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.

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.

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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

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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.

Wanna be startin’ something?

I’m entrepreneurial by nature and by birth. From a legacy in my family of “starters”  — from grocers to gas station owners, seamstresses, ministers to musicians and marketers, bootleggers, accountants to attorneys and retailers — there’s a lot of startup in my blood.

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Making meal for corn tortillas went from 16th-century low-tech…

The best part: my grandmother owned a molino de nixtamal, a corn mill for grinding maize to resell to markets that sold tortillas. I just learned that having the kind of manufacturing equipment required to run this operation was pretty cutting-edge for the early 20th century – anywhere in the world.*

Ha. My grandma was high-tech! Sigh. One more story to run down. But back to business.

molino

…to high-tech, with marked advances in the early 20th century.

Working for the man
While I’ve mostly worked for “the man” (The Man, actually) much of my career, I’ve had to find ways to feed my need to build new things, wherever I was. I’ve been fortunate to be in rapid-growth environments and fill in critical gaps due to the growth.

But here’s what I learned: If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and work in a larger company or business that’s not yours (yet), learn what you can where you are. Make the way you’re wired work for you and your employer. And then take it up a notch.

Here are a few ideas on how to “be startin’ something” right where you are:

  • Find an important problem that needs solving and perhaps that no one has “discovered” yet. If you’re one who spots trends or opportunities early, this is where you use it. Get some traction by taking on a project you know has a start and a finish – something that’s measurable, with tangible output.
    One project I worked on a number of years ago capitalized on what was then “new” RSS technology – the ability to syndicate content. We needed to distribute globally gathered story content from a team of field reporters — a good solution for our customers, who were also globally distributed. RSS was a seemingly small solution, but it had a big impact on productivity and opened up great opportunities for me to contribute more.
  • If you are ready for a bigger challenge, identify an initiative that meets an ongoing business need. How about that new CRM idea that’s been kicked about for so long? Got a knack for tech? Maybe this is your thing to drive for the business side of the house.
  • Heck, it could be something that has been broken for so long, everyone has just accepted it and learned to “work around” the “broken” state and call it good. Fix that. Think big.
  • Next step: Mention the idea to your supervisor and measure the warmth of her reception. If it feels good, come back with a more thought-out solution and a high-level plan. You never know – you just might be onto something.

It is possible to carve a niche for yourself by spotting opportunities and showing you’re self-starter who can help advance the business and your team’s credibility while growing your personal toolkit. My grandmother did it. She spotted an emerging opportunity and seized it – by making tortillas highly reproducible.

You can do the same in your space.

The fact is, you know your work and understand the types of problems that need solving or are trending. Chances are also good you’re pretty familiar with what good solutions look like, now and in the future. So find them. Offer them.

If you don’t do it, who knows when anyone else will get around to it?

p.s. I’d drafted this post (the one that blew up) before coming across this one from Seth today. Love his wisdom – don’t miss it!

* Source: Goods, Power, History: Latin America’s Material Culture, Arnold J. Bauer, p. 190.

So…Forget the Alamo?

For the first time in 20 years, I’m on the hunt for a long lost ancestor.

Last time I looked for this guy, I discovered his parents, siblings, children. Yet there was no sign he’d been born into the family that raised him.

That’s how my research stayed for a long time.

Yesterday, I found his biological parents – definitely different than the folks who raised him. And quite possibly a different line than I was hoping for.

Image capturing cover page of Arteaga, Coahuila parish records 1820-1861

It’s time to go through Mexican parish records again so we can connect family dots and learn more about a pivotal ancestor.

That missing piece
Funny, how we always look for that missing piece – the missing relative, the runaway cat, the lost puppy  – and we’re not satisfied until we know their status. Happy endings preferred, of course.

I wonder whether we’re just trying to plug holes to cover up cracks in our lives … or if what we’re really after is wholeness or belonging, regardless of the amount of ugly it takes to get there.

For this ancestor, I always wanted to know whether he was born to different parents than those he grew up with. Now I have my answer, and I still want more. I want the whole story.

Perhaps his mom died during childbirth, or maybe he’s the stepchild, “the milkman’s son,” as it were.  Who cares. He’s my relative, and now I feel responsible to bring his story to life.

Oh – it looks like our shot at being related to Spanish/Mexican nobility is going downhill…fast.

When your family’s roots start digging in

Well, that was a surprise.

So I went online tonight on a whim to see what all has happened in the world of online genealogy since I took my last serious look (several years ago).

If you are impartial to having your ancestors “baptized” posthumously by Mormon missionaries, this one’s for you.

pullinghair-smWhat had taken me hours upon hours – no, months upon months – to compile in family history was, quite literally, fairly easy tonight in the space of an hour or two.

I’m a huge technology advocate and often an early adopter, so I appreciate the leapfrogging advances that come every few months in the world of tech. To see it some 20 years later, though – that was on a scale I wasn’t expecting. I shouldn’t be surprised, but it is simply amazing how easy this has gotten.

I still have a lot of validating to do, but Lord knows I did that homework way back when. Now I am plugging in facts and literally connecting people-dots.

The coolest part: It looks like I’m getting closer to validating that our family were among the founding fathers of the San Antonio de Bexar – San Antonio, Texas.

I really do think my head might pop.