roots

Looking into my family history this past month has awoken feelings I wasn’t prepared for, or even expecting… Be warned, this is going to be a bit of a rambling post, I’m trying to put my thoughts into words here…

My grandpa was born in 1917 (iirc) in Oran, which was at the time French Algeria. He left Algeria for continental France pretty early, and indeed was a French POW for a good part of World War 2. I’m not aware he ever went back to Oran, certainly not for any significant period of time. His family however was originally Spanish, from around Valencia, and this Spanish connection has always been the one primarily emphasized by the family when talking about our origins. I had a bilingual childhood, learning Spanish and French at the same time, and my grandpa had a summer house in Spain where they (and then we) went on holiday very regularly.
After WW2, there was the Algerian war for independence. As far as I know, his brother moved to France around that time. He outlived my grandpa, who died in 1988, but I met him very sporadically, and sadly, I never really got to know him.

Through what could be called some kind of nostalgia, I’ve been trying since last year to learn more about my grandfather, and for the past few weeks, after talking with my parents, I’ve come to reflect a lot about how we build our life history, and how we see ourselves in the world. Since I moved to Barcelona 11 years ago, I’ve always half-jokingly called myself quarter-Valencian and played on the rivalry between the two Catalan cities. But I’m struck now by how I could just as legitimately claim a connection with Algeria, and indeed perhaps even more so. It is after all the land he was actually born in.

So there’s a sudden, and very strong, feeling of longing that’s been growing since this conversation, and a desire to go there, to go to Oran and visit the country, and retrace his steps, and tangibly reconnect with my past. I had never stopped before to consider how, from this side of the family, being “French” was such a very recent affair. I’m not the rabid patriot type, meaning I have never felt any particular pride or attachment to being French per se, but it is funny to realize how tenuous this status can be, and how accidental this all is.

And it is interesting to see that, either consciously or subconsciously, a curtain was pulled over this whole side of our family history, leaving it unspoken in the dark, as some sort of external footnote in our “European” ancestry. Now, I do not want to give false impressions, my mother was never reluctant to speak about it when asked, and I do not suppose my grandpa would have been either. The choice they made, however, to put Spain front and center by default as it were, gives me considerable food for thought.

One day I will go to Oran.

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