Yolo County residents gathered at the Gibson House grounds in Woodland to celebrate the annual Women’s History Month event on March 18. This year, the Yolo County Women’s History Month planning committee hosted a community luncheon themed “Celebrating women who tell our stories” and invited two Winters women to speak.
Gloria Lopez read an excerpt from her book An American Paella — A century of memories and experiences of becoming American and staying Spanish in Winters, California and shared part of her experience in researching for the book as well as her own story of growing up in the town of Winters while living (and working) as an immigrant family from Spain.
Lopez noted her story was shared by many families who immigrated from Spain in 1907 to Hawaii to the Bay Area and finally found a home in Winters and was “quite a generational story” that she was going to share.
“Today I’m going to tell you not only my story, but the story of hundreds of descendants from Spain that are just like me. These families immigrated from Spain about 100 years ago and settled in Winters. And this is our story about becoming American while staying Spanish,” Lopez said.
Lopez had been waiting for someone in the area to share the story of local Spanish immigrants as women in Rocklin and Vacaville had done. However, when no one had she began the book project which took her three years to complete. She also hired a videographer to help record her interviews. With the help of local historian Rob Coman, the footage was used to create a documentary that was
published on YouTube.
She read the introduction to An American Paella that talked about the stories of immigrants and their descendants that explored the challenges and rewards of becoming a citizen of a new country while retaining the identity and culture of their home country.
“(Immigrants and their descendants from Spain) had an important part not only in the history of the community Winters but also (in) the history of America. These Spanish immigrants have been hard-working people with strong family ties and have achieved the American dream. They came with nothing and have prospered,” Lopez said.
One of the highlights Lopez included was about her family’s tradition of cultivating heirloom pepper strains (that are over 100 years old) they brought with them from Spain and how she continues the tradition today. Lopez said she was gifted the nickname “La Señora de los Pemientos” for planting thousands of pepper seeds each year and sharing the peppers with the community.
She said some of the families who immigrated have lost their families’ pepper string over the years as some descendants did not keep up with the tradition of saving seeds and cultivating them.
Corinne Martinez was also invited to share her story of growing up in a household where both Spanish and English were dominant languages. Marinez’s family members were interviewed by Lopez for her book and appeared in the documentary.
“I feel like Gloria just told half of my life story — it’s the same story. But I’ll talk more about my story and the Spanish side of my family. I’m half Spanish and half Rominger,” Martinez said.
Martinez passed around a photo of her dad’s family (when he was a child) and a poem that her cousin’s husband wrote mounted together.
She also shared the business side of her story that started in the local region known as the Berryessa gap and how it developed into the rootstock and eventually wine production of her family’s business Berryessa Gap Vineyards. The land had deep farming roots for both her Spanish and German ancestors.
She said her grandfather returned to America with his family.
“I see perseverance in the face of adversity in every part of my grandparent’s story, but somehow they didn’t necessarily see it that way. When my dad asked about the challenges my grandparents faced, he had a hard time recalling the specifics,” Martinez said.
When he talked about the hard work, it was just what you did — and that was starting at six years old because everyone in the family contributed to help support the family. She said her grandparents didn’t talk about it but her father mentioned remembering her grandmother crying when she heard the train because she missed Spain.
When I listen to Goria and I read my dad’s interview I think about my childhood and now my role as part of the next generations of these incredibly brave immigrants, pioneers, farmers and entrepreneurs — I think about my upbringing and how that experience draws me to Spain, draws me to the community of Spaniards of Winters — and all of Winters — and draws me to do my part to speak the language, engage with others and cook our food … and it also helps me to continue these traditions,” Martinez said.
Martinez and Lopez’s son Brett Autry worked earlier that day to cook up paella that they served to the group following the presentation. Lopez and Jenni Jacobs Garcia, Winters resident and Yolo County Women’s History Month committee board member, also worked to make Tortilla Española, a traditional Spanish dish, which is a Spanish omelet made with Lopez’ peppers, tortillas and eggs to serve to the crowd.
Learn more about the Yolo County Women’s History Month efforts online at www.ycwhm.org.
Learn more about Lopez’s book An American Paella and watch the documentary online at anamericanpaella.com.