Villanuevas evolved from stay-at-home to working women

By Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer

Motherhood has drastically changed over the past three generations. In the 1950s, Mela Villanueva was a housewife. Today, her daughter, Corrine Gonzales, is a working mom, and next year, her granddaughter, Rebekah, will attend college before marriage and motherhood.

On Mother’s Day, this Portales family serves as a vivid example of how motherhood has evolved. While the focus of this family seems to have shifted from a “family-oriented” to a “self-fulfillment first” mentality, one thing that has not changed amongst these three women through the generations is their high regard, love and respect for their mothers and for their own roles or future roles as mothers.

As a stay-at-home mom who made homecooked meals everyday, Mela, 84, raised 10 children, born about two years apart and with a 20-year difference between the eldest and youngest child. Her late husband, Alfonso, was a ranch worker who would not permit her to work outside of the home.

By contrast, her daughter Corrine, 46, a secretary at PHS, is a working mom. Corrine and her husband, Patrick, have raised three children: A set of twins, Josh and Rebekah, who will graduate from PHS this Friday, and a grown daughter, Jennifer Ferguson, who is married with two children.

“I really respect my mom and give her credit for so many things. It was hard for her to raise that many kids and cook that many meals, and yet she never had any regrets,” Corrine said. “Everything she did, she did for us, and none of us will ever be able to repay her for that.”

Corrine noted that a key difference between when she was being raised and her raising her own children today is in focus, perhaps not intentional, but because of the different eras in which she and her daughter Rebekah have grown up.

“When I was growing up, the main thing my parents wanted for us, was to get married to someone good, and it was also important that we graduated from high school back then. Now, the big thing for me and my kids is education, so that they will go to college and be self-successful first. Then they can get married later,” Corrine said.

Rebekah plans to attend Eastern New Mexico University here in Portales and wants to become a physical therapist or a pharmacist. Speaking on motherhood, Rebekah said, “If I have kids someday, I will probably be a working mom, too.”

Corrine said that when she was growing up, most of her friends’ moms stayed at home. By contrast, Rebekah said that most of her friends’ moms work, with the exception of one, but only because the mother was injured.

Comparing the changes over the generations, Corrine said that her mother never had a baby-sitter look after any of her or her six sisters and three brothers.

“If she couldn’t take us with her, then she wouldn’t go,” Corrine said. “I know if that had happened to me, I wouldn’t be mad but I would probably would have been a little disappointed.”

Mela always made homecooked meals for her children. While Corrine is proud of the fact that she only makes homecooked tortillas for her family, no store-bought ones, she confessed to relying on takeout meals a lot. “I am probably not as physically and mentally strong enough to endure everything my mom did,” Corrine said. “My dad was hurt working in the mines when we were still too little to take care of ourselves and she took care of him and us by herself. She also took care of my dad herself, until he died of cancer, and she took care of my brother, Pete, until he died of Parkinson Disease. She would never put them in a nursing home.”

Corrine added that her mother never drank or partied and would include the children in her own daily activities, such as pulling up chairs for them at the table so she could teach them how to make tortillas. She taught them by example, and as a result, Corrine said that is the main reason that she and all of her brothers and sisters have had successful marriages themselves.

Mela, who was born on Gonzales Ranch near the town of Villanueva, said that her own mother died when she was about four years old, so she does not remember much about her. Her main influences were her brother and sister who raised her.

Back then, it was considered a big deal to complete eighth grade, and so Mela not only graduated from eighth grade, but did so with honors. She constantly asks her granddaughter, Rebekah, for reassurance that she too will graduate with honors and Rebekah reassures her grandmother that she will graduate with honors.

Mela’s father died the year that she got married. Shortly after that, the Villanuevas moved to Portales during a time in which Mela said most people she knew worked out in the fields for a living.

Mela has 27 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren and has instilled in them a love of God and family as well as a strong work ethic. She also spoils them with her famous red chile, meat and tortillas and biscochitos, all of which are Rebekah’s favorites.

“All of my friends think my grandma is cute and little. One of my friends really likes her old-fashioned pumpkin pies,” Rebekah said.

There is no generation gap between Rebekah and her grandmother, whom she visits regularly. Perhaps there is a language gap, Mela mostly speaks Spanish and Rebekah only knows a little Spanish, but they get around that by speaking Spanglish to each other.

According to Rebekah’s aunt, Annette Salguero, the two have somewhat of an usual relationship for a grandma and a granddaughter.

“Rebekah has a really big heart,” Annette said. “She spends a lot of time with my mom. You don’t see a lot of teenage kids take their grandmother to Sonic and she always stays with my mom without anyone telling her to.”

Rebekah values the time with her grandmother and the time she spends with her own mother, Corrine, as well. While many of today’s teenagers would probably consider it too close for comfort to have their moms work at their school, Rebekah and her brother, Josh, both like having Mom close at hand at all times.

“I could have retired last year, but the twins begged me not to,” Corrine said. She added that she does not feel guilty being a working mom because she has always worked in the schools so she gets out at 3 p.m., like her children, and she has summers off.