Hermelinda Estrada Medrano in front of her family's Mission District home. Photo by Colin Campbell

The first time she came to San Francisco, Hermelinda Estrada Medrano left her hometown, Tarimoro, in the state of Guanajuato , Mexico, and crossed the mountains with a smuggler.

She was 45 and wanted to see how her young adult kids were doing here. One by one, her older sons had come to San Francisco. 

So she crossed over mountains in Mexico  (“me vine por el cerro”) and came across the border in Tijuana with Enrique, her youngest child of nine, in her backpack. He was 5 at the time. 

“In 1990, it was not so dangerous, not like now, and it wasn’t even so expensive. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t so bad: we walked, we walked, we climbed, we crossed, there was a car waiting, the car took us to Los Angeles. Yes, I was scared crossing over, but I wanted to come and know what was going on with my kids, and that was the only way to see them.”

Now, at 76,  she comes in a plane from Leon, Guanajuato, with her suitcases and her green card. “I am a resident now, “ she says and laughs. 

Obviously comfortable in both worlds, she speaks simply,  “I love to be in Tarimoro, where I have my house, but most of my family are here, in the Mission.  I even have my first great-grandchild born this year, in Chicago. My youngest daughter became a grandma this year, and I became a great-grandma.”

She is happy to talk, but she looks at her watch; her plane back home leaves in a few hours. 

“She has never gotten lost, not in any airport, wherever she lands,” says her daughter-in-law, Rosa Medrano.  

Hermelinda married at 16, in 1961, and has been a widow for 11 years. Her husband came from the neighboring town of Acambaro, and worked as a bus driver. They have six sons and three daughters, all born at home. Being a part-time American was never in her plans.  She describes her home with pride, and says she gets restless after several months in San Francisco.

“When I was 2, my mother died, and my dad left. My grandparents took me into their home, and later, when I married, they gave it to me. Over the years, with my sons’ help, we made it beautiful. I have lemon and apple trees, even a guava and pomegranate tree. Our entrance hall is two meters long, and the bedrooms surround a courtyard, with arches over each entrance. I have a big kitchen behind the courtyard.

“We keep chickens and roosters in the back, and our backyard looks out onto an arroyo,  where we built a small bridge that goes over the arroyo, to the dam. We can hear the water.”   

She has only one daughter and her family in Casa Tarimoro, so, like a migrating whale or swallow, she leaves her beloved casa to come north twice a year to San Francisco, to her Mission District sons and their families in the two-unit building they share.

Before Covid-19. 

The pandemic interrupted her established routine, and it was almost 18 months between her last visit in 2020 and this summer’s visit. 

Before coming, she got vaccinated in Tarimoro: “They set up tents in the plaza and I went down and got my vaccine, so I could come see my kids.”

Getting covid in San Francisco was not on her worry list.

“What I usually do when I come, well, everyone is busy working, so I cook for them. I love doing that:  I make mole, I make Milanesas de pollo, and I make enchiladas. I make caldo de pollo with lots of garlic and onions, with chayote and calabasas. I make sure there is always a pot of beans simmering on the stove, and each morning I prepare a fresh dish of salsa.”

 Hermelinda’s hands stir invisible pots  as she talks, and she adds, “I am always listening to music, even when cooking! I love the rancheras of  (Mexican singer) Vincente Fernandez and ESPECIALLY Paquita La Del Barrio. She sings with so much emotion — she is pretty angry with men, lots of sad songs about betrayal.  She suffered a lot in her life, and it comes out in her songs.”

Hermelinda is also a fan of San Francisco’s public transportation, “I take the 14 Mission, it takes me everywhere I need to go. What else?  I sweep the street in front of the house. Sometimes the whole block. Every morning I sweep before I go off. Like I do in Tarimoro.” 

This visit was going well: her granddaughter was showing Hermelinda her cheerleader routines. She found her kids (and 18 grandkids) thriving.

Then, her son (who lives in the upper unit with his family), came home sick and aching. A man in his 40s, he works as a server in a restaurant and wasn’t vaccinated.  (All the others, with whom she shares the lower unit, were vaccinated.)

Hermelinda made a compress of herbs and honey, a homegrown recipe she’d used for her children’s colds and fevers countless times. A mother helping her sick son. Unmasked, she went upstairs and massaged the home remedy into her son’s chest.

Two days later, “My body ached terribly and my head was so pounding.  I didn’t want to go to the hospital, but my kids called the ambulance. “

She walked carefully down the steps to the street and into the ambulance holding her purse, with her shawl (rebozo) wrapped around her like a shroud. In her purse was her vaccine card from Mexico.

 “At General Hospital, they tested me and told me I had covid, but only kept me four hours. They gave me I.V. fluids and medicine and sent me home to quarantine. I showed them my vaccine card, and the doctors told me it was lucky I was vaccinated, that I would be fine. My son though was bad off, he was in the hospital almost eight days and really sick.” She sighs, 

“They were good to me in the hospital, but because I don’t have insurance here, I owe $2,500 for the one-mile ride in the ambulance.”  

She came home to another son in Daly City, to a room where she could isolate completely in quarantine. Sick for a week, she has made a complete recovery.  

But between getting covid,  quarantining, recovering, and testing negative, her visit went on much longer than usual, and she couldn’t wait to get back home to Tarimoro in late October.

“I like it here, I like it fine, but there, there, one feels closer to God.” 

And her husband’s grave. 

She will return to the Bay Area in May.

And she left with this one last comment,

 “Muy idiotos. Los que no quieren vacunarse. (Idiots, those who don’t want to get vaccinated. ”

Hermelinda Estrada Medrano with some of her family. Photo by Colin Campbell.

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8 Comments

  1. Another fascinating view into the lives of people around us that we see everyday and haven’t met.Keep them coming!

  2. I love this profile. I fell in love with this woman. I want her to be my grandmother. I want her to cook for me. Those children and grandchildren are so lucky. This was amazing.

  3. I love this profile. The details are wonderful. I can imagine Hermelinda swiping the front steps and moving between two worlds.

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