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Interview with: Raul DeAnda
Interviewed by: Louis J. Marchiafava
Date: April 17, 1975
Archive Number: OH 037
LM: Can we begin by getting some background information? When did you first come to Houston?
RD: About seven years ago, in ’67. I was originally from Dallas, born and raised in Dallas, Texas.
LM: What was your profession before you came to Houston?
RD: I had received a business administration degree and had worked for several large companies. When I came to Houston, I was working for a large company here in town, Riviana Foods, an international company, in the marketing department. That was my basic training. I went to work quickly afterwards for the advertising department of a professional engineering group. After that I began to get into the area that I’m in now, which is roughly the field of social work. I was with the family service center, an organization at the department and went to graduate school in social work to get a training in social work, formal education.
Then I came to work here in this educational field. We get into social work, because of many of the things we learned in that school, we have to apply here. The main reason for that is that there are so many needs for reform in the educational field in Houston, Texas.
LM: Is there anything in particular that lead to your interest in this area?
RD: The main reason for switching fields from business to social work—I think—for me was to try to back to help my people, the Mexican-American community. I had really not been very much involved in my other jobs, in terms of the Mexican-American community. By the nature of that job, we were just concerned about making money. At some point in time, though, I decided to do that, that is help the Mexican-American community if I could which is what led me into the field in the beginning. The educational field was just a prime target for trying to make reforms come about.
LM: What is the Mexican-American educational council?
RD: 02:50 Well, it began in 1970. It’s a very young organization. It was founded by a large constituency that is the Mexican-American community across the city of Houston. There were a lot of community leaders involved in this at the time. For example, the first director of this organization was Leonel Castillo. Judge Adivetis (sp?) cites his participation. He calls himself a founder of the organization, which is true. There were a lot of founders. He is one of them. A lot of community leaders that you’ll find out that were involved with this group at the time.
At the time, it was a protest group, a protest group trying to fight the court for their plan on the segregation for the Houston independent school state. Everybody now agrees that the complaint was justified, even the school board of the HISD, formally said that a few weeks back. In 1970, this was the court ordered plan, and the school board, and the administration, and everybody else was telling us this is what you have to accept. The Mexican-American community fought the plan, because it was hypocritical, and everybody agrees with that point now. It was typical in the sense that it really wasn’t a desegregation plan, but only an attempt to give that impression.
On paper it looked fine. You could see that finally Houston was going to be desegregated. Finally, blacks and whites were going to mix in the schools, but in fact that wasn’t true. To two minority groups, black and browns were mixed, and the white community was almost completely dis-attached from the plan. Of the 25 schools that were paired, for example, out of 25 or 26 schools, 23 or 24 of them were minority schools, mostly black or brown. Only 2 or 3 of them at all were mostly white. The percentage of the black and brown schools that are involved in the plan now are 99 percent black or brown.
The situation hasn’t improved since 1970. There is no more desegregation than there was then. In fact, it’s deteriorated, because there’s been a lot of white fight, so that now people agreeing, yes isn’t a good plan, and we should change it. I think that was still around, and we’re involved in some of the same protests, but not as much as we were then. The effort then was to try and get the plan had changed, and that was attempted by a series of boycott schools, was up around schools at the time.
That forced the issue with HISD. They were forced to go to court to try to get the plan changed. How serious that effort was, I really don’t know, but we did get some concessions from it. I think maybe we got some reforms because of that. I wasn’t involved at that time. I can’t tell you, claim any credit for any of that. I did teach in one of the classes two or three times, but at the time, I was very forward moving towards the community and only an appendage, you might say.
LM: There are some schools in the city that are predominately Mexican-American?
RD: Sure, yeah.
LM: What areas are those schools located in?
RD: Well, roughly, in central city, and roughly what’s mostly white is around the loop from the outside, so it’s white lying around the inner city. There is one part of the city inside of the loop that is supposed to be white, of course, River Oaks in the southwest area, but the rest of it is mostly black and brown, and becoming more so. By the same token, just the opposite happening in the outer city, the white population is going up there. The activities seen now in HISD is cutting a new plan, is an attempt to try to stop that white fight. How successful it’s going to be, I don’t know.
LM: What have you found the quality of education for Mexican-American children to be as compared to white students?
RD: Well, I think you have to understand, first of all, when you look at the picture, that we really do still have a segregated school system, a dual school system. The outer city is white. The inner city is minority, and even with the Supreme Court year back will say that’s separate but equal, facilities were not really equal, and yet that’s still what you have here. If you see the schools, if you visit the schools outside of the loop, and in the southwest area inside the loop, you’ll see that the school buildings are in better shape physically, what you can see, by the way, there’s something better physical.
08:17 If you visit schools in a community like EO Smith, or until recently, Marshall Junior High or Davis schools, those last three schools are predominately brown. The first EO Smith is mostly black. If you visit those schools, you’ll see at EO Smith gapping holes in the walls, plaster falling off, broken windows, poor lighting, all kinds of inferior physical conditions. You go to Davis, you’ll still see some of that. That’s improving now.
You go up to Marshall a year ago, you would’ve seen—I’m sure—close to the same conditions as you would’ve seen at EO Smith. Marshall was a mess. If you go back there now, you’ll see it has been repainted. The holes have been plugged up. Lockers have been replaced, all kinds of improvements, but that wasn’t brought about because of a plan that was already there. It was because of protests by parents, and we were involved in that. We got the parents, consulted with them to give them guidance, but we were not the ones who made the change. They are themselves were legitimately complaining.
We can push and complain ourselves. We don’t have our children in those particular schools, so we’re not necessarily a part of that community of which most of that is. Well, basically, now it’s heavily funded agency, and we’re funded. We found out it’s been drug into us to support the Houston independent school district in its desegregation plan. That really is just a play on words, because the reason we’ve had it come into our heads, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do, is that we found out that this doesn’t mean that we’re here to help HISD desegregate. It sounds like the same thing, but it’s not.
We found out that we’re still supposed to support their plan in significant areas, simply a half-hearted effort at desegregation. It really isn’t a plan to desegregate, and yet we’re supposed to support that plan, whether or not it’s going to be segregated there. When we really got in to the area of planning to desegregate the school system, then we really got into trouble, because then we weren’t being supported, we were being critical. We were threatened with this loss of our funds, and in no uncertain terms we were told that. I had applied out there.
LM: Were you told this by—?
