Genealogy and Race Politics
by Diana DeLugan
Earlier this week, I caught up on some national news and heard Donald Trump formally announce his plan to run as a Republican candidate for President of the United States on the same day I heard MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry’s exclusive interview with Rachel Dolezal. Trump otherized Mexican immigrants and Dolezal proudly claimed her black identity despite being born Caucasian. Whether we agree with them or not, we have to admit that Trump and Dolezal make us think.
What Was Your Race at Birth?
Race is a division of humankind. The word is synonymous with ethnic group. We all relate to others who share our customs, our language, among other similarities. At birth, we were born into a race to which our parents or guardians introduced us and we adopted it as our own. For those of us born in the United States, we should feel like one homogeneous group. Right? Who doesn’t love hot dogs, baseball games, and fireworks every Fourth of July?
The raw truth is that we are more like a bowl of mixed vegetable soup. Each of us possesses our own juicy flavor. Nourished by a wide array of influences, we could be from the same biological family and yet vastly diverge in our innermost thoughts. We all sway to music but we are fiercely unique, a kaleidoscope of rhythms pulsating to different drums influenced by all nations. So what race does that make us?
Shifting Borders Affect Race
Like Dolezal, do we claim a race that resonates with us despite our race at birth, or do we allow politics to decide who we are?
My great-grandfather, blue-eyed Ricardo Otero, was born in Tubac, Arizona. His death certificate reports his race as White. Ricardo’s uncle, Sabino Otero (widely known as Cattle King of Arizona), was reported by one source as a good Mexican. Sabino was born in Tubac before the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, when Tubac belonged to Mexico. Sabino’s grandfather, Atanacio Otero, was born in Tubac when Tubac was part of Nueva España (New Spain). That would have made Atanacio Spanish.
At first blush, it sounds confusing. While conducting genealogy research, it is important to factor in historical border shifts. Look at the local geography of where you were born and ask yourself whether the borders have changed. If yes, which government was in control? Historical documents will someday report what our race was. But which race is ultimately recorded depends on the political and government authorities. How will our descendants deal with conflicting information?
Set the Record Straight – State Your Race
Don’t let the passage of time dictate who you are. Take the time to share your racial identity with others if “race” matters to you.
As for me, I’m siding with Carlos Santana. When asked his race, Mexican-born Santana said, “I represent the human race.”
Diana DeLugan is a proud eighth-generation Arizonan, Otero family historian, singer, and author. To learn more about Diana, find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.