Grandparents from Mexico but met in Battle Creek |

Grandparents from Mexico but met in Battle Creek

Immigrant Stories
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Margi Hilleary

Hilleary: My mother’s parents came from the state of Guanajuato in Mexico. My grandmother grew up in Aguas Calientes and my grandfather in the little town of Santa Fe in Mexico. They didn’t really get together until they came to the United States. My grandfather wanted to go to art school, but his father wanted him to be a businessman. So in 1910, my grandfather was studying business at the state university in Queretero when the *Mexican Revolution started. One day a band of revolutionaries burst into his classroom with guns drawn. The leader of the group looked at my grandfather and said, “You’re coming with us.”

My grandfather didn’t see his family again for two years. He was forced to be the paymaster for this branch of the revolutionary army because the general needed someone who could read documents and keep the books. They kept him under guard until they needed him for something and then they would march him out.

After two years, he was finally able to escape. He returned home to find that his father had died and everything the family had owned had been taken from them. He realized his life was in danger if he stayed in Mexico, so he and his brothers set out to find “the doctor” in Battle Creek, Michigan.

“The doctor,” as the family referred to him, was a young man from one of Mexico’s indigenous tribes. My grandfather said that his dad helped raise him and paid for his schooling. The young man ended up attending medical school in the United States and eventually became a doctor. When he graduated he went to work for Dr. John Kellogg in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Dr. Kellogg was a Seventh Day Adventist and the chief medical officer at the Battle Creek Sanitarium owned by the Adventists. The Adventists are vegetarians and that led Kellogg to experiment with different foods. Some of the things he did were crazy, like having patients eat a certain kind of grape for a month. But he was also a big proponent of yogurt and colon health. A lot of people came from all over to stay at the “San.” It was really quite luxurious.

Dr. Kellogg’s experiments with grains and nuts led to the development of breakfast cereals. That’s where the **breakfast cereal industry got started. In fact, a man named C. W. Post came as a patient and later started his own cereal company, Post Cereals.

When my grandfather and his brothers arrived in Battle Creek they were able to get jobs in the sanitarium. That’s where my grandfather met my grandmother. She had come to Battle Creek with her three sisters and her mother to escape religious persecution. They were ***”conversos,” Mexican Jews living in the shadows of a country dominated by Catholics.

My grandmother worked in the laundry and her mother worked as a cook. My grandfather’s brothers were trained as masseurs.

Gallacher: What did your grandfather do?

Hilleary: I don’t know because he didn’t stay there. He felt like he needed to do something on his own. He didn’t want any “handouts” and he saw the work at the sanitorium as a handout. One of my grandfather’s biggest faults was pride, there was no way he would let anyone help him. I think part of that came from being held captive for two years.

He went to work at the Michigan Carton Company making boxes for the cereal companies that were taking off in Battle Creek. My grandfather really was a scholar and an intellectual but people often just assumed he grew up working in the fields. He told me that his job at the carton company was really boring, so he would bring books to read on breaks. One day the owner of the company was touring the plant and noticed my grandfather’s books. He told him he wanted to see him in his office.

That day my grandfather moved from the factory floor to an office where he did design work and wrote for the company newsletter. The company owner wanted to send him to art school but, once again, my grandfather refused because he felt like that was a handout.

With the blossoming of the cereal industry in Battle Creek a lot of people became rich. One of those people was C.W. Post’s daughter, Marjorie, who found out that my grandfather was a poet. She began inviting him to her parties to do readings. That worked for him for a while, but he began to feel like he was being treated like a novelty. He wasn’t a big fan of celebrity and ostentation.

He was very proletarian in his outlook. He even thought that getting overtime for anything over eight hours was taking advantage of the boss. He once owned a piece of land in Tabasco, Mexico. When he learned that oil had been discovered on it he flew to Mexico, at his own expense, to sign the land over to the Mexican government. I tried to talk to him about getting compensation for his interest, but he absolutely refused. He insisted on doing it for the good of the Mexican people.

He lived a very monklike existence. He had his books and his typewriter and that’s all he really wanted. But he always wore double-pleated gabardine trousers, a sports coat and a tie. He would even wear that fishing. I think he realized as a young man that people treat you differently when you dress nice.

When I was a young woman looking for answers, he was the only adult I could talk to. He would always have time to listen. He wouldn’t say “don’t do this” or “don’t do that”. Instead he would tell me a story from his life and let me draw my own conclusions.

*In 1910, the 80-year-old president of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz, decided to hold an election for another term; he thought he had long since eliminated any serious opposition. However, Francisco Madero, an academic from a rich family, decided to run against him and quickly gathered popular support, despite his arrest and imprisonment by Diaz.

When the official election results were announced, it was declared that Diaz had won re-election almost unanimously, with Madero receiving only a few hundred votes in the entire country. This fraud by Diaz was too blatant for the public to swallow, and riots broke out.

On November 20, 1910, Madero rallied the Mexican people to take up weapons and fight against the Diaz government. Madero managed to flee prison, escaping to San Antonio, Texas, where he began preparations for the overthrow of Diaz and the start of the Mexican Revolution.

Revolutionary forces led by Emiliano Zapata in the South, Pancho Villa and Pascual Orozco in the North, and Venustiano Carranza defeated the Federal Army, and Diaz resigned in 1911 for the “sake of the peace of the nation.” He went into exile in France, where he died in 1915.

Although this period is usually referred to as part of the Mexican Revolution, it might also be termed a civil war. Presidents Francisco I. Madero (1913), Venustiano Carranza (1920), and former revolutionary leaders Emiliano Zapata (1919) and Pancho Villa (1923) all were assassinated during this period.

– source Wikipedia

** John Kellogg and his brother Will Keith Kellogg started the Sanitas Food Company to produce their cereals around 1897, a time when the standard breakfast for the wealthy was eggs and meat, while the poor ate porridge, farina, gruel and other boiled grains. John and Will later argued over the recipe for the cereals (Will wanted to add sugar to the flakes). So in 1906, Will started his own company, the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which eventually became the Kellogg Company, triggering a decades-long feud. John then formed the Battle Creek Food Company to develop and market soy products.

***Conversos is the Spanish word for convert. During the Inquisition Jews and Muslims were forced to choose conversion to Catholicism or death.

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