Real Aunties Day on March 8 celebrates more than your parents’ siblings and genealogy. This holiday provides an organic way to bring all the realness together, especially for Black, Brown, and Tan families and communities. We know that real aunties defy pronouns, are chosen kinfolk, sometimes biological, and some are ancestors. Aunties do the work in real life, physically, spiritually, and emotionally that deserve appreciation. We intentionally set March 8, International Women’s Day, which honors women’s hard work, as Real Aunties Day. March is Women’s History Month, a perfect time to remember aunts!
Cultural nuances about kinships, identity, and the intersectionalities of race, gender, and age are key to understanding how this holiday differs from other family holidays. Our family concept here expands the Euro-Anglo nuclear structure. We embrace Diasporan, global traditions where family is the community, and everyone is your kin. Real aunties are there for us with love, support, fun, and laughter. They bring a secret sauce that holds our communities together. Some aunts drive us crazy. Some aunts are trustworthy and are our go-to people. And best of all, aunts love being aunties!
This holiday was created in 2017 by Sylvia Wong Lewis as part of Auntyland, a media platform that centers on women and girls of color and explores multicultural aunt traditions through stories and events. Lewis believes that aunts are the most under-appreciated women globally, especially single women and those who did not birth children of their own. Aunts are expected to fill in the gaps with time, energy, and support. Most aunts enjoy and love the central role that they play in families and communities.
“This holiday is about decolonizing national holidays. We’re here to affirm. This is a reclamation! We want everyone to take one day, March 8 or the whole month of March, to pause, recognize, and show appreciation for all the hard work that aunties do,” said Lewis.
Lewis is grateful for her aunties, most of whom were Southerners, Caribbean, Black, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx, women in her Chinese, West Indian, Creole BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) Mississippi, Louisiana, Harlem, and Brooklyn family and community. Lewis credits her aunties with positive guidance and intervention at pivotal times in her life.
“My aunties helped me to achieve, recover, and thrive in many areas of my life. Creating this holiday is a way to say Thank you and ask the world to join us in giving a global shout-out to real aunties,” said Lewis, a proud auntie.
Go to the EVENTS page for more information. Send a note to: Always@www.RealAuntiesDay.org.
If someone asked me how many aunts I have, I probably wouldn’t get the number right—there are just so many of them. After consulting with my mom, however, I have confirmed that I have eight aunts in total. Four are my mom’s sisters and four are my dad’s sisters. Two are in Los Angeles, CA, one is in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and five are in Santa Ana, El Salvador. Those five I haven’t seen since the last time I visited my parent’s home country, which was in 2010 when I was 12 years old.
Carmen Michel is a Haitian auntie living in Queens, NY who loves cooking, traveling, and listening to Haitian folk and jazz music. She was the third of five children: two brothers, and three sisters, all of whom grew up in Jacmel, Haiti. Despite growing up there, she was the only one of the five who was not born in Jacmel. While her mother was pregnant with her, she went to visit her sickly mother (Michel’s grandmother) in a village called Decouze when suddenly she went into labor and gave birth to Michel. Although Michel is proud of her training as a teacher and nurse, she believes there is more respect to the roles that ‘aunties’ play in Haitian communities.
Dr. Marta Effinger-Crichlow is a theater scholar, filmaker, and author of Staging Migrations Toward an American West: From Ida B. Wells to Rhodessa Jones. To hear Dr. Effinger-Crichlow on a CUNY Podcast discuss her Staging Migrations book, click here. In that podcast interview Dr. Effinger-Crichlow described migrations as physical and symbolic and mentioned that she sometimes sees the world as a theater set. How people speak, perform, and gesture are of great interest to her. The Chair and Professor in the African American Studies Department at New York City College of Technology-CUNY reflected on her family’s participation in the Great Migration from a small town in Virginia to Washington DC in the early 1900s. Growing up in DC, she recalled as a child listening to her mother and aunts tell stories. She believes that the roots of her creative work have roots in her mother’s and aunts stories. She heard them talk about many things, from the Civil Rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to the riots that took place in DC following his assassination. She also heard about the migration– what it was like for her aunts and mother to leave their ancestral community Down South and adjust to a new city up North.
Stella Canlas grew up in Quezon City, the Philippines as the eldest of seven children now scattered across the globe. Three siblings are in North America, three in Australia, and one in the Philippines. Growing up, Stella had three aunts on her Dad’s side. However, they lived in the province and she very rarely saw or talked to them, especially because she did not speak their local dialect. On her mother’s side, she had only one uncle, her Tito Baby. But she grew up close to his wife, her Tita Lety, who was also her baptismal ninang or godmother.
