Reclaiming Our Hidden Truths: The revolution of remembering

This month’s post comes from a student of Dr. Castro-Gill’s American Ethnic Studies course at the University of Washington. It is written by Rossy Sierra.

The idea of counternarratives has stuck with me since class. We should be able to tell our stories for the simple fact that they are ours. I am in agreement that BIPOC individuals should be able to learn from their culture and their history through their lens. At the same time, I was saddened because I felt that I personally only know bits and pieces of my own story. This is why I was very drawn to one of the videos we watched during the lecture called Oral Traditions by William Nu’utupu Giles & Travis T. 

Despite having a different culture from them, I understood what they meant by owning the name but not the knowledge or significance that came with it. I don’t know where my name came from, and I tried my best to figure it out. In the past, when figures of authority looked at my name, Sierra, Rossy, they asked which was my last name or if I was sure it was correct. I have been filling out paperwork since I was nine. If the paperwork clearly states, “last name, first name,” then I will fill it out as such. 

Sierra and Perea are not common Hispanic last names. I remember this one time in middle school we did an activity that was supposed to help us find out a bit more about ourselves. Our history teacher wanted us to figure out where we came from and our story. It was US history. Keep in mind this is a charter school in the San Fernando Valley, where more than 90% of the school is Hispanic. She had this well-made binder with paper clippings and documents of things she was able to find after months of looking into her own family. She is a white lady. She was able to trace her family back to the town they were from before they came over to the western hemisphere. The kids in that classroom sitting next to me had last names like Alvarez, Sanchez, and Garcia; we were not going to be able to do the same thing.

We went on a website to try to figure out where our last names came from. When I searched mine, all that came up was that it comes from Spain. I remember looking at the computer and thinking, “I could’ve told you that much.” It was around this time that I became more interested in trying to document my family history. My dad did not share my sentiment. He is a believer that what happened in the past was the past, and there’s no good use in trying to dig it up. I think it’s a bit messed up to have that mindset because what he doesn’t realize is that, although it’s his choice to forget about the past, he was able to learn about it at one point in his life. He chose not to remember it. I don’t have that luxury. My knowledge of my family history is whatever is left of what he chose to remember.

I have tried to create a family tree to see how far back I can go. I went through the government records, birth and death records, and baptism registrations. Even with all of this, I was only able to trace back to my great-grandparents on both sides of my family. I lost track of my dad’s side of the family at his grandparents, and he remembered only the first name, Maria. Now that my grandparents on my dad’s side have passed on, I feel a sense of loss. I can only imagine the amount of history and knowledge they both had. My grandpa still spoke his native language, but for some reason, decided not to teach his children, so it is lost now. My mom’s side wasn’t better. She’s from Puebla, and it turns out any family records were lost in a building fire during la Batalla de Puebla.

Cinco de Mayo: The 1862 Battle of Puebla, Mexico, where Mexican forces defeated French invaders.

It’s for these reasons I try not to let go of my culture. I jokingly say I’m a bad Mexican because I don’t like staple cuisines like beans, tortillas, chiles, mole, and avocados. My mom’s grandma was her pueblos molera (the person who makes mole), and only my mom and two other people currently have the recipe. I can’t do any spicy food. Despite this, I try to learn how to make all the family recipes because who will pass them on if not me? My parents are curious as to why I decided to try to record everything, but I am just trying to preserve the bits of history I have left. I will do so even if it is by word of mouth.

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