December 21, 2008

Erasing the Mexicans (and Indians)

Erasing the Mexicans

By Alisa Valdes-RodriguezWhen I was in my teens, my mother’s paternal aunt Gladys researched the Conant family tree (my mother’s maiden name is Conant) and discovered, among other things, that my mom’s father’s grandmother’s maiden name was Marquez, and that she hailed from Anton Chico, New Mexico. Her family, Gladys assured us all, could trace its roots directly to Spain in the 1500s, with a land-grant from the King. She was, in other words, royalty. “She was from the Northern part of Spain,” I often heard my grandmother (who married into the Conant family) say, following up with “they’re blonde-headed up that way.”

Well, this week I began researching our family tree myself, for a memoir I’m working on. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Barbarita Marquez (listed as “Marcus” on her death certificate in California, ha!) was not exactly as Spanish as the Conants have wanted us all to believe.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet (and the amazing site I have indeed traced her family to Spain, to a wealthy young man who came to Santa Fe and married a woman from the San Ildefonso (San Yldefonso on the marriage license) pueblo. That means his wife was Native American. From that point forward, the family tree merges many times with families from Mexico City, Chiapas, and Zacatecas, as well as with “Spanish” families from Northern New Mexico. In other words, my mother’s father was Mexican, whether he liked it or not. To my great delight, I’ve learned this week that I am descended from the best-known “Spanish” clans in New Mexico; I am a Baca, a Duran, a Roybal, an Aragon, a Griego and a Gallego.
And:I believe that the Conants did what many “anglo” families have done in the Southwest, erasing the Mexicans. (Many Hispanic families in New Mexico do this, too, by the way.)

While my original memoir was going to be about my relationship with my troubled mother when I was a teenager, I am shifting focus now. I think I’d rather write about how the Conants erased their Mexican heritage, and link this to a general pattern of families doing this in the Southwest. It is crucial, given the drumbeat of hatred against Mexicans in the US at this time, to remind Americans that most of us with roots in the West are Mexican, whether we admit it or not.

I liken the Conant erasure of our Mexican ancestors to the tendency in white Southern families to erase their African and Native American ancestors.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see Mexicans Reclassified Themselves Upward and Mexican Indians Forced to Change Baby Names.

Below:  The author's mother (center) and aunts.

And San Ildefonso, the source of her Indian side.

No comments: