I’m intrigued by what I do not know about my lineage and cultural background. I consider myself to be a part of this country—the United States— since I don’t know any other cultural experience beyond the one I was born into. By all accounts I’m fully immersed in American culture because I am an American. But my ethnicity is Salvadoran and my race would be labeled as Latino. Therefore, I’m a first-generation Salvadoran-American whose parents migrated here at different points in their lives. My cultural identity is that of Salvadoran-American, I can relate to both cultures in various ways. Yet my first-hand experience is that of growing up in the Bay Area, which has contributed to my identity through culture, race and community.
The Bay Area gave the lens through which I view my surrounding communities, most of my relatable cultural experiences and how diverse a melting pot like the Bay Area can be. Growing up, I think it offered a good reflection of the entire world and how many different cultures truly exist. Two of my older siblings were born in the Bay Area, while my another was born in Las Vegas.
El Salvador is a densely populated country in Central America—the third most populated behind Guatemala and Honduras. My parents were born there. My father was born and grew up in San Antonio, a municipality in the Eastern Region, which is part of the San Miguel Eepartment. El Salvador is divided into 14 departments that comprise the 262 municipalities. My mother is from San Salvador, the nation’s capital, in Central El Salvador. Both my parents left before turmoil engulfed El Salvador during the Civil War, which is generally framed from 1980 to 1992.
The surnames of my family are especially interesting in part to their exotic pronounciation. On my dad’s side, Urrutia is of Basque origin. My great-grandfather migrated from Spain to El Salvador, possibly after its independence from Spanish rule in the later 1800s. My mother’s surname, Cisneros, belonged to my great-great-grandmother who was also from Spain, so there’s added Spanish influence from her side.
Since interviewing my parents I have found out more specific details of my family history. My grandfather on father’s side died shortly after my dad arrived here in the states in 1977. A month after my father came to this country his own father passed away back in his hometown of San Antonio in El Salvador. A story that was commonly told was that my dad’s uncle was a respected singer back in the area where my father grew up in, and my grandfather played the guitar, as does my own father now. So, there’s evidence of musical ability going back several generations on both sides of my family. Today, some of my immediate relatives play an instrument and I myself, play the piano.
My grandmother took the name of Sandoval first and added Urrutia after the marriage. When my father immigrated, he first used Sandoval-Urrutia, as did one of my uncles. But when my father visited the Social Security Administration, the agent said he had to adopt his father’s surname, not his mother’s. Afterward, some of my relatives kept the Sandoval name while others took the Urrutia name. My dad says two of my uncles have the surname Sandoval, but were supposed to have the name Urrutia. Most of relatives carried the last name upon entering the US and my grandmother wanted her children to have the name Sandoval.
My mother took Ancestry’s DNA test. Her ethnic breakdown consisted of the following: 52 percent Native American and 48 percent from other regions. The details for the other regions are spread throughout different continents. Europe had the biggest chunk with 37 percent, including Italy, Greece, Scandinavia and the Iberian Peninsula. Africa accounted for 8 percent with Nigeria, Benin/Togo, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. Interestingly, there are 243 DNA matches for fourth cousins on my mom’s side. To find out more she would have to connect directly with them.
When I asked my mother what she wanted to know about her family, she said, “I would’ve liked to find out more about my great-grandparents.” She said that her grandmother on her mother’s side was indigenous looking but that her great-grandmother mother looked like she was from Spain and had green eyes. I asked what she thought of her DNA information, “I thought I was more European than (Native American), it surprised me that I have 15 percent Greek in me, which I thought was kind of high.” My mother speculated that her dad’s side was mainly Native American.