Pérez, Eulalia Arrila de (c. 1773–c. 1878)

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Pérez, Eulalia Arrila de (c. 1773–c. 1878)

Chicana oral historian. Name variations: Eulalia Arrila de Perez. Born Eulalia Arrila de Pérez in Loreto, California, around 1773; died in California around 1878 (some sources cite 1880, others 1885); daughter of Diego Pérez (a U.S. Navy employee) and Antonia Rosalía Cota; no schooling; married Miguel Antonio Guillér, around 1788 (died around 1818); married Juan Marín, in 1833; children: at least six, daughters Petra, Rita, and María, son Indoro, and two sons who died in infancy.

Born in Loreto, California, around 1773, Eulalia Arrila de Pérez was nearly 100 years old when she participated in one of the first oral histories of the settlement of California. Dictating her life story, she detailed the growth of what was in the late 18th century a Spanish-held territory. California was first settled in 1769 with a mission at San Diego. Explorers from the Spanish colony of Mexico controlled the region from 21 Franciscan missions, which divided territory and maintained huge cattle ranches, and formally attached the land to Mexico. By the time of Pérez's childhood, the U.S. Navy had established a garrison at Loreto, called Loreto Presidio, where her father was employed though not as an enlisted man. Pérez remarked that both of her parents were Caucasian, but her own deeply burnished skin made it likely that she meant they were native to the area.

Pérez received no formal education. She worked with her mother around the home and at age 15 was married to Miguel Antonio Guillér, a soldier at Loreto Presidio. The couple had several children, including two sons who died in fancy. When the family later moved to San Diego, Pérez maintained the home and worked as a midwife (partera).

Her husband died around 1818. Now in her mid- to late 40s, Pérez sought work to support her family. To win a position as housekeeper at the Mission San Gabriel, she had to enter a cooking competition with two other women. On three different days, and with only 24 hours notice, the women were required to prepare a full meal, the merits of which would determine who would be awarded the position. With the help of her traditional Spanish-style food, Pérez won the competition. Her work at Mission San Gabriel was that of la llavera (keeper of keys) and included managing all supplies, running the kitchen, and allocating rations. She prepared meals ranging from dinner for a handful to dinner for dozens, while her daughters assisted her with the cooking and housework. Pérez was also known at the mission and through the region for her skills as a curandera (healer) and midwife.

In 1833, at the urging of San Gabriel's director whom she held in high regard, Pérez consented to marry Juan Marín, a widower from Spain, although she did not love him. She continued to work at the mission until 1835. Pérez appears to have lived for at least another 40 years. In thanks for her work and that of her family, she was given a house and two small ranches, one of which she was living on at the time of her death around 1878.


Rebolledo, Tey Diana, and Eliana S. Rivero. Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1993.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts

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Pérez, Eulalia Arrila de (c. 1773–c. 1878)

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