|Note: Nadine Torres is an elder from the Community of Lehi. She has lived most of her life on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. Her accounts and personal reflections on her life may be similar to those of many elders of the Community.
Through this profile of Nadine Torres, readers will understand the hardships that many elders of the Community face today, as well as gain an appreciation of the history these tribal members were part of and what they experienced in years past.
Many tribal nations share a similar view of life based on historical events that bind their experiences as Native Americans. The encroachment on American Indian lands and territories, the governmental practice of assimilation into the dominant culture and a relocation program whereby tribal members were sent to large cities to gain employment opportunities and assimilate into the general population had an impact on the elders of this and many other tribal communities.
Here is one perspective of a tribal member who grew up in Lehi in the 1950s.
Nadine Torres was born in 1948 at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center on North 16th Street in the heart of Phoenix. Her parents are the late Walter and Viola (Manuel) Miles, who had a total of 10 children. Torres had six brothers and three sisters. She stated, “Four of my brothers are gone: Mervin, Garrett, Denny and Dale. Two brothers, Alvin and Weldon, are still living.” She added, “All my sisters are still with us. They are Gwendolyn, Nedra and Cleo.”
Torres lived the first 20 years of her life in Lehi on the reservation. When she was about 20 years old, she was sent to Los Angeles, California, as part of the American Indian Relocation Program implemented by the U.S. government. She lived and worked in Los Angeles for more than 10 years, where she trained and went to school to become a nurse’s aide. She worked at Los Angeles County Hospital for many years.
Torres eventually made the journey back to her Community of Lehi. She continued working in the nursing field, finished a dental-assistant program and interned with a dental office in Mesa, and also had worked in a sewing factory as a seamstress. She worked every day until health problems began to slow her down.
Reflections on Childhood
Torres and her siblings grew up in the 1950s in Lehi, a few miles from Mesa. During this time, records indicate that more than 50 percent of Mesa residents earned their livelihood directly or indirectly from farming, primarily citrus and cotton. Also, this was the period of time when World War II had ended and aerospace companies began to make the town of Mesa their home base.
Torres shared, “I was born in 1948…. I remember we lived in a small mud house with a dirt floor. The home consisted of one room, where we mostly slept and kept [our] possessions.” Her mother did all the cooking, outside on a wood stove. “We had a table outside so we could eat, because the table inside was not big enough for all of us.” She adamantly stated, “We always had hot meals. Our mother cooked every day, made tortillas every day—she even chopped her wood. We always ate before we went to school.”
The family did not have electricity or running water. “We had to take our containers down the road by wagon where there was a pump to get water.”
What did they do for fun? “For fun, we would play with our cousins,” Torres said. “Sometimes we would catch a bunch of locusts, roast them and sometimes eat them; and [at certain times of the year] we would wake up early and go pick cactus. We would hit the cactus with some of the desert bushes [to knock the fruits off the plant] and take off all the thorns so we could eat them,” remembered Torres. “One of our neighborhood friends had a father who worked at O’Malley’s Lumber Yard in Mesa. He would bring home blocks of wood and give them to us to play with—we would play with the blocks all day!”
Torres continued, “I remember when the roads in Lehi were all dirt roads and they would get very muddy. Back then, there were a lot of tamarisk and cottonwood trees along the road. My dad and mom would take the wagon to Mesa …. I remember one time, my mom and dad were going into town [Mesa] and told me to get ready, but I would not get ready because I was playing. I was not ready when they left. I saw the wagon leaving, and I ran to follow them. I chased them and hopped into the back of the wagon and hid until they got to Mesa. I got a good whipping for doing this.”
Torres has fond memories of her grandmother. She shared, “I remember my grandmother used to take me to the old Woolworth’s store in downtown Mesa to eat banana splits at the snack bar [lunch counter] in the corner.”
One of her fondest memories of her grandmother, Torres recalled, was that “My grandmother and I had our own [form of] communication. She used to live on Thomas Road (in Lehi), and I lived close to here [the Lehi Community Center]. She told me, ‘Every time I get my monthly check, I will shine a mirror at your house. So every time you see that mirror shining, you would know I got my check … and you can come [over so we can go to town].’ When I knew it was getting close to the time for her to get her check, I would look every day! When I did not see [the signal], I would go off and play. But, one day I [saw] it shining. Oh my God, I ran in and got ready really quick, and I took off running. Back then there was a swamp [marshy lands], and nothing but mesquite trees from Gilbert Road all the way westward. I would just run through everything, and go running to her [house].”
