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How a graphic designer reconnected with family and culture

Find out how memories and mementos in a dusty old suitcase led a recent college grad down a path of rediscovering her Mexican heritage.

A photo saved in Dropbox of great great grandparents.

By Valerie Creque

Dominique King’s college project on intergenerational communication—like many other things in this world—got derailed by the pandemic. It was the spring of 2020, and Dom was just getting started on a project for a required, volunteer-based class at Portland State University called Linking the Generations: Communication and Aging. The class focused on discussions, lectures, and activities to increase awareness of the older population, so the Oregon native chose to volunteer at an assisted living facility, where she’d planned to spend a month with the residents. But once COVID-19 hit, it was too risky to continue. The students were told they could instead focus on someone in their personal life, and Dom picked her paternal grandmother, Carmen. Dom and Carmen had always been very close, but circumstances put them in a position to connect like never before.

Scanned photos are shown throughout Dominque King’s Dropbox account, showing how Dropbox can save important and sentimental content.

Tracing her family history

Carmen grew up on a big farm in Nebraska. Her mother was born in the United States, and her father’s family left Mexico for the US when he was a small child. As Carmen’s Mexican-American family did their best to blend in, their Mexican heritage was put on the back burner—so much so that the family didn’t even speak Spanish at home and Carmen and her siblings never learned it. “My grandma is fully Mexican, but she didn't really feel that connection,” Dom says. 

Carmen, who eventually left Nebraska for Oregon, went on to marry a white American man and have children, including Dom’s father, Robert. Being one-quarter Mexican, Dom felt even less of a connection to the culture—until she started working on her project. Dom kept in contact with Carmen through phone calls and the occasional socially distanced get-together. “Our ancestry was sort of a mystery,” Dom says, adding that they didn’t know much about the family before they settled in Nebraska. To help shed some light on their family history, they went to a genealogy website to do some research.

Dominique King sits on the floor of her room.
They learned a few things about the family—for example, that they lived on a farm in central Mexico—but kept hitting a wall because a lot of the search results were in Spanish. During their discussions, Carmen kept referring to some family photos, but she didn’t know where they were. After a lengthy search, they finally found an old, dusty suitcase in the back of a closet in a spare bedroom in Carmen’s house. The suitcase was full, and it was a mess. For Carmen, it was like seeing these photos for the first time.

Precious memories saved

Dom scanned the deteriorating photos and uploaded them to Dropbox for safekeeping. “We get to keep our family history alive by scanning it and having it digitally,” Dom says. “I’m able to have multiple folders, and I can go in and look up different photos or trinkets or letters that pertain to a certain person, and share that with my parents and siblings. It’s just a nice way for all of us to access everything.”

Also in the suitcase was Dom’s great-grandfather’s military ID from the Korean War, money (including Mexican and Japanese coins), knickknacks, and love letters sent between her great-grandparents. The letters are in Spanish, but one with lipstick kisses on the envelope gave them a clue as to what the letters were about.

Two scanned photos and one scanned letter uploaded in Dropbox.
Dominique reads an old family letter while she lays on the ground.

For her project, Dom put together a family tree, framed some photos of her great-grandparents, and made a video of herself detailing the experience.

“Dropbox allowed me to keep everything in one place and for it to be organized,” Dom says.

Since the project wrapped, Dom graduated remotely. After what she says was “a long time coming,” Carmen passed away. “It was really cool to be able to share this last hurrah with her.”

Dom hopes to have a family of her own someday. “By keeping the project alive digitally, one day I could share it with my kids.”

A photo in the Dropbox folder titled Family Tree has the option to be Shared, Starred, or Sent.

For all the family memories worth saving

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