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Interview with: Yolanda Black Navarro
Interviewed by: David Goldstein
Date: April 16, 2008
DG: Today is April 16, 2008, and we are here at Arco’s Restaurant talking with Yolanda Black Navarro for the Houston Oral History Project. My name is David Goldstein. How are you, Yolanda?
YBN: I am fine, David. How are you?
DG: I am doing great. Let’s start at the beginning. Tell me where you were born. Tell me about your early years.
YBN: O.K., well, I am a native Houstonian of which there are not too many of us left. I started my early years, of course, on the east end right off of Navigation Boulevard. As a matter of fact, I lived in a 2 story house on Palmer and now the restaurant that I have, of course, is right there on that corner as well. And I went to school there in the neighborhood at Our Lady of Guadalupe School and then I moved on for high school to Incarnate Word Academy, so basically, all of my time was spent other than 2 or 3 years in California while I was married, I spent in Houston and particularly on the east end. So, I love Houston and I love the east end.
DG: This is impolite to ask a lady but what year were you born?
YBN: I do not have any problem with that. I was born in 1947, so I am 60.
DG: What was Houston like in those early years, in the late 1940s, early 1950s? What are your earliest memories?
YBN: Well, I guess my memories would probably be just going on the bus to downtown, walking to school, and probably my memories are the east end because I do recall that now the area around Harrisburg and Wayside, that area I remember now, when I was young and I thought that was really far from where we were in Second Ward. And it was to me like just something so completely different and new. So, my memories, I would have to say are more associated with just taking the bus to go downtown, the church and the park in my area, Setegast Park. That was really my area, my neighborhood. And so, I really did not know too much other than that. I do recall during the summers taking our little trips to Galveston for the beach. I do recall that. I guess, in a way, growing up - maybe that applies to everybody – it was closed in, in terms of what I remember. And then, of course, I went on to high school and that was so much more to know. It was still downtown so I did not quite “venture out” other than downtown and east end.
DG: What did you do for fun?
YBN: Gosh, well, let’s see – for fun? Well, at that time, the park . . . they had movies on the weekends. I think it was Fridays. And then also right in the area as well, there was a community center. It will come to my mind I am sure later. And so, they had skating there, so that was our little . . . in fact, now, not Brothers and Sisters but one of those nonprofit organizations now has an area there to help some of the youth. But that is where we went when we were growing up. And then, between school and activities at school and then the park and the community center, we just had a lot of things to do, that I recall.
DG: Did you live in a large family? A small family?
YBN: Well, yes, I am the oldest of 6. And then, my mother is 1 of 7, so we always grew up around our family and our cousins and our aunts and uncles. In fact, every Easter, all the family, the Rodriguez family, would all go to the park, to Memorial Park, and have our great Easters. And so, those are memories that I remember as a kid as well.
DG: School. What elementary school?
YBN: I went to a Catholic school, elementary. I went to Our Lady of Guadalupe School which is right there on Navigation and it is still there. Like I said, from there, then I went to an all-girls school, Incarnate Word Academy. It was fun.
DG: Who were the people that you looked up to when you were a kid? Who was the head of the school, the head of the church, those kinds of people, and just kind of place that time in history.
YBN: Well, I would say, yes. I mean, our principal . . . and, of course, at that time, there were all nuns, Catholic nuns. Our teacher that we had, the priests that we had there at the church – those are people that I, of course, remember distinctly. My uncles were real involved ________ as a teenager, were real involved. They were involved in the plumbing in a union and involved in helping raise money for political . . . like the Biba Kennedy campaign that I remember as a teenager, helping out with that. So, those were the kinds of people that I guess I would have to say that I looked up to and that I respected. Of course, my mom, she was pretty much most of the time a single parent, so she worked a lot but she really always made sure that we had our birthday parties, that we did not know any better than know that we were all being taken care of, fed and quite honestly, we weren’t like even a middle income family but we did not recognize anything other than the fact that we were doing well.
DG: Why was your mom mostly a single mom?
YBN: Well, my father was in the Army and then, of course, he left. Then, she was alone. She remarried but again, as I recall, most of the time, she was a single parent.
DG: So, it sounds like your life was pretty much dominated by the church. When you went into town, what sort of things did you do?
YBN: Well, in the town were movies. We had the Loews, the Majestic, Metropolitan, I believe. So, that was a big thing. And then, of course, James Coney Island so we would take the bus and that was the treat. So, those are things that I remember. And then, of course, I remember Hermann Park. And then way back when, they had Playland which was probably on South Main a little bit past 610, I guess now is where it is. So, I think that is what it was called, I am not sure. And so, that was a big amusement park for us. So, we would venture there, too, sometimes. And it was there for a long time, right there on South Main -- the little horses, the little ponies and that little area around there. I think they just closed it maybe 20 years ago or so. That was a big event for us as children to go over there and we would ride the little ponies and stuff. So, those are the memories that I recall.
