Antonia Montosa Juanes (1907-1989): The Life Story of a Hawaiian Spaniard

I recently realized that I had a printed copy of an interview my mother did with my great grandmother Antonia Montosa Juanes. She is a Hawaiian Spaniard, born to Spanish parents in Makaweli, Hawaii. I always knew she was a Spaniard, but it has recently come to my attention that Hawaiian Spaniards are part of a forgotten history, which is being reclaimed. I wrote about it here and you can check out the Facebook site here.

Below is what my great grandmother Antonia, for whom I am named, had to say when interviewed about her life before she died.

“We came to San Francisco. I don’t know much about it. Came to California when I was about four years old. Parents worked in San Francisco for a while in a cannery. From there we went by horse and wagon to Chico. I was too young to work. Picking fruit the whole summer, cutting peaches. From there my parents went to Los Angeles. In Los Angeles they met a Mexican and went to Los Alamitos close to San Diego to cut sugar beets. In a covered wagon with the other families it took about a week and a half. One horse pulled the wagon. The children walked. I found it to be a lot of fun. Sometimes we used to ride in the wagon.


“When the family came upon a creek they all stopped to camp and find something to eat. At night, my older sister Eulalia helped my mother cook. My older brother Joe collected the wood for the fire. I was a babysitter for my younger sister Josie. We would get up early the next morning and continue on our way.

“There were trails we took to travel. A couple years later we went to Fresno to pick grapes and peaches. There were three families we went with, my godparents and other family. We all had our own wagons. It was like a small wagon train. It was fun. Every time we stopped the men would go out and hunt rabbits and squirrels. The women would cook them. They tasted real good but too much fat.

“The next day we would go on our way. There were farmers on the way. We came across a farmer that was raising bell peppers. My father asked permission to camp there. He was kind enough to tell us we could pick a few bell peppers to eat.

“In Los Alamitos my parents would bring some of the small sugar beets to take the roots off and cook them like spinach. It was good.

“My family lived in Santa Paula in the winter. That is where my brother Raymond was born. During the fruit season my family traveled to Fresno to pick grapes and prunes. It took us about two weeks to get to Fresno. Worked there for four years going back and forth.

“My friends were my godparents children. Father rented a ranch about 20 acres. My godparents [grew] vegetables and so did father . . . We raised chickens, pigs, rabbits, and pigeons. We raised corn for the pigs to eat. We didn’t go back to Fresno. My brother Edward was born in Ojai.

“The only thing my mother bought at the store was flour to bake bread. My father would kill two pigs at a time which was used for cooking. The meat was salted. The fat was salted for salt pork. Garbanzos, which my father grew along with potatoes, beans. We ate it from one year to another. We stored enough for a year. The intestines from the pig were cleaned and used for sausage.

“Father made an outside oven. Bricks were put on the bottom like a tepee, mud and lime mixed with dirt. Covered up the outside and in the back he made a hole. When the bricks were white and hot, my mother would take the ashes out. She cleaned the bricks with a mop. She would put the bread to bake. It was sure good.

“My sister Eulalia got married and moved to Sunnyvale. We stayed in Ojai two years, but my mother wasn’t satisfied. She missed her older daughter. We moved to Fresno that summer to pick grapes. I was about 13 years old. WE traveled to Fresno where the fruit was.

“My father bought a pickup, but my older brother Joe drove it. The first year we went to Fresno in that pickup. Every few miles we had a blow out. There was a man who went around peddling fish. He told my father and brother don’t put too much air in the tires because it is a long distance and the tires get air as they go and you’re going to have a hard time. Being this was the first time to own a vehicle my brother Joe didn’t know so he put in the amount they told him to. So every five miles one of the tires would blow. At the time we were traveling through the Mohave Desert. THE roads were very bad, just plain dirt.

“Naturally the pickup was full of household items, even the family dog. We had a nice big dog. Every time we hit a bump one of the tires would blow. Finally we came to a garage near Bakersfield. The man there said, ‘You have a big load and it’s a long distance. Naturally the tires are half full and every time you hit a bump the tire splits.’ He told my father and brother he would help them fix the tire. The family bought two tires from him because my brother was driving on the rims. He was out of tires!

“The man filled them with air and he told my brother Joe to keep them at a certain weight, no less. We had no more trouble. Spent the whole summer in Fresno and drove back without tire trouble. Two years passed and my sister now had two children, a son Manuel and a daughter Mary.

