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Interview with: Juan Carrion
Interviewed by: Thomas Kreneck
Date: March 17, 1983
Archive Number: OH 307
TK: 00:00:04 This is a March 17, 1983 oral history interview with Mr. Juan Carrion. First thing, Juan, when and where were you born?
JC: I was born in Missouri City, Texas, in 1926. Then we moved to Houston in 1930.
TK: What were your parents doing in Missouri City?
JC: My dad used to work for the railroad. He was at one of the camps, they call them—I don't know what you call them—but the camp—railroad camps?
TK: Railroad camps.
TK: What was he doing there? What was his job?
JC: He was a repair—I think they called it a repairman in the railroad, because he had one of those pump four-wheel deals—I don't know what you call them. Do you remember seeing them?
TK: Yeah—those little cars on—cars on wheels.
JC: Cars—yeah. If a train came, he’d just pick it up and put it off the tracks. I don’t think it was that heavy. That’s what I remember he used to do.
TK: Where were your parents from originally?
JC: 00:01:34 My father was from Mexico, from the state of Hidalgo, and my mother was from the state of Jalisco close to Guadalajara somewhere. She died before—I never knew my mother, because I don’t remember that far back. I was 4 years—
TK: When did she pass?
JC: Four years—I was 4 years old when she died and—let’s see—she died in Houston.
TK: After y’all had moved?
JC: After we moved—sí. We were nine in the family, and the family was too large for her to take care of so she got sick, but I don’t remember her.
TK: Did they ever say what she died of?
JC: No—you know—back in those days you didn’t know what the—you’d die of a pain in your stomach. You don’t—well—don’t know what it was—or a headache or something. Somebody said he had a toothache, and he died from it. It could’ve been a heart attack, and her mouth went crooked or something. We found out nowadays that’s what it is.
TK: That is the—back then there just weren’t precise diagnoses like that.
JC: No—but she spent time at the old Jefferson Davis Hospital. I don't know—it’s not the one that is there now. I think it was another one. Do you know where it is located? Because she was—that’s where she was. My oldest brother told me that they sent her home, because there was no hope for her to live, so she died at home.
TK: Where were y’all living at that time? Do you remember the general area?
JC: I was living in Magnolia, off of 74th Street.
TK: Was your father working on the railroad here in Houston when you moved here?
JC: Un-hunh (affirmative). He did. He worked for the railroad, and then he quit the railroad when he came to Houston. I don’t remember how long he worked after he moved to Houston. Then he worked for Sinclair after that, and I don't know how long he worked there. I don't know if you talked to my brother. Did he mention that he worked at the monument—San Jacinto Monument?
TK: 00:04:34 I don’t believe that he did.
JC: He worked there in 1936 when they were building it.
TK: I didn’t know that.
JC: I thought that monument was built 100 years ago, but they just built it in 1936.
TK: Built it in the ‘30s—yeah.
JC: And he worked there. He worked there over a year.
TK: But when y’all first moved up here, he was working for the railroad.
JC: The railroad—yeah.
TK: How long? Do you know when he finally quit there or how did he—?
JC: I don’t know. We never heard that.
TK: Do you remember when—did he ever mention when and why they came to the United States?
JC: No, we never did discuss anything, because—you know—when you’re young, you don’t care much until you really get up in age and you try and think, “Well, I should have found out this. I should have asked my daddy this.” We never did.
TK: Where did your father die?
JC: Here in Houston in 1958. He was 98 years old and, as far as I know, he was one of either the second or third families who originated in Magnolia.
TK: His name was what?
JC: Francisco Carrion. In Magnolia there was nothing but magnolia trees and pine trees. I don't know. I understand all that area there is filled in from the bayou, from the waterfront there, and I can believe that, because they’re still going across it. Why—they had to fill in all the low areas with that sand.
TK: Well, you—you know—we’ve talked about this before. You mentioned that you were involved in that repatriation process. What happened there to the best of your—?
JC: 00:06:44 I remember that we went—he had some friends in the Second Ward. The name of the street was—it was right off Canal—Buffalo Street. Now it is on Charles Street. Okay—I remember that, and I went to school at the Guadalupe Church for a couple of years. I went to kindergarten—no—I went to kindergarten at the Russ—somewhere over there in the Second Ward, and then first grade I went to the Catholic school at Guadalupe. I was about 6—a little over 6 years old. I remember that he bought a truck, this man that—he was my padrino—this man was.
TK: What was his name again?
JC: His last name was Gutierrez, and his first name was—I don't know what other name—but Irenero Gutierrez was his name. He was my padrino, and she was my madrina—not a Cervantez. It was something. I don’t remember. I never did find out what. I don't know. We never did discuss it. They were too busy to talk to us all the time, so they didn’t. I remember they bought a truck in, I think, 1930—a Ford. It was all they had—Fords. They started fixing this truck. Under the truck they had some crates like for chickens or dogs or something, and we did carry some dogs with us. I remember we had a couple of dogs in the truck, and one day he started loading. Of course, that was in 1932—the early part of ’32—that I remember they started loading the truck, and we took off.
TK: You were living with them at the time?
JC: Yeah, yeah—we were with them because there was too much family for my father, and by them having a business there—they had a little store there. My brothers tended it. My dad thought that it was the best place for us to be while he got things together again after my mother died. I understand he went there to look for us one day. He never did find us.
TK: Your dad did?
JC: Yeah—my dad.
TK: Who had the store?
JC: This man that raised us.
JC: Gutierrez. So—wound up in Mexico, right across the border there, about 80 kilometers outside Laredo.
TK: Now, do you remember the trip?
JC: I remember on one night we stopped somewhere between here and Austin or San Antonio—somewhere there—and it was real dark at night. I remember we started gathering some wood and built this fire. It was cold. We built a big fire, and I remember later on putting beds on the ground around the fire.
TK: 00:10:25 How old were you at this time?
