Three celebrity chefs who cook the food of their ancestors discover family members who have shaped their lives — and America’s cuisine. Tom Colicchio of “Top Chef” learns of the hardships his family endured, Ming Tsai, finds that his roots can be traced back more than 2,000 years, yielding a large family tree and Aaron Sanchez relearns his family’s treasured and diverse Mexican roots.
Stream this exciting full episode, premiering October 21st at 8PM EST (check local listings).
Episode Credits Print
A Film by Kunhardt McGee Productions
and Inkwell Films
In Association with Ark Media
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Peter W. Kunhardt
Leslie Asako Gladsjo
Written by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Jessica Xanthe Cran
Grace Chan (李行遠)
Deborah Clancy Porfido
POST PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR
DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
LIGHTING AND ELECTRIC
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Original Score by Michael Bacon
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Archival Film and/or Video Materials from the Collections of the Library of Congress
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The Bridgeman Art Library
Carlism Museum, Estella (Government of Navarre, Spain)
Clay Williams Photo
David Rumsey Map Collection
DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Manning Texas & Mexico Collection
J. Robert Schraeder / Mestizo
Sidney D. Gamble Photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
The Family of Tom Colicchio
The Family of Aarón Sánchez
The Family of Ming Tsai
Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division
Li Zhensheng / Contact Press Images from “Red-Color News Soldier” (Phaidon, 2003)
Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection
MCT via Getty Images
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Clarke Milford Showroom
My Cooking Party
New England Historic Genealogical Society
Home of Angela Stulley
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GENETIC TESTING PROVIDED BY
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Dr. David Altshuler
Professor Lawrence Bobo
Dr. Carlos Bustamante
Dr. Lauren Dickerman
Sheila Ford Hamp
Steven K. Hamp
Brandon Hilton Hutchens
Glenn and Debbie Hutchins
Richard and Lynn Jones
Dr. Doug McDonald
Marial Iglesias Utset
HENRY LOUIS GATES’S WARDROBE
Savile Row, London
HENRY LOUIS GATES’S WARDROBE
The Andover Shop
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George T. Kunhardt
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© 2014 THIRTEEN Productions LLC, Kunhardt McGee Productions, Inc. and Inkwell Films, Inc. All rights reserved.
Episode Transcript Print
Finding Your Roots
Ep 205 “Melting Pot”
TOM COLICCHIO / AARON SANCHEZ / MING TSAI/
Gates: I’M HENRY LOUIS GATES, JR. WELCOME TO FINDING YOUR ROOTS.
IN THIS EPISODE, WE’LL EXPLORE THE FAMILY TREES OF THREE OF AMERICA’S MOST CELEBRATED CHEFS: AARON SANCHEZ, MING TSAI AND TOM COLICCHIO––THREE MEN WHO’VE WON FAME BY COOKING THE DISHES OF THEIR ANCESTORS.
SANCHEZ: I want to cook fifty percent as good as my mom, and fifty percent as good as my grandmother. Then I’m doing something right.
TSAI: The gathering at the dining table––that was our epicenter.
COLICCHIO: Christmas came and there may have been ham, but there was a lasagna first.
GATES VO: IT’S A STORY OF HOW AMERICA’S FOOD HAS BEEN SHAPED BY ITS IMMIGRANTS… A STORY OF RECIPES PASSED FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION…
TSAI: I was just fascinated by the combination of fire and steam and smoke and the noise and the smell. That, that was my music.
GATES VO: A STORY THAT BRINGS OUR GUESTS FACE TO FACE WITH FAMILY THEY NEVER KNEW THEY HAD.
MIX OF GRAPHICS/FOOTAGE…
GATES VO: TO TELL IT, WE’VE USED EVERY TOOL AVAILABLE––GENEALOGISTS HELPED MAP OUT OUR GUEST’S ANCETORS––TRACING THE PAPER TRAIL THAT THEY LEFT BEHIND… WHILE GENETICISTS HAVE DRAWN ON THE LATEST ADVANCES IN DNA ANALYSIS TO REVEAL SECRETS HUNDREDS OF YEARS OLD.
SHOTS OF SKIP GIVING BOOK OF LIFE TO EACH GUEST…
GATES VO: AND WE’VE COMPILED EVERYTHING INTO A BOOK OF LIFE, A RECORD OF ALL OUR DISCOVERIES.
COLICHHIO: Oh my god. Look at all those Italians. This is amazing.
TSAI: He is in the lineage. That is a shock. I don’t know how you got this.
SANCHEZ: Is that Rafa? That’s unbelievable. I can’t even believe that.
INSERT TITLE CARD: SKIP ON CAMERA TO BE SHOT
GATES VO: THE ANCESTORS OF ToM COLICCHIO, MING TSAI AND AARON SANCHEZ SHOW US HOW FOOD can BRING US TOGETHER–BRIDGING CULTURES AND GENERATIONS, MAYBE THAT’S WHY THEY CALL AMERICA THE MELTING POT.
SERIES OPENING GRAPHICS HERE
TOM COLICCHIO B-ROLL: TOM & SKIP WALKING AT THE FARMERS MARKET
COLICCHIO: I actually started coming here to shop, for the restaurants. And I would come in and literally, this is 25 years ago, I would take my truck and drive it into the market.
COLICCHIO: Park next to the – really, try that now, they’d throw you out, you’d, you’d get arrested.
GATES VO: TOM COLICCHIO IS A CULINARY SUPERSTAR… HE OWNS MORE THAN A DOZEN AWARD-WINNING RESTAURANTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY.
BUT HE’S JUST AS COMFORTABLE AT HIS LOCAL FARMER’S MARKET AS HE IS IN ON THE SET OF HIS HIT SHOW: TOP CHEF.
HE’S A MAN WHO SIMPLY ADORES FOOD…
AND HE’LL HAPPILY TALK FOR HOURS ABOUT HOW HE FIRST FELL IN LOVE WITH IT––IN THE KITCHEN OF HIS LARGE ITALIAN FAMILY…
GATES: I mean, food was a way of life in your family?
COLICCHIO: It was. We had to be home every night at the table. Dinner, it was seven days a week. Sunday was when we had macaroni. It wasn’t pasta. It was macaroni. And gravy. But the gravy was tomato sauce. It was wonderful.
GATES VO: TOM GREW UP IN ELIZABETH, NEW JERSEY––SURROUNDED BY AUNTS, UNCLES AND GRANDPARENTS––ALL ITALIANS, ALL SHARING RECIPES…
HE REMEMBERS ENTIRE MEALS FROM HIS CHILDHOOD AS IF THEY WERE SERVED YESTERDAY…
COLICCHIO: We would do crabs. Now, our crab feast in the summer was, was really special, ‘cause we would take the crabs and put them in marinara sauce.
COLICCHIO: That was sometimes a…a four-hour meal because we would just sit there and pick, pick crabs, and everybody had a method of doing it. Some people actually picked and ate, and some people picked and put them aside and then ate at the end, and people who had their pile at the end, you’d try to steal from them.
COLICCHIO: In fact, I didn’t realize that you can eat crab another way.
GATES VO: TOM STARTED WORKING IN RESTUARANTS WHEN HE WAS FOURTEEN YEARS OLD–AND HE’S NEVER STOPPED.
TODAY, HE OVERSEES A FOOD EMPIRE–COOKING DISHES OF EXTRAORDINARY COMPLEXITY.
BUT HE’S STILL DRAWN TO THE SIMPLE RECIPES OF HIS IMMIGRANT ANCESTORS…
COLICCHIO: You know, I think if you talk to most chefs, no matter how fancy their food is, it’s not what they want to eat. We want to eat, you know, peasant food. That’s what we like, and I think because we all realize that’s, that’s where it all started.
