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Mexico, 1954 and 1970: Rigoberto and Jovita Ramos. Interviewed along with their adult daughter, Mireya, who was pregnant at the time. Click on images for more information about them.

Rigoberto and Jovita Ramos were both born in Mexico. They grew up on ranches that were near Valparaiso, Zacatecas, in Central Mexico. Rigoberto’s grandfather and great uncles came to the US when they were young men. Rigoberto’s father was born in Watts, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. When Rigoberto was about three, he moved to Los Angeles with his father and stayed until he was about eight. After that, he went back to Mexico while his father was in the US working most of the year.

     

GM: What do you know about your grandfather and his brothers being here? RIGOBERTO: My grandfather and his brothers came here [about the] 1920’s. They work a long time. Then they go back to Mexico because of the depression. All his brothers and sisters, maybe they have money that time, they buy land over there [in Mexico], 2000 acres here, another 3000 acres, maybe 8000 acres all together. Then they divide it, cause everybody [likes to have different places], …[but connected]. Like a family [estate]. …But now everything gone, like a…(He makes chopping motions). GM: Chopped up? RIGOBERTO: Yeah.

GM: Did your grandfather come back after the depression? RIGOBERTO: No, he never came back. He stayed in Mexico. [But] all his sons [my uncles], they’re born here.…GM: Why did your father come back over here? RIGOBERTO: For work. He was hired to work in the – (here, his daughter helps him translate). MIREYA: Welding?…His father was making metal pipes [in LA]. RIGOBERTO: At that time they work all day. He was afraid of going blind, because too much heat and working so close. So then he go back to Mexico, 1960. They stay only two or three months, then he come back to work in the fields. [Even working in the fields] he was in Mexico only a few months every year. MIREYA to her father: So you were the one who was head of household in Mexico, in charge….He was the "dad." (Laughter)

GM: How many brothers and sisters do you have? RIGOBERTO: Seven boys and two girls. MIREYA: How many were born here in the states? RIGOBERTO: Four, six in Mexico. GM to Jovita: How many brothers and sisters do you have? JOVITA: I have five sisters and two brothers.

GM to Rigoberto: What do you remember about those five years here as a child? RIGOBERTO: …I remember 2, 3 years in the school. Maybe at that time I was learning English. Lot of black people there. I don’t see too many whites. GM: Was there a problem with the races? RIGOBERTO: No, no. No problem.

GM to Rigoberto: Do you identify more with Mexico as your home? RIGOBERTO: More here. Only 11 years in Mexico… GM: But you, Jovita, you were there your whole childhood? JOVITA: Nineteen years.

GM: And you two got married in Mexico? JOVITA: Yes. 1972. MIREYA: They got married in Valparaiso at my grandma’s orchard. La Huerta Chavez.…. GM: Were you two childhood sweethearts? MIREYA: How did you meet? RIGOBERTO: I don’t know. GM: You’ve just known each other forever, huh? (Laughter)

GM: Then after you got married, did you stay down there or did you come directly to the States? JOVITA: We stayed there 3 months. [Then came to] Sacramento. Downtown.

GM: What was it like moving here? JOVITA: For me, it was sad. I don’t like it. I was free in my country. Lot of room. Lot of space. And when we come here, we come to an apartment. (Rigoberto had rented an apartment while they were working in the fields. It was used by his brothers and their families.) He was a father of six. MIREYA: He was "like" a father, yes. JOVITA: Six plus me. And I was pregnant, and we have no food. It was awful. No bed. We slept on the… GM: Couch? JOVITA: Yes. After that, we survive. It was hard. Really hard!

GM: And did you miss your family back in Mexico? (Here, Jovita began to tear up.) It’s OK. You are not the first one to cry around this. It’s a hard journey! JOVITA: The thing that made me happy was to see the trees. I grew up in… [turns to her daughter for the English word] MIREYA: An orchard. She grew up around things that were growing, fruit trees and vegetables. She used to love to climb the apple trees. They called her "Manzana", apple, because she was always hiding in the apple trees. (Laughter)

GM: What do you remember about the day that you left Mexico? JOVITA: I remember I was so happy, because I was going to be with him. I went to go tell my father that I was going to leave. I was happy, because I was in love! The next time when I went [to Mexico], I cried, because I don’t want to leave. (Laughter – then tears) I don’t want to come over here. Every year that we go, now no more, but maybe the first 5 or 6 times I went, I remember I was crying all the time. Until later… Now I understand how my parents feel when I leave.

