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: Felix Salazar
Interviewed by: Interviewer's Name
Date: May 19, 1975
Archive Number: OH 158
LM: May 19, 1975 interview with Mr. Felix Salazar, Jr. Mr. Salazar, I’d like to begin by asking you how you became associated with LULAC.
FS: Well, I became associated with LULAC right after I graduated from high school back in 1948. I had heard of the organization. At that time it was the only organization that was oriented—it was a civic service organization totally devoid of politics. It was an organization seeking to improve the social and economic standing of the Mexican Americans in the community. It was the only organization so oriented at that time. I like the organization. I had to wait until I was 18 to join. They didn’t have any junior or youth councils at that time. I was very interested in it. I have always sought to help people in social, economic, and political situations—the Mexican-American people. Of course, at that time we said Latin American. This is something that changes with the times. It was Spanish American then Latin American then Mexican American and now they’ve gone into Chicano. I don’t like the word Chicano. It’s fallen into, in my own thinking, into disrepute. We used to call ourselves Chicanos when we were kids. It’s a corruption of Mexicano. I’ve never like hyphenated Americans anyway. I’ve always thought if you were an American then you were an American and that’s it you’re an American citizen. But for purposes of studies and things of that sort, one reason or another, we’ve always been hyphenated. It’ bothers me that you don’t say French American or Chinese—of course—Chinese Americans have done that. They don’t say Italio Americans, not in this area. It’s Mexican Americans. Now they’ve gone even further and we’re supposed to be a separate ethnic minority. I’m not in total agreement with that. I feel that it’s a Caucasian race and black race and the yellow race. But of course in the school pairing and all this other business they’ve been discussing here of late, now we’re a separate ethnic minority. It’s just a constantly changing thing. Back in ’48—of course I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer since I was in junior high school. When there was some trial going on that might be of some interest to me I used to, in effect, play hooky—but I’d tell my mother where I was going—so that I could observe the trail procedure. I would go to the courthouse and watch the trials. Sometimes I would stay there two days, rather than go to school. I’ve been in love with the law for a long time, and I felt that working through LULAC—I wasn’t using it to advance myself in the law, or anything like that, I just felt that I could do something. I was a—you might say—a bit of a firebrand. I wanted to organize LULAC Councils. I can recall, oh, back in ’48-’49 this veiled threat we got from one of the sheriffs of one of these Gulf coast counties leveling a shotgun at us accusing us of being communists, etc., because we wanted to organize a LULAC Council over there. We advised him that it wasn’t communistic. We were a civic service organization. I never like the word integration when it came to Mexican Americans. I used to say we want to assimilate into the community. We want to work with you on your community chess drives and your paper drives and things of that sort. And it came to pass that this sheriff—I’m not going to mention his name—later on became the best friend LULAC had in that particular county, because he realized we were trying to activate the sense of civic responsibility of Mexican Americans in that area. And it worked. So that’s how we got involved in it. I was very active in it. I then got appointed national secretary. I think I was 19 years old. I was national secretary of LULAC. I might point out that we were only operation in five states then. Now we’re operating out of 15 or 16 states. I liked the conventions. I can recall that the resolutions committee would consider discrimination resolutions damning some sheriff or some mayor for the way he treated some individual, etc. We were working—the Good Neighbor Commission was doing some work then. Anyway, it was LULAC, or the Mexican American, that was faced with problems that don’t accept the organization at this time. We tried to stress education of the youth, because only through education do I feel that we can actually get to the point that we’re going. I’m not saying that every Mexican American should be a professional doctor or lawyer or professor or whatever, but educate them both in school curriculum and in their sense of assuming their responsibilities of a citizen. I’ve always maintained that with every right there is an attendant responsibility. So that’s how I got started with LULAC.
LM: 06:36.9 Have the objectives and techniques of LULAC changed since the time that you first joined?
FS: Oh, yes. We used to have to fight to go into a café. Now we hold seminars as to how to run a café. As I say, we were worried about getting into cafes and certain public facilities. They used to have these signs, “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” Eventually, now we’re trying to—through various governmental organizations—seeking to put people in business. Where we might want them to work there as a waiter or busboy, now we look to put them in a managerial position. We feel that if he’s been instructed with that high school degree and he’s got a couple of years of college, that’s what we’re going to do. The discrimination, as such, is now more veiled—I mean—that which I have seen. You get courtesy, etc. You may make just as good a grade as the other fellow, but there’s this veiled discrimination. It’s a benevolent type of discrimination. The problems don’t exist that existed then. So to that extent, LULAC has changed. We seek now—LULAC has gotten to the point now where they are seeking outlets for government funds. Operation Serve is one of the organizations. It’s seeking to find employment positions and training of Mexican Americans to get them in a position so that they can apply for a job. Many times we get the complaint, “Well, we’ve got a job for this engineer, or we’ve got a job for—” whatever position it might be—“Send me a qualified man.” And if you don’t have the resources to submit to these people, they’ll say, “Well, where is he? Where is your boy? Where is your girl?” So we’re seeking to train people in various areas so that they can be able to apply for these jobs and get them.
LM: 09:10.4 Did you become in political campaigns? Do you support candidates?
FS: LULAC has never been politically oriented and that’s why I like the organization. There’s been organizations that come and go. You’ve got the Mexican American Progressive Association, you’ve got whatever, and these are fly-by-night, flash-in-the-pan organizations that only stick around a while. I have found that many of these organizations, while they do some good, they’re against-type organizations and for very little. They organize on the spur of the moment, and after the elections they’re dead.
(Break in tape)
FS: You had posed a question. What was your question?
LM: It dealt with PASO.
