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Tangent Stories – A Tribute to the Outlaws

Greetings all!

I apologize for wandering away from my blog. Mid-January brought the illness, heart-failure and eventual death of my Father-in-Law, Dr. Daniel D. Kersten. He was ill for 40 days before his death. It took 40 days from there to have his memorial service. We have been more than a little occupied.

There is so much introspection when a person dies. While I write these blog entries for the Escalante family, I have to remember that there are the “Outlaws” as well. There is always a branch grafted onto the tree that adds more to the color and gene pool, with every marriage, every torrid love affair. Add the Romos, the Barbachanos, the Valenzuelas, and we have a lovely orchard of fruits and nuts. Haha! I had forgotten that my son has a whole second tree I will need to tell tales about.

However, Dan’s family history isn’t all that estranged from our story. His story almost ran tangent to it in some places. He was a second-generation German-American born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. German was even his first language, as his parents held on to old German traditions. He was mortified by the children making fun of him on the first day of school for not speaking English. I believe this reason is why he was such a lover of English, with its grammar rules and regulations, later in life.

His father was a physician. Dr. Erwin Kersten started practicing medicine in Calipatria, Imperial County, CA. According to the US Census of 1930, he, his wife Wera, and baby son, Dan, were all in this tiny agricultural town. They weren’t in Minneapolis anymore. I’m not sure if Erwin knew what to do with the vast varieties of people who were populating the county. If you, dear reader, get a chance to go to the Pioneers’ Park Museum in Imperial, CA, you will see tributes to the more than 15 ethnic groups that made up the population. And the little Kersten family had to be what? 30 miles north of my family in Calexico where my family was setting up businesses, families and lives?

After Erwin worked to build his medical skills, the Kersten family moved to another county my family once called home. They moved to Orange County. Except they moved to the more Germanic town of Anaheim, California. I say this kindly: ALL peoples will move to what they know. No matter what race they might be. It isn’t a new thing. It gives comfort.

Flash forward 40 years, my husband and I met in San Luis Obispo, at Cal Poly. My parents lived in North San Luis County and his parents were in North Santa Barbara County, and we met in the middle. Location, location, location. Ted’s family was apparently always near mine, just a bit out of reach. It took a lost test on the Business Building lawn for him to finally come to my office asking for directions. Fate had to step in.

I respected Dan. Between he and my sweet mother-in-law, I have a wonderful husband. Dan had many academic accomplishments, including becoming an orthodontist. But that wasn’t what I found fascinating about him. He had met a Civil War veteran and survived the Depression; although he had a tendency to keep many things, as you “never know when you can use something.” But it was his growth as a person who grew up with ideologies from the late-1800s (his parents) who moved into the 21st century with eyes open and a willingness to grow.

I’m sure I’ll get back to Escalante story-telling soon. I’m working on drafts as I write this too. Thanks for your patience of my absence and letting me be a little retrospective in this writing. I was where I needed to be the last few months. It is, after all, THIS life we are living now that will be the tales of tomorrow.

The Hard Discussion About Your Familial Past

Hello! So sorry to be gone for so long. Been a busy Spring and Summer. Now I can concentrate again on my family history and the blog.

That being said, I am going to go WAY off topic today to discuss something that has been weighing on my heart. Two things have happened this summer that have me in deep contemplation: a church shooting and a denial of family history.

The first event was the tragic shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This occurrence hurt my soul. However, my heart has been inspired by the true Grace the congregation has shown during this difficult time. Mankind’s violence against each other has been a constant throughout history. We cannot change history, but we can know it and use our knowledge to improve the future.

I grew up with the “American Melting Pot” ideology. I feel my personal beliefs in racial equality are grounded. My racial heritage is varied. My husbands’ heritage is too. My son is stereotypical Heinz 57. Our little family discusses equality often, but I forget that I live in a self-made bubble of protectiveness.

One morning in June, I finally got up early enough to watch the news only to see the church tragedy unfurl. I cried. The day moved on and I started to ask myself “How do violent acts like South Carolina happen? What causes a young man to want to hurt a group of people in 2015?” The blame game started whirring in my mind; “Didn’t anyone notice? Did he always have these tendencies?” Soon those thoughts took a turn.

I actively work to be cognizant of my behavior, but what about other people who are careless with the words or attitudes they convey? I can easily see, in my own family and friend circles, those comments and quips that promote racial/socio-economic…what is it? Differentiation? Need to be better than others?

Over the last 30 years of my research, I have heard friends and family say the following things:

    • Our aunt told us we were getting too dark in the sun. Being dark was not a good thing.
    • Well, she might call herself Mexican-American, but I’m not.
    • I’m pretty sure we are more Spanish than Indian.
    • It’s weird, he’s half Portuguese, half-Mexican, but he hates his Mexican side.
    • We don’t want him to marry into that Cherokee family. (Aren’t you part Cherokee?) Well, yes, but that was a long time ago.
    • I’m Hispanic, but I’m not like “those” kind of Hispanic people.
    • No one is going to make me say politically correct things. I’ll say what I want to say. Screw them.
    • She got teased for being a blonde Mexican.
    • You can’t speak Spanish? Seriously?
    • When I asked if we were part Jewish, he just winked at me but would NEVER admit it.
    • We are part of the struggling. We are the oppressed. It’s the wealthy whites who are holding us back.
    • You are not Mexican. You are white-washed.

Most of my family would think that they are on the tolerant side of this issue. But even the most liberal of freedom fighters make quips that, if examined carefully, smell vaguely of judgement when it comes to the wealthy in our country. And it is these passing phrases, comments on social media, discussions over coffee, that have made me wonder if we unknowingly create these issues in our country?

What if the above phrases came up in casual conversations, dropping into the minds of others in the room? A simple seed planted. And what if one of those seeds sprouts? Takes root? Occasionally, humans are known to feed the wrong thing. Add a little Self-Righteous Indignation, some Perceived Wrong-Doing against us by some group, then with either a loud boom, or a quiet click, violence can spark. Maybe pent-up feelings emerge, taking those who don’t know what to do with their angry emotions into dark places their family never thought they would go.

The second story in the news was Ben Affleck not wanting the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” to share that he had slave owners in his family. This isn’t related to the shootings in South Carolina, but stick with me here. Mr. Affleck’s lobby to get his familial results tweaked so as not to show the darker, yet historical, side of his family in America saddens me too.

Besides my maternal family tree, I tend my Mother-in-Law’s tree as well. Her family is fun to research because: Americans were great at documenting, I can read every page as the documents are in English (my shame of not speaking/reading Spanish,) and her tree has been in the U.S. pretty much from the beginning. Her Revolutionary War veteran great-grandfather was a New Jersey slave-owner.  She has a great-grandmother who was a cousin to Abraham Lincoln.

Do I hold the now considered “sordid slave owner” information back from my son? Do I just talk up President Lincoln because he signed the Emancipation Proclamation? This is where I make a decision to talk with my son about those who came before him, their life choices and what my hopes are for his walk in this world. I can help him feed positive seeds.  I think Mr. Affleck could have said something to the effect of: “I’m not necessarily proud of what they did. It was the time they lived in. My family didn’t stay slave owners. They changed. They grew. And their experiences influenced who I am today.” My MIL’s great-grandfather did free his slaves, by the way.

I am from a very patriotic family. My dad fought in the Korean conflict. We love the United States. But make no mistake, I was made fun of in school when kids asked me “What are you?” and I answered “I’m American.” As most American families emigrated from somewhere else, this was never a good enough answer. Humans are notorious for categorizing each other. For putting each other in boxes. After working this hobby for sometime, I can now answer with more definitive clarity where my people came from.

I have found peace with the journey of being an American who values the trials and tribulations of those who came before me. There are very few of us who will be related to kings and queens. A relative might have been rich, poor, black, white, super smart, not too bright, and even of different faiths. When a person investigates their genealogy, they might find an invader of a country married an indigenous person. And even that love could have even been reciprocated between the two. Gasp! Colonization isn’t always “rape and pillage.” Their decisions in regards to family came from their time and culture. We need to learn to accept our familial “good, bad and ugly.” Those who made me who I am today get my respect for being who they were. As our ever-morphing values and culture changes, I am certain one day I will want that same courtesy.



The Power of Cake

One of the first things I discovered when I started my journey into searching family history was that family members wanted to be related to someone famous. The first Escalante to set foot in Mexico. The Escalante that discovered the canyon in Utah. I am rather old-fashioned and don’t want to be related to Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante (pardon the lack of accent). Father Escalante was a priest. If we are related to him, we’d be part of his very scarlet history.

I have told my family that if they want to related to someone famous, then they should go and get famous. But to please take great care not to confuse “famous” with “infamous.”

To give all the branches of the family comfort, they are related to someone  who is famous. Me. In my tiny part of Payne County, Oklahoma, I am famous for something very simple. Chocolate cake.

12 years ago I wandered onto And wow! Cakes, cookies, brownies, oh my! We had a potluck at work. I brought the Deep Dark Chocolate Cake. One of my co-workers started to squeal in such a passionate way, many in the office were concerned she was not alone. And she wasn’t. She had the cake. And it made her VERY happy.

I took her amorous exclamations as a sign the recipe was good. I started taking it with me to various functions. After my son was born, I became a Stay-At-Home Mom. One day a group of moms got together for a luncheon. I brought the cake. One of the mom’s said, “I love this cake. My husband would love it too.” I told her she could find the recipe at Hershey’s. She looked at me completely puzzled. “From scratch? I could never make it from scratch. How could I make a box mix taste like this?” There was nothing I could say without laughing hysterically, so I went into the other room.

At the beginning of my marriage, I made a move to cook from scratch for frugality reasons (a whole different blog topic). But what had been an ode to cheaper eating has become my “go to” recipe for chocolate cake. I don’t buy box mixes for chocolate cake anymore. I buy white and yellow box mixes, but they tend to go bad on my shelf.

Over the years I have moved to the Black Magic Cake recipe and I use the One Bowl Chocolate Buttercream frosting recipe that is at the end of the Deep Dark Chocolate cake recipe. Both cakes are excellent, but the Black Magic is my husband’s preference, so we go with it.

I was invited to parties, I am certain, only to bring the cake. I have tried to tell others they can make it too. They ignore me. I’ve had friends’ children ask me to make it for their birthdays. That is one of my biggest honors. My ego puffs up to an enormous size on those days.

For over a decade, I’ve been bringing this cake to parties. But it is more of a time of food fellowship with friends and family. My husband has learned to make it. He understands that cake makes friends. On a potluck table, no one will eat it because it looks so plain. When the guests hear that it’s “Edwina’s cake,” they flock to it.

For many families, food is a central part of the history. One of my cousins was missing her Nana’s beans the other day. Comfort. Hospitality. Family. Love.

I understand this isn’t a familial recipe I’m passing down to future generations from those before me. It will be me, making my own history. Here in my little neck of the woods. One bite at a time.