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War & Locale: World War II -- European Theater
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By Emily Berman
Josephine Aguilera sits and contemplates her life during the Second World War.
She explained how her experience growing up was different from her two daughters’ because she never got the chance to finish school. She had to start working after the 8th grade and never went back, while her daughters had the opportunity to finish school and go to college.
“They knew more than I did,” Aguilera said.
For example, she says when she had a hysterectomy operation and couldn’t quite understand the procedure, she had to have her daughters explain it to her.
“It’s hard when you don’t know how to explain yourself,” she said.
Another big difference between her and her daughters is that both daughters got married and later divorced. Aguilera recalls her own mother being very religious and telling her:
‘“You’re never going to get divorced, you hear me? Once you’re married, you are married forever!”’
Aguilera’s mother instilled this belief in her as she grew up. And she says she regrets not instilling the same concept in her own daughters, wondering if maybe they wouldn’t have gotten divorced so easily had she been more adamant about the permanency of marriage. She also says, however, that her daughters have new men in their lives, and that her girls are much happier, which is what truly matters.
Josephine Trujillo Aguilera was born Oct. 21, 1921, in Deming, N.M., 60 miles west of Las Cruces. She grew up with four sisters and two brothers.
There were lots of Latinos in Deming, many of whom worked on ranches and sold lumber, says Aguilera, remembering life during the Great Depression. She recalls asking her mother for some milk as a child, and her mother responding she didn’t have any and trying the next day to get some. That’s when Aguilera knew her parents couldn’t afford anything, she says.
Aguilera left school after the eighth grade to work. She did mostly housework and took care of babies.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more because I wasn’t educated,” she said.
She wanted to work because she needed things her parents couldn’t provide, such as shoes. The fact that she now has nearly 30 pairs makes her laugh.
Aguilera was only 16 when she married Manuel Aguilera, who was 19 years old and also from Deming. Before Manuel left for the war, they were wed and had two boys, both of whom would serve in the Navy during Vietnam.
Manuel was in the Army and stationed in Germany and Czechoslovakia. He bought Aguilera a radio before he left, enabling her to listen to news and music in Spanish and English. Before the war, Manuel was a carpenter.
“He could do anything,” Aguilera said. “He knew about a lot of things.”
Aguilera didn’t work during the war, instead staying at home with her boys.
“I don’t know how I made it,” she said.
After Manuel came back, they had their first daughter, Yolanda.
“I’m gonna take care of this baby all the time,” Aguilera remembers her husband saying; she added with a laugh, however, that when the baby cried at night, Manuel wouldn’t wake up.
The Aguileras moved to Hurley, N.M. – 100 miles northwest of Deming – in the 1950s, at which point both parents began laboring at the Kennecott Chino Mine. Manuel smoldered copper, while Josephine did janitorial work. The mine eventually closed due to a lack of cooper.
Manuel retired in 1975 and died of prostate cancer in 1997. Josephine retired in 1982, after which point she started fixing up their house by adding on several rooms. She still lived in the same house at the time of her interview, but said she didn’t get out much.
One of Aguilera’s grandsons lives two blocks from her. She says she enjoys it when he visits with his baby boy and little girl. During one of those visits, the baby took a box of Kleenex and removed each tissue one by one and tore them all up, she recalls.
“He’s a stinker baby,” Aguilera said. “I couldn’t stop him. He was having too much fun. That’s what grandmas are for: to spoil their kids.”
She’s nostalgic for the years when Manuel was alive and her children were younger, however.
“Those were the good old days,” Aguilera said.
Mrs. Aguilera was interviewed at her home in Hurley, New Mexico, on July 15, 2004, by Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez.