De que parte?

My grandfather’s letter to his carnal, 1946

When I was in elementary school (Hillcrest Elementary in Monterey Park) I was often asked the question: “What are you?” Sometimes I would act coy and answer “What do you mean?” but I knew what they meant. Then they’d ask “What’s your nationality?” and I’d say “American” but I knew that wasn’t the answer they wanted. Then they said “No, your parents.” And I’d say “They’re American too.” After being surprised by that answer they would finally ask “Aren’t you Mexican?” And I’d answer “Yes” but thinking to myself : Of course, I’m Mexican. The whole school is filled with Mexican and Chicano kids with the odd Cuban or Central American kid thrown in. The rest of the students were Asian and I’m sure they weren’t asked such questions.

Then I would get asked the question that I’d been really trying to avoid in the first place “What state of Mexico is your family from?” There is no Mexican that has not been asked this question, I even ask it to other Mexicans myself. I’ve always felt awkward answering though because my family has been here for a few generations and I have no real ties to any state in Mexico. I have no grandparents to visit, no Mexican cousins, no houses to visit during the holidays and yet I had to give an answer. I would reply “My mother’s family from Sonora and my father’s family from Michoacan.” Then there’d be this “Oh” as if my response said everything they could possibly want to know about me. In Mexican culture the state you are from is a big deal and there are enough cultural variations in each state for this assessment to be real.

For instance, I’ve always had a slight prejudice against people from Guadalajara, Mexico. Perhaps it’s been because most of the folks I’ve met from Guadalajara here in Los Angeles tend to have more money and also more European heritage which I think makes them slightly snobby. Lately too, as I’ve been doing research on my family genealogy and history, I’ve really come to identify with the states of my maternal great grandparents: Sonora, Durango and Chihuahua. So perhaps, that’s influenced my preference for the northern states.

My paternal grandfather’s family has always been a bit of a black hole. The story passed down to me was my paternal grandfather was deported soon after my father was born and not allowed back into the US. My grandmother told me she was in love with my grandfather but her parents objected to their relationship and kept them apart. They weren’t married when my father was born. She told me my paternal grandfather would send letters but my grandmother’s father threw them away and eventually the tenuous lines of communication faded away.

After asking my dad a million times for info about his father, I finally got it out of him that he had some of these letters. I was thrilled! What secrets would I uncover? Would the mysteries and the countless fictional narratives I’ve created around this man finally be resolved? I’m still working my way through the letters and there’s quite a bit to analyze and decipher. I’ve been impressed by my grandfather’s writing skills, for a laborer/farm worker (perhaps he’d been more) he’s very articulate.  It’s also interesting to notice the language variation between when he writes to my grandmother in a flowery and romantic way and the letter to his “carnal” (above) which is infused with border lingo.

The most shocking discovery about my grandfather’s past and one I would never have dreamed of, is that he and his family are from Guadalajara! My prejudices come back to haunt me. I knew he was from Jalisco but because he has always been so mysterious to me, I just assumed it might not be totally true. Guadalajara is where he finally returned after his unsuccessful attempts to make it to the US. There are few letters from a prison in Texas where he was kept after being caught trying to cross. Many sore spots surrounding his non-existence in my family’s life still persist, things better left unsaid on a public blog. My mother and father did try and look for him once in Guadalajara but their attempts were as unsuccessful as my grandfather’s border crossing skills.

According to the letters my grandfather and great-grandmother lived at this address:
Familia Ybarra-Ramos
Calle Independencia 110
Guadalajara, JAL, 44100, Mexico

Perhaps one day I will make a pilgrimage to Guadalajara and search the city for familiar faces.

excerpt from letter:

Pues yo cria que te avain castigado duro la migracion. Pero veo que eres invunerable y no hay frontera que se te cierre.

16 thoughts on “De que parte?

  1. dona junta says:

    wow that is a great find!. Yeah it is a trip when people ask where you are from, I assume they mean Mexico and always respond my family is from Zacatecas. About Guadalajara I never really knew to much about it until I stopped there when I went to Mexico a few year’s ago it is much like LA. On another note
    I found this cool blog about this girl who moved to Gudalajara b/c her hubby got deported, her insights as an American living in GD kind of gives me an idea about living life in GD. I would not mind visitng someday if you ever go I am down lol.

  2. Chimatli says:

    Oh cool! Thanks for the link and yeah, I will let you know when I go! It would be fun to do a group trip. Maybe we can corral Diego to show us around? I hope he’s not offended by my comments regarding folks from Guadalajara. I’m not so prejudiced like I used to be! 🙂

  3. Chimatli says:

    Oh and you know what’s kinda crazy about that blog? There are letters to my grandmother (my dad’s mom) from my great-grandmother (my dad’s dad’s mom) asking her to move to Guadalajara with the baby (my dad) so that she could reunite with her son. I guess I wouldn’t be here if my grandmother decided to leave the U.S.

