Obituary: Farewell to ‘La Chuy’

laloandmomMy mom, María de Jesús Alcaraz de López (or “Chuy,” as most of the Alcaraz family called her) was born in 1929 in Villa Union, Mexico, in the fertile Sinaloa land outside of Mazatlán.

She grew up as the youngest sister of five: Maria Luisa, Cany, Juanita and Esther. Their father, Inocencio, a ranchero, died young and left his widow Cirila and the five girls to farm their land.

My mom once described her father as having blue eyes and an extremely bald head. She told me about how he once had severely whipped a man who had injured her with his horse. Oh, the idyllic ranchero lifestyle….

olfphotoMaria, though she only completed the fourth grade, was as smart as a whip, and as a child, would take bribes of fresh farm food and money to tutor, or actually, do the schoolwork of her fellow, less brainy classmates (fresh cheese, chorizo and eggs!)

She would hide her stash of big veintes (huge 20-cent Mexican coins) on the roof of the one-room shack where they lived.

(I actually visited this still-standing rundown shack in Villa Union in 1990, and her elderly cousin tried to sell it to me. For a veinte.)

They eventually gave up ranching and moved to Mazatlán. Her mother Cirila sewed clothes for money and Maria’s beloved oldest sister, Maria Luisa, essentially raised the four of them. Cirila died in 1948, when my mother was 18, so she and Juanita followed Esther up to the U.S./Mexican border town of Tijuana.

Maria, a teenage immigrant, swore she would not return to Mazatlán until she had enough money to pay for her mother’s headstone, which she eventually did. She lived in Tijuana for a decade, and in 1959, after having snuck into the U.S. many times without papeles, she immigrated con papeles into the U.S. as a nanny, and cared for a banker’s baby in La Mesa.

Striving to learn English, as many immigrants do, she began taking ESL classes at Helix High School. There, this Sinaloa beauty met a handsome Mexican immigrant from Zacatecas, a former miner turned landscaper named Edmundo Lopez. They got married on her birthday in 1962. She eventually learned English after only 40 years of trying. In 1963, my mother was riding in a San Diego transit bus, coming back from a doctor’s appointment, happy to find out that she was pregnant. It was the day of the JFK assassination.

In 1964, they had a baby boy and, in an attempt to Americanize him, they named him “Eduar.” (Which is how Mexicanos thought you spelled “Edward.”)

Starting when I was around eight years old, we started spending summers in Mexico City, where we’d visit family, and take in all the cultural sights. Mexico City is where, as a stunned 11-year-old, I stood dumbstruck before the Aztec Calendar stone in the Museo de Antropologia and had my Chicano epiphany,.

Maria was a wonderful, loving and extremely overprotective mother. She worked for years at grueling housekeeping jobs to make sure she could feed and spoil her only son. She even cleaned up after the Bertolinos, the accordion suppliers to musical TV star Lawrence Welk. After my dad died in 1977, my mom and I lived together in the San Diego area until I went off to Berkeley for graduate school in 1987.

Maria continued to live in Lemon Grove, California with my Tia Juanita for many years, until I moved them up to Los Angeles so we could care for them. She loved donuts and coffee, and Chinese food. She enjoyed watching I Love Lucy, All In The Family, The Jeffersons, and lots of other American TV programs, plus Benny Hill and of course telenovelas, along with Don Francisco on Sabado Gigante.

She had no idea what I really did for a living until she watched me do a media prank interview on the Spanish language news show Primer Impacto, after I had yet again angered some powerful people. “¿Ahora que hiciste, mijo?”

Maria was a very funny, sharp tongued and witty woman. She, like me, believed most everything in the world was deserving of laughter and mockery. And she loved to laugh. She also carried the Alcaraz “art gene” and passed it to me, which is why I use the Alcaraz pen name.

She toiled endlessly and got little material reward for her labor. She is the reason I have dedicated all my work to promoting immigrant rights for over two decades. My mother taught me how to work hard and never give up. I will miss you, Chuy.

—Lalo Alcaraz

P.S.: Maria is the last of the five Alcaraz sisters to pass on. They are probably all together now, laughing and complaining about each other. She is survived by her three grandchildren, her lovely daughter-in-law and her son, “Eduar.”

María de Jesús Alcaraz de López died Friday, May 30, 2014, and was buried today, Saturday, June 7.