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Voces Oral History Project Interview with Renato Ramirez

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0:00 - Preamble

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Segment Synopsis: Interviewer provides context for the interview.

0:38 - Early life and education

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Segment Synopsis: Ramirez grew up in San Diego, Texas, a town he speaks of fondly. He describes the small-town atmosphere and going downtown with his brother to shine shoes for money. The Parr family political machine had a major influence on his community. When he was ten years old, his family moved to Alice, Texas. Alice was very different. Where San Diego had been predominately Mexican-American, Alice was more diverse. Minority families lived on the south side of the railroad track and white families lived on the north side. After he moved to Alice, he was often placed in predominately white classrooms to fulfill desegregation requirements. After the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s, race relations for young people began to "defrost." The counter-culture of the time was a unifying force. Students took steps in high school to combat the Vietnam War such as demonstrating and starting a newspaper in opposition to the school administration.

Keywords: Alice, TX; Civil rights; George Parr; San Diego, TX; Vietnam War

Subjects: Pan American University; Parr family; School Integration

13:12 - Family

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Segment Synopsis: Ramirez describes his father, Magdeleno Ramirez, as a tough man. His father had a third-grade education and dropped out because he was made fun of for his clothes. He joined the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression and then joined the military. He served in World War II and later worked on the naval air base in Corpus Christi, Texas. Ramirez didn’t see his father very much because of the commute from San Diego, Texas, to Corpus Christi. Ramirez recounts the story of his father speaking up to the Inspector General, trying to secure better employment opportunities for his Mexican-American colleagues. His father was fired by the Army for that but was then immediately hired by the Navy. His father also helped organize the Freedom Party that opposed the Parr family. His mother, Eustolia Reyes, was a high school graduate who eventually became the manager of a western wear store. He speaks fondly of her and describes her as docile to his father and as an excellent caretaker.

He wasn’t encouraged to pursue higher education by his school, but went to Pan American University in Edinburg, Texas, because his brother lived there, and he could save money by living with him. He would work during the summers to save money to go to school. He eventually graduated form Texas A&I. He was politically active from a young age and experienced some of the intimidation tactics used by the Parr family. He then goes on to describe his brother Adolfo’s involvement with the modern Chicano movement.

Keywords: Alice, TX; Colegio Jacinto Trevino; Corpus Christi, TX; San Diego, TX; Vietnam War

Subjects: Chicano movement; Civilian Conservation Corps (U.S.); Higher education; MAYO (Organization); Parr family

36:11 - Working for a community action program/ military service

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Segment Synopsis: Ramirez worked for a community action program in the 1970s. The program worked improving the lives of disadvantaged people in Alice, Texas. The job was very rewarding spiritually but didn’t pay well and after Reagan began cutting funds for the programs, he had to leave. He went on to work delivering parts to oil fields and joined the army after two years of that. He did his basic training at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, and then did his specialization training at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. He then went on to serve in Europe maintaining missile control systems. His military service allowed him to leave South Texas for the first time. His military service helped get him on track; it made him more decisive and more capable of communicating his views.

Keywords: Alice, TX; Military service

Subjects: Community action program

44:49 - Thoughts on South Texas education/teaching at Del Mar College

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Segment Synopsis: Ramirez left the army to take care of his sister Madeline, who had ovarian cancer. During this time, he joined the Army Reserve and went to graduate school. He was hired to teach at Del Mar College and was teaching at Texas A&I when the Texas A&M system took over. He says that being part of larger university systems doesn’t actually benefit South Texas universities because they don’t have any influence. The disparity between South Texas and the rest of the state creates a brain drain, drawing the brightest students away and perpetuating the problems South Texas has. Anything short of a lawsuit results in lip service instead of action to fix the issues with South Texas universities.

In his time teaching at Del Mar College, white students don’t register for his class as frequently. He speculates that it’s because they don’t feel cultural identity with him or that his teaching doesn’t line up with their world view. He enjoys teaching constitutional law because it allows him to help people understand the way society works.

He resents not being able to go to a doctoral program. After he left the military, he was unable to uproot his life to go somewhere that offered one. He sees the lack of doctoral programs in South Texas as a major injustice, and that the lack of opportunity forces people to leave to get a quality education.

Keywords: Austin, TX; Corpus Christi, TX; Del Mar College; LULAC v. Richards

Subjects: Discrimination in higher education; Higher Education; Permanent University Funds; Texas A & I University; University System of South Texas

59:23 - Experience and thoughts regarding South Texas Border Initiative

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Segment Synopsis: Even though the South Texas Border Initiative has satisfied the public, it didn’t do enough to establish lasting professional programs in South Texas universities. The actions of the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems were insufficient and meant to appease the government and prevent further lawsuits. The public needs to be made aware that simply being part of the university systems isn’t enough and doesn’t represent a substantive change, especially the public in Austin and College Station. The only way to bring about the necessary change will be another lawsuit.

Keywords: South Texas Border Initiative

Subjects: Discrimination in higher education; Texas A&M System; University of Texas System

64:47 - Language in the home and at school

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Segment Synopsis: Both English and Spanish were spoken in Ramirez' household, and sometimes a mixture of the two. His exposure to comic books, newspapers and encyclopedias made him well versed in both languages. His bilingualism helped him pick up other languages while he was serving in Europe. He says that bilingualism helps expand a person’s mind. He spoke Spanish with his friends at school, even though they would sometimes get in trouble for it. He tells a story of trying to buy beer in Switzerland. The friend he was traveling with wasn’t served because he was American, but Ramirez was able to order in Spanish so they served him.

Keywords: Alice, TX

Subjects: Bilingualism; Spanish (language); Spanish language--Usage

75:35 - Religion

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Segment Synopsis: His Catholic faith has had an important effect on Ramirez' life. Religion played a very strong role in his household growing up and he was confirmed at seven years old. He was an altar boy growing up as well going to Catholic school until it closed. He recounts the times religion has been with him for the deaths of family members.

Keywords: Alice, TX

Subjects: Catholicism; Roman Catholic Church