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Interview with Manuel Contreras



Manuel Contreras was born in Durango, Mexico, in 1904. He was raised by his sisters because his father was shot in a fight and his mother died at childbirth. He and his sisters had ranches that were taken away from them during the Mexican Revolution, in which Contreras fought at the age of ten. Fearing for his life, he escaped from the country in 1924. In that year he and a sister traveled from Texas to Minnesota. Later he worked in the fields in Lake Lillian and Chaska, and in 1933 he came to St. Paul. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: The Mexican Revolution, including its leaders and its effect on Contreras's family - life in St. Paul in the 1930s - work in sugar beet fields in rural Minnesota and in meat packing plants in South St. Paul - work in a munitions plant in New Brighton - family life and history - and the people and customs of St. Paul's Mexican-American community. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: In Spanish, transcribed into English.





World Region




This interview was conducted as part of a series on the Mexican American in Minnesota. Manuel Contreras, was born in Durango, Mexico in 1904. He was raised by his sisters He and his

because his father was shot in a fight and his mother died in childbirth. sisters had ranches which were taken away during the Revolution. Manuel fought in the Revolution. the troops.

At the age of ten,

He recalls many of his experiences as a young boy in He and his He

He escaped Mexico in 1924 because he feared for his life.

sister came to Minnesota that same year, after working in Texas for a short time. worked in Lake Lillian and Chaska, in the fields. In 1933, he came to St. Paul.

Mr. Contreras discusses his life in Mexico, experiences in the Mexican Revolution, life working in the fields, his employment record, his family, life during the Depression, life in St. Paul's Mexican American community, and a car that sold for $2.50. This is a transcript of a tape recorded interview in Spanish translated and edited in English to aid in clarity and ease of comprehension for the reader. The original tape

is available in the Audio-Visual Library of the Minnesota Historical Society.

INTERVIEW WITH MANUEL CONTRERAS JULY 16, 1976 INTERVIEWER: VICTOR BARELA BARELA: This is Victor Barela interviewing Mr. Manuel Contreras, who

lives at 619 Gorman Avenue, St. Paul, on July 16, 1976, at the State Minnesota Historical Society. to interview you? Do I have your permission

Do you agree then that this interview will go

on to the Minnesota Historical Society? CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Yes, you do. What is your full name? Manuel Jesus Contreras Prieto. What were your parenti s names? Manuel Contreras and Marina Contreras Prieto. Where were you horn? I was born in Durango, Mexico. What town ? Durango is the capitol but I was born north of there, on a ranch. Do you remember the year? 1904 Where were your pa!eents born? To tell you the truth, I don't know where they were born! were born someplace around there too. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: What did your father do for a living? He was a rancher. How many brother s did you have? I guess they



I had four brothers, Ausedio, the eldest; ElUiliano, Vicente, Benjamin, and lUyself.


And sisters? My sisters were Tifania, Abelina, AlUada, and that's all. Are they a11 alive? No, only Abelina, she lives here. Do you relUelUber your parents? To te11 you the truth, I don't. and lUy father was ki11ed. I was very young when lUy lUother died She is about 74 years old.


In Durango? Yes, in Durango. fight. You know how Mexicans like to fight? It was in a


How.did they ki11 hilU? Yes, they shot hilU. And your lUother? She died. What did she die of? I don't know.

Did they shoot hilU ?


She died in childbirth.

Do you relUelUber the year your father died? No, I don't relUelUber anything. orphan. I rea11y did not know thelU. I was an


So then who raised you? My sisters raised lUe.



Do you still have relative s in your ho:metown? I don't know.
It has been a long ti:me.

What do you re:me:mber about the revolution? I do know that :my brothers were in the war. Colonel. He died about a :month ago. One was a leiutenant


What was his na:me? Ausedio Albar. He was the oldest of the fa:mily. All the rest died too. They were retired. E:milino also died

about two years ago. Mexican govern:ment. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS:

They worked for the

Do you re:me:mber :much about your childhood? Oh yes, :my life history is very long. Did you go to school? No, I did not, because of the revolution. Did the Revolution affect you :much? It affected all of us. Even the people that were in good positions. That was when the rich peoples' Those that had haciendas, like The

Revolution destructed everything.

haciendas were divided a:mong the poor. :my sister s did, lost it all. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did you get to see :much? Oh, yes.

I can re:me:mber all the dates because you re:me:mber :more When you are young to tell. When I was

when you were younger than when you get older.
it is the ti:me to study.

I have plenty of


ten years old, I was in the war.



We suffered a lot because of the war.

It finished a lot of things.

There The

were colleges before but only for those who could afford them..

governm.ent would not let the public attend the colleges because they did not want them. to know what was going on in the country. degrees were beyond the reach of the poor. because I held som.e of the. high offices. m.y m.other left m.e. All the

I know the story well

I had a little ranch that

There were 1,500 acres of land and cattle and Everything was lost, so that is why I cam.e

som.e pigs and chickens. to the United States. BARELA: CONTRERAS:

Did your brothers lose everything too? Everything. The governm.ent took over everything. But they kept They wanted They were

working for the governm.ent, so they had good positions. people to work in Texas, so they had a lot of property. well off. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS:

Do you rem.em.ber the day the governm.ent took over all your property? It was 1914. The fighting was still going on. Did the troops com.e in and take over? The troops would corne from. all over, then

What did they do?

Yes, they were fighting. they would return. was very sad.

Then another troop would com.e and another.


Do you recall som.e of the generals? Yes, I rem.em.ber a lot of the generals. I got to m.eet all of them..

Not only m.e, but there were m.any other children.

-5BARELA: CONTRERAS: How did you live? The life of the soldier was to be destructive. eat the cattle. They would kill and The poor

Tear up the world, that is what they did.

were at the bottom and the rich and the government were on top. So they were free to kill the cattle and eat them and do what ever they pleased. They did not know the crisis they were causing and We even ate horses.

later they came here. BARELA: CONTRERAS:

What is some of the suffering your family encountered? Oh, after they took everything from us we suffered a lot of hunger. All of us. The Revolution did not leave anything. You could not

even farm the land.

The Revolution did not give us a chance, because So there was always a lot The

one side would come in and then another. of fighting going on in the hills.

There were so many people.

dead bodies would be laying all over. hung, others shot. It was awful.

Some of the soldiers would be

After the fighting would stop the This is how

poor people would make tortillas to sell to the soldiers. some of the people made their living. came and went. BARELA: CONTRERAS:

There were many groups that

I don't know how many of them.

Did the women hide when the revolutionarie s came? Yes, there were some soldiers that would take advantage of the women. We lived in the hills of Durango and they did not do that in our area, but some of the soldiers along the coast would.


-6CONTRERAS: In the small ranches and towns when they heard that some troops were coming, they would hide the W01TIen in holes in the houses because of the danger. There were some that had a conscience and would not

take advantage of the women. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Who were some of the troops that you remember? Oh, first were Carranzistas. Maderistas. the war. When I was younger, they were

Madero went to the United States, from Mexico, during

From there, they were Villistas, Zapatistas, and Huertistas.

When they beat Vill, they had a convention sOlTIewhere in Zacatecas. There they had a fight so they were all divided. They all wanted to I

be in charge; all the generals, Huerta, Zapata, and many others. met many of them. BARELA: CONTRERAS:

It was sad.

What did you do when you saw the troops of another group? We would get down and start fighting or runni.ng. I was lucky because I

I was young and many of the other soldiers would look out for me. was taken prisoner two or three times.

They could not execute me; From there

there was a law to protect me because I was a child. my brothers freed me and took me with them. Oaxaca, in the southern part of Mexico. the only one that fought all over Mexico. Mexico.

They only fought in

The state of Durango was

It's soldiers were all over

They would sometimes leave me with the soldiers because

I would have suffered if I had been by myself, but with the soldiers around, they protected me.

