Yesterday I worked on a lesson about Romana Acosta Bañuelos. She served as treasurer of the United States during the Nixon administration. The treasurer is the person whose signature is on the left side of the front of American currency. The Secretary of the Treasury is the person whose signature is on the right side.
Ramona Acosta was born in a mining town in Arizona in 1923. At age 7, she and her parents were deported to Mexico. After only six years of school and after marrying, having two sons, and divorcing before she was twenty, she brought her sons to the United States. Because she had been born in the United States, immigration officials confirmed that she was an American citizen. Ramona and her sons settled in southern California. There she washed dishes, waited tables, and started making tortillas in her own kitchen and selling them in her neighborhood. She read comic books to learn English.
In America Ramona Acosta married tool and die maker Alejandro Bañuelos Tapia. In time she co-founded a tortilla factory. In the late 1940s, she got up at 2:00 a.m. and took her two sons with her to the factory. While they slept on bags of corn, she ground corn and made tortilla dough.
Later she bought out her two partners and built Ramona’s Mexican Foods Inc. into a very successful business. She also had a daughter. In 1964 local Mexican American businessmen approached her husband about starting a bank especially to serve immigrants from Mexico. He told them to talk to his wife. Mrs. Bañuelos and her partners established the Pan American National Bank in East Los Angeles, California. She became its president.
In 1971 someone from the Nixon administration asked Mrs. Bañuelos to submit her name to be considered for the position of treasurer of the United States. Her husband told her to go ahead and submit her name, saying it was an honor to be considered for the job. He also said that that they knew she wouldn’t get the nomination — but she did. Mrs. Bañuelos served in that position until she resigned on Valentine’s Day, 1974. Then, she went back to California to run the bank and Ramona’s Mexican Foods. She died in 2018 at age 92. She was survived by her daughter, one son, and 12 grandchildren.
I love the tale of a White House budget meeting in 1971. While economists discussed huge numbers, one man asked for the answer to a math problem. Mrs. Bañuelos quickly did the figures in her head and told them the answer. None of them even acknowledged her or looked her way. After one of the economists came up with the answer on a calculator, he told the others that she was right. After the meeting, John Connally, the Secretary of the Treasury, asked her how she did the problem so fast. She told him that in Mexico they learned to figure numbers in their heads.
One point I made in the lesson was that President Nixon was a great champion of Mexican Americans. He had known Mexican Americans since childhood because he grew up in Whittier, California, only three hours from the Mexican border. He was passionate about helping Mexican Americans succeed. He was passionate about the rights of native nations, too, but that is another story.
While writing the lesson, I struggled with how to write about Mexican Americans in the most respectful way. I looked up the definitions of Latino and Latin American and Hispanic. I am sorry that we people are quick to place labels on people. I’m thankful that God sees each of us as people made in His image.
While I wanted to tell you this inspiring story, I also want you to know how grateful I am that you do what you do every day. The last thing I want you to do is to feel stuck at home or to question your commitment to your profoundly important job of taking care of your family or to feel that you need to get out and conquer the world, as the saying goes. I am proud of you for making your children the priority that you do.
So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.