On Historical Research: Seeing People in a New Light

I am American. I am also Puertorican because I was born there. I am a New Yorker, because I was raised there. I am Portuguese because my great-grandfather Aguiar came from Portugal. I am Spanish because the rest of my great-grandparents were Spaniards.

Other than the Native American Indians, everybody else here in America—or their ancestors—came from somewhere else. However, since I started the research on my second novel, I have discovered that nationalities are not that cut-and-dried. Part of my second book takes place in the Iberian Peninsula (what is now Spain and Portugal) in the second century A.D. which the Romans called “Hispania” and I’ve learned what true “melting pots” are.

New York has always been known as America’s melting pot. I lived for some time in Miami and you could say that about South Florida also. Forget that! All of America is one big melting pot!

My eye-opening research came when I was studying the native Iberians. I needed to know who my characters were, what they believed, their customs, culture and who their ancestors were. What I learned surprised me.

For instance, I always thought that Celtic equaled Irish and Irish equaled Celtic. How wrong I was. The Celts came from northern Europe and spread all over Europe and Asia Minor. They looked more like Vikings—tall and fair. Did you know that the Galatians of biblical fame were a Celtic tribe that came over the Balkans? I didn’t. For me they were all Middle Asian or Greek.

When the Celts invaded the Iberian Peninsula, they mixed with the Iberians who had migrated from northern Africa. They were short and dark. They became the Celtiberains. That explains the difference in complexion between many Spaniards. (I always thought it was the Moorish invaders in later centuries that brought the darker skin tones).

But the Celtiberians didn’t have the peninsula to themselves for long. Soon the Phoenicians came seeking new resources for trade. Later the Carthaginians and the Greeks arrived. All three settled and founded various cities on the coastline. Then along came the Romans. By the early second century, Rome had control of the whole peninsula. The Romans drove the Celts out of most of mainland Europe (except for a small area in northwestern France) and let them stay in the northern British Isles. That’s where we get the Celtic/Irish analogies.

Therefore, I’m back to me again. I have dark hair, dark eyes and light skin that tans nicely. Do I have Celtic blood in me? Maybe. I somehow think that I must have Roman blood in me. As a child, when I would tell folks that I was Puerto Rican, they would say, “You don’t look Puerto Rican.”

My reply was, “What does a Puerto Rican look like?”

They then said I looked Italian. That was fine with me—I’ll be Italian. Several of my best friends growing up were Italian. Consequently, I spent more time hanging out with Italians then Hispanics. I love Italian food—more so than Latin food. I had the opportunity to work with Italians on a cruise ship years ago and tour Italy. I even learned the language with relative ease being fluent in Spanish. However, in Italy, I started to mix the two of them. I created my own language of “Spantalian.” Somehow, I managed to be understood. I would relocate to Italy in a heartbeat. (Maybe after I sell a few books, I’ll get myself a nice villa overlooking the Amalfi Coast. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?)

The novel also takes place in Alexandria, Egypt. That was another melting pot in the second century. Talk about a cosmopolitan city. It was a Greek city in Egypt ruled by the Romans—three very different cultures. It boasted the greatest library of ancient times with copies of scholarly writings from all over the known world. Unfortunately, it burned down in the 600’s. The city was wealthy because of its strategic location at the center of trade routes between Europe, Asia Minor, Africa, India and the Far East. Beside the Greeks and Romans, there were people from all those areas living in Alexandria. Of course, they intermarried.

So who are our ancestors? A few years ago, I started doing my family tree. I recommend that everyone try to go back several generations to better understand who they are. Culture is handed down from generation to generation and one’s environment plays a part in it. Invaders and immigrants all bring in their own culture and customs and blend it with the culture and customs that are already there.

As a result, if I’m “people watching” at the mall or when I hear a foreign last name, instead of judging the book by its cover, ­­I now consider that if we go back far enough, we all may have the same ancestors. We are all our own little melting pots.

So what am I? That’s easy—I am American.

God Bless,
E-mail: deovolente_love1@gmail.com


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