Who Do You Think You Are? (2010) s06e06 Episode Script

America Ferrera

1 Narrator: On this episode, America Ferrera travels to Honduras to find a connection to a father she barely knew.
[ Speaking Spanish .]
Narrator: She traces an ancestor with tremendous charisma and power "Ferrera is a very difficult person to control.
" He had no qualms about starting a revolution.
Narrator: To discover whether he was truly on the side of good He stood for democracy.
That makes me so emotional for some reason.
Narrator: Or not.
Were his intentions pure, or did he become a power-hungry warmonger? I don't know.
Ah, ah, ah, ah ah, ah, ah, ah ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: Beloved actress America Ferrera began her career as a teenager.
She skyrocketed to fame when she nabbed starring roles in the films "Real Women Have Curves" and "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
" At just 22, she landed the title role in the hit series, "Ugly Betty," earning her critical acclaim, an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
Off screen, America works for social justice, speaking out for immigration reform and serving as an ambassador for Save the Children.
She recently costarred in the biopic, "Cesar Chavez," playing the labor activist's wife, Helen Chavez.
America lives with her husband, writer-director Ryan Piers Williams, in New York City.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California.
My mother is America Griselda Ayes Ferrera, and she was born and raised in Honduras.
And my father was Carlos Gregorio Ferrera, and he was also born and raised in Honduras.
They moved to the U.
S.
before I was born, so I and my siblings are first-generation Americans.
I think the effect of being the child of immigrants is knowing that you have a connection to another country and another culture.
But you're still very much a part of the environment that you were born and raised into.
And, for me, that was, you know, Los Angeles, California.
I was growing up in the Valley.
I'm a Valley Girl, whether I like it or not.
When I was about 8, my parents split up, and my father moved back to Honduras.
And I didn't know where he was.
And I didn't know what he was doing.
I just knew that he made the choice to leave.
So I never saw him again.
He passed away in 2010, and I visited Honduras for the first time in 2012.
So I just missed him.
The first time I went to Honduras, whether it was pure coincidence or some kind of divine choreography, I ended up in the small mountain village that my father was born and raised in, and I visited his grave.
That was a moment that really piqued my interest, that I could know and get in touch with that part of my history and my past that had always felt so far away.
Even my older sister, Jennifer, and I, who I'm super close with, have never really talked about our father until now.
Do you feel you know a lot about Daddy's side, like, even our grandparents on that side? No.
I think it was just sort of something we didn't talk about.
And we didn't ask.
When he passed, I was so emotional because it's, like, we never got to know him, and that possibility of getting to know him just was taken.
You know, it was -- it wasn't taken.
- You know, it - Went away.
It went away.
I remember just hearing, kind of loosely in conversation, that Dad's grandfather or great-grandfather was, like, in the military and was a general.
Exactly.
But it would be really nice to know for sure - some of the facts of, like - Yeah.
Where does he come from, and who were his family? I guess, if I want to find anything new out about my father and his history, I have to start in Honduras.
I'm excited.
I wish you were coming with me.
I really wish I was going, too.
America: So my plan is to start my journey where I left off on my last visit to Honduras in the town of La Esperanza, where my father was born and raised and where he died and is buried.
[ Birds chirping .]
This time, being back with the explicit purpose of knowing more about my father just seems I don't know.
It makes me nervous.
For so much of my life, it was a chapter that seemed kind of unopened and one that I always imagined I would eventually explore.
But now that I'm here doing that, it's kind of very emotional.
The last time I was here, I unexpectedly met a woman my father knew.
And now, I'm heading to meet her son, Romualdo, who I understand was my father's very close friend.
- Hola.
- Buenas tardes.
- Mucho gusto.
- Mucho gusto.
[ Speaking Spanish .]
Wow.
[ Chuckles .]
[ Chuckles .]
Sí.
Sí.
Sí.
It was really nice to get a sense and a feeling of what my father's life was like.
And Romualdo mentioned that my father had a lot of issues that he struggled with a lot in his heart and in his mind.
You know, the deeper questions of, why did he make the choices he made, those are questions that I might never get the answer to.
And even though it seems like, why should it make such a difference to know something small like, "He missed you so much," to hear it from someone who knew him and experienced him, it just is different.
