Mary Tereza Cuellar Hartman was born 1949 in National City. She attended Kimball Elementary, National City Junior High, and graduated from Sweetwater High School in 1967. She then went to Southwestern College, studying Business English and merchandizing, but she wanted to get to work as soon as possible. She started at Cozine’s grocery store on Harding Street and then worked other odd jobs, until she landed employment at Kaiser Hospital in La Mesa. Mary recalls her pay was $2.40 an hour, which she thought was big money then.
Mary grew up speaking English in the home. Although her parents spoke Spanish together, her mother always spoke English to her. As a teenager, Mary recalled enjoying the dancing in Tijuana. By the 1960s she would just walk over the bridge into Mexico and listen to a multitude of different bands.
Her mother was Soledad Gallegos Cuellar (b. 1908 in Chihuahua, Mexico). Family stories say that Soledad’s father, Juan Gallegos, fought with Pancho Villa at one time. Soledad’s mother, Guadalupe Mendez, was believed to have been kidnapped by Pancho Villa’s men, but Juan rescued her. Although Mary believes both her maternal grandparents were born in Los Angeles, at a certain undetermined time they moved back to Mexico. Then, when Soledad was only seven years old, her mother died of unknown causes. Her father landed a job with the railroad in National City and moved with his daughter in 1919. However, Juan left her with some relatives and Soledad was deeply unhappy there. At about the age of 13 she married John P. Mendez. Together they had 8 children. (Later, they would divorce.) All the while, Soledad worked, first cleaning the offices for Bank of America in downtown San Diego, then as a waitress at Club 21. Eventually, she spent years cleaning fish at the Van Camp tuna cannery.
Mary’s father was Jose Carmen Valencia Cuellar (b. 1921 in Tlahuixtepan, Hidalgo, Mexico). From what is known, he received a passport to work as a laborer in the fields in the United States. He then met a man who introduced him to construction work. Jose began building fireplaces in the whole of San Diego County, working for various companies.
Soledad loved going dancing and this is how she met Jose. Although far younger, Jose pursued Soledad until they married in 1951. Soledad & Jose lived the rest of their lives in National City. His obituary, written by Mary Tereza after he passed, reads:
Jose Carmen Valencia Cuellar was born in Tlahuixtepan of Hidalgo, Mexico. He moved to San Diego, California at the age of twenty to make a better life for himself. He had been offered a scholarship for teaching, but his desire and goal was to follow his dreams.
He met his sweetheart, Soledad Gallegos Mendez from National City, CA. They fell in love and married. He began his new married life with a new family of six sons and two daughters: Altert, Augustine, Frank, John, Mike, Simon, Lupe and Ofelia. In time the additions to the family were two more children, Joe and Terri.
Jose was a very proud, stern and hard working man. He began his career as a laborer in the fields of Vista, CA and throughout San Diego. His supervisor Lee Sepin was instrumental in helping him achieve a new job as a construction worker. Jose retired thirty years later at the age of fifty-five, as a Tender Mason with Local Union 89.
A man of great faith and his love was his family enjoying watching sports: soccer, baseball (Dodgers), football (Chargers), and boxing. Other interests were building fireplaces and landscaping, His other enjoyment was traveling, a good party, laughing and joking, pets (Chulita and Rainer). He enjoyed listening to old Ranchera music and dancing.
He cherished his family. His sister, brother, sons, daughters, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. His most proudest moment was becoming an American citizen of the United States on August 26, 1998.
(Interview: November 7, 2016)