I passed by my grandparents’ old bakery in the Segundo Barrio yesterday. I was trying to evade traffic that had built up on i-10 because of some semi-truck that caught fire. I was a little lost, but then stumbled upon a site that I have faint memories of…Pena’s Bakery.
I was the last born cousin in my generation of the family. I remember being held by my grandmother inside of the bakery and smelling sweet things. I also remember eating candy cigarettes and being allowed to play in a pile of $2.00 bills.
My grandmother, Consuelo, and grandfather, Ricardo, owned a small bakery at the South end of Downtown El Paso, an area we call the “Segundo Barrio”. I hear stories about the bakery from my sisters and cousins. They were older children and teenagers while the bakery was thriving. I got to see it at the closing stages as a toddler. I wanted to be born earlier.
When I passed by yesterday, I had a few emotions come up for me: nostalgia, longing, sadness, lastima, regret, and disappointment.
Each of these emotions pulled at my heart like a small child pulling on helium balloon from below. I was sad because I miss my grandmother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimers when I was in high school and has since passed away. Lastima from thinking about the state of my grandmother when I last saw her. I felt a longing because I never really got to spend too much time with my grandfather, who had a stroke and was unable to bake after that. He died when I was three. I wish I could have known them at my current age and how they made the bakery work….regret.
The thing that pained me the most about seeing the bakery in its current state is the building’s poor condition. From what I understand, my grandmother sold the bakery to a cousin of hers. Then, I think she sold it to someone outside of our family. After that, I lost track of the details. All I know is that now, the bakery looks like it’s closed …although it might be open.
After looking at the dilapidated building, I thought of how our family is keeping this legacy alive. My grandparents were lower middle class workers who wanted the best for their family. My grandmother apparently worked at a lot of places (not sure if all at once) but tended to the bakery mostly. My grandfather was in the Navy and served during WWII.
I try to make my own parents proud everyday. My dad worked full time (and more) at a local refinery (for 33 years total) while my mom raised me at home. This could not have been easy for either one of them. I make sure to thank them every chance I can for the opportunities they created for me with their sacrifices. My father immigrated to the US from Mexico when he was four years old. My mom lived in the Segundo barrio. They both began working well before they turned 16 years old. I want to carry their legacy. I may not have a bakery and I may not have joined the military like my father did…but, one of the reasons I work so hard today is to leave a legacy behind as well. I hope that if I ever have children, they treasure what their ancestors sacrificed and worked so hard for. I would hate for them to squander it, although, I would have no control over that.
Now that I have written about this experience and processed it, I am actually so very thankful for my ancestors. I am thankful that they were BRAVE enough to migrate North. I am thankful that they were VIRTUOUS enough to join the military. I am glad they DEDICATED their lives to working so hard to build empires. I am thankful that my dad SACRIFICED years of work that allowed my mom to stay home and raise me.
Because of all the seeds my ancestors planted, my cousins and I are the plants that are bearing fruit. I hope to be a big orange tree. And I hope I make you proud, Nana and Welito.