Date: July 22, 2006
Interviewers: Jason Siska
Note: Questions are in bold italic
The date and place of your birth?
June 20, 1971 in Normal, Illinois.
Who are your parents?
Elidia Miller and Melchor Garcia.
Were they both from here?
My mother was from south Texas and my father is from Mexico but I’m not sure what part, he was never really a part of my life. I just know he was from Mexico.
Your ethnic background?
Are you first generation American?
My mother was from South Texas so she was a citizen and her parents, my grandparents, were from Mexico so that makes me second generation.
Some of the occupations you’ve held throughout your life?
I’ve been at Illinois State University as a building service worker for thirteen years. I started there when I was twenty-one years old.
Your current level of education?
I am currently enrolled at Illinois State University and I am a senior.
In what field?
You mentioned your mother was from Texas and your grandparents from Mexico, what are some of the factors that led them to decide to come to the U.S.?
As far as my grandparents, I don’t really know. Probably work. I don’t really know why they came her but I know they had been here a while.
And your mother was from Texas, what did she do down there?
She was a migrant worker and she just went all over the country. The Midwest, California, where ever the seasons provided work.
What influenced her decision to move to the Bloomington/Normal?
Her brother moved up here first and got into the construction business. He was like the base up here and one by one we all started coming up here getting jobs.
Growing up as a Mexican/American did you face any hardships or problems due to your ethnicity?
I don’t know if it was due to my ethnicity it was more of a class thing, cause it was just a single parent household so it was kinda hard in the 80's with the Reaganomics. My mom had a decent job at a meat packing company that kind of got locked out so in the mid-eighties we kind of had some hard times financially.
So you never felt like you were hindered or looked at differently?
I never really noticed it, there were little comments here and there but it was something I never really noticed.
So it was never a problem?
What about in the job marketplace, since you started working with ISU at 21 did you ever feel like your ethnicity hindered your ability workplace?
The only thing I kinda thought, but it probably wasn’t, was to get promotions to where I’m at right now. I’ve been trying to get a foreman position for a while and there are no Mexican/American foremen in my particular division. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, I kind of do, but I don’t really want to say for sure.
You mentioned before that your girlfriend is African-American and you have two kids. Having both the African-American and the Mexican-American, what are some of the ways you both try to preserve your cultural heritage?
Just being around our family members to let them know what “we” do. I personally, ever since I was a little kid was interested in African-American culture, I always read books about different people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King so when we had our first daughter it was very, well she didn’t come out very dark. When you look at her she looks like she is Mexican, so I put it upon myself to emphasize that she is African-American and to be proud of that. And also to educate her about what is happening with her people, with her mother’s people, and at the same time, educating her about her Mexican heritage.
Do you encourage them to be bilingual?
I really encourage it. I speak it, but I don’t really speak it at all around the house. I probably should, I try to teach them a little bit. It’s just easier to talk to them in English since they don’t understand what I’m saying since I don’t speak it enough around the house they don’t really pick up on it so well.
Any other beliefs or cultural values that you try to encourage or that they learn from their grandparents?
They learn to cook tacos, empanadas, or tamales. Her mother, some people call it soul food I guess but it’s not... well just kind of a stereotype is that she makes fried chicken. Basically we just eat everything.
Do you all have close ties with the family and the community?
Oh yea, that’s pretty much the only people we hang around with is our family and close friends.
What are some of the challenges you face raising biracial children in a primarily white area?
I really haven’t noticed too much about it. I guess I just kind of walk around with blinders on. But, their mother notices it. Just different looks, like when their mother and I are out together out with the kids some people are like “what are they doing together?” Just kinda stuff like that, nothing blatant or anything.
Nothing hurtful or anything coming home from school?
They’ve had questions. My daughter is in third grade going into fourth and this year she came home with questions about “well my friends are saying that I’m not Mexican because my mom’s black” and we’ve had to explain that you’re both. That’s pretty much the extent of it. Nothing too terrible.
