Janice Lin/MiC

Valentine’s Day has always been a family affair for me. Growing up, I was always excited for this holiday because it meant that I’d be “surprised” with pink and red heart-shaped balloons showering my elementary school classroom. 

Every Valentine’s Day from preschool to the third grade, I was loved with balloons, candy and stuffed animals. Back then, my parents would call my elementary school to ask them to surprise me and my siblings with an assortment of gifts. When I asked why, my mom would tell us, “I wanted to make you guys feel special. I felt that I needed to show you guys I cared and make sure you guys feel special.” 

Whenever I think about Valentine’s Day, I think about these moments. I think back to my second-grade self, sitting in an ocean-themed classroom, ever-waiting for an administrator laden with gifts of love. 

Going to after-school care, I would see Yesenia and Marcos, my two siblings closest in age, coming into the room with similar balloons and candy. Looking back, these memories make me smile. We were only little kids full of simple and unrestricted joy over the presents we had received. At the time, the three of us were going through our parents’ divorce, and our early perceptions of love had been marked by fighting and confusion over what defined a marriage. We didn’t know what a divorce was, why our parents weren’t living with each other anymore or why Mommy and Papi were yelling at each other. All we knew was that we were loved by our parents. Despite everything that was going on, this holiday was an escape — it was a signal of love; it was a holiday that celebrated endearment. 

Through this tradition, I’ve come to learn that Valentine’s Day isn’t an occasion solely for the taken. It’s a day to celebrate those you love. Whenever I think about whom I love the most, I first think of my family. I think of my mom. I think of my dad. I think of my siblings. 

I always smile when I see pictures of my siblings and me. Everyone is always shocked when I tell them that I have five siblings. Yesenia, Marcos, Ayla, Bella and Natalia. All perfectly unique in their own ways. 

For Valentine’s Day, in the past, we have celebrated through giving gifts to each other. So, for this year’s holiday, I want to virtually send my love to my siblings through this article. 

Senia (Yesenia) is my 23-year-old best friend. With me and Senia being the first two oldest siblings, we have a special bond. Our love for each other started before we could even remember. When I came along, she was only a year and 11 months old, and that minimal age gap propelled us to be very close. Though she’s barely 2 years older than me, she’s the definition of a “big sister.” 

I learned very early in life that my sister Senia’s love for her siblings is absolute, unhindered and mostly, completely unmatched. One of my core memories with Senia is traumatic, the kind of memory that has stuck with me ever since. Many early memories of my childhood, due to my parents’ divorce, are characterized by constant fighting, yet this day in particular clings to me. One day, as soon as the screaming started, my sister rushed me and my younger brother into our parents’ room. She immediately had me and my brother play a game on their bed, making us jump up and down to see who could jump the highest and for how long. She was making sure that my brother and I were distracted from the traumatic situation that was unfolding in the kitchen. Even though she was only 6 or 7 years old, she didn’t care about what she was going through; all that mattered was that my brother and I were distracted. 

Though unfortunate, memories like these make me feel especially grateful for the unconditional love my sister has given me. Even during times when we aren’t as close, I know I can always turn to her for anything. This past summer, we hadn’t talked in months, yet when I got my heart broken, I knew I could still lean on her for love and support. She has selflessly protected me during difficult times and has always been there for me no matter what. Even though she often drags me along with her dramatic mood swings, from wanting to watch a movie one minute to being frustrated about what to watch the next, my love and appreciation for her will never go away. I miss being able to show Senia that I love her in little ways — like sitting in her room while she puts makeup on before going out. I miss watching “Twilight,” “Coraline” or “Bad Girls Club” together, and seeing the way she shows her love through buying me food or simply being at home. But no matter where we are or how we’re feeling, just know that I love you! 

Marcos is my 20-year-old gentleman of a brother. He is the hardest working person I know and someone I respect with my whole heart. He is the only other boy in the quintet, and that’s inevitably something we definitely bond over. Though I am no longer a gamer, my favorite memories with Marcos are the late-night PlayStation moments we had in middle school. I remember when he was gifted the PlayStation 3 — I was extremely jealous. Yet in time, the Playstation soon became something that brought us and our cousins together, but I knew he was never going to let me play with him. In hindsight, this was probably a rational choice, considering how terrible I was (and still am) at “Call of Duty” (even though I’m pretty sure I’ve made it to the 23rd round of zombies — may not be impressive to you but I’m proud of that). 

Though the PlayStation was technically “ours” (something my mom told me just to stop me from throwing a fit), I loved when my brother invited me to play video games with him. Our gaming nights were definitely the beginning of his current Takis addiction, but this snack was a must-have to keep us energized enough to play for hours into the night. We would have our mom take us to the store, where we’d buy ginormous bags of Takis and Sour Patch Watermelon. When we’d get home, he’d log into his PlayStation account and begin to load whatever game we chose to play for that night. It was either “Minecraft” or “Call of Duty” (“CoD” for short). Considering I was pretty bad at “CoD” (plus a tiny bit of fear of late-night zombie shooting), my go-to was always Minecraft. We would mostly play on creative mode (which some gamers believe to be a meme), allowing us to make use of our unlimited imagination. 

Our red-dusted fingers and sugarhigh fueled us to create anything we wanted. One of our favorite activities was urban planning — a.k.a. creating a random mix of skyscrapers and mansions in our fictional city. Though our city was never finished, I always loved that we were able to create something together. Even though we haven’t had a late-night gaming sesh in a while, I’d love to revisit our city; I love you bruh. 

