MOLINE — Mexico is many years and many miles in Louisa Ewert’s family past, but the nation and its culture flavors her life and those of her relatives.
Ms. Ewert, 52, a lifetime resident of Moline who is serving as Rock IslandCounty treasurer, is a member of the Terronez family, which has a strong presence in the Quad-Cities, in other parts of the country and in Mexico, from where they originally came. Contact between the immediate family members and the branches is frequent: Reunions are common, and weddings and holiday events can be large affairs. There are about 500 family members in the Quad-Cities area alone.
“We’re a very close family,” Ms. Ewert said.
Her immediate family’s life in America began in the early 20th century with Benito Terronez, a blacksmith, and Feliza, his wife. They were Ms. Ewert’s grandparents, who came from central Mexico.
Benito and Feliza were in their late teens when they and other members of the family came north in the early 1900s, looking for work and settling in Kansas, California and Iowa. By the 1920s, they were in Silvis.
“This is where the railroad yards were; there was a job opportunity,” Ms. Ewert said.
In Silvis, they lived in a neighborhood provided by the Rock Island Lines. Their houses were boxcars. Ms. Ewert’s father was born in one of those boxcar homes.
Much of the family tradition is passed orally from generation to generation, Ms. Ewert said. She learned it from her parents.
“They’ve always talked about their culture,” she said.
Benito, her grandfather, died before Ms. Ewert had a chance to know him well, but she did get to know Feliza Terronez, she said.
“My grandma was a very kind person,” Ms. Ewert said. “She was very honest. She was very kind and very religious.”
In her grandmother’s household, Ms. Ewert learned to respect others, and that hard work leads to opportunity.
“That’s kind of how I got to where I am,” she said.
One aspect of her ancestors’ lives that did not trickle down to her generation was Spanish, which she said she cannot speak well.
When her parents “didn’t want me to know what they were talking about, they would talk in Spanish,” she said.
The written word also plays a part in keeping the family identity alive: The Terronez family maintains a printed version of its history and different family lines.
The book tells how Feliza’s family had to hide her when she was young because it was a turbulent time in Mexico, and she was at risk of being taken by soldiers, who targeted beautiful young women. In 1916, at age 16, she married Benito, and they moved to the United States about a year later. They would have 14 children.
The Terronez identity also is kept alive through celebration and food.
The family attends or observes many religious holidays, as well as attending the immediate and extended family reunions, weddings and more.
Among the traditional fiestas the family observes is the Posada, which re-creates and honors Mary and Joseph’s search for a safe place for Jesus to be born.
The Terronez family also observes Mexican Independence Day, Ms. Ewert said.
Mexican food is another connection to the family’s origins, she said.
“We still make our traditional tamales for Christmas,” she said.
For weddings and other special occasions, there is mole sauce, a very rich garnish.
“It’s kind of hard to make,” she said.
Ms. Ewert has told the stories to her children, some of whom are grown, while others are younger. She engages them in family and Mexican traditions.
“I make sure they see some of the traditions,” she said.