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Estela G. Torres: Resident since 1984

This is an excerpt from Neighbors: Oral History from Madera, California Volume 2 by Lawrence F. Lihosit, a local historian. It is available at Maildrop and G.B.S. on Howard and on Books.

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The fifth of nine children, Estela G. Torres was born on November 12, 1958 in Zamora, Mexico (106 miles southeast of Guadalajara) where she completed grammar school, secondary and accounting studies. Orphaned at a young age, she raised four younger siblings while working and studying. She immigrated to Madera at the age of twenty-six where she worked various jobs while studying and eventually earned an Associate of Arts degree from Reedley College. She recently retired after a twenty-three-year career at the Fresno Housing Authority where she worked her way up to accountant. An active member of a Latin American women’s social group. Mrs. Torres and her husband raised two children in Madera.

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There was a big difference in ages between my parents. My mother was very kind and had long, black curly hair. She loved typical Mexican music and she liked playing. I have a clear memory of her jumping rope in the street with her older girlfriends like they were kids. My father was a foreman on three ranches owned by the same man. He went to bed at seven o’clock since he got up so early.

Our house was located only four blocks from la plaza mayor (town square). There was a kitchen area and a pantry. The house might have been fifteen by fifty feet (750 square feet). Originally it had a large room used as a living room and bedroom, as well as a small room where we had a television. The kitchen was a separate room. The patio and bathroom were covered with ceramic tiles, and the bathroom. On the back patio, we had a cement lavadero (utility sink) where we washed clothes. With a lot of sacrifices, my father built two rooms on a second floor.

The house had two-foot wide adobe walls and a tejas (tile) roof. Years later, my brother did some construction so he got to see how thick the walls were. They found some human bones in the kitchen wall. When they reported it to the authorities, they were told, “We don’t know who they are! Just get rid of them.”

My mother cooked on a traditional mud oven. On top there was a flat area where she could heat tortillas. She made them for us and to sell. She taught me how to prepare chiles rellenos, albondigas, mole and capirotada. Capirotada is a sweet dessert (like bread pudding) served during Lent. It’s made with layers of seasoned bread like a casserole. Usually it has bolillos (Mexican rolls), raisins, nuts (walnuts, pecans or even peanuts), water, milk, piloncillo (unrefined brown cane sugar), cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves and cheese. We made chicken mole by first boiling the chicken separately. The sauce is two steps. First, we use three important ingredients: guajillo, ajonjoli and ancho-California. We cook them in oil, soak them in hot water to soften them. At the same time, we prepare the sauce base which is tortilla. We cook the tortilla in oil. You add crackers, almonds, peanuts, cloves, ground pepper, pimentón (smoked paprika), chocolate and ajonjoli (sesame seeds). Now, you add chicken broth and all of the sauce ingredients (except the chiles) to a blender. The result is a white mix which you put in a pot with hot oil. The sauce thickens. Then you add the blended chiles and more water or broth to the blender. This is added to the sauce. Your chicken might be shredded or not, depending upon what you are going to serve. If it’s for burritos or tortas (sandwiches), the chicken will be shredded. So, we put the boiled chicken in a pot and cover it with the sauce, then simmer. Albondigas is a Mexican meatball which could be made of ground turkey or ground beef. We use lean ground beef. To make sure that the ball doesn’t fall apart during cooking, we add washed, uncooked rice, an egg and bread crumbs. We add minced fresh mint. We boil them in water with vegetables.

When I was given my first set of pants, it was a big issue. We were always poor and I don’t know how my mother was able to afford those pants. I was a tomboy, playing with the boys. We played a lot of marbles, patines (rollerskates) and rode bikes. We had glass marbles that you could see through. The marble with a flower inside was the most important. I waited a whole week before taking those pants off.

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To be continued.


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