GATES: Macaroni and gravy on Sunday at three.
COLICCHIO: Yeah, that’s it. That’s where it all starts.
GATES VO: LIKE TOM, MING TSAI IS DEVOTED TO HIS FAMILY’S TRADITIONS…
HE GREW UP IN DAYTON, OHIO––WHERE HIS FATHER WORKED AS AN ENGINEER. BOTH HIS PARENTS WERE CHINESE IMMIGRANTS––AND DAYTON WAS A LONG WAY FROM HOME.
BUT THEY KEPT IN TOUCH WITH THEIR ROOTS IN THEIR KITCHEN…
GATES: Were there many other Chinese-Americans in Dayton, Ohio?
TSAI: You know, there are very few. Our, um, our family joke was, when we had the two or three Chinese families over to our house, we were Chinatown. And uh, always surrounded by food, right? All we did was cook and eat. And while we were eating dinner, we’re talking about what are we eating next, and who’s going to do the shopping, who’s going to buy this, who’s going to do the prep. Um, the…my whole life has, really been based around food, period.
MING TSAI B-ROLL: MING & SKIP MAKING SPRING ROLLS
GATES VO: TODAY, MING IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR CHEFS ON TELEVISION…
I VISITED HIM ON THE SET OF HIS SIGNATURE SHOW––“SIMPLY MING”––WHERE HE’S BEEN CELEBRATING CHINESE FOOD FOR ELEVEN SEASONS.
WATCHING HIM WORK WAS PURE JOY.
HE TOLD ME HE’S BEEN COOKING FOR AS LONG AS HE CAN REMEMBER.
TSAI: You know, the first thing was my mom. I was six years old. I went into the kitchen, and I just wanted to learn how to make a Duncan Hines cake. And she helped me…eggs, oil, boom, mix, cake. And I was just fascinated…
TSAI: …and I just thought this was amazing. And whenever I walked home, I would run to the kitchen first. What’s for dinner? You know, it wasn’t, What’s on TV? or blah, blah, blah…just, What’s for dinner?
GATES VO: MY THIRD GUEST IS AARON SANCHEZ. HE’S AN AWARD-WINNING CHEF AND A FOOD NETWORK LUMINARY–HOST OF THE HIT SHOW HEAT SEEKERS AND A RECURRING JUDGE ON CHOPPED…AND––LIKE MING TSAI AND TOM COLICCHIO––AARON IS ABSOLUTELY PASSIONATE ABOUT HIS FAMILY’S FOOD.
SANCHEZ: I’m still cooking my grandmother’s recipes that she grew up eating. I’m still cooking those recipes to this day at my restaurants. You know, like, I’ll do different empanadas. I’ll do different moles. I’ll do ceviches.
GATES: So it’s a culinary memory.
SANCHEZ: It is, and it…it’s a way of paying respect to…to your legacy and to where you’re from.
GATES VO: GROWING UP IN A MEXICAN-AMERICAN FAMILY IN EL PASO, TEXAS, AARON WAS INTRODUCED TO COOKING BY HIS MOTHER––ZARELA MARTINEZ––WHO RAN A CATERING BUSINESS AS A WAY TO MAKE MONEY AFTER HER MARRIAGE COLLAPSED.
FOR AARON, LEARNING HIS WAY AROUND THE KITCHEN WAS PART OF LEARNING TO SURVIVE.
SANCHEZ: My parents got divorced when we were at a very young age, and we would go back and forth. My dad would have me on the weekends. I’d be with my mom during the week, and we lived really tough. My mom had no money. Uh, we were just really struggling.
GATES VO: THEIR STRUGGLES WERE SOLVED WHEN ZARELA MADE A DRAMATIC DECISION: SHE PACKED HER FAMILY IN A VAN AND MOVED TO NEW YORK CITY, WHERE SHE OPENED A MEXICAN RESTAURANT.
OVER TIME, HER RESTAURANT WOULD BECOME THE VANGUARD OF MEXICAN CUISINE IN MANHATTAN. IT WOULD ULTIMATELY BRING HER STABILITY–AND LEAD HER SON TO HIS CAREER.
GATES: So then, when you were growing up, there was never anything like, Only girls are supposed to cook.
SANCHEZ: Oh, no, not at my house. No. You know, and there’s this…there’s this, uh…there’s this philosophy out there, this train of thought that says: Women cook to nurture you, like your mom does, and men are the artists.
GATES: Oh, really?
SANCHEZ: Yeah, and I never agreed with that. I mean, if you said that at my house, you get smacked.
GATES: I was going to say, what’s your mom say about that?
SANCHEZ: You have to understand, my mom was the dad, my mom was the mom, she was the breadwinner, she was everything in our house. That’s another reason that we respected our industry in the cooking world so much because it provided for us, it sustained us. And we never got in this to be famous or to be, you know, recognized for those things. It was more about taking care of the fam.
B-ROLL OF CHINESE RESTAURANTS, FOOD TRUCKS, ETC.–PEOPLE PREPARING AND SERVING FOOD.
GATES VO: AMERICA’S TASTES HAVE BEEN SHAPED BY OUR IMMIGRANTS. ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, YOU CAN FIND CHINESE, MEXICAN AND ITALIAN RESTAURANTS. YOU MIGHT THINK OF THEM AS THE HOLY TRINITY OF AMERICAN CUISINE.
SKIP COMES UP ON CAMERA HERE FOR PTC…
GATES VO: TOM, MING AND AARON EACH COME FROM FAMILIES THAT RECENTLY IMMIGRATED TO THE UNITED STATES. AND EACH TREASURES THE DISHES OF THEIR ANCESTORS.
BUT I WAS SHOCKED TO LEARN THAT FOR ALL THREE, CRUCIAL DETAILS ABOUT THOSE ANCESTORS HAD BEEN LOST ON THE JOURNEY TO AMERICA.
SO I WANTED TO HELP FIND THEM.
SANCHEZ B-ROLL: SKIP & AARON WITH ZARELA (PHOTOS/DINNER)
ZARELA: – my mother and my father.
GATES: Look at that! Who’s that?
GATES VO: I STARTED WITH AARON SANCHEZ.
GATES: Who’s that?
ZARELA: That’s my mom.
SANCHEZ: But these are her siblings.
GATES VO: AARON HAS A POWERFUL SENSE OF HIS MEXICAN HERITAGE.
ZARELA: My mother, my father.
GATES VO: IT FLOWS FROM HIS MOTHER––ZARELA MARTINEZ––WHO TAUGHT HIM ABOUT HIS FAMILY’S ROOTS AS SHE TAUGHT HIM FAMILY RECIPES.
GATES: By the way, this is delicious.
ZARELA: Well you still have this to taste.
GATES: Good. I’m coming.
GATES VO: IN HER HOME TODAY, ZARELA STILL MAKES THE DISHES THAT AARON GREW UP WITH.
BUT THE STORY OF THOSE DISHES STARTED TWO THOUSAND MILES AWAY–ON A CATTLE RANCH IN SONORA, MEXICO WHERE ZARELA GREW UP.
A RANCH THAT HAS AN ALMOST MYSTICAL STATURE IN FAMILY LORE.
ZARELA: My dad painted, so he did that painting of the ranch.
ZARELA: That’s…that was our whole property.
GATES: Tell me about the ranch. What was it like?
ZARELA: Oh, it was Heaven. It’s an integral part of who I am, and my being, and my soul and everything else. I was made for the ranch, you know. I just…I loved it.
