• Gold, Guillermo, & Pancho Villa

    Pancho Villa
    Pancho Villa, Mexican Revolutionary, Former Governor of Chihuahua

    Guillermo Zapien is my 3x great-grandfather. Apparently, he used to run with Pancho Villa. For those of you who missed the lesson in history class about the Mexican Revolution (probably because it wasn’t taught), the oversimplified version is that the war was from 1910-1920 and it created a new government. Pancho Villa was a Mexican revolutionary, bandit, and guerrilla leader who fought against oppressive governments and advocated for those in poverty, especially during the Revolution. He had many friends and many enemies and like most people in history, he was a flawed human. While he died a wealthy man, he died with a little bit less wealth than he wanted because of Guillermo.

    Guillermo worked for Pancho Villa and was supposed to hide gold for Pancho Villa. So Guillermo did. He then drew a map to the money and was supposed to give that map to Pancho Villa. But Guillermo knew better—or at least was told better. If he gave that map to Pancho Villa, Guillermo would have been killed right after to ensure that only Pancho Villa knew where the money was hidden. Instead of telling where the money was, Guillermo ran. He made it over the border and into El Paso, Texas but not before being shot in his grand escape. 

    He lived to tell the tale. This tale would be told over and over to his grandson, my great grandfather Chico. Guillermo told Chico that one day, they’d travel to the mountains in Juárez to find that gold. Guillermo still knew where it was. Guillermo died before ever taking Chico to find their gold. It may still be sitting there, waiting for someone to find it.

    As always, I have no idea if this story is true with a capital T. What I do know is that this is the story that has been passed down. The stories families tell about themselves sometimes will reveal more about the family regardless of the truth. Don’t get too caught up in the story, get caught up in what your ancestors are trying to tell you. 

    And if you’re related to Pancho Villa and you’ve read this… no you didn’t.

  • The Boy Who (almost) Turned into a Frog

    When I was little, my dad would tell me bedtime stories. I thought I’d share one of my favorites with you today. This story is a cautionary tale. You may have heard of La Llorona but have you heard about the boy who started turning into a frog?

    Once upon a time, there was a little boy who used to play with frogs. He would go across the street and play with the frogs almost every day. He’d even bring them home. Well, his mom didn’t like this very much and told him not to play with the frogs. But the boy didn’t listen. So his mother told him, “mijo, if you’re not careful you’ll turn into a frog. And you’ll have to eat flies and bugs.” The boy still didn’t listen. 

    The boy noticed that the side of his mouth was starting to turn brown and green. The brown and green started spreading to his cheek. It started to scab and look scaly. Like a frog. The boy started to imagine turning into a frog. A huge frog! A frog that had to eat bugs and live in a pond. He didn’t want to face his mother who had warned him so he tried to hide it. But his frogness started to spread and eventually, his mom saw the frog skin. 

    The boy’s mother took him to the doctor. At the doctor’s, the boy was very worried. He cried to his mother “I don’t want to be a frog! I don’t want to eat bugs or turn green! I don’t want to have to live in a pond! ” To which his mother responded “See! I told you to stay away from the frogs!” 

    The boy in this story is my dad and the mom is my grandmother. My dad probably just had an infection. He was given medicine by the doctor that cleared it up. But he stopped playing with frogs and remembered to listen to his mother at least a little bit more next time

  • Patino/Patiño

    For most of my life, I went by the last name Patino. I remember knowing pretty early on that my last name was supposed to be Patiño but honestly– I felt silly using it. I went through phases of writing “Patiño” on my papers in school but I typically was only brave enough to actually use my name in Spanish class. And I certainly was never going to correct someone on the pronunciation. What’s the big deal anyway? 

    Patiño was the last name that was passed down to me by my 4x great-grandmother. That’s right. My grandmother–not grandfather. A woman gave me my last name. More here about that. However, sometime in between the World Wars, the ñ was used less and less according to my great-grandpa Chico. A lot of my family lived on the border of Texas and Mexico and frequently lived between both worlds. Patiño is a Mexican name. But Patino? You just might be Italian. My family started dropping the ñ out of a need to assimilate and to be deemed more acceptable. My family didn’t want people to immediately look down on them and judge them because of a name. It was easier. It was safer.

    If my family before me didn’t care to use Patiño why should I? That’s what I thought for a while at least. But that’s when I realized that it’s not that they didn’t care. They weren’t allowed to care. Technically, they chose to drop the ñ, but I’d say the choice was made for them. Realizing this made me angry. I was and am angry at the society that created the space that made my family feel like a ñ was too difficult. Too much of an inconvenience. 

    So, I decided that I was going to be an inconvenience. There’s no way this was my idea though. I believe that my ancestors prompt me and help guide me. I felt that they were prompting me to take back what is rightfully ours. Our name. It’s not the journey for everyone but I’m lucky enough to be able to assert myself relatively safely now. I get the choice that my family was falsely given. I chose Patiño.

     And it’s okay if you don’t know how to pronounce Patiño–I’ll teach you. Pa-teen-yo. That’s my name. “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say…” Patiño.

    (adapted quote from Uzoamaka Aduba)

  • Names

    My family is Mexican-American on my Dad’s side. Some immigrated more recently from Mexico, some have been in the Texas region since before AfroEurAsia even knew they existed. My great-grandmother’s name was Andrea (On-dre-a). In some ways, you could say she inspired this personal project of mine since her name is my middle name. Her name carries meaning. It carries stories. I have a lot of grandmothers and a lot grandfathers and they all have names that carry meaning. I find a lot of meaning in those names. Sometimes, the best history starts with a name.

    This blog will serve as a holding spot. It’s a holding spot for stories about the names of my ancestors. Of course, it may not literally be an explanation behind the meaning of their name. But the more you read these stories you’ll see that it’s always been about so much more than a name. The name is just where it begins.