Carmen Cortez

Duration: 31mins: 16secs
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Interview with: Carmen Cortez
Interviewed by: Tom & Cynthia
Date: December 16, 1983
Archive Number: OH 313.1

I: 00:05 This is December 16th, 1983 oral history interview with Mrs. Carmen Cortez of Houston, Texas by Tom ______ (??) and Cynthia ______ (??). Miss Cortez, what we would like to know is how you came to Houston. Where was your family from originally?

CC: Originally?

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: You mean before I was born?

I: No—before (Carmen laughs). Where did you come— how did you get to Houston? What’s the story of you coming to Houston?

CC: Well, we lived in McQueeney, Texas. That’s a little town outside of Segenney (??), which is a little town outside of San Antonio (both laugh). I guess you are familiar with it—

I: Sure, very familiar.

CC: We lived there—I don’t know what my stepfather did there. I think he—he worked at the ______ (??) factory there in McLean at some time. But we also lived out in what looked like to me—what I can recall, it seemed like it was a farm, but I don’t know whether this was my stepfather or the (unintelligible) his father who he lived with (mumbles) his father and mother. I imagine he did both. I don’t know. I don’t remember that much. 

I: That was common for people to live on the farm, but have an outside job—

CC: Oh, was it? I don’t—

I: Yes, yes. 

CC: 01:40 Well, I don’t—

I: —to supplement the income. 

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative). But I do remember we lived in—we even had a border who was a teacher. He was a man, an older man.

I: He was a teacher?

CC: He was a teacher at the school.

I: What was his name? Do you remember him fairly well?

CC: Oh, gosh, no. I don’t remember him, except that he looked like a teacher. (mumbles) Anyway, we boarded him. That’s about all and then all of a sudden the next thing I remember is that we were moving to—we were moving to—we were supposed to be moving near Galveston. I guess they didn’t know where, but anyway we knew it was somewhere near Galveston. It was near Houston and Galveston.

I: You were born out there on the farm or where?

CC: I was born in San Antonio, right outside the mission—San Juan Mission in San Antonio. But I’m talking about—before we moved here.

I: Ah, yes.

CC: See, my father died—my real father died when I was only ten months old. And my mother went to work, where various families—as a midwife.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: You know, she helped the newly—new mothers—

I: Sure.

CC: —as was a custom then. And that’s how she met my stepfather. 

I: 03:35 I see.

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

I: May I ask when you were born—what year you were born?

CC: 1913.

I: 1913. 

CC: I have my birth certificate.

I: Oh, okay.

CC: Do you want to see it.

I: No, I’m sure you (both laugh) are from 1913.

CC: No, it’s not my birth certificate; it’s my—my baptismal certificate. 

I: Baptism.

CC: I didn’t have a birth certificate until later years. I wrote to San Juan. Well, I wrote to the San Fernando Cathedral, where my mother had told me that I had been baptized. And they told me that the archives had burned. But just recently I found the birth—the baptismal certificate so—

I2: Oh, you had it in your possession?

CC: Well, my mother had it.

I2: Your mother?

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: 04:27 I didn’t find it until recently, after she died. She didn’t think she had it. That’s the reason I wrote to the San Fernando—

I: Cathedral.

CC: —Cathedral. And they told me that the records had been burned. So without that, I couldn’t really get a birth certificate.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: So I wrote to the Department of Vital Statistics and they told me that I needed to have someone that knew where I had been born to make an affidavit. And that’s what (mumbles).

I: Had your family lived in San Antonio long?

CC: Yes, they—my mother used to talk about living in Borne.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: And Kendleton, which are little towns all near San Antonio.

I: Yes.

CC: And I know that my grandfather and grandmother on my father’s side lived there near the San Juan Mission.

I: I see.

CC: It was my understanding that they (mumbles) fathers because they used to talk about—about living in Goliad, Nachadoges and all those places where there is missions.

I: Yes, where the priests were in missions.

CC: Yes. Uh-hunh (affirmative). Yeah, they (unintelligible), both on my mother’s side and my father’s side.

I: 06:01 Your father was named Garza (??).

CC: Yeah. (unintelligible) Let’s see, what else was there?

I: Well, your—we—but you all moved from the farm with your stepfather and mother? Where did you all move from the farm to?

CC: Well, when my father died, my mother lived—my mother moved to San Antonio with my uncle, her brother—her oldest brother. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: —who worked at the Round (??) House, whatever that is—railroad I think.

I: Railroad Round—

CC: He worked at the Round (??) House in some—for some way or other, he met my stepfather and heard that his wife was going to have a child (mumbles). His mother-in-law was going to have a child.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: One of these—late children, you know. She was already about 40, 45.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: His mother-in-law—his wife had already died.

I: I see.

CC: My stepfather’s wife had already died and he had left three children—three girls. And so my uncle found out that Julia (??) raised his mother-in-law was going to need someone to take care of her after the baby was born. So mother went to take care of her after she was born. And that’s how my father—my stepfather and mother met.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: 08:00 After that they got married.

I: And then, from there, moved too—

CC: All of a sudden—and all of a sudden we were five instead of just three children (Tom laughs) because I had a sister.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: And from there—after they got married, we lived there in McQueeney and then from there we moved here.

I: Why did you all move to the Houston area?

CC: Well, my mother always—and father both used to tell—see they had a separate Mexican school, a separate Negro school and a separate, what they call, white school.. And my mother, particularly, didn’t want that for us. And she sort of encouraged my stepfather to try to move to somewhere and it just so happened that my uncles, who was a construction worker—in fact, he built houses. Him and Mr. _____ (??) David (??), who was the father of the Davis (??) girls—

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: They built many homes here in Houston.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: —on the river side (mumble) 

I: Is that so?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative). My uncle was there. And my other uncle, the one that was my mother’s brother, was on the construction gang that built the SeaWorld in Galveston, right after the storm (unintelligible) a lot of people to come and clear out the (unintelligible) debris or something. And that’s how he found out about Houston and Galveston particularly. He went back and told mother, “You know, they don’t have any discrimination over there.” 

