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Interview with: Professor Tatcho Mindiola
Interviewed by: David Goldstein
Date: June 4, 2008
DG: Today is June 4, 2008. We are in the home of Tatcho Mindiola. We are interviewing Dr. Mindiola for the Houston Oral History Project. My name is David Goldstein. How are you today?
TM: I am fine.
DG: Great. Professor, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us when you were born and where and give us your early years.
TM: O.K. I was born here in Houston, Texas, May 6, 1939, in Hermann Hospital. My dad was a baker. My mom was a housewife for most of her life. I am one of 5 boys. There are 6 in my family, 5 boys and 1 girl. I am the middle son. There are 2 older brothers and 2 younger brothers, and my sister is younger than I am. We moved over in the Heights, the Sunset Heights. The Heights was divided up into different areas: Norhill Heights, Bayland Heights. The little area I grew up in was Sunset Heights on North Main Street in between 28th and 29th. We moved into that house when I was 2 years old and that is where I grew up. I attended Alamo Elementary which was about 3 blocks away, Hamilton Junior High at that time is what they called junior high, and then Reagan, John H. Reagan Senior High. I graduated in 1957 from Reagan.
DG: What did you do for fun when you were a kid?
TM: Most things that kids do. I played a lot with my brothers. We played baseball, football, hide and seek, kick the can – all of those games that kids play. I was very close to my brothers back then and still am very much so.
DG: Houston during that time period has been described by many people as a segregated city in a lot of ways. Did you have a sense of growing up in a segregated neighborhood, of living a segregated existence?
TM: Yes, very much so. We were one of the first Mexican origin families to move into the Heights. As I said, we lived between 28th and 29th and then 30th started what was called at that time “Nigger Town.” From 30th on through I guess it was 43rd was where African Americans lived, and on the other side of 30th Street was a Polish beer and dance hall where my dad used to go and drink beer. And sometimes he would take us over there and buy us soda water and so forth and so on and then send us back home. But it clearly struck me that in the front part of this beer parlor was where all the white folks drank beer. Then, there was a petition, a doorway, and then in the back was where all the African Americans drank beer. It was like that for many, many years. And then, my Uncle Vincent, my dad’s brother, had a café on Center Street. One side was for whites, the other side was for African Americans. So, I had a very poignant sense of segregation between the black and white races. It wasn’t until I got into, I don’t know – the latter years of elementary school and then in junior high when the reality of who I was began to sink in, and so forth and so on.
DG: Was that early awareness best described as being not black or being a third color – brown versus black versus white?
TM: Being non-black. You know, my dad adhered to the LULAC philosophy at that time and so we were not Mexican Americans, we were Latin Americans, and he used to tell us that when we were growing up. “Don’t let anybody think that they are better than you because you are Latin American.” He used to tell me and my brothers that we always had to protect ourselves; that if someone physically tried to abuse us, then we had to physically defend ourselves. The message was don’t let anybody push you around because you are “a Latin American.” And voting was very big with my dad. He used to preach this. Back in those days, they had the poll tax and he would proudly take out his poll tax and show us that he had one. But would always tell us, you know, that we had to vote. When we got old enough to vote, we had to vote. And I remember a story he told me one time about him being in some drinking establishment around the neighborhood there and there was this other Mexican American man there who apparently had been born in Mexico and was . . . this is a story my dad told over and over about how he would tell my dad how the Mexican Americans, American born Mexicans, did not take advantage of all of the opportunities they had here and that he was born in Mexico and look what he had done and so forth and so on. And so, one day, he was in there and he challenged the Mexican Americans in there. He started bragging that he had a poll tax and that he wanted to bet everybody in there that they did not have a poll tax. My dad said he ignored him but this guy just kept on and on and on until finally my dad took up the challenge. My dad knew he had his poll tax. And so, my dad had very deliberately reached into his wallet, kept saying, “Well, I am not sure.” He knew he had it but he took out everything, just dragging the drama out until finally he pulled out his poll tax and wanted to bet. I cannot remember the amount. But my dad said that man’s face just fell. The men in there clapped for my dad. I never will forget that story. He used to tell us that story over and over.
DG: That sounds like the kind of story our dads tell us over and over.
TM: Right, but his point was that we had to vote. And then, I remember when the American Association for the Advancement of Colored People began making its move in the courts and my dad who had a third grade education was a self-taught man, would read the paper and he would tell me and my brothers and sisters that the African American people were going about it the right way and winning their rights because they were doing things legally, through the legal system. So, you know, it was those times when I became, you know, very, very much aware of what was going on. Also, down on 29th Street across from North Main on Link Road and 29th was a Catholic church that we attended, and that likewise was segregated. Blacks would sit on one side, and everybody else would sit on the other side.
DG: If I could look back on your youth as a movie, would I see anything that would give me clues to what you would become as an adult? Was there an early sense of activism, was there an early desire to teach, or was it something that came to you much later?
TM: No, it came to me much later. It came to me while I was in college. When I graduated from high school, I enrolled at South Texas Junior College. I did not know what I wanted to do, I just knew that I needed an education. My dad’s goal for his children was that we would all get a high school education. By the time I was in high school and getting ready to graduate, I had already realized that my dad’s dream for us was not enough, that I would need a college education, and so I started thinking about college early on in high school. But I really had no sense of what I wanted to do or study or anything like that, I just had the idea that I wanted a college education, so that is how that came about. So, when I graduated from high school, I started working for Houston Lighting & Power at that time. They were building a power plant near Tomball. I was enrolled in school at night but I was not a very good student. Thankfully, it told me that I was not ready and I was not particularly happy in my job but I knew my father being an authoritarian kind of disciplinarian, that I could not just do nothing. So, a good friend of mine, Frank Alvarez, was joining the Army and he came and he told me one day that he wanted to get out of his house and grow up and so forth and so on, so he had joined the Army. So then, he and I had a long talk and then I decided that is what I should do until I decided what I wanted to do plus one of the reasons Frank joined was because of the G.I. Bill. And so, I saw that as an opportunity to help my way through school by joining the Army. So, that is what I did – I joined the Army. I dropped out of school, quit my job, told my parents. My mother was dead set against it. My father thought it was a good idea.
DG: I want to put those two decisions in context. It is not a foregone conclusion that every child goes to college, but particularly in some minority communities. Was your desire to go to college common for you and your peers or were you different? What did most high school graduates where you went to school, what did most of them do when they got out of high school?
