Facebook Friends & Cousins

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(This is the 2nd post of the CALIFORNIO series. You can read the 1st post HERE.)

“Tell me again: How are we related?”

The wonderful (and frightening) part about the Internet is that strangers often meet with the click of a cursor. The stranger I had recently started exchanging emails with had found me through Facebook (of course). Her name wasn’t familiar, nor was the face on her profile.  But it was a friendly face so I took a chance and made her my Facebook friend.

It turned out we were  cousins.

Her last name was one that I hadn’t recognized, but then she told me about her father.

“He was a Gonzales,” she emailed me.

That name I knew.

Throughout the years, my uncle had mentioned once or twice that his grandfather’s sister, Bridget, had been a very smart woman. “There was a rumor that her parents sent her to live with a wealthy doctor in Hayward, and she went to the university there,” he would tell us.  When we asked him for more information, he’d just shrug.  “She came back home to Santa Barbara, married a Gonzales, and ended up having eight kids.”

That story always intrigued me. A woman in the 1850s who attended a university near Hayward?  That had to be the University of California at Berkeley, a prestigious school, and Bridget would have attended it back in the days when not many women went to college. I was impressed.  And here was this woman named Pam who I had just friended on Facebook whose father was Bridget’s grandson.

So we started exchanging emails.

We talked a little about Bridget, and of course Pam never knew her or knew anything about the rumor of her attending Cal Berkeley.  We did figure out that we were “double cousins.” Bridget’s brother, Frederico Craviotto had married Bridget’s husband’s sister, Mary Gonzales.  So the Craviotto brother and sister had married a Gonzales sister and brother.  Our heads were spinning at how that would look on a family tree.  But clearly, we were definitely cousins.

We shared what little information we had about both sets of our great-great-grandparents.  It wasn’t much: Antonio Craviotto was an immigrant from Italy, and Jose Antonio Gonzales was an immigrant from Chile.  Both sides were made up of hard-working folks who had lived in Santa Barbara and that was all we knew about them.  I shared with Pam the one photo of Bridget that my uncle had once shown me; an old woman with white hair wearing glasses, she lived well into her 80s and looked like she came from sturdy stock. With thick legs, and strong shoulders, she looked like a woman who could give birth to eight children and still be around to talk about it.

Brigida Craviotto

More than this photo and my uncle’s intriguing story, we didn’t know anything else about  Bridget Craviotto Gonzales.

Time passed and we continued to exchange emails.  Our lives were much more interesting than the Gonzales/Craviotto bloodlines. We talked about our children, our husbands, our careers.  Pam was a university professor and I told her I was a professional screenwriter.  When my book came out she read it, and we talked about that and screenwriting. After awhile, our emails thinned out and then, one day she sent me a list of names.

“You should write about these people,” she emailed me.

It was a list of six names, all of them with the surname of “Garcia.”

I wrote her back and asked who these people were.

“Our family,” she explained.  “Great, great grandparents and beyond.”

I looked closer at the names and at the dates attached to them.  The last one dated back to 1720 and La Mancha, Spain.  But the other names before it had lived in California, most of them in Santa Barbara.  It was a list of names I had never known before.

“How did you get this list?” I wrote her back, immediately.

She told me that a friend of hers – someone who did genealogy – had offered to trace the family bloodlines.  That list of six names is what she had found.  Although there wasn’t a Gonzales listed, the Garcia side was our other side of the family.  The last name on the list was Rosa Garcia, and that name Rosa was one that sounded familiar.

It took me days to sort through my office papers: through drawers, filing cabinets,, and long-ago forgotten personal papers. But the search was successful and I found what I had been looking for – a link to Rosa.

Six months earlier, my uncle had passed away.  He had spent a lot of his later years researching our family bloodlines.  He didn’t often share what he had learned, or maybe I wasn’t around or when I was I just wasn’t listening.  But a few years earlier he had given me a handful of papers that one of our cousins had sent to him.  Yellowed copies from a typewriter, they were 35 years old, and I barely glanced at them when my uncle had first shared them with me.  I only skimmed through those old pages, enough to see that they were part of a transcription of an oral history. Someone had used a tape recorder to share memories and names of people I had never heard of before.  I had tossed the papers into a cabinet and forgot all about them until Pam’s list of Garcias found me on Facebook.

