After 29 years of service at the Iris stationery store, the woman’ s voice that would say, “Young man, what are you going to want to buy?” vanished. And yet, her presence is still felt there—you could even say that you can see her. Even now, after two years have passed since Elena Zavala Zúñiga left, dozens of people still arrive every week asking, “Where is Elenita?” Atención went looking for her and found her.
Elenita, as everyone knew her, was born at 3pm on September 26, 1941. She has just turned 80. She remembers that the hospital where she first came into the world was on Canal Street. Her younger brother, who was born in 1947, was born in the newly opened hospital that was in the building that is currently the Hermanos Aldama School. She also remembers that La Terraza Restaurant, which was first a market adjacent to the parish of San Miguel Arcángel, was a Medical Center.
At 80 years of age, Elenita still goes up and down stairs, but now she does so with the support of a cane because she fell several times. When we went to the place where she works now, we found her washing cups, and she told us she would join us as soon as she finished. This work is a self-assigned activity. “I needed to do something with my hands. I retired two years ago, I lasted three months at home, and I needed to get out,” she said. “Now I am here, organizing documents.”
She told us that she was the sixth of seven siblings; she also has two half-sisters. We asked if it had been her father who drowned in Las Colonias dam when he was 35. “It was June 21, 1948. He liked to play the guitar, but that day was cool. Later that day, his friend Soria came to the house and gave us the clothes. They didn’t find him until, on the third day, the water brought him up. The dam caretaker’ s wife told us that he had a bullet in his side, but at that time, they did not do an autopsy.”
Elenita did not go to elementary school until she was 12 years old. She entered the Justo Sierra Franciscan school and finished primary school at the age of 18. Then she went to the Ignacio Allende school (currently La Revolución). She then had to take care of her brother Raúl. She did the laundry, cooked the food, and kept his house, all of this while she worked in Fray Pedro de Gante. “ I supported the nuns. I went around with a box all over the city to collect the tuition fees. San Miguel was small then; it ended at San Juan de Dios, Santo Domingo, and at the Allende Institute.” Then in 1962, she was going to become a nun. “The nuns took me to Mexico City, but when we arrived, they did blood tests. They told me I was sick. After two months, they brought me to San Miguel again to get better.” She says she saw doctors here and there, but no one ever told her what the problem was. She knows now because a friend doctor told her it was anemia.
San Miguel has changed. Everything she sees now from the balcony of the building where we talk is new to her. Her entire life went from work to home and vice versa. Of course, sometimes she would escape to the Los Aldama cinema. She remembers that late, around 11:30 pm, she would walk to her house on Cuesta de San José, but he never felt fear. And she doesn’t feel it now. “It was around the time of the Poquianchis, when girls were being robbed. Only once did I hear someone whistle, but then nothing else. I had to cross the Aparicio stream.” She also had her boyfriends, but she always put her work above all, and the boyfriends left.
Today in her 80s, she recalls having helped raise brothers, nephews, great-nephews, and taking care of her mother until the end. She is happy with what her life has been. She worked in the Los Bastos bakery, in the Health Market, in a uniform workshop, in El Volcan, and at El Iris stationary shop. She was also a domestic worker. Today, in spite of the pandemic, she is working at Gasolinera El Caracol. A driver goes to her house every day to take her to work, and he returns later to bring her back. “Mrs. Paty Jurado told me, let’ s put you to work, Elenita, if that’ s what you want.” And here I am. Jurado is the owner of El Iris, and a partner in Gasolinera El Caracol.