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Interview with: Juvencio Rodriguez
Date: August 14, 1980
Archive Number: OH 292
I: 00:04 This is an August 14, 1980 oral history interview with Mr. Juevencio Rodriguez of Houston, Texas. 00:17 —assembled with LULAC
JR: —that energy and everything else—what we did at that time and what had happened. We put up a fiesta back in—I think this was in ’35—’36, ’37—I think it was ’35.
I: You all were putting on community activities at that time?
JR: Yeah—to help the tuberculosis drive. See, that will give you an idea—
I: Ball will fall Spanish Fiesta— (speaking simultaneously)
JR: —will fall Spanish Fiesta—they had it there on a Sunday. And McGraw, who was Attorney General at that time for the state of Texas. And then after that—shortly after that—he ran for governor and he lost to Pappy O’Daniel, but he was here that night as a main speaker telling the Attorney General to take part in anything when in which more than a hundred performers would appear. And that was—to add—the tuberculosis drive at that time back to Elva A. Wright was the chief physician at the Houston Anti-Tuberculosis League and—well this is just some of the things that happened there— (papers shuffling)
I: And this is out of the Chronicle in 1936 or 1937.
JR: Yeah, uh-hunh. (Affirmative)
I: Was tuberculosis bad in the Mexican-American community?
JR: Yeah—in the whole community—
I: In the whole community?
JR: Yeah—so naturally, we wanted—participated—in—you know—putting in our little two cents worth of effort in helping the Anti-Tuberculosis League. This is—this is Houston, September 2, 1937. That was the Houston Press. You—were you here? You wasn’t here—
I: We’ve got a lot of the Houston Press though— (laughing)
JR: And we helped them—they was having, at that time, an iron lung that they needed and we participated in that—send our little two cents worth.
I: Was this LULAC Council 60?
JR: Yeah, uh-hunh. (Affirmative) That’s fallen out—now, what’s this? (papers rustling) Now—this confirms—it got stuck in this paper—but this was a Spanish newspaper that was here at that time, El Texas Norte and it said, “No platitudes cerrar el Mexicanos como de color” and this is—at that time, we was putting in a drive for qualified voters and—this is that same Spanish newspaper again—another write-up on that Anti-Tuberculosis at the auditorium. And this is concerning the Social Security which was, at that time, Form SS-5—but, if someone dies they receive social security pension. When that came out—let me find this for you (papers rustling)—it’ll go along with—I’ve got some letters to that effect and—it came out in the paper—in all three local papers at the time and, I guess, throughout the nation. Now—that was in November—asking all people to register on Social Security and you had to go to the post office and they would give you an application and you would fill out your name, address, and so forth and so on—you see—and where were you employed and everything else. Then you would get your social security number, you see? 05:06
I: Okay—when it first came out—of the Roosevelt—
JR: Yeah—that was in 1937, during the Roosevelt administration. And Honorable Frank Bane was the civic director of the Social Security Board and—so—it came out in the paper. So we read the paper next morning—the Houston Post. I remember reading in that paper—always, I liked to read the paper early in the morning—you know. So, I’m reading the paper and having ham and eggs boiled. It said—and it said—let me explain it to you, what it said in the paper—it’s—I have a write-up to that effect— So we went to a congressman of the 8th district in Houston, which was—at that time—Joe Eagle. Years later, Albert Thomas ran for that position and beat Joe Eagle—and Joe Eagle had it for years. He acted all—last—last time he ran against Albert Thomas, all he did was announce in the paper that he was running for re-election. But, he made no propaganda, no publicity, no—nothing.
I: And lost.
JR: And lost! He—really, he just wanted to retire. So Albert Thomas took his place. Later on, Bob Casey took it over—he was kind of a judge in Houston—Bob Casey and Albert Thomas was an attorney. All right—now that’s—so much for those two fellows. So it came out in the paper—and this is what was in the paper—and we went to Joe Eagle to meet him—to the office—and we went in and talked to Joe Eagle at the Union National Bank building, which is the Pan American Bank now—so it’s at Main and Congress—it’s up there on the 8th floor— 07:14
I: Who went? Who went?
JR: I went and a fellow named Christian Mejosa—he’s dead now—and Fred Martinez—I haven’t seen Fred in 25-30 years. All right—he was the next veteran. Anyway—you can read that for yourself.
I: Okay—this is it, huh?
I: November 25, 1936 (reading) I see.
JR: Just—better to read the whole thing so you can get the benefit of it.
I: You all went to Joe Eagle and protested again—
JR: Right. Yeah—here’s a letter—I wrote that, complaining that we went to Joe Eagle— To verify that thing—this is what we did, and that’s what— (speaking simultaneously)
I: Yeah—this is November—
JR: —our first meeting here with Joe Eagle at his office.
I: “To protest being classified as Mexican. Funded under the—“ What—wait a minute. Having that put as—let’s see— Oh I—they were classifying you all as a “yellow” race—
JR: Right—and that’s—that was our complaint. So, here’s what Joe Eagle did—and that was just the first stop.
I: Joe Eagle sent a copy—
JR: Yeah—he sent a copy to me at that time.
I: Good—this is good correspondence. He sent that November 25, 1936! 08:49
JR: You see—it came out in the paper—on, about the twenty-fifth. The twenty-fifth? No—the twenty—about the twenty—because we went to see Joe Eagle the very next day.
I: How did he treat you all in the office? How was it—?
JR: Oh—he was—he was a prince.
JR: We talked how many had to do this and he said, “By God,” he said, “I’m going to get on it right now—” and you can see that it was— (speaking simultaneously)
I: Yeah—he—the next day, he got on—
JR: —out in the papers.
I: Yeah—he got on it.
JR: So then—
I: You had seen that in the paper, in other words. That’s when the first—
JR: Yeah—the Houston Post.
I: —the first time you’d noticed it—
JR: The first time that it had ever come out in the paper—you know. We knew about all this—you know—
JR: Just want you to know, we were keeping up with this and, all of a sudden—that’s the least place I’d expect it to come out from the government in Washington then. And so, here’s a reply to Joe Eagle and then—cause he sent me the thing during his—
I: Is this Bane?
JR: and then again—that’s three days later. Things was movin’—things was shakin’—whatever he— (laughing) 09:59
I: 10: 16 I see—so you all were to be classified—not as yellow—
JR: Yeah, uh-hunh. (Affirmative) It said it was a mistake that so many—I don’t remember how many had, but it states that—how many was—yeah. Then we—at the same time that we were doing this to—we went to Joe Eagle—that same day, we sent a—the same thing—to Tom Connally, who was one of—a U.S. senator in Washington, D.C. representing Texas. At that time, it was Tom Connally and he was in Washington. So we sent him this filing mess—the same day we went to see Joe Eagle. The filing date is on—that was the same—
I: Yeah—it’s the same letter here— Let me ask you—just—not the—on this same topic. Do you remember when Texas celebrated its Centennial in 1936?
JR: Yeah, yeah. (Affirmative)
I: How did they treat Mexicans, within that celebration?
I: In your opinion. In your—
JR: Well—it was a subtle acceptance—you know? It, more or less, was a “Hi, how are you this morning? I’m feeling fine. Glad to see you.” You see? And that was it—do you understand? They’d turn around and Boom!—stab you in the back. Do you understand? It was a subtle—no hard feelings, you know—but just—it wasn’t accomplishing anything because we ran into a lot of that, you see. Do you understand?
I: Yes—I understand.
JR: We gradually broke down barriers, you know?
I: How about during the—during the celebration itself? Did they—
JR: Well—during the celebration, we had Attorney John J. Herrera—yes, you talked to him, I believe—you interviewed him awhile— Well—we sent John J. Herrera because one of his ancestors was a signer of the declaration and he fought with Santa Anna; and he’d always been very close to it—you know—so we—for years—had sent him to lay the wreath over the San Jacinto Monument and he always just brought out all those Mexican-Texans that fought under Santa Anna, like Juan Jimenez, Flores, and Ruiz and—all the different—Guadalupe—you know. 13:11 (speaking simultaneously)
I: So fought with Sam Houston.