RD: Office of Education, ATW. We had to make a choice, either stop complaining about conditions or stop criticizing HISD as an organization publicly. The first thing I heard about it was eight months ago, and since that time I haven’t been able to say something against this agency publicly. For a while, it was very depressing. For two or three months, I couldn’t figure out how to say something without endangering the funds, but I finally figured out how. It was so simple, I don’t know what I hadn’t thought of that myself, but somebody pointed it out to me, you can say anything you want to as a private citizen, anything, and nobody can hold you accountable for pointing to this organization here.
11:49 I went to a meeting where they were having hearings on the desegregation situation, and I said what I wanted to say, criticized HISD, said that it was not really intent on coming up with any kind of desegregation plan, but they were only trying to eliminate an embarrassing plan that they already had. I really didn’t expect anything to come out of it, that task force that they had, that was going to be any different from what it was, except maybe elimination of a cosmetic kind of change.
Later on, I found out that I could also found and work with another organization. Found is what I did. I helped start another group called Mexican-American in Canada too.
LM: I’m not familiar, but I’ll check, and I’ll research it, and I will ask you about it.
RD: Okay, well, the reason for that organization was to enable not only myself, but other people, that were interested in the same sort of thing, to work towards reforms that were necessary, and to do it in such a way that the organizations that we might be working for or associated with will not be in danger. Since we tied the organization, we’ve been managing to leak out some reforms in some of the schools around town. Like for example, just one example, the Houston . . . was compared with the council, a very powerful, federally funded agency I’m talking with. They’ve been around for about ten years, almost ten. It came to our attention that although they had the final say so on whether or not any local schools got federal funds, not only in Houston, but in the 13 counties surrounding it.
The funds come from there or are approved through that funnel. They brought out the manuals, and they had say so over all federally funded programs in this area, and yet when we looked at the stack of rosters they had over there, they had only one black in that administrative decision. They had some blacks at lower levels, clerical, but even more slacking than that was the fact that they had no Mexican-Americans at all at any level. This is close to 100 staff members there, and after almost ten years of operations.
They did not have an affirmative action plan, so as a separate organization, we went with MAUL to talk to them. I think they responded positively. They are now working on an affirmative action plan, and they have hired a Mexican-American in an administrative position since there. There’s a possibility that now there’s hope for the future in that group. That’s just one organization. There have been others like that.
LM: Your cooperation from the federal government has been rather mixed, in a sense.
RD: 14:58 Yeah, so you get the monies, but you’re also restricted at the same time. You’re not funded by the federal government to initiate reforms, and that’s another simple truth, but I didn’t realize that until after a time with the job. This organization, the Mexican-American Education Council has been born out of an effort to reform the school systems, and now it’s being asked to be submissive. I don’t remember being that instrumental with reforms, but we are involved in helping Mexican-Americans in the community. There are many things you can do without being controversial. I think that’s the key thing with the federal government. You can do practically anything—I think—get away with practically anything using federal funds, if you don’t get controversial. The minute you get controversial, then you’re getting too close to the bone. I think that’s the situation.
M: Yeah, what you said about being controversial, would they be opposed to that because of the locations, or can you tell an expression that might stand upon Washington?
RD: The Office of Education has that, sure. It’s all very, very political. That is the main reason. Many people aren’t evil people, so maybe they have differences of values and that’s part of the problem. Most of it is political pressure, and you’re right. They want to make sure that they get funded for their jobs next year. As they get controversy here, it may mean that they’ll lose their jobs next year. That’s been happening a lot.
M: Do you think that you perceive the problems in another sort of political pressure in order to show that they’re trying to help make some money for Americans. They’re not really rocking the boat? Is that what you think is basically what you have to do?
RD: They have a certain tension they’ve got to maintain. They’ve got to, for political reasons, fund a Mexican-American organization, at least one, and it means otherwise, they’ll be accused of discrimination, and rightly so. After awhile, we were the only Mexican-American group in a community. They do release the funds pretty much for the school district, 90, 92 percent of the ESA monies are for the school district. The other 8 percent is for community groups such as ours in the Houston area, Houston Council of Human Relations, National Conference of Christians and Jews. Four or five groups get money, and that’s only 8 percent of the total pie, so you’ve got to think that for political reasons, they’ve got to fund certain ethnic groups.
17:58 That’s the reason for the controversy to be into it, so they can’t at the same time, allow them to be controversial or they get flack from every office or they hear from the congress. There’s a letter. There was an interesting thing develop this year. We may still not getting ESA funds for next year. We think that now there’s a limited change of getting than we got last week. Last week we finally got asked to submit an application.
At this time last fall, in December, we already knew about funding for next year. This is really late in coming, mainly because Gerry Ford doesn’t think that these segregation matters are important. That was reflected in the budget he submitted first. It was zero monies for ESA funds. Congress fought and they had negotiations, and now I think it can funded. We’re going to funded close to the same level, but I’m not sure about that. There’s $243 million that was funded last year. The last ticket at the house was for $151 million, but that’s for the whole country. The Senate had approved for funding. It was $243 million, so it will probably be somewhere in between.
I lost track of what I was saying. The funny development occurred when these negotiations were going on. One of the proposals was that the middle layer be eliminated, middle layer of the bureaucracy. That is our community group that deals directly with Washington. They process our applications, and they’d be losing a group in Dallas, the local regional office. To save money, they were going to cut out the regional offices. There was really a lot of jockeying around for position by these people up there. They just really obviously wanted to keep their jobs.
They even asked us—although they would never admit it now—they even asked us to write letters requesting funding. They told us flatly that they couldn’t do this openly, but that would do anything that would help. Of course, it was in our interest too, but they didn’t tell us to write these letters saying we spoke until necessary, so they got us to do it. I was quite happy, because it’s partly a vested interest that they have to keep their jobs, to keep us from being controversial. If they get too much out of hand, it will reflect on them, and that’s why the bureaucracy works. They are supposed to maintain a stable situation.
M: Since you work with black organizations too, have they applied similar pressures to the organization?
RD: Yeah, I’m sure, groups such as the Urban League has that impression. The Houston area Urban League, I’m talking about. I know some of the people over at the Houston office over there, and they probably haven’t done any pressuring this year, if they ever have from these people, but that’s only been because they haven’t been controversial. The only reason being for that—I think—is that the situation over there is different administratively. Whereas, these are the only funds that we have, and we only have one staff. The ESA funds over there are just one department of the whole thing. It’s just one section, and they got to report to their central administration, so they get pressure from their own groups, not to get controversial.