I: 09:55 Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: In Galveston, they only have one school. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: They have black schools and other schools for everybody. And that’s how they got (mumbles)

I: Where did they relocate then to?

CC: Well, we landed in Alief. It was closer to Claudine—no, not Claudine, Addicks. It was kind of between Addicks and Aleif. I don’t know how my stepfather had made arrangements to come and farm a farm, getting one fourth—giving one fourth to the owner. So that’s how we got started.

I: I see. 

CC: That was in 1918 (unintelligible)—either ‘17 or ’18— anyway, when did the war start?

I: We got into it in 1918—1917. 

CC: Well, it must have been ’18 because the war was on. I remember they had sugar rations.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: And they couldn’t have any candy. We didn’t have any sugar. They had to use molasses and syrup to sweeten their tea and such.

I: Did you go to school there, when you got to—

CC: Yeah, (unintelligible) first grade.

I: How many Mexican-American children were you?

CC: We were the first.

I: (unintelligible)

CC: 11:39 Were the first family. It was my stepfather, my mother and then his brother—my stepfather’s brother and his family. And he had (mumbles) Enrique and Ismiad (??) He had four children. And the younger two went into school at Alief (??). (microphone being moved) Enrique was already in fifth grade I think. Ophelia I think was two grades lower and then my stepsisters were all like a ladder down.

I: Sure—stair steps.

CC: Fifth, fourth, third, second and so on. And my stepsister—youngest stepsister and I started school the same day—same year—although she was a year older.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: She hadn’t gone until she was almost eight. I think I started seven, I don’t know. 

I: Was it just a farming community at that time?

CC: Yeah, mostly. Well, the Martin’s had a dairy farm. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: It seems to me like the Winkelman’s (??) also had some other kind of—the Crinnick’s (??)—

I: There was a Crinnick (??)—

CC: Had the gin.

I: Yeah, you might know there was a bohemian out there somewhere. (Carmen laughs) 

CC: Yeah, his name was ______ (??)

I: _______ (??)

CC: 13:35 And Mr. ______ (??)—that’s a German name I think.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: He had the general store. Mr. Hastings had the post office. And that’s about it.

I: It was just a little settlement then—little community. 

CC: Yeah, just a little community. Mr. Crinnick (??) and Mr. Fraser (??), who was the owner of a farm where we were—we were right across the street from each other—right at the entrance of the school. And Mr. Owens used to live on the little road around there. And they used to board all the teachers that were teaching. All the teachers would stay at either the Fraser (unintelligible; mumbles)

I: How was the school that you went to? Was it pretty good? 

CC: Yeah, it had one of the best scholastic—I think it still does. It had one of the best scholastic ratings. That’s the only place I went.

I: Where did you all go to church out there?

CC: We didn’t. We had to come all the way to ______ (??) which was over there on San Philippe. At that time there was—you know, have you heard of Piney Point?

I: Piney Point?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

I: Yes, vaguely. I don’t know that.

CC: It’s beyond south _____ (??). Have you ever heard of Voss Road?

I: Sure, yes.

CC: Well, right there it seemed like Little York Road (??). I don’t know how it was but I don’t remember too well, but I know that San Philippe Road and then _______ (??) Road and then this other little road I think was Little York (??). Anyway, there was a church there. And it was an Italian church because most all the settlers of Piney Point, Post Oak and around Voss Road—

I: 15:56 Uh-hunh (affirmative)

CC: —were Italian. _______ (??) and _______(??) and (mumbles). So the little church—I don’t remember now what the name—

I: Tambrella (??) was the name out there.

CC: Yes.

I: That was one of the families.

CC: ________(??) was too. They had a store right there in Piney Point—Tony _______ (??) and George. And I went to school with all of them—because they used to go from Piney Point and Voss Road all the way to ______ (??) to go to school. And nearly all of them had horses or something.

I: Did you fit in pretty well? Did you feel any discrimination at all?

CC: Oh, no, no. No. Although, if it was discrimination, I didn’t feel it. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: Because we happened—they happened to have a very good principal. I forget what his name was. (mumbles) I forget now what his name was. But, anyway, he just—he made us feel at home. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: When we had the trouble was after we left school. These boys like ______ (??) Martin—Martin and the—I forget now—Winkleman’s (??). They would ride horses to school (unintelligible). And they would try to run us down with a horse, telling us to get out of the way—because we had to walk. We had to walk home about two and a half miles. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: 17:51 But that stopped as soon as Enrique—you know, he was the one that was in the fifth grade—he had a fight with them and beat them all up. So that was the last of it (laughs).

I: He ended that.

CC: We never had any trouble.

I: (laughs) Were getting run down by the horses. (Carmen laughs) How long did you all stay in Alief—did you stay in the Alief.

CC: Until I got married. 

I2: (unintelligible)

CC: Probably until the—two weeks before I got married, 1933.

I: So you worked on the farm then?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

I: When was the first time that you came into Houston to visit or stay or—?

CC: Well, nearly every summer I used to come because Alief didn’t offer some of the courses that I wanted to take like typing and bookkeeping and shorthand and all that. So nearly every summer mama would send up into Houston and board us, either with one aunt or the other that we had here. 

I: Where were they living at that time?

CC: Well, Aunt Mary lived there in the main ______ (??). After you pass where the downtown—University of Houston is—

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: —after you pass that viaduct or whatever you call it.

I: 19:14 Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: She used to live right there. Of course, I think they’ve torn down—

I: Just a warehouse district now.

CC: Yeah, but there used to be ______ (??) houses there. And the uncle that I told you about that was a carpenter in construction, he lived across the street there on a little street called—I think it was _______ (??). No, it was McKee (??) _______ (??) was ran on the side. McKee (??) used to make a little turn (mumbles) It think it’s on McKee (??) I would either stay with Aunt Mary or—mama didn’t want to make too big of a burden on either one of them. But the next summer we would stay with Aunt Idella (??) And that’s when the story ______ (??) go to summer school.

