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Interview with: EJ Garcia
Date: December 2, 1981
Archive Number: OH 333
I: This is a December 2, 1981, world history interview with Mr EJ Garcia of Houston, TX. Let’s start out with—Mr Garcia, can you tell me how you came to Houston? What were the circumstances and when you came?
EG: I came here from Rockport, TX, close to Corpus Christi, in June 1919, and I stayed here for a short while, I’d say nearly 2 months. Then I went to work for the Humble Oil and Refining Company. At that time they were just starting in Baytown. They were just building. They didn’t even have any houses. They had some tents for the people to live there temporarily. They were just building the Humble Oil refinery, and I worked there for nearly 2 years. Then I decided to go to North Texas to Fort Worth. I had a friend there that was managing an employment office at Fort Worth and another one in San Antonio. By the way, San Antonio is my hometown. He told me if I decided to go to work there, well, I had a job there at the office, and I worked there as a clerk in an employment office. And sometimes, later, I started taking some labor—trains of labor—to Lorain, OH, and to Wheeling, WV.
I: (2:30) You had an office. What office was that?
EG: In Fort Worth.
I: In Forth Worth.
EG: It was in Fort Worth where they had this employment office.
I: Who was the man? May I ask you to describe the office and everything?
EG: Well, I would say it was a small office. They were there recruiting labor to send them to the East. Of course, there was a big shortage of labor back in 1922. They were recruiting, especially Mexican labor, and as usual, most of us people that came, they were recently from Mexico. And they didn’t understand a bit of English, just—Well, it was not a situation as bad as it is now, but very similar in a way. So they were sending those men to the East to Lorain, sometimes to McKeesport, PA. But most of the time to Rhode Island, Ohio, and the national, too. They had pretty big plants in Wheeling, WV.
I: How did they contact these people? How did the agency and the individual come together? That’s a very interesting topic.
EG: Usually they used to come to San Antonio, but this people had an office, too.
I: What was the name of the office, may I ask?
EG: It was Aldrete. Aldrete. His name was Eduardo Aldrete. That was his name, and that was the name—Aldrete Employment Service. So it was in San Antonio because his brother was operating in San Antonio. That’s where most of the contacts were coming from across the border, coming straight to San Antonio. From San Antonio they were directed to Fort Worth. In Fort Worth they usually waited until there was about, oh around 300 men, something like that. They send them on a train through Saint Louis. I remember it was the same route as MKT.
I: That’s why they went to Fort Worth?
EG: No, from Fort Worth. They usually take the MKT from Fort Worth, a very poor train through Saint Louis, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Columbus, OH to Wheeling. Or on the other way, going to Lorain. But most of the people were going to Wheeling. On one of those trips, I had a nice offer from the National Tube Company, the company where these people were sent, this labor. And they offered me a job there as a clerk and to help in arranging payrolls and interpreting the people. I decided to stay there. That was way back in 1922. And I stayed there for about 3 years. Very nice. The people were certainly very satisfying.
I: (6:24) Was the pay pretty good?
EG: Well, sir. In those days, you might say that everything was ???______???, but here, for instance, something like $25 to $30 a week. It was nice here because I had been paid when I was a kid working sometime during vacation time in Kingsville for 40 cents a day. You can imagine; $25 a week. So that was big money. That was a big money.
I: Yes, sir. I see what you mean.
EG: Then, over there getting around $60 a week. That—That was almost a fortune. Yes. Especially in those when everything was very cheap. Besides that, I had living quarters.
I: Was an apartment or—?
EG: Yes. It was apartments. The company had offices, and I was helping in interpreting and explaining in some meetings to the labor, such as safety precautions. Such as that.
I: Were the people that worked there treated pretty good? The Mexican people?
EG: Very nice. Very nice. They were treated very well, and they had a lot of consideration in that respect. However, some of my people that were sorry, they didn’t appreciate it and committed some faults, mostly due to drinking. But naturally no one was allowed to go into the plant because it was dangerous, even in normal conditions. Much worse with anyone under the influence of alcohol. And that was absolutely prohibited for anyone to be in any such condition as that. I was very embarrassed about it in some of those situations. But it was just a few cases where it—
I: Did the Mexican people that you all employed ever have any complaints against the company that you remember?
EG: No. Not that I know, sir. We never did have a complaint. Of course, those people were very considerate.
I: This was in Wheeling?
EG: In Wheeling, WV. That’s where I stayed most of the time. I went a couple of times to Lorain, OH, but I didn’t stay there. It was in Wheeling where they employed me and where I remained all that time. I enjoyed it very much in every respect. I had very nice acquaintances at the—We were still exchanging Christmas cards and such as that. I really appreciated it very much. All those people, they were so nice and so kind, even though they were not used in Wheeling to see Mexican people. They might see it once in a while, but not after they had them over in the plant. There were over 1000 men, Mexican people.