  4. dona junta says:

    Yeah I remember when my parents used to write letters to Mexico and we used to recive them as well from my grandparents. That is kind of sad that letter writing is pretty dead now. I mean think about: they actually took the time to sit and write a letter to a far away place now we got to much technology to worry about that. Also if you check out that blogs links there are other pretty cool links to similar blogs. About a trip omg that would be awesome hopfully when things get better with the economy and what not, Deigo u better show us around lol

  5. dona junta says:

    hmm maybe u can email that girl(refried dreams) that addresse and she can check if it still exisits or I can ask her for you, just for fun unless it’s too far for her what do you think? maybe she can take a picture lol..

  6. soledadenmasa says:

    I’ve spent a grand total of no more than thirteen hours of my life in Guadalajara. I wouldn’t be much of a tour guide. I could take you around a lot of the downtown area, as that’s the only part I know. My family is from Los Altos de Jalisco. Differences that matter.


    Calle Independencia is in the downtown area of Guadalajara. There are more, I’m sure, but based on the year the letter was written, I’m going to say your ancestors lived in the street in downtown Guadalajara. A simple Google Maps search tells you where it is. The house is a block from el Teatro Degollado!

  7. Chimatli says:

    Thanks Diego! I tried to link the google map but I don’t think I did it right. I knew you were from Los Altos (btw, did you read that post I did about crypto-Jews and Los Altos?) but I think I remember you having some love for Chivas so I figured there was some affinity there.
    Anyways, Guadalajara has been on my “cities to visit” list long before I discovered my familial connection but now it’s bumped to the top of the list!
    Dona, yeah, it’s sad people don’t write letters like they used to. There’s something so special about receiving a letter in the mail. An email cannot compare.
    Hmmm, that’s a good idea about asking the blogger to take a photo! I think I’ll do just that!
    I’ll maybe post up more letters soon, if it’s OK with my father.

  8. Chimatli says:

    I got the book from the Central Library. It’s called:
    Entre La Cruz y La Hoguera by Manuel Hernandez Gomez
    You can have it sent to the nearest Los Angeles City library which is near Central and Century.

  9. cindylu says:

    I’ve always thought the answer to “where are you from” depended on who asked. If the questioner was not Mexican, I’d just say Mexico but if they’re Mexican, I know it’s more like “were you born here?” or “which state?”

    I’ve always known my family is from Zacatecas and Guanajuato, but the Zacatecas side was much more emphasized growing up. I spent more time there as a kid and more time with my grandparents. I didn’t begin to feel an affinity toward Gto until much more recently. I’ve never been to Guadalajara even though it wouldn’t be a long drive from Jerez, Zac. or even Salamanca, Gto. Some of my best friends are from Guadalajara (or really, ranchos near there), so I know that they can’t all be bad 😀

    Do you remember the embroidered bandanas with the states in the 90s?

    And the letters: Wow. That’s a pretty cool find. I want you to do more digging!

  10. Chimatli says:

    Hi Cindy,
    Thanks for the comment!
    I slightly exaggerated my prejudice against Tapatios. I admit I did have a sort of stereotype of people from Guadalajara mostly because of people I knew in the past. It’s just was a big shock to find out someone so close to me was from an unlikely place. I always assumed my relatives were laborers or ranch people. It’s nice to have city dwelling folks in my ancestry!

    My dad’s mother’s family is from Michoacan and so I associated certain traits with them as well but I just discovered they’re from a rancho that is right near the Jalisco border. So I guess they are more Jalisciense that I thought.

    Yeah, I remember those bandanas! 🙂
    Well, at least Guadalajara has a good futbol team, Atlas!

  11. soledadenmasa says:

    Michoacanos are assholes. And the rivalry between states lives on…

    Atlas, are you kidding me? They’ve had only one championship, back in ’51! Chivas all the way. The only team in Jalisco.

  12. oroyturquesa says:

    Hi Chimatli:

    I just found your blog yesterday and I love it! I can definitely relate to a lot that you’ve written about, from being asked “What are you?” even into college, to a fierce bond with family to an enthusiasm to share things I find awesome.

    But you mentioned that you’ve been successful in researching on your family’s genealogy?? As a Mexican-American who definitely feels the loss of Latino culture that goes with “assimilation,” I am very interested in researching my heritage before it’s too late. The problem is that I think my family has been living in Texas for many generations now, and I was wondering if you had any advice on particularly helpful websites to look into for Mexican immigrants say, pre-20th or 19th century. Just asking!!!!

    Thanks; the blog’s design is so chic!!
    – Oro y Turquesa

  13. Chimatli says:

    Oro y Turquesa,
    Thanks for stopping by the blog and for your comment. I will try and find you some genealogy resources for Tejanos. Will post info soon! 🙂

  14. cHRISTIAN says:

    I got that question a lot also, i’m 4th generation here in the US born at White Memorial on Brooklyn Ave. Raised in North El Monte literally 4 miles south of Arcadia border,majority of my friends never cared but my Mexican friends always seemed to have a issue with me not being able to relate to many traditions. For the record i’m American of Porteguese/Mexican decent then they would say is that why you don’t speak spanish..Ahhh i give up I’m stuck in the middle never going to be White and never going to be Brown..i think the question is bogus and tiresome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *