By Desirée Mata
Aurora Estrada Orozco was only about 4 years old when she came to the United States due to the unrest in Mexico. Her father, Lorenzo Estrada, worked as a bookkeeper at an American gold, silver and coal mining company in Serralvo, Nuevo Leon, until Pancho Villa's men started sabotaging production. The company, known to Orozco only as "La Fundacion," decided to leave and offered Lorenzo a position in Mercedes, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley.
"We were very happy because we were coming to the United States," said Orozco, who clearly remembers the culture shock she went through when arriving in the States.
"In Mexico we were living better, but then we came to the U.S. and we had to start all over, and we didn't know how to speak English," she recalled.
The Orozcos lived on a ranch, where Orozco’s older brothers and sisters worked picking cotton. She started going to an American school, but says she didn’t understand a word of English then. As a result, Orozco’s parents moved her to a private Mexican school until she knew how to read and write in Spanish, hoping it would then be easier to learn English.
When Orozco was 9 years old and in second grade, she transferred to North Ward Elementary. But even then, the only time she used English was at school -- at home and in her neighborhood, only Spanish was spoken.
"We wouldn't speak English anymore until the next day when we came back to school," Orozco said. "We were living like in Mexico."
Orozco clearly remembers the discrimination she suffered at school. She says she and her group of Mexican friends would sit in a corner of the cafeteria because they were ashamed.
"The whites would make fun of us because we were eating taquitos," Orozco said.
They took their homemade lunches because they didn’t get the free tickets Anglo children received to eat at the school cafeteria, she says.
"They would give tickets to the whites, so we took our taquitos," said Orozco, adding that she never learned why the school supposedly only gave tickets to Anglos.
Like most others, young Aurora's family had financial problems during the Depression. She and her brothers and sisters had to start working when they were young. Orozco says she started picking cotton with her father when she was 10.
"Even the white people from the northern states used to come down to the Valley, and they used to come [to] the neighborhood ... asking for food," she recalled.
Orozco remembers her family giving food. She says the people in Mercedes called them trampas because they jumped on trains and came asking for food in the Mexican barrios.
It was a time when most people didn’t have telephones, and largely found out what was happening by listening to the radio. Orozco was 21 when the war started. She remembers her father told everybody to gather around the radio that they had in the living room to listen to Roosevelt talk about it. Pretty soon, people knew young men would be called to serve.
"They called my brother and they called my cousin to go to war," Orozco said.
The Army also called Lauro Galvan -- her brother-in-law, married to her sister, Alicia -- to serve in the Pacific. Orozco’s brother, Roberto, fought in the Battle of the Bulge as an Army infantryman and her cousin, Amador Sanchez, was an Army medic stationed at a hospital in England.
Roberto Estrada, Orozco’s elder brother, told her about his experiences on the battlefield, even though he didn’t like to talk about it.
"Everyone was crying. Everyone was thinking about their family," Orozco wrote the Project after her interview. "They didn't know if they were going to make it. The Germans were waiting for them."
She says Roberto was 45 miles away from Berlin when the war ended. He brought home the boots he used throughout the war and told her "sometimes they were full of blood, sometimes they were full of mud, but he just kept them on," recalled Orozco, adding that Roberto was awarded a Silver Star for saving another soldier's life.
During the conflict, people in Mercedes often went to the train station to say goodbye to the boys who were leaving.
"We didn't have fiestas anymore," Orozco said.
The townspeople cried often and the Christmas holidays were sad. The Brownsville Herald was the newspaper that published the names of men who were wounded or dead. The post offices would mimeograph the list and post it in the window, and local people were constantly reading it, Orozco recalls.
In Mercedes, the first war dead was Miguel Gonzalez, a neighbor of Orozco's. It was the first military funeral the small town had seen.
Orozco also recalls rationing.
"You couldn't buy leather shoes,” she said. “The government wanted people to save the leather for the soldiers.”
As a result, she says she and her family would go to Mexico and buy huaraches, as well as sugar and other supplies they couldn’t get in the U.S.
Orozco also recalls not having butter at that time, and oleo margarine getting introduced to the American public as a substitute.
Since there weren’t enough men in Mercedes to do all the work that had to be done, Orozco and her sisters began holding various jobs. Among the work she recalls being available was making buttons from seashells and stitching uniforms for the military.
Orozco also recalls men from Mexico starting to come over.
"They were there illegally, but they let them stay anyway because there was so much work and there was nobody to do it," she said.
Orozco says wartime made a difference for her and other women. Whereas before the conflict, it was considered a disgrace for women to work outside of the home, it became the norm during the war years. Also, Orozco says she and her sisters were allowed to date during the war, but there were no men to go out with. She even recalls a local store owner saying girls would go to her business to look at her male manikins to remember what boys looked like.
After the war was over, Orozco says people went to the train station once again to greet their boys.
"Some of them were crippled, some of them were blind and some of them would have one arm," recalled Orozco, adding that people were simply glad the men were coming back alive.
In 1949, Orozco met her husband, Primitivo Orozco Vega, an immigrant from Guadalajara, Mexico, at Our Lad of Mercy's Jamaica, a Mexican fiesta.
Orozco and Primitivo faced discrimination. At one point, the couple sat in the white section of a movie theater. When she learned later about the segregated seating arrangement, she shrugged it off as ridiculous.
"My money is as good as their money," Orozco reasoned.
Another time, Orozco and Primitivo needed $150 to buy supplies for his shoemaking shop. Responding to a newspaper ad, Orozco visited a man who made short-term loans. But the man, an Anglo, told her he couldn’t lend them the money because he didn’t lend to Latinos or blacks because "they didn't know how to pay."
Orozco recalls responding that he should have specified that in his ad. When he commented he didn’t like her tone of her voice, Orozco says she responded:
"Maybe I was the one who had to come and talk to you like that."
When she left for her husband's workplace, the man called and told her he was going to lend them the money. She says they've become close friends since then.
"You have to speak out in these little towns," Orozco said.
The Orozcos have four daughters and two sons, all of whom have graduated from college. Primitivo died Oct. 4, 1989.
Mrs. Orozco was interviewed in Austin, Texas, on October 17, 2003, by Desirée Mata.