Mark’s Heritage Provides Perspective

Mark’s diverse racial heritage gives him a unique and empathic perspective on issues of identity, and a visceral understanding of Oklahoma’s rich ethnic tapestry.

According to DNA testing, Mark is 33% Native American. Some of that indigenous blood is from unknown U.S. tribes, but the majority comes from his Mexican ancestors who, tribally, were Guamares -- part of the semi-nomadic Chichimecas tribal group of Central Mexico. His Garcia ancestors were silver miners who lived in the Mexican State of Guanajuato. His great-grandparents – Gumesindo and Juaquina Garcia – migrated to the U.S. to mine coal shortly after they were married in 1902.

Photo of men mining at the Sirena Mine, Guanajuato, Mexico

Mark’s Mexican family endured a great deal of ethnic hatred in the United States, particularly because the 1930s marriage of his dark-skinned grandfather (David Garcia) and blond/blue-eyed grandmother (Helen Gunter) was not accepted by the community around them. The intensity of that persecution – including regular verbal abuse and physical violence – caused David Garcia to consciously refrain from passing on to his children any significant trappings of Mexican culture, such as Spanish language and folk traditions. Although Mark is pained by those losses, he is honored to be the namesake of that extraordinary man.

Mark’s mother and grandfather, David Encarncion Garcia

Mark’s mixed Indigenous and European heritage has also given him unique insight and perspective into the nature and depth of Tulsa’s racial wounds. Even as a teen, he remembers hearing, in hushed tones, stories from elders on both sides of his family about their involvement in the Tulsa Race Massacre. Mark was horrified to learn that some of his light-skinned family blindly followed the mob, and ended up as violent perpetrators in Greenwood in 1921. And shockingly, he also learned that his dark-skinned family – working in town the day the Massacre began -- was hounded as though they were Black, but were able to flee to their mining company-owned housing southeast of Greenwood. Ironically, Tulsa’s small Mexican community at that time was likely not razed because it had none of the trappings of affluence that marked Greenwood for jealous rage.

Sadly, although surviving the days of the Massacre relatively unscathed, less than two months later Mark’s great-grandmother (Juaquina) died from the flu (at 34), leaving his great-grandfather (Gumesindo) to raise three children as a single working parent.

Interment of Juaquina Garcia (Mark’s grandfather and great-grandfather at far left) Rose Hill Cemetery - August 1921

Although Tulsa's small Mexican community did their best to support the motherless family, Gumesindo eventually moved his children to Iowa to be closer to extended family and pursue farm work. Interestingly, David Garcia would return to Tulsa in the 1950s to raise his own children because he had fond memories of life here as a child.