Maria de la Luz Carrillo pets her dog Chispa, translated as Spark, with such love and care. With a huge smile on her face, she manages to make a few jokes bringing those around her to a sincere laugh. Carillo is 101 years old, and one of Mecca’s first residents.
“I’m happy, I feel great,” Carrillo said. “I don’t think that I shouldn’t be all of those years because I lived them with all of my children.”
Maria de la Luz Carrillo is her maiden name, but she was better known among friends as Mary. She was born on August 27, 1917 in her beloved San Antonio, Texas.
In that same year, the U.S entered World War I, a gallon of gas was 15-cents, the average life expectancy of a woman was 54 years, and Carrillo’s native state of Texas was only 72 years old. Carrillo is proud to be both a Texan and a U.S. citizen.
“That is my greatest privilege to be what I am,” she said.
Despite of her Texan pride, Carrillo saw the promise of California. In 1958, she took a leap of faith and moved to the Coachella Valley with her children. She found a home in small town Mecca, and moved into a home that she painted pink. It has remained pink ever since.
“When we came to Mecca, I think there were about 10 houses, and that’s it,” she recalled.
Her son Johnny Estrada remembers a Mecca without any paved streets. The only market was a 10 minute walk from their home.
“People cared for each other, for real,” Estrada said. “They would even keep the doors unlocked, leave the keys in the car.”
Carrillo did not have an easy life, and with seven children, she had to raise her family on her own.
“There was no dad, no father figure, so she was both,” Estrada said. “To me, to all of us, she was mom and dad to all of us. I feared her more than the police.”
Carrillo endured the pain of losing her oldest son, whom she remembers quite frequently. She said she talks to her mother who is in heaven.
“My mother, she is in heaven right now with my son,” Carrillo said. “And I talk to her and I tell her, mamá estás con tu nieto allá en el cielo [mom, you are with your grandchild].”
Carrillo said she watches TV, spends time with her dog and still loves to dance.
Her secret to a long, happy life?
“Be crazy like myself, dance in the street,” she said.
Above all, she said never stop smiling.