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Oral History of Margarita Saenz accompanied by her husband. Conducted by Jessica Martinez on March 16, 2023 at Los Portales Museum in San Elizario.  

MS: Is anybody else doing this too?

JM: Yes, your friend Marta Garcia. 

MS: Oh really?

JM: Yes, she’s going to come at 1 pm. She wanted to come today because you are coming today. 

MS: I haven’t seen her.

Husband: Yeah, we haven’t seen her in a long time. 

JM: That’s what she said, that is has been two years. So, she wanted to come. 

MS: I’ll go visit her one of these days. 

JM: Yeah, hopefully you’ll see her today. That would be nice. 

MS: Yeah. 

JM: Let’s begin. Please state your name, your age, when you were born and where you were born.

MS: My name is Margarita P. Saenz. Pallan Saenz. I was born in San Elizario, Texas. I’m 85 years old. What were the questions?

JM: When were you born? What year?

Husband: The year. 

MS: I was born in 1938.

JM: How do you ethnically identify? How do you identify your ethnicity or race?

MS: How do I identify myself?

JM: Mhmm. 

MS: How I am at myself? Doing things? Okay. I would identify myself as a very active person. 

Husband: She’s talking about the race. What race are you?

MS: I am what you call Latin American. 

Husband: Mexican American. 

MS: Mexican American. Sorry, and I describe myself as a very active person. I like to be very social. I like to help people even though sometimes I can’t do it, but I see that person that needs something, and I want to do it, but I know I can get in trouble because you never know other people. How are they going to react? At my house, we are always busy. I like to keep my house clean, the best I can, and I do it myself. I don’t have anybody but my husband to help us out. We like to keep the yard; he helps in the yard. I help him out with whatever I can. Inside the house, I still cook, and we clean up whatever we can. 

JM: Thank you. Tell me about your childhood. How was it like growing up in San Elizario?

MS: Growing up in San Elizario. Okay, first thing is that we started in the Adobe house school. We still remember all the teacher names which were a lot of them, but it would take very long, so I will let you know about the school. We used to have the adobe. We used to walk. I would have a long way to walk to school. We had to walk in it was raining, when it snowed, when it was very cold, but we were in school every day. We never had a vacation. 

JM: Not even holidays?

MS: We didn’t even know what a holiday was. 

Husband: When she’s talking about the Adobe school, there used to be a school on the side of the present school, the high school, whatever it is. On the side, there used to be a tall building, Adobe. Very high. We all went to that school, started there in that school. It is no longer there. 

MS: What we used to get was one of those metal heaters. You know, they used to put like a light inside, something that they would put, I don’t know. There was heaters that kept us warm. We were there for maybe until fourth or fifth grade, until they built this other school. That was a long time. We really enjoyed it. We came to school, so you know. We came to school and graduated from grammar/ elementary. Ms. Bowling, Gigi Bowling, she was my last teacher and I really enjoy her. I really enjoyed my teachers. We graduated and then we went to Ysleta high school. That’s where we started going with Jose Perez, he was the bus driver for all of us. He would take us to the high school in Ysleta and he would pick us up in the afternoon. What else can I tell you? When we had vacation, which was not a vacation, it was like a holiday or afterschool, we’d come out after school and we had to pick cotton. We had to pick cotton because other than that, we didn’t have money to buy a candy or gum, it was hard. My grandmom Francisca, she was the one that used to take us out in a little trip or a horse ride or something easy, you know. She would tell us, “You kids,’ she used to say slang words, but “if you kids don’t keep on picking cotton, I’m not going to take you to the Volantin, rides and all that, we used to have rides around here. I’m not going to take you to the Volantin because you’re not going to be able to have money.” We would go and you know, we were used to picking cotton, all of us. In the weekends, what lunch we took to pick cotton, my Tia Andrea, she would make burritos de beans con papas and we would sit down under a tree so happy with our burritos and all that. We would carry our big bag of cotton. We had a good time. I mean we were kids, and it was, for us it was easy. We didn’t think about nothing else, if other kids had more stuff than us. We just thought that we were going to go to the rides with my grandma Francisca. She was going to buy us some candy and gum. She was going to take us to El Paso in a taxi to go eat over there. She would buy clothes with a man that used to come over to the house. He would give her credit, that’s the way she used to buy us our shoes, our clothes. We were happy. 

