Dr. Nicolas Kanellos

Duration: 1hr: 29mins
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Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with: Dr. Nicolas Kanellos
Interviewed by: David Goldstein
Date: July 9, 2008

DG: Today is July 9, 2008. We are in the offices of Dr. Nicolas Kanellos, the Brown Foundation Professor of Spanish at the University of Houston; the founding publisher of the Hispanic Literary Journal, the Americas Review and the owner of the nation’s oldest and most esteemed Hispanic publishing house, Arte Publico Press. Did I pronounce that close to correct?

NK: Yes.

DG: We are interviewing him for the Houston Oral History Project. My Name Is David Goldstein. How are you today?

NK: O.K., David.

DG: O.K., that is great. Dr. Kanellos, let’s begin at the beginning with some biographical background. Tell us where you were born.

NK: O.K., I was born in New York City, January 31, 1945. I was raised in New York, Jersey City and Puerto Rico. Traveled back and forth when I was a kid. I got my education, my higher education at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutgers University, University of Mexico. I got my master’s and Ph.D. from University of Texas. I got another degree from University of Lisbon. And was off to the races.

DG: What kind of things did you enjoy doing when you were a kid?

NK: I enjoyed reading. I also enjoyed sports. A lot of activity. So, the two kind of . . . you would think they were conflicting; one being very passive and quiet and the other very active, and I was very, very, very active when I was a kid. You might say I was a street kid in Jersey City.

DG: What was your cultural environment?

NK: My cultural environment was a large Puerto Rican family, some of whom lived close by, around the block, whatever, and also when I went to Puerto Rico, lots of family there. And a port of entry in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City and Jersey City, the part that is by the factories or used to be by the factories and the wharfs of immigrants the constantly flowing in . . . I remember at one point, a lot of Polish refugees coming in. That was during the Cold War. My neighborhood was principally Puerto Rican, black, Polish and then there were professions that were more akin to certain ethnic groups, like all my teachers and the police were Irish and there was a Jewish tailor and there was a Jewish grocery store and bakery and, of course, Puerto Rican bodegas. That is what it was like.

DG: Your father, Charles, was Greek?

NK: Yes.

DG: Where were the Greeks in all that mix?

NK: There were some Greeks in the neighborhood but they were mostly absent. And my father was an only child whose father abandoned him and his mother, and my paternal grandfather was an “illegal immigrant” under today’s terminology, so my father mostly grew up and matured in the bosom, you might say, of my Puerto Rican family.

DG: Interesting. When you were a kid in high school, did you have a sense of what you wanted to be when you became an adult?

NK: Well, to I had some role models in Puerto Rico. I had an uncle by marriage who was a doctor and another uncle by marriage who was a lawyer, so those were really the only two outstanding professions I knew about except for teachers, of course, but really, that was taken over by the Irish. So, I thought that I might become a doctor or a lawyer. That is all I knew that you went to college for.

DG: When did that a change?

NK: It changed when I was in college and I discovered that there were other possibilities. Since my long reading background, I got really interested in literature. And, in fact, when I was a kid, one of the factories that I use to go and raid with my buddies, we would go and whatever was left over or on the floor – scraps or in the dumpsters or things left on the freight trains – it turns out I found out years later what it was. It was the bindery for the American Book Company. And so, I would go in there and go to the dumpsters and pull out the large signatures of books, signatures like a page printed on both sides, 8, 16, 32, or 64 pages, and I would take it and I would fold it up and make a book out of it and read it, and I had a book, you know, a handmade book that I had salvaged. Likewise, my father worked in a restaurant and he would barter for books from the people that worked at the bindery. So, he would slip them a lunch or something and they would give him a book. In one specific case, of course, it was that they were binding the Encyclopedia Americana over a period of years and they were updating it every year and whatever, so he traded for the Encyclopedia Americana and consequently, at our house, we had a collection that was . . . Perhaps we had like three N’s, no D, no F, two O’s. But I would read those consistently all the time, and other things that he bartered for were a collection of John Steinbeck novels, a whole collection of Somerset Maugham, and a collection of Ernest Hemingway. So, when I was like, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, I was reading those books over and over again. And finally one day, I discovered the library. Back in those days, teachers did not take us to the library. I had heard about library, whatever, and I finally found my way to a library, and I went in and they told me what to do, how to sign up, and then, the librarian there asked me what I would like to read, and I did not know what to answer, so I said, “John Steinbeck.” And she said, “Oh, no, you are too young to read John Steinbeck.” I had been reading John Steinbeck all along! And then, I was also reading in Spanish. I would get comic books and little novella kind of things from the bodega to read but they were real cheap, so I got those. It was not hard to read Spanish. Once you know any kind of Latin alphabet and you get the phonetics down, it is easy to transfer from one language to another. And, of course, it was all Spanish speaking. So, I taught myself to read Spanish before I really took classes in Spanish or really went into a school in Puerto Rico in Spanish or anything.

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DG: What was your sense of cultural identity? When did you have a strong sense of the uniqueness of it?

NK: Well, I knew I was a big mixture and that they were mixtures within the mixtures, you know; like, I mean, Puerto Rican is like a mixture of a lot of things, so is being from Spain, for instance. But even more so, when you are in the Indies, in the West Indies, there are many mixtures. So, I do not know, I just thought of myself as a mix of things and I really did not understand any ethnic politics or identification that much. I knew where the Puerto Ricans were. I knew where the African Americans were in my community and in Puerto Rico, I knew that everybody all over the place was the same, I mean, and they mostly looked like me – some were darker, some are lighter, etc. So, it was just a differentiation of who is us and who are other people, that kind of stuff but, I mean, there was really no . . . I did not really awaken to any kind of ethnic politics or . . . I knew about discrimination, that is for sure. I knew about intergroup rivalry. I knew about being called a “spic” and being looked down upon and the attacks, consistent attacks in yellow journalism in the 1950s and 1960s in the New York newspapers which was what we would get, against Puerto Ricans. That permeated the environment. We were unwanted but I really did not define anything until, really, the Civil Rights Movement. And when in college, I got involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and that was a general involvement for Latino causes and African American causes and integration and all of that, and throughout college and in graduate school, I worked in communities organizing people, training people on poll watching, picketing, places that would not admit . . . that were segregating, would not render service. And then, in graduate school at Texas, I became involved in the Chicano Movement, and there sprung up the idea of really kind of uniting the Latinos community in the United States together – culturally and politically and whenever. And, since then, I have worked worked towards that, especially through academia and through publishing.

DG: Let’s go back to the chronology. The decision to go to college – was that an expectation of your parents?

