Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fedoras and Furs

In reading "Tahoe Transformed," I am thoughtful of my own family's history. Sarah Winnemucca has inspired me to learn more about the people who came before me. I have many times thought of approaching my own mother with the questions that any daughter might ask: Where did your family come from? When did they come here? What tribe did Grandma tell you that we came from? Ultimately, my family does not believe that these are questions that belong to us. My search for answers continues to leave me wanting.

I am from a diverse cultural background, just as so many of my peers are (I love the Bay Area for that!). My father is 100% Irish with a group of great-grandparents who came to the United States during the second bout of the Irish Potato Famine in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. This is all I know of my Irish heritage, but it is something. I do have family still in Ireland, though our connections have obviously been lost throughout the generations. My father is my only connection to his family and he and I will never exchange words again.

On the other side of my story, I have a mother who looks as though she and Sarah Winnemucca were first cousins. My mother's brother could have easily been Sarah's brother. My mother never wanted to learn more about her family's heritage since she always believed that Grandma would fabricate anything that sounded interesting. My Grandmother was the only connection that I had to my Native American "heritage," had it actually existed. Today, all I have left of my grandmother are a couple of sentimental pieces of jewelry, photographs of moments dear to me, her famous salt-shaker, and memories of a woman who intrigued me with her complex mixture of old-fashioned beliefs and modern-day practices. I had a chance to learn more about who I was and where I came from when she was alive. Instead, I chose to spend my time with her sitting on her bedroom floor, looking at photographs of her in her "hey-day" when her 4'8" stature was something of a novelty, her 3 1/2" heels painfully bringing her up so that she was just a head shorter than the rest of her gal pals. Her long, dark, perfectly coifed waves glistened in the scattered sunlight. She wears a fur coat and dark red lipstick. She is, of course, dressed in the lastest of fashions. The year is 1945, just nine years before my own mother is born. Uncle Dave was at the moment a thought about to take fruition. My grandfather is standing tall amongst the ladies, donned in a fedora and a double-breasted suit, his tie so tight that his thoughts can be heard outloud. This is the image of a proud, esteemed Mexican American family who has "made it big." This family lives in Los Angeles during the height of it's Metropolis appeal. Movie stars, starlets, producers, singers, and songwriters- they are everywhere. You would think at first glance that you were looking at the next group of female back-up vocals, waiting to belt it out for their new leading guy. But instead, this is my family feeling prideful. Feeling like they've made something out of their lives. Feeling like they are not Mexican anymore. They are now American. This means something to them. During these moments shared with Grandma, I don't need to know anything other than who she is. What things she experienced. What things brought her joy. I can not ask her about her past, about where her family came from. This is not who she is. She is the woman in the dark red lipstick. She will always be American to me.


Scott said...

20 oints. Agree you gotta learn more about this story!

Scott said...

oops. Guess that was a Personal journal so I can't give you that 20 points after all. But thanks for posting!