21:45 It’s a different situation. It’s a much bigger group, and that explains most of our differences. I don’t know of any of the blacks that discuss it, but I’m sure it wouldn’t have been the same pressure, had they been controversial. Operation Bread Basket, if they were to receive ESA funds, I’m sure they would get much pressure not to. I can show you some letters later on—I think—I have, dating the criticisms they made of us, communication after they addressed us here. If I can find a copy of the record, I’ll give it to you, of the session I had in Dallas, and the dialogue that went on there, and why were we doing this and why were we doing that.
I went up there into this room at their insistence. There were nine or ten people around this room, including the secretary taking notes, and they were all asking me questions, and I had to defend our position. I should’ve taken a lawyer maybe, could’ve—looking back, it was a funny hindsight, but it was also very serious. We could’ve at that table, lost our money. At one point, I thought we had, because I was arguing the points with these people, but I wasn’t there to negotiate. I was there to do what I was telling them, and that’s all I was doing. At one point, I thought I’d pushed the guy too far, the guy in charge. I thought he was going to say, that’s all he wrote here, but I did some fast talking. I said, “Let me talk about the work when I get back,” and got them to delay their decision. In fact, we took along with their guidelines as they interpret them.
I was telling them that I didn’t agree that that was the law. The only reason I would ever agree to what they said was because they had that power as a person. That’s the only words I used, and they didn’t like that. They liked to see my process and doing the correct thing. They wanted to see themselves as insisting that we do it because it was right, not because they were getting pressure themselves. I wrote them that in the letter, and part of the agreement was that we not tell people that we only submitting because they were threatening to take our money away, and, in fact, that’s all it was. That’s why your federal organizations weren’t in it, so another story, but they were doing the same things, but doing it a different way.
LM: What do you feel has been the major accomplishment of the council to improve the educational standings for Mexican-American children in Houston?
RD: I think because we protested, then it accelerated the final decision that came five years later, maybe would’ve taken seven years. It only just pushed, accelerated the time clock. We just have a time clock that we increased the rate at which reform finally came about. Not that the need plan would be come ever, but it was most unfair. It was just outright abusive. It’s better now as it is, not having a segregated school system, but to need extra work on the minorities that are already suffering from improper facilities for teachers, inferior facilities of all kinds, and to put the extra burden of going to the mockery of a desegregation plan was really too much. I guess maybe if we’ve had an impact—and I think we have—if we had impacts, is to quicken the pace.
25:45 We’ve gotten—I think—because of that effort, most Mexican-American administrators, more teachers. This too, maybe one of the things that the council was doing was we were speaking ahead of its time. What these people were saying in 1970, was what the Office of Civil Rights started to say about the same time. After five or six reports—I’m not very familiar with the six reports that they make—if I have a copy of any of those reports, I’ll give them to you. They’re very hard to get now, but I have maybe—there were six reports. I have maybe report like four and five. Six, we’re completely out of. The final one was last year.
That was one thing, incidentally, we got in trouble for. We sponsored a place conference for the Office of Civil Rights, and the Office of Civil Rights was saying that the quality of education for Mexican-Americans is inferior, and we were agreeing. HISD didn’t like for us to say that publicly. I’m sure that’s one of the things, in fact, that was one of the cautions we got from the Office of Education. Those two offices, Office of Civil Rights and Office of Education, have been running battle for a long time. There’s a report that came out recently on desegregation by the Office of Civil Rights, in its Twenty Years After the Brown Decision, is the name of it, if you get a copy of that. I’ll show you mine if I can find it. It has a running battle with the President of the United States. It has 20, 30, 40 suggestions there that were directly contrary to what Gerry Ford is doing now.
27:26 Your question was what impact have we had. The reason I mention the Office of Civil Rights was in the last report they made many recommendations, but they all bore out of three general ones. One is that the language and culture of Mexican-Americans should be incorporated into the school systems. The other one was that Mexican-American personnel at decision-making levels be hired. The third general principle was that the budgets of these school systems and other local federal and state governments be rearranged to enable those reforms to come back. Those are all things that the medias, and all these other people, they’re theirs for saying, when they were picking . . . what are your plans before you go with this old special here.
These are pictures taken back in those years of picketing. Here’s a picture of picketers, parents protesting. This sign says, “Little kids suffer from pairing.” That was the big thing. Well, that is the plan we have now, and the date on that is February 9, 1771. It’s the same plan we have now. There are all kinds of pictures in there. If you look through here, you’ll find pictures of—I couldn’t find it if I looked for it now—but pictures of the field at a board room table at the press conference. This . . . was there at the time. Most of these pictures are of the protesting at that time. That’s hard to believe that’s just 1970 for that. I’ll put it over here if you just want to look at it later.
RD: All of those suggestions by the Office of Civil Rights are things that we’ve been arguing for. Iona King was with this group a year and a half ago, so information like that I’ve only yet to explore the second half. Although, I was here in 1970, I wasn’t involved, as I said, with this group directly.
LM: You were also involved in the work of the Mexican-American Urban League?
LM: Can you give us some specific information about how that’s been operating, and its goals?
RD: The goals are to work towards reform of the institutions that affect the quality of life of our communities, our bodies of the Mexican-American communities. The minority community at large, I would say, because the problems are very similar. For example, when we went to the Houston Galveston area council and somebody proposed the problem to them. They said they already knew about it. They proposed the problem. We didn’t talk about hiring Mexican-American staff members only. We pointed that out that was a serious problem we had. We also pointed out that the blacks were also conspicuously absent. They only had one staffing, but it was black, at an administrative position level.
They did two things. First of all, I said in our case, we weren’t only arguing for ourselves, but for the minority community as a whole. The second one is that it also spent in our case because that improved our allies situation and increased our power, because we weren’t saying give it all to us. We weren’t saying keeping it from the blacks, give it to Mexican-Americans at all. That’s like that example when we were arguing for equity for all minorities, we used that approach with any other institutions.
31:17 The United Fund, for example, is another institution that affects the quality of life in the inner city, and it does so in a discriminatory fashion, although they’d never admit that. I’ve talked with them about this situation. There’s no need to go into the whole thing, but I’ll just give you one example of how the United Fund tends to be discriminatory. That’s tied to the proposal process, United Fund information that I had time to research and I could present a damn good case, but I don’t have time. We have this other stuff to do, and including fund raising to make sure we survive.
