I often joke that the collective stories of my family are better than any Novela ever produced. Love, heart ache, triumphs and failures. It’s all there with twists and turns every step of the way. I didn’t learn about this history though until much more recently. For some reason reality hit me one day that I don’t have my grandparents to ask what their life was like and if I don’t ask the family who lived with them, eventually there will be no one who remembers them to tell their stories.
My nuclear family kept to itself for the most part. We still currently live in a small town in the Midwest that is predominately white. Specifically, Christian reformed Dutch. When I was growing up, my mother’s family all lived in Mexico. Sometimes a few uncles and aunts visited from Texas from the other side of the family. Otherwise though, as a Mexican-American Catholic family, we were pretty isolated culturally and familial. Not being near family meant I never grew up hearing stories of our past, so growing up I felt history poor.
I remember classmates who could trace their history to John Adams and this or that relative several generations ago who started a company or the first person in their family who went on to become a doctor, or the family member who built up a community. But I didn’t have any of that. I didn’t know my great grand parents names and knew much less about where they came from and what they dedicated their life to. So what I didn’t know I filled in. I knew most of my family worked the land, that they were not a bunch you wanted to cross, and by the way they chastised anyone who went astray I assumed we were a group of hard bible beating over the head types. This was reinforced by the stories my mom told of her Grandma. So I accepted it.
And then I grew older and I saw behaviors that I questioned. But my family seemingly turned a blind eye to. Things that didn’t make sense in my head. Tragedies that no one spoke about. I grew angry that serious issues were being ignored. I grew angry that no one explained things to me frankly. So of course that meant I did my own research.
Sometimes that involved asking people directly who I knew would be open to me. And sometimes that meant doing some sneaky detective work (what I found on the internet is impressive and crazy creepy). Eventually some people opened up more to me. I found out that one of my great Grandpa’s was a Bracero, I found out that one of my Grandmothers was an orphan, I learned about this crazy practice of stealing women to become brides and how one of the families lineages started that way. I found out about tragedies, I found out about injustices. There were some gems in the history as well, like the family member who fought in the Mexican Revolution. All the stories started to paint a picture and I could start to put together what my immediate cultural history was.
Questions still remain, like how my paternal grandparents met, and how they came to own the massive amounts of land that they had for a time before those lands were sold. Those are some of the less pressing questions. There are more plots I want to understand. Where did things go wrong, what went right. How did we get to the point where we are now?
History is important. It teaches you what happened before so you can learn to recognize the pattern and take action to prevent the same outcome or capitalize on a movement you wouldn’t have otherwise done. It teaches you how to recognize opportunities. History has a funny way of repeating itself, so if there’s something in that history that you don’t particularly like you can learn what to do about it the next time around.
Intuition is part conscious, part previous experience. It’s that “I’ve been here before” feeling. And sometimes it’s not necessarily yourself that has been in that situation, but the reminder that you’ve seen this story played out before.
I remember the point when I was learning about my family and gasping at how similar history had repeated itself. I have constantly felt that I have gone through life as if I have been baptized by fire with every experience. Would I have been able to avoid that feeling of “I don’t know what to do here?” If I knew someone dear to me had walked in the same shoes?
Sometimes we want to run away from our past because it’s a place we don’t want to go to again. But without understanding where we come from there’s no way to recognize the roads we take that lead back to the same place.