-7 CONTRERAS: They would put me behind them so I would not .. get hurt. it could not be avoided and I had to fight. don't want. Sometime s

Death is something we

Even if you are scared or brave, death is for every-

body in the world. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did your brothers worry about you? Yes, they were scared because when they went to help out some of the other soldiers, they would leave me alone with the rest of the troop. BARELA: CONTRERAS: How old where you then? I was about 10 years old. many othe r s. BARELA: COJ\TTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: I wasn't the only one there, there were

They were very brave boys.

Did you sometimes have to use your rifle? ·We had to fight. Where did they put you? With the troops, but they watched out for us. of death. We were very ignorant Sometimes with a

We did not know what it was all about.

little encouragement, the boys would fight.

They took more risks

than the older men because the older men would take precautions. BARELA: CONTRERAS: So mixed in the troops were young boys and men? Everything. Old men, blind men, and lame men. They were all

fired up and ready to fight.

Well, there was nothing else to do. The soldiers would

Everywhere you saw the crisis of the needy.

come into the grain storage areas and burn everything up.

-8CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: This created a lot of hunger. Did women accOInpany the men in the fighting? Yes, there were a few fighting. soldiers. Some of the women would follow the

It was a hard life because one day they were

and the

next day some place else, but they followed anyway. BARELA:

Did you ever get to Mexico City? We were there for one occasion. the Federales, were in power. This was when the Diaz government, We fought there for about five days.




So did the troops corne to your home town? No, they carne through our town in the mountains to go down into the ranches .and towns to -fight. They would meet one another and

start fighting. BARELA: CONTRERAS: How did they know who was who? I don't know. out. I think there were some men whose job was to find I didn't understand those things.

Others had telephones.

There were many days when we knew a general was corning with so many soldiers. I don't know how they knew. They knew exactly

how many men were with him and who they were corning after. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Were there some towns that suppprted certain groups? No, you could not do that. You had to support whoever was there. When I

There were so many groups we did not know who was who.

carne in 1924, I had an uncle who had fought in the Revolution, but he had stopped fighting. His name was Diego Contreras.

-9CONTRERAS: We also had a general that was a relative,; his name was Caliso Contreras. They were still fighting in 1926. There was a group

of rebels who were fighting against the government and were hiding in the mountains so the government removed all the people from the mountains so they could not feed them. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Were these the mountains in Durango? The Sierra Madre. Did you ever have to kill someone? I would shoot. I could not tell if I ever killed anyone or not. What are they called?

Were you ever wounded? A bullet brushed my leg. Were there any troops that did not do any damage to the towns? There were some. The General Villa was the only one that did He did not tolerate any abuses from The othere were a bunch of When they arrived in They

something good for the people. his troops. animals.

He was the only one.

They committed such atrocities.

a big town and there was money they would rob the people.

would settle in the town and at night they would shoot and rob the people. The generals were the ones that profited, but that was a Civil wars are worse than a declared war because in a are a pacifist and you see that someone is taking


civil war if you

all your things or destroying them, you get to the point where you would rather do it yourself than having to watch someone else do it.

-10BARELA: CONTRERAS: How did you escape? We came from the mountain on horseback and went down to Durango to take the train. They killed a lot of them. Some were not on the list

but they killed them because the people said they were. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did they kill young boys then? No, they could not. Only men that were 20 years old and up.

What did they do with the young ones? They were taken prisoners. Where would they take them? To the Capitol?

Yes, to the capitol of Durango or Mexico City, to punish them. Were any of your young friends captured? When I was fighting, no. Later on, when they had the list, they were.

So from there, you took the train to where? I took the train north; to here, in Minnesota. Where did you eros s the border? I crossed the border at Piedras Negras. Did you have to pay to ge acros s? Yes, I paid $8. Did they require some kind of identification? No, all you did was pay the money and you had to have other money to support your self.


How much money did you have? I had about $200 (pesos) or $16 American dollars.

-11BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: So you carne into the United States in 1924? Yes, 1924. Where did you go after you eros sed the border? From the border I went to San Antonio. Then I went to Sonora, Texas. We went there to sheer We were there for

There was another boy that I travelled with. sheep.

