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My grandfather’s (Luis Sandoval) life was very much a mystery. It is common knowledge in my family that he was adopted as a young boy and then moved to the United States as a young man with his wife and children. Being a private and quiet man, he shared very little about his origins in Mexico as a very young boy. While my family had questions about his childhood, they were never asked during his lifetime. Much like the beginning of his life, the end of it was also mysterious. Living in East Los Angeles for most of his adult life, he was caught in a shooting and died due to complications from the gun shot wound. The shooter was never found. Luis’ life was full of happiness and affection for the most part; however the mysterious and vague details of his life have been lingering within the family for decades.

Although my Grandfather’s story is now gone since his passing, I had always been drawn to it as one of the most defining qualities of my family. The only family members that know the most about his childhood are his children. As a grandchild of Luis, I knew very little about what happened and at times my cousins and I have heard very different versions of his story. Much of what is considered “truth” has been embellished and certain facts have not been shared due to the lack of familiarity with the story. It appears as though each family member was only given certain puzzle pieces to his story and my Grandfather was not completely concerned about putting it together.

Like any tradition of oral storytelling the storyteller usually emphasizes different aspects of a person’s life for dramatic effect. In Ann Reynolds’, “Visual Stories” she writes about telling a story through museum exhibits. Like curators, my father, aunts and uncles have taken on the curator role and continued the tradition of telling their children the story of my Grandfather’s origin. Reynolds writes on page 334, “Thus the goal of creating a ‘true illusion’ of the local landscape from a generalized copy of a real landscape was based on an outsider’s understanding of ‘truth.’” Much like an exhibit, the storyteller has an idea of what they want to present and their audience has their own beliefs and ideas based on what they saw and heard. The concept of understanding and perception can vary depending on each individual.

However, with digital storytelling, a recorded story is archived and the storyteller’s narrative is kept in tact. This new form of story telling is helpful in that there is always a point of origin. While stories may have changed depending on the audience and who re-told it, this information can now be attained.

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When discussing adoption one of the most important aspects is of the adoptees interest in finding their birth families or at least finding some sort of information that links them to their past. In most cases, adoptees are happy to have their adopted families; however most have the need to find their birth families. This need is closely related to the adoptee’s sense of who they are. The questions of, “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?” and “Who do I look like?” are common questions amongst adoptees.

The amount of information that is available to adoptees is dependant on the type of adoption. In a closed adoption the records of the birth parents are sealed. When the records are sealed the adoptee must receive a court order to uncover some information about their past. Most recently, with the help of technology adoptees have been able to use the internet to find their birth parents and families. As an adoptee, the search for birth parents is usually a difficult one. The search can be time consuming, arduous and emotionally draining. Although my grandfather’s story is different from the video above, the feelings of identity and the want to find out more about their past are usually similar for most adoptees.

When my grandfather was alive, he had made an attempt to find his birth family. However, unlike most adoptees, he was never technically put up for adoption, nor was he officially adopted. As a child in the 1930s in Mexico he was either lost or abandoned at a very young age in a crowded marketplace. Because of his hazy past and the lack of organization in the area it is almost impossible to find any written record of missing children. Another issue is that of time; because so much time has passed it would be difficult to ask community members from his “hometown” if they knew of any information from seven decades ago.

Some of the major issues that adoptees face are those of identity and self worth. In the voice recording of my cousin, Kimberly Sandoval she discusses the perception of identity and how she perceives it as a part of a family that originates from “adoption.” While most recognize the lack a sense of self with adoptees, their descendants can also feel the same sense that something is missing.

The most disconcerting issue has been the mystery of Luis’ separation from his parents. While it has been widely accepted by my family that he was with his mother during the separation, the question that is usually brought up is whether or not he was intentionally left or was misplaced.

It has also been questioned within our family as to how much Luis remembered from his past. Because he was separated from his birth family sometime between the ages of 6 – 8, his recollection was quite vague.

My Grandfather was a very private  individual. He said very few words, which made it difficult for the generation of grandchildren to learn anything about the past or the family origin. The oral storytelling was usually continued by Luis’ children to their children. Much like oral traditions, stories are changed, some details are forgotten and each individual has different information. Because Luis’ children also were interested in different aspects of the story their versions also formed and changed.

“’Storytelling’ implies the shaping of the story as well as the sharing of it with others afterward. It was the Internet that expanded the space of the Digital Storytelling – it offered new options to share the ‘classic’ small-scale stories created in story circles at various corners of the globe. The World Wide Web also gave rise to new forms: Blogging, in text only or with video, as well as the social networking sites on the web offer new opportunities to share short personal stories.” – “Digital storytelling, mediatized stories: self-representations in new media”  By Knut Lundby (page 3)

Although the internet was available while my grandfather was alive, my family never made an effort to document his story. Most of what he shared is remembered by his children it would have been more of a complete narrative if he had been given the opportunity.

Part 5: Narratives


Not having a written or digital version of my Grandfather’s narrative about his childhood has always made me interested in learning more about where I came from. Because my family is primarily made up of private individuals who rarely talk about the past it was difficult to convince them to create their own narrative about my Grandfather, Luis. Composing a list of questions made it easier for them to understand what the project consisted of. Asking them to create their own digital stories and share what they knew about their father/grandfather made it easier for them to create their own story.

“So-called ‘ordinary people’ develop the necessary competences to tell their own stories with new digital tools.” -“Digital storytelling, mediatized stories: self-representations in new media”  By Knut Lundby (page 4)

In giving my family members the opportunity to create their own digital story or webcam essay they were able to continue their healing over the death of my grandfather, which was a surprising shock for everyone. Many of my family members were able to meet and work on their own individual videos with the technical assistance of one ‘digitally literate’ cousins.

“Unlike previous storytelling techniques, Digital Storytelling makes it possible for one person to distribute their story to a larger number of people.” -“Digital storytelling, mediatized stories: self-representations in new media”  Tone Bratteteig (page 278)

As a granddaughter of an adoptee I had always wondered if his children had felt any similar feelings that most adoptees would feel. Would they want to learn more about their family? Would they care to share what they knew about Luis? Would they be comfortable in sharing what they knew about him on camera? While some relatives were apprehensive, they were able to create a forum and share what they individually knew of the story.

Digital storytelling was new for all of my relatives. They were uncomfortable at first with the idea of composing their knowledge of Luis’ childhood in this format; however they were able to create their own type of structure while following a short questionnaire I created and they were able to add their own details and additions and nuances to their own individual digital stories.

Although I was not very close to my grandfather because of his private nature what I knew about his childhood was that he was lost around the age of 8 somewhere in Zacatecas. Although I am unsure about how long he was “lost” in the area I was told by my father that he was found by a man by the name of Sandoval who took him in and adopted him.

The image above was the only photo that I had ever taken with my Grandfather and unfortunately, I have no memory of this event. This visual image symbolizes the family that my grandfather was able to attain later on in life. Although his origin and his birth family is a mystery it is important for me that I try to piece together the story as much as possible to honor my grandfather and family. I feel that to truly talk about myself I need to discover more about my ancestor, the man from whom I received my family name.

The concept of self-representation is challenging for me. As the  “Cultural Mediation” chapter of “Digital Storytelling, Mediatized Stories” shows, many individuals include a family history as a part of their personal identity. Because the “first chapter” of my own self-representation is not available, it is as though my whole identity is lacking a foundation. Nancy Thumim writes in page 93 in “Digital storytelling, mediatized stories: self-representations in new media”, “Vikram shows how the process of producing his self-representation led to his delving into, and becoming absorbed by, family history and personal identity”