JR: Yeah—fought under Sam Houston—
I: Under Sam Houston.
JR: —see? Antonio de Bexar—Antonio Bexar County in San Antonio named after him—and, once again, Navarro, Matagorda—you see—you call it “Mat-a-gorda”—we call, “Mah-ta-gorda” because that’s what it is—it means “a heft plant.” We called it Matagorda. That was his last name—this guy. I can’t place—remember—his first name. But—anyway, Matagorda and Guadalupe and all these guys that all these counties are named—the Zavala and Hidalgo County and all those named after those Mexicans here that fought under Sam Houston. Otherwise, they wouldn’t—there wouldn’t be Hidalgo County, there wouldn’t be Matagorda and—
I: Navarro and all those other places.
JR: Uh-hunh. Uh-hunh. (Affirmative) You have much time now?
I: You bet.
JR: Okay—now, the same day that we—then we got two more sent by U.S. senators from Texas and Washington, D.C., following the same—following the same—
I: The same—more—
JR: So we—you know—we got our congressman and our senators to— (shuffling papers)
I: Okay—did you all get a reply from these?
JR: Oh, yeah, yeah, yes—of course. I’ll show you the replies that we got. (shuffling papers) There in here—they’re along somewhere—
I: Now here comes our Post—our Chronicle— photographer there.
JR: Yeah—get it—put it in there—let me see—now, let’s see—where was that now—?
I: Sure. What group were you all with at that time, when you all were doing this?
JR: We was—it was—two groups with this: then, the Migrant Club, and the—LULAC and we— (papers rustling) This is—was—from—during the—when we were trying to get a visit from Franklin Roosevelt and that—I was—I’ll show you some pictures from sending that.
MS: The Yellow Race.
I: The Yellow Race Yellow Fair. Oh, God—look—but they got it changed. They— You would’ve been classified as an Oriental-American. 15:41
JR: As a Mongolian—yeah! (laughs) Mongolian! Well, I’m telling you—
I: Yeah, you know—there would’ve been, instead of Mexican-style TV dinners, they’d have been Chinese. Oh—I’ll tell you, this—oh, there we go. But you all got satisfaction out of that series of correspondence that you all sent?
JR: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll show you the reply from him, direct to us. This is one. What else have we got here. (papers rustling)
I: Did you all have any dealings with Neal Pickett?
JR: Yep—un-hunh. (Affirmative)
I: How was he? How did—how was he?
JR: Oh— During his administration tributes to this— I want to show you some clippings.
JR: Put that up there, because that’s what goes with that file.
I: Okay. Oh, definitely.
JR: This is another that goes with one part of it over there with what you have.
I: Yes, that’s the one over here.
JR: This was what— Oh—this was 1964. I got that from—
I: Henry Grover—Hank Grover.
JR: Uh-hunh. Now this was with who is was out campaigning for Roosevelt for his third term. 17:29
I: Good night! Good night—that is incredible. What a—that is just something, isn’t it? Roosevelt for a third time—
JR: Now—in this here (unfolding paper)
I: Look at that. What a piece of memorabilia there. That’s when being a democrat meant something, friend. Let me tell you—you know—that’s—that was before lukewarm—you know—
JR: This is a photo from the—of the Fiestas Patrias—
I: This is a—
JR: —and now chairman of the—
I: You might want to shoot the history a little bit in the documents here—
JR: This is a—
PR: Basically, with all the—all the different stories we’ve heard, it’s just started.
JR: —I was chairman of the entertainment committee at the Fiestas Patrias—Cinco de Mayo, 1944 which took place at Jefferson Davis High School.
I: I see. You all had this at Jefferson Davis High School?
I: Did it turn out well?
I: Fifth of May celebration, 1944. That’s a fantastic document. That’s a fantastic document. Did you want—? (Everyone speaking simultaneously)
PR: Oh, we can just leave it and until some—
JR: Of course—you know, I had some photo static copies made of those that I showed you. See—here are the photo static copies. We did this because I needed some made for myself to petition LULAC. This is a reply we got from what’s his name?
I: Regarding Mexicans of form Social Security 5, question, instructions, item 12. The Bureau of Internal Revenue states that, not withstanding such instructions, Mexicans should be classified as white. Regret Bureau of Census decision was not made known to us until after approximately 40 million forms had been printed. A few mall mistakes had been made. You will, of course, realize that it would have been impossible to recall and reprint these forms, but trust our explanation and action fully covers the material. One of these days, they’re going to decide what you are. I mean—you know—they add all the Censuses, they’re going to decide what to—
PR: Well, we’re going to call you this tomorrow—
I: Or, we’re going to—you know— That’s an incredible juncture. 20:23
JR: Yeah. Well, that’s a—these are photo static copies. You—that material, you already have, you see.
I: But that’s—
JR: But that’s a photo static copy of that.
I: Oh, very good.
JR: This is—this, not everything came out so good. Well, let’s see what else we got here.
I: These are the kind of scrapbooks that are extremely important keeping—I mean, for people to keep these things, and this is extensive correspondence. You know—it’s just one kind of a small, early grievance kind of thing and—
JR: She looked through this, but I’ll show you what’s in here because this is assembly that I made as a petition to be given the honor of being called a “Distinguished Member of LULAC” and that’s just like a medal of honor in LULAC. It’s—don’t give it to anybody unless you—you know—
I: You’ve earned it. 21:24
JR: You’ve earned it, and so this is what I submitted to the Supreme Council in 1974 at the national convention in El Paso—and I did get my Distinguished Member. At that time, many of them Loudin was gone. National president of—
I: This is—
JR: I think I vetted him. I’ve been wanting to take it over to the LULAC clubhouse.
I: Yeah, this is a good—
JR: These and things like that.
I: This club—Club Selva?
JR: Selva, uh-hunh. That was back in ’41-’42—
I: Did you know—? You knew these girls in here? These ladies?
JR: Most of them—yeah.
I: These ladies?
JR: I knew most of them—yeah.
I: How often did they get together? Do you know?
JR: Oh, they’d get—they’d have a meeting every—once a week—but then every month they would have a—they would have a— Now this is the rights of the Selva. Have you ever been to the courthouse—county courthouse—in Houston?
JR: Do you see that bracket there in front of the—I call it the body of the courthouse—the old criminal court building on Fannin. And there’s a memorial there and there you’ll find the name of Joe Padilla. I knew the kid—knew the family, the whole family. We used to live in the same neighborhood and went to the same school, only he wasn’t old enough to play with the big boys—you know. But I knew the guy—knew him well—and he was the first casualty of WWII. 23:17
I: He was the first casualty—
JR: Yeah. Here’s the write-up and you go down to the county courthouse. Next time you’re at the criminal court building and you’re on Fannin Street, look at the memorial plaque up there. It’s a line of the—he was the first one from Harris County—from Harris County, not the first one from WWII, but the first one—
JR: —from Harris County.
I: Good night. He was killed in Bombay.
JR: There were fighting the war in Germany, and he was killed in Bombay.
I: He was killed in Bombay, that’s— What was the Latin Sons of Texas here? It says—
JR: A group all the members that you have to be a Texas-born to be a member.
I: Oh, I see. What years was it?
JR: That was, I think, in 1942-43. I have some more write-ups here with the dates on them.
JR: Now, here’s a—before this was done. Started here on January 16, 1941. That was—this was for the—we was over at the mayor’s office—Neal Pickett’s office. The mayor, that’s him sitting down there, I believe, and I remember in this picture, down here somewhere— I thought I rec—the committee—here. Here am I sitting down. Do you see it?
I: Yes, sir.
JR: That’s me right there.
I: I’ll be dog gone.