“My mother wanted to see her grandchildren, so my father traveled to Sunnyvale first to see how it was. He really liked Sunnyvale and told the family it was really nice. My mother said let’s sell the house and move in 1920 to Sunnyvale. It was beautiful in the spring when the cherries were in bloom. I would go up on a hill and look down on the valley, white with blossoms.

“Sunnyvale has really changed. I worked n the cannery in Alviso. The first year I went by myself. The second year my mother and Marie went. A truck had benches in back that would come pick us up in the morning and take us home at night. The cannery was run by Chinese people. The third year my younger sister Josephine went. She was 11 years old. We moved into the ranch where my brother Eddie was born.

“The house was on 40 acres. My father had a large farm where he grew wheat. My father grew corn. He cut it and put it in sacks. He put in a big barn that we had.

“The closest neighbor was five miles away. We did things as a family. At night my mother read to us A Thousand and One Nights, Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, and Sinbad the Sailor. As we listened to her stories we would shuck the corn. We fed the corn to the pigs to fatten them up. We were never lonely. We were always kept busy. My godmother lived about six miles away from us and we visited back and forth. My father sent away for a phonograph, bought some records and that was our only entertainment.

“I never went to a dance. I wasn’t allowed to because my mother was very strict.”

Meeting Her Husband (also a Spaniard)

“I lived in the ranch in Sunnyvale. My younger sister Josie and godparents were living in Santa Clara. My husband was working at the University of Santa Clara, in the dining room, serving and mopping the floors. Clara, Josie’s godmother had a daughter-in-law who had a sister. Felix [her husband] was invited over by father one Sunday because they were going to do some butchering to make blood sausage.

“My husband and my brother-in-law Silvano were from the same part of Spain: Salamanca. So my sister’s godparents brought Felix to the ranch to meet their daughter-in-law’s sister hoping Felix would take a liking to her. Instead he fell in love with me.

“My father had some hay. My sister’s godfather said that he needed a job. He was old. So my father said, ‘Okay, you can come over and help pile up the hay.’ He came over. At first they would say what a nice boy Felix was. But wen Felix came back by himself and wanted to court me, my sister’s godparents didn’t like it. Felix felt the girl they had in mind for him was still in school and too young. The godparents came over on Sundays and told my father Jose that Felix was nice but too particular.

“Felix proposed one day while we was over by asking my father when we were sitting in the front room. My father said to Felix, ‘If Antonia wants to marry you I have no objections. You can go and get married whenever you want.’

Felix and Antonia wedding

“The Spanish custom is you wait for at least three months. My father Jose chose the month but I was able to pick the day. So we got married August 15, 1927.

“My mother was in the same room the whole time Felix courted me. No holding hands. My mother was very strict.

“The man was expected to pay for all the household items, but I bought my own clothes. I had a cedar chest with embroidered pillow cases and sheets.

“My husband went into town to buy my wedding band.

“Felix and I went to live in Santa Clara. We had an apartment, but it became too much so I went to live with my mother so he could save money. I was there for five or six months, but Felix came all the time to see me.

“After a while Felix and I moved to Stockton where Felix bought a ranch. He just put a small amount of money down. My daughter Mary was born there. WE moved back to Santa Clara where we rented a ranch and that’s where my second daughter Josephine was born. We lived there for a few years and that’s where my third daughter Isabell was born.

“Felix and I first moved to Portola where Felix worked in a lumber mill Feather River. The first year it didn’t snow much but the following year it really sowed. I was expecting my son, so my husband decided that I should go to my mother’s house until the baby was born. He was afraid we would be caught in a bad snow storm.

“Felix and I moved to Los Angeles, where he picked oranges. He never seemed to settle down in one place for very long.

“Felix [her son] was born in Sunnyvale, but then I moved back to Feather River. From Portola we moved to Los Angeles. My daughters Eulalia, Frances, and [my son] Raymond were born there. We then moved to Bolden Park [on] the outskirts of Los Angeles. That’s where my husband got sick and died. I moved back to Sunnyvale to be with my family. I was worried that if I got sick who would care for my children?

“My brother Raymond and brother-in-law Silvano came after us. They came with a large truck with a tarp in the back. My children grew up between Mountain View and Sunnyvale, California.

