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Words from the Wise: A Baker Tells Her Family Story

New America Media, New Feature, As told to Carlos Cota Estevez Posted: Jun 29, 2009

Editor's Note: Blanca Valle Paz, 61, works in La Mexicana, bakery that her older brother owns in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. Paz helps create authentic breads and pastries of her home country. She told her story in Spanish of hard work and surviving economic hardship to NAM contributor Carlos Cota Estevez.

I got here around 30 years ago from a little town called Atlixco, in Puebla, Mexico. My older brother was the one who started this business 37 years ago. Then, all the family came, one by one. Now we are split. We were 14 brothers, six living in the United States, four living back in Puebla, and two are dead.

I started to work when I was eight years old. That is the way of life if you are poor in Mexico. No school, just work. That is the main reason we came to the United States, to progress, to have a better future for our children.

I have three sons. My older son lives in Mexico. My other son, who is 36 years old, works here with us. I have to get home early to serve him dinner. We love him and treat him like a little child. My younger daughter is going to university to become a pediatrician.

I get up at 3:00 a.m. and come here to the bakery to help. We bake every morning to have nice, fresh bread. That is the key to our success. I get out of here at 1:30 p.m. and go home to prepare dinner.

To get the authentic flavor of Mexican sweet bread (pan de dulce), we hired Mexican bread makers. You cant do it without them. It is like the mole poblano: only someone from Puebla knows how to make it. Its so complicated, you know, it has too many ingredients, too many spices, several different types of chilli. You have to smash them in an old mill. You just cant do that here, right?

The economic crisis has affected this business really hard. On one hand, I dont see the same number of regular customers, you know, the ones that used to come everyday. On the other hand, our customers are spending $6 instead of $10.

Personally, I used to spend $20 on my groceries. Now, I'm spending around $30 or $40. Everything is more expensive now, and I'm making the same amount of money, so it is hard.

I think its harder to be in Mexico. My son is there and he had a hard time since he was young. First, he went to the military school to get a degree in civil engineering so he could build houses. He was three months away from graduating when the conflict against Marcos (EZLN, the Zapatistas guerrilla movement in 1994) started. He didn't want to fight against his own people, so he abandoned the Army.

One of his closest friends, from his generation, was shot to death by the EZLN in an ambush in Texcoco.

The war is awful, more so when the army goes against its own people. My grandmother, Trinidad Toledo, was an indigenous Yaqui tribe member from Cocorit, in Sonora state. She only spoke in their dialect. My grandfather was an army official, and he was sent to Sonora to fight in the Revolution in 1910.

They met each other and fell in love. My grandfather taught my grandmother to speak Spanish. My grandmother's family didn't want my grandfather. Imagine that. He was an army official and they were the people in the Revolution times. They were like enemies.

They ran away to the south of the country, where my grandfather abandoned the army and my grandmother abandoned her family. They moved north, to the United States, running away from the war. My grandfather was always hiding his identity because after the Revolution soldiers used to be persecuted by the people.

My grandmother died really young. I met her, thanks to an old photo. She was tall, with long legs, brown skin, long hair, a really beautiful woman.

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