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Nogales Shopping Trip

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Nogales, Sonora, a traditional tourist attraction that draws streams of visitors from Arizona, is a city of some half a million, but was only about one-sixth that size when these Phoenicians posed in front of one of its shops in 1948.

The little boy in the photograph is life-long Phoenix resident Frank Barrios. Beside him are close family friends Maria and Albert Garcia. His parents, Alfonso and Dolores Barrios, are standing behind the Garcias, and his oldest aunt, Helen Killeen, stands beside his father. The man and woman on either side of the group are unidentified.

Helen Killeen and Dolores Barrios were the daughters of Mexican-born Dolores Martinez and Yugoslavian immigrant Martin Gold.

Gold was deeply committed to Phoenix’s Mexican-American citizens. He rented extensive downtown properties to Mexican families, employed scores of Mexican workers in his harvesting business and served as a leader of the fledgling Mexican congregation that in 1915 successfully petitioned the Roman Catholic Bishop of Tucson for a Mexican national parish in Phoenix. The result was Immaculate Heart Church on Washington Street in Phoenix.

Gold’s daughter, Helen, married Louis Killeen Jr., whose father (also named Louis) was an Irish immigrant who prospered in Mexico. His story exemplifies how Mexico’s early 20th century upheavals uprooted ordinary people. The senior Killeen owned extensive mining and agricultural interests in Mexico, and a hotel in Uris. His wife was Mexican and the couple had four children.

Then dictator Porfirio Diaz, who had favored foreign investors while disregarding Mexico’s poor campesinos, was overthrown in a bloody revolution. The anti-foreigner backlash that followed forced Louis and his family to abandon everything and they fled to the U.S.

Helen’s sister Dolores married Alfonso Barrios, who embodied another aspect of Mexican-American social history. His parents, both Mexican, lived near the California border, where his father ran a bar in Tijuana. They would later move permanently to Tecate, but Alfonso was born in Redlands, California, giving him American citizenship.

He went to grammar school in Mexico, but attended high school in Los Angeles.

He worked for a time as an extra in the movies and dealt cards in a Tijuana gambling house (the Caliente) that catered to Americans, especially big-name actors.

He moved to Phoenix during the Depression and married Dolores. During World War II, he served as an MP, guarding German prisoners of war, and afterward joined American Legion Post 41 (as did Albert Garcia), the center of Mexican community action in Phoenix.

After the war he entered law enforcement, spending most of his career working in narcotics and then finishing as a probation officer.

The Garcias, who are pictured with young Frank Barrios, were prominent politically. Albert Garcia came from one of Yuma’s oldest Mexican-American families and served as an assistant attorney general for Arizona.

Maria was a political activist when few women were overtly political. She was an early member of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) during and after World War II, helping to lead the fight to desegregate swimming polls in Phoenix, which had always excluded Mexican-Americans. Influential in Democratic politics, she was closely associated with Rose Mofford (a future Arizona governor) early in her career.

In 1948, Nogales attracted the Barrios family and their friends as well as thousands of others with good restaurants and hotels, bullfights, colorful bartering and savings on unlimited amounts of liquor that could be brought back to the U.S. duty free. People loved to pile into a car and spend the day there.

The Caverna was Nogales’ leading restaurant in 1948, and the Barrios group probably dined there while visiting the town. A top quality establishment, famous for its turtle soup (now unavailable because sea turtles are endangered) the Caverna had a first-class bar, mariachi players, a stage where dance bands performed and niches for statues of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

It was carved out of the mountainside, and patrons dined in a shallow cave.

The restaurant burned in the 1980s. All that is left today are the letters Caverna on a mountainside above a fenced-off ruin on Elias Street.

Arizonans still travel to Nogales for shopping and dining. Today, however, it is prescription drugs they bring back.

This Times Past article was originally published on July 27, 2001.

Photo courtesy Tom Killeen; research by Gay K. Weiand. ©Arizona Capitol Times.

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