Back to the Future

My Great-Grandfather Zacarias Tellez Jr. and his documentation

In case you think what’s happening in Arizona is something new, I’d like to share this small bit of my family history with you. As cliche as it is to say, those who do not know history are destined to repeat it. Or is it those that know history remember how to repeat it?

In the early 1900s my great-grandfather Zacarias Tellez Jr. along with his parents and siblings traveled from Arizona to Cananea, Sonora, MX to work in the copper mines. It was a fortuitous journey. It is where he met and married my great-grandmother Matilde. However, returning from one of his trips to Cananea, a strange thing happened…

The Tellezes spent their whole lives traveling around the Southwest working the copper mines: Miami, Lordsburg, Silver City, Morenci, etc. Traveling and moving for work was a multi-generational practice. Zacarias Jr’s grandfather (my great-great-great grandfather Candido) was a freight shipper, moving goods across the Southwest before the arrival of the steam engine train. I imagine the intimate relationship my family had with the geography, the trees, rivers, and buildings all familiar marks of their travels. The roads that ran between Southern Arizona, Southern New Mexico, Chihuahua and Sonora were well-known to the family. This land was their home.

In 1927 on a return trip from Cananea, Zacarias Jr., born in New Mexico, was told he needed to prove his US citizenship. The document above reads:

“Naco, Arizona 3/4/27. Holder hereof returned to Mexico to await securing his birth certificate to prove his claim of US citizenship.”

His “claim”? That’s what gets me. How must he have felt being told he needed to prove he belonged in his home by some Yankee bureaucrat? When he probably knew the Southwest better than most of the recently arrived settlers? Zacarias Jr’s father and mother were both born in Arizona, even his grandparents had been born in the US (except it happened to be Mexico at the time) but he was singled out perhaps because of his name, his color, or maybe because he was bilingual. In today’s unfortunate vernacular one would say “He looked illegal.”

Eventually, he was allowed back home after showing the proper documentation.

“Birth certificate presented showing birth in Lordsburg, NM Dec 13, 1895”

I wish I knew more about this story but unfortunately, Zacarias Jr. died of pulmonary tuberculosis, Miner’s Lung in 1929 while working the copper mines in Miami, AZ. After his death, Matilde, my great-grandmother brought the family to come live with her mother here in Los Angeles.

Nearly eighty years later, this sad occurrence could happen again.

Boycott Arizona!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *