GATES: I'm Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Welcome to Finding Your Roots.
In this episode, we'll meet musician Cyndi Lauper, and actors Danny Trejo, and Jamie Chung.
Three Americans who are about to retrace the journeys of their immigrant ancestors.
LAUPER: Look at what she did.
She made it possible for me to be born here.
TREJO: It's shined a light, like on who I am, on where I come from and who I come from.
CHUNG: It's totally flipped my perspective of my family.
GATES: To uncover their roots, we've used every tool available.
Genealogists combed through the paper trail their ancestors left behind, while DNA experts utilized the latest advances in genetic analysis to reveal secrets hundreds of years old.
And we've compiled it all into a book of life, a record of all of our discoveries, TREJO: Wow.
GATES: And a window into the hidden past.
LAUPER: Get out!
Oh, my God!
TREJO: I've got history, you know what I mean?
That's what it is.
I've got history.
CHUNG: It just always kind of blows my mind that immigrant families are able to make such a jarring journey and still survive.
GATES: My three guests descend from people who made immense efforts to come to the United States, traveling great distances with little more than a dream.
In this episode, they're going meet the men and women who made these journeys.
Follow them back to their homelands, and uncover the stories they left behind.
(theme music playing).
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ GATES: Danny Trejo is living proof that appearances can be deceiving.
For more than 30 years, the convict-turned-movie star has played an array of violent men.
With a gusto that can be terrifying to behold.
(growling) In person, however, Danny is as sweet as they come, and his story is heart-wrenching.
He grew up in a Mexican American community in Los Angeles, with family all around.
but his childhood home was an unhappy place, dominated by what Danny calls, a "Toxic machismo."
Searching for a role model, he was drawn to a warm-hearted uncle with an unfortunate occupation.
TREJO: The biggest problem that I had, growing up, was that in my family, all the men did kind of construction work, and they were always complaining about their work, and they're always like angry about, you know... (growls).
TREJO: And my Uncle Gilbert, who was a, for lack of a better word, a drug dealer, uh, he never complained.
So, I kind of like gravitated towards that.
TREJO: You know everybody was talking about we need money, we need this.
TREJO: And Gilbert was, "Hey, want to go fishing?"
GATES: Tragically, Gilbert died young.
And, for years, it looked like Danny would follow in his footsteps.
He was helping to deal drugs by the time he was seven, by 12, he was using heroin, had joined a gang, and was committing robberies.
All told, Danny would spend more than a decade in-and-out of prison before finally getting sober.
But sobriety was just a start.
Danny still had to earn his freedom.
TREJO: When I went to the parole board, I remember they said, "Hey, Trejo, you've gone 11 months without a beef, how have you done it?"
And I told them about 12-step program and, yeah, yeah, yeah, well, we're going to give you a chance to spread your wings.
TREJO: And uh, and then they said bring us back a life sentence, will you, because we're tired of messing with you.
TREJO: And I, I remember that hit me.
TREJO: It wasn't like, like I cared, but it was like you guys got no faith at all, you know what I mean?
TREJO: It's like: "Bring us back a life sentence!"
GATES: Danny proved the parole board wrong.
He turned his back on crime.
And began working as a drug counselor.
He had no plans for the future, but fortune was now on his side.
In 1984, an actor whom he was sponsoring told him that he feared he was about to relapse on the set of a Hollywood film.
Danny visited the set to help, and found his calling.
TREJO: This guy says, "Hey, do you want to be in this movie?"
And I said, "What do I got to do?"
He says, "You want to be an extra?"
GATES: You said, "What's an extra?"
TREJO: Extra what?
TREJO: And then he goes, "Can you act like a convict?"
GATES: He said... TREJO: And it was kind of a joke, you know?
I mean, you know, you... GATES: You said, "I went to school for that."
TREJO: Yeah, and I said I'm a professional, you know?
And so, they'd give me a, a blue shirt, and I took off my shirt.
I have a big tattoo.
When I, they saw that tattoo, he goes, "Hey, wait, wait, hold on!"
And, and he goes like this.
TREJO: Now, I don't know that's framing the shot.
TREJO: You know what I mean?
I'm trying to figure out what gang sign is that, you know?
You know, but by the grace of God, my whole life changed.
GATES: Like Danny, actor Jamie Chung followed an unlikely path to stardom... Jamie was born in San Francisco, the child of two Korean immigrants.
Growing up, her parents worked in hotels and restaurants, struggling mightily to support their children.
Meanwhile, Jamie was struggling too, but in ways that her parents couldn't fully comprehend.
She recalls that even in high school, she and her friends were made to feel unwelcome in their native land.