GM: So how were your parents when you told them you were going to be leaving? JOVITA: My father tell me -- he was very strong….I remember we’re having dinner, and he told me how much he love me and he will be waiting for me. (Tears and Laughter) But we come. We travel three days, and he left me over there on the border with his cousin, and he come.

GM to Rigoberto: So you came first then? RIGOBERTO: Yes. [But] I didn’t have the papers for her. You stand in line and [they] say, "Are you a citizen?" GM: Were you an American citizen then? RIGOBERTO: No. I had my green card. GM: Since you were married, was it easier to get papers for her? RIGOBERTO: Yes. Six months. GM to Jovita: So you were there on the border for six months? JOVITA: No. I went there, and then he told one man to go pick me up. And he [Rigoberto] say, "Maybe you can just go through, just say that you were an American citizen, so I just say "American citizen," and they let me go. They don’t ask anything. So I just go, and get in the car, and drive straight to Los Angeles, and stay with his sister, and he pick me up.

The very first day that I get here [to Sacramento], he [met] with an uncle, and the first thing I see is this big house with stairs and he had maybe like 20 cats. He was going downtown, and we get close to downtown and the immigration office [was close by]. He say, "Oh, this is the immigration office. Oh, you better go back home, because they’re gonna get you." And then…I get out of the car, and he left me there. OK! How am I going to go back to the house? So I went back all of the streets. I get to the house. That was my first experience. I was proud of myself, because I remembered the house. I said I’m just going to find the house with many, many cats. (Laughter) …I [could have been] lost there, but I’m so proud of myself that I look for the house with the 20 cats. But it was funny….

GM to Rigoberto: What were you doing when you were first here? RIGOBERTO: I was working in the fields. 1969 – 78. GM: Where did you mostly work? RIGOBERTO: All over. Selma, Salinas. GM: What was it like? RIGOBERTO: I like it, but it was too many hours, every day, 7 days, long hours. In the fields I was working 7 days, 10 hours. MIREYA: Yes, I remember that he used to leave at 3:00 in the morning and come back at 5:00. RIGOBERTO: We work in the grapes, you know, in different areas. Then they pay us. Then we go to other areas, and then others, Lodi, Selma, Oxnard. We pick tomatoes, lots of things. I was working in the fields [until] 1978, then I started landscaping, and I liked it. Been there 18 years.

JOVITA: When I was there [in Mexico] I learn how to work…so as soon as I could, I started working [here]. MIREYA: Did you start working in the fields? JOVITA: I went three days to the fields, and I don’t like it. Three days on a tomato machine, and I don’t like it. Then I went half day to cutting grapes, and I don’t like it. In Mexico I used to work in the Pharmacy and comparing that job to going in the dirt and getting grapes, I don’t like it. It was hard for me. So I applied for nursery, working with a lot of plants and was lucky…I applied there, and they hired me,…and took me to the laboratory, and I [have been] there my whole life. I like it so much. My father, back over there, worked with plants. I learn over there how to graft [and] work with the plants. All kinds of plants. When I come over here, I like the job with the plants. And then I moved into the laboratory, I learned something new. How to make them grow with chemicals without soil, and that was new for me. And I like the work. And I’m still there. But all those years I was not with my kids, but I was happy, too, because I was working for them, trying to help them to go to school.

GM: What do you mean you weren’t with your kids? JOVITA: Well, many people would stay with them all the time. GM: Oh, you mean during the day while you were working? JOVITA: Yes, I try to find good places for them. Sometimes in wintertime he [Rigoberto] don’t work all the time, and he take care of them.

GM to Jovita: What did you notice first when you got here? JOVITA: I noticed the trees. I like the trees. GM: What did you not like? JOVITA: Probably the house. And the weather! When we got here in May it was hot. I feel like I was melting. Those apartments did not have air conditioning. It was hot!