Growing up, I had heard rumors that somewhere down the line, there had been a general in the family.
And Romualdo mentioned that my great-grandfather was a general.
So I'm very interested in knowing what a historian has to say about my great-grandfather and what he could have possibly done that warrants a historian knowing about it.
So that's really exciting.
Ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: America Ferrera is in the town of La Esperanza, Honduras, investigating the history of her father's family.
America: I'm meeting up with Dr.
Suyapa Portillo, an historian of Latin America.
I'm curious to find out more about my great-grandfather, Gregorio Ferrera, because I'd always heard rumors about him being a general, and it sounds like they might be true.
You know, the -- the archival records in Honduras - are in very poor condition.
- Mm-hmm.
Mostly due to a lot of political instability.
So it's been really difficult to find anything on Gregorio Ferrera.
But, fortunately, we did discover one document.
Is this the original? - It's the original.
- Oh, wow.
It's from 1895.
So just, um, handle it with some care.
Be very careful.
Um, so it says It's a census done by the Mayor deSan Jerónimo in 1895.
And I don't -- where is that? San Jerónimo is just outside of here.
It's a town in the Department of Intibucá.
Oh, I see someone named Ferrera.
Sebastian.
- Sebastian Ferrera.
- Wow.
Is that related to me, or is there another Ferrera? - Um, keep going down.
- Okay.
So there is a Gregorio here.
Is that my great-grandfather? That could be your great-grandfather.
And here, they said he was 14? - 14 years old, correct.
- In 1895.
So he must have been born in 1881.
He had, I guess, 15 siblings.
This document doesn't actually list the relationship between the people listed here, but, usually, the heads of households were listed first and then the offspring.
So the first two names in the house are Sebastian Ferrera and Gregoria Gonzales, who were 60 and 50.
And it says Sebastian was married, - so probably to Gregoria.
- Probably.
Which means Sebastian and Gregoria might be my great-great-grandparents.
Most likely, they are your two-times-great-grandparents.
Wow.
So for Sebastian, under the category of Profesión or Oficio, profession or trade, it says labrador.
What does that mean? Labrador is a farmer.
I guess the question that comes up is, how did Gregorio go from being, you know, the son of a farmer to being a general? I do know a local historian nearby that can answer more questions.
If you like, I can take you to him.
Oh, that'd be great.
Yeah.
It was really surprising to see the original document that seemed to indicate that my great-grandfather's family were farmers, that there were many children.
You know, they didn't live in a big city, and those are quite humble, rural beginnings.
So I am curious about how he went from that to General Gregorio Ferrera.
Suyapa is taking me to the town of Jesús de Otoro to meet with local historian Evelio Inestroza.
Suyapa tells me that Evelio is a guardian of historical documents here in Honduras and has been collecting them for decades.
[ Speaking Spanish .]
General list of students enrolled in the elementary school for boys located in this town and monthly dues paid to the teacher.
And the first name is Gregorio Ferrera.
And the parent was Sebastian Ferrera.
So Sebastian was his father.
That's awesome.
[ Speaking Spanish .]
This is the same year as the census, 1895.
- Sí.
- Sí.
[ Speaking Spanish .]
Mm-hmm.
It feels like a very, um, personal connection.
I know that for both my parents, a big reason that they went to the United States was for me and my siblings to get an opportunity to have the best education possible.
So it seems like it runs in the family.
[ Speaking Spanish .]
In 1908.
So it's been 13 years since the last document.
Oh, it's here.
"Nuevo empleado.
" New employee.
Uh, "The head of Internal Revenue for Intibucá, "don Gregorio Ferrera, will be lending his services "to the government in its current campaign.
"It was agreed upon that Mr.
Ferrera "will leave his office under the supervision of don Rafael Pineda.
" So this is the announcement that he was leaving his position as the head of Internal Tevenue.
- Of public office.
- Public office.
He was leaving a public office to join a military campaign.
To join a military campaign.
Very cool and it was published in the national newspaper.
So by 1908, he was 27.
Wow.
So he was quite accomplished at 27.
- Yep.
- There's a lot on him.
[ Speaking Spanish .]
Right.