I: They had that many in plant?
EG: Well, it was a big plant. It was a big plant. I thin they employed around about 22,000 to 23,000 men. It was a great big plant all along the Ohio River, and they were making from nails to rails and tubes and all kinds of material there. It was a bit demand.
I: (10:30) Where there other agencies supplying them with laborers beside the one you worked for?
EG: Yes. They were—This was mostly from this agency. They were sent some from San Antonio, from the other agency, but mostly they were sent through this agency.
I: And they came up from San Antonio. They were sent to Fort Worth to catch the train.
EG: Yes. That was the embarkation point. Some they were sending from Laredo and some from San Antonio, but mostly from San Antonio and Fort Worth. There were some recruits in Fort Worth, too, and sent from there. As I say, after I made about 3 trips, I finally was employed by those people, and I certainly was very happy about it. In 1925 I decided to come back. My family was here. After I had been there about 3 years, they all wanted me to come back, and I did come back.
I: What was your family background? You had lived in San Antonio?
EG: I had lived in San Antonio, but I was here most of the time after I was about 19 years old. I moved to Kingsville. Had all the family and relatives in Kingsville as well.
I: But your parents were from San Antonio originally?
EG: San Antonio and a small town near the Rio Grande, Roma, TX. R-O-M-A. In Starr County. Originally they were from there. My grandparents and my mother, but I was—It is going to be 81 years ago when I was born in San Antonio.
I: You were born in 1901?
I: 1900. They you’re older than I am.
EG: About 3 times. This is my birth certificate. After I came back from—
I: Born on December 18, 1900.
EG: (13:17) And just imagine the name that was put on me. I always regret that. I always tell my Mother said, “I don’t know. I have to blame the priest for that.” Because I was to be named Antonio Jose. My father was Antonio, and my grandfather was Jose, Joseph. In Spanish, Jose. And my name was going to be Antonio Jose, but when my mother—When the priest asked what date I was born, she said I was born on December 18. “Oh, well that’s Mary’s expectation.” You know, that was the expectation when Jesus was to be born a week later. And he said, “We’re going to have to change that to get that Antonio out, and we’re going to name it Expectacio.” I am an expectation.
I: Expectation Joseph Garcia.
EG: And in those days, with the people, they had to do whatever the priest say. And that was it. Always blamed the priest for that.
I: What church were you baptized in?
EG: In the Catholic.
I: Yes, sir. But I mean, do you remember which church? Was it San Fernando or not?
EG: No. I was not baptized in San Antonio. I was baptized in a small town in String Prairie. String Prairie, TX. That’s near Bastrop. That’s where I was baptized. I came to Houston in 1925 and went to work with the American National Insurance Company.
I: Did you have relatives here in Houston when you came?
EG: I had my family here.
I: They had moved from—
EG: Yes. From Kingsville to Houston. They were here.
I: When did they move from Kingsville to Houston?
EG: (15:16) They moved in 1921. And I came to Houston and went to work for American Insurance, and I was there when Social Security was established.
I: So you still have your card.
EG: Yes. It’s an original card.
I: My goodness gracious.
EG: I worked with them for many years.
I: You got it the year it was established in 1936, right? That’s when it was—
EG: Well, that’s when the Social Security was established. It was Mr Roosevelt’s act.
I: Had you gone to school prior in San Antonio or—?
EG: In Kingsville. We had very little in San Antonio then. It was Kingsville where most of the time I was selling The Houston Chronicle and The Saturday Evening Post in Kingsville when I was about 10 or 11 years. I remember way back in 1912 when the Titanic was sunk. I can remember the headlines.
I: It was a big splash.
EG: Then, later on, I was pretty well grown up then; I was 13. In June 1914 when Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo. I remember the big lines and the journalists on the margins. All that kind of things. The Battle of the Marne. I was always looking for those headlines.
I: World War I was a big deal.
EG: It was a terrible thing. I tell you. Talking about the 2nd World War, I think the 1st World War effect was worse. I can remember so well because the German advance—You know, they were ready. The assassination of Ferdinand in June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo. Of course, they started those talks as diplomatic talks, but it wasn’t anything to it. Everything was ready for the big march. During the month of July, they were talking about fight and peace, but there was never any peace at all. On the 1st of August, at last, the Germans issued an ultimatum. The next day they were on the march. They were across France and Belgium during that month. There was such a terrific fighting that the central column of the journals were practically—It was pretty bad shape by the time they got to the Marne. They had to be reinforced by the, I think, bunk cooks in the west and Prince Rupert from the east on the Switzerland side because he was getting pretty weak by the time they got to the Marne. Just imagine losing about half a million men in month.
I: There were battles where 200,000 people were killed.
EG: It was—Everyone thought, “Such a bombardment.” They had such a terrible firepower that some jungle completely, some are dense, for instance, just completely disappeared. You might think that. Something like a big thicket or anything like that completely wiped out after several hours of—.