I did talk with him, and I pointed out to him that after I’d done a preliminary view of just the locations of their agencies that they fund, I took a city map and I plotted out the locations. I drew a line right down the middle of the city and plotted out these agencies. They all, with the exception of only two agencies, they all were to the left hand side of that line or in the very downtown center of town. There were no agencies except two to the right hand side of the line, and outside the downtown area. Those two—I think—were both black, so just to begin with, the locations favored the left hand side of the map, the side of the map which tends to be mostly white. That includes areas of town like Spring Branch, like River Oaks, like Southwest Shop Towns area. The agencies fall way out there. The right hand side of the map is a very different view side of the map. That area tends to be mostly minority, and the two agencies that were there the first time.
Looking again at the same map, you don’t find a single agency funded by the United Fund that is Mexican-American. That is Mexican-American come close. When I raised the issue first, they said, “Correct, that’s the Mexican-American pressure.” If he’d expound on that it’s true, but there’s two things wrong with that . . . he’s not really in charge of that placement. He’s a director in name only. There are so many departments in that place, and he has control only over maybe . . . or decisions that a simple person has to make and no real power. The agency is only part of a larger organization called neighborhood daycare centers, same thing we’re in, the sign you see of this thing here. This is their building, and we’re renting from them. The person in charge of that organization is white, and all the people at the top of that agency tend to be—
M: I don’t know about that. We haven’t taken that—
RD: My point still is true. The person controlling the . . . is not minority, is white, and so that there’s still no agency that’s controlled by a minority, by a Mexican-American, I should say, or has been given to them by the whites. It would only be in the Houston area urban league—I think. They get United Fund monies. Hester House is the other black agency. To terminate with the United Fund, the agencies are in part favoring the white communities, or tend to, just by the locations, but also by who runs it. They tend to think of the other side of the coin to discriminate against minorities, because they’re not located where minorities are, and most of them don’t live by minorities.
One interesting comment by Jack White—I was at their wedding, so I was at that point. I know that Bob White is wrong. It’s Jack White. Bob White’s a bird. Jack came over here. I was sitting there defending the United Fund position. He said, “We never pretended to be all things to all people like . . . ,” but in fact, that’s all he’d ever done, is pretend to be all things to all people. Whenever you see their advertising on TV when it’s fund raising time, or any of the publicity releases, or stories in local newspapers, they prominently place a minority, a black, or a brown. They get ministers who are working in a fund agency. They do nothing but pretend that they’re all things to all people, and in fact I decided that they’re not.
36:17 One example of that sort of operation, there was a magazine that I picked out. It was published by the chamber of commerce. That was about the time that fund raising was coming up. The only picture they had in the whole article about the United Fund, about the story, was the picture of the Mexican-American child, which I didn’t know what had to do with the story. They said they lived in the inner city, and this was one of the agencies was with us. The impression was that they also help minorities, which is not strictly true. I guess—they deal with some minorities somewhere. It gives the wrong impression. They don’t really serve the community the way I think they should. It’s not the way I think it is that’s important. I think that everybody would agree that United Fund monies that come from everybody should go back to everybody, if you’re going to be fair about it. That’s all we’re arguing for, that we get the same share of it, an equal share.
LM: Had any success? Does it appear that you will make some inroads with this policy?
RD: I think we could if we put enough effort into it, because if the goal of this went public. If I had the research, if I had the time, and if we had some research resources that we could put on it, if we had the time to research and really do a lot of legwork, we could pull the facts together and put them in document. Nothing in motion, just clear the facts on how the United Fund operates, I think you could do a lot with a document like that. It would give you a basis on which to argue the case. I don’t think that the effort that I founded in the urban league—there were several of us that went over there—and the efforts that I made were successful. I don’t think they did any more than maybe embarrass them for a little while, maybe made them a little bit more sensitive to the possibility of criticism.
I think to make a dent, we’re got to persist day after day, month after month. I think the way to get the reforms, one of the very strongest ways of doing it, the view on the outside which is who we are, is to put a public spotlight on it, something like bad publicity going to get them to jump to do something. An extreme example would be a riot, which we would never do ourselves, but that’s not our style, not anything that’s ever proven to be successful anyways. I mean—in Watts in Los Angeles where they had the big fires and killings six or seven years ago, whenever it was. You go back there now, nothing has changed, it’s still...
39:31 I was reading a book the other day about Attica, the prison riots in New York, and it was interesting. I wanted to read it, because I wanted to see what Rockefeller’s role was in that. He was governor at the time. In fact, the book was just issued a few months back, because it mentioned that Rockefeller was—I guess—the inquires that answered questions, after having been answered after all those years about Attica. They pointed out after that that all those killings at Attica out of the prison reforms, that were only cosmetic things. After a few months of efforts at reform, that all died away. People that wanted to pursue it were maybe promoted or they were taken off the case by that directive or whatever.
I’m sorry, I lost track of your original question, I guess.
LM: You answered it.
M: You mentioned something about the civil rights commission. What is your opinion of the civil rights commission in regards to their trying to fight your issue with Mexican-Americans? I have heard some criticism that the civil rights commission concentrates primarily on blacks, and does not face the issues of changes very well with Mexican-Americans.
LM: I think that’s a real positive area now. What you’re saying, in a criticism maybe is dying in some places, but the Office of Civil Rights, if you go about 1970, 1969, was pretty much the same as any other government agency or institution in this country. They tended to see things only in terms of black or white. (inaudible) They tended to see things only in terms of black or white. I’m talking about ethnics. The tended to see problems as belonging to blacks, and they go about by pressuring groups by whites, but they overlook completely the other minorities groups involved and the fact that they too suffer some depression.
Since 1969, the Office of Civil Rights has changed, because of a militant walkout by the Mexican-American witnesses that have been here since San Antonio. A lot of—speaking of publicity—back to the Office of Civil Rights—it hit the papers. They suffered from bad PR, so they said, “Wait a minute. This isn’t right.” They brought the issue to the forefront. They said, “You spent your life investigating the situation,” so they began to investigate where these six reports came from. They finally issued the sixth report last year. They pointed out, as you’ll see in the reports—we don’t have a copy here. It’s the first time we realized we released the six reports.
