The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.
The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.
The Houston Public Library retains the literary and publishing rights of its oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without the written permission of the Houston Oral History Project.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to:
The Houston Oral History Project.
Houston Public Library
Houston, Texas 77002
The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.
For more information email the Houston Oral History Project at email@example.com.
Interview with: Estella Reyes
Date: June 22nd, 1979
Archive Number: OH 261.3
I: 00:04 This is a June 22nd, 1979 continuation.
ER: He’s getting ready to go out, you see. (00:09 tape stops and restarts) He’s got the story. He knows—oh, my goodness—all Magnolia back—from way back.
I: When did he first come?
ER: He came in 1915 when he was nine years old.
I: Well, we’re going to explore that with him when we go over there.
ER: He can name each one of those members in the Mexico Viejo.
I: I’ve got a couple of pictures I want him to—
ER: He’ll point them out for you. He was—
I: He seems like he’s got a good memory, too. He’s got a sharp memory.
ER: Oh, yes. He’s got a good memory. Yes, sometimes I think they have—well, not everybody keeps such good memory as they have, really. For his being—I think he’s about 74 years old.
I: Well, why don’t we continue? You—
ER: All right.
I: You had talked about having the foods and the kind of stuff—
ER: 01:13 The dancing.
I: 01:13 Then we talked about the music. You were beginning on the music.
ER: The dancing, yes. We were preparing the café, or restaurant, and so the menu—is it ready?
I: It’s ready to go.
ER: So the menu was planned to have national dishes and also homemade style Mexican food, or what we call the ranchero food or, in general, a homemade cooking food. So they entered that, besides the Mexican national dishes, well known enchiladas and tamales and the menudo soup and tacos and those that are known as Mexican national dishes, including the mole with the tortillas, Mexican corn tortillas. The others were dishes that were made at home as a daily menu of the family, like, for example, carne guisada and (s/l resalos) which are different kinds of meats cooked with, say, peppers and onions and either a tomato sauce or a hot sauce, either green peppers or red peppers. And that included some kind of sopa, which is either rice or fideo or Mexican style spaghetti dish which is called sopa de fideo and all those things and tried to please the people that were here at that time. And of course, by that time, we had the tortilla manufacturing going on, even if it was by hand. So, the supply of Mexican corn tortillas was good. They used fresh tortillas and now he also added a music program for the people to enjoy because he was trying to fulfill a vacancy for entertainment, also to make the people happy, I guess, who were eating, and there were—since there was not anyplace that you could go and sit down and enjoy your food and in the meantime, listen to some music. There was not anyplace, so my father tried to fulfill that need too, to the people, and he used to have a special—he hired an orchestra, one of the best known orchestras in the area in Magnolia to go to Houston and certain days play for the people who came to eat and on special fiestas he had a big program. Sometimes he hired maybe a singer to just sing with and play with the guitar, entertain the people. In the meantime, they were eating. So it became famous.
I: What was the name of the group? Do you remember the name of the band that came, the orchestra?
ER: 04:58 Los Rancheros. It’s right in one of those programs that were advertised so much. So it became famous, not only for the Mexican style food and the family atmosphere, but for the music, and it became known all over, and the place was so small it was impossible to have room for everybody to come in. So the first day it was opened there was a two-block line trying to come in. But not everybody could come in, so they were standing. They were all standing and from there on it was a good business and people enjoyed coming in and wanted the music, wanted the food, and wanted to be in a place where they felt comfortable or at ease, and they did there. And at that time, the other club—besides Chapultepec there was the Mexico Viejo. Of course, the Mexico Viejo’s club consisted of all men, most of them single at that time, and they liked to go out and eat and entertain themselves, so they used to make it after the dances they used to open. They—everybody would go and spend the rest of the night because it was open 24 hours a day for some years because it almost was necessary to do, to have to work that much in order to get the people that wanted to come in. It became really a center for the Mexican people to look forward to go and enjoy some music and—like a club. In the meantime, eat and talk because they enjoyed—the groups would go over there and maybe get all one side of the restaurant. They would lean all together on those tables and—like a dance for themselves, and all the people that would just come in and maybe one or two at a time would just sit on the other side, and they’d go and that was 24 hours a day for, say, from 1933 to about 1940 or ’41, about that time. Then later on the war started, and that’s when things began to change and the working hours, the help and the customers themselves were different, and all those boys from the club that used to come, regular customers, to enjoy the music, they were going to the service. So things started to change.