DG: Now, the Hispanic community in 1947 to the 1950s was much smaller than it is today. Can you describe what it was like? Did you have a sense of growing up as a minority or did you . . .
YBN: Well, to be honest with you, I suppose, again, where we grew up was predominantly a Hispanic community, so when I went on to Incarnate Word, even though it was an all-girls school, there were Latinas, Hispanics, there were Italians. And so, there was a mix – not that I recall really any African Americans at that time but that is probably when I got more of the sense of the city, of just knowing that, different in the sense that I was a Hispanic but in growing up as a child, I never thought about anything other than we were just kids growing up. So, I can’t say that I distinguished anything. I do recall in high school that that is probably when the sense of discrimination started, where I knew that perhaps because I was Hispanic, that there was the difference, even though I was real involved in high school in a lot of the events – I was in the top 10 in terms of scholastics and so forth. So, even with that, I did know that there was a sense of some discrimination.
DG: And how would it make itself known to someone your age back then?
YBN: Well, from my standpoint, and I do not want to say that it is an advantage but the fact that my last name is Black, there is a story to that as well. So, I was Yolanda Black. So, if you just heard the name, you would not think that I was Hispanic. Once I was introduced or that somebody saw me, then you could sense and know just by their look, their body language, that they did not expect me to be Hispanic or Mexican American. So, I suppose that is when I started getting the sense of that.
DG: When you were a young girl in high school, what did you want to be when you grew up?
YBN: Well, I really can’t say that . . . at that time, I do not know if it was . . . because now there is so much more in terms of the counselors . . . I did know that I wanted to go to college because we all talked about that. So, I did know that. But in terms of what I . . . I think at one time, I really had a sense of wanting to be a lawyer. Now, where that came from, I can’t really tell you but I knew that I wanted to go on to college and I did. But I did go not full-time, I went to the University of Houston, graduated from there. But, like I said, I did know that I wanted higher education.
DG: O.K., so let’s continue the chronology. You graduated from high school. Then what?
YBN: So, I graduated. Well, now that you know my age, the years don’t matter! I graduated in 1964 and then I started going to University of Houston. I went one full semester in 1965. Then, I felt that I needed to work and so I started working with the Texas Employment Commission. So then I was going to school at night. Always with the aspiration that when I got my degree, I knew I was just going to get the most fabulous job I could get, right? So, I did. But I did get married in 1968, so actually, going to school at night took so much longer. I graduated from University of Houston in 1973. I have one child, a son, and he was born in 1972. So, he was like 1 year old or something when I graduated in August of 1973. I went to night school and that was like 7 years or so. It was challenging but I did it. I was working full-time and also going to school.
DG: And where did you work while you were going to school?
YBN: I worked at Texas Employment Commission and then I went to work for a construction company. In fact, a good friend is Mike Stude. So, at one time, he had Stude Construction. I worked with him for a couple of years maybe, maybe 1 year. Then, I got a job with, at that time, Humble Oil, Exxon. So, I worked there as a secretary for, gosh, I want to say about 6 or 7 years or so. So then when I got my degree, I said, I just know I am going to get this wonderful job at Exxon. I did go through the process of applying and stuff but I never did get a job per se there. But what helped me was that there was a program called Minority Women Employment Program. Their offices were in Atlanta. So, their mission was to help minority women get jobs in corporate level positions. So, I was fortunate enough and so that is how I started with Southwestern Bell, SBC, now AT&T. So, I started working there in a professional area, I guess, as you would. And so, I was there for 23-1/2 years, and really enjoyed it and am very thankful for the time I spent with SBC/AT&T.
DG: What did you major in?
YBN: I majored in business administration.
DG: And the jobs, what kind of work were you doing mostly?
YBN: For Bell?
YBN: It was a management position. At that time, we had what we called operators where we had the plug in for the operators and so forth. So, we manned those positions in terms of making sure that there was good customer service. We were called group managers at that time. So, I started there, then I went to another position. And then, I ended my career there working in what we called, it was Building Operations and they changed it to Real Estate Management. Well, we called them first line, second line, so I was a second line at that time in Building Operations. So, I had managers under me. That was really a nontraditional for women because it was for maintenance of air-conditioning systems and those kinds of things. So, for me, it was a big change. And then, I was over men. And so, it was a challenge but it worked out well and I am grateful to all the people that worked under me that helped me through that. But it was challenging and so I really, truly enjoyed that time.
