Virginia Sanchez: growing up in Tehachapi, and the war years

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi


November 12, 2022

Provided by Jon Hammond.

Virginia Cortez Sanchez and two of her great-grandchildren.

Virginia Gonzalez Sanchez was born at home on F Street in Tehachapi on June 23, 1931, the daughter of Lupe Cortez and Augustin Gonzalez, and was brought into the world by her grandmother, Benito's wife Cipriana Cortez. Virginia's family has deep roots in California, since her ancestors lived here before California was a state, or was even part of the U.S. -- they were originally Californios when the territory was still part of Mexico, prior to 1848.

Her grandfather Benito Cortez came to the Tehachapi Mountains in 1921 to work at the cement plant in Monolith, and Virginia has many relatives in Tehachapi, including members of the Cortez, Cervantez and Martinez families.

Virginia and her younger sister, Grace, were both raised by their grandparents, Benito and Cipriana, their "Papa" and "Mama Grande" at the family home on F Street. Cipriana was well-versed in the ways of traditional medicine. "I never went to the doctor when I was growing up," Virginia told me. "My grandmother made wonderful poultices and tonics, and if I wasn't feeling well she'd ask me what was wrong, and then make something herself -- I never had medication that came from the drugstore. I didn't ever see a doctor until I was grown and pregnant with my first child."

Virginia went to Wells Elementary School from kindergarten through 8th grade (there was no junior high or middle school in Tehachapi at that time) and then went to Tehachapi High, where she graduated in 1949 with just 36 other seniors. She clearly remembered the years of World War II in Tehachapi. "It was a hard time because so many of the men were gone and many items were rationed, but it was also a happy time because the war brought people close together," Virginia said. "People didn't lock their houses, and as kids we could walk around town with our friends, though we had to be home by the 11 p.m. curfew. Tehachapi was a nice place to grow up."

Virginia learned swing dancing and other styles when she was only 12 years old because her first cousin, Art Cortez -- who was like a brother to Virginia and raised with her in the same house -- and his friends would practice their dance moves with Virginia.

Provided by Jon Hammond.

Virginia (in the middle) and her sister Grace and cousin Victor after a Tehachapi snowstorm in 1943.

Even in more remote areas like the small sleepy town of Tehachapi, the war had an impact: Art Cortez took part in the invasion at Normandy, and another of Virginia's Tehachapi cousins, Ben Martinez, was killed in the war and is remembered on the veterans Memorial at Phil Marx Central Park.

With the shortage of men, many women went to work in industry, and Virginia's mother Lupe worked as an oiler at Monolith. "After the war when the men came home, all the women lost their jobs, but many of them looked for new ones -- they had learned how to work outside the home and they liked getting a paycheck and having their own money. Some of the Tehachapi women took jobs in packing houses and later at the garment factory," Virginia said.

Virginia Sanchez, a community leader, ESL teacher and mother of six children, passed away in 2013 at the age of 82.


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