I: How did the client—or the people change? I mean, how did the other—you said new customers? What were the new customers?
ER: The people that were coming from other places to work in these army jobs. They were just working people. They were not people that we used to have from the clubs and people that we knew, because there were not too many people—we knew almost everybody that—well, that people’s from Magnolia, that one is from Sugar Land, and we knew the people. Now we began to get almost strange people, but they still come in. Of course, they didn’t have the time to sit around and enjoy the food longer hours than the others had because they had a job to do. They were working on government jobs, and they had to go and people couldn’t enjoy as much time as they used to have. So things began to change and even the hours, the help, still went on working all right. We had to work—my father, I guess, with the help, a little harder than usual, and the supply of some of the foods was not as good as it was before because some of the foods were imported, some kinds of peppers were imported and that supply was even hard to get, and the most important things that we used in some of the dishes like cheese, it was rationed. So we had to reduce the amount we were making according to how much cheese we could get and even beans, too. We had to reduce that. The only thing we couldn’t—we had enough of was corn to make the tortillas, and peppers and tomatoes, otherwise the cheese and all that kind of imported foods we had to reduce that. It went on well, still working. Like I said, the customers changed from—we call it strangers because most of them from other sections around Houston, even from out of town. But they still liked the food. They were known to eat and all.
I: 10:57 Let me ask you—let me interrupt you, Ms. Reyes, and ask you. Were there other Mexican restaurants in town at that time?
ER: Yes, there was not exactly a restaurant. There was a bakery on Congress, 1800 block of Congress, a bakery there made Mexican-style bread and used to sell coffee with the bread and a lot of people—that’s what they had at first, just coffee or milk or some kind of cold drink with their bread. And that was not really a Mexican restaurant, and there was another around there named Phoenix, Phoenix Restaurant, which was a very small place, but they did sell food at that time before or around the time—no, that was before, but not anything like my father, that he had so many people in a larger place and he wanted to give the people a little more besides the food, entertainment too.
I: Did you ever go into Phoenix?
ER: Felix had a restaurant. He started his restaurant around 19—maybe ’35, somewhere around ’34, ’35, and he had—his first restaurant was on Main, on Main. And no, his restaurant was not as well known or well accepted as my father’s restaurant was, even if it was on Main. I think people felt like—they felt like at home. They felt—you used to see them. I used to watch the people and they felt—many, many of these people just felt like they were going to a place where they felt welcome and they did, because my father was courteous to the people, tried to make them comfortable the best he could.
I: 13:23 What about El Phoenix? Did you ever go into that one, the one on Congress, the little bitty one?
ER: No, we didn’t. We knew it was there but we didn’t go. At that time, even going to a restaurant was something new for the families, see, going out to eat was something new. It was—the families, really Mexican families were not used to going out and eating and saying, “Oh, we’re going out and just having a nice dinner.” They were not used to that, no. So, the Felix and those other little restaurants, they usually have the same people that couldn’t—or single men that couldn’t have a home cooked meal that would go to that little restaurant. Otherwise, they got used to going out to eat when we started and people started liking it, and they know and they grew and they learned it was nice to go out and eat, and they had music that was better. And for that time, since 1933 to 1940, it was great. Then, of course, the war started and supplies, help and so many—even we had to put out the lights—you know—early and sometimes we couldn’t work too late or we reduced hours. Everything was reduced. Still, we worked the same way and people came to eat.
I: Who worked in the restaurant?
