OROZCO, PRIMITIVO [PRIMO]

Cynthia E. Orozco

OROZCO, PRIMITIVO [PRIMO] (1914–1989). Bootmaker, cobbler, and leather craftsman. Primitivo “Primo” Orozco was born on June 10, 1914, in Atotoniquillo, Mexico, in the state of Jalisco, home to a Mexican ranching and vaquero tradition. His father was Felix Orozco, an alfalfa farmer, and his mother was homemaker Teresa Vega. Angela and Teresa were his sisters. They grew up in Sector Reforma and Sector Libertad in Guadalajara. He had an eighth-grade education. 

At age sixteen Orozco worked for Juan Araganara, who had a workshop, and there a cobbler taught Primo his skills. He also worked at several workshops and operated his own business where he had six employees and took orders from towns outside of Guadalajara. Orozco volunteered for service in the Mexican army in July 1942 during World War II and may have attained the rank of sergeant.

In summer 1949 Orozco moved to Mercedes, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. There he worked for Zeferino Rios’s company Rios Boots of Mercedes, which was the oldest boot shop in Texas and established in 1853. Primo Orozco married Aurora Estrada, a dress shop clerk of Mercedes, on January 29, 1951. In the early 1950s boot shop owner Pete McKenzie of Hallettsville went to Mercedes to look for bootmakers. McKenzie promised higher wages, so Primo and Aurora decided to move to South Central Texas.

Orozco worked for many boot shops in South Central Texas. A few weeks after McKenzie’s work ended, Primo went to Cuero to work for Guadalupe Ochoa in 1951, but Ochoa also ran out of work. In 1953 he worked for Hugh V. Smith’s Kenedy Boot Shop; Bohne’s Boot Shop of Cuero while living in Kenedy; and Pete McKenzie’s boot shop in Yoakum. While he worked again for Smith in 1955, Primo began a long career with Bohne’s Boot Shop in Cuero around 1954. He also worked for Thigpen’s boot shop in Cuero, and in 1970 he worked for Western Leather Goods, Inc. (later called Tex-Tan, founded in 1919) of Yoakum.

Bohne’s Boot Shop was open for more than 100 years and located in the ranching and farming community of Cuero. Henry Bohne of Germany established the family business. Ranching was strong in Cuero in the 1940s and 1950s; in 1942 and 1943 Cuero was the largest shipper of cattle in the state. Son Floyd Bohne ran the business when Primo Orozco worked there, and Bohne sold the business in 1973.

Orozco made boots, wallets, and belts and repaired shoes and boots. He mostly worked with cowhide and also made boots in his home workshop. His friends called him “Maestro” (master), an honorific title designating mastery of his craft. His craft intrigued and inspired daughter Sylvia who visited Bohne’s and the home workshop. She observed the details of his craft, especially the patterns and intricate stitches in boots. In the 1970s Sylvia became a Chicana artist and later founded Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin. Primo advised son Robert not to take up his craft since machines were replacing bootmakers by the 1970s.

Orozco’s light skin and well-dressed appearance initially saved him from Immigration and Naturalization deportation drives in Mercedes in the early 1950s. Immigration authorities arrived at the Orozco home to deport Primo in the early 1950s, but his wife explained that the couple was married and that she was in the process of fixing his papers. Authorities inspected the home and arrived at Bohne’s where Floyd Bohne gave Orozco a recommendation. The Orozcos fixed Primo’s papers after a two-month stay in Monterrey, Mexico, and he obtained his passport and became a legal permanent resident with a green card in the mid-1950s; he remained a Mexican citizen and Spanish-dominant.

The Orozcos lived in Cuero where they experienced racial discrimination. The schools, movie theater, hospitals, restaurants, neighborhoods, churches, and cemeteries were segregated against persons of Mexican descent and African Americans. The Orozcos had to obtain a recommendation from Floyd Bohne to rent a house. Buchel Bank initially refused a loan for bootmaking supplies to the Orozcos because of their race.   

Primo and Aurora Orozco had six children: Maria Teresa, Sylvia, Edmundo, Irma Estella, Cynthia, and Robert Alexander—all college graduates. Primo’s personal interests included music, and he was an avid fan of border radio. He was a Catholic. He had studied in the seminary as an adolescent but later deserted his studies due to the lack of vocation.

Primitivo Orozco died of complications of diabetes at his home on October 4, 1989. He was buried in Hillside Cemetery in Cuero, Texas. Aurora, who became a writer in the 1970s, penned a biography of him in 1991. 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

“Aurora Estrada Orozco,” Voces Oral History Project, University of Texas at Austin (https://voces.lib.utexas.edu/collections/stories/aurora-estrada-orozco), accessed April 11, 2019. Cuero Record, October 7, 1989. DeWitt County Historical Commission, History of DeWitt County, Texas (Dallas: Curtis, 1991). Letticia Galindo and Maria Dolores Velasquez, eds., Speaking Chicana: Voice, Power, and Identity (Tucson, University of Arizona, 1999). “Oral history interview with Sylvia Orozco, 2004, Jan. 26–Feb. 2,” Smithsonian Archives of American Art (https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-sylvia-orozco-11950), accessed April 11, 2019. Aurora E. Orozco Collection, Ruidoso, New Mexico. 

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Handbook of Texas Online, Cynthia E. Orozco, "OROZCO, PRIMITIVO [PRIMO] ," accessed May 27, 2019, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/foroz.

Uploaded on April 16, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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