|"First appearances never tell the whole story.
'Tis the same with family history."
- Randall Davis
Juana Castro (1866-1945)
Juana Castro was born on June 26, 1866, in Cerralvo, Nuevo León, Mexico, to Porfirio Castro and Francisca Gonzalez.1 She was born on the ranch of her uncle, Lioniles Guerra.2 When Juana was about 15 years old, her parents separated. Her father Profirio then took Juana with him to Reynosa, Mexico, where she later met her husband, Jesus.3
Loida Contreras Sosa recalls the following stories about her grandmother, Juana:
When she was little, she once tied some rags soaked in kerosene to the tail of a cat, and then lit them on fire in a field. It seems that where ever Juana's family lived, when something would go wrong, the neighbors knew that she was up to something. Another time she wanted to ride a horse, but her mom told her not to. Disregarding her mother, she got on the horse anyway. Once she was settled on the horse, the animal took off and ran right in front of her mother.4
As the wife of a relatively poor man, she made the best of circumstances, and mixed daily toil with deliberateness. By and large, Mexicanas performed a variety of domestic chores prescribed for them by their culture: taking care of the family, doing the housework, and supplementing the family income.
Like many others, Juana's lack of "accomplishment" in no way reflected an alleged "backward Mexican culture." Instead, the woman's condition stemmed from the fact that an agrarian society did not permit women, themselves victims of families experiencing impoverishment, the elbow room to maneuver and rise to a high stature; however, in the traditional role that the male-dominated society assigned to Mexicanas, few women failed.
One of the many responsibilities women had was to prepare the food for the family. Ana Maria Contreras describes the method by which her mother prepared bread:
Mom made loaves of bread in a round oven made out of mud. First, she would start a fire. After the fire burned down and there were plenty of hot coals, she would put the bread on trays to cook. She would make bread in bun and bar shapes. It was good.5
In every Mexican kitchen, the metate (or grinding stone) was an indispensable tool in the preparation of tortillas and other foods. The metate, subjected to baking by fire to harden it, was a slightly concave, sloping piece of stone on three legs, on which were ground corn, cocoa, and other things by being rubbed against the surface with another piece of stone called the mano. The arduous and intricate process of preparing tortillas required soaking the maize (corn) in water and lime to remove the hulls, grinding corn on the metate, and finally baking the cake on the comal (hot griddle).6
Even though Juana never attended school, she learned to read and write.7 What education she did have came from the experiences of raising a family. As part of this education, and, as in any frontier, clothes were practical rather than ornamental. Besides making clothes for the family, Juana made clothes for the working men. Mexican ladies usually made petticoats with embroidered ruffles, sunbonnets, aprons, and dresses for both everyday and Sunday.8 According to one family member, Juana was "a very tidy lady. She knew how to sew by hand. She kept all her good clothes and perfume in a suitcase. If she was going to town, she would take out her suitcase and put on her nice dress.9
Juana returned to Mexico at times to visit family, but after falling ill on one of these visits, Ana's brother Amando brought her to be with her youngest daughter, Ana Maria, and her family around 1939.10 For one reason or another, Juana had a hard temperament and would swear and curse at times.11 The frustration of an unsuccessful marriage and the deaths of her sons, Jesus, Gaspar, and Francisco, might have weighed heavily on her mind. According to Ana Maria, near the end of her mother's life, Juana began to search for something, but did not know what it was. Ana Maria states that "Mom asked me what she should do, and I said she should accept the Lord."12
Before Juana died, a miraculous transformation of character took place in her life. Because Juana had been sick for twenty-three days, Ana Maria asked men from the church to come and administer to her. Even though her mother was not religious, Ana felt the Lord would heal her.13 One of her grandchildren relates the following about that particular day:
Some men came from the church and sang to her. One man then laid his hands on her, and everyone prayed. It seems that as soon as he finished praying, she began to sing songs we didn't know she even knew. Since we lived about twenty miles outside the city, we often held church service outside on the patio of our house. She might have heard us singing and probably learned them [hymns], but we never knew it until that day. She was more alive, and she talked more clearly. When the men were leaving, she went outside and walked around. Shortly afterwards she asked to be baptized in a nearby river.14
Juana Castro lived with the Abel Contreras family in Combes, Texas, until she died on March 5, 1945, of pneumonia.15 One granddaughter recollects the death of her grandmother:
Near her death, I wasn't allowed to sleep with her like I had in the past. After she died, I saw mom clean and wash her. She put her on a table, and we had a vigil for her. People came to see her before she was buried. The family took her to the church in Harlingen in a big truck. She was later buried in Combes Cemetery, in San Benito, Texas.16
(FHC refers to the number of the microfilm on which the particular record is found with the Family History Centers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
1. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, July 31, 1988. 1900 Texas Soundex, Hidalgo County (FHC 1830444) and the Texas 1920 Census, supervisor's district 15, enumeration district 95, sheet 1, line 63 (FHC 1821811) indicate Juana was 59 years old in 1920 (birth about 1861).
2. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, July 31, 1988.
3. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, July 31, 1988.
4. Interview with Loida Contreras Sosa, September 11, 1983.
5. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, September 1, 1983.
6. De LeÛn, Arnoldo. (1982). The Tejano Community, 1836-1900. University of New Mexico Press: Albuquerque, p. 122; RamĖrez, Emilia Schunior. (1971). Ranch Life in Hidalgo County After 1850. New Santander Press: Edinburg, Texas.
7. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, September 1, 1983. Also her handwriting is found on the back of the picture of her son Francisco on page 60.
8. RamĖrez, Emilia Schunior. (1971). Ranch Life in Hidalgo County After 1850.
9. Interview with Ruth Contreras Balch, September 11, 1983.
10. Interview with Juanita Contreras Davis, July 15, 1983.
11. Interviews with Juanita Contreras Davis, July 15, 1983, and Altagracia Lozano de Gonzalez, December 28, 1988.
12. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, September 1, 1983.
13. Interview with Ana Maria Contreras, September 1, 1983.
14. Interview with Juanita Contreras Davis, July 15, 1983.
15. Interview with Juanita Contreras Davis, July 15 and 21, 1983; Texas General Birth and Death Index, 1941-1945; p. 874; file number 10369, FHC 1380776. NOTE: Name listed as Juanita Castro. Letter obtained from Combes Cemetery-Restlawn Memorial Park and Mausoleum (2 MI E, La Feria, Texas, 78559, 210-797 2322, or Rt. 2, Box 70B) in response to an inquiry about the cemetery plot of Juana. She is buried in Section 3, but the lot and space numbers are unknown, and there is no headstone.
16. Interview with Juanita Contreras Davis, July 15, 1983.