Sonia Gomez and Marla Ramírez were a few weeks into their postdoctoral fellowships at the Mahindra Humanities Center when they met in Ramírez’s office to discuss their research and common interests. Both California natives, the women talked about their shared scholarship in the study of migration, their Los Angeles roots, and how to balance work and family.
They discussed their spouses — Ramírez’s husband, José Molina Ruano, works in construction and Gomez’s husband, Marlon, is a plumber — and discovered both men have roots in Yahualica, a small town in the Mexican state of Jalisco. It wasn’t long before they realized they shared the family name Ruano.
“This cannot be!” Gomez screamed.
Ramírez was giddy: “Oh my goodness, we’re family!”
Furious texting to extended family ensued, and the couples soon realized José’s maternal grandfather, Pablo Ruano-Ruano, is a first cousin of Marlon’s paternal grandmother, Guadalupe Ruano-Gomez. The couples said that both José and Marlon’s fair skin, light hair, and eye color as babies are common traits in Yahualica, which experienced an influx of Germans in the 19th century. Both José and Marlon — whose father, Raul, was born there, spoke about their families having a German ancestor named Ruan; they theorized that at some point an “o” was added “to make it more Spanish-sounding.” During Christmas break, Ramírez’s in-laws, Refugio and Carmela Molina, visited and were shown pictures of Marlon’s family.
“They said, ‘That’s my Tia Lupe,’” Ramírez recalled. “We exchanged notes and stories. That is how we gathered the information and verified our family connection.”
The 34-year-old historian of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands is an assistant professor of sociology and sexuality studies at San Francisco State University. She studies the history of the Mexican repatriation during the Great Depression that resulted in approximately 1 million removals of Mexicans and Mexican Americans from 1921 to 1944. Ramírez has located U.S. citizens of Mexican descent who were unconstitutionally removed from their native country during the Depression and eventually returned to the U.S. As an oral historian, she interviewed banished U.S. citizens, their children, and their grandchildren to understand the prolonged consequences of unconstitutional mass removals across three generations, paying close attention to gendered migration experiences.