December 16, 2019
I never knew what el año del caldo meant, but many Mexican people including my family always used this phrase. Which literally translates to, “the year of the stew.” It means something outdated or antiquated. “The underlying idea is that anyone who heard this would ask “Year of the stew? when was that?” and the reply would be, “so so long ago, no one remembers…”
Huron was a mixture of Mexicans and Okies; ( I use this term with the utmost of respect) we were all equally poor and from my child age perspective we all got along. The story goes that Mi Abuelita had a cousin, Eloísa Baeza, in Visalia. When they left Chicago, this was after the Great Depression on Route 66, they were in dire straights in search of a better life, they were in route to Visalia, California. They arrived in Visalia (it was Mi Mama’s birthday) during their few day stay there. They learned that there was work in the King City/Greenfield area so they headed in that direction, they lived in tents and cooked their meals on a small camping stove and worked there for awhile. I know Mi Mama told me she attended 7th grade in King City for a short time. I recall one day she showed me the route she would walk to school in Greenfield. But, they pulled her out because they needed her help in the fields. Mi Abuelita was pregnant with Manuel (my youngest uncle) when they arrived from Chicago and she gave birth to him in King City in an area called El Hoyo (the hole).
At some point they ended up moving to Huron and lived in campos and worked the fields. I’d like to think and have heard originally Huron had many “good” hard-working Mexican families all in search of a better life for their children.
Unfortunately, throughout the years it became progressively worse.When I was growing up there, it was a small town with a population of about 1,000 people. Everyone knew each other. Gradually I started seeing more and more people coming to work and live in Huron from Tijuana and Oaxaca. Huron’s landscape began to change. A well-known Mexican family ran there own cartel in Huron distributing heroin. It gradually became lawless, filled with drunks, prostitutes, human trafficking of girls as young as 14 from Mexico or South America working in cantinas, police were paid off with “mordidas,”and it went on and on. I’m reminded of the characters in the Cantina scene in Star Wars infused with a bit of Walking Dead. All blended in a cocktail of mental illness, loneliness, overwhelmed, hopelessness, unemployed and depression. You mix this toxic cocktail with teenage girls; and the equation equals teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, crime, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Huron was actually recognized one year for the highest percent of syphilis countrywide. Huron was similar to the Wild West; lawless and out of control!
A Godless town.
My family use to joke about the possibility of us kids being repossessed because Mi Mama had not paid the hospital bill for our births! I was a “welfare baby!” Not something I’m proud of, but the reality of life which catapulted me to be and do better. I swore then I would do everything in my power to be self-sufficient.
I recall as a child living in the projects, this was an upgrade from the campos we lived in. And, Mi Mama always fought to move us into brand spanking new projects. Before the projects our address had been Camp 22, I’m sure Mi Mama’s best friend Teya also lived there.
In the projects near the packing sheds, we lived next to Ernie and Marie O’Neil they were from Oklahoma and had two sons; one was my age named Richard and there was an older son whose name I do not recall. I have very fond memories of Marie. She took me under her wings and I enjoyed hanging out with her in her kitchen, except when she cooked duck eggs. As it was, I was not very fond of eggs anyway! Their size freaked me out. On the other side of the projects was Marylou Garza and her 5 sons. Marylou was beautiful. She taught me how to make popcorn balls for my siblings. And, on the other end of these upgraded campos of Marylou was Estefana, I recall seeing her shave her eyebrows and paint them in. I must have been 10 or 11. Well I just had to copy her…….the shaving part came easy. I just never quite mastered the painting in part! So you can imagine how ridiculous I looked till mine grew back! I never did that again.
On several occasions I have seen pictures of Augie with Santa during Christmas and I jokingly tell him that Santa Claus would by-pass Huron. We did get a little doll or my brothers would get a toy truck. And, there was always tamales, atole y buñueos and plenty of Christmas candy.I just never recall visiting Santa and taking pictures with him.
I never viewed myself as poor we never lacked for anything. We always had food, no steak or lobster, but we had good food. We always had nice clothes, no linen, no cashmere, or organic natural fabric, but we dressed nicely. Our home was not fancy, we lived in the projects, but it was clean and we had a bed with clean sheets to sleep on. We had a roof over our head and I felt safe. I know my Mama struggled and I never knew how she did it, but she did. We did not have free lunch program back then that I can recall of! She always had lunch money for all of her chamacos. She tried and worked so hard for us. But, I knew there wasn’t any extra money to doa lot of fun things. Sowe watched tv and played outside. I also know that my siblings and I could have easily taken a different route of crime, prison, drugs or the easy way out and we didn’t, we chose to push, strive, and persevere. I know that God has always been there protecting us.
”For it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you to guard you carefully.’”
And, I am so proud of each one of them. I am so grateful to Mi Mama and my Lord.
So in a short time our family’s journey has gone from tents, to campos, to projects to an authentic Casa! Thank you, Jesus.
In the early mornings we would kick rocks as we walked to Joseph Mouren Elementary School. It was a different time when children could still walk to school, unlike now. Besides, many families didn’t even own cars. And, it was my job to keep my siblings shoes clean. I was the “shoe police” and as the eldest I was the police period! A very difficult task.
You might possibly believe I’m ragging on Huron. I’m not, I am very proud of where I was raised with all its faults. There was joy, color, texture and flavor! Perhaps the color was rusty at times and the texture was barbed wire, but those unique experiences make me. As babies we do not have a say where we will be born or are raised. Huron taught me a lot, these are just a few skills Huron taught me. Because of Huron I live and appreciate life to the fullest, it taught me to be humble, to be grateful, to push myself beyond what my brain thinks it can do, to be compassionate, to see with my heart and to be patient and still.
We would pass this old building of which my siblings and I were so curious about, because it looked old, dark and spooky. I always wanted to go inside, it was known as the Mouren building. I never knew what it was used for, but it resembled a campo to me. Secretly, I thought who is this Joseph Mouren whose school I attend? And, I knew the day would come when I would be weaving him into my story.
In March 1869 Joseph Mouren came to San Francisco (originally from France) and worked for Eugene Havey, becoming a stock-buyer and traveling all over the state buying sheep for him. He was in Los Angeles in 1872, when it was but a small town, with a few adobe houses; that same year he was in Fresno when the railroad had just reached there and Fresno had only a few buildings. After traveling over the state He selected Huron as a desirable place for a location as it was the shipping point for a large territory. Mr. Mouren bought a hotel and livery and he and his wife made a success of the business.
Joseph Mouren and his family were largely responsible for the expansion of the community of Huron in the late 19th century and fueled the city’s growth into the 20th century by investment. He is considered by many to be one of the city’s founding fathers. In the early 20th century, Huron became one of the largest producers of wool in the nation.
And, all this took place in the “Año Del Caldo.”
Abrazos y Besos