Maria Theresa Tamayo (Corona) was born 1969 in San Diego. Her sister, Christina Tamayo, was born in 1967. They both lived with their parents in a home an Arizona Street off Broadway on a street that no longer exists.
Her father was Hector Jesus Tamayo (b. 1935 in Brawley, California). Hector came to San Diego (Logan Heights) with his parents when he was only two years old.
Paul Tamayo Established Otay Farms in 1960
Hector’s mother was Amelia Lozoya Tamayo (b. 1913 in Chihuahua, Mexico). Hector’s father was Paul Estrada Tamayo (b. 1913 in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico). Paul’s parents came over to the United States when he was a young child and they started out working in Arizona. When Paul was already an adult, the family moved to the Imperial Valley. Paul always worked in produce, selling vegetables and fruits.
When he first moved to San Diego in 1937, Paul sold produce in what today is the Gaslamp district because during those times that entire area was filled with produce markets. By 1960 Paul leased a part of a store on Broadway and F Street in Chula Vista to sell his own produce. Successful, one year later he moved to Moss and Broadway where he rented the entire space. In 1966, Paul moved his produce market to its current location at Broadway and Main Street. Originally, the space had been a burger drive-in called Ted’s. When Otay Farms was established, it became the first Mexican Market in Chula Vista.
Paul’s Sons, including Hector, became part of the business
Hector received his teaching credential in history from SDSU, graduating in 1956. He then taught at Lincoln High School for several years, but he had to go into the army reserves and was stationed at Fort Ord. During Hector’s time in the army, Paul hired Maria Elena Rios Tamayo (b. 1942 in Guanajuato, Mexico) to work as a cashier for Otay Farms.
Maria Elena was born in a little town called Abasolo. Her family moved to Tijuana and while the family was trying to get their papers to come across to the United States, she finished high school in Tijuana as well as secretarial college. As the family legend goes, the current Mayor, Mary Casillas Salas, used to go into Otay Farms as a teenager and at the time helped fix Hector and Maria Elena up by telling her “He likes you.” Whatever the truth, Hector and Maria Elena married in 1966. Together, they had four children, including Christina and Maria Theresa.
A Small History of Otay Farms
Otay Farms was a family run business also known as Paul & Son’s Market. At first they only sold produce, but then expanded. In addition, Paul owned land south of Otay Farms (today it’s part of the Otay Valley Regional Park). There, he grew produce for about ten years that he would sell at his market. The land was sold around 1977-78.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported the property purchase on July 6, 1969: “Ten and one-half acres of farm land in the 2700 block of Palm Avenue in Imperial Beach were sold, at $55,000, stamps, by Mr. and Mrs. George G. Downs. The buyers were Paul & Sons Partnership, Hector J. Tamayo Sr. and Jr. and Paul E. Tamayo, operators of Otay Produce Farms. They plan to plant the land to vegetables.”
Maria Theresa recalls that she and her siblings usually helped work in the grocery store. For example, they would bag the tortilla chips, weight them, tie them and put them on the rack. Her parents always worked together. Long hours and seven days a week, Maria Theresa recalls that every two years the family would take a three week vacation and go in their motor home to Guanajuato, Mexico to visit extended family.
In 1979 Otay Farms added tortillas, meat and more groceries. Because Otay Farms continued to succeed, especially selling their tortillas to many taco shops throughout San Diego, they bought a tortilla factory located at 2765 Main Street which ran during the 1990s.
The San Diego Union Tribune reported on July 13, 1980: “Hector Tamayo, co-proprietor of Otay Farms Market, believes Otay Mesa could someday be a key import-export center. Tamayo has been in the produce business in the area since 1962. Last year, his open-air market expanded to include a meat and carry-out section and the popular tortilla “factory.”
Today, Christina helps run the Otay Farms business. Maria Theresa is the Principal at Valle Lindo Elementary School in Chula Vista.
Hector Tamayo, Community Activist
In the 1980’s Hector became a local community activist. A San Diego Union Tribune newspaper article in 1982 reported that the Montgomery community of 22,000 residents were not part of Chula Vista. Instead, their 3.9 square miles was unincorporated. A ballot proposition, however, recommended the area be annexed to Chula Vista.
Hector was at first opposed. If annexed, it would be the largest annexation of population in California history to that time. Hector and other residents argued that if Montgomery would be annexed, residents would lose control over their community, and with it they would lose the community’s rural qualities.
“Many say they fear Chula Vista would eventually put eyesore industry in the south, and that as 20 percent of the city’s total population, Montgomery residents would not have enough muscle to stop it.”
Hector became the chairman of the Concerned Montgomery Citizens Committee Against Annexation. The group then rented a 23-foot trailer in the parking lot of Mik’s Car Wash, on Third Avenue.
Maria Theresa said that eventually Hector and his group supported annexation because they were promised new street lights and sidewalks.
As a side note: The annexation of the 1980’s was not the first. Freeway construction, rezoning and many other factors led to annexations throughout South Bay’s history. In 1955 the Western Salt Company did not want to be annexed by Chula Vista and instead was annexed by the City of San Diego. Then, San Diego added another large part of the southern region in 1957 by annexing Palm City, Nestor, Otay Mesa and San Ysidro. The actions of Western Salt and San Diego stopped Chula Vista from expanding in the southwest until 1985. On December 31st of that year, the Montgomery annexation of 3.5 square miles from L Street to Otay River included Fairfield and the La Punta district. (Steve Schoenherr, “La Punta,” South Bay Historical Society http://sunnycv.com/southbay/exhibits/punta.html.)
Maria Theresa went to Valle Lindo Elementary School and then Bonita Vista High School. She studied at SDSU and then became an instructional aid, teacher and then principal.
Maria Theresa spent sixteen years working for the South Bay Union School District, including at Howard Pence, Imperial Beach Elementary and Mendoza Elementary School. She then became the Principal of Rice Elementary for one year. She transferred to Valle Lindo where she has been a Principal since 2008.
Maria Theresa recalls that her father Hector was adamant that they speak English in the home and that his children be educated in English. As a consequence, when Maria Theresa and Christina were in elementary school, the Bilingual Education Act became law (1976). She remembers they were pulled out of class to be tested and her father, Hector, was furious. The memory is important for Maria Theresa and many other South Bay interviewees because the 1970s marked a generational shift. A gap between generations would occur during these decades, with the older generation not understanding the need for bilingual education or a Chicano movement, while the younger generation began to shape a new identity based on the Civil Rights Movements.
(Interview: June 14, 2016)