The War Years, Romance and Work
By Maria E. Garcia
Mary Barrios’ early years centered around the activities provided by Neighborhood House during the 1930’s. She learned to cook and sew and went to Camp Dehesa. Neighborhood House services took some of the stress off of struggling families like Mary’s during The Great Depression.
Her father and her mother were both widows and came to the marriage with children. They also had children together and at one point a woman that worked at the cannery gave her mother a baby boy. This woman felt she could not return to Mexico with a child born out of wedlock. This very big family lived at 1870 Newton Ave.
This large blended family was experiencing some turmoil and Mary’s dad set up his first family in a house directly behind the house where his second family lived. In order to care for that family her father’s sister Tia Genovia lived in that house. Mary says she and her half-brothers and half-sisters were very close. The family flowed back and forth from one house to the other.
On December 7, 1941 her sisters came running from the house in the back to announce that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Mary had been sick for several days and had finally convinced her mom it would be ok to shower. In those days you did not take a shower if you were ill or on your menstrual cycle. She remembers coming out of the shower in rollers to hear the news. The family then spent the next several hours sitting around the radio listening to the reports.
Like the other boys, during the war, her brothers sold magazines downtown. She remembers the magazine “Liberty” as being the one they sold. Her brothers wore “cords” and white shirts, which her aunt ironed to made sure they look just right before leaving the house. While in Junior High, Mary became engaged to Louie Sanchez.
Her mother would have had a fit if she had been aware of this engagement. She hid the ring in her bra to make sure her mom did not see it. Like many teenage romances, this one died. However Mary does smile as she tells the story. She saved a locket from her first boyfriend, Joe Smith who years later, during World War II was killed in Europe.
The summer she was seventeen Mary went to work at the cannery. The plan was she would work that summer and return to school in September. However the money was “too good” and Mary did not return to finish her senior year. The pay at that time was $1.99 an hour and that was a lot of money for a young girl from a poor family.
While working at the cannery she made many good friends. Two of her best friends were Henrietta Montejano and Bea Flores. Bea would become her comadre. The friendships from the cannery and from Neighborhood House were part of the strong ties developed in the Logan Heights Community.
The summer she was seventeen Mary went to work at the cannery. The plan was she would work that summer and return to school in September. However the money was “too good” and Mary did not return to finish her senior year.
In many ways World War II was a very romantic time in San Diego. With Lilia Rodriguez (Laura‘s daughter) she attended dances at Buckner Hall and at Pacific Square. Buckner Hall was located across from the San Diego Hotel. This was the big band era and with all the sailors in town there were plenty of dance partners. There was also an abundance of jobs which came about as a result of the war. A girlfriend kept asking her to let her fix her up with a friend of hers; Mary kept saying no. One day she decided she would give in and go on a date with the San Diego boy.
Her reasons for agreeing to go out with Daniel Barrios was that “he had a car and a job.” The first time she met him she didn’t like him, but did agree to go out on a second date. On her second date his car broke down when they were returning from a dance in Tijuana. She says they spent the night in a restaurant where they did not speak. She did not return home until 6:00 A.M.
Her father was up and drinking coffee and asking for an explanation. He asked her what had happened and she explained about the car. Her dad accepted the explanation and soon Daniel and she agreed to be exclusive. She thinks that by their third date he had told her that he did not want her dating anyone else. Daniel was discharged from the Air Force and worked at North Island. Thus, she felt more secure about their relationship.
After they married they lived with her parents and then with the financial help from her father, they purchased a home with a little rental in the back. She continued to work at the cannery after her marriage. Her father and aunt helped care for her first baby. When her daughter was school age, she told her husband she felt she should leave her job at the cannery and stay home. In 1964 Daniel started to build a house in Spring Valley for the family. That is the house where Mary still lives today.
Mary’s granddaughter Val recently took her for a visit to Cesar Chavez Park. Mary saw the mural of her mother and the Singing Mothers from Neighborhood House for the first time. She enjoyed the cannery tribute at the end of the park and the new gateway sign over Cesar Chavez Parkway.
The complete History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights series is available here.