Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)
Joan Joyce (Schiavon) Huesca (1928 – 1987)
My parents, having decided that our family should leave the high altitude of Mexico City for the sake of my little sister’s health, now had a decision to make: Where should we go?
|Flickr Creative Commons, Photo by Laenulfean
|We had been living in the Federal District for nearly three years after leaving our home in Chicago, Illinois, in 1964 following the Cuban Missile Crisis. We were very happy living near our Huesca relatives. My sisters and I had learned to speak, read, and write Spanish, and we had acclimated well to the culture.
Unfortunately, the city’s high elevation (7,350 feet above sea level) had affected my sister’s health and enlarged her adenoids, which made it hard for her to breathe and eat. Although the rest of us did not suffer the effects as severely, on occasion we found ourselves huffing and puffing from the thin air as we went up the stairs or exerted ourselves physically.
It was not unusual for people of lower altitudes to suffer from Mexico’s thin air. When Mexico City hosted the Olympic Games in 1968, just a year after we left, I remember reading newspaper reports about the challenges the high altitude posed to many athletes. It turned out that those who came from areas with similarly high elevations had an advantage over the others and performed much better, particularly in the track and field events. In fact, someone took advantage of this to promote a souvenir during that time – a metal tin of “Mexican Air,” said to be especially helpful for beating athletic performance records. The thin air was so detrimental to the performance of many of Olympians that the Games have not taken place in such a high elevation ever since.
There was no shortage of beautiful cities and towns in Mexico where we could have moved. My parents had their favorite cities: Puebla, Guadalajara, Cuernavaca, and Merida. Of these, the most job opportunities were in the first two cities, so they would have been at the top of the list. The biggest drawback was that none of our relatives lived in any of those places at the time. As was the case with many Mexicans in the mid-twentieth century, most of the Huesca family had migrated to the capital, where the jobs and opportunities were.
Other options were areas back in the United States. We had lived in a warm climate long enough by now that my parents did not want to return to the extreme temperatures of Chicago, even though my grandfather still lived there. My mother, Joan (Schiavon) Huesca, missed him and her brother and his family, but she thought it was time for a change. My father, Gilbert Huesca, felt the same way.
That December in 1966 as we celebrated what would be our last Christmas in Mexico, my parents began to talk to us and to our relatives about the upcoming move. It was a difficult topic, to be sure, but their sadness at leaving our relatives was tempered by their concern over my sister’s health. While they were still uncertain about their decision, they also felt excited about the wide range of choices available to them.
I was not too sure I wanted to move somewhere else at this point, if it was not back to my hometown of Chicago. As happy as I was in Mexico, there were moments when I missed our old house and my grandfather and cousins and friends back there. I used to fantasize that we would return there one day to a rousing welcome by the mayor, complete with a ticker tape parade down State Street, my old classmates cheering and Frank Sinatra singing my favorite songof the day, “Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town“ in the background. On the other hand, I had grown very close to my Mexican relatives and had made lots of friends and did not want to leave them, either. But the more my parents talked about the move, the more we got caught up in the excitement of a new adventure.
My parents began leaning toward moving back to the States. Both of them were American citizens (a native of Mexico, my father had become a naturalized American citizen in the early 1960s) and could own property and have a better chance of finding good jobs. They might even be able to start a business once they got settled. The more they thought about the possibility of starting a business, the clearer it became that we should move to an area where the economy was strong and growing.
Two states fit the bill: Texas and California. Both were known as forward-thinking states, were experiencing rapid growth, and had warm climates. The cities that appealed to my parents were Brownsville, San Antonio, and Houston, in Texas; and San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, in California. All of these cities were at or close to sea level. Texas was closer to Chicago than California, which would make it easier to drive north to visit my grandfather.
But that led to a discussion that would end up deciding the question. When all was said and done, where would we feel most at home? There needed to be family or friends, at the very least, nearby. My parents had made friends with the Baileys, when we had visited Brownsville a couple of years before. They also had old friends from Chicago who had moved to Los Angeles. And then my mother thought of her aunt and uncle, Benita (McGinnis) and Philip McCormick and their daughter Jane, who by now was married and the mother of a little girl. Aunt “Detty,” as we called her, and Uncle Phil and Aunt Jane (McCormick) and her husband Ole Olson, lived on the San Francisco peninsula in California.
My mother and her cousin Jane were only a year apart; they had grown up together in Chicago, as their mothers were sisters. A few years after Jane had arrived in California to work for Trans World Airlines, her parents followed so they could live close to their daughter and her family. By now they were in their early 70s but were still active and in excellent health.
My maternal grandmother had died only three years before at this point, and my mother missed her deeply. The idea of living near her mother’s sister and her cousin was comforting and felt right. My father thought it was a wonderful idea. It would be a healthy place to live for all of us.
I still remember how excited my sisters and I got when we heard we were moving to “sunny California.” I don’t think we knew much, if anything at all about the place. I can’t speak for my sisters, but I was very proud that there was one thing I knew something about: San Francisco. It was the home of the Golden Gate Bridge and of my second favorite song: Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francsico.” It was also the home of my favorite American commercial – Rice-A-Roni, The San Francisco Treat. I couldn’t wait to hear the ding-ding of that cable car.
Copyright © 2013 Linda Huesca Tully