JR: That was when I had black hair.
I: That’s in 1941.
I: Was that part of the Latin Sons Club? Or is that—?
JR: Well—now, that was either LULAC or Latin Sons of Texas, whatever!
I: So you belonged to several clubs at the time—in the ’30s and ’40s?
JR: Yeah. I attended clubs at different—I was a member of Woodmen of the World, I was—International Club, and LULAC and Latin American Sons, Latin Sons of Texas, Woodmen of the World—whatever—Group Textitlan and, whatever. I don’t know what else. But I was trying to—you know—leap bushes somewhere, you know. Trying to get out of that slump. 25:46
I: So a lot of people that belonged to early LULAC where in other clubs too.
JR: Yeah. Yeah, sure. The only thing is that they didn’t have sense enough to save so damn much stuff.
I: That’s right. What is this picture here? This photograph—
JR: Oh, that was one of those CC camps up in Colorado that my nephew sent me. He was in the CC camp up in Gordon Springs—in Colorado? Somewhere up in Colorado.
I: Let me grab my pencil here. Let me put that on my— That’s—
JR: Yeah, that was during the Roosevelt administration. He was trying to get the nation back on its feet and he came out with all different kinds of—he was always doing something to get somebody— He got the Houston city hall, at that time—1937, was built with government funds during the Depression. That was—that’s city hall.
I: City hall. (speaking simultaneously)
I: I wish somebody would tell Carter that—
JR: And the music hall and the coliseum was built with government funds. You know, you’d put in $25, the government put in $75. That’s how the govern—that’s how we got to build that thing. This is something else, and this is some—and this—you have—concerning—still the same thing on the tickets there for the President’s Ball—the Ball.
I: I see. Back in the ’30s—
JR: And here’s the reply from that there social security. That’s part of it, because you—you got some photo static copies of that up there somewhere.
I: Yes, sir. I see what you mean.
JR: This particular day—I got some more write-ups. There in there somewhere. They’re all next to— It was— You’re asking me how they treated us? Well, that’s part of it there. That happened—you can see the date on it, right there, when it happened.
JR: Yeah. Concerning the San Jacinto Day.
I: And what did he say? What was his reas—
JR: Well, read—just read it and you’ll get the kick out of it.
I: “Latin Americans of the city have been aroused by Mr. Starkey. Starkey’s remark at a recent city council meeting about ‘paying Mexicans for the day they were beaten’ referring to the San Jacinto Day holiday for city employees of Mexican extraction. ‘Mr. Starkey showed his unfamiliarity with facts in making such a remark,’ Ramon Longoria of Harlingen State president said. Mr. Longoria declined to take any part in the controversy as a local matter, however.”
JR: Yeah. It was a local matter and I damn well—did we—mean it. ’Cause I’ve had people— (everyone laughing) You’ll sign this. We went out there and, I’m telling you, we just loaded on him. I mean, we unloaded bushels and barrels on him and finally, just—the write-up in the paper there says—Mr. Starkey done had enough of that.
I: Did he apologize?
JR: Yeah, he apologized and everything else and said— Well, here’s another one that says about the remark and so forth. He called it, “It was a just a joke” and—you know—he didn’t mean nothing by it. Well, God damn, it was in the papers. That was news in the paper for about three weeks.
I: Yeah? That’s good. 29:25
JR: Yeah—especially the Houston Press. The Houston Press was a gossip newspaper and—but when they got hold of something like that, they played it up. So they had—they gave more than Starkey could take. (everyone laughing) And boy, what we got after— Now you asked me that question. Now here’s part of your answer—
I: Yes, sir. Here’s a letter by John J. Herrera, by golly, in 1930!
JR: It’d be three or four of them as you go up there. It’d be John Herrera and John Dura—he’s not in Houston anymore; he’s in Florida. He went in the army. He was an attorney here in Houston. I think he was the first Houston Mexican attorney. John Dura. So he enlisted and went in the Air Force and after he got out of the service, he liked Florida so well so he moved there, stayed there, and married; and then he went to work for Pan American Airways. And I think he’s still with Pan American. I’m not sure. I haven’t seen John Dura in about 20 years. But it was John Dura, JJ Herrera, myself, and a boy named Otto Vialban; and he—we’ll be there every dang Wednesday. We’ll—and raise hell about something! Couldn’t get no jobs in this city and those, at the time—putting Mexicans to work, they would be classified as temporary employees, not under civil service.
I: Within the— 31:16 [End of Tape 1]
I: [00:02] —what I posed originally.
JR: Well—in those days, it was tough—you know. If you was a Mexican, if you had a—I mean, if you was light complexion and blue eyes—and many Mexicans are, you see—blond and everything. I have a cousin—if you’d see him, you’d think he was German. He’s light-complected, blonde-eyed—blonde-haired—and blue eyes. His name is Juvencio Vasquez and when I first met him, he was going to school, he was just a country boy—a little thing, country boy out of Floresville,Texas, see? And when we went to visit my uncle in Floresville, Texas and we were sitting’ in the farmhouse there at the porch and drinking lemonade under a big, large plantain tree and my uncle and my dad and my aunt was at the porch talking’—you know—and they was talking’ and we kids was out there playing’ and my uncle made a remark, he said, “Here comes an ambulance.” So—you know—my mother looked and everyone in that picture, we looked and seen this kid coming across out of the corn—cotton—field towards the house and I thought he was—because the owner of that farm lived about 100 yards away from—there was a little hill there—and a bunch of oak trees and pecan trees lined that house and I thought that he was the son of the owner when I saw him. I didn’t think he was Mexican and he kept coming straight to—you know—he recognized my father. We didn’t know each other, but he knew my father. So he starts smiling to us—you know—and he came down and he hugged my father and all that crap—you know—and my father introduced us. He said—you know—“This is your little cousin.” We starting yakking—you know—but I was still surprised and shocked. I thought, hell—he ain’t —Mexican. I used to—you know—to myself I was saying, he ain’t Mexican—you know—because he— 01:58
I: Was such a—
I: —fair, blue-eyed—
JR: —and blue eyes and blonde hair! He ain’t no Mexican! I couldn’t believe he was talking to me in Mexican and I couldn’t believe he was a Mexican. (Interviewer laughs) Well anyway, let me tell you—if your—if you have the surname was Rodrigo, Gonzalez, or Garcia and you went in to the city or the county to the railroad or be at a stool and you was to eat at bakeries, to apply for a job—you know—they said, “Well, we don’t ever get any applications from you people. How are we going to put you to work?” That was the first excuse. That’s talking to hardly personnel management, different company. That was the prime excuse they had. They said you people never come around and apply and fill out applications. How are we—how do we know if you need a job? If we need people we hire them, but you people never come around. He was talking about Mexicans never coming around to apply for jobs. So finally, then we came to the point where that was a scam that we keep track of all high school graduates and we would contact them, and we would ask them to go to all these different companies and make out applications, you see—applying for jobs, high school graduates. So then we would check with those boys back at the house. He said, “Well, I made me an application, they took it and they said to hoot, they’d call me. They said, ‘Don’t call me. We call you.’” Around that place goes way back then and so then we would follow through. Well, this has been 6o days. So then the committee would go from LULAC. 03:51
I: From LULAC?
JR: And talk to again, Mr. So-and-so, personnel manager, say, of Red Roller Bill and we’d have a live table discussion with him—you know—over a cup of coffee, things like that, and oh, they’d— like I said, they’d—we was coming in—they’d— There was one time here after that—you know—we kept going back to where they’d call us by our first name, you see?
I: But they were not hiring Mexican Americans?
JR: But they were not. No—they would not. The city, the county wouldn’t hire any.
I: I’ve always heard that Holcombe was supposed to be this big friend of the Mexicans. Was—wasn’t it—?
JR: Yeah—that’s why we got after Holcombe because, God damn he—every election—you know—he’s campaigning and—hell, he had the Mexican vote in his vest pocket, you know?
