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FINDING MYSELF BEFORE LEAVING MILLS| Family history is my history

(Dani Toriumi)
(Dani Toriumi)

Over the years, I have been asking more and more questions about my family’s history. I want to understand why they made the choices they did, what kind of experiences they had and reflect on what has come to be. I particularly want to know how the journey from Mexico was for my grandpa and my great grandma. I want to know what my grandma’s experiences were as a first generation Mexican American. Where were they during the Chicano movement? How did they find their place as American citizens?

When I was little I asked questions, but now that I am older I don’t think I asked the right ones. Instead of “Do you miss Mexico?” I should have asked “Why did you leave?”

In my first year at Mills, I had the opportunity to ask my grandpa all the right questions for an oral project in affiliation with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation I had for my Sociology of Immigration class. Having a better, but still not perfect, grasp of my Spanish, and a more critical thought process, I interviewed him for almost two hours. The audio of my grandpa talking about his childhood in Mexico, the journey to America, the frustrations of finding work, starting a family gave me the opportunity to get to know more about the man I have always looked up to.

It was an amazing experience to talk to my grandpa about all of these things, and now I want to talk to my great grandma. This has been more of a challenge, because she knows little English and I know broken Spanish. But I keep trying. I also want to learn about my grandma’s experiences growing up as a Mexican American in school during the times when you couldn’t speak Spanish without being punished, and if you could pass as American, you did so. I want to know what my mom’s experiences were like as a second generation Mexican American after the Chicano Movement.

Some may argue that all this information is irrelevant to who I am because I am a third generation Mexican American and won’t ever fully understand what the journey from one country to another is like. I disagree. My family’s history is my history. Their battles, frustrations, sacrifices and experiences have built up to the moment when I came to be. Without them, I would not have the life I have today, the understanding, the culture and the blood that runs through my veins. I have blood from a people who have been fighting for generations and of people who have worked for a life worth living. I like to think that I am making those before me proud. No matter what I do or where I go in life, my family will always be my family and I can’t ignore their history.

Knowing as much as I can learn from my mom, grandparents and great grandma helps me to understand myself better. I want to understand myself better so if or when I have kids, I can help them understand themselves; right now, I can help my siblings to understand who they are, who our family is and where we come from. In order to do all of this, I need to understand my family’s history as Mexican Americans.