FS: Some of the organizations—PASO—the Political Association Spanish-speaking Organizations—that was their name. They have some lofty aims and principles. The statement of condition, or what they intended to do several years ago, they’re an outgrowth of the Viva Kennedy organization. It was called the Civic Action Committee, and then when John Fitzgerald Kennedy ran for the presidency, several of these throughout the state of Texas and the southwest area, the Viva Kennedy clubs came to the fore. Then they organized the PASO organization. At the time I said it was a misnomer, their title, because it was not the political association of Spanish-speaking organizations. While they did have many members of various organizations, a lot of the members—I would say 60, 70, maybe 80 percent even—might not be members of any other organization and just be a member of PASO, which was purely politically oriented. When they started out they would listen to a candidate, and if he wasn’t liberal, they’d listen to him, but they would turn a deaf ear. They started endorsing people without—frankly, in my mind—without considering the wishes of the Mexican American electorate. They’d hold a meeting that was cut and dry. You could just go up there and they’d interview the candidate and ask him some questions, but if he was running on the conservative ticket or as a moderate, forget it. That was it. That was back several years ago. You asked me whether or not the leader—the present leadership—of PASO is capable. I think, yes, capable and confident, because they are seeking to listen to the wishes of the Mexican American community as a whole. This has been happening over the past 4 or 5 or 6 years. It wasn’t so in the past. It was embarrassing sometimes for PASO. They would—what they would do they would endorse some candidate that even the Mexican American community wouldn’t carry—the Mexican precincts. So they thought they’d better expand their base of operations and start considering the wishes of the other people. It’s now gotten to the point—when I say conservative I’m not talking about civil rights and denial of civil rights. I’m talking about fiscal conservatives and the spending of tax money, etc. They’ve gotten a broader spectrum, a cross-section of the community, into their leadership now. It used to be—well, not militant—certainly more vocal than LULAC. Now LULAC has been involved in political issues to the extent, say, the bond issues and school board elections—not to the point that we endorse anybody, but we certainly want to cast light. If these guys are—you know—we’ll provide a meeting for a cross-section of the Mexican American community to come. Sort of a political rally where we advise the candidates that there will be no endorsements, but this is a forum for them to express their views. We feel that the person, after listening to the candidates, can certainly make up their mind. When you do get involved with politics, your civic endeavors tend to suffer because you go purely political and that’s been the death of many organizations. That’s why LULAC, thankfully to this point, the founding fathers said it should not be political because we wanted to better the social and economic position. Some people feel that it can only be done in the legislative area. I, of course, disagree. I think that we can do a lot by staying out of politics. That’s essentially it. Do you have any other questions?
LM: 14:50.8 How do you feel about the efforts of the Raza Unida party?
FS: The Raza Unida party is a young organization. I know Ramsey Muniz personally. I know several members of the organization. In the south area of Texas I think that they are needed because, from what they say, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party—I’m talking politics, now—has ignored their requests. They have just left them out totally. I don’t want to get into an argument with Raza Unida. I think that there’s a need for it if for no other reason than to activate the sense of participation in political campaign. Many people got activate, I would say, in south Texas because the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are old hat. You had your political patrons and whatnot, and they said, “Well, here’s a brand new organization. Let’s join and see what we can do.” Of course, the Raza Unida is an outgrowth of the Crystal City deal where the Mexican American element there, or population electorate, elected a total Mexican American city council. Of course, I’m surprised that this hasn’t happened in the past because I think we had something like 90 percent Mexican Americans in the city there. While it was unusual, it certainly to me was not surprising. It was just a matter of numbers. But a lot of the people got organized and they got activated. They joined the bandwagon. In Harris County they had some members run, but the Democratic Party worked pretty hard, too. I know Maria Jimenez was running against Ben Reyes, and Ben just swept the election completely. It’s a younger group. They’re full of vim and vigor and I’m glad to see it. As I say, while I may not agree with their tenets of what government should be, I certainly welcome them into the fore, into the fight, because it’s the more the merrier, I think. That’s my thoughts on the Raza Unida. It’s a benefit, to my way of thinking, to that extent that it activates the political sense of responsibility of Mexican Americans. There’s nothing worse than a voter that stays home. I don’t care whether he votes Republican, Democrat, Raza Unida, or whatever. The point is to get him out to vote, to get them involved. That’s what I like.
LM: 18:04.3 Is there much cooperation between these various organizations? For example, is there any cooperation between LULAC and PASO on any issues?
FS: Yes, of course you also have an organization known as the American GI Forum. They have gone and they have endorsed candidates. It’s a veteran’s organization. It’s primarily a family organization. The husband joins, the wife joins, and the teenage children join, some of them. Yes, there is cooperation. That’s how Operation Serve started, because we started getting funding and the powers that be in the money department up in Washington said, “Well, look. We want a cross-section.” So the American GI Forum and LULAC got together and started this Operation Serve. We try to cooperate. It doesn’t matter how you get there. You could go by wagon, horse, or sled. The point is we all want to get to the same spot. So this we’ve tried for several years. For a while there the American GI Forum was totally opposed to LULAC, or I should say LULAC was totally opposed to the GI Forum. But in recent years—I don’t know—perhaps we’re maturing a little bit. We get total cooperation. Yes, sir. Like I say, LULAC not being a political organization would not go to Raza Unida for anything outside of maybe asking them to join us in a scholarship dance or a banquet or whatever we were going to have. Bring their members so that we can award some scholarships. The more the merrier.
LM: Let me carry the question a little further, generalize it a bit more. Is there a consensus among Mexican Americans as to what needs to be done?
FS: No. I would say no, not at this time. We suffer the same problem that all groups suffer from and that is that many of us—and I guess I’m guilty of the same thing—we all want to be chiefs—not enough braves. Some guy figures, “By golly, my stroke is going to be bigger than his stroke and I’m going to start my own outfit and I’m going to try to do this that and the other.” It’s like, “Well, if I can’t pitch, I’m going to take my ball and go home.” Many of us try to be chiefs and want to be just as vocal. Getting back to your question, here. Some say that it’s lack of education. Some say it’s the dirty gringo that won’t let us come up. Some say it’s the blacks. The blacks are getting all of the cake, and we need to do this, we need to do that, and we need to do the other. I’ve been to meetings where people almost come to blows as to what should be done about what. We’re getting there. We’re getting there. In time we will decide whether it’s education. I, of course, don’t feel that there is a conspiracy among the annual community to hold down the average Mexican American from getting up. I’ve found just the opposite. You prepare yourself for something and say, “Look, these are my wares; they’re for sale.” If you’ve got a good product, they’ll buy it. I’m not using myself as an example, but, like I say, qualify yourself for something and not just get a job or get a position because you are a Mexican American. I have been a showcase Mexican by getting appointed to certain things. While it’s not all that apparent, I’m not naïve enough to believe that—of course—while I do have a certain amount of experience in the law field, I have competed with Anglos and I have done all right. Now the reason I say this is that I have tried cases representing black people with a total Anglo-type jury and come out smelling like a rose. By the same token, there has been cases where you’ve gotten some Mexican Americans on the jury and the Mexican American lawyer gets blasted. It’s just the idea of preparing yourself and presenting a good product. So I don’t feel that there’s a conspiracy, as such. Many people do. This word ‘establishment’ has just been overworked. I feel that—of course, this second generation coming up and third generation that’s coming up, they are