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Voces Oral History Project Interview with Arnoldo Cantu, Jr.

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0:00 - Interview Preamble

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Segment Synopsis: Introduction to the interview with Judge Arnoldo Cantu, Jr.

Keywords: Brownsville, TX; Latino

Subjects: University of Texas at Austin

0:58 - Growing up in San Juan

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Partial Transcript: "San Juan was a small town. When I was growing up, it was maybe 2,600 to 2,800 population. Small town ... you ... everybody knew you or knew of you. It was a very low-key growing up environment for me."

Segment Synopsis: Growing up in the Valley was fairly segregated. The railroad tracks were a dividing line. But people didn't think of it as segregated. It was more of a way of life.

Keywords: Anglo community; Anglos; Latino; Rio Grande Valley; San Juan,TX

Subjects: Childhood; Youth

4:02 - Family background

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Partial Transcript: "My dad was the youngest of eight children. He was born in 1923 and he was the only son that was born on this side of the [Rio Grande] river. His older sister, my aunt, would tell me stories about how they crossed the river in a cart being pulled by an ox and that's how they came to Texas."

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Cantu talks about his family background starting from how his grandparents crossed from Mexico into the United States.

Keywords: Border; Rio Grande Valley; San Juan, TX

Subjects: Immigration

6:57 - High School experience/Family/Going to College

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Partial Transcript: "High school was again a good experience. You made friends with everybody, and like everybody else, the friends you made in high school are still your friends. I see some of them every once in awhile. And I can't say anything negative about my high school experience. It was a good one. My teachers were great. They tried hard to teach me and everybody was a friend. It was a good time."

Segment Synopsis: Cantu had positive high school experiences. He and his brothers and sisters had to seek out the college opportunities that existed in the Rio Grande Valley.

Keywords: Family; Rio Grande Valley; San Juan, TX

Subjects: Higher education; University of Texas- Pan American

10:42 - Being an educator/Leaving the Valley/Attending Reynaldo Garza Law School

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Partial Transcript: "I taught school in San Juan. I taught at a school that was actually walking distance from my home. Sometimes I would walk to work because it was, you know, not too far away. And about … I guess it was about five years after I started teaching. I had gotten married my third year of teaching."

Segment Synopsis: Cantu worked an elementary school teacher. While he was teaching, his wife had their first child and he decided to take a higher-paying job in construction. That would lead him and his family to move out of the Valley for his work. While in North Carolina, he still subscribed to the Brownsville Herald and read an ad for the the Reynaldo Garza Law School. He decided to return to the Valley to go to the school.

Keywords: Brownsville, TX; North Carolina; Reynaldo Garza Law School; San Juan, TX; Teaching; Waco,TX

Subjects: Higher education; Postsecondary education; University of Texas- Pan American

33:47 - State allows Reynaldo Garza Law School students to take Bar Exam

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Partial Transcript: "So they [Texas Supreme Court] sent the representative from character and fitness to get the forms filled out by each student and then they let the school know that … the next two years whoever graduated in the next two years would be given a waiver and be able to take the bar. The school took that and that summer … okay, that year, they had the first year of graduates. They all got to take the bar. That summer, they offered classes so that you could accelerate. I was scheduled to graduate the following May, which I would I would have still been in the waiver to take the bar exam but I wanted to get done."

Segment Synopsis: Cantu had to persevere through challenges in order to take the bar exam. He persisted when some others did not.

Keywords: Bar Exam; Edinburg, TX; Reynaldo Garza Law School

Subjects: Higher education and state

38:50 - Routine and experience at Reynaldo Garza Law School

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Partial Transcript: "And I remember getting it down to a routine. School was Monday through Thursday at night. Friday evening was Peter Piper night for my kids. And we would take them to Peter Piper and they would play and have a good time. Saturday morning, I would be up by 6:30, 7 o'clock. Get the lawn mower going, do the yard, clean up. By 8 o'clock I'm by the dining room table with my books, briefing my cases."

Segment Synopsis: During law school, Cantu developed a routine of being a father, husband, and student. He took note of the way his professors worked at the school and in the community at the time.

Keywords: Edinburg,TX; Peter Piper; Reynaldo Garza Law School

43:05 - LULAC v. Richards and lack of resources

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Partial Transcript: "I think … maybe the timing wasn't there. We were lacking in higher education opportunities in South Texas. I mean we were underserved and we kept trying to bring that up. We kept trying to make that known and I think MALDEF got involved with us trying to push it."

