Do your know your family history? Do you know where you came from & the route your family took to get here? And do you know the stories & feelings behind their journey?
That is the thinking behind my current painting, Unraveling the Family Tree, 30″ X 40″ X 1.5, Acrylic/MM on Canvas.
“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
Where we come from is so important, but unfortunately as in my case, we think we have forever to find out. I continued to shove it aside other than gathering bits and pieces in conversation with relatives at family gatherings. You get so busy and have your young family to take care of. I now wish I had paid more attention and asked more questions.
Of course, I know the basics. My grandmother and grandfather on my mother’s side came from southern Italy when they were very young, both at different times. My grandmother was promised to my grandfather in marriage and came to the US when she was 15 years old to marry him. He was 22 years old and had come to the US at a younger age. I can’t imagine how frightening that had to be for her and to marry someone she didn’t know! And the worst part, not to have a voice in her future.
But what I want to know is how she felt about it. As a woman myself, who stands up for and votes for women’s rights and equality, I feel so much empathy for my grandmother or any woman who had to live under that paternalistic society.
I wish I had been able to ask my grandmother questions then that are in the forefront of my thinking now. With the women’s movement and women’s rights issues, I would have loved to question her on her feelings as a woman on how she felt about her life choices or lack of life choices. What her secret interests were in life. If she could do anything what would it be. What were her feelings and stories about the trip from Italy to the US. And would she feel able to share them or hold them tight to her breast for safekeeping?
Many of my extended family either never knew much more, have memory problems because of age or have passed away so it is going to be a much harder journey to find out more information now. But it is mostly about feelings and stories that I am after in general and my grandmother in particular and her voice is no more, lost to me forever. Anything I learn now would be only guessing and speculation.
It is not until you are older that you begin to wonder about how you fit into the picture of your family structure. Who and where did I get my talent. When you think of the history and stories that are lost, it is just so sad that future generations lose the connection with that voice.
I am curious, though, after painting this piece, how much of your family history do you know and do you really think or want to know? Does it make you feel disconnected? Did you ask the important questions? Do you still have time to gather that information? If so, keep a journal for the next generation because one of your relatives will be grateful to have the voice of the past revealed to them even if it just starts with your voice. If nothing else, start recording your journey. Don’t wake up to regrets.
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