When I was 15, my father sat my brothers and me down to tell us his life story.
My father is from San Jose Iturbide, located in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. The story of my father and grandmother’s lives is an unfortunate one.
My grandmother, Nicerata Olvera, was born Dec. 28, 1930. At age 26, Nicerata got pregnant out of wedlock. At the time, she lived on the family ranch, on the outskirts of town, with her parents and some of her siblings. But after her parents threw her out for being unwed, she went to stay with her sister in town. She gave birth to a boy whom she named Esteban. Nicerata decided to leave her son with her sister because she could not take care of him. Her sister would raise Esteban as her own.
A few years later, Nicerata met a man and got pregnant again. In 1961, she gave birth to Oscar, who would become my father. Four years later, Nicerata had her second child, Berta, with the same man. Unfortunately, the man was married and had a family of his own. Some of Nicerata’s brothers, who still lived at the family ranch, threw her out of the house again.
Nicerata became very ill after Berta was born and soon discovered she had ovarian cancer. She was too poor and sick to get help. Six months after Berta was born, Nicerata died on the streets, three days after Oscar’s third birthday. From that point on, Oscar’s life changed.
Nicerata’s sister, Juventina, decided to take Berta and raise her as her own with her husband. Oscar was left on the family ranch to be raised by his elderly grandmother, Pueblito.
I still find it sad Oscar and his siblings were separated. Juventina couldn’t have children of her own, and to this day, I wonder why she never took Oscar, too. I asked Oscar, why would they want to separate siblings?
“I don’t know, but out of my siblings and I, I had it the worst,” Oscar said.
Oscar ended up staying on the family ranch with Pueblito. The memories he has of those days are mostly bad. Oscar’s uncle, Urbano, was mean and forced Oscar to work at a young age by taking care of animals on the ranch.
“I was terrified of that man; when I heard him near, I would tremble in fear,” Oscar said.
Urbano would beat Oscar. He would yell and curse at him. He did not care he was a little boy. Pueblito would defend him from Urbano as much as she could, but she was getting older.
“I’ll never forget the time we were eating, and my uncle, Urbano, yelled at me, grabbed my food and shoved it into my mouth, telling me to hurry and eat so I could get back to work,” Oscar said.
Oscar lived poorly. Pueblito was too old to work, so they depended on Urbano to make money. At times, Oscar would wander out into the fields in search of food. He remembers eating orange peels because that’s all he could find. The food his grandmother made was always something simple like beans, lentils, rice and handmade tortillas.
Pueblito died in 1972 when Oscar was 11. Now, he was all alone, with no one to care for or protect him.
Fortunately, another one of his uncles, Luis, took him in. His family lived in town, where Oscar stayed for a few years. During that time, Oscar was taken care of and attended school until ninth grade. Then, in 1978, at age 16, Oscar and some of his cousins immigrated to the U.S. and ended up in Los Angeles.
“I was terrified to come to a country where I didn’t know the language or the lifestyle, but there was no reason for me to stay in Mexico anymore,” Oscar said.
Two years later, in 1980, he ended up in Omaha, Nebraska, where some friends told him about jobs and affordable living. Years later, Oscar met Sandy, they got married and my siblings and I arrived. I was born in 1996, the same year my father opened his own upholstery business, which he still owns today.
Every few years, I go back to Mexico with my father to visit family. I always pay a visit to my grandmother’s grave. Two years ago, when I was in Mexico, I had a marble plaque made for the grave.
It reads: “Survived by her children and grandchildren.”
I would have loved to have met her.
I always visit the family ranch where my father grew up, and although his memories aren’t all the best, it is where he came from.
It’s where I come from.