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Interview with: Tony Campos
Date: January 12, 1989
Archive Number: OH 338
TK: 00:03 This is a January 12, 1989, oral history interview with Mr. Tony Campos of Baytown, Texas. Mr. Campos, I want to start out with just some basics. Where were you born? When were you born? Where are you from originally?
TC: I was born in Baytown, Texas, August the 21st, 1923. I went to school in Baytown all through elementary, high school, served in the United States paratroopers, and came back after serving my country, came back and went to Lee College in Baytown. After one semester there I enrolled at Baylor University in 1946, and I graduated from Baylor University in ’50 with a BA degree. My major was political science, government.
TK: I see. Were you in World War II?
TC: Yes. I graduated from high school June 1, 1943. Twenty-two days later on June 23rd I was in Sam Houston. I was drafted. I served in the 82nd Airborne Division; I was a paratrooper. I fought in northern France. We made a jump behind enemy lines in France. We got in boxcars and we traveled during the winter months into Bastogne. We fought in the Rhineland, and finally after Hitler surrendered we decided that those that volunteered to go to Japan would get a 45-day leave, and I was one of them that volunteered. And on the way to the United States for leave, Japan surrendered, so I was discharged in 1945 and immediately went to school.
TK: So you went to Lee College then after.
TC: Yeah. After I got out of the service, honorable discharge, I went to Lee College for a semester. Some friends decided to go to Baylor. Of course I was a Catholic, a devout Catholic, but they were wondering why I wanted to go to Baylor. But since all of my friends went to Baylor, I went to Baylor, and I enjoyed my term there.
TK: Let’s go back a little bit. You said you were born in Baytown. Were your parents from there originally? How did they end up in Baytown?
TC: 02:55 No. My parents came from Mexico. My daddy was born in Zacatecas, Mexico, in a little town called Fresnillo. My mother was also born in Mexico. My mother came to the United States when she was about 15 years old. My daddy must have been around 17. They settled in Baytown. My dad worked for Humble Oil and Refining Company, which is now Exxon. There were 11 in our family. I think there’s 7 of them still living. We were from Baytown.
TK: Did he help construct the refinery out there?
TC: That’s right. My dad came in with a group that was instrumental in building the Baytown refinery as it is now. I remember that we lived in a section where there was about 50 families in the surrounding area with one big toilet facility in the middle for all of them and bathroom facilities in the middle for all of them. I remember we would take turns. Some of them would go in the morning; some of them would go in the evening to use those facilities. Of course we got used to it. All the Hispanics were all together in the same area. All of them were working for the refinery, and all of them were receiving houses from the refinery.
TK: They were houses, but they had sort of a common bathroom facility.
TK: Where was that exactly? Can you pinpoint that place?
TC: It’s still in Baytown. It’s still in Baytown now. It’s a parking lot right now in Baytown. It’s what they call Market Street and Harbor Street in Baytown. It’s a parking area. I don’t think there’s any signs of any facility. They were all torn down for parking space.
TK: Did y’all move out of that and then go to another area in town and live?
TC: Yes. When we grew up and they built a school, the school was known as the Baytown Mexican School. It was just for Mexican kids. And after they built it, we moved out of the Humble Oil compound and we moved onto one of the streets, Cherry Street, two blocks from school. We’d proceed to go to school. I remember at that time there were some LULACs already existing, Johnny Herrera and I think there was another man. Anyway, we asked them to see why this school was a Mexican school and the other ones were Baytown Elementary, San Jacinto Elementary. They all had names except ours. So what they did, they contacted the schools. I don’t know whether it was the Mexican council, but anyway, the school district decided to put cement over the word Mexican, and they just left Baytown School. Later on they named it De Zavala Elementary School. But that’s where I started my intern into why they were discriminating against Mexican Americans.
TK: 06:23 How old were you at that time? Were you just a child?
TC: Oh yes. When the LULACs first came into Baytown, I must have been around 15. I was just realizing some of the segregation that existed among Mexican Americans in Baytown.
TK: Was the level of discrimination pretty high in Baytown at that time?
TC: At that time it was bad. I remember I used to go pick up my dad, and especially paydays my ma said to him, “Go get your check so we can go buy some groceries.” So I’d go and my dad would come out through a gate that said “Mexicans.” I looked around and there were three water fountains. One was colored black for the black people, one was colored white for the white people, and one was colored brown for the brown people. Even when they were getting paid, one of them said, “Mexican,” one said, “Black,” and one said, “White.” It was something that existed for many years. But thanks to LULAC and people like Frank Pinedo, people like John Herrera that went down there and asked why those things existed— But they did exist. They had what they called the Humble Club, and that was just for so-called white people. They wouldn’t let Mexican American employees join it. It was segregated. They had two recreation halls, one for the Mexican Americans working for Humble and one for the white people that were working for Humble.
TK: This was in the ‘30s, would you say?