I: Well, did he do anything or—?
JR: No—not a damn thing. That’s the first job he gave—the first place we had some of them work for the street and drains department. They were putting in a new gas line. The city, at that time, owned that gas line. They were working for the city digging ditches. JJ Herrera was the one who voted for that crew. There were probably about 40 or 50 of them, and JJ Herrera was the one who voted—he’ll tell you that. They were temporary employees and they thought they were working under Civil Service until this San Jacinto Day came along and everybody got paid, but them! Well, that one day laid-off. Do you understand?
I: And they hadn’t been under Civil Service at all?
JR: No—and all the time, they were under the impression that they were because they were working for the city, you see? Do you understand?
I: Uh-hunh. (affirmative) It’s perfectly clear. Perfectly clear—I heard that somewhere before. Sure they weren’t and Holcombe knew that this was going on while—
JR: Well, hell yes—you better believe that he knew that. And that’s why Holcombe—we got after him and every time after that he was busy and you couldn’t see him. He was in conference or he was out of town. Do you understand?
I: (05:59) Sure.
JR: So we took it out of Sharkey for making that remark. One thing followed the other. So we broke the ice—and just to show you how funny things were, we used to go in there begging and fighting and breathing air. The day of the festival they’re begging us to supply personnel—the City of Houston, the fire department, and the police department came to LULAC meetings and said, “We need your cooperation. Help us to recruit some of these fellows.” But some of these fellows now, they don’t want the policeman job or fireman job. They’re making a hell of a lot more money than the damn police department can pay them. It turned them around.
I: And LULAC, in the beginning, had an influence on this? Y’all were from LULAC—
JR: Oh, yeah—naturally. Yeah. I was the first one, under the Neal Pickett administration to go under Civil Service—in 1941.
I: You were the first city employee to go under Civil Service?
JR: Yeah. I was the first Mexican American to go under Civil Service in 1941. And then, from then on, I went to work for the city on temporary basis. It was understood by Neal Pickett and I—now this is between us here now, you understand—?
I: Sure, I understand.
JR: I told him—I said, “I’ll help you, I’ll campaign for you, I’ll furnished my own expenses—won’t cost you a damn thing. I think your going to win.” I said, “I’m going to see that you do.” I said, “I’m going to help you all I can—won’t cost you nothing—but under one condition: between you and I, I said, “If you win, I want to go to work for the city in any capacity—under Civil Service.” It’s a deal. He was elected. Six months later—I was working for myself. Finally, I decided to go down there and talk to him and see him; and it opened the God damned doors to me—all around. In his private office was a man he called Prince of Gilbert. He was the Civil Service Director then and he called him to come and here he comes with two—or five—other people. Five other people come with him. He comes and he says, “You know Rodriguez?” He said, “Oh, yeah! We campaigned together.” You see, Lewis Cutrer—legal liaison—was mayor. He was the city attorney. He was in that campaign. Everybody got a piece of that pie, you see?
I: (08:34) Sure. Not any of them were involved in politics—well, the first example of this—
JR: So then he said, “See what you can find. Rodriguez—I want Rodriguez to go to work as soon as possible—like tomorrow.” He said, “Mr. Mayor, I’ll see what I can do.” He said, “Just follow me.” We went down there and he pulled out an application and said, “Just sign and date of birth and then your name here. I’ll take care of the rest of it.” You see, once you get in the fold you got it made. I had no problem, see? All I had to do was just sign my date of my birth and place of birth—and sign my name on it. That was it—he filled it out—did like the rest of us. It was no problem. It was so easy. Maybe before it was him. Once you break that ice—it was so easy. So then I brought in five more guys— (both laugh simultaneously)
I: Who did you—
JR: I put my brother to work with the police station and he stayed there for thirty-five years, until he retired. Then I brought a fellow named Sam Pena—he was a ball player and I knew him way back in school. He went to work at the maintenance plant because he—public business like the auditorium before they tore it down and built the Jones Hall and the coliseum and the music hall—maintenance. And then six months later he was in charge of the whole damn thing! But it’s a law, and from then on, it bloomed.
I: Under Neal Pickett, in other words?
JR: Yeah—and then we hit the county—we hit the county—then we hit the state, and then, now—it’s all over. Today—it’s gratifying to me—you know—that’s my compensation for those years that I served for my community. Unbeknownst to these guys now—Mexicans that are working for the city of Houston, you see oodles of them now—and they’ll see me walking down the streets and then I’ll see them working for the city; and it comes to my mind—this is what I’ve done. But they don’t know me from Adam and Eve. I could walk by them and you try to tell them something like that—hell, they don’t even know LULAC exists! The kids don’t know that because of LULAC they got the damn jobs—today. That’s what we did in those days for these people. So that’s how it was. Today is different. It’s a different ballgame.
I: (11:28) But while Holcombe was in, people were classified as temporary employees?
JR: Right—and all the time, we were under the impression that we were under civil service—until this thing happened.
I: To the Starkey incident?
JR: Yeah—and that’s when we found out were the temporary employees—not permanent. One thing followed after the other and that’s when we snapped.
I: In 1930—okay, this was in 1930, right?
JR: Uh-hunh. (affirmative)
I: When was LULAC formed here in Houston? When did 60—60 was the first Council, right?
JR: Uh-hunh. (affirmative)
I: When was it founded—and how was it founded in Houston? What was the story?
JR: It was founded by a member—he had been an active member in San Anton. He was— Founded in Corpus in 1929. I don’t know if you have anybody with any—did Isidro give you any material concerning that?
I: (12:31) Yes, he gave me some of it.
JR: I have some here—I don’t whether—
I: Yes, sir—we’ve got one of those. That’s fine— That’s the one— Yes, sir—we have that. But that was founded—it was founded in ’29. Then what happened here in Houston?
JR: It spread on down to Houston. We were Council 60.
I: Who came and founded it here?
JR: A fellow named Hernandez. He was the first president of Council No. 60. Mariano Hernandez. He brought LULAC to Houston and—
I: What was he? What was his job? What did he do?
JR: He was a clerk. He was working for a produce wholesale house on Commerce Street. He drove a truck and he was a rock salesman. He was putting tether links in. He made deliveries, and he made sales and service. He’s the one who involve with the Houston—
I: Had he been in Houston long?
JR: Well—he had—yeah, he had been in Houston for quite awhile. He had been in Houston for quite awhile.
I: When did you come into it? What—
JR: In 19—beginning of 1934.
I: Is that when it was founded in Houston—or what year did he put together—
JR: Well, that’s when we applied for the charter. I would say it was founded—in 1934.
I: Here in Houston?
JR: Right here in Houston, so—
I: Did you—were you all made up of other clubs here in Houston or were you—
JR: Well, members of other clubs—people that were interested in getting something—a commission of—like these fellows I mentioned to you—myself and several others who said, well this is what we need—and it’s a statewide organization; there’s more strength in unity, plus it’s a state organization—and this is what we need. So that’s how I— That’s why I joined it. I wasn’t having any problems at all in getting jobs—or anything—because I went to school here. I was born here—went to school here, played football and the kids used to hang out. We used to go to Al McBennett’s for later on for that and ballroom. It was right there on Rusk, between Main and Fannin, on the south side going east. It was up there in a two-story building. That used to be the Al McBennett ballroom and that was the place to go then. That’s where all the senior hang out, and now they’ve gone in there and rebuilt. They wouldn’t admit Mexicans in now, but they’ll tell you they’re Italian. They thought I was Italian because they were about three or four Italian players on our team and there was some more on the other side. At that time, there weren’t but two out—there wasn’t but two high schools here in Houston. It was Central High, which is Sam Houston now. It was downtown. And then Heights High, which is Reagan now, but at that time it was Heights High.
I: (16:09) Which one did you go to?
I: You went to old Central?
I: And you played football there?
