The rain had finally stopped with the first rays, as the sun started its ageless journey of rising through the sky. Last nights’ storm had been one of the strongest of the whole rainy season whose thunders were so loud that it minimized other sounds made by animals or humans. For Cecilia Ochoa Carrera, this night of June was eventful as well, as she gave birth to her first child, Ignacio.
Even though this is the start of our story, Cecilia’s life has been hard and full of hurdles. She was born in the neighborhood of Mexicaltzingo which is on the outskirts of the Villa of Guadalajara and which has started to become an important city for the crown of Spain. At the age of eight, she was abandoned in front of the cathedral of the city by her parents who could not afford to feed her anymore. Her weeps and cries gathered the attention of an aristocratic family who took her under their wing. They clothed her and fed her and was trained early on by the servants of the house to wash clothes and do simple household chores.
In the first days of being in that place, she cried a lot for her parents and felt lonely. She was reminded by the servants that she had been lucky to have been rescued by the family they work for since the city is unforgiving and harsh. Guadalajara in 1754 was a great place to live for the Spanish aristocracy who did well in the industries of livestock, henequen, tequila, and corn that grew plentifully in the valley of Atemajac. Yet, many mestizos, indigenous tribes, and mulatos did not enjoy such privileges the city offered and had to fend for themselves in the outskirts of the city for food and even their life. This was something Cecilia was always reminded by her house companion Mercedes, who grew fond of the child and requested from the masters to be allowed to raise Cecilia. Mercedes taught her how to pick the best vegetables in the market, how properly wash, hang dry, and fold the clothes of the masters, and even how to enjoy their life while living in that house. Motivated by Mercedes’s friendship and care, Cecilia performed her duties diligently and became to be loved by the family that had taken her into their care.
This care was, of course, short-lived, as the adoptive family was ordered to return to Spain as a new regency had been assigned to administrate this area of New Spain. Cecilia had just turned thirteen when this news broke between the workers of the house and when Mercedes mentioned it to Cecilia, She was unhappy since she could not go with them as she was not born in Spain nor was she of pure Spanish blood. This also saddened her as she had become fond of the family and now she was being rejected for the second time. Mercedes knowing of this, offered Cecilia to accompany her to the town of Chapala, where she can stay with her parents while she looked for a job in one of the many haciendas that are around the lake. This was a great opportunity for Cecilia as leaving the city would be healthy since there are too many vices and women who can not find a good job at a household end up working in the streets as whores or beggars.
She accepted Mercedes’s offer and a few months later they left the house toward the lake town of Chapala. Upon their arrival, Cecilia fell automatically in love with the place. The weather was cooler, there was more vegetation with trees whose trunks were so wide you needed three people to hug them. Life also appeared to be more relaxed as people walked ever so peacefully through the streets doing their errands and minding their own business. Mercedes took Cecilia to the banks of the lake and Cecilia was in awe to see the immense body of water. From the banks she could see herons standing tall in patches of water lilies waiting for their prey to appear, boats using their nets to catch fish and in the horizon tall mountains that presented to her the distance of the lake to the other banks.
Mercedes continued their tour of the town and before sunset, they left to her parent’s house that was on the outskirts of the town. They were greeted joyfully and were fed the most delicious corn tortillas, boiled beans, and roasted fish they ever had. The food was far more superior than what their previous employers fed them. That night, Cecilia felt she had finally found the family she had so long wanted and fell asleep knowing that she was complete.
The following days Mercedes and Cecilia were looking for work in the many haciendas in the area. They were unlucky until two men approached them while snacking on mango in the main plaza of the town. They were offered work but in different haciendas, Mercedes was to be sent back to Guadalajara and Cecilia was assigned the Hacienda of Woodswallow. They were to depart to these respective places tomorrow so they had to hurry and get things ready. They headed back to Mercedes’s parent’s house to prepare the few belongings they had and that night was bittersweet for Cecilia for she again had to separate from a family. They had an amazing meal that Mercedes’s mother had prepared for their departure, corn tamales stuffed with boiled chard and runny white corn atole. They stuffed their mouths and had a wonderful time.
As they parted ways Mercedes reminded Cecilia that if she needed anything she could reach out to her parents for their assistance of which she nodded. They hugged, holding ever so strongly, for their connection ran deep and the feeling was intense that they both wept and those tears ran from their eyes and down their cheeks. Cecilia finally let go and waited until Mercedes got into the horse wheeled cart that would take her back to Guadalajara. Now, it was time for Cecilia to start her new journey and headed east from the main town square as most of the haciendas where situated in the outskirts. It was going to be a bit of a challenge for her to find the place as all of the ranches placed the name of their haciendas but since she did not know how to read, she was informed to look for a symbol of the hacienda which is two woodswallows flying together. It is the only hacienda with such a symbol so she would not be able to miss it.
