Eso es mi familia, pero, eso esta mi familia

Most of us took basic Spanish in high school. Think back to that and the first verb taught. It is the most used verb in any language hence it has primacy in the curriculum. The verb is the infinitive to be. In Spanish it has two forms dependent upon the object that is being. Estar, and both mean “to be”, but the former refers to things that are transitory, changeable, while the other refers to things considered permanent.

I am a man, soy un hombre. Being a man is considered permanent (not withstanding certain surgeries and the existence of the city of San Francisco)

I am tired, estoy consado. Presumable being tired is not permanent, we will rest and not be tired.

How does it work with family and marriage? Marriage itself is considered, idiomatically, permanent. Soy casado….I am married.Someone needs license to change this because divorce is prolific in places like Mexico now, especially among the middle and affluent classes. Thanks NAFTA.

Worse and more confusing is the condition of being family. Someone sees a photo of me, my wife, and my kids…they ask “who is that”, I reply, “that is my family” or “son mi familia”, son being the conjugation of the verb ser, which is the one expressing permanence.If it was a photo of me, my siblings and my parents, and they ask who it is, my answer would be exactly the same, “son mi familia”.

But….I get divorced, I get remarried, and there are some kids from her prior marriage, and we add a photo of my NEW family. Im asked, who is that? “That is my family”. But then who is THAT they say pointing to the other one with me, the ex wife, and kids. “Thats my ex wife and kids”. Its not my family.

But I thought family was permanent. It is so much so that the existential verb form ser is chosen in Spanish. What about the photo with my parents and siblings, can it ever be rendered not permanent? No, they are and always will be my family.

The more we see the permanence of marriage lessened at the hands and fickle emotions of women who divorce for frivolous reasons, the more these verb implications get out of whack (yes men divorce too, its silly to even mention though if you like the 80/20 rule where you should not spend 80% of your attention on 20% of a problem)

My title refers to the two photos, the first is of me and my parents and siblings and then it refers to my wife and kids:

Eso es mi familia, pero eso esta mi familia.

This is my family (permanent) but this is my family (temporary).

Let it ALWAYS be ser.


3 thoughts on “Eso es mi familia, pero, eso esta mi familia

  1. I enjoyed your insightful view into existence and family. My friend’s ex-husband, who she hadn’t talked to in 15 years, past away in Germany last week. She is surprised to realized how much this event has affected her, as if having no feelings for him would make her not to feel his passing…

    Your confusion about what verb to use in Spanish comes from the very first sentence in your article: “basic Spanish in high school”. In high school, both teachers and textbooks usually provide a generalized and seriously incorrect definition for “ser” and “estar”.

    Just like with the relationship of your former wife, which lasted a certain period of time, consider my profession: I am a teacher (“Soy profesora”). Let’s say today is my last day in the classroom, my teaching career lasted a certain period of time. Tomorrow I will assume my new position as the school principal. Should I say “estoy profesora” because it is a temporary position?

    No, I can’t: “soy profesora” even if it is just for one day. It is description of me, regardless of how long it lasts. Perhaps this approach will make things more clear for you:

    Ser- Describes our existence: our “persona” and everything that composes it (personality, character, origin, religious/political affiliations, marital status, profession, etc). If I am a happy person by nature, I say “soy feliz”
    Describes the existence around us: objects, date, time, seasons, location of an event, origin of objects or the materials they are made of, generalizations such as “es bueno hablar dos idiomas”. The natural, expected state of a soup is to contain salt, “la sopa es salada”

    Estar- It relates to the conditions of our existence: a state of mind (“estoy feliz”, “estoy preocupada”), state of being (“estoy cansada”, “estoy enferma”).
    It relates to the conditions of the existence around us: daily weather, location of people and objects, condition of objects and people. If I put too much salt in the soup, it is not in its natural state, “la sopa está salada” .
    It can be used to state someone’s opinion about anything, it might not be the reality (the existence) for other people. If you have an used bicycle that you just got tired of, you can say “la bicicleta está vieja”. I in turn, who has no bicycle at all and see nothing wrong with yours, consider it to be in pretty good condition, so “la bicicleta está nueva” for me.

    I hope this commentary about existence and conditions thereof will clarify the use of the verbs “ser” and “estar”. Sometimes looking into the window of another language it is in fact looking at another way to conceptualize things, another “existence”.

    Un gran saludo,

    Profesora Barragán
    California, Estados Unidos.

  2. Gracias por tu ayuda.
    Tengo mas clases que estos de la esquela, entonces, estuve en clases intinsivo in Cuernavaca, circa un mes de clases con doce horas cada dia. Hace tres anos desde. Pero, tengo mucho mas para aprender. Estoy estudiando todovia por supuesto.

    I was referring to the high school classes because that was part of my illustration, not because it was the basis of the metaphor. Its not obvious, and really not important at all but I saw this comment and decided to respond. i do appreciate your idiomatic guidance. As is evident above, I muddle through so far but am on the mission. Soy un aventurero idiomatico!

  3. Pingback: Inanimate, yet sapient, sentient, and volitional…..Our Emotional Workarounds | Feminism is Empathological

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