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Interview with: Hipolito Perez
Interviewed by: Tom Kreneck
Date: March 6, 1981
Archive Number: OH 330
TK: This is a March 6, 1981, oral history interview with Mr. Hipolito Perez, better known as Paul Perez by his friends. Let me begin, Mr. Perez, by asking you the same question I asked you a while ago. You’re the non-bandsman of the Perez brothers. Have you ever had to answer that, or has anyone ever brought that up to you before?
HP: 00:34 Yes, of course, many times friends. I really strongly believe that this comes from God—that gives a person such a talent. And they showed it from the beginning. Because I remember when Elloyd(?) and Phillip were just kids, they used to make music just out of anything. They’d get a bunch of cans and sticks and play a drum. They’d make music out of that. And also, they’d make music out of a broom handle. They’d rap it on the floor, and they’d make music out of that. And they always used to be singing and always make music out of anything. They’d even make music out of a comb with a piece of paper—cigarette paper. They’d put it in their mouth and make music out of it like they were playing saxophone, something like that—the sound of music.
TK: When they were kids?
HP: When they were just kids, yeah. They were always doing music and singing, and I never did—I never did have the desire to be a musician at all. What I really think, when I was just a boy—when I grow up—I said, when I grow up—when I get married—I’m going to try to—if I have some kids—raise kids—I’m going to try to give them school the best I can, because on those days when we were kids, we went to school to learn. I don’t blame my parents because they always sent me to school. And even when I was about 21 years old, I was still going to school, but I didn’t learn nothing. So when I grew up, I said, if I had kids, I was going to send my kids to private school. Even if I’ve got to pay for it—no matter what it costs—I’m going to make a big sacrifice to send my kids to school to try to make a better living so they don’t have to be digging ditches to make a living like me. I’ve got to be working hard work to make a living. So when I came here to Houston, I got married in 1938. We had the first child a year later. So when my kid would grow old enough to go to school, I sent him the first year to go to private school—I mean—to public school, and then after that, I sent him to private school—to Catholic school.
TK: 04:15.7 Where was that?
HP: The first school I sent him to was Sacred Heart. And then I sent him to St. Joseph. After they closed the school at St. Joseph, I sent him here to this—what’s the name—Texas—in Crawford? Annunciation. And they had grades there until sixth grade, so after that I sent the oldest one—he went to St. Thomas Aquinas—St. Thomas. And the rest of the boys—the next two boys, David and Donald, they went to St. Thomas also, but they didn’t finish there. The reason is because in private school, if you fail one subject, they put you one year behind; you’ve got to repeat that year. So they didn’t want to do that so they went to a public school—Jefferson Davis—and both of them finished there, David and Donald. And the next one was a girl, Agnes, and she went to Marian High; it’s also a Catholic school. And she finished there. And also Ruben, my next boy; he graduated Marian High. And the last one was a girl, Teresa. She finished Annunciation. That was the last one. I’m glad because I could do that. It was kind of hard for me because I was the only one that was working—was me. I was just a laborer. You can’t get much money for it, and then I was paying for a house and paying transportation so they could go to school and lunch and all that. It was kind of hard for me, but I tried. I was making that sacrifice for them, because that was my big desire—to see my kids to finish school. I didn’t have that.
TK: Do you feel they’ve been fairly successful in school?
HP: Yeah. So I didn’t have that kind of chance to finish school. So I tried my best to put my kids through school.
TK: Where were you from originally?
HP: Where did I live?
TK: Yes, let’s begin at the beginning on that.
HP: 07:51.9 Bastrop, Texas. I was born and raised in Bastrop, Texas, until 1937.
TK: Did you come to Houston before the other Perez—your brothers came—or at the same time?
HP: Well, almost the same time. One of my brothers came with me to Houston. So we came from Bastrop to Richmond to farm in Richmond, but we stayed there only—oh—probably only 6 or 7 months with my father. And then we moved here to Houston—me and my brother—to help my father farm at the same time. We’d work here and help him. You can farm—somebody worked in our place.
TK: 08:46.5 Did you go to school in Bastrop?
TK: How old were you? When were you born?
HP: I was born in 1913.
TK: In 1913, that’s right. I believe that’s on the other tape. We didn’t get to talk too much last time at the other interview about the history of the Perez family in Bastrop. I think you knew a little bit more about that than your brothers did. When did the Perez family come to Bastrop? Are you aware of that?
HP: Well, I say around 1909, something like that.
TK: Where were you all from originally?
HP: Well, my parents came from Maynard, Texas. That’s what I understand.
TK: They had been—were they married in Maynard?
HP: I really don’t know exactly. It was around there.
TK: Around Maynard?
HP: Maynard, Texas.
TK: When you first came to Houston, where did you work?
HP: I started working with Rice Institute. You know where the Rice Institute is?
HP: 10:36.7 I was working there. I remember that I was making 25 cents an hour. Yes, I remember when I got married, I only had 5 dollars. In those days, it was—
TK: Did you meet your wife here in Houston?
HP: No, I met them in Richmond. They moved here to Houston, also.