SANCHEZ: It was really the place that I think forged the strong woman that is my mom. She speaks so highly of it: From all the cowboys to the food to the riding of the horses to my grandmother making fresh cheeses. It was the place.
GATES VO: THIS IS THE RANCH IN SONORA, MEXICO WHERE ZARELA WAS RAISED. IT LIES LESS THAN TWO HUNDRED MILES FROM THE AMERICAN BORDER.
THIS IS CATTLE COUNTRY. AND IT HAS PROVIDED MEXICO’S BEEF FOR CENTURIES.
MANY OF THE DISHES THAT AARON’S FAMILY BROUGHT TO AMERICA WERE FIRST COOKED HERE.
BUT AARON HAD NO IDEA HOW HARD ONE OF HIS ANCESTORS HAD FOUGHT TO GET THIS RANCH.
IN FACT, THE RANCH MIGHT NOT EXIST AT ALL WERE IT NOT FOR THE EFFORTS OF ONE MAN: AARON’S GREAT-GREAT GRANDFATHER, RAFAEL GABILINDO.
GATES: Now you recognize that person?
SANCHEZ: Is that Rafa?
GATES: Yeah, that’s right. That’s your great-great-grandfather.
SANCHEZ: Oh, Papi Rafael! Look at that ‘stache. That, that’s how you rocked it back in the day. You got no respect if you were clean-shaven.
GATES: (Laughing) He looks pretty cool.
SANCHEZ: Yeah, yeah.
GATES VO: RAFAEL WAS BORN INTO A PROMINENT FAMILY. AND BY THE TIME HE WAS A YOUNG MAN, HE’D BECOME ONE OF THE WEALTHIEST CATTLE OWNERS IN NORTHERN MEXICO.
BUT HIS FORTUNES UNRAVELLED IN A FLASH…
B-ROLL: MEXICAN REVOLUTION B-ROLL
GATES VO: IN 1910, MEXICO EXPLODED INTO A REVOLUTION–A BLOODY, ALL-OUT WAR THAT WOULD ULTIMATELY CLAIM NEARLY A MILLION LIVES.
ITS CAUSES WERE COMPLEX. BUT ONE OF THE ISSUES THAT FUELED THAT REVOLUTION WAS LAND OWNERSHIP.
FOR MORE THAN THIRTY YEARS, MEXICO HAD BEEN RULED BY A DICTATOR–PORFIRIO DÍAZ–WHOSE GOVERNMENT WORKED TO CONCENTRATE POWER AND WEALTH IN THE HANDS OF A FEW.
LAWS MADE IT ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE FOR MEXICAN PEASANTS TO OWN THEIR OWN FARMS.
THEN, IN NOVEMBER OF 1910, A GROUP OF REBELS ROSE UP–CALLING FOR WIDESPREAD SOCIAL CHANGE–STARTING WITH LAND REFORM.
THE COUNTRY WAS TORN APART.
AND AARON’S ANCESTOR FEARED FOR HIS LIFE.
SO HE ABANDONED THE RANCH, ALL HIS CATTLE, AND VIRTUALLY EVERYTHING HE OWNED–TO MAKE A RUN FOR THE U.S. BORDER.
THAT’S HOW AARON’S FAMILY FIRST ARRIVED IN THIS COUNTRY: WITH ALMOST NOTHING, PART OF A MASSIVE WAVE OF REFUGEES.
GATES: More than 890,000 Mexicans fled north to the United States to avoid the revolution. Did you know that?
SANCHEZ: Wow. I did not know that. I didn’t know that many people were affected by it.
GATES: So you didn’t know that your family originally came because of the revolution?
SANCHEZ: No, But I can imagine why. You know, they were probably frowned upon. Look at you guys. You guys are living high on the hog, and we’re over here fighting for this country…
GATES: Mmm-hmmm…you’re the enemy.
SANCHEZ: You’re the enemy.
GATES: Right? Because you’re rich.
SANCHEZ: Yep. And imagine…imagine how that must have made you feel as a Mexican national to have, in essence, your…your countrymen trampling over your land and disrespecting what you have.
GATES: Oh, man.
SANCHEZ: You know, that must’ve been really hard for a person to have dealt with.
GATES: Sure, it’d drive me crazy.
SANCHEZ: Yeah, you felt like you, your…you felt like your country let you down.
GATES VO: RAFAEL GABILONDO ENTERED TEXAS A FUGITIVE FROM HIS OWN PEOPLE. AND EVEN AS HIS FAMILY BEGAN TO ASSIMILATE TO LIFE IN THEIR NEW COUNTRY, HE REMAINED FOCUSED ON HIS HOMELAND.
HE HAD LEFT AN ENORMOUS HERD OF CATTLE BEHIND IN MEXICO––AND HE WAS DETERMINED TO GET IT BACK.
AFTER FOUR YEARS OF NEAR-CONSTANT EFFORT, HE SUCCEEDED…
AND WE FOUND A REMARKABLE NEWSPAPER ARTICLE FROM 1913 THAT TOLD US EXACTLY HOW HE DID IT…
SANCHEZ: (Reading) Rafael Gabilondo has received permission from the Secretary of Treasury to cross 2,000 head of cattle from the ranches of the Gabilondo Brothers.
GATES: Isn’t that cool?
SANCHEZ: Wow, so, so he got a change to get his stuff back.
GATES: At the height of the Mexican Revolution, while armies were destroying his property, your ancestor somehow managed to persuade the United States government to allow him to bring 2,000 head of cattle from that ranch into the United States. He must’ve been a badass dude.
SANCHEZ: Oh, no, he…he…he probably had what you call nowadays game.
GATES: Yeah, total game.
SANCHEZ: You know?
GATES VO: RAFAEL MADE THE MOST OF HIS CATTLE.
IN 1931––ALMOST TWO DECADES AFTER FLEEING HIS HOMELAND––HE HAD FINALLY SAVED UP ENOUGH MONEY TO BUY A NEW RANCH IN MEXICO: THE RANCH WHERE HIS DESCENDANTS WOULD LIVE FOR GENERATIONS TO COME…
SANCHEZ: That is awesome. And think of the courage he must have had, you know?
GATES: Well, he lost it and got it back.
SANCHEZ: It really makes me feel proud.
GATES VO: LIKE AARON, TOM COLICCHIO GREW UP SAVORING THE FOOD OF HIS ANCESTORS–BUT KNEW VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE ACTUAL LIVES OF THOSE ANCESTORS.
GATES: Tom, did you ever hear any stories about what life was like for your grandparents back in Italy?
COLICCHIO: Never. I’ve got to tell you, I have not heard a single story about how they grew up, um, never heard it.
GATES VO: TOM TOLD ME THAT HE KNEW HIS GRANDFATHER FELIX WAS BORN IN THE SMALL TOWN OF VALLATA, ITALY…
BUT HE HAD NO IDEA HOW––OR WHEN––FELIX CAME TO AMERICA.
OUR SEARCH TOOK US TO ELLIS ISLAND––WHERE SO MANY ITALIANS ENTERED THIS COUNTRY.
HERE, WE FOUND OUR FIRST CLUE: A SHIP’S MANIFEST FROM 1901. IT DOCUMENTED THE ARRIVAL OF FELIX’S FATHER: FRANCESCANTONIO COLICCHIO–OR AS HE WAS SOMETIMES CALLED: FRANCESCO…
COLICCHIO: (Reading) Francesco Colicchio, 20 years old, laborer, arriving in New York from Vallata with twenty-seven dollars.
GATES: Twenty-seven bucks.
