Maximino ? and Agustin Rosa, Part 1: Legitimacy

Agustin Rosa and Brigida Burgos begat Maximino… Rosa? Burgos? And Maximino begat, well

In Puerto Rico, children receive two last names: their primarily last name comes from their father, and the secondary from their mother. Example: when Juan Torres Burgos and Rita Lopez Santiago have a child, the child’s last name will be Torres Lopez. My favorite combinations happen when two people with the same last name have children with a double name (Maria Figueroa and John Figueroa have a child named Juana Figueroa Figueroa).

This is the practice in most, if not all, Latin American countries and is a hold-over from the first days of Spain when being able to trace one’s lineage was super important to proving that one was a “pure” Christian. In the past, just like the present, many people chose to use only their primary name in day-to-day interactions. Legally, however, a person almost always had two last names… unless they were illegitimate. Born out of wedlock, illegitimate children were traditionally not entitled to their father’s name and only received their mother’s. Today, however, children generally receive both names regardless of their parents’ marital status. There are always exceptions, but illegitimate children now at least have the option of using their father’s name.

My great grandfather, Maximino, was born at the turn of the 20th century when illegitimate children had no claim to their father’s name, whether or not they were in his care. He was born in either Juana Diaz or Coamo, which are near the southern coast of Puerto Rico east of Ponce. My grandfather once told me that the family’s roots were in Santa Isabel, which is southeast of where Maximino was born. I cannot find evidence so far of the family’s existence there, so perhaps that history goes further back than any of us know.

Maximino was the son of Brigida Burgos and Agustin Rosa. Brigida seems to have descended from generations of poor farmers and, before that, slaves. Agustin was a farmer, but his father is listed as a sawyer (one who saws wood) and his grandfather, vaguely, as a laborer. Maximino is listed on censuses as a “small fruit farmer,” and his wife, Teofila, worked with tobacco. Side note: Teofila was one of the few children in her family who attended school and learned to read and write, advocating for herself as an eight year old by flagging down a man signing up neighborhood children for school and asking him to include her and one of her sisters.

Brigida and Agustin never married, so all of their children were illegitimate. Theirs was a strange arrangement: they lived together for decades and spawned 13 children together (10 of whom survived into adulthood), and yet Agustin never officially recognized them as his. I have seen cases from this time period in which unwed fathers still involved with the mother did not give the child their last name but at least “recognized” him. In cases where parents were no longer together but the father was supporting his progeny, the children were listed as “natural” instead of the derogatory “illegitimate.” It means something to be labeled so negatively; given the stability of Brigida and Agustin’s relationship and his presence in his children’s lives, the deliberate omission of Agustin from most records seems incongruous. As of yet, I have no answer for why this occurred.

Since there is no birth certificate for Maximino, I do not know for sure whether he started life as a Burgos or a Rosa. However, I can infer based on his siblings’ certificates that he was legally a Burgos. In his day-to-day, Maximino sometimes went by Agustin’s last name, and sometimes by Brigida’s, but usually just by one or the other. He is only listed as “Rosa Burgos” in one record. This switching of last names is also unusual, and of course no one knows why this was so. However, the way that Maximino named his own children raises even more questions.

Maximino married Teofila before starting a family. Therefore, my grandfather and all 9 of his siblings are legitimate. However, some of the children—including my grandfather—were given the last name Rosa, and others were named Burgos, even though they are all full siblings. The naming does not follow a strict pattern except that it seems to alternate after every 1-2 births. In other words, my last name, though “legitimate,” was sort of a happy accident. I had about the same chance of being a Rosa as one has of landing “heads” on a coin toss.

By the time my grandfather was born the law had changed and illegitimate children could claim their father’s name. It seems that Maximino was caught in the middle and never could decide which name he should use. He ultimately ended his life the way he began it, as a “Burgos” with an “unknown” father. After all of my research, I have concluded that I will never understand Maximino’s motivations for naming his children the way he did or his constant oscillation between Burgos and Rosa and Rosa Burgos. Perhaps Maximino felt sheepish about using a name that he had been raised to believe that he had no right to, and because his father was dead by the time he had his own children Maximino simply could not ask permission. In that case, maybe he assigned names based on how brave he felt at the moment, or how nostalgic he felt for his father. Who knows?

In any case, there are Rosas and there are Burgoses and we are all related fully to each other and screw legitimacy politics. What about Agustin, though? Who the hell was he?

Well, he was certainly no one of note. But actually finding Agustin was a journey in and of itself, and that story deserves its own post. So stay tuned!

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