Oral history by: Adolfo Tellez
Date submitted: December, 2011
Emma Villarreal Garza is an extraordinary woman with a life that is both exciting and magnificent. Emma father came from Spain and her grandmother came from Mexico. Emma was born on July 9, 1946 in D’hanis, Texas. D’hanis is a place that is known for its brick making factory and it was also where Emma’s father worked at times. Production, specifically agricultural production, takes a huge place in Emma’s life. In D’hanis, she lived in a little country house on five acres. She and her family would grow corn there to make a living. While living in D’hanis, Emma lost Rodolfo, her eight month old brother, to a high fever and infection. At the time they were no where near a hospital and could not save him. This was a tragedy that her and her family would have to overcome and they would never forget it.
At age 5 Emma and her family moved to a little town called Hondo, Texas. They moved because her father was offered a good job at the Hondo Airbase. While living in Hondo, Emma lost her 3 year old sister to the whooping cough. When they had gone to the hospital, there was no doctor available and by the time there was, it was too late. This loss was especially hard on her father. She remembers him being very sad and depressed due to the fact that he had now lost two children. Unfortunately, this was not the end of their hardship as a family. Emma’s mother later had a miscarriage and soon after that another one of her brothers died shortly after birth having needed a transfusion, but not being able to get a doctor in time. Dealing with these tremendous losses was difficult and Emma’s father suffered from depression for as long as she could remember. At times, he was so depressed that everyone had to work to support the family since he could not work. Just another obstacle that Emma and her family had to prevail over.
Emma remembers that her family never really had a lot of money. She remembers working frequently in the fields with her family. In fact, they had to work in the fields during their summer vacation to be able to pay to go back to school. If they did not work, they would not go to school. Emma in particular despised working in the fields because she had headache and back problems and she especially disliked the fields when she had to pick broom corn and cotton. She describes this material as being very itchy and because they would work during the summer, it was also very hot. So, Emma considered herself very lucky because her mother would let her stay home instead of going to work in the fields. Emma was not the kind of girl to be lazy. She did all of the housework while everyone was off in the fields and she would always have dinner ready when they came home. She could take care of a newborn baby and essentially do anything that needed to be done. At age twelve, Emma was a very responsible young woman. At age fourteen she got her first boyfriend.
She quit school at age 15 to get a job so she could support herself and relieve financial pressure from her parents. Becoming an adult at this age was a difficult obstacle for Emma, but just as she survived other barriers, she would survive this one as well. Because she had experience being a housekeeper, she got a job being a maid. She was hired by a family. She took care of two children in the family and she did the housework. She recollects leaving on a Friday and coming back on Monday to see the dishes piled up to the top of the sink. She also remembers having to iron a lot of clothes and one thing she regrets remembering was how much underwear she had to iron. She was paid an hourly wage of fifty cents an hour. The job was not easy, but she worked hard and made a living. Despite everything she had to go through as a child, Emma still says that she had a happy childhood.
January of 1965, and six months after she turned 18, Emma met a man named Rodolfo Costilla Tellez. Rodolfo had just gotten out of the National Guard. Six months after they met, they got married. They got married in Mexico on July 2, 1965. Rodolfo’s parents were in Wisconsin in the fields and Emma decided not to tell her parents until after. Later she found out that her parents would have given them their blessing and in fact wanted to see the wedding. Emma’s parents gave Rodolfo and Emma their blessing as soon as they found out they were married. At a young age, you would think Emma was fearful of entering a marriage, but she was not afraid at all. She knew how to be a mother.
They lived in Rodolfo’s home town Uvalde, Texas. Except for Mexico, Emma had not ventured out of Texas in her life until Rodolfo decided to take her to Harrisville, Wisconsin to pick cucumbers. A month after they got married Emma spent, what she sarcastically calls her honeymoon, picking cucumbers in Wisconsin. This began their travels and search for jobs in the agricultural industry. After a month of picking cucumbers in Harrisville, they went to Washington Island, Wisconsin to pick potatoes. Rodolfo would drive the wagons that gathered the potatoes and Emma would separate the rocks from the potatoes in the harvesting machine.. They would have to take the ferry 7 miles to and from the island every time they needed to go somewhere. After she got pregnant, the ferry created problems for Emma, so she and Rodolfo went back to Uvalde. On June 20, 1966, Emma and Rodolfo had their first son. He was born eight pounds and five ounces and he was named Rodolfo Tellez Jr. after his father but, they just called him Junior.