GM: What surprised you about life here that is different than Mexico? JOVITA: What surprised me was looking at the black people. When I was [young], l love to read books and I see pictures of Asians, black people, all different countries, but I never believe I was going to see it real. My first impression when I see was I want to go and touch them. (Laughter) GM: Cause you had never seen them before? JOVITA: Never, ever. Now maybe you can see them on television, but before, there was no TV.

[Another] thing that I miss, too, was at my house, my pool, cause over here, we don’t have it….Maybe it’s like more freedom [in Mexico]. Like you can go everywhere. You know everybody. You go on the street and know everybody. MIREYA: And you walk everywhere. JOVITA: Here, you don’t know anybody. RIGOBERTO: Sometimes you don’t know your neighbors. JOVITA: And over there everybody takes care of everybody…It’s different. Over there you don’t have cars. Over here everyone has to have cars. And over there…RIGOBERTO: At that time, but now mostly people drive. Like in my town, only one truck [when I was young]. Now you see 2 or 3 trucks in each house. Too many trucks! All of them from here. All over Mexico, all the ranches. Every ranch you go to you see a lot of trucks right now.

GM: But you were riding horses, too, when you were younger. I saw a picture of you on a horse. RIGOBERTO: Yeah, that’s when we go to the sierra. We do it in 5 hours to get [there]. MIREYA: Sierra is like the mountains, a "foresty" type place. RIGOBERTO: Every year I was there for three months. I remember that because I like the sierras, the trees. I would find snakes. (laughter) The last time I was there it was about 1966 or 67, 15 or 16 years old….They have a lot of cows. When you see the people with their [children], they’re all happy, "Oh, there’s one and there’s another one." Lots of good times there.

GM to Rigoberto: Are you a citizen now? RIGOBERTO: Yes. 1984. GM: Was that hard? RIGOBERTO: At that time it was easy. Before, a lot of people don’t think to do that. They’re sure there’s going to be a next time. But I know it’s necessary to go. I have a friend, and he say it’s easy to pass, so then I say, "Well, I go, too," …and I pass it…Every time they ask me something, I answer, and they say, "Ok, it’s enough." They asked me about the amendments. I say "freedom of speech, freedom of religion." They say, "OK, that’s enough." And that’s good ‘cause I don’t know the other ones. (Laugher) So then they would say, "Go over there and pay your $50.00." That was it.

GM to Jovita: Did you become a citizen, too? JOVITA: Maybe three years after?… RIGOBERTO: 1985. Now days it’s harder to pass it….It’s the same questions, but you have to answer right away. It depends on who’s going to take you in. I remember one lady -- after the first question, if you don’t answer right away, she sends you away and says to go home and study. That day there were 200 people there, but they only take about 20, and none passed from that lady. They ask questions about how many colonies were there. 13. Name them. They don’t know, they don’t pass.

JOVITA: …I am happy to have [citizenship]. When I go to Mexico, it’s more easy to cross…. It’s kind of respect more…. If you are a citizen of the United States, you have to pay $20.00 to go into Mexico. RIGOBERTO: I’m not paying that because I have citizenship from Mexico, [too]. MIREYA: You have dual citizenship. JOVITA: I [also] like the citizenship…, because you can get more benefits, for example, to get a job, they always ask you about your citizenship, and they hire you right away….

GM: What is it that makes you choose to live here more time of the year than in Mexico? JOVITA: Because for living over there, you have to have something to live from, like a business or planting, and if you don’t have anything, how are you going to survive? So when we got married, we came right away, and he started working, and I did, too. I start working when she [Mireya] was fourteen years old. For me I think it’s easier now to live here, because I have my job. And over there, maybe I can work, but it’s not going to be the same thing. And now, I have my kids, they are already grown. Why go? They’re not going to go.

GM to Mireya: You’re not really used to living in Mexico? MIREYA: No, but I went every year. But all the benefits! I used to hear, "Here, you won’t go hungry. Here, you will have a roof over your head." There, if you get sick, like the car crash my father had in January, they won’t see you unless you have money. If you don’t have money, you could die. And here, there’s emergency rooms, and they’ll see you. So for those benefits, the US.