This time I looked closer.

When I did, that’s when I found Rosa.

A Woman Named Rosa

“It’s too bad you never got to meet your great-great grandmother,” began the yellowed papers my uncle had given me. “Her name was Rosa,” our cousin’s grandfather had spoken more than thirty-five years ago, and the tape had recorded it.

I quickly checked my uncle’s notes scrawled across the borders of the transcript.  There was my grandfather’s name, and the name of his parents.  And yes, there was Rosa’s name.  The words spoken were about a woman we shared in common – Rosa Garcia.

In my imagination, I tried to picture Rosa as I read the words on that yellowed paper.

“As a little boy I would interpret for her when Rosa would go into town to the bank.  She only spoke Spanish so I would speak for her in English,” he said.  “I used to take her to get her interest, for her money in the bank.  She had five accounts in five different banks because she was so afraid something would happen to her money; she didn’t trust it to be in just one.  I’d go out to her ranch in the morning and there’d she be, waiting for me.  She had a round oak kitchen table and it was full of pink beans.  She had these five bunches – one bunch of beans for each bank.  And she knew exactly how much she had in each bank account.  She got three or four percent and each bean represented that amount and each pile had exactly that amount of beans.  She stayed up all night figuring out how much money she was going to have in interest. And each pile was for one of her children.”

One of those five children was my grandfather’s mother.  Rosa Garcia and I were definitely related – My grandfather was her grandson, and I was her great-great granddaughter.

I decided to take a closer look at Pam’s list of Garcias.

(NEXT WEEK:  A list of names, forgotten on Facebook, until a Google search begins an adventure. The 3rd post in the CALIFORNIO series: Searching for the Garcias.)

ROSALOGO

Californio

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(This week’s blog begins a multi-part web series – a look behind-the-scenes as I start writing the book, Californio. The novel, Californio, is available NOW. Look at the end of this post for a link to Amazon and Barnes & Noble)

They called my father a spic.

I haven’t heard the word used in years.  Now, other words have taken its place – more descriptive perhaps, but just as derogatory.  What I knew it to mean was the color brown – a skin darker than the all-powerful color of white.  Of course no skins are really white or brown, but for some reason the darker the skin tone, the greater the insults.

I never thought of my father as dark.  His hair was jet black, that’s true, and his eyes were the deepest of browns.  I knew him only as a working man – an iron worker and welder who toiled outside under the sun on most days when he wasn’t in the shop, running the business. The sun darkened him, I thought.  It didn’t have more meaning to me than that.

But to other people that deep pigment meant something else.  I learned what that something was through my father’s own perception of what “being brown” meant to him.  From the story he told about being a young soldier in a bar while another soldier spit that spic word in his direction, to the fights he almost got into until he learned he could always just say, “I’m Italian.”

Bloodlines

My father wasn’t lying when he’d use “Italian” as a reason for turning his back on being brown.  His grandfather’s father was an Italian immigrant – the owner of my father’s name, a name that had come from thousands of miles away, from Genoa.  A name that I now own as my father’s blue-eyed, once-blonde-haired daughter.

Dad&Me

My father loved holding me as a baby because people would ask him, “Who’s baby is that?”  He’d always answer them proudly (knowing they were only questioning him because I was blonde and he wasn’t), “She’s mine!”

When I was old enough to hear these stories, and to notice a different language, other than English, that was spoken between my grandparents, I only assumed that what made our family what it was came from being Italian.  My grandmother, Nanie, had an accent, and so did Bobbie, my grandfather.  I was too little to know what Italian sounded like, or to notice that my grandmother spoke a different language with her sisters and sheep-herding brother than she did with her own husband.  All I really understood was that my father didn’t like it. “Ma, speak English!” he’d tell her, and she’d shush him and keep speaking in words to her siblings that I didn’t understand.  Until Bobbie would “Tsk!” in disgust and shake his head, barking a word – foreign again – and Nanie would go silent.

I was in kindergarten when I learned Nanie was French Basque. That our family wasn’t only Italian, we were Basque too.  I listened closer to those strange words that she spoke and realized they were different than the other ones she used with my grandfather.  Both were languages that my father never spoke at all.  Not with his parents.  Not with me.  Not with absolutely anyone in this world. It would be a few years later that I learned my grandparents weren’t speaking Italian at all.

