Rodarte Family

In 1924, Severiano Bargas Rodarte came to Arizona from Zacatecas, Mexico with his mother, Simona, older sister Demetria, and Demetria's husband, Jesus Ortiz. Severiano's father, Blas Rodarte had arrived earlier in the United States with his oldest son, José, but returned to Mexico.

Maria Ayala was born in 1917 in Jerez, Zacatecas, and her parents, Pablo and Antonia, ran a general store. Pablo traveled the area with his oldest son, Jesus, purchasing merchandise and bartering with eggs and other goods while Antonia tended the store. Maria had a happy life in Mexico, until the Cristero Rebellion brought danger to their home.  Men on horses pounded on the door, entering to search for weapons, cash, or men of fighting age. The Cristero Rebellion was a regional uprising of radical followers of the Catholic Church against the Mexican government.

This social upheaval brought the Ayala family to the United States in 1928.  They arrived by bus in Mesa, where Maria’s uncle, Maximino lived.  They were greeted by Severiano Rodarte, who had offered to pick up the family since he owned an automobile.  This is where Severiano and Maria met for the first time.  Maria’s father Pablo passed away shortly thereafter, and life became difficult for the Ayala family.  Both the Ayala and Rodarte families suffered through the years of the Great Depression, but worked various jobs to make ends meet.  Maria and Severiano were married in 1932.

In 1938, Severiano Vargas Rodarte and Maria Ayala Rodarte settled in Chandler to raise their family.  Severiano was 25 and Maria was 20 years of age. They bought a small house at 61 East Morelos Street, in a small Mexican barrio, and added rooms as the family grew. Eventually they would have five children, Mary Esther, Margaret, Severiano, Lucia and Rosa.  The neighborhood had many family members close by:  Severiano's mother Simona, his sister Demetria, and her husband Jesus Ortiz lived next door;  Maria's brother David Ayala and his family lived two houses away;  Maria's mother, Antonia Ayala, lived down the street in her own little house, next door to her oldest son, Jesus Ayala.  It was a neighborhood where all the families knew each other.

Maria’s youngest brother, Feliciano Ayala served in the Second World War, and tragically died in the Philippines (Luzon) in 1945.  One of the family’s cherished mementos is a photograph of Feliciano in uniform, home for Christmas 1944, with Antonia, and Maria holding her newborn son, Severiano.

Maria and Severiano worked in the cotton fields to support the family. During the off-season, Severiano worked as a caddy at San Marcos hotel, where Maria also worked as a maid. In the 1950s, Severiano became a farm labor contractor and worked at many Chandler area farms, such as the Neely, Willis, Riggs, Schnepfs, Lewis, Escobedo and Bogle Farms. When machines began replacing manual workers in the mid to late '60s, Severiano became a custodian at Cleveland Elementary School and later at JC Penney's at Tri City Mall, until he retired. Maria worked at the San Marcos Hotel, Arizona State University, and Williams Air Force Base as a maid. In the late 1960s she worked at Rosarita's Mexican Food in Mesa in food preparation, and became involved in anti-discrimination issues.

Severiano passed away in 1987; as of 2006, Maria lives an independent life and will celebrate her 89th birthday in October.  Their legacy of hard work, providing quality education for their children, and instilling good work and moral ethics were lessons that served their children well. They went on to careers as a lawyer, teacher, city magistrate, TV host and broadcast executive.  They also have many grandchildren.

Maria recalls when Chandler was nothing more than an agricultural town, and that at one time the city limits ended just north of the Chandler High School. She wistfully remembers raising her family on Morelos Street at a time when the Mexican/American neighborhood was closely knit, with relatives and friends living within walking distance. Now she has moved to a new area, where everyone has to use vehicles to visit anyone and the old neighborhood has a new generation of immigrants.