Who was Ramon S. Tafoya?
Ramon Tafolla Soto was born February 6, 1904, in Penjamo, Guanajuato, in central Mexico to Antonio Tafolla and Francisca Soto. He was the oldest of their 9 boys and 3 girls. He was educated in Mexico until about 6th grade. Then, that was as far as was available in public school in Mexico, assuming your school was not burned down in the revolution that was going on. Antonio worked as a laborer, laying rail between the states of Chihuahua and Texas. Ramon was 12 or 13, and too small to be a laborer, so he worked as the rail camps' dishwasher and took care of whatever else the cooks needed. They entered the US through Brownsville, Texas, and soon sent back for the rest of the family.
In immigrating, the named was eventually spelled with a y instead of the double l, and their Soto, their mother's last name became the children's middle name. Eventually, Antonio's brothers and sisters, as well as his father, emigrated to the US and settled in Yolo County.
The family came to California and picked pears in Mill's Orchard near Hamilton City when they he met Maria Guadalupe Arrellano Ceballos, who was living with her brother and his family. Both families eventually settled in Yolo-Sacramento area. In September, 1923, Ramon and Lupe married at Holy Rosary Church. Some say they were the 1st Mexican couple married at Holy Rosary, but Ramon and Lupe said that wasn't the case. Otelia Contreras was the witness for the bride & Lupe was her witness at the Contreras' wedding.
Ramon worked on the railyard in Sacramento and they lived there before moving to Yolo County. Ramon found a mentor in Mr. Wilson, a local farmer, and learned surveying from him. During the Depression, many Mexican families where encouraged to return to Mexico. Lupe and Ramon with their 2 small daughters and a son, returned to his home village of Penjamo around 1931. While there, he worked as a grain broker. Another daughter was born in Penjamo, but after the death of their 3 year old son, Lupe insisted in returning to the US, and they did around mid-1933.
They settled on a ranch on East Main near Matmor. The 2 oldest children began school at Springlake, the one room school house at the fairgrounds. Other children followed; there were 15 in all, but 3 girls died as infants, so only 11 lived into adulthood.
Ramon worked as a labor contractor, with as many as 400 men during the peak season. Wages were competitive, but it was Lupe's cooking that kept many of the laborers returning to him each season. Ramon and Lupe purchased land from Mr. Wilson on the Knights Landing Highway (East Street) and began a weigh station in 1947. The station provided all the bookkeeping the farmers needed for their cannery contracts. With the growing success of the scales, they opened an adjacent grocery store. Besides carrying Mexican food products, Ramon and Lupe carried their own credit at the store. The combination of the two, made Tafoya's Drive-In Market a hub for the Spanish speaking community in Yolo County, especially for new migrant immigrants with little money. Ramon continued to also farm, using this time to gradually leave agriculture.
The market provided Ramon with more interaction with English, and by the early 1950's, he became a naturalized citizen. It was at this time that he encouraged many of the migrant farmworkers who came through his store, to put down roots in Yolo County. He would take them to meet his contact at the cannery, or if they had skills, a local garage, and help facilitate them getting permanent jobs. Tafoya's Market became their first credit reference, and he would often go with Mexican families to the bank, introducing them to the bankers and helping them with translations so they could open their first bank accounts. He did the same with them in local businesses, so families could purchase their refrigerator or car, often co-signing their credit application or loans. He would be asked by the families to sit with them as they nervously signed papers for their first home.
During this time, Ramon and Lupe acted as petitioners and for a variety of nieces, nephews, and cousins from Mexico, while acting as benefactors for older family members. Ramon was sought out by members of the English speaking businesses in town who wanted to better reach out into the local Mexican community. Ramon knew his English speaking ability wasn't perfect, and so he made up for it by being a good listener; always finding the time to hear problems - in English or in Spanish.
In the early 1970's, he had his first heart attack and was discovered to be diabetic. He retired from working in the store, but not from visiting with folks as they came by to shop. He was a big outdoors person and had a couple of horses. He often rode in parades with Los Corporales, a traditional Mexican riding group. A life-long Catholic, he also spearheaded the Guadalupanean Society, a Mexican church group which often fundraises for Holy Rosary Church and School.
October 28, 1976, he suffered his second heart attack and died. The local community was very generous in its outpouring of support for Lupe and her family. Lupe died April 4, 1992, and the two are buried together at Monument Hill Cemetary. Nine of their adult children are alive and all live in Woodland. Seven of their great-grandchildren/step-great-grandchildren have attended R.S. Tafoya, four of them currently enrolled.
---- contributed by Lupita Ochoa