The Governor's Son

The Texas Story Project.

How does the son of a decorated and celebrated Mexican general end up as an orphan picking cotton in Fort Stockton, Texas? This is the story of my great-grandfather, Jose Triana.

The Mexican Revolution was the defining moment when the people of Mexico fought to overthrow their dictator. Among those trying to overthrow the government was Francisco 'Pancho' Villa, the famous revolutionary who led the fight in the north, and my great-great grandfather General Martin Triana who's victory in Aguascalientes led him to become a short-term governor in that same state. My great-grandfather Jose Triana was born just a few months before his father's death in 1935.

In February of 1935, when General Martin Triana died, President Lazaro Cardenas ordered his body to be buried in Mexico City away from his family. His death left his wife, Julia Puente, and her four children to fend for themselves. A year later in 1936, Julia’s death ultimately left my great-grandfather and his siblings as orphans under the care of their oldest brother.

With no schooling and no one to support them, my great-grandfather and his siblings were forced to work in fields and herd the animals in the family ranch in Zacatecas. "I didn’t learn to read until I taught myself because no one took the time to teach me," he said. At the age of sixteen, he left Mexico for the first time and began doing contractual work. "I would get in the back of a truck at the beginning of the season and they would take us to California to pick eggplants or to Fort Stockton to pick cotton."

He spent the next ten years coming in and out of the United States until he started his own family in California when my grandmother was born in 1958. "Once I became a resident in 1961 I was able to get a steady job working at Alta Dena dairy. Although it was hard work I was happy to be out of the fields." He talks about having to milk over 90 cows in under an hour under bad conditions and pressure from the heads of the company. "The day they brought in the milking machines was one of the hardest days on the job I had. They made us milk over four hundred cows in half the time we had to do it before."

In 1979 he moved to El Paso, Texas for a small job opportunity. He became a small business owner when great-grandmother Magdalena opened a small convenience store. "It didn’t bring in much money, but we really enjoyed working there together." A couple of years after they first opened the store, a man came in to try to rent him two video game machines. "I was hesitant at first because I didn’t know what they were or how they worked but I decided to give it a chance." The video game machines ultimately began bringing in half the revenue of the stores. Kids from around the neighborhood would come spend their afternoons playing on the machines. "I decided to start buying my own machines and renting them to the other store owners and after a couple of years I owned 103 machines across El Paso and Juarez."

My great-grandfather ultimately retired in the early 2000s and sold the store and all his video game machines to buy the house he now lives in.When I asked him who taught him about his father's history I was extremely shocked to learn that he had never had any interest in his parents' history until 1970 when he met Pancho Villa's wife Maria Luz Corral while on a trip to Chihuahua. She explained to him my great-great-grandfather's friendship with her late husband and it sparked his desire to learn more about the Mexican revolution and about our family's history.

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