Stuck – for now

stuck

Photo by halocyn

Check?

I’m in a near headlock over my great-grandfather. While we’ve known for 20+ years that he might have come to our family from another, it wasn’t until recently that I started to get warmer on which family that might be.

Until my lead went dead-cold.

Well, not 100% cold. Just a bit sideways on some important stuff. The info I found meant that my great-grandpa necessarily:

  • Was 12-15 years younger than all records found to date show;
  • (Ok, probably) Lied about his age to marry a 17-year-old (if my now-cold lead was right, he’d have been 35 on his wedding day, even though his marriage record says he was 20);
  • Somehow was transported from Mexico’s interior (almost from Mexico City) to the northeast state of Coahuila, near Texas, within 8 days of his birth.

Then, last night, I realized that, if his death certificate is correct, he also would have been 104 years old when he died (1950). Most people weren’t living that long back then.

So I started over today on the search of his birth/christening records. Lo and behold, I found this:

I think I've found my great-grandfather Braulio - or have I?

UPDATE Dec 2015: This is the name of a female. Braulia gets ruled out. //  This christening record looks like a closer match of my great-grandfather. At left is the name of the baby being baptized; names circled at right are the parents. But are they my relatives? I have not a clue. Nada. Source: Mexico, Coahuila, Catholic Church Records 1627-1978; FamilySearch.org

It matches, almost to the day, nearly every birthdate reference I have seen for my great-grandfather to-date. Without the proper documentation, I’d been unable to validate it.

The only thing is, this Braulio was born to another family entirely. I haven’t delved further, but so far it doesn’t appear to be extended family. Maybe I’ll learn otherwise soon.

All I can say is, this puzzle piece fits better than the last. I think that’s good…right?

So maybe it’s “check” for the moment, but I’m too stubborn and persistent to ever let it get to “check-mate.”

Happy 97th, Desi Arnaz!

hb-desi-arnaz

I loved growing up with this man on my television. Little did I know how much his musical influence would become a fixture in my life. All the happier for it.

Hunting for story

I’m on a mission.

I have a very special friend, Kris, who is lovely and complicated and talented – all in the best possible ways. We met at work over 10 years ago and still share similar – not identical by any means – but similar interests and passions.

One is a love of things creative. I’m definitely more of an observer and Kris is more of a Maker – in the truest sense. Some people sew (I try), knit or crochet.

Well, she does all of the above (and way more), often using her own exotic fibers and textiles and tools she procures from all over the world. It’s not the exotic that makes her talented. It’s what she does with her God-given abilities, powered by the tools, that is so spectacular. And she is so open to sharing and teaching. (Check out this great project she’s involved with that is empowering women in Uganda to generate their own income and support their families.)

unyunga-journals

Just a few of my friend Kris’s handmade journal gifts. I usually have at least one journal with me, wherever I go. If the occasion is special enough, I use one of hers.

A few of my favorite things

While I don’t know what the heck she is talking about half the time, I simply LOVE hearing her dream about and brainstorm her projects. It certainly doesn’t hurt that she shares – pretty liberally, I might add – her incredible handiwork. Kris has gifted me with some of my favorite writing instruments, beautiful handmade scarves and so many gorgeous journals, I can hardly count them.

Lord knows, as a paper-and-pulp lover, I hate to violate these pieces of artwork, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Like many I know, I love to write by hand, but it is getting harder and harder to write as fast as I’m thinking these days. Such is the plight of a straddling generation – one foot in the analog, the other, digital.

Had paper, did travel

Anyway, Kris, who did much of her growing up in West Africa, challenged me sometime ago to blog about my own international experience and travels.

Thing is, many of those memories are locked up in my travel journals…somewhere. I’m getting warmer in my search, but so far, those little pocket-sized Moleskines are eluding me.

To be honest, I’m kind of nervous about finding and unbundling them and rediscovering what I first learned on my first trip to Haiti in 2003 and one of my last trips to Dominican Republic. So I pray again for courage as that wall of memory comes down.

I guess que será será.

You can do better

I’m really happy there is finally some representation of ethnic families with sitcoms like ABC’s “Blackish” and “Cristela.” Most weeks Blackish makes me laugh until I cry. Culturally, though, I relate most to Cristela.

While I don’t find Cristela’s mom’s character entirely believable as a first-generation American, I can appreciate the lessons she teaches.

Tonight’s episode especially hit home with me.

natalia

ABC’s Cristela’s mom Natalia (Terri Hoyos) defends a difficult parenting decision. (Source: Cristela FB page)

In this episode, Cristela’s mom, Natalia, reveals she had not entered Cristela, now a 20- or 30-something legal intern, into the gifted and talented program when she was a little girl because “people like us” didn’t belong in “fancy programs” like that. Basically, they would have been aiming too high, beyond their social status.

