Gonzalez family reunites in La Colonia neighborhood more than 100 years after their ancestors settled there


About 100 years ago, several Mexican families built their homes and made a community in what came to be known as La Colonia de Eden Gardens.

More than 300 relatives from one of those families, the Gonzalez family, came together on July 8 for their first-ever family reunion, which included live music, activities, presentations, and an address by Solana Beach Mayor Lesa Heebner. A lot has changed since their ancestors first settled in the neighborhood, which later became part of the city of Solana Beach, but the family wanted to make sure the history and family bonds remain intact.

“It was critical for us to tell the family story,” said Lisa Montes, a fourth-generation resident of La Colonia. “Because if we don’t tell the family story, the story will get lost.”

Many of the founders of La Colonia were farm workers who worked in nearby communities, picking tomatoes, lima beans, citrus fruit. But racist land-use policies prevented them from living in those same places.

The Gonzalez family legacy is tied to some of La Colonia’s best known landmarks, including Tony’s Jacal (a restaurant started by Antonio and Catalina Gonzalez) and St. Leo Mission (which achieved mission status with advocacy from Cipriana Gonzalez). They also later became philanthropists, providing scholarships to Latino students in the San Dieguito area, sponsored youth and adult sports teams, and more.
In addition, Montes said members of the family served in the various armed forces in Korea, Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm.

Maintaining their culture still had its challenges. At one point there was an Americanization school where students were punished for speaking Spanish. In recent years, gentrification has been reshaping the community with skyrocketing land values near the coast. Some of the longtime Mexican residents have sold their homes, and rising rents and home prices put the neighborhood out of reach for many in the younger generations.

Some of the traditions that continue to honor the history of La Colonia include the annual Dia de los Muertos celebration in La Colonia Park. There was also a centennial celebration for La Colonia in 2021, delayed one year because of the pandemic.

Daniel Ramirez, who attended the reunion, said his father moved the family from La Colonia to Corona to start working in construction. But Solana Beach was always a summer destination to see cousins and other relatives.

Family members wore buttons at the reunion to show which branch of the family tree they’re on, since it has grown to include Huizar, Sanchez and several other last names in addition to Gonzalez.

“It was an opportunity for folks who didn’t know each other to meet, or folks who hadn’t seen each other in decades to renew ties,” said Ramirez, an associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University. “I think, most importantly, to root the younger generations in a sense of history and identity that’s going to provide an anchor for their lives ahead.”