I: About what year was this, when you first started doing the—

CC: Oh, about 1931.

I: ’31?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative). ’31 and ’32. Then after—

I: Where’d you attend there? What school were you going to?

CC: Here in Houston?

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: Well, I went to what was known as Sam Houston High School, which was formerly Central High School right there—downtown between _______ (??) and ________ (??)—right across the street from where the old YWCA used to be. And that’s how I got to go to the YWCA because it was right across the street. And they had a big foyer and study room upstairs, where they would let me study my lessons.

I: I see. So that’s how you were introduced to the YWCA?

CC: 21:18 That’s right.

I: —through this old central high school or Sam Houston High School?

CC: Because of school. Uh-hunh (affirmative).

I: At that time, where there very many Mexican-Americans going to that high school?

CC: Well, I went at night. Yes, there was about—in my classes that I was taking, I think there was about six or seven. It wasn’t a very big class at night. Of course, I had no way of knowing who went in daytime.

I: Sure. Right, right. What were you doing during the day?

CC: Well, I usually worked or helped my aunt—Aunt Mary was a seamstress. I would help her make baby dresses, embroidery.

I: What were their names? If you’ll ______ (??) their full names—your aunt that you stayed with.

CC: Well, Maria Navarro (??)

I: Okay.

CC: Idella (??) Martinez. She was my aunt. She was my great aunt. She was sister to my grandmother. 

I: And your uncle’s name was—?

CC: Which one?

I: The one that lived across the street.

CC: The one in construction?

I: Yes, in construction.

CC: 22:41 He was Idella’s (??) husband. His name was _______(??) 

I: So you would be studying—you studied in the YWCA there and became introduced to there?

CC: Yes, so they would see me there every day. They would let me use a typewriter to practice. And they taught me how to use a switchboard to answer the phone. They told me that it might—and then they got me a little job with an attorney, who didn’t have very much business. (both laugh)

I: This guy—he had his shingle out, but it wasn’t—

CC: Yes, he didn’t have very much business. So I had plenty of time to study in my shorthand. I typed his briefs for him—you know, divorce briefs and abandonment and things like that. And he fixed bonds I think. There were a lot of people calling from jail. And I would answer the phone when he wasn’t there.

I: What made you want to come into town and go take extra classes and get a job? What motivated you to do that? It’s interesting.

CC: I was always very frail. I used to pass out in the field sometimes when it was too hot. My mother and stepfather—I called him my father—

I: Sure.

CC: —because I didn’t know my father. And my mother and father would—you felt that—well, this was one girl that she wasn’t built to work in the fields the rest of her life. And so they wanted to be sure that I learned how to do something else besides that. And they thought that I was getting sunstroke. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: And I didn’t find that until I started at the “Y” that wanted to go take swimming. And I had to go to the YWCA doctor. And she told me I had a heart murmur, that evidently I had had rheumatic fever at one time. And I said, “Well, I don’t remember having rheumatic fever.” And they said, “Well, you can have rheumatic fever and not know it.” It shows up like up flu—you know.

I: 25:29 Uh-hunh (affirmative). In those days, they didn’t know one disease from the other anyway. 

CC: Uh-hunh (negative). So that’s why I used to pass out I guess—oxygen—you know, lack of oxygen. So they used to put me through—and they were picking cotton because papa would get a lot of people to come in and pick cotton. And they would stay—they had a little house in the back of our house where all these people—whole families would go. Now, that is real Chicanos—little people that go out from farm to farm because—what my mama and papa used to call “all the chicanada (??) would come.” It would be the mother, the father, the brothers, the sisters, the kids, you know, from all ages. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: And they put me to weight the cotton and keep records of how many pounds each one picked in a day. 

I2: So you were working on somebody else’s farm, picking cotton?

CC: I wasn’t.

I: No, no. Her father—

CC: No, see, my father had—it was his farm—

I2: Oh.

CC: —but he had to give the owner of the farm—

I2: Right.

CC: —one fourth—

I: Shares.

CC: —of the share— And he had this farm and he also had a little piece of land of his own that he didn’t have to share. And the whole family would come at him.

I: 27:21 What did you call—what did your mother say they were? They were chicanadas (??)

CC: Yeah.

I: What is that? Explain that to me. I’ve never heard that before.

CC: Well, you know, when they would come, they usually came in a truck. And my mother would say, _______ (??) chicanada (??) And I’m sure that this was the word Chicano came from.

I: What is it literally, translated? What is that word?

I2: It’s just a bunch of Chicanos. (Tom laughs) It’s a term of endearment.

CC: Just a bunch—yeah, just a bunch of people that—it’s not really important for you know what their names are—individual names are. 

I: I see. But the whole group was—

CC: This is a whole group, uh-hunh (affirmative).

I: I see. That’s very interesting.

CC: All that papa had to know was a name of the head of the tribe. (all laugh).

I: All right.

CC: Of course, I had to learn the names of the different individual people to keep track because I’ve had to put it under the heading of the head because he used to get two or three families.

I: Sure. How did you come in to Houston? Did you ride in a car, a truck? Did you come in—how did you come into Houston in those days? Did you all have a car or—?

CC: 28:40 I had a car, yeah. My father ______ (??) one of the first ones to get a Ford car. I think he paid $1,200 or something—maybe 900 or something like that. It was a little two-seater.

I: Now, being at the “Y”—was that the first—is that where you became exposed to the club Chapultepec? How did that come about?

CC: Well, see the Chapultepec wasn’t even organized there. It was 1931 and they told me Miss Goodman (??) was a receptionist and Miss Louis (??), I think her name was, was the organizer. And she had several other little clubs, the Teen Wires (??) they used to call and the High Wires (??). They were all high school YWCA. They used to call them the High Wires and the Young Adult ______ (??) (mumbles) and so on. And so that’s when they got the idea that they would like to get a—form a club, you know, of young adult Mexican women. So they got in touch with—at that time, Eva Pettis (??) was secretary to—I forget what _____ (??), but his name was _______ (??) And he was ahead of the World Trade Department of the Chamber of Commerce. And she was his secretary. So they—and they knew—of course, they knew this _______ (??) and they had—I don’t know how, but I guess through their fellowship things that they invite, you know, the community and all that. Maybe their children were going through the Sam Houston High School. I don’t know how they got them, but evidently—see, they used to use—Sam Houston High School used to use the YWCA pool for their gym classes. So I imagine that that’s how—

[END OF 313.1_01]

[BEGINNING OF 313.1_02]

I: That’s good. It’s on. Oh, yeah it just keeps going. So the leaders of the YWCA—

CC: Yes.

I: —Mrs. Goodman—who were they?

CC: Mrs. Goodman was the receptionist. Of course, she knew everybody _______ (??)

I: Sure.

CC: 00:23 And she had ________ (??). Usually she was the one I would go to if I wanted to use the typewriter or whatever it is. Evidently, she told Miss Louis about it. Anyway, they all approached me and wanted to know. So the first one they introduced me to was Eva Pettis (??) and then I got introduced to Olivia (??) They had it—they told me, “This is a club, we’re going to have a little get together, a little reception, and we want you to come.” And they’ll introduce you too. And I said, “All right.” So I had my aunt to bring me. And they were having a little tea and punch and cookies and nice little reception. And that’s where I met—as well, I met these—all these, you know.

I: All the ladies in the picture.

CC: Well, I don’t think she was there, but all these ladies, here. There was only about eight or nine at the time.

I: There were only eight or—?

CC: At that particular time. Like I said, before _______ (??) organized. And, evidently, those were the main meeters.

I: Who named it the Chapultepec Club? Do you know the—?

CC: Well, we put in names. We submitted names. They wanted something typically Mexican or Spanish. 

I2: Who did that?

CC: The Y—see, we were YWCA sponsored. You know, that’s why I didn’t really like the fact that it was introduced, you know, the other day as sort of a _______ (??) group or something like that because we were really a YWCA activity. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). 

CC: We were asked to give an idea (mumbles) suggested that we pick a name that would be typical Mexican or Spanish—any name. We thought about it ______ (??) (mumbles) And, finally, I think Chapultepec won out. It seemed to be a lot of the girls had remembered that Castle of Chapultepec in Mexico City. 

I: 03:50 How often did you all meet?

CC: We met once a week. 

I: You all met once a week?

CC: At first. And they always had something for us to do. They were really membership teas. They weren’t formal meetings of any kind because we hadn’t been formed.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). 

CC: And we _______ (??) get together. Sometimes we would go in to the pool and ______ (??) splash night. What they call splash night. You could go _________ (??) splash _______ (??) (all laugh) And that’s about it.

I: But it formed in ’31. That’s when you first started going to the meetings.

CC: It must have been about June or July.

I: Of 1931?

CC: Yes, because I wasn’t in school. It must have been ______ (??). I remember this _______ (??) was held in October. The actual anniversary was earlier than that. It’s just that we had problems getting the hall.

I: I see. Where was that picture taken?

CC: It was in the _______ (??) ballroom.

I: That was _________ (??).

CC: It was right there on _______ (??) I believe. I don’t know what’s there now. But it used to be—I don’t remember what it was—you know—on the first floor. But we used to have to go up there. It was big living room I think capacity of about 2,000.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). 

CC: 05:51 It used to have one of those great big balls that goes around, with pieces of mirror.

I: Glass?

CC: And this was sort of a canopy. It had sort of a (mumbles) and drapes—and mirrors already (unintelligible). It was a beautiful place.

I2: And how did you—did you recruit members?

CC: Well, just by word of mouth—you know. The YWCA recruited some. Usually they were high school graduates. They were just leaving, just about to graduate. And that’s why we were so many different ages because every year we would get a new crop.

I: I see. 

CC: For instance, these back here were all younger than we were, see?

I: So the group was—

CC: Not all of them but—

I: —relatively well educated.

CC: Yes, oh, yes.

I: They were well educated.

CC: Yes, yes, yes. We were all high school graduates. And that’s why we got our—every graduation we would write (??) to all the graduating classes. And some of them would come and go. When they got married, they left. Not all of them like _______ (??). She quit very long time ______ (??). Well, they would come back but they weren’t regular members. They’ve continued to be members. But, nearly all of them would leave after. She left after she got married. They never did—we could be members after we were married, but it just seemed that everybody had—

I: More things to do (laughs).

CC: —more things to do and they started having babies. They moved out of town or their husbands moved. You just didn’t have the time. 

I: 08:16 Were you in any other organization when you first began or—?

CC: At that time?

I: Yes, ma’am.

CC: No. No, not a one. But through the “Y” we could belong to—we could belong to the Federation of Women’s Clubs. And we could belong to the Community Service Bureau of the United Fund (??). They didn’t call _____ (??) United Fund (??). They called it War Chest (??) or some word like that. But, other than that, I’ve been _________ (??).

I: But no other all Mexican-American organization?

CC: Oh, no, no. There wasn’t another except that there—well, there was ______ (??), but they were all men.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). 

CC: They also started getting married and all that. I believe they did have an organization called the _______ (??). But I never did join.

I2: (unintelligible) single men?

CC: Yes, when they started there ______ single men. 

I2: Could you say it was kind of like a counterpart to—

CC: Yes. They were already in assistance when we were. I don’t know how they began or when.

I: I believe they began in the early to mid 20’s. 

CC: Yes. I know that they were already strong when ______ (??) 

I: 10:07 What type of activities did you all have? What did you all sponsor and do?

