We’re all only human, that’s for sure. But here in Yuma, Arizona, everybody is also Yuman. Or at least that’s what they call the people from this sunny town of just under 195,000 people. Yuma lies just five minutes from the border of California, and just 20 minutes from the border of Mexico. Recorded as the sunniest place on earth and the iceberg lettuce capital of the world, Yuma ain’t a bad place to be for the wintry month of January! Site Supervisor Anna Walters, brand-new Facilitator Jorge Rios, and I joined the rest of the snowbirds to soak up the sun and collect some stories — particularly those of Latinos, as part of StoryCorps Historias. While in Yuma, MobileBooth West partners with KAWC, Colorado Public Media, as well as the Yuma County Main Library, where the Booth is parked.
Lenore Stuart and her mother, Mary Redondo Lorona, were among the first participants to come in and share some of their family history and favorite stories. Mary’s father, Jose Maria Redondo, first came through Yuma from Altar, Mexico on his way to California during the Gold Rush. Taken by the beauty of Yuma, he swore he would come back one day. And 10 years later, that is exactly what he did. He even changed the name of the territory from Arizona City to Yuma, after the Yumans, who were the chief Indian inhabitants of the area.
Jose served many roles in the Yuma community, including mayor for some time. A lover of music, Jose ordered a Steinway Grand Piano in New York City to be shipped from France to Yuma so that any child who wanted to could learn to play. The Panama Canal, however, had not been constructed yet, so the piano was shipped all the way around Cape Horn and up the western coast until it arrived in Yuma, its keys jingling down Main Street.
The piano is still in tact today, although out of tune, and has been passed around various family homes for some time. Mary, herself, never truly learned to play, but she has many memories of the piano still. “I’m wherever that piano is,” Mary reflected. “It’s old, but it’s a great piano.” And at 95, Mary may be old, but she sure is a great storyteller.