Obituary: Maria Torres Avalos
[Eulogy delivered by David Avalos, Maria’s son, during the funeral mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Old Town National City.]
Thank you all, family and friends, for gathering together to give back to Maria Torres Avalos some of the love that she shared with us throughout her life, to celebrate her memory with this mass, and then to return her body to the earth mother. I want to thank my brother, Victor, and my sisters, Didi, Monica, Peggy and Delores for coming together as Mom would have wanted us to, with quiet dignity, respect, gratitude and the knowledge that her spirit is finally free. I especially thank my wife Veronica and my children Xima, Tona, Graciano and Adrian.
We gather together, all of us who have been sustained and surrounded by her generous love to share that love with each other.
My mother was married to Santos Urquizo Avalos for 68 years. Today is the 11th anniversary of his death. He’s been waiting for her. It’s a glorious example of our mother’s kindness that she managed to arrange for her exhausted body to rest next to his today, even, as her spirit dances the Charleston with him in heaven. A couple held together now and forever by faith and love.
Her absolute belief in her religion was equaled only by her complete devotion to her family. Her faith and love combined to create an exceptional resilience that enabled her to embrace tragedy and hardship, as well as life’s simple joys and triumphs for 102 years. Her legacy to her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, as well as her sister Bernarda, cousins, nieces and nephews is exactly that resilience.
If you ever face a challenge so fearsome that you want to give up – pray to her.
Maria Torres Avalos crossed the border as an infant. Born on June 8, 1911 in Teocaltiche, Jalisco she was carried into USAmerica on December 4th of that year. Her mother, Dolores Gomez, feared that her younger brother Graciano, Maria’s uncle, would be forced into the violence of the Mexican revolution. She and her husband, Felipe Torres, fled Mexico with her entire family including her sister Carmen and their mother, Cleofas. Their journey took them to Los Angeles and eventually to National City in 1918.
My cousin Tuti and I were looking at the wonderful slide show put together by Ray when Tuti noticed an old, official US Government document that identified Mom as born in the USA – the document was signed by Mom.
¡Hey, Raza sí, Migra no!
The entire family was stricken with the flu in 1918 and at seven years of age she lost her father to the epidemic that killed over 50 million people worldwide. In 2009 when the same flu virus H1N1 returned her doctor told her that she didn’t need a vaccine because she had survived the global epidemic in 1918.
Maria Torres Avalos was not an angel or a saint – she was an exceptional human being who took on her everyday responsibilities with extraordinary skill, intelligence and love. To be as generous as she was she had to be tough and understanding, no-nonsense but fair, she had to use judgment without passing judgment.
She communicated her high standards with the sharpness of a straight razor.
For example, when Didi and Victor were children, every Easter my Mom would take them for an outing to the San Diego Zoo dressed in their finest Easter clothes. On the way to the seal pond, as they walked down a path that curved around a sharp slope, Didi became impatient and decided to strike out on her own. She stepped onto the slope, immediately lost her balance, made a desperate attempt to hug a tree, tripped and tumbled over and over just barely avoiding rolling into the pond. Mom and Victor continued on the path in a slow, deliberate way. When they arrived where Didi was desperately trying to shake off the soil and leaves, our Mom didn’t pass judgment, in fact she didn’t even look at Didi, instead she looked at Victor and said to him quietly, “would you like some ice cream, son.” Didi didn’t dare raise her eyes to look at Mom.
Now, that’s quiet dignity and tough love.
Victor considers our mother a financial genius. He remembers a depression era notebook Mom used to keep track of my Dad’s income. At the time he worked as a caddy in Chula Vista and TJ. Mom’s notes would read something like Monday, 25¢; Tuesday, 25¢; Wednesday, [a good day], 50¢; and on weekends if Dad had two loops 75¢ and even $1.25 if he caddied for a big tipper. With this she made house payments, while managing a home for her husband and two children.
As a Guadalupana she worked tirelessly on behalf of St. Anthony’s church, helping with the maintenance of the church, teaching Catechism and making tamales for the parish booth at the 4th of July fair. Maria’s devotion to her family led to her political activism in the 1950s when a corrupt city council initiated an urban renewal project that threatened homes in Old Town National City. She joined others who had organized to defend the neighborhood. That city council is long gone – until just a few days ago she had lived in the same house for 90 years.
Years ago my mother told me she wanted to hear her eulogy while she was still alive and it would do some good, not when she was gone and couldn’t hear it.
Here’s what I told her: Your love could swallow the desert and create a tide that would lift us all above life’s desperate times. Your love always set a place at the table for everyone.
And now, let me add, we can all rejoice because a place has been set for her in heaven.
[Comments made by Annette Clifton Arehart, great-granddaughter of Cleofas Alonzo Gomez, at San Diego’s Holy Cross Cemetery following an open invitation from Father Farrell to those gathered at the gravesite.]
My grandmother was one of the six who traveled from Mexico to the El Paso, Texas port of entry in 1911. We have the documents, not originals, but copies of the papers they signed when they came into this country. This is very important for me to share with those of you who are related to Maria Avalos. My cousins Rosanna Vasquez, Anthony Salazar and I did research on our family history back to Teocaltiche, Jalisco. We were fortunate to spend many Sundays with Maria taping her stories from years past as she remembered them. My uncle Blas Peña who was 90 at the time, passed away this year too. He would come and share what he remembered with Maria.
This is the end of an era. Of the six who originally came into this country, Maria is the last. She is buried in this cemetery along with her grandmother Cleofas, her mother Dolores, her uncle Graciano and her aunt Carmen, who was my grandmother. Her father Felipe Torres is buried in a park elsewhere in San Diego. Look around and realize that none of us would be here if not for their courage. All of us who are related to Maria are strong women and men, because our ancestor Cleofas had the foresight to make the trek from Mexico to this country. If not for her strength and resilience none of us would be living in America. When life get’s tough remember we are from a strong and resilient breed of women.