I: It just became a prairie. Did you graduate from high school?
EG: At Kingsville, yes, sir. Henrietta King High School.
I: Did you go on with school after that?
EG: No, sir.
I: And you came back in here 1925 and started working for—
EG: American National Insurance.
I: How long did you stay employed with them?
EG: Well, I stayed until 1940.
I: Fifteen years. How was your stay with them?
EG: It was pretty nice. They were pretty nice people. I was working as an agent and then as an assistant superintendent with a group of agents, but I’d rather be an agent than working with a group. I was an inspector. Of course, I could make little or no money as an agent and then have perhaps half of the responsibility to—
I: Were you an agent beginning in 1925.
EG: Yes, sir.
I: What kinds of insurance did you handle?
EG: What they call industrial and life insurance, and it was all life insurance. It was some industrial and also what they call ordinary.
I: Did you deal with both the Anglo and the Mexican American community?
EG: Yes. There were some communities that were mixed, but mostly with the Mexican communities. Especially Magnolia, what they call Magnolia neighborhood right around from the 17th to the 80th over in Harrisburg towards the north. Also what they call the 2nd Ward around the Mexican church and Catholic church on Runnels.
I: (22:01) The Guadalupe Church.
EG: Guadalupe, yes. Either way, that’s where I was married.
I: You were married there?
I: As an insurance man, what was, if there’s any way to say this—Are there any differences at all? As an insurance man, could you see any difference in dealing with the Mexican American community as opposed to dealing with the Anglo community? From an insurance man’s point of view, what were—
EG: No, sir. There wasn’t anything. I didn’t see any difference. I had quite a few blacks. Of course, in those days it was a completely different situation than it is now. I remember I used to carry sometimes the money from the men, go around in the afternoon and collect the money. The man collecting. I gathered that money, and sometimes I stay around there 9 or 10 o’clock at night with my bag of money in my hand.
I: My goodness. And not fear of being molested in any way?
EG: Not at all! I was so well known that I used to tell that not even the dogs barked. Sometimes, friends or Mexicans or American people or Negros invite me to have a cup of coffee and such as that. Sometimes I stayed pretty late. For one reason or another the person wouldn’t come until late and had to wait or something like that. Not in that way. Never did have a bit of any kind of—Not even anything.
I: In the 1920s and 1930s—Or when you started out, did the Mexican American community believe in insurance? Did they want to—?
EG: Yes, sir. They were pretty well indoctrinated already into the insurance.
I: You didn’t have to do any hard selling.
EG: No, not at all, especially—In those days, most of the people, say 90%, were people from here, the Mexican people. There were not so many alien or—
EG: —People who originally came from Mexico. No, sir. Oh, a few, but I’d say 90% or perhaps higher were from here, and they had a pretty good idea about insurance.
I: (24:39) Did business drop in the 1930s with the Depression or not?
EG: Oh, yes. Way back in 1929, it was a big, big, big depression, really big depression where sometimes there wasn’t enough money to buy milk for the children.
I: Did people drop their policies?
EG: It was quite a drop in those days, yes.
I: And you saw it around 1929?
EG: That’s when it started out, when the big crash in the stock market in October 1929.
I: When did it begin to affect your business as an insurance man?
EG: Well, it was in 1929. At the end of 1929 and 1930, and the crisis kept on pretty bad. In 1932, even the banks were closed, leaving people with money in the bank that they couldn’t get out because the banks had been ordered to close by the government. That’s when they started with welfare. In those days, they called it relief, such as that.
EG: They had a WPA and PWA employing people a couple to 3 days a week, just cleaning the bayous and such as that. Cleaning sometimes trees just to give them something to live on because it was pretty bad, a pretty bad situation.
I: When did the community here start to pull out of the Depression, in your opinion? About what years? Or did they?
EG: It continued most of the 1930s. It kept on.
I: Even as late as 1938 and 1939, it was still pretty bad?
EG: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. That’s when the war broke out in Europe, and we were still here. Of course, there was some improvement by that time. It was getting better. But really things didn’t have any drastic change until the war broke out. That’s when everybody was needed to work everywhere, all men called to the service and even wives and young ladies called to work to the plants to help the work.
I: Let me jump back a little bit, Mr. Garcia. Your working for this employment agency in the 1920s is really fascinating to me. Did they sign a contract? How did people get work through your agency?
EG: (27:35) Anybody could come by if he was looking for work. He could go by there and register for work. And they were charged some fee, about $3, to register for work, and they were sent either to some local work, maybe suet packing company or whatever, maybe some store, whatever they wanted. But if they wanted to go east, if they wanted to go out, then naturally they had to wait until they had sufficient men to send them over. That’s the way it was.
I: Did they have to pay extra to go east or just the regular registration fee?
