A Tejana Remembered: Guadalupe V. Alvarez

Posted: July 11, 2011 in Family, South Texas History
Tags: ,

Today marks the anniversary of my mother’s passing. It was strange, and perhaps quite sad, to me that only after her death did I begin to think of her in terms other than “my mother.” Her life as “a woman in South Texas” was something that just didn’t occur to me. And although I’m sure I thought about it on several occasions, it wasn’t a substantial part of my life. In thinking about her, one startling fact always leaps out at me. My mother was functionally illiterate and was schooled up to 3rd grade. She could not read and could just write enough to put her name on paper. In fact, on every instance where a signature was required she would simply place an “X.”

In thinking a lot about the place of women in South Texas, my mother’s situation was not at all unique. Many Tejanos of her generation, especially women, could not read or write (she was born in 1935). Even if, statistically speaking, between the years of 1942 to 1960 the enrollment of Mexican-American school children went from 53 to 79 percent, the reality of that time was that many children were either pushed out of schools under segregationist policies or simply fore went schooling all together in favor of helping the family with work and income. Due to this bleak cultural situation, many of the later Tejano generations placed a high premium on education for their children. Even within our own family, my mother always stressed going to school and was ever prodding us to “hit the books.” At the time, as I guess any child would, I greeted the advice with a flippant “whatever, I wanna watch TV instead.” Now, the comment takes on a new complexion in light of her own inability to read; something I know she wished she could do. She’d often ask me to read to her from the bible. At night, we’d recite the ‘Our Father’ as much for me to know it as, I’m sure, it was for her to remember it.

Through her working life she managed. South Texas was changing rapidly throughout these years and although some changes were painfully slow, literacy was improving. Every one of my siblings profited from public schooling in Kingsville and could read and write. As times changed that one fact about my mother remained the same. But still she managed. She was a cook for most of her life and a very good one at that.  My sister Maria (Mère) relays this story about their time cooking together at Tacos de Josè and La Siesta:

Breakfast and lunch were the busiest times for the restaurants and the orders would pile up. As each order would come in, mom would say nomas leye me los mija y yo los hago and so I would read the orders off to her and mom would cook them.

This is how she managed. She would make do with her inability and use her skills, talent and creativity to overcome the short coming. Today, woman’s literacy has improved by leaps and bounds. I am utterly proud to admit that I know of no women (or anyone) that cannot read and write. I’m sure that some exist and continue to struggle with it but that cultural tragedy is a thing rapidly passing away. Every time I think about my mother I think about her reality as an illiterate person. I think about how she worked hard and raised six children within that reality and how much harder her life must have been because of it.  I think about how much more courage it will take for me to live with love and integrity as she would have wanted.  I think about how foreign the idea of illiteracy is to me and my siblings, her grand children and great grand children because she stressed the idea of education. And I think of how blessed our lives were in spite of it. So on this day, I celebrate my mother’s life. I celebrate how she overcame obstacles to raise her family to the best of her ability, with love and sacrifice . And I celebrate how she was among the final members of a generation debilitated with illiteracy.

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Comments
  1. Melissa says:

    Amazing. I’m always lost for words when I read your pieces about your mom. My tears express my thoughts. They built this ladder for us and we shall climb it!

  2. Petra Mcminn says:

    Erinie, this in reply from your sister Norma….Your an amazing brother & what you wrote is so beautiful!! You use words that I would of not thought of to describe Mom. The words that you use are so thoughtful in exxpression to how I feel. Thank you for being the brother that you are. God has truly blessed us to have you as a brother.You are so much like mom in so many ways that she was, Its what makes you special & an amazing brother. Love you & miss you very much! *hugs*

    • Thank you Petra, for both reading this blog and taking the time to make a comment! I really appreciate the kind words. Also, thanks for relating what Norma thought and said about this. I’m so glad she had a chance to read it!

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