The Family’s Heart: Trina Marine Ruano

The Early Years

Family matriarch Trina Marine Ruano (1902-1986) loved her Native heritage and her huge, extended family. She spent her youngest years living in a modest home at the site of a multi-ethnic Native settlement (“rancheria”) near rural Highway 84, where descendants of the serf-like labor force of a one-time Mexican rancho would soon find themselves displaced to make way for the Calaveras Reservoir.

Trina’s mother Avelina Cornates Marine died in 1904; her father Raphel Marine in 1910. The orphaned Trina was sent to St. Mary of the Palms Orphanage, run by the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose. At the orphanage, nuns with a kind nature compensated for those with a mean one. When Trina left the orphanage four years later at age 12, she had an elementary education that would serve her through life.

Marriage and Motherhood

After leaving the orphanage, Trina began a six-year tenure as housekeeper, cook, and baby sitter at a Washington Township ranch where her brother Lucas, who had been sent to a boy’s orphanage in Ukiah, now worked in the fields. From there, Trina went to work for “high society people” in San Leandro doing the same type of work for about seven years.

At about age 25, Trina moved to Pismo Beach to work as maid, housekeeper, and cook for the family of a wealthy, tobacco-fortune heir. There Trina met her first husband, who died soon after they married in an automobile accident. Pregnant with her first child, Don Elston, Trina returned to northern California to live with her sister Dolores in Brentwood until Don was born.

Trina Marine Ruano: A Life in Service of Others

Trina next moved to Newark, where she worked as housekeeper for widower Ernest Thompson (b. 1874), who had five children, including a disabled son that Trina took care of. Ernest worked as an SP Railroad drawbridge tender when he married Trina in 1933. Ernest loved children, and he and Trina went on to have three of their own, including Trina’s eldest, Ruth (born 1934), whose own large extended family is the subject of this exhibition.

After Ernest died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1939, the twice-widowed Trina married his friend and fellow Dumbarton Bridge worker Yrineo Leonides Ruano, Ruth’s “Daddy Joe,” with whom she had four more children. Throughout their lives, Trina, Ernest, and Yrineo maintained close relationships with other Native people, and Trina imbued her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with a sense of pride in heritage, as well as a can-do spirit.