EG: No, this was just local. There the company pays for every man. The companies from, in this case, the National Tube.
I: So you got your money from the company itself.
EG: Yes. They were paying for every man.
I: But the local companies—
EG: When it was a local matter, naturally they charge a fee there, the $3, to send them to work there. Just a local matter. But those people that were sent to, they were not charged with anything. They had to wait until they were ready, which was usually around maybe a week or something like that.
I: Did you handle women or men?
EG: Just men.
I: Weren’t there very many women signing up? I guess not.
EG: Not for to be sent out. Some for local work, yes. But not out. Everything was just for men only.
I: Now these people that were sent out, were they mainly—They were mainly migrants, or immigrants, from Mexio?
EG: Yes. I’d say 99%, because hardly any people—Of course, now and then, there were some people from here but very few. They were mostly coming from Mexico.
I: Did you ever work in the San Antonio office, or was it just the Fort Worth office?
EG: No, I didn’t work in San Antonio, just the Fort Worth office.
I: (30:01) What was your boss like? Was he a nice fellow?
EG: He certainly was. He certainly was. Mr Aldrete himself was a very nice fellow, always very nice. He always told me that he preferred for me to work there because every time, he didn’t drink. He says, “I am here sometimes, and we’ve got trouble. I find someone that is drinking.” He liked a lot of poem. He liked to read poems, and I liked, too. So one day, I was reading some of those poems, like Robert Service and Rudyard Kipling and Ella Wheeler Wilcox and such as that. He enjoyed it very much because he liked that kind. It looks to me that right after that, well, we were closer friends, and I never did care for drinking. That was another part that he—He trusted me. He said, “Well, I know that you’re going to be here, and if I ask you for anything, well you’re either going to do it. You’ll say yes or no, whatever might be. I can depend on you.” He said, “Some of these fellows I put here, I don’t know whether they’re going to be here or the office is going to be closed or such as that.” We got along very well.
I: How many people worked in your office in Fort Worth?
EG: In the office? It was another man and 2 girls working.
I: So it was 2 men and 2 girls and then the owner.
I: Let me ask you this, Mr. Garcia. Do you think that he had the best interests of the workers at heart when he was hiring them? What was his attitude towards the working people that he hired?
EG: I think he was very nice. Everybody seemed to be satisfied and never did have any—I never know of any complaint of anyone. Sometimes 1 or 2 of them would came back that they didn’t have the job that was promised or anything like that, but he usually was somewhere else in a satisfactory way. While some other agents—I heard about it, and it was very unsatisfactory service. They send them out of town, and when they got there, they just don’t know where to go or they won’t find what they had promised or anything like that. This man, this office, had a very nice reputation and was never any question or anything.
I: Yes, sir. I’ve often heard that some of the offices had—It’s traditional with employment agencies. They always get blamed for whatever. I was just wondering, what were employment agencies like in San Antonio and the one in Fort Worth? How did they deal with the Mexican people? Do you think they, as a group, dealt fairly? Did you know of some who didn’t?
EG: Well, I heard about some agencies or some employment people that were not giving the satisfactory service, but as far as I knew, while I was there, it was hardly any complaints, just like I said. They were—Sometimes a person expects something else, and when he got there, maybe he didn’t like the job. He would come back, but he ordinarily was sent somewhere else. In the first place, they feel—they expect that pay. It was small, $2 and $3, especially women $2 and men $3. I just don’t see anything like I heard about now. I don’t know really what—
I: (34:40) Ten percent of your salary.
EG: Now, it’s pitiful how they charge people. I heard about these people transporting illegals, which is against the law. I heard that they charge them $400-$500. Or even here for selling a Social Security number, which I read in the paper was sometimes even fake numbers. They sell for $300-$500. Just imagine anything like that. That’s just pitiful.
I: In those days, in the 1920s, did—I mean, there wasn’t this sneaking around about the hiring of people or anything like that like there is today?
EG: You talking about coming illegal? Or what?
I: Yes, sir. Coming illegally.
EG: In those days, it was hardly—It was already an immigration law established, and they had to pay what they call a head tax. I believe that’s what it was. I’m not too sure about how much it was. I believe it was around $8 or something like that. I don’t know. That was before 1922 when they had some change in the law, but I’m not too sure about the date on that. But it was—They were required. In most cases before that, they just to pay whatever it was, 25 cents or something like. Even probably less than that to come over here, just to cross a bridge. There wasn’t hardly any—But it was nothing like now, and the number of people that came in those days, it was, you might say, a few hundred a year.
I: Compared to the—
EG: I just don’t have any idea what it is now. There’s so much about it. You know it’s the same thing all over. I was in California this summer, and it’s starting there. It’s a better war than it is here.
I: When you first came to Houston in 1925, even before then in 1919, where did you live here in Houston?