JC: A little over 6 years old—something like that. We made it to Laredo, and I remember that this lady—we didn’t go across with them. I don’t know why. Maybe the reason—I found out later on, the reason for it. This lady took us across just like a tourist. You go across and come back an hour, 2 hours later. I remember that she took us across, and we meet them in Laredo—this Gutierrez family—and where they picked us up again from there. We never saw that lady again. They must have paid somebody to take us across, because I understand when you leave the country—in other words, you’re not an American citizen anymore if you go into Mexico. You lose your American citizenship. I don’t think they have our names on those papers—me and my sister. I had a sister that went with us.
TK: By the way, how many people went?
JC: Just me and my sister. My sister was about 4 years old. She was very, very small.
TK: What about the Gutierrezes? How many did they have?
JC: They didn’t have no family. They were just them two.
TK: So it was just four of y’all on that trip?
JC: Un-hunh (affirmative).
TK: In other words, you don’t think that they signed y’all up as crossing the river?
JC: I don’t think they did. I don’t think they did, because I talked to people later on after I got out of the service here. I wanted to find out how did it happen? How was it possible for them to take us across the border? They said, “Well, there’s a lot of ways it could’ve been done.” They said it was like this lady that took us across. They probably paid her to take us across—across the bridge there. See? They probably made a deal with her, and they picked us up across the border.
TK: 00:12:52 Did you ever talk to Gutierrez about why he came back?
JC: No. He’s been deceased for about 20 years now. He died when he—well—he came back to the United States.
TK: Oh, he did?
JC: Yeah—he came back, and I found out when I was in the service that he came back to the United States, but I never went back to the house. I never did look for him.
TK: What happened after y’all got into Laredo?
JC: In Laredo? We went to a place—they call it like a big hacienda. There was a small group of people living—you know—like a barrio—something like that—and I remember that most of the people there where there from the United States. They were from Pasadena, Beaumont, Richmond, Sugar Land, from Houston—most of them from Houston. And matter of fact, there are people that lived there that are still there that were from the United States.
TK: How far was that into Mexico?
JC: About 80 kilometers—about 45 miles.
TK: What was the name of the place? Did it have a name?
JC: Yeah—a little town. They called it Camarón—in English called a shrimp—called it Camarón and about 11 miles farther down is Ciudad Anahuac, and then there are twin cities there. A river—they called it Rio Salado—divides these twin cities. Ciudad Anahuac is on this side, and Rodriquez on the other side of the river. Camarón is closer to Laredo.
TK: In what state is that?
JC: In Nuevo León. Yes. It’s Nuevo León.
TK: 00:14:48 But it was—how many people would you say were there when you got there? Do you remember about how—can you kind of guestimate it?
JC: I figure about 200-300 people.
TK: Quite a sizable number.
JC: Yes. Yes. At that time we were large enough to have stores, a theater—several stores—hardware stores, grocery stores, two filling stations. But a year or two later, people from—even from Mexico—started farming, and that’s what it was. That’s what it was all about. I understand that somebody came from Mexico and talked to all these people and whoever wanted to return back to the country, that Mexico would be willing to give them some land for them to work on. They did. They gave them some land but nothing but rocks and mesquite and trees. That’s all it was. We’d have to clear our area—never did finish. We left it. We didn’t want to work, or he didn’t. Gutierrez didn’t want to work, so he set up a business. He set up a cantina and a restaurant there. We used to live right across from the train station—right across the street from it. It was the—that railroad that runs through there used to run all the way almost to Monterey—I think. I’m not too sure. I was too young. I don’t remember, but I remember there were a lot of tourists that were going fishing at this lake they call Don Martin, and this lake is located in the state of Juarez, Coahuila—Piedras Negras. Close to Rosita, Coahuila, Piedras Negras. A lot of people from the United States go fishing there, and they still do, because—well—now it is full of water again, but that lake went dry in 1938-39. The lake went dry.
TK: How far were y’all from the lake?
JC: Oh, maybe about a 3-hour drive from the lake, but I served in the cantina and the restaurant. They stopped there, because that was the first—we were at the entrance of the city. That was the first stop.
TK: Do you remember the name of the restaurant?
JC: I remember the name of the cantina—not the restaurant—Los Palmas. It was right across the road from the train station.
TK: Did many of the people farm there?
JC: Oh yes. Uh-hunh (affirmative). Yes—we were one of the first families—well—not the first, but I figure about—if I remember correctly—there was a little over 100 people when we got there, and we got our land pretty close to the house, so we didn’t have to walk too far. That truck he took from here—he put that truck to work, and he made more money than farming. That’s why we left the farm, too. That’s another reason. He had the cantina. He was running the business and he had a driver for the truck, and I was helping on the truck loading cotton after the—in the evenings, you know, when they’re finishing with picking the cotton. It was faster for these people to load it into the gin—cotton gin—because the weather—get it all out of the weather.
TK: 00:19:07 There was a gin there?
JC: Oh yeah—there was a gin.
TK: Did y’all ever see Mexican government officials anywhere?
JC: I don’t remember. I don’t remember. I was talking to—remember when you called me during the rodeo time? One of my cousins who lives in Matamoros left here about a year before we did, but he rode with his father and mother, and the whole family went to the same town we were, but they didn’t know we were there, because they didn’t know we had left—see? They were there about a year and a half before we did.
TK: Where had they started from?
JC: They started farming in Estado de Nuevo Leon, and then they moved to Coahuila, and everybody started to come back to the United States. They didn’t like it over there. The older brothers of my cousin—my older cousins—came back to the United States because—you know—they were from here. They didn’t like it over there, and so the youngest stayed. He still lives in Matamoros, because he moved to Matamoros. He has out there, I think, about 80 acres.
TK: But had their family lived in the United—I mean—had they lived in Houston?
JC: Lived here in Houston, and his daddy—my uncle used to work for the railroad with my dad, too. Yeah. At the end of Manchester—right there was a camp—a railroad camp. That’s where his family lived too. That cousin of mine was here during the rodeo time. That’s the reason I told you that.
TK: During February?
JC: During February, sí.
TK: 00:21:08 Did he ever tell you exactly what happened to their family? They were living here in Houston and they—
JC: Yes. He said there was a man from Mexico that came and told them that the government wanted everybody that wanted to go back to Mexico—there was some land there for all the people and their families. They said yes. My uncle believed them. He took off with the whole family. When they got there, he went to the land office. He said that he remembered because he was with him all the time. He said he came to the office and asked, We’ll I’m looking for a job. “Mr. So-and-so told us to come to Mexico and you’ll have land for us.” “We don’t have nothing here for nobody. You want land, you have to buy it or go to somewhere—another office—close to Mexico City and apply for that land.” In other words there brought these people over there from here. That wasn’t true. They just wanted to bring the people back. See? That was during the—Lázaro Cárdenas, I think, was the president of Mexico.
TK: A lot of these kids like yourself—you were born here. You were an American citizen.
JC: I was—yeah. I hope I still am. I’m not afraid. I was born here, and I have proof that I was born here.
TK: Did you like it in Camarón?
JC: No, sir. I lived out the best years of my life there. From—what—through 12 or 10 to about—what?—15 years? I think after 10 years old you are beginning to notice things, and that was work, work every day. There was no, no—you go to the fields at 5 o’clock in the morning until sundown. You come home. It’s late. You eat and go to sleep. Yeah.
TK: Did you go to school there?
JC: I went to school half days, but during the—you remember the same thing happened here during the season—cotton season—either you go to school or pick cotton. I think that happened here too. Many, many people here.
TK: How did the Mexicans treat y’all?
JC: There were no Mexicans there. They were all Americans—all American citizens that I can remember.
TK: 00:24:11 Did you ever talk to any of the other kids on how they felt about the place?
JC: No—like I told you, we didn’t have time to. Like on the September 16 when they celebrate, you were glad that it was coming because there was going to be a 3-day celebration there. You didn’t have to work, but as far as like here in the United States—like Easter Sunday or Christmas or New Years—I don’t remember anything like that. Nothing. Mother’s Day or all that stuff, we didn’t do. I didn’t know anything about that until I got out of the service when I started going around with my girlfriend here. She taught me a lot of things I didn’t know about Christmas, New Year’s—everything like that. Now people out there are getting more civilized. They know what Christmas and New Year’s is. Let me tell you something—I’ve been real lucky. I have talked to—I have made a lot of trips to Mexico, and I’ve been treated nice. I never had any complaints, maybe because it is the way I express myself to the people or something like that. Same thing here. I’ve never been mistreated nowhere—United States, Mexico, Philippines, Japan, Australia—always treated nice because I have a lot of respect for people. I respect their rights, too.
TK: How long did y’all stay in—how long did you and your sister stay in Camarón?
JC: Nine years.
TK: Nine years?
JC: Nine years. Yeah.
TK: Did you ever talk to her about what she thought about Camarón?
JC: She doesn’t remember. She was too young. She remembers from when she was 11-12 years old. After that—nothing too much happened after that because I was always working. She did the housework, so we didn’t communicate too much.
TK: What did y’all—y’all lived there with Mr. and Mrs. Gutierrez, right?
JC: Right. I left—I talked to her one day when she was about 16 years old. I was—oh—she was 15. I was almost 17 years old. I told her, “We got to get back to the United States. It’s where we belong.” We were scared. We were afraid. So—there were people coming over to the United States, and I remember telling my sister, “This is your chance. You can go back to the United States,” and she took it. She came with the people to the United States to Laredo, Texas. I stayed about another 3 months in Mexico. I didn’t swim across, now. I came across the bridge. I asked him, “I’m going to the United States. I’m going to visit some people,” and here I am. See? Never went back.
TK: 00:26:37 Other people—you say other people were leaving too?
JC: Yeah—sí. During the summertime, like during baseball season, families—they had families over there. They used to visit them and bring a baseball team and play against the people over there. We got to know these people that knew my parents here, and the man told me, “I cannot take her all the way. I might get in trouble taking her all the way to Houston, but I have a family in Laredo. She can stay there until then and get some way or other to can come to Houston.” I told my sister, “Do the best you can and help these people when you get there, and I’ll be there. Just write to me here.” She did. She wrote to me.
TK: What’s your sister’s name?
JC: Manuela. She’s in San Francisco. She lives there.
TK: So she went back with them to Laredo?
JC: To Laredo, Texas, and she stayed with his family, and she wrote me a letter, and she gave me the address for where she was located.
TK: Why didn’t you leave right then?
JC: I was afraid. I was afraid of the Gutierrez people. They were very abusive of us. I hear a lot of things about the abuse of children. Those people—they were bad.
JC: Oh yeah—strict. And you didn’t have a say so in nothing. He drank a lot. That might be the reason. He was a macho man is what he was. I never did change my ways. I always—I think I’ve always been the same. I never have changed. He didn’t make me—didn’t influence me at all the way he was. Maybe that’s what made me be the way I am—maybe the way he was. I didn’t want to be that way, and I’m proud of myself in that way. I have a lot of friends. Everywhere I go, I make some friends.
TK: When did you finally make your move, though, to come back?
JC: Come back? It was 1939—sometime in September, 1939. I came to Laredo, Mexico, and I was afraid to come across, and I stayed out there by the river for a while until this family saw me out there. They said, “Well, you’ve been there for 2-3 weeks. Do you have anything to eat?” “Oh yeah—I have something to eat.”
TK: Hold on.
[end of OH 307_1] 00:31:11
TK: 00:00:03 Okay.
JC: Then they told me to come to the house. I just used to sleep in a wagon there. I was there for about 6 weeks in Laredo. So the man told me, “Why don’t you go see this man at the plaza. Maybe he needs some help,” and he did. I swept the floors at his fruit stand there and helped him around on the weekends, and he’s the one that bought me some clothes, and he’s the one that told me—he said, “You belong across the border. You don’t belong here. You’re an Americano. You need to go back.” He’s one that helped me get across. He told me, “Go there at 10 o’clock in the morning,” and they didn’t let me come across then. They said, “No, you need to have somebody with you like your father or your mother.” “Oh, okay.” So I went back and told the man. He said, “Go back at 2 o’clock—that’s when they change the shift—and tell them you’re going to see an uncle that’s sick, and you’ll come back. If it’s 2 o’clock, tell them you’re going for 2 hours and you’ll come back.” That’s when I went across there. I went to the house where my sister was, and at that time, people used to travel, like I told you awhile ago, on the farms. At that time was onion season when I got to Laredo, and there was a truck with people that were going to pick onions in different fields—you know—different towns. We came with these people, because that’s what we used to do—work on the fields. We came to Waco. Somewhere close to Dallas, we worked in the onion field, and they dropped us off in Waco. And in Waco—one of Mrs. Gutierrez’s sisters used to live in Waco—and they dropped us off there at her sister’s house. I told them I remember that we used to visit her. It was somewhere in Waco. We looked for her, and we found her house.
TK: You hadn’t told Gutierrez goodbye or anything?
JC: No. No—we just left. We just left. Then she told me, “Your dad is still alive. He is still in Houston with your brothers and uncle. You remember your brothers?” I said, “I remember but I don’t know who they are. I don’t know who’s who.” I remember I have brothers and sisters. I was 16 years old then—almost 17. She contacted Frank. That was the first brother I met—Frank—in Waco. He went to pick us up.
TK: 00:03:06 He came to pick y’all up in Waco?
JC: Yeah. I met him at the bus station in Waco. I didn’t remember who he was, but he recognized me.
TK: How did he treat you?
JC: I was afraid. I was scared, because I didn’t know what I was going to come up against. You know what? You never know. There was a feeling that—oh hell—I don’t know. It’s hard to describe that feeling. Then I met my father, and all my brothers were in the service by then. The two oldest brothers next to Frank had already volunteered before Pearl Harbor.
TK: Was this still in ’39 or ’40?
JC: That was in ’40 when we did. It was 1940, but the other brother was in CC Camp in New Mexico, so I didn’t get to see him. He left here in 1942, I think, because I left in the last part of ’43, so I was with him a couple of days. The rest of them—I didn’t see the other two brothers until they came back. We all came back from overseas in 1946. Frank gave me the address where to write to them, and we exchanged pictures. Joe, my brother, was in Italy. He was an engineer. Paul was in France, and Albert was in Alaska, and I was sent to the Philippines, and I’d get mail from all three of them. I didn’t know how to write English, so I wrote in Spanish. Well, I did write a few words in English.
TK: You came back to Houston with Frank?
JC: Yeah—from Waco.
TK: From Waco? In a car?
JC: Rode a bus. We had no car.
TK: Y’all came down here?
TK: Where did you live when you got here?
JC: We were living on the 7200 block of Avenue L, Magnolia.
TK: Was your father still alive at that time?
JC: Oh yeah. Un-hunh (affirmative).
TK: 00:05:46 What was it like for the—?
JC: I don’t remember because my mind went blank there for a while—for months. Really I don’t remember how was the reaction from seeing him, but I was lost for a while. I was—I don’t know where I was. I don’t know what happened. It’s a funny feeling. You get up in the morning, and you don’t know what’s going to happen to you, what someone is going to tell you or it’s not what your life was like before. You’re always waiting for something all the time, but everything turned out fine. All the family got together again.
TK: You lived in the house that your father had owned?
TK: What did you do for—you stayed there at the house for a while? What else? Did you go to work? Did you go to school?
JC: No. No—originally I didn’t work, because in 1940 there was nothing—’39, ’40, ’41, ’42 there was nothing. He had retired from the railroad. I stayed here about 9 months and then I left for the service.
TK: Did you volunteer or get drafted?
JC: No, I was drafted. The question was “how come you don’t understand English” or “why don’t you speak English?” I had to tell them and they understood. They understood because I had good proof that I was a Carrion, and I went in the service as Gutierrez—let me tell you—all the way through.
TK: You were Gutierrez?
JC: I was Gutierrez all the way through until when I came back from the service. Before I got married, I had to change it. I made up my mind to change my name to Carrion.
TK: Hold on. You went through the service as a Gutierrez?
JC: Gutierrez, yes. Then when I came back my discharge, all my papers, insurance and everything was Gutierrez. One day before I got married, I asked my father, “Look, I have to have my real name.” He said, “I’ll take you to see some people that can help us.” We went to Crespo Funeral Home, and Crespo knew me when I was born because he knew my father, actually. He buried my mother. He said, “Well, that’s no problem. I will help you, and I’m going to send you to Judge Casey.” You remember him—Judge Casey? Well, he knew my father. The judge knew my father. He said, “Well, I don’t remember you, but if your father says that you’re his son, you’re his son then,” so he signed the paper. He transferred everything, and there was the Judge Salazar. Do you remember him? He is up there. Felix Salazar—he is the one that typed all my papers and sent them to Washington, and I got them back. They said “Carrion.” Yes, sir.
TK: 00:09:26 What are your feelings about having stayed in Mexico for that time?
JC: I learned a lot. I don’t have any bad feelings about the people that raised me. I don’t have any bad feelings about going to Mexico. The only thing that I—education—that I really missed. Everybody needs an education.
TK: What about the United States? Did you ever think about—I mean—what were your feelings toward the United States because of that situation?
JC: I never thought anything of it—nothing. I’m glad it happened, because I learned how to live by myself—like during the war I didn’t have no problems. I wasn’t there too long, but the days that I was there, I enjoyed every bit of it.
TK: Your cousins that came back to the—they left Camarón. Did they leave about the same time you left?
