I met my best friend, Mateo Gin-Tarango when we were in the eighth grade, and we’ve been close since. Both Mateo and I were raised by single mothers. But we connected with a deeper understanding that being raised by single mothers actually meant having an abundance of a family rather than lacking a parent. Our mothers—tenacious and loving as they are—created networks of support systems of strong, influential women who mothered us. Women who brushed our hair, cooked our meals, picked us up from school, told us stories, and guided us through the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Of these women, one stands out. She is Mateo’s grandmother, Mary Tarango whom they drew in the third grade when asked to draw pictures of their superhero.
Colleen Taylor is the president of Merchants Services at American Express, a Spelman College Trustee and more. Her executive accomplishments are manifold. But she saved the best job title for last on her impressive resume “favorite auntie to fourteen nieces and nephews.” When talking with Taylor, she exudes pride with stories and gratitude for her role and how those relationships have shaped her life. Taylor also has a stepson from her late wife, Carol, whom Taylor praised as an “awesome, amazing young man.” Taylor explained how auntie relationships are different from parenting. “You don’t have the pressure of authority. I encourage them to experience everything.”
In March 2020, shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States, the Auntie Sewing Squad was founded by comedian Kristina Wong to provide masks to those unable to access them for financial reasons or other hardships. Unbeknownst to Wong when she started, the group would grow to a considerable size, receive media attention, and importantly, go on to sew and distribute over 350,000 masks to groups ranging from First Nations communities, migrants seeking asylum, farm workers, and a variety of other organizations, many based in California. Fronted by women of color, the organization took on the title “auntie,” as aunties across the country sewed over thousands of handmade masks to supply to underprivileged communities to help protect them from COVID-19.
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.