In the ongoing search for details on my family history, I have come up with one common thread — my family on both sides have been poor laborers for generations.
For five years, I have been digging through passport documents, census records, phone directories, and birth notices. I’ve found interesting names like Zenon and Maximo. The journey has been exciting and frustrating. You see, for a Mexican-American, this kind of investigative work is never easy.
Sometimes I am envious of my Mormon brothers and sisters, and of others who are of Anglo-Saxon heritage. They can often trace their ancestors through the great kings and queens of 15th century Europe. Not me. The people I have found, and the few pictures I have seen are people who are more or less like me.
They are short, brown, and of the lower or middle class. They often work with their hands and for long hours. They are people of faith and have a respect for family. In more recent history, they spoke two languages and traveled — at least from south to north of the border.
I haven’t found records of criminality or great jail escapes. There has been no documentation of drug cartel or mafia connections. What I have found has been for the most part boring. At least, that’s what I recognized for the first few years of this work.
That changed when I moved back to my hometown. What I couldn’t find in government documents, I decided I would find by walking my great grandparents’ footsteps.
I looked up old addresses which were easy to find because phone directories once listed names of spouses, addresses, and occupations. This was before privacy wasn’t a bother and the only concern was knowing how a community could help each other by knowing more than we want to know today.
With those addresses, I walked to the old barrios of my tatas and nanas from decades and even over a century ago. I looked at the little “cuadritas,” a connection of small apartments units usually taking up a small-town block. This is where some of my grandparents lived. I studied the cuadritas and looked around them too. The alleys, the corner store a few blocks away, they all painted the picture of what life was like for the history of my ancestors I once thought was boring.
Neighborhood sounds, dust devils, and images of laughing families filled my mind. I knew that I ended up in my hometown for a reason. The frustrating moments of research for years where no more. The holes of my history were filling up with information I could never find in an old, hard to read city record.
Maybe one day I will run across something that tells me what I once hoped for, tales of riches and romance, heroism and adulation. For now, I’m satisfied knowing that I’m still keeping on the tradition that has been part of my bloodline for generations.
Being just a regular guy, in a small town, living a simple life. It’s what my family has done well for a long time, and it’s O.K.