TC: Yeah, ‘30s, because I was going to school in ’35 up there in junior high. When I was in Baytown Mexican School, I couldn’t go anywhere else. People wanted to go to other schools. They thought maybe they could learn more, because 100 percent of the students at the De Zavala School were Mexican Americans, and some of them tried to go to another elementary. That was taboo. They wouldn’t let them go.
TK: How many grades were in that De Zavala School?
TC: There was what they called low first—that must have been a preschool—but then first, second, third, fourth, and fifth. It was crowded, but we were all Mexican Americans but we learned. We learned. Everybody had to. Two grades were in one room. When I was in fifth grade, they had the fourth and the fifth in the same room. It didn’t bother nobody, but we later learned that we children had been segregated like that.
TK: 09:24 You finally got out of that school, though, and went to—
TC: Yeah. I got out of that school and went to Baytown Junior High, and from there I went to Robert E. Lee High School. We were some of the first to have a Scout troop. They had what they called the Baytown Oiler Field. They had played semipro baseball. Every year they had a Boy Scout Jamboree. They had all the Boy Scout kids building lean-tos and what have you, and we used to go out to the chain link fence and look. And we liked what we saw, so we got a group of us and asked some of the scout leaders that we wanted to join. And sure enough, they gave us a troop, Troop 142. But it was an all Mexican American troop. We had our own thing, separated. We went to camp, Camp Strake. We were all together, but we did our thing. In fact, we competed with all the other troops, and many times we came way ahead of them. But it was a segregated troop, but we learned. In fact, out of that we had three Eagle Scouts. I was one of the ones that got my Eagle Scout and Assistant Scoutmaster before I went to the Army.
TK: You became an Eagle Scout?
TC: I became an Eagle Scout with 62 merit badges, but we worked for those. We worked because we were a different troop. I remember during the summer if we’d like to go to camp we had to go pick up Coke bottles and sell them, iron and whatever we could to sell it so we could go to camp, because our folks were not able to give us the money needed to go to camp.
TK: What was your father’s job there at the refinery?
TC: My father used to be out in the fields where they would burn all the trash. He’d come home black and stained because he was out there burning trash in the hot weather. All the trash that was accumulated from the refinery they would burn in big, old mounds. But he was always there, and he did his thing. He suffered because burning trash, especially during the summer, it’s hot. But he never gave up.
TK: And he worked for them for how many years?
TC: He must have worked for them 40 years when he retired. After he retired he wasn’t able to move around, he started getting stiff legs, stiff knees and what have you and blood clots. For some reason or other, he had a blood clot and he died of a heart attack.
TK: 12:21 Did your mother have a job, or did she just work in the house?
TC: My mother was the type that all she did was take care of us. She made the best food, she made lunches for us, but she took care of us. She didn’t work. She was a devoted Catholic. She sold tamales to build the church in Baytown.
TK: What church did y’all go to in Baytown?
TC: We went to the Saint Joseph Church, but my mother, when they built the Guadalupe Church, she changed to the Guadalupe Church because it was only two blocks from the house. I remember she invited the priest and Father Robinowski and at that time one of the local bishops came, and she gave them lunch there at the house and had a picture with the bishop. And she said, “From now on, this is the bishop’s room,”—the little dining room—“because he went in there and honored us with his presence.” My mother made him some tamales, some rice and beans and tortillas, and they enjoyed it. So she said, “That’s the bishop’s room from now on because he was there.” My mother and dad were hardworking people.
TK: How many children were there in the family?
TC: In our family there was 11, 7 boys and 4 girls.
TK: Where were you in relation to the others? Were you the youngest, the oldest, in the middle somewhere?
TC: I was about in the middle. I was in the middle.
TK: Did the other children go to school like you did? Did they go on for higher education? Did they graduate from high school?
TC: No. The rest of my brothers never did attend schooling, except one went to secondary. One of my brothers was going to Sam Houston and during the summer he was playing baseball and softball, and they were in a car accident and he got killed. But he was the only one that went into secondary education besides myself. My other two brothers were hardworking. They were employed by Exxon as merchant seamen, and they retired as merchant seamen. One of them lives in Baytown, and one of them lives here in Houston.
TK: 14:43 What do you think motivated you to go on to higher education?
TC: What motivated me, the first thing is there was discrimination and everybody said, “If you get an education, you could be better off.” And sure enough, after getting an education, after meeting people in professional fields, you could understand, you could talk to them, you could get information and read and do some research and fight for the law and the rules and what you had coming and respect for the rights of others. Education did great for me. I was able to meet a lot of people, a lot of influential people. I was able to conduct meetings and seminars on LULAC, on the Little Schools of the 400. I found out the value of that education. That’s why when Felix asked me to help him with the the Little Schools of the 400, I immediately got to it, and we were able to get the basic 400 words, and we were able to get people that were interested in educating the Hispanics, the preschool program, and I enjoyed every minute of my life in that field of education with the LULACs. Later on because of LULACs I got to know a lot of other politicians, and I got involved in politics.
