Family History

Race is not a biological reality, but a construct created to justify and uphold white supremacy. But it has, and continues to have, very real material consequences. When it comes to my own identity, I’m perfectly fine identifying as a Mexican-American, Chicana, and Tejana. But I know little about my own ethnic and racial background. I only know that very generally, I’m Mestiza and Chinese.

When it comes to particular Indigenous ethnic groups, my mom’s dad, my Grandpa Rudy, says we have some Huichol ancestors. No one’s very sure about how far back it goes; this is just information passed down through the generations.

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The Huichol, or Wixáritari, peoples live throughout the Sierra Madre Occidental range.

 

I’m almost certain that my mom’s side of the family has a significant amount of Spanish ancestry. By just looking at my mom, you’d assume that we have more Spanish ancestors than Indigenous ones. But her younger sister was treated as “the ugly sister” solely because of being born with darker, more Indigenous features. (I’ve seen pictures of her in her youth; she was a cute girl and everyone was definitely just being racist.)

 

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My grandpa Rudy as a young teenager in the ’50s. He was born into a family of migrant workers, and later organized for the UFW of Orange County, California.
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My grandpa Rudy last year, giving a lecture to MEChA de LMU.

But while my mom’s mom, my grandma Eva, is relatively light-skinned, she has sisters who have dark brown skin and heavily Indigenous features, as well as brothers who were six feet tall with green eyes. Green eyes were such a prevalent trait in her family that she was genuinely surprised when none of my siblings or cousins were born with the feature. (Light brown eyes + dark brown eyes doesn’t equal green eyes.)

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My mom’s parents, Grandma Eva and Grandpa Rudy
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My mom and I

I once asked my dad about the ancestry on his dad’s side of the family: his answer was “brown.” Apparently our last name points to potential Sephardic Jewish origins, but my dad doesn’t know for sure. On his mom’s side, he’s Chinese and Mestiza.

While the specifics aren’t too important, I can’t help but be curious about them.

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My dad’s grandfather, Rafael
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My dad and I

While it would be interesting to be able to fully trace my lineage, I don’t think it would change much. My parents didn’t inform me of my Chinese ancestry until I was in middle school. While it’s nice to know and it may even explain certain features that my siblings and I have, I don’t necessarily feel like it was some sort of earth-shattering revelation. (Additionally, China is a huge place with diverse regions and populations, and we don’t know any of the specifics about where my great-grandfather Rafael was from.)

There are a lot of issues with Mexican identity and how it hinges on anti-Blackness and anti-Indigeneity, and it’s important that we continue to examine it critically. But even if I were to find out more specifics about my roots, I’d still identify as a Chicana and Tejana.

1 Comment

  1. There’s a way we try to learn about ourselves by exploring genealogy. My father has been doing this for a while, and he tracked our family tree back about three centuries before the story breaks off. And it’s right, this doesn’t change things, but it does offer a way of understanding how history shapes us, or putting some context to our lived experiences. That is, there are a lot of folks who have no idea what their great grandparents names are, let alone the maiden names of women in their families.

    But, as when you encounter some of the story of your grandfather Rudy, you can see how some of his life experiences shape the way you think about your roots and the pride you can have in knowing that he fought for social justice. And by the way, he’s pretty cool, an elder in la causa and someone the jovenes should look up to because the fights he waged were ones that were not only for him but for future generations.

    Like

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