TK: Where did you live when you first moved here?
HP: I lived on Center Street, but I forgot the block.
TK: Did you live with other people? Were you married at that time?
HP: No, I was staying with my brother. My brother came here.
HP: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
TK: Where did you all get married?
HP: We got married here in Second Ward on Nagle Street in 1938.
TK: At the church?
HP: The church—in Guadalupe Church.
TK: In Guadalupe Church? And where did you all move then? Did you all live on Nagle?
HP: Yeah, on Nagle.
TK: What was the community? Were times tough then, or was it—?
HP: Oh, it was tough then. The reason was because there was no jobs, no work.
TK: Even as late as ’38? Even in 1938?
HP: Yeah, there was no work.
TK: Do you think they were reticent to hire Mexican Americans? Do you think people hesitated to hire Mexican Americans for the jobs? Do you think it was discrimination at that time?
HP: Well, there was a little discrimination, all right, but I don’t believe it— I believe that there was just no work. Even I started working with the WPA—you know—the government projects to get people to work, because a lot of people were without work. So later on it started getting a little better. After the ship yards started in 1941—’40—it started getting better and better.
TK: 13:30.1 You went to work in the ship yards?
TK: What did you do there?
HP: Well, I was—as a laborer.
TK: As a laborer?
HP: Yes. It was just kind of hard for a person who doesn’t have an education at all. It was just hard to get a position. You’ve got to start from the bottom. After that, if the boss man got to know you good and you do the work, even if you didn’t have an education, they’d give you a chance—you know—a promotion, and it was better and better all the time. But they’ve got to know you first.
TK: Were there a lot of Mexican Americans working at the ship yards at that time?
HP: Oh, yes.
TK: I just talked to a man named Rudolpho Rodriguez(?)—Rudy Rodriguez. Did you ever know Rudy Rodriguez?
HP: Yes, I guess I know him.
TK: He said that he worked over there in the ship yards to begin with.
TK: 14:31.3 He said at first they wouldn’t let Mexican Americans work inside the ship yards. He said they started outside, laboring around, and then they finally let them go into the ship yards. Did you remember that at all?
HP: No, I don’t remember. I started working inside, when I started there.
TK: Oh, you were working inside?
TK: What exactly did a laborer—? What exactly did you all do?
HP: Well, exactly what I was doing was sweeping the floors, picking up iron—scrap iron—and stuff. That’s what I was doing.
TK: What did you make an hour?
HP: Well, that’s kind of tough. I believe it was around 90 cents an hour.
TK: Okay, you had worked at Rice Institute for 25 cents an hour. Did you have any—? Was that the job you had when you started working at the—?
HP: No, I started working with the WPA. I started working in 15:43 (s/l Allerton) Field. But I don’t remember exactly how much I was making then.
TK: What did you do for the WPA? Where and what did you do?
HP: What was I doing? I was digging ditches.
HP: I don’t remember.
TK: Around Houston?
HP: Oh, yes, in Houston. Yes, sure. A lot of the ditches were way deep.
TK: You had to get down in there?
HP: You had to get down in there, throw it so far. From there, there was another fellow to throw it out. There were no machines. Well, probably they had some machines to do it, but they wanted us to—you know—the laborers—put men to work. That’s the reason for the WPA, because a lot of people around the street do nothing, so they put them to work.
TK: 16:40.9 When there was a lot of employment, was there a lot of discontent with the Mexican-American people here? Did they complain? How did they feel about—? How did you feel about having a hard time finding a job here in Houston?
HP: Well, I didn’t feel bad because I’m already used to it. (Laughs) But you feel bad when you can’t get you a job because you’ve got obligations—rent to pay and bills can pile up. You just feel bad. You just want to do something—bring something home for the kids. It’s kind of hard for people without education. That’s the reason I was trying my best to put my kids through school. So I thank God all of our kids all finished school. Two of them went to college and finished.
TK: Oh, two of them went to college? Where did they go?
HP: One went to Austin—still there in Austin—and one went into the service and then went to college. He had to get the job he’s got now.
TK: What parish do you belong to now?
HP: Our Lady Sorrows.
TK: That’s over near El Crisol, isn’t it?
TK: Isn’t that in El Crisol?
HP: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
TK: Did you move there? When did you move to Crisol?
HP: It was in 1930-1948—1948.
TK: Has it always smelled from that (s/l Crisol) plant? That’s why they call it that, right?
HP: Yeah, well, it used to be bad. It’s not anymore.
TK: 18:55.8 It smells worse now than it did before?
HP: No, it doesn’t smell anymore like it used to.
TK: Oh, I see.
HP: I probably just got used to it, but I don’t smell it anymore.
TK: You like the neighborhood pretty well?
HP: Well, I like it now because all the neighbors, they’re good neighbors. We know each other good, and we’ve got telephone numbers. In case anything happens, we call each other. So that’s one of the other reasons that I sent my kids to private school—get them away from the neighbors—get them away from the neighborhood. So they went to a school way out. They had friends way out, not here in the community. So I guess that’s the reason that my kids never did have any trouble with the law at all, because I always tried for them not to make friends over there in the neighborhood. Some of them neighbors all around there—a lot of kids smoking marijuana and dope and things like that. I don’t want my kids to be involved with those kids—try to get them away from them. That’s the reason I sent them to school way out. I believe I had good luck on that.
