Date: August 31, 2011
Interviewers: Carol Koos
Note: This interview is in two parts- August 31 and November 10, 2011. The interviewer’s questions are in bold italics.
This is Carol Koos. I am at the home of Manny and Margot Mendoza. The date is August 31, 2011, and we are here to talk about their lives here in Bloomington and generally their life histories. So, I’ll ask one of you a question and then we’ll go over to the other one, and don’t worry about the time because if we need to meet again, that’s just great. Manny, let me start asking you some questions, and we may jump around a little bit in history. If you think of something that you want to talk about — go ahead — we may just pull back from that and I’ll let you talk and we’ll kind of move around on topics a little bit. Where were you born?
Manny: I was born in Independence, Kansas, in 1930.
Did you grow up there?
Yes, I grew up there and went to Independence High School there. Went to Junior College there for two years and then from there I went on to Baker University for two years.
And where is Baker University?
Baker University is in Baldwin City, Kansas. It’s about 40 miles from Kansas City and south of Kansas University in Lawrence.
How long had your family been there in Kansas where you were born? Had they been there a while?
Yes, they had been there since my mother and father had gotten married on Armistice Day in 1918, November 11th. When they got married they went to live in Independence. I was there with the family until I left to go to Baker University, and then I went on to law school at Washburn University, and I never did go back to live there.
Any particular reason why?
Well, yes. Trying to practice law in the small town of Independence and being Mexican, we would have probably starved. So I didn’t think that was going to work out for me. At that time things weren’t that open, you know. That’s the way it was. I had looked for jobs after I finished Baker University and couldn’t get on anywhere. And so I figured, maybe this is — well, I always wanted to go to law school, and this is the opportunity to go. I didn’t have a job so I would go on and do something.
Margot, where were you born?
Margot: I was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on July 8, 1934, in the midst of The Depression.
Did you grow up there?
No, my father was a Methodist minister, and in that timeframe Methodist ministers got moved every couple of years at Conference time. My mother had been a deaconess and a home missionary after they were married. We moved a lot — every two years give or take a year. I had been born there and eventually my mother and I went back to Kansas City.
And where were you before you came to Bloomington — so there were a number of cities that you lived in before you ended up coming to Bloomington?
Where did your families — both of you have Mexican parentage —
Manny: Well, I can tell you my background. I am one of nine children of my father and mother. My dad had been married before and had three children, but his wife died and that is when he married my mother. And my mother had been married before, but she had divorced her husband and had one child. And so, when they married it was a big family, and of course, the nine children didn’t happen all at once. But we all stayed there in Independence and my dad had a job with the cement plant that was there, and he worked there the rest of his life. But he had come over to this country with the railroad — working on the railroad — as a lot of people did at that time. He had been born in Mexico City. I think his father and mother just ran off and got married and got away from Mexico City and the family. Apparently my father’s father was better off, and the mother was half-Indian or full-Indian in Mexico, and so they couldn’t stay in Mexico City. The only way they could survive was to get out of there. And so they went to San Juan de Los Lagos, Jalisco and that’s where my dad grew up. And his father died about two years after they got there and tried to establish a business. It didn’t last very long. Something happened, I’m not sure. So, he lived there and grew up in the small community. Later on, he ran away from home when he was about 14 and came to the United States — you know, traveling around seeing what it was like. But after a while he earned some money and went back. When he went back and had some money. He stayed there several years and set up a small business at those times, then moved to Durango, and there he was in a small business. He had acquired a little bit of knowledge about horses. And of course you had to in those days. He made harnesses and helped in making saddles and other kinds of things for transporting goods on horseback and on mule. And so that was the kind of thing he had in Durango. When the revolution started in about 1914 or 1915 in through there, he was, let’s say “drafted” into the federal troops and he didn’t have any choice. If you had a business or anything they put you in there, so he was made in charge of making harnesses and saddles for the federal troops. He didn’t care for that but he didn’t have a choice. They put him in charge of that because he had the business and they let him stay there and made him a sergeant or something. He stayed there until Poncho Villa attacked Durango. He knew that wasn’t going to turn out well if he stayed. So, in the middle of the night he left his family and got on a horse and left Durango and went up into the mountains before the revolutionists attacked Durango because they sacked Durango. They took it and they slaughtered a lot of people, killed all the federal troops they could. He just went up into the mountains and was able to get away. He had some relatives up there that kind of hid him, and he stayed hidden up in the mountains for about a year or so until things settled down. And then he came back, picked up his family and headed for the States. So, he got a job with the railroad and worked from 1916-17 in through there. In the meantime, his wife had been kicked by a mule and it had caved in her chest or something. She wasn’t well for a long time and died here in this country. And so that’s when he was looking for someone to help him and he met my mother who had also come with her family. They were also working on the railroad. And they were both pretty young yet. My mother was seven or eight years younger than my dad, and my dad had been doing a lot of other things by that time. He was not educated, he went to the second grade and that was it. He didn’t stay in school — they didn’t force anybody to go to school. My mother got all the education she could, but only went to the eighth grade. They didn’t have high school unless you were wealthy and so she got to the eighth grade and graduated. She was kind of teaching kids in Durango at some school, and then she got married and I don’t think it lasted very long.
So, they did end up coming up here because of the revolution, it was just that bad that they couldn’t stay down there.
My mother’s family — she had a brother and a sister — and also the father and the mother. The father had gotten a job on the railroad. And they followed the railroad from Texas somewhere and they were cutting across Kansas with the railroad — setting or laying track or something. They used to live on the railroad boxcars and all that other stuff — that was not a fun place to live.
So, he came up here and he was working on the railroad. How long did he work on the railroad when he was married up here?
Well, he left the railroad when he came to Independence and married my mother, and that was when he began working for the cement plant. He figured that he would be better off staying in one place with that many kids and all that. Three kids and my mother had one, and soon they had another and another. So, he thought he maybe should stay in one place and there were plenty of jobs at that time. He stayed with the cement plant. He was with the cement plant 40 years.
When would that have been, when he began working for the cement plant?
It would have been about 1918 — in through there — pretty early. Of course they shut everything down during The Depression and he was out of work for about six or seven years — he might work a day or two or whenever needed. They survived all during that time from 1932 to 1938 or ‘39 before he got back on regular.
Margot: The WPA!
Manny: Yeah, they had the commodities program where they gave food to the people who didn’t have jobs. And the county also had a program where if you worked on the county roads — they didn’t have enough work for everybody but you had to work at least a day — and then you got some help. So, he did that and got a job wherever he could. We lived on company property. They called it “Cement Plant Row” and they provided housing. And that was what was attractive to my dad, that he had a house. And if you were employed there you could live there. But it was clear out of town, so they allowed him to stay there even during The Depression, although he wound up having to pay rent after all that time that he was out of work. Eventually he got caught up. Of course, it doesn’t seem like anything now, but I think they paid about $3 a month for it. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you add it up for several years. They kind of kept the houses up and they did all those things and my dad was pretty industrious. The company had pasture land and a lot of land that they didn’t want anybody to build on because of the cement dust and all that. They had a lot of open space. But you could have animals. And so he had cows and pigs and he kept accumulating chickens. And we had all kinds of animals that we took care of. We had gardens and you could use any of the land if you were willing to clear it and clean it up. And so we took some. By the time I was aware of things, we had some river bottom land — great soil, you know — that he had cleared and I had helped. We planted corn and chilies, and tomatoes. And we had all kinds of vegetables we grew down in the river bottom. The only problem with that was once in a while you got flooded out. But, when it didn’t rain or anything, they allowed us to use their water. They had a water plant so you could just open the spigot and we could use those little trenches. We created all kinds of things to water the plants, especially the chilies. They needed water. And the vegetables, they needed water. You didn’t worry so much about the sweet potatoes or the potatoes; they seemed to survive pretty well. But we had it all.
That was very, very fortunate, a wonderful situation.
They allowed everybody to have it. There weren’t more than three or four families that did it; the rest of them never did it. Why I don’t know.
Margot: I’d like to interrupt and point out that he has never grown a tomato since then.
Manny: Our house sat on a rocky edge of the Verdigris River. And that floods, if you ever heard of the Verdigris, and it goes all the way down to Oklahoma and to a big lake down there with several other rivers. Anyway we were on the high ground, the bad part with the rocks and all that, but the reason why we were there was because the cement plant needed that kind of rock to crush and to make cement. That’s why the plant was there. And so we were like some 100 feet above the Verdigris and the good farmland was on the other side, and we could always see the floods, but you know, we weren‘t bothered by it. But then, you also didn’t have as good of land. We would haul soil from the river and the black earth that was there, and we created gardens all around that house. We had chili peppers and tomatoes and everything that we could. We had little plots all around the house. My dad put up fences to keep the animals out because we had rabbits and coyotes and everything else — raccoons — everything that dug up. Ah yes, it was a lot of fun but it was a lot of work.
I am impressed at how much it seemed like it was okay that your family was getting this.
Manny: The thing that helped was the fact that we were so far out of town that a lot of people weren’t aware that a whole colony existed out there. We were like two miles out of town which is a long distance in a small town. I mean, there were a lot of prejudices. I know that after I grew up and was there in Independence, they wouldn’t let the Mexicans eat in the restaurants. They would close the door and say, oh no, you can’t do this. You could buy things at the grocery store. My dad had a good personality. He got along with a lot of people — he had to. And in those days the grocery stores had bought stuff locally. They were small grocery stores, and we sold them eggs and butter, cream, milk. They didn’t worry about pasteurizing and all that other stuff. They just sold fresh milk. They had to move it pretty quick — all that stuff that was done then. My dad bartered with one family. I know we always took them chili peppers and they gave us bread. They liked potatoes. They were Anglos, but he had worked with some of them out of the plant. He knew them. No, he had a hard time getting to stay and going back to work because they were not the first ones called back. But he was a good worker and they liked him and he was able to stay out there. He always had a hard job out there and dangerous jobs so he was lucky. It wasn‘t until much later in the early ‘60’s or late ‘50s when he finally got a much better job there at the plant running a crane and all of that.
Was he trained or did he just kind of —
That’s when the unions came in. In the late ‘40s and ‘50s the unions came in and everything was based on seniority. And of course, that was the thing that helped him. If it hadn’t been for that he wouldn’t have —
What was he doing? What were his jobs like?
Labor, all kinds of labor. They had all kinds of jobs in the plant where they worked; very dirty jobs and hard work in those big turbines that turned and cooked the rock and everything. And so he worked around.
I’m going to ask Margot some questions now. Why don’t you tell me about your family, when did they come from Mexico?
