She was born Delfina Josefina Blanco, on 19 March 1893, in the tiny village of San Jose del Muerto, near the town of Villa de Guadalupe, San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Another account gives grandmother’s birth date as taking place in 1882. She came to the United States in 1905, immigrating legally at the side of her husband, Isidoro Cantu (28 April 1876-1 September 1970). He came as one of many who came to work on the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The family followed the railroad, living first in Flatonia, Texas between 1905 and 1908. In 1910 they were in Lockhart, before finally settling down to stay in Hunter Texas, just south of San Marcos, sometime in 1911.
This picture would have been taken sometime in 1912. At grandmother’s side is my uncle, Jose Cantu, born in August 1910. We hear much talk today about poverty, and about the negative effect it has on people. Please! Such nonsense! The government’s answer is to throw money at the problem, and in that manner will ensure that family’s ruin for generations to come. Her family was extremely poor, but Grandmother would never have stood for the dole. For Grandmother, there was but one way out of poverty, and she preached it vigorously all her life. It was simply this, EDUCATION COUPLED WITH HARD, BACKBREAKING WORK!
Work, in her view, is for the salvation of the soul! She maintained, despite the trials and poverty of her life, a “better than thou,” attitude concerning those who were satisfied with mediocrity. Despite all opposition, and dire poverty, she was an aristocrat by nature. Her children were not permitted to associate with those she termed, “gente corriente,” which translates roughly to “common rabble.” In that vein, she viewed as beneath her many of those around her.
With her almost desperate need for cultivation, her Puritan like attitude, and her utter respect for virtue, those of a lesser world separated themselves from hers by their uncouth gutter language, lack of manners, and absence of morals. As she saw it, despite all poverty, one could still represent oneself before the world as a cut above. She preached loftiness of thought, and she lived it. She who had no education, saw to it that her children pushed for such vigorously. Despite poverty, and being uneducated herself, she somehow scrimped and saved, and managed to send her daughters to a school in Laredo run by a Protestant group. There they labored to learn the King’s English and Castilian Spanish, both of which they mastered. There also they were lectured on Emily Post’s rules of etiquette.
This was not the norm for Hispanic children of that era, but grandmother had a vision for her children. You may look on a 1940 Census sheet for rural Guadalupe County, in the Zorn area. Neighbors with names like Voss, Dreibrodt and Dietert grace those pages, with the highest grade found for them being grades 8 and one 9. Among Hispanics grade 3 was the average grade reached. And then one will come to my mother’s name: Elizabeth Cantu, College, one year! She was the only person, Anglo or Hispanic, of eleven pages of that rural area census with any college, this the result of Grandmother’s aspirations for her children. During a time when race was an issue and such was unheard of, mother roomed with the Voss family while she taught school, (Rudy Voss and his wife completed the 8th grade.)
Grandmother’s view on life is reflected in her descendants, any, that is, who resolve to adhere to her high standards. When I was about 14, I resolved to get her advice on life. What could she tell me that would help me in my future, something inspiring, to be sure..but .what? I, of course was expecting something grandiloquent, something impressive. I see her plainly. She was washing dishes, and she paused to look out her tiny kitchen window, deep in thought. Finally, she replied in two words, “Sed noble.” That was it? Two words? I was sorely disappointed, but she would say no more.
It took me nearly thirty years for the impact of those words to sink in, for I had not understood, but then, understanding came, and how profound the thought! Grandmother Delfina was impoverished as to material things to the end of her days, but those two words, carefully and thoughtfully given, reflect a mind rich in all that really matters, and I cherish them as a guide today.
How grateful I am to you, Grandmother Delfina, for now I understand. One of the definitions of the Spanish word “nobleza” is this one: “total ausencia de maldad en una persona, en su comportamiento, su actitud o sus acciones.” Interpreted it is, “The total absence of evil in a person, demonstrated in his behavior, his actions, and his way of life.”
“Sed noble,” she counseled me. It is my humble prayer that I, my children, and my children’s children after them, as well as those who can call themselves her descendants, become as that counsel; counsel so sacred, so exalted, and so profound. “Sed Noble.”