TM: Well, we were a very small number at Reagan at that time. Mexican Americans were very small in number. Now, for example, it is about 99% Mexican American but at that time, we were very small in number and I was influenced not only by my peers, many of whom had college aspiration, my Anglo peers, but also by a civics teacher by the name of Mr. Manning. I had gotten into a physical altercation there at the school over some racial issues and Mr. Manning broke up the fight and he grabbed me and he grabbed me very roughly and marched me down to the principal’s office and while he was marching me down there, he was just really angry at me and he was telling me over and over again, “What’s the matter with you? You have a brain! Use it. Become a lawyer. Do something that will help your people.” And that kind of stayed with me because up until that time, I don’t think that I had any teacher really pull me aside and say, ‘Hey, you know, you are pretty smart. Why don’t you try to do this and this and that?’ So, he and I had a couple of conversations and he is the one that started telling me, “You need to go to school, Tatcho, and put all this other stuff behind you. Those are ignorant people. They don’t know what they are talking about.” We fought over I was being called a name. That is what we fought over. Coming from my dad’s perspective, you always defend yourself. And so, Mr. Manning was the one . . . I remember that very distinctly because I had it vaguely in the back of my mind but I think it was kind of a turning point for me as I look back that Mr. Manning . . . years later, years later, when Mr. Manning was already in his 80s, I ran into him at Harold’s Men Store in the Heights and I would have never recognized him because he was very much changed because he was up in age – because he was a very young man at the time he was a teacher – and Harold said, “Tatcho, I’ll bet you know this man.” I said, “Who is he?” He said, “This is Mr. Manning.” I said, “Mr. Manning?” He said, “Tatcho Mindiola? How are you doing?” And I told him then, I said, “Mr. Manning, you probably don’t realize this back then” . . . of course, he could not remember. And I told him, I said, “You know, Mr. Manning, you are one of the reasons why I went to college.” So, I had a chance to tell him and thank him for his help. He just patted me on the back and said, “I always knew you could do it,” but I am not sure he remembered, you know, because he was a very popular teacher. He was one of the ones that influenced me quite a bit.
DG: Now, the decision to go into the Army, the reason I ask, for people who grow up in segregated communities, a lot of them saw the Army as their only opportunity at a meritocracy, where you would be rewarded on the basis . . . I mean, not that the military wasn’t exempt from segregation, wasn’t exempt from racism, but it seemed more fair than the culture they were leaving. Were you conscious of that or was it just a chance to sort of grow up?
TM: Well, to grow up but likewise, I got assigned to the United States Army Polar Research Development Division. It was an Army unit that went to Greenland every summer. Scientists were conducting experiments upon the ice cap, weapon experience and you had div wac (sp?) experiencing, how much the men could stand and so forth and so on. So, I got assigned to that unit primarily because I had good administrative and clerical skills, and I remember after I went through basic training and got assigned to go after basic training to a clerical school and I jumped at the opportunity because I saw it as a way to avoid being in the infantry or armory or something of that nature. And so, when I finished that, I got assigned to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to this particular unit primarily because of my clerical skills. I was a very fast typist. And I got assigned as an assistant company clerk. And so, everybody in that unit, most of them, especially on the administrative side of it, had college degrees of one sort of another. That influenced me a lot – just being around those guys and noticing what they talked about and how they talked and the interest they took in public affairs and things of that nature, so that by the time I was discharged, my desire to go to college was at an all-time high. In fact, I was scheduled to get discharged in October of 1962 and they had built the Berlin Wall and all discharges were frozen. And by that time, I had already applied for admissions to the University of Houston to start school in mid term. I had a letter of acceptance and financial aid had all been arranged and so forth and I was very eager to get out of the Army. Then, they froze discharge. Nobody knew when they were going to be lifted. So then, I wrote Senator Ralph Yarborough a letter explaining my situation and told him that I would be willing to stay in the service on up until classes started, I think they were January 20 and so forth and so on. So, I do not know what he did but I was released in January of the next year. I remember I drove home. I think it was on a Thursday or Friday. I arrived. I was just there a weekend and the following Monday, I started classes.
DG: So, you enrolled at University of Houston in 1962?
DG: With the desire to do what?
TM: Well, again, you know, I was thinking, well, I had to do something practical so the desire to get a business degree with a concentration in finance. And then, I was getting the G.I. Bill. Then, I landed a job at Central Freight Lines over on Fulton with the G.I. Bill and I was working and it was an ideal job for me as a billing clerk because you work in the evenings. And so, I started going to school full-time and working at Central Freight Lines at night as a billing clerk. It took me, I don’t know, almost 5-1/2 years to get that first degree, you know, working, and then at one point, I stopped working as a billing clerk and went to work at East Texas Motor Freight loading and unloading the trucks. And then, in the summers, I would work at the Houston Port Authority loading and unloading trucks for Sealand Services. So, in the summer, I would work all day long. I would go work at Sealand Services during the day, I’d get off, I’d get a bite to eat and then go directly to East Texas Motor Freight and work until 11 or 12 at night. That set me back a little bit but my goal was to have enough money to cut down on my hours when I was working during the regular semesters. So, sometimes I would start, for example, with a full load but the billing, working at East Texas Motor Freight would just wear me out and I would drop a course or drop 2 courses invariably. So, it took me about 5, 5-1/2 years to get that first degree. And then, as I was getting very, very close to graduation and starting to think about what I was going to do is when I began to realize that I really did not like business that much and I felt really kind of stupid because I thought, well, here I have been doing this for 5, 5-1/2 years and now here I am, 17, 19, 20 hours away from graduation and really this is the first time that I have ever sat down seriously and give what I was taking in these classes any serious thought. But I remember, I said, well, I did not know what to do. And so, I said, well, the first decision I made . . . I said, well, it is too late to change majors. I am not going to do that. I was a pretty good student. I was still a B student. And so, I remember I got a legal pad, I drew a line down the middle and I said, well, I am going to put all the courses where I made A’s and B’s here and all the C’s over here. Well, that wasn’t very productive because, as I said, I was a B+; in fact, there for a while, I was an honor student so most of my classes were on this side. So, I said, well, that didn’t work. So then, I tore the sheet up and did it again and I just tried to go back over all the courses that I took and trying to say, well, I remember this course – I didn’t like it; that went on the left-hand side. All the courses that I really liked on the right-hand side. And so, courses like history, English, I remember liking them and doing very well in them. Even within business, personnel management, those kinds of courses were the ones that I enjoyed quite a bit. So then, I said, well, I am going to go ahead and graduate and I had done some research on what I could do with a business and a social science degree and discovered this field called . . . what do they call psychologists who work in the business? They work in human resources. Industrial psychology. And so, our department of psychology had an industrial psychology degree, a master’s degree but I did not have any social science at all. I think I had one sociology class, so I went ahead and graduated and then I spent another year as a post back student taking nothing but social science classes, especially psych, and trying to work on my average because you had to have a 3.3 or something like that to get into psych. And so, that is what I did. I think I acquired 30 hours of nothing but social science and along the way, I took two classes from a professor in sociology named Henry Monson. He was from Norway. And the second class I took from him was an advanced methodology class. One day, he said, “Let’s talk.” I said, “O.K.,” so I went to see him after class. He complimented me on the papers that I had written and he asked me what my goal was and that is when I told him. He just listened to me. He said, “Well, the have you ever thought of sociology?” I said, “No, sir. I really have not.” He said, “Well, maybe you need to consider it.” He said, “And if you decide to go that way, let me know and I will try to help you get an assistantship, a research assistantship,” and how naïve I was, I did not know what that meant. But anyway, I went ahead and filled out the application and told him and I got accepted both in psych and in sociology, but the difference was that sociology gave me this fellowship, psychology gave me nothing. And so, you know, I thought about it and I talked to him and he said, “Well, to me, the decision is pretty clear.” So, I said, “O.K.” Now, by this time, now, remember, the Black Power Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, don’t trust anybody over 30, free love . . .
