Over the spring break, I had a little time while my child was out of school, and out with friends, to go back to the difficult task of searching for our family genealogy. This is a seven years-and-counting-now kinda project, and yet, the most important one I have ever undertaken. My family’s documented line stops in San Francisco in 1860, as we try to bridge the juncture where we can not find them anymore, as we try to transverse the divide of 1845 to 1860 which saw so much turmoil and death in the beautiful lands of California.
Our search has not been pleasant often. At other times, together, we have shared profound bliss as a discovery brings us closer to a complete reconnecting of our ancestors and our present-day relatives. My journey to better understand my native roots started in Mexico when I left Los Angeles many years ago, and lead me back home when I returned to Northern California in December of 2001. To acquaintances and even the best of friends, my search seemed obsessive and a needless dip into a painful history that could only bring tears. But, I persisted, and in the process, my road joined with the paths of my cousins, and we shared those moments of reconnecting our ancestors, reclaiming them from the empty books of lost families filled to the brim with nameless transactions still tearing apart culture and communities.
I have always believed, despite the pain, the trials were part of our cross to bear, this generation. We are but one in seven from many sevens, forward thousands of seven more. Yet, still, it has fallen upon our shoulders to both unearth the pain of the past, and forgive the same in the present. Never have our roads been easily traveled, and this task is no less of a challenge. Still, we try. Still we remain.
I am currently completing the last stage of production on my film Witness the Healing.(The link takes you to a short I created as part of a collective public projection last July on Coit Tower. Caution: Filming was invited and approved. I did not undertake this filming without proper permissions.) Witness the Healing shares the story of the search for my family records, and the experience of someone who is “undocumented” – and in the process, opens a door for Native people to talk about the experience of recovering one’s family history from a painful and difficult past to lead us to healing for our communities and families today.
I read about the PBS series “We Shall Remain” in the New York Times. Chris Eyre is a filmmaker I have admired, so I very much look forward to seeing this five-week American Experience series. As I gain a fuller understanding of history through the lens of my family’s experience, the picture becomes more complete, and I am closer still to everyone else on this road. To see PBS’s continued commitment to telling these important histories, and giving Native filmmakers an opportunity to work with Chris Eyre is inspiring.
I have long admired Benjamin Bratt and his family’s work. I was living in Mexico during the meteoric rise of Benjamin Bratt’s career. What reached me was word of his film Follow Me Home (1996), which inspired me to believe that stories of a common heart were possible. When I returned to the States, I came to San Francisco. In December 2001, I found myself at premiere for the film Piñero, staring Benjamin Bratt. I star gazed like everyone else when I saw Benjamin Bratt and his lovely, then, soon-to-be wife, Talisa Soto, walk gracefully into the theater. Yet, it was his performance as playwright Miguel Piñero’s that brought me to tears and raised the flame of desire to be a good storyteller.
I look to “We Shall Remain” for a similar spark. Yet, truth be told, you got me at the title. Sometimes, just the fact that we are still here is spark enough.