As this year comes to a close I look back on what has transpired in my life. First of all, I turned 70 years of age. I didn’t think I would make it this far because my father died at the age of 31. This was in 1958, I was six years old.
For many years I did not like to fill out school forms because when it came to listing my father, I did not want to write in the space the word “dead.” So I discovered the word “deceased.” For some reason it sounded better.
As I learned to live without a father,I substituted my paternal grandparents names with whom I lived with for many years in Stockton, California.
In Between The Tears
In my 30s I was back in Texas and it was during a telephone call from my grandmother to tell us that my uncle John had died in Stockton that I heard her tell my mother in between the tears that the reason she took me in was because she and my grandfather had felt so guilty that my father had died and left a widow and three small children. They believed they could help ease the economic hardship that would lay ahead for my mother.
My grandparents were born at the turn of the 20th century. My paternal grandfather was actually born in 1886 and my grandmother was born in 1907. My grandfather retired from the sheep shearing business in Stockton. With him at the house all the
time, I would hear him tell stories. He was a good story teller.
The Stockton Uvalde Connection
On the weekends my grandparents would receive visitors and spend hours out on the patio visiting. It was only later that I learned that many of these visitors were actually people who had come to Stockton with my grandfather in the 1940s to work in the canneries.
It was during World War II that my grandfather used his trucks to bring 400 people from Uvalde, Texas to Stockton, California to
work. Some settled in Stockton and others returned to Uvalde after the war. It was those who stayed that would come over to visit on the weekends.
My grandmother was a great cook and I would often see her in the kitchen making tamales, buñuelos at Christmas time or carne guisada with home made flour tortillas.During the summers my grandmother worked at a Del Monte cannery as a floor lady. This was like a supervisor.
Running Away from Myself
As I grew up I knew I was different from the other kids in the neighborhood. In fact, I was the only Mexican kid and I didn’t like it.
Oh, I ate my grandmother’s Mexican food, but I didn’t like being brown. I spent years running away from myself and I didn’t know why.
When I came back to Texas in 1965 for a “summer visit,” my mother informed me that I would not be returning to California.
At first I was furious. All my friends were back in Stockton. My mother explained that she was having a new house built out on Ft. Clark Road and that she wanted all her family to be together again.
So I began a new chapter in my life and began to learn Spanish. (Actually it was street Spanish and slang) I joined the Boy Scouts and when I got into high school, I played football.
The Chicano Movement
When the Chicano Movement came to Uvalde in 1968, I joined MAYO (Mexican American Youth Organization) It was during the weekly meetings that I began to understand why I didn’t like myself. It was also during these meetings that I began to learn the history of where I came from.
For some reason my mother or grandparents never told me these stories. Certainly I did not learn anything about my background in school. I returned to California in 1970 and got into college. After graduating from the University of California Berkeley in 1974, I went to work for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.
After many jobs over the years including school teacher, program administrator and taxi driver, I now find myself sitting on the side of the bed at 70 years of age, I never thought I would make it this far.
Copyright 2022 by Alfredo Santos.