COLICCHIO: Twenty-seven dollars.
GATES VO: BUT THIS RECORD ALSO RAISED A VERY LARGE QUESTION.
GATES: Tom, there’s a mystery here. Now remember, his son, your grandfather Felix, was born in Vallata in 1903.
COLICCHIO: Wow. Okay.
GATES: And he is landing in New York in 1901.
GATES: So how is this possible? If the father left Vallata in June of 1901, how could his son have been born there, two years later, in 1903? Any theories?
COLICCHIO: Scandal in the Colicchio household! Uh-oh!
GATES: Was Felix an illegitimate child? Did you ever hear any stories about this?
GATES VO: WHEN WE TRIED TO UNDERSTAND THIS, WE DISCOVERED SOMETHING SURPRISING.
RECORDS SHOWED THAT TOM’S GREAT-GRANDFATHER FRANCESANTONIO IMMIGRATED TO AMERICA IN 1901, BUT THEN AT SOME POINT HE RETURNED TO ITALY, WHERE HE FATHERED TOM’S GRANDFATHER FELIX––AND THEN, HE RETURNED TO THE UNITED STATES A SECOND TIME IN 1906.
WE DON’T THINK OF IMMIGRANTS AS GOING BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN EUROPE AND AMERICA.
BUT IT TURNS OUT, FRANCESCANTONIO’S BEHAVIOR WAS NOT THAT UNUSUAL.
IN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURIES, MORE THAN HALF OF THE ITALIANS WHO CAME TO AMERICA MADE REPEAT TRIPS ACROSS THE ATLANTIC––EARNING MONEY IN THE UNITED STATES TO BRING IT HOME TO ITALY. SOME MADE DOZENS OF CROSSINGS–LIVING APART FROM THEIR FAMILIES FOR YEARS AT A TIME.
HISTORIANS CALL THEM BIRDS OF PASSAGE. IT’S A SWEET TERM FOR WHAT MUST HAVE BEEN A HARD AND LONELY EXPERIENCE.
GATES: This is not a part of the immigration story that most of us are aware of.
GATES: Can you imagine what their experience was like, being separated from their loved ones for years at a time?
COLICCHIO: No. I couldn’t imagine being away from my children for seven years right now. That’s…and that’s a tough passage back then, too.
GATES: Oh, yeah. And they were in steerage.
COLICCHIO: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t think they were up on the top.
GATES VO: FRANCESANTONIO AND HIS COUNTRYMEN WEREN’T ON TOP IN THE UNITED STATES EITHER.
IN THE EARLY 20th CENTURY, ITALIANS WERE NEAR THE VERY BOTTOM OF AMERICAN SOCIETY. THEY WERE MOSTLY CONFINED TO CROWDED CITIES WHERE THEY DID MENIAL LABOR–AND WERE WIDELY DESPISED FOR THEIR CATHOLICISM, THEIR SOCIAL CUSTOMS, EVEN THEIR DARK SKIN.
ONE OF THE REASONS THAT TOM KNOWS SO LITTLE ABOUT HIS FAMILY’S HISTORY IS THAT ITALIAN AMERICANS, FOR GENERATIONS, CHOSE NOT TO SPEAK ABOUT THAT PAINFUL PAST.
THEIR STORIES–EVEN ABOUT THEIR HOMELAND–WERE LOST IN THEIR SILENCE.
GATES: What does it suggest to you about his life back in Italy? I mean, he wanted to go back.
COLICCHIO: Well, he wanted to go back, but he had to take care of his family, so I’m assuming that they, they weren’t able to make a living there, and he was doing it here and…and saving up when he could and going back. And, uh, you know, it’s a big sacrifice. I mean, number one, it’s a big sacrifice to leave your family, um, but then to, you know, continually go back. And also, at this point, he was…let me just go back a little bit. He was 35, so he’s…he’s…he’s getting up in age, too.
GATES: Yeah, absolutely.
COLICCHIO: Back then 35 was, you know, probably equivalent to, you know, 50 now.
COLICCHIO: And, uh, so it was, it was just getting tougher and tougher.
GATES VO: TOM HAD NO IDEA JUST HOW TOUGH THINGS WERE ABOUT TO GET FOR HIS GREAT GRANDFATHER.
B-ROLL: OCEAN CROSSING FOOTAGE––THEN SOME MORE VALLATA FOOTAGE.
GATES VO: IN 1911, FRANCESCANTONIO RETURNED TO VALLATA YET AGAIN––HIS THIRD TRIP ACROSS THE ATLANTIC.
BUT THIS TIME, HIS HOMELAND WAS ON THE BRINK OF CHAOS.
B-ROLL: WORLD WAR ONE FOOTAGE.
GATES VO: IN JULY OF 1914, EUROPE WAS ENGULFED BY THE FIRST WORLD WAR.
TOM’S GREAT-GRANDFATHER WAS PRESSED INTO THE ITALIAN ARMY–AND SOON FOUND HIMSELF IN ONE OF WAR’S GREAT STALEMATES…
FOR THREE YEARS, THE ITALIANS STRUGGLED TO TAKE A TINY STRETCH OF MACEDONIA FROM GERMANY AND ITS ALLIES.
15% OF FRANCESCANTONIO’S FELLOW ITALIANS WERE KILLED OR WOUNDED. MANY MORE WERE TAKEN PRISONER.
AND ALTHOUGH HE SURVIVED, FRANCESCANTONIO RETURNED TO AN ITALY THAT WAS ECONOMICALLY RAVAGED––AN ITALY THAT WOULD SOON DESCEND INTO FASCISM AND THEN THE CHAOS OF WORLD WAR TWO.
BUT TOM’S GREAT-GRANDFATHER ENDURED.
AND IN 1947, HE MADE ONE FINAL TRIP ACROSS THE ATLANTIC.
THIS TIME, HE BROUGHT HIS FAMILY WITH HIM.
COLICCHIO: It says, “Colicchio, Francescantonio, 69 years old. And “Maria Domenica, 69.” So they were 69 when they actually came for the last time.
GATES: The fourth immigration document.
GATES: Since his first trip to the United States. Let’s recapitulate. Remember that was in 1901.
COLICCHIO: 1901, right.
GATES: Francescantonio had returned to Italy at least three times, fought in the First World War, fathered two children, and lived through World War II. I mean, my God!
GATES: That’s a lot of history, man.
COLICCHIO: Francescantonio, I think, is the key, because at a certain point, he could have stayed there.
GATES: I know.
COLICCHIO: And that, that would have been it. There, there wouldn’t have been a Colicchio family in the States, and so this…this guy right here is the key.
GATES: Four trips.
COLICCHIO: Yeah. Four trips. Wow.
GATES VO: LIKE TOM AND AARON, MING TSAI’S ORIGINAL IMMIGRANT ANCESTORS ENDURED REMARKABLE HARDSHIPS ON THEIR JOURNEY TO AMERICA.
BUT UNLIKE MY OTHER GUESTS, MING KNEW THESE ANCESTORS WELL.
THEY MOVED TO OHIO AT THE END OF THEIR LIVES–AND HELPED INSPIRE MING’S LOVE OF FOOD.
GATES: What do you remember about your grandparents?
TSAI: Ah, they were the best. They lived in Dayton, Ohio, um, in an apartment a mile-and-a-half from our house. Every Friday night was dinner at the grandparents, which I just loved because both were great cooks. Ye-Ye, my grandfather, grew everything. I mean he would be like, Look at this cucumber! Look at these chili peppers!
TSAI: He made…he made his own sambal! La jiao, the spicy condiment?