42:31 They pointed out all the politics Mexican-American leaders have for years. Up until that time, we hadn’t had any reason by the federal government, to speak of. Since then, Nixon appointed a lot of Mexican-American administrators with maybe no real power, and mostly it was cosmetic and for good political reasons. I remember when I was in school, I got a copy of a leaflet when Nixon was running for office again, showing all the things he had done for Mexican-Americans. It listed all of the Spanish-speaking organizations across the country since he had come in.
I guess there’s a lot of truth in that, but it wasn’t an effort to make any big points. It was simply to make the comment. There’s a lot of dirty laundry after Nixon left that Mexican-American organizations across this country are facing. I was talking with the brown mafia, the organizations that have taken money in terms of support. It makes notice support—again, I kind of lost track. The Office of Civil Rights is more sensitive to Mexican-Americans problems now, even though they stopped the research in the educational fields. They’ve gone into areas of discrimination involving elections, and that’s probably some of that publicity you’re hearing now. Newspaper articles you’re seeing now are being generated by civil rights like that.
Maybe since that time too, because they began to realize the problems that Mexican-Americans were experiencing, they began to hire Mexican-Americans in staffing. I don’t know what their makeup was before. I suspect that the Office of Civil Rights before 1969 was mostly black and white. It’s not necessarily because they had any specific reason for it, they just had the same problems that a lot of institutions had then. For example, color TV, any kind of TV—I say color because I’m thinking about the color of the people—there’s only blacks or whites. Until recently, Chico and the Man finally got on. We finally made TV. It’s a lousy show—I think—but the thing is that the fact that it’s even on there is a step forward.
I got real mad looking at the TV the other day. I hated the show when it first came on, and then I got to watching it because I was curious as to what they were putting on it. It’s really bad at times, like a few weeks back—have you ever seen the show yourself?
M: A couple of times, yeah.
RD: It’s so one dimensional. The guy, the last show that I got so mad about, was being insulted by the old man who runs the garage. It wasn’t even like insulting. The guy was really being shit on. He was really being abused, and he came out with a smile, and he made some joke of it. It was all one big joke all the way through. I was mad because—I don’t think I’m very overly sensitive—I watch shows like Archie Bunker and I wonder if blacks have the same reaction. Even on those TV shows, they tend to have some serious spots. The blacks sometimes rebel against the kind of crap they’re getting on that show, and they argue with Archie.
46:18 The other that was Good Times, another TV show, they show some serious problems there, but you don’t see it on that first Mexican-American show. The irony of this is that the Mexican-American that finally got on there isn’t Mexican-American. He’s Puerto Rican, and that was hard to accept too. Anyways, that’s changing too maybe. One of the problems about TV—I guess—and answers my other question—the other day I wrote using the . . . about the title of the tape—I’m going to—we had a letter here too. The title is Termination of their Social Services. The other people have different titles, Mexican-American equal education here. We just made ourselves commissioners. It’s kind of embarrassing. Then we make it director of social services, things like that. It sounds too much like a joke.
I wrote Shell Oil company about their bicentennial minutes. Have you seen those on TV?
LM: Yes, I’ve seen them.
RD: Two hundred years ago today—I wrote to Shell complaining about—because they sponsored it—about the fact that they only had reflected the input of Anglo-Saxon’s to our history. If you see it, even now, you’ll see that everybody speaking is Anglo except maybe one or two times that I’ve seen a black. One time I saw a Hawaiian. The reason they had that Hawaiian on there, he had gone for some reason to England 200 years ago, and that got into the history of the Anglo-Saxon. I don’t think the blacks came on until after the letter, but I think that was a coincidence. I think that they probably got complaints from blacks. I mean—blacks too had an input in the history of this country.
I wrote Shell, and they said that they didn’t make those commercials. They only paid for them, that they were forwarding that letter to the CBS in New York, and that they were influential. I get it back concentrated on it, but I didn’t make a dent in that. As big as they are, I think they do react to the possibility of getting bad press. I think the most powerful weapon is what we were doing to get reforms. I still haven’t seen a Mexican-American on any of their commercials or any indication of what was happening 200 years ago in the southwest. All of the history at this time wasn’t being written in the 13 colonies. There was something going on here, and so I’d like to say something about that.
The other day, I was sitting in a meeting of a subcommittee of the bicentennial commission here in town. It’s a Mexican-American group subcommittee. They said something about the input of Mexican-Americans. I forgot how the discussion came up, but she was saying, “Yeah, we gave something. We gave them our lands. Maybe we should ask for it back.” She says, “That’s what they claim, that other people might have done other things that they did with the behaviorists for their input, but the physical land that you’re on right now was Mexico.” Some of the people that owned the land didn’t give it away either, it was just taken from them.
Someday we’ll get a building that has everything arranged just the way it should be.
LM: You can’t get everything at once.
RD: One thing we’re trying to do—just to change the subject a little bit, but it’s still related to education—what they were trying to do that will take several years, is to build a cultural center here in town, and that may not be too long. It may only then take as many as 20 years to build it. It would for sure take 20 years if we get one of the buildings we’re looking at. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Franklin Bank building, the one that went defunct a few weeks back? That’s been considered. It would cost us an arm and a leg and then some too, to buy that, of course. I don’t know where we’d get the money, because we don’t have it, but if we set our target as that building only, it would take us for sure some years. If we settle for less, we can get maybe in five years.
51:00 The purpose of the cultural center would be say for many reasons, for many purposes. One, for sure, would be to help the local school districts, the educational systems, incorporate that code through that language that the Office of Civil Rights recommended that they incorporate into their system. It would also be a place where local artists that now have nowhere to display their works, to go. One of the artists we have here, we were able to hire him through the emergency employment act, Leo Tanguma. I don’t know if you know him, but he’s the one that headed the team that made up the Canal Street mural on the Continental Can company. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. If you go down Canal—I’ll show you some pictures in the studio down the way.
It’s a large mural on the side of a wall on Canal Street. Try to look at them. Leo, and there’s a lot of local artists, Houston, Bay Town, and Galveston, external arts and school with children. I’ll show you pictures of these things. He worked on that mural for a year and a half and finally finished it. Leo is trying to do another mural on the new Sunbeam bakery on the street. That’s twice as big as the one up now, but he thinks he can do it in half the time, because he learned a lot from the adjacent mural, they all did, the outdoor mural. They also have learned a lot of modern techniques. They did too much by hand.
