May 5, 2005
Engl.100/ K. Wong
My Abuelo, Adan Pérez, a true Tejano
I arrive to the hillside home in South San Francisco, walk up the stairs to the gate door, and ring the doorbell. Before my Abuelito even opens the door, I can hear my grandparent’s parrot, Lola, yelling out “Hi!!!” and whistling in the background. Lola is a part of the family, with a personality to make anyone laugh and her age is hard to believe, but Lola is 45 years old. The door finally opens and out steps my Abuelito to greet me with his jolly laughter, and a big hug. He’s looking happy and fresh, ready to be interviewed, so we walk into the living room. I look around the living room and spot the sepia colored picture of my grandparents when they had recently married. My Abuelito, with the same spark of joy in his eyes and his bright smile. I click the recorder on, begin asking questions, and as we go on, the story behind the handsome young man in the picture begins to unravel.
The day is, April 2nd 1925, in Palito Blanco Ranch, Jim Wells County, on a hot Texas day. The comadrona finally arrives to the ranch, since they didn’t have doctors they had women from around town to assist in giving labor. A gleeful baby boy named Adan C. Pérez is born to Felix and Virginia Pérez. He is the third child of the ten children they had in all, five boys and five girls. As my Abuelito recalls life in Palito Blanco Ranch, I can tell it was a very meaningful place to him. Like all ranches, Palito Blanco was filled with animals and plenty of harvest to feed the huge Pérez family that lived on the ranch together. During this time, the Great Depression was hitting the nation hard. Adan worked alongside his father and other cousins picking cotton for a penny a pound. Times were rough and they did what they had to do to get by. Since Adan was able to work, at about 8 years old, he did various jobs with his dad. He worked with his father harvesting, cutting lumber, and delivering bricks for construction. Adan went to school one day a week, half a day, to Austen Elementary School, as he recalls, “It was bad, Mexicans go over there, the gringos in another place and the blacks over there...it was segregation.” For my Abuelito, all the discrimination occurring around him never really hit hard, because he spent his time working, and enjoying being with the family. In Revolution in Texas, Johnson (2003) describes the situation, “School authorities never enforced truancy rules for ethnic Mexican children vigorously, so parents could actually spend most of the day with their children, working alongside of them...probably learn more about their history and culture by talking to a grandparent or family friend than from listening to a hostile and ignorant teacher” (p.181). Instead of attending a school where he wasn’t welcomed, Adan focused mainly on working with his father, traveling in the truck from job to job, which he described as “good times”. Although times were rough economically, his life in Palito Blanco ranch with his family was filled with joy and love.
Adan was 12 years old and the day came that changed his life forever. The one person that taught him best, whom he worked alongside with everyday, whom he loved so much, my great grandpa, Félix Pérez passed away. “I couldn’t believe it...I missed him plenty,” he says in a low tone recalling the memories. Fortunately living on the ranch they were still able to bring food on the table, but the older children still had to work hard to maintain the family. Virginia Pérez was a widowed mother, with ten children and her youngest baby boy was 14 months old. Adan explains how she could have received money from his father’s social security, but the government didn’t show interest and there was no one to help. If they had received the social security, they would have all been able to attend school and get the help they needed. Adan continued working in a restaurant with his uncle, and any side jobs he could find to give money to the family. It was a difficult year for Adan and his family.
The Great Depression was finally ending and the newly elected President Roosevelt had proposed many ideas for the New Deal. Adan was soon to benefit from these proposed ideas. The New Deal was made to stimulate the economic recovery of the nation and was to create more jobs for all those that were in great need. A year after his father’s death, in 1938, Adan’s uncle signed him and his older brothers up to work in a C.C.C. camp. The Civilian Conservation Corps camps, was one of the successful ideas that Roosevelt had set forth, “To qualify, a boy had to be between 17 (18 at first) and 25 (28 later on), single, jobless, in good physical condition, and needy” (Jackson, 1994, p.67). Adan qualified for most the requirements, except he was only 14 years old, but as he described laughingly, “I passed for eighteen, I was big and husky.” The camps were also keeping young men out of trouble; it reduced 55 percent of crime rate among youths. Things began looking up for Adan; he was getting paid 30 dollars per month, 25 that would go to his mom and family in Texas and 5 dollars for himself, which was a lot of money in that time. He recalls with a smile on his face, how he use to make extra money by using hair clippers to cut hair, charging a quarter per haircut. While working, he was also getting to explore the country with his camp. They’d arrive to each state through trains and have plenty of work set ahead for them to do. Adan visited a few states like Arizona, New Mexico, and Denver, Colorado where he saw snow for the first time. They built bridges, cut lumber, fought forest fires, made canals for irrigation and planted trees. At night, they’d set up camp and keep warm with bon fires, and then wake up the next morning to the sound of the trumpets. As time went by, “News from the camp was welcome and good. The enrollees were working hard, eating hearty and gaining weight, while they improved millions of acres of federal and state lands, and parks” (NACCCA, 2005, p.3). Jokingly my Abuelito tells me how his favorite place to work was in the kitchen, because he got to eat all he wanted. Every thing was flowing smoothly for Adan working at the camp.