GM: You identify more as a U.S. citizen then? MIREYA: I identify as both. Because I still have the culture within me that was implanted when I was little. I was the official translator for them when I was little. So I identified with both and know both of the languages and cultures. GM: I could tell that when you wrote a little about the pictures, especially about your mother’s family. MIREYA: Yes my grandfather was Huichol. She (meaning her mother) is the one out of all the family that looks more indigenous.

MIREYA: I guess I’m the person that really looks into the roots. I started the family tree….I guess it must have been because when I was little, 4 or 5 years old, I started the dance troupe and started to learn more about the different areas of Mexico. And with my grandpa, he was also a dancer, and he just gave me the desire of wanting to know more about the culture. JOVITA: He was a happy man.

MIREYA: ….I got [some] from this grandpa and [some] from that grandpa, and there was no way I was going to give up the culture. I heard they were giving dual citizenships to those whose parents were born in Mexico, and I just jumped on that. For me, I think that’s very important, especially for my child now, to learn both cultures….Whatever culture you have, it’s just rich and you have to pass it on.

I see more of the Huichol culture [as being more connected to] the vegetation, more farming. I remember he [my mom’s father] used to…cultivate the land with oxen. Sometimes you would get on them and get rides! I totally remember him from that, and his sandals, and the way he was dressed. Totally indigenous looking!… I always saw him on the land…. Grandpa [my dad’s father] was more with animals and farm and sierra. So I saw those two differences. They [my mother’s family] were always with vegetables and fruits and flowers, and they (looking at her father) were more [with] animals.

JOVITA: …We grew up in the ranch, but [also] in the city. (Speaks Spanish to her daughter) MIREYA: So you are a little bit of both…. I think of them more… [with] milking the cows, making cheese, killing animals for food, making beef jerky, getting eggs from chickens. Also picking of potatoes, apples, and selling the flowers and cactuses, the cactus fruits. I would cut them up, as a game, [and] would just go across the street to the little store and take my bucket and just sell my little cactuses. (Laughter) GM: It’s like lemonade sales here. MIREYA: Yeah, [I saw that here], and I thought, "I could do that, too." And my cousins would come, and we would just do that. So it’s just experiences that are different from here. If I were just here, I wouldn’t have experienced that. I would just be in the house watching TV, playing Nintendo, if I had Nintendo.

GM: What customs from Mexico do you keep going in your household? Like, what do you do differently at Christmas? MIREYA: There’s always buñuelos and the drink. It has sugar cane, guayava…(To her mother) What else to we put in there? JOVITA: Canela [Rum], Tamarindo [Tamerind, a spice], Tejocotes. MIREYA: It’s a round ball that’s orange and has little black dots. JOVITA: It’s a fruit in Mexico. MIREYA: It’s a mixture of all those fruits. I don’t know the official name. JOVITA: Calientitos. Some people call it "ponche."

MIREYA: I remember all those 2 things we always had, and…JOVITA: Enchiladas. MIREYA: Yeah…And I always remember when I was little, I was really off with my grandpa, and we used to always make little performances for the family. There was always singing and dancing or something. That was always tradition….That’s the only time we would all get together. My mom’s side of the family from all over the U.S. and Mexico, and dad’s…they just always go down there.…. JOVITA: It’s a tradition. MIREYA: Yeah, we do that every single year. Even if we didn’t have money, we found a way. We had to go! (Laughter) RIGOBERTO: Every year. For two weeks. MIREYA: I just remember the trips. Oh my gosh, I hated the trips. Too long! Three days, two nights. And we‘re all scrunched up in the car or van with all the luggage. We wanted to get it all in there.

MIREYA: What about the Las Posadas? That’s another tradition. Every year my mom’s sister takes one of the days before Christmas and they [get together] with all the kids and go from the chapel to the house, and they give out oranges…JOVITA: Candies. MIREYA: Apples, canned goods. Part of the whole "getting ready for the birth." JOVITA: The 16th they start. So they dress up like Mary, and [have] a manger. MIREYA: They even have a donkey, too. JOVITA: And Mary used to be sitting on top of the donkey. They dress up the kids. MIREYA: Each of the kids of the family, they have a little party night.

