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"Mexicans in Tempe" by Santos C. Vega

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New book chronicles Mexicans heritage in Tempe

by Srianthi Perera - Mar. 13, 2009 01:48 PM

The Arizona Republic

Flora Martinez was the storyteller of Tempe's Mickey Mouse barrio in the 1950s, when television and affordable movies were yet to thrive. After a day working the farm fields, Martinez would sweep the dirt area under a large tree and prepare for the barrio children to sit: They would then learn about their Mexican heritage.

In "Mexicans in Tempe," Santos C. Vega gives vignettes of pioneering Mexicans, such as Martinez, and their role in developing the city. The book, published by Arcadia Publishing under the "Images of America" series, contains a footprint of the city with nearly 200 black-and-white historical photographs.

Chapters featuring traditions, celebrations, work, military service, organizations, children, education and sports are followed by the settlers' legacy and their remembrances.

Vega, a professor emeritus at the Hispanic Research Center, Arizona State University, has lived in Tempe with his wife, Josephine, since 1989. He has interviewed and recorded oral histories of his people.

"Today's generations have so much to appreciate past generations that got them to where they are today," Vega said. "Through the 1800s, the heritage and culture was passed along, and their way of life continues strong and vibrant. To me, that's important."

Although the book harkens to the Aztecs as the beginnings of the Mexican influence in the region, it begins pictorially with early Mexican settlers who first settled in the 1890s at the base of a butte near the Salt River called the San Pablo. The settlers were industrious and soon began work in agriculture, meatpacking, ranching, dairy farming and flour milling and in building canals, churches, schools and other civic edifices in Tempe.

San Pablo was relocated by eminent domain and moved to Escalante, Phoenix, Victory Acres, Mesa and other areas. In this way, the settlers contributed their labor to these surrounding Valley areas.

Among their descendants, called Tempeneņos, is Irene Gomez Hormell, a storyteller herself.

Hormell's maternal and paternal ancestors were Tempe pioneers and are pictured in the book. Her great grandfather, Walter Wilson Jones, was a medical doctor who also ranched in Tempe. A man of high esteem, he was a negotiator for Arizona and New Mexico to become states. Her grandfather, Jesus Gomez, was a vaquero who imparted his knowledge of rearing horses in the desert to Arizonans. Her father, Floyd Jones Gomez, was a cowboy who contributed also to the cattle industry here.

It was a much harder life then, Hormell concedes.

"Things were going great for us as teens, much better than things were when they were young," she said. "In each generation, it got better. I feel that because of their foundation, they taught us to be conservative. I feel very proud. They did sacrifice a lot, and taught us their values to carry on and looked at the positive things in their lives."


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