ER: My father, he overlooked everything. Everything was right, the front, even the chairs were fixed right, and my sister helped in the front. She was the cashier, Mary, Maria, and at first my mother did not help, but during the war she did come into the kitchen to help. He tried to hire cooks, Mexican cooks. He hired two women that knew how to cook, and then he had a man that knew how to cook Mexican food at that—up to the 40’s he didn’t have trouble getting good cooks, and of course, helpers in the kitchen and a dishwasher. And when my mother came in was when we were already having trouble with the help, and she saw that the dishes were—the things that were supposed to be, and overlooked the supply, saw those dishes were cooked right. She cooked some herself. She only would have a helper, would have a helper, for example, cooking the rice. The helper would chop up all the vegetables that go in the rice. The helper would brown the rice or standing on the stove. My mother would be sitting on that table and waiting for the rice to be brown and just right, then she would say “Do something else” and get up—she would get up, put all the spices that needed to be added to the rice and add the liquid necessary and let it cook until it was done. The same thing with other foods. The helper would do—helper, at least half of the work, and then my mother would finish it and that’s the way my mother helped, just cooking the dishes. It was really hard to get help. We even hired a colored woman to help in the kitchen, which was very new at that time. In a Mexican restaurant, even, it was something new, but we found this lady named Ella May, and she learned quickly. I always—she had a hard time taking orders from my father or my mother. My mother would understand. She would show her what to do, but she was the best worker we ever had, and then later on when we had trouble with waitresses, that we couldn’t find any waitresses, this lady was so—dressed like you were supposed to with her uniform, pink uniform, white shoes, white stockings and her headband and all. So once in a while my father would put her out to the front to wait on the people. Some people didn’t like it. He said, “Well, this is all I have and she’s a good waitress.” So he came to 18:48 (unintelligible) all glad that Ella May would help, and Ella would come and take care of the table, run to the kitchen to take care of the dishes. Ella May was a good helper during the war, and even my father came in to help with the table and everybody was glad he was—he took the orders in English and wrote it down on the book like everybody does, take it to the kitchen. Sometimes maybe he had to help fill it up and take it to the table.
I: 19:27 How many—that reminds me, Ms. Reyes. How many people—did Anglo people come in there or was it mainly Mexican people? What—
ER: Well, at first it was mainly Mexican people. At the beginning, the Anglo people were not used to having a restaurant where they could go and find good food or maybe that was the good place to go. They didn’t know. They already know, they hadn’t had the experience. I find in the restaurant where they would say “Oh, but everything is so nice and so clean, and the food is good, and the people take care of me.” So little by little they started to learn, and it ended at the last years that we had a few Mexican-American people eating and the place full of Anglo-Americans. That’s when they learned what it was and that they could go there. Really after the war there was a big change. Mexican people, when they came back, they started to look for other places, people who came back after the war, and they had saved a little money and were trying to get the jobs—they all wanted to have a restaurant like Mr. Malessio Gomez, Constantina. “Well, Mr. Gomez, I’m going to have a restaurant. I want a restaurant like yours, but maybe a little bigger. Maybe more elegant and maybe I’ll sell other things than you sell.” My father always wished them well and wished them really well because he was proud that they wanted to do—so they did. Some of the Mexican people who came, they had motive to try and do something else and they did. 21:44 There were several other restaurants established and people, Mexican people, started going to see those new places. So we got—ours was old already and they knew ours so they went to—I guess explore others, and they went out to eat. In the meantime, the Anglo-American people had already explored places where to eat Mexican food and they found ours, so sometimes you see the restaurant full of Anglo-American people and very few Mexican people, later on in the years after the war it started that way. It went on, well, good business, until, I should say, 1952, I would say, ’52, when things started to change in the family. My father was already tired of working. He had worked so much trying to work in the restaurant, and trying to work in the tortilla was too much for him, even with the help, because he did not get to rest too much. So in the meantime, the restaurant was going real good and a lot of work, also the tortilla was doing good, and he was installing new machinery. The first ones were in the 50’s. He made tortillas for some time, then things changed where the man—he couldn’t—he had 12 women making tortillas by hand, and there was only one machine that he had bought in 1929, the only gas electric machine that