They paid us a dollar a day plus Ineals.

a month, and then I went to Corpus Christi. Minne s ota to Lake Lillian. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did you sheer sheep in Texas then? Yes, we got paid a dollar a day. Christi to pick cotton. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: How long did you sheer sheep for? Four about a month. Did you make a lot of money? No, I never made any money. the tracks--laying tracks. BARELA: CONTRERAS:

In 1924, I carne to

I did not like it so I went to Corpus

From there in Texas, I worked on

From there we worked the beets, in 1924.

How did you corne to Minne sota ? From a man I met and became friends with. After the railroad laid There we would

us off, we went to work in the fields, clearing the land. only make 75 cents a week. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Where was this at? Cisco, Texas. us $8 an acre. We would do all the clearing in the fields. We did not make any money.

They paid

-12BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did you use a saw or how did you do this work? No, we used an axe to dig out the roots of the trees and we would also cut them down and burn them. BARELA: CONTRERAS: What did you clear the land for? So the ranchers_ could plant> cotton. We had to do it by.hand because The work went very slowly.

there were no machines to do it at that time. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Were there only Mexican people doing this work? Yes, many Mexicans. of work. BARELA: Did you ever get to meet any people in the fields in Texas that later on you met here in Minne sota ? CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: - BARELA: CONTRERAS: Of the ones I met in Texas, no, I never met any of them again. Did you do all those things in one year? Yes, I tried a little bit of everything. From Cisco, then you heard about the beet in Minnesota? Yes, Eligorio Zapata, an older man, told me about it. He had been There were very few Anglos doing that type

here before and he spoke English, so he was the one that told us about it. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Was he hired by the companies to recruit people? No, but he had been here and at that time the companies gave the opportunities to those who wanted· to work in the beet fields.

-13CONTRERAS: He would cal1 or phone the company and the company would give him a paper saying he could take any train he wanted. people from Mexico or wherever. Minnesota. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: ' CONTRERAS: Do you remember the date? I don't remember. I think it was around May. And also to bring

And this is how we carne to

Were you uncomfortable in the train? No, they took care of us. people. They fed us well. The train was ful1 of

Once we got to Minnesota the train would stop at different The ranchers would corne and pick

places to leave some people off. them up in the trucks. you wanted. the familie s. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did you corne by yourself? No, I carne with my sister. What is her name? Abelina. So you contracted?

You signed a contract saying how many acres

When the people got there the trucks were waiting for

Yes, it was the same contract but it was only for a year. work the beet you leave around this time (July). August, September and October. back if you want to.

When you

You work for

Once you are through, you can go Some cannot

It depends on what you can afford.

afford it, so they stay.

-14BARELA: So when you came to Minnesota, you came directly to lake Lillian and you went to work on the beet? CONTRERAS: Not on the beet. right away because it wasn't ready. gave us other work to do. fields. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: The rancher

Such as cutting trees or tending the

They paid us very little.

Do you remember how luuch you made a day? We earned 10 cents an hour, and the most would be 20 cents an hour. About a dollar a day? Yes, we could not make any more than that. here. I worked 12 year s in the beet. The life is very hard

After I left the beet, I did

other work.

We could not settle because all work was temporary.

I would work the beet and in August, when we were through, we would look for other work. Whether in town or in the fields picking

corn or onions or in North Dakota, until it was time to go back and finish the beet. very hard. BARELA: CONTRERAS: What kind of work did your sister do? She would also work the beet with her eight children. Chaska around 1927,28, or 29--something like that. BARELA: CONTRERAS: From Lake Lillian you went to Chaska? Yes, Chaska is nearby. There was a company that had a sugar We were in So we went where ever we could find work.
It was


They provided homes for the people that worked for them.

Sure they gave homes and what ever they needed, but when they got paid, they had to pay for everything.

-15 BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: They gave you credit? Yes. When you first came to Lake Lillian did you have a home? Yes, houses that the ranchers provided. the chickens with us, too. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Was it poor housing? Yes, we had an outdoor toilet. so we could take baths there. BARELA: CONTRERAS: How many years did you live in Lake Lillian? In Lake Lillian, I only stayed one or two years. and came to work for the company in Chaska. BARELA: CONTRERAS: And your sister? She came, too. Was your sister married? Yes, she was married to Soto. So you went to Chaska in 1926? Yes .. And then you started working the beets again? Yes, I worked the beets until 1933, when I came to St. Paul. Were the people really poor? Oh, yes. There was much misery among them. From there I walked Fortunately there was a lake nearby Sometimes they would put


Some of them were better.


