A few months ago, my son, Christian asked me to create a piece of artwork for his restaurant with his family tree on it going back to the 1500's. I tried to condense our tree into something that would fit in a frame to be hung on the wall. Months passed but I couldn't complete the research without reading about centuries of countries being invaded, wars, border crossings and even more importantly, religious and racial injustice. I have read and written about all of this before but while researching, I always end up discovering a different slant that I hadn't seen before.
Christian received a piece of artwork as a gift from his tattoo artist friend, Ethan. I was shocked when I saw it because Ethan had no idea that in his 8 X 10 pencil drawing, he summed up my son's ancestral history. At the top it reads "Taco Circus" and has an image of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma carrying a woman that I assume is his daughter, Isabel. Behind him is a street sign that reads "Morganford" which is the street Taco Circus #1 is on in St Louis. Then there's a cactus, a rose and some graffiti as a reference to Texas and at the bottom, the St Louis Arch.
|Artwork by Evan Nichols|
Saint Louis, MO
It never dawned on me that a family tree branches out like a 700 year old oak tree with each limb having hundreds of leaves, representing each ancestor so that by the time you go back ten generations, each of us has 4,096 tenth great grandparents. I'm not special. All of us have that many and in my case that took me back to the 1500's. That doesn't even count the all of the ninth, eight, seventh, sixth great grandparents and so on, plus all of the uncles, aunts, first, second and third cousins, plus nieces, nephews and all of their families. Needless to say, at the end of my three month Ancestry.com subscription I had barely scratched the surface.
|This is a very small portion of my chart that represents|
five generations of my immediate family
including my children, siblings, parents, grandparents,
great-grandparents and great grandparents.
I couldn't help bu think that my ancestors were playing a hand in my life. Then I found scientific proof of what the Bible said. Psychologist and neuroscientist have studied Holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren. It has been scientifically proven that intergenerational transmission of PTSD can occur. Our DNA carries the expression of our ancestors trauma and our biochemistry and neurology have been affected by what they endured. Epigenetic researchers have found that the experiences of starvation, grief and shock are passed forward to descendants. The children of PTSD-stricken parents have been diagnosed with PTSD three times as often and suffered three times as much depression and anxiety and engaged in more substance abuse. There are of course other physical ailments that are inherited as well. Both of my brothers and I have congenital heart issues. After an extreme bout with fatigue and chest pain, my cardiologist prescribed a beta blocker which changed my life. Too much adrenaline was being secreted into my bloodstream causing the fight-or-flight response. The symptoms most often occurred when I woke up in the morning after having a dream. My heart would be racing and my blood pressure was through the roof while I was otherwise living a very calm life with normal blood pressure. Beta blockers work by blocking the effects the stress hormone involved in the fight-or-flight response.
Some psychologists, most famously, Carl Jung, have theorized that we are born with the memories and experiences of our ancestors imprinted on our DNA and our most basic survival instincts might stem from some long ago trauma experienced by an ancestor. I often process most of my trauma in my sleep, yet the neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in my brain) determined what emotions I was feeling and forced a physical response. Beta blockers have taken care of the symptoms yet the side effects are that I don't feel as passionately as I used to about anything and I have gained weight.
With this in mind, my new goal was to find my way back to Spain in 1478, during the Spanish Inquisition, to become familiar with the lives of my Sephardic Jewish ancestors who had been expelled from Spain by the Catholic Monarchs. Finding all of the surnames in my family on a list of Sephardic Jewish surnames was an emotional process. It was heart wrenching to learn that my Sephardic Jewish ancestors were given only four months to uproot their lives and leave their homeland of Spain. I had an instinctive visceral bodily response when I discovered that they were forced to sell their homes and businesses at very low prices and take only what they could carry on their journey to a foreign land. Vineyards were sold for the price of a handkerchief, a house for a donkey, a workshop for a piece of linen or a loaf of bread.
At this point, I had to take a break from my research. It was painful to process however it gave me courage to process my own life experiences.
When I began my ancestry research again, I was seeing my world in a whole new light and feeling grateful that I had landed exactly where I needed to be. I was taking notice of interviews with people who had written books about the holocaust. But the Inquisition... that was 500 years ago!
As it always occurred, late one night drinking tea, my research took me down a rabbit hole of discovery until I traced one blood line back to the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. I sat in a mixed bag of emotions when I discovered they were my 12th great grandparents. I didn't even have anyone to share this with at 4 am. It seemed surreal but somehow I wasn't surprised.
|Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon|
and Isabella I of Castile
These are the two charts showing my lineage to the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. This explains why I have such a visceral reaction to the religious intolerance and repression that has resurfaced in our country.
Then just when I thought my family tree couldn't get any crazier, I discovered that Hernando Cortes, the Spanish Conquistador who led the expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire, was my first cousin 10 generations back. Great! More iniquity to clean up!
|Hernando Cortes and Aztec Emperor Moctezuma|
So as the story goes, Hernán Cortés arrived in Mexico in November of 1519 accompanied by 11 ships, 600 men 200 servants and 13 horses. They were welcomed with open arms by the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma and lived in Moctezuma's palace in Tenochititlan (present day Mexico City) for several months. They were feasted, given lavish gifts including women. Cortés distributed all that was given to him among his men, keeping a beautiful maiden named Malinche. She was educated and could speak several languages. She was later baptized and given the Spanish name Doña Marina and became Cortés’s mistress, a valuable partner and interpreter. By 1521 Cortes had conquered the Aztec Empire with the help of Malinche. They had a son, Martin Cortes in 1522, making Martin the first Mestizo or mixed breed Spaniard/ Mexican to ever be born. Yet another mind boggling discovery in my personal history. The first Mestizo EVER born was my 2nd cousin 10 generations back.
By this time I had changed from drinking herbal tea to Topo Chico while reading about my family in Wikipedia, of all places. I would go to bed with my mind reeling in dismay of how I had lived more than a half a century clueless of richness in my family history. I had set out to discover the women in my history never dreaming that Isabella I of Castile was my 12th great-grandmother or the woman who had helped Cortes conquer Mexico gave birth to Martin Cortes, my 2nd cousin 10 generations ago. Why wasn't this history at least a part of the history I was taught in Texas.
I couldn't help but have mixed emotions about my ancestor's place in history but my heart was broken by the disservice to all of us Hispanic and Native people in my country. Especially for my parents who had moved away from their home state of New Mexico to raise their children in the more "acceptable" white protestant city of Amarillo, Texas while quietly maintaining their Hispanic Catholic heritage. They were still maintaining the age old customs but like Converso Jews, hiding who they were to fit in. As a child, I remember my mother hiding the tortillas she was making in the kitchen when someone knocked on the front door. I really never gave them enough credit for trying to give us a better life. But I am giving credit now to my son who moved to St Louis and is doing his best to carry on the traditions, cooking his grandmother's recipes in his Mexican food restaurant, telling his family story, fully aware of the healing that is needed in our family bloodline.
|Sign on the wall at|
Taco Circus, St Louis, MO
|North America in 1794|
The United State was only east of the Mississippi
I will start by saying, I have roughly 70% Iberian Peninsula DNA(Spain) and 30% Native American DNA (New Mexico). The journey from Spain to New Mexico took my ancestors generations. It was a difficult, brave journey for the Spanish colonists and there are no words to describe how I feel about my Native American ancestors who were invaded and had their homeland and religion taken from them. Again, I have no doubt that I have been deeply scared by the trauma my ancestors endured. It's estimated that during the colonial period (1492–1832), a total of 1.86 million Spaniards settled in the Americas and along the way, my Spanish colonist ancestors had children with Native American women, some of them were spouses and some were un-named servants. That does not make me a minority of this land and even more importantly, I am less of an immigrant than most.