On this last day of Hispanic Heritage Month 2019, I’m very excited to interview Gil Morales, a direct descendant of Feliciana Arballo, the subject of my picture book The Power of a Dream. Feliciana is also a character in my young adult novel Yakimali’s Gift.
Gil contacted me several months ago when his daughter discovered my novel while researching their history for a family reunion. He and his children, through their education and work, are carrying on Feliciana’s dream and legacy.
Gil, now retired, has served in the U.S. Air Force and the RAF; has BA, MBA, and MIM degrees; and ran his own business for many years, which his son now presides over.
His four children all have law degrees. Besides his son’s work with the family business, his three daughters’ careers include a college professor, an FBI Special Agent, and pro bono work for an abused women’s refuge.
I’m sure Feliciana would be quite proud of them.
I hope you enjoy the interview and learning more about Gil’s connection to Feliciana!
Linda Covella: Welcome, Gil. I’m so appreciative and very honored to have you on my blog today.
At what age did you discover you were descendants of Feliciana? How did you learn of your relationship with her?
Gil Morales: It wasn’t until recently (2018) that my daughter, Kari, began researching our origin for a family reunion. She has the advantage of being a trained investigator. Your Yakimali’s Gift and Esther Comstock’s Feliciana’s California Miracle were key.
LC: Has the relationship with Feliciana influenced or informed your life in any way?
GM: Obviously, it has made us all very proud to be descendants of such a butt-kicking lady. I can see Feliciana’s traits in my three daughters. (They make me relate to Capt. De Anza and the poor friar who didn’t want Feliciana on their expedition.) My girls can be an insisting pain-in-the-ass when they set their sights on anything!
LC: And obviously you’re very proud of them. 🙂
How are you passing on Feliciana’s legacy to your children and/or other family members? How important is it to you to that future generations preserve her legacy, and what do you want them to carry on about Feliciana?
GM: My daughters produced Flash Drives containing [a family history] Power Point to distribute to all the attendees at our family reunion. There will always be new frontiers for Feliciana’s progeny to conquer carrying on her spirit of adventure, determination and hard work.
LC: Is anyone in your family named after Feliciana, Francisco, or any other of their descendants?
GM: No Felicianas. Only one of my mother’s cousins enjoyed the name, Francisco. I believe it was coincidental though. Until Kari’s research our history experience didn’t go back past my great, great, grandfather, Jesús María Andrade. Unfortunately, all that he could have contributed died with him in 1945.
LC: Have any stories come down to you about your ancestors who are related to Feliciana?
GM: There is an unfortunate gap in Kari’s research from Feliciana and Francisco to when our branch of their descendency appears in The Arizona/Mexico, Sonora Desert. Most family’s histories then were passed on by word-of-mouth and tended to fade in their progress. In California, our lineage stops with Secundino Andrade, the father of Jesús Maria. Certainly, Jesús María, Secundino’s son, had much of Feliciana’s kick-ass. Why else would he leave the relative “comforts” of home and family in California to venture to the still-wild, Arizona/Mexico, desert full of rattle snakes, Apaches and pistoleros [gunfighters]. Included in Kari’s Power Point is an old obituary indicating his service as a scout for the U.S. Cavalry in territorial Arizona. Only in Hollywood are army scouts depicted as tamed “Indians.” They overlook the fact that the Spanish had for years fought and survived Apache raids in the area. They knew the country, the native ways and some even spoke their language. It is said that at the age of 100 Jesús María still got up at 4:00 AM to milk 10 cows.
LC: Are there any heirlooms, photos, or other memorabilia relating to Feliciana that have been passed down in your family? Any special traditions related specifically to her, or to the Hispanic culture, that you think she would approve of/enjoy? What do these memorabilia and traditions mean to you?
GM: Only a portrait remains of Jesús María’s first daughter, my grandmother. Now that we know our trait source of steadfastness (Feliciana) we shall endeavor to pass it on in her name.
LC: Besides Feliciana, is there a descendant of hers who you’re especially interested in, feel an affinity with, admire, etc.? Why?
GM: Besides Jesús María, I remember and admired his sons, my great uncles. Jesús and his wife Angelita produced 9 children, 7 males and 2 females. As a child I looked up to my great uncles as tough cowboys who could ride, lasso, work cattle, shoot and hunt. They also pulled a cork to break the monotony whenever time and an occasion allowed. The youngest of the group became an early alumni of Fort Grant, a correctional institution in Arizona for young delinquents. I loved him!
LC: Do you hold family reunions? Have you met any other descendants of Feliciana? Have you, or do you intend to, research a family tree, showing the lineage from Feliciana to your family today?
GM: As indicated, we distributed Flash Drives containing our line to Feliciana and Francisco Lopez. We will be happy to produce more for any others who find their roots back to them; or even for anyone who may just be curious. I am in possession of a board depicting our family tree. [See below.] We would be delighted to make contact with anyone proceeding from any of Feliciana’s and Francisco’s other branches.
LC: It’s believed that one reason Feliciana decided to join the Anza expedition was to escape prejudices she experienced for marrying a man of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry. What are your thoughts on her decision? How do you feel this is related to racism in our country today? What would you say is the most commonly held misconception about people of the Hispanic/Latino culture? Or, in a more positive light, what contributions from the Hispanic/Latino culture (persons, beliefs, traditions, etc.) do you think have particularly enriched the United States?
GM: Growing up in Arizona anyone with a Latino surname was a “Mexican,” (often preceded with an expletive), not withstanding that many of our histories in Arizona go back to before the U.S.A. was even a country. Only once in third grade a bully chased me after school to “scatter my frejoles all over the road home.” When I turned on him, it was enough to convince him and others that friendship was much easier. As such we learned to defend the label. Our family grew up living and enjoying the culture: the food, the music, the language, the prose and poetry. We have passed it on.
LC: If Feliciana were alive today, what do you think she would be doing? What would you like to say to her or ask her?
GM: There is a very sage, Native American concept: “A person in not dead until he/she is no longer fondly remembered.” I want to tell her how happy we are to have found her and that we pray for her and all her progeny.
LC: What a wonderful concept, Gil. I’m happy and proud to be a part of keeping Feliciana’s memory alive. I wish the best to you, your family, and all Feliciana’s descendants. Thanks so much for this interview!