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June 24, 2011 > An American Dream: Antonio Luquin Zendejas celebrates 106!

An American Dream: Antonio Luquin Zendejas celebrates 106!

Submitted By Yolanda Galvan

How do you celebrate 106 years of life? By continuing to do what has been your secret... laugh and party with family and friends.

One of four children born to Onofre Prado Cendejas and Maria Jesus Luquin Zendejas in Villa Jimenez, Michoacan, Mexico, Antonio began life on June 13, 1905. His family included an older sister, Santos and soon expanded as a younger sister Evangelina and two brothers, Jose and Ramon, were born. Santos married Jose Ortega and had three children; Evangelina married Palomo Appolinard and had six children; Jose married Consuelo Moreno. Ramon died at the age of 10.

In 1924 Antonio met beautiful and talented Otilia at the counter of a grocery store ("mostrador"). As a young 19-year-old man filled with ambition, Antonio became obsessed with two goals: first, to learn how to read and write; and second, to marry his 17-year-old tutor, Otilia Tapia Luna. Otilia was born on December 12, 1907 in Curimeo, Michoacan, Mexico, to Nicholas Luna and Soledad Tapia Luna. She had three sisters: Lupe, Rebecca, and Anita.

Living in Mexico during the 1920's was difficult and conditions were harsh. Most couples were extremely poor, unable to afford even a simple wedding ring. Priests were in short supply and most made visits to small towns only once a year to perform funerals, baptisms, and marriage ceremonies. Betrothed, Antonio and Otilia were forced to wait for the next visit of a priest, scheduled for February 14, 1925. When the priest arrived to perform wedding ceremonies, each couple completed their marriage vows and exchanged rings, then removed the gold bands so the next couple could use them.

Otilia gave birth to Consuelo, first of six children in the Cendejas family, on December 1, 1925, in Villa Jimenez, Michoacan, Mexico. On October 18, 1926, Antonio, Otilia, and Consuelo visited the office of the Municipal City President, who filled out, certified, and stamped the required paperwork for the family to immigrate to the United States.

The Cendejas family had saved $150 for train tickets from Penjamo, Guanajuato, Mexico to El Paso, Texas. Upon arrival at the Mexico / US border in El Paso, they presented their immigration papers and were shocked to learn that they were $8 short and could not pay Consuelo's Immigration Fee. Disheartened by this news, Antonio and Otilia walked outside to discuss their options. Only a miracle could save them from disaster.

Do you believe in miracles? Antonio does, because according to him, a miracle happened that day in El Paso. A light wind was blowing, swirling leaves and pieces of paper near Antonio's feet. Looking down at the gutter where the leaves and papers were rattling, he spotted a wadded up bill... a $10 bill!

The now elated couple returned to the US government official who '"certified" their entry in to the US, and "Americanized the spelling of their last name. Both were acts that would change their lives forever.

Was it a miracle that allowed the Zendejas family to pay the immigration fee and secure a ride to Mesa, Arizona, or was it just good luck? You decide.

In Mesa, the Zendejas family lived in a shed, without the luxury of a kitchen, running water, or even a toilet. Each day Antonio left home to find work, earning a dollar or two for his labor; he was determined to support his family. Otilia, wife, mother, and homemaker, kept the "dirt" floor swept, cooked, nurtured, and created a supportive home environment. Delia, the second Zendejas child was born in Mesa, Arizona May 28, 1927.

In 1928, the family moved to Jacumba, California where Antonio began working for the San Diego Arizona Eastern Railway at High Pass on September 10, 1928. The work was hazardous and Antonio decided the following January to find safer employment. In San Diego, Antonio found steady work at the San Diego Packing Company where he loaded fish onto conveyor belts that move the fish into the cannery from the pier. "Odiferous emanations" from Antonio as he sat in a streetcar on his way home from work caused other riders to "keep their distance." Antonio soon found other employment at the Balboa Park Zoo helping to construct the "Elephant's Watering Hole." When that project was completed, he was assigned work as a janitor but eventually let go because he was not an American citizen. The family moved to La Jolla where Antonio acquired work at a golf course construction site.

In January 1929, the family traveled by car to Tio Manuel and Tia Lupe Orozco's house in Delmar and on February 17, 1929, Neftali, the newest edition of the Zendejas family arrived. Subsequently, the family moved to an area known as "La Colonia" or The Colony in Solana Beach. On July 10, 1930, Antonio Zendejas II was born.

Antonio began working seasonally for Mr. Bristol of Rancho Santa Fe irrigating orange and walnut orchards; "side jobs" included picking vegetables, lemons, and avocados. One day, Antonio told Mr. Bristol that he would be unable to work for him any longer because someone had stolen his car and it was too far to walk to work. Mr. Bristol took Antonio to a car lot and bought a vehicle to replace the one that was stolen. Antonio worked the next 11 years for Mr. Bristol. Antonio's other seasonal job was felling trees and chopping and stacking the wood in Encinitas with Mr. Paul Eche. Eche Farms is famous for its Poinsettia plants.

On October 28, 1931 Oralia, the fifth Zendejas child was born followed by Romelia, the sixth and final Zendejas child on July 7, 1933. In 1941, Antonio picked up another seasonal job, this time at Camp Pendleton, where he worked on a road construction crew. He also worked as a caddy for the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Course. Friends told Otilia about employment opportunities in the fruit and vegetable harvests of Central California and in 1943, the Zendejas family packed up their household, loaded it onto one of the trucks leaving for the Central Valley, and moved into a tent city in Fresno. The family began working in fig orchards, seasonal summertime employment. The family was on the move again in October of 1943 and ended up in Irvington. There they rented a house on Durham Road and Antonio began working for California Nursery.

In June of 1945, Connie and Delia graduated from Washington High School; Nef graduated June 1947. California Nursery, like the rest of the country, was suffering through hard economic times and the company eventually went bankrupt. Shortly thereafter, in November 1947, Antonio ran into a friend working for Kraftile Company. The friend helped Antonio secure work with Kraftile. Manual Galvan of "We Haul, Just Call" trucking company was contracted to move the Zendejas family from Irvington to Union City.

Love blossomed between Manual and Delia who married July 3, 1949. As more Zendejas family members graduated from Washington High School and moved on to higher education and military service, another generation began as on April 15, 1950 when Eleanor Galvan, first grandchild to the Zendejas family was born. With the birth of Margaret Zendejas October 29, 1957, Antonio and Otilia were proud grandparents of six grandchildren. As years passed, marriages and grandchildren kept the family busy; Michael Zendejas, born November 5, 1972, was their 21st grandchild.

Antonio and Otilia celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary February 14, 1975 and in 1977, Antonio retired from the Kraftile Company after 30 years with the company. Tragedy struck the family February 1994 when Diana Maldonado died from the effects of a long illness followed by the loss of Otilia, the Zendejas matriarch January 5, 1999. Manuel Galvan and Jeffrey Zendejas have since joined them but the Zendejas Family remains strong and resilient, celebrating the spirit and life through its patriarch. This year, as we have done for the past decade, the family gathered to celebrate Grandpa Antonio's birthday; an evening at "Casino Z in Monte Carlo." He has always been and remains a winner at the table of life!

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