Published on September 28th, 2019 | by RevistaLaCorriente0
Nokokotsin (My grandmother): The life of an immigrant in search of a better life
Analú María López
My grandmother, Maria Eduviges Tobias Martinez de Flores or as I called her “Vickie Mama,” was born on November 27, 1927, in El Aguaje de Garcia, Guadalcazar, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. She was a great woman who absolutely loved her family, friends, and her homeland. She instilled in me the love for the land, our history and most importantly, family. It’s almost impossible to summarize her life because of what a great person she was, but I will try.
Her story begins on the day of her birth in November when she came into this world. The first of eleven children born to Luciana Tobias (1904-2005) and Eusebio Martinez (1903-1980) both from El Aguaje de Garcia, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The Northern expansion of Spain into this area where El Aguaje de Garcia is located is Chichimeca territory and was mostly due in part to the discovery of silver in the area my family is from. Indigenous people worked these mines for years during the 16th-17th century. My great grandfather, Eusebio Martinez, also worked the mercury mines in this area.
Our family has very humble beginnings as campesinos (“farmers”) and our family can be traced to five families said to have founded El Aguaje de Garcia. These families were made up of mostly Indigenous (Guachichil, Pame, Otomi, Nahua) and some Spanish people. Indigenous identities evolved to become “Mestizo” or just “Mexican,” but I still remember my grandmother telling me stories about her Indigenous roots and how one didn’t want to be identified as Indigenous due to the racism that exists in Mexico towards Indigenous communities. I also remember growing up with her stories of her lands and how beautiful they are. She always kept a photograph of the mountains of her lands over her bed. She would tell me how she longed to be back there and she hoped one day I would be able to visit.
Although her story began in El Aguaje de Garcia, it didn’t end there. It traveled with the wind up North to Chicago. From the age of 12 she would work to help her family back at El Aguaje. She would travel to the city of San Luis Potosi to help work in a church cleaning and arranging flowers. When she was in her 20’s she traveled to Monterrey to work as a cashier in a hotel. Then as she continued her way up North from El Aguaje, somewhere around the year 1950 she made the decision to migrate to Chicago in search of a new life filled with possibilities.
I often think about the decision she made, one that couldn’t have been easy. Like many of our people still do to this day, she swam across the Rio Grande River to arrive to what we know as “The United States of America.” Upon arriving, she told me she held a handful of dirt in her hand and said “what makes this soil any different than the one on the other side? I don’t understand.” I didn’t understand what she meant growing up when she would tell me this but now I know. Although she never completed school, my grandmother was very intelligent. I am sure she knew why borders were there but like me, we didn’t quite understand the necessity for these colonial and political borders. Our people and languages traveled throughout this vast continent for years prior to colonization and prior to these political borders.
When she finally arrived in Chicago, she had odd jobs and always said “I could learn,” when she had no experience. One of her first jobs upon arriving to Chicago was working at a church on Chicago’s Southwest side where she met a doctor by the name of Jorge Prieto. Dr. Prieto and my grandmother would later become friends and her physician. He is also the person who introduced my grandparents (more on this later). My grandmother was one of Dr. Prieto’s very first house call patients. A story well-known to most of us in the family but also documented in his book, Cosecha de Esperanzas: La peregrinacion de un Medico Mexico-Norteamerican (1997):
En los primeros anos de mi practica de medicina, las soluciones parecian sencillas. Cuando mi primera paciente con vomito persistente por embarazo me pidio una visita a domicilio en 1952, la encontre deshidratada, palida, deprimida, sin seguro (a su marido lo habian deportado), y en general, en muy mal estado. Pero no fue problema ir al la proveeduria central del Hospital Columbus para perdile a la Hermana Lena que me proporcionara dos o tres frascos de fluido intravenoso. Regrese a la Avenida Ogden, al pobre departamento donde mi enferma materialmente se estaba muriendo de deshidratacion; puse un clavo grande en la pared, colgue el frasco, y empece a ponerle el fluido intravenoso. Por supuesto que el primer dia tuve que regresar cada ocho horas y despues cada doce, durante tres dias mas, pero me sentia feliz de ver como mejoraba.