Margot: My father’s people came in the early 1900s. My dad was born in 1908, and he was about three years old when they came. They actually came up into Illinois up in Ottawa, working on the railroad, etcetera, and a number of the kids were born in Ottawa. Eventually the work dried up in Ottawa and they went to Kansas City, Kansas — because that was a big hub for Santa Fe [Railroad]. Still is. Before it was done, a number of the boys worked for the Santa Fe. Grandfather worked for the Santa Fe. One, two, three — maybe about four of the uncles worked for the Santa Fe — at least three of them. And because they had come up here and then went back into Kansas City, my father’s family, I can’t tell you where they came from. I have it, but I haven’t dug it out and looked at it in a long time, but they definitely came from Mexico. Dad was born in Mexico; the other kids were born here. And there were six brothers. My mother’s people had come up in the 1500s and the 1600s into New Mexico. They settled in New Mexico. They were there before the pilgrims arrived. And I have all the paperwork on that. The priests kept wonderful records out there. And what the Indians didn’t burn in one of the revolutions — they still had, and they could bring them back up from Mexico in the archives there. There is wonderful archival stuff in Mexico, it’s tremendous. Anyway, I have all that paperwork, and her people were there early in the game. When the revolution came in 1680, they went down around El Paso for about 12 or 13 years before they came back in again. And they lived right there north of Santa Fe up in Taos, and along the way, during the Mexican War when General Kearney came across and they were taking all of Mexico, a troop of dragoons under Kearney went west to capture Santa Fe and take up Taos, etcetera. Some of them went on to California, but some of them turned around and came back when Kit Carson came across from California and said that we had taken California. So this grandfather was a Dragoon. He was stationed up in Taos, New Mexico, and he took up with this cute little Mexican woman there. She was about 16, and they had four daughters. Two of them went back east when DePew went back east to join the Civil War, and then two of them stayed and my grandmother was one of the two that was left. At that point, my mother had gone down to El Paso and they had a ranch down in Las Cruces [New Mexico]. For whatever reason, they had become Protestants at that point. The protestant churches just divided up the country, and the Presbyterians took a portion of New Mexico, and the Methodists took another portion of it, and etcetera. And that’s kind of how it all came down. At any rate, her church people down in El Paso just thought she was such a clever young woman, and they decided that she should go to the National Training School in Kansas City to get an education. She hadn’t finished high school so she went to Kansas City, Missouri, and finished high school and then went on to the training school for the deaconesses there, which is a college. That was in 1923 or so when she went there. And then they did kind of an internship thing, and there was a Methodist mission in Kansas City, Kansas. In Argentine [Kansas], that’s where my grandfather had taken the family after they had been up in the Fox River in Ottawa, and they met there and were married. He went to Baker University from there because the missionaries thought he was a smart young man and ought to get him an education. And so that’s where they met in Kansas City. Dad went to Baker and finished. My mother was working by that time because she had finished in Kansas City running this Methodist mission known as the “Argentine Neighborhood Center.” And I was born in Kansas City in 1934. So, after that they were moved around by the church. We had a Mexican Methodist Church out in Garden City, Kansas. It had an entirely different district — different superintendents, different bishop. So, they went out to Garden City for about two years, and then, because it wasn’t that large of a district, they had to use a lot of the territory to make it work out — they were sent to California. And my dad taught at the Spanish-American Institute for Boys. They gathered in bright young men, etcetera, and gave them this extra training, hoping they would get along in the world and all that good stuff. And my mother worked at the St. Francis DePaul and that was a girls’ school. So they did that. They were in Douglas, Arizona, they were in Phoenix, Arizona — I’m trying to think of where else we spent time, but it was just all in that. And then, came along the war, my dad went to work for — I don’t remember who handled all of that — I think it was the Army — the War Department that handled it. Well, they decided that all the Japanese in California were going to take the country down, so now they needed to ship them all away, and now there were jobs at these internment camps for teachers — because they set up schools for the Japanese kids — high school, grade school, the whole thing. My dad got a job down at the Gila Bend Reservation, south of Phoenix. And I went down to stay with him while my mother went to California to deal with her mother who had become ill. So, that was pretty much the excitement of that. My father did meet a nurse there and it wasn’t too long after that there was a divorce. That would have been in 1942-43 or ‘44. About 1944, my mother got a job back in Kansas City at this same mission, to run this mission, and my dad was gone by that time. So we got back into Kansas City. And I actually finished up grade school — Clara Barton, which was also a separate but equal junior high, and went to high school. Clara Barton was on the other side of the track.
I see, a Mexican finishing school!
Yes! They didn’t have enough Mexican kids to do an entirely different junior high or high school. They had entirely enough for the black kids in Kansas City, but they didn’t have enough of us to do that. So we were allowed to go to grade school at Clara Barton. But by junior high you had to go up to junior high and high school and there weren’t enough of us. So, a lot of kids dropped out at that point anyway. And so I went to junior high there in Argentine with the white kids.
How was that? What was that like?
Oh, we all knew. No question about it — we all knew. And the administration wasn’t real thrilled to have — you know — they were just stuck with us. They would have preferred to have something else going.
So, you were kind of tolerated, basically?
But it wasn’t extremely bad, you just knew.
We all knew. And we didn’t get to be part of the Pep Club and we didn’t get to be —
No one got to be Prom Queen?
No. And when it came time for the National Honor Society, there were two of us that had the grades, but of course neither one of us — anyway. . . And then when I finished high school, my dad had gone to Baker University and my uncle after him, so I just knew that I would always go there because my dad had gone there. You know I had his letters and — he played football and had done this and that, so I was going to go — and I did. I never gave any thought not to at all.
How was your mother with that? She was pretty well educated so —
Yes, she thought it was all right. She really wanted me to go east. In between time, at the end of our junior year, Kansas City had the Flood of 1951 and washed out the community. And so it made it really tricky. It ruined all the Argentine neighborhood area. It was just tricky. A lot of kids never got back into school again after that. And even the other kids — the Anglo kids — there were many of them that were so badly damaged by the whole thing; their families were damaged by it and never recovered.
And some areas don’t naturally have insurance for anything anymore back then.
Yeah, and there was a lot of flooding. There was 50 feet of water. The city has a big dike system and it just gave way. This was before they put up all those holding places up north in the Dakotas and everything. It just came pouring down and wiped out the entire community. So that was it. And I went on to Baker the next fall.
Manny: That is how we met. She was a freshman and I was a junior.
Oh my, so you robbed the cradle!
Oh, just for a second, going back to Independence High School, we had nine kids and along the way, four died. They’d catch pneumonia and there was nothing. . . One was hit by a car and complications arose and the little girl died. And we had two other boys that died and another sister, and so by the time the five of us that were left of my mother and father’s marriage, there were only five left that grew up to adulthood. So, in Independence they didn’t have enough Mexicans so we got to go to the same school. But I went to a Catholic school — St. Andrews — through the eighth grade, and then went to high school and started in athletics and played football from the time I was a freshman there and made the team. Eventually, I was a starter and played football in the 11th and 12th grade. But what was the big deal for me, is that I was elected Captain of the team in my senior year, in spite of the fact that I was the first Mexican to ever play football for Independence and also to graduate from there.
How do you think that happened?
Well, maybe because they liked me — the players. It was really voted on by the players, not the coach. As a matter of fact, there were all kinds of stories as to why we ended up with co-captains for that year — I and another white boy. One of the guys on the football team — I played on one side and he played on the other — and we were pretty close. He was white and I was the only Mexican-American there. He says, “You know, I don’t understand this. And I’ve checked with everybody that got the chance to vote, and I couldn’t find enough votes to beat you.” But he wound up being the co-captain. And I say, “Are we going to challenge the coaches or whatever?” And so I played football all the way. I was starter all the way in the junior college, and then went to Baker and was starter for two years there, and then at Washburn. Of course, football helped me a lot at Baker because they recruited me and got me a scholarship to play. And I got a grant, a work type scholarship that paid for the tuition. And I got to work at the University and they paid. You could work 15 hours and that helped pay for your tuition and books and stuff and the dorm. And I also had a job where I drove a local school district bus in a big rural area. So I drove that bus in the morning and in the evenings after football was over. And so they helped me get that job, otherwise I couldn’t have gotten it on my own. So that helped me get through. My dad didn’t have to worry about me too much. He wasn’t real crazy about me going off. My mother was very supportive all the time, but my dad thought — you know you’ve done pretty well already; you can get a job eventually. You’re not going to get a job — you’re a Mexican.
Well, he was kind of right.
He didn’t even want me to go to junior college because the local (I worked on the railroad. I forgot to tell you about that) when I was about 14, not quite 15, I went to work on the railroad because it was during the war and they didn’t check you out in any way about how old you were — if you were tall enough. So anyway, after I got through that summer and went back to school in the fall, they let me work weekends. By that time I went to work in the cement plant. My dad helped me with a job. And I worked weekends and summers until I went to Baker junior college. He knew the foreman of the gangs that came through, the extra gangs they called them. They worked on the railroad for emergencies and all kinds of things. And this foreman knew my dad and he said, “What’s your kid gonna do? Is he going to go on to college?” My dad said I wanted to, but he wasn’t sure. The guy said, “Tell him to come to work for me because I can get him a job. He’s a good worker. He worked for me one summer. You know, in 15-20 years he could be the next section foreman around here.” So my dad told me, “See, you could have a good job.” And I thought, no, I’m going to school. That is hard work, very hard work.
Margot: It was on the railroad that he decided that he really wanted to have a job where he could wear a white shirt and a tie. He thought he’d just move on it and work toward that. It was worth a shot.
Manny: My dad, he had his own ideas. He had a job and he was able to work, and in the long run, he did all right. I can understand that. Getting through high school — because the rest of my family — when they grew up to adulthood — there were three girls and I had a brother — and the oldest of the five that were left and didn’t die early — they convinced her that she should go to work after the eighth grade after leaving Catholic school. And so she did, and helped with the family and working. And the next girl, she went to high school and graduated. She was the first one to graduate and then took summer courses and got a provisional certificate to teach. So she taught at a rural school for a year. And then my brother, he went to the 10th grade and quit — he didn’t want any part of schooling.
What do you think made you think about going to college, considering your environment at home?
Well, I was probably a little smarter than average, and the nuns were good teachers. They taught you that you’d better learn. I started to go to the library on my way home because they started to talk about a lot of things I wanted to learn about. It was just curiosity, really. And I‘d go to the library and pull out books and start reading, and did that for quite a while on the way home. But I could only stay for 30-40 minutes. I‘d read a book and then put it back. Eventually the librarian says, do you live in Independence, and I said, yes. She said, well you can just have a library card and take the book home with you. And I said, well, I don’t want to do that. I’ll lose it or something will happen to it. So, for a long time I didn’t take any books from the library. Eventually I did, but it was kind of a learning process. After I got to high school, as a freshman, I realized I was ahead of a lot of other kids and how I handled my work. I think a lot of it was because of the nuns in Math and English. We were ahead of a lot of the kids in public schools. Then, as a sophomore, I was involved in sports and so they all knew who I was. So that was the thing. And some teachers encouraged me. They kept asking me, “You’re doing pretty well in school, don’t you want to go to college?” And I said, “Yeah, I want to go to college.” And they would advise me; if you want to go to college you want to go this track. They just kind of encouraged me to take the courses that they thought would be helpful in continuing to get educated.
So, they were kind of priming you to —
So, I would take those courses.