TK: You graduated from Baylor when?
TC: In 1950.
TK: In 1950. What did you do after you got out of school?
TC: After I got out of school I went to work for Baytown School District. The Baytown School District gave me an opportunity to teach. Since I was involved in music—I had my own dance band during the war—I was able to conduct a little elementary band in Baytown and at the same time drive the bus. In fact, I was the first Hispanic employee. They employed me as a teacher, but actually, I was a band director and school bus driver.
TK: So you did all three things.
TC: That’s right. And in the meantime, I was working with the preschool program and the Boy Scouts. That was my main thing in the evening, Boy Scouts, because they had done so much for me.
TK: Was there a LULAC Council in Baytown when you got out of college? When did that come about? When did the Baytown LULAC Council come about?
TC: 17:25 The Baytown council came about as soon as I got out of college. I got out in ’50. I think in ’51 we organized it and we started from there.
TK: Who was involved in the organization?
TC: In the organization there were about 14, 15 people. I know some of them are still living here. Lou Aguilar was involved, Danny Sandoval was involved, Mike Contreras, my father-in-law Al Torres and my brother-in-law, he’s still around. They were all people that were interested that had families that they knew the value of education, the people that had been working for Humble as laborers. Some of them retired as laborers, but they knew that if you were educated that you could get a better job. And sure enough, later on some of them were able to get out of secondary education and they got a little bit better jobs at Humble Oil.
TK: So did you then help initiate the council there? Who initiated the council? Just you 14 guys?
TC: Yeah. We got some people from Houston that we knew that were involved in LULAC. They came over. We respected John Herrera because he was always willing to come to Baytown and Al Fernandez. Later on we got Judge Salazar to come over. They helped us organize it. Then we invited other prominent leaders like Frank Pinedo, Oscar Alvarez, attorneys. All of them came, and that inspired the people in Baytown. Right now we have many Hispanic professionals in Baytown.
TK: What was the number of y’all’s council? Which number was it?
TC: In Baytown all they had was Baytown Chapter. I think ours was number 172, LULAC Council Number 172 in Baytown.
TK: That’s the one that you gave us the picture of and let us copy the picture of.
TC: Oh yes.
TK: One photograph is of Council 227.
TC: Most of those were Humble employees. They were Humble employees. Yes.
TK: About what year was that taken, that picture?
TC: 19:51 It must have been taken in 1951, ’52.
TK: About the time it was organized.
TC: Yes, right after we were organized. They were all good working people. Our main objective was to fight discrimination and raise money for scholarships. We were able to send a lot of kids to college because of LULAC.
TK: Where was this picture taken? Do you remember?
TC: Yeah. It was taken in Baytown. It was taken at one of those community buildings that they loaned us. I told you the Hispanics were using one community building owned by Humble, and that’s where we used to hold our meetings.
TK: So that was owned by Humble Oil Company.
TC: Right. It was Humble Oil. You’re right.
TK: So how did they treat you at the school district in Baytown as an employee? Were they good employers?
TC: When I was employed, they treated me— Like I said, I was the first Hispanic there. But they gave me the job. I was hoping I would get a full-time teaching job, but that was the only thing they offered me, and I took it because I needed the job.
TK: You say you had a band at one time. Give me a little background on that.
TC: Oh yes. Way back in 1938, Dr. Antonio Banuelos came to Baytown, and he organized a dance band. And then he left to go to California, and so I took over the dance band in 1938. It was ’38, ’39, ’40, and ’41. We used to play for the USO dances, and we used to go to Port Arthur and play for USO dances, in Baytown for the USO dances. We’d go as far as Victoria to play for USO dances. Of course we’d play for other community dances. After I got out of the Army I went back and a friend of mine and I reorganized it. For a couple of years we played for different dances in Baytown and the surrounding areas, but then it got to be that my kids got growing and I needed to help them. They got involved in Little League, and they got involved with peewee football, and I couldn’t devote enough time to the band.
TK: 22:33 What’s your instrument?
TC: I play trombone and I play drums.
TK: Did you learn that in school?
TC: The trombone I learned in school, and the drums I learned on my own. They needed a drummer for the band and I said, “I’ll play the drums.” That was during the war because in ’39 there was no way you could get a metal drum, so I got one of the ones that were made during the war and there was no metal to it. In fact, I still have the tom-tom and I have the bass drum. They had just maybe a couple of screws, but the rest of them were made completely just of wood. There was no metal at that time.
TK: What was the name of y’all’s band before the war? Did it have a name?
TC: They called us the Blue Jackets because we had a little blue jacket.
TK: Was that Professor Banuelos’s band before? Was it also called the Blue Jackets with him?
TC: Yeah. He was the one that got us the blue jackets, the little jackets, and we would play for him. We learned from him; he was a good professor. But after he left the boys asked me to take over and I took over. We did all right.
TK: After World War II, what was the name of the band?
TC: After World War II we just said the Baytown Band, and we played for a couple years. The boys started growing, they got married, and they couldn’t get out and play at night on Saturdays or Sundays and go to work Monday, so we disbanded.
TK: The Blue Jackets, how many piece band did y’all have there?
TC: Sixteen-piece band.
TK: It was 16.
TC: We played all the music of the ‘40s and ‘50s, the Glenn Miller type, Tommy Dorsey type, Woody Herman type music.
TK: 24:31 Were they all Mexican Americans, or were there Anglos in it?
TC: They were all Mexican American people that grew up together. They were all from Baytown.
TK: After the war was it the same size or was it a different size?
TC: After the war it was about the same size. It was nearly the same musicians, maybe a couple of new ones, but they were about the same musicians.
TK: How well did you know Antonio Banuelos? I’ve heard his name before.
TC: Antonio Banuelos, I knew him because I think in elementary he was the one that taught me the first notes. I say notes because we used to sing solfeggio. We used to sing (in singing voice) “do, re, mi,” and things like that. Lesson one, a whole note (in singing voice) “Do, re;” and then lesson two, half note; lesson three, quarter notes and so on. Then we put them together and (in singing voice) “Do, re, mi, fa, so, la.” There were about 60 or 65 different lessons, and we had to learn them all before we started instruments. And after we started instruments we knew just about what to expect. This is where you have A and C and D and what have you, and you knew just where to place your fingers on your trombone or what have you. But you had already the basic solfeggio.
TK: I see. Where did he come from? Do you know anything about him?
TC: Dr. Banuelos, he came in. He was in Houston for a time. He came in and he organized this band, he organized the Tipica Orchestra, a group of young ladies. They were real good, Tipica Orchestra, just string instruments and then they had a piano. They had mandolins, violins, cello, bass, and they had marimba, xylophone, and they went to Hollywood to play a concert with Tito Guizar from Mexico and other stars. But they were real good.
TK: Did he go on to California and live?
TC: Yeah. He went to California and lived and there he had a couple of bands. He would play with a symphony in California. He died over there. I don’t know what was the cause. He spent his last years there.
TK: In California.
TC: 27:11 California.
TK: You helped get the Baytown LULAC Council going. Y’all were involved in scholarships and in promoting Mexican American civil rights there.
TK: When did you get involved with the Houston LULACs?
TC: I got involved with the Houston LULACs in 1954. Felix heard what we were doing in Baytown, and he asked me to come to a meeting with him, and he offered me a job as his personal secretary. Part of my job was to help in his restaurant business. I sort of helped him supervise and do a lot of the work there in the restaurant business, because my main job was to help him in all his civic affairs by writing letters for him, by writing all his speeches, by going with him into different meetings. I was his personal secretary, I was his driver, and we used to go to meetings with the governor, meetings with the senator. He liked what LULAC was doing, but he wanted LULAC to do more. He wanted more education. Sure, they were giving scholarships to grown-ups, but he wanted to help the young ones because that’s where they needed the education. So he had an idea of the way he learned. He learned by, “This is an apple, manzana; this is an orange.” That’s the way he learned. So he said, “If I learned it this way, why can’t the youngsters before they go to school learn it the same way?” So we were able to give it a study. We studied and we asked teachers. We went to Baytown and asked some of the teachers involved in teaching Mexican Americans at the De Zavala School, “What’s the best way?” And one of the teachers, a Ms. Elizabeth Burrus, told us. She said, “Look, I’m going to make you a list of 400 words that we usually use here in De Zavala. All we have is Mexican Americans. This is what we use because when they come to De Zavala they don’t know any English whatsoever. We have struggled with it.” So that’s why they had low first grade. Low first was for the youngsters that didn’t know a thing in English, and high first was the one that knew a list in English. So she compiled a list of 400 words. She said, “This is basic. If you can get those kids to learn at least half of them before they come to us, we won’t have any trouble and they learn quicker and they learn better.” And sure enough, we got Felix to do it. And Felix took money out of his pocket and he got us some new lists, got lists, got a printer to print them and put them in the little book out of his own money. He did all this. Then he said, “Let’s go look for the kids.” Felix had a little farm in Sugar Land, and he had some people there living and farming. We went over there and tested those kids. In about two, three, four days they could say, “Manzana, apple.” We’d show them a picture. We made some very crude flash cards. The kids looked at them and said, “That’s a manzana.” “No, it’s an apple.” “This is a flor.” “No, it’s a flower.” “This is leche.” “No, this is milk.” We showed them that, and in about three—
[end of OH 338_01] 31:10
TK: [beginning of OH 338_02] 00:04 Let me ask you to clarify this, Mr. Campos. Those flash cards that you brought, where did y’all make those? Tell me when and where y’all made those flash cards.