JC: They went to—they went from Camarón to the state of Coahuila. I don’t remember the name of the town they were close by, but after they left Camarón they went to Coahuila, and they farmed there for a while, and the boys started to go back to the United States—the oldest ones. The two youngest stayed in Mexico. Then from Coahuila they moved to Matamoros, and my uncle died there, and my aunt died there, and the other cousin died there. He’s the only one that’s left with the land that they got hold of.
TK: Some of the boys came back to Houston?
JC: Everybody is here in Houston. Well, there was only three of them in the service, and one of them got killed overseas, and the two passed away here about 5 years ago.
TK: So they’re not still living here?
JC: No. No.
TK: 00:11:53 I see. What happened to Camarón?
JC: Camarón—I visit Camarón once a year. I enjoy it very much, because it brings back memories of when I was a young kid. Bad memories, but that doesn’t matter now. In Camarón I learned many, many things that any young man here—15, 17, 20, 25 years old—don’t know how to survive in case of emergency. You might, but 90% of the young people don’t know how to survive here, and I think I’d make it. I think I know how to survive, and I teach my family how to survive in case of an emergency.
TK: That was an emergency situation.
JC: You better believe it. Go hungry. Go without water.
TK: Did y’all have enough to eat in Camarón itself?
JC: For the first—for as long as the truck lasted. How long would the tires go? Two years? Two and a half years? It only lasted that long. I remember I was about 9 years old. During when there was no cotton, we hauled wood and we’d sell wood, because there were no gas stoves over there. Everybody burns wood, so we’d sell wood during when there was no cotton season. We made a living that way. I forgot to mention this too. In 1937-38, at the end of the ’37 or the beginning of ’38—now I’m not too sure—we had a storm come through there and wipe everything—a lot of people got killed there. The land became salty, because all that rain came from the west and brought a lot of salt from those rivers. There are a lot of salty rivers out there—out west—and all that water came all through there, and that land turned white like salt, and it was salty. We had our garden. We planted some watermelons, onions, or whatever in the garden. The plants came up about an inch high and that was it—died. No water. All the water was salty, and people started moving out then.
TK: People began to move out?
JC: They began to move. All right. If you’re familiar or you have talked to someone about this area in the state of Tamaulipas. They call that the Diesiocho de Marzo. They changed the name to Valle Hermoso. I don’t know how long it’s been since they changed the name, but a lot of people moved there to that area.
TK: From Camarón to that—?
JC: Right. Sí. That’s close to Matamoros—about 30 miles from Matamoros.
TK: 00:15:35 What was the first name of it that you said?
JC: Diesiocho de Marzo. Diesiocho de Marzo.
TK: Diez y ocho de—de
JC: —de Marzo.
TK: The sixteenth of—
TK: The sixteenth of—no—the eighteenth of March. Right.
JC: I haven’t asked anybody, but I figure that’s the day that like they open the town or something—when they opened the first office there and made it diesiocho de marzo, and that’s when it first opened. So they called it Diesiocho de Marzo, but years later they changed the name to Valle Hermoso, and that’s what they call it now—Valle Hermoso, but a lot of old people say Diesiocho de Marzo, because they’ve been there a long time.
TK: But y’all didn’t move there?
JC: No—we didn’t move. We left from there to here.
TK: Gutierrez didn’t want to move?
JC: 00:16:28 No, I don’t know what was their plans. I don't know. We just moved back to—they came back. I heard they came back later to the United States, but I don’t know where.
TK: What’s left of Camarón now?
JC: Like I told you, I’ve been visiting Camarón once a year. After the service—when I came back from the service—I visited Camarón. There was about 60-70 people—families—living there. I didn’t go for about 5 years, and it was down to about 20 families. Then from then I went about every other year, and now I’ve been going every year for the last 5 years. Three years ago there was 3 families. Last year there was 12 families. Well, they’re cattle raisers and they raise goats as their—it’s what they do.
TK: Is Los Palmas still there?
JC: No—there’s just a bunch of dirt all the way—you know—that used to (inaudible). The school—where the school was there’s nothing but mud in there. Part of the wall is still standing there. Where we used to get our water—it was right in the middle of the plaza. There was a water fountain. I don’t know where the water came from, but there was two spouts. The water was running all the time. They never shut off the water. That water ran night and day. The fountain is still there. The quiosco. What do you call a quiosco?
TK: A kiosk, I believe.
JC: I don’t know, but they tore that down. Three years ago, I was there and that lady used to—one of the families used to raise hogs inside the quiosco. They took the top off and left just the round thing.
TK: That’s where the bands play. The quiosco is like kind of a gazebo. I would call it a gazebo.
JC: That’s what it is. That’s what it is. Last year we were there. We were there in March last year. The quiosco was all torn down. The families are moving in there. They’re building a house out of block—concrete block. I talked to some of them. Some of them are—some of the people—the oldest people there were there when we lived there. They remember the family—the Gutierrezes—but they don’t remember us young people.
TK: 00:19:17 Is there anybody who was from Houston still there?
JC: No. From Dallas.
JC: From Dallas. Yeah. I don’t know if they’re still there, but they were there 2 years ago. There were some people there that used to live in Dallas. I asked the man where he was from and he said, “I’m from Dallas.” “And your family?” “Well, they all moved back to Dallas. Some are in Houston and some in Dallas.” He never—in Houston I was interested to find them--you know--so I could talk to them because they were the same age as we were, but he didn’t know where they were. Last year I went there. I asked for the man, but he had moved back to Dallas because he was sick. He didn’t want to come back. He didn’t want to come back because he had a little cattle there. Had a cow and some goats. He sold them.
TK: Why do you suppose that people who went back and stayed, stayed? I wonder why they stayed as opposed—you know—most people like yourself came back. Why do you suppose that some of them stayed?
JC: The old people?
TK: The old people.