TSAI: So he would take garlic and his own chilies and make it. They would make…they would do their own noodles, their own wonton wrappers. And so, every Friday we’d go. You know, I’m ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. I was so into the food.
GATES VO: MING’S GRANDPARENTS COOKED THE TRADITIONAL FOOD OF THE THEIR HOMELAND BUT THEY RARELY SPOKE OF THEIR EXPERIENCES BACK IN CHINA––PERHAPS BECAUSE THOSE EXPERIENCES HAD BEEN SO TRAUMATIC.
B-ROLL: FOOTAGE OF JAPANESE INVASION OF CHINA IN WORLD WAR 2
GATES VO: IN 1937, WHEN MING’S GRANDFATHER WAS 38 YEARS OLD, THE JAPANESE INVADED CHINA––PART OF A CONFLICT THAT WOULD SOON EXPAND INTO WORLD WAR II.
WITHIN MONTHS, JAPANESE FORCES ENTERED BEIJING, WHERE MING’S GRANDFATHER WAS COMPTROLLER AT YENCHING UNIVERSITY. YE-YE HAD BEEN AT THE UNIVERSITY FOR MORE THAN A DECADE–SERVING IN MANY DIFFERENT ROLES–EVEN DESIGNING SIDEWALKS FOR THE SCHOOL.
AS THE JAPANESE DREW NEAR, MOST OF THE UNIVERSITY’S EMPLOYEES FLED––BUT A HANDFUL REMAINED BEHIND…
INCLUDING MING’S GRANDFATHER.
GATES: Why do you think he stayed?
TSAI: You know, I think that defined him. It was…Yenching was his home. He…he really…I mean, he was the comptroller, but he already did so much to the university, and the last thing he wanted to see is everything he did destroyed. And…but he was that…I mean, he was so strong in the mind that he probably realistically thought he could take care of the Japanese himself, somehow.
B-ROLL: FOOTAGE OF JAPANESE PRISON CAMPS IN WORLD WAR 2
GATES VO: THIS CONFIDENCE WAS NOBLE, BUT MISPLACED.
MING’S GRANDFATHER YE-YE WAS ARRESTED AND THROWN INTO A PRISON CAMP––WHERE HE WAS REPEATEDLY TORTURED… AND SOON CONTRACTED TYPHUS.
YE-YE BARELY SURVIVED… BUT WHEN THE WAR ENDED, HE REGAINED HIS STRENGTH AND RETURNED TO HIS BELOVED UNIVERSITY TO RESUME HIS DUTIES.
THEN HE FACED A NEW THREAT.
GATES: This is from the Chicago Tribune April 8, 1947.
TSAI: (Reading) A typical example of communist-inspired propaganda was on the bulletin board of Yenching University.
B-ROLL: FOOTAGE OF COMMUNIST TAKE-OVER OF CHINA –– MAO, ETC.
GATES VO: ALMOST AS SOON AS THE JAPANESE WERE DEFEATED, CHINA ERUPTED INTO A CIVIL WAR BETWEEN COMMUNISTS AND WHAT WERE KNOWN AS NATIONALISTS.
THE NATIONALISTS WERE SUPPORTED BY THE UNITED STATES AND THEIR RANKS WERE FILLED WITH CHINA’S EMERGING MIDDLE CLASS.
THE COMMUNISTS WERE BACKED BY THE SOVIET UNION–AND PROMISED TO LIBERATE CHINA’S ENORMOUS NUMBERS OF IMPOVERISHED PEASANTS.
THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE TWO GROUPS HAD BEEN EVOLVING SINCE THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY. NOW WAR CONSUMED THE ENTIRE COUNTRY–A WAR THAT WAS ULTIMATELY WON BY THE COMMUNISTS.
IN THE WAKE OF THEIR VICTORY, CHINA’S NEW LEADER–MAO ZEDONG– MOVED TO CONSOLIDATE HIS POWER.
HE AUTHORIZED THE EXECUTION OF ANYONE WITH TIES TO THE NATIONALISTS.
LANDOWNERS, BUSINESSMEN, AND INTELLECTUALS WERE KILLED IN DROVES.
THIS KIND OF VIOLENCE WOULD MARK COMMUNIST RULE IN CHINA FOR THE REST OF MAO’S LIFE.
IT WOULD CULMINATE IN THE INFAMOUS CULTURAL REVOLUTION, WHICH CLAIMED TENS OF MILLIONS OF VICTIMS…AND IT PLACED MING’S GRANDFATHER–A PROMINENT INTELLECTUAL–IN TERRIBLE DANGER.
FORTUNATELY, HE SAW IT COMING.
TSAI: They knew early on, when these rumors started coming, that they would be targeted. And my grandfather fled immediately. He knew.
GATES: Um hmm.
TSAI: A lot of his friends that stayed were killed.
TSAI: Just because they were “threats to the government.” And he absolutely would have been killed. People don’t realize the simple fact, more people were killed during the Cultural Revolution than the Holocaust.
TSAI: Both are horrific. Obviously, the way the Holocaust was done was even more horrific with the gas chambers and whatnot. But more millions were killed over a longer period of time. The reasons are equally stupid. One because you’re Jewish, one because you’re a thinker. I mean, both are just horrific.
GATES VO: MING’S GRANDFATHER SPENT THREE YEARS RUNNING FROM THE COMMUNISTS… FLEEING FROM BEIJING–TO SHANGHAI–TO GUANGO, THEN TO MACAU–UNTIL HE FINALLY REACHED NATIONALIST-CONTROLLED TAIWAN IN 1951.
HE WAS LUCKY JUST TO BE ALIVE.
BUT FREEDOM CAME AT A COST. HE AND HIS WIFE HAD LEFT BEHIND ALMOST EVERYTHING THEY OWNED. SO THEY HAD TO REBUILD THEIR LIVES FROM SCRATCH––FIRST IN TAIWAN AND THEN IN THE UNITED STATES.
MING’S GRANDFATHER WOULD BE FOREVER MARKED BY THE EXPERIENCE…
TSAI: Ye-ye was so frugal and cheap. Look, he lived through a few wars, right?
GATES: Yeah, sure.
TSAI: He was in prison in Japan. And so on the hottest Dayton, Ohio summer days––your 95 to 100 percent humidity––Nainai, my grandma, would call my dad and says, in Chinese, you know, He turned off the air conditioning again.
TSAI: Right? Because he wanted to save money.
GATES: Yeah, of course.
TSAI: So then Dad would have to drive there and like, Ye-ye, you cannot turn this off, and tried to explain, engineering-wise, that it cost more energy to turn it on and off.
GATES: That’s true.
TSAI: …and blah, blah, blah. He’d be like, Yeah, yeah, yeah. As soon as he’d leave, turn it back off.
TSAI: And they had plenty of money. They’re not rich, but they had plenty of money for electricity. But it was the mindset.
GATES VO: EACH OF MY GUESTS HAD NOW SEEN THEIR FAMILY’S IMMIGRANT ROOTS REVEALED–AND HEARD STORIES OF CHALLENGES FACED AND OVERCOME BY THEIR FIRST ANCESTORS TO ARRIVE IN THIS COUNTRY.
NOW I WANTED TO TAKE THEM BACK FURTHER BACK IN TIME–BACK TO THE MOST DISTANT ANCESTORS WE COULD NAME.
FOR TOM COLICCHIO, THIS MEANT GOING TO A TINY MOUNTAIN TOWN IN SOUTHERN ITALY…
GATES VO: THIS IS WHERE MOST OF TOM’S ANCESTORS COME FROM–AND HE KNOWS ALMOST NOTHING ABOUT THEM…
GATES: Those are your great-grandparents, Gaetano Marino and Raffaela Donata Schiavina.You ever heard of these people?
