Alicia Perez – February 6th, 2009

GEDC0019I drove down to The Floodgate Store last Friday morning to meet with Alicia Perez (now Parra) the storeowner and also the proprietor of Alicia’s Restaurant in Boonville. We sat down at the back of the cozy little restaurant area and were joined by her two-year old son, Gregorio…
Alicia was born in the mid-seventies in the small rural town of Tumbiscatio in the Mexican State of Michoacan, the seventh of eleven children (five girls, six boys). “My mother’s side had some money, I suppose – middle class perhaps, but it was in the countryside so it wasn’t much. My father was a carpenter who made fine furniture – he was regarded as the best carpenter anywhere around and my brothers all followed in his footsteps in woodworking. We had cattle and like most other people in the area grew corn, beans, etc. It was a farming community, the town was may be slightly bigger than Boonville and the nearest city, Apatzingan, was about three hours away…When I was a young girl my father bought a store and we sold our meats from there – it was a general store that bought in extra money on top of my father’s wages as a carpenter.”
Alicia attended elementary school in the town but at the age of eight her parents divorced and her schooling suffered, although her father did give money to the family. “Divorce was very unusual in Mexico, particularly in the rural areas. People all around said ‘Wow!’ when they heard my parents had split up…My mother struggled with so many of us and in 1986 when my older brother Jesus Jr. said I could come for a vacation to see him in the San Fernando Valley in California I jumped at the chance. I caught a bus and all alone went up through Mexico and across the border. I was twelve years old and ended up not going back. Jesus is the best brother in the world and I stayed there for four years with his wife and kids. After just two months at junior high school I quit to baby-sit and clean for him and his wife in Arleta, a tough district outside L.A. I never did return to school”…
In the early eighties her brother had worked in Anderson Valley at the apple ranch facing the Elementary School on the opposite side of Highway 128. So in 1990, at the age of sixteen, Alicia came to The Valley for the first time when Jesus and his family returned here. “When I arrived I was immediately struck by this Valley’s beauty and the friendly people. Grapes weren’t everywhere as they are now and the rivers had more water in them and fewer pumps taking the water out.” She worked on the ranch and in the fields with her brother, tending and milking cows, making cheese, and raising goats, chickens, and pigs. “I then got my first real paying job, as babysitter for Candy and Ed Slotte, looking after their boys, Jesse and Ryan – that Jesse was something else, I can tell you”, she says of the boy who was to become a local hero for his efforts in the war in Iraq.
At the age of eighteen she met Salvador Garcia here in the Valley and after a very brief relationship they got married in the early spring of 1991. “He was my first boyfriend and it all happened very quickly. He was eight years older than me and I suppose he was a good guy at that time. We soon had two kids, Maribel and Salvador Jr., and after a few years our problems had become very bad but we stayed together for the sake of the kids. Salvador’s parents had also divorced like mine so we both knew how hard it was for kids without a dad. We were together for almost fifteen years and I tried and tried to make it work but it was impossible.”
After a couple of years Salvador decided that the family was going to move back to Mexico and they moved to his home town in Michoacan, about eight hours from where Alicia’s family lived. “After a short time he returned to America and didn’t come back. He left me there for two years with his family, who didn’t like me. I raised the kids but was an outsider in the family. Then Salvador came back for a month and I got pregnant again – only for him to leave again.”
When Salvador Jr. was six months old his father returned to get the family and they returned to the Valley, arriving for good on June 6th, 1995 and moving into a small cabin on Rancho Navarro where they were to stay for seven years. “When the kids got a little older I wanted to get some work so I could buy things for the kids and help to pay the bills etc but my husband didn’t want this. I had no car so I would walk the kids from our place on Sea Biscuit Road to the school bus stop at Demonstration Forest every morning to get Maribel to school. I would walk back home and clean and prepare dinner for later then I’d go out and clean other people’s houses in the Rancho Navarro area. My husband did not know about this…I also borrowed a weed-eater and would cut the grass at many people’s homes, driving round on a golf cart that one of my employees loaned me. I could not tell my husband – he would have been furious. He was very macho in his thinking – the wife must be at home, cleaning and cooking. That macho mentality is a very big part of the Mexican culture but it is getting better.”
However, one day one of her customers called the house to ask her to work and he picked up the phone and realized what was going on. “We had a big fight and in the end I told him I needed a car. He was against it but finally agreed to drive me to Santa Rosa to look at one – the only time he ever took me anywhere! It was a small white two-door 1996 Honda in good condition with only 5000 miles. I asked the old man who was selling it how much he wanted. He told me $5000 but I only had $2800 so I turned to walk away when he changed his mind and said he’d take it. I took out my cash from all my hard work – over $1000 was in $1 bills, and gave it to him. It felt wonderful!”
Not long after this the school bus route was shortened so that Maribel, and now Salvador Jr. also, had to be dropped off at The Floodgate Store, owned and operated at the time by Buffy and Butch Paula. She had always loved cooking and thought one day she might work in a restaurant – even own one! “One day a “For Sale’ sign went up and we decided to borrow money from friends and my husband’s family and on May 20th, 2001 I opened my restaurant. Salvador never came to help me. April Gonzales, who had worked for the Paula’s, stayed on and I also had help from Frankie Avilla and Lee Montana. We served authentic Mexican food at affordable prices. It worked very well and I gradually built it up. Then my husband quit his job and stopped working. It was just me for nearly two years, supporting my husband and the family, working seven days a week from 7am to 7pm, with a little help on Tuesdays so I could drive to Ukiah or Santa Rosa and buy supplies.”
“I loved my work but it was tough. I would go home and cook dinner, clean and do the laundry. My husband had stopped caring about us. It was too much and I couldn’t take it anymore. I said, ‘I’m done’ but he laughed and didn’t believe me. He went to Mexico on one of his trips – he was always traveling around – and I served divorce papers. He didn’t protest or even show up in court and the judge granted a divorce in 2004…Not long afterwards he called from Mexico asking for money. He had met another woman and wanted to get married – he has had several kids with other women. I said I didn’t have any money for him. Next thing I knew he was here and he came round and beat me up – I went to the hospital and he went to jail, before being bailed out by his brother. I’ve only heard from him twice since, when he met with the kids briefly.”
When her husband sold The Floodgate Store to Jerry DiFalco – he refused to sell it to Alicia – she did manage to get the proviso that if Jerry ever wanted to sell she would have the opportunity to buy it. From the proceeds of the Floodgate sale Alicia received some money by court order and bought Lola’s in Boonville, opening Alicia’s Restaurant there in March of 2007. “We have been there nearly two years and it’s going really well. In late 2008, Jerry wanted to get out and so I bought Floodgate and returned there, to where I feel very comfortable and have many good memories and although it’s a lot of work with two places we’ll give it a go.”
Whilst at the Floodgate Store, one of her customers had begun to pay her special attention. His name was Fernando Parra and he’d come in for coffee most mornings with co-worker Raffa Delgado when they both worked for Don Shanley at Pro-Seed. Most days the two guys would also stop for a beer on the way home from work. “I liked Fernando but we were friends for quite a long time before anything romantic developed. Besides, Raffa was always with him! We started to see each other and one day he asked me to marry him. I thought about it for a few days and then said yes. He is a great guy. I am very lucky. He loves my kids and my son calls him ‘Dad’. Both of my kids think a lot of him and Maribel seems to really respect him. Then in September 2006 along came my second son, Gregorio. Fernando and I have a really nice relationship and he has helped me a lot. We own the two businesses and he doesn’t act macho at all – we are equals and we always talk about stuff together.”
I asked Alicia what she liked and didn’t like about the Valley, “I like almost everything about life in the Valley. I love my work and have little time to socialize but I don’t mind. Fernando and I will go to Cloverdale for dinner sometimes. I like La Hacienda Restaurant there – fancy Mexican food, I guess you’d say…We also go to the coast if we get a chance and like to walk on the headlands and the beach. I also like to watch Maribel play volleyball but because of work don’t get to see her very often…The only thing that concerns me is the drug situation around here – it is definitely getting worse. It was always here but not like this with kids standing around on street corners doing nothing with their lives – they don’t want to work. It is very sad.”
Like many others, Alicia has mixed feelings about the wineries in the Valley. “They are good for the Valley’s business but not necessarily for the people who work for them – not all the wineries treat their workers well.”…As for the A.V.A., she says, “I only read it to see who is in the Sheriff’s Log –I’ll probably know them!”…And the changes she has seen in the Valley over the past twenty years? – “Jobs for Mexican women have improved with the restaurants and small businesses giving them opportunities. Working in the fields is very tough although of course the money a second income brings helps with raising families. The changes are o.k. but I hope Anderson Valley does not become like Napa.”
What about our school? “Well they do a great job with the kids who are there – but I often see kids walking around town when they should be in class. I am lucky – my kids like school. Salvador Jr. is doing o.k. – he’s a young teenage boy so that has it’s difficulties some times but he’s a good boy. Maribel has never had less than a 3.9 and is never a problem. She is now a junior at the A.V High School and plays on the volleyball team – they just had a great season…I have always encouraged her to be strong young woman. Not to be downtrodden like so many Mexican women have been. I trust her completely and we talk a lot. I hope she will go to college and I will do whatever it takes to support her there. I don’t want to see her working like me – twelve/fourteen hours a day…One day I’d like to go back to school – it is a dream I have. I’ve never lost that dream but for now we are busy working and raising the family. I wouldn’t change our life for anything but one day may be I will be able to live half my life here and half in Mexico – that would be my ultimate dream come true”…
And next I asked Alicia about her thoughts on how the Mexican community has mixed in with Valley life. “Well it is strange. We are very mixed in when we are at school and in many work places but when it comes to socializing there is not much mixing. Yes it’s weird. Our culture likes to be at home with family and friends. Perhaps it’s because many of the Mexicans in this community are from country towns in Mexico and that is what’s done there. The Valley events I have been to have few Mexican people there. I still hear racial slurs about Mexicans. I don’t get it. I do think it is changing though. The language is a barrier for many Mexicans of my generation and older but this next generation are all fluent in English, they are already dating and starting to marry amongst the different communities, so I think the mixing will gradually increase on every level – I hope it does”…
To end the interview, as I have being doing each week, I posed a few questions to Alicia from a list originally devised by French Interviewer and Culture “Expert”, Bernard Pivot, and featured on television’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton”…
What is your favorite word or phrase? – “I like to hear others say, ‘good job, Alicia’.”
What is your least favorite word or phrase? – “Racist comments still hurt after all this time. For me, people have come from everywhere to this country to improve their lives over what they had before. We are all in it together – it doesn’t matter what color you are or what culture you are from.”
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – “My work and people enjoying my cooking. That makes me feel really good.”
What turns you off creatively, spiritually or emotionally? – ”Rude people.”
What sound or noise do you love? – “Kids laughing”
What sound or noise do you hate? – “That loud thumping music on car stereos. I can understand young boys playing it at times but how they can sit in their cars and listen to that noise right next to them is crazy.”
What is your favorite curse word or phrase? – “I suppose it would be ‘Pinche madre’ – there isn’t a real English equivalent I can think of. It is quite soft – there are far worse ones”
What is your favorite hobby? – She laughed out loud and said, “Cooking!…And I love to read – books that I can learn from. I like spiritual books and books about medicinal herbs.”
What profession other than your own would you like to have attempted? – “I like animals so I always thought I’d like to have owned a farm and raise animals for their milk, eggs, etc – not for slaughter!”…
What profession would you not like to do? – “Working in the fields in the summer or during harvest. I really wouldn’t want to do that now.”
Do you have any words to live by? – “I like to treat people fairly. To not be mean and to treat others as I would want them to treat me.”
Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? – “I’m not sure I’ll be going to heaven, But if I do then ‘Welcome, Alicia’ would be nice, but I’m not sure it would be like that!”…

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Published in: on February 11, 2009 at 7:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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