As a child, Victoriano Alvarez Ramirez saw a soldier make the sign of the cross on his forehead; it was during the Mexican Revolution. A short time later, he and others were evacuated from their ranches as Pancho Villa led the fight against the federal government. The memory has stayed with him all his life.
“I thought he was scratching his forehead and I asked my grandmother… she said ‘no child, he’s making the sign of the cross.’ I must have been about five years old, how long ago was that?” he asked jokingly.
On Saturday, surrounded by family, Alvarez Ramirez celebrated his 101st birthday, complete with a Highway 101-sign themed cake and gold decorations. He was born on March 6, 1910, and has spent much of his life with one foot on each side of the US-Mexico border.
He says the secret to having a long life is avoiding unnecessary stress.
“If you have something to eat, that’s good. If you don’t, it’s still okay. Don’t worry. It’s worrying that wears-one down,” he said.
“He used to say his secret to a long life was a shot of tequila every morning,” Highland Park resident Sylvia Padilla told EGP, noting her grandfather’s great sense of humor.
The centenarian patriarch, who has around 60 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, became a US citizen during the 1980’s amnesty process, but has kept close ties to Mexico. He still travels from Los Angeles to the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi one to three times a year, as he has for much of his life.
In his prime, Alvarez Ramirez spent 30 years as a factory worker, assembling carburetors for Tomco Auto Products in the city of Vernon. But he also worked the land as a farmer in Rioverde — a five- to six-hour drive north of Mexico City — and at one point he served as Rioverde’s judge, sorting out disagreements, according to family members.
He arrived back from Mexico just two weeks ago: “I’m planting garbanzos right now,” he said smiling. His daughter, Maria Alvarez of East Los Angeles, says he’s always thinking about his crops, but sometimes he’s not there to harvest them.
“He just does it out of habit,” she told EGP. “So that there will be jobs. He says ‘it’s so they can help themselves. If God helps me, I help them,’” she says of the crops left behind.
Alvarez Ramirez is currently living with family in Montebello, but he loves the pace of life in Mexico, where everything is in walking distance. “Here everything is by car,” he said.
He told EGP that some of the most difficult times in his life have been experiencing or witnessing poverty and hunger.
He said the birthday party, which also served as a family reunion, is one of the highlights in his life.
“May God give them all what He has given me,” Alvarez Ramirez said about his family. “May they be good and not worry too much.”
His grandson, Victor del Bosque Alvarez lives in Mexico City and traveled to Los Angeles for the party. He said his grandfather is very strong, focused, religious and wise. He said many important traditions and values have been lost, but as the family’s patriarch, his grandfather should be respected as an example to be followed.
Hector del Bosque recalled how his grandfather loved to teach him and his cousins how to work the land.
Lincoln Heights resident Oscar Sanchez says he has many fond memories of his grandfather. “When I was little, he used to chase me around in the yard, play tag and monster,” he said, and recalled how his grandfather warned him to stay away from the chickens.
Edgar Alvarez, 23, one of Alvarez Ramirez’s youngest grandsons, said his grandfather loves to tell stories about the Revolution and Pancho Villa.
At 101, Alvarez Ramirez is in good health and very alert. While he has a cataract in one eye and takes medication for high blood pressure, he doesn’t have diabetes or arthritis and he sits and stands easily, although he just recently started using a cane.
About three years ago he underwent treatment for gallstones, and his doctor told him to stay away from fried and fatty foods, according to daughter Maria Alvarez who looks after him on this side of the border.
Since then, he’s been more mindful of what he eats and drinks. He likes steamed vegetables, loves roasted chicken, likes Ensure brand beverages, and he would be happy eating cactus [nopales] all day, she said.
“Because God is great, right now I feel good,” says the 101-year-young Alvarez Ramirez.