GM: Have any of you experienced a lot of prejudice for being from Mexico? (MIREYA translates and then both her parents shrug their shoulders. Then to her father): But yes, they called you stupid one time, remember, at work? And from that point on, we could not use the word "stupid" at home. RIGOBERTO: They called everybody that. I would hear it all the time when I was working. They say more on that job. They say to everybody, "Ah, stupid." [Once there were two guys who] didn’t understand, and I went to help them. "No, no, no! You, over there, you stupid." Then…I got in my mind that I don’t like to hear that. I never try to tell anyone that word. I try to explain what they’re going to do. But when he [the boss] wants [you] to do something fast, "Come on, come on" (in a loud, nasty voice). A lot of time they [the workers] laugh, but they don’t like it….

 

 

 

GM: But you haven’t really experienced people saying things against you because you are from Mexico? JOVITA: Not to me. MIREYA: In 8th grade I was going from public to Catholic school. I don’t know if that had to do with it, or with me being Mexican and not being many Mexicans there. I just loved the uniform, I just wanted to go to Catholic school, especially hearing from my dad that he had gone, I wanted to experience it. And I remember [a teacher] saying, "You’re never going to amount to anything. You’re just a little Mexican. You’re just probably going to get pregnant like everybody else in your race." And I thought that was very harsh, because you didn’t even know me in the first place, and that just upset me. In a way it was negative, and in a way it was positive, because it just made me think, "You know what, just forget you. I’m just going to show you." So in that sense it was less negative. I just wouldn’t believe that.

JOVITA: …The way she was, she never likes to be quiet. She always answer back, whoever it is. That teacher that she had, she was very strict. And there goes this little girl from out there, and she used to answer everybody. MIREYA: But I never used bad words or anything like that. I would answer to defend myself…

JOVITA: Maybe that help her, too, because I remember one time she wanted to go with this strapless dress. MIREYA: It was for confirmation. They were going to take pictures. And I didn’t have clothes. And I was borrowing from my aunts… and they let me borrow a strapless dress. I thought I looked cute, and they [the school] said, "No, you can’t wear a strapless dress." And I said, "What do you mean, ‘no’?"

I just remember also, identity problems, like all kids do, but I think I had more, because I didn’t like the hard-core race. Usually the Mexicans identify with hard–core. I didn’t like that. I couldn’t fit in with the Anglo kids, because I didn’t have the money to buy Esprit, because that’s what the style was. I couldn’t afford that, and they wouldn’t accept me. So I remember that I was just lost. I was like, I don’t want to go with my culture, because I don’t like what I see, how they are, into drugs, I didn’t like any of that.

The funny thing – I mean, I love my culture, but it’s funny because my closest friends are different nationalities… There are only two that are half-Mexican. One is Filipino, one is half Cuban, one African-American, the other one is Chinese, and one is half white. Even though I love my culture, I just really don’t click with Mexican’s for some reason….

I was [also] the interpreter for the family, and dad being the oldest, they would always take papers and everything to him. Like applications and what have you to fill out, and he would give them to me. For a long time, they [my parents] just wouldn’t speak English…. Sometimes it would be frustrating, like "C’mon you guys, just learn!" Or sometimes I would be so upset, because they would always call my dad, ‘cause of him being the oldest, and they would say, "Oh we have this problem. Come help us." And I was like, "Just leave my dad alone. I want him for me!" GM: You carried a heavy load for everybody. MIREYA: Yeah. At 16 I had to pick up my brother, take him to school. JOVITA: She always want to be doing something. I could take him, but she go a little bit later, and she take him. MIREYA: I also didn’t want to see her – I tried to help out. I didn’t want her to do everything and see her go to pieces….

GM to Rigoberto: You also brought all the rest of your siblings over, is that right? RIGOBERTO: Yes. GM: Did you sponsor them? RIGOBERTO: No. (Some discussion in Spanish. Then Mireya explains that they could come over because their dad was a US citizen.)