Cristela’s character eventually comes to appreciate her mother’s decision, made out of the desire to protect her. Natalia was, after all, a single mom doing the best she could for her young family.

This struggle triggered something in me I totally didn’t expect – a belated appreciation for my mom’s determination to ensure my best possible future.

It actually set off my tear ducts.

[Cue high school memory scene.]

One time, in high school, I came home with less-than-perfect grades – mostly As, with a couple of A- and a B+. I was so excited to show my mom! She would be so proud.

“You can do better.” That was her response.

What??? I can do what??? You mean, that wasn’t good enough?

I carried this disbelief, the shock and the sense that I’d disappointed my mom for – well, let’s just say it went on far too long.

What I didn’t realize then that I realize now – and, truly, especially after watching Cristela tonight – was that my mom was pushing me to aim higher.

Nothing at all wrong with protecting one’s kids from ridicule and humiliation. My mom, however, was willing to take that risk – taking me with her – of not being accepted for being different (which, by this age, I was pretty good at).

As someone who had to leave school at 12 to work and support her family, she knew working harder would grow both my character and my capacity. She knew I could do better.

My mom has never done anything less than teach me to be strong, have faith and, in the face of difficulty, get back up and dust myself off.

As we approach in a few weeks what would have been my parents’ 60th anniversary, I can’t help but be grateful for her strength and endurance since losing my dad nearly 30 years ago.

She remains my best girlfriend and biggest cheerleader. Even today, the way she lives her life is a reminder that we can always do better. So I will.

A new book, a new secret decoder pen

Today felt more like Christmas than Valentine’s Day.

finding-your-mexican-ancestorsMy mailman brought me a reference book I’d ordered to help with my family history research. Great timing, since Finding Your Mexican Ancestors is like my secret decoder pen for unlocking key records about when my grandfather and grandmother came to the U.S.

Along with increasingly available online resources, this book (and anything by Ryskamp) offers so much context, I’ll now have a better idea of why, how and where I’ll find records to fill in some of our gaps.

I can’t help but be more amazed every time I turn around to learn how genealogy has evolved technologically since I last worked on my family’s history. But sometimes analog is still the best way to go to find answers to lingering questions.

In any case, it makes for a great Christmas Valentine’s Day present.

A picture worth a biography (or four)

cabello-kids-being-themselvesI found this photo the other day of my brothers and me, plus a couple of our cousins, during one of our visits to South Texas from the Midwest. Vintage 1975 in every way.

We were in my grandma’s kitchen, where pretty much where all socializing took place.

Times haven’t really changed much, have they?

Only a handful of years later, we would move there, and I would spend a lot more time in that kitchen watching Chespirito, Sábado Gigante or whatever telenovela was blaring from Grandma’s TV.

The funny thing is, this snapshot perfectly captures our personalities.

My oldest brother, Noe (Spanish for “Noah”) is in back, holding our younger cousin. Noe has always been the quiet, loving caregiver and nurturer, taking his love for babies and kids from our dad.

In front, from left to right: My brother Edgar, looking sly (as usual), is eyeing whatever Eddy is about to bite into.

And me, in my Ernie-and-Bert shirt, well, I’m posing for – I don’t know, another camera? My only explanation I have is that one of my aunts used to call me “Miss America,” and I was probably working hard to live up to her prediction. (The closest I ever got was Barbie-doll boot camp at Pan Am. We know how that went.)

Behind me is our other little cousin, about 2 years younger than her brother Noe is carrying. I suspect she’s standing on the oversized, bell-bottomed pants Noe is undoubtedly wearing. Which can only mean one thing: platform shoes.

On the blessings of tomatillos

Little green, stony fruit with a soft underbelly…but only after a little fire.

I can’t put my finger on it, but tomatillos have always scared the heck out of me in the culinary sense. Last summer, we got a garden full of them, and I wasn’t sure what to do. Imagine that – a Mexican who didn’t know what do with tomatillos. Embarrassing but true.

That was before spending a week with my mom. She makes cooking good food look so easy.

For that visit, I took about a dozen tomatillos with me so she could use them to make enchiladas, salsa or whatever.

With only a couple of days left in my visit, while we ate dinner one evening, she left them on a griddle to soften and brown. I kept one eye on my dinner plate while watching them suspiciously with the other.

I mean, how the heck could something that came out of the ground nearly as hard as a rock produce that beautiful, tangy flavor I loved so much?