CHUNG: I would always be a little nervous to go out in public or eat out with them because I knew we would always get heckled in some way.
CHUNG: Whether it was cat called or told to go back to our own countries, or you know, derogatory names being thrown at us, it was, it almost always happened every time.
GATES: So, what would you do?
I mean, were you prepared for this?
You know, Black people call it, "The Talk?"
GATES: Did you parents have "the Talk" with you?
My parents did not have, "The Talk."
I think their generation, you know, how they coped was keep their head down and work hard and, and don't cause trouble and don't say anything.
GATES: Racism wasn't all that Jamie had to navigate by herself.
She fell in love with acting as a child, but was afraid to share her ambitions at home.
So she ended up going to college, and majoring in economics.
GATES: If you had wanted at the age of 18 or 19, like many of my guests, to go straight to Broadway, would your parents have had a heart attack?
GATES: Yeah, mine would have too.
CHUNG: Yes, I mean, even after college when I was pursuing this career, uhm, you know, making ends meet being an extra on movie and television shows, I didn't tell my parents what I was doing.
I didn't want them to have to worry about me or in any way discourage me.
GATES: Uh, yeah.
I was thinking of the latter.
They would say are you crazy?
GATES: How do you say are you crazy in Korean?
GATES: Without any input from her parents, Jamie plotted her own career.
Moving from reality TV to a bit part on a soap opera, to leading roles in Hollywood.
Along the way, she had a revelatory moment.
At age 25, she was cast as the star of ABC's Samurai Girl, one of the first TV series with a female Asian lead.
Suddenly, Jamie realized that her dreams had actually come true.
CHUNG: I remember driving down Barham, right by Warner Brothers Studios, there's this one building that always has an ABC family like billboard on it and it was this picture blown up and I was like this is, this is it.
CHUNG: This is insane.
Like I have to tell my parents now.
GATES: Did you jump out of the car and take a picture?
CHUNG: Of course, I did.
Of course I did.
GATES: And then, you go that's me.
CHUNG: Yeah, that's me.
GATES: My third guest is pop star Cyndi Lauper.
Cyndi has been a global sensation for almost four decades, but she remains very much a product of her childhood home.
She grew up in Queens, New York, surrounded by grandparents and extended family who'd immigrated from Italy.
Some might have found the environment nurturing.
To Cyndi, it was stifling, and she could see how it had already stifled her mother; a gifted singer who'd been unable to use her gift.
LAUPER: My mother had a scholarship to a Catholic high school in the city for voice... GATES: Hmm.
LAUPER: And my grandparents, my grandfather, I'm sure, said, "Oh, no.
Only whores go to school in the city."
LAUPER: And so that was dashed.
GATES: That is so sad.
LAUPER: That was broken in her.
GATES: So, your success was, in a way, for... LAUPER: My mom.
GATES: While Cyndi's mom may have provided her with motivation, Cyndi was also possessed by a fearless determination that was hers alone.
And she needed that determination as she battled her way into the music world.
Confronting record executives who wanted her to change her band, her sound, and her style.
LAUPER: They wanted to make me the next Barbara Streisand, and I said, well, can't you find somebody else to do that, because I love, you know, I love rock and roll, and I have all this energy, and what, I can't, there's not enough Prozac to stand still that long, is there?
And then they decided to do a, we will starve them out, she'll leave the band and do what we want.
LAUPER: You know, unfortunately for them, they didn't understand who they were dealing with.
They saw me sing the song, but they didn't get it.
GATES: Cyndi's self-confidence ultimately paid off.
In 1983, she hit it big with the aptly named platinum-selling album, She's So Unusual.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the breakout single from the album was the byproduct of a battle between Cyndi and her producer.
LAUPER: And so, he comes with, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun", and I said, you gotta be kidding me.
I said, what am I supposed to do?
Like, have a lobotomy, walk around in a can-can and go, yeah?
Well, because a guy wrote it originally, and what it was about was a guy's version of, well, what do you think, girls just want to have fun, ain't we lucky?
LAUPER: So, I was like, yeah, girls just want to have sex?
Is that what the hell this is, you know?
Because I'm not doing this.
I said well this is wrong and this, he said, so change it.
And so I began to cut this out, cut that out, this needs a melody here, make this change, bring this together.
LAUPER: Say, oh, Mama dear, we're not the fortunate ones, because girls want to have fun.
LAUPER: Yeah, and we can't, ever.
LAUPER: And all of a sudden, it had this new life of its own.
GATES: It did.
LAUPER: And we all looked at each other and said... GATES: That's it.
