Sandy resident writes the story of his family, starting from 1603Dec 14, 2020 02:49PM ● By Sarah Morton Taggart
Manuel Romero wrote “Mi América: The Evolution of An American Family” to tell the story of his life and his family history dating back to the conquistadors. (Sarah Morton Taggart/City Journals)
By Sarah Morton Taggart | [email protected]
Six years ago, Manuel Romero was asked by a friend to write a 20-page account of their time as graduate students in Mexico City. The resulting essay was double that and eventually became an entire book.
That book is called “Mi América: The Evolution of An American Family,” and it tells the story of Romero’s family, starting with an Aztec princess and ending with Romero himself, the first in his family to graduate from college.
Romero was born in New Mexico, then moved with his family to live briefly in San Francisco, then West Jordan, Bingham Canyon, and finally settling in Midvale. Romero now lives in Sandy.
“The more I wrote, the more I found out,” Romero said. “I started interviewing my family. It just blossomed into this book.”
Romero drew on a wealth of resources, including interviews with friends, family, politicians and community activists. He went through his own journals and photos and poured through archives at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The resulting book tells a riveting slice of America’s history.
The family’s story begins in 1603 when a conquistador and his wife moved north to help expand the Spanish empire. The story later details Romero’s great-great-great-grandmother, who was considered a Spanish citizen when she was born in 1799. When she was 22, Mexico won its independence from Spain and she became a citizen of Mexico. In 1848, the Mexican-American War ended and suddenly she was a citizen of the United States of America. But the backbone of the book is the story of Romero’s parents, Rodolfo Romero and Amelia Madrid, and their 13 children.
For generations, the Romero and Madrid families thrived on the land, but through the years they were stripped of their agricultural rights. The family moved to Utah in search of employment when Romero, the youngest child, was in the first grade.
“Our first home in West Jordan looked more like a run-down barn than a house,” wrote Romero in his book. “It was just off Redwood Road, across from the cemetery. To get to our house, you had to travel about a third of a mile on a dirt road that ran next to the canal. There was no indoor bathroom and only two bedrooms for the seven of us.”
The family then moved to Bingham Canyon, where Romero’s older brothers had found employment in the mine. In 1963, Romero’s father bought a house on Main Street in Midvale that would serve as the family’s home base until his death at age 91.
Romero worked at Berns Superfoods on Main Street, which he says hired local boys to keep them out of trouble. St. Therese of the Child Jesus Catholic Church on Allen Street was also a significant site for the family. Romero attended his first full traditional Nuevo Mexicano wedding, and the funeral masses for both of his parents took place there. In 2019, the family Christmas party filled the parish hall.
“Midvale was divided by railroad tracks,” wrote Romero in his book. “We lived on the west side of the tracks, in what was referred to as the Mexican side of town, a dangerous place. While a significant number of Latinos did live on the west side, I think the difference was highly exaggerated…We were all working class with a huge dose of diversity.”
Throughout the book Romero writes passionately about the outsized role of Latinos in the military, including the story of three family members and friends who were killed in Vietnam during a 16-day period. Once discharged from his own military service, Romero enrolled at the University of Utah under the GI Bill.
“As I dove into the civil rights movement in college and began to take numerous Chicano Studies courses, it became evident that so much of our history has been hidden from us,” wrote Romero. “Not only do the spoils go to the victor, but they also get to write the stories, highlighting their adventures and courage and downplaying or dismissing the people they conquered.”
He later received a scholarship to attend graduate school in Mexico City, where he met his future wife and mother of his child. Romero completed his master’s degree at the University of New Mexico, beginning a long career of teaching, politics and community leadership.
What pushed Romero to complete his book through years of writing and research?
“A driving force was my nephews and nieces, grandnephews and grandnieces,” Romero said. “The more I wrote it made me think to make this bigger, more general than just about my family.”
Romero asked Daniela Lopez, a family friend, to paint the cover image. Lopez grew up in Midvale and West Jordan and now is the regional painter for Louis Vuitton Las Vegas. She is known for her hyperrealistic portraits of professional basketball players.
“The challenge for me was to try to bring life and color to a very old and pixelated black and white photo of the family house,” Lopez said. “We added elements here and there to tie into the book as well. It’s always an honor to create something special for a family, but to be trusted with the cover for a book—a lifetime’s body of work—is something I’ll always be touched by.”
Romero finished all of the writing and editing in March, just as the pandemic hit Utah. While more people are stuck at home with time to read, it’s been challenging for Romero to market his book. Most of his outreach has taken place via social media.
“I obviously come from a large extended family,” Romero said. “People we haven’t met are reaching out from places like Virginia and Spain to communicate with me or one of my siblings.”
Rose Pena of West Jordan read the book and reached Romero through Facebook. “We can relate to their struggles and also to their triumphs,” Pena wrote. “I enjoyed the historical, political, and educational references that serve as the background for your story…Our Hispanic culture is rich in its traditions and our love of family is who we are. Thank you for bringing it to life and sharing your family’s history with us.”
More information and ways to purchase the book can be found at www.miamerica2020.com.
Romero plans to be at Mestizo Coffee House at 631 W. North Temple in Salt Lake City from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Dec. 19. Anyone can stop by to purchase a copy and have it signed by Romero.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Romero said. “I left here three times, and I keep coming back.”