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Voces Oral History Project with Diana Fernandez

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0:38 - Preamble -- Introductions 0:41 - Growing up in Corpus Christi/Parent’s education/Fernandez’s Catholic school experience

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Segment Synopsis: Diana Fernandez was born in 1950 in Corpus Christi, Texas, to Raul Gutierrez and Beatriz Campos. She grew up in a newly developed, integrated neighbored designed to serve people working at the Navy base. The local Catholic Church, Christ the King, functioned as the central hub of the community. Most of the children that resided in the area went to Christ the King Elementary School or the public school, Travis. Fernandez says it was wonderful place to grow up in. She still remains in contact with people from the neighborhood to this day.

Her father, Raul Gutierrez, graduated from high school in Robstown, located 21 minutes away from Corpus. During World War II he worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Later in his life he worked for the Texas Mexican Railroad. Her mother, Beatriz Campos, was pulled out of school in the ninth grade to work for the family panadería. Beatriz was a homemaker. Her mother did not have any formal education but her awareness of injustices would later influence Fernandez. They attained a middle-class lifestyle by working hard.

Pursuing higher education was not a continuous topic of discussion in Fernandez’s household but it was expected of her and her two sisters, Norma San Miguel and Rosana Garza. Most of her cousins from her dad's and mom’s sides pursued higher education. Fernandez mentions a story her father’s sister shared with her regarding the discrimination her father faced in school. He was valedictorian but was not given the award because during this time Mexicans did not receive those types of awards. Her mother, before being pulled out of high school, attended Cheston Heath High School. It was considered "the Mexican school." Schools during that time were very segregated in Corpus Christi.

Fernandez’s parents made sacrifices in order to send their children to Catholic school. She attended Incarnate Word Academy from ninth to twelfth grade. It was an all-girls school. “I remember Incarnate Word because it was a little more expensive and it was little further away. After school we would clean the chalkboards and do other jobs around to help defray the cost of tuition.”

Keywords: Corpus Christi, TX; Incarnate Word Academy; United States

Subjects: Catholic Church; Childhood; Desegregation in education; Higher education; Mexican Americans -- Segregation; School desegregation; youth

9:36 - Demographics of Incarnate Ward Academy/Transition from Del Mar to Texas A&I

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Segment Synopsis: Living in an integrated neighborhood allowed Fernandez to also experience that same integration in the classroom at Incarnate Word Academy. The all-girl school included students from nearby cities. Fernandez says having integrated schools is something that is still difficult to implement due to redlining and economic segregation.

She received a great education from her teachers, mostly nuns. After graduating from Incarnate Word Academy in 1968, Fernandez went on to pursue higher education. She attended Del Mar Community College for two years in Corpus Christi and would finish in 1970 with an associate’s degree. After attending Del Mar, she enrolled at Texas A&I and graduated in 1974 with a master’s in government and history. She says that, after attending Del Mar, at the time, there was no place to go. In the early '70s, for people who did not have the option to move farther away, the best and closest option was Texas A&I. The Baptist college in Corpus would later become Corpus Christi State University until eventually becoming Texas A&M Corpus Christi.

Fernandez would use the bus system to get to the Texas A&I campus. After a while she got to know her fellow bus-riders. During these long rides, she would have conversations on politics and other topics.

Texas A&I would become a way for Fernandez to learn about her identity and history. Del Mar was not as focused on Mexican American culture in the way Texas A&I was. Professors such as Dr. Stanley Bittinger and Dr. Ward influenced her in the formation of her identity while at Texas A&I.

Keywords: Community college; Corpus Christi, TX; Kingsville, TX; Mexican American neighborhood

Subjects: Catholic Church; Corpus Christi State University; Education -- Integration; Higher education; Texas A & I University

20:26 - Pursuing higher education away from home/Fernandez’s relationship with Spanish

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Segment Synopsis: Given the freedom to pursue higher education, if the distance had not been a factor, Fernandez’s first choice would have been UT Austin. She attended Texas A&I because of her financial situation and her parents' expectation that she would stay close to home. Both her sisters attended the same schools but remained in Corpus Christi. Fernandez currently resides in San Antonio, Texas.