NK: Well, they always assumed because I was a smart kid and I always had good grades, they always assumed I would go to college but basically, it was inbred in me, especially from my mother. My mother had high expectations and she was very smart. She was a high school grad and did not have the opportunity to go to college. She was always working but she had good jobs, meaning, secretarial jobs working up to you, you know, billing clerk and various types of clerk/accounting jobs. She always encouraged me for education and I became the first one in our family to go to college, and the only one. My brother did not go to college, and I had another brother who died – probably would have gone on to college. And the college people that I knew were those uncles by marriage only. Those were the only college educated persons in my life, but they were strong enough, especially the doctor who was married to my Aunt Audia, who had enough resources to pay for me to go to Puerto Rico every year, and I would stay with them.

DG: Was it hard to be a smart kid in a culture in which the expectations were so low?

NK: I think that living in Jersey City or New York City, it was more socioeconomic as far as expectations; you know, you were headed towards blue collar, and that was the same for Puerto Ricans, African Americans, Polish, Irish, except, you know, we had teachers as role models. So, I mean, I did not even think about that and I am not sure it is true but if you have people in the environment which we did not have that many in the environment were college educated, there was not all that much encouragement. But I also think it was down to your family and to your guts. So, I would say for any socioeconomic groups, not just Latinos, especially new immigrants, etc., it is the most important thing – survival and you getting a good job. And, ultimately, that was, at that point when I was a kid and a teenager and a beginning college student, like many of our students today and like many of them here at the University of Houston, the ultimate goal was getting a good job, right? So, being able to support your family, not a mission, which I ultimately developed a mission, but the first idea was, you know, to be able to survive and have a good job, have security which my family did not have. My mother and my father went from job to job. When there was a recession in the 1950s, they were employed, you know, that kind of stuff. And, quite often, they had to travel long distances to get work. So, I mean, it was not easy, like it is not easy for many, many of our students today whose parents are either first generation immigrants or whatever, or the students themselves are immigrants, you know, so the first thing is establishing yourself in the society so that you can contribute and have a family. You know, the political or cultural missions – that is a luxury at that point.

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DG: You mentioned some role models in the family and you mentioned some experiences of discrimination. Were there other formative influences or experiences, looking back in retrospect that you could point to?

NK: Well, my Aunt Provi, who came over by boat from Puerto Rico to the U.S. during the Depression, was trained as a bilingual secretary in Puerto Rico and when she arrived in New York, she was able to get a job in the music industry at Tin Pan Alley on Broadway. She became probably the most important person in the development of the Latin music business in the United States and the hemisphere. She worked her way up, became vice president for the largest Latin music publishing company in the world, still is today ________ Music, and she was a terrific a role model, probably the most important role model for me, and what she did – her genius, her flamboyance, her intelligence, and her ability to work in what was a very male dominated world and set up this whole business, set up offices throughout the hemisphere from Havana to Buenos Aires and Rio De Janeiro, and managed that business and because of this corporation, controls most of the standards of Latin music today, and she was responsible for introducing much of the Latin sound, music – cha-cha, mambo, all of it, into mainstream American music during the heyday of Latin music in the 1950s and the 1960s and, of course, a lot of it has come back now.

DG: Terrific.

NK: She was never wealthy. The money that she made was dispersed throughout the family.

DG: When you went to University of Fairleigh Dickinson, what was your major?

NK: Well, when I finally decided what I was going to do about in junior year, I became a Spanish major, so I studied Spanish literature. International studies.

DG: A circuitous path to that decision?

NK: Well, I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I took government and political science and history courses that would lead me in that direction. I am still very much a cultural historian, even though I had a degree in Spanish. The books that I write as part of my scholarly work are all cultural historical books.

DG: And why the decision to come to Texas?

NK: Well, I guess I left out that I had studied at the University of Mexico. I decided to come to graduate school in Texas because they had the number one program in the country at that time, UT. And so, I was accepted into the program with support and became a teaching assistant. That was the main reason, and I kind of felt close to Texas, having studied in Mexico, and I just came and got my M.A. and my Ph.D. there. And then, after I left graduate school, I went up and taught in the Midwest and started a community theater company and our first magazine called “__________” and founded Arte Publico Press. And then, the University of Houston recruited me and I brought those enterprises down with me.

DG: That was at the University of Indiana?

NK: Yes, in the Chicago area. In the University Northwest. We served Chicago, East Chicago, Hammond, and some people from Chicago, so it was like . . . basically my cultural sphere there was greater Chicago and steel workers. My students were steel workers and the first people that were collaborating in my theater company and the magazine and the press, etc., were steel workers.

DG: I was intrigued when I read your story, that you have always done a lot of different things. Some people go through, they become a professor, teach their classes, they write their books and that is it. But from the beginning, you had a theater company, you had a publishing house – where did that come from? Was it an entrepreneurial spirit or a desire to do as much as you could or are you a workaholic? How would you describe . . .

NK: All of the above. Maybe a little hyperactive as well and insomnia, but I think I would have just been bored if I had just lived life as a teacher, as many of my colleagues do. But I also felt this mission – that we needed to promote and make the culture accessible and integrated into education into the national culture.

DG: Was that mission the result of a moment of an illumination or a gradual focus built over time? How would you describe it?

NK: I think it was gradual. I think one of the key experiences was working in the Chicano Movement in Texas during the late 1960s. That really brought a lot of things together, the politics and the culture together, and the place for literature, art, theater, and education within that whole complex. So, it established the relationship for me that, you know, one does not really work without the other. You cannot have empowerment of people if they are not in touch with their history. You cannot have progress in the United States if all segments of the society are not integrated and made to feel as valid and valuable as the other segments of the society.

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DG: The marriage of your academic world, your job as a teacher and this mission, was it an easy alignment? Did you have to sort of push the envelope in the academic world to find a place for your mission?