Two weeks before Emma gave birth to Junior, she went to Minnesota to work in the sugar beat fields. They worked until the end of the harvest and after it was over they moved back to Uvalde. For about 2 years they lived in Uvalde and tried to make a living and start a family. They then moved to Hondo and while in they were there, Emma became pregnant again and on January 29, 1970 Adolfo Tellez was born. With now two sons, Emma and Rodolfo searched for more way to support their family. They traveled back to Harrisville, Wisconsin and picked cucumbers for six months. In Harrisville they were able to afford their first car. It was a 1956 Chevy and it only cost two hundred and fifty dollars. Then after that they went to Illinois to pick tomatoes. Once the tomato harvest was over, they went back to Hondo in their ’56 Chevy.
When Adolfo was just one year old, Rodolfo was drafted into the Army and sent to Germany. Emma sent letters to the person in charge of discharging explaining that she needed Rodolfo to help take care of their children. Three months after he was sent to Germany he received a hardship discharge and was able to return home to his family. Rodolfo became a beer salesman in Uvalde from 1973 to 1974, but in 1974 he got into a brutal fist fight with another beer salesman who attacked him with a knife. He could not work in Uvalde after this because he had a cut wrist that made his hands weak. After this it was near impossible for either of them to find a job. At first they moved to Hondo to avoid more conflict, but after they lost their jobs they needed to do something and they needed to do something fast.
On June 13, 1975 Emma and her family moved to California because they heard from a friend that there were more job opportunities there. They made the long journey from Texas to California by car. They traveled in a 1962 Pontiac that made it all the way to California. Emma and Rodolfo found work in California and were able to continue raising their family. Emma took jobs such as working in the canneries and picking cherries. Rodolfo found jobs in maintenance. Emma was not done making her family yet. She became pregnant again and on March 27, 1978 she had Arnulfo Tellez. Three days before she gave birth, she and her mother were in a car accident. Fortunately Emma only suffered from a minor neck injury, but regrettably her mother broke her collar bone. Her mother had been visiting from Texas at the time. Her mother recovered very slowly over the years and Emma now had a family with three boys. In 1979 Emma went back to Texas for a Rodolfo’s grandmother’s funeral and decided to stay for eight months. Then they went back to California where Rodolfo got a very good full time job from his former boss, Denis Dobell, who also gave them an apartment to reside. Through the midst of all of this, one thing Emma will never forget is the birth of her first grandchild. Junior had his first son on October 22, 1985. He named him Rodolfo Tellez III after himself and his father, and they knew him as Baby Rudy. Emma marked this as an unforgettable time in her life.
Life was going well for Emma and Rodolfo, until Denis died and his sons took over his business. The Dobell sons were not as nice as their father and fired Rodolfo and took away their apartment. Unable to find work, Emma and Rodolfo went back to Hondo, Texas. In 1988 Adolfo graduated from high school and Emma was proud to be a mother of such wonderful children. Everything seems to be going well until Emma found out that she has breast cancer. In June of 1988 she has a mastectomy. After the surgery, Emma had though long and hard about her marriage. She was not being treated well and decided that she wanted to leave Rodolfo. After this thought goes through her head she immediately started treatment and underwent chemotherapy for four months, losing her hair in the process. She eventually becomes stable and goes on with her life being even more thankful for what she has.
After this point in her life, Emma decided to leave Rodolfo due to marital problems and she would move back to California with Arnulfo. In June of 1989, she did just that. Most of her family was now in California, but she lived on her own with Arnulfo. In 1992, Emma finally divorced Rodolfo and moved on. A little before that she met a man named Franny. He became her boyfriend and in fact he was the one who took her to sign her divorce papers. In 1996 she and Franny moved to Watsonville together and lived there for four years. In December of 2000 Emma left Franny and moved back to Texas to live with her mother. She lived with her mother for three years and eight months.
In September of 2003, Emma lost her brother Raul to a heart attack. Two months later she lost her sister Stella to brain damage as a result of five strokes. Emma experienced a lot of sorrow and pain from these losses and she will never forget her siblings. In January of 2004, Emma met a man named Pablo Garza. On October 4, 2004 she moved in with Pablo in Kerrville, Texas. In January of 2005, Emma lost her brother Rodolfo, named after her first brother. Again she was sad, but she continued on. Lastly in April of 2007, Emma lost her mother to a stroke. There is no doubt that Emma knows first hand the value of life.
In 2008, Emma became a substitute teacher and shortly after that she was able to retire on a disability claim. In 2009 Emma married Pablo Garza. In 2011 Emma was able to spend Thanksgiving with all three sons, something that has not happened for quite a while. She was extremely grateful. Emma is now visiting her family in California and jumping from house to house to see as many people she loves as possible. She one day hopes to get off disability and start working again to support herself.
Throughout her life Emma struggled with losing family members, supporting herself at a young age and constantly looking for work to survive. Emma had a hard life, but she made the best of what she had and what she has now. One thing that I learned from Emma was to always be thankful, even in hard times, because you never know when your last day will be.