JC: I don’t have any idea. Can’t tell you. I wonder about that, too. Why? There’s nothing there but mesquite and cactus, snakes. I don't know.
TK: You said as long as the truck lasted, y’all had a pretty good life?
JC: Pretty good life—yeah.
TK: What happened when the truck—
JC: When the truck was gone? He had to go to work in a different little town down about 12 miles—Anahuac. He went to work for—tame horses. He was a pretty good horseman, Mr. Gutierrez. He—
TK: To tame the horses?
JC: 00:21:26 —tame horses—yeah. Matter of fact, he raced horses. They had a race every Saturday out there. They’d go to a big hacienda and they had horse races and he’d race horses. He did that for 2 years, I guess.
TK: Anyway—Gutierrez raced horses?
JC: He raced horses and made a living out of that. We never—oh—we went hungry a few times, but not all the time. We always had something going on.
TK: Did you go to work then? You’d been working all along.
JC: Yeah. Well, I worked since I was 8 years old, plowing. I had my mule.
TK: How did the people get along there in the town?
JC: We never had any problems. Maybe we did. I don’t remember. The problem people came from outside, from another town. They’d get drunk and start raising Cain there, but it didn’t last long. Put them back on their horse and run them out. I remember that.
TK: Were there many cars in that town?
JC: No cars. I remember there was two taxis—Model-As. Then our truck and two or three cars around there. That’s about it. Most of the people that left here left in a wagon. Very few had a truck or Model-T truck back there, but they didn’t last very long.
TK: Everybody else had horses and wagons then?
JC: Horses and wagons. A lot of horses.
TK: Did you ever visit the Diesiocho de Marzo?
JC: Never been. Never did. I’ve been through there when I go to Tampico to visit some of my mother-in-law’s relatives. I go by there but I never have stopped. There’s people that used to live in Pasadena. They still live there. Their last name was Montoya.
TK: Who went back and lived in Diesiocho de Marzo?
JC: Diesiocho de Marzo. They were one of the biggest farm people there.
TK: 00:24:23 Did you ever talk to anybody that lived there and came back?
JC: No. No—never have. I know the Aldates (??), who live here in Magnolia, have an uncle who is a barber there. He’s from the United States. He still lives there. He’s still got the barber shop.
TK: How long did that storm last? Do you remember the storm?
JC: Yeah—I remember. I remember we—it started raining. Not like a shower. It came. That was it. It hit. On our house, the roof was coming off, so we got in a line holding hands and we walked across the road I was telling you about. We were right across the depot, and we went into the depot, and I remember that the hail was about as big as golf balls, and like a jet plane goes by, that’s what we hear sounds like that. Zzzzz—just like that. The depot was full of people already. We didn’t know. Some of them were bleeding because they got hurt. Their house fell on top of them, and they dragged them out and they dragged them to the depot. The depot was pretty well-built. They opened the door for us, and I remember the water—I don’t know how tall I was, but the water came up over my knee in about 10 minutes’ time of rain. When it stopped—I’ll never forget this—the guy who ran the station pulled out his watch and said that it was less than 29 minutes.
TK: The guy—
JC: He pulled his watch out of his hip pocket here and said, “This storm was less than 29 minutes,” and it was sunshine like a sunny day after that. But you look out there, it’s like an ocean—people, horses, animals, all kinds of animals out there—all dead. Drowned.
TK: Were there people dead out there?
JC: Yeah. I understand that—we heard later in the day that there were about 80 soldiers that died—that all the walls collapsed on top of. The station wasn’t very big but it was packed. I figure about 80-100 people were in there—children, women and men. A neighbor next door used to be a grave digger—dug graves—and he said he saved his life by getting into a hole and didn’t get blown away with the wind. I don’t know if you remember, or maybe somebody talked to somebody that remembers, but telegraph poles—there were no poles. There was railroad—sections of railroad tracks. You remember seeing them? We looked out there like they were bent like somebody put the fire iron here and bent them—when you heat it and bend it? That’s the way they were. I don’t know if they were bent from the ground or halfway, but the railroads were sticking out up in the air. I pulled a railroad track from the ground.
TK: 00:28:17 The railroad tracks pulled up from the ground.
JC: Yes, sir. Just like a bomb hit there and pulled everything out.
TK: The wind was high?
JC: It was strong. I’ll bet that wind was—oh—150 miles an hour. The houses were just down.
TK: Do you think it was a tornado?
JC: It could’ve been. We saw this black cloud coming out there, and we didn’t think nothing of it—you know. It was the first time we’d seen a cloud in 2 years. It hadn’t rained for 2 years. We were glad we were going to get some rain. Shoot—that was 19—the last part of ’38, I guess it was, because we were there a little over a year after that happened. We left there in ’39, so it had to be the end of ’39, so that would’ve been the last part of 1938 sometime—September or November.
TK: Twenty-nine minutes, huh?
JC: Twenty-nine minutes was all that it lasted.
TK: Did any of your friends get killed?
JC: The ones we knew were all—they were all in that station, because we were the closest to the station, but the people that lived on the other streets—I’d say 4 or 5 blocks in that area—some of them got hurt. This grave digger had a good business then. Those poor people—I tell you. To tell you the truth, we didn’t have no business over there. I don’t know why those people left in the first place. There’s no place like the United States—I tell you. If I would’ve been anywhere else, I would’ve said, “The United States, this and that,” like a lot of people think about it. But they’re wrong. Let them try. Let them try.
[end of OH 307_2] 00:31:00
TK: 00:00:06 But you don’t believe they had any business going back to Mexico?
JC: I don’t think so. Somebody must have sweet talked them or what we call—we say here, we’ll lower their eyes and make them believe what they were going to get when they get back over there, but they didn’t get nothing.
TK: 00:00:34 You didn’t speak any English when you came back here, did you?
