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Lives & Times Of Valley Folks: Jose Luis Orozco Espinosa

I met up with Jose Luis in Boonville but because he had some watering of vines to do at his job with V. Sattui Winery, a large company based in Napa. We headed for the vineyards they own here, to the east of Highway 128 at the south end of town. It was very hot but we sat in the much cooler pump house with Jose Luis in a very low beach chair and me on a large water pipe that led out to the vines, with a small table between us on which I could write my notes. “These interviews are not all glamour,” I thought!

Jose Luis was born August 1st, 1961, which means he recently celebrated his 50th birthday. His parents are Jose Orozco and Esther Espinosa and he is the oldest of seven kids — four boys and three girls, with one brother dying as a child. The Orozco family is originally from the Mexican state of Jalisco, a big family that has always been in the farming industry, mainly agriculture. The Espinosas are from La Laguneta in the state of Michoacan, where the majority of the Valley’s Mexican community are originally from. They too have a large family, many of whom live here in the Valley at this point. Jose Luis’ parents met and were married, settling in La Laguneta.

“La Laguneta is very rural, smaller than Boonville. When I was seven, my father wanted to get a better life. He was not a rich man and we moved to a large ranch of over 300 people called Arroyo Seco, near Puerto Vallarta, so that he could support the family better. My uncle lived there and he set this up for our family. I went to school there but I was a dummy and no good in school. Now I realize that education is important and if I had known that I would have tried harder. I played some football (soccer) at school and my parents made sure we went to church every Sunday. I still go now and believe strongly in God and the Virgin Mary. My Daddy was very strict. He tried to teach me to do my best and told me to be honest with people. I remember one day I took some chili peppers from a neighbor and my Daddy caught me. He took his belt to me and followed me back to the neighbor’s house and made me return them. It was a good lesson for me. I am strict with my kids too. My mother was more flexible. He is still alive in Mexico and he is still strong, working in the fields at 76 years old. My mother passed away a few years ago of throat cancer when she was 62. I still do bad things that I’m not supposed to do but I pray to God for forgiveness. I am honest but not perfect. I try to treat people good. That is my intention. Sometimes I make mistakes.”

Jose Luis grew up thinking that if he could get to America it would be a dream come true. His Uncle Carlos worked here in Anderson Valley for the Mailliard family on their large ranch outside of Yorkville and he suggested that Jose Luis came to work there. “I had always thought I wanted to come to America. I knew I would like it here and the system of government is better than in Mexico. There are problems here too, I know, but it is more honest here. I have always worked here — with my Uncle at first, then Bob Lawson’s Christmas trees, then Gowan’s Orchards, then Steve Williams Vineyard management, and now for V. Sattui Winery. But I am not here for the money only; I like it here in many other ways.”

“I worked in Puerto Vallarta as an office boy for an architect who worked from a hotel on the beach. I just did his errands. His name was Eduardo Del Rio and he was very good to me. Then in 1979, when I was 17, I left Puerto Vallarta with my family’s blessing and went to Tijuana on the border. On nine nights over the next two weeks I crossed the border. I went through tunnels, across the river, walking and running over the road. One time when I crossed the river I nearly drowned. I cannot swim and when I fell down I went under the water and could not get my breath. There was somebody next to me who pulled me up. I don’t know who it was, but I thank God someone was there — maybe an angel. Every time I was caught by the guards and dropped back inside Mexico. In those days they just did that, now they take people many, many miles back into the country and keep much better records of those they catch. Back then I came up with eight different names and they could not check things so well. There were no computers and fingerprinting was not done. On another night I was with my friend and we hid under bushes when the helicopters flew over and flashed their big lights down on all of the people crossing. They rounded everyone up except me. They were leaving the area and I was alone under the bush. I was very scared and stood up and shouted out to the border patrol guy, telling him I was there. They took me back to Mexico once again. I decided to give it one last time and that was the ninth. It was when I finally made it and I paid the coyote, the guy who leads us across and arranges the next step.”

Jose Luis arrived in San Ysidro, California and stayed in a motel briefly before going to Los Angeles where he was met by family members and driven up to Yorkville in Anderson Valley, where he was to live with is Uncle for a time, working there on the ranch. “I was very social in Mexico and had many friends. Now I have twice as many here. I like to be friends with people. If somebody does not like me then I will leave them alone. If somebody wants to be friends, then I open my hands to them.”

After leaving the job with his Uncle Carlos, Jose Luis worked felling trees for Lawson’s Christmas Trees in Yorkville, earning $2.35 hr and living in a cabin on the property. “He was a real good man — all of my bosses have been good guys. There were not many wineries back then in the early 80s — just Husch, Edmeades, Navarro, Lazy Creek, and some vines here in Boonville, just north of town, now owned by Roederer. After about three or four years I felt like I wanted a change and so I got a job with Gowan’s Orchards — mainly working with apple trees for $4.50 hr. I was there for 15 years. James Gowan was the boss and I was his right-hand man, always with him. I moved onto the Gowan property and lived there. I always have lived where I worked. I have been lucky that way. Jim was a very nice man to me. I cannot thank him enough. He died a few months ago and I hope God has him in a good place.”

In the early days of his time here, Jose Luis would sometimes go out and have a few beers in town after work at Mary Jane’s Cantina — now Lauren’s Restaurant. “The Boonville Lodge was just down the street and there sometimes fights in both places. I went to them both and in those days there were lots of people who were not friendly, but I got on with everybody and had no problems. There were some tough guys at The Lodge — Ernie and Tony Pardini were two of them but they were OK with me. We were all young guys and a little crazy. Sometimes a few American guys would go to Mary Jane’s but most times nothing happened. There are few troubles these days between the Mexicans and Americans.”

Like many in the Valley’s Mexican community, Jose Luis visits his home country over the Christmas period and one year he went with his friend Jose Mendoza to Guadalajara where the Mendoza family lived. He met Jose’s sister there — Maria Elena. “I saw her and really liked her but did not say anything. In 1990 she came to the US to see her family in Fort Bragg and I visited her there. I then sent her flowers through a friend of mine. She worked out who the flowers were from and I asked to her to go out with me. We started to see each other and I would drive to the coast to see her. I did that for one year — it was love, oh, yeah. We got married in 1991 and Jose Luis Jr. was born in 1992 and Analilia in 1996. We lived on Gowan’s property in a little trailer. Once I was married I pretty much stopped going to the bars. We needed money and my wife would be mad if I wasted it at the bar. She got a job in the cafeteria at the elementary School and we both worked hard to earn money to support our kids.”

After many years at Gowan’s, Jose Luis was injured and almost killed in an accident with some heavy machinery. “I badly mangled my lower arm and wrist. I continued to work one-handed and pushed myself but that was no good for me so in the end, around 1997, I decided to leave and I got a job with Steve Williams who managed some vineyards in the Valley. Grapes had taken over from apples and sheep and we worked all over the valley in different places, managing vineyards and ranches. One of those was the property owned by Erin Weintraub and Anne Bennett. In 2004 this was sold to V. Sattui Vineyard and they planted lots of new vines. After being with Steve Williams for six or seven years I moved here and became the vineyard manager for V. Sattui and have been here ever since.”

“I have tried to go to Mexico every year but have not been in the last two. I go to see my Daddy in Puerto Vallarta and also to La Laguneta. I work many hours and drink a few beers after work but I don’t go out much. I do go out sometimes — to the Redwood Drive-In or Mis Potrancas Mexican Restaurant next to The Lodge, or sometimes Alicia’s Restaurant. I also have been to the new Buckhorn and like it. I do like to watch the adult soccer league that is played every Sunday here. I go to see La Laguneta play and really enjoy that. They were doing good this year but have lost a few games now. If you are the coach you have to get the opinions of the players and make a good team spirit. One day I would like to coach La Laguneta and I would include every player’s opinions — that can be good sometimes. A good coach has to know futbol and the mind. We have our big rivals, Valladolid, here in the Valley and we have lost too many times to them in the last few years. They are really good and they bring in players from other places to play for them. That is not breaking the rules but they are already good without these guys. I look forward to one day beating Valladolid. We have to learn from our mistakes in the games against them. Many of these games are close but they always just beat us.”