GATES: My three guests share a common experience: all have recent immigrants in their family trees, but know little about them, thanks to the chaotic circumstances of their own lives.
It was time for that to change.
I started with Danny Trejo.
Danny's parents had a tumultuous relationship, and when Danny was three years old, his father forbade his mother to have any further contact with him.
So Danny was raised by his father.
A man who, unfortunately, did not seem to care for him.
TREJO: My dad was real, uh, loving and playful with other kids, you know, but, but not me.
Street angel, house devil.
GATES: That's what my cousins used to call their father.
He was, you know, all the, all the other kids, you know... Adored him, you know what I mean?
TREJO: And because he was always playing with them, quarters out of their ear, all that, you know what I mean, but and you know he'd always just give me a dirty look, you know?
GATES: But why?
I know you've thought about it.
And it had to be so painful.
TREJO: I don't know.
I think my dad always kind of like questioned who I was.
TREJO: You know what I mean?
And so, it just was, it was always a part.
GATES: Whatever its cause, his father's behavior meant that Danny knew little about his roots, beyond the fact that they lay in Mexico.
To explore them, we focused on the man who brought them to America; Danny's great-grandfather, Cirilo Garay.
We found him on an immigration record, crossing the border into Laredo, Texas on March 18th, 1918.
TREJO: "Cirilo Garay, age 42, accompanied by wife, three sons, a daughter, length of time intended to remain, permanent."
They were moving here permanently.
TREJO: That is awesome.
GATES: This is just before World War, World War I ends in November of 1918.
GATES: So, the war is coming to an end, and your family is coming across the border, being admitted to the States, 104 years ago.
What's it like to see that, brother?
TREJO: That just gave me a chill.
That's kind of, uh, that's amazing.
GATES: And Danny, they were on foot, man.
GATES: They immigrated with four kids, on foot.
TREJO: I'm like, I'm, I'm speechless.
GATES: Cirilo was born in San Luis Potosí, a state in central Mexico.
By the time he immigrated, he and his family were living near Monterrey, a city in the north.
To reach Laredo, they likely traveled about 140 miles, a grueling journey, with an end that was more grueling still.
Cirilo was soon working on a farm in Green, Texas.
It was an exhausting job, with few rewards.
The average wage of Mexican farm laborers in the region was 75 cents a day.
GATES: Did anyone in your family ever talk about this?
Any stories ever passed down?
GATES: Living conditions weren't any better.
Housing for Mexican laborers in Southern Texas typically consisted of a two-room shack.
Just look at that.
GATES: With an outhouse, no access to running water, and in that heat, man.
Many settlements were overcrowded, leading to diseases such as typhoid and scarlet fever, and of course this was long before air conditioning.
They're lucky if they had a fan.
What would you have done under such circumstances?
TREJO: Robbed somebody.
TREJO: I, I, well... GATES: What you going to do, you know?
TREJO: Uh, I mean, I mean, you have to leave.
I, I don't know.
GATES: Danny's great-grandfather did indeed decide to leave.
In 1920, he traded the fields for the city, and resettled his family in San Antonio.
Then tragedy struck.
His wife Dolores died of a stroke, leaving Cirilo on his own, far from home, without a partner.
But somehow, he picked up the pieces.
By 1930, he'd remarried and was living in downtown San Antonio, where astonishingly he now owned his own home as well as a grocery store.
An accomplishment that left Danny in awe.
TREJO: It's really kind of proud, you know?
TREJO: Cause, uh, you know, like, I've seen documentaries and stuff about how people were losing their houses and the Dust Bowl and coming to the, and to find out that my grandfather owned his own store and... GATES: Yeah, and home.
GATES: That's pretty cool.
He was in the, the elite, as it were.
Thinking about what we've shared together so far, what would you say to Cirilo if you had the chance today?
TREJO: Thank you.
You know, and uh, like thank you for giving us all a chance.
TREJO: You know cause uh I know a lot of people that fell by the wayside, you know, just trying to get to California, and, and uh, and you know, so, we had a head start.
You know the family actually had a head start.
GATES: Yeah, man, and nobody gave him that store.
That dude paid his dues.
I'm proud of him.
GATES: Much like Danny, Jamie Chung has a family business at the center of her family's immigration story.
Her father came to America in 1972 and worked as a busboy and a bartender before becoming the owner of a restaurant in San Francisco.
Though it wasn't the type of restaurant he likely wanted to own.
CHUNG: It was an American hamburger joint.
It was called Tony's Restaurant.
And so, it was a business run by my father and my father's family and because he's the eldest, he decided to take on the name Tony.
So, that's his American name, is Tony.
GATES: Oh, really?
