Interviewer: Maddie Martinez
Date: May 21, 2016
Maddie: Hello, my name is Maddie Martinez, I’m a librarian at the St. Helena Public Library, and today is May 21st of 2016 and we are at the Catholic Church at the Museum for a day event of the St. Helena Historical Society. With me today I have Henry Escareno and he will be sharing stories from his family coming to the Valley and the way he remembers of growing up and a little bit more.
Henry: Hopefully I remember [overlapping conversation] —
Maddie: So thank you, Henry, for being with us.
Henry: You’re welcome.
Maddie: When I met you, I was seeing some pictures and some artifacts and things from your family and we were talking about Guadalajara and your family from Guadalajara and —
Henry: Right, right.
Maddie: — coming to the Valley.
Henry: Well, I’m just saying because the year before my parents were given a land grant from General Avila, and that’s where my middle name comes from, Avila. It was like 144 acres right by Guadalajara [indiscernible] goes north of Guadalajara. My mother grew up there, it was given to her side of the family. My father came from another village. I’m not sure how far away, but he walked over and they met, and he was a musician.
Maddie: When was this?
Henry: When was this?
Maddie: Do you remember the date?
Henry: Oh, boy. Well, they got married. She was 15 and he was, I think, 18 and it was like 1921.
Henry: They met [indiscernible] before that, and they were very young. Of course. He was a musician and he was with a — [indiscernible].
Maddie: The guitar?
Henry: What’s that?
Maddie: The guitar?
Henry: No, yeah. He was playing mariachis all the time, guitar and stuff like that, and then trumpet and violins. Very musician. So anyway, they left there because of a religious situation. My mom was a Catholic side and my father was a different religion and they were kind of run out of that area by the family, I guess. So they came up here and they went to southern California. They worked there, and my dad worked as a musician and also worked in the daytime. So he tried to feed the family. Some daughters were born there. Two, I think two of my brothers and sisters were born in Mexico when they first married and they came over here. I have nine brothers and sisters. So some were born in Santa Maria. When we came over, my older brother Xavier was born in Woodland and then they came here in 1950’s. I can’t remember the exact date, but I was born here in 1955 in Oakville. Oakville used to be a town with houses there. The houses are all gone now. Just Oakville Grocery. Right behind Oakville Grocery, they used to have houses there. That’s where I was born.
Maddie: There was no hospital in Oakville.
Henry: No, I was born in St. Helena Sanitarium.
Henry: They took me up there and I was born up there. That’s why I’ve always been proud of St. Helena, because I was born and raised here. When people come in, “Oh, yeah.” They come in, they’ve been here for a couple of years, they’re natives. I kind of like chuckle. No, you’re not actually a native until you actually were born here. You know, born here, our families still worked in the field. At that time, there was prunes, walnuts, pears, and [indiscernible]. A small amount of grapes. Not much, still a small amount, but more of other fruits. I remember picking when I was six years old. Picking bucket, picking, helping the family. Because that’s how we grew, and made the money. We all worked together, then they paid the bills, and they bought clothing for us. So eventually when I went to school, we didn’t have Head Start, we didn’t have all these programs. So when you went to school it was just like, “Here you are. You’re going to school.” Then you had to start learning everything. So they thought that, “Oh, you guys are slow.” They thought because we were not really taught, you know, English.
Maddie: Do you remember when you started school? Like an age? Do you have memory of when you started school?
Henry: Yeah, I remember being in the first grade and just trying to learn everything at that point, you know? Learning all this stuff. Reading and writing and stuff. Because we didn’t do that at home, because basically we’re out there working or doing this and that. We learned a small amount, but basically it was a learning process for us. That’s where we felt like we were slower, but — you know?
Maddie: It wasn’t — yeah.
Henry: We weren’t, at the time. But that’s how we grew up.
Maddie: You spoke Spanish and English, or just one language and then you learned the other?
Henry: Well, my parents spoke Spanish at home and that’s why I speak Spanish. And my brother and sister, we speak both. We were kind of forced to become English. You know? Because my name is Enriquè Escareño on my birth certificate, but actually it was Henry Escareno. The eño was taken off, so it’s Escareno, not Escareño. So that’s how they Americanized us. My sisters, instead Juanita was Jennie. Jose was Joe.
Maddie: So your names changed because it was —
Henry: All they had to change, they wanted to Americanize us all. So that’s what we did. You know?
Maddie: So I’m curious about your last name. Your parents are Escareño. If I was going to do a research on your family, I will have to use Escareño, with a ñ. Your generation of your siblings are Escareno.
Henry: Escareno, yes. Without the eño. We used to write with the eño all the time, but we were forced to take that off, the ñ. So we were just Escareno at that point. We kind of changed it.
Maddie: So you kind of created a new language, just for the ne– oh, wow.
Henry: You’re right, we were. Right . So it was interesting growing up. I enjoyed St. Helena, because I was always working here, living here, went to school here. My kids went to school here. You know? So it’s really great.
Maddie: How many siblings do you have? You mentioned that some were born in Mexico and some were born here, but how —
Henry: We have nine. Nine at home. So anyway, when I was born here, I was about six months old, my parents went to this lawyer to get the paperwork done. Well anyway, he didn’t not take care of the process and they were shipped back to Mexico. All the kids that were born here, I think myself, my two sisters, my other brother Xavier, Jennie, and Emily, were kept at a foster home, and my parents went back to Mexico to get everything straightened out. They came back I think six, seven months later, and they picked us all up. They had to pay $800.00 to get away from the foster care people and then got them all together. My mother started collecting all the kids together again.
Maddie: They had to pay to get you out of foster —
Henry: I guess they had to pay $800.00, I guess. I’m not sure what it was for, but that’s what they had to pay.
Maddie: How was that? Do you remember that time when you were in —
Henry: No. The thing is, I was six months old.
Maddie: Oh, okay.
Henry: My dad’s very best friend, Juan Leuh [ph], which our family grew up together, we were so close. I used to call him Papa. I used to tug on his leg all the time, because I would go over there and I thought he was my dad for like — I was one year old. My mom came back and I was about one year old when they picked me up again and got the family together.
Maddie: So you stayed with foster home, but it was family members?
Henry: No, it was a foster home but they would take me from there and go visit, and they would come and visit me, and I thought it was my dad. You know, because I was so young I thought it was my Papa, you know?
Maddie: Were they Latinos, too? Or were they different? The foster home?
Henry: Their last name was Avalon [ph]. They were Napa, but they weren’t related to us at all, but the name they went because of the last name. So they put us in with that family.
Maddie: As your siblings were a little bit older that could tell you about that experience?
Henry: They were older than me. They just told me most of it last night because we were talking about this whole history, we were talking last night.
Maddie: Great that we’re doing this interview now.
Henry: Exactly. It’s like wow. You know?
Maddie: So what did they share with you?
Henry: They were just sharing the situation that we’d been in foster care and at that time when I was so young when my mom picked us up she brought me like my first birthday present. I’m not sure what it was, but she brought me something because I was like one year old, you know? So she got something, and again we got a house in Oakville. In Rutherford [ph], we [indiscernible] Rutherford, old gloss lane now. It’s right behind — I can’t think of the wine, right across from Mondavi. We lived out there for years. Eventually we bought a house there. I think they bought it for like $7,000.00. At that time, that was a lot of money. Because we worked all the time. You’re probably getting $3.00 or something, a little box of grapes or whatever you were picking at the time. Everything was picking in buckets, but everybody worked and through the resources and bought that house. Then we just, we kept doing that. Every summer instead of going to summer school we’d take off and then we’d go pick peaches in Marysville, go pick tomatoes in Sacramento, apricots in Fairfield. We were just always migrant major working. We just did a home base. Every time we came back and we back to school, they thought we were on vacation. We always came back with tans. Because we worked all morning, we swam all afternoon in the rivers. You know, that’s how we — and then they thought, “Oh, they must have went on vacation, come back with nice tans all the time.” Yeah, exactly. But it was working to achieve a goal, just buying houses. We did eventually buy some houses and pool that money together at that time.
Maddie: Did you get paid for doing your job, too?
Henry: My parents got paid. We all got paid, but we didn’t think of it as money. We didn’t think of it as being poor. Because a lot of our friends, a lot of our families, we all lived the same way. We just worked and my parents made sure we had clothes for school and stuff like that. But we never thought of it as poor. We didn’t have money, but that’s how we grew up. Like I was saying before, every weekend we would go with these other families. I think there was like six or seven families in the Valley when we first started here.
Maddie: Do you remember some of the last names of those families?
Henry: Yeah, there was like Torres [ph] and there were the Magrigals [ph] and Espinosas [ph], the Leuhs, there’s quite a bit of them over there on that table. I can’t remember them all right now off the top of my head, but we used to go and visit them and we kept together as a group. We didn’t really socialize with the Italians or the Americans here because we didn’t really know them. So every Sunday, or weekend, we’d go with these groups of other families and we’d have our parties and get-togethers, and —
Maddie: Tell me about those parties.
Henry: Oh, we would all play kick the can outside, or something like that. My dad was a singer, so they’d always bring the guitar and my mom would play the harmonica and they’d always start singing ranchera [ph] songs and they would have some of those recorded. Mr. Rojas [ph] would have some of them recorded. Which I’m trying to find [indiscernible], too, ‘cause he just passed away Thursday.
Maddie: Oh, yes, I heard.
Henry: So he had all this music of the families, because he recorded them all the time. So I’d like to get those and —
Maddie: We should get those.
Henry: Yeah, I have a couple. We have a couple of the songs because my sister recorded my mom and dad singing at one time. They were very good singers, very talented. They were so good that one thing my mom did not want any of us kids to pick up musical instruments because that lifestyle of the musician, going on the road being out all night, she didn’t care for that lifestyle because she lived with it all of her life.
Maddie: So what will you do — something that the family liked, but what will you do to hide it from — did you hide it from your mom?
Henry: Well, my older brother, another brother, Xavier and Wencho [ph], they would play musical instruments on the side. My wife gave my son, my youngest son, a guitar and he’s self-taught himself. He plays guitar and harmonica. He has my mom’s harmonica.
Maddie: It’s in the blood.
Henry: He’s in the band and he’s just really musical talented. He’s never been taught, he just plays by the hearing and just playing. My dad passed on that talent to him, he’s very good. Anyway, we get together on all the parties we always played together. I’ve known all these people since I was kids. We have pictures of us, all these families together, at birthday parties. Because at a birthday party it was just all the different families coming together. Parents would be inside, they’d be playing music, then we’d have dances in there. My sister taught me to dance, because we learned how to dance all the time. We always dance in the music, and that was our lifestyle growing up.
Maddie: Why type of music?
Henry: A lot of ranchera songs, a lot of music like that. Then, of course, when we grew up and got to 1950’s and 60’s, of course, you know, rock ‘n roll, so that’s when we did a lot of that, also. Being born and raised here, you know, that’s how you grew up. You inherited. Yeah.
Maddie: So it’s a little bit of rancheras and then what was going on at that time.
Henry: Right. My sisters would always make dances for the week, as they would have a [indiscernible] Farm Standard and [indiscernible] Community Center and they would have dances there. And we were just talking about this last night because they didn’t even know how they got the liquor license. They used to take somebody that was old enough to Santa Rosa to get the liquor license to come and have the bar and they’d have to rent the police/cops. You know, stuff like that. Then we would have the big dances, Mexican dances all the time and they would raise money for different events or occasions like that. So.
Henry: Yeah, a lot of events. That’s how we got into music and started dancing a lot. I enjoy dancing all the time. We go to weddings, I’m always on that dance floor because I enjoy just that dancing of it and having fun.
Maddie: Share a little bit of now. Contemporary family. Are they still doing those meetings?
Henry: We talked about eight, ten years ago. We always used to see the families at funerals and weddings. So we started saying, “You know what? We need to meet more often.” And right now what we’re doing, most of these families here, we get together like every two months, or every month and a half, and we have card games. We just play simple card games, but we come over and it’s just basically a social gathering. Everybody has fun, brings food, and talk, and laugh, and have fun, and tell stories, have music. We just kind of keep that going again, the get-togethers.
Maddie: Do you have a name for these get-togethers?
Maddie: It’s just random let’s meet, and that’s it?
Henry: What we do is we play card games. Whoever wins the last card game, they host the next party. So it always travels to some different house, somebody else in the family, or friends of ours, so we always have it moving. Like it goes to folks over there sometimes. It goes to Santa Rosa. We just move it all over the place. It just — everybody gets together. So instead of at funerals and weddings you’ll get together playing card games and stuff like that. Besides that, nowadays our kids are involved. But, you know how you grow up here and you learn that we were Americanized at that time. I do speak Spanish because I run two wineries over in Sonoma and I’m constantly speaking Spanish to the — I have a lot of Spanish workers there. I knew growing up how it was to be a bad boss, so I try to be a very good boss. I try to treat them with a degree of respect, you know. Hopefully I’m appreciated, I think I am. You know, it’s just a situation I know. You can be a bad boss and a good boss, and I try to be a very good boss to them, very good to the people there and help them. When I first came they were getting a low amount of wages. So now they are making decent wages and they’ve got time off. Sick time. Instead of working six days a week, they are working 40 hours, 10 hour days, they get three days off to be with their family and they can switch those around. So I try to work with them.
Maddie: How long have you been working in the winery?
Henry: I started when I was, I think, about 18 years old.
Henry: I worked with Charles Krug, then I worked with Lane and Mondavi and Silverado, and just built my way and just learned the business all the way up. I was the Sommelier Master and basically I just run these two wineries Jacuzzi and Cline over in Sonoma now.
Maddie: How was the transition from working in the farm as a child and then now as an adult working?
Henry: You get to appreciate the job. Like people say when you retire and they say, “Why won’t you retire?” This is my best job I’ve had. Because I used to work in the field. I used to [indiscernible] tobacco, and do the wiring and construction work. We used to learn everything. You had to learn everything, because you had to always work for the family like my parents did. So you learned a lot of jobs. Be a man of many hats. When I work, of course I work to the wine business, but also I take care of the winery itself. If something’s broken, or we have to do something I’m kind of in charge of it so we go and tackle it with my group of workers that are there. So it’s enjoyable. I very much enjoy it. Very much.
Maddie: The rest of the family lives here?
Henry: The rest of the families are pretty close. We all live pretty close here. Everyone lives within — the first one is in Folsom. My brother, Xavier. There’s a couple in Napa, there’s some in Hillsboro, Santa Rosa. When we get together, I mean Christmas, we’ll just always packs house. I just had some people over to my wife’s birthday in January and there was about 30, 40 people there and that was just a small amount of people there. It just packs up the house. We have so many kids, you know? The grandkids and stuff like that, so it just grows and grows.
Maddie: Are these — correct me if I’m wrong. I heard that there’s a Latino — I don’t know if it’s the same one, but I’ve heard about a meeting of Latino families called [Indiscernible] Familias, or Family Meeting.
Henry: Yeah, the Family of the Valley?
Maddie: The Valley. La Familia de Valley?
Henry: Yeah, we do that. We’ve been doing this for five years. That’s what I said, besides the card game, we started getting together every year, the main families would get together and we would have just a big party on the [indiscernible] park fiesta. We’ll make food. It’s like a big picnic.
Maddie: It’s the same party that we’re talking about?
Henry: Well, yes. The Families of the Valley.
Henry: We also have where there’s like three or four people, we [indiscernible] three or four families and they will tell their story. They’ll get up and tell their story how they came, and so they can pass it on to the kids there, and the other families there so they can actually see, you know, they came to the Valley and what they did to get to this point.
Maddie: You mentioned that Señor Rojas will record the singing. Does someone has ever recorded the stories told at the meetings?
Henry: Not yet, I don’t think so.
Maddie: Not yet. Okay.
Henry: But he has all these — well, the thing was [indiscernible] and he used to have this radio station on Sunday. He would play this Mexican music with the ranchera songs and it would be our mom and dad, Ruby, Juan, [indiscernible], they would be out there singing together and you can hear, you know, and Mr. Rojas playing, too, and you can hear them all on this music. It just brings tears to your heart because it’s just so beautiful. The songs, and the music.
Maddie: So the music is recorded, but the stories need to be recorded.
Henry: No, no. It needs to be recorded.
Maddie: Oh, wow. Okay. So as closing, could you tell me a little bit about the St. Helena before and the St. Helena now, in terms of from your perspective?