TK: Good. Back in the ‘40s, there were— Was it in the ’40s that there were gangs running around the neighborhoods? When did that—? Was there a time when there were actual gangs of young men in the neighborhood?
HP: Yes, they used to call them pachucos. I remember they had long hair. It was not as long as they have it now, but they had long hair. And I remember they had some gangs that were against these long-haired gangs, and they used to catch them and cut their hair with a knife.
TK: Where was the gang from? Do you know where they were—in what neighborhood?
HP: Well, they were mostly all from Magnolia—you know—Magnolia Park.
TK: The long-haired gang?
HP: 21:46.0 Yeah, they used to come from there. They had some there in the neighborhood too.
TK: Did they ever give you all trouble—the people in the community?
HP: Well, they never did give us any trouble at all, because we always tried to stay away from them. I remember when my boys used to work in town, and the last bus passed here in town at 12:00. If they missed it at 12:00, I had to come back and pick them up. But when they got the bus at 12:00, I always got out of bed and went to the bus stop and waited for them—you know—to stay away from the pachucos there.
TK: How long were they active—the pachucos? How long were they active? Do you remember when they started getting big and then kind of dissolved away? Was this in the ‘40s?
HP: It was around the ‘40s—’40-’41. No, it was later than that. I believe it was when the— Yeah, it started around about ’42-’43, the pachucos. That’s when it got kind of worse. They started around ’40-’41, but it started getting worse and worse about ’43-’44.
TK: And when did they finally—? When did you not see them anymore?
HP: Well, let me see. They were still around until ’48, a few of them. Yeah, in 1948 there were still a few of them. The other gangs that were against the pachucos, they got them kind of hard. Even the policemen cut the hair of the pachucos. I guess that’s the reason they quit. But now, they started doing it again. They started the pachucos again. They started using pants—the bottom—the narrow ones—big shoes.
TK: Pointed shoes, lots of soles—Stacy Adams?
HP: Yeah, they started using them again. So, I don’t know.
TK: What was life like in Bastrop? What was your house like? What was it like to grow up in Bastrop?
HP: You mean my house?
TK: Yes, what was it like to grow up as a young man—a youngster—in Bastrop?
HP: These days?
TK: No, when you were a child.
HP: 25:10.9 Oh, well—you know—them days when they had no cars—no car. You had to ride a horse, ride buggies to go to town. I think it was kind of hard, but people in those days, they came back from town early—than they do now—because they rode in wagons. You went early in the morning and came back early in the evening. But now they’ve got cars. They come late. Them days, when we was kids, we didn’t know any better. We didn’t have no radios. We didn’t have no television. We didn’t have no telephones or nothing like that. So when storms were going to hit the area, you didn’t know anything about it. So even— I don’t know if they had newspapers in those days or not, but we didn’t know how to read so we didn’t know what was going on.
TK: Could your father and mother read and write?
HP: They read and wrote Spanish, no English at all.
TK: Not English, but Spanish. How many brothers and sisters were there in your family?
HP: There was nine brothers and one sister.
TK: What happened to the sister? Is she here in Houston?
HP: She’s here in Houston, yes.
TK: After you worked for the ship yards, then where did you go work?
HP: I went to farming. When I quit the ship yard, I went to farming in Damon, Texas.
TK: You left Houston?
HP: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
TK: Why’d you do that?
HP: Well, I had a desire to buy a ranch. That’s the reason I tried to go there and farm there. I tried to buy me a place to farm. So when I went there, it was during the war. I stayed there from ’43, I guess—’43 until ’47.
TK: Did you get laid off at the ship yards, or did you just—?
HP: No, I just quit.
TK: 28:18.6 You just quit?
HP: I just quit to go farm. There was a son—one son—that went to Richmond, Texas and met a friend of mine. I told him that I wanted to farm. “Oh, I’ve got a good place for you. I’ve got a good place. (s/l Crowzy), he’s got a good place.” So his boy went to service and he needed somebody to help him, so he took me there, and I talked to him. So we got together and went to his place. I stayed there 2 years, I guess, with him, and then I moved to another place. I bought a tractor and trailers and those things—bought a neat farm. And I stayed there until after the war. My kids started growing, and I started thinking and talking to my wife about school. With farming, it was kind of hard to send the kids to school. We were too far away from town, too far away from schools. So we decided to come back to Houston to put the kids in school. That’s the reason I came back.
TK: Where did you get a job when you go here?
HP: I started working with the lumber yard—the lumber yard—Southern Lumber Company. I worked there about 6 months then I started working for the city.
TK: For the city? Who was the mayor when you became—when you first started?
HP: I believe it was Oscar Holcombe.
TK: Were they hiring Mexican Americans by then? What year did they start—? Were you—? Were there lots of Mexican Americans working for the city at that time?