How old were you when you got married? I got married in 1927. I was married in Wilmar.

-16BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Who did you get nlarried to? My wife's nanle was Maria Dolores Vega. Was she also fronl Mexico? I really don't know. They canle to work in the beets fronl Chicago. She spoke English

People canle fronl all over to work the beets. and I never visited her hOnle, so I don't know. BARELA: CONTRERAS:

Did you speak English when you were in Chaska? Yes, when I first canle I was very young and I learned English very fast. Now, I have forgotten nluch of it. I spoke English without

going to school for it. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: You told nle you played ball. Yes, I was a pitcher. Did you have a teanl ? No, it was only to pass the tinle. Were any of your children born in Chaska? Yes, two of nly children. nanled Hernlina. My sen, Guadalupe Contreras and nly daughter My Did you play baseball?

She lives near here and she has grown children. He was born in 1928. He was killed in

son was killed in the war. 1952, the Korean War.

I could tell you the sufferings in this world. My wife died in Chaska. She left nle with

I don't like to talk about it.

nly son who was three years old and nly girl two. we lived in a car. war.

During the depression

We suffered so nluch and then he was killed in the

These are the sufferings parents have.

-17 CONTRERAS: At least if he would have had a mother, it wouldn't have been so bad, but I was mother and father to him. from anyone. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: What year did she die? In 1931. So you travelled with both of your children? Yes, they went with me all over. to school. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Was there anyone that could help you? My sister helped me for a while, but she could not help me because she had 12 children of her own. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: Did your sister stay in Chaska or did she come with you here? She came to St. Paul, too. Her husband, too? He died here. I would work, cook and send them I raised them without help


How long did you live in Chaska? We lived there from 1927 to 1933. Did your children go to school in Chaska? No, they did not because they were too young to go. a kindergarden and the town was too far. St. Paul that they went to school. They did not have

It wasn't until we came to


So you did not live in the town of Chaska, but in the outskirts? Yes, outside of the town in company houses. The stores were far, too.

-18CONTRERAS: Some of the things that people will never see again were the Buicks that cost $2.50. They had a canopy top. They were good cars with
It had

pedals, all American, three of them.

Those were the gears.

a "Magnetic Needle"; and I knew how to fix it.

You would start it with

the battery and then you turn the "magnetic needle" and you would not need the battery. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did they have four wheels?

And were they sort of small ? But, very strong. They

Yes, they had four wheels and were small. cost up to $2.50.



Did your family have one? Yes, they had theirs and I had mine.

Was that the All-American model? Yes. What year was this? In the 1930's. Did they run in the winter time? Yes, we did not need any alcohol. When you wanted to start the car, you Once the hot water

would put in a bucket of hot water and it would start. was in the car, it would not freeze. go, you had to take out the water. you added the hot water again. of that stuff.

When you got where you wanted to When you wanted to start the car,

You did not need any antifreeze or any

To start them you would al!:]o put a jack on one of the

wheels, but once it started, you could take it off.

-19BARELA: CONTRERAS: Do you remember the cold winter? Did you

sufficient clothes?

No, we were very poor, but when one is young, you don't feel the cold. I guess I was a healthy person. The ranchers would wear

some heavy coats and big gloves but I could note feel the cold. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Were the houses fit for the cold weather? When we were in Chaska, the houses were good because they means to help us. They VJOuld give us a heater. Coal

the But


when we came to St. Paul, we rented some old homes without windows for $5 a month. They were very thrifty.
It was sad.

To rent a fairly

good house it cost $10 a month. BARELA:

Nobody had any money only the rich.

Did your children stay by themselves during the day when you went to work?


Yes, they had to because I could not afford to hire a woman.

