Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

February 23, 2012
Early Mexican immigrants faced tough life in Grantsville

The arrival of the railroad in Tooele during the early 1900s brought an influx of immigrants into the county, mostly from Eastern European countries. But the railroad’s need for migrant labor also brought some of Tooele’s first Hispanic residents.

One family that had come from Mexico to work the railroads, the Otanez family, made a semi-permanent home outside of Grantsville for a time so that their oldest daughter, Lupe, could attend school.

According to Beehive History, Lupe struggled to fit in with her peers at school. She did not know English and was uncomfortable in clothes she knew marked her as an outsider. Her parents had strong beliefs in women’s modesty and so Lupe attended school in long, old-fashioned dresses and high-topped shoes. She was unable to participate in gym classes because she could not wear the gym uniform. She also could not relate to the other students, whose upbringing was vastly different from her own.

Lupe was born in Mexico, but when she was six months old her parents came to America to take a job with the Western Pacific Railroad. Before she entered school, her family lived out of a boxcar. Once the family settled in Grantsville, she learned to assist her mother in caring for her siblings and making tortillas that were both eaten by the family and traded to passing engineers. But the family remained mostly isolated from the rest of the town, living on the flats outside town and receiving their groceries and other necessary supplies via passing trains.

During the summer months, the Otanez family often moved around, looking to take up additional work. One summer during the 1930s, the family moved to Idaho to work on a beat farm, but Lupe preferred the quiet rhythm of life on the railroad lines through the salt flats.

Her father, Ramon, monitored a section of railroad spanning from Winnemucca, Nev. to Burmester, just outside Grantsville. He would work through the week and, on the weekends, visit his family in Grantsville. As the oldest female child in the family, Lupe was primarily responsible for looking after her siblings, and because they lived outside the town, she became very close to her brothers and sisters. When trains approached, they would press their ears to the irons and place bets on when the engine would arrive. Occasionally, while a train rushed past, some spare ice was thrown to the children and they could mix the treat with sugar to make ice cream.

Lupe continued to attend school in Grantsville until the ninth grade. That fall, her family moved to Wendover and her father began to search for a husband for his oldest daughter.

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