[ Speaking Spanish .]
So, if he was of the Liberal Party, what would that mean in 1908? So there were, um, two political parties -- the Liberal Party and the nascent Nationalist Party at the time.
This was at the beginning of civil war period between the two political parties, who would arm themselves and vie for power, sometimes militaristically, not just through the ballot box.
Narrator: This civil war was closely tied to the growing popularity of Honduras' main export -- the banana, following the fruit's introduction into the U.
S.
around 1870.
Honduras inspired the term "Banana Republic" because of the extraordinary influence U.
S.
banana companies had on politics there.
Bribes, kickbacks, and shady politics resulted in policies extremely favorable to the U.
S.
exporters and detrimental to Hondurans.
In 1908, the Cuyamel Fruit Company backed a Nationalist Party threat against liberal president Miguel Dávila, and liberals like Gregorio Ferrera took up arms in support of the president.
Well, now I just want to know what happens next.
These are the documents that are found here in this region.
And the best thing to do now is to go to the National Archives of the Nation in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, where you can find more information.
So, there is document of his life in the nation's capital? I'd like to know why.
Ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: America Ferrera has traveled from her father's hometown of La Esperanza, Honduras, 100 miles east to the nation's capital, Tegucigalpa.
She's investigating the life of her paternal great-grandfather, General Ferrera.
America: I'm meeting historian Rolando Zelaya at the National Archives.
And are all of these documents backed up or protected with an electronic database? They're just here.
America: I've asked him to see if he can find any documents about my great-grandfather's military career after 1908.
Maybe that pile.
- This one.
- This is it? - Please, you help me? - Oh, yeah.
This is "La Nación.
" It's a national newspaper.
National newspaper.
Dated 1919.
So Gregorio Ferrera would have been 38 years old? Around that? Yes.
Okay, so this is 11 years after the last article I saw about him when he was defending President Dávila.
Yes.
Can I open it? It looks very fragile.
[ Whispers .]
Wow.
[ Speaking foreign language .]
Mm-hmm.
Oh, okay.
"A victory for the defeated of Santa Maria.
"The people of Intibucá disowned and declared illegal the President of Honduras.
" By this time, it's a different president.
"Currently, three-quarters of the country are with us, "and we have faith in achieving definitive triumph "because we have justice on our side as well as men, "weapons, and money to ensure the defeat of those imposters who have violated our laws.
" So this announcement was signed by Engineer Félix Canales Salazar, Dr.
Camilo Jirón, Colonel Gregorio Herrera.
Is that meant to be Gregorio Ferrera? Gregorio Ferrera.
That's a typo.
- It's a typo? - Mm-hmm.
So, at -- by 1919, he was a colonel in the military? Yes.
Gregorio Ferrera and other military men were declaring a revolution.
What was their reason for starting a revolution against bertrand and his government? - Oh.
- Essentially Oh, wow.
So previously, my great-grandfather fought to support a liberal president.
And now, he's fighting against this president because he thinks it's what's best for the people.
Yes.
So they wouldn't stand for no democratic elections in their country.
Yeah, that makes me so emotional for some reason.
What do you think? It's amazing.
[ Voice breaks .]
It's really amazing.
I mean, it just seemed like he stood for democracy and believed in the, um, the power of the people to create the country that they believed in.
What was the outcome of the revolution? So the next president of Honduras was, uh, was elected by the people of Honduras.
By the people of Honduras.
Is there any way of knowing what happened after this announcement? Wow.
Mm-hmm.
Is this an original "Time" magazine? - Yeah.
- Wow.
- It's from September 15, 1924.
- Mm-hmm.
"In March, President Rafael Lopez Gutierrez died.
"His term of office had expired on February 1st, "but he had kept himself in office by establishing a dictatorship.
" So my great-grandfather was fighting against, uh, - a dictatorship.
- Yes.
"After much fighting, the revolt came to an end.
"The rival parties were brought together and agreed upon "the selection of General Tosta as provisional president.
"Less than three months later, revolution again broke out.
General Ferrera" My great-grandpa's name is in "Time" magazine.
That's kind of amazing and insane that I didn't know that.
"Charged that his old friend, General Tosta, "was seeking to perpetuate discord in the country.