JC: No, not at all. When I went in the service, they gave me 3 months’ school. I went to El Paso, and I was embarrassed, but when I got there it was all right, because—let me tell you—there were Cubans, Mexicanos, people from Louisiana, Alabama—Alabama or Houston—Mississippi. Man, nobody spoke English. They didn’t even know how to write English—their names. They didn’t know their names. I felt good because I knew mine. At least I knew how to spell my name, but these guys from Mississippi and Alabama—well—we had a good time. I had a good time with those guys too. I don’t know what languages they spoke, but not English. If they spoke English, I don’t know what kind of English it was.
TK: Were they whites, blacks, Latins?
JC: Yeah—whites. There were no blacks around there.
TK: They were white and they didn’t speak—?
JC: They spoke some kind of language. I didn’t know what it was. I made good friends with them—real good. They took their shoes off when they were downtown. They didn’t like the shoes—too heavy or something. They just put their shoes—
TK: Walked barefoot?
JC: Walked barefoot. They gave us 3 months of half-a-day school, and 3 months of half-a-day training—basic training, the fundamentals—you know—the Army training. That was in El Paso (??). When they brought the first prisoners of war—Italians—they kicked us out of the barracks, and they put the Italians in the barracks, and they put us out in tents. Then we were transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas, after we finished out 3 months of school. We went to Kansas in horse academy. I was in the horse cavalry there. A lot of people here don’t believe me that I was in the horse cavalry. They think I was in the First World War. No, this was the Second War. We had horses. We didn’t fight the war on horses. We used pack mules. That’s what was it was all about. The engineers used a lot of pack mules. They didn’t have no helicopters then. They used pack mules for everything.
TK: What did you do after you went to Fort Riley?
JC: 00:03:36 I started my training—about 11 weeks training there. I had my complete 11-week training or whatever it was.
TK: How good could you speak English at that time?
JC: Oh I was—enough to get along—you know—find out what was going on. When I came back, under the GI Bill, I went to the University of Houston about six months. That’s where I picked up most of it and reading. Let me tell you—sometimes I get all mixed up with English and Spanish. I can say a word sometimes—you get mixed up. I don’t know why. When I went in the service, a lot of people—a lot of young people—they had it hard, and they didn’t want to do the service, but I enjoyed every bit of it. I was—I’m proud I served in the United States Army. I never thought I would.
TK: After you finished your training at Fort Riley, then where’d you go? Where’d you go during the war?
JC: We went to the Philippines. They sent us to the Philippines. We just barely made the Invasion of Manila there. We were at the front for 17 days, and that was it for me. The war was over in that area, and we were going to Okinawa from there, but they changed their mind and they didn’t send the—I was in the First Cavalry. I think the 43rd went to Okinawa.
TK: Did you see actual fighting in Manila?
JC: Let me tell you the truth. I was in the mortars—they didn’t want me to move the mortars. We were back there from the riflemen. Riflemen are out in front, and they just told us to fire and we did fire. I didn’t see nothing. I didn’t see anything.
TK: What did you do on the mortars—I mean—the—the—?
JC: I was the first gunner on the mortars. I set the mortar and I got it ready. It had a little device where you could move your mortar to the right, left, high, down, or whatever the advisor that—had a telephone man at that time—how far was the distance.
TK: When did you get out of the service?
JC: It was in November of ’46.
TK: Where were you mustered out?
JC: 00:06:36 San Antonio, Fort Sam Houston. Fort Sam Houston.
TK: When you were in Mexico, could you tell any difference between the way the people spoke Spanish there and spoke it in Magnolia, or was it the same?
JC: Oh yes. No.
TK: Could you tell any difference between the way they spoke there in Camarón and how they spoke—?
JC: We still do. We speak different Spanish than they do in Mexico, because—for instance—the people that we live among there together in Camarón—they were all from here. Most of them were from here. When they tell you—well—go across the tracks, they tell you, “Go across the traque.” We call it traque. There is no such word as “traque” in Spanish. Track. Traque. Sometimes we make a word like sound like in English. Track. Traque. See? But a year—a little over a year later, we got to where we learned how to speak the real Spanish—Mexican—over there. Out here our children do the same thing. They call it traques still. Same thing. We use our English in a Mexican way that there are no words for. Like give me a push—English. “Hey, give me a puche.” What’s puche? That’s no word. See? That’s the way we speak our Spanish here. I understand the Mexican language pretty good. I understand what they’re talking about when they—
TK: You said there were soldiers killed during that storm. Did you ever see the soldiers during while you were there in Camarón?
JC: Yeah. We used to—about two blocks from where we lived they had the fort right there. I heard the bugler at 5:30 every morning. It’d wake us up every morning at 5:30. At that time, they used soldiers when we got there, because there still used to be a small group of people raiding the trains off in the mountains close to Monterey. They used to have soldiers—I think eight in every coach or car—you know—Pullman. The train would pull four or five cars. Eight soldiers in every car. That’s quite a bunch of people out there—soldiers. They had them in Camarón for that purpose—to protect the train from Laredo to Monterey, because when—I’m not too familiar with the Pancho Villa revolution—but in the ‘20s, in ’25 and ‘30s he was still raiding farms and farmlands and haciendas, and then the trains—they’d stop the trains too.
TK: 00:10:42 Did y’all have any of that kind of trouble around Camarón—immediately around Camarón?
JC: No. We never did—no.
TK: Did Camarón have a mayor that you remember, or city officials?
JC: No—the mayor was—I don’t remember having a mayor, but I remember having a police chief. No fire department. No nothing. I remember they had a big fire at the cotton gin one night. Matter of fact, it burned down. All the fire department came from Laredo. I think three or four fire trucks came from Laredo.
TK: Not in time, though?
JC: No, it was all burned down. It took them about 40 minutes to an hour to get there. It was all burned down.
TK: Were there telephones in Camarón?
JC: Yes, there were telephones, and there were street lights, and we had light in the house, but it wasn’t until about 3 years later that we had lamps. It was like everybody else.
TK: Oh, y’all had lamps in the—?