GATES VO: USING CHURCH AND TOWN RECORDS, WE WERE ABLE TO TRACE HIS FAMILY BACK SIX GENERATIONS IN VALLATTA.
COLICCHIO: This is a register of deaths in Vallata in 1814. And you have Salvatore Colicchio, who was born in Vallata in 1744.
GATES: Seventeen forty-four. Man, that is before the American Revolution.
COLICCHIO: That’s amazing.
GATES VO: TOM WANTED TO KNOW WHY HIS FAMILY EVER LEFT VALLATA.
IT LOOKED IDYLLIC.
BUT OUR RESEARCH SUGGESTED THAT THE TOWN, WHILE BEAUTIFUL TO BEHOLD, WAS A VERY DIFFICULT PLACE TO LIVE, BUFFETED FOR CENTURIES BY POVERTY AND VIOLENCE.
THINGS REACHED A HEAD IN THE 1860S, WHEN––WITH THE POPULATION STRUGGLING TO FEED ITSELF––THE ITALIAN GOVERNMENT LEVIED A HARSH WAVE OF NEW TAXES.
THE RULE OF LAW IN VALLATA SIMPLY BROKE DOWN.
GROUPS OF BANDITS, KNOWN AS BRIGANDS, BEGAN TO ROAM THE COUNTRYSIDE. SOME EVEN ROBBED CITY HALL.
LOCAL NEWSPAPERS WERE FILLED WITH ARTICLES TELLING THE CITIZENS, ARM YOURSELF.
COLICCHIO: (Reading) Sons of Abel, charged with defending your territory…the best defense is yourselves. Take up arms, and if you don’t find yourselves with any, buy some. At the first sight of the brigands, ring your bells like crazy.
GATES: (Laughs) Ring your bells like crazy, man. They must have been living in terror.
GATES: Now I wonder if your family would have joined the community defense against these bandits. What do you think?
COLICCHIO: I would imagine so. (Laughs)
GATES: (Laughs) You guys seem pretty close knit.
COLICCHIO: I, I think that if you had to take up arms, my family would probably take up arms.
GATES VO: SOME OF TOM’S ANCESTORS MAY VERY WELL HAVE FOUGHT THE BANDITS––WE CAN’T TELL FOR CERTAIN.
WE DO KNOW, HOWEVER, THAT ONE MEMBER OF TOM’S FAMILY TOOK A DIFFERENT ROUTE.
TOM’S THIRD GREAT UNCLE––A MAN NAMED VITO MARINO––WAS ARRESTED AS A BANDIT––AND BROUGHT TO TRIAL BEFORE HIS FELLOW TOWNSPEOPLE.
COLICCHIO: So let me understand this. So he was…he was arrested for…
GATES: Being a bandit.
COLICCHIO: For being a bandit.
GATES: Yeah, Vito Marino, the brigand, is your great great granduncle.
COLICCHIO: (Laughs) Okay…
GATES: Well, we wanted to see how Vito fared after he was caught and stood trial. Could you please turn the page?
GATES: Could you read the transcribed…?
COLICCHIO: He didn’t do so well.
COLICCHIO: (Reading) The bandits were condemned to death and killed by a firing squad outside of the Church of St. Vito.
GATES: Tom, unfortunately, your great-great-grand uncle, Vito, was executed.
COLICCHIO: For being a thief.
GATES: He was killed by a firing squad in front of the church. In front of that church right there.
COLICCHIO: This church. Wow. This is amazing. Hm.
GATES VO: THE MORE WE RESEARCHED, THE MORE WE REALIZED THAT TOM’S FAMILY IN VALLATA FACED EXTRAORDINARY CHALLENGES FOR GENERATION AFTER GENERATION.
COLICCHIO: (Reading) Avellino, Italy, June 7, 1910. Earthquake kills scores. An earthquake wrought havoc throughout the Province of Avellino in Campania.
GATES: The earthquake demolished most of Vallata. Hundreds were killed. Much of the town lived outdoors for several months. At the same time, the population was swelling, and farmland was eroding, so poverty was widespread. Did you ever hear the stories of these hardships that drove your family to migrate?
COLICCHIO: No. I, never heard stories about, uh, about, um, a hard life back in Italy. Again, they never spoke about it.
COLICCHIO: It was almost…maybe that was it: Maybe…maybe because it was so difficult, they decided that they didn’t want to repeat that history. They wanted to leave it behind.
GATES: Too painful.
GATES VO: LIKE TOM, AARON SANCHEZ WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT HIS DEEP ROOTS. WE’D ALREADY INTRODUCED HIM TO HIS GREAT-GREAT GRANDFATHER: RAFAEL GABILONDO, THE MAN WHO FIRST BROUGHT HIS FAMILY TO THE UNITED STATES FROM MEXICO.
THE NEXT STEP ON OUR JOURNEY WAS RAFAEL’S FATHER: A MAN NAMED HILARIO GABILONDO.
HILARIO IS AARON’S THIRD GREAT GRANDFATHER. AND HE’S A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN THE SANCHEZ FAMILY.
IN 1857, HILARIO WAS A COMMANDER IN THE MEXICAN ARMY–STATIONED IN SONORA–NEAR THE BORDER BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO.
IT WAS A DANGEROUS TIME.
GROUPS OF AMERICANS––CALLED FILIBUSTERS––WERE ROUTINELY CROSSING INTO SONORA TO CLAIM MEXICAN LAND AS THEIR OWN.
THE SITUATION REACHED A CRISIS POINT IN APRIL OF 1857, WHEN AN ARMY OF FILIBUSTERS SEIZED THE MEXICAN TOWN OF CABORCA.
AARON KNEW THAT HILARIO HAD BEEN INVOLVED IN THE BATTLE THAT FOLLOWED, BUT HE WANTED TO KNOW EXACTLY HOW.
WE FOUND A LETTER WRITTEN ON THE THIRD DAY OF THE FIGHT THAT TOLD THE TALE…
SANCHEZ: (Reading) With the help of the angels, the filibusters will receive an exemplary punishment. The victory will be ours because my heart tells me so.
GATES: And can you see who signed that letter?
SANCHEZ: Hilario Gabilondo.
GATES: That’s your boy, man.
SANCHEZ: That is unbelievable. That is so cool. Wow…
GATES: Your third-great-grandfather, Hilario, is essentially saying, The cavalry is on the way, and it’s me.
SANCHEZ: (Laughs) Exactly.
GATES VO: AFTER SIX DAYS OF FIGHTING, AROUND THIS SMALL CHURCH, HILARIO AND HIS MEN FORCED THE AMERICANS TO SURRENDER.
GATES: Your ancestor won.
GATES: His men swayed the battle. They surrounded and captured all the Americans. I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, Mexicans never beat the gringos.
SANCHEZ: Yeah, yeah! (Laughs) Exactly! It’s true!
GATES: (Laughs) All they did was lose!
SANCHEZ: Maybe this and the Alamo are the only two examples of that, you know.
GATES VO: IN THE AFTERMATH OF HIS VICTORY, HILARIO WAS ORDERED TO EXECUTE THE AMERICAN PRISONERS. HE CARRIED OUT HIS ORDERS WITH RUTHLESS PRECISION, SPARING ONLY THE YOUNGEST FILIBUSTER, A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD BOY.
GATES: Now the leader of the Americans, Henry Crabb, was found dead, riddled with more than 100 bullets. So they used him for target practice.
