One of the nice things about what I do–what exactly is it that I do?–is that I get to poke in around people’s lives. These people, God love ’em, are usually long departed. They had no idea that anyone would ever care about them, much less write about them, although I suspect a couple wouldn’t have been surprised. Some of them were important in their day–although lots weren’t–and a couple were important but obscure. Which was probably what they intended, because some of their doings were, ah, a bit louche, if not downright illegal, and not the sort of thing you’d want well documented. That, alas, is a bit of a problem, because I started life as a historian. Even in a profession drenched in a love of the demotic (I gotta tell you the humble annals of the poor are less attractive if you have some first-hand acquaintance with them), you can’t just make it up as you go along. You need evidence. I realize that is, alas, now a controversial statement among a large share of the American people, but I ain’t gonna get their vote anyway. What we consider evidence or how we interpret it may well be a product of consensus, pragmatism, I think it’s called, but there are even guidelines for that, or used to be, anyway, so spare me alternative facts. In my world, that phrase is equivalent to “bullshit.”
I have before me one such piece of evidence. It is a copy (not certified, cause that was cheaper) of a birth certificate dated May 12, 1833. It is from the state of Louisiana, Parish of Orleans. Said document legally records the birth of one Maria Ramona Manuela Lizardi, who entered the world on April 4, 1833. She was the legitimate daughter of one Francisco de Paula de Lizardi and Elena Gutierrez Cubas. Her father was a resident of the city of Veracruz, in Mexico, and I think Elena (or Helen, as she often appears in other documents) was too. At any rate, if I go through my now overflowing stack of semi-organized notes, scans, photostatic copies, and other miscellanea that I’ve been assembling for at least fifteen years, I know I’ll find Francisco and Elena were married there. At some point, around 1829, maybe earlier, they came, with no great fuss, to Louisiana.
This is important, because a lot of Americans think you always had to have a fingerprint, the benediction of ICE, means aplenty, and a sure sense of boundaries and borders before they’d let you into these United States. I hate to break it to you, but in those days, when the great state of Texas was part of Coahuila y Tejas and Coahuila y Tejas was part one of the states of what was then Republic of Mexico, borders got traced out on some map without much regard to stuff on the ground. So when I used to hear some of my now estranged classmates from Devon Preparatory School ’69 bang on about “let them come in the right way like we did” (whatever on Earth that meant to someone carried to full term in Conshocken PA in 1950), I got a little irritated. And what would that be, and where would that be? Even in the 1890s, you could walk across the United-States-Mexico border without knowing it. And without anyone much caring. I gotta tell you, “Mexican go home” may sound great in Hazelton, PA, but it don’t mean much in Texas. Let me break it to you. WE are the outsiders, dude. We may have stolen Texas fair and square, but before it was USA, it was Mexico, and before that, New Spain. Full stop.
Thing about Ms Lizardi, my friend, is that she is buried in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the graveyard of Old St Mary’s Church, in Section F. Her headstone is barely legible, and you sort of have to crawl around looking for it, but it’s there. She died on September 11, 1854. Now, for all the Schmidt’s beer you can drink. Here’s the question? What was she doing there? And to make matters even curiouser, she had a brother, one Miguel Genaro de Lizardi, who had been born in Philadelphia in 1834 where their family was in residence there Now, for even more Schmidt’s, what was Francisco de Lizardi doing in Philadelphia in 1834, because that was a long way from New Orleans and even farther from Veracruz? And, dah dah, Miguel Genaro had an uncle, one Manuel Julian de Lizardi, who was probably at that very moment visiting his Mother in New York. And he was a long way from anyone of his several homes, nationalities (and for all I know, families although I doubt it). What was he doing? These guys didn’t travel for grins.
Now, I could be wrong about this, and I really have to go back and dig through my early notes for this project, but I do believe that Manuela (and I may be wrong, I emphasize) had become the object of affection of one Benito Gomez Farias, who was in London, where Francisco’s family (Francisco was by this point, sadly deceased) on His Government’s Service. Benito was the son of a very famous Mexican politico, Valentin Gomez Farias, who, in the politics of the day, was styled a Liberal in Mexico. The Lizardi family, of course, was Conservative. Or at least, Don Manuel Julian was, and he, in turn, was one of the wealthier people in the world, a kind of one man Treasury to the Mexican government during the era of President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Yes, that Santa Anna, of the Alamo and all that. To whom the Lizardi were kin by way of Veracruz.
Oh, to finish off this installment of what will be a continuing series, Manuel Julian had threatened to strangle Manuela before he would allow her to wed Benito Gomez Farias. That wasn’t very nice, was it? This was because Manuel Julian thought Don Valentin had done him dirty in a scurrilous bond deal in the 1840s that nearly sunk Manuel Julian’s London-based merchant bank. So there was no love lost between Lizardi and the Gomez Farias, or at least, between that small part of what turns out to have been a vast extended kin group, a tribe, more to the point.
So, please, do me a solid. Can you tell me what these Lizardi guys (and the name is Basque and has nothing to do with lizard, sorry) were doing in Philly in the 1830s, or what Ramona was doing buried there in the 1850s? I have a theory that the family may have been circling the wagons abroad in anticipation of a very nasty cabal assembled against Mr Santa Anna that went down in Mexican history starting in 1854, and the enemy of Santa Anna was the enemy of the Lizardi. Take my word for it. 1854, for those who know their Mexican history, was the outbreak of the so-called Ayutla movement that ultimately sent Santa Anna packing, after a good thirty-year run in making a plague of himself in Mexico. So there’s that too.
And I haven’t even gotten to Forstall or Egania (sic) yet. Can you imagine? Namesakes of New Orleans’ unfortunate Ninth Ward, where they all have streets named after them. See. Study history and learn something other than Trump was a very big loser even by American standards. You can’t wait, right? Neither can I. If you want a taste of a “peer reviewed” slice of this (and who wouldn’t), you can go to
The Lizardi Brothers: A Mexican Family Business and the Expansion of New Orleans, 1825-1846 Journal of Southern History (2016) which was actually co-written by Linda Salvucci and your humble servant. Those details can be cited, because the Editors of the Journal earned their pay making us document every detail. Ask me before citing names and dates from this post, because I really will have to go through the same checking and verification before I (probably we) get some reputable academical journal to publish it.
We start with facts. The established kind. Welcome back to reality.
NB I’m gonna have to learn how to do accents and tildes in Word Press, because Egania thus rendered in New Orleans was Egana with a tilde. I really want to get better with this stuff, but screwing up is easy. Also, I corrected the son of Francisco born in Philadelphia to Miguel Genaro. I apologize for the error. I know if I’m not staring directly at a genealogical tree of these people, I mess up. Miguel was probably named after another uncle, and, if memory serves, his paternal grandfather, but that may be incorrect. These aren’t trivial mistakes, unfortunately.