• Manda Villarreal

Resource Wrap-Up: Faces of America with Henry Louis Gates Jr.

With the finishing of my contextual discussion portion of my thesis yesterday, I feel really good about the sources I've been finding to legitimize my project in an academic setting. One thing I realized after writing my contextual review was that I was creating this project in the hopes of helping other people like me understand their multiracial background. As complex as it can be (and really confusing and overwhelming to research) it's important to do. I have learned so much about myself, my own assumptions to my identity, and so much more about how multiracial people handle their own racial identity subconsciously.

With that being said, in order for viewers to do what I have done (dive deep into their genealogy and family background) I think it's important to share the sources I've been using to help me along with this research journey. I'm going to make a point to once a week (on Saturday) write about one of the sources that has helped me with my project. Whether that help involves narrowing my research findings or inspiring me visually, I think these sources are worth noting and expanding on here.

So, let's dive into one of my favorite sources so far in my project, Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Here is what I had to say about this source in my contextual review:

After sharing my thesis topic to my academic advisor Romy Hill-Cronin, she recommended to me looking into sources by Henry Louis Gates Jr., equally TV personality and skilled genealogist. He hosts the show Finding My Roots on PBS, where he aids a celebrity guest through an investigation into their genealogy. But, since I don’t have a cable, I found the next best thing — his book titled Faces of America: How 12 Extraordinary People Discovered Their Pasts. The book profiles twelve celebrities he worked with and the trials and triumphs the guests went through in order to learn more about their own heredity.

One feature in his book was actress Eva Longoria from Desperate Housewives. She is also latina like myself, so reading about her journey was so helpful. With Gates help, she learned that her family immigrated to the Americas during the Spanish conquest in Mexico in 1603, when the Spanish crown granted them 450,000 acres of land in Corpus Christi, Texas. Her great great grandfather Panciano Longoria moved to the land his family owned in the mid 1800s from Mexico. He married a woman named Maria Villarreal, and they build a land empire on the land that her family even now still resides on to this day.

Seeing my last name in one of her ancestors helps me understand maybe that’s where my family came from too (and am I related to Eva Longoria?!). Reading others stories about their genealogy journeys with similar ethnicity to mine in this book can help me understand what I might need to look for, or where I should be searching.

Gates also goes into detail about his own discoveries of his ancestry from DNA testing when it was just beginning back in 2000. As an African American man, he expected his results to come back showing the different parts of Africa his family came from. Instead, he was shocked with the results that his genetic makeup mostly comes from an Irish colonial grandfather. He was thrown and he continues by sharing this realization through genealogical DNA testing permanently that not only changed the perception he had on his own racial identity, but of race in general. He states “Race, I was made to realize, was infinitely more complicated than our superficial definitions… Genetic variations among individuals are real and biologically identifiable — and are infinitely more complex than anyone could have imagined in the 18th century… The truth is, you can never tell who people are, are where their ancestors have come from, simply by looking at them.” With the increased variability of racial identity thanks to the findings in genetic DNA testing, it is true that the social constructs and ideas of racial identity become even more complex to understand. I guess the old saying is true, you really can’t judge a book by its cover."

This source was amazing for me to find because not only was it very interesting to see other celebrities who have been interested in doing the same thing as me, but it was also extremely informative, especially Eva Longoria's journey. Comparing your genealogical journey to someone else as the same race as you I've learned can be super helpful. You can see which way they went with their findings, and apply that to your own searching methods if your timelines seem to match up. Many immigrations and movements came from large populations of people in history, so if someone else's Mexican immigrant moved in the 1800s because of the American conquest of Texas, maybe that's the same reason why my family moved too. Anyway you can connect the dots and understand the "why" or narrative of your ancestors doing, the closer you are to understanding who they are.

I encourage anyway to dive into this source, or find one of his television adaptions doing the same thing. I can almost guarantee it will spark a curiosity about your family in you too.

Manda V.

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