finding it, well, as a matter of course that their friends are named Johnson and Smith. This is something that was not true 20-30 years ago. You were the only Mexican in the Rotary club, you were the only Mexican here and there, etc. We’re finding total acceptance in the business field, in the political field, and the professional field. I say total acceptance. I think that’s so. But many people feel that we ought to be separatists—have our own schools. That’s what I have been fighting personally since I was 18 years old. I believe that if you’re going to have a society that’s going to function properly you’ve got to assimilate yourself into that society. I’m not saying that if you’ve got people that have blood sacrifices to the sun that you should do that, but learn the rules of the game and play the rules of the game, not be a separate outfit. That’s what we’ve been fighting. It’s like these people that don’t want to be called white. They want to be called Chicano. Man, I can recall we had knock-down drag outs with some mayors here in Houston because they’d put on the ticket LA for Latin American, or MEX, and we’d raise 10 kinds of hell about it. They’d say, “All right. We’ll put white.” Now you’ve got this other group. I’m not going to mention their names, but they want separate. They want separate, but equal, facilities. This can be run into the ground. It really can. Perhaps I’m too old now, or are getting old. I’ve been in the game, so to speak, for a number of years. I get up and talk. I used to get up at some meetings and ask questions that were frankly embarrassing. I’d get hit with something. “That’s beside the point.” I said, “No, my friend. That is the point.” Many times I wouldn’t get invited to these things, where people wanted one matter. They were raising hell because city council wanted to pass some sort of ordinance requiring a certain amount of asbestos on the fire one zone. I was invited to the meeting and they wanted to, “All right. We’re all going to meet down at city hall Wednesday morning, etc. We’re going to have signs.” I said, “Wait a minute. Have you talked to the city council about this?” “Why, hell no. They’ve already passed the ordinance.” I said, “Ordinances can be rescinded. Let me suggest this to you.” Oh, they’re holding me down at the council fires, all the braves and the chiefs. So I made a motion and got it through the thinking table until we had an opportunity to discuss it with the city council. We called the city sector, and I got permission to appear. They were going to give me 15 minutes. I started talking and it was an hour. The city council listened to me. I explained to them that there was only one company that made this type of thing. I had my facts and figures. There had been no conflagrations in that area since 1901 of any consequence, etc, etc. While the possibility of the thing was there, it’d be an economic hardship for all these people to cover all these houses with this particular siding and that only one company in Texas made this siding, which sort of monopolized certain things. Of course, the mayor and the city council were a little concerned. The upshot was it wasn’t two weeks and they rescinded that ordinance. They rescinded it completely because they had the facts before them. It was one of these things that pushed right on through. I said to one of the leaders, I said, “Look, if you want to be on television and you want to raise you some hell, fine. I’m all for it, pal, but let’s do it.” Now that’s my training, I guess, in the law. I’m the negotiator, the peacemaker, the lawyer, the advocate with certain facts. But many people they just want to raise hell and be seen on TV and be seen in the newspapers and everything. This is good. They’re involved, but when you get to a certain point there’s other ways to do it—the path of least resistance. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. You can’t go to Rome by way of China and say you’re taking the shortest route. Many times, picking up the telephone and telling people across the council table will get a hell of a lot accomplished. Now I feel—I don’t go for demonstrations. This also is my training in the law. If you see a man that does something and it’s contrary to your wishes and your desires, of course you always have the forums, the courts. There you seek judicial redress, as opposed to demonstrations. I never have believed in demonstrations. They have their purpose. The Boston Tea Party worked pretty good. We’re not to the point where—see, we didn’t have demonstrations back in ’48 when I joined. This started out when the blacks started having the sit-ins and whatnot and eventually they broke down some barriers, fine. I don’t actually feel that the Mexican American needs to demonstrate. That’s gotten into a—everybody wants to demonstrate for something or another. To show you how ridiculous demonstrations can be, they were talking about the kids that wanted Mexican American studies or black studies or French studies. They wanted so many black professors, so many Mexican-American professors. That’s fine. You can’t go to court to force a college to do it, but there’s other ways of doing it. There were some paraplegic students at the University of Utah, I think it was. These wheelchair things, there was about 20 or 30 students in them. They had decided they were going to show how ridiculous this thing was, so they started demonstrating that they wanted at least two paraplegic professors at the college, and they were demonstrating in their wheelchairs. I mean—where do we go? Where do you draw the line?
FS: 30:03.3 The French haven’t been raising too much sand. The Polacks are the butt of jokes. Of course, you have the Polish-American Society and the Sons of Hermann, which is a German-oriented organization. You have a lot of these organizations that are primarily social. But if you’re going to have to allocate for every group, be it ethnic or economic, then you’ve got government by committee and not by the people. It can be run into the damn ground. I think the government should be what’s bestest for the mostest. I believe the least government is the best damn government—the laissez faire theory. Now, there I’ve been criticized as being a damn conservative. I ran for the legislature one time on the conservative ticket. I wanted to be a state representative. I went and talked to the liberal group and they said, “Well, we’ve already got our own man for that spot.” I talked to the moderate group. They said, “We’ll back you.” The conservatives said, “We’ve got a slot open, here. Will you run as a conservative?” I said, “I don’t care if I go to Austin in a Cadillac or in a wagon. I want to get there.” “What do you want? What’s your theory of government?” I said, “Equal rights and opportunity for everybody coupled with equal responsibility.” They said, “Well, my God. You’re a conservative.” I said, “So be it.” So I got a black eye in the community from several because I was a filthy conservative, but I’m what’s bestest for the mostest, and I think when you consider what’s bestest for the mostest, that’s not saying there’s more Anglos than there are Mexican Americans, so let’s do what’s best for the Anglos. I’m talking about the cross-section of the entire community.
FS: Like I say, you can’t have government by committee. Let’s see, we’ve got the senior citizens, we’ve got to do something. We can legislate generally for everybody and take care of all the groups, because when you go to singling out these different groups—the minorities—and making special effort to help out the minorities, many times this is not done. You have a grant of X number of dollars to do so and so and all you’re doing is hiring a director, a couple of secretaries, a couple of field workers, and the guy that’s supposed to be benefitted by this program never sees any of the benefits. There are a lot of good programs that are working. I’ve seen Washington give grants to a method acting school. Now you tell me how that’s going to benefit—of course, I’m not knocking the actors, but this man got something like a quarter of a million dollars to have a method acting school up in New York. After a couple of years they inquired, “What are you doing?” “Well, I’ve got so and so.” Of course, when voting time came around the congressman said, “Look what I did for you folks.” That’s cool. That’s great, but who benefitted? You don’t want to keep throwing money down a rat hole just so you can say, “I got you 3 million dollars in grants last year. Now what you did with it I’m not concerned with. That’s GAO or GAC or whatever. They’re supposed to make sure that you do these things.” I’m for tightening up the purse strings just a little bit and getting some people that are truly dedicated. You’ve got a lot of good programs that are working now and benefitting the people, but by the same token, you’ve got other people that are just seeking grants that are just to get 5 or 6 political hack’s jobs. I mentioned the fact that I was a showcase Mexican and I’ve gotten appointments and whatnot. That’s happened to many of us, but, you see, you get there and you do a good job and they say, “Well, how about that. We thought old Joe Gonzalez here or Amy Cordova we were just going to put out there on the front desk, but, by golly, she could be our office manager.” She was prepared. You prepare yourself, and show that you can handle it. They’re delighted. Do you have any other questions?