"At the same time, he disclaimed any personal ambitions for himself.
" Wow.
I wish I knew more about what drove General Ferrera to, uh, call for a revolution against his used-to-be ally, General Tosta.
Poli -- right.
What stands out to me about these revolutions is that, regardless of party affiliation, when he didn't agree with what the presidents were doing, he had no qualms about starting a revolution against them.
And I'm interested to see where he ultimately ended up.
Oh, right.
Maybe they have some more articles about him.
Okay.
Gregorio Ferrera Lived inHonduras.
Any event? Yeah.
Results.
Okay.
Yeah.
From the "San Antonio Express," Thursday morning, April 16, 1925.
So Gregorio would be 44 years old at this point.
So almost a year after the revolution against Tosta.
Yes.
"Again, hearing from the irrepressible Ferrera.
" So this article reveals that in 1925, Miguel Barahona was elected president, and shortly after, he arranged to purchase large amounts of guns from the U.
S.
government, which displeased my great-grandfather.
"Notorious for his political obstinacy, reputedly is again in the field with an insurgent force.
" General Gregorio Ferrera.
Ferrera rise up in the revolution.
Rose up again.
I think there is a question of, were those revolutions, um, justified? You know, was there ever a chance for stability with the presidents that were elected? Or -- or did Gregorio Ferrera have cause to revolt time after time after time? I'm interested to know what happens next.
Of course, that's my question over and over is, "what next? What next?" Thank you.
I didn't grow up with my father, so it was very hard for me to know what parts of my character came from his side of the family.
When I read that article, I immediately felt a direct connection to my great-grandfather, Gregorio Ferrera.
I was moved by his dedication to a cause and what he stood for.
And I felt immediately related to him.
However, turning against his own allies really raises a lot of questions about why.
Why did he do that? And what was the reasoning? And were his intentions pure, or did he become a power-hungry warmonger? I don't -- I don't know.
I'm hoping not.
I'm meeting with Justin Wolfe, a professor or Latin American history from Tulane University, at the National Library of Honduras.
I'm hoping he can tell me more about my great-grandfather's intentions and what happened after his last revolution.
I had a lot of trouble finding material from, uh, 1924 beyond until I encountered this document.
Okay.
This is dated 1929.
And it's signed by G.
Ferrera, which I assume is Gregorio.
1929, I'm trying Do you know how old he would have been at this point? Probably, uh, like, 48.
And it says, "Al Pueblo Hondureño," so it's all the Honduran people.
"After a long and painful exile" So, General Ferrera was exiled from Honduras? Correct.
Wow.
Ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: America Ferrera is at the National Library in Tegucigalpa, where she has just discovered that her great-grandfather, General Gregorio Ferrera, was exiled from Honduras, the country whose freedom he fought to preserve.
So maybe they were tired of him starting revolutions, and they exiled him? Well, I think, uh, after the overthrow of Tosta in 1924, um, he was perhaps persona non grata for some number of years.
Wow.
By 1929, five years, that's a long time.
Yeah.
"I return to my home country to blend in with my fellow citizens for only one purpose -- Honduran peace.
" Wow.
This is a very different tone.
[ Laughs .]
- Um - Indeed.
He's coming back and saying, "I come peacefully.
I promise not to start any more revolutions.
" Exactly.
"I don't come to agitate for partisan politics, "but to declare to all Hondurans that political divisions "have been the origin of all of our mistakes, "and that it's about time that only one flag, "the flag of our country, "be the symbol of our future designs.
"Upon returning to my daily work to make a modest living, "I wish to be clear that I have no intention of assuming "an official post.
"Hondurans, I call on thee to follow my example.
"May we all swear solemnly on the nation's altar to be united "for our nation's peace and prosperity.
Gregorio Ferrera.
" So he wants to come back as a civilian.
[ Laughs .]
[ Chuckles .]
And, um, kind of distance himself from party politics - Mm-hmm.
- In a way.
In many ways, this is a-a document typical of a Latin American caudillo.
A What does that mean? So a caudillo is a powerful regional strongman, - often with military ties - Mm.
Who was considered a man of the people.
Narrator: After independence from Spain in the early 19th century, most Latin American countries saw near constant political instability.
