A Colorful Mosaic of Cultures: My Ancestry Heritage

I recently had my Ancestry DNA done and the results surprised me. A few years ago, I started to uncover my ancestry and that took me all over northern and eastern Puerto Rico, where I was born. I knew my grandparents were 1/4 Portuguese (my last name) and the rest from Spain.

After doing research for my 2nd novel, yet to be completed, I discovered that there were many different cultures that encompassed the Iberian Peninsula or Hispania as the Romans called it. I was sure that I’d have some Italian blood in me. My paternal grandmother’s maiden name is Colon, which is the Spanish variation of Columbus — yes, the explorer who was born in Genoa Italy. Alas, there’s no Italian in my DNA, but there’s a remarkable mix of cultures which I call My Mosaic.

My Ancestry

  • 36% Portugal
  • 24% Spain
  • 13% France
  • 12% Celtic (Ireland/Scotland)
  • 7% Native American
  • 2% Basque
  • 2% Greek
  • 2% Mali
  • 1% Andean Native American
  • 1% European Jewish

Wow! Greek? Jewish? Mali? Native American? Combining the 2 Native American cultures, that gives me 8%! That’s more than Elizabeth Warren! I guess, I can officially check off the Native American box on applications.

History buff that I am, this triggered doing a little digging. I’ve discovered that the smaller the percentage, the farther back in time is the connection.

Though I took down my old Ancestry.com family tree years ago, I did print it out. I’ll be putting it back up again shortly to see if I can discover some family in Portugal and Spain. All of a sudden I have an urge to go there. So, here’s what I uncovered:

Portugal, Spain and Basque

Aguiar family coat of arms.
A couple of years ago I had the Aguiar Coat of Arms and family history printed at the Arizona Renaissance Festival by The Historical Research Center.

My last name is Portuguese. I knew that. Manuel Aguiar married Polonia Aguero in Portugal c. 1850. Around 1821, Portugal was going through an economic crisis. This explains their move to Puerto Rico. Why they chose Puerto Rico, where the main language was Spanish, instead of Brazil, which was settled by the Portuguese, is a mystery.

In Northern Portugal, there’s a region named Aguiar. I hope to visit there some day.

Portugal became its own kingdom, separate from Spain, in 1493. At that time, Columbus was exploring the West Indies, however, the Portuguese were trading up and down the African coast and Asia.

The Basque region of Spain and France from Ancestry.com

I searched for my paternal great, grandmother’s name, Aguero, thinking it was Portuguese also, but no, it’s from Aragon, Spain, in the northeastern area of Spain — which is also Basque territory.

On my paternal grandmother’s side, my great, great, great grandfather’s name is Juan Cayetano Cruxent de Cataluna (today Catalonia) also from northeastern Spain or Basque country.

Celts

My next mystery was the Celts. In doing some more research, I found and excellent series of videos on the history of Spain on Kanopy which I accessed via my public library account.

The Celts were in the Iberian Peninsula before they were in Ireland and Scotland.
A map from Ancestry.com showing the Spanish/Portuguese regions in the Iberian Peninsula

Turns out the Celts were in the Iberian Peninsula before they were in Ireland and Scotland! They settled in the upper northwestern territory of Galacia, Spain.

My maternal great grandfather, Inocente Primo de Rivera was born in Galacia in 1861. His brother, Rafael Primo de Rivera was the Spanish Governor of Puerto Rico from 1873-74. That enticed Inocente to migrate there. In 1898, after the Spanish-American war, Puerto Rico became a territory of the U.S. and all Puerto Ricans became U.S. Citizens.

French

This one was a mystery until I pulled out a family tree chart from my files and started searching for the surnames. Turns out Juan Cayetano Cruxent de Cataluna married Mademoiselle Rouselet. We don’t know her first name, but she’s from France!

In the early 1800s, France invaded Spain and Napoleon Bonaparte sent his brother Joseph to Spain as king. At that point, Juan and his French wife, migrated to Puerto Rico.