As she walked through the dirt road of the haciendas, she finally arrived at the gate of the place and on top of it, in wrought iron, it was shaped the name: Hacienda Woodswallow with the symbol of the woodswallows flying together. She knocked the gate with a rock and an elderly man opened it, she informed him of her business and was taken directly to the courtyard. From there she had an amazing view of the whole place. On her right, was an enormous horse stable that seemed to house twelve horses or more. To her left, she could see the endless fields of corn that had sprouted and were midway of their growth process. In front of them stood the chapel of the hacienda and right in the middle of the plaza a huge stone carved fountain. As she followed the old man, in front of her stood the main house of the hacienda and this was obvious by the way it looked. Tall and thick walls painted with a bright orange color that was well-tended and surrounded by small hedges and flowers of different colors. She was taken to the owner of the hacienda who assigned her the role of working in the kitchen, washing clothes, and taking care of his son and all under the supervision of Olga Gomez Medina who was the key holder and who had a rough personality.
Early on, Cecilia knew that she could not trust Olga with her feelings or anything for she will run and inform the masters of anything that seemed to interfere with her retention of power. This was dangerous because if the main family did not like something Olga told them, they will permit her to take punishment toward the person who committed such an incident. So it was to Cecilia’s best interests to stay away from Olga’s bad temper if she wanted to stay there or alive.
The master and the family were known as criollos under the caste system that the Spaniards had set up. This meant that they were direct descendants of Spanish explorers and the lands that they possess have been passed down from those very first settlers who took this land from the native tribes that used to live in there. In the vicinity of Chapala, they were known as the Velazquez Family. Their family has been working these lands for one hundred years or as the family counts, four generations of Velazquez. Their main earnings come from their fields of corn and henequen and the breeding of horses for the aristocrat families of Guadalajara and surrounding towns. Cecilia and the rest of the workers that live and work in the hacienda refer to them as the Velazqueans.
The main heads of the family are Don Jose Luis Velazquez Escriva and Doña Maria Julia Montemayor de Velazquez. They prefer to be called Don or Doña to show respect to their name and family’s legacy rather than master which sounds more oppressive to them. Don Jose and Doña Maria have created a family of five children and all of them were born in the hacienda. Their elder children are currently living in Guadalajara promoting the products of the hacienda and the other two are studying music and painting in the grand city of Mexico. Their youngest son, Esteban, lives in the extensive ranch and is the same age as Cecilia who is his personal caretaker. Since he was born, Don Jose Luis had decided that Esteban was going to be the heir to the hacienda. Doña Maria was not comfortable with that idea and wanted her son to be cultured and become a great artist but Esteban never became interested in such things and was more active with the activities of the hacienda. This led his mother to lower her stand and accept the decision of her husband.
When Cecilia arrived at the hacienda Esteban was pleased to have someone his age who he can play and who would understand him better. The family liked the work Cecilia performed and became fond of her and treated her like another child of the Velazquez. They taught her how to read, write, and mathematics for which Cecilia learned quickly as she needed to count how many coins she was earning at the hacienda.
The years passed and this differentiated and widened the roles that Esteban and Cecilia had as their responsibilities increased based on the society they lived in. At the age of twenty-four, there was an arrangement for Esteban to marry the daughter of the former mayor of the town, Georgina. This was purposefully done to set the roots for the family to continue its legacy of grandiose deeds and titles and to extend its arms further in the influence they have over the town.
Their wedding was performed quickly since Esteban’s father had fallen ill and his last wish was to see him married off with this woman. So in March, the wedding was held and at the age of twenty-four, Esteban had finally become the owner of Hacienda Woodswallow. A few weeks later Don Jose Luis passed away and his wife was so afflicted by the death of her husband that she decided to move in with her children to Guadalajara thus leaving Esteban and his wife Georgina to be the sole owners of the hacienda.
Their life is normal but not calm, as Esteban is stressed that Georgina could not birth any children for the past two years. This worries Esteban for if she becomes too old she would not be able to birth an heir and thus ending the legacy of the family. A few months pass and like a miracle, Doña Georgina is blessed with the birth of her first child who is a lovely girl and names her Ramona. In 1770, another child is born, this time a male and they name him Jose Luis, in honor of Esteban’s father. That same year on a rainy morning in June, in the service worker’s rooms, Cecilia gives birth to Ignacio and thus changing her fate and everyone else’s.
Gracias por leer!