CHUNG: But it's a Korean family running an American restaurant in an Italian district.
It makes total sense.
GATES: There's no doubt that Jamie's father made great efforts to accommodate himself to his new homeland, but moving back one generation, we came to a man for whom the transition must have been even more difficult.
Jamie's grandfather followed his son to America, and his immigration file shows that he applied for a visa when he was 73 years old and spoke no English.
CHUNG: That's insane.
CHUNG: How terrifying.
GATES: Did he ever talk about this?
No, he did not.
My grandmother doesn't speak English as well.
Um, my father speaks better English but it just always kind of blows my mind that immigrant families are able to make such a jarring journey and still survive... GATES: It's unfathomable to me.
CHUNG: They were able to own a home, own a business, run a business, um, yeah.
But no stories about how he felt about what it was like when they got here.
Were they homesick?
We don't talk about those things in our family.
GATES: And why not, do you think?
I think we're just very proud people and I think they keep a lot of things to themselves and I don't think they allow themselves to be vulnerable, not even with family.
Uhm, I've seen certain cracks of that, uhm, certain moments, but they're very private people.
GATES: Hoping to learn more about these private people, our researchers quickly ran into trouble.
Jamie's grandfather came from a village called Chohyeon-ri.
When he moved away, in the early 20th century, it was an extremely rural place, and we could find no records of his family within it.
Normally, this would make tracing his roots very difficult.
But in his immigration files, her grandfather had listed his clan name, "Chung San."
And that opened a door.
Clans have been central to Korean society for more than 2,000 years.
Many keep what's known as a jokbo, a written genealogy, and the Chung-San clan was no exception.
CHUNG: "Chung Sang-Mun.
Date of birth, 1841, October 15."
CHUNG: "Date of death.
Son, Chung Joo-hyun.
Date of birth 1876, October 22.
Date of birth, 1926, April second.
Son, Chung Joon Hwa."
My great grandparents.
GATES: There you go.
GATES: Already you're back almost 200 years to an ancestor born in 1841.
I've never heard of these names before.
These dates are kind of mind boggling and to know that our family has a jokbo is pretty incredible.
I mean, I couldn't even fathom our history going back that far.
GATES: Jamie's history was about to go back much further.
The Chung-San jokbo traces her father's direct paternal line all the way to her 18th great grandfather, a man named Chung Geum-Gang.
He was born in the 1300s, and is listed in the jokbo as being what was known as a ShiJung.
GATES: Do you know what a ShiJung was?
GATES: The word literally translates as servant.
GATES: But in this context, it indicates that Chung Geum-Gang had a high position in the Korean government.
GATES: According to the scholars we consulted, this position was a great honor, similar to being a deputy prime minister.
CHUNG: I don't think my family knows this.
ShiJungs assisted Korea's rulers in different areas from education and finance to military affairs and diplomacy, and while we don't know anything about Chung Geum-Gang's area of expertise, one thing's for sure: he was a big deal.
CHUNG: That is fantastic.
GATES: Jamie's ancestor likely earned his elevated position by taking a national exam.
At the time, this was the only way for most Koreans to rise up in the government, and competition was intense.
The exam was given in a palace courtyard, where all candidates were required to write an essay, in classical Chinese, while sitting on the ground.
CHUNG: That's crazy.
GATES: What do you make of this saga?
This journey from the 14th century AD to a rural village to a restaurant in San Francisco selling Tony's hamburgers, all the way to you?
CHUNG: I think that's, uh, yeah.
It's totally flipped my perspective of my family, of my family history.
GATES: Unlike Jamie and Danny, Cyndi Lauper wasn't exactly "proud" of all of her immigrant ancestors.
She knew that her mother's roots lay in Sicily, and she believes that some of the men on this part of her family tree had mistreated the women for generations.
LAUPER: It took me a minute to understand about Sicily and the pretenses and how they would definitely keep women down.
LAUPER: So basically, upward education and dreams, not really happening because you were the free domestic help.
LAUPER: So, even in America, they were doing stuff like that to my aunt, to my mother, and honestly, that's what made me come out with boxing gloves.
LAUPER: I mean, I saw women grow up with no joy experience, and they'd have little joys of the little day lives and things, but not dreams.
And my mother sat us down early and made us talk to her.
Like, she would go, what do you think about this?
And what do you think about that?
LAUPER: And she'd be talking to us like we were grownups.
GATES: And you could dream.
And you could dare to dream and realize your dreams.
Given these feelings, it was interesting to note that the first member of Cyndi's Sicilian family to come to America was actually a woman.
In 1909, her great-aunt, Gaetana Gallo, travelled from Palermo to New York City.
