Life, Love, and Marriage in a Texas Colonia

The Texas Story Project.

As a boy, I remember waking up to the wonderful aroma of cafecito and homemade flour tortillas cooking for breakfast.  Hearing my mami and papi talking softly and lovingly to each other was common. Often the conversation was interrupted by my mother's playful laughter after my dad had told her a funny story about their children, or work, or some of the locals. My father was a very jovial and fun-loving person. There is really no better way for a child to wake up in the mornings. I, of course, am talking about waking up to feeling the love his parents had for each other, and not about the smell of cafe and tortillas, although that was an added bonus.

Other times, they would argue incessantly about what I thought were trivial things. My mother always needed to win the arguments. She had to get in the "last word" sometimes even when my father had walked out of the room or was already in his truck and driving away. At times they would disagree so much that I often asked why they even got married and whether they even loved each other at all.

I was raised in Edroy, Texas, a small South Texas colonia in San Patricio County. Edroy is about ten miles northwest of Corpus Christi, Texas located along Interstate 37. The San Antonio Uvalde Gulf (SAUG nicknamed "the Sausage") Railway transects Edroy. The Sausage connects San Antonio to the Port of Corpus Christi. Edroy was settled in the early 1900's, about the time the railroad was completed.  

The State of Texas defines a colonia as "a small residential area that may lack some of the most basic living necessities, such as potable water, adequate sewer systems, electricity, paved roads and a safe and sanitary housing." Today most colonias are located along the US/Mexico border. In Texas they are most commonly located along on the United States side along the Rio Grande River. 

Edroy is an agriculture community, and is surrounded by fields where cotton, sorghum (milo), maize, and cattle are raised. The colonia has had cotton gins, grain elevators, and cattle feedlots in operation. Many of them remain open today. In the mid-1900s it was a major vegetable producing and shipping area. Vegetables, cotton, and other goods were shipped via the "Sausage" to northern markets. The Sausage transported people as well. 

Throughout its history, the population of Edroy has been between 200 and 500, but was estimated to have reached approximately 10,000 during peak vegetable harvest seasons in the mid-1900s. The majority of the people living in Edroy were Tejano and a few were Anglos. The Tejanos were ranch and farm workers. They worked as vaqueros, and desenraizeros (grubbers) uprooting mesquite trees with talaches (similar to a pickax) and machetes clearing land for farming. They worked in the azadon (hoeing weeds), and they harvested many agricultural products including cotton, onion and maize. They worked in the cotton gins, grain elevators, and cattle feedlots.

Many Edroy Tejano families like other Tejanos at the time were migrant workers traveling to various parts of the United States working in agriculture. Adults of all ages and children picked cotton in Texas, citrus in Florida, potatoes in Idaho and strawberries in California to name a few. Because these children were displaced from their schools for much of the year, obtaining a formal education was especially difficult.

My mother was Maria de la Luz Carranza (1928-2002). She was born in Helena, Texas in 1928. Her mother died of tuberculosis (TB) in 1939 when she was eleven years old. After her death they moved south from Helena to Sinton, Texas. My father was Amando P. Soto (1924-1994). He was born in Beeville, Texas. His family moved to a farm just north of Edroy in the early 1930's. His father died of tetanus in 1936 when he was twelve years old. At this time, they lived in row housing. At least three of these dwellings are on various farms in San Patricio County. They are presently abandoned. These were multifamily, community housing provided by the farmers. They had community showers and outhouses. Cooking was done over campfires.

The demand for better and more permanent living prompted many Tejanos to colonize small towns and cities. Many of those including my widowed grandmother who bought two lots in Edroy and, with the help of her kids, relatives, and friends, built a small two-room house. One room was a living/bed room and the other was a kitchen. Water was supplied by wells and outhouses were used.

My father courted and married my mother in 1944 when he was living with his mother. He was nineteen years old and she was fifteen years old. They bought a lot from his mother adjacent to her house, and he built a small house on it. They had eleven children between 1945 and 1969. I am the youngest.

Throughout the years, my curiosity grew about my parent's marriage. They have both passed now, and unfortunately I cannot ask further questions directly to them. My parents were married for forty-nine years until my father's death. I also became interested in the marriages of other folks from Edroy that had been married about the time my parents were married. Was it common to marry at such an early age as my mother did?  Why did others from Edroy get married? To answer these and other fundamental and important marital questions I developed a questionnaire to obtain information about the marriages of people of Edroy.

I gathered information on twelve marriages. All individuals of the marriages were Tejanos. Two of those marriages had both husband and wife still living. In these cases both individuals answered questions together. Nine of those had only one spouse living, and neither husband nor wife were living in one marriage (my parents). In this case, some of my siblings and I answered as many questions as best we could. 

The average date of birth of men was 1932, and average age of marriage was twenty-one years. The average date of birth of women was 1934, and the average age of marriage was nineteen years. My mother was the exception marrying at fifteen years of age. The average year of marriage was 1953.

Most couples met working in cotton and vegetable fields or in Edroy. A Justice of the Peace married nine of the twelve couples, three entered the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church, but all consecrated their marriage in the Catholic church at some point. Three of the twelve had a wedding fiesta of more than just a few individuals. One was a big wedding with a band, dancing and food. Seven of eleven couples received some gifts, and five of those couples received a molcajete. Only a single couple had a honeymoon and that was spent in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Couples were married an average age of forty-five years until one spouse died, and none were divorced. One couple has been married for sixty-six years. Amazingly that bond seems to be strengthening. Marriages in Edroy lasts "until death parts them". 

Families had an average of eight children. Couples in Edroy also experienced the baby boom after World War II. With few exceptions, these children were all farm workers, mainly cotton pickers.

Seven of twelve couples exchanged at least one ring and two of those had one small diamond. Interestingly, the ladies of Edroy were more likely to receive a molcajete as a wedding gift than a diamond on their wedding ring. Eighty percent of husbands kissed their wives to begin their new lives. The other husbands were not asked to do so. In the case of my parents that information is unknown.

When asked why they married, one hundred percent said for love. One beautiful eighty-five year old lady said succinctly and eloquently, people of Edroy were married "por amor y nada" (only for love, they had nothing else).

Manuel Andrés Soto, Ph.D., was raised in Edroy, Texas, a South Texas colonia. Dr. Soto is an Associate Professor of Biological and Health Sciences at Texas A&M University Kingsville and has published many peer-reviewed manuscripts in top journals. In addition, he has recently published a book entitled, "Life in a South Texas Colonia".  He wrote and contributed all original art pieces in this book.

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