From Mr Gene to Tata - Chapter 3

The life and times of a blue collar Chicano living in East Los Angeles

By John Edward Rangel
Published on LatinoLA: June 12, 2012

From Mr Gene to Tata - Chapter 3

For several years after the death of his wife Diega in 1929, Ascension Rangel continued to work and raise his children in California. Primarily in the Imperial Valley. Which lies east of San Diego and just north of the Mexican border. It parallels a stretch in Baja California that includes the town of Mexicali.

Ascension may have been living in the United States but he always considered himself a citizen of La Madre Patria and was determined to permanently return to the motherland. In the early 1930's, he bought a small parcel of land outside Mexicali and announced to the family that they were all going to live there on a ranch. A rather primitive and isolated ranch according to Eugene.

His eldest son Jose was already married and living on his own. Cruz and Eugene had a place together. Though they hadn't been out of the family house for as long as Jose. Nor were they as financially stable as their older brother. Who himself was making it but just barely. The Great Depression was on and 'making it' didn't have to mean much during those trying times.

None of Ascension's grown up children wanted to leave their individual homes in the USA to go live as an extended family in Mexico. 'Life was hard enough here in the USA. Why would anyone want to move to a place where it's even tougher?'

Their father said to them, "Because we are Mexicans. And this country(USA), is going to fight another war soon. It is how they are. You all were too young to remember the last war(WWI) but they will take you this time. And it is not our fight."

His sons disagreed.

"Yes, it is our fight," they told him. "We were born in this country. We are Americans." These were words that Ascension did not like to hear.

The discussion between father and sons quickly escalated into an argument that led to a separation of father from sons. Ascension went back to his ranch outside Mexicali while his sons, Jose, Cruz and Eugenio all stayed in the United States. Dolores Rangel, ever the dutiful daughter, drove her father and adolescent sister Petra to Mexicali. Dolores and Petra stayed with their father for several years but they soon tired of the lifestyle and returned to California.

After a few years had passed and fiery Latino tempers cooled (somewhat), communication was struck up between father and sons once again. No doubt this reconciliation was initiated by Dolores. Who as surrogate mother to her younger siblings and caretaker to their aging father, kept the two sides from separating completely. If there is a heroine in this raza tragedy it is surely Dolores Rangel. For she was the bond that held the family together during these fractious times.

As for most tragic figure?

The most obvious is Diega Zamarriga Rangel. Who leaves her older children behind in San Luis Potosi only to die of TB in Yuma, Arizona without ever seeing them again. But Diega dies in 1929. The year of the Wall Street crash. And so is spared a decade of life trying to survive the racism and economic hardship that engulfed La Raza in California during The Great Depression.

This was a decade that surely had to haunt Ascension Rangel. He'd left a group of children behind in San Luis Potosi, Mexico and headed for another country. Possibly in hopes of acquiring enough wealth to reunite his family someday. Instead his wife dies in that foreign country and the children they conceived there don't want to leave it and return with him to the motherland and their Mexico born siblings. 'And what of Dolores?' He must have thought to himself. Getting her to drive him to Mexicali was one thing but San Luis Potosi?'

Ascension Rangel must have been a lonely, bitter and confused man during those first few years in Mexicali. Latino blood runs thick however and as was mentioned earlier, communication was eventually reestablished.

Ascension's youngest son Eugene (Eugenio) went to go live with his father back when he'd first purchased the place in Mexico. This was before Eugene married Rebecca Cota. At this time Ascension was not residing permanently in Mexicali but rather moved back and forth. In those days it was much easier to cross the border. Even if a person had illegally entered. Eugene recalled that his father Ascension never had any problems with the Border Patrol before The Great Depression started.

"He would have a ticket stub from the bus he'd taken from his place to the border that morning. It would be a round trip ticket dated for that day. If la migra stopped him and asked him what he was doing on the US side of the border with no papers he would tell them that he was just shopping or visiting family and that he planned to return in the evening to his rancho in Mexico. This appeared to be no problem for the BP agents. It was a sort of unofficial honor system.