European Jews

This tiny 1% gives me a heritage that goes all the way back to Abraham! Wow! Though I don’t know which of the Israeli tribes I belong to, it’s still, as a Christian, pretty awesome to know that I have the same DNA as Jesus! So, when were the Jews in Spain? I discovered that the Jews were the first to bring Christianity to Spain!

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” Romans 1:16

“But now that there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been longing for many years to visit you, I plan to do so when I go to Spain….So after I have completed this task and have made sure that they have received this contribution, I will go to Spain and visit you on the way.” Romans 15:23, 24, 28

The Apostle Paul writing to the Roman Jews.

The Jews dispersed all over Europe and Northern Africa after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70. I’m assuming that both Christian and non-Christian Jews went to Spain. It wasn’t till the 400s when Constantine declared the Roman Empire Christian. At that time, Jews in Spain who had not converted were urged to convert or leave the country.

Sephardic Jews

Then there are the Sephardic Jews. These kept their Jewish traditions of circumcision and not eating pork. They were bankers and business people. In 1492 when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ruled, they wanted to keep Spain Catholic. There was no separation of church and state. The Papacy had a say in everything. This was the Spanish Inquisition. Their goal was to have a pure Catholic identity, authority, hierarchy and order.

Many Jews converted because they wanted to stay in Spain or save their lives — or so they said. How can anyone tell what someone believes in?

Modern Spanish government is opening the doors for them to return.

The Greeks

This one is as hard to trace as the Jews. I know from research that the Greeks and the Phoenicians were ancient traders and mariners who traveled the whole Mediterranean creating settlements wherever they found something of value to trade — mostly in the east, south and western coasts of Spain.

In the Iberian Peninsula, they found tin which when smelted with copper, created bronze — the start of the Bronze Age.

With all this, I was compelled to re-read the Old Testament. In Genesis 4, I found this passage that stopped me.

“Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.” Genesis 4:22

Wait a minute. If the Bronze age didn’t start till around 2700 BC….? Then it occurred to me that the flood that wiped everyone out happened after that Genesis 4 passage that listed the generations from Adam to Noah. After the flood, humanity had to start over again and develop skills and technology little by little again.

I dug out an old book, called, “The Iberians“, which I had gotten when I started researching my 2nd novel (yet to come). As I was reading about the Greek traders, I found Tarshish! Biblical scholars have thought Tarshish was in the British Isles, but it’s probably Tartessos in the far west coast of what is now Portugal.

“Wail, you ships of Tarshish!
    For Tyre is destroyed
    and left without house or harbor.
From the land of Cyprus
    word has come to them.

Be silent, you people of the island
    and you merchants of Sidon,
    whom the seafarers have enriched.” Isaiah 23:1-2

Isaiah was speaking about the Phoenicians from Tyre and Sidon. Jonah tried to escape from God’s calling by boarding a ship going to Tarshish. Tarshish is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Here’s another:

“You destroyed them like the mighty ships of Tarshish shattered by a powerful east wind.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭48:7‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Interesting the “might ships” can be destroyed by God’s power in the wind.

Native Americans

When Columbus discovered the West Indies, he encountered the Taino and Arawak Indians among other natives. He called them “Indians” because he thought he was in India at first.

Native Americans migrated from Europe and Asia
From Ancestry.com: The Native Americans migrated 20,000 years ago over a land bridge from Siberia to Alaska and Canada and traveled south.

The Portuguese settled in Brazil and the Spanish grabbed everything else in the Americas. They traveled back and forth from the new world to the old carrying spices, and most importantly, gold and silver.

The Corchado coat of arms from Spain.
My dad with the Corchado coat of arms at my great aunt’s (his mother’s sister) house in Puerto Rico c. 1980. It’s solid stone. I have no idea who has it or even if it still exists. It has a person in the shield. I wonder who that is.

