We are delighted to introduce you to Francisco Gonzalez as part of our “Neighbor of the Month” series-an effort started in 2013 to highlight Elysian Valley residents and stakeholders. It is our sincere hope that doing so contributes in some fashion to better know one another, build, grow and appreciate the make-up of our community. The NW thanks Francisco for his contribution to EV. If you missed our earlier recognitions (Robert Garcia, Frank & Lucy, Raul Martinez, Bob Berg, Pauline Pritchett, Ronald Muir, Susan Campos, Mrs. Lau Wong Svi Ching, Tracy Stone & Allen Anderson, Carl Dickerson, Mary Cardona, Marie Rae Gurule and Jed Donaldson ), we invite you to visit the EVNW website. https://evnw.wordpress.com/
Francisco Gonzalez was born in 1933 in El Capulin de Los Ruiz, a small ranch in a hidden valley in the state of Zacatecas, Mexico. He has called Elysian Valley home for the past 12 years. He is the third youngest of nine siblings born to Marciala and Eldifonso. He has childhood memories of plowing the fields with a pair of oxen at the age of 13. “My dad had us working Friday to Saturday from 8 am to sundown-resting on Sunday”, recalls Francisco. Francisco describes his mom as a loving and caring woman. His childhood house was made of adobe and had only one bedroom, recalls Francisco.
Francisco has a fourth grade education because “the opportunity for continued schooling was not available”— beyond fourth grade he was expected to work. Francisco married his wife Maria-Auxilio at the ripe age of 22 after a five year courtship. Together they have eight children. He recalls celebrating his wedding day with a “humble meal and local string music” in company of friends and family.
Francisco’s father was a talented artisan who made hand crafted ropes for all purposes, agricultural sacks, bags and other items from “ixtle”-derived from “maguey” a local cacti found in abundance. This skill was passed from father to son and represented a steady source of income for him and his brothers.
Against the wishes of his father who told him “no need to go looking for what you have not lost” and motivated by seeing people return seemingly well off from “El Norte”, a term commonly used to refer to people who traveled north to the U.S, and wanting a better life for his new family, Francisco decided to travel to America in 1954 under the Bracero Program. This was a guest worker program created in 1942 in response to labor shortages in agriculture during World War II.
Francisco remembers crossing the U.S. border on foot and walking four days to reach modern day Corona, CA. He hitched a ride to Los Angeles atop of a recycling dump truck arriving to LA looking like a “coal miner”, says Francisco. Two days later, he traveled to Hollister, CA where he found work picking apricot, apples, and pears. “It was hard work and pay was minimal” says Francisco.
Work was seasonal, says Francisco and he chased work from Mobile,Texas to Modesto, California and all stops in between picking cotton, cabbage, peach, grape and strawberry. “Picking cotton was the worst job, it was painful and labor abuse was common”, recalls Francisco. He returned to Mexico when work was not in season and the idea of staying in the U.S. permanently was something that never crossed his mind.
In spite of the challenges, Francisco is quick to point to the financial benefit of work in the U.S. that afforded him to provide his family a better life back in Mexico. With the money earned, he built a new house, bought livestock, and always had food on the table-something difficult to accomplish with the limited employment opportunities in Mexico. For Francisco, the most difficult thing to endure during his travel to work in the U.S. was the separation of family—a necessary sacrifice worth making, says Francisco.
“What I made in three months of work in the U.S. I could not make in a year back home”, says Francisco. Francisco is so thankful that when asked to express his sentiment for the U.S., he says “God first and then The United States of America”. Francisco is today a U.S. Citizen, a privilege that he is grateful to share in.
Francisco (a 20 year widow) lives with his daughter in Frogtown and likes the area for its people friendliness, quietness and peacefulness. “I enjoy being able to get a full night sleep every time” he says. “What more is there to ask of life?” When asked to comment on the changes unfolding in Elysian Valley, Francisco does not like the lack of respect outsiders give the community. He particularly dislikes the inconsiderate speeding cyclists that endanger him and others on the pedestrian/bike path. “They should recognize that they have a greater responsibility to share the path safely with pedestrians, the elderly do not have the movement, sight, hearing or reflexes to react to their speeding presence.”
Francisco hopes to be remembered long after he’s gone as someone who lived well, for self and for the benefit of society. He wishes his children to remember him as a father who loved them and who always acted with their best interest in mind, however imperfect his approach may have seemed at the time.