After working for sometime in the church, around 1950s, Dr. Prieto mentioned a job to my grandmother that consisted of taking care of kids and an elderly lady (my great grandmother). This job would change my grandmother’s life forever. It was at this home where she met my grandfather, Felix Edmundo Flores. She started helping take care of his siblings and his grandmother. I remember my grandfather telling me how he fell in love with her: “There she was, sitting on a bench swing outside in the yard combing her long straight black hair…and that was it…I fell in love.” My grandfather loved my grandmother and her entire family unconditionally. When they met he worked for Leaf Brands Candy Company and he later was able to help a few of my grandmother’s family members get jobs there. My grandparents eventually married and they had a total of seven children together.
Shortly after, perhaps still in the early-60s, my grandmother worked at different factory jobs which included a sewing company, then a book binding company called A.J. Cox. Later she would start working for Williams Manufacturing Company located at 4242 W. Fillmore Street in Chicago, Illinois. In 1958, Williams Manufacturing became Williams Electronic Manufacturing Company but is now doing business as WMS Industries, Inc. She worked at their factory in Chicago for many years. Around this time the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) wasn’t regulating work conditions. My aunt recalls my grandmother coming home with black soot all over her face from working all day putting parts together on the pinball machines. She would continue working for the company until 1981, the year before I was born.
Dr. Prieto would later tell her she only had 6 months to live due to work-related emphysema due to the work conditions and other associated illnesses such as pulmonary fibrosis and congestive heart failure. Something he also mentions in his book:
Anos despues aquella enferma se caso con otro de mis pacientes, tuvo cuatro o cinco hijos, cuyos partos atendi, y ahora, treinta y cinco anos despues, mi esposa me lleva a hacerle una visita a domicilio cada quince dias. La senora M.F. esta muriendose lentamente de fibrosis pulmonar y de congestion cardiaca. Cada vez que voy a verla, sin falta me dice lo mismo: “Dios lo bendiga por venir a verme.” Desde el punto de vista cientifico, estas visitas a domicilio no le son mucho valor, pero de alguna manera le han ayudado a soportar sus padecimientos y todavia habla de ir a visitar a sus hijos que viven en Texas. Tiene que tener oxigeno constantemente y casi no puede ni incorporarse en la cama, pero no esta desesperada.
Although she was initially only given 6 months to live, she lasted 12 years. She was bedridden most of my life but she was still the rock of the entire family. She passed away March 24, 1997.
Her final words, which she wrote down the year before passing said:
“oy desedi que mejor lleven mis huesos a el aguaje de garcia guadalcazar S.L.P. Por que de joven saly con tristesa y esperanza oy llegare con tristesa pero tambien con con una esperanza. Para el hultimo dia confiando en nuestro padre jehova nos conseda volver a bernos…gracias a todos mis hijos y familia y a todos. Maria E. Martinez de F.”
This is only a fraction of the great life of a great person who struggled since her early years to make a better life for her family, putting aside her own interests. Her story is not a unique one but it is an important one. With everything happening in this country and the world towards immigrants these stories are important to give visibility to. Many individuals and families take the same journey my grandmother took across the river in search of a better life filled with more opportunities and resources. Some survive the journey and many do not. My grandmother was one who survived so her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids could have better opportunities.
When I asked family members to summarize her, her cousin said: She was a great woman with a huge heart that deserves to be honored. I honor my grandmother every single day, but I hope this story will reach others who are doing the same for their families. Fighting.
Tlasohkamati (Thank you): I want to thank my aunt Eduviges Sylvia Flores (Vickie) for all her help in this article as well. As a guardian of family knowledge and photographer, her knowledge was extremely useful