HP: Yes. Yes, they hired me right there at the barn. Not like they do now from city hall.
TK: Oh, I see.
HP: They hired me right there.
TK: And you worked for which department?
HP: Street repair.
TK: Street repair from the very beginning, huh?
HP: Well, I started on a ditch gang. They called them the ditch gang. That’s Division One. Then I moved to Division Nine. That’s street repair. I just worked a few months on a ditch gang. I asked for transfer to number nine because I liked that work—cement work. That’s the reason I asked for a transfer, and they gave it to me.
(End tape _001)
(Start tape _002)
TK: 00:07 How were you treated in the street repair department?
HP: They treated me right—pretty good.
TK: Was the work hard?
HP: Well, it’s kind of hard work, but like I said, if you don’t have the education, you’ve got to show that you work every day and don’t miss days. Like some of the people there said they were sick, because they got sick time. I never did ask for it unless I was really sick, so they gave me credit for that. They gave me a promotion. I started, like I said, as a laborer, and then later on I was a truck driver. Then I started driving a mixer—concrete mixer. I stayed there about 8 months, and then I got a promotion as a finisher. So they treated me all right.
TK: Where did you finish up at? What were you doing when you finished working there?
HP: When I quit, I was a cement finisher.
TK: You were a finisher?
TK: Now, you retired with the city after how many years?
HP: After 27 years with the city.
TK: Why did you retire? You just decided to get out?
HP: 1:36.5 Well, the reason I retired is because I was kind of nervous. When you’ve got too much responsibility, you get a little nervous. When you’ve got a lot of people working under you—like I had colored people, Mexican people and white people working under me, so I’ve got to be pushing around. That’s kind of hard. I feel that I was getting nervous. I was 62 years old, so I decided to just quit and get my social security pension from the city, and we made it. My kids had already finished school. The house was already paid for. I told my wife that I guess I’ll just quit and take a rest and travel somewhere. So we went to Mexico City and a place in Mexico. We went to Arizona, California, all them places.
TK: After you all lived on Nagle, where did you all move to?
HP: I went to Damon, Texas.
TK: Oh, and then back? And then you all came back to Crisol?
HP: Yes, we came back to Crisol.
TK: Did you all buy a house?
HP: Yes, right there where I live.
TK: It’s hard to buy a house now, I’ll tell you.
HP: Oh, yes, those days, when I was 03:10 (Spanish), I bought that house—a 6-room house—for 1600 dollars.
TK: What street do you live on now?
HP: On Salina Street.
TK: I interviewed a man by the name of Willie Aguilar up there. Do you know Mr. Aguilar?
TK: 03:37.3 A Frank Brett—do you know a Frank Brett?
HP: Oh, Frank Brett, yes.
TK: Do you live in that area?
TK: 03:55.3 When you were working for the city, did you get along well with the people in the department?
HP: Yes, I sure did. Yes, I got along well with the colored people, the Mexican people, and the— I never did have any argument at all with nobody.
TK: What were you doing—? Did you ever go to the dances that your brothers put on?
HP: Oh, yes, sure. I love dancing. I guess that’s part of the reason I didn’t spend time on playing or trying to learn how to play, because I used to like to dance a whole lot. I didn’t want to be losing time playing. I still go to the dances when they play. Not regularly, but I go to them. When I hear that people are going to play close here in town, I go, because I like this music; I really like it.
TK: Did things get easier for you with World War II, or were things—? When did things start getting easier for you as far as job and money and everything?
HP: Well, I believe it was just since the war that it started getting easier for all. Because I remember those days, even 1940, 1942, 1943, the people—most all the people were renting. They never did try to buy a place until the war started. But I believe as soon as the war started, they started paying a little more—people started getting money. They started buying places—you know—lots and houses. I believe that’s when it started getting better and better all the time.
TK: But the ‘30s were pretty tough here in Houston for you?
HP: In 1930?
TK: I mean—when you—in the ‘30s—when you were here in the ‘30s.
HP: Yes, it was hard. It was hard to get a job. A lot of people were out looking for jobs. It’s kind of hard to—even if you got a job, always the boss man came to you and said, “If you don’t do better, I’ll get someone else.” Always pushing you, because a lot of people were asking for the job.
TK: How was it to work at Rice Institute? What was it—?
HP: 07:21.1 Well, it was kind of a hard job.
TK: What did you do there?
HP: It was mostly mowing the yard, cleaning out the leaves—picking up leaves. We used to work 8-10 hours a day.
TK: Did they have a lot of Mexican-American people hired there to do that, or were you one of the only ones?
HP: No, I believe there were around 25 people working there.
TK: I see. Most of them Mexican Americans?
HP: Mostly—just a few colored people were working. They had a garden where they planted roses—you know—like that. They used to work it with mules. When they had games at Rice Institute, we used to work there picking up bottles when the game was going on.
TK: At 25 cents an hour.
HP: At 25 cents an hour.
TK: How’d you get out there? How’d you go out there?
HP: We used to go on the bus. I believe the bus cost a dime, I guess.
TK: You were living on Center Street at that time, or Nagle?