NK: I am still pushing the envelope and it has been a rocky road from the start. From an academic establishment that did not recognize or accept what I/we were doing, not opening the doors to positions, to curricula, to conferences, to our associations where we were being marginalized, facing discriminatory evaluations and processes for merit and promotion and all that kind of stuff. Facing the attitude of elitism and classism in academia about who students should be. And a lot of this may seem like off the wall but back in the early 1970s, there were quite general feelings about the inappropriateness of opening public institutions to the communities and to the children of the working classes in the United States. And there were all types of barriers, be they grades or school systems that were valued. Still today, some universities only prefer to recruit from certain high schools. Back then, it was much more difficult. Creating programs to help students accommodate to the university, to give them what they did not get in their public education, bring their skills up to par so that they could benefit from higher education – all those kinds of things . . . a lot of those programs that we have today did not exist. In fact, I lived through the whole history of the creation of ethnic studies programs, bilingual education, special education. A lot of the laws that pertain to this were during my lifetime. In fact, I even found myself writing . . . I wrote the laws for 2 states. Of course, I did not do it by myself but I was the guy that put the pen to paper working with groups to pass the laws for bilingual education in Indiana and Michigan – things like that. None of that existed in the ethnic studies programs. For instance, in Indiana, we had the first symposium on Chicano literature at a university, when, in fact, we would go to the Modern Language Association or some other scholarly association and we tried to recruit scholars, young scholars like ourselves to give panels and papers, etc., the comments would be, “Well, this is interesting. Here is a group of people studying and writing a literary criticism of a literature that does not exist,” you see, when we knew that it existed from even before the existence of the United States.

DG: It is a fascinating concept. A lot of the movement of the times was respect for people. You were asking for respect for the culture and for the literary output, for the arts of that culture. And it seemed that any sort of this passionate look at history would allow every culture its art, allow every culture its voice. Now, we can disregard the voice but certainly one exists.

NK: Well, the mechanisms of colonialism have to do with negating peoples’ history, negating peoples’ language, negating peoples’ culture, so that they become part of the dominant culture. And so, we do not recognize. Even though in the growth of the United States, what we had done in U.S. expansion during the 19th century, has been to appropriate resources, to appropriate cultural properties and things from the indigenous peoples, from the Hispanic peoples, from the African American peoples, and they become part of the larger society, but we do not say that is where they came from; you know, like Latinos introduced the plow into North America. Latinos built the first irrigation system. They introduced much of the agriculture from which Texas and California benefits today. Most of those products were introduced by . . . and I am not just saying Spaniards, I am saying Hispanicized people because by the time the Spaniards got to Florida and Texas and California, etc., they already mixed. It was a part of the ecos. They were already mixed with Africans and Native Americans, etc., and they introduced all these things that eventually became part of the national economy, etc., but we do not recognize it. Mining, agriculture, architecture, city planning, all these kinds of things. I mean, it is no accident that we are living in a state that has so many towns with Spanish names on them, you know, so that is part of the whole thing. I mean, colonialism around the world works that way.

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DG: There are some things I would like to talk to you about – publications and the various activities that you engaged in, but I would like to, for the sake of this history follow a chronology if we could, so could we maybe go back to that time when you arrived in Houston, talk a little bit about your first impressions of the city. You had been in Austin. Let’s talk about the city for a while and then we will talk about the chronology and how things evolved.

NK: O.K. I was working in Gary, Indiana, at Northwest Indiana University, Northwest, and practically the whole time I was there, it was a very depressed area. The steel mills had been shutting down. There was high crime. This was the epic of the drug wars and they were shootings and burn outs and all kinds of things, and all the things that I was doing, the things that I was engaged in, required resources, and that ghetto school that I was teaching in, which I wanted to and I loved teaching there, and I went there on purpose because I wanted to be close to the communities because I did have choices of where I would go teach after graduate school, just the resources could not sustain the operations that I had created. And that is when I really needed to find a place that offered an economic base and understanding, and also communications, national communications that would be central to the whole literature and culture of Latinos in the United States. So, Houston was a very strategic choice – come to Houston – because it was central, I could reach either coast pretty easily and oil was booming. I said, I am going to go down there and get some oil money! So, soon after I got down here, we had the bust. My first semester here was spring 1980, and soon thereafter, within a couple of years, the Houston economy was the pits. Peoples’ housing values went down, there were foreclosures. You probably remember that era. And needless to say, I did not get any oil money for a long time! However, the other possibilities were great and they did bear fruit. I was able to work with the community and work with all the different segments of the Latino community in Houston. There was a growing support for the arts in Houston although not sufficient and not sufficient enough for Hispanics because at that point, lots of Latino artists were leaving town because they could not get support. And University of Houston was a pretty open place where I could start programs and create kinds of, as an entrepreneur, various things. And one of the things I did when I got here was start a little theater company again, the Teatro Conganas (sp?), transferred the magazine that we were publishing and after only publishing 1 issue in our publishing house in November of 1979, one book, we moved the publishing house here. And it grew from, you know, 2 to 3 books a year to now we are doing 30 books. It was all incremental but the base was here in Houston and that is not to say that the University was completely open because soon after I arrived . . . well, they negated on some of the resources that they were supposed to give me. I did not have it in writing or, if I did, it was in like coded memos, wherever. The University made me use the University printing plant which was not adequate for publishing books and they did not know how to do it and they were forever late, etc., and they tried to censor me. They tried to censor the books that I was publishing, which led to a big brouhaha and what we call an autodefay (sp?), an inquisition as to whether this stuff was pornography or not, appropriate and what have you, which we ultimately won but that gave me the opportunity to yank the printing out of the University and bid it nationally to book printers. And there was a lot of bureaucracy. I was forced to write contracts according to University rules which did not stand up in the publishing business; you know, all hit and miss. So, there were areas that were open and other areas that were closed to us such as the legal office and especially the development office to raise funds. So, virtually, we had to raise all our own money, which was good and bad. It was bad in that the University was not giving us equal opportunity to go to Houston and Texas foundations and corporations. It was good in that we learned how to raise money nationally. So, slowly but surely, I developed a whole portfolio of funders from New York and Washington and other places that have sustained us to the present. Now that the development office is awake, it is very much behind us in creating opportunities for us. But it took, oh, at least 15 years for us to get access or 10 years at least for us to get access to some of those resources that the University of Houston has and any university has. But, as a University of Houston program and I built this as part of a program of the University of Houston, were off limits to us. Also, we have been kind of low group on the totem pole of space, so we have had to fight for space in the growing . . . our institution has always been growing and we quickly outgrow any space we get and it is hard to find adequate space here at the University of Houston. We are dealing with the issue right now.

DG: And for the sake of this interview, we are meeting in the Cullen Performance Hall upstairs. Is that considered prime space? Were you happy to have it? Or is this what you are talking about in terms of limited access to space?

NK: Well, we have more personnel than we have office space and our facilities are fragmented. They are all around the campus instead of centralized. So, we have the 2nd and 4th floors of this building which are very narrow floors because they are kind of part of the rehearsal side of an auditorium building, and we have 2 double wide trailers for our sales and shipping, and we have an old, dilapidated restaurant for our warehouse, the Black Eyed Pea, in another place. And then, we have little warehousing closets around the campus, O.K.? So, that is part of the problem. And the reason that we got this Cullen Auditorium space was that nobody wanted it. It does not have an elevator, number one. It is not wheelchair accessible. And number two, the flooring is asbestos. So, we had to negotiate asbestos abatement or cover-up and whatever to get in here and we have been here ever since. And the offices are not bad. It is just that they are not enough.