JM: When you say we, did you have siblings? Did you have any brothers or sisters?

MS: Yes, I have four brothers, one sister. My oldest brother was Serasmo Pallan, my second brother was Armando Pallan, they’re all down. They don’t survive no more. They are deceased. My third brother is Elsiario Pallan, he still lives in El Paso, and my fourth brother is Jose Antonio Pallan, and my sister is Ophelia Pallan, but all of them are deceased. It is only my brother Elsiario in El Paso that survived. 

JM: Which one are you? Were you the oldest? The youngest? Which number were you?

MS: I was the youngest one. Besides my brother Chayo, my brother Tony was the youngest one, but then after that was my brother Chayo and then me. They all went out to the service, my brothers. My sister was sick most of the time since she was very young. She was pretty sick, and we had to struggle with her a lot but after a while everything turned out better with her. She just loved to dance, to tejer, yarn, all that, and what I like about her is that in the last she gave up and she was very cooperative, more than she was younger. We’d get along very good, but at the last, when she got older, she was better. 

JM: Great. So you guys grew up going to school, picking cotton on the weekends, and do you remember any stories about your family, your family before you? Your parents? Your grandparents? any stories they told you of growing up in San Elizario?

MS: You mean, for example, what I mean about my mother and my grandmother?

JM: Yeah. 

MS: Well okay.  I had three mothers. I would call three mothers because it was my mother, my dad went way, so it actually was my mother, my grandmother, and my Tia Andrea. My mother, she was the one that worked the hardest to bring things to all of us. It was a little hard for all of us, but actually God doesn’t forget anybody, you know. She helped us bring us forward. My mother was the one who used to work and bring for the bills or whatever she had to pay, my grandma used to buy our clothes with that man that I told you would come over to the house and he gives her credit. 

Husband: Cristobal was his name. He used to come in a big truck, army truck. He visited everybody in town, which was pretty much like it is right now. There is no homes now, it’s a very small town.

JM: Where would Cristobal get all this clothes from?

MS: El Paso.

JM: Oh, he would bring it from El Paso?  

MS: He used to come from El Paso, and he had a real big army truck. A real big one. He had all sorted out pants, and shoes, and everything. He used to come to San Elizario, everybody had credit with him. People couldn’t go to nice stores like right now. 

JM: So, he would bring it to you?

MS: Yes, he would bring us credit. My grandma would buy us clothes there, shoes, we were so happy. My aunt, she would cook for us. (Do you have a Kleenex? My nose runs sometimes, I forgot, excuse me). My aunt was the one that cooked. The one that ironed. The one that washed clothes. My aunt used to put a big pan when it was very very hot, then she used to put a big pan outside and warm the water and then she used to put all the white clothes in there for a while so that the clothes would get nice and white. Then, she used to rinse them, then she used to (hand motion) in the tallador, you know. 

JM: Yeah, the Piedra?

MS: Yeah, she used to do that, then she used to iron. My Tia used to iron all of our clothes. She used to like to send us to school nice and clean. She did that all the time. Very often, because there were so many of us, she had to wash most likely every other day. That was her job, my Tia, make us lunch. I remember she made us, I was telling my husband about cereal, cereal we used to have. She used to raise goats and she used to get the milk from the goats, and she used to give that to us with the cereal, and we used to love it. It was good. I was telling my husband maybe that’s why were strong, now that we’re old. 

JM: It helped. 

MS: You never know. She used to raise goats, chickens. She used to kill the chickens so she could make us chicken soup, so she can make us chicken and potatoes and whatever. That’s why I call my mom, my grandma Kika, and my Tia Andrea, my three moms. 

