Ortega Family

Ricardo Ortega, 1928

Pueblo Alto, widely known as Hightown, began in the 1920s as a small farm worker settlement for Mexican and Mexican American farm workers. Hightown is located near the southeast corner of McClintock Road and Chandler Boulevard. One of the earliest families in Hightown was the Ortega family. Nellie Ortega was born in 1923, and her sister, Lucy, was born in 1931, both in Chandler. Their parents were Anastacio and Cornelia Ortega, who came from Zacatecas, Mexico and migrated to the United States in the year 1919. They settled in Hightown in the year 1924.

When Anastacio and Cornelia first came to Hightown, there were only three houses, including their home. The other two families in the settlement were the Lopez and Chavez families. Around them was nothing but cotton fields, sagebrush, and snakes. Lucy and Nellie grew up in Hightown and attended Kyrene School, known as “the little red house,” which was three miles away from where they lived. Lucy and Nellie were placed into a separate classroom with other Mexican and Mexican-American children. There was still segregation in Arizona schools during the 1930s and 1940s. Lucy and Nellie went to school up until the eighth grade.

Lucy got married and had one child, and Nellie never got married. Lucy worked at the Chandler Regional Hospital as a nursing assistant for 25 years. Nellie worked in the fields, mostly picking cotton, and is now a food server in the Kyrene School District. Lucy and Nellie lived most of their adult life in Hightown. They are Catholic, and have four brothers and two other sisters, a total of eight siblings.

In 1946 the area was officially named Pueblo Alto, because the land was on higher ground compared to other parts of Chandler. Most of the people in Pueblo Alto worked in the fields in order to support their families. The first houses in Hightown had dirt floors, out houses, and were usually built with one room, and a kitchen. There was no running water at the time, so families would have to carry water from the canal or from the store.

Over the years the neighborhood grew little by little, with more homes and the Estrella Market opening. The Estrella Market was small but had everything they needed, and gave credit to the people in the town. Lucy remembers when they would play outside at night with the Lopez and Chavez children. They played in the canal by the water pump and swam. Nellie remembers playing red rover and kick the bucket. Their traditions are part of their memories and were associated with special occasions. On their birthdays their mother would make Mexican hot chocolate, red chile, chicken, and rice for them. At Christmas they made and ate tamales.

Lucy and Nellie said that Hightown has changed somewhat from when they were younger. The neighborhood does not have the same sense of community, and many people keep to themselves. Their original neighbors would talk with one another and visit at night. Not as many people who grew in up Hightown still live there.

Hightown was incorporated into the city of Chandler in 1971 when the city annexed much of the West Chandler area to the I-10. The area has been one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chandler, and the city helped rehabilitate ten homes in the 1990's. Although the area around Hightown has changed, with electronic companies, malls, and new subdivisions, it continues to survive and be a home for many families.

Nellie Ortega and Lucy Fimbres in Hightown
Chandler Museum Collection, 2005.38.84