The Washerwoman’s Genes

May 4, 2009

Just an Ancestry Thing

Filed under: Story — by WWG @ 9:11 am

 A recent column in the Denver Post by Tina Griego has come to my attention. In “Family history is more than names,” this writer discusses the pull that family stories have on people and probes our seemingly universal need to follow the strands of our heritage back into the deepest recesses of time. As a journalist, Griego observes the large turnouts for various genealogical events held in Denver despite inclement weather and numerous religious holidays, concluding, “one should never underestimate the pull of the past.” She interviews the instructor for a genealogy class at the city library and quotes her comment that an interest in ancestors usually “starts with a family story.”

Griego then shifts to her own experiences regarding family history—knowing, she says, that her questions about the reasons so many pursue genealogical research are both professional and personal. She recalls a recent visit to her home state, New Mexico, and a trip to the Salinas Pueblo ruins, the ancestral home of her father’s family, to explore the meaning of family history for her, and for all of us. Her ruminations—evocative, verging on poetic, deeply personal—spin into a vortex of connections. Family history is context, self-definition, personal meaning, a sense of belonging, a narrative, a mystery, and, finally, a conversation with another searcher that reveals a bona fide blood connection. Her column ends with an image of “remembrance, . . . of centering, of communion.”

It’s a lovely piece. I clicked on the comments—perhaps out of a need to dwell a bit longer amid the echoes she had evoked. I suppose I expected appreciative kudos, enthusiasm from the like-minded, and maybe a personal story or two. I should say I don’t read the Denver Post regularly. I’m an east-coaster, never heard of Griego before, and come to her writing as a total stranger.

So I delved into the readers’ posts and realized—I’d forgotten: no ice water is as cold, no blizzard so howling, as the remarks of the bored who diddle their egos in the online comments of popular media sites. The pure hatred directed at Griego –yes, hatred—for discussing her roots, her Hispanic, native, humble, ancient roots on this continent, was devastating. What was to me genealogical lyricism was savaged as ethnic chauvinism. Greigo’s gentle introspection, her awe as she surveyed “the ruins and the wind,” was denounced as racist. The discrepancy between what I read in her essay and the tone of the comments was so great I had to check to make sure I was still on the same page, literally.

Now I realize illegal immigration and other social problems beset the southwest of our country, and other areas also. But family history and the personal meaning of genealogical discoveries aren’t part of politics. Frankly, to me it’s a waste of electrons, free and abundant as they are, to debate whether exploring one’s personal heritage is an inherent attack on all the other heritages out there. As an anonymous commenter recently put it at an unrelated blogsite, “not everyone has racist intentions when talking about ancestry. Sometimes it’s just an ancestry thing.”

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In a later column, I am happy to report, Griego notes that she received “more than 100 beautiful, kind, heartbreaking letters, e-mails and phone calls” responding to her essay about  her heritage and her trip to her ancestral home.  As it should be.

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