A Life Transition From a Mexican Coal Mine Chiminea to San Antonio’s Tower of the Americas. A Very Personal Profile of a San Antonio Bankruptcy Attorney, Part 2
Colonia Zaragoza and the Soria and Ramirez Family, A Family of Miners
To the left of the main boulevard you will come across the “Colonia Zaragoza”. As far as I know, it was probably named after a famous Mexican revolutionary figure. This Colonia is where my grandparents on my father and mother’s side lived. My maternal and paternal grandparents’ homes were about 4 or 5 blocks from each other. In the colonias, relationships and marriages seem to blossom within blocks of the couple’s homes. My uncle Raul married his next door girlfriend and raised a family of his own in a two room house behind my grandfather’s home. The Colonia Zaragoza is but one neighborhood or “colonias” located near the main boulevard; the “colonia sarabia”, the “colonia independencia”, the “colonia americana and others. The Colonia Americana was a neighborhood established during an era when an American coal company owned the mine in the area and developed the neighborhood for Americans living in town. A walk from the zaragoza neighborhood to the downtown area could take about 20 minutes, but less by bus. Growing up, the main boulevard was maintained for heavy vehicular traffic but not very attractive. Dust tended to blow in large clouds like you see in the desert scenes in the movies. It was customary to see people in the early morning sprinkling water outside their front homes, not to feed grass, since there wasn’t any, but to keep the dust from overtaking their homes. Every other road or street in the city was unpaved and covered with rocks, dirt and potholes. I remember playing soccer or running barefooted in the neighborhood and at times stumping my big toe, causing it to bleed. Later, when I visited the town in my early twenties, a drive thru the neighborhood felt like taking a detour onto a rocky river road.
Family of Miners
My maternal grandparents had 12 children that I got to know and 2 or 3 that did not survive their infant years. They are: Tio Epitacio, Tio Jose, Tio Raul, Tio Ricardo, Tio Rogelio, Tio Chuy, Tia Irma, Tia Cuca, Tia Licha, Tia Letti, Tio Arturo , and my mother . My paternal grandparents had 7 children; Tia Emma, Tia Dora, Tia Lile, Tia Pera, Tia Licha , Tio Tono and my father.
Most of my uncles and grandparents on my mother and father’s side have worked in the mines at one time or another and some all their lives, retiring with meager pensions. Coal mining has long been one of the most dangerous industries in the world. Miners constantly risk personal injury due or death due to equipment failures or accidents, underground tunnel collapses, explosions and hazardous gases. When I was young, my grandmother’s brother lost his life in a mine explosion. It was a very difficult time for her and those around her.
Some of my relatives did not last long working for the mines but would just quit for other safer work. They worked as construction workers, driving trucks or as security guards. My grandfather, Jose Ramirez, had worked in the mines in the early part of the century long after the revolution. I heard that he would keep a low profile in the mines whenever they would hear that General Villa was in the area recruiting unwilling volunteers. My grandfather lived until his middle to late 90’s. I enjoyed his visits to San Antonio because it would give me an opportunity to treat him to his favorite fish caldo at the Golfo de Mexico restaurant. When I lived with him at an early age in that coal mining town there were three Jose’s in his house. My uncle Jose Ramirez Arevalo, my grandfather Jose Ramirez and me—Jose Luis Soria Ramirez. Later my uncle adopted a son he named Jose. Needless to say, I was not inclined to name a son of mine “Jose”. It would have been just too confusing and somewhat comical. I visualized introducing my son to the family in Mexico and it would go something like this: “Jose, this is my grandfather Jose, I was named after him. And over here let me introduce my uncle Jose, now, he was named after my grandfather too; and here is my uncle’s son, my cousin, his name is Jose and he was named after his father. Of course, I named you Jose, after me! By the way, If you ever marry and have male children, I expect you to call your son Jose.”
During his time at the mines, My grandfather Jose had an accident in the mines and lost his right thumb. He used to tell me that whenever someone needed a vacation, one way to get one was getting slightly injured on the job. Some would say to a coworker, I need a break to be with my family, “get me two weeks” or “I need four weeks” so, some would “accidentally get their hands smashed just a bid by the “mazo” or sledge hammer.
With the money that the American Mining Company paid him as compensation for his loss of thumb on his right hand, my grandfather opened up a little grocery store or “tiendita” in the neighborhood. It was called “Miscelanea Ramirez”. Weird, but to this day I still remember that store’s /home phone number; and now 45 or more years later and they still have that same home phone number. The company’s compensation gave my grandfather the opportunity to be in business for himself and to provide for his family of 12 and his wife for the rest of his life. In the 80’s when Mexico went thru its great Mexican peso deflation, the tiendita store became unprofitable. My grandfather had a big heart and could not help himself but give people credit that maybe in retrospect should have been limited due to peso devaluation. Too often my grandfather was too generous with credit even though objections could be heard from my grandmother in private later. The economy destroyed his business because by the time he resupplied the store, the peso would have lost so much value that the merchandise ended up costing him substantially much more than what he stood to recover from his credit customers. He never used collection agents or made personal visits to customers to their homes; or, call them at their homes to have them bring their accounts current. He would just gently remind them that their credit account was increasing and that they needed to reduce the balance. I don’t ever remember anyone carrying or showing credit cards or paying by check. All transactions where either cash or credit via a large heavy notebook with family names and charges in them. Credit cards were not visible in my daily life in this remote little town…