EG: (37:43) I came to what they used to call Union Station, that’s on Texas and Crawford, where it used to be a Union Station. It was too big a station, that Union Station and the Southern Pacific Station in those days. Now it’s a very small thing. When I came to the station, I met a man. He was waiting for some people to come in on the train from Corpus, and he offered me a room right at the corner of Crawford and Congress. That’s a restaurant now and a hotel upstairs. But that’s not the same building that was there in the 1930s. It was an old, just a wooden building, all dilapidated. Still it was a restaurant downstairs and a dormitory or rooming upstairs. And I stayed there for about a week or 10 days. Finally I met a young fellow, and he told me about where he was staying just about a couple blocks from there on Chenevert. At that time Chenevert was all right along Congress. It was all residential, and he told me it was very nice, that he was living in a family house, and there were some girls around there coming from National Biscuit and such as that. And that was an attraction to me, and I can over to this rooming house. It really wasn’t exactly a rooming house; it was just a family living with a family, and I was very satisfied to be in a family environment instead of over here, just a regular rooming place. I moved over there, and I stayed over there until I went to what they used to call Goose Creek. You know where that is?
I: Yes, sir. Where the refinery was being built.
EG: Yes, sir. It was Goose Creek. Middle Town—You’ve heard about Middle Town. No? Well, it’s all Baytown now. Everything is Baytown. Of course, even Goose Creek—I don’t think Goose Creek is there anymore. It was Middle Town here, just about this position here in some sort of a triangle. Baytown was just beginning. They had just started cleaning the woods over there, building the refinery, and the main town was, of course, Goose Creek. That’s where the bank was and post office and everything, Goose Creek. But there was also this other little town—Middle Town they used to call it. And that was very—I remember coming across the ferry, San Jacinto-Lynchburg ferry. I guess it’s still there.
I: I think so. I don’t know. I hadn’t been out there in a while.
EG: It’s just across from the monument. Of course, at that time there was no monument. That was built in—
I: In the 1930s.
EG: 1936, I believe it was one of the centennial pieces. But I remember coming to Houston through that.
I: (41:46) Where did you live at Goose Creek? What kind of accommodations did you have there?
EG: The accommodation was a regular tent, like an army tent.
I: You lived in a tent?
EG: Yes. Yes.
I: What was your job there? What did you do exactly?
EG: My job there was to some sort of bookkeeping, clerical work, making requisitions for whatever they needed in the dining rooms.
I: How did you get that job? From here in Houston?
EG: They were looking—Yes. Here. A fellow from there asked me about it. He said, “Well, why don’t you go to Baytown over there? There’s a lot of work over there.” And I just went over there and applied for it, and they asked me if I could work in that department. And I said, “Well, we’ll try and see what I can do.” I stayed there for about nearly
2 years, until I went to Fort Worth.
I: Did you live in a tent the whole time?
EG: No. No. Then later on they had started building some small houses, and I went to a house.
I: Did they have a lot of Mexican people working out there?
EG: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Practically all of the labor and some technicians too, but all of the labor, it was the Mexican people.
I: What kind of wages did they pay? Do you remember the wage scale out there?
EG: The wages was a very good average. It was around $5, $6 a day, which was a good average in those days. Like I was telling you, to me, it looks like a big bunch of money. I was coming from—I had work in Kingsville, you know, for 40 cents a day, working out in the cane patch or corn fields such as that in the King Ranch; 40 cents a day and 1 meal. One meal, that’s the noon meal because we had to be there early in the morning, almost about sunrise, loading wagons, cane that had been cut by the mowing machine, and taking them over to the silos, the big silos where they kept it for the cattle. Just 40 cents a day. Just imagine. From sunup to sundown.
I: (44:48) How did the King Ranch treat people down there?
EG: In a way, I think they were treated right. Of course, every now and then, I guess they had probably some arguing, but people seemed to be there for years.
I: But you moved on the coast after that, right?
I: Didn’t you say you moved from Kingsville—Did you move directly to Houston, or did you move to—?
EG: No, from Kingsville, I went over there to Rockport.
I: What were you doing in Rockport?
EG: In Rockport, I was working in a shipyard. Way back in 1918.
I: Because of the war?
EG: Well, those ships—They were naturally to replace some of those ships that were lost in the war. But was there during 1918 to about the middle of June—when I came over here. Then, at that time, after the armistice, which was November 1918, they started slowing down.
I: Why did you come to Houston?
EG: I thought it was the most prosperous town.
I: It had a reputation.
EG: Yes, sir. That is a big town, and it was prosperous, even in those days.
I: Did you like working at the shipyards at all?
EG: It was a fairly good job. I did mostly labor. I wasn’t doing anything there, but I started as a water boy. You know what that means?
I: Yes, sir. Carrying the buckets of water.
EG: Carrying the bucket of water and giving it to the men that were working on different jobs around the shipyard.