DG: Other people who helped you in this first 15 years who deserve mention at this point?

NK: Well, we were able to put together a board from the community here, from Latino bankers and Latinos in some of the major oil companies, and lawyers, etc., who, to this day, we have had, of course, turnover, but have been very, very supportive and helped us fundraise and run our fundraising dinners and galas and make connections for us. What has been difficult as far as the board is concerned has been kind of recruiting non-Latinos to join us. It is kind of still Houston has circles of people that do not communicate or do not interact, etc., so it has been hard in that sense. And, you know, in the administration, it has been up and down, depending upon who is the dean or provost or president, and we have had some good presidents and provosts and deans, and others who were just like oblivious. We have a new president now. We do not know where she is going, if she knows that Houston is closer to Mexico City than to D.C., that our two major city reference points are Dallas and Monterrey, you know, and that the largest segment of the community, if not now, soon to be is the Hispanic community, not only in Houston but Texas and throughout the southwest, you know, so those were imperatives for the University of Houston. So, we need to see if the new president knows that. All of those have implications for everything that we are doing.

DG: Let’s talk about some of the . . .

NK: Oh, I wanted to mention a couple of . . . finally when the University of Houston got behind us in the early 1990s and opened up the doors to development and allowed us to develop relationships with Houston foundations and corporations, the Brown Foundation and the Cullen Foundation have been very, very important to us and especially two people: Beth Robertson, who was, at one point, the chair of the Board of Regents at University of Houston, and Maconda O’Connor has been a very, very strong supporter for us. So, consequently, the Cullen and Brown Foundations created an endowed chair for me. So, I am the Brown Foundation Chair of Hispanic Studies or Spanish, whatever you want . . . and then, a few years back, the Brown Founded funded a Challenge grant so that we could endow one of the physicians in the position of research director for recovery here. And other Houston foundations have also been supportive: Houston Endowment, M.D. Anderson Foundation, and it is just a sign of where the university has come from back in those days when it was run by good old boys and girls but mostly good old boys.

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DG: Could you talk about your work, Horencia, the anthology of Hispanic literature that was widely acclaimed?

NK: Yes, back in 1990, 1992, we created a national program for recovering the written culture of Hispanics in the United States called Recovering U.S. Hispanic Literary Heritage. It is not just literature, it is everything that was written and published and printed by Hispanics before 1960. Over the course of 14, 15, years, we have been researching with scholars from all over; of course, in our fundraising, we fund scholars to do research and investigate, travel to collections – all that kind of stuff. We were able to find something like, just on the published material, something like 18,000 books written and published by Hispanics in the United States before 1960 and something like 2,000 newspapers and many, many other documents, etc. So, over the course of the 14 years, we were finding and preserving this material through microfilm and digitizing a lot of it. And finally, we had a corpus and that corpus, for the most or, is so; large for instance, from the newspapers, we had something like a half million digitized important articles. That corpus is so large, it is being delivered over the internet. But that corpus allowed our scholars to go through the text and select some that would be the beginnings of the creation of a literary history. And so, Arencia is the first comprehensive anthology of Hispanic literature of the United States selected from that whole corpus of thousands of text. And it is kind of a demonstration of what is there and what can be rescued and how to approach it, which we looked upon it from a three-pronged perspective, which is that Latinos have always been here – that is one segment. Native culture. Another is that from the beginnings of the 19th century, Latinos have always come to the United States as political refugees for many reasons, partially because of U.S. relations with their countries or because they came here to find out about democracy and republics, etc., and recruit support to create democracies in their homeland and translate it to the works of Jefferson and Washington and Thomas Payne and all that – the Constitution – and especially from the mid 19th century, as immigrants, the first immigrants really came because of the gold rush or because of the Civil War when the slave society, the dependence on slaves was disrupted; then with the abolition of slavery, farming in the south and parts of the southwest, especially Texas started importing labor from Mexico and the Caribbean, Central America. Mostly from Mexico. It begins right then. Right at the beginning of the abolition of slavery. That has characterized our culture from then to the present. There is a native strain, there is an immigrant strain, there is a political refugee strain. So, that is the way we look at it. That is the way we kind of promote for the whole academic world, how to look at Latino culture in the United States and how those varied strains intermingle and convert and produce culture, whether it is literature, art, music, etc. So, Arencia is that kind of manifesto out of our program, out of our project. Along with that, we have published some other . . . 40 books of recovered literature, you know, like the first historical novel published in 1826 in Philadelphia, of the whole Spanish-speaking world, was published in Philadelphia. Not in Madrid, not in Mexico City. Or the first literature of exile, you know, in the Spanish language is published in the northeast, in the beginning, in the 1820s. And the first anthology in 1856 and so on and so forth. The first novels of immigration are published at the beginning of the 20th century. So those are the kinds of things we recovered. The first novels by women published in the 1870s, 1880s. The first novels published in English by Mexican Americans, published in the 1870s, 1880s, by women, it happens to be, not men. Women were the first ones to produce this kind of literary document, and so on and so forth. So, we have selected various examples of the kind of cultural resources and you might even say gems that are out there that were laying fallow – no one knew about, etc., and we are reintroducing them into American culture, into the curriculum, into anthologies and textbooks, etc. In fact, about 15% of our income at Arte Publico Press comes from brokering Hispanic written culture to the whole textbook industry. So, we find it and we make it known, one form or another – whether it is in print or online, and then we try to get it into the textbooks at every level, from K through graduate school.

DG: The work was called a landmark achievement and a turning point document of American literary history. Were you surprised, gratified, relieved?

NK: Well, I think that is what we were working for. Yes.

DG: You had that sense when you were putting the work together?

NK: Oh, yes. Sure.

DG: That should we proceed that way?

NK: Yes. That is our goal.

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DG: Can you tell me the story of Rain of Gold?