Fernandez mentions that Kingsville allowed for her to have interactions with professors and students that she could not have had at Del Mar. After graduating with her master’s in government and history from Texas A&I in 1974, Fernandez went into city planning for the City of Corpus Christi.

Fernandez belonged to a variety of organizations. She did activities alongside the Raza Unida Party when it was active and marched with the United Farmworkers' Union to the capitol in Austin. She also belonged to a musical group, the Abbey Singers. It was organized by Leonardo Carillo, who eventually became head of the Mexican American Studies program at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. The Abbey singers sang both Spanish and English songs.

Fernandez’s relationship with Spanish was affected by her parent’s experiences growing up during World War II. Her parents’ idea of success for their children correlated with speaking English. Both her parents spoke to each other and to their children in Spanish; however, Fernandez and her two sisters were required to respond back in English.

Keywords: Community college; Corpus Christi, TX; Kingsville, TX

Subjects: Chicano movement; College students – Education; Farm workers; Farmworkers; Higher education; Spanish language -- Usage; Texas A & I University; University of Texas at Austin

29:01 - United Farmworkers' March to Austin/Isolation of South Texas/Fernandez’ experience with discrimination

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Segment Synopsis: Fernandez marched alongside the United Farmworkers' Union during the mid-70s to lobby for minimum wage at the capitol in Austin. It was part of the culture during the time to be involved in politics. Fernandez says Texas was mirroring the movement in California; however, gaining a response and organizing in Texas was difficult compared to California due to the size of Texas. Fernandez says that there was an urge to participate in the march because people living in South Texas had not been as active in other issues that were important to them.

The geographical location of South Texas has played a role in the region feeling abandoned from the mainstream. She says a lot of people don’t know what South Texas is.

Texas A&I remained a center of political activity during that time. Alongside Nestor Rodriguez, a Texas A&I classmate, Fernandez worked with migrant teachers while they were pursuing higher education in Kingsville. To this day she is still involved with social justice work through film and photography. She is currently involved with the Esperanza Center in San Antonio, Texas.

While Fernandez was growing up in Corpus Christi, the population was predominantly Anglo; African Americans made up less than 12 percent of the area's population. Discrimination was evident. Fernandez remembers when her parents told her about a time they experienced discrimination from a real estate agent while searching for a house. The real estate agent compared Mexicans to cockroaches during their conversation.

Keywords: Anglos; Community college; Corpus Christi, TX

Subjects: Chicano movement; Farm workers; Farmworkers; Spanish language -- Usage; Texas A & I University

42:02 - Career

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Segment Synopsis: During her time at Texas A&I Fernandez says she felt like there were many opportunities for students after they graduated from college, such as the Community Renewal Program, a government program, she participated in that would lead her to become a city planner for the City of Corpus.

After leaving city planning, she would then get involved in education as a history teacher in Corpus. She would eventually do administration work in both Corpus Christi Independent School District and Portland School District in Oregon. Professors from Del Mar and Texas A&I such as Dr. Stanley Bittinger would influence her as an educator.

Identifying as Chicana or Mexican American is preferred more than Hispanic for Fernandez. She says going by those terms not only identifies her but her geographical location as well.

Keywords: Corpus Christi, TX; Kingsville, TX

Subjects: Higher education; Texas A & I University

65:46 - Segregation of Mexican Americans in Corpus/ Disparity in Corpus

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Segment Synopsis: Corpus Christi, when Fernandez was growing up, was predominantly Anglo. Middle-class Mexican Americans and those striving to be middle-class started developing social clubs and other cultural organizations that would mirror the Anglo community. The Mr. and Mrs. Social Club would be created by the Mexican Americans in Corpus to mirror the Junior League. She says it was not political but rather about community.

Fernandez says to this day Corpus has remained a resort community dependent on the service industry. Not having a four-year university in Corpus during that time pushed people to move away from Corpus. Fernandez says having Texas A&M Corpus Christi will help keep students in the area and bring along economic opportunity.

Keywords: Anglo community; Anglos; Corpus Christi, TX

Subjects: Colleges; Degree-granting institutions; Higher education; Mexican Americans -- Segregation