TC: In 1955.
TK: When y’all first started.
TC: Yeah. We started then in the back of Felix’s restaurant. He had a little warehouse, and we got in there and we cut pictures out of magazines and we pasted them on cards, political cards, political posters. Since he was involved in all that, we pasted them. We looked at the little book, the words, and we got some of the words that we could put on, an article on the flash cards. We started there at Felix’s restaurant.
TK: This was after y’all got the list from Ms. Burrus?
TC: That’s right. After we got the list we said we could produce flash cards. We got the flash cards, we got in his Cadillac and took off to talk to the little kids there. The teacher said, “If you can get those kids, especially during the summer, ready for fall, you’ll help us out.” So we went and promoted—I think we promoted about at four little schools, Ganado, El Campo, Edna, and Sugar Land. We’d go out there every day. I’d go out there and get some flash cards, I’d take them some pencils, and Felix would get some booklets so they could start putting their names on paper and colors so they could color things. The kids enjoyed it and sure enough, by the time school started in the fall, they were able to function like the rest of the little kids. But then came the time that, “Hey, we can’t do this. We need some money.” So that’s when he organized through LULAC the Little Schools of the 400, the Educational Fund, Incorporated, and he got all the people to make donations because it started to grow. And then he had a Rotarian that made a movie. I forgot what the name of the movie was. We went over there into fields and got the kids and got the teacher and Felix. I remember it was a hot day and we went down there for about a week. He made a film, and we put that film all over the state. We promoted the Little Schools of the 400. He got his friends in Gulf Oil to loan him an airplane. They flew all over, passing out literature, giving people in the communities a chance to see the movie, and that’s where they got the preschool all over the state.
TK: 03:03 Let’s go back a little bit, Mr. Campos. Specifically under what circumstances did you and Felix meet? How did he find out about you? Where did y’all become friends?
TC: I was in LULAC in Baytown, and I went to a couple of the meetings. I got up and told them that I had been a teacher, and I knew that the kids were having problems, and I knew that they were having to have a low first grade for the people that didn’t know anything, and I knew that some of the teachers had already told me since I was with them there the whole day in Baytown Mexican School, they told me, “If we can get those kids to learn something at home and be prepared for the fall”— But my parents and the people at home weren’t qualified to teach them anything. So Felix got an idea. He said, “Hey, come over to my restaurant.” I went over to his restaurant and talked to him about it. He said, “Can we work something out? Can you help me out?”
TK: Oh. So y’all met here at Council 60 then, huh? You had come to talk to Council 60.
TC: Yeah. I came over to Council 60 and talked to Felix and talked to Salazar and talked to all of them. And they told Felix, “Felix, get Tony here to help you out.” And from then on we started working.
TK: So you went over to his restaurant and talked to him.
TC: Yes, and he immediately said, “Are you ready to go to work tomorrow?” And I said, “Yeah.” So from then on we worked. His main idea was to educate the kids. His idea was to educate them. He said, “We’re not going to give scholarships to people that are getting out of school. We want to promote more kids to stay in school,” because he went out and did research, and he found out that out of every ten that started school, only one got through elementary school. He said, “What’s the matter?” So the teachers and the principals would tell him, “Felix, they just have so much problems learning that they drop out.” So he said, “Can we do something about it?” They said, “We’ve got to prepare them better before they go to school.” So that’s when we said, “How are we going to prepare them?” And then we talked to this teacher in Baytown, Ms. Burrus.
TK: Did y’all approach her about the words? That’s how y’all did it?
TC: 05:35 Yeah. Felix and I came to Baytown, and we asked her to give us some ideas.
TK: Did you know her before?
TC: Oh yes. She was one of my colleagues when I was there at Baytown Mexican School.
TK: I see. What was she like as a teacher?
TC: Very good. All the teachers at the Mexican School in Baytown, De Zavala Mexican School, they were devoted and they were our guardian angels. They would teach us, they would protect us and guide us. We appreciated those teachers.
TK: Had she been teaching there for a long time? How old a person was she at that time?
TC: I guess at that time she must have been around 25, 30.
TK: She was a young woman at that time.
TC: Yeah. She devoted all her time to that De Zavala School. I thank her for those words that she gave us, the 400 basic words. She was the one that gave them to us, and we got those words and we introduced them to all the little schools. Later on they had this Bill 151 where they provided preschool programs.
TK: This may be too personal, but how much did Felix pay you when you started? Do you remember the salary?