RIGOBERTO: [Earlier] most of the families from my father’s brothers, nobody likes to come over here. Only my father [was] the one that come over here…and my grandfather said, "Why do you take your boys over there? You take them over there, they going to go to the Army." When I was here, I was thinking I was going to go, but they never – JOVITA: They don’t want him. Flat feet! (Laughter) MIREYA: He had his suitcase and everything ready to go. RIGOBERTO: I go from Ventura to Los Angeles to the examination, and they say, "How many speak English?" Maybe about three or four buses, Greyhound, nobody speak English. [But the main reason they didn’t take anyone] is they said, "We don’t need anybody now. You can go." I take off.

From that time…my aunts and uncles started bringing the family, started taking the papers. They come over to Sacramento. When I was here, I give a letter of support. I gave it mostly to my cousins…to help them come over….GM: Would you be able to get jobs for them where you are working? RIGOBERTO: Yes. GM: How many people do you think you’ve brought over then? RIGOBERTO: (Thinks for a while) Maybe 20 or more. All the time they ask me…, "You say you’re going to give me work. Why you don’t give me?" They ask me [for work] in the company….I can take care of it.

MIREYA: You were the one that got the house, right? You applied for the house? Then you moved everybody over? RIGOBERTO: Yes….Everybody started buying houses. The first house I buy. MIREYA: It’s two houses. The front and the back. JOVITA: We have the credit. His parents, they have the money….They put the money, we put our name. Each one live in one house. One big one for our big family, and one small [for his parents].

RIGOBERTO: Then I buy the next side. MIREYA: The neighbor’s. RIGOBERTO: They have a big lot and the house. And I tell them I going to buy, and they say, "Oh, buying a house, I can’t sell mine." So we have to wait. And I was looking for a house, "No, I know you keep looking for a house. You won’t wait for me till I die, I going to sell it right away." "Well, how much you want?" "$13,000!" GM: When was this? JOVITA: ’77.

RIGOBERTO: [Then] the cousins start buying houses close. GM: So now it’s mostly your family that’s around? RIGOBERTO: Yes. I think one block is family. Everybody started, and we try being together. GM: Other than your relatives, you don’t necessarily live in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood, do you? MIREYA: No, but we lived in the barrio for long time, what I call a barrio. I wanted to get out of the barrio. GM: How long has it been since you’ve been out of the barrio? RIGOBERTO: ‘93

GM: Are you also buying land in Mexico? RIGOBERTO: It’s like 16 acres or something. GM: Do you think about going back there to retire? RIGOBERTO: I was thinking that, but I don’t know….Maybe one month or two months. I was thinking I could go, but I don’t want to work anymore. I’m not going to grow vegetables or something over there, or have a cow or – I don’t want to. Before I was thinking that. JOVITA: He made a plan. He was going to plant grass and have cows. He going to be riding, [but] then they finished it. MIREYA: …Grandpa went and sold everything. RIGOBERTO: At the time I was thinking, maybe I could keep that land, and I buy that. They sell it cheap….Nobody take care of it. The cows, every year, they lose maybe 5 or more…. Why are they keeping cows over there that nobody take care of?…

MIREYA: But there’s still one [of the cows] that has the [original blood line]…. [One of] the cows that was born, Grandpa [willed] to me, the little calf. But from that one, that’s where Dad got his cattle. So he still has the line. And he left just one, cause he sold off the other ones he had, right? JOVITA: The last year….He don’t want to have anything. MIREYA: And I told him that that was the only thing from great-grandpa, the brand. I need to keep that somehow in the family. You can’t get rid of that. JOVITA: … I say, you have to leave this because … you promised him for her. So I don’t want her to be without it. We keep that baby, and this year, maybe 2 weeks ago, it [calved]. MIREYA: Just as long as there’s one always kept. Just to keep the line.

JOVITA: But the funny thing is that they are wild. And before, my mom used to take care of the calf, and when he grow up, he only listen to her and if anyone else – RIGOBERTO: He go like this (head down with "horns" out). (Laughter) GM: Charge!

