Sebastiana Ramírez Rodríguez
Community and church activist
My Grandmother, La Señora Sebastiana Ramirez Rodríguez
María Antonietta Rodríguez Berriozábal
Sebastiana Rocha Ramirez was born in Ibarilla, León, Guanajuato, Mexico, on January 20, 1886, in La Hacienda Ibarilla. The hacienda’s history went back to the time of the Spanish Viceroys when large expanses of land were given to families who were connected to the Spanish Crown and in turn they could be of service to that royalty. These haciendas consisted of large and ostentatious homes that could even have their own chapel, schools, “company store” and at times millions of acres of land. They were a working farm with horses, cows, chickens and other animals that helped sustain the compound. The labor for the run of the haciendas was provided by the indigenous peoples of the area. Some could be called tenant farmers who remained indebted to the hacendados (the owners of the hacienda) for life or they could be peons who had almost slave-like existence. The hacendados provided simple houses, actually huts, for the servants to live in. The Ramirez family was part of the population of Chichimecas who worked the hacienda’s fields, took care of its stock and generally did the “outside work” of the hacienda, as opposed to the servants who were the “inside workers” doing the cleaning, cooking and general care of the house. Sebastiana learned to love the outdoors but her existence was still the life of a servant. She did not receive any formal education. Ibarilla’s textile factory was Sebastiana’s workplace when she was a young woman. This work was unusual for women but Sebastiana was ahead of her time. At age 19, Sebastiana was not married and was considered a “spinster.”
That changed when she met Felix Cervantes Rodríguez who also worked at the factory. As a child, Felix had been a shepherd. The only romance story that I have heard is that Felix and Sebastiana sat at the same working table and played “footsie” under that table. The work romance ended in marriage probably at the Church of Señor del Perdón in Ibarilla in León, Guanajuato. Their first child, Glafira, died at a very young age. Their second child, Apolinar, my father, was born on January 8, 1910 – a year that would change the life of the young family and Mexico. In September of 1910 Sebastiana and Felix traveled to Mexico City to participate in the one hundredth anniversary of the Mexican Independence of 1810. For the protection of her baby Sebastiana did not attend the desfile which President Porfirio Díaz led, but my grandfather, Felix, did.
Things moved fast after that. My father’s U.S. Admission Card is dated November 4, 1910, which marks the entry of the parents and son into a new life. It is ironic that the land they would soon call home had been part of Mexico before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848. In a way the young family became strangers in their own land. About two weeks after the family’s entry into the U.S. the Mexican Revolutionary War commenced. Millions would die in that war but Felix, Sebastiana and my father along with thousands and thousands of Mexicans would flee to the United States as a result of the war violence. In Martindale, Texas, they joined Felix’s widowed mother María Cervantes Rodríguez who was already in the United States with her other children. She had insisted that Felix join them. Later the family moved to Lockhart, Texas. It is in the stories I heard as a child of my grandmother’s life in Lockhart, Texas, that a picture started to form in my mind of this faith-filled woman who was also a very brave and tenacious woman. For many years I have known that one of those stories shaped my life. It is what was called in whispers when women chatted el tiempo de los enfermos. That my grandmother survived and even thrived after that pain was a great lesson for me in the power women have.
Felix and Sebastiana had eight more children in Lockhart. Six boys and two girls. Six of the children would grow into maturity, some living well into their 90s, but two would die young. Gregorio died in June of 1934 at the age of 18. My grandfather Felix died on March 17, 1937, at the age of 51. My grandmother was 50. She then lost another son, Felix, Jr., on December 17, 1937. They all had caught the dreaded tuberculosis which was a very contagious disease. The symptoms were weight loss, fevers, sweats, wheezing and bloody choking coughs. Sebastiana took care of them until their death. My father built a small hut out in the fields to quarantine the patient when the time came. It was in that hut that Sebastiana fed and tended to the needs of three very ill men. The whole family had to be on uarentena, meaning they all had to be quarantined and away from others.