Today we’re sharing a quilt that’s a wonderful tribute to a father’s life story. Maria Herrera made a quilt depicting her father’s colorful tales about his journey from Mexico to the United States, picking cotton and cucumbers, laying track, meeting Hollywoods stars and piloting planes, blurring the line between tall tale and family history. A very happy Father’s Day to all fathers, whether they’re storytellers, travelers, salesmen, famers or just plain dad!
“My dad is a big storyteller. I wish that I would have been actually able to tell his story more in the quilt, but I’m very happy with how it turned out. He came here in the 1950’s, early 1950’s and he was very fortunate to be one of those immigrants that was able to his papers together and come in with a work permit. My dad’s story is that he crossed the river and that he suffered and he went through everything that all of these immigrants went through. Not that he is making fun or joking about that but I think he wanted his story to sound just as much as the immigrants in how much they suffered. So he crosses over and he comes in on bus, but yet he always say, ‘Oh no, I had to cross the river and it took me days to cross the desert.’ I was always like, ‘Oh my Dad, my poor Dad.’ Then he says that the first place that he stopped after he came over from Mexico is in California. At the time he only had my brother, Richard, three of my oldest, which was Richard, Art, and Maria and he came over–and, oh Emma, I’m forgetting her, and came over into California. He stayed there and worked there for a few years where he states that he met very famous people and he got to know all these singers and now when we watch certain documentaries or stories of old Mexican artists, ‘Oh I met so and so when I was in California when I came over I was so fortunate.’ There is nobody here to prove that since he came by himself. These are all his stories.
That was his first stop, California, Hollywood. He met all these famous people, worked very hard of course. He had to send money back to my mom and the kids. My mom stayed behind, of course, with the rest of his family and her family and he would go back and forth because he had that luxury and I call it a luxury because at the time it probably was. He didn’t have to go through the struggles of crossing over every time as an immigrant and going through the hardship that a lot of people did but he was able to do that. Go back and forth.
His next stop, after he crossed back to Mexico, was New Mexico where he worked in the railroad station for about three years. He explains that he was one of a few Latinos at the time, which weren’t many. There were more African American and Caucasian that they laid down the tracks for the train in a certain part of the state where it was still much desert. That was his job there and he worked there for three years and then he mentioned that a brother of his also joined him and they worked together for three years. Up to this day, we haven’t been able to verify his story.
Since he is now retired, fifteen years, he still insists we need to go back to New Mexico to claim that retirement from the railroads. I Googled. I have gone on the Internet and I cannot seem to find any form of information on that, so he might have struggled on little odd jobs or something or maybe he did work on the railroad but up to now it has become one of his great stories that he keeps talking about. My brothers just go with it and think that is part of his journey and that is how it happened.
He moved into Kansas and did some cotton picking and did some cucumber picking, which is very hard he said. It was extremely hard for him. He said the hours were long and it was very hard work but he always felt that America is a great country to live in. America, my father loves the United States of America. We come from a family of seven brothers and three sisters and I believe I truly believe that if he would have had all boys he probably would have sent them to the service. That’s how much he loves this country because he feels that we need to protect our country. He feels that we have a right to fight and serve our country regardless of what politics are going on. It’s a great country to grow up in. It’s a great country to live in. He absolutely loves this country, very faithful to his country, never says anything wrong, whether the economy is good or is bad or politicians, never. It is always a great country…
He is a mad scientist sometimes where he will try to build something and just doesn’t quite right come out. He will try to lay down grass, you better believe it there is going to be a patch with maybe just sand, a patch of grass, and maybe some weeds on that side and he will be so proud. That is the kind of man that he is. He will try to screw a light bulb and it just won’t work. But he is always proud, he has always been like that. That’s how I know my dad.
A lot of his stories–I know my brothers and sisters some times, especially the older ones get very impatient because they have heard them through their whole lives. I’m forty-one. I can remember my dad’s story from maybe about five [years old.] because he started telling me that when he was in Mexico. Because when you turn eighteen in Mexico, you have to join the service and fulfill your term. I think for two years and my dad would tell me that he was a pilot in the service and that he flew all these mission. I think now sometimes, Mexico didn’t have any pilots in that time. Now I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god all this time I believed my dad was a pilot and he was this great man,’ which he still is. To me those stories are great. All the movie stars that he met in California. All the trains that he probably road on and drove probably himself and all the tracks that he laid from New Mexico to Michigan, that is part of my history now. Even though my brothers and sisters are sometimes just tired of it, I can’t get enough of it and even now as an adult I still love to hear my dad’s stories.
He will be eighty-one this year and he is still telling his stories now even to my sisters and my brothers. Maybe some of those stories might have a little truth to them because he is always telling that story exactly the same. They never change. If he were lying, they would change. They [siblings.] go, ‘Oh you’re crazy. You are turning just like my dad.’ I started now recording my dad’s stories because I want my child–I have one son. He is five. I want him to grow up hearing my dad’s stories because I know that he might get to an age where my dad might be around anymore. I want him to grow up hearing the stories that I grew up hearing because he might not have that opportunity to hear everything…
I felt that I should honor my dad in making a quilt for him. Even though I had no idea how it was going to come out, how I was going to begin this project. I didn’t tell my dad and when I did he almost felt a little embarrassed that I was going to talk about his stories. He was like, ‘Well just don’t tell them everything.’ I was like, ‘I won’t Dad. I will just tell them the ones that most of the family and some of our friends know.’ He said, ‘Okay because I don’t want them to think I’m crazy or anything.’ I said, ‘No, they won’t think that. Everybody knows you. They know how you are.’ I just thought to honor him.”
You can read more quilt stories on the Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories page on the Quilt Alliance website.
Posted by Emma Parker
Project Manager, Quilters’ S.O.S.- Save Our Stories