JOVITA: You ever see the toros? The bulls? GM: I saw a bullfight in Mexico City when I was in high school. JOVITA: Those, it’s from that blood….In Mexico City they come to a place they call San Mateo, a big ranch and they grow up them over there, and they bring trainers. And those cows they have [it in] the blood, so they are mean. They used to go after people.

RIGOBERTO tells a story of being chased by one once and having to jump over a barbed wire fence quickly: I don’t know how I jumped over it, but I jumped it. (Laughter) But I was over there seeing all the scratches, the blood. Then I tried to jump again [another time], and it seems like, how did I make it? (Laugher) But we are keeping the same bloodline.

Rigoberto and Jovita also talked about how important education is for their children. Mireya currently has two Bachelors, one in Child Development and one in Biological Sciences. She had considered Medical School, but currently is working at a Labor and Delivery Dept. at a hospital until she decides between Nursing School or becoming a Physician Assistant. One son has a degree in Criminal Justice, but is going back for a degree in Computer Sciences. He is currently working at a community clinic. Their other son is currently in college.

JOVITA: My father was Indian, Huichol, but he always put us up in the school. And his cousin, his brother, they always say, "Why are you sending them to school? They going to be married and with someone else. Don’t pay for this school." And my father, he never listen to the advice. But the thing [is], over there you have to pay when you go to high school, junior high. We were a big family. And he give education to this one and not this one, [every other one]. And I was one that didn’t get the education. And I’m still mad! (Laughter) So I want them to go. I work. No matter how hard I have to work, I want them to go to have a career. MIREYA: Her desire was to be a secretary.

JOVITA: [One son,] he finished high school. He doesn’t want to go to anymore. And I was suffering so much, cause I want him to go to school. I don’t want him to stay there….[But] he’s starting to, already six months, and he’s going to go to summer school. MIREYA: He was the one who didn’t want to speak "Mexican," [his word for Spanish]. JOVITA: When I pick him up to the school,…he was six years old, he always say, "Why you talk to me? I don’t want you to speak to me in ‘Mexican.’" MIREYA: Again, there aren’t that many Mexicans here in Catholic School. JOVITA: And he used to be upset because they always called him to translate people in the office. He don’t like it. He was very smart! He started first grade, in three months he knows how to read. But that was a problem, he told me, because they always call him to translate people, and he don’t like it. He don’t want to speak Spanish. He don’t like Spanish, Mexican. And now I’m happy he’s going to school.

GM: Do you have something like a Mexican cultural center that you -- JOVITA: Where we live? MIREYA: Grandma’s house! (Laughter) GM: Besides your family, are there other places where you get together with people from Mexico? RIGOBERTO: No. JOVITA: Only in Las Fiestas Patrias. MIREYA: That’s more just the culture over all, the September 16, patriotic celebrations. GM: Do you participate in those? MIREYA: Especially the one year that I was queen representing the Mexican patriotic community, back in 1989-90. That was the year we had to be in everything. Aside from that, I was in the dance troupe since I was 5 years old. I would be in dances, celebrations everywhere, even in UCLA. We had to go to conferences. JOVITA: They made commercials, parades in Old Sacramento, Camellia Parade. Many, many, many. That’s why we go, "Whew, we’re glad we only have one girl." (Laughter) MIREYA: But don’t worry, a little girl is coming! GM: How long did you do that? MIREYA: I stopped in 9th grade. I have my costumes that my mom made still.

JOVITA: But that was very good experience for them. MIREYA: It’s kind of nice, even like the Sutter’s Fort, they used to always do an event there. Every little patriotic thing. JOVITA: When they was little, we work in the dance troupe, and we go to every place. There were like 30 people all together. Every time they finish dancing, we get together. They go to the State Fair, different places. We always go, like a big family. But right now, we’re like asleep. (Laugher) MIREYA: Like I said, their granddaughter’s coming.

JOVITA: But in high school, she want to participate in that -- MIREYA: In high school I was so active – drill team, the dance, everything. I even went to Mexico. They paid my way to go help them make solar box ovens. I would teach the people how to do that. It was with the school, the Jesuits. One of the priests paid my way…. JOVITA: And one thing my father told us to do is learn as much as you can and don’t be afraid. So when she wants to go, even [though] she’s a little girl, but we have to let her go and learn. And it was hard!

