It’s an interesting perspective to have when you’re born into a lineage of people that were the original inhabitants of a land, and growing up you realize everything has been stolen from them.
I’ve always been interested in my family history. Unfortunately, it seems like everyone in my family carries no knowledge of how far our Mexican lineage goes beyond my grandparents. So lately I’ve had the courage to dig a little deeper and I decided to start with my grandfather, my mom’s father, Nicholas Hernandez. I have very few memories of him, but it was the details of his gestures of love that I remember the most—like how he would always have fresh tortillas from the corner tortilleria paired with a fresh salsa he made straight from the molcajete and some crunchy chicharrones on the side waiting for us at the kitchen table for when we arrived for visits. Sadly, my grandfather died when I was 16 years old after he became ill with Alzheimer’s. He slowly began to forget who he was but there were moments he would remember things and he would narrate them to us in great detail as if he was actually there, traveling back in time and living out his past right in front of our eyes. He always had boxing stories and told me about how as a teenager he would do bare knuckle boxing in the street and people would gather around them to watch and place bets.
Those stories began to make less and less sense as the days passed and the Alzheimer’s worsened. In his memory, I intend to connect with his past so at least one of us remembers his story, and in return, I get to explore just how deep my roots go.
So far, I have learned he was a Native American man born in Ponca, Oklahoma, home of the Ponca Tribe. And with the help of my mother, Isabel Hernandez, I’ve uncovered so much more. Here’s the story through a video call I had with her.