Date: April 12, 2006
Interviewers: Caitlin Barlow
Note: Interview questions are in bold italic
I’m Caitlin Barlow and today is April 12, 2006. What is your name?
When were you born?
April 16, 1960.
Where were you born?
I was born in Mexico. It’s a town past Bosville, next to Bosville, Texas. It’s in the state of Tamaulipas.
When did you come to the United States?
Oh, I start coming to the United States in ’74. ’72-’74. I start crossing the border with the families going to work in the fields. You just go back and forth, during those times, people just come and go. Come, a little bit of work in the fields and then you go back. And ’74 I just took off and never came back. I was 14. I was working in Texas in a job that I had there. I had a sister living here and for the railroad at the time, they were hiring a lot of people for the railroad in Illinois. So I moved here and started working the railroad.
What kind of rail road job was it?
I think at that time they were in transition from removing most of the railroad tracks inside the cities. Removing it, you know? They used to use the railroads and in the 70’s they started removing all the in town railroad tracks. Like the Constitution Trail, that’s probably what that was before. Old railroad tracks and that’s what we were doing at that time. Removing a lot of the railroad tracks, putting in new switches and changing to a bigger rail. It was I think from six inches to ten inches.
And why did you want to come to the United States?
Most of the reasons we have to leave Mexico is the need to have better jobs, more money to support our families. You know, you grow up in a family of twelve, and you the middle child and you have all girls and they all get married and the boys, they start doing for the next, the younger ones. There’s not enough there really to support your family. You know, to make enough money. I tell a lot of people even now, to be able to work in Mexico, to support your family, you have to work a whole week just to make one day’s . . . what you use every day, and that’s hard. You buy one, one two pounds of meat, that’s all the money for the whole day you make. So, it’s difficult. That’s one of the many reasons I moved here.
Do you have a lot of friends and family members who did the same thing?
Uh, most of my older sisters. My father always talked about the United States because he was here. And up to this point, I think I will still have an uncle in California. And, uh, they all talk about the United States. My father, all his education was in the United States. Then he moved to Mexico and married my mother. And, uh, never come back. So, we were on the other side, and decided to come, come to the United States. It is the thing to do I guess. And if you are born right on the border, competition for jobs is greater . . . there’s people from all over the country, even South America, who invade pretty much the whole border. So, the ones that born there, they say, hey I gotta move out of there. It is rough.
Do you have any memories in particular of growing up in a border town that just stand out?
For me growing up, being on the Mexico border, it’s like being a part of the United States. They just separate you. And you don’t see much of a difference because a lot of the people who are from here are there, too. They go back and forth, you see them every day. They use English and they use Spanish. Growing up, in a small town, I think half of the population are American citizens. So, growing up you become familiar with the territory. You not afraid to come because you feel like you’re a part of it. Then you get here and you have a different reality of things.
What were your first impressions of Bloomington-Normal when you first got here?
I moved when I was very young to Ft.Worth, Texas. So when I moved to Bloomington it was like a little ranch; it was small. Lay down in the airport and there was nothing but corn. It reminds me of Mexico back again. The fields, the corn fields, the cattle, there was not a hill it was just all farm field. It was too small for me. I had grown up a little bit more in the Dallas area. Looks like everything is changing now. Everything is growing. This community is growing. It’s a good opportunity. It’s a lot to offer. Somebody who wants just to have a family and have the opportunity, I think Bloomington-Normal has it. Small town with big opportunities.
Were there any material things that you brought with you?
Not really. I never really had much . . . I never think too much about myself. People always tell me I’m looking out for others; help for other people. My family has been the one that I always try to help. Now, I have my kids. I want to make sure that they have what they need. Personal things, we grew up with nothing, and I still don’t have nothing (laughter.)
Nice house, though.
The bank owns it. Yea, they own it. I’ve got a good job. I’ve been there a long time. I like what I do. I’m ok.
Did you come to Bloomington-Normal by yourself or did you come . . .
I came by myself. I had my sister already here. But I came here by myself, from Mexico by myself, just traveling, different jobs. Most of the time I been by myself. It’s hard you know to come sometimes. The family especially, they help quite a bit. Family has to be close. So, if there’s a member of the family they always come to somebody. They go there, they get established, like myself. I like the independent life. I always been here by myself. I come to a place and as soon as I’m stable enough I’m out of there. I love my life my way. It’s just the way I’ve been. So far, so good.
Was there anyone besides your sister who helped you out when you first got here?
Yes, a few people. There was Soledad, one of the ladies that had been here a long time. She was very nice; Soledad Cornejo. You said you knew the Cornejos. Cornejos was one of the first families that I met when I first moved here. I become very close to them. The Martinez, another family that had been here a long time.
Is that José Martinez?
José Martinez, the brothers, sisters. They always been a good family, very close friends of mine, considered good friends. It’s another family, they were here. It’s the Orozco (?) from Chenoa. They are here in the area. They are good friends of mine, too. And, Leticia, I can’t remember the last name right now. Well, there was a few families. We were not that many so we all used to get together. There was times, we had our own Spanish baseball teams that we played teams from Pontiac. We used to get together, the families here, and the sports in other towns, because we were not that many and we used to get together, family things, all joking and have fun. Now it’s different. It’s too many. Everyone has their own thing. Now we have in town, I think 7 or 8 different soccer teams now.
Spanish soccer teams?
They got different [ethnicities], but most of them are Spanish. Population I think got to be 4,000, 3,000 in the Spanish community now.
I’ve heard 5,000.
So it’s growing, and I think it’s going to continue growing. Knowing the kind of town that we have because families from the Chicago area and other big cities want better for their kids. Cities, you know, the opportunities are there, but the crime is hard. I think families really in the Spanish community want to have a different life, change and better opportunities for the kids. Some families are moving. The occasion is here and the opportunities are here.
Were there any institutions that were helpful to you when you first got here?
You know, the help’s always been here; the community center. The Western Avenue Community Center, great place to be. When I first go here sports were a big thing, you know, boxing especially. They had the Arreolas. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Arreolas. Flavio Arreola [Senior] is the father of like six kids. They all box; one became the champion of the world. That’s Francisco Arreola.
And they are from Bloomington-Normal?
They’re from Bloomington-Normal, right. Yeah so, their family has been there for a long time. And Soledad Cornejo, Viva Cornejo is Berta’s sister. They’re the same family. The same Cornejos. So, they’ve been here for a long time, too. In the ‘70s, boxing used to be a big thing. You used to go, take the kids from Pontiac, LaSalle-Peru, Peoria. We used to take the kids there. And one of the Arreolas became champion of the world.Francisco; Francisco the Tiger, el Tigre Arreola. Yeah, I think I have the picture somewhere lying over there by the door.
The Museum would love a picture of him.
Yeah, I have one signed to me. I’ll give it to you guys. It’s a friend of mine. But yeah, there’s a history of some of these things. Some of them have been very successful here. We all have little problems here or there, but for most of the part they all are working families. Just, growing and taking care of the kids and themselves. One of the brothers is working for the bank, is the director of something, in the loan department, so they are well established.
What type of challenges did you face when you got here or any challenges you’ve had since you’ve been in Bloomington-Normal?
Challenges. Communication. You know, how to communicate. How to accept, to recognize, it’s not discrimination, but, they look at you a little different sometimes and you feel that. Those are the challenges you face. I think it’s getting better. Besides that I really don’t have any complaints. The law here, the way I look at it, never been wrong with me. Yeah, I’ve had problems with some of the situations. I think most of the problems that we’ve had half of the time is problems that we give ourselves. Sometimes we don’t make the right decisions. And that’s some of the problems we have. But, besides that, I don’t really see big discrimination with law. Or like the fact that every time I have an encounter with them police they call me Mr. Garza, hey you know. I noticed if you allow them to do their jobs, give them the information they’re asking for you, you have no problem.
I know now there are groceries that cater to the community food needs, but when you first got here was it difficult to find food you liked?
Yeah, Hispanic products, Mexican products, there was a problem with not good tortilla. We had to go to the store, there was a store in Peoria that a lot of people from here used to drive there and get most of the things that we needed. And Chicago, a lot of people went to Chicago. When one goes it was the time we all call each other, “I’m going to Chicago, what do you need?” So it was those things that we don’t have to worry about now because everything is here. Now we have three stores. We have grocery stores, we have La Chiquita, La Mexicana and most of the stores now carry a lot of the products. Big change in the 25, 30 years. So it’s getting easier. A lot of the Spanish community that moved here thy got everything they need here, everything that they like.
Are there any American customs that you like…that stand out?
American, I like the culture a lot. I like family reunions. Um, I like all that stuff. I like the American life. There’s a lot of things that I do like from the United States. The way families treat each other, wife treated. Those things are unique to me because when you grow up in male dominance, when you grow up seeing your parents, your mother especially, struggling with that. Then you, I grew up a little more, it’s tough. Those things that I do like, I mean we still have a lot of the same issues, but, it’s less abuse from relationships here. I think it’s less usual than there. It’s not only the hits, a lot of people hit, but they way they are suppressed. It’s harder to become themselves to be themselves. There’s always things that are here that are better.
Are there any American customs that you don’t like?
I really don’t maybe I haven’t seen enough. Or I have been, I like the life here. I like Mexico, too. I love my country, it’s just the government. There are not opportunities. I am well adjusted to this life. I was only 14 when I first moved here. So growing up I only saw one thing, dominate, abuse, and all this stuff and here you’re on your own and you do your own thing. You get used to the life here and the opportunities. So I didn’t really, I adjusted very quick ‘cause I didn’t have any other way.
Is there anything that you miss about your life in Mexico?
I do and I don’t. I think it’s peace, when you go there to an area where it’s not the every day pressure. Here everybody’s in a rush. People don’t relax. If you go from here to there and if you had opportunities and you live well, you’re more relaxed over there than you do here. But, let’s say I hadn’t experienced that in a really long period of time to be able to really tell a difference.
How would you describe Bloomington-Normal to your family back home?
Probably like a big place with big opportunities, big in education. Describe like a place that you always have to work. You have to always try to maintain a busy life doing something positive. The rules are pretty strict and I like them, but at the same time, you have to work and the opportunities are there to get rewarded for where you work. If you do the right things, you get work. Your kids, you send them to school. The opportunities are here to really grow to have a better life and I see that in Bloomington.
Is there anything else that I haven’t asked you about that you think is important that you’d like to talk about? Your experiences?
I still think for the amount of people in the community, we still don’t have a place of our own. We have restaurants. We have stores. We have the Western Avenue [Community Center]. The Spanish community, they still don’t have a place of their own. There would be no denial if we wanted to rent a place. If we opened our own business, or bring the family. I been talking to a lot of people. I would like to see a Spanish-owned business like a banquet hall, like a community center for nothing but Latinos, like, a club. It would be specific for the Latino community. Something that hasn’t happened yet. Nothing, we have nothing, a community that we can have. So that’s something we’re working on I have this idea for a little while . . . and have a place for the Quinceñeras and the weddings and stuff, have fun.
Do you think that will happen in the next few years?
I think it will happen because I will try to push it real hard. It’s part of, one of my goals. To own my own banquet hall. Because, I’ve been in the business for 35 years doing the same thing. Not serving the Spanish community, but I’ve been working at the same place. Parties and food and all that, the good things in life and I would like to do the same in the Spanish community. Hopefully, it will work out.
You mentioned you have kids. How many do you have?
I have three, 17, 12, 3 ½. It’s a wonderful thing.
Do you think it’s difficult raising kids in an environment different than when you were a child?
Not for me. This is what I want for my kids. It hasn’t been all change because I don’t know anything besides this. I try to speak Spanish with them and they answer me in English, so it’s never been. I try to teach them Spanish, but I never really force it. We are here. There’s going to be times they’re going to face their own. As soon as they get to college and stuff, they’re going to feel the pressure así lo quiero, but I cannot speak the language. They’re going to have the pressure time. I know a lot of kids in college in their 20’s. They now regret they didn’t speak Spanish when they have the opportunity. They didn’t want to talk. I don’t know if they felt embarrassed. I don’t know what kind of pressure they have at school. They might have the pressures, we don’t know. They don’t talk too much about. It’s just the language. They were born here. They don’t know anything else. They are just American now. It has a lot to do with they don’t really face the challenge of language. So, they’d don’t speak any Spanish. They understand it, but they don’t speak it back to me.
Does their mother?
A little bit, but not much.
Did a lot of your family follow you here when both you and your sister were here?
All of my little brothers, pretty much all of them followed. And they’re all here except one. The other one is in Texas right now. I got 1-2-4 brothers here and a sister.
Ok, I just have one more question, what are your thoughts on the immigration reform that they are proposing?
I think they’re going to work out a deal with a lot of people like they got now. Two years and they might have to leave the country. It’s hard to tell right now. It’s scary for a lot of people. But, two years down they might have three year visas to work. That’s a pretty good deal. They might be eligible to get permanent residence. Five years below that they can be residents and get their citizenship so that’s good. Those laws that they are trying to pass in some areas like New Mexico. I’m not exactly sure what it is. Whether they are trying to criminal change for those who cross the border and try just to come here to work. I think it’s not a good thing because a lot of them have family here so that means if they help them they will not be able to get legal status in any way or form. And, that’s a bad thing because a lot of them already have families here, then they are forced to do that. But, they’re no criminals. These are people who came here to work and try to better yourself and your family’s life. It gives a charge, a criminal charge to to someone that tries to help. Somebody should not be a crime. It’s a human rights thing. We don’t question where you come from, if you need, you need. If I feel like I need to help somebody and I’m in a position to help somebody, that’s the way I grew up, in a way, you know? I was teached help others. So you know, God will help you. People do the right thing and that will become hard to do if some of these laws are passed. It should not be like that. These are the things that I see in the laws. But, I’m looking at stuff you know and I joined the group in there when they tried to protest because I was there 30 years ago with the same problem, so I understand the need for reform. You know we do need security because a lot of things, but don’t make a law that’s going to effect everybody. Try to see the problem if you secure the border that’s fine. You have to secure the border, but give the opportunity to those that come to do the job. We need to be able to do it and come home and be able to do their own thing. And there are some kind of deals that can benefit everybody, you know? I’ve always say we should be doing more to help Mexico. If there’s one thing we do. Yeah, companies go there and open the business and that’s helped a lot of people. But, the ones that help the most are the corporation. They don’t really put enough back to really do more. So the communities they can grow and do their own things, too. Everything this way. Yeah, people work and the company do good, but, it’s still not enough for Mexico to sustain itself and not put the pressure on people that come here and it’s true the pressure is there. I know growing up, I knew the needs, I saw, I feel the needs. When you grow up and you don’t have nothing to eat, one, two days. Then you see the need, just like my family, was a lot of families there. It’s a lot we can still do to try to make a better Mexico. I think the government can do a lot more to work the communities. The corrupt government. The dominance kind of corrupts, I think. It’s not enough there. There’s a lot of millionaires in Mexico and there’s a lot of poor people. And, I feel sometimes, all those millionaires just care for one thing and it’s not helping the community grow. It’s how can they get richer and that’s it. And we support a lot of it ourselves because a lot of these rich people are part of the government people. People that run the towns, the cities, and I think that needs to change.
Thank you so much, those are all my questions.