JM: They all helped each other out to raise all of you together, that’s great. 

MS: Yeah, otherwise I don’t know. Like I say, God is very big. Actually, we’re all grown up and God took most of us, my brothers, my sister, and we’re still here. My brother Chayo. Yes, ma’am. 

JM: What would you and your siblings do for fun here? Because you would go to school, on the weekends, you picked cotton, what did you like to do for fun? What did you like to play? 

MS: For fun. When we were growing up, we used to gather all the kids around the neighborhood. A lot of kids. We used to love to play hide and seek but it was in the nighttime. It wasn’t too dark, but it was dark because it was in the nighttime. We used to gather a lot of kids around the block there in the neighborhood, more or less, and we had a good time. A los listones, we used to have a ribbon and everybody would pass it out. You know, like when you play the chairs, you go around, and somebody sits in one chair, and you get out. That’s how the listones were, we had a liston and we would go around and everybody joking around, everybody laughing and all that, but we had a good time. We had bikes and some of my friends used to love to go bike riding around the houses, short roads, and around you know. Then, I would say “Are we going to go bike riding?” and I had a really old bike. My friend, she had another, real old bike. We used to have a lot of fun. We’d go bike riding in the evening. We used to go all around. We used to come around the kiosko. The kiosko was very popular at that time. We used to come here to the kiosko. We used to love to come to the baseball games. Baseball games were very popular at that time, when we were younger. Fabens used to come down to play with San Eli, Clint, Socorro. Different teams. Sundays, weekends. On Sundays we used to have baseball. Sundays and Saturdays, we used to have them during the nighttime. It was a very nice baseball field. What else?

JM: Tell me more about the Kiosko. What was it? 

MS: The Kiosko, what can I tell you about the Kiosko? Okay, whenever there were fiestas, the kiosko. (husband interrupts)

Husband: They used to call them Quermes. Vendors would come and put their product. I don’t think they sold too much. They would come once and year and of course the church used to have something too. You know, little things. 

JM: Convivir. 

Husband: Yeah and there was nothing there, no trees, nothing, just the kiosko. 

MS: It wasn’t that nice. Now they have everything so bonito, real pretty around there. The benches, the names. How they had all these events, the veterans, lunches and all that. I think that the kiosko is one of the wonderful things here in San Eli to me. According to me, I think San Eli was very popular in a lot of things, very old things. All around the houses were cotton, cotton fields only. There wasn’t any fruit trees, there wasn’t anything you would be so proud about but cotton. The cotton kept us going, working, we didn’t mind because we wanted money. There were no stores to go there and work, like right now kids can go get a job. But anyway, the kiosko, I think is one of the most popular things in San Eli because it had been there ever since we remember being here. The fiestas, like he says, they had a Quermes. They had dances here, all around, everybody would dance around. We had anniversaries. People would come over here for anniversaries, they made their fiestas here, their dances. We used to come here, and I think that the kiosko was not only for fiestas, for events, for big things, it was people that wanted to come over here and take pictures. 

JM: It was something that brought the community together.

Husband: There were a lot of gatherings here. Of course, as kids we would come around and run all over the place.

MS: We’d get in bikes, and we’d go around and around and see who was faster. It was a kick when we were younger. At night we used to go outside my house, everybody sometimes would go down to my house and we’d gather there, that’s the only fun we had in the nighttime. We didn’t have a car; we didn’t have nothing to go out with. We used to just gather around there, make a little bonfire there, and just sit down there talking about La Llorona story. Everybody would love to talk about things like that, I mean spooky things. We would just sit down and sing. We used to sing. We used to have a good time there for a while. That was our outing during the night and after a while, I would go “okay I’ll see you, tomorrow is school.” There is so many things that’s really happened at my age, a lot of things. Do you remember anything else? (faces husband) I had something in my mind. Oh, we used to come to las posadas and we used to come to church. The only reason we wanted to come to las posadas and we used to come and offer flowers to the Virgen. They would dress me with a white dress. We had to have flowers every time, fresh flowers. We would come to church and offer them to the Virgen. We would come to church every Sunday. Mom would say, “You have to come to church every Sunday, other than that you guys aren’t going to go out at all.” My mom was very Catholic, and I think I’ve become one of them now that I’m old. We used to come to las posadas and we used to play with the candle. They used to give us a candle and we used to go out and walk around the church, but the kids used to get carried away sometimes. They used to get the candle, like that, you know, playing with it. What else?

