Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Migration
Link to the short film on the subject of my ancestry and origins.
Jonathan Sanchez
Migration and integration

My family history is something I have been over and over again. As if looking for clues in the fractured dysfunctional thing labeled a family. I have done everything from genealogy and DNA testing, to travels and interviews with family members. What I have found is that it is an American right to make up your identity. I have within my family seven nationalities, on four continents, speaking six languages, so to identify with only one aspect would be a shame. Historically, my ancient ancestors were reportedly Jewish from the south of Spain and Canary Islands. Perhaps a little thing called the Inquisition had something to do with my folks wanting to get to the other side of the world, where over time they would become Christian. My name according to a museum colleague of mine a bit of scholar on the middle east and Judaica, has told me that my name is what is known as a converso name often spelled Sanchus or Sanches but by Jews it is spelled Sanchez.
My relatives landed in the caribbean becoming known as Spanish Colonist, and later as Americans after the Isle of Puerto Rico was seized by the U.S through the Spanish American War. My relatives reportedly became part Native American (though the above DNA test did not show evidence of this). It did show Ethiopian, North African, Roma, and Sephardic Jewish traits.
As a territory Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. but without the full privileges or rights of say a state. The residents of the island still live in a political limbo without the right to vote in U.S matters but the right to die in U.S. wars. In the 50’s New York was overwhelmed with an influx of immigrants from the Isle of Enchantment, resulting in widespread, exclusion, racism, and discrimination. A Puerto Rican neighborhood was synonymous with the worst part of town. My parents lived through this hatred and invented identities for themselves. My father and grandfather show their ancient African features which had some consequences when visiting the south in the 60’s. My grandfather for example was denied access to a white hospital and my father while in school in Texas often feared using white restrooms.
I stress all of this to say that my father chose to not see himself as black though the world sometimes did. Growing up to present, there is a weird bond a naturalness with African Americans that lets me know that a sort of cultural memory has survived in me. I have if nothing else a strong reverence for African American culture and its struggle to survive in a country that at times has tried to be unicultural.
Had my parents grown up now how would they have identified I do not know. My mother was always guarded and secretive. When pushed to answer questions her and her mother would, but with caution. Yes we are indian, yes we were jews and yes we are gypsy they would admit to me after years of hiding all three.  It took a DNA test to confirm some of this but if you are from people that have been persecuted, relocated, and exterminated you keep secrets.
I embrace all of it as much of it as I can. I tried in big and little ways to figure what it all means. Learning about and experiencing Roma, Jewish culture through practicing friends, museum visits, and travels. Through blues history I celebrate that part of my life and teach it to school groups and adults on a regular basis.
My family my most important family comes to me through my wife. Marrying a Swiss national I see what all immigrants go through the ignorance and silliness that is handed out to foreigners is both amusing and troubling. My brother married a Colombian woman he has it much worse than me, my biggest hassle is continually explaining that Switzerland and Sweden are two different countries.
I have continually visited Switzerland for more than tens years and lived there for more than five years. In that time I became a serious student of the history and many cultures that make up the country. Learning German allowed me to learn of the larger Germanic world. It is as if it is our own little secret language in this country when we go out and want privacy. There is a coziness to be able speak my wife’s mother tongue and copy the cooking of her homeland. Now after so many years I feel as if part of me is Swiss and may live there again one day who knows.
The way my in laws live and have lived, their stubbornness and frugality, and that they have been married for fifty years is an incredible inspiration to me. In truth I look to my in laws as a model more than my own parents.
My family is distant I have contact with my mother (though I didn’t know her as a child or grow up with her) and younger brother Jeff. He and I have dabbled in genealogy playing the family detectives looking for clues about our past removed from it and placed in mainstream America. My aunts tell me my dad wanted to be John Wayne, and my mother Marilyn Monroe. Growing up in the time of the Sharks and the Jets, “as no good PRs,” I can understand why they wanted to be anything other than what they actually were. I choose to look forward focus on my family that I inherited through my wife and most of all my wife.
The past is a murky mess for me and I prefer to move on make a family with my wife.

Puerto Rican
and American
German (and Swiss German a spoken language more of a dialect)
Puerto Rico

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