NK: Rain of Gold was our first national bestseller and it kind of fell into our laps when we were kind of just small potatoes, a little publishing house that had never even tried to go after the big publishing industry. We were just publishing books primarily for the University trade because we needed to get our literature into the hands of students. And this very commercial author, Victor Viasignor (sp?) who had published one successful book and had researched this book for many, many years – it is a memoir of his family, a family autobiography about the family leaving their roots in Mexico during the Revolution and both the maternal and paternal families separately migrating to the United States and their adventures and misadventures during the whole time. So, it is a kind of generational story. __________had gotten a lucrative contract from a big publisher in New York, Little Brown, and they lost confidence in the book when they presented it to their sales people who went around to the stores and they said, “People don’t want to read about this. They don’t want to read about Hispanics” and that kind of stuff, you know. So, they advised that it be changed into a novel rather than a nonfiction and that it be formatted like a romance of the West, and they wanted to change the title of Rain of Gold to Rio Grande – a kind of John Wayne movie – and make it into a love story in the west. And Victor rejected that, demanded his contract back to be repaid, and was blackballed from the publishing industry in New York. And he was desperate to get his book published. He looked all around, he heard about us, came to us and begged us to publish the book. And he is kind of an intense follow, behind your back and he is still on my back every day because we are still publishing works by him, and we had a big conference at the publishing house where they wanted to do this and put all our resources into it because we did not have that many resources and doing this and trying to give it its full potential was going to demand a lot of work and money that we did not have, etc., so we did some fundraising for it, we got some support from some foundations, and notably, Delilah Wallace, Reader’s Digest, and the Mellon Foundations in New York helped us out and we went about learning how to publish a hardcover book, how to get it into the commercial industry, how to do an author tour, how to get the book reviewed across the country – all that kind of stuff. We got some consultants and what have you, and then we had one big plus. We had this intense, self-promoting author who would talk to anyone about the book. I mean, he talked to the cabbie, he talked to the doorman, he talked to anyone and went through the whole spiel about his family’s story, etc., and he was, in the industry, kind of known as Jack, the giant slayer. Here is this little press taking on the big industry and going up head-to-head against all the money that they put into making a bestseller in New York, which is lots of marketing and everything else. So, we got the galleys out, sent them to something like 300 newspaper around the country and got something like 220 positive reviews and we toured Victor wherever we could; you know, whether it was like driving or walking to different sites that he had to speak at, and we issued the book, I think it was like . . . I think we were issuing the book in September but we already had the book in hand and we got all those reviews out ahead of time and we started touring Victor, and by August, before the actual pub date of the book, we had cut a deal with Bantom Doubleday Dell which, at that point, was the largest publishing house in the United States, for them to buy the paperback rights. And so, we continued with the hardcover sales and we sold them the paperback rights for a very good sum, very lucrative for us and for Victor, and it has continued to be a good seller for us and a good seller for Dell which has sold, I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands, at least 300,000 copies of the book, and in 2009, it looks like is the date, it will be a 10 part series on HBO. Since that time, of course, we started publishing numbers of hardcover books and getting them out to the trade. Back then, we could not even get sales reps to represent us at book stores. We could not get the wholesalers to take our books. That Rain of Gold was turned down by the major wholesalers in the United States. One of the major wholesalers – there are 2, one for bookstores and one for libraries. One of the major wholesalers, the one for bookstores, their buyer turned the book down based on that the cover was too ethnic, O.K.? So, those are the kinds of concepts that we were dealing with. We had to go beg the secondary wholesalers and distributors; meaning the regional ones, you know, one that would deal with southern California, one that would deal with New York, another one with the Midwest, etc., rather than the national wholesalers to get the book out. Despite that, we were able to write off the _____ to sell something like 25,000 hardcover copies. So, this made small press history at that time. A small little university-based press making that kind of a splash and being able to make a bestseller. Around that time, if I remember correctly, another small press was doing something similar. It was the Coast Guard Academy or Naval Academy’s press that published The Hunt for Red October which eventually they, too, sold the rights to a large company and had it make a big dent in American society at that time. It is harder to do that today. The reviews are syndicated these days so there are less reviews. Many newspapers no longer carry book reviews. The major companies have all bought each other out. There is probably only like 5 or 6 or 7 book publishing companies, large book publishing companies in the United States. They may have 100 names but they all are subsidiaries of these central companies, and all of them have become part of entertainment conglomerates, so they control everything from the writer’s pen to the book to the magazine to the movie to the TV to the foreign rights, etc., and all of those structures . . . and the distribution, and the placement at the front of the chain bookstores which they buy that space. So, it is much, much harder today to make a dent in any of those arenas.

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DG: Somebody who fast forwarded to this part of the interview would think I was talking to a lifelong book publisher but you are an academic, you are a teacher, you are teaching classes at the University of Houston where all this is going on. You know, there are stories about all the record companies that turned down the Beatles and a lot of those stories and their equivalents in different art forms. Did they miss the boat on this book because they did not have an appreciation for the story or because they did not have an appreciation for the Hispanic audience that was out there?

NK: They did not have an appreciation nor did they know how to reach Hispanic readers. That is one thing we did know. That is one. Number two, they did not understand the base of Hispanic culture in the United States is very similar to the base and identity of the other constituencies that have come to be part of America; meaning that Irish Americans, Polish Americans, African Americans – all realize that even though this was a Mexican American story, it was their story also. It was a story of coming to America . . . you know, it is the same old story, right, of coming to America and making a life, facing all kinds of barriers and overcoming those barriers, etc. It is the eternal story that we have that is the U.S. And I am not going to say that elite and academic readers were fast to understand this but just the general reader was touched by this story, especially when it started being carried in the newspapers and feature articles, etc. This was their story. This was everyone’s story and they identified with it. So, we added all of the other children of immigrants’ readers to the Hispanic base and it was a coming together. So, it cut across ethnic lines and they did not realize that. They very much wanted to segregate it into some kind of little curious romantic tale of the southwest rather than this big movement. I mean, there were one million people who were displaced by the Mexican Revolution that came to the United States between 1910 and 1930. One million. And they account for the major portion of Mexicans in the United States but Cubans and Puerto Ricans and Columbians and others have similar stories about coming to the United States. But then, when you think about the Irish potato famine and you think about the Communists incursions in Poland and all kinds of things that produce these large movements of people, that is what makes up the U.S., you know, and this story was able to cross over, and they did not appreciate that. They really did not understand it. Of course, they knew they did not have a grip on how to sell books to Hispanics. In fact, then, they were still operating under the misconception that the literacy level of Spanish speakers is way low. Their book consumption level is way low. They will not buy books. They will not buy books that cost a lot of money. All that kind of stuff. And this and subsequent products that we had produced at Arte Publico challenged those myths. It was very difficult for us to get sales reps. It was very difficult for us to line up wholesalers and distributors because those kinds of ideas reigned very powerfully in the industry, even when shortly thereafter Rain of Gold, we launched our children’s publishing, Pinata Books, which had 3 levels: bilingual picture books for kids and middle readers and young adult books. But when we tried to get it to the national constituency for these books, that is people in the communities, get them into the hands of families and kids which is still very much our dream, unrealized dream in many cases, my board of business people said, “Hey, we can get these to where people will get them and we are going to distribute them through the supermarkets.” Well, we had to battle the same prejudices and misconceptions then: 1) Latinos do not read; 2) they will not buy books; 3) they will not buy books that are that expensive.