When Torres was asked to ponder what life was like back then in Lehi, she responded, “To me, I thought it was very good. I really had a good time. It seemed like in those days we always found something to do. We did not have a [television], but we were never bored. But now as I think back on those times, I don’t know how I made it. Now, with all the new technology coming up, sometimes I wonder how we even made it—how we ever survived. But those were the happiest times of my life.”
The Challenges She Faces
Torres found out she has arthritis more than 10 years ago. She was going to work every day, and “Then one day, I woke up and my leg starting hurting really bad, but I still went to work. I could barely walk around; I would barely make it through work. Then we took a trip to California. I was fine with one good leg, but the other leg bothered me a lot. When we got there, I got out of the truck and my leg just gave [way]…. This is when I started having problems. It was hard to walk; it seemed to progress rapidly to where I could not walk.” Torres eventually had to find means to obtain a wheelchair.
In addition, she pointed out, “I was told I need a knee replacement on both knees. About two years ago, I became pretty ill and I had an intensive operation performed. I was in the hospital for about a year. I finally got home, but I had to do [physical rehabilitation], and I had to stay in a nursing home. [The doctors] said that I would need to get [healthier] before they would do one knee replacement, because I need to rehab the knees and I can’t do it right now because I cannot walk. [Knee replacement surgery] has not been done yet; maybe someday.”
Torres also has another disability that causes facial spasms. “The whole side of my face has spasms,” she said. “They found out that something is [interfering with my nerve]. They would need to do surgery on my skull [brain surgery]. But, during my recent operation, I almost didn’t make it; therefore, they don’t want to do surgery and [take a] chance [that] something might happen. So right now they are giving me shots in my face and I take medication. I have to go back every four months to get a shot. Sometimes [spasms] get bad. Everybody thinks I am winking at them half the time.”
Torres’ husband, Isador, is her caregiver. She stated, “He does everything for me. He gave up work so he is able to be with me throughout the day.”
In years past and even today, many times there is no one there to take care of the disabled or elderly, and they have to be sent to a care facility, usually off the reservation.
Torres added, “When my husband has to go visit his relatives, for about a week or so, I have to see if my daughter can come from California to take care of me and stay with me, or I will see if a friend can be with me for a week or so.”
She goes to the Phoenix Indian Medical Center for her healthcare and for follow-up with her medical conditions; they help with her medications. She is appreciative of the services.
“One Day at a Time”
Just about every morning, Torres and her husband go to the Lehi Community Building to have breakfast, and they participate in the different programs with the seniors of the Community. She is thankful for all the services the Community provides for elders.
When asked what would she say to people in a similar situation, Torres offered, “Try to get as much help as you can, because once you cannot walk, it is difficult. One main thing I face is depression. At one time I could walk and do everything, even dancing; now I cannot do [anything] anymore. [So I would tell them] try to do as much as you can to help improve [your physical condition] and not end up in a wheelchair. My doctor has been helping with discussing how I feel, about my depression.”
A support system is very important to elders and the disabled. This could be a healthcare professional, a senior center group, or family and friends. Torres has strong family roots in the Community and is thankful for the services offered to her by the Senior and Disabled Community Advisory Committee (SADCAC). She expressed, “My husband had to stop work to help me; but, he is there for me 24/7. I am getting help from the Community with utilities. I am able to get hot meals from the [Senior Services Division]. We have used the food program to get food staples; they don’t have a lot to give out, but it helps. Overall, we are doing good; we hardly use a lot or do a lot. We are doing okay. One thing [Senior Services] does provide are activities, like movies. We go places with the seniors, and this is our entertainment!”
As a new year begins, Torres was asked what would she like to accomplish and whether she has a resolution for the New Year. She was very thoughtful when she said, “I don’t want to think about it too much because it seems to not work out. I just want to take things one day at a time.”
Torres once again reflected, “That’s why I say [my youth] was the happiest time of my life—how everything was at the time. But now as I think about it, I wonder how did we even survive?”
When you hear her laugh, you know Nadine Torres is someone who truly loves her Community and is a survivor.