LM: 35:08.6 Yeah, I have quite a few. I have a few more. What about cooperation with the black organizations to achieve common ends? Has there been much of that type of cooperation?
FS: There has been cooperation from a political standpoint. When you’re seeking grants—of course, the black community goes after black grants, the Mexican-American community goes after the grants for the Mexican Americans. To that extent there’s been some friction there. It’s not real friction to where you get to the name calling stage or you bring it out into the open. But politically, yes, there’s been some coalitions between Mexican Americans and blacks in the hopes of electing a certain individual. As a matter of fact, Mayor Hofheinz, I think, will be the first to admit that had it not been for the blacks and the Mexican Americans he would not have gotten elected as mayor, because it was a squeaker. Of course, they’ve got this election contest up on appeal, at this time. I don’t want to comment on that, being a lawyer, but it was a close one. They checked out the precincts and, sure enough, it was Mexican Americans and blacks that voted. To that extent there was cooperation, or correlation. That’s about it on that.
LM: Let me ask you about the membership of LULAC. What type of person joins it? Is it usually a business man or is it a older man—established?
FS: No, we’ve got youth councils of kids that join the organization in the hopes of—many of the young people they join it just for the social aspects of going to the conventions. They’ve got the awards banquets and the dance and whatnot. Many of the kids work real hard to do volunteer work in hospitals and things of that sort. The average man that joins LULAC is—I would say—the guy that belongs to Kiwanis or Rotary. We have many of those, but then you have different councils. In the smaller areas you have one council. Now for about 15 years, I guess, LULAC was the only council in Houston, Council #60. Now we have several councils and there’s a little friendly rivalry between the councils themselves. Somebody will be throwing a dance to raise funds to do something and the same Saturday there would be a function from another LULAC council doing the work, or running a dance on the same night. There’s a little friendly rivalry. I’d say the average guy—there’s very few militants, or the activists, that join LULAC because it’s by reputation and not by design, certainly, we like to work things out of a civic nature—you know—we need a park out here. This bond issue should pass because we need to get those streets paved. We need another swimming pool for these kids. Let’s do this, that, and the other. That, by and large, is the motivation of a lot of the members that join LULAC. Of course, you’ve got some laws students who want a sounding board to practice their public speaking. I won’t lie to you. That was one of my motives, to be able to get up and talk to a group and express my views. But there is no such thing as what is an average LULAC. Just like they talk about Middle American—you know—it’s just not there. It’s a fallacy. You’d be surprised; a lot of the LULAC councils have Anglo-American members, or as some people say, white members. It’s a cross section, I would say. You have professional men, you have business men, and you have laborers, policemen. You have all types. We open our doors to everybody. All you’ve got to do it want to follow the principle and aims and purposes of LULAC, which is to help the Mexican American.
LM: Has there been a change since you first joined through the years in the membership? Was there one time perhaps—you mentioned yourself—you were more active when you were younger? Has it changed since you—?
FS: Yes, it’s changed considerably to this extent. You had a lot of people coming back from the war. A lot of veterans joined. I’d say LULAC Council 60 had some 15 veterans and war heroes that joined LULAC Council 60. They came back and they didn’t like conditions the way they were and they said, “Look, lost a foot, I lost a hand, got my butt shot up in Italy. I came back and the conditions are the same as they were before I left. I don’t like it.” It’s like how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris? So they started getting a little activist. And there were no Mexican-American policemen. I can recall vividly this was in 1949-’50. It was an Easter Sunday out at Hermann Park. There had been a shooting among some Mexican-American kids. Well, the chief of police at that time declared in the newspapers that he was going to create a Latin-American squad to handle this element. Of course, we raised 10 kinds of hell and called a mass meeting. And we put out the word like a silent army. We had a mass meeting and invited the mayor and the city council, some priests and ministers, to come up and express their thoughts on the matter. It was designed primarily to object to the Latin-American squad, but I saw it—and of course that was the primordial element. I was involved very deeply in that. It was to bring the mayor and the city council and find out how come we don’t have Mexicans on the force. And sure enough he said, “Well, this Latin-American squad, well, I supported this.” “Now let me ask you this. What are the requirements?” “Well, you’ve got to be a high school graduate. How many of you here want to be policemen that are high school graduates?” Boom! “You’ve got to be 5 foot 8 inches. How many of you are 5 foot 8 inches?” Two or three guys sat down. “All right. What else do you need?” So on and so on and so on. All right. So and so and so and so. “All right, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Chief of Police, you’ve got 8 guys, here—ten guys that want to be policemen. Tell us, please, how do we go? You want to create a Latin-American squad? We don’t need it. We need people to identify.” He said, “Well, have them come down to city hall.” And, by golly, they came. Constable Roy Martinez was the first one to graduate from that school. Yes, sir. That’s how we did it. It was called a mass meeting to complain about the Latin-American squad. They didn’t know that we were going to lower the boom on them the way we did. And I felt just pleased as punch that it came about that way.
LM: That’s beautiful.
FS: Of course, we—Alfred Hernandez—he’s another old war horse—and I and John Hererra, we would plan our strategy. Like I say, I was a young man, but I loved it. I just enjoyed the hell out it. We thought that was better than getting up there and raising hell in front of city hall and that’s what we did. We met in Judge Phil Woodruff’s courtroom. That was the biggest courtroom that we had then. These guys started asking if we could meet at the courthouse, because we used to meet in cafes and stuff like that. Commissioner Lyons graciously—he was in charge of the county buildings—he let us start meeting there. It’s changed now that these men have gone into business. Some of them are not wealthy, as that term is understood, but they’re comfortable. We’re getting the younger guys—some law students, some lawyers. There’s this—I guess we’ve become, to a great extent, satisfied. It’s like a man that’s climbing a stairway—you know? He’s got to go 6 stories. He’s been on the first floor all this time and he climbs and gets up to the first landing and then he goes to the second landing and he goes to the third landing and the fourth landing. He says, “Look what I’ve accomplished. Look where we’ve been. Look what we did.” And he tends to rest on his laurels and take it easy and doesn’t get all that pushy. We have made great strides, in my way of thinking. Of course, you say this to a young man. You say this to a young Juan Gonzalez, you say, “Look here.” “Yeah, but these professors say this, that, and the other. It’s a different war. It’s a different situation.” They weren’t around when they take them by the ear and they say, “We don’t allow Mexicans in here, boy.” And they’d, in effect, physically eject you from the place. They weren’t around then. If they had been around I don’t know what they would do. I like to say the water was deep then. Now it’s just a puddle. Now, perhaps I’m being naïve as to the problems of the Mexican American, but it’s nothing—absolutely nothing—to what it was then.
LM: 46:08.3 This leads me to the next question I was going to ask. It’s a good place to inject it.
FS: All right, sir.
LM: One of the spokesmen of the local groups, here, Mexican-American groups, said a couple of years ago that Texas is the worst state for the Mexican Americans living in it. Conditions here are worse than in any other state for the Mexican American. In your own experiences, how would you reply to that?