DG: For those of us who aren’t keeping the math in our head, what year was this?
TM: Oh, let’s see. 1962. I guess it must’ve been around 1968. Students for a Democratic Society. You know, all of his I was taking note of as I was a student then. Well, then I went and I enrolled in the sociology department. I mean, I never will forget what it was like to go to school full-time without having to work because I had a Plymouth that was a little expensive to operate so I sold my Plymouth, bought me a Volkswagen . . . no, I didn’t get a car . . . and I moved over here on Ruth Street across off of Scott. And I would walk to school. Eat breakfast at school. But it was the first time now in almost 6 years, 6-1/2 years of going to college that I spent time on campus a lot of time, and it just changed my world view because all of this stuff was going on. There used to be this . . . for example, every Wednesday in front of the university center, they had something called Sound off where they would put a mike there and students would go and sound off about anything they wanted to. And it caught my attention because, you know, blacks would get up there, African Americans would get up there, a lot of anti-Vietnam stuff, but I never will forget that one young man got up one Wednesday and announced that next Wednesday, he was going to burn the Bible and he gave this big spiel about the Bible was nothing but paper and so forth and so on and this and this and that. Of course, it created this huge uproar on the campus and the next Sound off was the largest crowd that ever had appeared at Sound off at all. But the police were there and they were there with their fire extinguishers and so forth, and the young man attempted to burn the Bible but he was prevented from doing so. But all this activity was going on, plus in my classes, in my graduate classes in sociology, which is the study of society, we were discussing the very things that were going on in society, especially in the area of race relations. And then, that was for the first time that I began to notice my professors because I was just enjoying myself so much being on campus all day. I mean, I would get school at 7:30 in the morning and I may stay until midnight – taking my classes, going to the library, hanging out with my colleagues, my students, and so forth and so on and discussing all these issues. So then, I began to notice my professors. You know, these guys, gosh, man, what a job they have. They are on campus all day long and so forth. And then, that is when I began, well, what do you have to do to be a professor? Well, you need a doctorate. As that first semester was ending, I decided this is what I want to do. I am going to try to get the credentials to be a professor. It was like we say in Spanish, “_______,” the light turned on. I became focused, I had a goal that I liked and it became a passion for me. I decided, you know, never look back. So, I got my master’s degree, my parents . . . it took me 2 years to get my master’s degree. When I got my undergraduate degree, my parents were really proud of me. “Now son, you are going to go out and get this good job.” I said, “Well, you know, I am going to go and get this master’s degree.” “Well, what is that, son?” “Well, it is a little advanced degree.” I justified it by telling them it would help me get a better job. So, I spent another year as PB, 2 years getting a master’s. That was 3 more. I had been in school almost 8, 8-1/2 years. I got my master’s degree. “Now, son” . . . I said, “Well, you know, I am going to go up” . . . I had been accepted at Brown University . . . I said, “I am going to go up here and get a Ph.D.” “Well, what is that?” “Well, it is the last degree you need to teach at a university and that is what I want to do.” I never will forget, you know, my family just . . . my father, we were there . . . “Come on, son, let’s go outside and drinking a beer.” He said, “You know, son, you are the only one in the family who has done this. We are really, really proud of you and I am especially proud of you because you have done it on your own. You know that I couldn’t . . . And I said, “Dad, you helped me a lot by letting me live here.” He said, “Well, let me ask you a question, son, and I don’t want you to get mad.” I said, “All right.” He said, “But were you going to school to avoid work?” And I laughed. I said, “No, dad, I am not. This is the highest degree you can get and you need this degree if you want to teach at a university, and that is what I want to do.” He said, “Well, you are a man that now, son. It is your life. God bless you and good luck.” And so, I went and got the Ph.D. It was less of a celebration by then. I think I had worn out my celebratory entitlements at that time. So, that is what I did. I got my master’s and then I went up to Brown.
DG: Why Brown?
TM: Well, that is where they gave me the most money. It was a prestigious school. And I was very active on campus. I got involved in campus. We established the first Mexican American student organization and, you know, all of the activism stuff started for me and we formed an alliance with the black students and all of these things and started clamoring for more Mexican American courses and professors – the entire bit. Dr. Schulman, who was one of my main advisors . . . I got accepted at UCLA, I got accepted at Berkeley . . . I don’t know, I was scared. I did not know whether or not I could get in to a Ph.D. program, so I must have applied to 10 different schools. I think I got in to about 7 or 8. Dr. Schulman, I remember, I did not know how to decide and Dr. Schulman advised me not to go to California. He said, “Tatcho, I know what will happen to you if you go to California. You are going to continue all of this activism stuff and it is going to interfere with what you are doing because, look, I have had to call you down a couple of times because it is great what you are doing but, you know, this is your priority.” And so then I got a letter from Brown that I had been accepted and I talked it over with him and he said, “I think this is where you should go. It is a prestigious school,” and so forth and so on. So, that is what I did.
DG: And before we leave the University of Houston to go to Brown, just for perspective, because this interview will be housed at the University of Houston . . . 1962, how was the university different?
TM: Well, it was smaller; there weren’t as many people of color; the physical environment was much smaller; and I think in 1962, a much more conservative school at the time. As of now, for example, it is a very diverse school. There is not one group that is the majority. In fact, if you added up the Asians, the African Americans, the Latinos and the international students, we would probably be the majority. And the school physically has changed. It has grown. And I think at the time that I was enrolled, there were maybe 20,000 students. Now, it is 33,000, 35,000. And the main campus . . . there was only one campus at the time. Now, there are four. We still had the image of Cougar High and I think we finally shed that image. Even then as it is now, it was predominantly a commuter school. There must be 9,000, 10,000 students that live on campus now but back then, I’ll bet you it was less than 2,000, 1,500. It was just very, very small. Not anything like it is now.
DG: So, did you take your activism to Brown?
TM: Well, it came to a screeching halt. My activism turned internally to the graduate school there. I became involved in graduate student activities and affairs. I would get the Chronicle, I think, on Sundays and I would read everything that was going on back here and so forth and so on. So, I felt like I was missing out. I was very, very homesick. In fact, so much so that at the end of that first year, I really considered dropping out and enrolling at the University of Texas, and even went and interviewed at the University of Texas and was on the verge of getting an offer when I called Brown and told them, told the graduate advisor what I was thinking of doing. I said, “But I have to come back to Brown.” I had left stuff there. I said, “I am going to come back to Brown and pick up my stuff.” His name was Zimmer. Mr. Zimmer. He said, “Well, when you get here, Tatcho, let’s go out and have lunch.” I said, “All right.” We went out and had lunch and he talked me out of it, and I am glad he did. A very gentle man who said, “Well, you know, Tatcho, you’ve got 1 year under your belt.” I would essentially have to be starting over again. “You have 1 year under your belt. You are doing well here. People like you,” and so forth and so on, etc. And so, I thought about it. I said, well, you know, he’s really got some good points. I am going to have to pack up, start all over again and so forth and so on. So, the lure of coming home was very strong. So, he said, “What are you going to take in the fall?” He helped me with my schedule and said, “You know, just think about it.” And I did. I gave it some serious thought and decided to stay. And something clicked. When I decided to stay, the second year was a lot better. Then, I began to notice the beauty of New England and so forth and so on and began to enjoy myself. I think once that decision was out of the way and my kind of ambivalence about being there, because none of my people were there – everybody thought I was Italian or Polynesian or something like that!
