Gaskell Romney, Mitt’s grandfather, settled in Mexico as well, and Mitt’s father, George Romney, was born in nearby Colonia Dublan — raising the possibility of a 2012 presidential race between two contenders whose fathers were born outside the United States.
The story of Mitt Romney’s family in Mexico is not well known or frequently mentioned by the candidate, who is widely viewed as the front-runner for the Republican nomination. But the extraordinary lives of Romney’s ancestors, and the current struggles of his relatives against Mexico’s brutal criminal gangs, present a significantly more complex family portrait than the all-American image of Mitt with his wife, Ann, and their five clean-cut sons.
Like President Obama, Romney has a family tree that crosses borders and cultures, and a genealogy that does not unfold neatly from a Mayflower landing or a dogged immigrant’s tale. His forebears came to the United States for spiritual reasons but had to flee a generation later, finding in Mexico the freedom they were looking for.
Forthright, horse-smart and stubborn — these are the qualities that helped Miles Park Romney build Colonia Juarez and that Mitt would bring to the White House, said his cousin Kent Romney, a peach farmer who makes fishing lures and is possibly the only person in Mexico with a Chihuahua license plate and a “Mitt Romney for President” sticker on his pickup.
“We have a saying: When a Romney drowns, you look for the body upstream,” Kent said. “They don’t just flow with the current.”
Like the older generation of Romneys here, Kent is Mitt’s second cousin, and although he has donated to Mitt’s campaigns, he has never met the candidate. Nor has Mitt been to Colonia Juarez and Kent’s home, built more than 100 years ago by their great-grandfather.
From Kent’s porch, one can look up the street to the gleaming white Mormon temple on the hill and across to the red-brick buildings of the town’s private English-language Mormon academy. About a third of the town’s 500 or so residents are of Anglo descent.
Polygamy — or plural marriage, as it’s known in the Mormon tradition — continued in the Mexican colonies after church elders officially banned it in 1890. But it was phased out long ago, and with the exception of a breakaway community farther south, Mormons in northern Mexico no longer practice polygamy. Gaskell Romney had one wife.