HP: At that time, that’s before I got married, I used to live on Roswell, right there where the freeway goes. They tore those houses down.
TK: Have you ever belonged to any organizations here in town?
HP: Well, I belonged to the Holy Name Society in church. I belong to the senior citizens. I’m the president.
TK: Where is the club?
HP: Right there at the church.
TK: At the church?
HP: Uh-hunh (affirmative).We get together once a month and we get music and dance. Them old people like to dance. They can dance and have a meal.
TK: 09:57.3 (noise on tape) A little bit more than you— So you went to a lot of the— Which place did you like to go to the best where they played music? Do you remember any of the places that they played around town?
HP: Well, I really like the place over there on—they called it Starlight. It was on Shepherd. That was a good place because it was kind of quiet. I like that place better than the other places. I used to like Pan American, but I don’t like it anymore.
TK: It’s gotten rowdy, or what—?
HP: Yes. That’s the only place that I really like to go. When they played there, I went.
TK: The Starlight? Is it still there?
HP: Yeah. Because Elloyd(?)—that’s an old band. A lot of people know him, and they hire him for weddings, parties, and things like that—mostly weddings. They like the music for weddings. And then I follow them at weddings and all of that. He calls me and tells me he’s going to play somewhere at a wedding. Mostly, the people that know him and hire him, they know me. They send me an invitation for their wedding. So I go to the place where he plays all the time.
TK: Did you ever go out of town with him?
HP: No, I never did. I went to Austin once with him. I never go out.
TK: Was it hard on him going out of town and all that? Did it hurt his health or anything like that?
HP: Well, it’s kind of hard in a way because—I mean—on the way back. You’re all sleepy. That’s when it’s kind of hard for them unless they have somebody to drive them. They don’t play, they sleep. Then they can drive back. But if they play, one of the drivers plays, that’s kind of hard because all the—when they get in the truck, they go to sleep, except the driver. So it’s kind of hard for one man to drive.
TK: 13:27.8 And they’d come back that night?
HP: That night, yes. Or go somewhere else. It was kind of hard.
TK: The job that you worked at the—working for the city—was that your favorite job that you’ve ever done?
HP: Yes, that’s the kind of job that I like to do.
TK: Was it better than farming? Did you like to farm?
HP: I like farming because it’s quiet and you don’t get nervous and you’ve got no bills to pay. It’s all right. I like farming all right, because, like I say, you don’t have no worries at all. I guess that’s the reason that people that work on farms live so many years, because they don’t have to worry about paying bills and things like that.
TK: You could tell the difference in your life when you moved from the country into the city—back into the city?
HP: Right, yeah. Sure. Yeah, especially if you don’t have—you don’t get a job. You get nervous. You’ve got kids at school, clothes, transportation, lunch and all that and you are the only one working. It’s kind of hard.
TK: You didn’t go to the service, did you?
HP: No, I didn’t.
TK: Why is that? Were you too old or too young?
HP: Well, I guess the reason was because I was farming. I went to Damon. That fellow that I worked with, he had one boy in the service. He needed somebody there to help him out. So when they called me to service, he sent a card to the local board that he needed me there. So he kept me there.
TK: How did he treat you? How was he?
HP: 16:02.7 He was a really nice fellow. He was German. He was really nice. We used to live close together in houses about 10 feet away. We got along pretty good. He had kids as old as mine. We really got along pretty good.
TK: Did your kids go to school there?
TK: They couldn’t go to school there?
HP: No, it was too small there. But they were really nice people—really, really nice.
TK: This school—the Perez School—that the report card is from, how did that come about? What do you know about that school? Where was that school?
HP: That school—they started building that school in 1911, and they finished in 1912. And that building got burnt up. I believe it was in 1920—1924—when it caught fire.
TK: It just caught fire?
HP: Yes. I remember the teacher was making some— There was a stove—a wood stove. She was making some chili con carne. I guess she put a lot of fire on, and it started catching fire in the attic.
TK: I see, sparks in the attic?
HP: Yeah. It caught fire, and then it was too far away from town where the fire department was.
TK: How many kids went to school there at that time?
HP: At that time, I’d say around 40-50.
TK: Did you go to school there?
TK: Was it a pretty good school?
HP: 18:41.0 Well, it was a one-room school.
TK: One-room? Why was it built?
TK: Yeah, how did it come about that it was built? You said that it was built in 1911.
HP: Yeah. Well, in those days, they had a lot of discrimination. The Mexican people couldn’t go to the white people’s school. So my grandparents started taking collections from neighbors to build that place. He went to 19:24 (s/l Mr. John Bartner)—he was the owner of the property where the school was built—and asked for the property. He donated the property for the school.
(Break in tape 19:39.8)
TK: 19:44.2 Okay, how did they raise money to build?
