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T September 15 through October 15 Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month This is the humble story of one Mexican family’s journey to the United States and I share it with you as it is a familiar refrain of so many Mexican families and why they emigrated to the United States during the ‘20s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s. The search for better economic and social opportunities with a safe environment for their children becomes a powerful and universal motivator for many of these immigrants. Reasons considered are still viable for those immigrants seeking to come to the United States today. T Written By Rachel Perez he landowner’s directives, to my husband John’s paternal grandfather, Ursulo Perez, were very clear the day he left him in charge of his hacienda. “I am taking my family and leaving for a safer place and I want you to take care of the cattle and if the revolutionary army arrives keep track of the number of cattle that they take. I know they will come because they need the cattle for food.” Little did Ursulo suspect at the time that this simple directive would change the course of family history for the entire Perez clan living in Zacatecas, Mexico in 1916. In Ursulo’s case, fate came sooner than later as the revolutionary army descended upon the ranch and demanded the cattle. Ursulo indicated to the army officer that they could take as many of the cattle as they needed only to let him know the number taken so he could report back to the landowner. The army officer took offense because he felt that Ursulo was being uncooperative and treasonous for not readily giving up the livestock. Despite a reasonable explanation on Ursulo’s part, the animals were quickly confiscated but not before the army officer reported back to his commanding officer the details of the interaction that he had with him. Word quickly spread through the small village that Ursulo would suffer his fate by firing squad that night. Upon hearing this disturbing news, he quickly gathered his family and what possessions they could carry and left the village under cover of darkness. What were the thoughts of Ursulo Perez on that fateful day in 1916? Mixed emotions of leaving his beloved homeland forever, traveling to places unknown and the uncertainty of being able to provide for his family must have weighed heavily on him but he was determined to find a way out of his predicament. One thing was certain, he was under duress and the only alternative to staying was rumor of a premature death if he stayed. Later, neighbors recalled to the family that the troops returned looking for him, only to be told that he had taken his family and left in the direction of Mexico City. The opposite direction of where he had taken his family. Historically, Mexico was in the woes of a full-blown civil war that started in 1910 and would not end until 1917 with 26 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN the Proclamation of the Mexican Constitution. The Mexican Revolution left in its wake as most civil wars do destruction of institutions, fear, calamity, and human misery that ravaged even the most remote villages in the country. Ursulo’s family, including his wife, four sons and one daughter successfully crossed the border through El Paso, Texas on July 19, 1916. Interestingly, the border agents at the intake desk mistook the daughter for a man and named her “Jaime.” For her protection aga inst the revolutionaries, kidnapping or rape, the family had disguised her as a man. Her name was simply, Maria, for the duration of time the family spent in El Paso. Ursulo immediately found work as a laborer on the railroad, where he witnessed the expeditionary forces led by General John “Black Jack” Pershing coming out of Mexico in his unsuccessful pursuit of Pancho Villa in 1917. Eventually, the family made its way westward and settled along with other families and friends in the established “barrios” in the East Los Angeles area. These Mexican neigh- borhoods were little more than slapped together housing and tents located along main roads, creeks or rivers. Nevertheless, these neighborhoods were affectionately given names that reflected or described a characteristic of the neighborhood: “La Cante Ranas” (the Singing Frogs), “El Ranchito” (the Ranch), and “El Barrio Seco” (the Dry Neighborhood with no running water). All were welcoming enclaves to the newly arrived immigrants where social networks could be quickly established and reunions of long lost relatives and friends could be found. Part of the family including John’s father, Eusebio Perez, made their way North and settled in Gilroy. John’s father worked at the old Be & Ge Manufacturing Plant and did odd jobs as a cement layer on weekends. His mother, Conception, worked in the canneries and eventually found employment at Gilroy Foods. The Eusebio Perez family purchased their first home in SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2017 gmhtoday.com