They’re now using such things as spray air guns to do it quickly. They’re thinking about using new techniques like using a slide projector to map out the design first in the office, small scale, make a slide of it. At night, go out there and project it on the wall and very quickly do the general—either spray it in or do the general outline of it, and go back and do the final work later on by hand. Techniques like that would very much accelerate the pace. That would provide work for unemployed Mexican-Americans and others. This particular one is going to be tri-ethnic. They’ll just get a tri-ethnic team, background in white, doing the thing. By the same token, in the background, white kids would also be there.
LM: You’re into an area I did want to talk to you about anyway. That is the cultural aspects of this very community. I believe in some of your remarks, either in the newspaper or on television, you said there really is a distinct cultural difference in Mexican-Americans. I want you to kind of elaborate on that, but are the characteristics that make it distinct from, say the other cultural groups in the city?
RD: What you’re referring to—I think—at the time, I was distinguishing between—it might have been talking about something else, but I think I was distinguishing between Mexican-Americans and Mexicans nationals.
LM: Well, perhaps, that’s not what I thought it was, but it could’ve been.
RD: I might have been talking about something else. Let me talk about that first then and on the other one secondly. I think that it’s important to point out that distinction, because the dominant society tends to lump us together and say that we’re Mexicans which we’re not. You hear that, and it obviously racist remarks like we get on the phone on the public service announcement. I don’t know if you’ve seen it on TV, but we have a new public service announcement about answers.
LM: Yes, I have seen it.
RD: 54:59 Okay, we get funny things—well, actually it’s not funny, it’s sad—but we got calls after that, unexpected calls. It was people calling up and saying, “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” click, and hang up. “Remember the Alamo,” click, and hang up.
M: Some play that game?
RD: It wouldn’t surprise me. I think maybe it surprised me because I tend to talk to people that agree with me or that are sympathetic or whatever, but that points out where we are. Houston, Texas is—it’s only been 100 years or so since this became a state, and we’re on the border almost. All of these things are public opinion. My point is they lump us together. That was underlined by a friend of mine who went to Mexico a couple of years back and he was talking to some Mexican nationals, Mexicans. He was talking to them over there. They were students. He was trying to explain to them what Chicanos were and the movement here and what that was all about.
They were telling him, “Well, you’re not Mexican. You’re American,” and he says, “Well, I know that and you know that, but they don’t know that.” They really do know that we’re different down there, and don’t really know it ourselves here. The differences are many customs are different. The languages are different. We have a mixture of languages here, and we use different words, Spanish words with a different translation.
Now, you were asking a broader question of how do we differ from the other groups. I guess maybe one way of pointing out the difference is that probably we’re less Anglicized than other ethnic groups here. The Italians, Venezuelans, whatever ethnic groups happen to be in this town. If they’ve been here for a period of time, then they are. I don’t know this is really fair to say about Houston, because of the port city, and there are a lot of Arabic, Mediterranean people still live here. That’s not typical of Texas as a whole. I think if you look at southwest Dakota, even Houston to some extent, you’ll see that Mexican-Americans are less Anglicized than the other ethnic groups, including blacks.
57:26 The explanation that can be given for this is that all of these other groups have had their bonds to the mother country severed basically by being radical, the city, whatever it is. Whereas, you can in some places, you can walk across the border without even getting your feet wet. It’s a river on the Texas border, but beyond you can literally walk across the border without even knowing it. What happens in a situation like this, a Mexican culture is constantly in force, that part of our culture that is Mexican. It’s constantly being enforced, so you can see that in the number of the people coming here, in from Mexico, immigrants.
It’s projected that by 1990—I think—some 15, 20 years from a now—that a major population of this city will be Mexican-American. That reflects the incoming peoples. They bring reinforcements of that culture, that part of our culture that is Mexican. We also have a part of our culture that is Anglo-Saxon, English, to begin with. Our language is Spanish on the Mexican side. It’s also Indian from the Mexican side.
LM: Is there much solidarity within the Mexican-American community in Houston, to be able to put together a political program?
RD: Yeah, there’s some, enough. There’s enough. You’re not implying, but some people do, that imply in their thinking, in the language that they think, that the community should be a unity group, that we think alike, and that we naturally have political leanings that are the same out there. When we talk to each other, we would have this political power felt. The truth of the matter is that, except for some cultural differences, we’re people like anybody else and that tend to disagree on many of the same things or have left or right political leanings like anybody else, or conservative or a liberal, depending on what your status in the market is, or rich or poor, all these other things. Whether you’re rich or poor the same counts whether you’re liberal or conservative.
Like everybody else, people are different. Judge Adivetis (sp?), for example—I mentioned him earlier. He was an interesting person because he was on that task force on desegregation that HISD prohibited. If you get a copy of the report, and you look at the back where it has some of the biographies of these people. Judge did this and this. Well, he wasn’t the founder anymore than Leonel Castillo was the founder. He was a founder, maybe. I wasn’t here, so I really can’t tell you, but I mention him because he was defending HISD when they came out with that task force report.
60:47 I, for example, was strongly put off with it as a private citizen or as a member of the minority. I think most of the Mexican-American leaders in this group didn’t like the plan. I pointed this out specifically to illustrate the fact that we don’t all think alike. We play the links that are difficult and like they see us. He is very critical, so I won’t even talk to him. There are other factions.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. He was asking me if I thought there would be enough support for another political POSO. Are you familiar with POSO?
LM: Yes, I am.
RD: That is, for the moment, the only political Spanish speaking group in town, and there used to be another one. I never heard about the other ones. Did I mention it, called Popee or Popeye’s incident, political association of something. It would be, if it came about, a rival group to POSO, with a different political philosophy maybe, but I don’t know if that’s a contact. I was saying that there is a enough political clout that had to be there because Leonel Castillo would never have had some of that control of the city. He didn’t do on the vote of the Mexican-American community alone. He didn’t. He had to get a coalition, a black, brown, and white coalition.
LM: Is there much cooperation between whites and browns?
RD: There’s a third meaning there. There is some but—I think—not enough, and I guess what I was thinking was that that is one very powerful way of bringing changes, if you can coalesce, and it sounds like the drug of a radical, but it’s the word I can use. It’s a coalition of peoples to do the thing together. Maybe I should make a comment about that. Being a radical, maybe in a sense I am. I tend to take that particular label away from myself, but in fact, a lot of people see me as a radical, and I think I’m fairly conservative compared to what radical society wants. I don’t burn buildings, for example. I don’t shoot people. Anything I use, I try to do some type of constructive on it, not that other radicals don’t, but, I guess I’m a radical in the sense that when I try to solve a problem, I try to find the root of it which is the way to work at it.