FS: I have been national legal council to LULAC and travelled through all 15 states. I would say that, outside of California, the reason that perhaps this young man said that it’s the worst state in the union is that you have more Mexican Americans here. It’s cause and effect. You’ve got more Mexican American—we’ve got more Mexican Americans living in Texas than you have in the three northern states of Mexico. Did you know that? Well, we do. In California you’ve got a lot. Of course, they’re more modern in California than they are here. I’ve been up north. Well, when you classify a Mexican American you’re talking a broad spectrum. Now, up north the conditions of the farm workers are pretty bad. They were mistreated and whatnot. Now is that your average Mexican American—the farm worker? Now when you see—pick up a newspaper, you get the idea that all Mexican Americans are fruit pickers and stoop laborers. You know why? Because they’re all behind Cesar Chavez and they all don’t want you to buy grapes or cantaloupes or whatever. That is a misconception of the Mexican American. Quite frankly, that’s a small minded portion of the Mexican American population and you have a great deal of it there. But you’d be surprised how many so-called middle-class Mexicans you’ve got. After a while, the people that are in the lower economic strata, they start getting a job, etc, etc, etc, and they get to the point where they have nothing in common with Juan Gonzalez who picks grapes in the valley, or oranges. But the militant would have the average Mexican class as the man with the hot boiling sun, and my problems are his problems. I’m going to say it right here and now. The problems of the urban Mexican American are not the problems of the man that lives in the valley. They are different completely. They’re seeking to amass us all into this one scope. That’s the Chicano boy. True, they’re our brothers. Let’s help them. All right. They want the price of lettuce up, etc. Cesar Chavez has been doing a good thing with his farm workers. He wanted a union for Mexican Americans so that they could get a good price for their products, which is laudable. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened, but then the teamsters came in and they started taking the men away from Cesar and giving them equally as much benefits as the United Farm Workers Union. Perhaps I’ve been reading it wrong, but that’s the way I read it. And Cesar Chavez goes to these meetings and he tells everybody that the Anglo is just screwing them because they’re not getting what they should get—that they could get from the United Farm Workers. Now, I don’t know. I’m not a farm worker. I may, if I ever lose my license. Hell, I’ll pick grapes or do whatever the hell I have to to support my family. But I’ll say this, the people themselves that were in his union that know the man left him and went to the teamsters. Now I ask you why? Because the teamsters have a better type of public relations they can sell the people better? Who could sell the people better then the guy who has been there? But yet, they’ve been leaving his ranks, and he wants help. Well, that’s fine and dandy. I’m all for helping him out, but the motives that have been expressed as to why the Mexican Farm Workers Union, or the United Farm Workers Union, is one, but I don’t understand. If I were to go to one of these meetings I would ask, “Well, isn’t this—” These are some embarrassing questions I was telling. I’ll ask questions that may not be embarrassing. They may have an answer for them. But if the people themselves are leaving his union—he’s down to 60,000 members, I think, or something like that. When they were way up there, and the teamsters started a competition—free enterprise. Now, I get the impression that Cesar wants all the Mexican Americans to be in his union. He doesn’t want them to be in the other union. Fine and dandy, but you can’t dictate. If I don’t like what I’m doing right here and now, I’ve got an alternative. I live in the United States. I’ll move to Canada. I’ll move to Minnesota or California. This is another thing; for years the Mexican American stayed in the valley. You have 3, 4, and 5 generations of Mexican Americans living there. Many of them, due to lack of opportunity, were doing the same thing they were doing 100 years ago. And you had to organize them to get them a living wage. Now, here in Texas if you don’t like what you’re doing you can split. I have some clients and friends that have been here for 3-5 years that have bought their house under contract of sale, they’re sending their kids to school, they buy a used car, and they’re doing damn good. They’ve only been here 3 or 4 years, as opposed to those people who have been over there for 100 years. Now you’re going to say, “Well, this man is saying that those people are lazy or have no motivation.” What I’m saying is if you don’t like it, get out and do it better. Fine, so they got out and now they’re making wage and it’s a living wage. That’s good. That’s fine. That’s dandy. But I dislike the media classing every man as a farm worker that’s a Mexican American, or a woman as a farm worker.
FS: 53:04.9 That’s like they used to—you know—the epitome of the black man was step and fetch it. The old, lazy black man—you know—he sits there and they call him lightening because he’s slow. Now that was supposed to be the classic Negro, or black man. Well, the same thing is true with a Mexican American. Some of us aren’t all that lazy. I’m kind of lazy. I do as little as I can, but we’ve got a lot of people that, hell, they’re full of vim and vigor and they’re out to make it in the Anglo world. Now I chipped away at Anglo insularity by wanting to get in there, if for no other reason to apprise people of the fact that, hey, this Mexican American speaks English. He can do this. He can type just about as good as Amy Jones, over there, or Bobby Smith. I took a job, and, if I might tell you—I don’t know whether you’re familiar with my background. I was the first Mexican-American assistant county attorney in the history of Harris County. I was the first Mexican-American assistant probate judge. I was the first Mexican-American to be appointed assistant attorney general in charge of a district office. I wasn’t the first Mexican American to be appointed to the municipal courts on a part-time basis, but I was the first Mexican American to work for the Houston Independent School District on rape cases. My firm was hired because their firm—the firm that they usually had—was involved with these other people and there was a conflict of interest so they started tapping around. They said, “Who is familiar with government law? Who is familiar with this, that, and the other that we can hire?” And I was interviewed, some Anglos were interviewed, and some blacks were interviewed. And, “Hey, Felix used to work for the county and the state and he’s familiar with government, he’s familiar with rates—utility rates.” And I got appointed. Now, maybe I was appointed because I was a Mexican American. But I’ll say this, if that’s the fact I did—I’ve labored in the vineyard for them just like Tom Smith. And they were satisfied with the results. I was the first Mexican to ever hold on a district-level court. The governor appointed me. This was not—the fact that I was a Mexican was icing on the cake is what I’ve been told. Lots of my fellow lawyers in the bar wrote letters. “This guy knows what he is doing.” If that’s brag, I’m sorry. I’m just trying to tell you. The governor says, “Hey, great. This guy’s been here, he’s been here. We’ve got this opening? Great. He happens to be a Mexican American.” I was competing with some Anglos. I really was. Hell, anytime there’s an opening here, lots of guys just throw their name in the ring and they just stand in their qualifications. And I’ve paid my dues in the Bar, my friend. I joined the Bar Association and got active in the Bar. I’ve worked on many committees. So we got this job. So I believe in chipping away at Anglo insularity. Many people would come to the court when I was in the county attorney’s office. “Where are you from Mr. Salazar? What part of Mexico?” I said, “I was born and reared in Houston, sir.” “Well, you don’t talk like most Mexicans or Spanish people.” I said, “Look, I’m not sensitive. If you’re going to call me anything you feel you have to call me, call me a Mexican.” Some people think that’s a term of derision. I think that’s the shortest way to describe anybody if you’re going to describe them. “Hey, buddy, you’re all right.” And I started meeting Anglo American people. Get them used to the idea of a Mexican being there. A lot of them said, “No, no. We ought to let the Anglo got to hell. We got our own gig going.” I don’t believe in that.
