By SONYA ROBERTS-WOODS
Mount Pleasant resident Juanita Davila readily admits she’s something of a rarity.
Born in the United States, Davila, the eldest of nine Lozano children, grew up in the West Texas town of Levelland. The daughter of migrant workers, Davila’s father, Jose Resugio Lozano, began coming back and forth from Mexico to Texas in search of work when he was only 15.
“He was working as a brazeros or what was considered a work permit back then,” Davila explained of her father. “As long as he had a job, he was allowed to stay and work. One day he came and just stayed for good.”
He later married Davila’s mother, Flora, who was born in Texas, and they soon began raising a family together which included seven girls and two boys. Living on a farm, the family worked the local cotton fields for an often meager living.
While most students looked forward to the summer months, the eldest Lozano child knew exactly what she would be doing every summer.
“I was the family babysitter,” she said. “Most of the time my mother would be pregnant during the school year and so there would be another new baby just about the time we got out of school for the summer. The ones that were old enough to go to the fields and work did. My mother was the driver and she worked with my Dad and the other kids in the fields.”
Because Davila’s father spoke little English, she quickly became his translator for business matters including discussions with staff at her school.
“He would walk in with his farmer boots on and have me tell the principal in English that they were to spank all of us if we got out of line,” she laughed. “We made sure we never got a chance to find out what would happen if we misbehaved at school. We knew he was serious.”
Soon, Davila’s father gained a reputation as a go-to person in the local community of migrant workers.
“Many of them, especially the elderly, didn’t know their rights and so my Dad befriended people from our town’s police department, judges and other local officials and he started finding out what was out there; programs that were available. People would come to him with their problems and he would go get answers. Well, we would go get answers together because he needed me to translate. He took me everywhere with him.”
Davila distinctively remembers teaching a driver’s license course for several locals when she was only 17.
“The class was on film strip so that tells you how long ago that was,” she laughed. I had six students and they were all over 50 years old and had never had a driver’s license. Back then, there were no books in Spanish to prepare for the test. After several classes, they all managed to pass. I remember that just like it was yesterday.”
Davila graduated from high school and soon started working for a program that was designed for children of migrant farm workers. As a receptionist, she assisted with local food stamp program. A year later she married her husband, Arthur. The young couple soon had their first child.
But in the early 1980s, the oil industry took a steep nose dive. At the time, husband Arthur Davila drove trucks for a local oil company. Looking for a new job to take care of his family, the Davilas soon ended up in Wichita Falls following a devastating tornado. For several years, Arthur Davila worked doing brick work.
A series of other events eventually led Arthur Davila to Mount Pleasant after a trucking company he later worked for relocated to Titus County. Going ahead of his family, Arthur Davila found what he thought could be the perfect place to live in Mount Pleasant.
“There were no trees or greenery in Wichita Falls,” Juanita Davila said. “I came to Mount Pleasant and I was immediately sold. I had never seen a place so beautiful. Everything was so green I didn’t even want to go back to get my things in Wichita.”
Quickly settling in to life in East Texas, the couple later raised three sons. While she loved the scenery, her only initial drawback to the move came when she tried to find employment.
“I couldn’t find a job here,” she said. “Because I didn’t have any computer skills and that was just becoming big, I couldn’t get a job. I also had no college experience. Everything I knew how to do had been from hands-on knowledge so I started cleaning houses.”
She later cared for a special needs child and then got a job as a cashier at the first location of Walmart in Mount Pleasant. For the next four years, she worked at the store before the Supercenter was built. She spent an additional year there before taking jobs in Mount Vernon at a local doctor’s office and later the Lowe’s Distribution Center in the late 1990s. Interested in a Mount Pleasant Police dispatcher’s job, she applied. She was soon contacted for another City position also available at the public library.
“At first, I was kind of upset that they were asking me about another job and not the one I had applied for, but then I started thinking I would probably really like that job too,” she said. “I had worked in the library at my high school.”
Davila took the job and quickly became a go-to person for local Hispanics in search of answers to just about everything imaginable. It suddenly reminded her of her former life back in Levelland. She was becoming her father.
“They would come in to ask all sorts of questions about everything,” she said. “Then I started getting questions about the (U.S.) citizenship test. I started wondering what it took to pass the test so I looked up the 100 questions and found the answers to them. I thought, ‘I could teach this. It’s just history questions.”
One day, Davila decided to ask her supervisor if the library could start offering citizenship test preparation courses. After getting approval, she began teaching the classes once a week at the library. Eventually, Davila felt compelled to go “out on her own”.
“I decided to rent an office here in town so that I could start teaching English and citizenship classes,” she said. “I would often go with them to translate for them. Things we take for granted were hard for some of them. And then there would be people who would abuse the fact that they didn’t always fully understand things. I just couldn’t sit back and let that happen to my people.”
After several years on her own, Davila was approached to work for local attorney Mark Lesher.
“I kind of fell into this job,” she said. “He was looking for someone part time and I decided it would be a good opportunity for me.”
Six years later, Davila works as a legal assistant/receptionist/translator. Sitting at the front desk, Davila is often the first face clients see. While the law office handles cases involving personal injury, criminal law and family court, the firm is well known for its work with immigration cases.
“I’m proud of the work we do here,” she said. “We’re the only ones in this area handling immigration cases. We have a lot of people come in for help with that.
While she wears several hats at her office, sometimes, her job is simply to be a confidante.
“Mexican people are funny about who they tell their business to,” she laughed. “They don’t just confess to the first young girl they see. They see an older, mature woman like me and they want to tell their life’s story.”
Davila, just as she did as a young teenager, always gives each client respect.
“You have to respect them to get their respect back,” she said. “It’s important that you look them in the eyes and never make them feel like they are dumb. I’ve always made sure I did that.”
While her work is most rewarding, she is very proud of her family. Her eldest son is stationed in the Navy in San Diego while her middle son works as a truck driver in Mount Vernon. Her youngest son works in construction. She and her now retired husband, a Vietnam veteran, also have three grandchildren and are raising a seven-year old daughter. While most of her siblings today live in the Amarillo/Lubbock area, both of her parents are now deceased.
“You have nothing else to pass on to your kids, but your name and reputation,” she said. “You have to care enough to know that working hard will keep you honest. We worked every chance we had. It was just a way of life. I think Dad would be proud.”
No doubt, he would be, Juanita.