I: Well, I’ll be darned. Where were you working at the time that LULAC was founded?
JR: Well—I was working for myself over at the farmer’s market. There’s a farmer’s market down Preston—do you know where Preston Street Bridge is at downtown?
I: Yes, sir.
JR: (16:33) Well, right on the south side of it was a farmer’s market there—the whole—well, the freeway runs through there now—you know where that’s at?
I: Yes, sir.
JR: And there used to be a farmer’s market. I had always followed the produce business, since I was a kid. I went to work for Henke, dealing. I was ten-years-old when I went to work for Henke & Pilot after school.
I: Did you know Ziggy Fruit?
JR: Yeah, well—
I: Did you ever hear of a man named—
JR: Yeah, I know him well. I read—there was a nice write-up in the paper on that “Eyes of Texas” they had a week ago.
I: On Ziggy—on Mr. Fruit?
JR: Oh, yeah—I know him well.
I: He was in the produce—
JR: I knew his daddy—yeah. You see, I was born—he was about my age—Zig’s a little older than me. I’m seventy-three and Ziggy’s a—way past seventy-three.
I: Oh, he’s a colorful character, isn’t he?
JR: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
I: He was a—
JR: That’s all he’s done all his life.
I: (17:30) Did Hernandez—
JR: He’s never done anything but that.
I: Just that? Who did Hernandez work— Did— Hernandez didn’t work for Ziggy, did he?
JR: Hernandez was— Yeah—he did.
I: I thought—because he mentioned Hernandez’s name to me.
JR: Yeah. Yes—come to think of it, he did.
I: He worked for Ziggy for— We got a picture of Hernandez by the—
JR: He was working for Zig’s Fruit— Yeah, he was out there working for Zig Fruit, come to think of it, when this happened—when we organized LULAC. So that’s the reason I considered— I am a charter member—council member. Zig—
I: You were a charter— Who were— Can you remember some of the people who helped?
I: The names that stick out?
JR: Well, right off hand—now JJ Herrera was one of them.
I: All right.
JR: I think we joined it the same day. John Herrera, Arturo Villalba, John Duhig, Marsalis or myself, Ezekiel Salinas—he passed away a year ago—just downtown boys that I can remember. Emanuel Crespol, Dr. Gonzalez, Dr. Reese—he’s passed away, of course, Mariano—he was the ramrod.
I: When was Mr.— When did Mr. Garcia come in? Did he come in later to LULAC?
JR: Yeah—about two years later. He came in about two years later. Then—
I: How many people would you say first started it? How many—off-hand?
JR: 0:19:07.3 When we got our charter, we were better than 300 members.
I: Oh, you had 300?
JR: We had better than 300.
I: Had y’all met before y’all were chartered in ’34? Had y’all met?
JR: Some of the fellows that had joined—most of them lived in Magnolia. We got in a good bunch out of Magnolia. And a good bunch from downtown, but they outnumbered us.
I: The Magnolias?
JR: Yeah. Uh-hunh. (affirmative) And when we got our charter I think we were about 325 membership in the council that—
I: Had they met— Before 1934, had the group been getting together in Magnolia or Houston or—
JR: Yeah. Uh-hunh. (affirmative) In Magnolia. In Magnolia, we met at the Union Hall down Avenue N in Magnolia. That was the first meeting, because— The first meeting they had was in a fellow—he’s dead now—his name was— It’ll come to me.
I: Okay—that’s all right.
JR: And it was in his house and it then it got to where they decided it was—the house wasn’t large enough to meet. So they passed a hat around and collected a few pennies. We decided to rent the Union Hall. The Union Hall—most of them worked as longshoremen and belonged to a union, so through that relationship we moved in there because it was, literally, nothing. But then, in a very short time, there was more than the place could hold so we decided to move to Salon Juarez—which is the Y.W.C.A. building today. It’s on Navigation—I think it’s on the 7600 block, just before you get to 75th, it’s right there on your right-hand side, built on stilts. That was our meeting place there for a long time. Then we decided that was too damn small because the meetings were well-attended. So then we decided to move downtown.
0:21:32.3 We had an election because there were some hard guys that didn’t want to leave Magnolia. They said no, it was founded in Magnolia and it’s going to stay in Magnolia. So anyhow—we had an election and we beat them by one vote. It was 100—at that time—that meeting—the first meeting—there were a 126 of just 123. We beat them by 3 votes to move to downtown Houston. So then, they named a committee. Luis Gonzalez—now that was another charter member. He was a ball player, and he played first base with a local baseball team here. He was in that committee, Manuel Crespol was in that committee, and oh, I can’t remember how many.
But anyway, they went to the M&M Building, and they went to—oh, whatever building down there. There was another building downtown. They went downtown, and they went to the Milam Building; and the Houston Club had just moved out of the Milam Building, which is adjoining to the Houston Chronicle—which is all one building now. But they built the Milam building on top and adjoined it to the old Houston Chronicle—and there was the old Majestic Theater used to be there. The old Majestic Theater used to be there, and then they tore it down and built it. But the Milam Building went up this way, and this way; and joined the old Chronicle Building and went up to the tenth floor. So they found this building—the ninth floor—and that was hard times, you know, for literally nothing. But all kinds of service in the elevator, telephone, all kinds of accommodations. So we decided to take the Milam Building, and at that time we were paying twenty-five cents in our dues! Twenty-five cents, at that time, was hurting. Twenty-five cents, you could go a long way. You could get three hamburgers for that.
JR: 0:24:03.7 You can’t now, though.
I: No, you can’t even get one. You can’t even get an iced cola.
JR: So we rented the Milam Building and that’s how we took to that. Then we moved out of the Milam Building and then we started meeting at the courthouse. We were over at the Criminal Court Building now and they done tore that building down. That was part of the Albert Thomas Convention Center there now. Then we moved out of there and we moved to the civil courthouse—the Criminal Building downtown—the old courthouse. We used to meet over at the old county jail, we used to meet at Judge Wilford’s courtroom. When we moved out of Judge Wilford’s courtroom, we went down to Judge Harlan—at the downtown building, Criminal Courts Building. Then we—1950 something—then we bought this place out here on Bagby. We remodeled it and rebuilt it. But that’s the—
I: But y’all started out at Magnolia, really.
I: And then moved around.
JR: It’s known as Magnolia Council No. 60.
I: Why is it No. 60?
JR: It was No. 60 to apply for a charter.
I: A charter? I see.
JR: Now there’s some of them running up in the thousands—the number.
I: So it was the sixtieth charter—but if it was chartered in 1934, it hadn’t but five years passed since it had been founded, in other words.
I: 0:25:50.9 When did people first start—when did Mr. Hernandez start getting people together, though. In 1930 or 1931—or about what time would you say?
JR: No. Along about—it didn’t take long because I think that when I went—when we went, we all signed and went for the first meeting. I think it was about—not quite two months old.
I: So y’all had started in ’34, huh?
JR: Yeah—because when I joined it, they were in the process of applying for the charter. We needed a certain amount of money.
I: At that time, what clubs were you in?
JR: At that time, I was with the Workmen of the World. I was with—oh, I can’t think of what it is.
I: Any Mutual Aid Society?
JR: Yeah—the International Club. And later on I joined the Mutual Society—Mutualista Mexicana. I dropped out there a long time ago and the International Club dissolved—after the War it dissolved. And it was most of the members that organized the International Club because Mexico Belo was organized first, in ’28, but it was dormant for a long time. So then we organized the International Club, based on the same principles that Mexico Belo had been organized. But it went dormant for a long time; it was very active and went dormant. It stayed alive. They had meetings, but no functions or nothing. So we organized the International Club. Then the War broke out and a lot of members went and joined the Service, so they went dormant.
I: Well, the International Club went dormant not—
JR: Because of Mexico Belo.
I: Oh, I see.
JR: 0:28:06.6 And then the International came along.