LM: 57:30.1 When you were going to college—when you began college, you were attending during a period when there was a great deal of open discrimination against Mexican Americans.
FS: Oh, yeah.
LM: Let me ask you this, how did you first decide upon going to college to begin with? Where was the opportunity? How was it offered to you?
FS: My college?
FS: I worked like hell. You see, I didn’t have an opportunity. I had an ulcer of the stomach when Uncle Sugar wanted to call me up. That’s the term I use because all the money they’re giving away. Forgive me, I don’t mean to offend anybody. If I do I’m sorry. I didn’t go on a scholarship. My grades weren’t that good. But since I was 4 years old my daddy said, “Why don’t you go to college, son?” I’m a good mechanic, by the way. I can overhaul your engine, paint your car, and straighten your fenders. Like I said, if they ever take my ticket away, hell, I’ve got things I can fall back on.
LM: It certainly seems so, yes.
FS: I started going to school, and dad helped me out. Without my dad I couldn’t have been able to do it. My father has always been something of an individualist. So I went to school, and then of course I would work on weekends at the shop. I’d have some very productive weekends. I’d paint a car and pick up 95-100 dollars on a Saturday. I’d straighten out some fenders and whatnot. And I went to work. I figured it was time for me to get into the office business, so when I was about 20, I guess it was, I got me a job at the American Title Company. I wanted to learn title work. At that time it was axiomatic; if you were going to be a lawyer you had to learn land law first. Now, of course, people start at the top. So I taught myself land titles there at the American Title Company, and then I wanted to get married. I went to the University of Texas. That’s where I wanted to go, but I couldn’t find a job over there, certainly not what I had here. So I came back to the University of Houston and got enough credit hours to go on to law school. Since I was going to have to work and I was married, I decided to go to law school at night. I got married, and in the course of three children and going to school at night, I got my license to practice law. And it wasn’t any picnic. I didn’t join the group at the University of Texas. They used to have a PTH club—that was Putting Hubby Through. Some of these guys were marrying these gals that were working and they’d sit and let the wife put them through. Sure enough, right after they’d graduate they’d go talk to the legal aid society and get a big fat divorce. (laughs) They used to call it the Putting Hubby Through Club. I don’t know. It may still exist. Lots of these women would find themselves divorced after the guy got his sheepskin.
FS: 1:00.38.6 I was married, and I’m still married. I’ve been married 24 years. I was a child bride. Those 24 years—I’m not telling you that I was a good husband—those 23-24 years stand as a monument to my wife’s tolerance. (laughs) No, you’ve got to work. It all depends on what you want to do. What’s your motivation? I think that’s a word they use nowadays.
LM: How were you received I the Bar Association? You were probably—
FS: With a joyless (__??) at first. I was one of the first guys to join the Houston Bar Association. After I knocked a few of them on their ass in court—I mean that literally. They’d get up there and—of course I was with the county attorney’s office. We handled civil manners for the county. I got to lock horns with some of the big cannons in the Bar Association from the big law firms. I was offered jobs to go into their trial section. “Hey, this guy is on the ball.” I’m just telling you. I wanted to. I worked my butt off. Here we had—I used to laugh when they’d say, “All right. Representing so and so we have John P. Biglawfirm.” And the guy would get up and introduce himself to the panel. “Representing the state of Texas—.” I’d have an engineer or something there from the county. They’d expect him to stand up and I’d stand up. “That Mexican is representing the state of Texas? I’ll be going to hell.” So that’s how it was. After a while it became run-of-the-mill—routine. Like I say, you’ve got to—like Lee Trevino. He worked hard. He wanted to be a pro. He doesn’t go over there and say, “Look, this is a 504-yard hole. I’m a Mexican. I want you to make it 375.” No, he learned the game and he did it and he worked in the Anglo sphere. He’s a competitor, and that’s what I like to think that I am—a competitor. Not a Mexican competitor. That’s something I’ve been accused of by some of my fellow lawyers, too. They say, “You know one thing I like about Felix, he’s a lawyer first and a Mexican second.” You have professional Mexicans. They go the Mexican route all the way. I have got lots of Anglo clients and Mexican clients and black clients, but when you get up before a jury you don’t even mention the fact that, “Here is Juan Gonzalez. He’s a Mexican American. Do you all have any scruples or have any ideas or thoughts against the Mexican people as a whole? Why, that’s ridiculous. If you do—if they do they’re not going to tell you. They may want to get off jury duty. “Oh, I just can’t go for Gonzalez, there. I just can’t do it.” But, hell, you just keep it quiet. You’ve got a citizen here that’s got a grievance, and he’s bringing it up before 6 or 12 citizens, depending on county or district court. That’s the way you try it. The hell with the Mexican stuff. Of course, you had your racial slurs. “Well, now, this fine upstanding Mexican-American couple, etc.” I just let it—it was water off a duck’s back. “Old Mr. Salazar, here, of course, I’m sure his Spanish is—” I said, “My Spanish is excellent, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.” However, I didn’t feel I had to resort to that because we are, after all, in the United States of America. The official tongue is English. You get used to that kind of stuff. I’ve heard every damn joke about Mexican Americans that’s ever been said. Just like the blacks know about the shadow do, that sort of stuff. But after a while, they start ignoring it and they don’t look at you as a Mexican American. They say, “Hey, this is Felix or this is Juan or this is so and so.” In the trade—you know—total acceptance.
LM: 1:05:12 I’ve heard some of the more radically inclined Mexican Americans—well, primarily activists—say that all the successful Mexican Americans have given up their heritage and become Anglos.
FS: Did the young man say old? Did he say all or all successful Mexicans?
LM: He didn’t say old.
FS: No, my friend, were I to change my name to Smith, you’d look upon my visage and you’d come to no other conclusion than I’m a Mexican. And try as I might to deny it, I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I am fiercely proud of being a Mexican. And this little Mexican goes anywhere he wants, within limitations. He stands shoulder-to-shoulder with his Anglo brethren, and he is a total citizen along with them. There is no mistake about the fact that I’m a Mexican American, and every chance I get to try to do something for the Mexican American, I’ll do it. Bearing in mind that I’ve got certain responsibilities to my family, as well. You follow? I hear these young kids say, “Well, Salazar, you don’t know what the problems of the Mexican community are.” I say, “My boy, the problems of the Mexican-American community cross my desk every goddamned day.” It’s something to bitch about. Do you follow? Now when I was bitching we didn’t have any so-called leaders. We had a few of these so-called leaders, but our bitch wasn’t with them. It was against the Anglo American that was trying to hold me down. He was jacking with my wish for a way of life. Now these kids don’t know what to strike out at, because some problems come up and they lose their concept of who the “enemy” is. Everybody’s an enemy now. Anybody over 30 is an enemy. This kid says, “I because they can’t assume the responsibilities that fall on their shoulders.” I don’t trust anybody under 30. I’ll turn it around on them. I don’t like to fool with young people’s heads. I try to motivate them. We had the Mexican-American Bar Association started up.