CC: Well, as I said, we were joined with the YWCA and all their activities—even their fundraising. __________(??) And we would go to these various meetings as representatives. ________(??) Women’s—Federation of Women’s Clubs, ______ (??), women voters. And we would sponsor children’s day camps. We would help out in that.

I: Were you all involved with the League of Women Voters in that club?

CC: Well, when they had regular—you know—meetings, they would invite all their representatives from all clubs.

I: I see.

CC: Because they’re composed of various clubs, The Federation of Women’s Clubs are too. They’re not a club all by itself.

I: No, no. 

CC: That’s how we were. (mumbles)

I2: Somebody would have come to your meetings?

CC: Oh, yeah. We had three—that was one of the main activities. We wanted to learn about _______ (??) and that was the purpose of the club. 

I2: Would most of the women in the club vote?

CC: Yeah.

I2: And would you promote that as well in the community?

CC: Well, we didn’t—yes, we used to—they used to encourage us to get our parents _______ (??) because there was a, at that time, you had to buy the ________ (??) During the campaign—political campaigns, they would ask us some of the _______ (??). We’d go to our club meetings and ask if we wanted to help out at the poles. 

I: 12:45 Did you ever do anything like—?

CC: Oh, yes, yes.

I: Do you remember any of the candidates off hand?

CC: Well, one of them was DW Draper (??) or somebody like that. He was running for—I don’t remember what he was running for now – (laughs) Oscar Holcomb (??) They would pay us. You know, we weren’t volunteers.

I: I see.

CC: They wanted some young people to pass out the cards at the poles. I think it would pay $10 a day, something like that.

I: My goodness.

CC: Which was a lot of money at that time.

I: It’s a lot of money now, for that matter. (laughs) 

CC: Yeah.

I: That is—

CC: Well, I think its 20 now.

I: I’m telling you.

CC: I encouraged my daughters to do the same. They all did it. We encouraged, we wrote letters to people to encourage them in to vote in certain community projects that came.

I: I see.

CC: We helped out _______ war bonds (??). We sponsored a Cub Scout. We were on the girls—what did they call it?—Brownies I think.

I: 14:19 Brownies?

I2: Most of these—when you sponsored the Brownies or Cub Scouts, were they Mexican Cub Scouts or mixed?

CC: No, they (mumbles)

I2: Mixed.

CC: They didn’t believe in—YWCA didn’t believe in segregation.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). So this was attached to the downtown YWCA.

CC: That’s right. It was the only one at that time. There wasn’t any downtown, uptown or anything.

I: I see.

CC: It was the one and only at that time.

I: I see. I was confused about that. I really didn’t realize—it was the downtown YW—one and only.

CC: The Central—later on, they called it the central YWCA. And there’s ______ (??) central YMCA right downtown. They would have classes—Red Cross classes. We would go to them. What else? I can’t remember, but we were pretty active in all of that.

I: How long would you say you were involved in it, Ms. Cortez?

CC: Oh, I don’t think I quit until about ’42 or 3.

I: ’42 or 3? Is that when the organization, more or less, dwindled away or disbanded?

CC: Well, yes, because, you see, a lot of the husbands of these members had to go to war and some of them had to go with them. You know, they were stationed outside. They went with them. Lucille Juarez (??) moved. She’s never come back. This one, a year. A lot of them—the husbands went to war or went and they were by themselves, you know, taking care of the kids.

I: 16:53 And you were married long since by this time, weren’t you?

CC: Oh, yeah. I married in ’33. 

I: ’33. 

CC: Except this was taken in ’32 and I married in ’33. 

I2: How did your husband feel about you participating?

CC: Oh, yeah. He loved it—because he used live at the YA, before we got married.

I: He lived at the “Y”? 

CC: Yes. He is an orphan. He was an orphan. And he lived at the “Y”. Oh yeah, he was tickled to death. 

I: Where was he from originally?

CC: Well, he was born in South ______ (??), Mexico. He came here when he was only nine years old, after his father died. His mother had died when he was only two or three.

I: His name was Malasio (??) wasn’t it?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative). So that’s how he—I think—

I: Where’d you meet him? You all met at the “Y” or?

CC: I don’t really remember. (both laugh) They used to make a lot of dances that—where it was called the Luna Park, downtown where he was.

I: At the what?

CC: Luna Park.

I: 18:24 Luna Park. Oh, I know where Luna Park was.

CC: Where was it?

I: I don’t—I can’t tell you. It was kind of in the north side, across the bayou.

CC: Was it in north side?

I: I believe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. I hope that I don’t get quoted on that.

CC: You know—when I’m not driving, I don’t know where I’m going.

I: I understand. It was there somewhere in old Houston.

CC: I know it was there somewhere.

I: Luna Park—it had a roller coaster and everything.

CC: Yes, yes, yes. And then we used to go—at that time, Sylvan Beach was very popular. And we used to go—now, I don’t remember where I met him at—one of the dances at Luna Park or Sylvan Beach. Sylvan Beach used to have big name bands come in. And my husband loved to dance and so did I for that matter. That’s how we met. 

I: Now, did—while you remember the Chapultepec Club, from in the 30’s and 40’s, how many times were you—were you an officer in the club?

CC: I wasn’t an officer the first year, but the second year I was an officer—all the time.

I: I see. What position?

CC: I was the secretary.

I: You were mainly secretary.

CC: Yes. I think in one of them it says treasurer wasn’t it?

I2: 20:00 Yeah, that one says treasurer.

I: You were treasurer.

CC: Only one year I think I was treasurer. When he became president, I became secretary. 

I: Were you aware of the Loolac (??) in the 30’s?