DG: That was a pretty challenging 20-25 years for the City of Houston as well. A lot of change during that time. What do you remember during that time?
YBN: Well, you know, I do remember in terms of I guess during that time, I started getting involved with a lot of groups. I was involved . . . in fact, I am one of the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans. We started that in the 1970s. And then I also worked with different programs where we tried to recruit women, especially women that were poverty level, to try to help them to get better jobs. So, I guess what I remember at that time, I do remember in terms of I have to say that I remember and I was not that young or that old but I do remember . . . unfortunately, some of the things you remember are not the best things but I do remember the Moody Park riots. Unfortunately, I do remember the problems we had on Dowling Street. But I do remember a lot of positive things, of course, in terms of I remember working on some of the campaigns for people that were running for City Council. I think that I recall from a political standpoint remembering that we had single member districts. It was the inclusion then of single member districts for City Council, remembering that Leonel Castillo ran for City Council and at that time, Judson Robinson . . . so, at that time, it was like the first Hispanics, the first African Americans, so I remember those changes as far as that is concerned. I suppose that was close to the 1980s and I do recall, because, you know, at that time, I was working for Exxon and remember the bust at that time. I know that it did not impact the city as much but I do recall vaguely how much talk about that and how a lot of people came to Houston during that time from Michigan, from the northeast and so forth because we were a city that still had jobs. So, I do recall that. I am sure there are other things as well but I think that sticks in my mind probably right now.
DG: What do you remember about the Moody Park riots? We have talked to some other people about it from their viewpoint. From your community’s viewpoint, what happened there?
YBN: Well, you know, I was not there but I do know some of the people that were involved and so forth, and I suppose that if you ask me what sticks in my mind is probably the fact that it was police brutality, you know, and maybe it was extensive. I will say it was MAYO, the Mexican American Youth Organization, that I don’t know if because, you know, it was . . . I recall I think that there was a rally there – that is how it started, and I am not going to remember his name right now, of course . . . so whatever happened at that, I mean what I recall is showing how the police and the confrontations and everything happen. So, I suppose I want to say that in my image of . . . you were asking me one word or what I thought . . . unfortunately, it was the confrontation of police versus community.
DG: What was the trouble on Dowling Street you referred to?
YBN: Well, you know, again, it seems to me that that one was also a confrontation of police for the African American community. Now, I do not remember the specifics of that but I do not know how that started, to be honest with you. But that is just something that I remember - that we called it Dowling Street, whatever it was at that time.
DG: You were working full-time, you had a child – what motivated you to get involved in the extracurricular activities, in the movement for women and for Hispanics?
YBN: Well, you know, as you get older, you think what life has . . . you are asking what makes you do things – I would probably say the fact that as a teenager, my uncles got me involved to work like I mentioned briefly, in the Viva Kennedy/Johnson campaign, so I remember going door-to-door and doing all those kinds of things to get people to vote. And from there then, I do remember that at that time, it was PASO, the Political Action for Spanish-Speaking Organization, and them being involved. And I cannot say that I was a “member,” but I knew some of the people that were involved in that. And then, the fact that at that time, you know, my husband and I and several other people started Alma to help kids. I mean, we felt the sense that there weren’t enough recreational activities for kids to stay busy so they would not be involved in other things, drugs or whatever the case might be, even though I will say at that time, it did not seem to be so prevalent as it is now. So, I think it was just _______ that you would get involved in one and then people know that you are willing to volunteer and somehow, I was involved in more than 1, 2 or 3 organizations. And so now, at my age, I am still involved but, you know, those are things that you feel are a fulfillment – for me to see that Alma is there 35 years later is just a wonderful thing. I remember also the fact that as a member, we started Navigation Area Business Association and when Councilman Ben Reyes was in office and he mentioned, why don’t we plant . . . because, there were the Trees for Houston that were trying to plant trees throughout the city, so I remember him saying, “Why don’t you send a letter and then we can get trees on Navigation Boulevard?” Well, we did that and now these trees are just grown and beautiful. So, through different organizations, I mean, I have seen that people getting involved do make a difference and there is change. And so, even though in some cases, some do not work as you would like them to do, I think that being involved as a community person certainly made a difference in my life and I am sure that we impacted many other people. I have been involved with helping kids get scholarships and was involved at one time with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo on the speaker’s committee and also with the Go Tejano Committee way back. I mean, I am talking about probably 15 years ago. But I just think that doing that and, you know, of course, just voting and the power of voting certainly makes a difference.