According to Cyndi's relatives, the journey began when Gaetana took off on a bicycle, fleeing an arranged marriage.
We couldn't confirm this colorful story, but there's no doubt that Gaetana blazed a trail for her family.
By 1915, her parents and her siblings were settled in lower Manhattan, all thanks to her efforts.
GATES: So, she was a hardhead, tough woman.
And for whatever, I don't know if the reason that she got on that bike and left was to flee some old dude, but she did, and she ended up, not only did end up in America first, then she paid for everybody to come join her.
How about that?
LAUPER: Well, she was an amazing young person.
When she got older, though, she cried a lot, and I felt bad.
I used to think, oh, God.
She kept going, Fia mio, Fia mio, and I was... GATES: Oh, poor thing.
LAUPER: You know, and she was in the corner, she didn't have...she was balding, her teeth were gone.
I was thinking, you know, if I was bald and my teeth was gone, I would be crying, too.
LAUPER: But I felt bad, you know, because look at what she did.
She made it possible for me to be born here.
GATES: Cyndi believes that Gaetana's unhappiness was largely caused by the patriarchs in her family...
Shifting our focus to Sicily, we now looked at one of those patriarchs.
Cyndi's great-grandfather, a man named Giacomo Pampalone.
Giacomo was rumored to be a tyrant in his home, a trait he may well have picked up at his job.
He worked as a coachman, reportedly at what's known as the Palazzo Gangi, a palace in Palermo.
GATES: Can you imagine your ancestor heading to work there every day?
LAUPER: He thought he was pretty fancy.
GATES: Yeah, and take a look at those pictures.
How would you like that gig?
LAUPER: No thanks.
LAUPER: It's like waiting in a catering service and dealing with people who have to act like they're high and mighty.
He was, uh, he was an odd dude.
GATES: As it turns out, Giacomo's occupation almost certainly was not of his own choosing.
Records show he was the fourth coachman in his family, behind his father Sebastiano, his grandfather Santo and his great-grandfather Giuseppe...
But learning this did not soften Cyndi's feelings about her ancestor.
GATES: What do you think old Giacomo would say if he could see how far you've come in your career?
LAUPER: Well, when I went to Italy and I performed, I said a lot of things that I knew were, like... GATES: Right.
LAUPER: I said things like, you know, the biggest oppressors of women historically have always been, the church, the government, and the family.
LAUPER: And the Italians went... (laughs) Cyndi, that's, you know, but I said it because I could feel him roll over.
LAUPER: And, and I didn't care.
You were getting even.
LAUPER: Well, I'm sure he didn't want to freaking drive a coach and be the servant of someone who always had to kiss a ring.
LAUPER: But he did, like, weird things.
Oppressed people oppress.
GATES: That's right.
LAUPER: You know, it's the kick the dog syndrome.
GATES: It's pass it on.
I had one more detail to share with Cyndi.
in the archives of Palermo, we uncovered the oldest document we were able to find for any of her Sicilian ancestors, taking her back to the year 1787.
GATES: That is the baptismal record of your third great-grandfather Santo.
LAUPER: And he was going to be a coachman because his father was going to be a coachman.
GATES: You got it.
LAUPER: What if he wanted to be a barber?
GATES: Forget it.
LAUPER: Too bad.
GATES: Forget it.
And this record introduces you to your fourth great-grandmother Carmela Sciacchitano.
She was born about 1762 in Palermo.
What's it like to meet the first Sicilian woman on this line of your family tree?
GATES: I like the name Sciacchitano.
What was she like?
Oh, my goodness.
GATES: Does any of this, Cyndi, change how you see your mother, how you're thinking about your mother, knowing that this is her bloodline?
LAUPER: Well, she was like the coachman that wanted to be the barber.
(laughs) GATES: That's good.
LAUPER: You know.
LAUPER: It is like the, those Christmas, that Christmas story with Santa and the elf that wanted to be the dentist, not an elf.
GATES: We'd already traced Danny Trejo's father's ancestry from Mexico to Texas.
Now, turning to the maternal side of his family tree, we found ourselves facing a daunting challenge.
Growing up, Danny had very limited contact with his mother, so to research her roots, we were essentially starting from scratch.
GATES: Have you ever seen those photos?
GATES: Those are your grandparents.
TREJO: On my mother's side?
GATES: That's your mother's mother and your mother's father.
GATES: Did you know their names?
GATES: Oh my god.
TREJO: I don't know anything about them.
GATES: You see your mom in them?
TREJO: In this one, in her, in my, in her mom.
GATES: Danny's grandmother was named Josefa, or "Josie" Garcia.
Josie was born in Mexico around 1895.
