Maria de la Luz Carrillo pets her dog Chispa, translated as Spark, with such love and care. With a huge smile on her face, she manages to make a few jokes bringing those around her to a sincere laugh. Carillo is 101 years old, and one of Mecca’s first residents.
“I’m happy, I feel great,” Carrillo said. “I don’t think that I shouldn’t be all of those years because I lived them with all of my children.”
Maria de la Luz Carrillo is her maiden name, but she was better known among friends as Mary. She was born on August 27, 1917 in her beloved San Antonio, Texas.
In that same year, the U.S entered World War I, a gallon of gas was 15-cents, the average life expectancy of a woman was 54 years, and Carrillo’s native state of Texas was only 72 years old. Carrillo is proud to be both a Texan and a U.S. citizen.
“That is my greatest privilege to be what I am,” she said.
Despite of her Texan pride, Carrillo saw the promise of California. In 1958, she took a leap of faith and moved to the Coachella Valley with her children. She found a home in small town Mecca, and moved into a home that she painted pink. It has remained pink ever since.
“When we came to Mecca, I think there were about 10 houses, and that’s it,” she recalled.
Her son Johnny Estrada remembers a Mecca without any paved streets. The only market was a 10 minute walk from their home.
“People cared for each other, for real,” Estrada said. “They would even keep the doors unlocked, leave the keys in the car.”
Carrillo did not have an easy life, and with seven children, she had to raise her family on her own.
“There was no dad, no father figure, so she was both,” Estrada said. “To me, to all of us, she was mom and dad to all of us. I feared her more than the police.”
Carrillo endured the pain of losing her oldest son, whom she remembers quite frequently. She said she talks to her mother who is in heaven.
“My mother, she is in heaven right now with my son,” Carrillo said. “And I talk to her and I tell her, mamá estás con tu nieto allá en el cielo [mom, you are with your grandchild].”
Carrillo said she watches TV, spends time with her dog and still loves to dance.
Her secret to a long, happy life?
“Be crazy like myself, dance in the street,” she said.
Above all, she said never stop smiling.
El Santuario de la Virgen de Guadalupe, a Catholic church in Mecca is hosting its inaugural festival to celebrate the independence of Mexico and several Latin American countries.
Father Francisco Valdovinos, the pastor of El Santuario de la Virgen de Guadalupe, said it is important to bring unity among Latinos in the Coachella Valley especially during this important national holiday.
“To get together as one community and to celebrate our unity,” Father Valdovines said. “To have our people together with music and food.”
Although there is a large Mexican population in the East Valley, this church is welcoming all Central and South Americans in the Coachella Valley. The plan is to commemorate the independence day of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, which is on September 15. Mexico’s independence day is on September 16, and Chile’s is on September 18.
Alfonso Gonzalez is a parishioner and is one of the organizers of the festival.
“We are trying to unite and fusion our cultures,” Gonzalez said. “Not just us Mexicans but rather celebrate with the Salvadoran, the Guatemalan, the Central Americans so they can feel that this is their town too.”
Gonzalez said another goal of the festival is to help fund raise money to build classrooms for catechism classes.
Lilia Sanchez was outside the church selling some traditional garments, and she said she is excited to show off her own dresses this coming weekend.
“I’m proud of wearing my traditional dresses,” Sanchez said. “It’s important to remember where we come from. We are rich in tradition and culture.”
Organizers said there will be all sorts of activities including traditional Mexican folk dances, mariachi performances, and dances with horses.College of the desert’s mexican folk ballet is one of the dance troupes scheduled to perform. Of course, there will be plenty of food to choose from!
The event will take place on Saturday September 15 from 11 am to 10 pm, and on Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm. Mass times will not change during this coming weekend.
Father Valdovinos said this festival is a way of passing along the rich history and culture that characterizes Latin and Central America.