Adan spent two years working in the C.C. camps and since military personnel ran the camps, they were greatly encouraged to register for army service. In 1940, Adan registered as a private for the army service, as well as his two older brothers. This was the beginning of World War II and the recruitment of young men was greatly needed to fight the war. His two older brothers were sent to fight in the war, one was sent to Germany and the other was sent to Japan, two major war zones. Adan was soon called forth to go to war and he recalls, “I said yea! And I was ready to go!” Yet when he arrived home, he soon received a notice that because his brothers were already at war, and he was the eldest man in the house, he had to stay and provide support for the family. Adan stayed in Texas for about a year longer, and worked various jobs that didn’t pay very well. He soon received another notice that because he was enlisted in the army he still had to work a federal job. Adan was 17 years old when he made his decision to look for a federal job in the state of dreams, California.
It was 1942, and he began looking for a way to get to California. During that time, they placed announcements in ads called travel viewers. Travel viewers were individuals driving by themselves looking for people to ride with them for a certain amount of money per person. Adan contacted this one travel viewer and soon enough he and four friends were on their way to California for $150 dollars each. Adan recalls with sparks in his eyes how amazed and excited he was when he arrived to San Francisco, California, “Man, I never saw nothin’ like it, the lights, the tall buildings, and the Golden Gate bridge!” Adan arrived to his temporary new apartment at 540 Valencia Street, where he and his friend each rented a room for 20 dollars a month, “Yea, everything was cheap, real cheap!” He began working in a shipyard in Marin County, Sausalito and that’s where he learned his trade, as a welder. He tells me how they taught him how to do everything in the shipyards and he loved his new job as an ironworker. During World War II shipyards were everywhere because of the transport of soldiers, ammunition, and machineries. Adan was loving life, he was making $1.25 and hour working overtime, sending money to the family in Texas, and still had lots of time to have fun.
Around this time was when he met his future wife, Jacoba Pérez, dancing at a club filled with many other young men and women, enjoying the city night after a hard days work. My Abuelito tells me with a grin on his face, “O boy, we loved going to clubs and dancing, having a g’time!” He explains how they’d go from club to club, in Oakland, and San Francisco taking the buses for about 10 cents the ride. Jacoba, like Adan had recently arrived to San Francisco from Nicaragua, and also had fell in love with the illuminating city. They quickly fell in love and they became a couple, Adan was 18 and my Abuelita was 20. Adan continued working in the shipyard, but the company soon closed down because the war was finally coming to an end and the shipyards were no longer needed. It was around, 1945 and Adan was working a couple of part time jobs, just enough to keep him going. Adan and Jacoba were very in love, so they decided to get married, and they did in 1947. Soon there after Adan began getting serious about getting a steady job because my Abuelita had announced the good news that she was pregnant. Since he was still a part of the local ironworkers union, he got a job by the waterfront in San Francisco in a similar company called Anchor Fence. Life was going good for Adan and Jacoba and a new member of the Pérez family was soon to arrive and bring even more joy in their life. August 5th, 1948, was the day, Félix Adan Pérez, my dad, was born, named after his deceased father. Adan and Jacoba were living in a San Francisco home and Adan was working hard to give his little boy all he needed. The Anchor Fence Co. had moved to South San Francisco, a city that was booming with industries. The transition was difficult because he had to travel back and forth, and welding was a very strenuous job.
A year went by in 1949, and Jacoba had given birth to another gleeful baby boy named George. The baby boys were enjoying their time, playing together, and with the love and care of their parents it was even better. It was around 1952, and my Abuelita no longer liked living in the city, it wasn’t the same, she wanted her baby boys to grow up in a neighborly country setting. They looked around for houses near the company Adan worked for, so the travel wouldn’t be so far. They came to a beautiful hillside home, just what they were looking for, in South San Francisco only costing 7,000 dollars. All of Adan’s hard work was paying off, they were a newly formed family and life was treating them well. After arriving to the house, a year later in 1953, Jacoba gave birth to a baby girl named Linda, meaning pretty. They lived as a happy family, and they visited Texas whenever they had the chance. Another favorite place he loved taking the family was Yosemite to go camping. To this day, my dad takes our family whenever we get the chance, and I could see why they both love it so much. A few years passed and their final child was born, in 1967, a baby boy named Rene was born. As their children grew, Adan and Jacoba decided that they wanted to give their children the education they didn’t have the opportunity to have. They sent all four children to All Soul’s Catholic school in South City; although it was expensive, Adan says it was worth the hard work. Adan continued working at the Anchor Fence Co. and at the age of 62 retired from the ironworkers union. He devoted a lot of his spare time volunteering in the church. He especially contributed a lot to St. Vincent De Paul where he helped feed the homeless and needy families. He recalled, “Jeez, I ‘member when I got here and there was no one to help me, so I really wanted to help out.” Adan and Jacoba raised all four children in the hillside home they live in today, and they have been happily married for 56 years. All the struggles Adan faced growing up only made him stronger and through it all, he was still able to keep that bright smile and positive attitude he’s always had.
As I wrapped up the interview, I looked at the picture once more and saw a part of my Abuelito I never saw before. A young man who struggled for him self and the family that gave so much to him. I got goose bumps thinking about how it would be for me to experience all he did. At my age, 19, he was already on his own to provide for him self and the family he had in Texas. My respect towards him is even greater and I know that soon I’ll fulfill my Abuelito’s desire to go with him to Palito Blanco ranch in Texas. Now more that ever I want to see where he grew up in, and meet the family that I’ve heard so much about. As I click the recorder off, he laughs and says, “O jeez, that’s it, well I better see it when it’s done!” I realize after the interview, he’s still the same young man in the picture, just wanting to have a goodtime and with the charm to make anyone laugh, my Abuelito, Adan Pérez.