Today I begin the serialization of my mother's handwritten autobiography. In 1982 I asked my mother to write her life story. I urged, cajoled and plead with her and fortunately, she listened to me and set about to recount the events in her life in the seventy-eight cent red spiral-bound notebook I bought for her. When she finished and handed the notebook to me, I thumbed through it and realized I had a treasure. It was sixty-seven pages of her laborious but flourishey handwriting -- all one paragraph, one sentence, one breath, an occasional comma, flowing out as stream-of-consciousness writing.
My mother was born in Tancitaro, Michoacan, Mexico on January 10, 1911, six weeks after the start of the Mexican Revolution. She grew up in Michoacan until she was 16, when she went to the other side of the country, to Tampico, Tamaulipas, on TOP of a train and later met my father, who was from Oklahoma, in 1942, until she came to the United States in 1945. She raised two black daughters through the Civil Rights Era, she bought and sold two houses with only a third-grade education. Set against the backdrop of contemporary world events this document is a fascinating account of one woman's life.
I have edited personal and emotional details out. I have included some notes.
August 18, 1984
Today I begin the history of my life. I am Eva, daughter of Rafael Andrade and Maria Ramos de Andrade. I don't know much about my father's parents, but I do know that his father was Portuguese and his mother was part Indian and part Spanish. My father's mother was short and her name was Ignacia (my mother's parents, Francisco Ramos, was an Indian and his wife was pure Spanish, her name being Paulina Avalos). My two grandmothers were very strict. Even though my father, being a married man, an official of the government and second in command of the pueblo of Coalcomán, Michoacan, my grandmother would box his ears in public if she found him in a cantina. When they would arrive at my grandmother's house, my father would embrace her and tuck her in bed and say, "Don't you always say that if the sky broke, you could repair it with the face of your son?" He was a good son and a good husband. He was a perfect father because we never heard our parents argue. He was a good man with Humanity because, as a military man, his commander would order him to execute court-martialled soldiers, but if the prisoner had children and a wife, he would not carry out his orders. He would reach into his pocket and would take out money to give to them and he would given them a horse and tell them to go far away and never come back. Sometimes, if the prisoner was an only son, he would tell him, "Take this money and horse and go far away, but take care of your mother." This was his manner with his fellow man. He was a good Christian man, according to the way he was taught.
As I said before my father was a good husband and a good father to his children. We were six, Domingo, Maria, Rafael, Eva Maria (myself), Raquel and Carmelita. Carmelita was born three months after my father died. My father died on December 24, 1918 at 12 o'clock midnight of the Spanish Influenza*. My mother was in another bed, also with the influenza. It was thought that she too would die, but God had a plan for her and for us, her children. As a last resort, they gave my mother tequila with lemon and she said she felt like she would die, but her fever gradually clamed down and she ultimately got well.
But on the day my father died, in those same hours, my brother, Domingo, was in another pueblo performing in a Christmas play, in which he played the part of the angel Gabriel. He was wearing beautiful wings, made of white feathers which almost touched the ground. Someone had made him a green toga, adorned with gold ties. My father's friend, a Colonel, lent him a sword with a gold handle. It is a pity that he was a beauty of a boy and turned out to be so bad**. I expect that, ultimately, God changed his heart, because my brother was lost. My sister Maria was lost also and the rest of the children died and only I, Eva, remain in this world. I am alone only with my children, Edith, Nehemiah, Abigail and Naomi and one first cousin, Francisco Ramos. (...to be continued)
*The Spanish Influenza appeared in Mexico during the first week of October, 1918. By December, the death toll was estimated to be 436,200. The state of Michoacan had the hightest mortality rate -- 48,000 deaths in a population of 991,000. My mother said that people were dying so rapidly that there was hardly enough time to put the bodies in the mass graves. Some infected people were tossed in with the corpses. Sometimes the gravedggers would collapse into their own graves. It was observed by one foreign correspondent that the Mexicans were especially vulnerable victims to the virus due to the conditions brought on by the Revolution (Invasion by Virus, Charles Graves, ICON Books, Ltd., 1969, pp. 176-177.)
**After asking my mother for more information on Domingo, all she could tell me was that he was the oldest child of their parents; he was stubborn and dictatorial and that his father had to spank him alot. Indeed, even on his deathbed, Rafael Andrade told his wife to be careful with that one and that she needed to be strict with him.
As an adult, Domingo would not look for fights, but he would not back away from one and would fight on any provocation. He was a soldier for twenty years and a general hired him as his bodyguard because of his reputation as a fearless fighter. His brother and sister did not hear from him for many years until they got word that he was in Mexico City -- my uncle Rafael sent him money to visit him in Mexicali. It turned out that he was a drinker and a braggart, telling my uncle's workers that he was the boss and the owner.
He went back to Mexico City and while in a pulque (fermented agave drink) cantina, an old enemy saw him and they started to have words. Domingo tried to prevent the fight, but the enemy went for him and Domingo knifed him in the heart. He wound up in the Islas Marias Federal Prison.