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Joe, Interim Director, Diversity Initiatives

By UCR Jobs

Joe Virata

So I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately with the folks in my family (uncles, aunts, cousins, siblings, in-laws, nieces, nephews, wife and sons), trying to figure out what the holidays are all about.  There’s so much going on that it’s a real challenge to nail down a meaningful definition of what this time of year really means.  I’m not even sure where the edges are for this season – do I start with Halloween and work my way to Easter? Do I narrow it from Thanksgiving to the Lunar New Year?  What about those birthdays that find themselves competing with Christmas?  Some of us go to bed early to get rested for Black Friday, while others look forward to Midnight Mass.  One generation wants to drive for miles and hours to spend time with family, while another generation goes out of its way to avoid that uncle who thinks he’s being cool, but he’s really just annoying.

One thing that seems to unite all these celebrations and occasions is the food.  Oh, the food!  Our family tree has roots in so many traditions that we’ve found a way to have the roast turkey peacefully coexist with roast pig (that’s the letson you smell as you enter the kitchen), and slices of sweet potato pie nestle sweetly between the bibingka (one of many types of rice flour based desserts) and the cheesecake.  We’ve found that tamales and fried wonton complement each other nicely, but I don’t think anyone has tried to make a taco from tako (that’s Hawai’ian for octopus).   And somehow a pizza always shows up or someone heads out on a Tommy’s run for those craving that junk food fix.  Not everyone eats everything, but everyone gets fed, and everyone takes something home.

At some point during our family gatherings, the older kids find a way to hide from parents who want them to play the piano for Uncle and Auntie, but the youngest ones get caught and end up playing that piece they were supposed to play at their recital.  After the kids finish, one of the uncles, glowing red from all the sun and San Miguel taken in while bbq-ing will sit at the ivories while his wife sings one of those songs from back in the old days — a kundiman in waltz time, or maybe a fifties do-wop.  And then the reminiscing starts.  You hear it in Tagalog, Spanish, Ilocano, and even in English as the teenagers remember that one time at Auntie’s house in Vegas when everyone got socks for Christmas. 

Somewhere in the next room, someone is playing the Andy Williams Christmas Album (on cd now, because the record player has been broken for years), and in the corner, you catch a glimpse as Dad quietly straightens Mom’s portrait.

It’s right about now that I find the room the teenagers are hiding in, and try to start a conversation about the thick layer of western colonialism and consumerism that has come to influence and define so much of our cultural practice.  And as they disappear one by one out the door, I discover that I’ve become that annoying uncle.


So I guess it’s about family. That’s what it boils down to.  Family…with food on top.


Joe Virata
Interim Director, Diversity Initiatives


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