Segment Synopsis: The Reynaldo Garza Law failed to get accredited. Cantu realized that the lack of resources in the Valley continued to push many people to head north in order to pursue their ambitions of improving their circumstances.

Keywords: Reynaldo Garza Law School; Rio Grande Valley; the Valley

Subjects: Higher Education; LULAC; MALDEF; Public universities and colleges

46:13 - Reynaldo Garza Law School classmates

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Partial Transcript: "My classmates [at Reynaldo Garza Law School]? I see them at the courthouse all the time. My dad had been involved in education most of his adult life. The dean made it known that he needed some board members and I suggested my dad."

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Cantu talks about the relationships with former classmates, his father's involvement on the Garza Law School Regent's Board, and why some students left the school.

Keywords: Courthouse; Graduating; Reynaldo Garza Law School

Subjects: High education institutions

49:14 - Closing Reynaldo Garza Law School/Demographics

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Partial Transcript: "The school just didn't shut the doors and go away after the class graduated. It stayed on, it kept trying, it kept pushing. I wanna say that there was another class that was given a waiver and the school kept trying to make it happen and trying to get the accreditation but the funding—key word funding—wasn't there."

Segment Synopsis: The Garza Law School eventually closed its doors. In Cantu's opinion, a contributing factor was the fact that the business community in the Valley did not offer a sufficient level of support and backing for the law school. The school had offered a path for a diverse population of students to study law.

Keywords: Anglos; Funding; Reynaldo Garza Law School; Rio Grande Valley

Subjects: Public Universities and colleges

53:14 - Garza Graduates

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Partial Transcript: "Yeah we're still friends. And I've noticed we have at the county court level, not just the Garza grads, but I think the Garza grads … [Hidaldo County] Court 1 we have Judge Rudy Gonzalez, [Hidaldo County] Court 2 we have Judge Jay Palacios, [Hidaldo County] Court 3 is a probate court, not a county court, Court 4 we have Fred Garza, and Court 5 is Arnoldo Cantu."

Segment Synopsis: The judges in the Hidalgo County court system include a strong representation of Reynaldo Garza Law School graduates. The Garza grads comprise a network of friends and professional colleagues.

Keywords: Judges; Reynaldo Garza Law School; Rio Grande Valley

Subjects: Hispanics

55:19 - Passing the bar/educational opportunities/family's education

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Partial Transcript: "I graduated … when I was waiting for my bar results I was clerking for a small firm in Edinburg. When the bar results came in, the small firm at that time couldn't offer me what I could get at the district attorney's office, and I became an assistant district attorney in Hidalgo County."

Segment Synopsis: After passing the bar exam, Cantu transitioned into his new status as a licensed attorney and a new job. Today, more education opportunities exist than during his youth. He and members of his family all got degrees thanks to their parents, who constantly pushed them to get a good education. His father discouraged him from going into the military during the Vietnam War; he was not drafted.

Keywords: Air Force; Army; Lawyers; U.S. Army; Vietnam War

Subjects: Higher Education; University of Texas-Pan American

69:03 - Working for the community/Pushing for education/Motivation of working

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Partial Transcript: "I have tried to redirect thousands of young people. And what I mean by redirecting, I see where they’re losing their grip. They wanna hang out with their little friends, they wanna have a good time. They drop out of school, they get into this rut of hanging out with their little friends ‘til 2 or 3 in the morning and then they come home to grandma’s house because they’re living with grandma or mom’s house because they’re living with mom, and they sleep all day long, get up in the afternoon, eat something and find their friends to hang out ‘til 2 or 3 in the morning."

Segment Synopsis: Among Cantu's goals in the course of his work as a judge is giving young people a second chance at education. He asserts that parents are the biggest pushers for young kids today and that proper motivation can lead to success.

Keywords: GED; Hidalgo County; Judges; the Valley

Subjects: GED; General Equivalency Diploma; Higher Education and State; Higher education providers

78:03 - Conclusion/Why he accepted the interview request

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Partial Transcript: "I accepted the interview for this project because I think it's important that we know what things were like, that we remember what things were like, and keep moving forward to improve educational opportunities. Not just in South Texas, but in the entire state."

Segment Synopsis: Mr. Cantu talks about his children and the importance of education and why he did the Voces Oral History Project, along with his final remarks.

Keywords: South Texas Border Initiative; Voces

Subjects: Higher Education; Higher Education Providers