by Sara Sebastian
Yolanda Campos, 48, walks steadily after her six grandkids who run in every direction at Trainsong Park in Eugene, Ore. At one point, three grandchildren and one neighbor-boy, Kaden, sit in swings yelling politely for somebody to push them. She makes sure to notice each of them, and not to pick favorites.
It didn’t feel obligatory to ask if I could push them on the swings, somehow it came across that I was accepted into their playtime. It was the most fun I have had in awhile, we were talking primarily in English, since her broken English outsmarts my Spanish. We were little girls on the playground again talking about boys. She asked me if I was married, I said I wasn’t but that I have a boyfriend I wouldn’t mind marrying. She smiled, half-laughed, and said something like, “Of course.” I just understood her, and I think she understood me.
Kaden bravely asks if he can call Campos ‘Grandma.’ I suppose they share similar sentiments, as Campos said Kaden is a good boy.
On a separate day, she lovingly goes on the teeter-totter with one of her grandchildren. The other little ones meander to the edge of the park and she simply follows them. Yet she treats her grandkids like they are adults. For example, her granddaughter was talking to me for a few minutes. Campos went over to her and said, “Ella esta preocupada” (She is busy), referring to me.
Campos says she moved to the United States when she was 29 or 30 with her two children to Bakersfield, Cali. to be with her husband. It was 1984, and she was reuniting with Antonio for the first time in four years in Bakersfield, California. In only four words, words that most people would brush off, Campos said each one as though she was remembering each year she spent away from her husband. “It was very hard…Mexico is too many problems, too hard to live. Guanajuato, little town, two kids,” Campos says.
She’s also lived in Atlanta, Georgia, but says with enthusiasm that Eugene is the best place in the U.S. She’s lived here for nine years, but in the Trainsong neighborhood (half a block from the park) for one and a half. In particular, she says that her neighbors are really nice. What she misses most about Mexico is her mom and dad.
Yolanda Campos’ inviting smile is a lovely addition to the restaurant in Springfield she co-owns with her husband, Antonio. The couple started El Taco Express over eight years ago. The taqueria is currently closed as the roof collapsed during the March snow storm. Campos hopes to reopen in about one month.
Normally, Campos works at the restaurant three days per week, and babysits two or three times. However, her son Javier says that one unique thing about his mom is that she babysits her grandkids everyday.
In addition to her family devotion, she seems to always be joking. Javier said the best way to describe his mom is that she is just funny.
According to Campos, she feels that she brings ‘el respeto,’ or respect to the community. After thinking for about a minute, she then says, ‘no se’ (I don’t know), laughs and then says ‘muchas cosas buenas’ (many good things), including her food.
The aspect she enjoys most about the restaurant is providing good customer service. She takes orders and her husband is in charge of cooking.
Customer Darlyn Sulapas lives in the Parkgrove apartments, close to El Taco Express. She says that not only is it the best Mexican food in Eugene, but it is also fast. Sulapas says Yolanda is a very nice lady. “She smiles and greets you as soon as you come in and is very accomodating with requests, like extra salsa. She also takes time to explain what the menu is in case you have any questions,” she says. Sulapas anticipates their reopening.
Another loyal customer, Hans Rasmussen, says that El Taco Express’ tortas are second to none. Apparently, so is Campos. Rasmussen says of Campos, “Oh my god I love her so much…The coolest thing was that she and I would make these weird sort of half-jokes. Neither of us spoke the same language, but there was always some sort of laugh.”
Campos says she has some loyal customers and has made many friends. “Everywhere I go, someone knows me,” she says.
As for her other job, she jokes when she says she likes ‘nada’ (nothing) about her grandkids. She then laughs and says, “everything is good.”
Campos seems to be highly respected by her children and grandchildren. She usually only has to say something once for them to listen. She also doesn’t like to take nonsense from anybody. One of her grandsons was talking to me for 30 seconds when she cut him off. “Too much,” she said as she made the hand motion of chatter.
As I left, she made sure every one of her grandchildren said goodbye.