I: Were there a lot of Mexican Americans working there at the shipyard?
EG: (46:52) Yes, sir. Yes, sir. There wasn’t hardly any people from Mexico. They were mostly Mexicans from Corpus.
I: I see. Mexican Americans.
EG: Yes, sir. From here and from those little towns, Gregory and Taft and most of those. Victora and such as that. They were working pretty good there at the time because there were about 3 ships working at the time.
I: What were the conditions, the working conditions, in the camp for those people at Goose Creek? What was it like there? Did they supply you with doctors? With food? With anything like that?
EG: No, not with medical service. There was no provision for medical service from anybody. That was on there own, anyone that had to need any medical service.
I: Even if an accident happened on the job?
EG: Well, no. That would be a different situation. In accidents, the company was taking care of everything. But naturally, people, the family, need some medical attention for any other cause. That was there own to take care of.
I: You’ve lived both in the rural area, in the Gulf Coast area, and the big city area. Fort Worth, a big urban area, as well as in the North or in the East. Which place, in particular, if you can make this comparison, say up through 1940, when we’re talking about now—Where did the Mexican American people have the best conditions, you do think? The discrimination might have been less or whatever.
EG: Well, sir, naturally the discrimination was always worse in the South, here in Texas, than anywhere else, as far as I know. What I little I learned. In those days, Chicago, Lorain, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Wheeling, people were treated over there, the Mexican people, just the same as any Polish or anybody else. In fact, they got along real well, much, much better than here in Texas. You take, for instance, here in central Texas, it was a big problem with the Mexican people where they wouldn’t even sell them any food in the restaurants and such as that. I was one time in New Braunfels having a picnic at the Landa Park, and after we ate there, had lunch, I went around the town and went into a restaurant and drank a cup of coffee with a piece of pie. And the young lady there was very nice, and she told me if I would come for dinner that afternoon, that they were having something special there, chicken and biscuits and I don’t know what. She described the whole thing. They had something special for about 50 cents or something like that, a big meal. Well, I told them I would probably be back, and as I was going out, 2 Mexican boys asked me if I ate at the restaurant there. I said, “Yes.” But they were kinda, I don’t know, maybe dirty clothes or something like that, on their shirt. I told them, “Yeah. Just go ahead and go in there. You can have anything you wanted as long as you pay for it.” They told them to get out and go in the back. Go around the kitchen in the back door. I felt pretty bad about it because I felt that I was to blame for that because I didn’t intend—I didn’t know anything about it. In fact, they were inviting me to come back. Then this poor fellow, they refused him. And that happened the same thing to Negroes as to Mexicans. Those towns, especially around New Braunfels, sometimes Luling, too. It happened, I think, at this close-by town, Lockhart and certainly Martindale. They just had that against the Mexican people.
I: (52:32) Did you see any difference between those small towns and Houston?
EG: Oh, yes, sir. Remarkable difference. In fact, here in Houston, probably way back there, there was an incident or two, every now and then, but nothing like in the smaller towns. Even the small towns here close by, it happened back in the 1940s. Just imagine, back in the 1940s. It happened to the Mexican consulate. He went to have a—They were having some kind of gathering. I forget exactly what it was. But anyway, he was here in Aldine, and they went to a restaurant there, and they just refused them. To the Mexican consulate, it was a big talk about. And you take all of the same towns here on the way to Victoria, like El Campo and—They wouldn’t even allow some Mexican fellows. What it seems to me is strange to me. Not in Victoria. Victoria was always a very nice town, very much of a Mexican influence. You take those other small towns, like Edna and Rosenberg and El Campo and—The majority of the population there is Mexican from way back there since this belonged to Mexico. But then after the German people, Polish, they just felt they were better than the Mexican race.
I: When you first got to Houston in 1919, how would you describe the Mexican American community? If it could be characterized.
EG: Well, the Mexican community at that time, it was much smaller. Actually not a tenth of what it is now. They were just the biggest concentration around that 2nd Ward, around that Catholic church, Guadalupe, and in Magnolia, what they call Magnolia around 75th, 76th to 80th and all that neighborhood starting from the 72nd on towards the 80th. That’s where the biggest concentration of the Mexican people were. Of course, it was some over here in north San Jacinto, what they used to call Conti and Providence Streets. You know where those streets are?
I: Yes, sir. I do. Generally.
EG: (55:33) Of course, most of that disappeared with this freeway, but it was a pretty good settlement there of Mexican people. But the biggest hit was over there. In those days, they were, I would say, very nice here. Now, I never heard of hardly any discrimination or anything like that. There was no comparison with the smaller towns. What it seems to me most strange there in New Braunfels and those towns there—San Antonio was practically a Mexican town from way back there. From the beginning, it was a Mexican town, and smaller towns like those that I had mentioned had been so close to it. It seems to me that I can never understand why it was such a big discrimination, but it did exist in those days.
