Pieces of Formation: Ethnicity and Extended Heritage


At a retreat I attended this past June with the artist Jan Richardson, we participated in an exercise on the opening night based on a poem by George Ella Lyon called “Where I’m From.” Through the exercise, we spent wrote lines and stanzas to describe the stories and pieces that make up who we are.

One of my stanzas went like this:

I am from Dan and Sue,

Bob and Dorothy,

Daniel and Frances,

from Mexico and the Irish country,

from potato famine to Minnesota farm country,

from O’Sullivan to Saban to Kack,

married to Serrato

to eventually make me. 

When it comes to my ethnicity and heritage, I come from two different worlds.

The large Irish-Catholic family on my mom’s side made for robust gatherings full of stories and laughter that grew louder as the nights wore on. It was a family of grounding — the Irish and the Catholic backgrounds both contributed to this sense of solid grounding — and it was full of people. (That’s what happens when eight Irish-Catholic siblings have several children each!)

My dad’s side was smaller. Quieter. His father didn’t say much, but I was familiar with his smile. His mother was small but fierce, breaking into Spanish whenever she got mad. They lived a simple life on half an acre in a small town known for its horses and dairy farms. We ate tamales on Christmas. And even though the core family unit of my dad’s family was small, the extended network of my Hispanic heritage often made me feel related to half our town.

Where are you “from”? What stories make up your family of origin?