And then they came off the grill. Hot, kind of smoky and now translucent and soft – definitely transformed.

“Dump those in here, mija.” In they went to the blender — those and a few little red tomatoes.

Ok, we’d already eaten dinner, so no one was hungry enough to taste this stuff, right? Wrong. I could taste salsa verde any time of day or night and never be too full to perform the taste test.

So I did. OHMYGAWD.

Basically, nature and garlic salt had performed a miracle. And it’s just like French cooking – the simplest ingredients make the most delicious food, or at least they make most food delicious.

roasting tomatillos on a skillet

Miracles happen to these little green suckers when they’re placed under intense heat.

Lesson learned
But those stinking tomatillos taught me a lesson I don’t think I really was ready for: That I’d been so hardened lately in my heart from recent hurts and failures, that nothing short of a hot fire could soften me. Nothing short of a season of deep personal challenge had the ability to show me what really is, let alone what could be.

I was so far gone – kind of wasted, really, emotionally and spiritually speaking.

I’ve been taught since I was little to cast my cares on God, because he cares for me. The last few months, I honestly lost sight of that. To the point, at times, of not believing it anymore.

But a few things – I’ll call them gifts – that have been instruments in winning me over: my husband, my mom and brothers and extended family. And tomatillos.

No kidding. Who knew a little green fruit with a soft, squishy underbelly could point me to my True North?

Grandmas & girl power

Wasn’t planning on writing about this today but I do want to be intentional about sharing the “big things” I learn through researching my family’s history. I mean, if we don’t learn about our future by remembering our past, then why spend all this time looking at dead people?

One thing that has jumped out in the last few days is the suffrage and increased liberation of women during the period of time I’ve been researching – late 19th to early 20th centuries.

From my paternal grandmother’s entrepreneurial spirit, her ability to capitalize on new technology to create a business and her marriage choice (as well as my maternal grandmother’s), I’m learning that both of my grandmas took the opportunity to express important life choices under great pressure.

It turns out both of them had been committed to men for marriage before they actually married my grandfathers. Same story, different family: both ended up marrying for love – and eloping.

Love this one: One of my grandmas was given the choice between a piano – you know, something big to win over her heart – if she chose not to marry my grandfather, an illiterate ranch hand (whose father had been shot while playing music in a nightclub) for whom she had immense compassion and, eventually, love.

Last I heard, my grandfather wasn’t made up of a big, wooden box and 88 black and white keys.

Dots

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 9.33.48 PM

From the game Two Dots, Level 42, where I continue to suck.

Ever played Two Dots? I’ve never seen two dots that could mess me up so good.

So here I am, at Level 42 (pun definitely intended), where I plan to hang out awhile. Mostly because I can’t connect enough dots to get any farther. I think this is where my usual ability to think and plan ahead comes to a grinding halt.

For years, that’s just how I have felt about connecting my family’s “dots,” too. Until this weekend. 

For 20+ years – all I knew was that my great-grandfather’s birth family wasn’t his birth family at all.

In the last week, I’ve found the dots he connected to originally and then those he connected to later, leaving me to investigate when and why he changed families. I have theories, of course. But I’d rather have dots – the connected kind.

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of talking with my aunt, my dad’s youngest sister. She set me straight on who said what and the origins of my blog’s name.

She also put me in a better position to locate records about their father – not that far back in our ancestry, of course. But between that and my other recent findings, I can actually start connecting dots that have sat unattached for far too long. Much better than Level 42.

What Poor Mexican Gone really means

Weekends are for fact-checking. In fact, I’m thinking of using them to write more about my family’s history, since I have more time on weekends to do research.

I’m more fascinated every day by how the world, as it evolved, was a macro image of things happening in my own family and in the fast-changing Mexican and Mexican-American cultures.

For now, I got one fact wrong – an important one. And I love the correction!

Today I learned that the “poor mexican gone” saying didn’t come from my my mom’s mom, although she was known for making up some pretty funny ones.

It turns out this phrasing came from my paternal grandfather – my dad’s dad.

So what started as this:

Cuando hitty con un cartucho
No come back
Cuando de repente pún
Poor Mexican gone

Actually meant this:

When you pull the trigger [on the gun],
The bullet doesn’t come back
When it hits the Mexican,
He doesn’t come back [either]

I love that, as facts come together with more clarity, the surprises keep coming, rearranging the pieces of this puzzle.

As with many things in life, sometimes it’s just not as important to see what it all looks like in the end, when the journey alone has so much to teach us. I’m grateful for the rich lessons along the way.