Family Stories

We were reading a poem form a Cuban poet, Nicolás Guillén, specifically Ballad de los Dos Abuelos.  This was about his grandparents, not specifically his direct grandparents, but his heritage, how his one side was from Spain and the other from Africa.  During the conquista there were three levels of race.  Spaniards were at the top, the indigenous people of whatever country they were in were second and Africans were third.

This poem reminded me of a story that my Abuelo told my sister and I.  My Abuelo (grandfather) is dark-skinned, and by that I mean he looks tan.  Contrary to popular belief, not all Hispanics have dark hair and tan skin, some are black because they have more blood from Africans that were brought over from the slave trade, some are blonde with blue eyes, some red hair with green eyes, some are whiter than I am!  His father’s brother, Tío Pepe was light-skinned.  One day he asked Tío where his dark skin came from.  Tío responded without missing a beat “It comes from your dirty mother’s side”.  Now that sounds very mean and racist but also keep in mind the time period too, he was older than my Abuelo who is my grandfather.  Especially then the light Castilian skin was preferred over the tan “indigenous” skin.

My Abuelo laughs as this story now, but I’m assuming this upset him when he was younger.  He never mentioned any other problems with race, with his more Castilian looking father and his “dark-skinned” mother.  It’s just something strange to me.  I can obviously grasp the concept or racism, however, growing up in the U.S. and learning our history, it’s easier understanding against Hispanics or African Americans or Women, not within Hispanics you know?  Especially since in the U.S. people want to be tan looking!  One day I do want to do a DNA test with my Abuelo.  I know for sure we are Castilian, our last name is from Castilian royal family! lol Our last name is like Jones in PR, but it’s still interesting!  Our dark skin most likely comes from the Taíno people, who were indigenous to the island, maybe even a bit from Africa.

Abuelo never spoke poorly of Tío Pepe, he was just a grumpy old man, lol and I wish I could have met him.  He’d tell another story about when my Aunt (Abuelo’s daughter) and her husband went down to Puerto Rico.  Now Tío Pepe doesn’t speak English and my Aunt’s husband doesn’t speak any Spanish other that “cerveza fria” (cold beer).  Even with these language barriers, apparently these two would sit on the back porch for hours, talking in two different languages that neither understood.

Another interesting story about how times have changed is when my grandparents bought their house in the 1960’s.  My grandmother is white and my Abuelo is Puerto Rican.  When they bought the house, which was built in 1929, the deed said “For sale to Caucasians only” and this was because they didn’t want any African Americans moving into the area, it was segregated! That idea is so weird now since we have laws that are supposed to protect against that discrimination.

However, Hispanic is not a race like Black, White, Pacific Islander, etc. but it is ethnicity because Hispanics blood is from Africans, Native from whatever country was taken over and Spaniards who are considered Caucasian.  On my Abuelo’s army records from when he served in Korea (yes PR’s were included in all American wars since WWI, we were also included in the draft) it stated he was a Caucasian and that was why they were allowed to purchase the house.  Then when more of his brothers moved to the states, he built the entire second floor with them, no extra help.

I thought I’d write about something different since I’ve been working with Human Trafficking so much.  Sometimes you need a break from topics like that.  My family is full of really incredible stories and my grandparents have lived through so much and have seen so much that I’ll never experience, even living on a farm in PR or in Wisconsin.  Do you have any interesting stories about your family?


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