I: What kind of policies did you sell people in the community? What was the insurance business like in those days? In the 1920s when you first started out, did you sell—was it just regular term policies?
EG: No, it was not term; it was life. Straight life. Of course, that comes from the different plans: 20-payment, 15-year-payment, 20-year-payment, or even indemnity, according to whatever they were able to pay. Naturally it if was an indemnity policy, it could be cashed in 10 or 20 years. The premium is much higher than it would be on a 20-payment, and it would still be less, or they could get a larger amount of insurance, on an ordinary plan, a whole life. It was—Those things were estimated according to the possibilities of the person who was taking the insurance, how many were in the family. And in order to cover everybody, it had to be perhaps a small amount on each and a larger amount on the father and such as that. Always looking not to make pressure for anything too big that he was not able to. That had to be judged by the agent always because I always recommend that it was no use to pressure anybody into taking more than he could possibly pay.
I: I noticed that the Woodmen of the World was an organization in those days that had an insurance policy. Didn’t they have a life insurance policy?
EG: Yes. It’s a mutual insurance.
I: Was it a good insurance?
EG: Well, it was good in a way. Of course, it’s mutual, and those mutual insurance usually change the premium. They could change the premium from one year to another. While the straight life, what they call the legal reserve insurance companies, like American National or other insurance, it’s just a straight premium; whatever you start paying, that’s it regardless what the situation might be.
I: (59:34) Why did you leave the insurance business? You left it in 1940?
EG: In 1940, yes, sir.
I: Why did you leave?
EG: I started working in jewelry. I started handling jewelry, selling, working for a man. In fact, he taught be about jewelry, and I started working extra on Saturdays. And I like to be with the people and selling jewelry out here on Preston.
I: Who was the jeweler?
EG: It was Mr Gray. Gray’s Jewelry. And I started working there and learned something about, about watches and the preliminaries of jewelry. And I liked it. I worked there and then went to work for myself.
I: Buying and selling jewelry?
EG: Yes. Buying from the wholesalers and selling it retail.
I: Did you have a shop?
EG: I didn’t have a shop. I worked out of my home.
I: Did you have an office as an insurance man? Or did you work out of your home?
EG: No. I was working out of the company’s office. It was just a building that they just tore down not long ago. It was on 1212 Texas Avenue, what they used to call Larendom Building.
I: The what?
EG: The Larendom Building. That was a red brick building that was just taken down, I think, about 6 months ago. It was this year. It’s not there anymore. I guess they made a parking lot there. But it was there until this year, the building where I was. I was on the 3rd floor.
I: I noticed in some of the ads that you and Mr Chidas—Mr Chidas was also in insurance in the 1930s. Where you partners? Or did you work—?
EG: (1:01:39) Well, no. He was working with the same company, but just working together. He was an agent; I was an agent, even when I was an assistant superintendent. I introduced Chidas into the—
I: The business.
I: Who introduced you into the insurance business?
EG: It was an inspector by the name of Mr John Terry.
I: You met him after you came back to Houston?
EG: Yes, sir. A friend of mine recommended me to him. He was working with American National, and he told me that Mr Terry was looking for an agent. That’s how it came. He said, “You can—“ He gave me a little note, and he says, “Tell Mr Terry that I sent you and see him over in that office over at the Larendom Building.” I went over there. That was my first job after I came back from the East. That was my first job that I applied for and went to work right away.
I: Was the money pretty good? Did you make pretty good money at it?
EG: I was making fairly good, around $3500 a year; which in those days, for being single, it was good money to me.
I: When did you get married?
EG: I got married here on December 23, 1928.
I: At Guadalupe?
EG: At Guadalupe. Under Father—what was the name?—Estevan Bianda. That was—I don’t think I’ve got any—I have some old pictures here. (D1 ends)
A man from Magnolia was claiming to have so many boats there ready for him, and this, I think it was for council, somebody was running for council. And he promised his boats, and naturally this fellow offered some sort of gathering there with barbecue and watermelon and such as that. I told that man—By the way, his name was Hassel. I said, “Well, Hassel, how many boats did you promise that man?” “Oh,” he said, “I’m going to have a big gathering there.” And it was going to be over on 76th and Avenue L in a lot there. They had a big supper there and big watermelon party. So another fellow and I went by there that night about 9:30, a Saturday night, and there were about 3 or 4 people there. Just such a thing as that.
I: Was this in the 1930s? Or later?
EG: (1:05) No. That was later on. That was in the 1940s. That’s when the LULAC was brought in here from San Antonio by a fellow by the name of Mariano Hernandez.
I: That’s how LULAC came in here.
EG: And that’s when they established the first council here of LULAC.
I: Do you know about what year LULAC was established? Do remember when he first brought that in here?
EG: Do you mean it was started here? Well, I’m not sure whether it was in 1940.