DG: That could work to your advantage sometimes!
TM: Yes, and the weather, too. I mean, the weather . . . I was not prepared for those New England winters. And to show you how naive I was, that first winter I was there, you know, you get your snow chains, you get your snow tires. Well, I got snow tires because I did not want to hassle with those chains. Fully not knowing that you take your snow tires off when winter is over. Well, I didn’t. I left them on all year around. Well, of course, the next winter, they weren’t worth a damn. I do not know if you have ever seen snow tires, how thick they are on the edges, so I had to buy another pair but this time, I was better prepared. Then, you know, I began to meet people and travel around New England. I mean, the falls were just extraordinarily beautiful. I mean, I began to understand how all of those poets, why they came out of the New England area, and I remember my first 4th of July there around that area was unlike anything I had ever seen and it hit me, of course, this is where it all started. But a friend and I, we traveled on that weekend, the 4th of July weekend, she was my girlfriend, and we traveled around some small towns in Massachusetts on the 4th of July. And, I mean, it was just amazing. I mean, that is where you see Uncle Sam on the stilts. I mean, it was just like so American, and it was just amazing. I fell in love with the area. I fell in love with the area. But, you know, I was anxious to come home, too.
DG: I want to go back now because this overlaps a little bit. Let’s talk about the beginning of your sense of activism. Was there a growing awareness through you studies, was there a seminal event that triggered it for you? Share with us how your sense of activism was . . .
TM: You know, that is an interesting question because I have thought about this a lot. I did not realize that I have the views that I had, or that I would evolve the philosophy that I had until I got to graduate school and, like I say, I was already . . . let’s see, I went into the Army when I was 18, by the time I got into graduate school, I was already, you know, late 20s and did not begin to think politically and so I got into graduate school, and I remember feeling surprised that I felt as I did for minority rights. But then, you know, as time went on and I got active and remained active, it struck me that my experiences in middle school and high school had left me with a degree of anger that informed my political philosophy, because I encountered quite a bit of social discrimination, especially in high school. Social discrimination is my term because Anglo girls would not go out with you; in middle school and even in elementary school, kids would have parties but I would not be invited, or a high school teacher telling me after I informed her that I had college aspirations, telling me, “Well, you know, your people work behind the scenes,” and fully not understanding what she meant at first, but then I figured it out . . . and then, my last year in high school, having enough credits to graduate and wanting to get into the distributive education program which allows you to go to school a half day and work for a half day if you’ve got enough credits and by that time, I was working for a plumbing company, and when I applied for the program, being interviewed by the teacher – I cannot remember her name – and her telling me that I could enroll in the program, I could be accepted in the program, and I could not have this job that I had because it paid more money than the other students. And I remember feeling angry about that. I just did not understand, why would I have to drop . . . then she wanted me to go work as a stock clerk at Foleys or something like that. I mean, I think I was making $1.50, $2.00 an hour and a stock clerk was something like $1.00, something like that. And I would not do it, and she would not let me in the program. But it was simply she was trying to tell me you are a Mexican, you cannot earn more money than . . . you know . . . so I did not realize all of the anger and all of that that was in me or all the resentment -- I do not know what you want to call it -- but I remember, for example, when I was at graduate school, we went to establish the first Mexican American Student Organization on campus, I and a small group of us I remember we got a leaflet together and went to the Cougar Den and we passed it out to people that we thought were Mexican Americans to come to this meeting, and I remember encountering a group of students from Laredo, Texas, who laughed at us. And I found, I never will forget that – I could not understand, I said, gosh, they are in Laredo and I had been to Laredo . . . that is one of the poorest Mexican border towns in the nation . . . why aren’t they angry or want to do something about that? Well, eventually, I learned, you know, it was because the town was 99% Mexican, you know, and it was not like Houston where you had white, black and where they tried to keep you in your place. Their prejudices were based on class because everybody was Mexican, so you were either a middle class Mexican, a rich Mexican or you were a poor Mexican. But then, in graduate school . . . and, you know, I did not begin to reflect on that until I got to Brown when my activism kind of came to a halt, and I missed it. And then, began to reflect back on my experiences on how I got involved and so forth and I remember thinking I sure was surprised that I would say things that I would say; then began to piece things together, that it was just my personal experiences on a social level that began to inform me because I remember saying in junior high, knowing that I was smarter than my Anglo peers, just my grades, knowing that some of my close Anglo friends would come to me for help, homework help and things of this nature, essays and all of this, right, knowing that I was smarter than they were yet having teacher tell me, like this one advisor told me, “Well, you know, your people are kind of behind the scenes. Are you sure this what you want to do?” and things of this nature. And then, on the social level is where I felt it the most, you know, because there were no Mexican American girls. You know, when you are a teenager, you want to go out on dates and things and I could not swing a date, or having an Anglo girl like you but her telling you that her parents would not approve of you, you would have to sneak around. So, all of those experiences cumulative, you know . . . at the time I do not remember being angry but I think as I got older, you know, it was clear that it left an indelible impression on me so that when the Civil Rights Movement hit, the Black Power Movement, I was 100% behind them because I just knew. And then, you know, it was kind of like, well, we wanted to start our own organization on campus and trouble finding like-minded people first, and then other people saying they were not going to join because we were segregating ourselves, and things of all those natures – just trying to work my way all through those issues. So, I think my early childhood experiences and my early teenage experiences informed my political philosophy, you know, because of my personal experiences.
DG: This being an oral history project to talk about the city of Houston, certainly a university is its own sort of closed system and you have that perspective but were you aware of what was going on in the city during this time and the events? Anything that happened at the city level, not necessarily at the university, at the city level that influenced your activism?
TM: No, other than just things that my father would point out to us. Say, for example, the 1954 Supreme Court decision when I was just starting my school, my high school years, and, you know, my father mentioning the decision and, again, his longstanding refrain about African Americans were doing it the right way, and then remembering the comments that I would hear from my classmates, my Anglo classmates in Reagan, the fear that African Americans soon were going to be enrolling in the school and things of that nature. But as far as having a broader social awareness, no, I think that my experiences that I ran into socially reoriented me towards my own community in the sense that I found friends, Mexican American friends, who were not at Reagan who, say, went to Davis, Davis High School . . . I had a lot of friends there, or Milby, and such things as what they called back then the Latin American Prom, where Mexican Americans from all of the high schools would get together and have their own prom out at Sylvan Beach. You know, so the awareness . . . with hindsight, I can see that my awareness was beginning to develop, you know, because I remember having difficulty getting a date for my high school prom and these kinds of things that began to accumulate over time. But it really was not until I got to Brown that I began to reflect on my life and what made me . . . I never had been involved in any organizations or anything of that nature until I came to the University of Houston, then until I got in graduate school and there I found myself involved in establishing the first Mexican American organization and registering people to vote and tutoring high school kids on the side, arguing with the university because they had no Mexican American related courses and no Mexican American professors, you know, and at the time, I was so busy and active, I did not have a very reflective period in my time until I got to Brown because this all kind of came to a screeching halt. There were no Mexican Americans up there and I missed it and then, I had gotten involved in just graduate student affairs about trying to get more minorities into Brown and they flew me back to Houston one time to do some recruiting and things of that nature. But then, that is when things began to come in perspective, when I began to put all of my personal life sequence kind of in order and I could see how it clearly informed what I thought politically.
DG: It must have had an impact on your chosen field of study. It would be like going to medical school and not becoming more aware of your own health. Studying sociology, you were living . . .
TM: Oh, there is no question I got interested in sociology and primarily race relations because of my experiences but again, not necessarily making the connection – just knowing that I had experienced and seen prejudice first hand, you know, where I grew up and fully knowing and believing that African Americans had legitimate complaints.
DG: Your activism and the activism of other students at University of Houston eventually took shape in the U.H. Center for Mexican American Studies. Would you give us sort of the chronology, who were the players, when did the idea first take shape and how did it come to be?
TM: Well, I don’t know if you recall, back in the late 1960s, across the entire country, black students on white campuses had what they were calling black demands, not requests, demands, to establish a black study center, get more black professors and so forth and so on and protests and sit-ins and things of this nature, and remember feeling when we started the same thing at the University of Houston, that the administration was putting us off because they were scared to death of African Americans. The African American students started a group called AABL, African Americans for Black Liberation, and it was a Black Power movement, and I remember in classes and in my meetings with the administrators, the Black Power, with the raised fist like that, it just scared the hell out of them. Nobody really seemed to know what Black Power meant except it was anti-white and it scared the hell out of everybody. So, I remember, then we presented a list. We did not call ourselves demand. I cannot remember what we called it. We presented a similar list to the University about one year after the African American student group did and being told, you know, we’re going to have to wait, and feeling angry about it, but being placated in a sense that they put me on the committee that organized the African American Studies Program, with the promise that once that was set up, then our turn would come. And I remember we went off for a weekend to Galveston to hammer out the proposal for African American studies.
DG: Who is “we?”
TM: Oh, it was Dr. Don Boney. He was president of the downtown campus. Lynn Usand (sp?) was a member of AABL, African Americans for Black Liberation. Gene Locke was on that committee. I was on the committee. Dr. Robert Haynes from the history department was on that committee. I think Dr. Munsford from the sociology department was on that committee. And that is who the “we” was. But, by the time I received my master’s and was going off to Brown, the idea was floating. Even the Raza Unida Party, I became a party of the Raza Unida Party but when I left Brown, the program had not yet been formed and it was students like Maria Jimenez, Cynthia Perez, Jaime Relaisla (sp?), Dora Ponce – these are the students that took the proposal and brought it to fruit in 1972, and Dr. Johnson, who has since passed, was in the Spanish department. He was the chair of the committee. And, I don’t know, many years ago after I got back and got involved in the directorship here, wanting to find those documents to preserve them and could not find them, and Dr. Johnson had passed by then but his wife was very gracious – we went through all his papers, could not find them. I contacted Cynthia Perez and all the students that had been involved in that. They did not have records of it. They thought it was left at the University. We never were able to find those documents which set the program up. So, I came back and assumed a position in 1974, as you well know now from the tape that you saw, and the first director was Dr. Guadalupe Quintanilla, but she was not only the director of the Center for Mexican American Studies, she was also the director of Bilingual Education and then she received a White House fellowship and elected to do her fellowship on this campus out of the president’s office, so she was kind of wearing three hats at that time, and some students being angry about that, feeling like she was not giving appropriate attention to the Center for Mexican American Studies, and I think she, too, felt stretched out, so she resigned the position and Margarita Melville, an anthropologist, became the director. But Margarita was an untenured professor and she was worried about her status as an untenured professor, so she only served for a couple of years. So, I think Dr. Quintanilla left in 1975, I think Margarita may have been director for 2 or 3 years, and then when she left, they brought an interim in – Victor Cisneros Nelson. But, again, he was ABD. He was trying to finish his dissertation, so he only lasted about 1 year, 1-1/2 years, 2 years. And this is 1980 then. And there was no one else to take the position. Now, my ambition was to become the director. That is what I wanted to work towards. But not so soon because I was just still a junior professor. But no one else wanted it, wanted the position. None of the other faculty. A small group of us that were there, no one wanted the position . . . we were all untenured. And so, they persuaded me to take it. They said, “You are the one who has got to take it. You are the one that is more concerned about it.” So then I became the director in 1980, in the summer of 1980, in the middle of my tenure fight. We were not even a stepchild. I inherited a budget of $6,000, $7,000, and a part-time secretary who hardly ever came. And I remember I would get up in the mornings and I would call the office and, at that time, you had those push buttons, and all the lines would be busy. Man, I would get worried. I’d say, here it is 8:30 and I am just . . . I would shower and I would go over there. Everything was fine, she would say and then she would leave at noon or whatever – she was a part-time secretary. And that happened about 2 or 3 times. I would call in the morning and all the lines would be busy, so then one day, I did not call – I just went over there. The office was open but she had put all of the lines on hold. I do not know where she was. She comes strolling in about 9:30 and saw me and was very surprised. And so, that is when I had to let her go. I said, “What is going on here?” I can’t remember the excuse. So, I started just going in on time and she started showing up but then I decided, well, this is not going to work. She did not know much about the budget and so forth and I did not have much of a budget to work with. But that is the way it started. So then, the first thing is hire a full-time secretary. I did not have any money so we went around and around about that. I got me a full-time secretary. Then I started submitting proposals to the University for more funding for this, more funding for that. Dr. Magner was the provost at that time and I remember I convinced him to give me $20,000. I had some contact with Ben Reyes and some other legislators and they were concerned about recruitment of students and so the $20,000, that is when I hired Lorenzo Cano who is still with me and I told him . . . because I had the politicians put pressure on the University. I asked them. And so, they made me promise that if they helped me get money, I would do some undergraduate recruitment. And so, then I hired Lorenzo Cano, and I told him, I said, “I’ve got $20,000. I can give all of you a salary and you do everything or I can pay you $15,000 and leave you $5,000 for you to hire whatever else you want to do,” and he took the latter. And so, we hired Catherine Diaz who is now an attorney. He is the one who started organizing college career days. And I really could not get to first base with Ben Reyes or Al Luna because they were members of the Democratic Party, I was a member of the Raza Unida Party, we had run Maria Jimenez against Ben and there was no way after that experience that he was going to be supportive of my efforts, you know. So then, there was this controversial election here where Roman Martinez ran against Frumencio Reyes for a newly created state rep seat and Roman won by 14 votes. And so, I remember I called Roman. I did not know him. I mean, I knew who he was and he knew who I was and I called him and asked for a meeting. So, he met with me. It was a very frank meeting. I just told him, “I just need some help and I cannot get to first base with Ben or Al. These guys won’t help me.” He said, “They won’t help you because you guys ran Maria against Ben.” I said, “I know it. I can’t get anybody from the University and I need some help, Roman. Otherwise, this program is going to die. It is going to flounder.” So, he said, “Well, if I got you some money, if I help you get some money, what would you do with it?” I said, “Well, you know, for graduate students, visiting scholars and all of this.” He said, “Well, again now, I am going to help you, Tatcho, but we have got to do something about recruitment.” I said, “All right.” So, he said, “Let’s just keep this between ourselves.” So, he did . . . this first term there, he could not get to first base. He was a freshman. But his second term there, he got put on appropriations and it changed things. So, what he did, to make a long story short, is that he took the continuing education budget and amended it and took $160,000 from them through an amendment and gave it to us. He called me up in the middle of the night one night and said, “I got you this money but I want you to sit . . . I don’t want you to tell anybody because the committee just approved it but it has still got to go through.” I stayed informed with him. It went through. I went to the administration and asked for my $160,000. They did not know anything about it. Continuing education hit the ceiling. And so, I got my money. Those were the first big bucks that I got at that time. Everybody was angry with me – the dean, the provost, everybody – told me I was politicizing the budget and so forth and so on. I mean, I was very nice to them but quite frankly, I did not give a damn. It is like I told the provost, I said, “You know, Provost, how many proposals have I submitted to you and you always tell me you don’t have any money. That is not political. But now that I use my representative to help me get some money, that is political. The University is not going to have it both ways.”
DG: I’ve got to ask you – the appearance, for somebody on the outside like I am listening to you tell the narrative – you go there and you ask for this department. It is not a department, it is a program.
TM: The center.
DG: The center. And they give you the center but they don’t give you staff, they don’t give you money, they don’t give you whatever . . . then you have to go out and you fight for everything that you get, every dollar, every person, every program, every whatever. You even have to go to your own representative. The cynic in me says they placated you with the Center without ever having any intention of actually allowing it to survive or is it just the way that it works? Is it survival of the fittest at the University level where they set up a bunch of good ideas and then rely on some kind of Darwinian Theory that the programs that ought to survive are the ones that will survive. Was it deliberate or is the . . .
TM: Well, you know, I can’t get in their minds but I was like you at the time – I was cynical, that we existed more on paper than in fact because, you know, I learned right away that if you do not have any money, you cannot do anything. Now, we had courses, don’t get me wrong but we had a bunch of lecturers, we had Leonel Castillo, because there weren’t any professors around. We had a couple of professors that we hired but our history professor was paid by the history department and we had those joint appointments at that time but they did not work out. So, yes, I mean, it was a little bit of both. It was a little bit of both, I think. I can’t get in their minds.
DG: Well, what about black studies? Were they fighting the same fight?
TM: No, black studies had a budget. Black studies had a budget. But like I say, I think the administration at that time in those early years was very, very afraid of the African American community. They had kind of like a mini-riot there on campus with some of the black students. So, I was able to get the money. I remember President Bishop called me and asked me if I wouldn’t mind meeting with him, like, he called me on a Friday and said, “Can you meet with me Sunday morning?” It was the only time he had. I said, “Fine.” So, I went and met with him. He was very, very cordial. “Sit down, Tatcho, I have heard so much about you.” By this time, you know, “I have heard so much about you. Sit down. Let’s get to know each other.” And we talked. “Where are you from?” and this and this and that, you know, and kind of settled down. And then he said, “Well, you know why I want to talk to you.” I said, “Well, I assume it has to do with this amendment.” He says, “Yes.” He says, “You have created a political situation.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, I’ve got continuing education just breathing down my back because obviously, you’ve got support in the legislature but you took money from them for your program.” I said, “Well, Dr. Bishop, I don’t know how to explain things to you. I have spent a couple of years, almost 3 years trying to get money, and I learned what the administrator’s lament is. I have none.” He says, “Well, does it make any difference where your money comes from?” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, we have Melrose Thompson funds, which is an oil generated revenue fund.” He says, “If I give you money from that fund, I can let continuing education have their money. You are happy, they are happy, and you have my word that the next budget cycle, the Center for Mexican American Studies will be one of our line item appropriate _____.” So, I thought about it and I said . . . well, it did make a difference where my money came from because if it comes from the state which is how it was originally proposed through the amendment, state has to pick up benefits, but if it comes from private funds, I pay the benefits, but I did not know that at the time. I was a very naive administrator. And I did not learn that because with that money, we set up the Visiting Scholars Program. And that is when I learned. I brought in Arnoldo De Leon who wrote the first history of Mexican Americans in Houston. Well, I had to pay his salary plus his benefits that ate up the . . . but I learned. And so, anyway, a long story short, the next couple of sessions, we were eventually able to get a line item and that is how . . . but by that time, I was getting a lot of respect, you know, because obviously there were legislators who were willing to do what they had to do to get us money. So, that is the way it all started.
So, we outgrew our space where we were on the 6th floor of Agnes Arnold Hall and so I had a request in for additional space and the dean at that time, history was not together, they were not on the same floor, Germany was split up. There were some Germans on the 6th floor and some Germans on the other floor, the German department, and every time they tried to get everybody together to agree on a move, somebody would buck. “I don’t want to move down there,” and so they would have to go back and so forth and so on. So eventually they came up with a plan and by this time, African American studies was defunct. This is in the middle 1980s, 1985, 1986. African American studies, they had a director who went to Africa every summer and one summer, he did not come back and so they shut the place down after one year. And so, their plan was for us take their space, so that everybody else could be happy, and I bucked on it. I mean, I knew the symbolism right there because the African American community on campus already thought that I had been singled out, meaning the Center, for development while they had not. I was getting money – they were not. I had a line item – they didn’t. I had a visiting scholars program and all these other things we were doing but they did not know how it came about. And so, I tried to explain it to the dean. I said, “No, that is just terrible. I will not take their space.” It was he and the associate dean and me. I said, “I can’t take their space. You’re just going to have to understand. It is political. It is too political. I can’t take it. I am already under fire because they think I have been singled out.” “You are going to have to take it.” And I remember I told the dean, Dean James Pickering, I said, “Well, Dean, if you are going to force me to go into that space, I would like to kick the decision up to the next level,” and he got mad. He turned red. “Well, you can do that, Dr. Mindiola but if you do, you let me tell you right now, Sir, you are going to have to find another college to live in.” His voice . . . he was turning all red in the face. “Dean, you are getting emotional. You are getting emotional.” The first time I had a chance to turn it back on them because I had heard, “You are too emotional. You are too militant.” But I tried to think about civility, you know. I had a good time telling him that. Well, a long story short, he assigned the associate director who interceded and said, “I think Tatcho has got a point about going over to African American studies and taking their space.” He said, “Let me go back to the plans and see what we can find out.” Well, what they did was they had to take a couple of classrooms out of circulation and they put us where we are now. But I got bigger space ______but even that, taking classrooms out of circulation required almost an act of God. But that is the thing about civility and the point that I wanted to make. I am calmer now. I have a lot more respect. We’ve got landmark accomplishments, you know, and so we are written in as a part of the budget and we made the University look good. There are still issues, you know, but we are a lot better off than we used to be.
