I was super excited about the idea of starting 2020 in Mexico. Why? Because I love visiting new countries and Mexico is very new to me. But also because I have a ton of Mexican ancestors.
If you look at me it might be hard to believe that half of my family comes from Mexico since my complexion is fair, my hair is a light color, and my eyes are blue. I have gone through a bunch of periods in my life where I felt very disconnected from my dad’s side of my own heritage. And I have reached a point in my life now where I am very curious to know more and also very proud of my family’s Mexican heritage.
Not Much Direct Information
Growing up I knew vaguely that my dad’s family came from Mexico, but I didn’t know many real details. My dad, Jesse Aranda, took off when I was around 2 years old. And frankly, I’m glad he left and also glad I didn’t spend much time with him because he was a real asshole (just keeping it real here). It’s also interesting to note that Jesse was repeating history since his dad, Raul Aranda, took off when Jesse was 7 years old.
The good news for my dad and his siblings was that they had a loving and protective mom, Elvira Lopez, who remarried and gave her kids an amazing dad, Joe Rodriguez.
And the good news for me and my siblings is that our Grandma Elvira and Grandpa Joe made sure we felt their love and had their attention on a regular basis.
I spent lots of time with my Grandparents when I was a little kid. Our family got together for holidays, birthdays, and plenty of other random days to do lots of cooking and celebrating. I grew up listening to my Grandparents speaking Spanish with each other, though their kids and grandkids learned very little Spanish (unfortunately). I remember the smell of Mexican cooking in their kitchen, the taste of Grandma’s tamales, and the outrageous burn of Grandpa’s hot sauce. I also remember that hot sauce was so hot it actually made me cry the one time I tasted it. I wish I could have some of those tamales and a taste of that crazy hot sauce now!
But as a little kid when I asked My Grandma Elvira about being Mexican, her answer was always the same. “We are not Mexican! We are French and Spanish!”
Digging for Details
After doing some research on my own it’s clear that I have a ton of ancestors on my dad’s side who were born in Mexico during the last 500 years. And I’m determined to learn everything I can about my Mexican ancestry.
I’ve done some DNA research with 23andMe, and some historical records research with Ancestry.com. It’s clear that my dad’s ancestors mostly came from Mexico and Spain. And it’s interesting to see that the DNA I inherited from my dad registers as 16.8% Mexican, (which I expected to be a higher number), and 19.2% Spanish (just like my Grandma Elvira said!). I’m also 9.5% French, which isn’t very much, but I’m not sure which side of my family that comes from. Maybe it’s a combined total from both my mom and my dad?
Grandpa Raul Aranda
Until recently I knew nothing at all about my Grandpa Raul. Even his own kids didn’t really know anything about him since Grandma left him when their kids ranged from the youngest still in the womb to the oldest at 9 years old. There was no contact with him after that, and my Grandma had no interest in talking about him. When I was little I actually didn’t realize my Grandpa Joe wasn’t my biological Grandpa.
After doing some research I have learned enough about my Grandpa Raul to have a general timeline for his life. He was born in Piedras Negras, Coahuila de Zaragoza, Mexico in 1925. When Grandpa Raul was 1 year old his parents crossed the border into Texas with their kids. Raul worked hard for his US citizenship and earned it through service with the US military during WWII, enlisting when he was 18 years old and serving from 1943 to 1946. Raul married my Grandma Elvira in 1946 as soon as his service was over and my dad was born 2 years later. Grandma told her daughter, my Aunt Jeannette, that Raul was not the same man when he returned from the war. And that’s pretty much all she told my Aunt Jeannette about her dad Raul. Grandma said she divorced him because he drank too much and was violent, and then she moved from Texas to California with her kids.
Eventually during my research I found one living relative in Texas who knew my Grandpa Raul, but the story was short and not at all sweet. Grandpa Raul never remarried or had other kids. He lived a very lonely and unhealthy life, just him and his guitar. Grandpa Raul died in Texas a few months after his 41st birthday.
In my ancestry research I found Grandpa Raul’s US Military registration cards. He was listed as “Unemployed, a Farmer” and described as 5’8” with brown eyes, black hair, and a “Dark Brown” complexion. He was pronounced dead in 1967, in the US Naval Hospital in Corpus Christi Texas, from diabetic acidosis and chronic pancreatitis.