In 1944,

my children were a little older, but I had to leave them alone a.t night because I worked.nights at a government plant making gun powder for the war. BARELA: CONTRERAS: I had to work to support us. Did you come to work? but people came in the

So from Cha.ska, you came to St. Paul? I came to look for work. There

no work,

hopes of finding something. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: What type of work did, you find? The first place I found What did you do there? I was a butcher.

job was working at the





How long did you work there? For about five years. everything. After that I tried other places. I worked at

The last'job I held was as an inspector in an ammunitions I worked there for eight months.

government plant, in New Brighton. BARELA:

So you carne frorp. Chaska and started working at Armours and your children started going to school here. when they started going to school? How old were the children

Were they six years old?


Yes, they were six years old. Did your children speak English? Yes, and Spanish too. Did they do well in school? Yes, because they knew both languages. in Spatsh. They could read and write


What other families where here when you carne? Jose Trejo, Federico Saucedo, Francisco Rangel, Manuel Capiz, Pomposo Guerra, Jose Arenas, and Francisco Cruz. I don't

remember some of the other name s, but I knew all of them. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Was everyone poor? All of us. Now we are rich in comparison to what we had then. There

were no opportunities for the people to better themselves. no jobs.

There were Now

It wasn't until the war that we had more opportunities.

the young people have a chance for a good education. want to work in the beets anymore.

People do not

I don't even want to work in the beets.

-21CONTRERAS: The work of the beets is something most people should know about. Because all they know is that they get the sugar from there. They

don't know that we had to be on our knees making sure the plants had about 12 inches to grow. I think my bones

still healing from work. There

I must have gone and come back from Mexico on my knees. were no other opportunities. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did you do all the work by hand? Yes, we thinned out the beets with a short hoe. What did you do with the beets that you thinned out? They would plant a lot of them in a row.

We had to cut off all the little
It all had to be the

plants so they would not be crawding each other. same.
It took us forever to do 20 acres.

Now they have machines

to do that and they called it blocking. BARELA: CONTRERAS: After you thinned out the beets, what did you do? We had to go back and pull out the weeds. get paid •. But it wasn't much. After we were done, I would

It was barely enough to pay the store. Here we got work and

When we came to St. Paul, it 'was much better. we received other help. the best.

Minnesota is the state that treats Mexicans

There are some bad people, but most of them treat us well.

Some of the people would tell us that Mexicans were dumb, but that wasn't true because if they gave us a chance to educate ourselves, we could do a better job. won't grow. It is just like a plant, if you don't water it, it

This is what has happened to us.

-22CONTRERAS: We have not been given a chance to develop our capabilites. Here I

am, I have been a plumber, an e1ectr.idan, mechanic, I can fix any machine you give me and I never went to school to learn any of those trades. What I know I learned myself.
It hurts me to know that some


people don't know anything, but that is because they haven't been given a chance. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did you like the work at the packing house? Yes, I liked the work there. The same at the other plant. After the

beets, I enjoyed working at the other places. railroad.

I also worked for the

In 1945, I left the packing house and went to work at the I worked there for 8 months and after that I worked That is where I retired from. I worked for them for

government plant. for the railroad. 12 years. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS:

What was the name of the railroad company? The Milwaukee. Laying rails? Yes, laying rails. Did you ever remarry? Yes, this is my second wife. killed. I married her in 1951 after my son was She is from Mexico. She was born

Her name is Petra Ojeda.

in Villagrada, Zacatecas. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Do you remember the year. Around 1906, something like that.

-23BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did she COIne with her faInily? She caIne with her Inother. died there. But her Inother returned to Mexico and she She had

She was Inarried before, but her husband died. Later she Inarried Ine.


Do you know her first husband's naIne? Nicolas Mauricio. When did he die? Around the 1940's Do you reIneInber what the West Side cOInInunity was like when you first caIne to St. Paul?


All the Mexican people lived in the West Side in little houses that were falling down. And, of course, Iny faInily lived there, also.


