The Impacts of Colorism (with Dr. David-James Gonzales)

Thu Feb 23 07:00:37 EST 2023
Episode 8

What does sunshine have to do with family history? Well, besides helping our plants and vegetables grow, sunshine has a profound effect on our bodies. One of those effects is melanin production. Melanin is a dark pigment in our hair, skin, and iris of the eye that protects us from the sun’s radiation. Tragically, throughout history some have used melanin to create caste systems that determine social status, ultimately affecting our family history. In this episode, Dr. David-James Gonzales discusses how these caste systems and resulting colorism began and the impact they still have on us as we seek to learn more about ourselves and our ancestors. 


Michelle 0:00

Hey, Miya!

Miya 0:01

Hey, Michelle!

Michelle 0:02

I got a question for you.

Miya 0:03

Ask me.

Michelle 0:04

What does sunshine have to do with family history?

Miya 0:07

That is such a good question because a lot of people wouldn't think sunshine and family history go together, but they do. And you know, when we think of sunshine, I think of it as like a source to give us energy, you know, helps me feel really warm if I'm outside, it helps our plants and vegetables and fruits to grow. But sunshine also has a great effect on our bodies, specifically, of our skin color.

Michelle 0:33

I am so excited to talk about this with you today. Let's get into it.

Miya 0:37

Let's get into it.

Michelle 0:38

You're listening to the Love Your Lineage podcast by LDS Living, a multifaceted shame-free approach to family history. I'm Michelle.

Miya 0:59

And I'm Miya. And we want to help you find your space and claim your place in your family history story.

Michelle 1:07

On today's episode, we're going to be hitting three major topics, we're going to be talking about melanin, colorism and the caste system. If you're like, I don't know what any of those things are. Don't worry. We have a professor, a doctor here today to talk with us about all these things and help us kind of break these down so we can understand how they relate to family history work. So I'd like to introduce you guys to Dr. David James Gonzalez is here today. Dr. Gonzales, welcome.

Miya 1:33


Dr. Gonzales 1:34

Thanks, Michelle and Miya. Glad to be here.

Michelle 1:36

What do you prefer to be called?

Dr. Gonzales 1:37

You can call me DJ.

Michelle 1:38

Can we call you Doctor DJ just because?

Dr. Gonzales 1:40

That's fine, too.

Miya 1:41

We want everybody to know that he has a cool name, but he's more than just a cool name. He also is a doctor. He's a professor, and we are so excited to hear about his perspective on these three very important topics today. So for our guests and also for me and Michelle, we'd love to hear more about you your professional career as well as maybe a little bit about your family history.

Dr. Gonzales 2:05

I was born and raised in Southern California, born in Ventura County, so that's about an hour north of LA. When I was about 10, I finally moved to the broader San Diego metropolitan area. I spent the second half of my childhood in Chula Vista, California, it's about 10-ish miles or so from the US-Mexico border. I served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They sent me to the exotic place of Provo, Utah. And that's back from '99 to '01. We covered lots of it's, so I spent most of my time in small towns in Utah, and that was pretty foreign to a SoCal boy raised in the suburbs. I did a few other things before I came in academia. I was self employed as a mortgage banker and working for profit higher education, but always wanted to teach. My parents were educators, both of them mostly primary education. So when I thought of how to rearrange my life during the Great Recession, I thought, why not do my passion, which is teaching, and eventually worked my way into studying about immigration and race and ethnicity through taking classes. That wasn't something I realized you could study when I started college. I was thinking, I'll go into the American history or the American religion or something like that. So luckily, I had some wonderful people around me, that introduced me to Immigration Studies, race, ethnicity, etc. And so I pursued my PhD in US history at the University of Southern California and Los Angeles, finished that in 2017, spent additional years of postdoc researching, as well as teaching at both UCLA and USC in various departments, and then came to BYU where I am now in the fall of 2018. And I'm an assistant professor of history in that department. And my specialties are in the second half of US history. As I mentioned, I also teach classes on immigration history, Latinos, civil rights, etc.

Michelle 3:52

We are so excited to have you You are the perfect guest for today. And we are so excited to learn for me. So thank you so much. Would you mind tell us a little bit about like your family history.

Dr. Gonzales 4:03

So my dad grew up in Southern California, in the LA area, but his family is from southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, on both sides, and that's for several hundred years. So on that side of family, as we say, the border cross them, they never crossed the border. They've been in that region, again, throughout various empires, Spanish empire, right, eventually, Mexico as it forms and then the United States. And that's very interesting history. We can get into some of that maybe later. On my mother's side. My mother's mother, my grandmother was born in Mexico. She's from the state of Sinaloa. She moved to the border region in Mexicali, that's a border town. Then she married my grandfather through an arranged marriage. He was about 40 years her senior, he was 60. She was 20. So we have a mixed race background on that side. And then my mother's father was British English family background. He's mostly from Arkansas, where their families from. We didn't talk about a lot of stuff when I was growing up. We didn't really talk a lot about our ethnic, like identity or heritage, it was just something we lived with my grandmother whose was a widow. My grandfather died when my mother was 11. And she didn't remarry until much, much later. So I was like around 15, or 16. So I grew up with her living with us. I never really thought much about having a Spanish speaking grandmother who pretty much only spoke to us in Spanish. My parents spoke Spanish, but they mostly spoke to us in English. But, you know, hearing family stories as we grew up, we kind of get this picture that my dad's family is more Spanish, in their background. And again, these weren't like really explicit overt conversations, but just things you overhear as a kid, that kind of get passed on.

