From Mr Gene to Tata - Chapter 2

The life and times of a blue collar Chicano

By John Edward Rangel
Published on LatinoLA: May 21, 2012

From Mr Gene to Tata - Chapter 2

Eugene's father Ascension Rangel(born 1878) and mother Diega Zamarripa (born 1883) left San Luis Potosi, Mexico and headed north at the turn of the twentieth century. The couple had been married for some time and already were the parents of children.

They'd planned on staying in El Norte for only a year or so. Just long enough to earn and save a bit of money before returning to their home in Mexico. Because this was their plan, Ascension and Diega left all but one of their offspring in the care of relatives in San Luis Potosi.

Sometime during that first year it was decided that they would stay another year. That year rolled over into another as surely as summer follows spring. Did they ever plan on reuniting with their children? Probably. Did the harrowing journey from San Luis Potosi to California delay their return? Maybe.The reason or reasons why they never returned immediately to San Luis Potosi will never be known. Then would come the Mexican revolution (1920-1920) and everything would change in Mexico.

The US-Mexico border at the beginning of the twentieth century was still a lot closer in appearance and culture to the 'old west' than it was to the industrialized cities of the eastern US. A man named Porfirio Diaz had been ruling Mexico with a heavy hand since 1876. Diaz was a ruthless dictator who fancied himself an 'enlightened despot.' Like many a Latin American dictator, he befriended wealthy corporate interests over the welfare of the masses.The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. His viciousness during the time that came to be known as 'La Porfiariato' forced tens of thousands of Mexicans to flee their own country. Many of them headed north.

Porfirio Diaz' abuse of his own people would lead them to revolt against the Mexican government in 1911. The year that he went into exile. This began a decade long civil war that would change the country forever.

Rangel family members have speculated that Ascension and Diega came north for economic reasons, saw the war clouds gathering over their homeland and decided to ride out the conflict in the USA. Which they did.

As was mentioned earlier, Ascension and Diega brought their youngest child with them when they immigrated to the US. Her name was Dolores Rangel and my mother's oldest sister, Auntie Lola, would be named after her. Dolores was an infant at the time and separating her from her mother was unthinkable. And so Dolores Rangel, older sister of Eugene Rangel immigrated to the United States of Amereica with her parents.

The one picture that exists of Dolores Rangel shows a soft faced woman, head tilted in pose, neatly and fashionably dressed for the times. she is wearing wire rimmed glasses which give her a scholarly appearance that fits perfectly the look of inquisitiveness in her eyes.

Ascension Rangel was a horse man. Or horse and buggy man. When those noisy, foul smelling(compared to horseshit?) contraptions called automobiles first began arriving on the scene he wanted no part of them. But Ascension was also a sensible man. Just in case those damned things caught on he wanted his family to be prepared. And so that was why Dolores Rangel, or Lola as she was called, learned how to drive. Exactly how many women drivers existed in the United States in the early 1920's (much less Latina drivers) probably isn't known but Dolores Rangel was certainly one of them.

A trip into town for the Rangel family consisted of Dolores Rangel sitting behind the wheel of her father's 1920-something Ford or Oldsmobile while Ascension Rangel sat beside her, silent and straight as he proudly was chaufferred around town by his daughter. The rest of the Rangel clan each had their own piece of the back seat staked out on which they happily bounced. For even the most jarring ride over the most rutted dirt road was preferable to walking. As the open topped, spoke wheeled automobile dustily chugged along the primitive lanes of the day, Dolores Rangel drove her father anywhere he wanted to go and never once asked him if she could 'Borrow the car to go to the mall with her girlfriends.'

Driving the family taxi wasn't Dolores only job by now though. For in February of 1929, Diega Zamirraga Rangel died of tuberculosis along with one of her daughters. The two were buried in Yuma, Arizona. Dolores, as the oldest of the Rangel children became surrogate mother to her siblings. They were fortunate that Lola was there to fill the role of mother. Especially for Eugene, who was ten years old when his mother died. Only his sister Petra was younger.

The official cause of Diega's death was listed as tuberculosis but just as easily could have been the weary backbreaking work she did every day across endless acres of irrigated fields under a searing Imperial Valley or San Joaquin Valley sun. Add to this the toll that having so many children during those times and under those conditions must surely have taken on her body and it is no wonder in her weakened state she succumbed to TB.

Or maybe it was because in those days a wife did what was asked of her husband, without question. Ascension asked Diega to leave behind their children, born from her womb, and move to another country. Dutifully she followed him and bore him more children in that foreign country. But one can only imagine the longing and regret that must have gnawed at her soul as surely as the tuberculosis did her body.

The few photos that exist of Diega show the dark skinned, high cheek-boned woman gazing directly into the camera lens. Her eyes are piercing, as if looking beyond the camera, across two nations toward a town named San Luis Potosi and the children she left behind.


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From Mr. Gene to Tata - Chapter 1

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