DG: Here at home at the University of Houston and the city of Houston, were we ignoring all this? Were we supportive? Were we part of the obstacle? What was the role of your University of Houston family and your city of Houston . . .

NK: Oh, everyone in Houston and at the University and the community were very happy and proud of what happened with Rain of Gold and had open arms for the author any time we brought him to town. And the president of the University of Houston had him as a speaker and all kinds of stuff like that was going on, so they were very supportive at that time. It was one time when the University of Houston was able to make a big splash across the country with something cultural like that.
I was talking about Pinata Books and how the prejudices and misconceptions about Latino community, vis-à-vis reading and education, etc., were very much rampant. When my board came up with a plan for distributing the children’s books to supermarkets and we did some test marketing and it became very positive, and because the president of Fiesta was very much supportive, we were able to line up the East Texas Distribution, ETD, to distribute our books to certain zip codes of Fiesta and Kroger – first in Houston, then in San Antonio, then in Austin and Dallas, and what happened was . . . and the way we did it was we developed our own stands, we had them built, and we put our bilingual children’s books on the stands and we also put our Spanish language books because we publish in English and we publish in Spanish, we put our Spanish language books on the stands, too, and we also imported some very high quality kids books from Mexico and Columbia and Argentina just for a comparison and also to supplement, at that point, what was limited offering that we had of our own published books. And lo and behold, the community discriminated against the books that were imported and preferred to buy our books and our books were priced higher. We were selling the imported books like for $5 a head and we were selling our books at $7.50 and our adult Spanish language books were like $8 or $9. And the community would wipe out those stands. We had to fight from day one with the supermarket managers to get those stands into those stores. Of course, supermarket space is very precious. One item competes with . . . I mean, we are competing with a lot of other stuff that could be used on that space, and they said, “No, the people are not going to buy this stuff. It is too expensive and they are not interested in books anyway.” And what little offerings they had at that time at these supermarkets were a bunch of foto novellas which are like comic books and small format that some individual supplier goes across the border and buys whatever he can that is cheap. And then, they come in and they just throw it down there on the rack, an open rack. But we had our own very beautiful metal racks. And what happened was that we had a sell through rate of something like 62%, which is a very, very competitive sell though rate. The community had responded and it had responded in a big way. But the distributor found it very difficult to just market, just service the racks in only Hispanic zip codes, plus they had high labor turnover. They paid people, you know, at minimum wage, what have you, and they would completely forget about our racks, so they would stand there empty because the customers had bought all the books. And the supermarket managers were so enraged by this that they would take our racks and they would throw them out. The only response we could do to that would be to hire somebody to follow the distributor around or do our own distribution, but we could not do our distribution because the supermarkets have exclusive contracts with the distributors. So, we were in this Catch 22. They are not doing the job, they are going to force us out of business, and they will not let us do the job. So, it was very, very difficult. Ultimately, we had to stop that. We could not do it because we did not crack . . . and we are not a large company. We are very small. We work with entrepreneurs in the community that when they start a business . . . there is one of our supporters who started a business, a store and he had a concept for distributing magazines. He opened these magazine stores in various states. He opened 51 stores at one shot. He was capitalized. We were not capitalized. It was our dream but slowly but surely, build up capital, we have a market, we have the community responding, build up capital here in Houston, then expand to San Antonio, then expand to Dallas, and if it really works with Texas, we will build enough capital to go to Los Angeles, go to Miami, what have you. Well, we could not crack the whole distribution wholesaler thing and we did not have the muscle, we did not have the money, etc., to go at it in a big enough way so that people would pay attention to us. So, we just distribute those books through our normal routes. Our sales reps to bookstores, to the schools, through teacher associations, library associations, direct mail, catalogs, all that kind of stuff, but we do not have that presence in the grassroots which is our natural audience for this, for these books, you know, and who want them.

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DG: It is a shame. Of particular interest in your work is the Past, Present and Future of Hispanic Drama in the United States. You talked about the theater groups that you started. You have done your own works on theater history and criticism and you have edited or co-edited anthologies of Latino plays including Nuevos Pasos. Your interest in theater, is that at the inspiration of your aunt in the music business? How would you describe your work?

NK: Well, she gave me my first guitar and from that point on, when I was a kid, I was playing and singing so I had this musical performative bent from way back, and I guess when I went to college and grad school, I studied theater among the courses and I was very interested and I did my Ph.D. dissertation on the theater of the golden age, but the same time, I was working with Chicano theater and the community in Austin and became very cognizant of all the theater history that was in the community that people still remembered and related to, etc., and through that involvement, I became a scholar of theater, more than the opposite around – more than being a scholar of theater and then getting involved in the communities. But it was actually the community base that got me thinking about the whole history and culture of theater and the need for theater. And so, because we were in a privileged situation of having a publishing house so we could continue to do that and publish theater works and anthologies, I have always thought it was a very important institution in the Hispanic community, probably more so back then during the Civil Rights Movement, it was a very important articulator of the search, the pursuit of civil rights and cultural rights and linguistic rights, to popularize it, making that link with communities that eventually would be expressed in voting and government and what have you.

DG: Your recovery efforts in literature, has there been a parallel effort in plays and in performance arts?

NK: Yes. We are doing as much to recover the plays and performance arts in our project, and we have. What I do in my teaching today and have for the last probably 10 years is I prepare future professors. So, I teach Ph.D. courses and one of the courses that I teach every 2 years is Hispanic theater. And all of those texts practically or at least two-thirds of them come from texts that we have recovered.

DG: Interesting. You have lived through the change that you have alluded to a couple of times. There has been an explosion of the population, there has been an awakening of Latino Hispanic culture, some of it to the detriment in terms of the immigration debate, some of it certainly in terms of recovery of assets and all. How would you sort of describe that awakening, that awareness, the difficulties you have overcome? Where are we today? The job is not done but where are we today?