Michelle 5:42

Really, the only time you would ever hear about family history was in regards to Spain?

Dr. Gonzales 5:48

On my dad's side of the family, it seemed like his family members emphasize that more when we did talk about it. I think as I really started to think about my ethnic heritage, I had a high school friend who had immigrated from Mexico. And he came over to my house one time, and we were looking for something to eat. And I'm like, "I don't know, if you like any of this stuff." And he was looking through and we have like canned salsa and all this other stuff and tortillas and all these things. And he's like, "Dude, every Mexican has stuff in their house." And it struck me because I didn't think of myself as Mexican. Like, I had never really thought about it in that way. But that was like, I think the first thing that I think of when I start to think of ethnic identity. And then one other thing I'll share real quick, is when I came on my mission, I was came to Utah, I'm sitting there at dinner tables of people, they always ask like, where are you from, right? And I'd like to play a game like, "Well, guess. Where do you think I'm from?" And what struck me—

Michelle 6:37

Even if you tell them where you're from, that's when the question, "No, wait, where are you really from?" And every Black indigenous person of color has received that. And so I always want to answer be like, "Oh, you want to talk about family history?" And they're like, "Yeah, uh, I don't know."

Go ahead.

Dr. Gonzales 6:55

Well, and so I just turn the question on them. "Where do you think I'm from?" And I was blown away, because no one ever gets I was from the United States. Never. And I was an English speaking missionary, had an English speaking name tag, so I'm talking about like I'm speaking to you. The other thing that struck me is they always guessed that I was Latin American, but they typically choose the wider or what they perceive to think more European, Latin American nations. So usually like, "Oh, you're Argentine? Maybe you're from Argentina, right?" Or something. They never guessed Mexican. I didn't really feel that that was racist. I just thought this is weird. Why don't they think I'm like them? And it wouldn't be until many years later, I'm getting introduced to Immigration Studies and race and ethnic history, that, oh, I start to understand the deep historical process, right, of race making and of intercultural mixture that happens throughout not only United States, particularly, but the regions where I'm from right, California, the southwest. And that helps me understand more and more, okay, where those ideas come from, and perhaps why in Utah was never perceived as an American.

Miya 8:02

I hope you know, DJ that you sharing about your background, and even your experiences and these questions you had that led you on this journey, where you are today, I hope that our audience is listening, they feel seen, as you've talked about this. I know many people who relate to your experience, and that's all we ever want on this podcast is for everybody, all people of this entire earth, past, present, and future to feel seen through the things that we talked about today. So thank you, like we mean it from the bottom of our hearts.

Michelle 8:34

Thank you, Mia for saying that. And thank you for sharing about your background, because it's so true. So many Latinos, we are not a monolith. We are so varied in the countries, but we do have similar shared histories. And specifically with family history, it is so interesting how you could be from Colombia or Mexico or even Argentina, and we still kind of have the same process of how our histories was shared, what history was shared, and why, and so we are going to be discussing that today. And I hope so many, if there's Latinos out there or Latinos in the diaspora or of Latin descent, that you feel seen, and hopefully we can help you process some family history stuff today. So the first place I want to start with is melanin, though. Let's talk about what melanin is and how it relates to family history.

Miya 8:34

Okay, so many of you out there are probably wondering what is melanin? According to this definition here, which we will link in our show notes. Melanin is a substance in your body that produces hair, eye and skin pigmentation. The more melanin you produce, the darker your eyes, hair and skin will be. And the amount of melanin in your body depends on a few different factors, including genetics and how much sun exposure your ancestral population had.

Michelle 9:24

Ooh, see, there's a family history component. Okay, so basically, let's break this down. Melanin is a trait that we get from our ancestors, our ancestors, depending on where they lived on the Earth would depend on how much melanin or how little melanin their bodies would produce. If your ancestors lived very close to the equator, so they were very close to the sun, they produced a lot of melanin in their hair, skin and eyes. If your ancestors lived farther away from the sun, they would produce less melanin so that their bodies could absorb more of the sun's rays.

Miya 10:25

And melanin it developed our bodies to help protect us too, right? Because the sun's energy is super powerful. I don't know if you've ever experienced a sunburn, but it hurts, right. But with melanin, especially our ancestors, and the people today that live closer to the equator, that melanin would protect them from the intense exposure of the sun. But, what about our ancestors that lived farther away from the equator? How does that work?

Michelle 10:48

I just want to go back. Our ancestors that lived close to the equator, I mean, even the texture of hair, sometimes we talk about curly-textured hair or thick-textured hair, that was also to protect our heads from the sun. But yeah, if our ancestors moved farther away from the sun, so we're talking about Northern Europe, they would need less melanin so that they would be able to absorb the sun. They need that vitamin D. That's when the agouti-signaling protein came in and turn the melanin receptors way down. Also, if you want to talk about hair, and eyes, like blue or lighter-colored eyes are less likely to reflect the brightness from the snow. Like if you're looking across those snowy field and trying to see things, lighter colored eyes were better for that. So if you go more north, farther away from the equator, you're gonna see lighter color eyes, maybe even thinner or less thick hair and lighter hair, pigments, lighter hair skin. So all of that has to do with family history, which is so awesome and so incredible. Literally, when you look in the mirror, when you're brushing your hair, when you're looking at yourself, you are seeing your ancestors. Now, obviously, immigration has made it so we have people from all over the world, living everywhere, so that's not necessarily applicable today. But you know that if you look at someone with a lot of melanin, or a little melanin, or somewhere in between, you can kind of tell maybe where their ancestors were from. So I think that's pretty cool.

