By Ruth Longoria Kingsland
Quite probably the oldest man in Duarte, the patriarch of one of the largest families in this city was honored Jan 24 by the City Council.
Known to many as “Papa Reyes,” longtime Duartian Jose Reyes Diaz turned 100 years old Jan. 6.
He has nine children, about 60 grandchildren, 140 great-grandchildren, and 18 great-great-grandchildren. More than three-dozen of those family members still live in the Duarte area.
About 300 family members attended an early birthday party for the elder Diaz in October, with relatives flying in from as far away as Chicago, Georgia and Mexico.
“We have a great family – I’m really blessed,” said Diaz’s grandson, Frank Figueroa, 16-year member of the Duarte Board of Education.
Figueroa, 47, was on hand for the Jan. 24 City Council meeting to speak on behalf of his grandfather, who has had difficulty speaking since a stroke about five years ago.
Despite verbal difficulties, Diaz lives a full life in the home of Figueroa’s parents, Vicente and Herlinda Figueroa. He is able to take a daily walk in the patio area of the home and is alert and able to communicate with family, Frank Figueroa said.
Diaz was born in 1912 in Cartegenas, Jalisco, Mexico. On Feb. 15, 1933, he married Maximina Huizar. Maximina, known to family as “Mama Mina” died in May 1993.
The couple immigrated to southern Texas in the 1950s. There, Diaz worked as a bracero, a migrant farm worker, picking onions in the Brownsville area for 50-cents-per-day.
In 1976, the Diaz family moved to Duarte. In Duarte, Diaz continued in the field of agriculture, picking fruit in the fields of the city’s north hard stone area. At that time, much of the area above Royal Oaks Avenue was nurseries and strawberry fields. He later retired as a dishwasher at Royal Oaks Manor.
“My grandfather has always worked hard at hard labor. Maybe that’s why he has lived so long, he has worked so hard,” Figueroa said.
After living and working in this country for most of his life, Diaz expressed to his family his desire to become a United States citizen, so, on Feb. 6, 1998 Diaz officially became a U.S. citizen.
Although he left most of his family in Mexico when he moved to the United States, Diaz was from a large family that was separated during the War of the Christeros, an uprising in the 1920s when the Mexican Government persecuted Catholic activities and outlawed religious education.
In addition to growing his own dynasty of descendents in southern California, Diaz found after moving to Duarte that other family members also had settled in the Los Angeles area. About 60 years after last seeing his brother in Mexico, Diaz met his brother’s son, who then lived in Whittier. Although the nephew since died, Diaz also has great nieces and nephews in that area.
While presenting Diaz with a certificate of recognition for his many years in Duarte and in life, Mayor John Fasana expressed his appreciation for Diaz’s life well lived.
“This isn’t just an 80th birthday, or a 90th birthday. This is 100 years. That’s a lot of years,” he said.