was made at that time, and my father bought it. He installed it, and he could not use it because it was so complicated and the only person—one of the inventors of that machine had moved to San Antonio. He had come to Houston to start a business in the tortilla, and he couldn’t make it because when he came, that was in ’28 or ’29, well, that was the biggest depression years we ever had. There was no money. He was not selling enough tortillas, so he saw my father and my father had already started by hand, employing women, paying them by how much they would make, so they try and make as many as they could by hand. And the man eating in the café, he took almost half the supply to the restaurant for the customers at the restaurant. So to sell out to the stores, he didn’t have enough supply. So he bought the little machine from the El Doray (?) machinery in California which was an electric—a small machine that would roll out the tortilla but not completely to a grill. Some lady—a person had to hold that tortilla in the hand, with the hand, transfer that tortilla to the grill and have another lady turn it over and cook it. So we really—it took two ladies back and forth to the grill, to the machine, but they did help though because it increased the production a whole lot more, and we were doing really good for, say, years, until about 19—I think it was ’54 when he bought one of the newest machines out that were sold also in California. So the work increased in the factory, and in the café it was already leveled off. It was no more than what it was at that time, already gone to the highest point, and it had leveled off to what could be done there, either because not too much room or supplies and things. It was just—it was still going good. Also, the tortilla business was going good, increasing. Increasing because people started to—even Mexican people did not—were not used to going out and buying their tortillas in packages at that time because there was not another factory that would do that for them. It was only people who would make them by hand at home and then maybe a housewife would let the other neighbors—say “Well, I’m making some extra tortillas by hand and if you want to buy some, well, come over to the house. We have them for sale.” So that was the only supply the Mexican people had all over here in Houston and Magnolia Park. Only homemade, handmade tortillas which was the very few the lady of the house would make. So this tortilla factory started increasing supply. People started learning. Besides—of course, he had an electric grinder all the time. As far as grinding, masa, he could supply all he could have. People would come and buy their masa to have their own tortillas at home, so he sold masa. He sold the supplies for the tamales. He sold the corn shucks, he sold the peppers and ground the special masa for tamales. He did that. He had enough of that, except the tortilla already cooked. Well, then he bought this other large, more up to date tortilla machine. That was the greatest thing that happened. It took off all those women that were working so hard to make the supply and only took two people, one for grinding and one for putting out the masa in the machine to get the tortillas out and two people counting and packing. It took—he hired about four people most of the time, four or five, and they did all they could. Well, he had to be there. He had to be grinding. Not everybody knew how to grind the corn. Not everybody knew how to cook the corn. So people started learning, families to come over to La Nationale Tortilla Factory. He changed—he gave that same name from La Nationale Avarotes (?), or grocery store, because that had gone out of business already. So he liked that name and gave it to the tortilla factory. He named it La Nationale Tortilla Factory right in the next department to the restaurant. That was 1710 Washington. The restaurant was 1708, so my father—
I: 30:02 Now the store had been—
ER: The store was at 1708 where the restaurant or café was. See, that was almost faded out during the Depression and waited until he knew—he was waiting for the economy to get better and then decided that maybe a restaurant was what the people needed, what they liked to have. So he did, and the grocery was—but in the tortilla factory, that was something new too for the whole Mexican people. The Mexican people knew tortillas. That’s what they made at home. That’s what they ate only they did not have anyone to supply them all ready and good. So—
I: 30:58 There were no other tortilla factories in town at that time?
ER: No. The only thing that was, like I said, maybe a housewife that would make them at home and then sell them to the neighbors. That was the only supply, so they were kind of glad there was a supply. They wanted—stores wanted delivery, so my father tried to deliver to the stores, grocery stores, Mexican grocery stores. For example, here in Magnolia were the first ones he came to deliver tortillas. He would pack them in paper first, butcher paper. He would pack a dozen or two in butcher paper and pack them, and then he had some boxes, like bread boxes with name of La Nationale Tortilla Factory, Malessio Gomez, and he would take, say, not too many because people did not have too much money to go to the grocery store and buy like they do now, maybe ten dozen. (tape ends 32:02) (new tape starts 00:04) —on delivery.
