The original inspiration for my character Evangelina de León came from my paternal grandmother, born Maria Adelfa Josefina Garcia. This is part of her true life story as written by my beloved Tío David (the family historian) from Laredo, Texas.
Born on April 19, 1899, in Ciudad Guerrero, Tamaulipas, Mexico and baptized as Maria Adelfa Josefina Garcia on May 3, 1899 in the city’s parochial church, Nuestra Señora del Refugio, Adelfa was the ninth of the twelve children of Jesus Maria Garcia Benavides and Maria Antonia Peña Vela.
Jesus was the son of Jose Geronimo Garcia Vela and Maria Felicitas Benavides and Antonia was the daughter of Jose de Jesus Pelagio Peña Vela and Maria de Jesus Vela Ramirez. Both, Jesus and Antonia inherited considerable amounts of land on the U. S. side of the border from their parents.
By the time of Adelfa’s birth, Ciudad Guerrero (formerly Villa del Señor San Ignacio de Loyola de Revilla) was a town of renown. It had been quite prominent in the region for over a century. The once small Spanish colonial settlement evolved during this period into a major trade center of about 40,000 in population with a large ranching community.
Childhood and Formative Years in Guerrero
Life was good. Her paternal grandparents’ residence – la casa No. 93 en la Calle de Allende – where all of the twelve children of Jesus Garcia and Antonia Peña were born and reared, was a multi-family unit that may have also been, at this time, home to some of their other sons and daughters and their children, but if not, they were living just a few houses up or down the street. Such was the case with daughter, Maria Dolores, who married Antonio Martinez Ramirez in 1880 and then lived just a few houses up the street, at 104 Calle de Allende where their eight children were born. (I remember mother referring to the male cousins from this family as if they were her brothers, like – mi hermano Margarito.)
This house was built like a fortress. It had huge doors at the street entrance that led into the “zaguan” (vestibule) and on to a patio where there was an “aljibe” (cistern) for collecting rainwater from the roof. – At this point, I can’t help but reminisce about my own childhood memories. While in Guerrero in the mid or late 1940’s I vaguely recall going to the house where mother was born, visiting relatives that still lived in Guerrero and bathing in the Rio Salado. I vividly remember that her madrina had a huge lump on the front part of her neck due to “bocio” (goitre), a medical condition).
They lived at House No 93, Calle Allende. This photo is the only photo we have of the Garcia home.
Adelfa was enrolled at the Gonzalez Benavides Primary School of Guerrero when she was seven or eight years old. This was a very propitious and joyful period in her life (1907- 1912). She was starting school along with her favorite sister, Hortencia, who was just about one year older and while her sister, San Juana, brothers, Geronimo and Serapio were also in the “primaria” level of their schooling. And let us not forget that Barbarita Uribe Vela, their “hermana de crianza” and who was like a second mother to them, was always there to look after them.
The wedding of her sister, Diamantina, to Manuel Martinez Benavides, the primo from just up the street, was the first one in the family and must have been a big event.
Sister Josefa was crowned Queen for the 1910 fiestas on that anniversary of the founding of Guerrero. And in December of 1912 she married Santiago Gutierrez Martinez. Hers was the second wedding in the family and the last to take place in Guerrero. Photo below:
Josefa Garcia Peña – en 1910 fué Reina de Guerrero – en aniverario de su fundación.
Her father became the “Presidente Municipal” of Guerrero in 1912 , but he only served for eleven months before moving his entire family, except Diamantina and Josefa who married and no longer living with him, to Laredo. La Revolución was raging in many parts of the country and getting closer to Guerrero.
Photo: Jesus Maria Garcia Benavides and Maria Antonia Peña Vela
Starting a new life in Laredo
The initial impact on the family due to the drastic changes taking place must have been unsettling, to say the least, but tolerable under the circumstances. They settled in a downtown neighborhood (barrio) located on the west bank of the Zacate Creek where many relatives and friends from Guerrero were now living. The street address was 313 San Pablo Avenue, just a few houses south of the intersection with Iturbide Street. Our abuelo continued working his ranch in Zapata County, which was about 50 miles from Laredo, with the help of his sons, Alfonso, Serapio and Geronimo, for some time and then on his own. Clotilde and San Juana stayed at home while Hortencia, Adelfa, Jesus, Dagoberto and Estela were enrolled at Central Elementary School. (The 1920 U. S. Census of Webb County indicates that only the youngest five children in this family, the ones that went to school here, were able to speak English)
They were all very lucky to be attending Central School, popularly called “la Escuela Amarilla”, that had just opened in 1910 – a contemporary Laredo Times article described the Escuela Amarilla project as “the most progressive step forward in more than a century in the region’s public school systems”- at a time when almost every single person living in Laredo was able to communicate in Spanish.
Adelfa may have completed the 4th or 5th grade of her basic education in Spanish, but in Laredo, at the age of twelve or thirteen, she may have had to start all over or at a lower grade to be able to continue her education in English. Nevertheless, I think that she made it through the sixth grade with excellence and then went on to study accounting and stenography at the Naranjo Business College. She earned a certificate and was later employed as a stenographer at The New Furniture Store of Laredo – according to the 1923-24 City Directory.
Misfortune was also to be lived in Laredo
Just as La Revolución in Mexico was about to come to an end or take another turn, World War I began to gear-up. Resident aliens that were of age were required to register for the Draft and the Garcia brothers, Alfonso, Serapio and Geronimo did so all on the same day – June 5th , 1917. They were all single and still living at 313 San Pablo Ave.. Alfonso was still working at his father’s ranch in Zapata. Serapio was now employed by Eduardo Cruz as a clerk in a department store – I think. Gernonimo, stated on his draft registration card that he was employed as clerk for E. Garcia y Hno (Hermanos?) of Laredo. Fortunately, they were never drafted.
Just a few months later, the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 claimed the life of Serapio on October 16, 1918. His mother was so devastated by the death of her beloved son that even the love of her eleven surviving children was not enough to mitigate her grief. She died less than a year later, on June 6, 1919 of Brights Desease –Gastro Urimia.
The role of mother and housekeeper fell upon Clotilde, the older stay at home daughter. San Juana and Hortencia helped carry the load for about six years before they married.
Adelfa went on to business college and to study music on the side, before going to work at the furniture store. She took “solfeo” -voice lessons- and learned to play several musical instruments. Some of us recall her playing her own violin or mandolin. I think she also played the piano.
Jesus and Dagoberto continued going to school, but dropped out at some point. In 1927 Estela, the youngest of the family, was the first and the only one to graduate from high school. (Our cousin, Geronimo “Momo” Garcia told me that he remembered just how elated and proud the whole family was over her graduation.)
Maria Adelfa Josefina Garcia, the inspiration for Evangelina Takes Flight