Stella will always hold her Tita Lety close to her heart because, despite having ten children of her own and experiencing financial struggles, she was always kind, welcoming, and generous. Stella explains: “More than the food she would feed me, or the dresses she made for me, she was always a source of strength,” noting the many sacrifices she offered for her children. “Today, 9 of her 10 children are in the USA, a dream that she knew would be fulfilled, a result of sheer tenacity and unwavering faith in God.” Overall, Stella believes her Tita Lety “was quite an inspiration, a reflection of a strong, motivated and kind-hearted woman.”
Stella says that “in a close-knit family, the Filipino aunt is considered the second mother of one’s children” and adds that, “in most cases, parents, in their wills, bequeath their children to their sisters.” Additionally, as roughly 80% of the Philippine population practices Roman Catholicism, the Filipino aunt “is also, more often than not, the baptismal or confirmation godmother of the child.” In this way, the role of the Filipino aunt is often intertwined with the Catholic faith and traditions derived from Catholicism.
In her children’s own lives, there is one blood-related aunt, Stella’s sister Rose, but there are also four sister-in-laws, Cecile, Malu, Margarita, and Milagros, who are married to the brothers of Gerry, Stella’s husband. Rose, she says, was and is her children’s favorite tita and was a ninang at her daughter Jen’s wedding. Stella notes: “my children love her unconditionally. She is the epitome of an all-giving, complete aunt.” Her children are also very close to their uncles and aunt-in-law and least one or both of them were principal sponsors for the children’s weddings.
In Filipino weddings, ninangs and ninongs are principal sponsors, or godmothers and godfathers, respectively, who have close relationships to the wedding couple and are chosen by them to be a part of the wedding entourage. They are, of course, chosen to be official witnesses to the wedding, but their participation in the wedding is also symbolic of the support they have given, and will continue to give, to the couple in their marriage.
Ninangs & Ninongs, Wedding Sponsors
Stella’s own children followed the traditional Filipino wedding customs, with, for example, the groom’s family formally asking for the bride’s hand in marriage (the “pamanhikan”). Three out of her four children had traditional Filipino church weddings with both principal and secondary sponsors. The principal sponsors are chosen by the bride and groom and, as Stella’s daughter-in-law, Maia, says, they “tend to be the older AND wiser relatives who helped raise us or played a key role in our childhood formation.” For Stella’s children, the principal sponsors, or ninangs and ninongs, were aunts, uncles, and older friends in the Catholic community that they are all members of. For example, Maia and Geoff chose an aunt who played witness to the beginning of their courtship and an uncle who knew them both from a very young age. They, she says, “continue to be the pillars of guidance, even after 12 years of marriage.”
In these weddings there are also secondary sponsors, usually close friends of the bride and groom. For their own secondary sponsors, Maia and Geoff chose close friends who played a key role in the development of their relationship– “like the friend who knew that romance brewing before we even knew it!” she says. The secondary sponsors participate in the veil, cord, candle, and coin ceremonies and present these tokens to the marrying couple during the nuptial mass.
Each of these tokens is deeply symbolic with, for example, as Maia explains: “the laying of the veil and cord (“yugal“) to symbolize unity and strength, and presenting 13 coins “arrhae” as a symbol of future prosperity throughout the marriage.” Reflecting further on the importance of these objects in the ceremony, Maia says: “though some relatives were unable to physically be present at our wedding, their presence was felt by way of loaning these wedding tokens on our wedding day…and we hope they continue to be handed down in the family for generations to come and keep these traditions alive.”
Aunts are central
Upon being asked what the pivotal role that aunts played in her wedding was, Natasha, Stella’s other daughter-in-law, says: “I think praying for us really. That was and is what our sponsors are to us. Besides being a guide, they would send us anniversary greetings with scriptures/prayers.” Natasha adds: “they’re also of course great role models. Having been a flower[girl] at their own wedding 30+ years ago also serves as an inspiration/encouragement on lasting marriages.” In this way, it is clear that Filipino aunts play an integral role in the upbringing of their nieces and nephews and often continue to do so well into adulthood, as ninangs to them and their spouses. If anyone is interested in learning more about Filipino aunts and family traditions, below are some sources Stella suggests for doing so.