GATES: His head was completely severed and preserved in mescal.
SANCHEZ: Wow. (Laughs)
GATES: (Laughs) That’s cold, boy.
GATES: The bodies of the other Americans were left in the desert to be eaten by birds.
GATES: Why do you think your ancestor did this?
SANCHEZ: Americans would have done the same to the people of Caborca. So I think he did this to teach everybody a lesson.
SANCHEZ: Mexicans must have been really resentful towards Americans and what they were probably telling people Mexico was like, that it was overrun with people that had no scruples and no morals, all of that, you know, and they were thinking to themselves we were fine down here before you guys tried to take our land. So I can’t tell you I feel sorry for these gentlemen, these filibusters. I mean, when you try to take something by force, this is, this is what happens. If you don’t succeed, you’ve got to pay the piper. Do you know what I’m saying? The rubber met the road, as they say. (laughs)
GATES VO: IN MEXICO, AARON’S ANCESTOR IS STILL CELEBRATED AS A HERO––THE MAN WHO SAVED THE ENTIRE SONORA REGION FROM AMERICAN IMPERIALISM.
BUT AS WE RESEARCHED HILARIO’S LIFE, WE FOUND SOMETHING THAT TOOK AARON COMPLETELY BY SURPRISE.
HIS GREAT-GRANDFATHER––THE HERO OF MEXICAN INDEPENDENCE––WAS NOT BORN IN MEXICO.
GATES: This is a baptismal record…
GATES: …from Bilbao, Spain in 1822. Can you imagine? Look at that thing, handwritten.
GATES: And that is the record of the baptism of your ancestor. This means that your third great-grandfather, Hilario Gabilondo, was born, Aaron, in Bilbao, in the Basque region of Spain.
SANCHEZ: That is insane. That’s insane.
GATES VO: AARON WANTED TO KNOW HOW HILARIO GOT TO MEXICO. IT TURNS OUT, LIKE TOM’S COLLICHIO’S ITALIAN ANCESTORS, HILARIO WAS FLEEING A COUNTRY IN TURMOIL.
IN 1833, WHEN HILARIO WAS JUST ELEVEN YEARS OLD, THE SPANISH KING–– FERDINAND VII––AND THE COUNTRY DESENDED INTO CIVIL WAR. ONE OF THE BLOODIEST CONFLICTS IN SPANISH HISTORY.
AND AARON’S ANCESTOR FOUND HIMSELF AT ITS EPICENTER.
GATES: That’s a painting of your ancestor’s hometown under siege.
GATES: Over 1,000 people died in that battle alone, at a time when Bilbao’s population was less than 10,000. That means ten percent of the population was wiped out in this one battle. So you think that might have had something to do with why he split?
SANCHEZ: And also, that just…you know, conflict is in the blood, and, you know, and I think it’s undeniable.
GATES: War seems to follow your family.
SANCHEZ: Yeah, yeah, yeah. (Laughs.)
GATES VO: TO ESCAPE THE WAR IN SPAIN, HILARIO FLED TO MEXICO… THEREBY LAUNCHING AARON’S MEXICAN FAMILY.
BUT HE LEFT DEEP ROOTS BEHIND.
WE WERE ABLE TO TRACE AARON’S SPANISH FAMILY BACK FOUR GENERATIONS TO THE EARLY 1700s––REVEALING THAT THIS MEXICAN CHEF HAS A FAR MORE COMPLEX BACKGROUND THAN HE’D EVER IMAGINED…
SANCHEZ: Wow. That’s the real deal, man.
GATES: This shows that the earliest ancestor we could find on your mother’s side of your family tree was Martin Gabilondo. What’s it say?
SANCHEZ: (Reading) Sixth-great-grandfather.
GATES: Martin was born on March 31, 1713. In Spain.
SANCHEZ: That’s unbelievable.
GATES: In your family history, in your mind, you all start in Mexico.
SANCHEZ: Exactly. Yeah.
GATES: But they had to come from someplace else.
SANCHEZ: It’s true. It’s true.
GATES: So you have deep roots in Spain, deep roots in Basque country.
SANCHEZ: I think, uh, a trip is in order.
GATES: Man, that’s your roots.
GATES: This is like…you can do your Alex Haley, but back to Bilbao.
SANCHEZ: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
GATES: So when people ask you now –– when your son says, “Daddy, where are we from?” –– what are you going to say?
SANCHEZ: We’re Mexican-Americans by way of Basque…Basque country, Spain. There you go.
GATES: There you go.
GATES VO: WE’D BEEN ABLE TO TAKE MING TSAI BACK TO CHINA WITH HIS PATERNAL GRANDPARENTS WHO FLED THE COMMUNIST REVOLUTION.
TO GO BACK FURTHER IN TIME, WE TURNED TO A VERY RARE DOCUMENT.
WHEN MING’S GRANDFATHER LEFT CHINA, THERE WAS ONE OBJECT HE TOOK WITH HIM: A BOOK TRACING THE FAMILY’S GENEALOGY BACK TO THE YEAR 891 AD.
IT’S A TREASURE IN THE TSAI FAMILY.
BUT UNFORTUNATELY FOR MING, THE BOOK IS SIMPLY ORAL HISTORY, SET DOWN BY HIS ANCESTORS.
THERE HAS BEEN NO WAY TO KNOW IF IT’S TRUE, UNTIL NOW.
WE SENT RESEARCHERS TO CHINA TO TRY TO CONFIRM THE TSAI FAMILY GENEALOGY.
IT WAS A LONGSHOT.
THE COMMUNISTS HAD ORDERED THAT ALL GENEALOGICAL RECORDS BE DESTROYED IN AN EFFORT TO BREAK DOWN FAMILY STRUCTURES. THIS WAS, IN FACT, A FUNDAMENTAL PART OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION.
BUT IN SOME CASES, STONE-CARVED TABLETS––KNOWN AS STELES––HAVE SURVIVED.
BEFORE COMMUNISM, THE CHINESE LANDSCAPE WAS DOTTED WITH HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF THESE STELES.
IN MING’S HOMETOWN, ONLY ONE REMAINED STANDING.
GATES: Our researcher kept asking around and someone told her that of all of the family shrines that had existed before the Cultural Revolution, there was only one that remained standing. Can you imagine that? I mean of all these thousands…
TSAI: That’s crazy.
GATES: …just one. Could you please turn the page? Can you read the transcribed name taken from this stele?
TSAI: (Reading) Tsai Ying.
GATES: Do you know who Tsai Ying is?
TSAI: That’s…that’s the same last name.
GATES: Tsai Ying is your 36th great-grandfather.
TSAI: You’re kidding me.
GATES: The one shrine that survived is your family’s shrine.
TSAI: Come on.
GATES: That’s it, baby.
TSAI: I just got goose bumps. Wow. That’s crazy. That’s unbelievable. That is unbelievable.
GATES VO: THE STELE CONFIRMED MING’S FAMILY HISTORY TO THE LETTER… IT DOCUMENTED HIS ANCESTRY BACK TO 891 AD––AND BEYOND.
GATES: That is your family stele that miraculously survived. And what’s the odds Ming?
TSAI: I’m just…I’m so proud. That’s amazing.
GATES VO: BUT, FOR MING, THE BIGGEST SURPRISE WAS YET TO COME…
HIS FAMILY’S STELE LED OUR RESEARCHER TO RECORDS IN THE SHANGHAI LIBRARY—RECORDS THAT ALLOWED US TO CONSTRUCT A TSAI FAMILY TREE THAT STRETCHED BACK NINETY GENERATIONS!
