What Is Project Family?

There is no bigger influence in my life than my very own family and yet I have so few photos of them. Part of me is ashamed I haven't spent the time to photograph them while they are around and close to me. It seems we tend to memorialize them once they've gone and wish we had done more while they were near. When I asked Heather to marry me, I made it a personal project of mine to take photographs of my immediate family, in-laws included, but knew it shouldn't stop there. I decided to take on this grand project of taking headshots of extended family whether by blood or through a great sense of kinship. Life is so fleeting that I find it evermore pressing to "experience the now" and cherish moments as they happen rather than waiting to reminisce later on down the road. This project, though a bit selfish on my part, is my way of reaching beyond "thank you" and "I love you" and creating a permanent testimonial of my adoration and gratitude that will survive for years to come.

Before going to college, "family" simply meant being related to someone. If you weren't blood, you weren't family. Not until going to Loyola Marymount University did I rethink  its meaning. Jeff Takaki is my fraternity brother from Delta Sigma Pi, the Shaq to my Kobe in basketball, my jailmate in Advanced Accounting and my lunchroom savior. Without a doubt in my mind, Jeff is one of the main reasons I got through college with a full stomach and a sane mind. From the  beginning we were inseparable and it just wouldn't feel right not having one my best friends standing by my side on the day of my wedding. 

This is my hot shot, pogi-boy, trend setting cousin, Growing up, Brendan John (BJ) and I were inseparable. For fun BJ and I would choreograph dance routines to guilty pleasures from N'Sync, Gary V and Hanson (yeah HANSON), play basketball any chance we could and even go head to head in family poker.  I miss him dearly now that he is living in New York quickly climbing the ranks over at HBO.  While his decision to move to the east coast was tough to swallow, I never really felt his move because he was always generous with his time during his visits back to LA. Regardless of how tired he was, he made it a point to see his family. I always loved that about him along with his other selfless qualities. You can bet I asked him to be one of my groomsmen.

Meet another cousin of mine, Tessa. She's funky, she's cool, she has an amazing sense of fashion and one of the most talented artist in the Aranda Clan. She also happens to be the 2nd girl and last girl I have asked to stand on my side on my big day. Tessa embodies a lot of what I love about being a part of this crazy family. Although I love Culver City, it's only draw back is that it is relatively far from where my cousins grew up and currently live. While it is easy and completely understandable for my cousins to forget about me, I never felt like the odd one out. Not once did I ever have to say, "I wish I was invited" because Tessa ALWAYS remembered me. She has always been the inclusive type, a trait she has gracefully taken from her Mom. All my friends, Heather included, will always mention how welcoming she is and I love that about her. I am proud to have her on my side and even prouder to call her family. 

Meet my cousin, Danielle. I keep forgetting that as I grow older, so do my cousins.  I will always think of her as my adorable baby cousin, but she is so much more than that. Several years ago, she told the family she wanted to be a teacher. In my eyes, it is perhaps one of the most noble jobs that is severely under appreciated in our country. When I heard she was going to move to Arizona to teach under privileged children my respect and adoration for her grew a thousand fold. It takes so much courage to not only follow your dreams, but to also uproot from your family and significant other to help those who are less fortunate. To say that I am proud of her would be an understatement of the year.  I am glad I can celebrate her accomplishments and tell the world I am related to her. The world is truly a greater place because she dwelt upon it. 

I would like to introduce you to my wonderful, beautiful, generous and kind mother. My Mom has been there for me for the good times and especially for the bad times. I can never forget what she told me while I was recovering from my broken leg. I told her that one day I would pay her back for all the amazing things she has done for me. She stopped me right away and said she wanted nothing of material. You repay love with even more love. I always try to follow in her footsteps hoping I can someday be half the person she is. 

Meet Alina Lopez, my cousin from my Mother’s side. Sadly, I don't have many Lopez cousins residing in the US, but we have always been close. Alina reeks of charisma, personality and a bit of quirkiness, which I simply adore. She has taught me in more ways than one to simply be comfortable in my own skin. Growing up, I always thought one had to play the cool card to attract quality friends but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Genuine and good people gravitate towards her because she simply is the type of person you want to be around all the time. She has made such an impact on Heather’s life that she even asked Alina to stand by her side on the day of our wedding. We love you

Meet Sara, Heather’s other Mother from Illinois. I am extremely fortunate to be marrying into a family filled with amazingly kind people. I have so many wonderful memories visiting Sarah in Illinois, but what I admire most about her is that she drives home the value of spending time with family. Whether it’s making tie dye shirts or simply enjoying the thunderstorm out on the front porch, we always did it as a family. There’s no doubt in my mind I will be following her footsteps when I have a family of own. I am definitely proud to call her my Mom as well.

Meet Cameron Maupin, Heather's little brother from Illinois. Like Little Big John, I met Cam Cam when he was a tiny little boy. I still remember the days when he would allow me to pick him up. It was sad for both me and Heather when the Maupin clan decided to move from Simi Valley back to Roscoe, IL but it gave us an excuse to take mini vacations to the Midwest. I knew what I was getting myself into whenever we planned trips to see Heather’s family. It meant blissful times playing videogames and eating at some of our favorite restaurants like Culvers or Beefaroo. I vividly recall playing videogames with him after a big lunch and an instant started to doze off. Instead of waking me up, he paused the game and calmly waited until I snapped out of my food coma. Even though this was such a “small” thing, it stuck with me because I don’t know if other kids his age would have been as patient or mindful of others. I am proud to call him my little brother and honored he accepted my request to be my groomsman.

I have been with Heather for about 11 years and during that time I have seen John graduate from Elementary School, Middle School and High School. While he is commonly known for being a prankster and a troll, I see through it all and admire his generosity and his soft heart. Like his Mom, Cindy, he would give up whatever he may have to make sure you feel loved and appreciated. I have asked John to be my Junior Best Man because I will always see him as MY little brother, regardless of how much he may tower over me. 

Meet Cindy, my future mother-in-law. While most people joke about their in-laws, I feel quite lucky to have someone as loving as her. On the second day we met, she said, "On your first visit you are our guest, on your second visit you are family." Little did she know how true her statement really was. What I admire most about her is her patience and willingness to help a friend in need. She is the type that will always put her needs last regardless of the toll on her. Imagine a world filled with people like that. I, for one, am very proud to call her my mom.

The word "Ate" (pronounced ah-teh) is commonly used by Filipinos to address their older sister or cousin as a sign of respect. What better way to commemorate this page by honoring the eldest of my "generation" of cousins on her birthday (today, September 4th). My Ate Dina Fajardo was always my friend, my mentor and my go to person for relationship advice =). She always lent me her ear and was so patient with all of my teenage angst. That is why I asked her to be on my side on the day of my wedding.