JM: So, Sundays were for church and baseball?

MS: Sundays were for church and for baseball. We used to gather here at the baseball park, and we’d just sit there and look at the game. After the game ended, everybody went home or stayed there talking. 

JM: How was the community? Tell me about the community here in San Eli? Was it very close? Was it only the Kiosko that brought it together? Anything about it? The people of San Eli?

MS: There were different kind of people, one higher than the other, one had more than the other. That would make a very big difference in the people in the community. Everybody was, how can I explain to you? We all had different kind of friends. 

JM: Is there anything else you want to say about growing up in San Eli that I may have missed? Any other memories you want to talk about? People you remember that are memorable here? Anything?

MS: De San Eli?

JM: Anything else that you want to share that maybe I missed or forgot to ask?

MS: Well I already told you everything. Baseball, kiosko, church. Mention something. 

JM: Memorable people? Anyone memorable around town? You mention Alarcon, who was that? Or who was he? Or the family?

Husband: The Alarcones were on Alarcon Road. All of the Alarcones were on the road here, most of them. Pedro and Willie’s father, Julian Alarcon. 

MS: There were a lot of Alarcones.

Husband: Yeah there was a lot of them, but they were all family. One family, those guys there, Willie, Paul, and Tony. Those are the guys that used to hang around our home, on this side of town. Well, they used to gather over here. 

MS: When I came to elementary, the new school over here, Mr. Alarcon, Lorenzo Alarcon, he was everything. He was the superintendent, he was the principal, he was the coach. He used, at that time school wasn’t very nice. The teachers were a little bit hard on the kids if they didn’t learn. I was one of them that the teacher was very bad at. Over here, if we didn’t do what the teacher said or if we do things opposite that they wanted us to do, they had a little tablita and they would just hit us. 

JM: That was their form of discipline 

MS: Some of them were very nice teachers. We had two teachers that were sisters, Mary, and Margaret Lopez. Very nice teachers. We had Ms. Bowling, a very nice teacher. 

Husband: Ms. Bowling used to live in the street over here.

JM: What home? I’m sorry.

Husband: The home over here, the one that’s got, what do they have? A statue. That’s where they used to live, the Bowlings. Ms. Bowling. She was a very nice teacher. She was very young and very knowledgeable. The ones from kindergarten and let’s say fifth grade, they were mean in a certain way. We had a hard time learning; it was a way of waking you up.  

JM: Was the community growing up a lot of Latino kids of a lot of White kids?

Husband: It was all Latinos. 

MS: All Latinos. 

Husband: What was his name? Clarence. What was his last name?

MS: Who? 

Husband: Clarence.

MS: Clarence. I don’t remember that.

Husband: They were, I guess, I’d like to say they were German. There was different nationalities but here in San Eli, it was all Latinos, all Mexicans. Clint used to have different races because they’d hire ranchers. 

JM: Oh ranchers?

Husband: Mhmm. 

MS: Excuse me. There was a lot of, how would you call it, children that were very sucios. How do you call that word? Children that came to school.

JM: Yeah, like not clean?

MS: We had a hard time because their hands were like alligator hands. Their skin was very hard. 

Husband: Their water was no good. 

MS: They didn’t wash themselves and that was one of the things we used to have a hard time. 

Husband: There was a lot of people that came from the deep South of Mexico. 

