I Had to Ask Google If I Was Mexican

About two years ago, I found myself sitting at my kitchen counter one morning Googling the phrase, "Am I Mexican?"

Not too long before that, my grandmother had dropped a bomb on my family that left us all scratching our heads as to who -- and what -- we really were.

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My dad grew up as a middle class Irish Italian kid in the suburbs of New Orleans with the quintessentially Irish name "Stephen Michael Maloney." Only that wasn't the original surname on my father's birth certificate. He was born "Stephen Michael Menéndez."

That's a hell of a heritage swing.

While "Maloney" is as common in Ireland as "Smith" is in the United States, "Menéndez" is just as common in Mexico, a country to which, without his knowledge, my dad had always been inexorably tied.

The big reveal came on the eve of a big surgery. My dad went to visit his Italian mother the night before she was due to have her left leg amputated at the knee.

My dad stood in his parents' kitchen next to his Irish father as his mother -- my grandmother -- made her way slowly toward him, holding a blue manila folder containing his original birth certificate. My dad had no idea what he was about to find out.

That's because my grandmother had kept his biological origins a secret from him for over 50 years.

Five decades of silence.

My Maloney grandfather knew that my grandmother had been married before and that my father was the sole product of that brief marriage, as did all of their friends, but no one ever told my dad he was a Menéndez.

To the immense and almost unfathomable credit of my Maloney grandfather, who adopted my father when he was 4 years old, my father never knew he wasn't his biological son.

I can't overstate how amazing it is to realize that my Maloney grandfather raised my father as his own so well that my father would have gone to his grave never ever guessing that he wasn't a biological Maloney.

And he is a Maloney. So am I. So is my sister. My mother married into the Maloney family. We will always be Maloneys. Nothing can ever change that.

My Maloney grandfather taught me to field a ground ball. He handed me a stack of $20 bills so large it made me blush when I graduated high school. He has always been there, and he will always be there, for all of us.

But we are also Menéndez. That much is also true. It's very much like Harry Potter discovering this whole other world that he somehow belongs to. Everything is different, but nothing has changed.

So, who is my biological grandfather on my father's side?

I had to turn to Google for the answer to that question as well. Luckily, there is no shortage of material written about Mario Menéndez Rodríguez.

You can Google him to read about his years embedded with guerrillas in Central America, filing reports from the jungle on a typewriter he lugged on his back as bullets whizzed past.

You can read about his time in Cuba working with Fidel Castro and his deep friendship with Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

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If you switch over to Google Image Search, you can even see a picture of Mario standing next to Castro in the jungle. You can see the immediate and undeniable resemblance to my father in the way Mario stands, in his dense dark hair, in his thick, workman's hands.

You can read about the trials and tribulations of the great newspaperman Mario Menéndez Rodríguez online, about how he came from a long line of writers, editors, publishers and political dissidents.

You will be awestruck by his amazing life, as I most certainly was, but you won't find the heart of the story on Google -- how his father sent him to New Orleans for an education in the 1950s. How he went to state as a wrestler for Holy Cross High School. How he hung out with a neighborhood social club called the Shepherds that my Maloney grandfather helped found.

How a young Mario worked the docks along the Mississippi River, arm wrestling the New Orleans laborers he worked with for hamburgers and bragging rights.

How Mario met my grandmother, how the high school sweethearts fell in love, how they would go on long walks across Mid-City, and how they eventually married after my grandmother became unexpectedly pregnant.

Mario's strictly Catholic family wanted my grandmother to return to Mexico with him. By all means, they wanted my dad to be born and raised in Mexico. He would be, after all, Mexican.

My grandmother, at 17 years old, didn't want to leave New Orleans. So she ended up staying while the Menéndez family called Mario home.

Within a couple of years, he was sending dispatches from the jungle, and my grandmother was remarried to my Maloney grandfather.

My grandmother would go on to have three more boys and one girl, making my father the big brother in a loud, crazy, emotional, loving Irish family with five children and a passion for the New Orleans Saints.

Mario, meanwhile, ended up having two more sons and five more daughters with his second wife before being exiled to Cuba, where he married his third wife, with whom he had one more daughter.

So, my father is actually the oldest of 13, and I have 24 first cousins in Mexico, one of whom is a Telenovela star living in Mexico City.

I actually have more family in Mexico than I do in the United States, despite speaking zero Spanish and having only visited the country once before the big familial reveal.

So, does that make me Mexican?

I had to Google it to find out.

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