This insecurity led to the rise of caudillos.
These charismatic military men gained support from local people, and were seen as champions of the poor and marginalized populations.
General Ferrera was a caudillo backed by the indigenous people of Intibucá, the region where he grew up.
And they made up the majority of Ferrera's army.
With all of his beliefs and his ideologies and how he felt about Honduras, it's quite impressive, actually, that -- that instead of coming back with guns blazing, he came out of those years with what seems to be a much more enlightened view of what he wanted for the country and how he could be a part of that.
I'm super curious to know what he did after -- after this.
There is really very little beyond this.
But as we looked forward, I looked to U.
S.
documents because of the banana companies.
- Mm-hmm.
- Uh, it was a major economic hub.
And so I found this, uh, in the U.
S.
archives.
It's confidential.
[ Laughs .]
So this is a confidential note from the American consulate in Honduras to the secretary of state.
Wow.
1930, October 18.
"I have the honor to report that the electoral campaign "in this country during the past week has become much more acrimonious.
" So congressional elections are taking place.
Okay.
Vicente Mejía Colindres, the liberal, is still president.
Uh-huh.
But in the congressional elections, it appears that the nationalists are going to win.
Right.
And that may be a springboard for the nationalists to win the presidency in the upcoming presidential elections.
Mm-hmm.
"The recent reports regarding General Ferrera [ Laughs .]
"However, are disquieting.
"This legation received information from Colonel Maloney "that he fears trouble from Ferrera in the event "that his candidates are defeated at the polls.
"Maloney reports that General Ferrera has, at present, "in his possession at least 200 rifles, "5 machine guns with ammunition, and about 1,000 grenades.
" Wow.
Ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: America Ferrera is in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, at the National Library.
She has just discovered that her great-grandfather, General Ferrera, has a stockpile of ammunition in his possession and is ready to use force if the candidate he's backing for president does not win.
[ Laughs .]
This is not even a year after the "I come in peace" letter.
- Correct.
- Okay.
[ Laughs .]
"General Carias, the leader of the Nationalist Party "gave me his views on the campaign.
"To my question, 'why is not Ferrera prevented from "disturbing the peace?' "he replied, 'Ferrera is a very difficult person to control.
"He's very temperamental.
' "nevertheless, I believe Carias could restrain Ferrera if he were willing to lose his support.
" Carias belongs to the Nationalist Party.
Mm-hmm.
Correct.
And the incumbent president is a liberal.
Is a liberal.
Which means Ferrera was supporting - the Nationalist Party.
- That's what it looks like.
Interesting.
What I'm trying to understand is was this shift in loyalty to the Nationalist Party a contradiction or a betrayal of his stance to be loyal to the people? Let's go on in the document, and maybe we can get some more information.
"The Minister asked me" So that would be the minister of foreign affairs.
- Correct.
The Honduran one.
- Okay.
"Asked me informally to urge the United Fruit Company "to exert its powerful influence with Ferrera "to prevent him starting a revolt against the Government.
"As I have mentioned in former dispatches, "the United Fruit Company is financing Ferrera "in a small banana and cattle business venture, "and in this and other ways, he is under obligations to the company.
" Wow.
- Very complicated.
- Very complicated.
So whereas before, it seemed so clear what he was standing for, and he'd go to the ends of the earth, and he'd fight as many wars as it took to stand for that idealism, by the time he's 50, he's now running this venture backed by the United Fruit Company.
And it seems that they believe that they have him under their thumb in terms of, well, if we support you, then you do what we say.
It's important to understand that the united fruit company is now the sole player in terms of the international banana trade.
That means they have monopoly power.
But also, we're in the moment of the great depression.
The global economy is in crisis, and that is what Ferrera seems to be navigating.
And so it makes it difficult for us to know if it's an effort to try to figure out how to continue to support his own - people and his own interests.
- Yeah.
You know, if Ferrera was a tool of the corporation, I can't imagine that there would be this much trepidation over which way he would go.
- I think you're right.
- Yeah.
So now, we have here an original document.
Oh.
"The body of General Ferrera was taken to San Pedro Sula and given to his wife and children.
" This was in 1931.
