The 93-year-old longtime Tracy resident was queen of the Mexican Independence Day fiesta in 1935 and will be among the modern-day royalty riding in the Saturday morning parade that will kick off this year’s celebration. The parade, which begins at 9 a.m., will take fiesta participants from the Tracy Transit Center to Lincoln Park to begin a daylong program of food and activities.
Tillie reigned over the fiesta 76 years ago that included a program and dance at the IPFES Hall. She was selected queen after receiving the most dollar votes in the queen contest. She bested rivals Rosa Garcia, Julianita Morelos and Nellie Avila.
At the Portuguese Hall that Monday evening, Sept. 16, 1935, the free program included readings, poems, songs and music, followed by a dance to music provided by a six-piece orchestra from Pittsburg.
It has been surmised that the 1935 Mexican Independence Day celebration was Tracy’s first. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. The celebrations were first held in the 1920s, and at the latest, in 1928.
Several years ago, the late Angel Cuellar showed me the photo (the one accompanying this column), of the 16th of September celebration on Sept. 15, 1928, in the Portuguese Hall on West Ninth Street.
Angel, who died just recently, was proud of the fact that his father, Higinio Cuellar, was one of the founders of the Commission Honorifican Mexicana, which sponsored the celebrations.
I can remember that in the 1950s and 60s and 70s, Tracy’s Mexican-American residents didn’t have 16th of September celebrations (marking the beginning of the 11-year War of Mexican Independence in 1810), but instead celebrated Cinco de Mayo (the victory of Mexican forces over a larger French Army at Puebla in 1862) on May 5, give or take a day or two, each year. In those years, as in 1935, the queen was selected by the number of votes cast by her supporters, and I seem to recall that some years the competition was hot and heavy.
Mexican Independence Day really didn’t make a comeback in Tracy until the 1980s. The revival was spearheaded by James Abundis, a 1978 Tracy High graduate who attended Sacramento State.
James, who worked a year or so at the Press, was a good organizer. He and his committee revived the 16th of September celebration, having the first one in Lincoln Park.
James also headed the committee that reinstalled the murals on the handball courts in McDonald Park in 1985.
After we ran the photo of volunteers — including four members of the Tracy City Council — lifting the repaired murals into place in 1985, I received a phone call. It was James, calling from his home in Quincy, Mass., a suburb of Boston. He said his sister had sent him a copy of the photo that ran in the Press.
James reported he is a visual journalist, working as a graphics specialist with word journalists, on the staff of the Boston Globe, the major daily newspaper in New England. At home in Quincy, he has headed up efforts to develop youth soccer programs, taking a leaf from earlier efforts by the Tracy Soccer Club’s youth program. He also told me he was coming to Tracy the following week to visit his father, Salvador Abundis.
After he arrived in Tracy, I shared a cup of coffee with James at Barista’s. He retains a keen interest in what is occurring in his hometown, and brought his teenage son with him to explore their Tracy roots.
The reorganization of the Guadalupe Society into the South Side Community Association in recent years has given the new organization a boost. But leadership of the organization has mostly been provided by an older generation. Younger leadership, the type exemplified by James Abundis in the 1980s, is needed for Tracy’s Latino residents if effective community-binding programs are to be developed and expanded.
n Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.