I: But International—
JR: But it was composed mostly of members from Mexico Belo.
I: But in the War, it went dormant, huh?
JR: Yeah—uh-hunh. (affirmative) And then it came back again. After the War, it came back again.
I: International Club?
JR: Then the International dissolved, and the Mexico Belo continued.
I: When did International Club dissolve? Do you remember? Around what year?
JR: About ’47, ’48—something like that.
I: I see.
JR: Yeah—along about that. Uh-hunh. (affirmative)
I: Let me ask you this, Mr. Rodriguez. Let’s go back, kind of to the beginning. Have you got a few more minutes? I mean, can you talk to us—are you tired or anything?
I: Start out—how did you come to Houston? You said you were native born. How did your family get to Houston? What was the situation then?
JR: 0:28:59.7 My daddy was a carpenter by trade. He was from the state of Durango. He was born in the city, which is the capital, of Durango. Durango, Durango. And he was working for the Ferrocarriles Nacionales—it’s called the National Railroad, and partly owned by the Southern Pacific. Gringos everywhere.
I: Everywhere—that we know of.
JR: Yeah. So my daddy and my mother got married; and since my daddy was a railroader, it was no problem of getting a pass. So when they got married, they came for their honeymoon to San Anton through Ferrrocarriles Nacionales and the Southern Pacific. It was no problem—one railroad—two different names, but one railroad. So in those days, the revolution was beginning to break out in Mexico. Madero and all those guys. He was a Rembrandt—Madero. And later on, Villa and Zapata came along. But Madero was the—
JR: Yes—he was the main man. And things—doing guerilla fighting in Mexico. In different parts of the country, there was a lot of guerilla fighting going on until, finally, they all got together. In central Mexico was Madero; in the south, was Emiliano Zapata and in the North was— 0:30:46.0 [End of Tape 2]
JR: 0:00:08.5 [Tape 3] So they came to San Anton for their honeymoon. Then while they were in San Anon for their honeymoon, the revolution broke out. I mean, it really broke out. So people started getting away from there. In those days, all you had to pay was five cents, and you could cross the river and nobody would ask you nothing. You pay a five cent toll; you either went or came. Nobody said nothing, as long as you paid the five cents. That’s how it was then. Can you beat that? No questions asked.
I: God. That’s incredible.
JR: It’s incredible.
I: That’s incredible. Now it’s a federal law. I mean, you just get—
JR: So when they were in San Anton, people began to get away from the revolution. And they met a bunch of friends. They were working for the railroad in Mexico, and they got to talking together—and my dad didn’t want no part of that. Anyway, it was as natural they were here. They were running away from it. If you had a trade—if you were a brick layer, carpenter, or any kind of trade—you had a good life in Mexico. A craftsman will always have a place somewhere. There’s always something going on—buildings, construction. So if you’re a craftsman, regardless of what part of the world you’re in, you more or less have a job. There’s always demand for you. So they decided—daddy decided—he wasn’t going back until everything was settled, which took quite a while.
I: 0:02:00.6 Yes, it did.
JR: Meantime, he had met a friend. They’d known each other back home, and they worked together. He said by then rumors were getting around that Houston was a boom town. So naturally, they wanted to follow their trade so they went off and said we’ll have a time to find a job, which they didn’t. So here they come, to Houston.
I: So people within the Mexican community knew that Houston was a boom town. I mean, everybody back in San Antonio?
JR: Everyone in San Anton knew that Houston was a boom town, back in—that was about—because I was born in 1908 and my daddy came to Houston in 1907. My mother was pregnant. So that’s how come my daddy came to deliver in Houston. And he went to work for the Houston Electric Company, which is the Metro Transportation now.
I: I see—it was the first transportation system then.
JR: Yeah—it was streetcars then, and it had a barn right at the foot of—in fact it’s where Texas Avenue begins, on Smith.
I: Good night.
JR: Which they opened it now, and they’ve done away with the farmer’s market and they opened up Texas Avenue, running through there a freeway—plus all those streets there that they built around that. But that was a dead end—Texas Avenue—dead end right there.
I: 0:03:35.2 At Smith?
JR: At Smith.
I: And they had a barn up the street—
JR: It was just off of Smith—off of Texas, on Smith, just before you—and Capitol. But that street was a dead end, you see, and the only way streetcars would come in there and that was a barn for streetcars. They killed that barn.
I: What did your dad do there?
JR: He was a carpenter there.
I: He was the carpenter?
JR: When it was—he had a picture and I’ve been looking for that damn picture. Somebody in the family’s got it and I can’t get hold of it. He took a picture of the building and it says on the top 1910, and my daddy was in the front there. There was a—didn’t they used to make concrete, by shovel—and the carpenter part of it was over with. So my daddy was a brick mason helper, and he was mixing that mortar; and this guy came along and said you want to take a picture? And they said yeah, let’s take a picture. My daddy was wearing blue jeans, I believe, and a white t-shirt and he’s standing like this—you know—smiling. And in the back of him used to be Houston Electric Building, which says 1910. They were just putting the finishing touches of it, you know? So my daddy was more than a carpenter, but being in that line of business, you’ve got to be a painter, a carpenter, a brick layer.
I: You did everything.
JR: Yeah, when it came to construction work, he was there.
I: Was he big like you? I mean, you’re a big man.
JR: Yeah—he was about 5’11”. About 5’11”.
I: About my size.
JR: Yeah, uh-hunh. (affirmative) He weighed about 160 pounds, something like that.
I: Was he, at that time, the only Mexican working there—or were there other Mexicans working in that company?
JR: 0:05:33.6 That, I don’t know. I’m not even going to tell you because I don’t know. Really. But I know this: the old Grand Central Station, which was the Southern Pacific, was located where the post office is at now, on Franklin Street. The old Grand Central Station was there—the old one. I’m talking about the old one, and across the street, the old Brazos Hotel was there. The old Brazos Hotel was there, and they had little businesses—restaurant, drug store, stuff like that. But the main business was the Brazos Hotel. Further on down the street was the MacAfee Hotel. We used to go there on Sundays and we’d sit in those benches there. They had benches, like old timer’s benches—
I: After that Grand Central Station.
JR: —and separate the station from the railroad tracks and that a damn big shack. That shack’s still there—still got that old shack there. And the trains would pull in and people would get off and walk into the station. And my daddy said, “Now keep your eyes open—see if you see any Mexicans.”
I: There weren’t that many Mexicans there, were there?
JR: Weren’t that many, and my daddy was lonesome.
I: He wanted to talk to Mexicans.
JR: Yeah—wanted to meet them, and help them and do something—bring them into the neighborhood or something. And he did.
JR: See, he went to work for the railroad.
I: Which one? Southern Pacific?
JR: Southern Pacific. He went to work for the railroad—Southern Pacific. In fact that was what he was working in—
I: 0:07:18.6 What was your father’s name?
JR: Jose Rodriguez, yeah. And then on Sundays, also on Sunday as—at old City Market, there are Old city Market Square—it was built funny. I don’t know if you remember the old city hall before it was torn down. Now it’s Old Market Square Park, which is really no—
I: It’s nothing, compared to what—
JR: They originally wanted a big island through that because it was donated to the city of Houston by the Allen Brothers, that it should always be a marketplace, and nothing else. And that’s the reason they built on it. You know, these old society people from the Houston Heritage—that used to belong to that, fight like hell to preserve those buildings.
I: They do?
JR: Oh, yeah.
I: Where did y’all live when you first got here? Do you remember where they lived?
JR: We lived one block back of the Grand Central Station, on Girard and Sixth.
I: Girard and Sixth.
JR: And sixth, yeah. The street’s still there. Girard’s still there, but Sixth has been closed. After they built the new Grand Central Station and then Grand Central sold out to the government and they built this post office. That’s when they closed that street completely. But that’s where I was raised, right there.
I: 0:09:02.1 You were. Were there Mexicans there in that area at that time?