Little Tree/AA (Ayla) is my 10-year-old, Discord-loving little sister. Much like Marcos, she loves to game. Initially fascinated by board games, she would always beg me and my other siblings to play whatever we had at the house. Whether it was Sorry, Mancala or Monopoly, I knew that Lil’ Tree loved to spend quality time with the family this way. As she got older, however, her passion for gaming transitioned to the “Oculus Rift,” a virtual-reality gaming system. One of my favorite memories over this past Winter Break was when we played one of her games. I’ve always known that Ayla had a love for any type of game. Whether it be Sorry, “Little Big Planet” or the “Oculus Rift,” I enjoyed participating in things that made her feel thrilled and loved. I knew that spending time with her made the both of us happy and it was my way of telling her that I loved her. She always enjoys company when playing, and I miss having the opportunity to do that more. 

Rewind to the start of the pandemic, something that really bonded me and Lil’ Tree were our daily walks with my beloved sweet little baby Canela (my new puppy). Almost every morning, I would wake up and ask Ayla if she wanted to join me in taking Canela to our nearby park/disc golf course. This was a good way for me to get in some exercise, running through the walking trails that were surrounded by a forest, and for AA to practice her newly-acquired skateboarding hobby (and of course for Canela to experience the outside world). The three of us would go “exploring” in the park, walking through different routes whenever we went. We would discover creeks, a large and rocky hill that led to a water tunnel and most importantly, the love we had for each other. AA and I had never been super close, due to our age gap and me being a busy high schooler. But through those walks, I was able to see how much she had grown. To me, she had always been the new little baby of the family that entered my life when I was 9 years old. Most importantly, I loved these walks because it was an hour per day that we were able to spend time together, alone. I could see that she was maturing into a pre-teen by her change in fashion and lack of My Little Pony figures in her room, yet it felt bittersweet knowing that she was growing up without me. I knew that I’d eventually have to go back to college, and we wouldn’t be able to share these loving moments together anymore. Ayla, I love playing board games and with the “Oculus Rift,” but I want you to know that I love you so much. 

Bella is my 9-year-old, constantly singing-and-dancing little sister. Bella is definitely the most outgoing and expressive girl I know. Ever since she was young, she has always loved to perform in front of our family. From Adele to Billie Eilish to Olivia Rodrigo to Selena, the versatility in her singing and dancing is always amazing to watch. Even though she often annoyingly forces me into dancing/singing/karaoke competitions, I love Bella for her confidence and yearning for activities that bring the family together. 

Not only is Bella a talented performer, but she also always tries to dress like one. Bella probably changes her outfit at least twice a day. Even though her outfits can sometimes give classic elementary school vibes — through non-matching pieces of clothing or random jewelry accessories — she definitely knows how to put together an outfit that looks better than my daily hoodie and sweatpants fit. Despite not needing my (probably unreliable) opinion, Bella frequently asks me, my mom and our other siblings if her outfit looks good. I always respond with words of affirmation, and she then turns around and struts her way to the shoe rack to probably put on some type of shoe that is a little too fancy for our Costco trip. 

Bella loves to go shopping. Whether it’s to Aldi, the mall or to her beloved Justice, she loves to get ready for a day out in Joliet, Ill. While she dresses up and tries to use my mom’s makeup properly, these moments back home fulfill me because I know I’ll be able to spend time with her (I also know my mom will buy me Dunkin’). I love Bella because, like me, she values and seeks out any moment that her family can be together. I’m rarely home, yet whenever I am, she always sits at the table with me, asks me to watch her perform or begs me to go to the stores with her. Out of all of my siblings, Bella seems to be the one who loves quality time with her family the most. I love you and these moments too, Bella Bella. 

Nati (Natalia) is my 7-year-old, Roblox-loving living little sister. Much like Marcos and Ayla, she loves to spend her time glued to a screen. Even though Nati is a classic “iPad baby,” she’s very attentive. I love going home knowing I’m going to see Nati’s chubby cheeks swell into a ginormous smile as soon as she sees me. I love seeing Nati because she’s the baby of the family. Her squeaky voice and constant smiling always lighten up the room, and she’s adored by everyone. Even though she’s only 7, she’s the funniest of the family. I cherish the moments I have with Nati because she always seems to be able to change the energy in the room into something positive — despite whatever is going on. 

Nati is at the age where she is going to transition from a baby into an (hopefully not) annoying kid. What hurts the most about moving away for college is having to see your little siblings grow up through FaceTime or Instagram pictures. Every time I go back home, I’m reminded that Nati can read, spell and do math and am very proud of whatever progress she’s made in school. One thing similar between me and Nati is our passion for learning. My mom always tells me that Nati’s behavior and performance in school reminds her of me when I was her age. Whatever book I’m reading or homework assignment I’m working on, Nati sits next to me and tries to read and understand the content. This is another thing I love about Nati — whenever I’m home I can tell she’s telling me she missed me by always being in my presence. Oftentimes, she has a habit of coming into my room, asking what I’m doing, and then just sitting down next to me and continuing to play Roblox on her tablet. Or if I’m sitting at the dining room table, she’ll leave wherever she’s at and join me to simply just be there with me and look around. I miss sitting across the table and seeing her chubby cheeks barely reaching the top of the surface. I love you Nati. 

Sibling love is different. It’s messy, but my love for these five will never go away. While most people would consider Valentine’s Day as a celebration for those in romantic relationships, I like to dedicate it to my family. Despite being hundreds of miles away, my love for Senia, Marcos, Ayla, Bella and Nati is stronger than ever before. Happy Valentine’s Day. 

MiC Assistant Editor Hugo Quintana can be reached at hugoq@umich.edu