“My daughter Mary at the age of 18 was the first to be married. Her husband Ernest was in the navy. They moved to Washington where his family lived.

“I made up my mind that when my daughters wanted to marry who they chose was up to them. Because every time someone came around my mother didn’t like my choice. I allowed my daughters to date. I didn’t see any harm in holding hands.

“My daughter Josephine got married next. She married Jim Unquera [sic]. They went to school together. Jim went into the navy. When he got out his parents gave him a party and invited Josephine. If the party had lasted any longer they would have gotten married that night. Josie and Jim fought at school. Every time he saw her he would call her sugar pie, but they ended up together.

Isabell met her husband John through Jim because Jim’s father and his uncles worked for Mrs. Gonzalez driving semi trucks. They would haul produce for Purity’s, a large chain store. Jim and John went and then stopped by to introduce Isabell to John. They were both very shy. Being that he hauled fruit he would bring a box of apples over. He and Isabell would sit in front of the house and eat apples. My daughter Lila [Eulalia, my grandmother] was married next and then my son Felix and then my daughter Frances. My son Raymond got married years later. He was 31. He was the oldest to get married.

“Now you go by what I have told you. It’s what I remembered about my life.”

I got to visit my great grandmother before she died. She died when I was nine years old, but I have a memory of her just before then. We visited her apartment, where she had many plants and cacti on her balcony. She had also made cookies for us. They were peanut butter with chocolate kisses on the top. I remember she hugged and kissed us, and I felt shy. But that visit sticks in my mind. I remember it vividly. I wish I had gotten to know her better.


32 thoughts on “Antonia Montosa Juanes (1907-1989): The Life Story of a Hawaiian Spaniard

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  1. Fascinating history Emily. Thanks for sharing a slice of yours. It is terrific that you have recorded this. Take care, Keith

      1. You have reminded me that I need to rummage through some more of my mother’s things. There are a few letters written by my grandmother as a teenager back in 1925 I would like to transcribe.

        1. That would be so neat, Keith. I know I have some handwritten recipes from my ancestors as well, and I would love to have them framed.

  2. What a treasure. A beautiful family and written history. Family histories are such an amazing way to stay grounded. Their lives lead directly to us as if an invisible ribbon weaves through the years, binding together experiences.

    1. I love the imagery of your comment. I do feel connected to her and others in my family tree, and it is exactly like a ribbon! Thanks for commenting.

  3. This makes me want to do an interview with my own grandma! Thank you for sharing 🙂 I find family history so interesting. I think it’s beautiful!

  4. I love family histories. Even when they are not mine. 🙂
    They always make me wish I knew more about my own. Someday I’ll track it down…
    Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Agreed. I love any sort of history that brings to life people from different eras. Let me know when you find some of yours so I can read them!

  5. u have written it so amazingly that i had a splendid vintage tour 🙂 It seemed liked i belonged to some Victorian era… 🙂

  6. Hello Emily. We are related and I enjoyed reading this very much!
    Antonia Montosa Juanes is my grandmother. Her second to the youngest child Frances is my mother.
    Thank you for this 🙂

  7. This is an incredible story! You’ve made me want to read my great aunt’s war diaries again – any connection to our ancestors is amazing & shouldn’t be forgotten. Thank you for sharing this!

      1. They are! She was a nurse & helped clean up concentration camps after as well. I think my mum has a typed up copy of them, I’ve read most of them but I’ve never actually seen the original ones. It’s quite strange to place someone I’m related to and who uses local colloquialisms etc in what feels like such a far off time period to me, but it’s really interesting!

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I believe Antonia was my grandfather’s (Raymond) older sister. There are not enough first-hand accounts of history like this and it is really nice to add a personal story to the generic history that a “family tree” offers.

    1. Agreed! I love having these memories in her own words. It makes me want to interview more people and make sure we preserve their stories.

  9. Great retelling of this portion of auntie’s life. I enjoyed reading her words. I remember visiting my grandmother, not understanding anything, but playing on the farm with cousins. Then later when your great grandmother lived with us before she had passed… it’s nice that this story sparked the great memories I have. My father (Raymond), was Antonia’s younger brother (as related in her story). Again thank you.

    Rich Montosa

    1. Rich, it is so nice to hear from you and to learn about your perspective. I would love to hear any other stories you remember about Antonia or your father Raymond. Thanks for reaching out!

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