Learning My Family Story

Learning my family story, I found it has interesting connections to Stockton’s history

When I share my family story, I can include my extended family through five generations. I thought most people could do this with their families. Growing up, our family would frequently visit each other because we lived near each other in Stockton, California. I didn’t think it was unusual to go somewhere in town and happen to see a cousin. I didn’t think was unusual to know so many of my cousins! Later in life, I learned that not everyone knows of their great-great-grandparents. Not everyone knows their great-grandparents and their extended families. This family knowledge is special to our Rodriguez – Juarez family.

I took an Intercultural Communications course at Penn State World Campus recently which helped me to understand our family history in a new way. I learned that family history is the personal account of life passed through generations often through oral storytelling. (Martin & Nakayama) Some of our family gatherings would include sharing a bit of our history told through stories of funny situations or endured hardships. I’ve learned that there are several reasons why we have remained so very close through generations. Sharing my family’s history shares examples of the cultural-group, political, and social history concepts in intercultural communication.

How culture influences our family story

Cultural-group history describes certain aspects of a particular group’s experiences, such as when and where they may have migrated. (Martin & Nakayama) The earliest of our family’s history begins with what seems like a love story. Two brothers, Marcos and Jose Rodriguez, met and married two sisters, Juana and Agapita Juarez.

My great-grandfather Marcos Rodriguez with his mother, my great-great grandmother, Secundina. This photo may have been taken at the turn of the 19th century.
My great-grandparents, Marcos Rodriguez and Juana Juarez. They married in the early 1900’s.

The Rodriguez family immigrated from Zacatecas, Mexico to California in the early 1900’s and settled in Stockton, California. The Juarez sisters were living in Stockton and their parents were also from Zacatecas, Mexico.

I learned that at one point both families lived next door to each other in a particular section of East Stockton which later became known as Barrio Chivo, in English this translates to Goat Valley. Their families grew with each having several children. These children grew up next door to each other often sharing family meals as well as the responsibilities of caring for one another. When those children began families of their own, they found housing nearby as well. As a young child, my mother can remember walking along a road from her home to her grandmother’s home around the block. (F. Flores, personal communication, September 16, 2019) Weddings, birthday parties, church observances such as baptisms, as well as going to dances were done together. Looking back on old family photos we commonly see several cousins pictured with someone holding a smaller cousin in their arms. It was our culture to include extended family into our immediate everyday lives. Growing up with many family relatives built a foundation for strong inter-generational relationships. What was happening in the world around us further shaped our family history.

My mother Francine (L) and my grandfather, Frank Rodriguez (R) circa 1980’s.

How political history influences our family story

Political history tells of factual events occurred between and within nations. (Martin & Nakayama) Barrio Chivo was a locally known neighborhood which grew between the 1930s-1970s. Our family story has deep roots in this neighborhood. Globally, this time was during the World War II and Post-World War II era. Nationally, this was a time of segregation and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. Locally, Stockton became the home to Rough and Ready Island Naval Supply Depot (MilitaryMuseum.org) and the Tillie Lewis Cannery (Jewish Women’s Archive, 2019).

Labor occupations

Although the naval base and canneries were booming with business, agriculture, rail road, and road workers were some of the common occupations of those living in Barrio Chivo. More Mexican families began settling in Barrio Chivo because this was one of the few areas within Stockton where Mexicans and other minorities could purchase land and housing. Families and friends relied on each other to endure struggling, segregated times creating a very close bond. (Ofelia, personal communication, August 5, 2017)

Displacement

The passing of the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956 would disrupt this close-knit community. Although it took several years to reach our local area, it allowed the California Highway Commission to initiate development. Stockton’s City Council approved to redevelop the area from Barrio Chivo through Downtown Stockton to build an extension of Highway 4. Residents of Barrio Chivo were forced out of their homes through eminent domain. Although the government issued payments for their relocation, residents have said this was not an adequate amount to purchase new homes. (J. Banks, personal communication, August 5, 2017) Nor could they purchase homes near the redeveloped area.

Racial discrimination

An area outside of Barrio Chivo was named the Searchlight District. It is specifically stated in documents with the City of Stockton Recorder Office that its use was restricted to “solely and exclusively to persons wholly of the White Caucasian or White Race.” (City of Stockton, 1946) My family could no longer live as close to each other as they had. Some moved to other parts of town while others moved out of town. This political history further influenced our social history.

For a period of time, I volunteered with the Barrio Chivo Committee. I was eager to help and learned a lot. A topic discussed was where exactly was Barrio Chivo? After many discussions to determine the outline of the original Barrio Chivo, residents agreed to the borders of Filbert St., Railroad Ave., Highway 99, and Marsh St.

How social history influences our family story

Social history shares the everyday experiences of a particular group of people. (Martin & Nakayama) My family had felt a sense of belonging within Barrio Chivo. Initially, it’s physical borders were less than an a square mile however the redevelopment sparked an unexpected occurrence. Without physical borders, the culture of Barrio Chivo was able to grow. Our social history expanded because people living in parts around the redeveloped area began to claim it as Barrio Chivo. Franklin High School alumni would associate themselves with Barrio Chivo. Stribley Park became a regular place for those from the original Barrio Chivo could visit with each other again. Weekends would include watching the California-Mexican League of Baseball games (Dhillon, 2011), picnics, and music. The tradition of sharing meals and caring for each other continued in new ways with more people. Later, when housing segregation changed, some of our family moved back into East Stockton. My memories are filled with afternoons at the park, walking to my cousin’s homes nearby, and going to the same schools together. Our family story continues to grow.

Where to go from here

Learning these details about my family’s history has taken several years. I know there is much more to learn! As an adult, I view and value this history differently than when I was a child. Understanding the differences between cultural, political, and social histories and how they can influence my family story has spurred new questions. An important aspect I’d like to better understand would be our gender history beginning with my great-great-grandmother as she immigrated into California. I think it would be interesting to understand how she managed that change, how this influenced her child rearing, and which aspects I may have inherited. These concepts explained through an intercultural communications course has helped to shed light on an otherwise hidden history.

References

City of Stockton. Recorder Office. (1946, May 1) Agreement Restricting Use and Occupancy of Real Property. 422 – 426 pp. 

Dhillon, J., (2011, Aug 9) “Cal Mex baseball league still strong at 50”. Retrieved from https://www.vidaenelvalle.com/sports/article28115482.html

Jewish Women’s Archive. “Tillie Lewis opens cannery for American-grown Italian tomatoes.” (Viewed on September 19, 2019) Retrieved from https://jwa.org/thisweek/jul/13/1935/tillie-lewis.

Martin, J.N., & Nakayama, T. K., (2013) Why Study Intercultural Communication?. In Intercultural Communication In Contexts (6th ed., 3-44). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

MilitaryMuseum.org. Naval Supply Center, Rough and Ready Island. Retrieved from http://www.militarymuseum.org/NSCRough%26ReadyIsland.html

The Interstate Highway System. (2019) History.com. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/interstate-highway-system

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