CC: No. I hadn’t heard. I had seen some pictures of some men there—something about meetings and conventions and stuff like that. My stepfather, he used to take ______ (??) I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t interested. Either I wasn’t interested or I just didn’t know enough about it to—it wasn’t close enough to me I guess. I don’t know. I didn’t start hearing about Loolac (??) until about after the war, when Fernandez (??) came back from the war. _______ (??) used to go to our YWCA festivities. He used to sing and play the guitar. And he used to be our entertainment lots of times—when we had fellowship things. So then he went off to war. When he came back, that’s the first time I heard about ______(??) because he got real interested in on account of the Miranda (??) case or some case that Johnny _______(??) and—what’s his name?—lawyer from San Antonio. His name was Garcia.

I: Gus Garcia.

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative). They were working on it I think. That’s when they started—Al I think _______ (??) when they invited me to go to some town meetings. They had several town meetings. That’s when I started getting interested. So this must have been about 1946 I guess. But I never did join because they didn’t have—they had an auxiliary women’s council, but I didn’t want to (mumbles) because my husband didn’t. Well, he didn’t have time. I don’t say that he didn’t want to join. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). 

CC: He didn’t have time. He had a business where he had to be there at 6 o’clock in the morning and didn’t get off until 11 o’clock everyday except Monday. So he was pretty busy. And that’s the reason he couldn’t—and I didn’t see any point in my being an auxiliary to something that my husband wasn’t a part of. It wasn’t until 1948 that they approached up, saying that they had changed the charter of Loolac (??) and they were making completely independent council. And they organized a council named 22. That’s when I joined.

I: 23:43 Was 22 already formed when you—?

CC: No, I was only a charter member.

I: You were?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative). You had to have ten members to be charter. And I think I was the ninth or something like that.

I: My gosh.

I2: So this was a second council in Houston?

I: No, this was really the first.

CC: The first women’s council.

I2: Oh, the first women’s council.

I: Council 22, which is still in existence.

CC: Yes. 

I: And that was in ’48 when you all formed that, huh?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative). It was in 1948. The Loolac (??) had been formed in 1929.

I2: And was this council an auxiliary—?

CC: No, no. It was full pledge council with full rights. ______(??)

I: The men’s council was council 60, right?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative), yes. Who was council number 1? Council number 1 was—

I2: 24:57 Corpus.

CC: And council number 2 (mumbles) and El Paso was 12 I think. ______ (??) was—

I2: 16.

CC: No, I think its 12—12?

I: I can’t remember after 1, 2, 3.

CC: I can’t remember either but it was—it was a pretty low number. Somebody else was number 8. Who was number 8?

I2: I think El Paso was number 8.

CC: Maybe so. I thought ________ (??) had been on this before.

I2: Are you talking about the men’s?

CC: Men’s council. 

I2: You thought _________ (??) was before who?

CC: I think ________ (??) was before El Paso. 

I2: I’m not sure.

CC: I’m not sure either. But, anyway, Houston men was number 60. 

I: Were you and your husband—were you all in any other organizations prior to the 1948—were you all in any other organizations?

CC: Well, my husband belonged to _________ (??)

I: Oh, he did. Did you all attend the functions and everything?

CC: 26:35 Oh, yes. Did you like them pretty well?

I: Oh, yes, Uh-hunh (affirmative).

I2: (unintelligible)

CC: I don’t know what they did but—(all laugh). It was strictly a recreational club. It was called Mexico _______ (??) (speaking Spanish). I never did find that picture. I told you I had a picture of one of his club.

I: Oh, I didn’t know that.

CC: I haven’t found it. I know I have it somewhere.

I: But they—you all were quite active in that then? Or he was active?

CC: No, he was, but I wasn’t. 

I2: You just attended the social?

CC: Huh?

I2: You attended the socials with him?

CC: Oh, yes, Uh-hunh (affirmative).

I: It’s still in existence by the way—

CC: Francisco _______ (??), who was an engineer. A fellow by the name of _______ (??), who was an engineer or a geophysical engineer or something like that. _______ (??), who was also an engineer. This is men like _______ (??), who was a jeweler. Fernando Salas (??). Salas is the name of who Alvita Luna (??) married. Alvita Luna (??) married Salas (??)—Fernando Salas (??) was a manufacturer of jewelry. And, of course, my husband had a business. Felix had a business. Most of the rest of them—most of them worked for the Southern Pacific—some kind of positions there. But, as a whole, I think it was started to be—I think it was started by a business man, _________ (??), Felix Morales (??). (unintelligible) and people like that.

I: 29:31 After you graduated—when did you graduate from high school?

CC: In ’31. 

I: Did you go out and try to get a—did you go out and get a job then after that?

CC: Well, I got the job that I told you about.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative). 

CC: But I didn’t really go out and get a job—look for a job too much, except when I was looking for a job during the summer. I was told there weren’t any openings for Mexicans. 

I: Tell us a little bit about that. You actually went looking for a job and you were told—

CC: Yeah. The YWCA or some—I took shorthand with a private teacher. Her name was _______ (??) Rose or something like that. She had the egg rolls (??) commercial. And she would send you out for interviews. She sent me out to several and they told me they didn’t have any job for Mexicans. And I told them, “But I’m an American citizen.” I said, “I was born here in Texas. I’m a native.” “I don’t care; don’t have a job for you.” You know, just plain blunt. 

[END OF 313.1_02]

[BEGINNING OF 313.1_03]

CC: These two girls didn’t work at all. 

I: So the—you went to work for a loan company?

CC: Yes. I found a job with a loan company. And most of these friends of mine were also working like this. Julia worked for one and Lucille—_____ (??) worked for a loan company. And that’s about the only place we could get a job because they needed someone to speak Spanish because they catered to—you know—______ (??) work for the city. (mumbles) sewer department and all that—Southern Pacific Railroad. So they needed someone that could speak English and still—because we had to do receptionist, cashier and make the reports, typing and letters.

I: 01:20 Did those companies, in your opinion, after looking back on it, did they deal fairly with those people?