HP: Well, they went to all them ranches, taking collections and telling them about it. A lot of people, they had no money in those days, but they used to sell a cow or a hog or sell chickens and such, things like that, to pick up the money to donate. Everybody was interested in having a school because there was no school around. There were a lot of kids around and a lot of farming. They all wanted a place to send their kids to school. So when they built that school, they built it at a place where they were going to build a road through there. So when they finished the building, they moved the building back to make room for the road to go through. I talked to one of my cousins last night from Austin, and he told me he remembers when they moved that school back. My father took a team of mules to pull this school. That’s the way they moved it—on planks. He said he was still inside the school when they moved it.
TK: Oh, they were sitting inside the school?
HP: Yeah, sitting inside when they moved it. So in 1924, like I said, it caught fire. Mr. (s/l John Bartner) had another place—another school—that was empty in those days, so he donated that building. So they moved all the furniture—the benches and blackboards they were able to get out from the building before it caught fire. So we moved it to that other place. It still was on Mr. (s/l John Bartner’s) property. So he donated that building for a school.
TK: 22:25.1 And they still call it the Perez School?
HP: Still call it the Perez School.
TK: How long did that Perez School operate?
HP: I believe they closed the doors right soon when we left. We left there in 1937—the last part of 1937. I believe that was the last year they had school there.
TK: Where did the kids go to school after that?
HP: Well, after that, they started bussing them. They were going on a bus to Bastrop, Texas. In those days, it was just a few families living there by then.
TK: Everybody had moved out by then?
HP: Well, yes.
TK: Where did they move to?
HP: Where did they move? Many places—some went to Austin, some went to Elgin, some went to Bastrop. During the war they built an Army camp in Bastrop, so by then a lot of people moved to Bastrop.
TK: Why did everybody leave Bastrop—I mean—from that place? Why were they moving out of there?
HP: Well, there was a lot of farming. They started raising cattle and stuff like that. They don’t farm anymore like they used to. They were making more money on raising cattle.
TK: Is that why your dad left—your father left?
TK: But the school was named after your grandfather?
TK: The Perez School. What was his name?
TK: Manuel Perez? Was he from Mexico originally? Was he from central Texas?
HP: 24:26.7 He was raised in Mexico. He moved to Texas from— He moved to Corpus Christie—across to Corpus Christie. He used to tell us that he used to travel, moving cattle from Corpus Christie to some other places to the north. It would take months and months traveling with the cattle. That’s— He used to be a cowboy, I guess.
TK: He was a cowboy. Who was your teacher there? Do you remember any of the teachers at the school?
HP: At school? Yes. From the beginning, when this started—this school—my grandpa knew a teacher—a Mexican teacher—from San Antonio. His name was George Padilla. He was bilingual. He spoke English and Spanish. That’s when they opened the school, in the beginning. I don’t remember how long he taught—how many years—but after that, we had Mrs. Mildred McDuff(?) and Mrs. Mildred Miller and Jean Miller and Iris Miller. There were three sisters. We had this teacher that was—what was her name? She was on the report card. So that’s the teacher we had.
TK: Were they pretty good teachers?
HP: Oh, they were good teachers—really, really good teachers—and nice.
TK: And that Higgins?
HP: Mrs. Higgins, yes.
TK: Mrs. Louise Higgins. Did they know Spanish, or not?
HP: No, only Mr. Padilla, George Padilla. He’s the only one who—
TK: So they taught the kids in English?
HP: In English, yes.
TK: Did Padilla try to teach them in Spanish?
HP: He would translate it. We would have English, and then he would tell you what it meant in Spanish. So that’s the only teacher that we— We learned something from him, because he’d always tell us what it meant in English and Spanish. We did good with him, but the other teachers, they don’t speak Spanish, and we don’t speak English. It was kind of hard. We only speak English with her when we’re in class, but when we were playing outside, we spoke nothing but Spanish. So it was kind of hard to learn.
TK: 28:10.4 Why did he leave the school?
HP: Why did I leave the school?
TK: No, why did he leave the school—Padilla? Why did he leave the school?
HP: Well, like I said, he used to live in San Antonio. He used to stay there with his parents during his school days. So this man was kind of old. I remember my father—I don’t know exactly what kind of position my father had on the school board, because he hired this man again. He went to San Antonio and hired him to teach us. But by that time, when he came back again, he was an old man. I say around 68-69 years old. He was an old man, but he was still a good teacher—real good. He stayed there with us, I believe, a couple more years. After that, we had the Miller sisters.
TK: Where did they live? Did they stay with you all?
HP: The teachers?
TK: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
HP: No, they used to live around there.
TK: Oh, they lived around there.
HP: Yeah. This last teacher that taught there lived really close to the school. She used to walk.
TK: Who was the teacher that was cooking the chili con carne when it went up?
HP: I don’t remember, probably Mrs. Higgins.
TK: She cooked food for the kids?
HP: Well, when they’d have parties and stuff, they’d make—
TK: But this happened during the day, and it burnt up?
HP: Yes, in the daytime.
TK: Who was your teacher? Which one was your teacher—Padilla?
HP: Padilla and these three sisters.
TK: All three of them?
HP: And Mrs. Mildred McDuff(?).
TK: How far did the school go? What grade did the school go to?
HP: Well, I went to fifth grade. That’s as far as I went. I don’t remember somebody older than me. I guess about sixth grade was as far as it went.
