In this gorgeously written and “vividly fascinating” (Elle) account, a prize-winning journalist digs deep into his ancestry looking for the origins of his unusual last name and discovers that he comes from one of America’s earliest mixed-race families.
“My dad’s family was a mystery,” writes journalist Joe Mozingo, having grown up with only rumors about where his father’s family was from—Italy, France, the Basque Country. But when a college professor told the blue-eyed Californian that his family name may have come from sub-Saharan Africa, Mozingo set out on an epic journey to uncover the truth. He soon discovered that all Mozingos in America, including his father’s line, appeared to have descended from a black man named Edward Mozingo who was brought to America as a slave in 1644 and, after winning his freedom twenty-eight years later, became a tenant tobacco farmer, married a white woman, and fathered one of the country’s earliest mixed-race family lineages.
Tugging at the buried thread of his origins, Joe Mozingo has unearthed a saga that encompasses the full sweep of America’s history and lays bare the country’s tortured and paradoxical experience with race. Haunting and beautiful, Mozingo’s memoir paints a world where the lines based on color are both illusory and life altering. He traces his family line from the ravages of the slave trade to the mixed-race society of colonial Virginia and through the brutal imposition of racial laws.
L.A. Times reporter Mozingo's thorough scouring of his genealogy from Africa to Jamestown, Va., is a quirky, often exhausting, and finally satisfying account.Having wondered all his life about his mysterious surname his family believed it was either Italian or Basque Mozingo finally acted on intelligence that the name is actually Bantu, from Central Africa, and that most of the Mozingos in America could be traced to a black slave living in Jamestown, Va., in the 1600s. This information comes in the first chapter of Mozingo's work, following which he describes years of tortuous research into the life of forebear Edward Mozingo. Edward was most likely a young teenager when he arrived in Jamestown, became a servant of one of the colony's major planters, was freed as a result of a lawsuit, married a white woman, and, while living on a Virginia farm called Pantico Run, fathered several children who passed as white. The fiddle-playing Edward died in 1712. With irony and wit displayed in encounters with unprepossessing relatives, the author challenges received notions of race and class.