Miya 12:13

Yes. And I think what's interesting to know, too, with melanin, throughout history, throughout time, melanin has been given connotation, right? Depending on the culture and expectations of an individual society, how much melanin you had meant if you were considered really wealthy, or rich, or prominent, or poor and destitute or outcast. And that's something that we're going to talk about today, because from these connotations, there have been systems that have been set up.

Michelle 12:42

And that's a question I have for you. I still want to call you, Professor Gonzalez. But, DJ, a question I have for you, as a historian, how has melanin affected history? I know that's a really broad question, but do you have any thoughts on that?

Dr. Gonzales 12:57

Yeah. Well, I love how you're talking about kind of big history in a way, right? Because in particular systems of hierarchy, because those have always existed in various societies. They haven't always been the same, but the question of when does color really start to come into impact these hierarchy systems? A clear watershed is so called 1492, when you have this vast era of European exploration, where they're crossing the Atlantic, but also prior to that, you have the Iberian Crown, Spanish, Portugal, etc, that are going down the African coast. So colonialism is putting people in contact with new groups, and they're trying to understand them. You have people that are essentially our modern day version of travel writers, right? And people that would be travel blogging, right? The sciences are really early in this period, right? But people are essentially trying to explain what they're seeing. And they're doing it mostly through the written word. That's where color really starts to inflect this notion of peoples of the world. It starts to inflect and find its way about 100 years later into early taxonomies or classifications of different varieties of humans. But really, colonialism becomes primarily, that historical development, where now ideas about color are being put into existing hierarchies, meaning class, meaning nobility, things of that sort.

Michelle 14:26

And could you expand a little bit more on that, like, how did that work in religious ways, too?

Dr. Gonzales 14:33

A system of classification that you have, particularly on the Iberian Peninsula was this notion of purity of blood, or limpieza de sangre. Now, that was actually tied to how someone could prove their Christian heritage. If we know anything about the history about the Iberian Peninsula, you have wars with Muslims, right?

Michelle 14:51

Yes. Spain, Morocco, Portugal.

Dr. Gonzales 14:53

Exactly. The Spanish Crown is particularly concerned with Jews and Muslims and so they find the Inquisition. And the Inquisition is meant to ferret out secret Jews or even Muslims. And so again, within that, it's not just an idea, it's actually a form of classification and documentation arises about how do you prove your Christian heritage. Hence the need for birth certificates, marriage certificates to know that these are legitimate documents that prove someone's claim to Christianity.

Michelle 15:24


Dr. Gonzales 15:25

So that system of purity of blood, which originates in the Iberian Peninsula, comes across the Atlantic as Spanish conquistadores right, and government officials are setting up new structures here, and eventually merges into a new form of classification in the Americas that they call the casta system, where, literally caste system, where Spaniards develop this very intricate social hierarchy to explain what happens when you mix the three different populations that are mixing in the American continent. African because they're being brought back from Africa, African slave trade, the indigenous Americans, and the Europeans. They establish a social-racial hierarchy based on the mixing of these groups. And at the top, of course, I mean, we don't need to guess who they put right? They put the Spanish, right. So but that notion of purity of blood limpieza de sangre goes from a very religious connotation. In the so called New World in the Western Hemisphere, it becomes tracking one's ancestry to Spanish blood. So they're totally connected, right? There's a phenomenal book called Genealogical Fictions. Maria Elena Martinez wrote this book, and where she establishes that connection of those notions of blood purity tied to Christianity, how they get transformed in the Americas, to blood purity tied to Spanishness. And so the Spaniards are at the top of this social caste system. And the casta, they create these paintings that are very colorful, but they literally show, this is what happens when you mix a Spaniard with an indigenous person, you get a mulatto, or sorry, that's a mestizo, right? If you mix a Spaniard with someone's African ancestry, like a black slave, you get a mulatto, I mean, literally dozens of different classifications.

Michelle 17:09

I mean there's a lobo. I think there's like twenty-two, and they're all like, not nice, like mulatto means mule, and lobo means like a wolf. What came before that because the casta system came as a result to Johann Blumenbach. And I love for you guys out there to know more about who this guy was, what he did and why I don't like him. So could you tell us more about that, DJ?

Dr. Gonzales 17:30

Yeah, a good way to think about the process of race making. Okay, it happens kind of simultaneously in different parts of the world. And it's always about, who are people coming in contact with right? So the casta system is a rising in like 17th century, so 1600s-1700s, colonial Mexico but also in Peru.

Michelle 17:50

All over Latin America.