I: Yeah, on ten dozen.
ER: Yes, some people now they buy—large families—they buy roughly ten dozen. At that time, maybe a housewife could go and buy maybe a dozen or two, although they were larger tortillas then what you see now, and so my father would deliver. There were about two grocery stores here in Magnolia. My father would deliver tortillas, and he would leave probably a dozen packages or 12, 15, 18, 20 packages.
I: Do you remember the grocery stores?
ER: One I do, yes.
I: Which one was that?
ER: Let’s see. Julian’s they called it, Julian’s Grocery Store on 75. He was the first one here in Magnolia used to buy tortillas from my father.
I: What about Mr. Rodriguez? Did he buy tortillas from your father? You know—
ER: 01:11 No, he wasn’t at that time. I believe he was not—no. No, I don’t think he was established at that time. I don’t remember that he was. Anyway, no. Mr. Julian’s Grocery Store on 75th was the first grocery store that bought tortillas from my father, and he would put them in the box to keep them soft because people demanded the tortilla to be soft and not hard. So, he was trying to find a way to keep those tortillas soft. He would put them in the box, but they would be soft. They would keep nice, sometimes it would get sour, and it worked very well because the grocery owner’s, if they had any left from today’s delivery and the next day they wanted Mr. Gomez to pick it up, like they do bread now, you know. He would pick them up and replace that old tortilla with a new one, and that was not doing good business, so he tried—he got away from that. He tried slowly to get away from these little grocery store deliveries, even if it was a larger grocery store as they began to grow larger. The grocery stores started to grow into—and more. So, he still kept on delivering and trying to find out a way that he would have more profit because that way he wasn’t making a profit having to—sometimes maybe half of the tortillas were left from the other day, and he had to replace those with fresh ones. So he was not making much that way. He was still thinking what to do. He kept on for some years. In the meantime, some of the Anglo-American people were beginning to know what a tortilla was and his first call for delivery to an Anglo store was the Hencken Pilot (?) Delicatessen Department, Hencken Pilot number one on Milam. I think it was Milam. Yes, Milam. The delicatessen department called to have some tortillas delivered and then wholesale, naturally. That’s when my father started selling wholesale besides little grocery stores. So we used to sell there. He never had any left, tortillas. He sold them because people would go that know foods from other countries. They usually go to a place like a delicatessen place where they get foods from other countries. So they knew where to get the tortilla. That was the first place in Houston that supplied fresh tortillas to the public. So my father started selling there. For some years he sold there. Then from there he sold to Weingarten, Weingarten Stores downtown where people, I guess from all over the city, would come to the downtown store looking for tortillas. He sold them to the downtown store on—I think that was on Travis, the Weingarten Store number one, and he sold tortillas there too. Well, they sold them. He didn’t have to pick up any at all, hardly any at all, never. So he didn’t promise to pick them up anymore, and then he supplied another of the Weingarten Stores on Travis, somewhere on Travis, a little outside Main. Two, he had two stores. He did that for some time, supply, and then later on the 05:47 (unintelligible) they start to learn to eat food besides going to a Mexican restaurant like W.P. Grant’s, S.H. Grant’s, for two of the stores downtown. They started to sell enchiladas and people—the customer’s downtown used to go and eat them. 06:07 So we supplied—I say we because I was in the family too—started supplying W.P. Grant’s maybe around ’35, 1935 or ’36, around that time. They became one of the stores downtown selling more enchiladas than any other place downtown and they—we had to teach them. We had to go and tell them how to do it, and the chefs—they had chefs, you know—but they didn’t know how. They didn’t know how especially—they tried everywhere they could but there really wasn’t—that’s the only way to do it. So we went—I was one of those person’s that went with my father to show them how to make those enchiladas. So they increased their sales more. We had—that was the biggest buyer of tortillas for about 35 years, up until 1968. The middle of 1968 we supplied them. Then S.H. Kress downtown, they also included Mexican food. We also did the same thing, went to the chef of the kitchen and showed them the right way to make the enchilada, and they also became big sellers of that food, certain Mexican food. They made them like they’re supposed to be, and people liked them so they became one of our biggest purchasers of tortillas, those two downtown and then others like—there was a little place called Tic Toc, like a Coney Island. There were two or three downtown. They wanted to add enchiladas too to their burgers or hot dogs, so they did. We supplied those restaurants too or small places, hamburger stands, what you call it, and then the Texan. There was a restaurant downtown called the Texan. They were good sellers too of the Mexican enchilada. We supplied them too. That was wholesale so that was making better business because my father did not have to exchange from the old day tortilla to the new one. He was not losing