Also hard to trace, because I remember my mother telling me that the Spanish upper class and nobility really discouraged marrying outside the race. Talk about racisism. My mom told me not to date guys with kinky hair. (Right.) My dad had curly hair and hazel eyes. So, I don’t know where the Native Americans came in.

Mali

This one shouldn’t be a mystery because it has to stem from the slave trade. The Portuguese had the largest portion of the slave trade from Africa to the Americas, though the Spanish were using salves also. I’m thinking it’s from the Portuguese side. But, I’ll never know.

Infamous Family Members

That Celtic great grandfather had the surname of Primo de Rivera. Once he moved to Puerto Rico, he dropped the “Primo de” part and just kept Rivera — which is way more common. (“Primo” means cousin in Spanish.)

In watching the videos of the History of Spain, I was amazed at all the warring and discord between not just the races, but the liberal leftist, the Catholics vs the Jews or the Protestants, the “Republicans” and the far right, Fascist.

My 2nd cousin, Jose Antonio Primo de Rivera
From the video series “A History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad

The former prime minister of Spain was Miguel Primo de Rivera (I think he’s a brother to Inocente and Rafael making him my great, grand uncle). His son, my second cousin, Jose Antonio, founded the “Falange” Fascist Party in 1931 Spain which led to Francisco Franco’s armed rebellion and subsequent civil war from 1936-39. Franco became the dictator of Spain.

Interestingly enough, Franco managed to declare Spain neutral during World War II even though he supported Mussolini and Hitler. When he realized that the Nazis were losing, he started making friends with the Allies. He offered safe passage to Allied troops shot down in France through the Pyrenees, Spain, then Portugal so they can be picked up to return to England.

On Migration, Immigration, Race and Culture

One thing all of my ancestors had in common was migration and immigration. Whether they were explorers or traders, fleeing war, famine, bad economies, corrupt governments, hostile invasions, or forced by slavery — they were migrants. Born in one place then transported in one form or another to a different country.

There but for the grace of God go I…

I know why 2 of my family tree branches left Spain to go to Puerto Rico. But what about the other 2? Why didn’t the Aguiar-Aguero family go to Brazil? Why didn’t the other Spanish branch go to Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Central or South America? With so many new world destinations to choose from, they chose Puerto Rico. Had they chosen a different place, I wouldn’t be here.

“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
Exodus 9:16 NIV

Dear God, I got it. I have my purpose, to be a sower of your Word.

In 1957, my dad left for The Bronx, New York. He couldn’t find work in PR, so he thought he’d try out NY. He found a job and an apartment, then sent for my mom and me. I was 2 and a half years old. That’s why English is my first language. If it wasn’t for the fact that Puerto Ricans were made U.S. Citizens in 1989, I’d be a Dreamer!

Migration from Puerto Rico to NY
Shades of West Side Story! My family migrated to NYC looking for a better life.

I feel for the migrants coming to the U.S. from Central America and now from Africa (and those fleeing to Europe from the Middle East and Africa). They are fleeing much of what my ancestors fled. However, with the government entities we have today, their laws have to be respected. They can’t just cross borders without permission. If they want asylum, then let them apply for asylum at an embassy or consulate. If they want a better economic life, then let them apply for work or education visas. It’s up to the governments to step up to make the asylum/immigration process simpler and less expensive. And it’s up to us to pray that the conditions in their respective countries improve so they won’t have to leave.

The Americas were inhabited by migrants — even the Native Americans came from elsewhere! I pray for a solution to the border crisis happening right now in the U.S. southern border. I pray that elected officials work together — across party lines — to fix our broken immigration system.

I highly recommend getting your DNA tested! It was an eye-opening experience. I always knew I was a mixture of cultures and I’m glad that I finally know which ones.

My Testimony:

If you enjoyed my writing, you’ll love my first novel, Deo Volente (God Willing)! Get it on Amazon!

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