TC: I think Felix was paying me $100 a week. Of course I used to eat at the restaurant there, and I used to go with him. I enjoyed going with him to different meetings, different functions, and I was instrumental in helping him organize the Midwest. He said, “If we can educate them here, why can’t we educate those that go from here to the Midwest?” And he sent me to Chicago to organize LULACs there, he sent me to Minnesota to organize LULACs there, and he paid my way all over Milwaukee and Detroit, and we organized. I used to stay there a week or two weeks making contacts and organizing, promoting LULAC, promoting Little Schools of the 400, promoting scholarships. That was his baby, the education. He said, “If we have a basic education, we’ll be better off.”
TK: Describe Felix when you first met him. What kind of person was he?
TC: 08:09 Felix was the type of person that he would look at you. He would look at you and sort of see. He knew if you were going to take advantage of him, and he knew whether you were sincere. That’s the type of man that he was. He would look at you and talk to you in Spanish and English. You had a feeling that he was testing you, that he was trying to find if you were going to help him or not, because Felix had money. He had money. He could hire people that were just out of college, professors, but he wanted somebody that knew the background of the Hispanics, that knew what they needed, that some of them had suffered, had been discriminated against. I guess he must have seen something in me, but from then on I was his right-hand man, his secretary, his traveling companion, his speechwriter. I did everything for him that he needed, and I hope that in some way I was instrumental in helping other people in the field of education.
TK: How long did you work for him?
TC: I worked for Felix for six years.
TK: From when to when?
TC: From 1954 to 1960.
TK: Why did you leave his employment?
TC: I left his employment because my youngsters were growing, and in his employment all I was getting was my weekly check with no retirement, no benefits, and nothing, see. I did ask him, I said, “I would like to be part of your restaurant organization. I want to be part of it. I want to get on your benefits.” I was looking ahead. If I’m going to stay with him, I wanted some kind of retirement, some benefits. He said, “No. There’s no such thing here. I think you’re worth more than what I can pay you, but I don’t have any benefits.” This was a private thing, him and his wife and his two children. That’s it. There were no benefits whatsoever. If you get involved in a business and you’ve got your children growing, you want to know what are you going to get when you retire.
TK: So you felt that you needed to leave.
TC: That’s right.
TK: What did you do when you got out?
TC: 11:02 Since I had made a lot of contacts in the field of education, I think two weeks later I talked to the area superintendent, one of the people involved with the Houston Independent School District, a young lady who before she got married whose name was Sandon. I had met her at Baylor University, and her daddy was Professor Andreas Sandon. She was in charge of the bilingual department in HISD. She said, “You’re hired.” So the next Monday I went down there, the Monday after I talked to her, and I went down there and made an application, and she put me to work in the bilingual department. I was teaching in the elementary grades. We were teaching English to youngsters that were coming to school. I got involved, and I was with HISD on the bilingual program, different phases of the program, from 1961 till I retired.
TK: Which is when? When did you retire?
TC: I retired four years ago. I enjoyed it because I devoted all my time to the elementary level, helping the kids get a better—
TK: Were you a classroom teacher, or did you go into administration?
TC: You could say I was a classroom teacher. I never did have a regular classroom teaching. I was teaching different bilingual programs.
TK: I see.
TC: But I enjoyed it. I was with HISD.
TK: So you worked for Felix for six years.
TC: Six years.
TK: And y’all were primarily promoting the educational program.
TK: I see. Did you travel with him quite a bit then?
TC: Yes. I traveled with him to Washington, I traveled with him to New York, I traveled with him to Mexico, I traveled with him to Austin, I traveled with him everywhere. Everywhere that he went, I was with him.
TK: 13:18 New York. What were y’all doing in New York?
TC: That’s the time that we were promoting LULAC. We had a couple of councils: Newark, New York. We had a young lady down there helping us out. It was just a promotion for LULAC. When he got involved, he was the only person to ever serve four consecutive terms as LULAC national president. Can you imagine a man that never did go to school having that prize given to him for four years? Nobody else has done it. They’ve served one or two terms. He had a lot of good friends with him. He had good lawyers who helped him. He had good professionals. He got involved with professionals. That was the only way that he could get things going for LULAC, get educated people to work with him, people that were honest, that had the same ideals in mind: the education of—
TK: You held some fairly high positions with LULAC too, didn’t you? You did not simply just work for Felix. You also had offices in LULAC.
TC: Yeah. I was executive director of LULAC, and I was the executive director of the Little Schools of the 400. I was in charge of the LULAC News for three years for Felix. When we got in LULAC, we did it.
TK: Was anybody else from the Baytown council involved with this with you?
TC: One of them that was involved pretty close was Danny Sandoval. He knew the work that we were doing.
TK: Did you always stay a member of the Baytown council, or did you ever move up here?
TC: No. I stayed a member of the Baytown council until I sort of retired from LULAC.
TK: Did you stay active in LULAC after 1960?
TC: Yes. We stayed active in Baytown for a couple of years. We stayed active in LULAC. And then they turned it over to some young boys that had their own ideas and I said, “Well, every good idea is good if you continue with it.” And they promoted scholarships, and they started doing a lot of business seminars. They’d invite people in business to come and talk to the young Hispanics. Most of their objective was scholarships.
TK: 16:04 When did you get married? You keep mentioning your family.
TC: Oh yeah. I got married in 1945.
TK: Was this a girl that you’d known before?
TC: A girl that I knew in elementary school. We went through school together, and we got married and had four youngsters.
TK: Was she in LULAC at all?
TC: She traveled with me all over in LULAC, and I think she got involved with the Ladies LULAC in Baytown. They had the Ladies LULAC, and she got involved with it.
TK: What is your wife’s name?
TC: Alicia. She got involved for a couple of years with Ladies LULAC. All her work was helping me out, helping me get things going.
TK: Mr. Campos, I’m trying to think of— There must have been a thousand other things that y’all did while y’all were in LULAC. Did you help Felix run for the school board here in Houston?
TC: Yes. When Felix had an idea, he said, “If I could get into the school board, maybe I could make some changes for the Hispanic community,” because at that time the Hispanic community was all segregated, and Felix didn’t like that. He said, “We ought to get involved, mix in with the other communities in HISD.” So he said, “Will you help me if I run for the school board?” I said, “Sure, Felix.” So we got together. He got a little money. We went to all the meetings. Of course they asked him questions. He did to the best of his ability to answer them. In fact, one evening all the candidates got together and they voted among themselves, and Felix got the most votes. In other words, the candidates said, “Felix has more knowledge, Felix is a devoted educator. He ought to be on the school board.” The community didn’t see it that way, and Felix didn’t get elected.
TK: Why do you suppose he didn’t make it?
TC: I imagine that he was not able to express himself like the rest of them. He wasn’t educated in the books; he was educated because of the school of hard knocks. He could do some talking, but he couldn’t express himself like the rest of the politicians. They were all professionals. But Felix had more knowledge, he had more ideas, and he wanted to put them to good use. He didn’t make it, but I think he was the first Hispanic to run.
TK: 19:11 Did he ever talk to you about his own background? Where was he from? What was the story on him?
TC: I couldn’t tell you too much about it. I knew he worked for Lone Star. I knew he had a Lone Star cap in his closet. Every so often he’d call me and say, “Come on, let’s go in the house.” We went in his house and he tried it on because they gave him so many awards. People would talk about Felix and he’d say, “I want to see if this cap still fits. I hope my head hasn’t grown.” And he’d try the cap and he’d know it’s still the same old cap and he’s still the same Felix. He was a very kind man, and if he liked you and if he knew you needed help, he’d help you. He was the type of man that he could see if you were going to try to take advantage of him. He gave you an opportunity to prove yourself, but if he knew that you were just trying to get something for free, he’d drop you. But as far as education, I don’t think Felix ever went to any secondary. He probably went to elementary school. He worked out of Sugar Land, I know. He had a little farm there. I think he served in the service. I think he was in the service.
TK: Did you draft a lot of his correspondence for him, his letters?
TC: Most of them. Most of them I read myself and I wrote it for him. He said, “No, that ain’t what I wanted to say,” so I had to rewrite it, all his speeches. When he was president of LULAC, every month he’d have to write something for the LULAC News. He’d give me an idea. He’d say, “Hey, let’s tell them this,” and I would type it up, read it to him and he’d say, “No, that ain’t exactly what I want to do. Do it again.” So I did it two or three times until he said, “That’s what I want to say.” He’d read it. He was good. The man was very intelligent. If he had been a graduate of some college, he would have been something else.
TK: You promoted his being an ambassador, didn’t you? I saw some of the correspondence in your collection. Tell me about that.
TC: When Felix was in LULAC and I knew he had time and I knew he had a lot of friends, when Kennedy got elected and Lyndon Johnson was a good friend of Felix— In fact, we had a convention of LULACs in Laredo, and Lyndon Johnson came over, and all the politicians were fighting as to who was going to sit by Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon Johnson flatly told them, he said, “I want to ride in the parade with Felix. And when I sit on the podium, I want to be by Felix.” And so everybody was, “Who is Felix?” Felix is a good friend, Felix knew how to get along with those politicians, Felix knew where his friends were, and Felix knew who was going to help his people. Felix didn’t want anything for himself. So when Lyndon got involved with Kennedy, I made a little contact with all our people, the people that had been in politics with Felix, and I’d tell them, “If you want somebody that can promote good relationships, I would say Felix. Felix Tijerina is a Rotarian. They know him in Mexico, they know him all over the Southwest because of his devotion to the people, devotion to the Rotarian, and he’d be the man.” I wrote to all of them, and they wrote back and said, “We’ll consider him. We’ve put his name in the pot.” Felix didn’t get it, but he was entitled to. In fact, when the president—I don’t know which president—of Mexico got elected, the governor of Texas asked Felix to be a representative. He went down there and represented Texas over there in Mexico.
