In my world, where Spanish speaking grandparents gave way to "English only" speaking grandchildren, a handful of Spanish words remained in our vocabulary. Bobo, habichuelas, amen-y-amen, and titi. Bobos were baby's pacifiers and foolish old men. Habichuelas were the red beans decorating the white rice at six out of seven dinners per week. Amen-y-amen, coupled with a throaty gloria a dios, was the secret language of the shouters in the front row of the Pentecostal church we attended. And titi was the woman who walked beside your mother and always had extra cash for chewing gum and roller skates.
It is the last of these words that has continued to have value for me as I've matured. Titi. A derivative of tia, the Spanish word for aunt, which shows special affection and love. You see, tias are only old long-lost relatives and aunts are just the sisters of your mom or dad. But titis are the women in your life who represent you. They are related by blood or by love. They cherish you, pamper you, spoil you, and chide you.
I have a Titi Aida, Titi Virginia, Titi Nillie, Titi Ray, Titi Annie, Titi Rachel, Titi Miriam, and just plain Titi. All of them have earned that title. The title that connects me to my heritage-to may language and culture. Like the time when Titi Aida brought me to march with her in the Puerto Rican Day Parade and tolerated my ridiculous red glittery J-Lo tank top. Or when Titi Annie took me to the Bayamore vs. San Germaine basketball game and taught me how to flirt passionately with the Puerto Rican boys. Or when Titi Virginia taught me how to make her piña punch and Titi Ray comforted me when the kids on her block taunted me with words like "white girl," "gringa," and "Casper."
There was a time when I couldn't wait to become a titi myself. So many expectations. Such large shoes to fill. It happened when Katie was born, and then with Sarah, Daniel, Alex, Andrew, Hannah, Nicole, Benjamin, Sophia, and Timothy. I am the titi now. I still get goose bumps when I hear it now - Titi Kelly. I'm the one who must teach the nieces to flirt and protect the nephews from girls who flirt. I am the one who must pass on the piña punch recipe and sooth away the taunts of the neighborhood bullies. I am the one who must keep the words like bobo, habichuelas, and amen-y-amen in the family vocabulary. And I am the one who will eventually relinquish the title of titi to the next generation when my hair grays and my speech slurs.
Titi. A woman who loves. A woman who is loved. That's me.
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