So he was dead a year later.
So he was 50 when he died.
Yes.
"Today, between 1 and 2 p.
m.
, "a two-hour clash between army troops resulted in "General Ferrera and Humberto Rivas' death.
"I have ordered medical doctors go immediately "to inject the body and bring it back to the city "to be identified, and by so doing, "dispel any doubt that the principal enemy "of Honduran peace has died.
"Rest assured that, with the death of the Intibucan leader, "the foundations for peaceful Honduras will be firmly established.
" Wow.
So this is a national newspaper that probably the people in power had control over the perspective of the stories.
Probably, yes.
And their perspective was that Ferrera was a principal enemy of Honduran peace, which means that he was fighting against the government once again.
Absolutely.
The liberals were in power.
So he's fighting against the liberal army at this point.
Right.
I guess the big unanswered question is still whether or not all of this fighting was in fact driven by what was in the best interest of the people, or whether it was about his own best interests.
I wanted to bring us to a new document, uh, where we could look at that question.
Okay.
And this is from an anthropologist who worked in the region of Intibucá - Mm-hmm.
- Um, in the early 1960s.
Mm-hmm.
So this is an interview with a man named Romulo Gomez who fought with my great-grandfather.
With Ferrera.
A member of the Intibucá.
That's really amazing.
Ah, ah, ah, ah Narrator: America Ferrera is in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
She's reading an interview from one of the Intibucan soldiers who fought in General Ferrera's army in hopes of learning more about her great-grandfather from the perspective of those that followed him.
"Were you for or against Gregorio Ferrera?" "We were always on his side.
"At first, we were on the government's side, "but after they spread so many rumors about him, "he stood up against the government.
"Almost all the people from here, Intibucá, were Ferreristas.
" [ Chuckles .]
I like that.
"All willing?" "Yes.
The people with Ferrera were all willing.
The same with me.
" "And the battles?" "They would burn houses and execute people.
"Many people died following General Ferrera, "may he rest in peace.
"He would organize the people, and the workers would rise against the government.
" Wow.
What this interview seems to suggest is that, regardless of the intentions or the political reasons that he went to war or backed a certain party, that he had the support of his local people, and that they loved him in a way that he was a hero to them and a fighter for their freedoms.
Is that safe to assume from this? Absolutely, yes.
This is more than 30 years after his death, and the clearly charismatic power in the sense of what he brought to these people is not lost on their memory.
Yeah.
While it seems unclear about what Ferrera was fighting for, it seems more clear what he was fighting against, - which was a dictatorship.
- Yes.
So we get at this moment the coming together of two things -- a single, dominant political party and a single, dominant banana company.
And they worked together to create a period of stability, without doubt, but one in which other options seem to have been closed off, options that Ferrera seemed to be fighting for.
Yeah, even though it seems that there were great sacrifices.
Thank you.
Reading today of my great-grandfather's death, the headline was, "His body was delivered to his wife and his kids," all of a sudden reminded me that, oh, he wasn't just a general and a historical figure.
He was a father and a husband and had a family.
Oh, and I'm part of that family, and I come from that.
My great-grandfather was an enigma in Honduran history, and I'm starting to realize why.
It's a complicated portrait of a person.
My feeling from what I've seen is that someone who gains power not through a mandate, but through people who are willing to follow him, I think it's something to be respected.
Justin Wolfe suggested that I head to my great-grandfather's hometown of San Jerónimo in the region of Intibucá.
It's in that region the people called themselves Ferreristas, and I've been told they've constructed a building in Gregorio's honor.
It's a community center in the name of General Gregorio Ferrera Gonzales for the community of San Jerónimo, and it was established August 30, 2014.
So cool.
It's really touching.
I'm proud that the place where my great-grandfather grew up considers him a local hero, a local legacy 100 years after he grew up here.
For the last several years, I've been involved in politics as an activist and a humanitarian, and I've never questioned why that was important to me.
It just was.
And I didn't know my father, so it's hard for me to know what parts of me come from him.
Now, I know.
There's absolutely, you know, something so personal about finding someone in your own line of blood, your own family, that took up arms to defend an ideal that I relate to.
I'm proud of my family history, and it's something that inspires me.