JC: Kerosene lamps.
TK: Kerosene lamps.
JC: Kerosene stove. We hardly burned any wood. The only time we burned wood was in the wintertime. Had a heater—a wood heater.
TK: What was y’all’s house like—the house y’all lived in?
JC: We had—the house we had had a like living room here and then two bedrooms and a kitchen, and everything was made out of—the walls were made out of adobe. The adobe was—what—14 x 12 or something like that and about 3 inches thick. We made it—the adobe.
TK: 00:12:44 Y’all made it there when you—
JC: We made our own. Yeah. We made our own and we build our own, but the roof was no lumber or any—like it is here now. They roof was made out of that grass that grows in the water. They call it—they call it thule. I don’t know what they call it in English. They sell it in the flower shops as a flower. They put off a flower like a weenie.
TK: Kind of like cattails. Isn’t that what they call it?
JC: That’s what it is.
JC: Sí. It’s that one—the reed they use. That one. It grows thick over there where there’s water. At that time there was plenty water around there. We used to cut that thule and let it dry. You’d have to watch it, because they’d steal it from you. You’d have to guard it through the night, because people would steal it from you. We’d cut so much this day. We’d haul it off to the yard. We would lay it out there and let it dry. When it dries out, we’d put it up on the roof of the house. I believe those were about 6 inches thick. It took a lot of that grass to make that roof, but the roof never leaked—never leaked. Of course, we’d have to be real careful with the fires, because if that thing caught on fire it would burn the whole thing. But all the furniture was from here. We took all the furniture.
TK: They took the furniture from the United States?
JC: We had a victrola with a speaker—you know—the dog—right there? We had one of those. We used to crank it to play it.
TK: Were there many of those in Camarón?
JC: I’d never seen it. We were the only one that had a victrola. They had little boxes. It’s very simple. A square box with a needle and a deal up on top—I don’t know what they called it—to play a record, but we were the only ones that had that victrola that had a large speaker and then also—what do you call them?
TK: I wonder where he bought that.
JC: 00:15:08 I remember he had it here in the Second Ward when we lived there.
TK: How old were they at that time? Do you remember?
JC: I don’t remember. I don’t remember.
TK: Were they about the same age as your parents?
JC: No, they were younger. I think they were younger. Oh—I figure he was about—Mr. Gutierrez was about 35, and Mrs. Gutierrez was about the same age. They were both pretty close, but they never did have a family of their own. We were the only two.
TK: Was she as strict as he was?
JC: Yeah. She was worse. Yeah, she was strict. She was the boss of the house. Yeah.
TK: What did the people of Camarón—they had the Dieciseis celebration. Did they have any other kind of social—was there a church?
JC: There never was a church there. I never saw a church, and I remember a couple of occasions where a priest was sneaked into the city to baptize children that were born—maybe they were already 4 and 5 years old—and they ran them out again. After that, I don’t remember anything else.
TK: Who ran them out?
JC: The people.
TK: They didn’t want any priests there? I wonder what—
JC: You want to get this?
TK: Yeah—I want to get this.
JC: There was no religion for about 9 years there that I remember, but the last year that I went to Camarón to visit Camarón we took a drive to the next town that is about 11 miles from Camarón. There’s a church. It was built 10 years ago, I think. In that area it is the only church. They just need it. But at those times there was no church in those towns. There was a lot of people that I don’t think they believed in church. They believe in having a good time, drinking. I remember that’s the way it was.
TK: 00:17:39 Any other social—I mean—did anybody play ball—like baseball or anything?
JC: Like I told you before, there was people from the United States come to visit their relatives over there—their uncles, cousins—and they’d bring the ball team. They’d bring the ball team from here—from Magnolia.
TK: From Magnolia?
JC: Second Ward—yeah. Well, they’d pick up people from Richmond, Rosenberg, and they’d make a team and go play the people over there.
TK: Do you remember what team came? Do you remember any of the people that came?
JC: No. I sure don’t.
TK: You were just too young?
JC: Too young. Too young.
TK: But people from Second Ward in Magnolia went?
JC: Yes, sir. They came to play ball there, because I remember the people that—I don’t remember their names—but the people that were from Magnolia were Second Ward—that live there. Their families visited them from here.
TK: After you got out of the service in ’46, what did you do then?
JC: 1946. I went to work for—I don’t remember the man’s name, but he used to make cardboard boxes for can companies, and they were located off of 75th Street. Then he sold his company to somebody, and then he moved. I don’t know where he moved to. This new owner moved, and I went to work for the Bama Jelly Company on Clinton Drive. I didn’t work there very long. I went to work for Shell. I worked there 3 years, and the transportation was bad then. People had no transportation. Sometimes the little truck this man had to take us to work didn’t run, and we’d miss a working day and all that, so I looked for a job here with Charro. That’s where I’ve been since.
TK: 00:20:19 What year was that when you went to work with Charro?
JC: It was 1952 when I went to work for Charro.
TK: And you went and stayed? You’ve been there ever since?
JC: Ever since.
TK: What is your position? What do you do at Charro?
JC: I am the supervisor of the printing department.
TK: When did you get married?
JC: We got married May, 1948.
TK: With a girl from Magnolia?
JC: With a girl from Magnolia, and I was very lucky—very fortunate—that I married this girl, because we knew nobody here in Houston. My brothers knew all the people. I was new here in Houston. I came to Houston in ’46. When you’re new in the town—well—you really don’t get out too much. I knew Christine about 6 or 8 months after I got to Houston. That was my only girlfriend I had in Houston—my wife. We enjoyed it. We enjoyed life together. We got married and we had three children, and here we are. We’re still going strong.
TK: I have no further questions for now, Juan. This has been a magnificent interview, and I really want to tell you I appreciate the time, and if there are any further questions I would like to—if it would be all right—I would like to come back sometime.
JC: Sure. Be glad to. I enjoyed it.
[end of OH 307_3] 00:22:25