too much. He was selling, although the price at that time was very low, very low. He had to consider that, although we sold, say, 100 dozen of tortillas a day which was a lot. You couldn’t say you were making the same money at that time that you would be making if you sold 100 dozen today. You had to think—we were in a different era where things were not expensive. They were not too high. Anyway, he was doing well. His factory was supplying, working. He hired two people in the meantime. He was—had to work himself because not everybody knew how to make those tortillas, and he wanted the best, the best. So he had—he never let a tortilla that would come out crooked or not well cooked. He would take it off the line and put it in the waste barrel that we kept for some ranchers that would come and pick it up to be used as food for the pigs. So he would take those. Oh, no, they had to be pretty besides being good. So he was well known for his tortillas. He supplied Mexican restaurants really just not too much out of downtown for the delivery problem. He only hired one person to deliver, and everybody wanted a daily delivery because they want them freshly made. He sold—well, I mentioned Grant’s, Kress and those Coney Island, about three downtown, and there was a Junior League downtown—almost downtown—club and he sold them tortillas and during the war he sold to this big company downtown. 11:09 I forgot the name of the big company. He couldn’t supply the need for those cafeterias because they employed thousands of men, so he supplied whatever he was able to. The same thing for tamales, see, he supplied whatever he could make and not what they needed. First, there were not enough people to make them, and it was a little too much for him to oversee how they were made. So in the meantime, the restaurant was going. He had already reached his level. The tortilla was increasing, and he was putting more time in the tortilla and my sister, Mary, was overlooking the money coming in and the customers in front, and my mother would be looking after the kitchen and the help, and my father would go and come in for one time to the restaurant and help see what they needed there. In the meantime, he would go back to the tortilla factory to see how things were going there. Well, during all that work he never forgot people. At the beginning, even when we had the La Nationale Grocery Store, he never forgot that he had been a neglected child. He always remembered children and even when we had our grocery store during Christmas or some holidays he would buy sacks of fruit and give it to the neighborhood children because at that time already the neighborhood was forming around the store and around the restaurant and around the tortilla factory. Oh, say, two—four blocks on Center Street, families had come in from Mexico and were living there and some blocks on the other side on Washington, say, around Saint Joseph’s. There were a few families coming in from 1925 since we moved there. It was really what I believe made the families move around there. It became a center where they would say “There’s a store over there. There’s a restaurant over there. We should look for a house around here.” I believe that’s what happened. They started moving in around Center Street a block from ‘15, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19 and ‘20, up until ’24, all Mexican families started moving in and all the Anglo-American families started moving out. So it became a neighborhood of Mexican families and the same thing around—that’s why Saint Joseph—not Saint Joseph, the Saint Stephen church became too big, because people—it was already a pretty good sized neighborhood that wanted their own church. So on the other side where Saint Joseph is now, it was a neighborhood of Anglo-Americans of different backgrounds but all nice people. They had stores. They all had nice homes and a beautiful church, Saint Joseph, but a little at a time, it took after the war, number two, for other families to start looking and renting some of those nice homes that were on that side. It started that way, and I believe two things happened during that time after the war and up until, say from ’45 to ’60. 15:59 I think those people—men that came back from war—they were looking for better homes, and they had better jobs, and they wanted a better home and looking to move somewhere better where it was safe around—little homes around Navigation that had tiny little homes, maybe three room homes. They wanted these nice homes, and the people who lived in those nice big homes, they were already elderly people. They had been the founders of that neighborhood, the founders of Saint Joseph Church but they began to be, at that time—at the time would have to move with the family, maybe sons and daughters, and they were moving out and Mexican people who could afford those nice, better homes were moving in until really it became a neighborhood of Mexican-American people then, and it started growing. It was a nice neighborhood, nice people. Factories were run there, and it was a big change from when we started in 1925 to 1960. Everything had changed because even there was a family that had been there for years, the Clay family, that had a big grocery store from Houston Avenue to about one block long, had a building all made out of brick. They had the biggest grocery store there. They also had a dry goods store on Houston Avenue and Washington Avenue, but that naturally became too—like I said, there had been people that had lived there for years. They were the