Margot: I think he was very fortunate that they recognized that he could handle something and that they were advanced enough in their own minds that they could encourage this kid.
Well, there wasn’t this bias about being Mexican and that they were all stupid.
I think that was because it was just a smaller area and they didn’t have the prejudice that we had in the cities. Kansas City was not a happy place. You couldn’t go into a restaurant; we sat on the other side of the theater, etcetera.
Manny: I was the first Mexican who got to eat in the restaurant in Independence. They didn’t kick me out. They didn’t say anything to me. And they knew who I was and that I played football. I remember seeing that that kind of thing was helpful. I remember one English teacher who got me to take English courses and so forth, was a Baker graduate. That’s how I started with Baker University. She was an unmarried woman. Most of the teachers were, and she always took an interest in me and we always visited. She kept saying, “Now you ought to take this.” She’d say, “Now next semester I’m going to teach English Lit.” And I’d say that is what I’d like to do and I would follow her advice. I took Latin, you know. I had two years of Latin, and of course I took Spanish in school. And the teachers — we got along pretty well.
Margot: They were really good to you.
That’s very, very fortunate
It was just interesting, and his dad had that kind of a personality too where he felt the need to do well and to get ahead and that made a difference. And his mother, she needed something to make a difference for her. She dealt with all of that was going on. She took care of her nice little home. She put out gardens. She put out flowers. She was proud of her home, and she made it a home. Most people weren’t doing that. There are in existence pictures that were taken by the cement plant people of these little houses on Cement Plant Row. You know, the company town. And there were a good two streets of them.
Manny: One long street —
Margot: Yeah, and somehow or another someone got a hold of them and gave them to Manny’s sister. And they were of all of these little houses. Some of them had stuff in front, but Manny’s house had flowers and vines growing everywhere. And you could see the little garden in the back. There were flowers everywhere. It was just wonderful. She was a woman who took good care of her home, took pride in doing it. Some of this has got to pass along to other people. And Grandfather did the same thing. It wasn’t long before he discovered that he could buy little houses. He would rehab them and then he would rent them, and he did all of this, etcetera. And they were recognized as being that. I think that it was very clear that was the case. Even when your dad went out to California early in the war, there were jobs with shipbuilders. They hadn’t opened the cement plant yet and he went out to California to build ships.
Manny: He and another buddy of his went; they were the only two that went. They were out there for six or nine months, and then the cement plant began and they wanted experienced people back. He got a notice and he decided, well, we saved money and we’re coming back. He said it was tough working there. He worked like 12 hours a day in the shipyards. And he said in San Francisco, it really got cold at night. He worked the nightshift and everything on the waterfront there where they built all those . . . I think that’s what they were warships.
So, the two of you met in college. How did you meet?
You tell her.
Margot: Well, I lived at the Cooperate House, which was off-campus, because the dorms, even at Methodist schools, didn’t let Mexican kids in. So I lived at the Cooperate House. My uncle had been a Co-Op —
Manny: By the time I got there though I could live in a dorm because they didn’t — it could have been that I played football.
Margot: Well, there was another kid, a kid who had come from Monterey, Mexico — Horatio Rios, who was going to become a Methodist minister. He lived in the same dorm where Manny was. And he went to Manny once at the very beginning of the school year and said, “I’ve seen this little Mexican girl walking across campus and I’d like to go and meet her. He had found out where I lived and everything, but I didn’t’ want to go alone. So, one Saturday night about 6 o’clock, they appeared at the Cooperate House door and somebody answered the door and they called up, “Margot, there are people to see you!” And that was really exciting, because Co-Op girls didn’t often. So, I came down and they were both in the living room, and we visited for a while— and it was so exciting! And there were people hanging over the railing. So they left and that was fun and exciting — and the rest is your story.
Manny: Well, we got back to the dorm and Horatio had been real friendly. He had done most of the talking to Margot and asking questions, and he was telling her his background and that sort of thing. And we go back to the dorm, because he was a freshman and was living at the dorm before he moved out. I asked him, I said, “Well, I’m going to go back up to the room and study, but aren‘t you going to give Margot a call and take her somewhere?” And he says, “Oh, I don’t know, we hardly know each other. I think I’d better wait. I’m going to see her again and we’ll visit, and I’ll call her later.” I said, “Look, if you’re not going to call her, I will.” He said, “Well, if you really want to.” And I said, “Yeah, I think I’m going to call her.” So I called her and Margot said, yeah, we can go to a movie. So we did, and that was the end of it. He lost out. It was a small movie house in Baldwin City where Baker University is located. I don’t know — we’d either seen the movie or something, because we went to Ottawa about 15 miles away, where Ottawa University is located, and they had two theaters there. And so we picked out this one theater and went to this movie that was King Kong (1933)! It probably had been re-released, it was the original.
Gee, what a film for your first date!
Margot: And there second movie was “The Leopard Man” (1943) or something like that. It’s a noir film. I can remember that the leopard had evidently taken this child, and you could only tell it from the music. And the blood was seeping under the doorway. I never forgot that!! Horrific!! But it has become a classic in the noir. And that was on the 20th of September 1952. We were married on June 2, 1956. Manny was in law school at that time.
Manny: They still show that King Kong movie. In fact, we went to see it about a year or two ago at the Normal Theatre and it was the original one.
And, where did you go to law school?
Washburn University in Topeka.
So you lived in Topeka, Kansas, then. Let’s see — I wanted to go back about college. Were there many Mexicans there when the two of you were in college in Baker?
Margot: The two of us and one South American. He was from Columbia or something. Horatio, he was in Economics. But that was it. And there were a good number of foreign kids, Chinese — not many, but there was some.
Manny: There were Methodists. They were studying to be in the church because they were in the Methodist school.
Margot: And there were two black kids, I think. There were just the two of them. Eddie Turner, who lived in Baldwin.
Manny: I remember Eddie, but I don’t remember anyone else.
Margot: June Carol McIntosh. We were roommates at Cooperate.
Manny: Oh yes, that’s right. I had forgotten about her.
Margot: She came from Kansas City. Her mother taught school and her father was a butcher. They both had degrees, but her father was a butcher. He was lucky to have a job, I guess.
So, you went on to law school, and Margot, what were you doing while Manny was in law school?
Margot: I worked at the library in Topeka. I had worked in a library from high school on. I had worked in the high school library and when they needed someone for the city library, they recommended me and I went over to the library. I worked at the library in Argentine all the way through high school and then in summertime I went up to Rosedale to a satellite library.
How come you were working in the libraries? Was that related to your degree at all?
Manny: For experience, and a job.
Margot: So I worked there the entire time I was in high school, summers and all. And then, when I went to Baker, I worked in the library there too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get paid as much as Manny was paid. That annoyed me considerably. It was wrong, wrong, wrong!
Manny: She got 50 cents and I got 75 cents.
Margot: Oh, no — I got 35 cents.
Manny: If you could have played football, you could have done much better.
Margot: My dad played football at Baker’s. He lettered and everything.
Manny: Yeah, I wasn’t the first one at Baker to play football.
So, there was a certain amount of acceptance there?
Yeah, because it was a religious school. At Washburn I was the first Mexican-American to graduate from law school there, although there had been a lot of black folks starting from early, early.
Margot: From 1903 or 1904 or something, really early, but no Mexicans.
Manny: That’s the record of education.
I just want to ask a little bit more about Margot and then we’ll talk with you about law school. So, what did you major in?
Margot: Sociology. I had minors in Spanish and in History.
Did both of you speak Spanish before?
Manny: Oh, yeah, we didn’t speak English at all at home. Margot’s did.
Margot: Yeah, we spoke English. I didn’t learn Spanish until I was about five years old. We lived in Douglas, Arizona, and I learned it from the kids across the street, the perfect time to be learning.
Manny: Well, my dad wouldn’t let us speak English at home. He said he wanted to make sure that we didn’t do that.
Margot: The nuns came to visit too, if you recall.
Manny: It was a corruption of everything he knew — he was going to go back to Mexico when he made his money — well, it never happened.
Margot: Yeah, my grandmother was going to do that.
It turned out that they really didn’t want to do that when it came time —
Manny: I know my mother didn’t.
Margot: Oh, your mother always said, oh, no — hmm, no. But I think that was a good story about the nuns coming to the house.
What was that exactly?
Manny: They always came in advance of the start of school to make sure that you were going to school. To make sure they enrolled you and that sort of thing. Everybody at the Catholic school had to pay tuition but tuition was waived for us because we couldn’t afford it. We didn’t have any money. My dad never paid a dime. He couldn’t have.
Margot: You’ve told me the story of the nuns coming because you weren’t speaking English. She wanted people at home to help you speak English. He flunked the first grade because he couldn’t speak English.
Manny: Yeah, they wanted us to practice more and practice with my sisters who had already gone to school. That didn’t work out because my dad didn’t want us to. He said, no, we’re not doing that. So we would sneak in and learn words and all that. I had a terrible time the first year. I was not a fast learner. I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t. It all seemed jumbled up when they spoke. It took me quite a while.
Margot: Really, part of that was because some of them were foreign nuns, and they would have had accents.
Manny: Well, we had German nuns.
Margot: And so there you are — a little kid trying to —
So, you really didn’t speak English until maybe you were in second or third grade?
Manny: Well, I finally got through with the first grade. I didn’t have any trouble once I got going.
Well, taking a year or so to learn a language is not bad. Okay, so Margot you were working on a degree in Sociology and you did graduate. Did you use your degree in Sociology?
Margot: Every day of my life!
Did you teach?
No. I never taught. It has just been a wonderful, wonderful tool all my life.
And how is that?
Well, because it gave you background on how to deal with people, how to deal with things, to recognize situations. It was just wonderful. It worked out really and truly well.
So, for the most part — you got married and raised your family — that was your big job
Well, I volunteered and from the very beginning. I had Girl Scout troops; I had Cub Scout troops
Manny: Yeah, we moved around a lot.
Margot: I was so glad we left Kansas City and the Cub Scouts. Oh, God, they were just overwhelming.
Sounds like they terrorized you.
I was really good at it. And I had a cute little lady friend, Mimi. We did the Cub Scouts, and dear God those kids were just off the wall all the time! The girls were nothing. I had them clear up to Cadets and seniors. We did everything, all the camping songs and the whole thing — washed latrines, and you know. Permanent camp — really good at this. So I did that in St. Louis when the girls were younger. When we went to Kansas City I did the Cadets with the older girls, and did all the permanent camping. Manny would take us and go with us, etcetera — “Mr. Mendoza, there’s a spider in the latrine!!”
Manny: There was a trip to the latrine once a night to clear out spiders, bugs etc.
Margot: So, we pretty much did that together, obviously. And in Kansas City the Nelson Art Gallery had a wonderful program known as the “Picture Lady Program,” and you would work with a certain artist. I would work with Van Gogh. And you took it into the schools and they would combine the whole thing. The history that was involved in that time period along with the art and international, it was interesting — it was a fun thing. I tried to get it started here, but I could never get it started. No one was interested. That was too bad. But it was a good program. The Nelson Art Gallery did these training sessions, and everything. And then when we came here — is this what we are moving on towards? To here? To the present?
Somewhat we are. Yeah.
And we did move around a lot. From Topeka when Manny finished law school, we went to Wichita and we were there four or five years.
Margot: And from there we went to St. Louis and we were there —
Manny: Five years.
Margot: And then from St. Louis we went to Kansas City and we were there about —
Manny: Four years — not quite four years.
Margot: And we’ve been here ever since.
Manny: We’ve been in Bloomington —
Margot: Thirty-nine years this year — or is it 40 years this year?
Manny: No, no, we came here in 1973 — it’s 38. So far, 38. In October we’ll have 38.
Ah, let’s back up a little bit. So, Manny, you went to law school. What was that experience like?
Well, like I said, I couldn’t find a job after I finished college, so I decided that it was a good time to go to law school. So I went up to Topeka and looked around and then went to the law school. I said, “I’m interested in coming to law school.” I hadn’t done anything before that. A lot of times people just get enrolled and that kind of stuff. They said, well, it was summertime and the dean isn’t too busy now. Why don’t you go in and visit with him? I said, okay, I’ll do that. And so the dean visited with me for a while and he asked about my background and all that stuff. And then he said, “Why don’t we give you a little test here, if you’ve got the time?” And I said, “Sure, why not.” So, I took some tests and he scored it and whatever they do. It was automatic — something like templates or whatever the name. I think it was kind of an LSAT, or an early version. And he said, well, if you are interested we can enroll you today, and it doesn’t cost you much. And I said, oh, I don’t have any money. And he said, don’t worry about that. We can waive the registration fee and you can pay it later when you have some money. And I said, well, its fine with me. And so, I got enrolled, and I said, I’m going home to pick up some things. I’m looking for a job. He mentioned some things, what I might do and where I might work. And he said, we had somebody who worked at the Topeka State Hospital, and I heard from somebody, and you might want to try them. There’s a veterans hospital and so forth. And I said, well yeah, I’ll go out there. So, still in a day I whipped out to the Topeka State Hospital and said I was looking for a job because I wanted to go to school. They said, well, you know, we’ve got some things that you’ve got to do before you can go to work here. This was still early in June when I started there. They said, well, you’ve got to take training to be an aide here at the hospital — it’s a mental hospital. And I said, oh well, okay. And they said, “Can you start Monday?” And I said, “Why sure, I can do that. I’ll go home and come right back” And so I came back. And what was attractive about that job was that if you got cleared for employment, which they said they could do pretty fast, they said you can have living quarters for employees. And so they registered me and I got room. And they said the other good thing about it was that for $30 or $40 a month you could eat at the cafeteria at the hospital. And they served three meals for employees. You can live at the employees ‘dormitories because we have openings. We don’t always have them, we had some other students that graduated and are gone. So that was great. And so I registered and got the job. They had like a month or almost three months of training which you had to do there. You know, you go through the basics of being kind of like a nurse and learn how to read all the orders from the doctors, and how to give shots and do CPR, and do all those other things. And you had to learn all the background of the job. And so we went through that for almost three months. And then in September I told them that I was going to enroll in law school. And so they said, “Well, you’ll have to do this during the day for the training. But once you graduate, and if you do well in that, we’ll put you on probation for six months. And if you do that, you’re in. But you’ll have to work the evening shift because you’ll have to go to school during the day or morning.” And I said, “That’s fine with me.” And so I took all that training and I graduated second. Some girl came along and beat us, and so I didn’t graduate number one in the class. I was like number two and Purdot was like number three. We were ahead of everybody for a while. But she had had some nurse’s training. But she had dropped out and then came back. It was a big class, about 30 students. Big classes would go in all the time because they would lose employees. It was a big hospital. So when I finished that, then I went to work in the afternoons and I had enrolled in law school. But I decided that by working in the afternoons I probably wouldn’t be able to take more than a couple of courses, and so that’s what I did, worked afternoons. I’d work until 11 to 3. And that was the first year. Until I got off probationary status and got a raise, so to speak, they didn’t pay much. But what was good about it was that we got to eat there for a very low price and lived there. Then when the second year rolled around, then I enrolled full-time because I was able to shift to night shift completely. It started at 11 p.m. and worked until 7 a.m. So, I did that and went full-time to law school and studied whenever I had some time. I had also been in the Army Reserves — that’s a long story — but I had gotten involved with them and continued to stay in the Reserves because we made some money and it was always nice to make some extra bucks for school. And so, I had transferred up to Baker so I could continue my Reservist duties, and so I continued with that. I would drive over there on Tuesday nights and attend meetings because we had to attend two hours of meetings weekly, and I got to the point that after my year or so after there they knew that I was going to law school and they wanted people to lecture to the troops there. And so that job was to be assigned by the captain who was in charge to teach for an hour. He would select the subject and we’d study up and then give the lecture the following week. I rotated with two other people that were professors at Kansas University. They were also reservists and we all went down together from Kansas University down there, and they rotated along with me so we didn’t always have to always — we got one week off with the three of us rotating. Then I would drive back at nine or ten o’clock when I would be half asleep most of the time and then it was time to go to work. So, that was always a lost day. So I did that all the way through until I finished. I got pretty good with the — and they were pretty lenient with me about when I could attend the summer sessions when we had to go to full duty for two weeks or 15 days with the Army Reserves. And so they allowed me to transfer for two weeks to wherever I needed to go so I wouldn’t affect my schooling. So, I would pick out with the orders — I’d make up the order and the Captain would sign them and off I’d go. Once I went to Fort Riley, and once I went out to Camp Carson, and once I went to Fitzsimmons Army Hospital, and once to Fort Leonard Wood. I went all over to wherever I could work in the time so I could keep being paid. I got advanced pretty rapidly so that I wound up being a Sgt. First Class, and I continued to do that. After we got married, maybe even before we got married — I don’t remember, I started that second job in addition to my night job. I decided that we needed more money so —
It was after you were married that you went to work at the grocery store?
Yeah, the grocery store in the afternoon. I worked from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Margot: It’s true, it’s true. It may seem impossible, but it’s true.
Manny: And I kept going to law school full-time.
Margot: He delivered groceries.
Manny: Yeah, I had a little truck and I delivered for a local grocery store. It was quite a good routine. This little grocery store took orders over the phone for older people who couldn’t get out. And they’d write them up, complete the orders, put them in the truck, and I would deliver them, a full truckload. I would drop them off and everyone had different instructions; please, the back door is open, come on in; put the milk in the refrigerator, put the butter in here, put the groceries on the counter, be sure you lock the door when you go outside. Yeah, we’d have everyone with different instructions.
You must wonder now how you did it.
Yeah, how I stayed awake and managed to do all of that.
That’s why young people can go to college.
And take six or seven years to finish. A full load in law school is about 13 hours — semester hours. I was taking 15 and 16 hours. I didn’t graduate at the top of my class, believe me. But I wanted to finish up. And so the first year I wound up losing a lot of time — just six hours I think. So I really had to hustle to finish up. From then on I finished up in two and a half years. Some of us got ahead of the rest of the class — 13 of us got into the regular class. Anyway, I managed to graduate. I graduated in January 1958, took the Bar exam in February 1958. And that was the end of it education-wise. Not really, but for the formal education. In those days, we didn’t get a big break at Christmas or anything like that. We went straight through in January and toward the last couple of weeks in January we took finals and they offered a Bar exam the end of the second week in February. So, we had about two weeks to prepare for the Bar, if you wanted to. Otherwise you would go until June or July when you took the Bar exam. And I decided, nah, I’m not going to wait until then. Some people did.
Gee, you were probably ready to get out of there.
So, some of us took the Bar exam right away and passed. I surprised myself. But anyway, I didn’t seem to have any trouble. A lot of people said, no, they would wait and take the July Bar so that they could study for a month and a half for something like that. Anyway, it worked out. I went to work for State Farm right away as soon as I could get them to give me a job.
Margot: Now he did all of this without having to borrow money — this did not involve serious student loans.
Yes, I can kind of tell as much as you were working, but the expense wasn’t so exorbitant to go to college.
Manny: As it is now, but for us it was still a lot of money.
Margot: At the last semester, somehow the Dean had discovered that he was married; we were getting ready to have Noelle. We thought our timing was really good.
Manny: She was born in December.
Margot: So the Dean heard about all of this, that he was working at the grocery store and that he was commuting back and forth for the Army Reserves, and that he was still full-time at the State Hospital. And he got him called in and he said to him, “You know, this is really serious and you are doing all of these things. We don’t want you not to get through school here.” And he was really distressed. So Manny, tell about it —
Manny: Well, he said, I’ve called the Treasurer from Washburn. The Dean said, you go on over there and they said that they would help you with whatever money you need. Don’t worry about paying it back, you can take all the time you want. That was before the old student loan program. He said, "They’ll take care of you. You just go talk to the Treasurer". Well, people hardly go to see the Treasurer. And I said, I really don’t want to do that. We’re surviving pretty well. He said, no, I think you should, but you’ve got to quit one of your jobs. I said, I can’t get out of the Reserves. He said, oh, I know that. You’ve got to cut down on the amount of work you do. You get sick and you miss school; something will happen. You know you can’t do that. You’re too close to graduating. Well, I went to see the Treasurer and he said, oh yeah, the Dean had called and we’ll work with you. How much money do you need to complete for your expenses and all that? And, oh, I didn’t want to, but what do I need? Maybe if we borrowed $300. He says, “Are you sure you can complete for only $300? You’ve got a whole semester to go and you’re going to have a child, and you might need some money for all that.” I said, “Oh I think we could do it.” So, he says, “Okay. If you need any more you just give me a call and we will work something out.” So, he gave me a $300 check and I deposited it. I didn’t quit any job and I just had a little extra money there for a while. But, once I started working for State Farm, we paid that money back in six months. Fifty dollars a month.
Margot: That was a lot of money to pay back.
Manny: Well, I can remember the students at the law school getting all riled up because the semester hour was going to go from nine dollars to ten dollars an hour. Which seemed like a lot of money. And the books almost cost that much, really expensive law books. We were going to trudge down to the Treasurer — you can’t do that to us!
This is Carol Koos. I am here with Many Mendoza and Margot Mendoza at their home for the second portion of their interview. The date is November 10, 2011. We talked about your lives together, your growing up and where you were born and all of that , we could talk about the present and your perceptions about things and society, and anything that kind of springs from that. Let’s just start with what you’re doing now — you’re both retired from whatever you were doing in the middle portion of your lives — you’re doing other things, so Margot, do you want to start?
Margot: Okay. Well, actually, my life hasn’t changed much at all from our lives almost 40 years here in Bloomington-Normal. I’m still active in the community, serve on the ACLU Steering Committee and have for maybe 20 years now. I was the chair for 10 or 12 years. Then I worked with the Advocacy Council which is about to become the Prairie Pride Coalition — it’s a gay and lesbian organization. We work to make fair the actions of the community. We were very active in getting the ordinance passed in Bloomington and in Normal so that people wouldn’t lose their jobs or lose their homes because they were gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual, etcetera. I’ve been really active in that for 15 years or more. And then I do many other short little projects along the way. But those are the things that I am probably most active in. The Advocacy Council of Prairie Pride Coalition has been putting on a film festival for the gay and lesbian film festival at the Normal Theatre. This was our second year and that takes a good deal of time. We’ve been doing two meetings a month all the way through, and then as we get closer into October when the film festival takes place, then we are there even more, so it’s really interesting. Most of the other film festivals in the country are run by hired guns, and we’ve done these ourselves. We are the hired guns.
Manny: Volunteers. Unpaid volunteers.
Margot: Yeah. I thought when Manny retired that I could just let things go. I don’t do electronic things, I don’t do e-mail, I don’t do the rest, and you know, maybe there are other people who can step in and take this slot on them and work from there. And if I’m not going to contribute that much to it, then I will just stand aside. But it turned out that was not the case at all. Well, you know I started as community representative to the groups. Advocacy counsel, of course the ACLU is a whole different ball game. But I guess the biggest part of it is my experience in working with people and groups and the rest. I have an ability to tie things together or flag things that could create havoc in everyone’s life before it’s done. They actually kind of turn to me to be sure that this is something we want to do. I think it is just interesting. I never really envisioned that I would be able to move forward into this modern day and not do the e-mail and let alone all the rest, and still be a part of it.
It tests your ability to work with groups, as you say.
And really not a meeting goes by that they say, oh that’s a good idea Margot. If you do that we can carry this through, we can tie that together as we do the other. So, I thought, well gosh, as long as I can serve as well as that then I’m probably as good or better than anyone else they can find to come in and be the community rep. I just hung on and worked on. And that’s what we do. We are moving forward now to get that. I never remember numbers — and that’s moving forward. So I think that will take place before it’s done, before we were doing so many political things. We went to Springfield, we lobbied, and we did all kinds of things. And you can’t really do that full-fledged under that, but now we don’t necessarily have to do that extent with the Illinois Civil Unions law. It really has been exciting to see the cumulative of the efforts that everyone has put into it. I’ve never worked with anything, and I’ve worked with a lot of things, that is so really meaningful and necessary and has really been fruitful. I can see it all. And Manny has always been a really good sport about it all this time. People that don’t have a supportive spouse or partner or whatever, eventually that person drifts away or something. So we’ve never had that fortunately.
Do you think there is anything about your past life that developed your interest in the type of activities that you became involved in?
Oh, funny. You should ask that, because I do see this as exactly the same thing. Equal rights, carrying on about poor Mexicans, etcetera. I mean, it’s the same things where “these people” are equally persecuted and some have been exceedingly persecuted. Yeah, to me it is all one and the same. It’s a lifetime’s vocation I suppose. It has just worked out that way.
So, it is deep in your system that these are important things?
Very much. And its discrimination one way or the other. It was for the Civil Rights thing, it was from the very beginning for me certainly. Although Manny didn’t seem to have as much of it in Independence, but you know, I lived in Kansas City.
It was really interesting, right?
Well, you know you couldn’t go into restaurants; I was asked to leave. I was with an older, blonde social worker and Miss Hanson said, “I will buy you a hamburger,” and so we went into this little place and they wouldn’t serve me, period. And so we had to leave. And the little movie theatre there was much like the Normal Theatre, about that size and everything. We were in a community that . . . the Mexican kids had to sit on the left-hand side. You weren’t allowed to sit with the rest of the people. Now it didn’t have a balcony and we really didn’t have any black people in the community, so if they were there they had to join us on the left side.
It’s interesting from my own experience it almost seems like women are more likely to feel or get the brunt of racism a little more.
I agree with you. The more vulnerable people in the world always get the bigger kick.
And so, those are kind of the major things that you are involved in now, right?
Manny: Well, we are life members of the McLean County Historical Society.
Margot: Yeah, we still have life memberships and other associations. We do things like that. And when Wesleyan published all the programs and lectures, etcetera they had going for a week, they used to put them in The Pantagraph . Well now it’s electronic you know, and we just don’t get to that information. I guess I could get into Lisa’s. . . Lisa could check and then call me and tell me. You know, there are a lot of lectures there to a lot of the Heartland and theatre companies, Prairie Fire and you know. We go to all the Gilbert and Sullivan things, which is about the most peculiar thing about us that you don‘t know. We’re big, big, big Gilbert and Sullivan people!
And, Manny, what are you doing now? What have you been doing in particular since you retired and when you have a little more time?
Manny: Well, I represent the AIDS Task Force and the Jail Review Committee for McLean County. They wanted someone with a legal background so I’m a member of that. I’m currently the Vice Chair of that committee. Generally we look into what the problems are at the jail. It’s the only jail in McLean County, of course. We run surveys with the prisoners from time to time; yearly or every other year, and get the results and take them up with the Sheriff and also with the Judicial Committee of the County Board. And so I’ve been involved with them since I retired; that’s ten years. We attend meetings every other month and have special meetings or whatever. Then I’m also on the Board of Governors for Washburn University Law School. And so we attend three or four meetings a year in Topeka or Kansas City or Wichita, Kansas. We go to those meetings. They have a lot to do with the Law School and do everything from assisting with the hiring of a new dean and all that sort of thing and then the financial aspect of it that is reviewed by the Board of Governors. So, that takes up some time but there are some good things. We meet a lot of people and have nice banquets and that kind of thing; black ties.
Margot: He even got a tux. He never had a tux before.
Manny: And then I’m also on the Baker University President’s Advisory Board and we have meetings during the year and I attend those. And they update us on what is going on. We find out about the financial status of the university they seek advice from us on some things and what we think. It’s a good thing to keep in touch with Baker University in Kansas which is in Baldwin City, and with Washburn which we have always had close ties with both. Of course, we had all three of our kids, as we probably told you, went to Baker. And then we have two that became lawyers and went to law school also. So, it’s been interesting. And, again, they all communicate by e-mail which they send to me.
I’ve mastered e-mail, but anything else is — forgets it. I hate it when things don’t work.
Margot: That’s what Noëlle says. Now she doesn’t have one at home — she uses the one at work and that’s it.
Manny: Yeah, when I walked away from work I left mine on my desk. And so, we’ve endowed a scholarship fund at Washburn for Mexican-Americans and so it’s beginning to pay off now and they are getting help on scholarships and so forth. And, we had a proviso in that letter of understanding at the university the fact that we didn’t want the money to go to the top students but to the average student that was working his way through law school, but wasn’t necessarily at the top of his class but we just wanted to assist him to get through school and have an opportunity at success in the law school and after that. Because, you know, a lot of the Hispanic or Mexicans-Americans may not necessarily make the top grades when they are going to college because of various things; work and all that other. But, if they can get assistance, they can make it. And if they work hard enough after they get out they can make it too.
I think that is very perceptive on your part.
Margot: Sure it was. You know, Manny’s dad thought it was the silliest thing in the world for him to go on to college.
It’s kind of like — what are you doing that for?
I remember his response was that he could go back and be a gandy dancer in 20-25 years. He could be at the top — be a foreman.
So, was that in your thinking? Or was it just kind of there.
Manny: But I didn’t want to work as a gandy dancer. Now I feel that a lot of the Mexican-Americans that made it and got into law school because they are setting up the test standards and the requirements so high now, that they want the best because they want to improve the law school’s standing and all that. I said, well, surely you are admitting some average students with certain qualifications. And they said, yeah they do, but they are becoming less and less of those because they have plenty of applications.
Margot: Twelve hundred or something this last year.
Manny: And they only accepted 150, I think.
Margot: Didn’t they think that those other batch of kids couldn’t . . .
Manny: And our kids were lucky. They did all right. You know, they got admitted.
Margot: I was a pretty good grant writer too.
Manny: And the other students, for various reasons, they’d see that they are starting to do well at the tail-end of their college careers, or have potential. And so some get admitted, but you know, they are still limited.
Margot: Well, we felt strongly, as time is going on now, even the rest of the country realizes the Mexican-American population will shortly be the majority population and somebody needs to assume spots of leadership as time goes on. Just the demographics of it; this is clearly an area that has serious needs, and so we really felt strongly about that.
And hopefully there are more people like yourselves and other people who need to start thinking in those terms because, yes, the Spanish will be a major force.
Manny: And so, we’re going to do the same thing at Baker University. We are working towards that. And we’ll see how that works out.
Margot: Well, we decided that we had probably gotten old enough that traveling overseas wasn’t, it has never been easy for me, but it had gotten uncomfortable for Manny, let alone the airports and all this other fun stuff; it just turns into a nightmare. But that we would take that money and put it into these projects. We’ve been fortunate, but it wasn’t just all luck. We really did work hard in all of this. Every so often I would say, oh we were so fortunate, we were so lucky.
Manny: The prejudices have all existed, even in a small community. In Independence, for instance, I was the first Mexican-American to play football in high school I may have said this already. I was chosen captain in my senior year. And I was one of the first who went into one of the restaurants and didn’t get kicked out.
Why do you think that happened? Do you have any feeling why?
Well, for one thing, I was already like a junior in high school, and it’s a small community, 15,000. A lot of people were sports people and they knew my name and so forth, and recognizing that some of the people who owned or backed the teams or so forth, and that may have had something to do with it. But pretty soon other people got served and then it wasn’t so bad. But that took a few years, probably right at the end of the war — the big war. Independence was a little ahead of its time. We had black kids going to school because there was no other school for them.
Margot: No separate school.
Manny: And then, early on, like in 1949, black kids were offered a chance to play football with the white folks. You know, the case in Kansas didn’t come through until 1954. You know, Brown v. Board of Education.
Margot: Right there in Topeka, Kansas.
Manny: Now this was in ‘49 when the black kids were included to play football and we had three or four that came out and they were pretty good athletes. But they kept their own basketball team. For some reason they wanted to do that, because there was a Black League in high school in that part of Kansas. But then a year or two later, they dissolved that, and then they began to all play together.
You know, Margot, you said that your family came into the United States region in the 15th Century.
And Manny, your family came up from Mexico —
Margot: 1916, 15, 14 — the revolution had already started.
Manny: Yeah, the revolution was going strong.
Margot, you must have had some interesting thoughts and perceptions in having a family that moved to this area in the 15th Century. And you are really an American, you know. Would you say that your culture is really Mexican or Spanish, what is it?
Manny: They didn’t become American citizens until after the war, the War of 1844, 45, 46.
The Mexican war —
When they accepted them all as citizens.
So, the culture within your family was . . .
Margot: Yeah, well these people, their mothers and fathers, most of them had been in Mexico and probably had been born in Mexico. And then they got all excited about coming north and into New Mexico. They were going to find gold. That was the big thing to happen; started them all off. And then, when that didn’t work out, they could just make a living in different ways. It was the adventuresome people. Who knows why people pick up and go away? I never would because I would have to get in this wagon. No way.
Manny: It just happened in her family.
Margot: Yes, because my dad came from Mexico. He was born in Mexico and they came up earlier. Dad was born in 1908 and my grandmother and grandfather had come up. Probably about 1911 they were in the country. And he had come in because he didn’t like what was going on down there and it was never going to be all right. He got a job with the Santa Fe [Railroad] and he was working up in Ottawa, Illinois. They started up in Ottawa, Illinois. And then eventually the big areas moved down to Kansas City and became a great big railroad center.
Yeah, the railroads were a major factor and there was a lot of Mexican immigration.
We have a friend here in town whose father did that. He unfortunately set up a new family down there too! She was so excited, she never told her brothers.
Did you try to teach your children Spanish?
No, we didn’t really.
And, I may be forgetting something —
No, no, I think we were just on the cusp of that business where they needed to speak English and we didn’t want to confuse the issue which is, you know, classic. But I thought we had spoken enough, and we had pushed Spanish enough, and we had maintained cultural ties to the extent that when the time came, they could pick it up and use it when they were ready to do that. But somehow they continued on in a very Anglo world. You know, the kids in law school and etcetera. Noëlle doesn’t speak it either. But I think she understands a whole lot more. I think she is just concerned about not doing it well enough. They took it in college, all of them did. I think one of Lisa’s minors was Spanish too. So she took it quite a bit. And Noëlle did too. And then Noëlle lived out in Santa Fe for more than 20 years before she came back here. So she knows what’s going on around her, she’s just not going to . . . You know when State Farm became more for the Spanish-speaking people, for the Spanish unit, she said, “Oh no, I’m not going to try to do that because you can lose a lot if your vocabulary is not that good.” You just set yourself up for problems in the cases.
Manny: Lisa had a double major in college, Spanish and History.
Margot: And then Marcos decided finally that he ought to really spend more time with it and so he took, I don’t know, what did he take?
Manny: He took a class in what they call kind of emersion. He immersed himself in Spanish so he understands it. Because he was going practice law in Texas and thought it would be helpful.
Margot: After we were here for 15-20 years, we went down to Cancun for two or three weeks every January or February. And it wasn’t an emersion kind of thing because we spoke it down there all the time. And we went with friends, and they got pretty good at that too. We considered this an emersion.
Manny: It didn’t take long and once you were . . .
Margot: Oh no, once you’re there working with it just . . .
Has the community change since you got here as far as acceptance of Hispanics?
Margot: Oh my, it really has been . . . I don’t know if acceptance . . . if I could even speak to that because the people that have come in now, that everyone has gotten all excited about, they are from an entirely different world. And I think that clearly makes a difference. It makes a difference to them. It makes a difference to anyone working with them and etcetera. When we came here, we already had been to a university, we had kids in school, and Manny was an attorney at State Farm. You know, that just paved a lot of way. Now, it didn’t pave it to the extent where we . . . and we did have friends. But, I don’t know. It was always a little less. It was a little less, let’s put it that way, just a little less. I got involved with things immediately, and that’s when Barbara Dunbar had first been elected to the Symphony Guild Presidency. I went to this luncheon and met Iva Gibson there, and we moved forward with our little silver trays and spent the rest of those years doing all of this stuff together. But Barbara never batted an eye about it. And then pretty soon it was David Davis involved in things, and David never batted an eye about it.
No, he wouldn’t.
He never did. Absolutely not. And so before it was done I had served on boards, I was the president of the Guild, I was president of the McLean County Arts Council. I was secretary for the Art Association. When we moved, I signed the papers for the new building. And there were people who were willing to accept my ability to do things, to move forward with it. Oh, I was able to do a lot more here than I would have ever been able to do if we had stayed in Kansas City. Just because of the size of the community. In Kansas City there were just dozens of other people around to do things. But here in this community this was the time when many of the women were starting to go to work, so they didn’t have as large a pool. It was just on that cusp. We still had a lot of people, but there were fewer.
So that was about when you started to get involved —
Manny: Well, we came in 1973 —
Margot: We came in October of 1973, and by 1974, by Spring that year. . . and I’ve always been grateful . . . when Barbara Dunbar died, I wrote to Bill and said she was a wonderful woman and I owe much of my time and place in this community to her willingness to take me on and to work with me. And of course, the same thing went for David. I loved David! We never had an affair or anything like that, but I loved David.
He was a sweetheart. I know. I loved him too!
He was so fun, and so etcetera and always crazy.
Manny: He was on the Historical Board for quite a while, wasn’t he?
Margot: Right, yeah. So —
He was a fantastic guy. Both David and Barbara were the sort of people that no matter who you were, if they liked you that was all that mattered.
Margot: Yes, he certainly was. She could see and she could take that and use that and work with it and she was willing to do that.
I think too, and I’m going to tie this in with what I’m going to ask Manny — State Farm went through some changes and I’m not sure when they started. They started hiring more minorities at some point. I think that was in the 1970s.
Manny: It was late in the 1960s when they started, and in the early 1970s. That’s when we started hiring because the service centers had opened up. I went to Kansas City to open up service centers in 1969, and then I was free to hire minorities. And I did. I was the only one that did. But that was in ‘69, ‘70 and in through there. You know, for years I could look at the directory of Management and I think there were two of us in the whole country out of thousands. Management and whatever; one in California and one was out in St. Louis, later on in Kansas City, and then back here. So it took a while.
Margot: And they didn’t start bringing people in here until 10, 15 years tops? It hasn’t been any length of time.
Manny: Oh no, not for quite a while. They brought them in for training, but they didn’t start until the late 1990s, the mid-’90s maybe. And maybe even 2000. So, it took a little while. Because it was a struggle for me to even get an interview. I came on board in 1958 at State Farm and that was right out of law school, and so I had everything they needed but . . .
Margot: There is a funny story about that. He went into Kansas City and interviewed with this fellow that was the superintendent in that office, and it went absolutely no place. Never saw or heard from them again. And then. . . How did they hire from the home office? Did they come to the school and interview?
Manny: Yeah, we got in contact. . . I got the name of the personnel man in Lincoln and that’s who I went to.
Margot: Sears, wasn’t it?
Manny: Yeah, he had lived in Bloomington and had been a local boy here. But he had become head of personnel in their regional office in Lincoln. And so, he was more open about it. And so I got a chance for an interview, and I called and sent my application in. I had asked for an application and they sent it, and I completed it. And then I kept waiting for an interview and nothing was happening. I finally called and they said . . .
(End of Side A of 1st Tape for 11/10/11)
Beginning of Side B of 1st Tape for 11/10/11)
Anyway, he was the unit superintendent in Kansas City all this time and I had moved through the ranks and had been a unit superintendent, and now was going to be the divisional superintendent. They had closed that office where he had been and moved him over to the Kansas City area, and he was going to be one of my superintendents under me... I had come to Columbia to be introduced to the team, you know. Instead I was taken all over Kansas and the metro area and so forth. and so we had this conference and so we walked around and shook hands with everybody, and he was introducing me. And he said, “Oh I don’t believe I have met everybody. Does anybody know Manny or have met him?” No one had. And I said, “Wait a minute, Connolly, we had an interview at the New Brotherhood Building about ten years ago and you wouldn’t hire me.” He kind of sobered up and said, “Oh, I don’t remember that.” I said, “Well, that’s all right, I do.” He retired as a superintendent. He was good at his job but he wasn’t going anywhere beyond that.
Margot: Well he was afraid you would. . .
Manny: Yeah, he was always dancing around me and I wasn’t going to . . . I knew what had happened. Yeah, I became his boss and he was still there when I left. I had gotten promoted again.
He probably never figured it out.
Yeah, that was a lot of fun, but he never gave me any trouble.
Did you feel that there was any kind of being treated differently when you first went with State Farm or did you tend not to run into problems?
Oh yeah. In Wichita I started out at the bottom as an adjuster. In those days that was hard work. You met everybody in person and took longhand statements, you didn’t record anything. So you fought a little Civil War battle every time you went into somebody’s house, especially the rednecky part of Wichita.
Margot: Yeah, a lot of red necking. Through the war, a number of people from Oklahoma and Tennessee, and Arkansas, etcetera had come to Wichita because there was a great airplane building area. And so most of them were still there.
Manny: They lived in all these little houses on the south side. They sure didn’t like minorities. But a lot of people were okay, even the attorneys and all that. It wasn’t too bad.
Margot: Well, it is interesting because it can get difficult and complex if there are enough people around you who really don’t want minorities or don’t like some different type of person.
Of course that really attests to your ability to work with different personalities. It helps to ignore a certain amount of things.
Manny: We had a lot of little kinds of challenges in the office there, but I always got along pretty well with the secretaries and everything. I was fair. That was the main thing they were looking for.
You didn’t get them to get coffee and things for you — you never treated them in a demeaning . . .
Margot: Right, right, which you are pretty sensitive to, so they all had a crush on him.
Manny: I had good secretaries and I treated them well. I didn’t ask . . . go get me this or that or anything. I just did it myself. We got along fine. We had great secretaries, some really good ones.
Margot: And you were really intelligent in the people that you picked out too.
It makes a big difference if you are a good judge of people.
Manny: When I first became a superintendent in St. Louis, there were so many jobs in the 1960s, in that area — St. Louis County. Women were now starting to go to work more, and it used to be hard to find secretaries because every unit had to have so many. And there was always a lot of turnover because they got pregnant and decided to stay home and quit and all that. I picked out four secretaries and I kept the same for the whole time. I never had anyone quit. I had no turnover, and of course that always helps. And it was the same thing with the men. I never had to fire anybody. I ran them off sometimes because of their work and they would resign or something. I didn’t have too many of those. I was very happy.
Margot: You did a wonderful job of training people and working with them and bringing out their strengths and cutting down on their weaknesses, etcetera. You always had people who were thrilled to be with you, to work with you — both the lower echelon and the men themselves, etcetera. And some of those people could have been fired or something. And they were fired if they quit doing what Manny wanted them to. You know, they kind of got out on their own a little bit. He was a good teacher. He’s always been a good teacher and leader.
Manny: So, it all worked out.
I am curious about, not so much about racism, but changes socially. I know that State Farm really went through some changes.
Margot: Well, when we came to town, the real estate people had been turned loose on us from State Farm. So, you know, we had that cushion. We didn’t just walk in and say that we are looking for a house and they found us a nice little place over on the “west side,” because that was the general experience. They wanted to be sure that we would get the kids into Unit 5 schools, etcetera, because oh, you don’t want to go to 87 at all — period. They didn’t even make bones about it, which is probably not legal anymore. You know, you don’t want your children to go to Bloomington schools. You know, they have all those other people there. Not just Mexican kids, but little black kids and there just weren’t enough of them to build a high school for them alone. So we had to have that. We don’t want you to go over on the west side. And when the kids were in school, there wasn’t anybody else. Oh no! No black kids over there, not over in Normal. No black kids and no brown kids either. There was one little boy, I think. And as he got older as time went on — I think it was Roque Cordero’s son or grandson. But that was it! There was nobody else. Cordero was at ISU, a composer/director from the Panama National Symphony.
Do you think that your children’s lives are a lot different from what your lives were when you first came here?
Margot: Well, it wasn’t the easiest thing for them, I know that. They got dragged into several school systems. They were already in school when we went to St. Louis, and they were obviously in school when we went to Kansas City. Noëlle was in junior high when we went to Kansas City and Lisa was in sixth grade, and Marcos didn’t care.
Manny: He was in first grade so. . .
Margot: But it obviously wasn’t easy, and I know they have their own stories to tell about that. But, you know, we lived very everyday lives. We did a lot of scouting. I did Girl Scouts clear up until Cadets, until we came here. And so both Lisa and Noëlle were in that. And we did Cub Scouts there in Kansas City. I was so grateful to move here! You haven’t lived until you’ve dealt with eight little boys.
Oh gosh, I can’t imagine.
They were really cute. Mimi and I did Cub Scouts. It was a trip.
Manny: You had fun with the Girl Scouts though?
Margot: Oh yeah, we really did. And we started in St. Louis and then in Kansas City. And I ran the — what’s the name of the camp that we did? Primitive camp — in Kansas City, and even when we lived here we went back on the train to do primitive camping a time or two. I had a Cadet troop, had juniors. We did all that. We went camping and did all this other fun stuff. And Marcos thought it was really great because he got to go. And then when we got here we never thought much about Boy Scouts because they didn’t do as much as the Girl Scouts did. So, we just drifted off from that entirely. I let it go. I didn’t really want to do it again. But they have definite stories. For Lisa, it was always hard to move. She took it really hard. She would just crash and her grades would go crashing with her. But by the second semester, life was better.
It is not easy for them to move.
Noëlle would get herself started in things immediately. She managed drama things, she managed the Speech Club. She just went straight in and did all of this stuff. She moved wonderfully and was a really good sport. She knew it was a terrible thing to be dumped with but she would just get it done and move on. But not Lisa, Lisa just went crashing. And as I say, Marcos was still just a little boy and it didn’t seem to faze him. I mean the family was all together and everything and that was the thing that we stressed. It didn’t really matter what was going on outside, we were a family, and fortunately it was true.
Manny: But Lisa recovered fairly rapidly because before she was out of high school she was on the honor . . . what was that?
Margot: National Honor Society. And she has a batch of friends that she’s still friends with.
Manny: They all were good students.
Margot: Mary Knight, Dr. Knight’s daughter from the junior high school. He was principal over at the Bloomington Junior High. Mary Knight . . . they still are. And Dawn Reardon, who runs the Normal Theatre, was one of those girls. . . I can’t think of the others right now.
Manny: The girl that went to law school with her. . .
Margot: Oh yeah, Jill Dody.
Manny: She lives down the block from us.
Margot: Jill and Lisa even went to law school together for a while.
Manny: They went to Washburn.
Margot: So eventually it came round, and I guess that was the thing — we could promise her that it would come round to a certain extent. I don’t know how we managed it all to tell you the truth, Carol, but we did.
You just moved forward.
Manny: They all have comfortable places to live and all that stuff.
Margot: You know we were active with the band people and we’d bake the cakes for the things and you know, all of this dumb stuff.
Well, that’s all very, very important.
Manny: Lisa and Marcos were in the band all the way through . . . in high school and Baker and so forth.
You have three very productive kids and I’m sure you are proud of them. Now are you hopeful for the Hispanics in this country? How do you feel about all this stuff that’s going on — what do you think? Are we going to go through another probably hundred years of struggling before we become part of the group?
Margot: Well, you know, there are things already that I never thought I would live to see the day.
Margot: Well, just little things. Not just little, little things, but you know. . . Before in this community you couldn’t find a tortilla to save your life, you couldn’t find a can of little green chilies. There were certainly no pinto beans on the shelves. Just that is something.
Manny: That’s true. Look at all the. . .
Margot: And all these people are going there. Everybody goes there now.
Manny: You couldn’t get a taco for nothing. McLean County now has . . . Bloomington-Normal, I think . . . didn’t the paper indicate Latinos at 7700 [residents], and in the previous five years it was only 4800. That’s quite a lot of growth, in spite of the many that are getting carried out because of the immigration.
Margot: I think that has been a great disappointment to many of us because some of us thought, once Obama got in, that there would be less of this hauling people around and taking mothers off and leaving the kids. But instead it has increased! One hates to get involved in too much politics, but I think it has made a difference to the community. And I don‘t know if he can overcome that with the Mexican-American community, because I think that they are all well aware that this has gotten worse instead of better. We had such hopes that it would at least level off. That we would be more . . . because it is a really bad policy when he dumps all these kids on the street literally when they have to go on welfare because mother’s salary isn’t coming in because she got taken away or the father got taken away. It’s disruptive to society itself and it cripples a lot of our citizens! These are our citizens involved in it. And now we’re going to have to live with that crippling and hope that we can get the pain out of it so that they won’t carry it forward in a negative way for the rest of the community. I mean broadly, I don’t mean just in the county. I think it is really shortsighted.
I think it is too.
They could be a lot more effective than what they are doing now. It’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater kind of thing. And I think we’ll all pay a price for that. It’s a disintegration of society and it’s not good for anyone. It is worse even for us because they’ll say, well. . .
Yeah, because their backs are against the wall, so what are they going to do? You can’t get a job, so then what happens.
And, of course, this is a bad time. Many people can’t get jobs, etcetera. And so that’s not good. Though, I think once again, it’s always the best workers.There’s just some kind of an ethic involved in the whole thing that we need to do this to keep our families going, and if I need to pull weeds and do the rest, then let’s get that done.
It’s just that Mexican ethic. They are going to keep working. It’s an interesting thing about Hispanics in general.
Yeah, I think there is a lot more of that there than not.
Which is a blessing.
Yes! Well, we would not have gotten this far.
How do you feel about the future, Manny for Hispanics?
Manny: Well, I think that hopefully we will be able to get some laws changed so that they can clear this mess up with the immigrants, so that they can have some path to become citizens. Just sending them back and making them leave, that’s just not working. I don’t know, if that doesn’t happen we’re going to have the same problems, or worse, I guess, for quite a long time. There’s got to be a way to do that, and you can’t just chase 12 million people out of the country.
Margot: Well, I don’t know, they seem to be working pretty hard at it. There has to be some thought that is put into it. It’s not going to work and they can’t expect people to just evaporate.
They had tomato crops that didn’t get picked. Was that in Alabama or Arkansas?
Manny: Grapes that didn’t get picked and all that other stuff. You know, that’s hard work and you have these southerners that say, well, we don’t want them taking the jobs away from our people. They aren’t taking any jobs away because they aren’t going to work.
Those people aren’t going to do that or want those jobs!
I’m kind of like Manny. When he decided he didn’t want to work on the railroad the rest of his life. He just opted for a white shirt and tie. When I was in junior high in Kansas City, it was a big deal. There were truck gardens around Kansas City on the outskirts a lot, and they would come pick up kids after school and you could get in a good three or four hours of picking. Everyone I knew was doing this, and so I decided well, I could go and do it too. I think it was like 35 cents an hour or something. So I went out. And I have to say that I did it just one time. That was enough. It looked easy but . . . I gave my money to Gloria Reyes, and never went back. And I was lucky because I got a job at the library — in the school library. And then they were looking for someone and I got the job at the Argentine Library. You know, when you think about it now, today would they let a 14 or 15 year old kid run the whole damn library? I don’t think so. And lock it up for the night! It was open until 8 o’clock and away we went. I changed the little rubber numbers on the ends of the pencil for the next day, got the books shelved, and did the rest. We ran into someone. Who was it that had taught at Rosedale, in the Dean’s circle? Okay, then in the summertime, then they had these little satellite libraries.
Manny: Oh, he was the chair of the Board of Governors.
Margot: Argentine had a standing library of its own, but the other libraries and school libraries. I went up for a couple of summers to the Rosedale Library and ran that. We did story hours and stuff like that. It was a full-fledged job. It wasn’t just . . And at that point I was 16 or 17, and the option was picking cherries.
Manny: Once we got married and she had Noëlle, she didn’t work at that. Of all the people that we know, you were the only one that stayed at home. It was lucky that we could afford it.
Margot: We were very frugal, I was frugal. I shopped at Brokaw thrift shop. And what I always thought was funny about that was that I was already on these boards, etcetera. And some of these people were from country clubs and etcetera, and it was their things that were going to Brokaw Thrift Shop on Front Street. So, I’m wearing their things to board meetings. It didn’t bother me a bit.
Another thing — are there any mementos you may have or photographs of anything that you would be willing to let the Museum have copies of or give the Museum anything that would go with your interview that would be of interest?
I don’t have a lot because we were in the flood in Kansas City in 1951 and all of the pictures are gone. So what I have has been put together in the last 55 years from other people . . . my mother would send pictures, and so we do have some.
I think that would be great. We can make copies and give them right back to you.
I’ve been making copies of things because I wanted the kids all to have some of them. Absolutely.
Can you think of anything else that you would like to talk about before we wrap this up?
Manny: One thing that I have always noticed . . . prejudice exists, of course, but it is always for some reason even here that they look down on the poor Mexican that is really dark and is short and all that other stuff. What they call the typical Mexican, you know. I guess that exists more so. My family was lucky because none of my family is short-short or dark-dark. So, I think that made some difference, I think, all the way through. And even now in Mexico this prejudice of looking like Spaniards, [they] do better than those that don’t, the ones that are well-educated or who have had breaks. And so there is a lot of prejudice just about that. It seems impossible, but that does happen.
Margot: Barbara Dunbar and I had a conversation about this once, and she was . . . simply shocked when we went through this little explanation that there were categories and layers, etcetera. And she said, “How can that be, it’s just not possible.” And we said, “Oh yes there can!” Yes, yes, very, very much.
So, in a way your own appearances probably helped you, plus your education?
Manny: Well, I’m the darkest in my family.
Well, you told me that you thought your mother was quite possibly part French?
Well, quite possibly. We don’t know. She was tall and you couldn’t tell that she was Mexican.
Margot: Oh my, no. My goodness, really no.
Manny: Sally . . .
Margot: Sally crossed over. Her name was Kohn. Her son is Mike and he is this big, tall, almost red haired. He just passed over.
Manny: Rachel’s kids, the married ones, they married Anglos. Soledad did too. All of them married.
Margot: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting in a way because it’s like, okay, you’re not gonna pass. And yet, on the other hand, do you want to drop a part of yourself? Well, now, I understand that because my mother had two sisters, there were the three girls, and they had crossed over. Aunt Josie had finally married a fellow in the First World War and when he came back they lived in Utah and the Mormons killed him. They had water on their place and they wanted that water. And then she took up with Arnold. I think he was the last one. And so her son, my cousin that was killed in the war, was just as Anglo as Anglo could be. And then Aunt Lucy married. This fellow’s name was Irwin and his family had come from the South and had a plantation and the whole thing. And they had this one daughter, and I have pictures. You ought to see them. She was just as blonde as blonde could be; blue eyed and the whole song and dance. She was always envious of my tan. Still I can’t blame her. If you are Mexican, dress as you are. Yes, I understand that portion of it. And my mother was darker than the other two girls. They always thought that. They lived out in California and we would go out to visit them and it was pretty good. But it was always kind of still there for her. And that included me too. My grandmother loved Lucetta. She wasn’t real fond of me.
Do you feel, either one of you, that there is any Indian culture that affects your life that came down through the families?
Margot: Well, I have always thought that there had to have been Pueblo Indians, the New Mexico Indians, not the Mexican Indians because they seemed so far away. Yeah, as far as I was concerned, the food, everything. When they opened up a restaurant at the Indian Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I went in and ate and it was like going to my grandmother’s house. And I didn’t know that. To me that was really, really special. And my little grandmother from my dad’s mother, I think she was an Opata Indian. She just had that look.
Manny: But that’s from Mexico.
Margot: Yeah, I think we do. We’ve made an effort to maintain cultural ties. I’m well versed. Anytime you want to discuss the Mexican Revolution, I have serious interest in that. I have serious libraries on the Mexican War, because relatives came in and out of that. I have Mexican War information to most of the books available. Yeah, we really do and we’ve kept things. And I think that was one thing . . . we didn’t talk about that. But when Manny and I found each other at Baker, I knew I’d never find somebody else that was a college man that was Mexican. In his family it was kind of different, because his dad worked at the cement plant. My father was a professor and blah, blah. But I knew we had things together that we would never find with anyone else. That we could tie together. I mean how many other people. . . I didn’t know anyone else at Baker, and there wasn’t anyone else at the law school either. Manny was the first Mexican-American that graduated from Washburn Law School. So, to me, I knew that I really wanted to do that because I had numerous cousins, etcetera, who had married Anglo people. I don’t know. It just meant something to me.
Manny: Well, I don’t know. My little grandmother, my mother’s mother, she looked Indian and she was a tiny little person. She was very dark and very small, nothing like my mother. You couldn’t tell that they were related. But my mother brought her over from Mexico and she died here in the U.S. But she had to be some Indian. I don’t know any of her background —
Margot: No we don’t have anything. I have paperwork on the rest of them.
Manny: But I really don’t know anything about my dad’s side of the family except that he was born in Mexico City, and had married an Indian woman or an Indian background woman, and he couldn’t stay in Mexico City.
Margot: His family rejected that.
Manny: And so, he had to leave. His father died within a year or two after my dad was born and so we never knew any more about his family.
So, you didn’t have a feeling of the Indian culture?
Margot: Not really. I at least have gone looking for it in the background and in the reading and etcetera; because you know it’s there.
(End of Side B)
Tape 2, sides A and B
Manny: I’ve been to Mexico City.
Margot: As a kid and then State Farm.
Manny: No, not as a kid, working for State Farm. As a kid we traveled to Mexico a couple of times when I was growing up — the northern part, Monterey, and then south towards San Juan de los Lagos, Guadalajara, and all those places. We drove.
Would your family just go down there or just you went down there?
Well, the first time I was down there my mother , my youngest sister and I went down to visit some churches, and see her mother who was still in Durango and her father, and an uncle and they lived outside of Durango. And then we went down to San Juan, which was quite a distance south. And as a second time, we went as a family after the war like in 1945, just after the war in ‘45 or ‘46. We were there just a week, I think. Just went down, had to visit the relatives, and went back up. That was a lot of driving, all the way from Independence. My dad only had so much vacation. I don’t know if we were gone two weeks or not, but it seemed like it. And we drove day and night to get to where we were going. And in the summer it was very hot. No air conditioning in the car. All of us stuck in one car. Fortunately I got to drive so I had a little more room. Yeah, that was what was sad about my dad’s family. They lived in Mexico City, but I didn’t know anything about them. Supposedly they were well off. And the Indian girl worked in the household. And that’s all . . . he ran off with her . . . the grandfather . . . that‘s all we know about it.
I wonder if it was a tradition not to talk about it.
Margot: Oh, I think that is so. Embarrassing, you know. Good families didn’t want to talk about it.
Manny: Even in Mexico, as you probably know, there are a lot of prejudices among the Mexicans — the ones with the Indian background and how they looked (shorter and all that stuff) as opposed to those who had the European influence and ancestry (those that are taller and lighter and all that other stuff). And so, they don’t mix very well, even now.
Manny: If she saw my mother, nobody would believe that I am her son.
Well, you are very light-skinned.
She didn’t look Mexican and she was tall with broad shoulders.
Do you know what her heritage was? Was she Spanish maybe?
There was some thought that there was some French, because you know the French were there for a long time. My grandfather on my other side, he was kind of a tall, very light-skinned, and not heavy.
Margot: We have a great picture of him.
Manny: So he didn’t look Mexican either, but my little grandmother did. She was short and dark.
Margot: Better known as the little grandmother.
Manny: So my mother must have taken more from her father than her mother. You saw all our kids, didn’t you? So Marcos and Lisa are pretty light-skinned. Noëlle is a little tanner. I didn’t know if you recognized Lisa. Well, my whole family was lighter . . . the only one that was darker was Rachel. The rest of them were light. . . Gilbert was real light and he could have passed for whatever, and Sally . . .
Margot: Sally crossed over years ago. She married this tall, blonde guy. His name was Cohen, Ray Cohen. They had one kid, a son.
Manny: My sister Rachel was the only one that had about the same tan as Noëlle has.
Margot: Your dad used to call her his little Mexican.
Manny: Yeah, she looks like me but my dad really wasn’t . . . he had worked out in the sun for so long, he was tanned more . . . they always made fun. And my dad would get mad. He says, “Oh, what are you talking about? You married a white woman. I saw you out . . .” He would really get roused up. I thought that was funny. Where were we? We were just talking about my work history, I guess.
I think we finished talking about law school pretty much and you went to work for State Farm right away?
Yes, in those days they were recruiting at the law school, and I had applied. There were various insurance companies that had come to the law school, as did the Armed Forces and the F.B.I. Margot thought that the military might be all right, but I didn’t. . . In those days you came out of law school and if you went into the service or whatever, especially since I had experience, I’d go in as a captain. But also you didn’t know where you were going to wind up and so forth. We had one child already, and the F.B.I. was recruiting heavily and they wanted lawyers. They were only hiring accountants and lawyers. Again, that was at a time when they moved you all over the country. And so there were some insurance companies. I applied to another insurance company and they came down and interviewed me. I didn’t get the job though. Some other kid from Independence got the job who didn’t even have a law degree. He was a high school graduate and he had a college degree. He got the job with Preferred Risk in Colorado Springs. I thought I’d like to go there.
Margot: It seemed like a nice place to go.
Manny: I had already been there with the Army and all that. I thought, yeah, it’s real pleasant out there. But, I didn’t get the job, he got it. And I ran into him later in Wichita and he wasn’t happy and he wanted to come and work for State Farm. But they wouldn’t hire him. So that was funny. So I applied to State Farm and then I didn’t hear anything, and we kept waiting around and it seemed like now it was close to a month and I finally called them. I got a number from a local agent and called the regional office in Lincoln, Nebraska, and I said, “What‘s happening? I applied and I haven’t gotten a rejection and I haven‘t gotten an answer.” And he says, “Well, you know, you’re still on our books. I think what we want to do is interview you.” I said, “Oh, where, here in Topeka?” “Oh, no, you’ll have to come up here.” I said, “I can’t afford to go up there.” “Well, don’t worry about it; we’ll reimburse you for your mileage and hotel.” I said, “Well, I’ve got a wife and a little child.” “Well, bring them along.” So, off we went . . . up to Lincoln and stayed overnight and then came back to Topeka. Anyway, they did interview me and eventually, a little bit later, they hired me. So I interviewed with a guy who I later worked for him in Wichita. He had the area. And then I ran into him again in Bloomington. He was still working for the company and helped get me . . . he recommended me for a promotion and into Bloomington. He had always been impressed with me. So, he liked me.
Margot: Yes, he did.
Manny: So I went to work for them there. I spent a month in Lincoln getting oriented and all that. They eventually sent me down to Wichita and we had to move, which wasn’t easy because we didn’t have any money. We didn’t have much furniture to move anyway. We kept renting property that had things in it. And then I got sick. I think I finally wore down.
Margot: Yes, that was at the end of law school.
Manny: I got pneumonia. And so I was kind of sick after I went up for the interview, and I was having a hard time there trying to recover. Then they okayed everything and I . . .
Margot: That’s when Jerry Foster had taken Noëlle to take care of her, because you were sick and . . .
Manny: You were sick and I was sick. So, we went down to Independence to my hometown to see about borrowing money so we could rent a house until payday, so to speak. And we bought some furniture. My dad didn’t give me any money, of course, but he sent me over to the bank and introduced me to the banker there in Independence. And he knew me and knew about me and he said, “How much money do you need?” I said, “Well, I need to buy some things and then move and have enough for the first month to get by on.” He said, “Well, tell me how much you need.” And so, we borrowed $400 from the bank there and we bought furniture. I think we bought a refrigerator, a stove, a divan, a chair, some bedding, and whatever.
Margot: The Gambles Store, down in Independence, they had used furniture too.
Manny: And we rented a trailer and got some help from my brother and nephew and they both helped. And we hauled it to Wichita, and we located a house and rented it that same day, and moved in. We drove 120 miles to Wichita from Independence and we got there, rented a house, got unloaded . . . God, we were lucky!
Margot: Well Manny, after law school in trying to get a job, he went to Kansas City and interviewed with the guy that was the superintendent in Kansas City, Connolly. And he said, no, no, we don’t need. . . Manny said, okay. And then after that an offer came from Lincoln, Nebraska, to come up and be interviewed, etcetera. Well, when Manny came back to Kansas City, Connolly is there working for him.
Manny: Yeah, he was still the same rank and I had bypassed everybody and I turned out to be his boss. Yeah, we opened up service centers and did all that kind of stuff. I was the organizer of all that in Kansas City and he ended up working for me as one of my management persons.
Margot: And it made him very nervous.
Manny: Yes, it did. I do remember being in the conference room and the manager who was over the whole division had taken me up there to introduce me to the management that was going to work for me. We had this conference room in this service center, and he was introducing me around and I went around shaking hands with all the management staff. And I said, “Oh, you’re Connolly?” And he said, “I’ve been here in Kansas City, I used to be. . .” He starts telling me all the offices, and I said, “I know.” And he said, “You do?” And I said, “I remember you well because you’re the guy that turned me down and wouldn’t give me a job.” And he said, “Oh, I - I - I don’t think . . . I don’t remember that.” I thought that was funny. I never did give him fits. He turned out to be a pretty good guy. He did whatever I wanted him to do and got the job done. And he was older. But anyway, it worked out all right. I didn‘t take it out on him. That really was something.
Margot: It was fun!
Manny: Yeah, ten years later, I was his boss.
-End of Interview -