Every Thursday while I’m busy packing bags of food at Guerrero Elementary School during their Blessings in a Backpack program I try exercise my gift of gab to start conversations. Little did I know that one question would send me on a fascinating journey of learning about one of the greatest civic leaders in the history of Mesa, Pedro Guerrero (1896-1990).
‘Sue, I hear you’re related to Pedro Guerrero. Tell me, what was he like?’
Sue, a former Alma Gardens resident, periodically comes to Blessings in a Backpack to serve. To my surprise, my shot in the dark question was met with excitement in her eyes. Over the next half hour she told me about his love for food and adventure. How he was an energetic self-made man with only a 3rd grade education. How he cherished his family and was married to his wife Rosuara for 76 years! Her pride for her grandfather oozed as she talked.
‘You must meet my sister.’ She insisted. ‘She’s a better story-teller than I am.’
The following week I was sitting down in Sue’s living room as her sister Mercedes handed me a glass of homemade lemonade. With the same sparkle in her eye, she began by sharing about her grandfather’s upbringing, one that was full of hardship and change.
After the separation of his parents at a young age, Pedro moved with his father to Mexico before his father tragically passed away. When he returned to live with his mother, he discovered that she had remarried and there was not a place for him in her home.
Newly orphaned, Pedro started working odd jobs for grocery stores and other businesses to survive. This formative season produced a work ethic that served Pedro as he lived in two areas of passion, starting businesses and investing in the lives of youth.
While Pedro’s first business venture was starting Guerrero Lindsay Sign Company at the age of 22, his second business venture was his consuming passion.
Easter week of 1922 brought Pedro to a festival in the town of Guadalupe to watch traditional Yaqui dances. While taking in the crowds, he noticed that Mexican food stands were mobbed with people even though none of the stands were particularly clean or well run. Pedro wondered how his wife’s food would do if it was presented well with exceptional service.
The next year he brought a few helpers wearing clean white aprons, set up a stand, and served tamales that were wrapped in their own white napkins. Rosaura’s 600 tamales sold out that night while doubling the price of their competitors!
This successful night seared a vision into Pedro’s mind of mass producing Mexican food for his community. While a logo was made and a trademark was secured, it took him nearly 20 years to find the right partners to get the venture off the ground. Rosarita began with one employee in a small kitchen and within 16 years the foods were on shelves in grocery stores across the entire southwest. Building businesses was not Pedro’s only passion however.
After being invited into the mostly white Rotary Club of Mesa, Pedro became an advocate for cultural exchange ideas and eventually ascended to the position of governor within the club. As Pedro’s businesses and connections grew within the community, he noticed that young Latino boys lacked the same opportunities as their white counterparts. Since Latino boys were not permitted to enter into the Boy Scouts or similar programs at that time, Pedro founded his own youth club, Juventud. Pedro used the club to invest in the lives of Latino boys through camping trips, helping them find jobs and to instill pride in United States and the countries of their heritage. Members of the Juventud regularly built floats for civic parades and a number of the members enlisted to fight in the armed services during times of war.
Pedro Guerrero, an Inspiration
Why would a church take an interest in knowing and sharing stories from its community? It’s simple. We’re a part of the community!
As we work, volunteer and play in Mesa we will encounter opportunities to connect the story of our community with the people within it. Stories have a powerful way of staying with us far beyond facts. As good news people, we are to point out what it looks like to live exemplary lives, lifting up the good that we see around us so we can connect it our good Father. Stories, even contemporary ones, just happen to be one way we can connect with the hearts of people so the best news can be presented afresh.
Pedro Guerrero serves as an icon within our community, especially within the Latino community, for his selflessness, creativity and passion for our city.
For more information see the following resources:
- On Pedro Guerrero’s Life: See the book La Gloria Escondida by Dean Smith at the Mesa Public Library.
- Rosarita Foods. http://www.rosarita.com/history
- Pedro Guerrero’s son, a famous photographer. http://www.guerreromovie.com/
Also, visit Guerrero Rotary Park – http://mesaaz.gov/things-to-do/parks-recreation-commercial-facilities/parks/guerrero-rotary-park