However, during the term of Herbert Hoover (US president during the early years of the depression) a sweeping crackdown and deportation of undocumented immigrants was launched. According to demagogues of the day, undocumented immigrants, 'took jobs away from real Americans.'

Ascension must surely have been affected by all this ethnocentric fascism. For it was about this time that he decided to return to Mexico and demanded that his children do likewise. Did some incident take place between Ascension and Border Patrol agents? Only a person who has been forced to undergo the humiliating ordeal that law enforcement authorities have subjected minorities to over the years can understand the agony that a man as proud as Ascension Rangel would have felt.

Eugene remembered the year that he spent in Mexicali. From plumbing to shopping, everything was different for the American born teenager. It was one thing to have to pump water from a well but quite another to carry it in two buckets held across the shoulders by a long uncomfortable pole all the way from where the nearest stream was. As for shopping, when Eugene Rangel and his family went into town to buy supplies, they always rode in some type of transportation. In his earliest memories it was in a wagon or buggy and later an automobile. This was how it was for many a family living in the USA during the first three decades of the twentieth century. But in Mexicali, Mexico at that time, Eugene remembered the standard of living as being much lower than north of the border.

"Many families that I saw would leave in the morning before it got daylight. Walk to town and trade their goods. Then buy what they needed and walk back home. They always got back after dark." Eugene would shake his head then continue..."It was different for me as a teenager because I had been born and raised in California. Not Baja California. It was a real hard adjustment. It wasn't the people. They were very nice. In some ways nicer than Americans. But the standard of living was just so low. You could work hard but still you struggled. In the USA you had a better chance at improving your lot. And that's just the way it was. So I moved back."

Ascension Rangel's American born children were the ones who would make the trek south across the border to visit their father after the schism had been mended. He adamently refused to visit them in the USA. They kept asking him and he kept saying,

"Maybe someday." Finally, Ascension Rangel agreed to go back north and visit his children during the Christmas holidays of 1938.

Ascension Rangel never learned how to drive. So the 60 year old Rangel patriarch set out walking from the bus stop to the border in Mexicali. Laden with gifts and money, walking alone. he must have appeared a tempting target. One too good to pass up for the villain or villains who robbed and murdered him that day in 1938. Ascension had always had a reputation as one tough hombre. His attackers may have known that because of how they robbed him. As he was urinating into a ditch he was stabbed from behind.

Unlike Diega who was laid to rest in Yuma, Arizona, Ascension was buried in his native Mexico. The sad irony in the aforementioned statement is that Diega must have been terribly reluctant to leave Mexico in the first place since it meant leaving most of her children behind. If there is any consolation it may be sought out in the fact that Yuma, Arizona is close to where the American born half of her family would initially settle and some return later on. Her gravesite lies less than an hour away by automobile. Her husband Ascension isn't really that far away either. Not in the geographical sense. For Yuma and Mexicali are only about ninety minutes, three cultures, two countries and a life apart.

There is no guilt worse than that which follows a sudden death. A promise left to a loved one who has departed. A regret left unforgiven and a lifetime ahead to dwell on it. This can produce a most ferocious form of guilt. One so strong one must make a conscious effort to block it from one's thoughts lest it consume one's every waking moment mired in 'what ifs' and 'could have beens.'

In trying to make a better life for himself and his family Ascension Rangel scattered them across two countries with no known contact between the two groups. A proud man who loved his native Mexico. He argued with his sons because he did not want them to fight and possibly die for the USA. Ironically, from those very children would come descendants who would serve the military forces of the USA over many wars. Up to and including the present gulf wars.

Ascension Rangel came to the United States during a period of Mexican immigration that started during La Porfiriata (1870-1910) and reached its zenith during the Mexican revolution (1910-1920) that followed. He must definitely have had mixed feelings about a country that cost him his wife and in another way his children too. It must indeed be a restless spirit named Ascension Rangel who roams the border area trying to keep his promise to go back north. Given the history of this region, he is not alone.

Coffee's Ready, Gotta Go...!!!

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From Mr. Gene to Tata - Chapter 1


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