founders of those neighborhoods, and about 1940, ’50, they were ready to give up their business and retire or move. So they sold—these Clay people sold—to the Chevrolet, and they sold to the Firestone and other businesses began to be built around there, and those people that we knew wanted to move in, they went some other place. The Saint Joseph church was almost done. Like I said, those belonged to those people that had moved there from the beginning, made it up. They were the founders of the church and the founders of the neighborhood and later on things—like I said—began to change, especially after the war, and the neighborhood has changed. In 1960 it was another—other people that I myself considered strangers and I think sometimes there were all these people. I didn’t know them. You know, we usually knew people that came from Magnolia Park downtown to the store, to the café. We knew those people. When people started moving in from other cities, coming to Houston, you knew they were people—strange people, and I myself noticed right away in 1960 with these old people—new people, they started to make their home here. They started to come in and buy tortillas and spices and chile and all that. Well, my father still kept on working and never forgetting the children. He used to give them gifts, make Christmas fiestas for the children in the neighborhood and from the beginning up until the last, say, until he was about 75 or 70 years old, he quit. And the same thing happened in the tortilla factory. He was working to make business and make a little money, also tried to teach children something and the way he did in the tortilla factory was—really he didn’t invite them or he didn’t let people know that he wanted to do that. 20:39 It just happened that—I guess people were trying to let children know about Mexican food, let them know about tortillas. He thought that was a great thing, so people started calling him. “Mr. Gomez can we bring a group of little Cub Scouts or little Girl Scouts to come in and look how you make your tortillas?” And yes, so I used to tell my father, the group wants this. “How many in a group?” “Well, 30, 40 and maybe two sponsors” and my father said, “Yes. Tell them to come in. What do they want to learn?” I said, “They want to learn how you make your tortillas.” He said, “All right. Tell them yes, what hours we have.” So we started making room for the group and that happened from about—I should say—1955 to about 1965. It took a little time. Different kinds of groups, sometimes ladies already grown up would come, three and four. They wanted to learn, to see, and “Yes,” they said, “we’ll come.” So we made plans for the children to come in. He said, “All right, we’ll plan maybe two hours.” He said, “Well, I will run the machine.” Now we get—we had a big counter from one end of the building to the other. Clear out the counter and put little dishes, show them how to cook the corn, corn when it’s rolled, when it’s cooked, and then how it looks when it’s ground, the masa, how it works to put it on the machine, how the tortilla comes out. All those little steps we were ready to show the children, and he was ready to make the tortillas. So they would come in. In the meantime, say, make some little enchiladas, trays of little enchiladas, a tray of little tacos about this size. We’d make them little so they wouldn’t have to be having a hard time with the big enchiladas. We made everything small, like little samples, and he said, “Put about two cases of little soda waters in the icebox, special, Coca-Cola box.” So the children would come in. They were all lined in there. So, all right, we’re going to start making tortillas. So he started making tortillas and showing them how they were cooked. Before that, we had all gone through telling them what kind of corn, when do you cook the corn, here is a sample, here’s how you make it, here is how it comes out, and here is when it’s ready to put through the machine so the tortilla will come out and you have a ready-made tortilla. And when it comes out, have maybe one of the children hold one, see, that’s the tortilla already finished. Now, we’re going to let you sample some of the dishes that you can make with tortillas, see how you like them. So everybody was glad, and we passed paper plates and little plastic forks and all with one sample of each food that we had prepared for the children and the sponsors, and we passed it out and explained to them. “This is an enchilada. This is a taco and this is a tamale.” We always had a tamale. Most of the time it was just three things, and now to help you eat your food we’re going to give you a Coca-Cola. The Coca-Cola didn’t have anything to do with that. My father paid for it, but everybody likes Coca-Cola. So the children were just glad they learned something. We did that for probably almost 8, 10 years each week until he became—he couldn’t do too much anymore. He was in his late—75, 76, 78. He couldn’t do too much, and then I saw that it was best not to, and I explained to the ladies who called. I said, “I’m sorry, but we cannot do this anymore,” and they understood because some of those groups came not only one year but each—as the children changed, you see, as they grew older they changed into another group. They had new groups, although the same ladies and we had great acceptance from those people. I had a boxful of letters, of thanks—I don’t know where that box is—showing their appreciation. In the meantime, my father was very happy doing it because he was doing something for the children.
