By Damien Croghan
Being a brown, multiracial person leads to many interesting questions, such as “what are you?”
I usually respond with something sarcastic, like “I’m a person.”
This confuses many, and that’s the point.
When you look racially ambiguous, it’s an advantage and a disadvantage. On one hand, people think you are a lot more interesting than you are. On the other hand, I can check almost any box on the U.S. Census or on standardized tests.
Which I guess is interesting.
My full name is Damien Antonio Von Croghan. Damien was the name of my mom’s favorite soap opera character, and Antonio is the name of the actor who portrayed him. The “Von” is German, but it’s my second middle name. My dad decided on it because he wanted my brother’s and my name to sound cooler. Croghan is Irish.
My immigration story begins before colonization. I’m part Native American, specifically the Luiseno tribe. They were the first indigenous people to interact with settlers in the area around San Diego and Oceanside, Calif. Spaniards set up the San Luis Rey Mission in 1798, where my ancestors lived.
Palecina Malino lived on the reservation and raised Mary Ellen Sparks. Mary owned gas stations in Amboy, Wash., and gave birth to Margaret, my great-grandmother, in 1917. Margaret was one-fourth Luiseno and three-fourths white, although I’m not sure what constitutes “white” in regards to her heritage.Margaret became the head of housekeeping in a retirement home in Carlsbad, Calif. She had seven children: six boys and one girl. My grandmother, Dorothy, was her only daughter, born in 1942.
Dorothy married William Oscar Croghan on Dec. 15, 1959. William served in the U.S. Navy for several years. His ancestors had come to the U.S. from Ireland, but we’re not sure exactly when. His great-grandfather, James Croghan, was born in 1803 and fought in America’s Civil War with the Iowa 37th Regiment Company B. His job was to guard Confederate prisoners. His regiment was interesting because it was made up of men age 45 and older. Iowa is the only state known to have done this. He died in 1870. His son — my great grandfather — Hezekiah Springer Croghan, was a farmer in Iowa, born in 1870. He passed away in 1950.
My Hispanic roots, as well as my German roots, come from my mother’s side. My grandmother, Anna Rasmussen, was raised by Henry Theodore Rasmussen and Lila Pearl VanLeuven. Lila was a first-generation American born to a couple who emigrated from Germany. Lila’s parents were farmers in Iowa. I don’t know much about my maternal grandfather, other than that he was Puerto Rican and may have served in the military.
As a journalist, I find it frustrating to try researching family history.
Most of this information was gathered from my paternal grandmother, who relied on old family documents and photographs with names and dates written on the backs. Another helpful tool my uncle utilized was Facebook. He created a Facebook group dedicated to documenting our family history, adding obscure relatives he met through the social media site. Each person uploads pictures with captions explaining who’s in them, as well as questions about those we know little to nothing about.
My mother’s family history was gathered entirely by word of mouth. Few documents or photographs of her family remain, so I’m relying on the memories — which I hope are accurate — of my mother, her aunt and others.
I’m not sure why my Irish or German ancestors left their native countries for America. My Native American ancestors, of course, never really moved away from their homeland. Incidentally, I was born in San Diego, and a large chunk of my relatives still live in that area.
I think my name sort of encompasses my ethnic background in the sense that it combines many aspects of my heritage. It demonstrates that like every other American, I am the embodiment of this melting pot of a country. I’m multiracial, the byproduct of settlers and indigenous people coming together to build this nation.
I guess that what my immigration story is about: Coming together.