The root of the problem, but that’s what makes the problem, is not getting at the real root of the problem. One of the reasons, for example, that we have desegregation is not that it can’t be achieved. It’s viable. It could be done, at least if people really wanted to do it, but there in fact a lot of vested interests in keeping the situation as it is. I’m not talking just about fears of white problems. There are a lot of people doing big business with HISD, a huge budget that they have here. There are a lot of white people that have business interests in HISD, and they don’t want the situation to change, otherwise they will lose their investment, so they’re trying to protect it.
64:57 That has its impact on the situation. That tends to maintain the situation just as it is, because there’s no argument against a segregated school district—I mean—in support of it. It’s been proven in many reports that it’s an educational situation to where a lot—I think—a certain percentage produces a superior product. I think I’m losing my train of thought.
LM: You made one statement in the newspapers that Texas was the worse state in the union for Mexican-Americans. Do you mean that strictly from the educational problems or—?
RD: You’d have to ask the board. We heeded poverty. The statistics I looked at, there are more poor Mexican-Americans in this state than any other type of the southwestern states where 90 percent the Mexican-American people live. From California, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, five states that form this southwestern part of the country. If you compare us against California, we more than need it across the board, epidemically, economically, politically, just about any way you can look at it. The other states—I haven’t personally lived in those other states—but from what I read, all of those areas that are significant are better in general, maybe in some areas, in some states are inferior to Texas.
66:52 Politically, if you look at New Mexico, Arizona, one of those two states now have a Mexican-American governor. When could you expect a Mexican-American governor in Texas? Maybe 20 years from now. Maybe not so far away, Leonel Castillo may be just the person to pull it off. He might—I mean—he is ambitious. The fact is, we don’t have a Mexican-American government now. I know a buddy of mine went to California. That would be a likely place. It was real—again, you can’t appreciate how a powerful source it is to become governor until you can understand they’re a real clue to get some colors in office.
Now, just two or three years ago, that was—that political situation is changing. One of the members of our board, Rick Reganalez (sp?), maybe because of the influence of the United Steel, is now the assistant state controller. He moved from one job here to there, and that was because of our president of that department. They had no Mexican-Americans, from what I understand. Now, the highest ranking political member of the states bureaucracy that is Mexican-American is Reganalez. Anyways, he is a board and who would have expected that, so maybe things are improving politically too. Leonel Castillo is a challenge to the political system here, crystal city in primary location.
Across the board, I think it’s fair to say—I think—if I had the statistics, which I don’t have all, that would prove the case. If I had to, I would go it financially. I think that any way you look upon it, the situation in Texas is positioning in those other five states for the majority of Mexican-American people there.
M: Do you that is because of the greater white system or termination here and the other states, or because Mexican-Americans don’t have the political organizations, say, that they might have in Arizona or New Mexico? Do you know what the basic reason is for this perish?
RD: I think it all goes back to discrimination. I think we don’t have the political clout because of discrimination to begin with. There’s no one or the other. There’s one extension. It has to do with the true history of this state is compared with the others. The migrant patterns were originally through Texas, but what was the reason for that? They could’ve gone out through New Mexico. They went Texas, through Monterey, to wherever they’re going, staying around here. There are maps that will show these patterns, and swinging on up into the rest of the country, most going further southwest, because maybe there’s input from those other states along the border. Most of the people tended to swing back through that half moon, I guess you would call it, from California down to Houston.
The discrimination is there because of the war, 1845, or whenever that was, the fact that there’s been a big struggle that continues in some place even now, for the land that was—and in many cases, it’s documented it was stolen from people. The treaty that was supposed to insure protection of the citizen’s rights of the Mexican community that was here, was simply paid lip service in the formal part of the taking over of the land. The treaty . . . was supposed to protect these people, protect their property rights. That was no more worth than the paper it was written on. The lands were taken from the people without the slightest pretext, whereas the taxation system was different before under the Spanish system.
71:40 The Anglo-Saxton system was difference, and the peculiar differences were used to steel the lands, the people now knowing what the rules were in the Anglo-Saxon justice system. They would maybe not know how to pay taxes or wouldn’t have paid them if they had to pay them in the first place. The judge that was making the decision was white and was more in favor of the white settlers, whatever. All of these border tensions are still continuing, and this is part of the resentment, the, “Go back where you came from.” The Alamo, the whole history, is part of the reason for this, could be the discrimination going too, is the fact that because so many people are coming in, this is threatening economically to the white population here.
It would be a different situation, for example, if this were an all-white city, and only one Mexican immigrant came in. The numbers have a lot of do with it. Even if you had 20, or 30, or 300 people come in, that would be different than having 10,000 as it was. That’s very threatening. We’re going to lose our jobs. One of the ways they defend themselves is to discriminate, keep them out of jobs, keep them out of work.
M: I want to ask you about this point about when you see it in the ads, you have blacks and whites and many of television, newspaper, many other areas, you don’t see the Mexican-
American component. In your mind, what is the reason for that? Is it Mexican-Americans haven’t had enough publicity, or what accounts for this?
RD: A lot of these things are not consciously discriminatory. People tend to do things the way they’ve always been done, even the best of people. Sometimes it never occurs to them if they’re discriminating, and if they knew, maybe they wouldn’t, they would take steps to avoid it, but people never stop to think maybe that there are people out there that don’t understand English when they put out an announcement about something important, for example, the news. There’s no reason in the world why it should in English only. Even now that’s a no-no. It’s changing. I heard from Channel 11—there’s a new guy. He’s doing the reporting now, Bill Viessa.
When he first came one there seven or eight months ago, he tried to give part of the news in Spanish, and they got one letter of protest from some white person saying that Spanish was inappropriate for a newscast. Channel 11 wrote back, apologizing that it would never happen again. One letter, and that’s discriminatory, about the people that don’t understand English, and they have need for the same services. Why shouldn’t they? To show you how subtle this dynamic is, look at my own poster up there. It’s all in English. It didn’t occur to me until after I’d done it that it was all in English, and the ticket itself—that’s a blowup of the ticket. Except for the words—and I had to explain what the name of the group is—it’s all in English.