TK: 23:33 You said that you went to Mexico with Felix, promoting the LULAC and Little Schools of the 400. What cities did y’all go to?
TC: We went to Monterrey and Mexico City, and we showed the movie. Felix wanted those Rotarians—most of them were Rotarians—to know what he had done because of his Rotary friends. His Rotary friends had made the movie for him. One of the Gulf Oil Company’s Rotarians helped Felix promote LULAC schools all over the Southwest, and they helped him with money, and he wanted to show Rotarians that there was something else that Rotaries do, that Rotaries were also helping Hispanics in the United States. And they were doing that, and so Felix went and told those people what we were doing for their people that were coming over here, because they were coming. At that time they were coming by droves, and they were bringing in their kids. And Felix would tell them, “This is what we’re doing for you.” Better relationships—that was the main idea.
TK: To better the relations.
TC: That’s right. Felix would have made a good ambassador, and I would have come there to help him out because he said, “Hey, if we go, you’re going with me.” I was really enthused. I thought for sure he’d get something, but he never did. Felix didn’t want just anything. If they were going to give him something, he wanted something people would—that he’d be an example to other people. Felix was a good businessman, a shrewd businessman. He was a multimillionaire, and he used his name wisely, he used his money wisely, and he helped the kids. He said, “If I can help one out of every five kids get started, I’ll be doing great.” That was his main goal in life: educating.
TK: 25:41 Did Bob Smith help y’all a lot with that?
TC: Bob Smith helped a lot; Fred Nahas helped a lot. They all helped. They all trusted Felix, and they helped promote in the school, they helped him with money and helped him with just anything they could.
TK: You kept your residence in Baytown the whole time, right?
TC: The whole time. I’m still in Baytown.
TK: So you were born, raised, and still live in Baytown. You lived in Baytown.
TC: That’s right. I still do.
TK: Did you go for an advanced degree, or did you stay with your BA?
TC: I went for an advanced degree. I never did finish because of my political involvement. I went to University of Houston, had some courses there. I went to University of Texas, I went to University of Kansas, Kansas State University, and I never did finish it because of my involvement in LULAC, my involvement in politics, my involvement with my family.
TK: What were you pursuing? What degree were you pursuing?
TC: Education, a master’s in education.
TK: Was your undergraduate degree— Did you have a teaching certificate from your undergraduate degree?
TC: Oh yes, I had a teaching certificate.
TK: Okay. You say politics. What was your political involvement?
TC: When I knew that the only way that you could get things done was through politics, through politicians, I got involved and I helped promote different people that were running in different positions, like Waggoner Carr for attorney general, John Hill for attorney general, Wayne Connally. I helped Lyndon Johnson, and then came Lloyd Bentsen. Lloyd Bentsen even went to my home for a reception. Waggoner Carr went to my home for a reception, Ben Barnes and many politicians because I was sincere and I was able to help them with all the people that believed in me. Once I endorsed them, they knew they were going to get votes.
TK: 27:58 Was the Hispanic community there in Baytown a fairly sizeable one? Is it a good size?
TC: At the present time, it is one-quarter of the population of Baytown. In fact, about three years ago— Before then, since ’54, we would probably get people elected to the Baytown school system, and we finally got a young man who was one of my Scouts; he also had an Eagle badge, and he got appointed to the Baytown school board, and then he got elected. That was the first time we ever got somebody elected, Willie Morales.
TK: This was what year?
TC: It was in 1959. And then we wanted to get somebody on the city council. I ran for city council, lost. Joe Gonzales, an insurance man, ran and lost. Then I ran for mayor and lost. And then we had another Hispanic that ran and he lost.
TK: When did you run for mayor?
TC: I think it was in 1960. Felix told me, “Hey, we need somebody in Baytown,” so I said I’d do something. He said, “Join organizations and get yourself known.” For two years I joined the Optimist, Knights of Columbus, I joined the gun club, I joined Little League and was coaching. I got involved with everything. After two years I said, “I think I’m going to run.” I ran for city council and I lost. Four years later I ran for mayor. I lost. Then I said, “I’m going to run again for city council,” and lost. And Joe Gonzales ran. Anyway, when we realized that there was discrimination and they wouldn’t let us have a Mexican involved there or a black, I went before the city council and said, “You ought to change the district and have a single-member district. Instead of letting the whole city vote for it, single member it so we can get a Hispanic in here or a black that knows our problems that will express our views here. Even if you have seven whites and one Hispanic, we won’t make any changes because they’ll outvote us.” They wouldn’t go for it, so I filed a lawsuit. I filed a lawsuit in federal court, and my name is on the title there as the plaintiff. We beat them here in Houston. They appealed, and we beat them in New Orleans. I think they’re appealing to the Supreme Court. People have been calling me and saying, “They’re going to lose in Supreme Court. You’re going to get your”—
[end of OH 338_02] 31:06