An American Family

It was 1914. The Mexican Revolution had turned their world upside down. They made a momentous decision, a decision millions had made before them. They would move to America, to begin a new life.

On the afternoon of All Souls’ Day, 1979, Walter Martínez and his wife, Martha, left their office on Buena Vista Street in San Antonio’s West Side barrio and set off through the gusty weather for Grandfather Cecilio’s house, taking an indirect route to see the flower stands. The rain and cold of late autumn always left the barrio bare, austere, revealed. The banked rows of flowers that had emerged almost overnight on the street corners and blanketed the San Fernando Cemetery provided welcome splashes of color. Elsewhere the barrio appeared seamed and sere.


The previous night, congregations from many barrio churches, including Our Lady of Guadalupe, where Martha and Walter had been married in July, had marched through the streets to the cemeteries, carrying candles and singing hymns to honor the memory of those who had gone before. Walter and Martha did not march in the processions, nor did they regularly attend mass. Like other young Mexican American couples, they have ambivalent feelings about religion, are pulled between secular America and the enveloping Church of their ancestors. The collision of cultural values has affected many areas of Walter and Martha’s life. They have had to determine what in their Mexican heritage should be put aside and what is of value for the way they live today.


Often the choices are basic. Are they Mexican Americans, Mexicans, Hispanics, Americans of Mexican descent, Chicanos, Spanish Americans, Latin Americans, or Spanish-speaking Americans? What language do they speak and to whom? In a single afternoon on the West Side one can use English; proper Spanish, with its stilted forms, to the elderly; middle-generation Spanish, laced with anglicisms, to businessmen; and the pachuco patois of the street, with its

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