Gutierrez Family

Josephine & John Gutierrez wedding, 1939
Courtesy of the Gutierrez Family

Nellie Gutierrez’s family was one of the first settlers in the Hightown/Pueblo Alto area in west Chandler. Nellie’s maternal grandparents, Anastacio and Cornelia Ortega, came from Zacatecas, Mexico in 1919, and later settled in Hightown in 1924.

Nellie’s father, Juan José Gutierrez, came to the U.S. in 1918 as a boy. He later met and married Josefina “Josie” Ortega in 1939.  Juan worked as a tractor driver in the cotton and alfalfa fields surrounding Chandler.  Josie was well known for her community parties with homemade food and dancing. Juan and Josie had five children, Nellie, John, Gloria, Gilbert and Ramon.

Juan and Josie raised their family in Hightown, surrounded by the Ortega family. Nellie, who was born in 1946, remembers that she visited her grandparents every day, and had many chores such as feeding the pigs they raised, before Hightown became a part of the City of Chandler in 1970.  She remembers that children respected their elders and that they often swam at the old water pump and canals nearby. When she was a child in the 1950s, only fifteen houses existed in Hightown. Most families attended Mt. Carmel Catholic Church in Tempe. At one time, women from Hightown attempted to raise money to build their own church, but were unsuccessful.

Nellie, like the other children in Hightown, attended the Kyrene School, and she was a cheerleader, and ran track. When she finished eighth grade in 1960, she was required to stay home and help around the house. She married Santiago Gutierrez in 1961, a member of another Gutierrez family in Chandler. She and her new husband also settled in Hightown, the third generation to do so. After her children were older, she went back to school and received her GED, and then a degree from Chandler Gilbert Community College.

Nellie remembers a woman in Hightown named Juana Mori, who began to hold a yearly festival in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, known as the “Guadalupana.” During this event, the community would hold a procession through the streets of Hightown, and matachine dancers from the Town of Guadalupe performed. Nellie’s mother, Josie, also organized a religious event to honor St. Jude, the patron saint of desperate causes. On this day in October, a priest would come to the Gutierrez home and bless the participants of the celebration. They would serve food to everyone. Nellie also remembers another tradition in Hightown, “Las Posadas,” which began on December 16th and lasted eight days. Here, the neighborhood residents would gather together with candles and sing carols from one home to the next, re-enacting the story of the travels of Joseph and Mary before Jesus was born. One house hosted the celebration each night and provided food and drinks. Later, Nellie and Gloria Gutierrez organized their own event, a Christmas block party, which was attended by Santa Claus, who gave presents to all the kids.

Nellie and Santiago Gutierrez continue to live in the little neighborhood of Hightown, just as the generations before them. Nellie, along with many other long time residents, misses the old traditions and the sense of community developed when Hightown was just a little “town” by itself, surrounded by farm fields in today’s west Chandler area. She hopes to preserve her traditions, heritage, and the community of Hightown that she and many other residents have enjoyed and cherished over the years.