CC: Well—

I: That’s a hard thing to say but—

CC: Well, they were just loan sharks. That’s what you call them—because he used to charge high interest. I imagine they still are. I don’t know. People ______ (??) short-term but I don’t think it was any rough stuff, not that kind. It wasn’t that kind. We had to make reports to the government all the time. So there must have been a loophole somewhere. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: To where they charge—I don’t think they charge that much if it was a long-term or something. (mumbles) We were forever having to find some kind of—they always were—I think they used to have lobbyists in Boston too—I guess to keep in business or something. That’s about the only place we could get a job. 

I: Sure.

CC: And in stores too.

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: You know, like ________ (??) worked at Lerner’s for years. I think she just recently retired. You know Lerner shops?—Three Sisters’s, all those places—Lord’s. There used to be a Lord’s in Grayson (??)—all those stores like that. Some of these girls didn’t like—________ (??), her brother has the jewelry store. She’s always worked with him. 

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: All the rest of them—some of these didn’t work at all. They got married—didn’t have to work, didn’t work at all. Madeline didn’t work at all. But those of us that did work—so that’s the reason that when I got to stop _____ (??) I think through some union leader out in Manchester and the Loolac (??) Mexican Chamber of Commerce, of which _______ (??) and who was the other?—Fernando Salas (??), Philippe—I don’t know which of the ________ (??)—might have been Jose. They were interested in getting somebody to do clerical work in the city hall proper or courthouse proper, not just out in the fields. 

I: 04:38 Where were you working at this time?

CC: At this loan company.

I: At the loan company.

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

I: And about what year was this?

CC: Oh, this was 19—1941.

I: ’41.

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative). I had already worked at that loan company from ’37—four years. 

I: Who approached you? Do you remember him?

CC: This fellow by the name of—his name was somebody—­­­­­­_______ (??)--_______(??) I think or ______ (??) was one of them. And the other one was—his name was Martinez. He was a representative for the ILA I think at that time. It was known as ILA.

I: I see union.

CC: It was a union. 

I: Loan shark.

CC: Loan shark. You see, they had a lot of problems at that time too—in the docks.

I: What did they tell you?

CC: 05:53 They just told me that they had been having a coalition meeting with some members of the Mexican community and had decided that it was about time. Loolac (??)—they had decided it was about time that some of the Mexican-American women be put in those positions that they knew would be qualified. But that they were being told right and left that they couldn’t find any Mexicans—clerical workers who were qualified. And so they wanted to know what ________ (??) (mumbles) They sent me to talk to the county judge. _______ (??) happened to be _________ (??)—was the county judge there. And I had known him when I went to the University of Houston. We went about the same time. Of course, he didn’t remember me from Adam. But I remember him because he was a promoter. He used to promote all the ________ (??) at the ______ (??) 

I: Wheeler, dealer?

CC: Wheeler, dealer, uh-hunh (affirmative). So then they took me to Jim Glass, who was a Texas asset collector at that time. And he hired me on the spot. He sent me to meet Judge Campbell. Evidently, they were the senior echelon—I don’t know what. But anyway he sent me to go talk to Judge Campbell and Judge Kenneth McKenna (??) and the head of the labor board, who was at that time, Ernest Hoppins (??). And then I was hired. 

I: This was ’41 then—1941?

CC: September 1st, 1941. 

I: Were there any other Mexican-Americans working in city hall?

CC: No, this is the courthouse.

I: I mean at the courthouse?

CC: There were none at the city hall.

I: At city hall?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative), not in the city hall. 

I: 08:34 Who were some of the Loolac (??) involved? Mr. Krespo (??), was he one?

CC: Yeah, Krespo (??) and—I never did talk to anybody else but Krespo (??).

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: I talked to Fernando Sallas (??) But I don’t think Fernando Sallas (??) was a member of Loolac (??). 

I: Was Ruiz—John Ruiz—was he one of them?

CC: John Ruiz?

I: Does that name ring a bell? Or how about John Herrera, was he involved in that or—?

CC: No. I don’t know. He might have been involved.

I: Yes, but—

CC: But Krespo (??) at that time, I think he had a special permission—

I: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: —with the City of Houston. They used to have—

I: Police.

CC: —a special police. I think it was Krespo (??) and two other men.

I: I see.

CC: I don’t remember now who. But I know that it was Krespo (??) that Mr. Glass told me had been talking that he knew me. He recommended me. Evidentially, Mr. Glass had somebody call all these men that had expressed a desire to have someone in there. So I was hired. (Tom coughs) After that they hired Gus Gomez (??). The hired a girl from Ganado, Texas, whose name is—somebody. Either way, I was the one that wrote the letters asking for—checking for recommendations. 

I: 10:44 How were you treated on the job from the start?

CC: Oh, very good. 

I: You didn’t feel any hostility or anything?

CC: No. It felt like I was in a glass bowl because Mr. Glass took me to each and every one of these other people and he introduced me (mumbles). That’s it. They were all very, very kind. There was a beginning. Then in 1948, 49—no, in 1949, the Director of Civil Service, CU Houston, went and talked to Mr. Smith. By this time, Mr. Glass had died and Mr. Smith had succeeded him as Tax Accessor Collector. And he went and told him that they were interested in hiring somebody to work in City Hall proper. At that time, we were being Latin Americans. (mumbles)

I: In the City Hall or courthouse?

CC: In the City Hall—because I was already working in the courthouse.

I: I see. The first job was with the courthouse. 

CC: Yes.

I: Okay.

CC: So Mr. Smith called me to his office and told me what the man wanted. And I said, “I don’t know, do you want me to go?” And he said, “Well, it’s up to you.” Well, I thought it over and (mumbles) help somebody, I will. And he said, “Any time you want to, you can come back.” So I went over there and they put me in the Civil Service department. I worked in the Civil Service department and I went to interview take the data of the applicants and give them their tests, entrance examinations for the police. And they asked me if I would—I was classified as a senior clerk. My job really was to help the lady that did the payroll. But on the side—when the exams were being taken, I would time them and all that. So he would call me into his office and ask me did I know anybody that might want to be a policeman. So that’s how I started looking around for ________ (??). I had several friends through the ________ (??)—you know—all my friends that—(mumbles)

I: 13:58 Who did you all come up with?

