Forget road trips in a minivan. A Spenuzza family vacation may involve haggling in the Grand Bazaar in Turkey, fighting off spider monkeys in the Amazon, crashing a wedding in Italy or discovering family secrets in the Basque country.
These are a few of the whimsical vignettes in Dana Point author Connie Spenuzza’s ninth book, “Jubilant Journeys.” The memoir was selected as one of three finalists in the “Most Inspirational Nonfiction Book — English” category for the 2019 International Latino Book Awards, the largest Hispanic literary awards in the United States.
Having previously written under her birth name, Cecilia Velástegui, Spenuzza is the author of five fiction novels and three bilingual children’s books, published in English and Spanish.
She has won three first place awards from the International Latino Book Awards, but “Jubilant Journeys” is her first nonfiction nomination — and her most personal.
Part travel memoir and part genealogical quest, the book spans 50 years and 125 countries, as Spenuzza recounts her family’s adventures across the globe.
A former marriage and family therapist, Spenuzza was born in Ecuador, moved to Los Angeles at age 11 and lived in France during her late teens and early 20s. She speaks English, Spanish and French fluently, “but with Italian, I need a glass of wine,” she quipped.
After marrying Peter Spenuzza in 1979, the two committed to seeing as much of the world together as possible. Since Peter’s business required frequent international trips — he owns a commercial cooking equipment company in Corona — the Spenuzza family turned travel into a way of life.
“We went to where [Peter] had business, and then we branched out to other locales that were within a plane flight,” Spenuzza said. “For example, if we had to be in Hong Kong or Singapore, then we went to Bali.”
The couple’s two sons came along on many of the trips, even as small children. Spenuzza recalled potty training her youngest son, then 2 years old, on cogwheel trains in Switzerland.
The short security lines and lax travel regulations of the ’80s made for easier journeys.
“It was a golden time of travel, and in retrospect, we’re glad we did it,” Spenuzza said. “I think it takes much more planning and knowledge [these days].”
By arranging their trips around the children’s school breaks and holidays, the Spenuzzas were able to travel as a family almost four months a year. Spenuzza estimated the children experienced 45 countries before reaching adulthood.
In the midst of the family trips, she began to investigate a family legend: that her Ecuadorian family was related to Ojer de Velástegui, a scribe aboard the Pinta on Columbus’ voyage to the Americas in 1492.
“I had heard all of these tall tales [growing up], and I said, ‘Maybe they aren’t tall tales,” she said. “Maybe this scribe in the Pinta was really a relative of ours, so let me find out.’ And it took me 30 years to uncover it.”
An encounter with a chocolatier in a Basque town was key in confirming her ancestry, a prime example of what Spenuzza called “wanderlust serendipity.”
“It just means the magic of coincidences, when you least expect it,” she said. “When you’re wandering around the world, these incredible incidents will happen, and there’s always a link to your life, but it’s a surprise ... it’s those interactions with people from other countries, or an event that you didn’t expect to witness — it’s made my life so much richer.”
The International Latino Book Awards Ceremony will take place on Sept. 21 at the Los Angeles City College in Los Angeles.