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Interview with Sebastian J. Hernandez



Sebastian Hernandez was born in 1930, served in the military, taught in St. Paul schools from 1961 to 1971 and became the Mexican-American consultant to the school system in 1973.





World Region




8, 1915



This interview was conducted as part of a series on the Mexican American in Minnesota. Sabastian J. Hernandez better known as "Sam" has had significant impact on our society here in Minnesota. Sam's boundless energies have led him through successful

ventures in business, the musical entertainment world, and most recently, have made him one of the key figures in -education as it relates to and serves


and other minority youth in the City of st. Paul and the entire state. His colorful past and highly

present day activities combine to promise

an illustrious future in our state's history. This is a transcript of\a tape-recording interview edited to aid in clarity and ease of comprehension for the reader. The original tape recording is available in

the Audio-Visual Library of the Minnesota Historical Society.



This is Grant A. Moosbrugger interviewing Mr. Sebastian, "Sam" Hernandez for the Mexican American History Project, under the auspices of the Minnesota Historical Society. Historical Society? Do we have permission to tape this oral history for the

Hernandez: Moosbrugger:

Yes. Thank you. Maybe you can start off by introducing yourself; telling us a little

about yourself. Hernandez: My name is Sebastian Jose DeFerdova Medina Hernandez, and I will take some time in the history to explain the reason for the names. Fort Dodge, Iowa, January 20, 1930. I was born in the city of

I come from a family of seven children, Originally the family In talking with my.

plus my father and mother making it a family of nine. pattern is somewhat hazy, as all of our families are.

grandmother, who was our verbal historian, she determined that the father of my father, was Alfredo DeFerdovier. Northern Spain. back to Spain.

He has a French heritage, from Cataluna, in

He came down to Mexico, and married a Mexican woman, then went There was a tremendous amount of travel between Spain and When he went back, he went back to Cataluna, near the He became

Mexico at that time. south area.

Today it is called "San Sebastian", in Northern Spain.

quite active and a high leader in a small canton type of community in the mountains of the area. As time passed, he rose in power in the community. His

name was changed from "DeFerdovier" to "DeFerdova", which is the counterpart in Spanish. During this time, there were a number of local civil strifes which



were part of the history of Spain at that time.

At the time of the local

government period in Mexico, there was a man by the name of Pedro Hernandez. He was living in this small town and was against the local government, which was, in part, operated by Mr. DeFerdova.

Mr. Hernandez began to look for

financing to counter revolutionize, as was occurring allover the nation at that time. one of the funding groups was called "La Mano Negra", (The Black If you study the history of

Hand) which was an arm of the Mafia, from Italy.

the Mafia, it was an organization organized originally to overthrow corrupt government, much like the Jesse James type of thing, but it wasn't like Jesse James, because eventually, they failed. lawed. And once they failed, they were out-

Once they were outlawed, they operated under an outlaw profile, which

to this day, the Mafia does, and so does what little is left of the "Mano Negra". Moosbrugger: Hernandez: What area of Spain's history would this have been? This would have been the mid-eighteen hundreds. Incidentally, the reason for

the "Mano Negra's" philosophy, has to do with Spanish culture; however intimate the relationship is between man and man, because of the "Familia - padrazco, and extended family system", it was not so intimate to be able to deal appropriately with the kiss of death as the final stage. So they changed that This

cultural aspect to have the black hand with ink imprinted on the door.

meant that the person behind that door, the family leader, would be destined for death. Culturally, along with the Italian and Spanish philosophy, this

would give the leader of the family time to distribute his wealth, to say the children are going to go to this family, and so on, because he knew of his impending death. That's where the "Mano Negra" came from.

Mr. Hernandez then grouped together with a small local army and fought against
Mr. DeFerdova in the process of local war. in combat.

Mr. Hernandez killed Mr. DeFerdova

At the end of the war, Hernandez went to the family and said, "I am



Mr. Hernandez.

I inadvertently killed the household leader·of this family,

what is my responsibility at this point? keep this family alive".

Nrs. DeFerdova said, "Help About

So Mr. Hernandez, not being married, did so.

a year and a half from that point he ended up marrying Mrs. DeFerdova and Mrs. DeFerdova then became Mrs. Hernandez. The family was adopted by That's

Mr. Hernandez, so my father's name changed from DeFerdova to Hernandez. the reason for my name.

Within a short period of time the government of Spain outlawed all members of the "Mano Negra" and they were forced to exile. So various "Mano Negra"

members then moved from various parts of Spain, to typical departure point, which at the time was Malaga. line of people in exodus. of Spain.

Also at that period of time, there was another

They had been, historically, the Arab strain people

The people who had been of the Moorish faith, the Islam faith, and

had changed their names many times and became Christian or Catholic in hopes of becoming full citizens in equa±ity. However, this was not always the case.

In this one particular family they changed their name from whatever their Moorish name had been, to Medina, which is also a Moorish name. If you know, Medina is

the second most influential city of the world of Islam, Mecca being number one and Medina being number two. The Medina family was also in exodus at that point

" and the two families; the Hernandez family and the Medina family, met in Malaga.
Then they carne to Panama, which was the arriving point at that time.