75:36 If I do it, you can see how subtle it is. I mean—I didn’t see this until afterwards. You can see how hard it would be for a white person to have an occasion to think about these things, until they catch themselves. That’s an advantage. That’s a subtle kind of discrimination, but it still tends to favor the white English speaking person, as opposed to the brown Spanish speaking person. Why should one get complete benefit of the news and not the other? There’s no good earthly reason for it. Regardless of the motivation, whether it’s conscious or intentional or not, the impact is still the same, and that’s only the way you have to look at it.
LM: What must be done, do you feel, to change this situation? What program would you like to see implemented, not necessarily by the other members of the community outside of the Mexican-Americans, but if you were the head of a project to change some of these things, what would be your steps?
RD: That does make a lot of difference if you are the head of a project, if you are in charge, because if you’re in charge, you have the power to change things. I guess the first real step towards making positive changes would be to have Mexican-Americans in charge of institutions or in positions in institutions that make decisions. Unless you have that power, you’re not going to be able to change anything, or only very little if you’re on the outside complaining. For example, I have complained a hundred times about different situations in HISD, but if it’s been a dent, it’s been an accident. If I were a school board member, had I been elected a school board member, I would have power, much more power than I have now.
I had to create the power. I have even been given bad credit or whatever. You have to make power. You can’t create it. If you’re elected, you’ve already got the power. You don’t have to create any power. You’ve got it. A prime example of how to me power can be the medium for change—was it Admiral Zumwalt, the guy with the navy that took over—he’s not head of the navy anymore, but took over two or three years. In three or four years, he made reforms that ended discrimination against blacks in many areas, just by dashing off a memo, just writing out the order, or just calling on the phone. He had the power. He was in charge.
There’s no particular new program you’ve got to be in. I think there’s a lot of programs, enough programs. The system now would be implemented fairly, you could have a lot of these free forums that are necessary now. You don’t need any more law groups, any more laws in the books right here. Everything’s already there, but the people in charge are one of the main reasons. There are other laws to help you, of course. The situation, some problems that blacks had in the deep south are still affecting them over here too, so you can pass legislation on it. That’s very comparable. That’s where a lot of the power stems from them yet, so you can get legislation. I guess one of the most powerful areas that you can get into is law, and if I had legal skills, I’d probably be much more effective.
LM: Before concluding the interview, are there any areas that we haven’t touched on that you would like to talk about, that you feel are important?
RD: 80:04 Important to what? Maybe that would help.
LM: Important to making known specifically, your views, issues, or problems that you think need to be brought to the attention or would be of interest to people listening to the tape, to understanding the situation of the Mexican-American in the Houston area.
RD: I’ll probably think of things afterwards that I should’ve said.
LM: That’s one comment we’ve all given.
RD: Everybody says all the time, yeah.
LM: Yeah, right. I’ll say the same thing after I leave here.
RD: Maybe some comment about assimilation in order, that’s another very interesting area, the ideology that this country has adopted over the years as to what assimilation should be. For example, we’ve gone through a series of models that the public health as to the way to assimilate people, beginning with the melting pot. That was in the late 1800’s was praised as something of value that people from all over the world would merge and become one people. That turned around in the early 1900s because there were too many immigrants coming in that weren’t from northern and northwestern Europe, that is in England. People started coming in from western Europe, from the Mediterranean area, and so that the model then became Americanization.
Everybody had to become American, but what that meant was Anglo-Saxon. Everybody had to speak English. You can’t be completely speaking French or Italian or whatever. You’ve got to lose that. To be a real American, you’ve got to speak English, and all the other customs, which is why we had such a problem, because there’s still vestiges all over the place that the Americanization problem. The latest one to bug us is the pluralism about how we should provide some money. Some arrangements should be the same, but just to keep the society together, you’ve got to have some similarities. For example, it’s a functional thing. It’s a functional thing to have English at the standard.
You’ve got to know English to get around. It’s necessary, whether you like it or not, it’s still something you need. That doesn’t mean you should erase Spanish, if you speak Spanish or stop speaking it. It was a problem for Mexican-Americans, and I’m sure you’ve heard stories about kids being fined a nickel for every word that’s spoken in Spanish. What I’m saying is I think that the trend in the Mexican-American community now is to become assimilated economically. We want to get into the mainstream and make as much money as anybody else as a student, by letting anybody else to have as nice a house or whatever people value that are material things.
Then at the same time, is to attempt to keep that culture that we have, not because it’s any prettier or more valuable than any other culture. Anglo-Saxon culture is just as beautiful as anything else, as any other culture, but the far and west were never given any choice in that. We are told, or did get told forget your culture. We’ll strip it from it, and you adopt all the Anglo-Saxon patterns, but we didn’t, and that on the surface, it was discriminatory, same sort of thing. Anyway, I think that’s interesting the evolution of the ideology of Mexican-Americans. Some people still relate to it for a Chicano, for example.
I think it’s important, because it’s supporting the people themselves. Maybe I’ll close the study to give you a definition of what Chicano means to me. Being a Chicano means having proud of the U.S. background, and yourself, and your culture. It also means, and this is the key thing, having a sense of mission that is wanting to do something to improve the situation of your people. There are a lot of people that are very proud of the background. They don’t have any particular need to go out and reform. I guess—unless you have that sense of that need for reform, that you probably would never want to be called Chicano, no. What else can I answer?
LM: That’s all. I think you just answered a lot of questions I do need to have concerning—
RD: I’m glad you’re doing that. I don’t know who’s going to benefit. I’m glad that you’re doing it. Am I wrong to say that not enough people are doing this, recording the history about people. A lot of Mexican-American people is lost simply because the only letters that were there originally—not originally—writers were there. They wrote in Spanish, and in fact, there were histories written Spanish of the southwest, but those were ignored or destroyed by the incoming settlers, so the letters, written history is lost. When you’re doing the oral report, maybe you could do understanding in Spanish. There are a lot of people that—
LM: Mandrake speaks Spanish.
M: I speak Spanish.
RD: You may want to—and use some of the old people that are out there.
LM: After we conclude the interview, I would like to get some suggestions from you on people who might want to.
RD: Yeah, and I could show you the video.
LM: On behalf of the Houston Metropolitan archives and research center, I want to thank you for your participation in the program. It is appreciated, and it was important.
RD: Thank you.