Henry: Well, you know, we were born and raised in Oakville. We were probably maybe an eighth of a mile away from Highway 29. You look out there, there were sheep in front of our house there, and cattle. We looked out there, there were some grapes. We’d like to see a car go by every once in a while. Two, no one. Two, or three. Just every once in a great while see a car go by. Now you look out there, like bumper to bumper. St. Helena, growing up here I knew a lot of families here. There’s a lot of families here, but a lot of kids have moved away because they can’t afford it. You know? The only reason I can afford it, my parents bought a house there in St. Helena and they passed away. So I bought it from them and the family. But it’s just grown up a lot, more pricier. You know? I shop in St. Helena Safeway, and Steve’s Harbor [ph], about three or four places, but a lot of places I don’t really shop because I can’t afford it. You know? I go shop other places. It’s really grown up to be, too many people buy it, the houses around my area where I live right now, for their little summer homes or weekend homes. They buy them, they fix them up, and they come on the weekend and stay there and take off again. You know? I’ve seen a lot of changes in St. Helena. A lot of that going on.
Maddie: And how about in terms —
Henry: The grapes?
Maddie: The grapes.
Henry: You know, before there was all these prunes and all these other and I enjoyed it because I used to go out and work there. But the thing is when we used to work there you used to have all this food available. So you would eat as you were working. You know? That’s why I enjoy fruit like pears and peaches that are a little more green, because that’s how I ate them when I was younger, and I enjoy the food that way. Now when you go out, all you have it grapes and it’s one season. Nothing like before, we used to go out all the time and eat during the courses of the year. You’d always be eating something fresh.
Maddie: In terms of Latinos, before you mentioned that because you didn’t know the Italians, or you didn’t know [overlapping conversation]
Henry: Yeah, we didn’t really — [overlapping conversation]
Maddie: — the Latinos would get together. How about today? Is that still going on? Do Latinos feel that they don’t know anyone and they have to meet —
Henry: No, it’s more entangled now. Before, when we were younger, because of our parents, there were like seven or eight groups of people here and they would all go together. But now, since I’ve grown up here, I’ve known a lot of these people when I was younger, so I know a lot of families here. Like the whole Venetians, and there’s a lot of people, Mannigans [ph], a lot of people that I know that we still meet together and get together. You know?
Maddie: So you would describe it as something that has stayed kind of the same, or there has been an improvement? Or?
Henry: It has been improved a lot.
Henry: Before, when I first came as my brothers and sisters, a lot of prejudice. You know, they were almost embarrassed to bring their lunch to school when they were young because they would have like burritos or something like that, or tacos. They have stories where they would be eating lunch and then like Mike Thompson [ph] would go over there and like, “What are you eating?” And, “It’s a burrito.” And they’d share a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with Mike Thompson and they [indiscernible] they love the food. Because [indiscernible] there was no Mexican restaurants. You know, I just wish my mom would have started a Mexican restaurant because she used to run farm labor camps. She used to make food for these farmers and take it out to the one in Oakville, and there was one in [Indiscernible] up north and then one over there also at the trail, which is at the county. There used to be a farm labor camp there. My mom and dad used to run those, and take the food, the lunches and dinners for the people. Make them every day, take them out to the crews, the Bracero Program. Take them out there, feed the people. I wish they would have had the restaurant, because they would have been great.
Maddie: It was kind of a restaurant for the people, that was —
Henry: It was. It was a restaurant for the people.
Maddie: Wow. Wow.
Henry: Anyway, that has changed a lot, but I think it’s got a lot better. Hispanics are more entangled, as the older families are, with the new generation here. Which is great. It gives me some time where when people come to Mexico now they just come in and they take off. But we came here to live to be American, basically. Lived here to be American, and to help America, and stuff like that. So. I think it’s great, you know? The whole situation.
Maddie: Henry, thank you. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and we’ll definitely have to have you back because I know there’s more.
Henry: There’s quite a bit more. I’m nervous, I can talk [indiscernible]. But, I mean, you talk to any of these families, have them come over, and they’ll tell you the same thing. It’s just great. Because a lot of these people I know here are from kids, childhood friends, we know each other, we’re like brothers and sisters. And a lot of our families are in the triangle. You know, that my older brother has married a Leluna [ph], so like everybody’s married each other because they were all in the same groups.
Maddie: When you say triangle, it’s different families married into the family?
Henry: Different families, yeah, married. Yeah. So we have cross marriages in this family.
Maddie: Oh, that’s good. It’s good.
Henry: Yeah. Because that’s how we grew up, you know, kept in that way. Until now, it’s kind of spread out.
Maddie: I know, every time I asked, “Yeah, the big family.” I’m like, “Oh, okay.”
Henry: Yeah. Yes.
Maddie: Well, thank you so much and we’ll definitely have you back.
Henry: Yeah, thank you very much for this.