“I am an American!” That statement alone cannot provide a visual description of the person making the claim. Unlike most countries, America comprises a diverse population of people with ethnic backgrounds that originate from every corner of the globe. This type of demographic-recipe enables America to be a world leader among other countries.
My pursuit of family history was shaped by several motivations; the desire to carve out a place in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations; and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.
Researching my family’s genealogy was something that fascinated me at a young age. In 1978, I remember asking my great auntie about where she was born. She told me that she was the only one in our family born in Puerto Rico and the rest of the family was born in Kauai, Hi. Since that day, I was determined to find out why my family left Puerto Rico for Hawaii.
To kick-off my research, I purchased a genealogy book to place death certificates, obituaries and any other piece of information that provided some type of identification – this would be the foundation of my research. Also, I decided to subscribe to an online genealogically research agency in order in order to gets ideas on how to conduct my research and to help concentrate my efforts on solid leads to my past. A report from the census also gave an accurate picture of information about my family.
At the peak of my research, I stumbled across overwhelming evidence that I have a history of military war veterans in my family. This was near and dear to me because of my service in the U.S. Air National Guard, and now, civilian in the Air Force.
My great, great Uncle Ramon Vegas served in the Navy during World War I; my second cousin Louis Troche served in the Army as an infantryman during World War II; and my father Louis Vegas, served in the Army as a supply technician, during the Korean War. Also, my uncle, Cruz Carvalho and cousin, Jay Hosino, both served in the Vietnam War as infantrymen. At present, my three sisters, cousin and nephew are currently serving or will be serving in today’s military.
My research not only revealed a wealth of information, but also put me in contact with relatives that I had not seen nor spoke to in a long while and for others, a first-time meeting. While getting acquainted, I found many of my cousins were just a few years away from the century-age mark and they still looked great!
The death of my father in 2003, took me to Kauai. There, more stories were shared and interesting family-facts uncovered, further closing our family circle and bringing me closer to self-identification. It was here where I began to find more about the convergence of my Latino and Asian and Pacific-Islander heritage.
During my initial search, I entered the phrase, “Immigration from Puerto Rico to Hawaii” and it revealed pages and pages of useful data. Various publications explained how Puerto Rico’s sugar industry was devastated by two hurricanes in 1899. The devastation caused a worldwide shortage in sugar and shifted the huge demand for the product to Hawaii. Sugar plantation owners there, unable to sustain the increase in operations, began recruiting experienced laborers fromPuerto Rico to work on their sugar cane crops. From these articles, I found out my family’s exodus from Puerto Rico was in search of a better life – not because they had better beaches.
Initially, Puerto Rican immigrants were not granted U.S. citizenship; however, after the onset of WWII, the decision was rescinded and my relatives became citizens. With that, they were able to answer their country’s call to arms and fight for its freedoms.
I remember my father telling me stories of how he saw Japanese aircraft flying over the island, Dec 7, 1941. He was 12-years old and unaware what was going on until the first bomb dropped. The next day, the news confirmed what he had feared and that was the reason he joined the military — my father loved this country. He retired from civil service with the General Services Administration after 25 years of service. Actually, my father encouraged me to join the military and it has been the most rewarding experience ever.
On the non-military side of my research, there was a great story about my cousin Louie, known to everyone else as Uncle Louie. For many years, Uncle Louie greeted visitors in Kauai. He was affectionately nicknamed the “Mayor of Salt Pond” by a former island mayor; Uncle Louie can still be heard sharing his love of Kauai history and culture with visitors lucky enough to meet him.
Last year the Kauai County Council honored Uncle Louie by naming the Salt Pond Beach pavilion in his name. Even at 96 years old, you can occasionally find him at the Salt Pond greeting visitors to his beloved island location.
I have found a great sense of pride learning where my family came from and how we have influenced our great nation by serving in the military. I am proud of our heritage.