On Tuesday I went to the local history room of the National City Public Library to start researching for my book. My first discovery was my Grandma Nana’s (my great grandmother) address in the city directory for 1929. I also found my great great great grandmother’s listing and realized that she lived three blocks down from my Grandma Nana (her grand daughter). The librarian gave me a list of the oral histories done in the 1980’s and there was my Great Uncle John who used to ride down to visit my Grandma Mary (my mom’s mom) on his Harley. He was in his late 70’s at the time.
Listening to his tape, I uncovered a family secret. My Grandma Mary told my mom that she had been born in Mazatlan. According to my Great Uncle John, they were born in San Ysidro and then taken to Mazatlan by an Aunt Catalina who registered them as Mexican citizens. The plan was that their parents would return to Mexico. But when the revolution broke out in 1911, she hightailed it out of Mexico and brought them back to San Diego. A few years later in 1913, their father was shot and killed in a gambling hall, forcing my Great Grandmother Inez to work in a Chinese laundry from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day for $1 per day. My Great Uncle John, then 11 years old, went to work for Japanese farmer so his mother wouldn’t have to work so hard.
I could go on with more stories but there’s something magical and poignant about finding the people who gave you the color of your hair or the shape of your chin in an 80 year-old phone book. Suddenly, they’re not blurry faces in old photos, or names on county documents. They’re people who lived. When I heard about my widowed great grandmother who couldn’t read or write, and could understand English but not speak it (or Chinese, presumably) having to wash laundry to support her two children … man, that puts my problems in perspective!
But it also makes me so proud and yet, so humble. Ever since Tuesday, I walk through my house with such an appreciation for my education, my home and the Little Dude’s toys that litter every room. I think about the books that are on the shelves in front of me, around me and on the floor and that I can write these words when almost a 100 years ago, my great grandmother was boiling clothes and then scrubbing them on a board. (What did she think about, I keep wondering.) I thought my mariachi book would be the most special story I’d ever written. But this new story that I’m working on is taking me into new territory. So I hope you won’t be bored as I share my stories along the journey.