I: I believe it was—I’ve seen somewhere around—It was in the mid-1930s to kind of—Because I’ve seen some newspaper references to it.
EG: In the 1930s?
I: Yes, sir.
EG: Well, perhaps is could have been in the 1930s. I thought it was later than that.
I: But definitely Mr. Hernandez brought it in here.
EG: It was him who brought them in. Yes, sir. It was absolutely him. He went to San Antonio and had a meeting there, and he was commissioned to establish a conciliary, or whatever, here in Houston.
I: Was he from San Antonio? Or was he from Houston?
EG: No. He was—I don’t know exactly where he was from. He was working here for the city this fellow Hernandez, but he’s the one that brought them in and got the first ones together. Of course, I was not in the first ones. I joined later. And it was born right there at the Saloon Juarez.
I: Saloon Juarez?
EG: Saloon Juarez. I don’t remember exactly the year. It could have been in 1938, 1937 or 1938, but I thought it was later than that.
I: And you joined it, though.
EG: Yes, sir, and I was there. I was the assistant secretary there for a while.
I: (1:07:44) Again, huh?
EG: Yes, sir. But the reason really that I quit there was because it was so much dissension. There was never any—Everybody wanted to be claiming this and claiming that, and that was absolutely out of the question. And I said, “Well, I don’t think it’s worth really my trouble going from here to the meetings over there.”
I: What organizations were you in over the years? You joined—Was Mexico Viejo the first one that you joined?
EG: Well, that was the first one that I joined here, and I was on for some time. And then I got out. I rejoined it later on.
I: But you joined it first when?
EG: In 1925. When I came back from the East. But the Mexico Viejo was already established in 1924.
I: That’s when it began.
EG: Yes, sir. It was born in, I was later on told, by the Martinez family on Freeman Street, the 1700 block on Freeman Street. That’s where Mexico Viejo was first organized. Then later on, there were some meetings over on Main Street, Main and Pascal. That’s where there was a little, some large place over there where they had meetings, and that’s where I joined the Mexico Viejo late in 1925.
I: And with Mexico Viejo, you’re headquarters were there, and then where did they go to? Where did you have—?
EG: Well, we had different places, always going from one place to another. We even had meetings at the courthouse, and it was a large, some of—It was a Masonic Lodge across from the courthouse, and we did have some meetings there. I don’t know whether you remember this. Lewis Jewelry on Congress. Do you ever remember? You don’t remember that?
I: (6:26) No, sir. I don’t.
EG: Well, that’s where—That block was where the civil courthouse is. They were having some meetings there. Even at the courthouse, they were letting us have some meetings there for a while. Way back in 1935, we had—That’s were Felix Tiganina came in with his beer on his—On Shearn Street. Shearn, that’s the street next to Crockett right off of—crossing Houston Avenue. We had a house rented there for the club. I believe it was 1207 or 1208 Shearn. The club rented there for a year. A couple years it was there, and we were having meetings there and small gatherings and suppers and such as that for the club.
I: That was in 1935.
EG: That was in 1935 and 1936. And that’s exactly when that picture, that circle, you showed me the picture by Cantu—That’s when that picture was taken. Mr Cantu, he made that picture himself. His daughter, Aurelia, was running for Queen of the Mexico Viejo. Somehow or other, she got in 2nd place. The other girl got supported by some other organization and got to be the Queen. It was a matter of politics. Actually Ms Cantu, she should have been the Queen. That was in 1936.
I: What other organizations did you belong to?
EG: Just the Mexico Viejo and for a while to Familias Juanitas when they first started.
I: But you got out of the that one, too.
EG: Yes. Yes, sir.
I: You say you got tired of being the secretary.
EG: Well, they were always putting too much on me, and I had a lot to do. Always had to do a lot of work, and I said—I told my wife, I said, “Now, look here. I’m just wasting time there.” I just was spending more time to sleep. Keeping up with all that correspondence, you know, and this and that. The secretary is always not only taking the minutes at the meetings, but what’s next. All that correspondence and all that kind of thing.
I: To the nearest of your recollection, you all got Felix to come in in what year, around 1935?
EG: (1:13:33) It was in 1935. Yes. While we were at that house on Shearn. Mexico Viejo was renting that house on Shearn. Yes. That’s when Felix—I used to kid him about the beer. I say, “Well, look here. You just bringing that beer because that beer—“ Some fellows, they claimed that they were made sick. That it was, I guess, a cheap beer or I don’t know. I never did care for any of it. Some of them were getting sick. I told Felix, I said, “Look here. You’re bringing that junk out here. Everybody’s sick.”
I: Well, Mr Garcia. I really appreciate you coming up here and giving us your time. I know time’s getting a little bit late. I think we out to adjourn this and maybe do it again some other day.
EG: I certainly appreciate it very much. I appreciate your kindness.