My name is David Anthony Yeagley. I am the son of Norma Portillo Yeagley and Ned Carleton Yeagley. Norma Portillo Yeagley was the daughter of George (Anacleto) Portillo, who was the son of Ignacio Portillo, who was the son of Cruz Portillo. Cruz Portillo was the adopted Spanish name of none other than quin-ne kish-su-it, or Bad Eagle. Bad Eagle was the son of Bad Eagle and Chawabitty. This is exactly what the records show, including birth certificates and Comanche rolls. Some of these records are in English, some are in Spanish. Bad Eagle, my great-great grandfather, also was called Ka-dose, and Tu-vi-ai.
David A. Yeagley, direct descendent of Bad Eagle. And don’t mess with the old
man in the kitchen, unless you want dill in your spaghetti.
Bad Eagle, as a young brave, was captured when on a raid. The Spanish (Mexican) army took him to a place called El Conejo (The Rabbit), apparently somewhere in Coahuila, Mexico. It was a military establishment. (My grandfather George was born there. He remembered the huge jack rabbits there. He also remembered the enormous iron gates of the estates.) Bad Eagle was legally adopted by a Captain Portillo, and given the name Cruz Portillo. Cruz Portillo’s two sons had a godfather names Don Antonio de Ponce de Leon. We have all this in 19th century letters and records.
Bad Eagle returned to his Comanche people at some undetermined point. Clifford Seymour (“Tree-top”), a deceased Comanche elder, told me that Bad Eagle’s people were Ishatai (Eshiti) and Mumsekai (Mumsakawa). This is a tough hand to be dealt. Mumsekai brought peyote into Comanche circles in the early 1900’s. Ishatai, of course, was the last of the “medicine” men among the Comanche. His medicine didn’t work. It got everyone shot up, including himself, at Adobe Walls. Bad Eagle (Tu-vi-ai) later turned the last of the free Comanches over to the government. That would be Col. R. Mackenzie, at Palo Duro. This is my ancestry. People wonder why I’m not chairman of the tribe!
Be that all as it may, I would like to take this New Year’s opportunity to declare what I am not.
I am not Jewish. I could pass for Jewish. There is afamily in Hamden, CT whom I love dearly. I shared sabbath dinners with them, attended Beth Shalom synagogue with them (as well as B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge), and was with them in many family matters. When introducing me to their friends, they always said, “This is David. We adopted him!” The fact is, twice the parents of this family literally saved my life. Once, from food poisoning, and again during a chemotherapy problem I was having. I owe this family my life. This is the family of Joseph Croog, who had three sons, Ralph’s family being the one that adopted me. Joseph and his Ralph are both deceased. I might add, my own father had his three sons circumcised when they were born. He never told us why.
Do I try to sell myself as a Jewish person? No. I love Jewish people. Would I try to take advantage of them in any way? No. Would I insult them. No. I am not surprised or discouraged that my Holocaust opera, Jacek, has never been produced. Jack Eisner, the holocuast survivor whom I knew personally, and whom the opera is about, certainly knew I was Indian, and not Jewish. But Jewish people are too dear to me to trespass. Perhaps it was a strange error to have written that opera. I don’t know. All I know is, I love Jewish people. But that simply does not make me Jewish.
I could pass for Italian. They made me like one of them. When I first went east for my education, I was a shy person. I froze up, easily. I was not very social. In Connecticut (where I attended Yale), there are many Italian people. I played soccer with them, and hung around the Pietro Amica club (Allentown). I dated Italian girls. In a short time, I picked up a bit of Italian lingo. Italians had a hold on the street, so to speak. They were amazingly earthly and real. I had been an intellectual, artist type, and very aloof from people. The Italians cured me of that misanthropy. I shall ever hold them dear to my heart for that. (My mother once said they ruined me!) I felt confident of speech and human relations. I felt like I belonged. That’s the only way I can say it. The Italians, they were the world. With them, I felt part of it. Johnny Armellino, one of my favorite friends, owns the famous restaurant in Mildford, CT, Armellino’s.
John Armellino, second from the left, with Bianca, his wife, next to him.
Do I try to pretend I am an Italian? No. I love Italian people. I would never insult them in this way. I’ll go to Denver Colorado and defend their Columbus Parade, but, that doesn’t make me Italian. I used to ‘advocate’ for the immigrant Neopolitans I hung out with. That didn’t make me Italian. Marrying an Italian girl wouldn’t make me Italian. Having a half-Italian son wouldn’t make me Italian. Writing Italian art songs (one of my musical specialties) doesn’t make me Italian. (Dan Asia, my composition teacher at University of Arizona, said, “What’s a nice Jewish boy doing writing dramatic Italian songs? Only I can’t say that. You’re Indian! Makes as much sense…) And using dill in my spaghetti sauce certainly proves I’m not Italian. Alto belle!
I could pass for Persian, (only I don’t know anything about Farsi, the language). I’ve been to Iran. I love Iranian people. Yes, yes, they’ve a bit of a problem with Islam, but, we all pray this will pass. The Muslimists in charge in Tehran are far, far from the people. The people are among the most lovable people in the world. They are also the most handsome and beautiful. And they love America! Anyone who’s been anywhere near Iran knows this. I play soccer regularly with Iranians here in Oklahoma. They’ve been here for 30 years or more. They have children here. They are all citizens. I know families. The Alavi family is the last family to “adopt” me. Fred Alavi knew my mother. I taught piano lessons to his genius son, Matin. The grandfather, Bob, and his wife, helped prepare me for my trip to Iran. And I am still on the editorial board of Persian Heritage Magazine. Dr. Shahrohk Ahkami, the editor, is a physician, and positively one of the most brilliant men I have ever known. When Persians are brilliant, I don’t think it is possible to be more brilliant. I have been privileged to be associated with this magazine, and I have published many pieces in it.
Farah Pahlavi, for whom I wrote the collection of epic poetry, Jahan di-deh.
Do I try to pass myself off as a Persian? Do I try to sell my work as an Iranian artist or writer? Heavens no! I love Persian people. I love the Iranians, the modern descendents. Why would I insult them in this way? One never insults what he loves. One never disrespects those he holds dear. Granted, I have given public papers at the Iranian Studies Conference in Bethesda, MD, in 2000 and in 2002. But, I wasn’t there as an Iranian, but as a scholar. There were a few others who were not Iranian, but who contributed to special fields within Iranian studies. I never pretended to be Iranian. I would never do such a thing.
My point in all this? To love a people and their culture, to even participate in it, intimately, does not make you one of them. You are or you aren’t. You cannot be what you love. Loving what you love doesn’t make you be what it is you love. You can only love what you love. You are still you.
I would never lie. I would never lie about being something I wasn’t, in order to gain some professional advantage, or to procure social success. How can you insult what you love? How can you injure that which you hold precious?
I’ll mention my Barcelonan friend, Joe Fontela. The Spanish phenomenon I haven’t even touched, though it remains one of the grandest effects in world history. The effect that Mexicans have had on me, personally, is a story I’ve yet to tell. Joe also played soccer with Italians. In fact, that’s where I met Joe, on the soccer field. (Of course, he was a real professional. I’m only a weak amateur, but, I was allowed to hang out with some fine players. Gigi Garafano, the leader of the Neopolitan group, once said to me, “Dave, you’re lucky to play with us!” He was quite right.)
I love the people of the world, quite passionately, actually. But, that doesn’t change who or what I am. You know, I wish loving something really did make you become the same thing. Then I wouldn’t hesitate to call myself Christian.