JR: Yeah. There was about ten, twelve families. And that was the beginning of the Mexican community in Houston. After the War—the First World War—the Magnolia Fork was developed. They were selling lots out there. My dad got hooked on that deal.
I: What do you mean by that?
JR: Well, my brother’s Godfather—he wanted to invest—he was that type of fellow. So when they were developing that Magnolia Fork in 1918, he told my daddy, he says, “You know, Compadre, we’re going to buy some lots out there. Who know?” And then, the talk of the country was the big oil boom in Beaumont. And he told my daddy, “Compadre, there may be nothing but oil in that place.” He said, who knows? So he talked my daddy into buying. So my daddy and him—one Sunday, they went out and hired—or rented—them a buggy with a horse. In those days, it was a horse and buggy day trip. Practically every street in Houston was either gravel, dirt or shell. So here they go. They got over there. It was one Sunday, and as my daddy used to say, when they got there, his Compadre says, “That guy there—that’s the guy I bought it from.” He said, “Let’s talk to him.” He said, “I bought a lot over there and I bought a lot there, and I bought that over here.” He bought three lots. He said, “If Kennedy don’t get all of that, they might give it all to you.” You understand?
I: You bet.
JR: Now here goes my daddy—hook, line, and sinker—talked to this guy. So they made a deal and the guy, right offhand, got $300 from my daddy.
I: Which was big money in those days.
JR: 0:11:41.6 Oh—$300—man, in those days, was big money. So my daddy bought five lots. He bought here, here, and here and there. He said what the hell, you bought three, I’m going to buy five. Oil, you know. They weren’t thinking about building on nothing. That’s what they had in mind. That was the big talk. That was something to talk about, that the Texas was on top of an oil lake. So he bought five lots, and it so happened that about three months later he took a friend down there. He was going to buy some lots. So Sunday would be the only day that they could get around. And Magnolia, too, was buggy days, which was quite a way. So here they got there that Sunday, and there was a Mexican fellow building a house on one of my daddy’s lots. There was nobody else there. No salesman, no nothing. So my daddy says to this fellow, he says, “Something’s wrong here. He’s building a house on my lot.” So he walks up to the fellow and says good morning, introduced himself, and he says, “Are you building a house?” He says, “Yeah, I’m planning on building a two-room house. That’d be big enough for me and my wife. Later on, when we have a family, I’ll add some rooms.” And my daddy said, “When did you buy this lot?” and the man says, “Oh, about five or six months ago.” My daddy says “Five or six months ago?” and he says, “There’s something wrong here somewhere.” The man says, “Why?” He says, “Well, I bought this lot here about a month ago. I bought this lot and I bought—” and he showed him around. The man says, “Well, there’s something wrong somewhere. The only thing I can tell you is that I done think I own this land because it’s registered at the courthouse.” When he said that, my daddy snapped, seen the day light. He knew right then and there, he had been taken.
I: Oh, my goodness.
JR: And that’s what happened.
I: All five lots?
JR: His compadre, himself, and there was a lot of others. You know, the people developing that land, they didn’t have anybody there on Sundays. But these guys went out there and conned the people out of that money. You know what I mean.
I: 0:14:44.2 Yeah. Were they Anglos?
JR: Yeah. And from then on, my daddy said, “I’ll never buy a god damned thing from a Gringo!”
I: I don’t blame him!
JR: So that hurt me because I could have been a millionaire today.
I: You’d have had a lot of land.
JR: Because my daddy intended to buy more land. You know—not only Magnolia, but—
JR: Yeah. He believed in that, and once he got started, he believed in it.
I: He was going to buy.
JR: But that was the reason my daddy—from then on, you couldn’t sell him a damn thing.
I: I don’t blame him. That’s a hard way to learn.
JR: So that was the hard was to learn. They took him, and not only him, they took a bunch of them. So the next day—Monday—my daddy goes to the courthouse. He hires a lawyer and they go to the courthouse, him and his compadre and two, three others. They laid off work, they said we’re going to get this thing straightened out. They went to the courthouse. Nobody’s name was up there.
JR: They all had been taken. There was a write-up in the paper. My daddy kept that paper for the longest time. Happened on a Sunday. That’s how my daddy came to Houston, and that’s how I was born here.
I: I wonder why—Mr. Rodriguez, did you ever find out—why did Magnolia develop as a Mexican community?
JR: 0:16:05.2 Well, it just started out that way. It did start out that way, as especially for Mexicans. But it seems like nobody wanted—at that time, the ship channel was just beginning to flourish, and who the hell wanted to live next to a ship channel? So they just automatically fell into that atmosphere and that.
I: I see—because lots of people began to come, I guess.
JR: Yeah. Now Central Park, further down, developed. It was an all Anglo community on Central Park. Next to Central Park, you find Magnolia.
I: Were there places you all couldn’t buy houses—Mexicans could not buy houses?
JR: Well, more this—thinking in those days, a Mexican was just like a tribe of Indians. Each one wants to stick to his own tribe. It’s fifteen different tribes here. They’ll get together sometimes, but each one knows what tribe he belongs to. So naturally, all been isolated here, away from home, they finally just decided to stay and said well we might as well make it a home here. First it was renting, my daddy was renting, and everybody knew it was paying rent. They decided to maybe someday build, maybe not.
I: On Girard, he was renting?
JR: Yeah, we were paying rent. So Magnolia was the early settlers.
I: Did he ever buy? Did he buy a house here when he finally?—
JR: No. Now, I’m telling you—nobody could sell him nothing.
I: I’ll be dog gone.
JR: No, he wouldn’t invest in nothing.
I: Well, he really got burned. There’s no doubt about that. I mean, I don’t blame him.
JR: 0:18:06.1 But you see, I got cheated.
I: Did they ever find those guys? Did the law ever find?—they were con men.
JR: They were moving all over the state.
I: Oh, I see.
JR: They were moving all over the state. My daddy—I remember—you know, back in those days, when the elders had conversation, there were no children around. You stayed out of it. You know what I mean? It was impolite for a twelve or six or seven-year-old boy to be listening to grownups’ conversation. That’s when you skadoot, go play. It was just the way then. It’s the way I was brought up, never to interfere with my elders. But I used to hear parts of the conversation that he used to—it would come up for one reason or the other. Things like that would come up and I used to hear pieces of it. He said that they found out that this was going on all over the state, that it just didn’t happen in Houston. A lot of people out there in Beaumont and different parts of the state had been taken by this—more or less like a group, moving from one place to the other.
I: A bunch of con men.
JR: Uh-hunh. (affirmative) That’s what always comes into a boom town. People like that, they hang around here, make themselves citizens of the group for about six months. They get to know the land and the people and then they start operating. They can tell you to come—after they’ve been here six months, they can tell you come in on it. So I’m telling you, he got hooked but good and from that time on, you couldn’t sell my daddy a damned thing. He wouldn’t have nobody. So that cheated me out of a fortune.
I: Uh-hunh. (affirmative) Because he would have invested his money. Did he make a pretty good living here?
JR: Yeah. Uh-hunh. (affirmative)
I: And y’all never moved from Girard?
JR: 0:20:14.4 Oh, yeah. We moved to Fifth Ward, and mostly in downtown Houston and the old neighborhood, First Ward. That was then known as the Fish Ward. We lived in First Ward until around when I was going to school. Then we moved to—before I went to school, we moved to Fifth Ward and daddy didn’t like that part of town so we moved back to the old neighborhood. I was born on the corner of Capitol and Bagby, where the media called it—used to be a shotgun shop owned by the Degeorge family. They used to live out there on McKinney and Bagby. And they used to own all that land there in front of where city hall is at. My daddy used to rent from them. Back of that, was a city dump. Adjoining the city dump, as you get close to Sam Houston Park, there was a cemetery and I think it’s still there. I remember, when we were kids, we used to go play Indians in there.