IT WAS THE LARGEST FAMILY TREE THAT WE’VE EVER CONSTRUCTED.
AND IT CONNECTED MING TO A LEGENDARY FIGURE IN CHINESE HISTORY: HUANG DI––ONE OF CHINA’S FIRST FIVE EMPERORS—OFTEN CITED IN FOLKLORE AS THE FATHER OF THE CHINESE LANGUAGE.
TSAI: Huang Di is in the lineage…?
GATES: Huang Di. Who lived around the 27th century BC. Good God. Amazing.
TSAI: Wow. I’m practically speechless, which is rare…this is…this is life changing.
GATES: It blew our mind. (Laughs)
TSAI: It’s just…it’s incredible. It’s unbelievable, right?
GATES VO: THE RECORD SKIPS SEVERAL GENERATIONS SO PRECISE GENEALOGY IS IMPOSSIBLE HERE. BUT HUANG DI IS ROUGHLY MING’S 116th GREAT-GRANDFATHER–AND JUST ONE OF THE HUNDREDS OF NEW ANCESTORS THAT WE WERE ABLE TO NAME FOR HIM.
TSAI: It’s just so fascinating to see and to learn that…I mean, again, I was always proud to be Chinese. I knew I had good family history of 34 generations. Uh, to triple that basically and go back to Huang Di, you know, one of the original Five Emperors, is just mind blowing. But it’s so…it’s already set in motion, in my head: What did he eat? What did they all eat? How did they eat? Um, that…that’s…that’s almost like an immediate new quest, because there was definitely food tied into every one of those Tsais.
GATES VO: THOUGH THERE WERE NO EMPERORS IN TOM COLICCHIO’S FAMILY, WHEN WE LAID OUT HIS TREE, HE WAS EVERY BIT AS EXCITED AS MING.
GATES: This combines everything that we’ve learned about your family tree.
COLICCHIO: Wow. That’s amazing. Look at all these Italians. (Laughs)
GATES: How’s it feel to see a document of your family like that? Names and events brought back from the dead?
COLICCHIO: It’s really moving. Um, couple things I have to do. I have to…have to book a flight to Vallata very soon.
GATES: That’s right, absolutely.
COLICCHIO: Because I cook, I need to…I need to unearth dishes and food from this region and understand it more. Because maybe…maybe that will unlock a key as to what I do and why I do it.
GATES: All right, look at all these ancestors. Think about who you met. You could cook dinner for one person…
COLICCHIO: Oh, wow.
GATES: …who would it be? And, what would you cook?
COLICCHIO: That’s a great question. God. Um, you know, I’m going to…I’m going to tell you, just because, you know, he made…he made the trip back and forth, um, Francesantonio. I want to cook for him, and I want to cook for him what they were getting in first class on that boat, not what he was getting in steerage. That’s what I want to do.
GATES: A big Porterhouse steak, I guess.
COLICCHIO: Whatever…whatever was going on…on the upper decks, that’s…that’s what he deserves.
GATES: That’s cool.
GATES: I like that.
GATES VO: ONCE WE REACHED THE END OF THE PAPER TRAIL FOR ALL THREE OF OUR GUESTS IT WAS TIME TO SEE WHAT DNA ANALYSIS COULD TELL US ABOUT THEIR MORE DISTANT PAST.
GENETIC GENEALOGY ALLOWS US TO LOOK BACK THOUSANDS OF YEARS AND DISCOVER OUR ORIGINS.
FOR TOM AND MING, OUR TESTS ECHOED WHAT WE’D ALREADY LEARNED—AND HAPPILY CONFIRMED THEIR CHERISHED FAMILY ROOTS…
BUT AARON SANCHEZ WAS A DIFFERENT MATTER. HE HAD SOMETHING HE WANTED TO KNOW—A QUESTION THAT ONLY DNA COULD ANSWER.
THE PAPER TRAIL HAD TAKEN HIS FAMILY BACK TO THE EARLY 1700S IN SPAIN AND MEXICO. BUT THERE WERE NO RECORDS REGARDING HIS DEEPER ROOTS.
HE KNEW THAT MEXICO WAS A PLACE WHERE SPANISH COLONISTS, NATIVE AMERICANS AND AFRICAN SLAVES HAD MIXED FOR CENTURIES—IN A VIOLENT HISTORY THAT ULTIMATELY PRODUCED A PROFOUNDLY DIVERSE PEOPLE.
AND AARON TOLD ME HE WAS ESPECIALLY EAGER TO LEARN HOW THAT HISTORY PLAYED OUT IN HIS OWN HERITAGE
AARON SANCHEZ: I was hoping to know if there was any indigenous blood in…in my family.
GATES: Native American?
SANCHEZ: Native American. That’s something that calls to me a lot, and I want to see if it’s actually true.
GATES VO: AARON GUESSED THAT HE MIGHT BE AS MUCH AS A QUARTER NATIVE AMERICAN—AND IT TURNED OUT, HE WAS A VERY GOOD GUESSER.
GATES: Can you read those percentages?
SANCHEZ: Hey, hey! I was…I was close! Look at that!
SANCHEZ: I’m 66.4 European…
SANCHEZ: 24.6 Native American…
GATES: That means that if we went back far enough, your sixth-great-grandmother, seventh-great-grandmother, was a Native American.
SANCHEZ: There you go.
GATES: A direct Native American.
SANCHEZ: The original people.
GATES: The original people…on your mom’s side. So like your mother’s fourth- or fifth-great-grandmother…or whatever…we don’t know, was an actual Native American.
SANCHEZ: Love that.
SANCHEZ: Love that.
GATES VO: AARON NOT ONLY HAD A LARGE AMOUNT OF NATIVE AMERICAN ANCESTRY—HE ALSO HAD A SIGNIFICANT AMOUT OF AFRICAN ANCESTRY.
GATES: So you’re two-thirds European, one-third Native American, and you’ve got some brother in there, man…3.7 percent is a lot.
SANCHEZ: Mmm! That’s unbelievable.
GATES: Unbelievable. Did you ever think you were a brother, brother? (Laughs)
SANCHEZ: No, I didn’t, but you know…you know, for me, this is very interesting because…you know, now I’ll be able to speak so much more confidently about who I am as a person, knowing where I’m from. You know, now there’s not any guessing game anymore. Now I can speak very concretely, with a lot of pride, uh, about my ancestry and my lineage. And it’s very interesting because now, as I hear their stories, I can understand where elements of my personality come from now. You know, and that’s another real insightful part of this exercise.
GATES: You mean that macho warrior part?
SANCHEZ: That macho warrior part, you know….
GATES: Aaron Andres Sanchez, thanks for allowing us to introduce you to your ancestors.
SANCHEZ: Thank you. Appreciate it my brother.
TSAI: Thank you very much Doctor.
GATES VO: THAT’S THE END OF MY JOURNEY INTO THE FAMILY STORIES OF AARON, MING AND TOM.
BUT AT ITS CORE, THIS IS A JOURNEY THAT WILL NEVER REALLY END…
NEW IMMIGRANTS LIKE MY GUESTS ANCESTORS COME TO AMERICA EVERY DAY. BRINGING NEW RECIPES, AND NEW IDEAS, HELPING TO BROADEN OUR SENSE OF WHO WE ARE AS A PEOPLE. WRITING OUR COUNTRY’S HISTORY, AS THEY MAKE THEIR OWN.
IT’S BEEN A PRIVILEGE TO TELL JUST A FEW OF THEIR STORIES.
PLEASE JOIN ME AGAIN TO HEAR MORE, NEXT TIME ON FINDING YOUR ROOTS.