MS: They used to live in farms away from here or homes that they didn’t take care of themselves. 

Husband: I mean there was no water. They didn’t have a way to heat up the water. It was hard especially winter times. It was very hard. It used to snow a lot.

MS: We had to walk with the snow this high. 

Husband: Over here, in the road over here, down this street. 

MS: The Alarcon Street. 

Husband: The Alarcon Street, yeah. There were no names in the streets back then. He (Alarcon) used to have a home, a property, I don’t know. We used to live there. My dad would grow vegetables for him so he would let us live in that house. He was the sheriff. He would go over to the house, and he would say, as soon as you are five years old you are going to go to school, and when you are eighteen, you are going to go to the service. That was a big thing here in San Eli, you had to go serve for your country, and I didn’t get to that point. I got to go to school. I never got to. I didn’t agree with the ways of the service. Back then it was very rough. I went to the course of the training and in Fort Ord, California, only for maybe three weeks. I couldn’t agree with nothing. They treat you like an animal. To me, the basic training was a piece of cake. I used to run here in the dirt, and crawl and all that. I still feel like it was bad for us because they treated us really bad. Now the guys from the city like LA, Chicago, and other areas like Denver, big cities. They would cry because they weren’t used to it. I could take it because I was used to it, all the running around, wires, and whatnot, but because of that I said, ‘no. I got to get out of here.’ It’s a good thing because I didn’t get an dishonorable discharge, which was good. Once you have that on your record, it is very hard to get a job. I didn’t get to that point. That’s why I got out. I said this is not for me. If I’m going to serve my country, I want to get treated right. Also, the whole thing to me it wasn’t worth it. I would like the part to serve your country, I would have loved to do that, to go to war because I had some cousin who went to war, and they served the war. They didn’t go around here the bases, around here, riding around here. No, they went to the front, I would have liked to do that. No way. 

JM: You wouldn’t want to be treated like an animal. 

Husband: There was a lot of Puerto Rican sergeants, and they were mean. They didn’t like Mexicans to begin with. They don’t like Mexicans. They were in charge at Fort Ord at that time. That’s why I said no. 

MS: Can I pitch in for a little bit? Muy platicador. Dice que iba ayudarme. What I was going to let you know is that little story about Lilian’s parents. 

JM: Oh yeah. 

MS: We were all, my mom, we were in the house, living with my great grandma. It wasn’t working well, and it was very old. We had a lot of rain at that time. I tell Lilian I am always grateful to her because they used to live, like I say, you know that school there, okay about two houses down is my mom’s house, my mom used lived there, and then Lilian lives on the other side. My mom was, we were walking all around to find a house, to find who would rent us a room because she was planning to make us a house. They were already starting all that and we couldn’t find a room. So, what I’m grateful for is Lilian’s parents. We went all around San Eli and nobody helped us and then we went to Pina’s house, which is Lilian’s mom’s, and she said, why do you have to go all around, there is two rooms here. I always tell Lilian, I will always remember about your mom and dad, they gave us a room while the men that used to build our house built the house. And my mom didn’t know where to get the building material because she was the only that worked, but like I said, God is very big. He helped us build the little house and I always tell Lilian, I am very grateful for your mom and dad. They helped us a lot. 

JM: Yeah I’m happy to have met Lilian. She said, “if you can’t find anyone, I can always give you a history too.”

Husband: She’s well-known here. Very good people. 

MS: Lilian is very nice. Good people, I like her a lot. She’s always looking forward to see us in the events. We don’t come to events very often anymore. I can’t walk no more. 

JM: It gets harder.

MS: It gets harder with my legs. We enjoy San Eli, no matter what. No matter if we had poorness, if people are different, or whatever, it don’t matter. San Eli will always be with us because we were born here. We were raised here. San Eli is San Eli for all of us. 

JM: You were born here. You got married here, and now you’re back. Now your family is here. That’s a great life. 

MS: Thank you God. We have a good marriage.

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