A Distant Cousin Offers a Missing Piece to the Puzzle by Aleah Moya Fajardo

I always thought that Ancestry would open up the floodgates to all that truths of my identity and family history that I had struggled with learning all my life. Through the process of uncovering these truths, I have witnessed the effects of intergenerational trauma on both sides of my family. It became evident when I realized that there seemed to be a filter on what stories my family decided to contribute to the education of who we are as a people. I acknowledged that this happened because there were certain memories that they didn’t want to relive or relationships that they wanted to forget. There was an understanding that followed but still has a taken an extreme amount of patience to accept.

On my mother’s side, we know about our indigenous roots but never managed to get past “your great grandmother grew up on a reservation somewhere in Arizona.” She also allegedly spoke the native language but was eventually lost after relocating to California. I had also heard very little but a lot more of my grandmother’s only love, who was from Guatemala. His history revolved around the escapades that he and my grandmother experienced when they went to visit his family back home. My grandmother swore that she would never fly in a plane so she made him journey by car. Those adventure tales were also accompanied by social cues I picked up on to stop talking about him. I found out from my mother that he died from an overdose in the house that he and my grandmother once shared. In the same way, I had never learned about my paternal biological grandfather. It took this project for me to figure out that my dad had a middle name and still, no one knows if it’s Jess or Jesus. My dad and his father had their own tribulations that he has never spoken of even till this day.

I hoped that this project would reveal the historical gaps that could somehow complete the puzzle I have been trying to solve. When it came to filling in the information for my family tree, I had no problem inserting the stats for my immediate family. I asked my parents for the data on their parents, but they surprisingly didn’t know anything beyond their name and birth date. My mom knew the name of her dad but not where in Guatemala he came from or why he came and so forth. My paternal grandmother gave me the information for her mom, which ended up being wrong, and couldn’t recall the facts about her dad beyond his street name. She didn’t know some of the fine details of her grandmother either which was surprising to me because they had been so close. It made me wonder about the stories that her grandmother neglected to share and why.

From the beginning, I knew that I was going into this with minimal information and would have to try reaching out to other family members to help build clarity. So far, I have backtracked the maternal side of the family by four generations. After taking the DNA test, I received a message from someone who turns to be a distant cousin now living in Seattle. It turned out that his grandmother and mine were sisters. I had never heard her name before he mentioned it to me, and I was able to confirm it with my mom. The site was a hard to navigate but I eventually wrote to a woman who was married to my great-grandmother’s brother’s son. She knew a lot more about our family tree than I did, so I morphed the two together. Through her, I now know that my great-grandmother is from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in Arizona. Being in college I have learned more about the assimilation and resistance through the horrendous act of the colonization of indigenous peoples. I plan on learning more about those roots and hope to one day connect with the tribe that still occupies the land.

The flag of the Yaqui tribe in Arizona.

I haven’t had any luck with the paternal side of my family. I know that my biological grandpa died long before I was born. Since my dad lost contact with him even before that, he eventually lost contact with that entire part of our family. My grandmother never cared to keep up either. We were all from the same town so my grandma suggested that I look up their names in the city’s yellow pages to gain some leads. I did and all the numbers I called were disconnected or now owned by someone else. I have decided to give up on that part of me but hope that somewhere down the line I can possibly make connections.

Nonetheless, this assignment has given me insight to various perspectives. One being on the way we, as journalist, may try to ignorantly impose on people’s histories without understanding the weight that can come with bringing up certain recollections. Simple questions could trigger and draw up certain memories and it’s important to be aware of that. I’m still trying to understand where I fit in this society and this journey helps me understand that people are multidimensional and complex, and that it is imperative that they can tell their stories from their perspective even if they haven’t exactly figure that out yet. Never is it simple enough to generalize or make assumptions. The best way to go about reporting on issues involving diverse communities is by gaining an understanding and empathy for the situation at hand. Time and patience are required for this process to go well.  If that can’t be dedicated, it might not be worth putting effort into because the media has so much influence on how the rest of the world perceives different communities. The telling of stories deserves the time and delicacy it takes to live though them.

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