|LTC Barceleau, May 2001|
Forty years ago I heard “our” collective ancestry referred to as a tapestry of influences: indigenous natives, Spanish, German, French, Moors, and so on. Last year I was invited to be a keynote speaker for an event scheduled for Hispanic Heritage Month. In preparing my comments I remembered the tapestry, but I chose to refer to my personal ancestry as capirotada – that sweet Mexican delicacy that is commonly served during the Lenten season. Every abuelita makes capirotada with her own recipe and secret ingredients. They all say, with authority, that they make it the way it should be made, the old fashioned way. Like capirotada, all of us who claim Hispanic or Latino or Mexican ancestry have our own unique heritage.
My paternal grandfather, Chas Amaury Barceleau, was a Frenchman born in San Fancisco, CA. He traveled into Mexico and fell in love with a Mexican Indian woman, I’ve seen a portrait of my grandmother Luz, and she looks Tarahumara to me. They married and came to live in south El Paso where my father, Jose, was born.
My maternal grandmother’s family was Jewish Spanish who fled the inquisitions by changing the spelling of their sur name and immigrating to Mexico. My grandmother Carmen married a Sostenes, a Mexican man. My mother, Josefina, was born in El Paso during a family trip to the area, but she was raised in Chihuahua. At the age of 15 she ran away from home, and returned to El Paso, where she fell in love with Jose.
I was born in El Paso, TX, and raised in the catholic faith. A look at my ancestry, or heritage, reveals this sweet capirotada: American, French, Tarahumara, Spanish, Jewish, Mexican, and Catholic, the way God made me. I continue to live in El Paso, and one day I will be buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery because, you see, I am also a retired military officer. Military service is the one ingredient in my history that was a personal choice, it is the secret ingredient that makes THIS dish of capirotada extra special.
As kids we did not celebrate Mexican holidays and customs like cinco de mayo, diesiseis de septiembre, and dia de los muertos. I acknowledge those holidays and customs, but I don’t celebrate them. Nonetheless, I proudly acknowledge my Mexican roots, but I am an American patriot. What’s in your capirotada?