Dr. Gonzales 17:51

All over there, right. So Western- very Western Hemisphere. Now, the centers of say elite education, at that time, are Northwestern Europe, Germany, in particular, those areas, right. So Blumenback comes from that region. In 1755 is when Blumenbach writes his dissertation. Now we think dissertations nowadays, and we're thinking several hundred pages. Blumenbach's dissertation was fifteen pages. So let's contextualize how much this guy's ideas still impact us today, right. A fifteen-page dissertation, written in 1755. He spent about a year researching with essentially some kind of intellectual or academic that had a collection of animals and whatever else right. Skulls, he becomes, Blumenbach become fascinated with skull collecting, right? And the developing science of craniometry. And so Blumenbach's main contribution is he ends up creating a new racial category that he calls Caucasian. Now Caucasian we have to understand is 150-170,000 square mile geographic range between what's that, the Black Sea, what's the other sea on it? Baltics. There you go. Right? And so it's incredibly diverse. At least fifty different ethnic groups, we would consider today, he says this is one group of people. And so he puts Caucasians now at the top, not just inventing that term, but as he is, again, according to the science at the time, because this was considered science at the time, he's describing his skulls. The words he starts to use to describe Caucasian skulls have elements of beauty to it. So it's really subjective. But he's the one that starts to associate this beauty ideal with whiteness, and Europeanness that he labels Caucasian.

Michelle 19:38

And then he kind of created Black, white, red, yellow and malaise, right? And so he kind of created these races. It's just wild, because when you look back at the history, these racial categories are pretty much made up. He made them up. So let's jump back to where we're talking about the casta system. This is a whole system built on something that this dude made up. Now even though—

Dr. Gonzales 20:12

With people that are simultaneously having these conversation, right.

Michelle 20:15

Yes, and so even though what he built this on, this, how much melanin you had or what color of melanin that your skin is producing, is making these systems that we are running society on, scientifically, we know that he was totally wrong. But that doesn't mean that it's not still functioning in society today. So biologically totally made up. Socially, totally happening, totally real. And bringing this back to well, what does this have to do with family history? All three of us here are multiracial people. We have to understand and discuss immigration, race, and how it functions socially to do our family history and to understand our ancestors. Even though it's sometimes uncomfortable and not fun, I personally find it very interesting, because it makes the puzzle makes sense, which before, like, it just kind of was all scattered around, it didn't really make sense. And then once I learned about the history, it's like the puzzle coming together and be like, oh, that's why my ancestry is like this. And something you mentioned earlier, when you were introducing yourself, you said, growing up, you really only focused on the Spanish?

Dr. Gonzales 21:31

The stories are mostly heard from one side of the family. Yeah.

Michelle 21:33

And as a Mexican-American, same with me. Same with many people that I talk about family history, stuff on Instagram, other Latinos, and or Latina, Latinx, we have this similar thread of the Spanish part of our history was pushed, or the European, so whether that's Italy, France, was pushed really hard to where we knew it, and the indigenous or even African side was not. And it goes back to what you were saying, where, who was on top of this system? It was the Europeans. And still today, that is the part of our family history that we are tied to, that we know about, that we can actually find. I find it all fascinating, because a lot of times you have questions of Why? And here it is. It's this casta system. It's these made up races that are affecting our family history today.

Dr. Gonzales 22:25

And it's important we say that they were made up, but it has stress, and you are, the power behind it. The paintings were established as a visual representation to say, this is what happens if you sully your bloodline. That's literally what it was meant to teach. This is the penalty, you may never get Black or Indian blood out of you. And so imagine that for centuries, for generations, even as the casta system goes away, even as Latin American nations are being developed. They are pulling from that heritage and they're developing concepts like Mexico does they're a mestizo nation. So they don't keep track of race the way the United States did. But mestizo itself is a white-washing narrative. It was intentional to ignore the African part of the mixture of their background and the Indian part of the background. If you think of like the triangulation of what the casta system was based off of, Spanish at the top of that pyramid, and then down at the two other bottom sides, you have Indian and Black, mestizo becomes the white-washing narrative to perpetuate the fact that we don't want to deal with the fact that we're black and brown.

Michelle 23:35

Yes, all Latinos are not a monolith. But I, I can guarantee you if you go ask any Latino, especially from Mexico, because that's where my family's from, of an older generation, if you start asking them about history, or family history, and you talk about Spain, or Italy, in my case, you will get a whole lot of information. If you broach the subject of your indigenous Mexican ancestry or African ancestry, you are going to feel the energy in the room change, and the discussion is going to be very different. If you don't believe me, go and try it because I have heard this story over and over and over again from so many other Latinos who are trying to do their family history work. So thank you so much. Okay, so let's say your family's down at the bottom. And in order to get jobs, get married, have more prosperity, more privilege, you can kind of fake it till you make it. If you marry into another white family or at least white passing family, you can pretend to be higher up on the scale on the system, even though you might have to deny your authentic family history. And that's what happened with many Latinos and many people all over the world. It's like, if I leave my family history behind, and I marry someone with more European, sangre puro or whatever, I can fake it and I can receive more privilege safety and prosperity.

Dr. Gonzales 25:00

You start lifting your social status.

Michelle 25:02

Many, many of our ancestors had to face that dilemma. They had to reject authenticity and lean in towards whiteness. And I really want to talk about the everyday effects of that.

Dr. Gonzales 25:16

Colorism relates, because colorism is also the internalized process like internalized racism among people of color. Where, even within your family, you start making comments about, "Oh, yeah, there's she's a dark one." The lighter skinned children may be favored in some way. So blue eyes or brown eyes, any type of European features is systematically colorism, particularly in multiracial, whether it's Latin American, or maybe in Polynesia, like, I don't know as much right. But where again, just whiteness is favored, lighter skin is favored, and you see it manifested in the class hierarchy, people have positions of power, typically lighter skinned. You see it like in Spanish language, television, particularly lighter skinned people are the movie stars, not the darker skinned ones, etc. So it's a process of how these things, we're talking about race, are also not only internalized within a multiracial population, but then you see them reflected putting the social racial hierarchy.

Michelle 26:09

And Miya, in Oceania, how does this function in your family history?

Miya 26:15

That's a really good question. And I feel like there's a lot to unpack. I think with being multiracial, for myself, at least I'm very proud of that, and I've been proud to learn a lot of this history. But as I've looked through it, though, I almost feel like I'm a living contradiction with all these different cultures that I come from, because individually, the lighter skinned culture, like would they love who I am today? I don't know. I would also say to kind of like DJ was saying that there is heavy internalized racism in the form of colorism in our Oceania community. I hear a lot of the more lighter skin more ehu, which is more closer to blonde, sandy colored hair, straighter hair, lighter eyes, that is more socially preferred. And then yeah, the darker ones, maybe, but not as much, right. And so it's real. And I feel like a lot of us, especially in Oceania, are just not aware, or are choosing to be ignorant about it. I know that's a really bold statement. But again, like we talk about these things, and everything in our podcasts, because if we don't talk about it, we won't know what's wrong, or how we can help bring about the healing or things I need to fix in our families. You don't know it's a problem until someone actually brings it up or has, in a lot of ways, maybe more privilege or the courage to share and address these issues that have been affecting our families for generations.

Michelle 27:47

And I want to be super explicit and straightforward that colorism internalized racism. And these things, these topics that we're talking about today, create literal brick walls for people of color to do their family history work. We cannot go any farther because so many of our ancestors tried to hide their family, tried to hide their history, so that they could function in society in a safer, easier, more privileged way. We have to talk about it so we can bring those walls down. And so we know that there's other people out there who are experiencing this, and we can try to move forward and reconnect to our beloved family no matter what color they are. I would love Miya also, you know, your experiences being of Japanese descent and living in Japan like, did you see a lot of colorism in Asia? Because I mean, I've been watching Indian Matchmaker on Netflix. And I noticed like they are able to say in the matchmaking process, "I want someone who's white." And I was like, that's kind of odd. And then the more I learned about it in Asia, like colorism is a huge thing. Would you share more about that?

Miya 29:02

So for a little context, I am of Japanese descent. My first name is Miyamoto, so I don't know how more Japanese you can get than that as a first name, right. It's my family's last name. Anyways, I was fortunate to be called as a sister missionary to the Japan Tokyo Mission. It was wonderful. It was fine going there learning the language and learning more about my culture and ancestry. One of the things that bothered me greatly was, like you said, the very obvious colorism that existed there. I remember walking into stores and there were so many advertisements for women especially to have bleach on their skins to become lighter. And I remember walking in a few times to get a shampoo or something and you know, salespeople will be like, "Hey, why don't you use this sister because you'll be lighter." And people weren't trying to be rude or anything, but as I lost my tan, as a sister missionary, in the wintertime, I started receiving these compliments about you look more beautiful because you're skin is lighter. Obviously, that didn't sit well with me because I learned to be proud of my skin color and be okay with that. But it was mind blowing, because that's so opposite of what I experienced here in the United States, where the more tan and bronze you are, the more beautiful. But you and I have talked about this, Michelle, like that's more prevalent for white people, if they, people of European descent, if they are given the bronze look through whether lotions or spray tans or sitting out in the sun or in a tanning booth, yeah, I think that's what it's called, but they get more beauty in that whereas people who are naturally darker melanated there's still a double standard. Right?

Michelle 30:46

You know what that makes me think of? It makes me think of Dr. Seuss and the star-belly sneetches. Where we're like all trying to trade places and be like, at what point? Like I'm all about, I wear makeup. I do stuff to my hair. I'm all about beauty and loving yourself. But at what point can we just look in the mirror and know that this is the gift that our ancestors have given us: our body, our hair, our eyes, our skin color? At what point can we lean into that and just love our authentic selves? And especially for people of color, a lot of our ancestors never got to have that. They had to lean into being inauthentic to get by. And they didn't get to lean into. And so even I try to look in the mirror and be like, this is the body my ancestresses have given me. This is the melanin my ancestresses have given me, and I love it.

Dr. Gonzales 31:37

What you said, Miya was powerful, because you said, "I learned to love my brown skin." And I just want to emphasize that, like a lot of people of color, that's essentially a process. Maybe we don't think of it exactly, we have to learn to do that. Whether it's from community and friendships, I get a people always asking like, "Why did Black people have to use the word Black power? Why did brown people have to use the civil rights movement?" Right? "Why do they have to claim brown power?" And it's because the systems of racial oppression that taught our ancestors to hate the way they looked. And I've definitely felt that in my life, I've had to more and more come to embrace the color that I have. I'm a twin, by the way. I'm a fraternal twin. My twin sister looks a lot like my mother. My mother's very fair skinned, white with blue eyes. My sister is very fair skin with blue eyes. I'm darker tan, brown hair, brown eyes. We don't look like siblings, you know, in that way. It's always been something that's been around me and things that I've thought about and had to go through that process, too.

