By 1920, Blas Lara (right) settled with his wife Consuelo Medina (left) in Berkeley, California and soon after had their first son, Florial Lara (center). They went on to raise four more children. (Courtesy of Lara Medina )
For our series, “Letter to My California Dreamer," we’re asking Californians from all walks of life to write a short letter to one of the first people in their family who came to the Golden State. The letter should explain:
What was their California Dream?
What happened to it?
Is that California Dream still alive for you?
Here's a letter from Lara Medina to her grandfather:
Dear Grandfather Blas,
In the midst of the Porfirio Díaz dictatorship that kept Mexican campesinos in poverty, you left your small pueblo outside of Jalisco to find work. In the big city of Guadalajara, you were exposed to talk of unions and revolution. Working first as brick layer, then as a stonemason, you continued to be exploited. So in 1902, you decided to leave Mexico for the United States.
You crossed the border at El Paso, Texas, then traveled by train to San Francisco. Eventually, you found steady work in the logging industry at Fort Bragg in Mendocino County. Your budding revolutionary consciousness found a place among the socialist-minded workers from Europe.
Your brief return to Mexico in 1905, to care for your seriously ill sister, introduced you to the anarchist ideology of the Partido Liberal Mexicano — a political group opposed to the dictatorship. Dignity for all workers compelled you to get involved.
So when you returned to Fort Bragg, you attempted to organize your fellow workers to form a union. But your employer, The Union Lumber Company, ironically did not believe in unions. You were subsequently fired, then joined the Socialist Party.
Upon the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, you relocated to Los Angeles to join exiled members of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, including famed leaders Ricardo and Enrique Flores Magón. You helped the cause by editing and writing for their binational newspaper called Regeneración. The next 10 years spent in L.A. saw you become a public speaker, rallying workers of all ethnicities.
By 1920 the revolution ended, and the newspaper was no longer published, so you returned to Northern California. You settled in West Berkeley where you got married and raised four children.
Growing up, I remember visiting you in your small wooden house on 5th Street. Once a month, my parents, sister and I would cross the Bay from Marin County in our blue Mercury.
On these visits, you never spoke much. But you communicated your sentiments by the look in your eyes and the feel of your handshake. When you’d shake my hand, you’d say, “You will be a school teacher.” You were right. I am now a professor.
But for most of my life, I was unaware of your time as a laborer and activist. Nor did I know that you spent most of your days and nights writing about your past. Then my father died in 2002, and I inherited your memoir from him. Ten years later, I finally read it and learned about your clandestine life.
You were a self-taught writer and revolutionary, committed to the freedom of Mexican people on both sides of the border. Thank you, grandfather, for the sacrifices you made so that your family — now living in Los Angeles and the Bay Area — can live with dignity and carry on the struggle for justice in our own ways.
We’d love to see your letter to your family’s California Dreamer. Maybe it was a parent, a great-great grandparent or maybe even you were the first in your family to come to California with a dream. Fill out the form here and share your story with us!