NK: Well, I believe that we are over the hump. The hump is the lack of awareness of the presence of Latinos in the United States, and that is part of the problem today, is that with the growing awareness of the “demographic bomb” – a large, rapid increase of Hispanics in the United States over the last 20 years – there has been a reaction. There has been fear of takeover, there has been fear of loss of national identity and culture, competition for jobs and resources, all that kind of stuff, but it is already too late, meaning that the largest segment of the Hispanic community are young people born in the United States. It is not the immigrants themselves. The immigrants are not the large population that the media would have us believe. It is actually their children and the children of Hispanic natives, and they are the ones who are going to vote and they are the ones that are going to make up the big blue collar and white collar classes of the future, they are the ones that are making up the fastest growing segments of university students. They are the ones that are also going off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan and who knows where else they want to send our kids. So, it is very much a different U.S. than the people who are fighting it really understand. So, it is too late for them to really change the nature of what our country has become and is becoming, and what I am trying to do and what we are trying to do through the press and our cultural problems, etc., is kind of accommodate both ends, create more awareness, more knowledge, more appreciation. Yes, it is a different country but in many ways, it is the same country. We have always had this here. We have always had Latinos in the United States. We have always contributed to the U.S. Part of what American culture is comes from this background, but we have to have the instruments to accommodate this growth and these riches because now we need to think of ourselves not as a melting pot but as a multicultural society. I mean, really understand what multicultural society means. It means relating to other parts of the world, it means having a hemispheric consciousness, it means understanding that the history of the United States is part of the history of the hemisphere and we share so much with the history of Argentina, Peru, or Canada, etc. We are not particular unto ourselves nor are we a part of Europe, nor have we ever really been a part of Europe from the beginning when Ponce de Leon set foot in Florida, in the 1540s, whatever it was; when they arrived at Plymouth Rock in 1620 – my dates are going to be off – but 1620, whatever it was. They ceased to be Europeans. This is a new world. All of these dynamics that we are dealing with are part of what we have as a hemispheric system, as a place that was different from Europe and took on its own evolution, that related to the populations that came here from Africa, from Europe, from Asia and the population that was here. That is our history that we share throughout the hemisphere, and it has given rise to systems of travel, immigration, communications, labor – all kinds of stuff that cannot be understood just from your separate vantage point here in Texas or New York or whatever, or even the vantage point of U.S. economy. It just does not work. It is larger than that. So part of what we are doing is providing that history, those texts, that cultural sensibility that should be part of our national understanding, our national identity. You know, the United States never really had borders. This concept of enforcing the border and all this kind of stuff . . . probably the country with the most pliable concept of border was the U.S. as it expanded southward and westward and across seas. I mean, our border at one point when to all the way to the Philippines. And during the days of Manifest Destiny, they were talking about going down to Tierra Del Fuego on the floor of Congress. So, I mean, like, our politicians do not have an understanding of it or if they do, they give very little awareness to the general population about what really is happening; like the government is behind immigration and the industry is behind immigration. We need it. If we have a falling birth rate, you know. If the U.S. Society is not duplicating itself. If we are not producing 2 babies per a set of parents. And our economy works on expanding at a growth rate of 5% and a lot of industries want better than 5%. Where are we going to get the people to fuel that engine? And where are we going to get the people to support the people who are retiring, who are no longer in the labor force but want to collect Social Security? Well, we don’t have them. So, industry and the government works to import them and there is all kinds of demagoguery about that but that is what we have been doing since the mid 19th century. We have been importing people to run the industries and to replace ourselves when we retire. And even more so today. I mean, it is just like every single corporation and industry only believes in growth. So, if you are going to have growth and you want the national economy to grow, how can you have a retracting population base? You can’t. So, the answer is and has always been let’s get more people in to work. It is a resource.

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DG: If we are over the hump, has your mission changed? Is it modified? Will it change in the future?

NK: Yes. I mean, right now, our mission is changed. I mean, I am producing professors in this which was unthinkable back when. Right here at the University of Houston, we have the only, right now, the only Ph.D. program concentrating on U.S. Hispanic literature, culture and language, and our professors that we graduate get jobs all over the country. They are grabbed up. We have 100% placement rate. So, our mission has changed when, before, you know, we might have been preparing teachers for the schools or we would be preparing bilingual teachers for kindergarten and first through third grades, etc. Now, we are preparing professors to go out and be the trail blazers at their own institutions to open up this whole field and integrate it into education and national culture. A lot of things we are doing like that. It was unthinkable back when we started publishing in 1979, 1980 our books, and we would have a 10 episode series on HBO, or that other of our books would become movies. That is not where we were focused. We just wanted to get a book out. We wanted some people to read it. We hoped that it would get into some university classes. And the terms that were applied to us during the 1980s was we were the best-kept secret in publishing or education because we had no distribution outside of university classrooms, you know, direct mail to professors, that kind of stuff; show our wares at some of the educational conventions. That was it. That was our sphere. Education and academia. But now, I mean, we are in Barnes &Noble and Borders, our authors are getting Pulitzer prizes. We are just everyplace. So, the mission has to change, like, specifically, our publishing mission. Since we opened up so much of the large publishers who take our offers after we launch them, right, and they offer them large lucrative contracts and we cannot hold on to them, consequently, we publish less and less fiction, novels, etc., because someone is doing it already and we cannot compete with them that much anymore. We can still come up with very good works by writers who did not have access and we continue to do that and continue to launch off it but what we are doing right now is we are growing our nonfiction list. We are doing a book with Henry Cisneros on the Latino future of the U.S. We are doing books on law. We are doing a whole lot of different areas that we are exploring where the industry and popular culture and public affairs and TV, radio, newspapers are ignoring because right now, what is current in the media, as far as Latinos are concerned is immigration and criminality, especially to drugs. Nothing else. That is all we exist in the national media. That is our little cubbyhole. We are not involved in other areas. So, we are expanding that. We are treating different areas that have to do with public affairs and Latino culture, etc., for hopefully creating new discussions in the media and this book that we are working on with Henry Cisneros we hope will be an opening to get him and some of the other authors onto the talk shows and start to change the attitudes and the themes of discussion. Let’s bring it away from the whole immigration debate. Let’s bring it away from the picture of the Latino pusher in the schools or in the ghettos, etc., into our issues in the economy, our issues in housing, our issues in education – that kind of stuff – and how we are contributing to the progress of all of those areas in the national culture.

DG: Let’s talk about Houston specifically. Dr. Steven Kleinberg says that Houston is what the country will become; that when they do the next census, we will find out that Hispanics are the largest segment, we are a nation of minorities. How is Houston doing, in your view in terms of people getting along, in terms of the valuing and respecting the culture, in terms of buying into the mission you have been promoting?