Where did you first live? Here on Robert Street. Did you rent there? Yes, I rented there. It is aInazing how things are because when we first

caIne we rented the houses that were falling down because that is all we could afford. they like theIn. BARELA: CONTRERAS: What did you do in your pastiIne? Yes, we got together. Did you get together? Now people are buying old houses and fixing theIn because

They had dances at the Neighborhood House.

Then the people were Inore united and they cooperated with each other. Now we have all the luxuries, and people froIn Iny own faInily do not recognize Ine.

-24CONTRERAS: We have all gone our ways. each other's company. Then we had more friends and we enjoyed

Back then seven or eight families would live Some of the people have changed How foolish

in a basement and everybody got along.

just because they have a little more than someone else. people can be. regardless.

I don't like that, I like to get along with all the people

There is nothing more beautiful than knowing how to get

along with others. BARELA: CONTRERAS: So you appreciated your friendships? Yes. We were all growing together towards the same thing. Now each

person stays in their own cubby hole. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did you belong to any of the organizations in the community? Yes, I was a member of the Anahuac Society. Was this a popular society? Well, they organized to try to do good things, but as it usually is, problems occur. One would get distracted from the original plans. When I joined, At

one time it accomplished a lot of good things. Rangel was in charge. brations.


He organized the people and we had many celeI liked all the people. When some started The

It was very nice.

to get ahead of the others, that was the end of the friendships. harmony was gone. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: What holidays did the Anahuac Society celebrate? We celebrated Christmas and New Year's. Did your family attend the celebrations? We had pastorelas.

-25CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Yes. 1 hadn't remarried yet, but 1 would take my children.

Do you remember the Christmas festivities? Yes, they were beautiful. would dance and sing. The Mexican Indians and the pastoreles
It was nice.

They would also recite.


Was Mrs.


from Minneapolis, one of the ladies that helped

with the fe stivitie s ? CONTRERAS: Yes. There were many ladies from here, too. . Mr. Casillas, his

wife and my wife's first husband were a few of the many who helped. 1 was not directly involved with any of it because 1 had to take care of my children and could not run around as though 1 was single. my children. 1 had

The life of single men with children is sad because he It is very hard.

is not equiped for it like a woman is. BARELA: CONTRERAS:

Did you have any relatives that could help you? Yes, 1 had relatives but they had 12 children and barely had enough for them, so they could not .help me. They...: were in the same situation.


Did they celebrate patriotic feasts? Yes, they also celebrated them. Would you also take your family to these celebrations? Yes. Here is a letter from Mexico. Do you still have relatives there?

Yes, from Durango, Mexico.

Yes, and they still write to me. Did you participate in any of the church festivities? In the church festivities, 1 did. We had the old church on the West Side.

-26CONTRERAS: It was a very small church. bar. Half was a church and the other half' was a

After they were going to tear down the old West Side and the church, We

I was appointed to go around asking for funds for our new church.

had to get a certain amount of money before they would start building the church of Our Lady of Guadalupe. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Who was the priest? Father Dicks was the first priest I met. German descent. He was very short and was of

Father Dicks was the one who stopped the hatred This existed because a Mexican

between the Anglos and the Mexicans. killed an Anglo. BARELA: . CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA:

Father Dicks was the one who settled the whole thing.

Did your children participate in the celebrations? No, they were too young. Were there a lot of people who attended the church programs? Yes, everybody. Some of them would help out.

Did you have a mass every Sunday? Every Sunday. For the holiday celebrations, did you _hot go to work to help out, or did you help out after work?


No, we went to work and we helped out at night.

But if there was a.n

important meeting you could get an excuse from work. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: So your celebrations were very traditional? Yes. All the holidays were celebrated. The people enjoyed these.

Did they ever have any benefit di nners?

-27 CONTRERAS: Yes, they sold food. Enchiladas, tacos, all kinds of things. Anglos

attended some of these because they like the food. liked were tacos and enchiladas.

