smiling, extending his hand. ``How are you? How was the trip?'' he asked in English. I told him he looked great, that his hair was much shorter than I last remembered. Then he went to greet his father and younger brothers.

Later that night and the next day he joked with me about the long drive, and asked if he could drive my car and if he could accompany me while I went driving around LaGrulla and other surrounding communities to take pictures.

Of course I said yes.

There is no wall between us now.

The rest of the night the Martinez house was filled with shaking hands, embracing people and putting names and faces together.

At about 9 p.m., while we were all sitting around the table, I asked, ``Well, is that it? Have I met everyone I'm supposed to meet?'' Laughing, Maria Elena answered, ``Yes, that's it.''

And with that, I excused myself and went into the bedroom to unpack, allowing Maria Elena to spend some private moments with her daughters and mother without having a newspaper reporter nearby.

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