TK: Where there still a lot of kids in that area that didn’t go to school, or did most of them go there?
HP: Well, in those days?
TK: In those days.
HP: Oh, there were a lot of people that never did send their kids to school, because in those days they didn’t care about it. They put the kid to work on the farm. They didn’t go to school. They didn’t care much about education. But my parents, they always sent me to school.
(End tape _002)
(Start tape _003)
HP: —people to learn English.
TK: 00:06 When did you—? Did you learn English there at school?
HP: Not much. I learned it here at the jobs, with the colored people talking.
TK: With the colored people? How did any of those kids learn when those teachers couldn’t speak Spanish? Did they learn anything?
HP: They didn’t learn nothing. It was kind of hard.
TK: But they learned better with the man from San Antonio?
HP: Oh, yes, a whole lot better, because they could understand him. He’d tell them in English and then in Spanish. He was good on figures too—arithmetic. I used to know a lot about fractions. I learned it from him, but I’ve forgotten them.
TK: Oh, me too. But the lady teachers, they couldn’t communicate or anything?
HP: No, it’s kind of hard for the kids to learn. Now, my kids—my grandkids—they don’t speak Spanish. I’ve got 16 grandkids, and they don’t speak Spanish.
TK: Sixteen grandkids?
HP: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
TK: And none of them speak Spanish?
HP: None. They can understand, but they don’t speak Spanish.
TK: I wonder why? I wonder what—?
HP: Well, I don’t know why, but—just the parents don’t try to teach them, and whenever they go to schools. The neighbors only speak English. They don’t use Spanish anymore.
TK: Do any of your kids live around you in the neighborhood, or are they all moved out to somewhere else?
HP: They moved out, yes. They came back from service, and they bought homes.
TK: 02:17.3 How many kids, at the time, went to that Perez School when you were going there—30-40? How many?
HP: I’d say around 40-50.
TK: All the different grades in one room?
HP: All in one room, yes.
TK: How did anybody hear anything?
TK: How far was your house from there?
HP: From the school? Oh, I’d say about a quarter of a mile.
TK: You walk to school? All the kids walk to school?
HP: All the kids walked to school. There were no cars then.
TK: There were no cars.
HP: We all walked. Well, they all lived around the school. They didn’t have too far to walk. Some of them had about 2 miles to walk.
TK: Why did the school close? Do you know why the school closed?
HP: Well, it closed because there were no more kids around anymore. They all moved to town. They quit farming. Even the building is torn down. It’s not there anymore.
TK: Did your brothers go to school there?
HP: Oh, yes.
TK: Phillip and Sixto and—?
HP: Yes, all of them.
TK: 03:45.9 Did they play instruments at home? Where did they learn to play their instruments?
HP: They learned at home, yeah.
TK: Did your mother and father—? Where they musicians? I asked you all this before.
HP: Yes, my mother. My mother used to play accordion.
TK: Did she teach them how to play?
TK: They just picked it up?
HP: Yes, they just picked it up. That’s the reason I said, it comes from God. They just picked it up. I remember Sixto was—it was in 1925—he was barefoot. He was playing (unintelligible) at the dance barefoot.
TK: Where? In Bastrop?
HP: No, it was—well, down in Bastrop, yeah. He used to play— We went to play in Texarkana. There was a white fellow there—an old man—that used to play. He used to go with him and play with him.
TK: Where was that?
HP: Texarkana. We went there to pick cotton.
TK: Oh, you all went out there? You all went kind of out and around to pick cotton?
HP: Uh-hunh (affirmative). We went there in 1925 because that year it was dry and we didn’t raise a crop. So we went and picked cotton.
TK: Was that pretty hard?
HP: Oh, yes, it was kind of hard. We went to Texarkana, and we got a—had a little house we left here. It caught fire and everything and burnt up, so that was kind of hard for us. The little money we made there, we had to come back and buy some furniture.
TK: 05:55.0 At school when you—? Did they have—? Other than school, did you all have any activities there in the evening, or did you all do anything there at school at night? Did families come to the school or anything—any kind of programs or plays or anything like that?
HP: Yes, we had some programs. I remember a fellow came from Bastrop. He used to play a bass and had a music—what do you call this?
TK: A harmonica?
HP: Uh-hunh (affirmative). He had a little brace to hold it, and he played like that. He used to play with his foot, a bass. He used to play that. He played music at the same time.
TK: Was he an Anglo fellow or a Mexican?
HP: He was Anglo.
TK: Anglo guy? He came to the school and played?
HP: He sure did.
TK: What about programs that the kids put on? Did you all have any?
HP: Yeah, we had some programs, like dances and stuff and singing. We even had a contest in Bastrop. A lot of schools got together and had a contest with jumping and roping and dancing and singing.
TK: But you learned English, really, on the job here, when you came to Houston?
HP: Right. I didn’t learn any English in school. I learned just enough to get along with the teachers. The teacher would tell you to read here, so we’d read that and homework and that’s all.
TK: And you didn’t know what you were writing?
HP: No. So nobody that I know finished school there.
