Thursday, June 14, 2018

Family Reunion


Daniel Cano                                                                  
Centinela Adobe, Ygnacio Machado, circa 1894

Fred Machado and his nephew Ron Mendez spoke zealously about their family’s history when I talked to them both on a cold November night back in 2001. I was completing a sabbatical, interviewing Chicanos and Chicanas of the WWII generation. Besides serving in both the Army and Navy during the war, Fred, I learned, was also related to the Westside Machados--early Californios.

Fred lives in Culver City, in a part of town that was once a corner of the rancho his ancestors, brothers Agustin and Ygnacio Machado, founded in 1819, along with Felipe Talamantes, after receiving grazing rights from the proper authority, at the time, commandante Capitan Guera y Noriega . Fred hails from Agustin's bloodline, Ron from Ygnacio's.

After Fred explained much of his family's past, I asked Ron about his connection. “How did you get so interested in your family history?”

Ron answered, “For me, it all began at a Machado family reunion.” He turned to Fred, then back to me. “Eight years ago I didn't know Fred Machado. I didn't even know I had relatives out here on the Westside. I was from the South Bay, Carson, Wilmington, Torrance…that area, partying with surfers and gueros. I'm dark skinned, and I speak [English] without an accent. I don’t speak Spanish."

He went on to say that when he was growing up, his mother hardly ever mentioned anything about his family, or even that he had family on L.A.’s Westside. He did recall, though, how his grandfather, James Machado, whose birth name was Mauricio Santiago, would tell how in the old days he used to visit his cousins in Santa Monica and Culver City. Ron said he once talked to an uncle, Charles Machado, who had very light-skin, and they both wondered where their Hispanic surname had originated. One day, the two men approached Ron’s mother and asked about the family name. About all she could remember was that they had relatives some place over in Culver City.

Seeking answers to the family mystery, Charles decided to organize the first Machado family reunion. It took time and effort pulling it all together, locating and notifying different family members, but in the end, it all came together.

It was there, among the festivities, Ron heard the stories of his family’s past. He was shocked to learn he and the South Bay Machado families were descendants of Jose Ygnacio Machado, Jose Agustin's brother, Fred's ancestor, both sons of Jose Manuel Machado, un soldado de cuero, a "leatherjacket soldier" who accompanied Father Serra's expedition of pobladores into Alta California, from Sonora, through San Gabriel, to Santa Barbara, where Jose Agustin was born in 1794, and back to el pueblo de Los Angeles, where Jose Manuel's family would add to the pueblo's population of 315.

During the reunion, when they first met, Fred began telling Ron, excitedly, all about the West L.A. Machados, answering their questions, connecting family names, and telling him about their place in U.S. history. Fred showed him a copy of Sister Therese Wittenberg's book, her M.A. thesis on Jose Agustin Machado, completed while she was a student at Loyola.

Ron said, anxiously, "Fred started pulling out all of this stuff about our family, articles, books, and academic studies. I was surprised by all of it. I had no idea my family went back that far. It was amazing. I thought…you mean I’m not just another Mexican?”

Ron confessed how he had felt inferior about his ethnicity growing up as a dark-skin child in the mostly white, upper-class South Bay. He said, “At the reunion I learned my ancestors arrived here with Father Serra, who I remembered from my fourth-grade lessons. That was it!” Ron said that he was hooked. He also began taking part in researching his family’s history.

                                                                           
Ygnacio Machado's adobe Canadas de Centinela, 1830s

So, how did Ron's branch of the family get to the South Bay? Nobody knew for sure, but Fred surmised that it may have started 1828, after Jose Ygnacio, Ron's branch of the family, married and decided to build an adobe off the original land, up the hill, in an area known as La Centinela, at the north east end of Westchester, today, near the area of the Manchester and Sepulveda boulevards, where his adobe, albeit heavily reconstructed, still stands today. However, at the time, Ygnacio's adobe sat on a corner of the Redondo family's land.

"Why would he do that," I asked, "build on someone else's land?"

Fred thought it might be because the land down below in La Cienega flooded every year, or maybe the family had grown so large and there was too much bickering and messy business dealings, or maybe Jose Ygnacio just wanted a quieter place to live. He was still close enough to the rancho La Ballona to supervise his portion of the land.

By this time, Agustin controlled most of the rancho and it's vast holdings. Also, in the early 1800s, Agustin and Ygnacio would ride out to San Pedro to meet the ships bringing in supplies to the rancheros. They also knew other rancheros, like the Dominguez, Redondo, and Alvarado families, whose land encompassed much of what we now know as Carson, Wilmington, and Torrance. It would be easy to see how some of Ygnacio's descendants might have wandered down south, started their own businesses, and settled into their own homes. Fred smiled, as if saying, who knows, for sure.

"It seems," Fred said, "I learn something new about my family's history everyday." Sometimes when he least expects it. Fred went on to say, "For example, listen to this.” His voice filled with enthusiasm. “A neighbor, a friend, knew I was doing a lot of California history--because of my family…."

The friend asked if Fred would help him research the history of some land in Agoura, California, about 200 acres. He told Fred he had the opportunity to homestead the property with the understanding that he must reconstruct and maintain a crumbling adobe that sat on the land. But to rebuild the old adobe, the friend figured he needed to learn something about the history of the area and the architecture of the times, his reason for approaching Fred.

Fred knew that Francisco Reyes, an early California settler and one-time mayor of Los Angeles, had received rights to property in what is now the San Fernando Valley prior to the founding of the San Fernando Mission.

“So, that’s where I began,” he said, putting his research skills to use.

Fred learned the church offered Reyes 74,000 acres of land farther to the northwest, where Highway 133 is located today, if Reyes would relinquish rights to the land in San Fernando so a mission could either be built or expanded. It wasn't clear which. Reyes agreed.

Years later, in the mid-1800s, searching for water during a long draught, Francisco’s sons, Rafael Reyes and his brothers, herded about 1000 head of cattle and 1000 horses through the Tejon Pass. They circled back around and settled on the Agoura land, where they built the adobe, referred to by Fred’s friend.

Fred interrupted his story with a laugh, his eyes glittering. He asked me, "Guess what I found out? Do you know who Rafael's mother was?” I shook my head. Fred laughed, then said, “A Machado…my great-great aunt. So, I told my neighbor, 'I want my land back!'"

Fred continued, in a more serious tone, "The Reyes and Machado family footprints are everywhere out there. Reyes Creek, Reyes Adobe Road, the Reyes Adobe, all of these names," he said, "were not simply taken out of air but rooted in real people--my people."

I couldn’t help but think, in this time of immigrant bashing, and making Indians and Mexican feel like strangers in their own land, land that once belonged to the Chumash people, Spain, and Mexico, “Our people,” I understood what he meant.

So often, I’ve traveled on the 101 Freeway north, passing Encino, Woodland Hills, and Thousand Oaks. Sometimes I glance over at the historical markers along the freeway, thinking, I should turn off and see what’s out there, but in my haste to merge with the speeding traffic around me, I just keep on going past.

We seldom consider those who walked this land before us, those who sacrificed and died so that the land remained for future generation. Like everyone else, I am sometimes oblivious to the history that surrounds me. I always tell myself as I drive past these landmarks, one day I’ll stop, take a short detour, and visit the past, but, I am ashamed to say, I still haven’t taken the time.

1 comment:

Antonio SolisGomez said...

another great piece that uncovers for me a history i am discovering is rich and important