NK: Steven Kleinberg has shown in all of his polls, and there has been some decrease lately in the latest poll about the acceptance of immigrants and new people in Houston, that Houston generally is very accepting, and I find that to be true. I find that Houston very much upholds the work ethic, we highly respect people who work and have ambition and want to do something. One of the largest segments in Houston business despite our large corporations is the small business enterprise. We have a giant community of immigrant business owners who are creating little businesses that become chains that someday will become large corporations. A large segment of those are Hispanic. We have this entrepreneurial spirit there and in Houston. So, I find Houston today to be very open, very welcome and probably a good model for other cities. In my travels, I find other cities that are more resistant to the presence of Latinos but Houston, since the 1920s, has always had a large Hispanic community. So, it is not unusual to find this level of acceptance and also what I find is inter-ethnic cooperation and appreciation on the grassroots level more so than in a lot of other levels. I find a lot of understanding and cultural mixing. I do not know if Kleinberg has studied this but other sociologists have seen that intermarriage among Latinos and other groups is very high and will be increasing. And that translates into different attitudes in the society. And that intermarriage is happening at all levels but really, also is happening in great measure at the grassroots which is very, very interesting given the number of segregated schools we have in our communities and ethnic isolation in all African American schools or all Hispanic schools, etc.

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DG: I want to say this for the purpose of the recording, to polish the resume a little bit if you will allow me because you made significant contributions outside the academic world. In 1994, you were appointed by President Clinton to a six year term on the National Council for Humanities. You are a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as a Fellow of the Ford, Lily and Kobenkian Foundation. Did I say that right?

NK: Yes.

DG: In 2000, you were a guest at the White House State Dinner in honor of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain. You have received numerous awards from the University. The obvious question is where do you find time? But the question I would like to ask you is out of all that public acknowledgement of your work, is there something that has brought you a particularly noteworthy sense of satisfaction or of accomplishment or of pride when you look back on it? It is tempting to say . . . I am sure it is all appreciated but is there anything that was particularly significant, meaningful?

NK: Well, something that has been very, very important to me was the home that the University of Houston has given me, especially with my endowed chair, which has allowed me to do in lot of things. It has given me a financial base that frees me up to do many, many, many different things. I only teach one Ph.D. class a semester, only two classes . . . people who see this video and say, wow, this guy is only teaching 2 classes . . . what does he get paid for that? . . . but along with that is I direct about 10 Ph.D. dissertations a year and in my office here, I am surrounded with graduate students that are running in and out and depend on me and I help them with all of their work and preparing them outside of class, right? But the endowed chair has given me the kind of financial base, expense account, etc., that has allowed me to do many, many things. That has been the most important thing for me. On the other hand, that is the institutional. Really, the personal has been that I have a wonderful family, I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful son, and they have been the most important things in my life. More than any of this other stuff.

DG: I read in another interview someone asked you a physical attribute you desired and you said you wanted to be tall enough to dunk a basketball. I guess that is a carryover from your youth as an athlete? Any chance for a late growth spurt at this age?

NK: No late growth spurt. I still play basketball. I have a group that I have been playing basketball with for 20 years or so. We meet every Sunday at my house. They are a bunch of tall guys. And they range in age from like 25 years old to 71. I still love sports. I play tennis, etc. Yes, I guess one of the things they gave me a chip on my shoulder and led to a lot of fights when I was a kid was I was so short. And, you know, I guess you understand that.

DG: Yes, sir.

NK: This is a society that really admires tall people and they have an image of someone who is smart as being tall or someone who is administratively capable as being somebody that is what we think was as tall as Thomas Jefferson. He probably was not that tall but our image of the leader is someone that is tall.

DG: Well, we have conducted other interviews for this project and one of the stories that came out was that Hispanics were not hired at the Houston Fire Department for years. They were denied employment because it was determined they were all too short. They had to sort of figure what the average height was and then set the standard just a little bit above that and when the community finally found somebody tall, a Hispanic tall person, he sort of became their Rosa Parks for the Houston Fire Department and they were able to get that put through.

NK: One of the pieces we did in our theater group up in the Midwest was we did a takeoff on that old radio free Europe commercial where they march in 3 kids and a teacher who is dictating propaganda that the kids repeat and they have chains on their head. And so, we did the same thing about American values and Hispanic kids being in the classroom. And one of the statements was, “Mexicans and Puerto Ricans should work in the fields because they are built close to the ground.” Another one, “Mexicans and Puerto Ricans should work in the open hearth of the steel mills because they come from hot climates.” And I personally, talking about the Fire Department, one of the things that I, because I was always looking for work . . . I needed work to pay for school and everything . . . they were recruiting for the American Can Company in Jersey City when I was in college and they would not take me because I was too short. According to them, I had to be a certain height like 5’8” to be able to stack the cans. So, they did not hire me. And that was a well paying job that could have led to a union position, a union protected job and I would have made a lot of money, and I could not get the job because I was too short. I will never forget that.

DG: And you never would have left the factory with your union protected job.

NK: Well, it could have been a temptation to make good money instead of going to college but at least, you know . . .

DG: What does the future hold in store for your adopted city, for Houston? What do you see in the next 10, 20 years?

NK: I see that we have lots of potential. We have so many things going for us as far as . . . we have to bridge this dependence on oil into other energy. That is one thing and that has a lot of potential for the whole city if we can do that; if the oil companies really get into alternative energy. But what I see, more important for the Latino community and the Latino future of Houston is the connections with Latin American, the port, import/export, technology transfer, both ways because we import technology from the south as well. We do not only export technology. And the place that the University of Houston has in the transfer of education and technology, our campuses at universities in the United States, University of Houston has not done this yet but are now becoming global campuses. Physically, by setting up campuses in different countries which we have that potential to do, especially with Mexico but also through distance education now. We have started some exchange programs with Monterey Tech and we are doing some distance education with universities along the border in Texas. But that can really grow for us and be very, very important. It does not only mean, you know, exporting technology or importing technology and education. It means creating greater communication and greater fluidity and moving knowledge and resources and people back and forth, you know, and further integrating our economies and bringing everybody up -- bringing the level of the bathtub water up so everyone floats instead of, you know, just like flooding it on one side or whenever. So, Houston can be very, very important as a place of brokering the cultures, brokering culture from south to north, north to south, being a bilingual, bicultural city. We already are a hub for Spanish language communications. We have 2 daily newspapers in Spanish. We have another 5 weeklies. We have all of these TV stations, etc. All of that can really explode for us. We are so geographically and economically located, strategically located. We have to build on that and I think that we are part of that mix. Arte Pulico Press, University of Houston, etc. We have to make that happen. We have to be facilitators of all of that.

DG: Terrific. Was there anything that I was not smart enough to ask you?

NK: No, you were terrifically prepared. Thank you.

DG: Thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it very much.

NK: You are welcome.