I asked Jose Luis what he most liked about his life in the Valley. “I like everything about the Valley. The way people treat me, the schools, the roads, my friends and family here. I am the guy who is thankful for everything — thanks be to God. I go to Mass every Sunday at 4pm and sometimes to Confession. I try to not have any cares or worries about the world and my head says go to church and all will be well.”

What was an image Jose Luis has of his father? “A real tough man; a good man. He tried his best to make me a good man.” His mother? “She was always on my side.”

I now asked Jose Luis for his brief thoughts on various Valley talking points.

The wineries and their impact? “They are good for the economy of the Valley and bring in the tourists and their money. Most of them treat their workers well. Sometimes the workers are wrong — when they will not stop work in the hot sun. People think that the bosses are making them work but they are not. We are told we can go home in that kind of heat but the guys say ‘No’ — they want to work and get the money. It is a situation that is not good for them or the owners. The owners should force them to stop — some of the wineries are too ‘flexible’ about this and that is dangerous.”

The AVA? “I like it and read it. I like the local pages.”

KZYX radio? “I listen sometimes.”

The schools? “The schools are very good. The kids get a good service there. There are lots of people looking to solve the drug problems there. They seem to be doing a good job and the drug use is down but still a problem, I think.”

Drugs in the Valley? “Marijuana is a miracle cure for some people, for others it helps them relax. It is legal in some ways so if this is a free country and it makes you feel a little better then, as adults, you should be able to smoke a little. Kids start smoking it too early though and want to experiment at a young age and sometimes it leads to other drugs. I’m talking about the meth here, that is a dangerous thing and can ruin brains.”

I posed a few questions, some TV’s “Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton” and some I came up with myself.

What excites you; makes you smile; gets your juices flowing creatively, spiritually, emotionally? — “I believe that if I am angry I must stop that feeling. I feel very comfortable in this world. I love life, everything about it.”

What annoys you; brings you down; turns you off creatively, spiritually, emotionally? — “If somebody confronts me... Or if I wave at someone and they ignore me.”

sound or noise do you love? — “I love the sound of Mexican music... American country music too — Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.”

sound or noise do you hate? — “Loud music... Spinning tires and fast driving.”

If you could meet one person dead or alive, one on one for a conversation over dinner, who would that person be? — “President Obama — my angel. I like him alot. I would cook dinner for him and share a few beers. I would enjoy that very much.”

What scares you? — “People with guns.”

If you were sitting at home and a fire broke out in the building, what three things would you make sure you took with you? — “My papers, family pictures...”

favorite film or book or one that has influenced you? — “The film by Mel Gibson — ‘The Passion of Christ’... I am not a reader — that is my daughter.”

favorite hobby? — “Movies and gardening.”

profession other than your own would you like to have attempted if you were given the chance to do anything? — “Ever since I lived in Mexico I wanted to be a sheriff in this country, or a C.H.P. officer.”

profession would you not like to do? — “I hate spraying but it has to be done.”

13. How old were you when you went on your first date? Where did you go? “I was twenty-two years old. We just hung out.”

something you would do differently if you could do it over again? “I used to smoke too much and wish I had cut back on that... I wish I had done more education and found something more productive for my mind.”

A memorable moment; a time you will never forget. — “When my son was born — the first. Before he was born, I imagined how he would look and that is how he was.”

something that you are really proud of and why? — “My family... My brother-in-law, Jose Mendoza... My job and making sure the grapes are healthy...

favorite thing about yourself? — “There are some good things and some bad... I help people if they need help... If somebody is hungry I will feed them.”

Finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? — “I think he will say ‘Welcome.’ So may be ‘You have done bad things, Jose Luis, but I have the scales here and the good things you did are bigger and heavier — welcome.’ He will know — he knows everything.”

“I also want to say a big ‘Thank You’ to all the people who have helped me in my life and who like me. I will hope to do the same for you folks too. I am always going to try to do the best I can.”

To read the stories of other Valley Folk, visit the archives at Next week the guest interviewee from the Valley will be Keith Martin — A.V. born and bred, formerly of Lumberjack Pizza, now at the A.V. Market.

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