Maria Juanita Garcia Williams

Maria Juanita Garcia Williams was born 1949 in National City. She lived in the family home at 1237 McKinley Avenue until she married in 1969.

Alfonso Garcia (Maria’s father)

Maria’s father was Alfonso Garcia (b. 1909 in Leon Guanajuato, Mexico). He came to the United States when he was about seven years old with his mother, Ventura Garcia, and his four siblings. The move was prompted by the tragic death of Ventura’s husband who was kicked in the head while trying to break in a horse. Ventura, having six children, went to the United States because she had relatives in San Bernardino. Eventually, Ventura and her children moved to Santa Barbara and then to San Diego.

At a young age, Alfonso became a caddy at the Coronado Golf Course which led him to learn English because his caddy friend told him he would make more tips that way. For a time Alfonso also worked in the avocado and orange groves of Escondido. However, at some point he fell out of a tree and broke his leg. Shortly after the leg healed, he was in a car accident and broke his leg again, ending up with a metal plate. Consequently, he was no longer able to do difficult hard labor.

The Smith family owned the ranch where Alfonso had been working. After the accident, they offered him a job at the Savoy Theater, which they also owned. There, Alfonso became the night manager. The Savoy was a movie theater on 5th Avenue in downtown San Diego that showed burlesque films as well as westerns and war movies. This was where the sailors would go when they docked in San Diego. The Savoy was also located across the street from The Casino and the Azteca theaters. Alfonso sold the tickets, concessions, did maintenance, put up the marquee and generally took care of the entire theater.

Catalina Pizano Garcia (Maria’s Mother)

Alfonso married Catalina Pizano Garcia (b. 1909 in Agua Prieta, Mexico) in 1945.

Catalina’s father was Ynez Pizano (b. 1877 in Bacerac, Mexico ) and her mother was Juana Enriques Pizano (b. 1887 in Bacerac, Mexico).

Before moving to the United States,Ynez was a Border Patrol Agent when agents were still riding on horseback. He first moved the family to Douglas, Arizona before moving to San Diego in 1919. Ynez became a barber and Juana became a seamstress. Ynez was bilingual and Juana spoke only Spanish. They remained Mexican citizens and their great pride was in purchasing the 1237 McKinley Avenue home in 1923. The domicile remained the Pizano/Garcia family residence until 1998.

Catalina was fourteen years old when the family home was purchased. She had an older brother, Fernando, and two younger sisters, Lucia and Socorro. Catalina attended Central Elementary where emphasis was placed on learning English. In fact, her teacher encouraged the children to Americanize their names so they would fit into U.S. life better. As a result, Catalina adopted her American name, Katherine or Katie, which she used for the rest of her life, except for on legal documents.

Due to family financial hardship, she had to drop out of school and start working. She held a variety of jobs from packing houses to the tuna canneries. She married Isaac Velasquez, had a daughter, Zenia in 1933, but divorced soon after. She then married Alfonso and had two children: Alfonso, Jr. and Maria Juanita. Her early years greatly influenced her decision to insist that their children speak only English in the home and have them pursue a higher education.

Maria Juanita Garcia Williams

Maria went to Kimball Elementary, National City Junior High, and then to Sweetwater High School, graduating in 1967. Soon after, she received a call from the Youth Opportunity Corp, a program enacted during the Johnson Administration. She was attending Southwestern when she was hired to work part-time as a clerk. She worked in a typing pool and her boss liked Maria’s work, so before the end of the first full semester, she asked Maria to work for her full-time.

Maria started as a GS-2 clerk typing over at the Naval Station. She continued working for the Navy, retiring after 37 years from civil service as a GS-14 Supervisory Contract Specialist. She married a man from Chula Vista whom she met while dancing in Tijuana in 1969. She explained that it was very common for young people to go across the border to Tijuana for dancing and the night life.

Maria’s brother, Alfonso, Jr. graduated from Sweetwater High School in 1965 and immediately joined the Marine Corps. He was sent over to Vietnam as a communications specialist and served until 1972. He currently resides in Stockton, CA. Her sister, Zenia Velasquez Wissler, married and became a Navy spouse, living in Japan for three years before settling in Newark, CA.

Rezoning to Light Industrial in OTNC

The family home on McKinley was purchased by her maternal grandfather, Ynez Pizano, in 1923. This was also the house his daughter, Catalina, spent most of her life in. Catalina and Alfonso then lived in the house with Maria — who also spent most of her upbringing on McKinley Avenue.

For many decades, the NC City Council wanted to zone the area into light industrial. By 1974, protests led by Herman Baca and Father Juan Hurtado stopped the project. Most of the families who lived on the west side of National City were Mexican Americans. If the industrial zoning went through, their homes would be destroyed and hundreds of families displaced.

Maria explained that the NC City Council finally got its way in the late 1990s when they bought the houses in hopes of creating the light industrial zone. Maria’s childhood home, in which three generations had lived, was razed down and no longer exists. However, Maria explained that the council never could proceed with their full plans because one particular owner refused to sell.

(Interview: October 23, 2016)