Michelle 32:44

So one of the things we talk about on this podcast is we talk about genealogical consciousness, how the past, present and future kind of all work together. And so I'm just curious, as a father, like, how are you instilling in your children to love their authentic family history and the way that they look? Do you have any thoughts on that?

Dr. Gonzales 33:05

One thing I've learned is to us to be very open. My wife, her grandmother, so her mother's mom, is Black. We would call her now, and she would never have said this in her day, but she's Afro-Mexican, very dark skin. And there's clearly like those kinds of traits in the family, but that, again, is kind of something that's been not talked about a lot, right? So my wife has taken the turn to really kind of embrace that, and talk to, you know, to our children, you know, where I'm part Black. Her father, who grew up in Mexico, has Asian features, right. And there are parts of Mexico, where a lot of Chinese fled literally the United States due to oppression and settled and remained in Mexico, and his family's like in those regions. So we know, at some point, right, because you can visibly see it. And when our children were young, we lived in LA when our children really young, Japanese, Chinese neighbors, would always come up to us and say, "Your children Asian. Like whose are they?" Right? So it's been just been openly talking about these features and embracing them, being outward with what our skin color is. We talked about that different ethnic paths, which parts of our families come from where and where we get these things from, and just to make it really normal. It's a normal thing that we tried to do. But that's been intentional. Again, I didn't grow up with that so much. I don't think that my parents tried to hide it. It maybe it's a generational thing where it wasn't as outward in that way of talking about our Mexican ancestry, our Indigenous ancestry, which we never talked about, etc.

Michelle 34:35

Yeah, thank you for bringing that up. Having multiracial ancestry, multiracial ancestors, multiracial even family now, like our family is very mixed to where some of my girls are considered white assumed, so like people would never know they had Black and Indigenous ancestry. But my son is more Latino and stereotypical Latino looking. He looks more like me. I loved Encanto how they showed a multiracial family that were all connected together. And that's how a lot of our ancestors are and even touching on what you were talking about with your wife's family, you know, my abuela, she always talked about her light skin. And she never wanted to be in the sun, always had like an umbrella or something. I remember her telling me I have sangre puro, 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 descendants. And I don't know if she never knew that. But she knew her mother was indigenous Tatanaka. And she told everyone she was Spanish. But I used to be so like 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, 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, then 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 have been pushed away because of the amount of melanin that their bodies produced, which is ridiculous, and to embrace them as our family.

Dr. Gonzales 36:34

Well, the gendered aspect of this is really important. We're talking a lot about women in our family. I mean, the casta system was meant to police sexuality, of women. Even the concept of honor throughout Latin American culture, right? Honor's tied to defending the virtue of the women in your family, meaning you're not letting them become so called, like, I'm doing air quotes, right, "sullied" with mixed blood or bad blood. The concept of virtue for women is keeping yourself pure. Making sure you're making the right choice in partner, so you don't sully that. So I mean, a lot of this conversation with the women our family is because these systems of power have meant to police, particularly women and their reproductive capacity. And it's why they carry a lot of that trauma of having to make those decisions of what to hide about themselves.

Michelle 37:22

Yeah. And who was most vulnerable within this casta system, Black and Indigenous women were the most vulnerable, they were at the bottom of that society, they had the least amount of privileges, and they were also the most vulnerable for sexual assault. There is a lot of pain there and generational trauma. Thank you for mentioning that. Do either of you have any similar stories in your ancestry where you literally had to hide, or ancestors had to hide their authentic family history just to be able to make it?

Dr. Gonzales 37:55

Yeah, certainly. I think what really comes to mind is, again, our Indigenous ancestry in my family. That's always been a subtext that again, bubbled up, you know, in conversations about the family. I've heard my uncle mentioned that one of his grandmother's was Navajo and or Arapaho. Then I heard growing up that there's conversations about my grandfather's side of the family, again, on my dad's side, so the part that's from southern Colorado, northern New Mexico, being more Indian and poor, and so that created conflict when my grandparents got married. And then I go on my mission, and my mission, it's my last area in Hurricane, Utah. I meet an indigenous man who we start to hang out with and teach. He finds out I'm Mexican American, and he says, "You have indigenous ancestry. You need to go find it." No one had ever told me that before. And I like remember these conversations or little whisperings that I've heard about our family. And it had always stuck with me. And he was talking about my, you know, my Mexican grandmother. And he's like, "Those people are Indigenous," right. "Your father's family, if they're from these areas, they have indigenous ancestry." So to make a long story short, it's taken a long time to try to find out as much as we can, because again, we have these family histories and you know the trauma that is the secrets, right, the ancestors in the closets that nobody talks about. So over time, we were able to get a little bit information. My older sister is really the credit to this. She got her degree in—

Michelle 39:26

What's her name so we can give her a shoutout?

Dr. Gonzales 39:28

Kariz Gonzales Sylvestro

Michelle 39:28

Kariz, you're amazing. We love you.

Miya 39:32

We love you.