What are some of your thoughts on the Hispanic community?
It’s pretty big, I don’t know what the percentage is but it’s grown a lot in the past ten years. I mean ten years ago I’d say I knew most everybody. Now, I know the people I knew growing up with but there are a lot of people I don’t know.
So the old community that you know, you guys are real close?
Yea, we see each other once in a while and still talk.
Do you think that new people that come in aren’t as close with the community?
No, just the opposite. If anything they are more. They try to get involved and reach out.
I know I’ve seen you speak at some of the events around the town, how have you gotten involved in these events?
I was inspired about what was going on around the country and just decided to do something. It was something I always talked about, whether it was about the sixties and the antiwar movement and how I wished I grew up in that era it was always something I wanted to do. I saw this coming up and I was talking to my girlfriend about it and she just like “do something, you’re always talking about it... do it.” I just did it, I didn’t know what I was doing, I just went for it and it turned out pretty well after all.
Was that pretty easy do you think, you know its easy talking about it but...
I was surprised at the amount of work it took to get that going. It was all day long, when I was at work all my breaks and lunch time were spent taking phone calls, setting up meetings, writing up plans. It took a lot of work.
Which events have you been involved in?
I organized the April 10 rally (downtown Bloomington) and the May 1 rally (Miller Park).
Well, thank you for your time and if you have any other topics you would liked to touch on such assimilation versus acculturation, if you feel that the Hispanic community here is being pressed to lose some of their Hispanic culture to assimilate to the white culture?
I don’t know if that is necessarily happening right now but I think that with everything that is going on around the country with different state governments and what their passing I think it’s being more and more pushed that way. Whether or not that is happening here in Illinois, I don’t know, I haven’t heard anything yet, but I know around the country it is.
If you don’t mind, if we could talk about some of the issues surrounding our immigration policy and some of your views on that?
Yea, that’s all right. I think we should have open boarders for open trade. I mean as far as NAFTA and all the U.S. corporations that have moved down there and have taken the indigenous people off their land. Next year its coming up that Chiapas(the most southern state of Mexico) is going to be added to the agriculture part of NAFTA. It’s primarily just indigenous people who have always owned their own farm land. In 2007 NAFTA is going to be taking over their farm land. So all these people that are working their own farm land and sustaining their lively hood through that, so they have got no choice but to go to the city, Mexico City. If they can’t find work there they will be migrating further north to the United States. It’s a vicious circle and with the stricter immigration policies they will not have any options really. Yea, the Mexican government is corrupt and they need to fix a lot of stuff down there but a lot of the U.S. corporations have a lot of pressure on the political side down there. So, until we get that fixed I think we should have open borders. People from Latin American coming back and forth, I mean if you have open trade you should have open borders.
So you would ideally want America to play a strong role in rebuilding the Mexican economy? Instead of us trying to keep immigrants from coming here maybe we should focus our resources towards rebuilding the Mexican economy?
Yea, that’s really only way you can curb the immigration. People don’t want to leave their homeland; I mean that home, that’s where they want to stay. But, if you’ve got no other options and you gotta feed your children, everybody wants a better life for their children so that’s what it’s really all about. And until we focus on rebuilding, not just Mexico but the whole Latin American infrastructure as far as their economy and giving the people the money they deserve and bringing the standard of living up to what it is in the United States. Yea, we’d probably have to pay more money in the long run for products here in the United States but it would end the turmoil. The political corruption, all the killings, the drug trade. If people have good jobs and can support their families they have no reason to do that stuff. It’s something that’s not going to be easy to do; we’ll have to cut down on American greed. We’ve exploited these countries of Latin America for over a hundred years. All of these countries have huge natural resources and should be just as wealthy as we are. Until the people realize in the United States, I don’t know if there’s going to be a change but that would be the ideal situation that I would like to see.
Well, thank you for your time and we can only hope for the best.