CC: Well, Wilford Navarro I think was the first one. And a fellow by the name of _______ (??). I forget what his first name was.

I2: Is it ________ (??)

CC: I don’t know. I don’t remember. (mumbles) 

I: You’ve seen his name around.

CC: What was his name? Wilford Navarro was _______ (??) one. I think his name __________ (??). He was from Southern Pacific. I can’t remember his name. And then we came on—Roy Martinez—a fellow by the name of—last name of ________ (??). I knew his older brother. He had been friend of ________ (??) I think ______ (??) (mumbles). Anyway, we ended up that year with eight I think.

I: Eight?

CC: Eight or nine.

I: Did they all make it into the academy?

CC: Yes, they all made it. They all made it.

I: Do you remember who—was Wilford Navarro the first one? 

CC: Yes, I think—I’m positive. I’m almost positive. Well, he and ________ (??) came at the same time. 

I: And then Martinez came after them?

CC: Yes. I think that they were fourth. And ________ (??). And this other boy that (mumbles). He just barely made the _______ (??). I can’t remember what his name was.

I: Was that in 1949?—50? What year about was that?

CC: 16:46 It must have been in ’49 because—well, I started in May. No, I started on June the 1st and the school started—this police academy started I think in September. I’m not sure, but I think it was in ’49. 

I: ’49.

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative). And then we got Al’s brother, Lewis, into the fire department—Lewis’ brother and two others that had been too short for the police department.

I: You got them into the fire department. 

CC: And we got three more.

I: Was that around ’49 or ’50?

CC: Yes. Usually they had a police school and a few months later they ______ fire academy.

I: And so it was the same year then?

CC: Yes, I think so. It might have been January the following year. But it was ______ (??).

I: The last thing I want to—it’s getting late and I know I’m tired and I know you must be after full—

CC: That’s about all.

I: I wanted to ask you one more thing to conclude up. How did you all start Council 22? What was the circumstances around that?

CC: I really don’t know, except that—I don’t know the background that there was, except that they had this big town meeting there at the courthouse. There were some reporters there. I don’t know what the hullabaloo was about (Tom laughs). But some of these reporters were asking the Loolac (??) which Johnny ______Garcia. They were so intent on being equal. Why did they have more women? And so they said, “Well, we do.”—Council 22. So I don’t what the deal behind it was. I didn’t go to the first one. 

I: 19:26 Oh, you didn’t go.

CC: Because I understand that there had already been two or three meetings before.

I: Who got you into it? Do you remember who approached you?

CC: Al. 

I: Al Hernandez did?

CC: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

I2: When you said earlier that it was _______ (??) council, what did you mean by that?

CC: Well, we know they’re auxiliary. I say we’re not because I am a lifetime member. 

I2: Uh-hunh (affirmative).

CC: See, it used to be that they were all men. ______(??) And they had a lot of counselors that refused to have a women _______ (??). In fact, ________ (??) was one. They never—they just refused to charter them, even when—

I2: Even auxiliary, you mean?

CC: No. I don’t know whether they wanted auxiliary, but they had—were against having a women’s council in ________ (??). I don’t know what the deal was behind it, but I imagine that they felt that they were going to get too much static from the women. You know—they’re mostly wives. (all laugh) There weren’t very many wives in the _______ (??), number 22. Mrs. _________ (??) never joined. And Mrs. ________ (??) never joined. Mrs. Felix ___________ (??) never joined, although she was an honorary member—because their husbands were ______ (??), so was Mrs. _______ (??). And I have a feeling that their husbands didn’t want to let them join. I don’t know. I wouldn’t say.

I: So you all—in 22, you all were more independent than previous ladies who had been involved with the—

CC: 21:45 Oh, yes, yes. All the auxiliary women ever did was make tamales and sell _____ (??) and clean the tables and all that—had their beer busts. I hope you don’t print this.

I: No, no, we’ll take this one out.

CC: That’s something—that was one of the objections of some of the single women or even the married women whose husband’s didn’t belong to it—had to belong to it because—(mumbles). I mean we didn’t mind doing it when—in fact, we didn’t mind doing it for them even. But we want to do it—we want to help them as sisters and brothers, not as—

I: Auxiliaries.

CC: Yeah. Not as slaves. I didn’t want to say slaves because that’s not the word I was looking for. But that’s the way it was. We were the ones—I would say “we” but they were the ladies were the ones that did all the work. Let’s see, Alfred’s wife did belong, but always practically ______ (??) She was always willing to help and this and that and the other. But she was—she never wanted to take an officer’s position or anything.

I: Who was the first president of 22? Do you remember the leadership of that?

CC: _________ (??) You know, I don’t remember. Let’s see—I wish I could remember, but I don’t.

I: Did you hold positions in the start?

CC: I don’t know if I did the first year or not. I think it was Mrs. Moralles (??)—not Mrs. Felix Moralles (??), another Mrs. Morralles (??). I think she was a president or vice president. I don’t know who was the president. Yes, I think ________ (??) was—________ (??) was secretary. And her sister-in-law—I forget what her first name was—was treasurer. Rosa Morena (??) was a vice president. I don’t know whether Rosa, Rosie or the other Morena (??) girl. But, anyway, Minnie Hernandez, Al’s wife, I think she was assistant something or other. But that’s all. There was only ten to begin with. (mumbles) I know that Ben ______ (??), that’s another lawyer—and Al and Johnny ________ (??). They were instrumental—you know—in organizing it. 

I2: (unintelligible)

CC: 26:15 The women’s, yes. But afterwards, they tried to tell us—you know—what to do and how to vote. (Tom laughs)

I: Well, Miss Cortez, I’m going to cut it—I’m going to arbitrarily cut if off. We’ve gone on too long. 
[END OF 313.1_03