She had sports, any kind, whatever she can be in most. MIREYA: …I think it was more because I just wanted to prove myself, that I could do anything. JOVITA: Maybe when she was in 8th grade, what the teacher told her made her work that way. Cause in high school she was student of the year. From the whole school they pick her out.…She had so many scholarships. She was in a contest, she made second place, but that was good, because [it was] from all the high schools in Sacramento – MIREYA: I think it was a phase I was going through, I just wanted to prove something.

Me being the first, and them not knowing the English language, and them not knowing anything – we didn’t have a lot of resources, right? I used to borrow my mom’s clothes sometimes, cause I wanted to wear new clothes. 7th grade, I wanted to look different. And I would tell my parents, "I need an Atari, cause it’s going to help me with school, I need it for school." (Laugher) JOVITA: And we don’t have money, and it’s $90, but oh, it’s good for school, OK…. Let’s put together the money. We buy that time. And later, (she mimics the sound of Atari.) (Laughter) GM: So you could fool them some of the time!…

JOVITA: I just want them to be happy! MIREYA: What they say is that you’re only inheritance is not going to be monetary. It’s going to be your education, so take advantage. I’m kind of glad, because since they didn’t have it, we have to have it….

JOVITA: I’m still taking the lessons – English, because I have so much problems with the writing. When I came over here, I had three years of English in Mexico. I read it, I understand. But if I listen to it, I don’t understand it…. I never try to go to school at night. I would have missed the kids at that time. But I actually start this time. Now I look back and say, "Why didn’t I do it?" [But] I have my three kids.

GM to Mireya: Was it hard for you to learn English? MIREYA: My first language is Spanish. I didn’t speak any English until I got into school. GM: Was that hard? MIREYA: I don’t actually remember. I was too young. I remember I was always in bilingual classes until about 3rd grade, I think. I think I was taken out of the regular class and [taught in] Spanish. [With] English, since I spoke Spanish all the time,…I still don’t have my vocabulary base as I should, because I didn’t grow up with it….When I think of my siblings, I think they have more, ‘cause they used it more. I love Spanish, though. I took it in college to learn more about grammar.

GM to Rigoberto and Jovita: How many siblings are still in Mexico? MIREYA: Yours (to her dad), they are all here in Sacramento. And two of your sisters (to her mom) are in LA….But those who live in the US have no education, and those that live there have the education. JOVITA: It’s easy for them to live with a career, and it’s hard for us to live over there without. They are teachers and engineers and nurses. Like when they get married, I feel ashamed to go there.

MIREYA: That’s another thing. In Mexico they identify you as what you are, your career status. Like her sister who’s a teacher, they don’t call her Maria. They call her Maestra, or [others they call] Ingeniero (engineer). They don’t call you by your name, or "Mr." or anything. They call you by what you are, your degree. So that’s what she’s talking about. She always felt embarrassed to go. RIGOBERTO: Licensiado. MIREYA: That’s your bachelors. Anyone who has a [bachelors] is called Licensiado. [It] can also be lawyer. If you’re in a wedding, they write down "Licensiado such and such" on the invitation. RIGOBERTO: We be together with three [others], "Licensiado. Licensiado. Lisensiado," pointing to the three. Then they get to me. Nothing. I don’t know why they do that. Over here, what I notice is they go by the name, but not back there.

JOVITA: Here, what I see is the people who have a degree, or a doctor, they see you as you are. Over there, people who get education, they look to you like that. (indicating a "put down") That’s what I don’t like. We have one wedding in November. My nephew. We’re all invited. But I don’t want to go, because they are going to be all "high" people. I just don’t fit in there. But I want to go because he came for her wedding. If I can, I’m going to go. He’s really nice. If you live over there [and] you have the money to go to school, [you do OK], but [if] you don’t have money to pay [for school] -- Mireya: [Then] you don’t have money to eat!

Aileen Mireya Olivares-Ramos, Jovita and Rigoberto’s new grandbaby!

 

Gretchen Morgan, stories at immigrantjourneys Dot com, P.O. Box 661467, Sacramento, CA 95866-1467

 
 
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