By Augie Bareno
My mother Victoria Puentes Bareno was born in 1910 in either Hurley or Silver City, New Mexico, not quite sure which, I assume since Hurley because it was a bigger mining area at the time. She was proud of being from New Mexico, even though, by 1919, she had already come to San Diego.
The New Mexico “Manito Spirit,” was always a part of her being and personality. Bishop Gilbert Chavez of San Diego, in an eulogy captured the words that best describes mothers from New Mexico. He said, “while all mothers are wonderful, the mothers from New Mexico have a special light that guides them, as they give unconditional love to their children and a profound courage and strength, to do whatever is necessary, to help their family and friends.”
Once you’re in their circle you don’t leave it and they care for you forever, even when you don’t care for yourself.
Hurt them, or their family, and you provoke an anger hotter than the hottest New Mexico Chile. My mother grew up doing things that back then women weren’t supposed to do: she kept the books for my grandfathers’ businesses, she would fight with the Board of Equalization, over things, I’m sure my grandfather did wrong, but she would defend him nonetheless. She worked the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in Balboa Park, at the Japanese Tea Garden, operated by Motto Asakawa, whose family would later operate Presidio Nursery of San Diego.
She earned her own money, as well contributing to the family, which by then included three kids.
She was no stranger to money and how it was made. During the depression she worked at the Neighborhood House, in Logan Heights exchanging work for small pay and food and other forms of support. Later she worked at the Cannery and at a restaurant that my grandfather had on 27th and National Ave, Logan Heights.
By the time I was born in the late 40s, my mother and father had developed a language, that only they understood and it was called Money.
Their daily battle over money was something we grew up understanding and expecting as part of a new day. Everyday as the sun was rising, in our kitchen my mother and father would have this argument, no, I mean discussion, about how much money my mother needed for that day to take care of the house and kids or make payments to Corona Furniture, Fares Mkt or Pragers Department Store. It would last about a half hour, each side jabbing and throwing verbal lefts and rights; then, after this, they would start to negotiate a daily figure, mom would start high and my dad would lowball, then they would meet in the middle and that would be the daily figure.
By todays standards, that kind of stuff would get them on the Jerry Springer Show. But for my parents, this was just the way things were. Their arguments were not so much about money, though it was important, it was their way of communicating and connecting with each other.
It also meant that they and their children, family, friends and neighbors were together one more day. Secretly, we always knew and expected my mom to win, because my dad knew all too well, how hot a New Mexico Chile can really be.
My father has long since passed and I remember him as a strong and natively inteligent man who could do anything from building a house to discussing foreign policy with the best of them. He never had the benefit of a formal education, but his life was full with honor, values, and most of all, hope for his children and grandchildren.
My mother lived until her late 80s, her circle of loved ones lasted until the end.
I often think about my mother when I see the Oprah show, it reminds me that my mother was Oprah before Oprah was Oprah. She was always helping somebody, she was a great listener, you could always count on her, she liked trying new things to solve problems and she could soothe the hardest pain, with a story about her childhood in New Mexico.