I woke feeling blessed, loving the promise of the day, and anticipating the privilege of a brunch invitation across the border with Gloria Moroyoqui and her husband Guillermo Roques.
I met Moroyoqui three years ago when her charming and generous soul grabbed my attention at the annual “Fiesta de Tumacácori where she was among the people giving demonstrations. She extended her arm to hand me a bag of little “empanadas,” sweet turnovers, and three beautiful paper flowers. The story repeated the second and third year, but each time the smile got a little bigger and the feeling of friendship a little stronger.
The 2014 fiesta provoked in me a desire to inquire more about her inspirational viewpoint on life, when upon my insistence on paying her for a piñata, she said, “You don’t have to pay me, God has done that.” Also, this fiesta was in part, dedicated to her 30 years of participation.
I watched her work, listened to the stories she shares with pride and gratitude and heard her recite poems. I even recorded her singing a meaningful tune she composed to Tumacácori, which is one of many she has created to honor important people and issues in her life.
Moroyoqui has been a part of the “Historic Craft Demonstration Program” at the Tumacácori National Historic Park for approximately 43 years. She began demonstrating the process of creating Mexican paper flowers and much later added the tortilla making. Today she does both.
Once or twice a month, Moroyoqui and her husband travel to the park with their materials and ingredients to help the park enrich the visitor’s experience. It is a job that she loves.
“People adore her,” said Anita Badertscher, Tumacácori National Historic Park’s chief of interpretation and education, volunteer coordinator and co-coordinator of fiesta. Badertscher explained more details of the program that allows Moyoroqui to be a vendor at the fiesta and allows her to sell her flowers at the park’s store.
Moroyoqui also is responsible for the decoration of the cross in the mission’s church from time to time, explained Badertscher.
So who is this wise and sweet old lady who at 83 years of age opens her arms to those who wish to be embraced? I was about to find out during our morning spent together.
Guillermo, her husband. met me at the U.S.-Mexico border and drove us to the area of Los Encinos in Nogales, Sonora. He welcomed me into the house and there she was by the stove lifting the kettle off the fire ready to pour hot water over a cup of “Nescafé,” the instant coffee.
On the table were two trays of home-made cookies baked by the couple the night before, tortillas and over to the side a crock-pot letting the aroma of “carnitas al achiote,” marinated pork, disperse through the room. She hugged me and asked me to sit and start eating, just like my loving aunts used to do when I was a child in Chile
She returned to stir the beans and make some quesadillas that would soon make their way to my place setting. What a feast! She apologized for the simplicity, but I kept feeling like a queen.
Moroyoqui was originally from Obregón, more than 300 miles south of the border. She grew up on a farm with eight brothers and four sisters. Her mother was a Mayo Indian from the area of Alamos and her father a Yaqui shaman. From her parents she learned very practical skills, from milking the cows, making cheese, knitting and cooking, to natural remedies.
She did not learn how to read or write until her own son was in school, so they learned together.
In 1957 returning from Tucson to Obregon, her aunt put her on a bus in Nogales and asked the driver to please take care of her niece, Gloria. What the aunt never imagined is that he would take the job very seriously and 55 years later is still caring for her. The driver was Guillermo Roques, who three years later married her.
Together they had two children, Manuel Roques Moroyoqui and Gloria Roques Moroyoqui and many grandchildren and now great grandchildren. In addition, Guillermo had four children and more grand and great grand children.
It is a large family, most of them living in United States, but in the end it is still Gloria and Guillermo on their own, living in Nogales, Mexico where they choose to live and take care of one another. They lived in Phoenix for a short time, but Moroyoqui feels that her house in Las Encinas is “home.”
“I am never lonely here, people come to see me all the time looking for recipes, lessons or advice.” She gets visitors from everywhere. She showed me pictures and letters of teachers and students from a university in the United States who visit every year and camp out in her living room.
Every surface in the house has an object with a story behind it, rocks, branches, shells, photos and gifts. She is quick in finding a shape and symbols that only strengthen her faith. While no one else would have noticed or bothered to look, she does, finds and rejoice with it.
On the wall among many others, are pictures of her family, the beautiful young Gloria that captivated the eyes of the very handsome Guillermo, a framed newspaper article with a large story about her, and a poster from the 1993 Smithsonian Folklife Festival featuring her paper flowers as the image for the festival that year.
She was invited to this event in Washington, D.C., as a food specialist, piñata and flower maker, and herbalist.
After exploring her fascinating collections, we sat for a flower making demonstration; she brought the wire, different color crepe paper and utensils needed for the process. She made her glue “engrudo” with boiling water and flour and started.
Her fingers move quickly. I think I have it, but then I realize that maybe my fingers don’t have it. Oh well, she is the master and it makes me happier to see her creating than me attempting.
After the flowers were completed, we stepped outside for a tour of her garden. Perhaps four feet of space between the division wall of the property and the house is all she has, but the results of her care make the area seemed sufficiently big. Peppers, tomatoes, herbs and even fruit trees are all a part of her production.
I asked her to describe part of her daily routine, she said it starts at 5 a.m. when she gets up, heats water for coffee, takes a shower, spends some time doing yoga and sits with her husband to pray.
Moroyoqui seems at peace with life, strong, faithful and positive, all attributes that should be contagious. She has experienced some turbulence in her life, like losing her parents, and all of her siblings, except for one.
She almost lost her own life with her husband in 2006 when their car got caught in a furious monsoon flood and was dragged by its power for half an hour. She remembered putting her arms around Guillermo and telling him that she couldn’t fight it any longer. At that point they put their life in the hands of God.
A miracle, they said, was that they were soon rescued by firefighters and were taking to the emergency department. She was diagnosed with hypothermia and heart failure from which she survived.
They lost their car, but through the good will and love of the people at the Tumacácori National Historic Park a car was donated to the couple, for which she is so grateful, she said.
It was time for me to leave, and I wonder again who is Gloria Moroyoqui? She is all and perhaps much more, a mother, a wife, a chef, a gardener, a rockhound, a singer, a poet, a healer, a teacher, a philosopher, a guide… in simple words, to me she is an amazing woman!
Learning doesn’t stop for her, “busca y busca,” search and search, she says when she wants to do something new.
She is willing to go anywhere when she is invited to share her knowledge, spread her wisdom and show her abilities.
Moroyoqui and her husband can be found at the Tumacácori National Historic Park on certain days of the month, so it is recommended to inquire in advance by calling (520) 398-2341.
Although she doesn’t speak English, she has no trouble communicating. “I don’t mind the language barrier, she said, those who want to understand will always do!”
Next time you are at the park and smell the fire where the tortillas are cooking, make sure to stop and let them treat you with her smile, her teaching and a memorable experience!
Photographs by Paula Beemer