Latina Legacies in Carbon County
Latinas in Carbon County
Despite the difficulties Latinas faced as they settled in coal mining camps, their sacrifices, efforts, and love for their families helped them create culturally welcoming spaces that transformed Carbon County and Notre Dame De Lourdes Church.
Although Carbon County is known for its cultural diversity, Latinas who resided there often faced discrimination from other groups of immigrants. Angelina Gutierrez recalled “there was so much prejudice against the Spanish people. We could not go anywhere. There [were] about six couples of us [who] went to a bar over here. And they threw us out ‘no Mexicans allowed.’” Rosa Sandoval also remembers the discrimination she faced as a fifth grader by an Italian girl. In addition to facing discrimination, Latinas faced the constant threat of becoming widows and single mothers due to the hazardous working conditions in the mines. When Leticia Ramos’ husband died, she had to assume new responsibilities for the care of her family. She remembers, “[It was] scary because…I didn’t know how to do nothing…I didn’t do nothing but have kids and take care of them.” In situations where their husbands were laid off or passed away because of mine conditions, Latinas became not only caretakers, but breadwinners. They worked in “local hospitals, salons, as secretaries, house cleaners, and cooks.” Even though they were extremely busy, Latinas found refuge in the Catholic Church.
However, Latinas faced challenges even within the refuge of the church. Irish and Italians dominated the Catholic church and as a result Latinas often faced “discrimination and exclusion” there. Latinas did not seclude themselves, but instead claimed their dignity. Patricia Sanchez stated, “we are going to show them that we are people, that we are human. We’re not a little rodent that just goes and hides.” Latinas’ strong stance brought changes to Notre Dame Catholic church. For example, mass started to be held in Spanish. Latinas also formed a church choir where they sang “Alabanzas” in important ceremonies like weddings. Even more revolutionary was the ethnic celebrations incorporated into the church, such as quinceaneras and the Virgin of Guadalupe day. Passing on such traditions was important to Latinas. One of the ways they preserved their culture was by creating fond memories with their children. For instance, Rose remembered spoiling her grandkids with tortillas. In addition, Latinas carved out spaces for their children to learn about their traditions; the Notre Dame Catholic School was such a space. It wasn’t easy paying tuition, but Latinas valued education and they wanted to reinforce their traditional religious values in their kids. As a result of their parents’ sacrifices, Latin children in private school did not face the same type of discrimination they would have faced in public schools. Like the Notre Dame Catholic church, the Notre Dame Catholic school became a place of inclusion and safety for all nationalities thanks to the efforts of Latinas.