This blurry video capture may not seem like much, but, to me, it’s priceless.
Recently, my children and I were able to meet biological family members that I’ve gone 65 years of my life not even knowing about. Nor did they know anything about me. Most had no idea that I even existed. In addition to the privilege of suddenly having 5 new half siblings, I had the rare honor of meeting and getting to know my biological mother’s only living sibling, 87 year-old tia (aunt) Maria Antonia.
To say it’s been life changing is an understatement. As soon as we experienced the initial reunion last October with my biological mother’s side of the family, they began making their way into our hearts and minds.
And I knew immediately that I had a lot of catching up to do on family stories.
Luckily I had business that took me back to the west coast a few weeks later (we live in Austin) and serendipitously I was able to make some progress in my desire to document Serrano family stories.
First I flew from Austin to San Diego for some meetings. While there I was able to meet my brother on my biological father’s side for the first time. Luis was the latecomer to our 20 year search after a family friend gave him an Ancestry DNA test for Christmas.
He and his wife were so incredibly generous and brought out all of their family photos and stories. We scanned old photos with a handy portable scanner and his wife told me who each person was and how we were related. I recorded it all on my iPhone so I’d have it for reference later. That video footage has become invaluable as I sort out who is who in my new family.
Then, I drove down to Tijuana with another cousin on my mom’s side. I was meeting Alejandro for the first time since he’d not been available during our October visit. He invited me to stay with him. When my tia’s son Pedro came over to visit us both in Tijuana he offered to take me to Mexicali to see her again. So I jumped at the chance to begin undertaking my family documentary process.
Although most genealogists and family historians would understand this immediately, a friend recently asked me why I was doing this.
First, I just wanted to know my tia better. For the rest of my life, she is the closest thing I will ever have to a mother. The day we first spoke on the phone, we both cried. She said she’d always wondered if her sister had another child out in the world somewhere, and that she had prayed for me.
The other thing inspiring me was that this was something I knew I could do for my new family. I wanted to do this for all of us – capture stories for the whole family, the cousins and my siblings. This knowledge needs to be preserved. After meeting Tia, I immediately understood the importance of someone recording her experiences while she’s still here to share them.
Stories matter to me. Everyone has a story. We all have many stories. And it’s the stuff of life. Because I’m a storyteller, I wanted, no I needed, to know what the stories were in my own family. After all, I had missed out on them for 65 years.
The other challenge in addition to geography in getting to know my new family was that there was a language barrier. Luckily, my cousin Pedro was able to interpret for me and share a little of what she was saying after we stopped recording.
Even though they are in another language for now, the precious moments were captured for safekeeping. Eventually I want to get the set of videos I shot that day subtitled so I can share the stories with my friends and children who don’t speak Spanish.
I suspected that recording some of my tia’s oral history would be a bonding experience. And boy, was it. After laughing through my cousins primping her for the camera, and listening to stories of her childhood and stories of my mother through her eyes, the experience created a sense of closeness.
The story that moved me the most was about my mother. Tia said as sisters they were very close and loved each other dearly. She started by telling me about a time when she and my mother took their mother – my grandmother who I never met – to the hospital because she was quite ill.
We took turns staying at the hospital with our mother and once my sister fearlessly fought with the doctor who tried to throw us out of the hospital because we were both crying ‘just about an old woman,’ he said. She did NOT mince words when she put him in his place. We stayed. Little did he know that ‘old woman’ would live years more – to the ripe old age of 103!
My mother lived with my sister and was taken care of by two caretakers because your mother had health issues herself after a lifetime of hard work. Our mother didn’t lack for anything because my sister provided whatever she needed unselfishly. Others in the family offered to take a turn caring for mother, but sister wouldn’t have it! She made it her mission until the end to care for our mother, Magdalena.
I discovered very early in my documentary experiment that my tia is quite the storyteller. After hearing from my cousins that our grandmother was also able to keep them all enrapt as children, I’m feeling like this is truly my family. Genes really do matter.
You see, I’ve worked in film and TV my whole life. My son is a hip hop artist and my daughter blogs and writes poetry. It’s something my children and I obviously inherited naturally. And this is a new realization for me after not feeling genetically connected to anyone but my children for a lifetime.
I’m really excited about getting these interviews translated and sharing them with the rest of the family. For the most part, my adult kids are pretty unaware of what life was like a even a few decades ago. And after our visit to meet our family in Mexico they’ve both expressed an interest in getting to know their tia and their Mexican cousins better.
It may be just a few iPhone videos, but it’s treasure to me. And it’s a start.