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Every human being is identified by his or her name, acting as a label which separates him or her from the entire world. Some share common labels but the meaning and history behind each label is never shared and is unique to each person. My name is the beginning of who I am today- my identity and personality. Leeanna is a gift from my mother, Gabbrielle is my maternal grandmother’s name, and Martinez is my only connection to my father. These connections separate my label from all others and even the spelling is unique. I have never asked my mother about the people involved in making me who I am today, both physically and emotionally. Maybe this is why her face held an astonished and almost surrendering expression when I uttered the words: “Mom, I want to know who I am. I want to know more about you and my family history.”
Over a cup of coffee, delicious chocolate cookies and skimming through forgotten family albums, my mother began to pour out information. It was almost as if she had wanted to lighten the burden and share the past with someone, better it being with her own daughter. In the 19 years of my life, I have never seen my mother so relaxed and wanting to tell me stories without worrying about what it is, maybe because these stories were so personal. She began by telling me how she met my father and how I was the only reminder of their short lived romance. My father is Spanish and that is where my parents met each other- in Spain. This was shocking news to me as I did not know my mother had ever left the States. In fact, she had travelled to many marvelous places and had countless adventures which seemed to have become long lost figments of her imagination. At this point, I was less interested about myself than I was in seeing this new side to my mother. I urged her to keep sharing her forgotten past as she had hopelessly pulled me into her life vicariously.
It was a trip arranged with a few friends and money saved diligently for seeing the world. Once in Spain, she was overwhelmed by her beauty and the Spanish. It was at one of these tours around the historical streets that my mother ran into Martinez (she refers to my father with his last name). Martinez was handsome, tall, romantic, caring and educated. It was the perfect package. Their fairytale romance was ideal but short as my mother did not want to leave her life to come live with him and was not ready for the commitment. Parting ways, she realized she would have a reminder of Martinez forever: Me.
Returning home, my grandmother was not too thrilled about mom’s Spanish adventure and expressed her desire for her to marry Martinez. However, this was not an option for my headstrong mother as she had other plans. Looking at her younger self, Mom smiles satisfactorily and admits she is happy with her decision and I give her a quick hug confirming my satisfaction as well. I think if Martinez had been part of our lives, we would not have had the relationship we have now, which I cannot sacrifice at any cost. Anyways, I encourage her to go on and tell me more about herself, which, in turn, will help me learn more about my genealogy.
Staring at grandma’s wedding picture, Mom begins to tell me how she had the same family history conversation with her mother years ago. Grandmother Gabrielle was born into a wealthy family and was the pride and joy of the family (as she likes to remember it). She was academically strong, active in sports and had a great social life, which often included boys swooning over her. She was the homecoming queen in high school and dated the most handsome man, who was, mind you, a whole year her senior. That boy would be my future grandpa. When grandfather proposed, there were some heads shaking in Gabrielle’s family as the boy was not well, as wealthy as them. Despite some rejections, strong headed Gabrielle managed to marry the man of her dreams and have all her family members attend happily.
It all worked out after Grandmother gave birth to my mother as her eager grandparents could not resist the urge to spoil their granddaughter. “You know why the family was so stubborn when it came to approving a husband for my mom? Well, it was because they were descendants of James Fenimore Cooper and prided them in being one of the most literary and educated families in town.” Hearing this from mom, I admitted to her that I was not very familiar with James Fenimore Cooper. At first shocked, Mom sighed and said that she did not blame me as kids these days had other interests, a statement making her sound much older and wiser than usual. Who was James Fenimore Cooper and what impact did he have on my ancestors’ lives?
After doing some research and talking to my mom, I realized that James Fenimore Cooper was one of the greatest American literary figures of all times. He lived in the 1800s and was known for his writing. I recognized his importance when Mom mentioned that he wrote The Last of the Mohicans which I recognized as a movie starring the oh-so-lovely Daniel Day-Lewis. This explained Mother’s love for literature and mine as well- it had been in our blood. Mom always encouraged me, actually forced me in the early years, to read books and explore literary ideas. She had mentioned Cooper before but I had never noticed and just guessed him to be a long loved great grandfather or something. This also explained why Grandmother was so sophisticated and highly educated as her family has made this family connection to James Fenimore Cooper a part of her daily life and saw it as a responsibility to represent Cooper in the best and most sophisticated manner to the world.
Jumping back to the present, I suddenly remembered something and asked Mom if I had any aunts or uncles. I had been introduced to a few over the years but they were never an active part of my life. Mom told me that she had a few cousins from her father’s side as her mother had been an only child. However, they lived all over the country and some lived abroad, so there were never any chances to meet up regularly or hold family events. The uncles and aunts that I did know and received lots of love from are my mom’s friends and acquaintances with whom she had kept in touch with all these years. These were the friends who had known my mom for many years, watching her grow from a girl into a woman. They were also the people my mother shared deep secrets with and who knew more about me than even I knew.
Taking a new toll, our discussion forced me as the epicenter as my mother was the one looking for some answers now. She wanted to know how I felt after finding out my connection to Cooper. At first I was ecstatic, but as the news settled in, I realized I wanted to know more about him and made it my goal to research him because in doing so, I will learn more about my own past. After doing some preliminary research, which is only the beginning, I discovered some interesting facts. Many people enjoy Cooper’s writings but do not realize that they held hidden resentments about politics and social injustices faced by minorities. Also, even though he was a renowned author, Cooper never retired from writing as he was not wealthy. What is more, Cooper’s descendants, including his daughter Susan, continued his writing dreams and made writing their passions. Furthermore, I discovered that Cooper’s father, was a US Congressman! This was great news to me as now I had politics in my blood as well, explaining many of my passions and goals in life.