My dad loved to tell us about our antepasados, our ancestors, and how our family settled in and around Zapata, Texas before it was a part of the United States. His family passed down stories via oral tradition and he did the same to us, repeating them over and over until they became part of our memory.
We teased Dad about his obsession with family history and made fun of his tales from “the good old days,” but it only encouraged him to share them with us one more time.
His stories still rumble in my brain. They still make me smile. They still amaze me.
My favorite: Agapito Ramírez, an old great uncle. He never married, but that didn’t stop him from leaving behind several descendants. He fought in the Mexican Revolution alongside Emiliano Zapata which made Tío Agapito very old when I first met him. I don’t recall being in school yet so I must have been four, maybe five.
I had heard so many stories about him from my dad that when he rode up on a horse at my grandmother’s house, I wanted to get a really close look at him. We had been sitting on my aunt’s front porch, but the women scurried inside and dragged me off with them.
All I got to see was a tiny man who reminded me of Yosemite Sam from the Saturday morning cartoons. He wore a holster with two guns strapped to his legs and sported a huge, dark, handlebar moustache. He didn’t look mean but, if the stories were true, he was dangerous.
He owned some property nearby, never owned a car, and still considered himself a Mexican citizen. Under The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, Mexican citizens with land on the United States side of the border could either stay on their land and become American citizens or lose their land and move to the other side of the Mexican border to remain Mexican citizens. Most of my father’s family stayed with their land, Mexican citizens one day and American citizens the next. For a lot who stayed, they and their children (like my uncle) refused to surrender their patriotic roots.
During the Mexican Revolution in the early 1900’s, there was no border between his land and his mother country Mexico, and he joined their fight for freedom.
Tío Agapito often talked about his battle experiences and Dad would share the less cruel tales with us - how the winners would loot the dead bodies, how the men would execute the wounded enemies, and how Tío Agapito often escaped death.
Whenever we made the trip down to south Texas, someone would drive out to Tío Agapito’s property (he never owned a phone either) and let him know my dad was visiting the family. Tío Agapito must have liked my dad because he often made the long ride out on his horse to visit with him.
Me? I still got hustled into the safety of the house with the women, but I would sneak away and peek at him from behind a window curtain. He caught me once. He winked at me and I noticed a smile behind his big bushy moustache.