My family’s history is so special to me. I have always loved sharing my abuelito’s story because it paved the way for me to experience freedom, faith and being born a United States citizen. Before we dive in, I want you to know this is not a politically driven post. But it is a story I want to share about my Mexican-American family and culture, and why I am proud to be a daughter of an immigrant.
My maiden name is Rodriguez, and my father’s father’s family is from a small border town across Texas called Valadeces in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. My welito (what I lovingly call him) had vast farm land growing up, but when he was a teenager the land was taken away by the government and his family was left with nothing. Then began his disdain for his home country.
He married my welita around 1953 and they resided in Valadeces in a home with dirt floors and an outhouse. Over the course of several years and up to 4 children living in Mexico, my welito attempted to obtain his citizenship.
He was making $4 a week. He would hitch a ride from Valadeces to Reynosa, and usually arrived late in the night. He would spend the night on the streets and then take a train or bus the next morning to Monterrey, Mexico.
He made this journey a total of five times. Each application was $20, so it took time to save for each trip. He felt defeated, but kept his faith and outlook positive.
This man, my beloved grandfather, is knowledgeable, kind and wise beyond his education (which was only first or second grade equivalent). He trained himself in many trades and obtained certifications through mail. He was certified in watch repair, personal investigation and auto mechanics. His skill helped him shine and he was known by a big agricultural influencer in Hidalgo, Texas. This Japanese rancher wrote a letter that helped solidify my welito’s fifth application where he was finally accepted into the United States.
He became the official mechanic at the farmer’s ranch in Hidalgo. Daily he would travel across the border while he lived with his wife and four children in Reynosa. His hope was to save money before bringing everyone to Texas. Always a dreamer, he is also practical and didn’t make decisions lightly.
Then, on a date many of us know all too well, my family found themselves in a scary situation. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 the U.S./Mexico border shut down. With no car and no phones, my welita had no idea what was going on and why my welito hadn’t come home that night. Spending one night away from each other with no communication (or explanation) helped them make a big decision. The six of them would make the move to McAllen, Texas.
The future has been extremely bright for the Rodriguez family. They purchased a home, grew their family to six children and raised them to be people that I personally admire and look up to. Life didn’t come without many challenges-illness, migrant work and financial struggles-but faith and family kept the family thriving.
I cherish my memories of growing up at my welito’s house while my parents worked all day. He owned his own mechanic shop – S&R Auto Shop – in McAllen. I spent a lot of time there (and seriously love the smell of gas and a good, dirty pink rag) and cherished growing up by his side.
We went to the library often. We played with all his birds and peacocks. We rode around in his El Camino, and he even picked me up from school every day until my 8th grade year. And everyday in my preschool years all my tios & tias would come to their house for lunch and catch up.
I am one of the few people with my welito’s first hand account of what went down. And, while I had documented it all in high school, I no longer have the paperwork anymore. It has opened my eyes and heart to make sure and get all the details from him on my next visit so I can ensure my BabyCoolJ and any other future offspring know their family history.
So, Saulo Rodriguez, this post is dedicated to you. For all your hard work, your dedication and determination. Your love. And for being a stern yet loving caretaker. Te quiero, welito.
Thank you for making sure my dad, 5 tios & tias, 10 cousins and your great-grandson (my baby boy) have a future with freedom and liberty. Praise God for your faithfulness!