Dr. Gonzales 39:34

Yes, we love you, [name]. And she's continuing, has a project that she's working on that's trying to dig more into this. But essentially what she's has discovered so far, and this is doing my father's side of the family coming from southern Colorado northern New Mexico. On my grandfather's side, that grandmother, that answer to the my uncle always referred to, she was in fact Indian. It's hard to find out which nation or tribe though, because in the New Mexico region, and throughout the Borderlands in the West, you had a lot of warfare, trading and captive making. The Utes actually in Utah were really powerful within this captive, indigenous captive slave trade. So they would war and take captives, say, of the Shoshone, right, and then bring them down and sell them into New Mexico where they'd go and work in the mines, right, or as domestic servants. So that grandmother he referred to, she was one of those detribalized Indians that are referred to as genÃzaros. We're still trying to learn more about her, we can find her through family records, but she doesn't show up on a census, like a Navajo census, right. Or another indigenous tribe, like the Apache, right. And so those censuses are very limited, and essentially, if you can't peg your ancestor to that, then you can't really claim legally a type of Indigenous ancestry in that way. But [...] in New Mexico, there's a lot of work there, and it's fascinating. And there's been books written about how they themselves have formed like this nation, and should have certain designation and status. Well, then I'm like—

It's so amazing that she even found that information. Like these women in our family have just been pushed into the shadows for thousands of years. If you're talking about till we go back to colonization, you know. Cortez landed in the port of Veracruz. From that moment, for my family in Veracruz, like these women have been just pushed into the shadows and to actually find, like your sisters work and actually finding her is amazing. And I just want to point out that things that we think are impossible that we could never find, especially when it comes to family history work, miracles can happen, amazing things can happen if we're putting forth effort. So once again, props to your sister.

Yeah, I mean, she's been working on this for years. And she continues to mostly a lot of this work she's doing in census work, death records, etc. The other side, on my grandmother's side, one of her ancestors, right was actually the Indian agent in New Mexico over like during the Mexican period, and perhaps into the American period, we're still looking at the timeframe, early to mid 19th century, right, 1820s to 50s, 60s, etc. And in those censuses, she's seeing that there are several, several Indian servants in his household and thinks that maybe he may have fathered children with some of those servants. Those are things that she's still trying to find right and log. I mean, if you're looking at dates, and things like that, that's how she's trying to put this together right now. But it is murky. It's really hard to try to do this work. But it's giving us a side of our family, you know, frankly, that was taken from us. We want it back, and we want to honor our ancestors and teach our children properly of where they come from.

Michelle 42:49

The huge part of family history work for multiracial people, for Black and Indigenous people, and then people in the diaspora, and people just that have mixed ancestry, is just knowing the authentic story, and bringing pride to it. And I have felt as I have done that, with identities in my family history, that when I embrace them and feel pride in them and feel loving feelings, being connected to that and share that with my children, that also heals backwards, and it is going to heal forwards in generation. And this is such an important topic to bring up, because the prophet has counseled us to uproot racism, to lead out in abandoning racial bias. And this is very prevalent here in family history work there is racial bias, there's racism, there's xenophobia, there's so much here within family history work, that the industry in general needs to address. Otherwise, there will be these brick walls that many families with ancestors of color or people of color right now, will never be able to break through unless we address it.

Miya 44:00

So in my experience, as many of you know, I am a professional genealogist, and I take a lot of pride in that. But that doesn't mean my journey of discovering my family and these hidden ancestors or forgotten ancestors is over. I'm still on that journey, just like many of you are as well. And so when I think about your question, Michelle, I can't think of specific ancestors that I'm trying to identify. I can think of like, what feels like a millennia of them, because due to colonization in Hawaii, I am Kanaka Maoli, which is indigenous to Hawaii, we have a very heartbreaking history of the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom. As a direct consequence of that much of our Hawaiian culture almost completely disappeared. And even like being Hawaiian, that concept and that pride and that joy and that identity almost completely washed away as well. I think about my great-grandparents, they were both indigenous full-blooded, indigenous Hawaiian. They could speak Hawaiian, but they never did in front of their children, because it was illegal to. It was illegal to just even be Hawaiian, basically. And that affected generations even down to me where I feel like, it's not just the people I'm looking for, it's the culture that is missing a lot, you know. I feel that great loss and sadness. And even thinking about oral genealogies, oral tradition, that was a huge, huge part of my culture, my people. I mourn the fact that I feel like a lot of that was taken away from me and my family. And that is a heavy thing that I carry all the time with me. Yet. I know that still, even if I can't find the specific names of these ancestors, still reclaiming who I am, where I come from, embracing the color of my skin, my hair color, my eye color, that is all family history, too. We talk about what is family history? That is family history, as well.