We found her on the manifest of a ship that arrived in San Diego, California on May the 31st, 1904.
TREJO: "Fortunato, 9, Josefa, 8, Lucas, 4."
GATES: There's your grandmother Josie... TREJO: Yeah.
GATES: as an 8-year-old child, setting foot in the United States for the first time, in the year 1904, with her family.
GATES: And Josefa, or Josie, is traveling with her Aunt Maria, her Uncle Pedro, her three cousins, and her grandmother, Jesús Castro Lucero, who is your great-great-grandmother.
Look, and that's the picture of the ship that they were on.
TREJO: Oh, I seen it.
That is unbelievable.
GATES: This elegant-looking ship would transport Josie to a hard new world.
she came to California without her parents, and spent most of her childhood living with an uncle.
In 1917, when she was 22, she married Danny's grandfather, a man named Aniceto Rivera.
The two started a family, but Aniceto died young, leaving Josie with six children to raise.
The temptation to return to Mexico must have been powerful, yet Josie chose a different path.
TREJO: "Josefa Garcia Rivera... GATES: Mmm-hmm.
TREJO: Occupation is, "Ironer"?
I was born on 8/13/1895 in San Jose del Cabo, B.C., Mexico.
I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all alliance and, fidelity to any foreign prince or sovereignty of whom or which I have therefore been a subject or citizen."
So, she became a citizen?
On January 6, 1961, 56 years after immigrating, your grandmother became a citizen of the United States.
Isn't that cool?
GATES: She was 65 years old at that time.
TREJO: That's awesome.
I mean it's just like, like I knew nothing about this side of my family.
So, knowing this is just like, uh, wow.
It's just amazing.
I've got history, you know what I mean?
That's what it is.
I've got history.
GATES: According to Josie's naturalization record, she was born in San José del Cabo, a coastal city in the Mexican state of Baja California Sur.
it's a tourist town today, a place that Danny knows and loves to visit, but he'd never imagined that he had ancestors who lived there.
And as we dug into the region's archives, we discovered something amazing about one of those ancestors, Danny's fourth great-grandfather, a man named Luciano Agundez.
TREJO: "I give formal and sworn possession of the said place to the said Luciano Agundez."
GATES: In 1829, your fourth great-grandfather was granted, you ready for this, 4,337 acres of land.
TREJO: In, yeah, I'm going down to Cabo.
Are you kidding?
I love to go fishing down there.
GATES: You never heard anything about this?
GATES: Man, that was a serious landowner.
GATES: I'll give you a little history.
In 1821, Mexico became independent.
GATES: From Spain.
A Republic was established, and colonization laws began to allow homesteading in uninhabited regions of Mexico.
In Baja California, a land grant system was implemented, and your ancestor got in on the action.
GATES: And, and you can see it there on the map.
TREJO: Yeah, I'm starting to, I'm going down and building a hotel.
GATES: We don't know how Danny's 4th great-grandfather ended up in San José del Cabo.
But when he received his land, the Baja California peninsula was one of the most sparsely populated areas in all of Mexico, and a difficult place to start a ranch... Fortunately, Luciano was up to the task.
Your family stayed in and around San José del Cabo for generations, and your grandmother Josie was born there.
That's why she was born there.
GATES: Isn't that cool?
TREJO: Uh, I, I, like I'm just overwhelmed.
I, you know, you, you have to understand.
I, growing up, I had three alternatives, you know?
TREJO: I could do, I could either be a, a, a laborer, or a gangster, or an informant.
GATES: Oh, hey, that was it.
TREJO: And so, to learn that, I, I, I honestly believe that I think this history could've changed my whole family's life.
TREJO: I mean just knowing that when I went down to Cabo San Lucas, my family owned some of this land.
A cattle rancher.
Remember on Gunsmoke and all that stuff we used to watch?
And they would head 'em up, move 'em out, man?
That was your, that was your ancestor.
TREJO: Clint Eastwood might've worked on my ranch.
GATES: Turning from Danny back to Jamie Chung, we confronted another formidable genealogical challenge.
Jamie's mother grew up in poverty in Korea, and when she immigrated to America, she left her family behind, in every sense.
Rarely even discussing them.
This left our researchers struggling to learn anything at all about her mother's parents, much less their roots.
But then we noticed something in the Korean emigration file of her father's parents.
Take a look at that.
As you can see, it lists your mother's father.
Your maternal grandfather.
GATES: Eom Eon Seop died in Korea around 1960 before you were born.
Do you know that name?
GATES: That is your grandfather's name.
GATES: So, let's see what we found out about his deeper roots, okay?
