My mother’s immigration story

Tue. November 15, 2005
Categories: Uncategorized

My great grandparents were from Jalisco, Mexico and they died fighting for “Reforma, Libertad Ley y Justicia” (Reform, Freedom, Law and Justice) under the courageous Emilio Zapata.  Zapata was influenced by the philosopher Peter Kropotkin (born in Moscow, 1842).  At a time of rich intellectual growth in Russia, Kropotkin  studied French history and came under the influence of the new liberal-revolutionary literature.  Kropotkin became the founder of anarchist communism.  These anarchists  shared sympathies with the peasantry (yet they themselves were not poor).

During the Mexican Revolution, my great-grandparents and 5 or 6 of their children were killed. One child survived (my 3 year old grandmother, Marguerite) and she was brought to Los Angeles with three other surviving adult family members. These were (Great) Uncle Guadalupe, (Great) Aunt Frances and (Great) Aunt Amada. My grandmother, Marguerite, ran away as early as she could. Great Aunt Frances found her and temporarily put her in a convent. When the girl decided to become a nun, her aunt removed her from the convent. Marguerite soon after married  a man named Ramon whose family had a performing arts theater in Los Angeles.

Ramon moved Marguerite from Los Angeles to Nogales, Sonora in 1932 and there abandoned her. Alone, perhaps destitute, she met a tall and handsome man, Alfredo Salazar (his family says he is my true grandfather).  After having been raised in Los Angeles, Marguerite birthed my mother in Nogales and afterwards returned to L.A. in 1935. My undernourished mother arrived in the States just a few months old. Aunt Frances’ husband,  Louis B. Aguirre, immediately had my mother put in an incubator in the hospital to ensure her survival. Meanwhile, Alfredo Salazar had a good family business in Mexico and he disliked the idea of living in the U.S.  As a result, Marguerite took my mother Frances on the train between L.A. and Nogales every year to visit the Salazar’s who, likewise, came to L.A. for visits.  I remember their visits during my childhood over many years.

Marguerite’s job at a grocery store /deli did not pay enough to support both mother and child. So my mother stayed with grandmother only on the weekends, and during the week lived with her reportedly abusive Great Aunt Frances until she was six years old. Things changed for my mother between the ages of 6 and 11 after starting school. She was able to move in finally with her mother and they lived happily (she was a latchkey kid).

Marguerite eventually fell in love and married Chuck, a Mexican-American soldier, when he got out of the U.S. Army, and they made a nice little home for about 5-6 years in Boyle Heights. Heartbreak struck the happy young family when Marguerite developed a kidney infection. Marguerite sought the advice of a curandera who mistakenly treated her for a pregnancy. She died(my mother was eleven years old). NMgrandmother apparently lived in two worlds at the same time, both the indigenous culture of Mexico and Los Angeles.  Of course, we wish she’d gone to a regular doctor. Not only did my mother miss her terribly, I, too, longed for a grandmother’s love

I want to add a note about my Father’s side of the family: I always believed my father was Scotch-Irish, especially after I visited his childhood home (Greasy Creek) in Pikeville County, Kentucky.  Our surname “Blackburn” is an English occupational name for a burner of charcoal or gatherer of coal.  My paternal grandmother’s surname was Coleman, though. Come to find out, Coleman is of Irish and English origin. I find it very interesting that there are more than 100 saints named Coleman in Ireland. Well, our branch of the Coleman family is from the coal mining mountains of Appalachia.

Sitting around the kitchen table in Greasy Creek, I listened to their family stories while enjoying homemade biscuits and molasses cooked with baking soda in an iron skillet on the stove.  It’s true what they say about the hillbillies.   Actually, the McCoy’s lived in Pikeville to escape the raiding Hatfields from West Virginia.  This felt surreal as I listened since  I was raised in  Southern California in the ’60’s to the music of the Beach Boys and the Beatles.  This way of seeing the world was so foreign to me and I chuckled when my great cousin, who would have been my grandmothers age, quietly and suspiciously intimated to me that I did not look like “them” (did I imagine that sneer on her face…is that where I got mine?)  Knowing their fear of outsiders I told her that I was just a half-breed and she gave a hearty laugh. Humor calmed my worries (and hers, too).  When I told this story to a friend in L.A. he chuckled and informed me that I am a “hicspic!”  At the time I didn’t get that it was derogatory, and he denies having ever said it, but I have been calling myself that ever since.

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