I: 1:07:56.5 I was going to ask you about that.
FS: I was the first charter vice-president they had. Then I got that bench over there and I had to resign. Now that’s a good outfit to motivate the young kids, to conduct seminars, to help them, give them the benefit of our experience. Many of my Mexican-lawyer-colleague-types are jealous of what they’ve learned over the years and are not willing to impart it to the younger people. Hey, I’m all for it. I want all the competition I can get because that’s going to keep my on my toes. Some of the members of the board don’t like that—think it’s discrimination. I don’t think that it’s such. I want it to be used as an adjunct to the Houston Bar Association. We can help these young kids. Some of them are very shy. While they may be militant, or act militant, some of them are relatively shy and they’re overcompensating for their shyness by being with a lot of bravado. Now this you can spot. We want to help these young people, help them out. Let me tell you what happened to me in court today, etc. If this ever happens to you, you can do this. They’ve been working on it. Of course, you’ve got a lot of ties with the long hair and whatnot. There was one young man who was a member. He got his license. He had to go do a number in court, and he says he felt strange. I said, “What do you mean, strange?” He said, “Well, everybody was looking at me because my hair was kind of long.” I said, “What’d you do?” He said, “I cut it.” Then he cut it some more. Now his hair is practically my same length. I don’t have anything against long hair, but he looked a little unusual. We’ve got a lot of Anglo lawyers that are long haired. But, you see, they recoil. They want to look different—you know—the Chicano aspect—the Jesus sandals and the sweat band and all that kind of stuff. As if to show that they’re Chicano. All you’ve got to do is look at a person’s face. I had an amusing experience with a young Mexican American at a LULAC meeting. He was very vocal and asking questions about something or another. Then I said, “Well, that’s good. You’re going to be a leader.” He said, “I’m Chicano.” I said, “Believe me, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’re a Chicano.” I started talking to him in Spanish. Then one of the other guys said, “Hey, Judge, you’re talking to a blank wall. He doesn’t speak Spanish.” Now here’s one of the future leaders. He can’t speak a word of Spanish. (laughs) So where are we, you know? Perhaps I’m being too complacent. Maybe I’ve gotten to the fourth floor. I’ve got a few flights to go up, and I’m taking my time getting there. No, we’ve made some great strides. Who would have thought that a senator or a governor would attend one of our functions, or come to the clubhouse and shake hands to meet people? I can recall when we were happy when we’d throw some scholarship banquet if one of our councilmen would go over there and congratulate us and pat us on the head and say, “You’re doing good, boy.” We’ve made real great strides. Now, people will say, “Well, Felix, you know why? Because of us political militants.” That, to a great extent, is true. To a great extent, that’s true, but it’s not necessarily all encompassing. We have shown the Anglo-American brothers that we are a segment of society, that we want to be a productive segment of society, and that we want to work hand-in-hand with them. And we have been finding acceptance. Many of the politicians are motivated by the vote, true enough. It’s all one whole ball of wax. It’s not one thing. Like I said, they also serve who stand and wait. Many of them just stand and wait and vote on the ballot. They don’t get involved. We can’t all march. That’s another area I don’t particularly care to get into. Like I said, maybe I’ve been practicing law too long. I’ve been practicing law 21 years. I’ve learned that a man can be the bitterest enemy you have, but when you sit down and you talk to him, you can bridge the chasm of differentiality, there, and eventually reach something. I’m not a negotiator or Uncle Tom. I’ve been accused of that. One guy says I was Tio Tomas. Tio Tomas is two words. Before the last syllable of the second word was out of his mouth I was over that table, and I grabbed that son of a bitch and I was beating him up against the goddamn wall. No, sir, there’s just ways of doing things and I have my idea of how they should be done.
LM: When did this happen?
FS: Oh, this was several years ago. I had run as a state representative. He walked in the door, and I got the vibrations right away, so I asked a young lawyer—he was a law student—I said, “Sit here.” He said, “What for?” I said, “I need a witness.” He said, “For what?” I said, “I’ve just got an impression that this is going to happen.” They guy said, “You’re Salazar, right?” I said, “Right.” He says, “I’m concerned about my people.” I said, “Hang in there, brother.” He said, “You’re the Salazar that ran for the legislature?” I said, “That’s right.” He says, “You’re a total sellout, Tio Tomas.” And so I flew across the table, there. Thankfully, the function had ended. There were some people standing around. I picked him up and I started hitting him against the wall. I didn’t want to hit him with my fist because he could charge me with assault. My defense was going to be that I was trying to get his attention. I slammed him up against the wall and I said, “When you know me you can call me names. You don’t know me, friend. You just know what people have said. Ask me my motives then you can call me names, but until you do—” By that time we’d hit the floor. He was like this. “Do you understand me?” He went and retrieved his hat. He said, “I thought you were a gentleman.” I said, “I’m a total gentleman.” He said, “I thought we could talk.” I said, “When you call me an Uncle Tom, man, that ceases all discussion right then and there.” So anyway, I don’t (broke??) any type of bullshit like that. (laughs) Any other questions?
LM: 1:15:01 Just one more. It seems a pity not to ask it considering your experience in the field of law. The question deals with how a Mexican-American would fair in the courts if he’s—well, let’s start from the time he’s arrested to the time he goes before a jury.
