by Manny Baldenegro, Jr., SCDP Corresponding Secretary
I have always been a political junkie and enjoy helping out on campaigns, especially Presidential. I clearly remember a statement made by a candidate more than four years ago, disparaging Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” I simply could not believe what I was hearing.
As a fourth generation American of Mexican decent, I had grown accustomed to some bias or prejudice. I grew up hearing stories from both sets of my grandparents. My Texas born maternal grandfather Rudolfo Castillo saw signs on burger joints and restaurants stating “No Mexicans or Dogs Allowed”…
Six generations, one American familia
He and my grandmother Nicomedes worked the fields just like my paternal grandparents did. I grew up in the shared experiences of both multi-generational migrant families working in the cotton fields, picking walnuts, pecans, Thompson seedless grapes, and every other fruit or vegetable – or just known as “la pisca”.
My paternal side of the family initially came from Sonora, Mexico. My great grandfather Leandro V. Baldenegro, and his two brothers, settled in an area known as the Arizona Territory prior to statehood in 1912. He owned more than 800 acres and grew cotton that was sold to the Army. He raised his family on “El Rancho” and my grandfather Bartolo was one of nine children born in Arizona. He became skilled in irrigation kept crops growing throughout the year. One of his older brothers had teams of horses and helped haul dirt as the Hoover Dam was built in 1931 through 1935 – during the Great Depression. While his two eldest brothers served in World War II, my grandfather managed “El Rancho” and they ran the homestead when they returned.
My grandfather married Ysaura Garcia, also born in Arizona. Her mother, my great grandmother “Nana Angie”, owned her own business in Eloy, Arizona. She was barely 5 feet tall but she kept all of the service men in the area in line. She served breakfast every morning, would close down and then re-open for dinner. It was “jukebox” time after the sun went down.
In the 1950’s, my grandparents decided to move their growing family to California to the Central Valley. All eight kids worked the cotton fields in the Valley, fruit fields north to Napa, then back to the San Joaquin for cotton once again. Seedless Thompson grapes eventually replaced cotton. As the kids grew, the family settled in Madera, just north of Fresno. In the early 1960’s, my Dad met my Mom in high school. Before my Dad’s senior year in high school, he had decided that he needed to make money to help support the family and left to follow the migrant path. While in Napa picking prunes, he realized that he had made a mistake. A few months of the school year had passed so he returned and asked if he could make up his work. He graduated with CSF honors and received an academic scholarship to Fresno State.
My Dad was the lead surveyor for the 1963 California Aqueduct Project through the Central Valley and we followed along in a trailer. I was born in Avenal, my brother in Taft, and the project ended in Palmdale. Shortly after, my Dad was hired by the State Water Quality Control Board and we moved to Santa Rosa in 1974. My two younger siblings were born here.
We held a “Baldenegro Family Reunion” in Arizona centered on the three brothers who arrived many years ago. Imagine an entire park filled with just family members. We had over 250 present and captured more family names and stories. Our family tree is well over 500. Family on the softball field and family on the volleyball court. A half steer was donated by a cousin. All the beverages donated by another. We had police officers, teachers, lawyers, nurses, administrators, CPA’s, and more! All from Leandro and his two brothers. My son Nico is 5th generation, and we have a 6th generation now!
As we prepare for November 3, I was reminded of the first comment I heard four years ago when the Administration pondered earlier this year whether Mexico was involved in the Covid-19 increase as a result of “Cinco de Mayo”. I laughed and said to no one in particular, “That is an American Day, not Mexican!”. As I reflect on my family history, I realize simply that it is time for a change at President. And, not because Donald Trump is a Republican, but because he is the other R.