GATES: You can see from this record, the family origin listed for your mother's family is a place called Yeongwol.
Have you ever heard of Yeongwol?
GATES: "Yeongwol" is a county in South Korea, and learning that Jamie's mother's family once lived here, led us to discover that she descends from a branch of the "Eom" clan, which originated in the region...
This clan has a jokbo, just like Jamie's father's clan, and it contains several incredible stories.
The first connects Jamie to a much-celebrated moment in Korean history.
In the year 1455, Korea's king, a 15-year-old boy named Danjong, was violently deposed by his uncle, and ended up on a collision course with Jamie's relatives... CHUNG: "The young king Danjong was banished to Yeongwol and miserably executed."
GATES: Recognize the name of the place where the king was banished and executed.
CHUNG: That's where my...
Yes, that's where my grandfather was from.
GATES: That's right.
He was sent to Yeongwol and murdered there, and this is where your family takes center stage in this story.
GATES: According to Korean tradition, Danjong's corpse was thrown into a river in Yeongwol, and his uncle threatened to execute anyone who gave the boy an honorable funeral.
But a man named Eom Heung-Do, a distant cousin of Jamie's, decided that this was wrong.
So he entered the river, and retrieved the body.
CHUNG: That's fascinating.
GATES: So, obviously we wondered what happened to your brave cousin.
GATES: Wanna guess?
CHUNG: Uhm, I, I, I think he would've been executed.
GATES: Well, let's find out.
Please turn the page.
CHUNG: I hope not.
GATES: You know what you're looking at?
CHUNG: That's my cousin.
GATES: That's a statue of your cousin.
That is your cousin cradling the body of King Danjong.
CHUNG: That's so cool.
GATES: Did you have any idea that any of your ancestors would be famous for their actions?
CHUNG: For their kindness.
For their kindness.
That's really cool.
GATES: Well, legend has it that Eom Heung-do secretly held a funeral for the executed king then fled his home because he was trying to save his life.
CHUNG: Yeah, yeah.
GATES: And he became a recluse.
GATES: He remained so well hidden that the legend says he vanished without a trace.
To this day, your cousin is revered in Korea as a loyal subject to the rightful king, and the funeral is reenacted every spring in Yeongwol.
CHUNG: No way.
GATES: And you could go and watch this reenactment.
CHUNG: That's my cousin.
GATES: It's your cousin.
CHUNG: 18th removed.
GATES: Jamie's connection to this tale, as well as to other stories about the ancient ancestors in the Eom clan's jokbo, can't be independently verified.
But the stories in the jokbo are important all the same.
They allow Jamie to know what her mother's family believed about its origins, tracing them all the way back to the clan's founder, a man named Eom Im-Ui who was likely born in the first half of the 8th century.
(laughs) CHUNG: This is crazy.
GATES: What's it like to see him?
(laughs) CHUNG: I mean, this is, it's strange to not have a picture of my mom's father, of my grandfather, but having... GATES: Yeah.
CHUNG: An image of the clan leader.
Isn't that, isn't that amazing?
CHUNG: It's mind boggling.
GATES: Eom Im-Ui reportedly came to Korea as an ambassador from China sometime around the year 750, and his roots in China stretch back much further.
According to his clan, he even ties Jamie directly by blood to a legendary figure in Chinese history, Eom Gwang, a scholar who chose a life of rural simplicity, despite repeated demands that he serve in the emperor's court.
CHUNG: "And after refusing three times", which is an Asian tradition... GATES: Right.
CHUNG: Korean tradition.
"After refusing three times, Eom did go to the emperor afterward.
The emperor said why can't you help me manage the empire?
Eom looked at the emperor in silence for some time then said, when a gentleman decides upon a course of action, he does so for a reason.
Why do you press me to change my mind?
Eom went back to his fishing."
GATES: He said "Thank you, but no thank you.
See ya later."
GATES: Isn't that an incredible story?
I love that he stuck to his guns, you know.
CHUNG: Really stood up for himself.
GATES: Is that a trait you see in your mother?
And you know what's a shame is I do remember hearing stories that she had a really hard time because she wasn't, you know, she didn't have like a a higher formal education, I think when she married into my father's family, they gave her a really hard time.
And yet, she comes from royalty.
GATES: If she only had known.
(laughs) We'd already seen how Cyndi Lauper's maternal roots were filled with men who'd earned Cyndi's disdain.
Now, turning to the paternal side of her family tree, we encountered a man whose story, we hoped, would inspire her...
It begins in Switzerland where Cyndi's 7th great-grandparents, Christen and Anna Lauper, were born in the early 1600s.
