Welcome back to a Mexican Family Story. I am your host, Art Alonso. It has been several weeks since the last episode and I wanted to give an update on what I have been working on since my conversation with Richie Martinez. Ancestry research takes a very long time, but I have been able to gather a lot of information on notable Mexican actors, musicians, athletes, and artists such as Pedro Infante, Ritchie Valens, Rigo Tovar, Ted Williams, Lola Beltran, and others who are no longer living. Putting their story together has given me a great look at the diversity within the country of Mexico and allowed me to understand how those different life experiences shaped Mexican culture. I have also been reaching out to a few notable individuals who are currently representing their Mexican culture in this modern era. Their stories will be coming in the future as I gather up more information to share with them and the listeners. In this episode, I wanted to talk about our ancestral connections to Europe starting with the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire. Before I built my family tree, I did not have a good grasp of the amount of time or generations between the Spanish Conquest and my current generation, so I wanted to share what I discovered and perhaps give you all an idea of what has happened between then and now. I will also be speaking about how the mixing of European and Indigenous people affected Mexican history and the generational difference between those events and today.
I, like most Mexicans, have relatives with colored eyes. Because of that, it was easy for me to understand that I had European ancestry, but I didn’t know exactly where it came from. When I was much younger and asked my relatives in Mexico about it, they would tell me differing stories, suggesting that a great-great-grandfather or a grandmother of a grandfather was Spanish. My paternal great-grandfather, Gregorio Quintero, had blue eyes and I was told by one relative that his parents were Spanish. Nobody knew for sure, but everyone had stories. I just assumed that I had a Spanish relative in the last 5 generations, but did not give it too much thought as I got older.
Fast forward a few decades and I now have a better picture of where my European and Indigenous North American ancestry came from. It took several months of research using DNA testing, searching ancestry websites, and reading historical documents online. With all that information, I was able to put together an accurate and expansive family tree that went back as far as the 1300’s. One of the most surprising discoveries I made was that my European ancestors had been living in Mexico since the conquest, not just in the last 200 years. One of my first Spanish ancestors, Cristobal de Balderrama, was married to Mariana Leonor Moctezuma, a daughter of Moctezuma the 2nd. Their daughter Mariana Balderrama de Moctezuma settled in Aguascalientes, where my father’s side of the family still resides to this day.
That was just one of many branches of my family tree, but it gave me the information I needed to understand the timeline, locations, and the names of my ancestors that participated in and survived the Spanish Conquest of Mexico. My family’s story is not unique. The mixing of Spanish and Indigenous populations occurred almost as soon as the conquest began in 1519. Because of this, I wanted to share some information that I felt would help all people with Mexican ancestry understand their ancestral link to these events.
So, when was the Spanish Conquest and what does that mean to you? In order to give these historical events a reference, let’s just say you and I were born in the year 2000.
- The Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire took place from February 1519 to August 1521. Now, this doesn’t mean that Mexico was conquered in 1521 because there were several other wars between the Spanish and different Indigenous populations in Mexico during their continued exploration and colonization of the country. The people of fighting age during these first battles would have approximately been your 14th great-grandparents if you were born in the year 2000. This means you are approximately the 16th generation offspring of these individuals if they are your ancestors. The time gap between 1519 and 200 is 481 years, which means that the average generation time gap is 30 years.
- The colonial period that began after the fall of Tenochtitlan lasted a few hundred years. This was an era of expansion, conquest, and the religious persecution and genocide of Indigenous populations. The California missions were built during this era, beginning in 1769. If you had a relative that built them, it would have been approximately your 6th great-grandparent. For another quick historical reference, the American colonies gained Independence from the British Empire in 1776.
- As I mentioned earlier, there were many wars between the Spanish and Indigenous populations since the Conquest, and these wars continued into the modern eras of Mexican history. The war for Independence from Spain occurred from 1810 to 1821. During this era, there were already several generations of mixed people, but only Spaniards born in Spain were in the ruling social class. Even those individuals with full Spanish ancestry were not considered Spanish, or Peninsulares , if they were born in Mexico. They were considered Criollo, meaning they were of full or near full Spanish descent, but not from Spain. Other classes in this caste system are as follows:
- A Mestizo was someone of mixed Spanish and Indigenous North American race.
- A Castizo was the offspring of a Spaniard and a Mestiza.
- A Mulatto was the offspring of a Spaniard and an African.
- A Morisco was the offspring of a Spaniard and a Mulatta.
Each class had a given status with legal and social consequences, meaning that they had no opportunity to prosper. The unfair treatment of these classes by the Spanish was one of the reasons they fought for their independence from Spain during this decade. Those who participated in these battles would have approximately been your 5th great-grandparents.
- Before the century would come to the end, there would be two French Invasions. The second of these established a brief monarchy in Mexico with the appointment of Maximilian I by Napoleon III of France. Even though these armies were driven out of the country by Mexican resistance and American threats of intervention in 1866, many French, Austrian, and Belgian soldiers joined the Mexican Army and started new lives in Mexico. The American Civil War also took place during this decade and it ended in 1865, just one year before the French withdrawal. The most famous battle of the second French Intervention took place on 5 de Mayo of 1862. If you had ancestors that participated in this battle, they would have approximately been your 4th great-grandparents.
- The last great migration of European settlers occurred during the Porfiriato, which was the long reigning Presidency of Porfirio Diaz from 1876 to 1880 and then again from 1884 to 1911. His economic policies were aimed to attract investment from foreign countries, especially in Europe, and they worked. Many Europeans jumped at these opportunities and established their businesses in Mexico. The wealth that was accumulated stayed mostly among the Europeans and those of European descent. This caused unrest amongst Indigenous populations, which were still being neglected by the ruling elite, leading to the Mexican Revolution from 1910 to 1920. Amongst the military leaders of this war were Pancho Villa, who operated in the northern half of the country, and Emiliano Zapata, who operated in the south. There are many photographs and even some films of the battles that took place during this war, as well as those that fought in it. My great-grandmother was orphaned by the war and many other families were displaced, leading to a massive Mexican migration to the United States to escape the chaos. If you were born in the year 2000, your 2nd great-grandparents likely participated in or were affected by this war. Doesn’t seem so distant anymore, does it?
I hope that his timeline gives you a better idea of how European migrations shaped Mexican history and our family genetics. There is a lot of racial diversity in Mexico and I think that is a beautiful thing. I am very proud of both my Indigenous and European ancestry. Life has never been easy in Mexico, but our ancestors persevered and our existence is the result of their fighting spirit. We are the future they dreamed of and we must look back with gratitude as well as keep fighting for the next generations. It’s in our blood. Thanks for listening.