In her 1991 novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez narrates the story of four sisters in reverse chronological order, beginning with their adult lives in the United States and ending with their childhood in the Dominican Republic. Rather than narrating the story of contemporary individuals, in her newly published book The Origin of My Family: Indigenous, Spanish, and African, Dr. María Teresa Montilla delves into historical and vital statistics records, accounts of relatives, as well as her childhood memories to tell the story of her family’s genealogy, along with the why and how the family settled in the United States of America in the 1960s and 1970s. It is a must-read book as it narrows the gap in Dominican genealogical studies conducted in the United States.
The book, edited by Néstor Montilla, Ph.D., was published by the American Institute for Multicultural Studies (AIMS) and is available through its website aimsinstitute.org. Its launching took place on Saturday, July 23, 2022, at 1:00 PM at Berkeley College, Woodland Park, New Jersey.
The book is a genealogical account of generations of the Jiménez-Peña family told, parallel to the history of the Dominican Republic from 1492 to 1970. Through depictions of individuals who experienced life in Hispaniola before and after 1492, the author reflects on generations that are living testimony of that history through their last names, physical features, character, and spirit.
Dr. Montilla takes the reader by the hand on a walking tour of Hispaniola’s origins, the life of Taínos who settled there, the Spaniards and French that colonized and besieged it, and the Africans that helped build it.
The book follows Hispaniola’s socio-economic and political development, including the uprising of Taínos, waves of European immigration, the introduction of slavery, slave uprising, buccaneering society, cattle herds, contraband culture, sugar mills, ‘Athens of the New World’ era, struggle for independence, dictatorships, and bloody political regimes up to President Joaquín Balaguer’s.
The characters, before the 1800s, are created based on events surrounding Hispaniola’s stages of development since its inception; and after the 1800s, on accounts of family members, vital statistics records, published texts, including newspapers of the epoch, and the author’s childhood memories.
Dr. Montilla brings to life generations of multicultural people who, over more than five centuries, have shaped the population of the Dominican Republic.
The book includes drawings and illustrations, highlighting the text and bringing the narrative to life.
It also contains the private collection “People from my neighborhood,” a set of amateur charcoal drawings by the author describing El Barrio, where she grew up in Santiago, Dominican Republic. Based on the author’s childhood memories, the collection presents a portrait of the physical structures and characters that made up El Barrio in the 1960s and 1970s, seen through the lens of a ten-year-old girl.
The common thread in My Family’s Origin: Indigenous, Spaniard, and African is the struggle to restore an idyllic state enjoyed by Taínos, whom historians have described as gentle, peaceful, happy, friendly, and healthy culture, characterized by a peculiar lack of deceit. Taínos were a harmonious, generous, and prosperous people with established governance in the Hispaniola of yesteryear. The working class had rights, freedoms, and liberties.
The book concludes with the emigration of grandfather Don Conrado to the United States. Remembered as the family’s beloved grandfather, Don Conrado was the last member to join his family in Paterson, NJ. Today, after more than half a century of migratory experience, the family has more than 150 members, scattered across several states and forging a life for themselves. Dr. Montilla leaves the possibility of a chapter being written about this family’s contributions to the United States of America.
About the AIMS Institute
Since 2001, the American Institute for Multicultural Studies (AIMS Institute), formerly known as Institute for Latino Studies, has focused on quality research for better advocacy. aimsinstitute.org