GATES: That is your seventh great-grandparents' marriage record.
GATES: Your ancestors were married in a village called Schüpfen, a village surrounded by nine smaller villages, including Allenwil, just three miles west, and you can see photos of Allenwil and Schüpfen on your left, very beautiful.
LAUPER: Farm country.
GATES: This is where your people come from.
He was a farmer.
GATES: A farmer.
Can you grow things?
GATES: As it turns out, Christen Lauper was no ordinary farmer, he was involved in a seminal event in his nation's history.
In the early 1650s, Switzerland suffered a severe economic downturn.
Grain prices plummeted, and instead of helping the peasants pay their debts, the government devalued its currency, cutting the peasants' savings in half.
In response, the peasants began to organize a revolt.
Cyndi, who's devoted herself to an array of social causes, wondered how her ancestor responded.
In the Swiss state archives, we found our answer: Christen is listed among the rebels... LAUPER: That's amazing.
GATES: According to scholars with whom we spoke, as a "general agitator and rebel" your seventh great-grandfather would have alerted his friends and neighbors about the movement going from house to house in his village and even organizing journeys to the local assemblies where the peasants shared their disapproval and plotted their next steps of action.
LAUPER: Town hall meetings.
GATES: You got it.
The rebel movement spread quickly through several Swiss states, called cantons, including Bern, where Christen lived.
And, as it grew, the movement intensified.
Armed militias were formed, and a detailed agenda laid out.
On May 14, 1653, thousands of peasants from four different cantons gathered at a place called Huttwil to swear an oath against their governments.
LAUPER: Come on, Huttwil.
LAUPER: That's good.
Down to Huttwil.
That just sounds like a party.
Cyndi, this was the very first time that Swiss authorities had ever faced joint action from peasants.
GATES: Coming together from multiple cantons, states, to demand political action and to demand their political rights.
GATES: And your ancestor was part of it.
GATES: And days after Huttwil, peasant armies besieged Bern and Lucerne, hoping the authorities would give in to their demands, and by early June, the peasants and the two cities reached treaties.
That is amazing.
GATES: Unfortunately, Swiss authorities soon went back on their word, and resumed the war.
this time, the peasants were crushed, leaving Christen in dire jeopardy.
LAUPER: He probably got arrested, poor thing.
GATES: Would you please read the translation?
LAUPER: "Christen Lauper from Allenwil.
His penalty shall be 15 kronen?"
After the peasants' military defeats, the authorities clamped down on the rebels.
They executed over 40 of the peasant ringleaders and fined local leaders and participants like your ancestor, Christen.
So, your ancestor took huge risks to create a better life for himself and his fellow citizens, and he paid the price for it.
That fine was about 70 days of wages.
GATES: So, that's over two months of wages.
GATES: Though it failed, the revolt lived on in memory.
There are still monuments in Switzerland honoring the rebel cause today.
And learning this brought a sense of connection that took Cyndi by surprise.
LAUPER: I feel proud to be a descendant of Christen Lauper.
And that he was a revolutionary, and that he worked, um, local.
LAUPER: State to state.
LAUPER: To get the people together.
LAUPER: And organizing.
LAUPER: I think that's amazing.
GATES: Yeah, to fight the man.
LAUPER: I know, I'm always fighting the man.
Now I know where it comes from.
GATES: The paper trail had now run out for each of my guests.
it was time to unfurl their family trees... LAUPER: Oh my God.
CHUNG: My goodness.
GATES: Look at that.
Giving each the chance to reflect on the immigrant experiences that had so profoundly reshaped their families, and forged their own identities.
What has our journey together, what has it meant to you?
LAUPER: Well, I just wanted to know who the heck I was, because I started to have a lot of questions.
GATES: Do you have a greater sense of that now?
LAUPER: Yes, yes, I do.
TREJO: I think it's shined a light, like on who I am, on where I come from and who I come from, and uh, I really...
I'm, I'm really proud of, of, of the whole deal.
GATES: All of these stories that I've told you today would've been very familiar to your ancestors back in Korea.
They wouldn't have been learning them for the first time.
They would've been raised with these stories.
CHUNG: Stories, yeah.
GATES: They would've heard them from their parents, and they would've passed them onto their children, but these stories got lost in the move to America.
I think they, they left a piece of themselves in Korea.
CHUNG: But knowing now that we come from such rich... we have such rich history and amazing ancestors, it's, wow...
This is certainly, this is, this is priceless.
Thank you so much.
GATES: That's the end of our journey with Jamie Chung, Danny Trejo, And Cyndi Lauper.
Join me next time when we unlock the secrets of the past for new guests on another episode of Finding Your Roots.