Interview with Romolo “Romo” Gonzales, oldest attendee at the 2008 Ayala-Gonzales Family Reunion
Conducted by Michael Gonzales
I had made arrangements to meet with Romolo or “Romo” Gonzales, oldest son of Senobio and Juanita Gonzales, grand son of Luciano Gonzales (Victor’s brother) and great-grandson of Abraham Gonzales. Romo was recognized as the oldest member at the 2008 Ayala-Gonzales Reunion at age 96. Romo impressed me with a quickness of mind from the moment our visit began. He immediately wanted me to establish how I related to the family. I told him that I was the grandson of Ramón Gonzales, who was the son of Victor Gonzales. He asked my age and if I had served in the military. I began to wonder who was interviewing whom. Having established who I was, he invited me to join him at one of the picnic tables at Cutler Park to begin our interview.
Romo was born in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico on 17 February 1912. He was brought to the USA in 1914 by his parents as a 2 year old along with his brother Tony who was born in Chihuahua on April 16, 1913. He said that they came to the USA to escape the revolution in Mexico. He doesn’t remember living in Mexico since he was too young when they left there to come to the USA.
Do you remember the stories of how they got to the US? “ Yea, well, they came in a rail boxcar part of the way. On their way to the border some of the family members became separated and got lost from each other. After we got to Los Angeles, my father Senobio looked for them at La Plaza. One day he found my grandfather Luciano and that’s how they became reunited.
“My father Senobio worked for the Santa Fe railroad out of Yuma, Arizona. We then went to Los Angeles. My father planted crops on rented land. I worked for a house mover in Los Angeles for a while, then, we moved to Walnut Creek, California where I worked on a ranch. I then I drove a truck for Navajo Trucking Lines for about 4 years. I drove from San Francisco to Oklahoma, Phoenix, Bakersfield, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas. It was a lonely life, a lonely life. I wouldn’t see my father and mother for about 3-4 months while I was on the road.”
He then married Concha Mejia, his wife on August 26, 1931 in Orange County in Anaheim, California, near where tío Victor lived. He was 20 and Concha was 16 years old. They then moved to Martinez, California where they raised their family. He and his lovely wife celebrated their 77th wedding anniversary in August of 2008.
“I’ve had a good life. We had 4 girls and one boy: Juanita, Margaret, Frances, Julia and Alfred. That’s all we have. Our children are very nice. I remember putting the grand kids on the slide at the park and catching them before they reached the bottom. We have about 20 in the family- children, grand children and great-grand children. The grand children liked to ride in the El Camino and to hear the truck horn. I also took them egg hunting at Easter time. My girls all married Americanos. My boy Alfred said he wanted to marry someone like his mother. He and his children come to see us nearly every day and take care of our needs.”
“I worked for a refinery from the age of 30 to 51. I was the general superintendant for a big refinery along with my partner. We had ten foreman managing crews of ten each. It was a good job. My wife convinced me that I should never work for anybody else so I quit and got a big rig shop, with a big yard and tools and a band saw. We were custom home builders. I worked with my son 30 years.” I asked Romo what he enjoyed most as a young man. He answered that he liked working the most. “Although I can no longer work, my son occasionally still comes to me for assistance with an electrical problem or some other situation. I give him what I think is good advice and he’ll give me a call and explain the steps he took according to the advice I gave him, and that the solution worked perfectly.”
Romo asked if I knew Octaviano’s sons Simon and Margarito. I told him I didn’t. He mentioned that Margarito had a son that was born without arms. He learned to do many things with his feet. He worked in a circus and was known as “Wonder Boy Gonzales”.
He recalled that his grandfather’s brother, Octaviano, was a paymaster in one of the mines in Zacatecas. He never met him because Octaviano stayed in Mexico, but his children (Simon, Margarita, Eulalia, and María) came to the USA. Octaviano’s daughter María Gonzales married Felix Vargas in Mexico. Their children were born in the USA.
Romo inquired about Chuy (Jess) and Juan (John), sons of María and Felix Vargas. I told him that Jess did come to the Reunion. He remembered that his brother, John, was a plasterer in Los Angeles. I told him that John was not well and couldn’t come to the Reunion.
Memories of tío Victor: “Well, he was married to my tía Luisa. She was a very good woman. I remember their children, tío Pancho, tío Teodoro, tío Ramón, tío Julio, tía Luisa and tía Cuca. I remember that tía Luisa looked very much like her mother Luisa, more so than tía Cuca. We stayed with tío Victor for a while after tía Luisa died. After a period of time he married Irinea, followed by Eugenia.” He asked if I knew Luisa. I answered that she had died in 1919 so I never got to know her.
He said again that it’s been a good life. However, he stated that to have a good life, you have to make it so. I asked if he had any counsel (“consejos”) for the family.
“Consejos? : Que cuiden su familia lo mejor que puedan. No anden en cosas que no sirven, verdad, como el tomar, o jugar baraja, para que no dejen su mujer sin que ponerse, ni sus hijos sin que comer.” Translation: "Counsel? Yes, take care of your family the best that you can. Don't get into things that are of no value, like drinking or playing cards, so you don't leave your wife without something nice to wear or your children without anything to eat."
I asked him if he had any goals for the future. He answered, “My wife, Concha and I want to live to celebrate our 80th wedding anniversary. That’s what we’re pulling for, that’s what we’ve wanted.” He added that he enjoys coming to the reunions because it is part of what family is all about. “You don’t see many families like the Gonzales/Ayala families that are helping preserve family ties and the old style traditions.”
Postscript: Sadly, Romo's wife, Concha passed away on 19 December 2008, not long after this interview with Romo, who is still lives with his grandson, Ben as of January 2014.