Michelle 46:10


Miya 46:11

And I want to also emphasize that family history isn't just of people that we're trying to connect to in the past. It's me trying to connect to me right now, too. I remember, when I was a student, especially after my mission, I came back, and I felt ready to move forward with my life. But the only way I felt like I could, for example, like finding a spouse, was I had to change who I was and who I looked like. And just as a disclaimer, there's nothing wrong with being blonde or having lighter eyes or any, there's nothing wrong with that. The wrong thing for me was I wanted to be something that I wasn't. And so I changed my hair color, I changed the texture. I tried every you know, makeup and like clothes that just weren't authentic to me, because I felt like who I was wasn't enough at that time. And so now though, I've gone through this journey of like, reclaiming that and embracing it. We talked about melanin, and I mentioned as a missionary, I was very proud of my skin color, but I think, you know, sometimes it's easy to let go or forget who you really are, if you're not constantly working on that, doing that work for yourself. And the same goes for like trying to remember who our ancestors are or searching for them. You can't find something that you're not looking for. Sometimes things just come to you. A lot of times in this work, we have to go out and seek it. So actively seeking out who you are, will always be one of the best things you can ever do for yourself and for future generations. Because embracing those parts of your biological features, the melanin, as well as the history and the things that are hidden from us, that will complete like you said, this puzzle of who we really are. And I think it'll complete or give us a clearer vision of who God has always seen us as and who He intends for us to become.

Michelle 48:04

Sometimes I wonder if the prophecy of Elijah where it says "turn your heart," I almost think like turn your heart to authenticity. Authenticity is healing. Authenticity can be heartbreaking, but it shows you where you need to heal. And authenticity is a huge part of family history work. But quickly, real quickly, I want to talk about, even if you aren't a person of color, where you're from, has a huge part in family history work. I've talked about before, how my Swedish immigrant ancestors suffered a lot from xenophobia and racism. And so even for those people out there with Northern European family history, Dr. Gonzalez, can you help us understand how even these subjects could affect people with Northern European ancestry?

Dr. Gonzales 48:56

You know, there's a wonderful book that I like to recommend is called The History of White People, and it was written by Nell Irvin Painter. And what she does is she tracks over time the shifting concept of what it means to be white. Where groups that previously weren't considered white, or eventually embraced.

Michelle 49:14

Who were those groups?

Dr. Gonzales 49:15

So if we're looking at American history, in the 1840s, and 50s, who wasn't considered white that is considered white now would be Irish. They were not seen as white because in the 1840s, they come as a result of, again, the famine, the potato famine and other colonial practices. I mean, they're colonial subjects, too. We need to understand are they are people to experience conquest and colonization? So they come to United States incredibly poor, at least in this generation, right? 1840s-ish. They're Catholic primarily. So being really poor and being Catholic is not a good thing. So they are racialized. That is, information is created about Irish in the press, in books.

Michelle 49:58

You can look it up.

Dr. Gonzales 50:00

Yeah, buy the book because I don't get any credit, it's just a phenomenal book that explains this process. Right. The first nativist political movement was against the Irish, it was called the Know Nothing Party. And they advocate for, not necessarily restrictions yet on immigration restrictions, but that the Irish needed more time to assimilate, and so their residency requirements should be extended longer. So Irish are one, the Italians are another in the 1880s and 90s.

Michelle 50:26

Columbus Day, that holiday came about as the Italians were trying to show how they could integrate. Because there was a lot of racialization against Italians, they were being hanged as some similar to African Americans. And they wanted to differentiate themselves. And so that is how Columbus Day, it's a wild history. But I just wanted to mention that at the end of this podcast, because if you have Swedish, Irish or Italian Jewish ancestry, this is something that might that you never knew that was there but might be in your family history and would be very fascinating to look into, so.

Dr. Gonzales 51:04

You could just see, it's all over newspapers. There's images, political cartoons, that are depicting them clearly as not white and as a danger, because most of them are Catholic, but most of them are working class. They're coming from also radical, some of them radical backgrounds, so some of them are communists or socialists, right. And so it's being mixed into all of those concerns about what is an American, not just racially but also socially, religiously, right? It's no accident that our first Catholic president is John F. Kennedy in 1960. And Joe Biden is only the second Catholic ever to be elected. Right? Maybe people don't take that now into the voting booths, but those are deep histories of anti-Catholicism.

Michelle 51:46

And even within the LDS Church, there's also those political cartoons where we were seen as the other because we were not protestant, you know, or, and then Catholic, we were not Catholic, we were something different. And so we were also pushed into that. And so I love this topic, and it does relate to family history, because each one of us probably has some part of our history where these ideas and this system that was built had our ancestors making different choices and doing different things and moving and immigrating different places. And understanding this we can understand why they why they did that. It's really fascinating. Um, Prof. DJ Gonzalez, we are so thrilled to have you on this first season. I hope we get a second season, have you come back, because there's so much more we can learn from you. Where can people find you if they want to learn more?

Dr. Gonzales 52:38

I have a department page BYU is where I'm at. You can look me up there you in contact me for my email there. I'm also on Twitter @djgonzoPhD.

Michelle 52:48

I was like as like Dr. DJ, you need an Instagram or Twitter account so people can learn from you, because there's so much more. Um, anyway, thank you so much.

Miya 52:57

Thank you.

Dr. Gonzales 52:58

It was a pleasure, thank you.

Miya 53:02

Thank you for joining us for this episode of Love Your Lineage. You can find all the references and full transcript for this episode in our show notes at And if you love this episode, please leave us a review or a rating.

Michelle 53:18

This episode was hosted by me, Michelle and Miya. It was produced and edited by Erika Free and Katie Lambert and mixed by Mix at 6 Studios. Thank you for being with us today, and we hope you feel empowered to love your lineage and embrace your authentic family history story.

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