I: 26:21 You said also he helped people back in the little Peyotillos (?) that you all had come from.
ER: Oh, yes. He never—
I: That’s a very interesting story.
ER: Yes. Besides doing something for the children here, one time they had—he had a group of about 200 children. Some of those children came in a choir from Mexico City to visit here. Well, he had a restaurant full of those children in the back with special 27:03 (s/l horhan) for the children which were children from about eight to about 12 years old from Monterrey. They came to give a program here, and they came from an orphanage. So he knew that, and they came to talk to him about renting and giving them—paying for the banquet, and my father said “No, you just bring all those children, and they’ll have a banquet here” and they did. Well, now this was one of the outstanding things with children here. He tried to do with children all he could. He never forgot that children had to be—he wanted to do something for them because hardly anybody did something for him when he was little. When he lived in Mexico, he never forgot that he was a neglected child by his father and he suffered, although his mother and sisters tried to do all they could. Still, he would not accept that as all he was supposed to get. He started earning money by doing errands and by maybe sweeping the carpentry room where he later learned the carpentry trade from one of my uncles and doing errands for my uncle. He used to get a little money paid, and the way he learned was because in the little town of Peyotillos where he was born, the 12th of December is one of the biggest fiestas of the year, the Guadeloupe fiesta of the Lady of Guadeloupe. 29:08 People would come from all over the little towns, little stands of different kinds of food would form in the plaza, even the circus, little play tents would come to entertain. So everybody saved their money. For years they saved whatever they had. On those two days, beginning from the 10, 11 and 12 and even to the 14th, people spent money eating or just going around and buying little things that came from other—maybe San Luis. They would come and sell things they couldn’t find there in the little town, and children would get money to buy candies and buy foods and ride the little horses in this circus, merry go round. My goodness. So my father at that time, he was eight years old. He went to one of those fiestas. He didn’t have any money. He started looking around and just wishing he would have, and my aunt told me “Your father didn’t have any money, and I only had a nickel so I gave him the nickel,” and he went around. He saw he needed to work to earn money, so he said, “Now, next year Tia—sister—I’m not going to be wishing things. I’m going to work.” So he applied himself to—besides learning the little trade that he was learning since he was little, he was doing errands for my uncle, and my uncle would pay him a little money. He saved—the way, he said, “Well, I’m going to have a bank.” He said—he looked around and found the tallest tree in the house, and then he went and found a gourd and opened it up and tied a little rope around the gourd and cleaned out the little gourd and made like a little sack in the gourd and went to hang it up way up in the tree. And he saved his money. When he had a little bit of money, you’d see Mr. Malessio climb in the tree for that purpose. That was his bank up there. By the end of the year, he saw the money that he had saved. He went and brought it down and that was his first lesson of what he could do or how he could earn his money to spend on what he needed. That time—(tape ends 32:05)