The matriarch of our family, my great-grandmother Agnes (Anita) Mata Guevara, was the glue that held the entire family together. Many people called her Rose, for the Rose Café, but, to her family, she was known as Mamanita.
Mamanita was born in Cameron, Texas, in 1917. She was the middle child of two siblings, with an older sister and a younger brother. Her parents were migrant workers from Aguascalientes, Mexico, who came to Texas during the farming season and returned to Mexico when they were done. They did not intend on her being born in the United States; they simply happened to be here for work. When she was 14 years old, she married Geronimo Barajas, who was from Aguascalientes. They had four children: Manuel, Jose, Raquel, and Esperanza. She eventually divorced Geronimo, and, soon after, he passed away.
After her divorce, Mamanita moved to the States, to work and save her money to bring her children over, who were being raised in Mexico by her parents. In 1945, she began working at the Rose Café on the Eastside of Santa Barbara, located on Haley Street. She worked 16-hour days, seven days a week, for eight years, making 75 cents an hour. During this time, she met Antonio Guevara, who, through the bracero program, had come to Santa Barbara to work. They eventually married and had three children together: Theresa, Ana, and George. In April 1953, Mamanita had finally saved enough money to get the papers together to bring over the children in Aguascalientes.
Once the children had arrived and were settled, Mamanita was given an opportunity to buy the restaurant from the owner’s daughter, Emma, after the owner passed away. Because she had spent all her savings to bring her children to the U.S., she wasn’t in a position to buy it. Emma gave her a year and a half to buy the restaurant, and with the help of her family, she bought the restaurant in 1955. The family eventually moved to a house directly across the street from the Rose Café on Haley Street in 1962 and have lived there ever since.
Through years of hard work and sacrifice, Mamanita owned a business, homes, and other properties in Santa Barbara. She was well-known and respected in the community, especially on the Eastside of Santa Barbara, where she was called “Mamanita” by everyone, including nonrelatives. Every day, she sat in the corner table by the window, looking around the restaurant and outside. Not a day went by that someone didn’t come to visit and talk with her, even bringing her treats.
While trying to count all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she would get lost on the total. To say our family is large is an understatement. I asked her how she could possibly remember everyone, and she had a simple, remarkable answer: “With my age now, I have trouble with names, but I always remember their faces. Aye, Chomina, you are all my babies … I can never forget my babies.”
Mamanita has truly lived what I like to call a full life. She grew up in a migrant working family, left her family in Mexico to create a life here in the States for them, and worked hard to create a business and stable home life for everyone. What’s remarkable about her life and her story is the fact that she survived her struggles and was successful in doing so. Her hard work, dedication, and determination paved the way for each of her future generations to live a good life and embrace all that this world has to offer them. She continued to take care of her immediate and extended family. From her eldest 77-year-old son to her youngest great-great-grandchild, everyone was treated like her child, equally loved and cared for.
When I asked her to think of all of her children, her future generations of children, and what her wish for the future would be for them, she simply stated, “Felizidad, alegria, y mucho amor,” which translates to “The best, happiness, and love for each other.” She said, “Everything is and will be okay, as long as we always stay happy and never forget to love.” She truly was an iconic woman, a community legend, and the matriarch to our entire family, as well as most of Santa Barbara. Our family was truly lucky to have this wonderful woman in our lives for as long as we did and to have the chance to learn our history from her. If we don’t know where we come from, then we won’t know where we are going.
On December 10, 2014, at 8:34 p.m., Mamanita passed away peacefully in her sleep at her home, surrounded by her family, who loved her so much. We are all going to miss her deeply, but we will carry on her legacy throughout the generations. Rest in peace, Chomina. We love you.