DG: What was the environment like back then for early Mexican American activists? Did you get a lot of pushback from the City? Did you find people receptive? Was it easy to mobilize people?
YBN: Well, I would say that, you know, there were so many different types of organizations and so, for my organization; for instance, Alma and some of those that their focus was education and children and youth and so forth, it was a lot easier for us in the sense of the Gulf Coast Community Services Association that still exists. We were able to funnel through them and get grants and things like that. So, I think that overall, there was a lot . . . receptive. And I think that slowly but surely, way back then, that corporations were saying let’s help out and let’s do our part. It was not easy and, in many cases, some things might have been more political in terms of trying to raise funds. I mean, I have to say that sometimes it is who you know and whether you are able to get something. So, I guess looking back now, we probably had more problems than I can recall but it was not as difficult in some cases. And maybe for other organizations, it could have been more difficult but I suppose it is . . . you have to have a track record and for you to say, oh, I just started this organization, this is what I want to do, it is not easy unless, you know, it is a person that people know or City Council would say, “Oh, well, if she is doing it, I know that it is a good thing.” But, you know, all of that takes time.
DG: Who were the people who you looked to as leaders during that era?
YBN: Well, that I remember – like I said, I would have to go back to Leonel Castillo, to Ben Reyes. John Castillo was our City Council member. He was also involved with the precinct. Way back, there was Raul Martinez who was . . . Victor Trevino is now the person that took Raul Martinez’s place as the constable of Precinct 6. I have to say that unfortunately, at that time, there weren’t as many women in a political arena so I do remember, of course, Lupita Quintanilla who, through because of the riots and so forth, that she was assisting the police department to help them learn Spanish because that was one other thing – a lot of people were not bilingual. I do recall, of course, the issue of if you didn’t speak English and you spoke Spanish, the interpretations were totally different. So, I remember her being a role model in the sense that she was out of Ripley House and helping to assist in terms of making better communication between the police department and the Hispanic community. Gee, there are so many. Then, of course, Olga Solis was a person that then did run for City Council at that time and so she was probably one of the first Latina women to run. Sylvia Garcia, of course, a good friend of mine that is now a commissioner, was in the municipal courts, ran for Congress. So, those are the people that I remember that were always there in terms of the Hispanic community. So, I mean, I am sure I am leaving out quite a few but from a political standpoint, you know, from a community standpoint, there have been many others that . . .
Ripley House. I did not mention Ripley growing up but, you know, it was there on the east end and so we would go to Ripley House and use a lot of the services there. So, a person that everybody knew on the east end because he was over the Ripley House was Felix Fraga and Felix Fraga now still works in the neighborhood centers, so that is a person that I would say from a community standpoint, that everybody knew.
DG: So, let’s continue the chronology. You are working at Exxon, I think, when we last . . .
YBN: I worked for Exxon and then I went to work for SBC/AT&T. I left in 1997. I did not quite make the retirement. I only needed 1-1/2 years to make it to 25 years, and I have mentioned a lot about politics, so I decided to run for office. So, unfortunately, I was not wise enough to recognize that I decided like in July and the elections were like in November but I did run at-large and there was a bill of 7 or 8. But, you know, I would not change it for anything because it is certainly an experience that you do not forget. I think I came in fourth. Anise Parker won that and I am glad. She was a great City Council member, now Controller. So, I decided to run. That was 1997. Of course, lots of campaign. I had already left AT&T/SBC. And then, I moved back . . . I was away from east end. I did live in southwest Houston for about 10 years or so, I guess. I moved back into the neighborhood even though my business and my community . . . I was always helping on the east end. I moved back because I decided to run for District H because that is Felix Fraga’s term that expired. Again, it was a great experience. I think there were 4 of us running at that time, maybe 5. I did make the runoff but I did not win. But, again, I would not change it for anything because I always tell people that that is how my son met my daughter-in-law, so it was a good thing! And now, I have a granddaughter who is 3. So, I did that, but in the course of all this time, I guess I have not mentioned that my mother started a breakfast taqueria. In fact, in 1977, we celebrated 30 years of being in the breakfast taco business. I would say that it is a landmark and we have had our mayors, our City Council members, politicians come by and see us. And so, through the course of what I have been talking about, I suppose, is after I left AT&T/SBC, after I ran for office, basically that is what I am doing now, is spending my time there and my son works there as well. So, that is what I am presently doing besides all my community work and so forth. Anyway, so through that breakfast taqueria is where we have had an opportunity to meet many people, to get a sense of community, to see the changes on the east end, so that is where I am at now.
DG: Who defeated you in that race in District H?
YBN: Gabriel Vasquez.
DG: What were the issues when you ran for City Council?
YBN: Well, I suppose, you know, when we ran at large, pretty much you will find in most cases that neighborhoods, you know, their concern is about safety, security, police protection. They want sidewalks. They want their trash to be picked up. They want parks, which I am on the Houston Parks board and have been for a while. So, I would say that probably when I ran for District H, those were the main issues. And, at that time, there for a while, there was a big issue about crime and so forth, and we did not have as many police officers as we have, which we still need some but . . . I would say at that time, the thing that I was talking about was about education even though, you know, to tie in with trying to do after school programs with collaborations, getting better security in our neighborhoods. The east end, certainly, you know, the sidewalks, the streets – we needed a lot of infrastructure. And talking about getting jobs back to the east end where people could work. So, I would say probably, and I guess I quoted the same economic development. So, those were the things that, for me, were important for our community.
DG: And how had the community changed from your early memories until those years when you were running? The Hispanic community had grown certainly in numbers.
YBN: Well, I would say they are probably . . . even though even when the tallies come in about voting, they talk about Denver Harbor and they talk about the east end and Magnolia and I think what we have found probably in the last 10 years is because of immigration, because of the fact that people work in all parts of the city, that the Latino community is throughout the city, throughout the county. And so now when we say how Latinos vote, you can’t just gauge it based on 4 neighborhoods because we are really located everywhere. So, I would probably say that one of the things that has changed a lot in the Latino community, I would probably say that we’ve gotten more in terms of recognizing the strength of the Latino community and their buying power, and I think that a lot of corporations, a lot of companies, a lot of retail have recognized that. And so, I think the issue of being bilingual certainly has changed throughout the years and how important it is in terms of, well, regardless, you know. The fact that a person knows more than one language is always good for that person. But the fact that catering to that community meant more in terms of buying power and the fact that you raised the level of expenditures. And so, that has been a big change. I think the other fact, too, is the power of the Latino vote which we have seen more and more even though I would say that we still have a long way to go. And we have always talked about the sleeping giant in the Latino community. We said that in the 1980s and the 1990s and I think now, after 50 years, we have woken up. But I think that has been a big change. I think the fact that you could say that there are more Latinos involved in higher level positions in City Council as elected officials is still not enough but certainly if you look back and see, we have made some strides, even though, from my perspective is that if 42% of your community, for instance, in Houston is Latino, then I personally think that businesses and private companies as well as public entities should recognize that and their employee levels and high level positions should reflect that. And you know, I always have an issue with that because, I mean, I think 17% or 12% is not enough. But, you know, I think that sometimes we at the community and I say that about myself personally is that we are always the one that gets the action, right, or the ones that get the service, so I think that sometimes we as a Latino community need to do more to advocate those positions.
DG: Let’s switch topics to food then!
YBN: O.K., that’s even better!
DG: What was the name of your mother’s place?
YBN: My mother’s place, well, it is still there – it is called Villa Arcos Taquitos. Now, Arcos is my mother’s family name and there is a lot of history to that. My mother’s grandfather came from Spain and he was a doctor and came to Hondo, Texas. And so, for a long time, Dr. Carlos Arcos was the only physician in a large area. In fact, we have, as a family, the title that shows the doctor and where he was in the county and so forth. So, we decided to name that after the Arcos family. So, it is Villa Arcos. So, my mother started it. She is a wonderful cook. She started it herself and then one lady that would make the tortillas, the fresh homemade flour tortillas. So, it really grew. We opened it in 1977 and so she ran it until 1990 when she passed away. So, then, my sisters . . . we have all worked there through the years. So, it has always been a family operation.
DG: What was her motivation? Trying to make a little extra money on the side?
YBN: Yes, you know, since we had the two-story house, I mentioned, and there was a little red building adjacent to it that had been different things. It had been a lounge, it had been different things. And so, in talking to her, I mentioned that I was the oldest . . . and she would work. She worked in restaurants. She said, “I would really like to start something on my own.” So, we talked about it and we got people involved in it and so we opened it up. And so, it was a success. She would open at 5 in the morning and at that time, we opened at 5 in the morning and closed at 3. Now, we have changed a little bit because 5 is too early. Now, we are open from like 6 to 2. But, you know, people started coming. The beauty about that place is that we get a mix of every ethnicity, diversity, blue collar, white collar, the truck drivers, police officers, the fire department, neighborhood people. It is really a good mix and it has worked well.
DG: Where is it located?
YBN: It is located at 3009 Navigation Boulevard. I was going to add as well that Ninfas started . . . in fact, I think Ninfas had been there like maybe 2 years prior to us, so Ninfa Laurenza started her restaurant and, of course, now it is history. So, we had women . . . and, of course, you know, Ninfa as well . . . her husband had died when her kids were probably teenagers. And then, there is also another lady, Mary Medina, that is now deceased but she also had a flower shop in that area. And so, I remember Olga Solis when she was running for office, we had a fundraiser for her there at Villa Arcos Tacos and it has been 25 years ago, 30 maybe – but I remember her saying, “Well, this is millionaire’s row on Navigation” because of Ninfas and my mom and so forth. I don’t know whether that is the case but, you know, we had 3 single women that really did a lot as far as opening up their own businesses.
DG: Who were the first customers? Did she just sell out of that location?
YBN: Yes, in fact, then, there were like 2 windows and so 1 you place your order and then the other one, you would get your . . . so, gosh, some of the first customers, I have to say that I do not specifically remember but I would say that they were more like the truck drivers, people from the neighborhood, those kind of people that came in, and then word of mouth has really been what has really made a difference for us. We very rarely except maybe in the church bulletin and so forth did a lot of advertising. But word of mouth, which is amazing. And then we started getting police officers and just different people that would come by.
DG: And so, that started when it did and then she passed away and then your sisters. And what has been your involvement?
YBN: Well, now, I am there pretty much full-time with my son. My son is the one that opens up in the mornings and then I just go in a little bit later and so basically, I am the cashier ______. We have a wonderful staff. We have a cook that has been doing this for 20 years and her daughter has been there 18 years. We have been blessed with the fact that we could give consistency because we have the same people there. So, that is basically what I do. But, you know, of course, I would have to say that probably 85% of the people that come in, we know them by their first name. We have had meetings thereafter that we closed that are, whether it is to bring some of our friends together, women. We have had candidates come in to talk to some of the Latina women. So, you know, in some cases, we have had events there as well. So, we celebrated 30 years last September and had a big party outside in the area and we had a lot of people. Some of the politicians came to see us. We had a great time.
DG: And what are your current involvements in community affairs?
YBN: Well, let’s see if I can remember them. Well, the one that I have really been with the most, I would say, which I really enjoy and I think we have done a lot, come a long way, is the Houston Parks Board. Mayor White has been just tremendous in terms of helping us. Our goal is to create, preserve and protect our parks and we have added so many new parks. We have just recently had the Discovery Green that just opened. So, I have really enjoyed being on that Parks board. I was appointed by Mayor Lanier and then reappointed by Mayor Brown and now Mayor White, so I have been there a while. I currently serve on the Land Assemblage for Development Authority board which is LARA that we call, started by Mayor Brown and then Mayor White, where they are going into communities like the Fifth Ward and Fourth Ward and other areas and it is now with Houston Hope where the city is buying lots and then building affordable homes. We are doing very well on that. So, I am involved with that. And I did mention the Navigation Area Business Association. We started that and every year now, we have been doing this for like over 20 years. We provide brand new tennis shoes for kids in the east end. We do it around Christmas. So, that has been a joy and, again, we celebrated 20 years of doing that just this past year. And involved with Hispanic Women in Leadership through the years. And involved with the Latina Pact when that existed as well. And, of course, I am on the board of the American Leadership Forum which has been a wonderful experience and it is a leadership organization. And that is an opportunity where you really get to meet different groups and ethnicities and corporate people. That was a great experience. That was class 12 so that has been a while back. Now, we are in class 26. But I serve on the board for that as well. Also, for the New Hope Housing which is also doing single residence housing and, in fact, they just got a new project that, through the City, helped us on Wayside (sp?) whereas, now they are going to have more availability for single residents which helps college students which helps individuals as well. So, I guess it has been a mix of a lot. And I also serve . . . I mentioned Incarnate Word Academy. I am on the board of Incarnate Word Academy as well. So, as you can see . . . and El Centro de Corazon which also is a federally qualified health clinic and I have been on the board since we started that El Centro de Corazon. So, I think I am doing too much!
DG: Well, you’ve got to close the restaurant earlier to get to all of your meetings!
YBN: Yes, I close at 2 so I can get to my meetings at 5 or 6.
DG: From what you have seen, you have certainly seen a lot of development in the Hispanic community. Do you feel like there is a spirit in the Hispanic community? Some of the people we have talked to said that there was a time when everybody knew everybody and then the community got bigger and you cannot know everybody. And then, there has to be some sort of sense of community, some sort of spirit that takes over. I want to ask you to describe if you have a sense that there is a spirit within the Hispanic Latino community and then the city as a whole, from what you have seen from your involvement.
YBN: Well, I think that based on some of the comments that you have made and maybe other people have made, is that we are so large that when we say “Latino community,” we are not only talking about Mexican Americans but the influx of immigrants from South America, Central America. So, I mean, I feel a sense of community because, of course, I am involved and so that I know a lot of the activities that are going on but I think what brings people together in a greater sense of community is issues that affect that community. I think the issue of immigration has been a strong, strong issue that has brought the Hispanic community together. I think when there is someone running for office, especially Latinos, I think that brings people together to really try to promote someone from there. I think those kind of things probably bring a sense of community. I would say that probably that you cannot grasp the whole Latino community but in your own . . . because I mentioned the east end and I would say that I know a lot of the people of the east end, and I think your church also brings you that sense of community as well. So, I think that there is a good sense of community in communities, and the Latino community, but to say that we grasped the whole Latino community is very difficult because, I mean, quite honestly, we all have our groups. There are Mexican American organizations and then there is the Argentina community, there are different communities that have their own organization which is good. So, I think that you are always closer to, for myself, even though I do have the opportunity to help the Latino community as a whole, in many cases, you have to work on those projects that are closer to you. You cannot do something in the southwest that . . . if you do not fix your east end community, how can you go to the southwest and fix that? So, you know, I think that if we all did that in our own communities, then you would grasp a better sense because as a group . . . and we used to have that, by the way, and I think that maybe that helped. And there are still some that do. But some time back on Saturday mornings, we would have a meeting where all the different organizations were invited to attend and that would allow all of them to say what their projects were. I will say that I do miss that and I have people . . . and, of course, not the younger community, Latino community, that say that that was a good way of at least knowing what other people were doing. I suppose that as we grow as a community, it is very difficult to do but, you know, I think that that is a good way of connecting in many cases.
DG: You mentioned 3 different mayors that appointed you to the Parks board. In your time of activism in the community, mayors or other people outside the community that were particularly helpful to meeting the needs of the Hispanic community?
JNB: Oh, yes, I think that also there have been some organizations that have helped and I am a member of LULAC. See, I was going to forget - I am on LULAC Council 643. And, you know, there have been people through the LULAC and of course LULAC has done a tremendous job of highlighting some of the issues that truly affect our community. I think through LULAC, I think through MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund, and also through Alma, Alma has been a wonderful outreach. There is more now. Of course, you know that it has established their own organization. I think the fact that we now have schools like Alma has its own schools - Tejano Center for Community Concerns has their own school. And so, I think that ability to have those in our Latino community could certainly help us in terms of the dropout rate - not that it is great because I think our dropout in Latino communities is probably close to 50% which is terrible. But those kinds of organizations have certainly been organizations that have, you know, Hispanic women in leadership and that have connected so that we can try to bridge and bring some issues together that are important for us.
DG: How about at the city level? Any particular mayors been helpful to you in the years you have been active in the community?
JNB: Well, actually, all of them have been . . . I remember that Mayor Lanier at one time . . . well, of course, I served on the Parks board . . . but, you know, when he ran for mayor and his issues were what I mentioned and he was talking about taking care of neighborhoods and infrastructure and parks and so forth. And so, one of my big campaigns when I was initially appointed by Mayor Lanier was the Moody Park. I mentioned the Moody Park riots but then Moody Park certainly needed a lot of work and through his efforts and through the Houston Parks board, we raised quite a bit of money so that swimming pool was completely redone. It is a beautiful park. It is used quite . . . there is a pavilion. So, Mayor Lanier, I mean . . . and, again, like I said, because I was more involved in and, of course, older but I will have to say that Mayor Lanier made a strong effort to reach out to the Hispanic community and they embraced him. He appointed people to serve on different boards and high-level positions and housing and community development that I recall. So, the Latino community really was very, very receptive to him.
Mayor Brown, during his tenure, he appointed me to Metro which I did not even mention that. I served on the Metro board for 1 year. In fact, I had to leave the Metro board to run for District H. So, he appointed me to Metro and, of course, you know, during his tenure, there were a lot of things that were done in terms of housing. I do recall that there had been, it was called the ________ so a lot of people my age will remember that and that is located right there on the east end. It is right on Navigation and Melby. I remember that we did focus groups. One time, there was going to be housing and we did focus groups and we did all that. And that was during Mayor Lanier and we spent a lot of money because they said there was a lot of contamination and so forth. Well, in any event, to make a long story short, it turned out that they said, no, we can't build homes there because there was still too much contamination, and so forth. Then, at one time, they were going to build these like model homes under Housing Community Development. So, I sent a letter to Mayor Brown and said, you know, give us as a community an opportunity to at least find the best use for that, and we felt that we would reach out to the education committee, to the Houston Community College to someone that we felt that we were lacking in terms of educational facilities. So, he gave us that opportunity and so I am grateful to Mayor Brown for that because he said, "O.K., let's see what you can do." And I am happy to say that now Houston Community College did buy that property about maybe 2 years ago and hopefully we will see a technological center there and it will be great, in collaboration with HISD. So, I think that those are the things that, in terms of my dealings, the first one with Mayor Brown, that I recall that were beneficial to my community as well.
And then, of course, now Mayor White. He embraced this us well as far as the Latino community which helped on his campaign. And actually, I helped all 3 mayors' campaigns in our communities as well. But Mayor White, of course, he reappointed me to the Houston Parks board, he reappointed me to the LARA board. He has met with us, you know, regarding issues that we have had with Housing HB Development regarding the lack of housing for Latinos. He has raised more awareness, I mean, and the fact that he has appointed people from the Latino community to serve . . . Carol Alvarado served with him as _______ for a long time and, you know, some of the people that he has had, it has certainly been, I would say, a good open door to Mayor White. I mentioned the Parks board. I think he has been receptive to the quality of life and I think that is important. We have the Tony Maron Park there in the east end that was a great collaboration between the city, between the county. Sylvia Garcia, our commissioner of Precinct 2, helped towards that pavilion which was wonderful through the Parks & Recreation Department. We named it Tony Maron Park. It was named that because he was an advocate there in the east end and the Second Ward. So, we have soccer fields there and so that was a great collaboration. And it was the Park people that really took the incentive to redo that Tony Maron Park and Exxon, I recall, put a lot of money towards that. So, as I mentioned, through all these years and through being fortunate enough to know the mayors and know a lot of the people, that we have been able to, at least have an open door to at least talk about these issues and see what we can do. So, it has certainly been a big asset for me.
DG: What do you see for the future?
YNB: Well, I can see the fact that certainly our communities are changing. I am talking about the east end. It has totally changed in terms of seeing the abundance of townhomes and lofts which, you know, the issue of gentrification is the problem in that I do not want to see the fact that our senior citizens that have lived there forever and have their homes are going to lose them because the taxes are so high that they cannot afford their homes. So, I mean, I think that we need to start looking at the balance of what a community is and when you don't have that balance, I think that certainly changes. And so, I am concerned about that. I am concerned about the fact that sometimes communities are not included in the changes. I think that _______ that are coming through that you have seen for the preservation of a community that you don't have one build a 4 unit next to a wooden home and all of a sudden, they are complaining about that. And so, I hope that there is enough of that so that we don't have that complete change where, instead of having a mix of community where you have Latinos and you have African Americans, is that people have to shift not because of racism but because of economics, because they cannot afford it. And so, what happens is that then, you know, it shifts to where you don't have the balance and people cannot afford to live, they cannot afford to buy a house after that. And so, I think that I really have a problem when there is development and developers that say they want to really do the quality of life for a community but, you know, they speak out of both sides of their mouth because they want to buy the property cheap from little senior citizens or people that thing $100,000 is a lot of money but you cannot buy a house for less than $200,000. So, I have an issue with that because they meet with us and say, "This is what we want to do," but sometimes that doesn't happen. And so, I hope that, what I would like to see is a better balance of community that does have good schools, that you don't have to bus your kids to the other side of town simply because the schools are not the best for your children. And so, I think it is doable to have neighborhoods that as long as there is collaboration between the school districts, the city developers, communities, that there is activism, that if we have _______ and say, hey, this is wrong because sometimes those people kind of sneak into your community and then you don't know until they put this variance request and you say, well, we did not know about it, which I have to say the city is doing a better job of letting people know that. But I hope to see that there are better educational facilities. I would like to see that the dropout rate certainly goes down. I see a sense of losing . . . only 12% of Hispanics are college educated. And so, we are going to get to a point where besides not having communities of economic equality, is that there is going to be a big gap in education. And so, what happens is it is those that have a degree and those that don't, and if we don't do a better job of work development and workforce and trying to educate our kids, I think that is where you see that there is more crime, there are more gangs, there is more need to figure out a way where you are going to make money because you do not have the educational capacity to get a job or even if it is a technical job. So, I would like to see a better effort towards that. I would like to see more inclusion, to recognize that you need to be more concerned with helping your community that at the end, when everybody works together, then you just get a better sense of . . . we all win. So, I think that is important.
DG: Thank you very much for your time.
JNB: Thank you. It was fun.