DG: And your budget now is?
TM: The state budget is $1.2 [million??] but we have other outside funds. We have an endowment campaign underway that is generating some funds. We have some grants that come in from some foundations. I have several regular donors. So, you know, we are infinitely in much better shape. Still not where we would want to be. We still have 2 or 3 major things we want to accomplish but I am running out of time.
DG: Beyond surviving which was never guaranteed, what do you consider to be the main contributions of the Center to the University and to the community?
TM: Well, I think that we played a pivotal role because as we grew, our community was growing in the city, so we became much more important and then, of course, you know, everybody has been wringing their hands about low educational detainment level in our community which has historically been the case. The trend is in the right direction: you know, dropout rates and more people are graduating and things of this nature, so for people who are in administrative positions like me, the question is how can we speed up the rate? And so, I am always looking for things that I can manipulate administratively. If students come to us and say, “I’ve got to drop out of school,” or “I can’t go to college because my dad doesn’t have a job, I can’t get dad a job,” but if he comes to me, “I’m not doing well in school,” I can give him some scholarship money, some tutoring, you know, things that I can manipulate, but I think the contribution has been in the Visiting Scholars Program. We have 3 major components, 4 major components: one is the Visiting Scholars Program which we use to not only generate research about our community . . . I mentioned, for example, the first history of Mexican Americans in Houston is written as a result of one of our visiting scholars, we also use it as a recruitment mechanism to try to identify scholars who may be interested in staying at the University after a residency as our visiting scholar is over with. For example, this year, we had about 15 applications and we narrowed it down to 3 candidates we want to bring in. I take those resumes to the respective department and say, “Is this somebody you are interested in?” If there is, we try to make a match to try to recruit and so, whoever . . . for example, we’ve got a musicologist that is coming in, that musicologist, there is some interest in him. So, he will go to the top of the list there is a potential hire but sometimes we bring in scholars that we know don’t have a chance of getting hired because we want their project. You have to have a project that you are doing . . . and sometimes we do community service kinds of things like several years ago, there was a friend of mine who became a principal at Austin High School and he had this wall in the cafeteria that hung right in the middle of the cafeteria, 40 feet down and 100 feet wide. He did not know what to do with it. It was ugly just in the middle there. And so, I told him one day, I said, “Jose, why don’t you paint a mural on it?” “Oh, great idea.” But then, he . . . “Where am I going to get a muralist?” so, we used the Visiting Scholars Program to bring in a muralist and he and a group of Austin High School students, a group of University of Houston art students conceived of the idea in the fall of what they wanted to put on that wall, then they painted it in the spring. It is still there. It is beautiful. So, you know, we have used it for a variety of things. We brought in, I think, 5 Mexican American historians. The University of Houston has a concentration in Mexican American history. Well, we brought in those scholars through the Visiting Scholars Program. One of the first years you are on our payroll, after you get off our payroll, you assume your tenure track position in history. And so, we have done the same thing in sociology, in English. We have not had that much luck in anthropology but, you know, that is the way we have tried to use the program. Then, graduate fellowships. We have brought in over 30 visiting scholars, we have brought in more than 30, 35 graduate students that we have funded in the various departments. Don’t hold me to this figure – I am going to have to check – I think we’ve got about 60, 70 students on our payroll that we give scholarships to. We have been doing college career days for 25 years. So, we have all these things. Our vision – I would like to complete this endowment campaign. It is a five million dollar campaign. We have raised two million thus far. I am having some issues with the University in bringing that thing to a completion but, you know, we are moving. We’ve got a proposal that we’re developing to establish a major in Mexican and Mexican American studies, want to incorporate Mexico, and we’ve got some irons in the fire on obtaining enough funds from the legislature for our own physical building. That is the big vision that we are working on now. Like I say though, it is taking longer than I thought. I hope I am still here to see it come to bear.
DG: I do, too. That is a great description of sort of the mechanics of the program and what you hope to do but I cannot help thinking back when it first started back in the early 1970s, the University of Houston, by your description, was not as diverse as it is now. There were black demands. You wanted an equal voice. The fight back then would be described, what, as a fight for a voice at all?
TM: No, just to get a foothold in academia. Just to get a foothold. I remember when we first established our courses. The chair of the anthropology department, speaking to him about hiring an anthropologist and his question to me was, “Well, are your courses more than advocacy?” You know, so, I mean, we have come a long way since those days, you know. In fact, a sign of our success is that we even have now Anglo scholars whose expertise are Hispanic studies or Mexican American studies. So, that is a sign of legitimacy. And, you know, it helps us. It helps us quite a bit.
DG: So, that battle, in a sense, has been won?
TM: That battle has been won but the battle for resources is never really over. No one on campus, no unit on campus will say, “I have enough resources to do what I want to do.” So, I mean, that battle is constant. You know, I just learned that every 2 years, you have to submit your request and guard your territory, and hopefully, you will get some more. But, I mean, the state now is in good position. I was reading an article in the paper the other day – they are going to have something like a $10 billion to $12 billion surplus this year just biennium. Well, I remember years when the state would say, “Everybody has to slash 5%.” Well, that is us, too, you know, so, I mean, resources are a constant issue with the University as a whole. It is not unique to the Center. You just have to always make sure that you get your share of the pie.
DG: This is as good a time to ask this question as any: it was a center for Mexican American studies. To the Anglo community, they tend to think of all people of brown skin as being Hispanics, as being Mexican Americans, as being whatever. Now, you know the obvious difference – there is a lot of diversity within that perceived group. How did you deal with it there at the Center? Did you ever make an attempt to sort of broaden and deal with all Hispanics? Is there a separate entity that deals with Hispanic issues? What do you think is the current state of the understanding . . .
