My Search for Roots

My Search for Roots

From Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul

My Search for Roots

I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day.

2 Tim. 1:3

In a small town about one hour north of Mexico City, my mother lived with her loving parents. My grandfather was a very successful merchant, and they owned the largest stores in the area. When my mother became an “adult” (over the age of eighteen), she decided she wanted to go with one of my aunts to live in Mexico City—the big city of every provincial kid’s dreams. Naturally, my grandfather vehemently opposed the idea and could not comprehend why they wanted to go to a city where they would be exposed to many dangers, especially since all their emotional and financial needs were being plentifully met at home. They did not need to work at all, and they had many servants and the nicest home in many of the surrounding cities.

But, like many young people, my mother and aunt thought they were very smart and had everything figured out, so they left for Mexico City. They indeed found it very exciting. They met many interesting and sophisticated people; among them my mother found an especially dashing man. He was a very promising lawyer with whom she promptly fell in love. As a result of that love I was born, but my mother found out that this man was already married— so, her heart broken, she tried to forget him.

When I was born I was sent to live in my mother’s hometown with my grandfather and grandmother, whom I called Mom and Dad, until I became six years old. At that time my mother came to reclaim me and take me to live with her and my aunt in Mexico City. I was instructed at that time to stop calling my mother by the name of “aunt,” as I had been doing up to this time, and to start calling her Mom. Of course, that was very confusing to a young child. To make matters worse, whenever I asked about who my father was, I was dismissed and told not to ask any questions about him.

As I became older my curiosity about my origins and my father increased tremendously. That was especially true because in Mexico, we use both our father’s and mother’s last names in addition to our given names—but I had only my mother’s last name. To answer my questions about my father’s last name, I was told to use a last name that turned out to be the same as the man who was then president of Mexico. That worked until the time I had to enter junior high school. My mother told me I was old enough to go register myself. I filled in the application and put my “father’s” and mother’s last names in the indicated places. I handed the application, along with my birth certificate, to the ladies doing the registration. After checking it, they gave it back to me and told me it was wrong, because there was no such name as my father’s last name registered on my birth certificate. I called my mother and asked her about it; she came to the school, filled in the application herself, and simply told me not to put my “father’s” last name on anything again!

In those days, my thoughts ran the gamut:Was I adopted? Was I from another planet? I couldn’t get information about my origins anywhere; my mother was even secretive about her side of the family.

I guess my search for that exterior identity guided me to look inside for an answer. This led me even as a young child to have a deep interest in religion, and as I grew up I started thinking seriously about becoming a Catholic priest. I started studying in-depth the religion that had been practiced by my ancestors for many years. But the more I studied, the more disenchanted I became, because I could see that things had changed so much since the church had been established by Jesus Christ. At the same time I felt very ambivalent about the Protestant churches, since I felt they were just part of that original fallen church. But since I did not have any other alternative for my beliefs, I continued exploring the possibility of joining the seminary to take a deeper look at the Catholic church.

I was attending high school in a downtown location in Mexico City. As a result, I was able to make the acquaintance of many tourists from the United States who visited the area. This helped me to learn English and to know more about the United States. At the same time, I was writing to pen pals all over the world so I could improve my written English. One day, as I was going to the post office to send some letters, I saw a lady with a pretty daughter; the two of them were obviously lost. I approached the lady and asked her what she was looking for. She told me she was looking for the post office. I told her I was going that way because I needed to mail some letters, and that I would show her the way.

As we walked to the post office, this lady asked me what my religion was. I told her that I was a Catholic, but that I really did not feel like it was the actual true church and that I did not believe in Protestantism either. When she heard this, her eyes sparkled, and she told me she wanted me to come with them to their hotel so I could meet her son, who was returning from a so-called “mission” in Argentina. They told me about their church, which was called the Mormon church—but, since they had to leave the next day, they were only able to give me the address of the local Mormon meetinghouse so I could attend and learn more about it.

Three weeks later, I did attend the Mormon Church meetings, where I met a couple of “missionaries.” I made an appointment so they could come to my home to teach me. After the first lesson I was so impressed that I asked my best friend, who was going to enter the Catholic seminary in just a few weeks, to come and take the discussions with me. At the end of the six discussions we were baptized.

