Know Their Past, Know Thyself

Dear Readers of TWB,

This is an essay from the archives, regarding my parents. For the next few days, my mother is going to take over. She lives with us, is ninety years old, and has been writing her life down on paper. This essay is an introduction to her world.

I’ve written on the phenomenon of what happens to many of us who pick up pen and paper to write about our own lives. It moves us. The physical and mental act draws us closer into ourselves. We discover something. Illumination. Personal epiphanies. Or just, a moment of clarity.

Yet, it’s not enough to to write solely about my life. If I did, without considering the suffering of others, both living and dead, I’d be missing a huge piece of my picture. All that happened to me—good, bad, ugly, comic—didn’t pop out of a balloon.

My journals are a chronicle of my life, family, friends, and interesting and caring people I’ve had the luck of meeting through the years. And, yeah, the bad guys. They also contain pages of notes on my ancestors, their worlds, and their histories.

I believe that, to really know oneself better, it’s good to study the people who came before, at least eighty to one hundred years back–both the families’ personal histories and their worlds. I can see how incidents that happened a century ago played into who I am today.

My Salvadoran grandfather was murdered when Mom was two. She witnessed a massacre when she was five. When she came to the United States at seventeen, she was almost kidnapped by a white man who had plans for her. These events shaped her, made her fears unique. She’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. Of course she is. She’s Salvadoran. And I got that from her.

Dad was born into one of the poorest worlds of the United States—sharecroppers. The more I studied the system that replaced slavery, the better I understood how poverty breeds numerous other evils, ones that devastate families, one that almost tore apart ours. I will show later how the global flu plague of 1918 set off a chain reaction that exploded in my childhood.

I don’t do this to gain perspective or to “see the bigger picture,” a horrible notion. I do it. . .why? To understand? Yes. It’s that simple. Understanding what my family suffered eighty years ago, helps. Because it puts me in a rage. That’s a good thing, rage. The fury that  stands against injustices, of which we now have many.



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