TK: Because they didn’t know what they were reading or writing?
TK: The teacher thought that they knew what they were—
HP: Most of it was memorizing.
TK: 08:19.5 Were the teachers nice to you all?
HP: Oh, yeah, they were really nice—really nice. They were good teachers. Mr. Padilla was kind of rough. (Laughs)
HP: Yeah. He had this thing. They call them 08:40 (Spanish). It was kind of a whip. (Spanish) And it was made—cut it from a pecan tree. (Spanish)
TK: And he’d hit the kids with it?
HP: Oh, yeah.
TK: But the other teachers, they wouldn’t hit the kids?
HP: No, never. Oh, they would paddle them.
TK: But not like him?
HP: Not like him. He was rough. I guess that’s the reason we learned better with him than with anybody. But the rest of the teachers were pretty good.
TK: How has your life been here in Houston? Have you enjoyed your life here in Houston?
HP: Oh, yes. I’ve been enjoying it better now after I retired, because I don’t have any more worries about sending kids to school or buying clothes for them or transportation. I’ve only got a girl at home. She’s 23 years old. She hasn’t been married yet. But me and my wife, since I retired, we’ve traveled. We went to Louisiana to these races and all that. We travel with the senior citizens. We went to San Antonio, to Austin, a lot of places. We have the time. And the church, we cooperate with the church. They have groups there for senior citizens—the Holy Name Society. So I’d say I got it made now since I retired.
TK: 11:00.6 How many children did you all have?
TK: Six children.
HP: Four boys and two girls.
TK: I was wondering—is there anything else about the school we ought to talk about that comes to mind?
HP: No, I guess that’s—
TK: That’s a very, very interesting topic, the fact that you all built a school there. Do you know how much it cost them to build it?
HP: (Laughs) I really don’t know. In those days, everything was cheap, and they had a lumber mill over there close by.
TK: They bought the lumber there?
HP: Really cheap.
TK: Who built it, actually? Who put it together?
HP: Well, my grandparents were the ones who started it, so I guess they got it all together and started building it.
TK: Oh, the people actually put the hammer and saws to it?
HP: Oh, yeah. No, they didn’t hire no carpenter at all.
TK: No carpenter or no contractor to do it?
HP: No, they did it themselves. And this fellow—(s/l Mr. Bartner)—it was his property.
TK: Did he ever come over to the school?
HP: Oh, yes.
TK: 13:13.8 (s/l Bartner) did? Was he a rich man around there?
HP: Oh, a really rich man. Yes, sir. Yeah, he had a lot of property. His dad and two of his boys are still living. They used to hire my brothers to go play music.
TK: Oh, really?
HP: Yeah, (s/l Mr. Bartner), he used to like music.
TK: Where did they play, in Bastrop?
HP: No, they played out where he lives. They used to go to the house, and he hired them.
TK: Oh, when they were youngsters?
HP: Oh, yeah, before they got married.
TK: But all the boys played instruments—music—at home in Bastrop before they came to Houston?
HP: Oh, yes.
TK: And they got the band together here, when they got to Houston.
TK: I see.
HP: But they used to play in Bastrop. But Elloyd(?), he started here.
TK: What happened to the other brothers? I know about five of you all, but what about the other brothers? There were four other brothers, right?
HP: Yes, the oldest one, he got killed—electricity. He was working for the telephone company. He was away from home, and a fellow was putting a post in a hole with a wench. He called him, “Come on and help me.” So my brother went there to help him out. He put his arm around that post and put it in the hole, and the post hit a cable—an electric cable—and the electricity came through the post and killed my brother, just like that.
TK: When was that?
HP: 14:55.6 I believe it was in 1944.
TK: Here in Houston?
TK: In Austin? What about your other brothers.
HP: The other one was Pete. He died about 4 years ago. And Leon died—no—Phillip died after Pete, and then Leon next to Phillip. In about 3 months, we lost three brothers.
TK: Were they living here in Houston?
HP: Yes, Phillip did. Leon and Pete lived in Rosenberg.
TK: What were they doing in Rosenberg? Were they working?
HP: Pete was farming. Leon was working in town—Rosenberg.
TK: Were they older than the musician brothers?
HP: Yes, they were older.
TK: They were the oldest?
TK: The musician ones were the younger brothers?
HP: The youngest.
TK: I see. Elloyd(?) is the youngest one, and then Sixto—the other brothers were even older than Sixto and Leo?
HP: Elloyd(?) was the smallest, and then Phillip, and then me, and then Sixto, and then Leo.
TK: Okay. And then the other brothers were older than them?
HP: Yes, were older.
TK: So the young ones, except for you, were musicians?
TK: Could the other brothers play? Were they musicians also?
HP: Yes, they could play, all of them. They played fiddle and guitar.
TK: Like the younger ones?
TK: But they just never went professional? They never played professionally?
TK: Well, Mr. Perez, that’s just about all I can think of for right now. I know you probably have to go somewhere. I thank you very much for this interview, and we’re going to be getting together again. Maybe next time we can find Richard.
(End of interview 17:21.4)