The First Mexican Hillbilly, published in New Madrid, 2007

People talk about how Mexico is infiltrating the south now but Mexico has been infiltrating my family for a hundred years, ever since my great-great-grandfather Jose Massalenia Pablis turned up in Gradyville, Kentucky, at the age of thirteen. An old newspaper clipping says he came back with a preacher who had served during the Mexican-American War. My father says that he lived with the preacher until he was grown, making shoes and bowls to sell just like he had in his homeland. He married Black-Irish Nancy. All we know about her is that she had two brothers, Abdolonomous and Isaac. On his wedding day, Jose changed his name to Joseph M. Franklin and signed his marriage license with an “X”. The clerk wrote “White” in as his race, but filed the document under “Coloreds” in the local courthouse, where it is still located.

None of us ever knew why he came here, only that he did and that he brought Mexico with him, then handed it down for five generations. My grandfather’s sisters were named Viola and Suez, and his brothers, Jim Isaac and Junis, were as brown as the soil they tilled, with not a hair on their bodies to speak of. Great-Uncle Junis, who is now eighty-six, tells me that he is hairless because he is Indian. “Yeah, Grandpa came from Mexico,” he says, “but he was Indian.” I think about what Uncle Junis says, and I understand how so many have robbed Mexicans of their Indian heritage. I can’t imagine Mexico without Native American ties. I can’t imagine my family without Mexico. My daddy has never seen Mexico, yet it has been beating in his heart for sixty-seven years. Mexico set the tone for my grandfather’s life, for my father’s life, and ultimately, for mine.
For me it was a piece of treasured heritage. For my father, it was a stigma. He was brown at a time when everybody in the south was either Black or White. There weren’t any categories for Mexican-Americans in those days, so his family got the shaft, not being excluded as blacks were but not being included as whites either. They were always the hired hands, the servants, playing second fiddle. Daddy used to get spanked by his uncles if he said any “Mexican” words or did anything “Indian.” They were trying to eradicate the label from our family. When I got to be a teenager, I tried to stick it back on because I felt we were being robbed of our identity. Maybe I believed that because my great-great-grandfather had kept his mother’s maiden name, some part of him didn’t want to completely forget who he was or had been in his youth. Or maybe it was just that in a nation of mixed people, I needed to identify with a group. I needed to belong. As far as I know, there weren’t any other Mexicans in these parts back then, and maybe just maybe, my great-great-grandfather was the first Mexican in the state. At any rate, he was here, and because he was, I am too.
Three years ago, I went to Mexico and gave a speech at a church in Spanish. I told the people there the story of my great-great-grandfather, and of how without Mexico and all of its culture, my family would never have existed. I told them about the wildflowers of southeastern Kentucky that had sprung from one stray seed the wind blew our way. Now every time I see a Mexican man working in somebody’s field, I think of my great-great-grandfather and wonder if he was a prophet, a foreteller of what would one day be commonplace.

6 thoughts on “The First Mexican Hillbilly, published in New Madrid, 2007

  1. Hi Darlene,
    My name is Kathy. I recently started a blog called TheMexicanHillbilly. I used to get teased and called this name as a child. Back then it hurt to be different so I cried a lot but as I have grown older I have learned to embrace this title. I was looking this name up to see if there was any more mexican hillbilly’s out in the world and was shocked to find a drink by that name! That’s when your website popped up and I got the pleasure of reading this post! I was hoping that we could possibly meet someday. I would love to interview you and feature you and your work on my blog. You are a wonderful writer and I definitely know I will be reading more of your work now that I have found you!

  2. Kathy,

    It is so nice to hear from you. You blessed my day. I didn’t know there was a drink by that name, either! Wow, the things people will name a drink. haha. I would very much like to have you interview me. Please feel free to email me at any time at Maybe, since we both live in hillbilly country, we can work something out:)

  3. I am not sure why but every time I send to your email it says the message was unable to be sent?
    Hi Darlene,

    My name is Kathy Roussel. I am the lady who commented on your blog last night. I am so glad to have found your work! I also am a mixture of Cherokee, Mexican and French and of course probably more that I don’t even know about. My dad was Mexican and my mom was a blonde haired, blue eyed lady country lady.
    Also, I definitely want to purchase a copy of I Listened, Momma so that we can discuss it during your interview. I was reading about the loss of your dad and wanted to tell you I think it is great what you are doing towards the fight against cancer. Unfortunately, I was never able to meet my dad and I lost my mom to cancer a few years ago. There aren’t too many people who have not been affected by this horrible disease.

    I am not sure if I was on the right site or not but when I tried to click on the book to see how to purchase it it said the link was broken. I would like to purchase a copy.
    If possible can you email me at

    Kathy Roussel

  4. Joe pablio was my great great grandfather too. His son Zack my great grandfather, Zack’s daughter Ellen Curry was my grandmother and her daughter Amanda was my mother. I know very few of my relatives and would love to meet some of them. There are some of us in southern Illinois and also around Danville Illinois. There is a reunion in Bush Illinois September 19 2015 .

  5. Pingback: My Dad’s Formula for Being a Father - Whispering Wind

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