My grandparents were legal immigrants from Silao, Guanajuato, Mexico. My grandmother, Rosario Hernandez, gave birth to 14 children in the United States, three of whom died as infants (Raquel, Reyes and Julia Salazar).
My grandfather, Lucio Salazar, worked for the Santa Fe Railroad as a boxcar cleaner (via the Bracero Program) and was the primary breadwinner along with my mother, Helen and her sisters (my nine aunts or tias) who contributed their part time wages to the family household. I was essentially raised by my grandparents, as my father, Ezequiel, left my mother when I was one year old.
I had one uncle, Pancho (Frank Salazar) who was my sole male role model growing up, but who unfortunately was an severe alcoholic. He was, nonetheless, a kind man and treated me with love and respect.
As a 10-year old, I clearly remember walking with my grandfather to the Santa Fe Railroad yards on 5th Street in San Bernardino on paydays in order to pick up his check and subsequently giving the check to my grandmother who would later go the the Santa Fe Railroad grocery store on Mt. Vernon Avenue.
That, in itself, was another story of economic abuse. It’s like working for Walmart for the minimum wage, then being required to purchase all your goods, clothes and food from Walmart.
Nonetheless, paydays were exciting times for the whole family.
My grandmother, Rosario, would prepare a special dinner for the family and sometimes buy a couple of dresses for my tias or aunts, that were subsequently handed down to the youngest, in our case Yolanda or “Yoli,” who hated being the recipient of hand-me-downs.
My grandmother would also mend our clothes and heal our injuries and cuts.
Watching her peddle her old Singer sewing machine was a common sight. Her hand-made dresses contained patterns of colorful flowers and patterns that were always of ankle length. The “Salazar Girls” were respected and admired in our neighborhood. They were beautiful, smart and demur.
I especially liked that my grandmother would let me water the backyard garden which always contained, tomatoes, squash, chiles, and cilantro. I still grow herbs and vegetables in memory of my beloved grandmother,
I loved to play with her, turning the water hose on her and she on me. I recall a special event when my grandparents bought a piglet and later barbecued it inviting family and friends. It might have been a special occasion like a quinceanera, wedding or anniversary, but I don’t remember the occasion, just the excitement of seeing a roasted pig.
Our daily diet included eggs (huevos). We had at least four chickens in the backyard at all times and our chores included watering the garden, ironing our own clothes (me too) and collecting the eggs when the chickens were ready. Now these chickens were “range free!” and they produced eggs of a beautiful brown color.
We also ate plenty of pinto beans (frijoles) daily, rice (arroz) and beef strips (carne asada), but only on paydays. I still remember the ice man coming to leave us a block or two of ice (hielo) in our wooden icebox. We had to take the pan from under box and then pour it in the garden. The milkman also had his route on Cabrera Street.
Then, there was “Boy” our family German Shepherd.
A magnificent animal who my grandfather “put down.” Boy attacked an intruder to our street (Cabrera Street) and we paid the victim for bodily harm and trauma. I loved that dog and I really never forgave my grandfather for ending his life.
Here Boy! Here Boy! Where are you Boy?
If you were raised as a Mejicano, you should be familiar with cactus (nopales), shrimp (camaron),” calf tongue (lengua), intestines (tripas), calf brains (cessos) and calf’s head (cabeza), including brains, eyes and facial meat). Delicious! My favorite was nopales with camaron sauce. Grilled cactus was also great with salt and lemon.
My first impressions were that Lucio, my abuelito, was a strict disciplinarian, who would pull out his belt if anyone who disobeyed him. He was especially cruel to my uncle Frank the only male in an 14 female family. No wonder “Pancho” turned out to be an alcoholic.
I was the only one who escaped my abuelo’s full wrath. Although, he did once kick me in the butt, because I kicked him first. I was a rebel even then.
After that, my grandmother, Rosario, told him that if he ever touched a hair on my head he would live to regret it, or not live. I became the consentido (the favorite) which made me envied by my other cousins.
It was not an easy burden since my father DNA gave me a lighter skin and European lineage (actually, I am 43% Irish). To this day, Mexicans believe me to be a “gringo” although I can speak, read and write Spanish, fluently.
Silao, Guanajuato, is the geographical center of Mexico and is characterized by a giant statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the city. (See the video below.)
Silao was once know for its silver mines and hot mineral baths. As a boy, I visited Silao twice to visit relatives still living there.
In the place where Silao now sits, there was an Otomí settlement that was conquered by the Purépecha tribe. It then received the name Tzinacua, that in English means “place of dense fog”, because in the area of Comanjilla, there were columns of water vapor rising from thermal springs. The name evolved to ‘Sinaua‘, ‘Silagua‘ and finally ‘Silao’. There is a Otomi Museum other of the Capitol or “DF.” In it are cultural exhibits, language dictionaries and a chronological history of the Otomi who were farmer/warriors, fighting the colonial Aztecas.
I have a heavy dose of Otomí tribe DNA due to my grandmother, and European Spanish DNA on my maternal’s grandfather’s side. My father’s lineage brought an almost 45% Irish and a remaining influence from Europe according to DNA tests via “Living DNA” testing.
My father was born out of wedlock (he liked to call himself a bastard) and was never able to determine the bloodline from which came. (he thought he might be Arabic or Jewish but his mother, my paternal grandmother would never say. My dad, Zeke, was tall, white, and could articulate his thoughts well, however he was somewhat selfish and self centered.
I plan to trace my lineage by subscribing to Ancestry DNA and 23andMe DNA testing. and possibly others.
I was raised in a low-income neighborhood in the Westside of San Bernardino (known as “Berdoo”), California, where gangs roamed the streets; “winos” slept on park benches (as I recall Thunderbird™ and Ripple™ were the favorite wines simply because they were the cheapest); and priests treated the Spanish-speaking community like children to be chastised and threatened with hell if they did not obey every Catholic mandate and rule issue by the Vatican and “El Papa.”
It is interesting to note that my grandparents raised 14 children, 10 of which were female with one male. Growing up you might say I had 10 “stepmothers” having lived in my grandparent’s home after my father left my mother when I was one years old.
We were all church-going Catholics and Democrats. Pictures of JFK, Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the Holy Trinity covered practically every wall in our home. Oh yes, Monsignor Nunez reminded us every Sunday to not forget to fill the church’s coffers with monthly contributions, not to mention volunteering for every fund raiser the church sponsored. It reminds me now of Orwell’s “1984 – ” The “Thought Patrol.” I’ll have more to say about the church’s hypocrisy and abuse in later posts.
To make a long story short, I graduated from high school (no small feat for minorities in those days), attended my local junior college, attended a four-year university, joined the United States Marine Corps as a commissioned officer and went off to Vietnam ultimately rising to the rank of Captain. I served in the 4th Force Recon unit in San Bernardino and 3rd Battalion Recon unit in Vietnam.
My last duty assignment was as Officer-in-Charge of the Reconnaissance School based at Campendleton, a rather prestigious assignment that guaranteed my career path to senior echelons had I made it a career.
The only special operation group that could out-do Marine Force or Battalion Recon in training and difficulty of assignment were Seal Teams and perhaps Green Berets.