With this newfound faith I had renewed hopes in my present and future, as well as my past. And it was because of this newfound belief that I decided to renew my efforts to find out who my father was so I could do my genealogical work. Up to this point I had been working on my mother’s side with little success, due to my mother’s reluctance to provide me with any information. Needless to say, my overwhelming desire to get information about my father slammed against the immovable will of my mother, who continued to refuse to give me any information at all. I did not know anything at all about my father—not even a first name, a date, or an address . . . nothing!

At that time I decided to come to study in the United States, and I picked Ricks College (now Brigham Young University Idaho). When I got to the United States, a friend I had in Logan told me that their foster brother from Finland had been in the same situation. He had given his mother an ultimatum: “Either you tell me who my father is, or else I am going to put an ad in the newspapers saying that I am an illegitimate child and that I need to find out who my father is. If you are my father, please let me know.” I explained that I didn’t think that strategy would work in my case. First of all, my mother would probably punish me severely if I gave her such an ultimatum. Second, in a city as large as Mexico City it would be almost impossible to get someone to read such an ad—let alone to get him to admit to such a deed. Finally, the number of illegitimate children in Mexico is very high. So I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was in the United States, and kept digging for information about my mother’s side of the family at the Genealogical Society Library in Salt Lake City. Somehow I felt that if I did as much as I could on the things that I knew, I would eventually learn who my father was and would be able to do the genealogy on his side also.

I stayed at Ricks one year, and then returned to Mexico City to work for a year to earn the money to go on my mission. I was called to go to the Mexico North Central Mission, where I spent most of my time in a city called Ciudad Juarez. Even there I tried to get more information on my mother’s family wherever I could by checking with anyone who might know about my last name, since it is a rather uncommon last name.

At the end of my mission I went back to Ricks, and the first thing I did was visit one of my former professors, who told me that there was a girl from Mexico at Ricks who was an excellent dancer. That was an exciting piece of news I could not resist—a girl and a good dancer, even! I decided I had to visit her right away, so I did. I went to her house, and while I was there she suggested maybe we should go register together. She said that when we finished, her mother, who was not in at the time, would come and pick us up so I could meet her as well.

We did as she suggested, and when we finished with registration, her mother was waiting for us in her car. I approached the car from the driver’s side while this girl went to the passenger’s side. She told her mother through the window: “Mom, I want to introduce you to my new friend,” and then she repeated my full name.

As soon as her mother heard my name, she asked, “What’s your mother’s name?” When I told her, she then asked, “Where is she from?” As soon as I finished telling her, she literally collapsed onto the steering wheel and started crying uncontrollably. I was taken aback by her reaction and could not understand what was happening— but I didn’t think she was crying out of happiness at finding a prospective husband for her daughter. I got my answer when they took me to their home and there explained the reason for her tears: SHE WAS MY FATHER’S SISTER!

Then it was my turn to cry. How can I possibly explain how I felt when, for more than twenty-five years, I had been trying, without success, to find out who my father was—and then, after traveling two thousand miles to another country and in a small town in Idaho, I finally found out! My aunt also explained another reason for her tears: My father had made her promise that she would continue to search for me, as they had been doing for a long time. Even though my father visited the little town where my mother was from, he had not been received well—and her family had refused to give him any information about my mother’s whereabouts. So my mother, for all intents and purposes, “became lost” in Mexico City. They had tried in vain to contact her and me. My “aunt” was now comforted in the knowledge that she had finally fulfilled the promise she had made at my father’s deathbed to find me.

I was sorrowed to learn that my father had passed away, so I would not be able to meet him on this Earth. But there was good news: I learned that all the family on my father’s side had become members of the Church. This is quite remarkable, since in those days there were not that many members of the Church in Mexico. My father had become a member of the high council in the only stake that was then organized in Mexico. When they had the first-ever stake conference in Mexico City, both my father and I had been present—but we didn’t know each other, of course.

There was still more good news: My father’s family had done a lot of genealogical and temple work, so I was able to get a thick pile of pages already filled out with information about my father’s ancestors! My dream to have the genealogical and temple work done on my father’s side was fulfilled overnight!

When I got married my half-brothers and half-sisters attended my reception, and I finally found closure to my quest to find my roots. But even this closure did not bring all my questions to a halt. How could I explain the fact that out of the millions of people in Mexico, two had decided to join the true church—and that I had then gone to a college where, besides me, there was only one other student from Mexico City, and she just happened to be my unknown cousin? When I analyze all the implications of my case, I realize more and more that God’s ways are indeed incredible.

Julio Arciniega

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