I: I’ll be dog gone.
JR: That was a long time ago.
I: That was a long time ago. God dang. And which schools did you go to?
JR: I went to Hawthorne, I went to Rusk, Hawthorne, Dow, and Central.
I: Did you encounter any prejudice from the teachers at all? Students or anything like that?
JR: No—some from students, not from any teachers.
JR: No. No, I can’t say that I did because I didn’t. Now with the kids, it was something else. We used to have fist fights and then after that fist fight, we’d become friends. You know, when you stood your ground and you fight—there’s always bullies around, so we were always at ball games, soft ball games going in the schoolyard. And we wanted to play and they wouldn’t let us play, so we’d start a fight. After the fight, then we’d play. You see? You’d have to fight for whatever you wanted. We were in school. That’s the way it was. I have some good friends to today that we went to school together. Some of them went to work for the city and when I was working for the city, I’d run into a lot of them. We hadn’t seen each other for fifteen, twenty years.
I: 0:22:42.0 Did your father—did he belong to any groups or organizations?
I: He didn’t?
JR: No. No, he liked to—he was famous that way. At that time, the community was too young yet for that—having a community. They were just beginning to settle in, making a home. So they were slow. This was slow in coming around.
I: He didn’t belong to the Woodmen of the World or anything like that?
JR: No. It was here then, but he didn’t belong to it.
I: Was that Woodmen of the World—were they in Magnolia too? I mean, is that where those things started out? Couldn’t have been.
JR: No, they were downtown Houston.
I: They were in downtown?
JR: Yeah. They used to meet on—when I joined it, we used to meet in North side, in—god damn, I don’t remember, I forget the place. Well anyway, I joined in 1940—’40,’41 I joined the Woodmen of the World.
I: What was that? You had a folder of a Latin American club. Didn’t you have that brochure? In fact, you had it in a pile of stuff, I believe. It was a little brochure, a pamphlet of some sort. What was that Latin American club?
JR: Well, I’ll tell you what about this. We were in LULAC and at that time, if we wanted to make a move, we were aggressive. This group in Houston was very aggressive—not militant, but aggressive. And we wanted to get things done now, and if we didn’t, we wanted to know why. We were doing it a little too fast to suit headquarters, which was at that time, in Harlingen. The general president—at that time, it was known as general president—was Longoria and he was the president of LULAC for the state; and he was an attorney and he was located in Harlingen. So wherever the president resides, that’s the headquarters of LULAC to date. That’s the way it was in those days, but in those days, he was general president. Today, he’s the national president, a little change in the wording. Today he’s known as a president—national president. And we had to consent with headquarters—there were a bunch of lawyers in there—and we had to let them know what we intended to do and how to go about it. They said, “Now, wait a minute. What you want to do is a good thing, but that’s not the proper way to do it.” We were young and aggressive and hell—they were more mature men and we thought that they were too far behind, and we were thinking about tomorrow, not yesterday. We were thinking about tomorrow. And they were thinking further than tomorrow—they were thinking passive and I was active. So that didn’t kind of go with us. So we decided—on the side, overnight, to let our members form a club. We belonged to LULAC, we belonged to that Latin American club. We said that Latin American club—it’d be local and we don’t have to consult anybody, and we’d do things our way. You get the idea?
I: 0:27:31.0 You bet.
JR: And that’s the way it happened.
I: So when did y’all form this club? About what year, to the best of your memory?
JR: About ’37, ’38 because this was sworn in—Crespol was the notary public for this. Let’s see if we have a preamble here. Oh, about 1937, the best I can recollect is the 1920s. 1937.
I: Was this y’alls first constitution of it? I mean, was that back in 193—
JR: Yeah, I was part of this committee to form the constitution and local dialogue. Later we drafted the bylaws. But this was about 1937—’36, ’37. Let’s hit it for ’36.
I: Okay. But y’all were fairly active in this?
JR: Oh, yeah.
I: What did y’all do? Do you remember any of the things, offhand?
JR: 0:29:06.0 Going to city council and fighting it, and going to fighting that Social Security; and fighting the city hall, fighting the county commissioner.
I: But this was basically made up of LULAC.
JR: Yeah, yeah—it was all LULAC. Yeah, but—different name. You see, like I told you, at that time we had to submit to the constitution of LULAC. And they thought that we were too radical. The LULAC headquarters thought we were too radical here in Houston. Coming from a slow thinking part of the state, mostly it was down in the valley in Corpus and San Anton—slow thinking; more mature, slow thinking men. Coming into Houston, the vibration was different. You get the younger men, and more aggressive and willing to face a battle—and they thought we were too radical, too aggressive—even to fight for the constitutional rights. We said, “Yes, you’re right. Don’t misunderstand. We’re with you 100 percent, but we don’t agree with your procedures.” They got slow. You can do a hell of a lot more with a pen and a piece of paper than a damned gun or a sword. That was their philosophy. But we were young, aggressive, and we wanted to—once you snap and you begin to think, the more you dig into it and the more you think about it, the madder you get. You see what I’m saying?
I: Yeah. Sure. Sure.
JR: That’s what happened in Houston. We were ready to go. Shit. 0:31:09.4 [End recording]
0:31:19.0 [End of Tape 3]
JR: 0:00:01.4 —went back to LULAC.
I: When? When did the Latin American Club dissolve? Around what time?
JR: About ’40.
I: About 1940?
JR: Yeah—by then, it was beginning to shape up, and we decided let’s just forget about it and go back over here.
I: 0:00:18.9 But not until it started shaping up?
JR: Oh, yeah. Once you get everything shaped up, you know, things worked out all right.
I: Where did you—okay, you graduated from high school. Where did you go to work then? What was your work career?
JR: I was working for Henke and Pilot. They used to have a grocery store there on the corner of Milam and Congress. I started working there when I was going to elementary school. I’d come in at 6:00 in the morning, I’d leave at 8:00 for school; come back at 2:30, work till 6:00. On Saturdays, I’d work all day, from 6:00 to 6:00. I was making two and a quarter a week. Do you believe that? $2.25, for all that work—and I thought that was big money.
I: Oh, I’ll bet.
JR: And it was. No social security, no income tax—you made a dollar then, it was a dollar. And the dollar was worth a dollar. Today it’s worth twenty cents. That’s the difference.
I: That’s before taxes, sure. So you worked for Henke and Pilot until how long?
JR: Until I was out of school.
I: And then where did you go?
JR: I started working in different stores. Then the ABC stores came along, supermarkets. And then there was another company that couldn’t get a pool hall here. It was a local company. There was a company called Alexander Banks stores. They didn’t do too good. So we just moved from one store to the other. At that time, we were young and coming up and growing up with the city. That’s how I—I worked in the stores practically all my life.
I: Yes, sir. When did you go to work for the city, though?
JR: 0:02:26.7 In ’41.
I: Did you stay with the city until retirement?
JR: No. I stayed there—the first time, I stayed sixty days and I quit. I accomplished what I set out to do, so I quit. Then the War broke out and everything; and I went back to work for the city and I worked there 1941, 1942, and I think up to 1943. Then I quit. I never went back. Then I went back to my profession. I went back to the produce profession.
I: And stayed there?
JR: I stayed there.
I: Where did you retire?
JR: I was working for Art Weingarden. I put in twenty-five years with them.
I: With Weingarden’s? In the produce?
JR: Uh-hunh. (affirmative) I retired about, almost five years.
I: Did you know the Weingarden family or any of them?
JR: Yeah—not personally, but I came in contact with Abe and Joe Weingarden.
I: Abe and Joe, yeah.
JR: They were real nice people.
I: Well, what I want to do—it’s already four o’clock. I want to discontinue this right now and come back some other day and we’ve got a bunch more questions I want to ask you, Mr. Rodriguez.
JR: I might find some more material.
I: Okay. 0:03:52.0 [End of recording]
0:03:55.0 [End of Tape 4]