As far as I know, there are zero photos of my Grandpa Raul in existence. But I know he had darker hair, skin, and eyes than my Grandma because that’s how he was described by the only person I know who knew my Grandpa and could tell me about him. The stories and descriptions I got from Uncle Francisco gave me the impression that Grandpa Raul had much more indigenous Mexican heritage rather than having more Spanish heritage like my Grandma. Uncle Francisco said my Grandpa Raul was a darker skinned Mexican with hair and eyes that were more black than brown. Uncle Francisco also said he never saw my Grandpa Raul without his guitar and that he had a lovely singing voice.
I traced my Grandpa Raul’s ancestry as far back as I could, which was 5 generations before him. I traced his Aranda line back to my 5th great grandpa, though there was one alternative following a maternal line that goes only one generation further. I’m hoping that in the future I can find some records going further back for this side of my family, though I have been told that if his ancestors were more indigenous and less Spanish there likely won’t be more records to find just because their families might have been less involved in the catholic church and government systems where a lot of ancestry records were better kept in that part of the world. Anyway, I’m still hunting for details and documents!
Grandma Elvira Lopez
My Grandma Elvira was born in Houston, Texas, USA in 1927. She was a very proud and hard working woman. When I was a little kid I saw that my Grandma Elvira worked really hard as a housekeeper. My Aunt Jeannette says Grandma was in demand in our home town and there were many people that wanted to hire her to clean their houses. She had a lot of clients that either worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory or were doctors at Valley Memorial Hospital where I was born, and she kept some of her clients for more than 20 years. I actually remember going with her to one house in particular where my sister and I were allowed to play while she was cleaning, which Aunt Jeannette says was Grandma’s longest and favorite client because they treated her more like family.
When I was a kid I new my Grandma Elvira had a big family with lots of siblings, but if I asked her about ancestry she didn’t have much to say. We repeated the same short conversation a million times when I asked her to tell me about our Mexican heritage, and she always answered by saying rather sternly, “We are not Mexican! We are French and Spanish!” When I was a kid I thought that answer was hilarious since I knew her parents were from Mexico and her cooking was Mexican. I thought she seemed unwilling to acknowledge her Mexican ancestry and I never understood why. Today I think I have a better understanding.
My Aunt Jeannette and I have had some good laughs about the way Grandma always said we were French and Spanish since she was told the same thing. I have learned this year that it’s not uncommon for Mexican people (and other nationalities in the Americas) to have a lot of pride in their colonial heritage over their indigenous heritage. My Grandma Elvira was quite proud of her fair skin, hair and eyes. And those characteristics of hers are why I was born with blond hair, blue eyes and very fair skin. Clearly I have European ancestry on both sides of my family.
It would be amazing to show my Grandma all of the genealogy information I have dug up this year. I know she would appreciate it if I acknowledged that my Grandma Elvira was right. We are definitely Spanish! It was important to me that I find a few lines back to Spain since that was what my Grandma always talked about. And from what I can tell, it looks like these various lines of Mexican families with Spanish ancestors were making an effort to marry into other similar families who also had Spanish ancestors on a very regular basis. That helps me understand those comments from my Grandma Elvira a little bet better. But beyond that, it’s even more fun to see how many generations of Mexican ancestors I have.
Getting to Know Mexico
So yeah, I’m incredibly grateful to be starting 2020 off in Mexico. This is the perfect place for Alison and I to start the new year, and to start our 2nd year of full-time travels. I’m also grateful that we can stay in this country as tourists for up to 6 months without a formal visa, because we just might want to stay a while on this trip.
This is the first time in my life where I feel aware of my Mexican ancestry and very proud of it. As of right now we will probably stay in Mexico for a little over 4 months on this particular trip. While we are here I’m not planning to visit all of the exact locations where I can trace my Mexican ancestors, or even many of them. But I am paying attention to where those people lived and I’m hoping to learn whatever I can about the history of those places. We started off with a week in Mexico City, and loved it. Tomorrow we leave for Oaxaca, which I booked before realizing I had some ancestors born in that area. I am super excited to be in Mexico right now!