Summer Travels & Musings: Family Reunion 2008
I have been offline for a while (not counting tweets) because I went to my first family reunion in Denver, Colorado.
Along with my mother, brother and my mother’s sister (Auntie Ginger), I also spent time with my stepfather Larry Rose and my stepsister Wayane. We all shared a townhouse in downtown Denver during our stay in Colorado. Larry and Wayane were able to meet my mother’s extended family for the first time, something that I could relate to.
Larry is Jewish and Wayane is Indonesian/Dutch/Jewish so our childhood was always filled with a hodgepodge of traditions and exceptions.
My mother, Carolina Castillo Rose, was born in a primarily Mexican migrant mining town near Denver, Colorado. Her mother’s maiden name was Castillo, but this reunion came through her father (my grandfather) so I met a lot of family named Montez. I didn’t know I had so many relatives (or relatives named Montez).Up until now, I have always been more familiar with my father’s side of the family, bound by the restrictions of geography.
I was born in California, where most of my father’s family has been for generations. The Capistrano clan are (for the most part) much darker and more Native American/Chicano in appearance, while my mother’s side is more fair-skinned. They are both Mexicanos but as (most) people know, Latinos come in all colors. It was interesting to be around family members who look like my mother and who’s facial expressions at times reminded me of my brother, and even of myself.
I discovered that some of my family members are actors, engineers (who inspect rockets!) and photographers. I learned that I have family in New Mexico, Montana, Florida, Kansas and Texas. I have never been to those states but hope to visit my newly discovered family in each of those places in the future. There were so many questions I wanted to ask them but there wasn’t enough time…
Sometimes I think about what it must have been like for my mother to grow up in a place with limited electricity and running water. It is very hard for me to imagine. The differences between my childhood and hers are staggering. I didn’t have video games or many new clothes, but my mother didn’t have toys of her own and had to look after several younger brothers and sisters. She read to me and took me to libraries – her parents never read to her. My mother also grew up in a time with a lot more racial tension and oppression, very aware of the fact that life was slightly easier on her because of her fair features (but not by much).
My mother endured a lot of racism even through graduate school at Stanford (during the Chicano Pride movement she experienced it from both whites and latinos), but she never let close minded people prevent her from reaching her goals. She was the first person in her family to travel through Europe (something I did for the first time last year). She has owned her own business since I was a baby, a fact of life that I often take for granted. Not everyone has a mother who, consciously or not, passes an entrepreneurial spirit onto them. Until very recently I never really appreciated what a blessing it has been to have a mother who is such a strong female role model.
To put things a little more into perspective, my mother’s childhood compared with my grandmother’s make my mom’s experience look like a sumptuous buffet of privilege. My mom had access to a library – a haven for her mind and imagination where she dreamed of her future unfolding beyond her limited surroundings. My grandmother did not have time for books. By age five, she was taking care of other children just to earn her own keep, which meant she never finished grade school. Sometimes she would go days without food and would make it through those times by drinking glass after glass of water.
What I have, compared to what my grandmother had, is unimaginable. If she were alive today I know that she was be very proud of my mother and of me. Education and hard work was the key to freedom and opportunity for my mother and her siblings – My mother’s parents told her that she better do well in school because that was her only ticket out of poverty.
My mother always told me that you create your own life and your own experiences – no one is going to do it for you. I will pass down all of these values to my own children (bio and adopted) someday.
On a lighter note: I no longer collect knick knacks but I used to be an obsessive hoarder up until my teens. My father also collects odds and ends and his apartment in Madera, CA is filled with items that he adopted from me – Disney figurines, photos, glass animals, etc. It was amusing to see that this trait also exists on my mother’s side of the family.
Something wonderful from the family reunion was my ten year old cousin (3rd or 4th?) Hunter’s performance. She shared some folklÃ³rico dances with us from her Guadalupe dance troupe.