BYU history professor on how to help children embrace the way they—and their ancestors—look

The Love Your Lineage podcast is a multifaceted, friendly, and shame-free approach to family history. Hosts Michelle Franzoni Thorley and Miyamoto Loretta Jensen show us how everyone can make powerful connections to their ancestors. In this excerpt from the podcast, Michelle and guest Dr. David-James Gonzales discuss how to help children learn to love their authentic family history. This podcast excerpt has been edited for clarity.

Michelle: One of the things we talk about on this podcast is genealogical consciousness: how the past, present, and future all work together. And so I’m curious: as a father, how are you instilling in your children to love their authentic family history and the way that they look?

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Dr. David-James Gonzales: One thing I’ve learned is to be very open. My wife’s grandmother, … and she would never have said this in her day, but she’s Afro-Mexican; [she has] very dark skin. And there are clearly those kinds of traits in the family, but that is something that hasn’t been talked about a lot. So my wife has taken the turn to really embrace that and talk to our children [and say,] “You know, I’m part Black.”

Her father, who grew up in Mexico, has Asian features [because] there are parts of Mexico where a lot of Chinese fled … due to oppression and settled and remained in Mexico, and his family is in those regions. … We lived in LA when our children were really young, and Japanese and Chinese neighbors would always come up to us and say, “Your children look Asian—whose are they?”

So [for us] it’s just been openly talking about these features and embracing them and being outward with what our skin color is. We talked about these different ethnic paths—which parts of our families come from where and where we get these things from—just to make it really normal. It’s a normal thing that we tried to do, but it’s been intentional. I didn’t grow up with that so much. I don’t think that my parents tried to hide it. It maybe is a generational thing where it wasn’t as outward in that way of talking about our Mexican ancestry [or] our Indigenous ancestry, which we never talked about.

Michelle: Thank you for bringing up having multiracial ancestry.… Our family is very mixed, to where some of my girls are considered “White assumed,” like people would never know they had Black and Indigenous ancestry. But my son is more stereotypical Latino-looking; he looks more like me.…

My abuela always talked about her light skin. And she never wanted to be in the sun and always had an umbrella or something. I remember her telling me, “I have sangre pura”—I have pure blood from Spain. And she told people she was born in Spain. Her dad was Spanish, he emigrated to Mexico, but she was not born in Spain; she was born in Mexico. On her line is where we have African [ancestors], and I don’t know if she knew that, but she knew her mother was Indigenous. [Still] she told everyone she was Spanish.

I used to be so embarrassed and ashamed of that until I started talking to many other people in the Latin diaspora, who have the exact same story—the hidden Indigenous or Black African grandmother in the closet. That’s common in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, everywhere. And then I was like, Why? Why would she have lied about this? Why did she say that? Why were my African ancestors hidden? And then when I started to learn about the history, the puzzle pieces came together. And it made me really sad. But also, I was so happy to know the authentic truth. And to be able to embrace these ancestors who have been pushed away because of the amount of melanin that their bodies produced, which is ridiculous, and to embrace them as our family.

► You may also like: These women are making family history more inclusive—and they might help you love your own lineage

Dr. David-James Gonzales earned a PhD in history at the University of Southern California and is now an assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University, with specialties in the second half of US history.

Find the Love Your Lineage podcast on all major streaming platforms and on ldsliving.com/LoveYourLineage.

Love Your Lineage

Love Your Lineage is a multi-faceted, friendly, and shame-free approach to family history. Our hosts, Michelle Franzoni Thorley and Miyamoto Loretta Jensen, help us see beyond finding missing names and show us how everyone, no matter what our background or family situation, can make deep and powerful connections to our ancestors.

This podcast is centered in the BIPOC family history experience, although we invite all to listen and find and claim their space.

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