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Lucas Benitez: Lukasheva + Chihuahua + Ells Island + El Paso = East L.A.

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KCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from California State University, Los Angeles student, Lucas Benitez:

"My name is Lucas Benitez. My mother is Mita Cuaron and my father is Tomas Benitiez.

"I just graduated high school, I'm [now] going to Cal State L.A. I spent the summer working with the Studio for Southern California History.

"I was born in Kaiser Hollywood. I lived in Monterey Park with my parents for the first six or seven years. They got divorced. My mother moved to South Pasadena. It was both their intention to end up in South Pasadena. But after the divorce my mother moved there because she wanted me to attend the middle school and the high school, which is pretty reputable in Los Angeles.

"If you look at me, you probably say I'm mostly Russian and a little bit Mexican. But it's the other way around - I'm 75% Mexican and 20% percent Russian and 2.5% Apache and 2.5% Irish.

"It thrills me to know that I'm part Apache, part Irish, part Ukrainian-Russian, part Mexican, and part American, in that sense, too.

"On my mom's side, my grandma Sylvia - who is still living with us today - her parents came from what is now Ukraine, what was then Russia. You could either call me part Russian or part Ukrainian, either way works.

"They came from a town called Lukasheva in Ukraine and they were running from the pogroms, they were running from Jewish persecution.

"They already had some children there - I believe my great uncle Al, who has passed away, and my great aunt Rose who is still alive today - I believe they had those two children there but they came to the United States and they went through Ellis Island, and they had my grandmother in New York.

"So they came from the town Lukasheva, but when they came to Ellis Island they had the name Lukashevsky. But of course when they came to Ellis Island they shortened it to Lucas. And that's my grandmother's last name and that's how I got my first name today.

"So they are living in New York and they eventually came to California. And my grandmother meets my grandfather who I believe was born in Arizona. Both of his parents were born in Chihuahua. This is my grandfather Ralph. He moved to East L.A. with his parents and he met my grandmother there.

"On my father's side, my great grandmother is full-blooded Native American Apache. She was born in Texas and my grandmother Linda was born in El Paso. I believe that Linda's father was born in Chihuahua.

"It's kind of crazy with his father. Linda's father's last name was Marquez - I don't remember his first name. His father, his real name was Frances McKenna, born in County Cork, Ireland. It turns out his parents were killed in a train accident so my great grandfather lived with the Marquezes, so he adapted the name Francisco Marquez. And that is my grandma Linda's grandfather.

"My grandfather Tommy, Linda's husband at the time, both of his parents were born in Chihuahua, and he was also born in El Paso.

"So my grandfather Tommy's father and my grandmother Linda's father both knew each other in El Paso. They weren't close friends but they knew who each other were. and they both families eventually moved to California - to East L.A. - and that's where my grandfather Tommy and my grandmother Linda met, at Roosevelt High School.

"They were in high school in 1947. My grandfather was student body president and my grandmother was student body secretary. They met and they had my father in 1952, the same year that my mother was born. She was born, I think at Queen of Angels hospital.

"My mother was born June 14; my father was born June 27. My mother doesn't like it too much, but my dad gets a kick out of it, he always goes, 'So Mita, your birthday is in a couple of days, and you are still a whole two weeks older than me.' Because they are getting to that stage of life where they make fun of each other.

"My grandfather Ralph and my grandmother Sylvia - they were both communists in the `50s. And my father's mother, Linda, she was an extreme lefty. Unfortunately, my grandfather Tommy was a Republican, so the four of them didn't really hang out too much.

"Ralph and Sylvia as well as Linda they all went to HUAC - House Un-American Activities Committee - meetings in the `50s. And my grandmother and my grandfather would speak in front of all these representatives.

"According to both my parents, there were plenty of times when they were there at the same time as children, hanging out in the corner, waiting for their parents. My grandfather Tommy's parents and my grandmother Linda's parents sort of know each other in El Paso. And my grandmother and my grandfather Linda and Ralph and Sylvia they sort of knew each other in the `50s. Probably my parents played together as children."

-- Lucas Benitez
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)

Photo: Jeremy Rosenberg

**=Jeremy Rosenberg has written for The Studio for Southern California History.

This post originally appeared under the headline, "Arrival Story: Lucas Benitez"

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