The only thing they

If they went to Mexico they would see

that there is more to Mexican food than tacos and enchiladas. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did you have a good turn out for these? Yes. food. People would come from Minneapolis and other parts to by the There was unity and respect for others. In 1945, I went to I wan.ted to get him

Montana, my son was about 14 and somewhat wild.

out of here, so I bought a motorcycle; I paid $800 for it, and left. I was working but I came all the way from Montana to attend the 16th of September festivities. BAREIA: CONTRERAS: You, were very loyal. Not only that, but they rationed the gasoline and you could not buy tires. I barely made it here. united. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Well, they were my people and we were very

People would make many sacrifices to attend these festivities.

Did all the other Mexicans come, too? Yes, they would come from all over. come. Just as I came, they would also


You must have had big feasts? Yes, they were big feasts. also to see other Mexicans. anyone. People would come to distract themselves and Some of them would come and would not know

Once they got here, people would talk to them and they would

make friends.

-28 BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Did the young people enjoy the festivities as well as the older people? Yes, everybody liked them. There was unity.

Did you ever get to go back to Mexico? Yes, I have gone three or four times to see my sisters. I have also

visited Guadalajara, Aguascalientes, Saltillo, Durango, all over. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Has your family gone back, too? Yes, my wife has gone about four or five times to visit her family. How about your _children? No, they have never gone. And your wife IS children? Yes, they have. We did not have any children together.

Did your children graduate from high school here in St. Paul? No, my children did not graduate from high school. They went to school

and they knowhow to read and write, but that was all. BARELA: CONTRERAS: Your son that was killed in Korea, did he join the service after school? Yes, he got married and joined the service. back. He and his wife had a fight. He went to battle and carne Then

He enlisted again and he left.

he wa 15 killed. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: And your daughter? She has a lot of children. What does her husband do? They are divorced. Her husband comes to visit me. How about Mexican food?

Do you still maintain your Mexican traditions?

-29CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: Yes, we also eat Mexican food. How about the celebration!!? Yes, we celebrate Christmas, but for us everything has passed. enjoyed those things long ago. you've seen them a.11. BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: CONTRERAS: BARELA: Do you still like to go see the partriotic feasts? Yes Do you still get together with your friends? Oh, yes. In your life time, what has been the one thing that has influenced your life style? CONTRERAS: The most important thing for me is to lead a happy life, without making any enemie s along the way. BARELA: CONTRERAS: What influenced you to think that way? I have suffered a lot because of the injustices in the world. things that I don't agree with. These are We

It is like a carnival; if you've seen one

Anything that destroys humanity so that

man is pinned against man for survival, because sooner or later you could be the one. There was a time when the rich were on top and the During the Revolution, the rich

poor at the bottom of the social scale. were in the same boat as the poor. land was divided among the poor. the way things are.

Then the poor came up because the So the roles were reversed. This is

Changes will always occur.

Like now you are young,

but someday you will be old like me. through my own life!

The experiences I have learned



I try to trust people and be good to theIn regardless of who they are. Life has been good to Ine. I like Iny life style. I aIn not afraid of anyone.


If you were to give SOIne advice to the youth of today, or to anyone to help
theIn lead better lives, what would you tell the In ?


Love of life.

Use your head.

Always look ahead, never look back.

If I wasn't working and the governInent was supporting Ine by force, or I
was in the war killing SOIneone, I know that the roles would sOIneday be changed and I would be at the other end of it. caution. BARELA: CONTRERAS: How do you get paid back? You proceed with caution by thinking and observing. stand and to be understood. You try to underYou Inust proceed with

You should listen to people who give you You should not go ahead and jump Once you are in trouble,

advice because they have been there.

into th,ings without knowing what you are doing. it is too late to listen to advice.

For instance, when I talk to the young

people and try to set theIn straight they get very upset and tell Ine to Inind Iny own business. That is no way to be.

If on the other hand, they

would think things through carefully and adInit that Inaybe they are going the wrong way and Inend their ways, they would be Inuch better off. BARELA: You have a very fascinating life history. You show such enthusiasIn that

it seeInS as though you are at ease with yourself.

That is true. I have always had a lot of, spirit and along with my

beliefs sometimes I can predict what is going to ha.ppen because I have lived through so much.
It is like an education, it is good

to read but to experience things is better.


Thank you so much for your time.

We appreciate your cooperation.