FS: Let me answer that by answering what I was—the way I answered when I was being interviewed on the Mexican-American Dialog program. There were these two young men. I said, “Are you all going to stand?” He said, “No, we want to take shots at you from either side.” I said, “Well, look, can I shoot back guys?” He said, “Yeah, feel free to do so.” First crack out of the barrel he said, “Now that you’re a district-level court judge, are Mexican Americans going to be able to get a fair trial in Harris County?” I started laughing. I says, “My young friends, you are guilty of something that we refer to in the law as assuming facts that are not in evidence. When was the last time you boys were down at the courthouse?” He said, “Well, I’ve never been there.” I’m there every morning. I mean—without exception, I’m at the courthouse every morning if for no other reason than to go have a cup of coffee with my colleagues, both Anglo, Mexican, and black. I find that the Mexican American fares equally as well as Tommy Tucker or the black man—equally as well—sometimes better because the court gets sympathetic when a man can’t express himself, and they will bend over backwards to try to help you. Now that is a fact. I don’t care what people try to tell me. I’ve been over there. Sometimes a man has been in jail, he’s poor. No, that’s a bad word. He can’t afford to make his bond, and he’s been in the rehab center for 7 or 8 months. He’s charged with some felony. The time comes for him to go to trial they’ll appoint some lawyer. Not necessarily a Mexican-American lawyer. They’ll appoint a lawyer to represent him. I represented Anglos, blacks, and Mexicans. I served over there as an appointed lawyer. In order to get rid of the case, you have this plea bargain. They might reduce the case to a misdemeanor and give him credit for time served, so the man walks out. As opposed to a guy that hires a lawyer and makes his bond and goes up for trial that might get slammed with 4 or 5 years. You see, the fact that you can afford a lawyer and make bond does not ipso facto ab initio guarantee that you’re going to get a better deal. Sorry about that boys, but that’s the truth. Lots of these guys that don’t have lawyers fair pretty damn good with a court appointed lawyer. Now, you say that a man that makes bond doesn’t have to stay in jail, but that was an exaggeration, that 7 or 8 months. You get credit for time served, they want to clear it up. Whereas the lawyer gets hired, the first thing he does is seek a delay because that’s the best plan. The delay is the best friend a defense lawyer has. You know—delay the case, delay the case, let memories get dim and whatnot. That’s it. Lots of Mexican Americans get damn good deals. Many people say, “No, I was over there and this guy got 5 years.” I had a fellow tell me one time, he says, “Hey, Felix. Lots of these police officers are beating up on Mexicans. What are you going to do about it?” I said, “Well, we want equal treatment, right? From what I understand, they also beat up on Anglo Americans and blacks.” What are you going to do? You’ve got police brutality that’s existed from the first time the cave people decided they were going to have an organized society, or semi organized society. They picked the biggest guy with the biggest club and said, “Let’s let Ugo be our policemen.” So they appointed Ugo. Maybe the other guy came in kind of late to the village and he’d had a little grape juice and Ugo got pissed off and hit him over the head with his club. That’s the first, I guess, recorded case of police brutality. I mean—it’s existed all this time. You can do away with it. In some of these science fiction movies I’ve seen, the officers are totally this, that, and the other. It’s human nature. When you can change human nature you’re going to get rid of police brutality. They’re isolated instances. They’re not the way they work, but it exists. What am I going to do about it? Hey, what do you want me to do about it?
FS: 1:20:17 The Mexican American fares equally as well, and in some cases I’ve seen them fare better. I had a case 3 weeks ago. This man was charged with possession of heroin. There was two people. One of them had made bond and he was ready to go to trial. I got appointed on it—follow writ. Habeas corpus—a hastily prepared writ. I wanted to see—I hadn’t had an opportunity to have an examiner trial, so I decided to see what kind of ammunition they had. I filed my writ, and we had a hearing. I found out they didn’t have a case and boom. That guy was out. Now he didn’t have any money to make bond. The other guy, his case is still pending, but this guy was there 4 days, they granted the writ, and released the man. It’s funny as hell because after I told him he was going to get out, he said, “Hey, man, look here. I owe $65.00 in traffic tickets over at the city. Can you pay those for me so I can get out?” I said, “You want aid when you bill me? I’ve gotten this heavy felony off of you.” He said, “Well, maybe I can get my brother to do it.” I said, “That’s an excellent idea.”
FS: Oh, yes. So you see, maybe I am too complacent, but I like to think that I’ve got an open mind—that I know what the young people are doing. I ride a motorcycle, I’m in karate, I keep an active mind. I ride a Harley Davidson. I’ve been all the way to Saltillo, Mexico on my motorcycle. One time I went with a group of black people. There were seven blacks and me, a brown. We had a ball. I’m into karate. I haven’t been for a while, but I keep my mind active. I try to find out what’s going on in the world because if I don’t know what’s going on in the world I cannot be a good advocate for my client. I know whores, pimps, the underworld element, just like a newspaper reporter that’s got to have his sources. You can’t write about bullfighting—like Hemingway said—unless you’ve fought a bull. You’ve got to get out there and see the seamy side of life. Many times I’ve gone pub crawling at night under the name of Lefty Cordova—see what the hell is going on. Let me quote you one anecdote and then I’ll leave it alone. When I got appointed to this bench, this woman, her husband tried to take her kids away from her. She had been a waitress in some joint. I said, “Where does your wife work?” “Well, she works over at the ABC Club.” “Tell, his honor what kind of club the ABC Club is.” And, of course, I had a courtroom full of people. I said, “The court is familiar with the ABC Club. Let’s move on.” Well, that happened several times. One of the older judges over there called me. He said, “Felix, listen. I’ve been hearing some rather quaint things that you’re doing up there. Next time someone says something about a club, take 5 minutes and let them tell you what kind of club it is. You’re giving us all a bad name. We’re all supposed to know what kind of places these are? I don’t go to clubs. I don’t care if you were drunk there the night before. Let them explain what kind of club it is. You’re giving us a bad name.” (laughs) So, as you see, you get around. You meet people. You talk to people. You cannot be in a little sphere and expect to know what it’s all about. You’re seeing a part of the iceberg. You’re feeling the tail of the elephant or the tusk or a leg or the side. A young person who hasn’t been around a long time has got a limited, if not distorted, view of things. When they get out in the marketplace they’re going to find out what it’s all about. They’ll go out and they’ll kill themselves for a guy and get him off and etc, etc, and the guy says, “Hey, man. You going to be in the office Saturday?” “Yeah.” And they’ll be there twirling their thumbs and the guy will be gone. “Hey, man. What about that $200.00 you owe?” “Hey, I’ll be there to talk to you about that.
LM: 1:24:57 How do you insure that you do get paid, by the way?
FS: You never can. I’m talking about the young law students. They should have a course in college entitled How to Set and Collect Your Fees. First of all, you’ve got to take care of your family. Now if you’re a single man, and you can—there are a lot of cases I’d love to take and volunteer for for the publicity, if nothing else. That’s another thing. I’m low profile. I don’t like newspapers and things. “Hey, Felix, what about that case?” “It’s nothing, man. Forget it.” But anyway, in time, after they’ve been around a little bit they’ll see the problem. I’d like to think I’ve seen it. It’s not all milk and honey. We’ve got a long ways to go. Hell, we’ve made some marvelous strides, and I’m pleased as punch.
LM: I’m pleased that you consented to this interview. It’s been extremely interesting.
FS: Well, Mr. Marchiafava, I’ve been interviewed in the past by people who are working on papers and whatnot. They say, “You know, you don’t talk like people that I’ve talked to.” I say, “Well, if I’m supposed to denounce somebody, I don’t know.” These are my thoughts. That’s the way I am. I don’t know. That’s it.
LM: Thank you very much.
FS: All right.
(End of dictation 1:26:46)