Salinas Family

Antonia Salinas in the kitchen of her home on Elgin Street, 1960
Chandler Museum Collection, 2005.38.32

Henry Salinas was born in Lubbock, Texas, in 1951. Henry has first-hand experience living as a Mexican migrant worker in the cotton fields of Chandler. Even though his family moved to Chandler, they continued to travel for seasonal migrant work between their new home and Texas.

At that time in Chandler’s history, hundreds of Mexican men and women tirelessly picked cotton in the fields from dawn to dusk. Henry’s grandfather was a labor recruiter finding migrant workers to harvest Chandler area farm fields. His workday began at 4 a.m. when he would begin picking up workers in his truck and transporting them to cotton fields. Henry’s grandmother, Antonia, kept the crews going by cooking them lunch in the back of her husband’s truck.

Harvesting cotton was physically demanding. Workers deposited picked cotton into a very large bag worn over their shoulders. These cotton sacks resembled the size of a large sleeping bag. When full, each cotton bag became very heavy weighing anywhere from 50 to 100 pounds each.

Henry Salinas recalls that on weekends, downtown Chandler was the center for Hispanic culture. It was a place where they gathered to play in the park, visit some of the local businesses or go to the movie theater. In those years, storeowners closed their doors at 5 p.m. and the city appeared to just shut down. There used to be parking meters on San Marcos Place and the movie theater was only 25 cents. Young Henry used to earn money shining shoes so he could buy movie tickets.

There was a time when minority people were segregated from public swimming pools. As a weekend alternative, Mexican migrant workers and their families gathered at water irrigation canals for swimming and recreation. The irrigation canals were proclaimed as “Las Pompitas” or “pumping water.” After working in the cotton fields, children would often jump in to cool off quickly, swim and have a little fun (sometimes while still wearing their work clothes).

As a child growing up during the late 1950s, Henry did not have to attend segregated schools for Spanish-speaking Mexican children. Henry grew up with several of his cousins in the Queen Creek area where he attended Combs Elementary School. He also attended Denver School (San Marcos Elementary School) in Chandler.

Henry remembers dealing with immigration officials when he was only 12 years old. A question of citizenship arose for his grandmother, Antonia. She immigrated to Texas from Mexico at a time when America granted automatic citizenship to workers crossing the border. Henry took a stand that his grandmother was a true American because she lived in Chandler longer than the immigration officials had. As a result, Antonia was officially recognized as an American citizen.

In 1969, 18 year old Henry enlisted in the Army and went through basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington. He was ordered to Vietnam. Fate stepped in, however, when his commanding officer received a telegram from Chandler asking for Henry to come home. Henry’s young wife was diagnosed with the life threatening illness Hodgkin’s Disease. Looking back, Henry considers himself very fortunate to have been diverted from that tragic time in our American history.

After his wife passed away, Henry continued to live and work in Chandler. After a time he met and married his second wife, Yolanda. They have four children: Henry, Jr., Areceli, Yoli, and Fernando - a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq.

In 1991, Henry founded the Chandler youth program Improving Chandler Area Neighborhoods (ICAN). ICAN empowers youth to become productive, self-confident and community minded citizens. ICAN provides positive role models, educational opportunities, counseling, prevention/intervention, outreach, and referral. Participants in the ICAN youth program are challenged to contribute to our community and their accomplishments are recognized.

Biography researched and authored by Mary Polanco-Gerlach and Diane Brown

Antonio and Eulogio Salinas cooking for farm laborers
Chandler Museum Collection, 2005.38.12