TM: Well, there have been suggestions that maybe we should change our name to Hispanic studies to reflect the diversity but first of all, historically speaking, this earth here is Mexican earth, it is Mexicans sweat and blood. We are the largest group of all Hispanic groups, especially in Texas. The history, the rich history of the Alamo, San Jacinto battlegrounds, and our relationship with Mexico and so forth and so on is very strong and very prominent, and the second thing is that in our course, in my courses and all of the courses that we teach, we always plays ourselves in comparative perspective. Years ago when we first started, it was in comparative perspective, too, African Americans and Anglo Americans primarily. Now, the perspective is Anglo Americans, African Americans, and the other Hispanic groups, right? And how do we differ from the Cubans? How do we differ from the Puerto Ricans? The largest, for example, South American group in Houston are Columbians. Well, their history is completely different from our history. Now, so, if someone else wants to go out start the Center for Hispanic Studies, I wish them well – do you know what I mean? But, one of my fears is that we will get swallowed up in that, O.K. Now, there is a degree in Hispanic studies in the Spanish department, there is a developing Latin American studies group in political science but, you know, Latin America is South America, you know, and Hispanic studies is, again, a completely different animal. If somebody wants to start another program like that, fine, but there was, I think, a proposal several years ago about trying to get all these diverse units together under one umbrella but nobody wanted that, you know. Nobody wanted that. There is too much diversity in our groups. We have very little in common with the history of, say, Puerto Ricans. There are Puerto Rican studies in New York, in New Jersey. Great. There are Mexicans up there, too, you know, but I would not go up there and say, “Oh, you’ve got to change Puerto Rican studies to call it Latino studies or Hispanic studies so we are included.” There are Jewish studies. There are Irish studies. There was an argument that we used early on to justify our existence. We found Italian studies, we found Jewish studies, all scattered throughout the country at different universities. There were German studies. There used to be German studies here because of the heavy German influence in Texas, you know, so, I mean, to each his own. To each his own.
DG: Is there a danger then in the city looking at the Hispanic community as this homogeneous group that they think of as . . .
TM: Well, I think there is. I think there is this tendency to lump us all together but you also see signs of differences that are beginning to emerge. For example, the Los Angeles Times used to use the term “Hispanic” and for a lot of political reasons, they dropped it because they thought the activists argued that Hispanic studies pointed us in the direction of Spain and not the indigenous roots. So, they went to Latino. Why? I don’t know. I don’t see that pan ethnic term any better. But then most recently . . . I say recently, within the last maybe 10 years, the Los Angeles Times adopted a policy that if they are talking generically about all Latinos, they will use that term but if they are talking about specifically, this Colombian shot this Columbian, they are going to say it. A Columbian shot this Columbian. If it is something specific to a group, they are going to say so. And use a pan ethnic term when they are talking about all of the Spanish speaking groups together but then singling them out when there are talking about whatever group they are talking about which I thought was an interesting policy. Now, nothing like that has happened here and, you know, we use the terms interchangeably. Now, I notice, for example in the last few years, this term Euro Americans. You are no longer Anglo Americans. You are Euro Americans. I said, well that is an interesting term. O.K. You certainly are entitled to it. Do you know what a new area I would say in the last 20 years is, in my area of ethnic studies? The development of white studies which has been a very, very interesting development, with white scholars dealing with the issue of what does it mean to be white in the United States of America relative to other countries? And you have books like How the Irish Became White, How the Jewish People Became White, How Italians Became White. And what ties all of those things together is those groups when they migrated over here, had no sense that they were white people until they came to the United States and began to understand the racial stratification that exists. Very, very interesting development. There is a book written by a guy named Roddiger, I think it is, who calls for the abolition of the white race. Well, what he means is the abolition of that term, white, and he wants to get back . . . and he advocates this term Euro Americans. It is so fascinating. It is so fascinating to watch that evolution now. So, when I teach race relations now, I include those readings in my classes. It adds a very interesting dimension. And you’ll be surprised – I had students come and tell me, “Ya’ll are so lucky.” “Why?” “Well, ya’ll have a culture and ya’ll have causes.” And I will say, “Well, you have a culture. Whites have a culture.” “No, whites don’t have a culture.” So, hey, I am talking to you in English. It has been a fascinating evolution.
DG: We are running out of time. I want to ask you one more question. In an interview for this project, Bill Lawson was asked, “What is going to be the next big issue that we will be marching in the streets for?” and he said, without hesitation, “Hispanic rights. Hispanic civil rights;” that beyond sort of the granting of a voice, that Hispanics will supplant the black community in terms of that fight for justice. Not that blacks have won theirs completely. Hispanics have always sort of come in second place in sort of the PR battle for the public attention, for the public voice. I mean, when you look back on the civil rights struggle, it was always expressed in terms of black versus white, and it was his view that it is now the brown people’s turn to take the forefront in that fight partially because they are the majority of the minorities now, the largest minority, and partially because the time has come. Is that a perspective you share?
TM: Yes, I would refine it a bit. I would say probably the civil rights issue is going to revolve around immigrants and we are already in the midst of that. I think that the bilingual education, the linguistic rights is a continuing battle but it is being fueled by immigration. So, for example, I recently wrote a paper about integration. My view is that the long-term trend between Mexico and the United States is more integration, not less. Even this current controversy over what to do with the $12+ million undocumenteds is eventually going to lead to putting them on some kind of path to legalization. But what is that? That is more integration. Intermarriage rates which is probably the single most important indicator of how 2 groups are getting along is very high for us. The last time I looked, it was around 37% to 40% of all Mexican origin people are marrying someone who is not of Mexican origin. That is high. That is very high. It is like I tell my classes when we go over intermarriage rates, I will kid with them, I will say, “O.K., so do you see how high it is? In order to marry someone that is not like you, you have to interact with them, you have to meet them, you have to have contact with them. You just don’t go and” . . . so I tell them, I say, “So, those of you that are interested in marrying a Mexican, better hurry up because we may run out!” They always laugh. Then, when they get through laughing, I tell them, “But don’t worry about it because when we wake up in the morning, there will be more of us here.” But no, I agree with Reverend Lawson. In fact, and I will tell you where it is really playing out so interestingly, I wished I could get down there and see it is in the old south. Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama – where immigrants have now migrated to those states in unprecedented numbers and it is completely upsetting the ratio norms there because historically, that is the area where it has always been black or white. Now, it is black, white and brown. And neither blacks nor whites know exactly how to deal with this. It has not played out yet. In the Georgia State legislature, for example, the African American legislators fought to prevent Mexican immigrants or Hispanics from participating in their affirmative action programs. Well, that was eventually settled after LULAC got involved and everybody came on board, but these issues are going to have to play themselves out.
DG: Are you optimistic about the future?
TM: Oh, yes. I think that there are going to be a lot of adjustments but I think, for example, well, we were just talking earlier when you came in about Barak Obama. That is going to be major. It is major. And I think it signals a very significant change in racial attitudes. Now, is everybody on board? Of course not. But that is going to be major. I am very, very hopeful that his competence will begin to really, really change the way people view people of color.
DG: Before we close, I just want to add for the tape you are the recipient of the 2006 Mayor’s Hispanic Heritage Award for contributions to education.
DG: Your thoughts on receiving that award?
TM: Well, first of all, I was surprised and very pleased, you know. You know, when you are in charge of something, you get a lot of recognition but I really must give credit to the people that have been with me and stood behind me. Roman Martinez helping me get the budget. Lorenzo Cano, my budget officer, the students that started the program. There are just an awful lot of people that deserve credit for where we are now and hopefully where we will be in the future.
DG: Thank you very much.
TM: My pleasure.