Stephen Duncan


I’ve always known that I was adopted. My parents celebrated my second birthday Dec. 26, the Feast of St. Stephen. I knew that my heritage contained German, Irish, Scottish, Native American and a few other things mixed in. My parents were close to that, and my father made sure I learned Native American customs enough so that the Kiowa Tia Piah Society of Oklahoma took me in.

This summer through DNA testing I came to meet my siblings, four half-brothers, a half-sister and my birth mother. The adoption agency had gotten a lot right, but there were surprises. It turns out my great grandparents were both from Jalostotitlan, Mexico, and at least one of them was part Ashkenaz, likely mixed with Sephardim — the Jews of Spain. The Sephardim were given a choice, convert, or flee. Many traveled to Mexico.

I got to visit over break, arriving in Mexico City on St. Stephen’s Day, then traveling to Leon and on to Jalostotitlan. Jalostotitlan is a charming city of some 72,000 people in the highlands of Jalisco. The town square has the beautiful Basilica of the Assumption and the Chapel of the Sacred Heart, both dating to the 16th century. The central square is lovely and is filled at night with the sounds of children playing and people enjoying one another’s company. I had some of the best Mexican pastries ever. Rodeo is still a part of the local culture. The city also has a tourist flair with Carnival, much like Mardi Gras, Day of the Dead festivities, a mariachi festival and other celebrations.

Apparently, grandmother loved to go to Guadalajara to dance, so that was our next stop. Driving past the fields of agave was beautiful. Farming, ranching and tequila are important here. Guadalajara, 500 something years old, was more than I was prepared for. The cathedral is one of the hundreds of churches in the area. It’s in remarkable shape for a structure some 500 years old. The city was filled with life and excitement and sprawling university buildings dating back to the 16th century. I knew that there had been music taught here for 500 years. The School of Music at the University is just a few blocks from the cathedral. We stayed at a marvelous hotel with a rooftop pool. Just across the street was a charro store. I was able to get a number of things for my traje de charro and a sombrero that would have been $300 here.

We traveled back to Mexico City across four states of central Mexico — truly a beautiful land. I can see why my great grandparents loved their hometown. Had it not been for Pancho Villa, they would never have left. But, he threatened the town and they sought safety in the United States, eventually ending up in Oklahoma. But Mexico will always be a part of the family — and now also of me. Exploring your roots can be a wonderful thing.

Stephen Duncan lives in Galveston.


(2) comments

Mark Stevens

Thanks, Stephen. Charming and touching story on several levels.
Maybe I was reading too much into it, but your reference to Pancho Villa rings a contemporary bell, with so many folks fleeing revolutions and similar unrest in Central America.
Hey....Only in America!!
Mark W. Stevens

Paula Flinn

Dr. Duncan, I, too, discovered some surprises in my DNA that made it so worthwhile to explore. I recommend “23 & Me” if you want to find relatives, and/or learn more about your health and your heritage.

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