It was Spanish.

Family Secrets

Every family has its share of secrets and I guess that was ours, that my grandparents spoke exclusively in Spanish to each other, throwing the odd slang word at us every now and then, whether we knew what it meant or not.  In spite of my father’s protestations, we were told to wipe our “colinos” and that girls had “chi-chis” but boys didn’t.  Someone was either a “cabron” or a “pendejo” when they were acting silly, or a “boboso” if they weren’t too smart.  We were told “cholos” lived down the street and not to play with them, but we were also instructed never to use that word “cholo” because it could cause a fight if someone heard you call them that.  “Vino” was wine, “Tia Marquesa” was what we called our old aunt, and “Quieres cafe?” were always the words my grandmother asked my grandfather when it was time for coffee and dessert.    We never questioned why they spoke in Spanish, or why our table had frijoles or salsa at all of our barbecues.  Our special Christmas enchiladas (made of cheese, onions, and chopped hard boiled eggs) didn’t seem out of place, nor did the chile rellenos my Nanie would sometimes make along with empaniditas, tamales, and homemade tortillas – flour, never corn.   It just seemed normal to us; it was family, our family.  And when I was little, I just assumed everyone’s family was like ours.

Then, I grew up.

I became aware that the Craviottos weren’t like any other family I saw on television, in the movies, or in the living rooms and backyards of my friends.  In my teens, as my body started to feel uncomfortable with its new changes, so too did my perceptions of my family begin to grow less certain.  Who were we?  The only places that had salsa on the table, frijoles on the plates, enchiladas, tamales, and the sound of a language that made me feel l was home were Mexican restaurants.  And for some reason, we never went to “those” kind of restaurants.  Not if my father had anything to say about it.

Sometimes you get so busy growing up you forget to ask questions.  Or maybe you just get the message as a kid that some things are okay to ask, and other things are off limits.  We were Italian and that was okay to talk about.  We were also French Basque and that was also fine to discuss.  My mother’s family was Scotch/Irish and that was certainly no secret.  But I never asked my father why his parents spoke Spanish, or why it embarrassed him so much.  When our town celebrated Old Spanish Days Fiesta every August, commemorating its Spanish/Mexican early beginnings and my dad never participated, never wanted to dress up in Spanish costumes, or go down to El Mercado De La Guera to have Mexican food, I never wanted to know why.  We went to Hawaii instead of El Mercado, or to Sea World, Yosemite, or even Bass Lake instead of La Noches de Ronda, or the Mission steps for La Fiesta Pequena.  Dad wanted nothing to do with the celebration of anything Spanish, anything Mexican, and I never questioned or asked him why.

We were an old-time Santa Barbara family that had lived in that one small coastal California town for generations. “Everybody back in the old days in Santa Barbara spoke Spanish,” my father once admitted.  End of story.  That was a good enough explanation, I thought.  It made sense to me:  why look any deeper?

And I didn’t.

Unraveling the Past

The years passed, and so did Nanie and Bobbie, my only connection to those lyrical Spanish sounds, and to the answers of questions I never asked, but maybe should’ve.  Occasionally, as my father and his brother aged, I’d overhear conversations, and  names like “Gonzales,” and “Buelna.”  My uncle would share some bit of information he’d discovered about some relative or some piece of the past, but dad would always stop him with: “You’re going to look so deep some day, Danny, you’re going to find something you don’t want to know.”  And that would stop my uncle in his tracks; the conversation would just peter out, and they’d switch the subject to Notre Dame football, or some job they had to go measure for work.

Now, my father and my uncle are both gone – the last links to our family’s past, to the old days and customs long ago forgotten, to the old-timers who never spoke English but who shared a past that held all the answers to every question I now want to ask.  I can’t ask those questions now because there’s no one left who can answer me.

Somehow I don’t think that will stop me from asking them.

I’m a writer and my imagination is restless.  My ability to research is tireless; my talent for using words, and for creating stories is boundless.  I will ask those questions anyway.  And if I have to, I will be the one now to provide the answers.

(NEXT WEEK: Opening doors that have been locked for years. The 2nd CALIFORNIO post:  Facebook Friends & Cousins.)

ROSALOGO

Read the blog series, then read the novel, Californio, available July 17, 2017 at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and other fine bookstores.Californio ebook cover REV