Then they

worked their way up as itinerent workers, through the countries north of Panama and ended up in M£xico at a very appropriate time, 1910. Mexican Revolution. Mr. Hernandez, not knowing any other way of life than that which he had perfected through the "Mano Negra", organized a group of people who then sold stolen arms to both sides of the revolution. They sold to the "Federalists", The beginning of the

-4Hernandez: as well as to the "Carrancistas", who were being opposed by the two leaders which were "Pancho Villa" and "Zapata". My father then became a carrier of

money between "Zacatecas" and "Nuevo Leon lt which was the area that we settled in.

My father was wounded any number of times as a young child, between the
At the age of thirteen, at

ages of nine and twelve during the Revolution.

that time thirteen was the age in which the family members became blood members to the "Mano Negra", my father, not wanting that kind of life, decided to escape from "Leon, Guanajuato" to Texas. He married my mother then, at age

thirteen, both of them (my father and mother being three days apart), and they headed for Texas. It became obltgatory then for the "Mano Negra" to es-

tablish a contract on my father, a contract of either coming back alive or being killed. I am not too sure, from what my grandmother says, if the kill Merely because the highest leader in "Leon" for My father was caught over

contract was ever determined.

the "Mano Negra" was his step-father Mr. Hernandez. a period of time, three times. Moosbrugger: Hernandez: When he was in Texas?

Like, let's say three years apart.

When he was in Texas, they cut off one of his fingers and told him to head back to Mexico. That's where my oldest brother was born, Laredo. He then By

escaped to Prescott, Arizona.

A year or so later he was caught again.

that time, a second brother had been born, Linus. of

They cut off another one

fingers, and he headed from there.

At that time, rather than attempt From that point to 1941

to become a resident, he joined the migrant path. we were in the migrant path.

We traveled the United States as migrants. He was never able to use his


father was a very well trained individual.

training because he just went in with the migrants.

We were on the run, so We went by

we changed our names any number of times during those years. Gutierres, Martinez, Perez and so on. folks were on the run.

I was born in Fort Dodge, Iowa while my Between' 1930 and 1941

We didn't settle until 1941.

-5Hernandez: I started school, migrant school. school member in 1942. I was at about age seven and a full time

In the meantime my grandmother remembers the fact that That gives you some idea of Our area was mostly the Although at dif-

I attended 68 schools during that period of time.

migrant mobility throughout these Midwestern States.

Midwestern States, much more so than Texas or California. ferent times we covered those states.

Predominantly we were in South Dakota,

Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin migrants. Moosbrugger: Subsequent to your father leaving Mexico, did his mother then come to the United States also? Hernandez: Moosbrugger: Hernandez: Yes, the whole family. At the same time? Right. Also the whole family of the Medina side, which is of Arab stock. So

my lineage is basically Spanish, Mexican,.:and Arab, Moorish.

At one point in You At

late 1939 in Fort Dodge, Iowa, a man by the name of "Alfonso" joined us. know the system of "Mi casa es tu casa", my house is your house joinings?

that point I think two years passed and Alfonso then confirmed me and became my "Padrino" (Godfather) and a "Compadre" to the family. In 1941, we were the

mobile orchestra for the migrant group that made up the 150 members of the migrant family. I forget the number of families, I would wager to say there My

must have been around 15 or 20 families that were part of the system. father being the "Patron", the contract getter, for the families. to go ahead a town or two, or sometimes a whole state farther.

His job was

The families

were in contract in Algona, Iowa, he would be in Delavan, Albert Lea, Truman, or Hollandale, arranging a contract. to a new contract. Moosbrugger: When you use the word "orchestra" are you using it in that sense? He would head back and move the families



No, that was his main function, to be a contractor for the families.

Then on

the weekend, or in the evening, we would have a musical orchestra, a family orchestra. We would play fbr the dances, for the "quinceanera" parties, also

for confirmation or baptism parties and the typical Saturday night dances of the migrant path. We played virtually allover the area.

On one of these

occasions we were hired to play in a town called Sioux City, Iowa for the 15th and 16th of September celebration and many, many people came from different states: Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Iowa, and On this occasion Mr. Alfonso met with many It was at that time that

joined us in this big celebration.

of the friends that he knew from the migrant path.

Alfonso discovered that the man who had sent him out with a contract, was

Mr. Gutierres, who was really, in essence, Vicente Hernandez, my father.
was then that we found out that Alfonso was a contractor, to find Vicente Hernandez and force him back to Mexico.


Alfonso was dying of cancer at that

time, along with the fact that he was now my father's compadre, and he felt that, for these two reasons, he was not going to report that he had found Vicente. A little over a year later he died from cancer. Just before he died, he told

my father that, as far as he could see, that would be the end of the "venganza" or the vendetta. So that same year when Alfonso was buried in Delavan, Minnesota, We worked for a large truck farming firm of That's the first year I attended school

we became residents of Delavan.

onions, cabbage, asparagus, and so on. full time.

We stayed there and I graduated from high school in Delavan, Minnesota Rather than take the draft, I joined the Air Force One interesting thing in

I was drafted into the army. that night.

I was in the Air Force for four years.

the area of education, is that when I graduated from Delavan, I graduated second from the bottom. There was only one other person that had a lower grade than I was out of school for six months before I

me, and I had a D minus average. got drafted.

-7Moosbrugger: Hernandez: What year? This was in 1949-50. I joined the Air Force, was sent to Mankato, and given It was for place-

a battery test at Lackland Air Force base when I got there. ment of careers. Moosbrugger: Hernandez:

I had a straight nine in all battery results.

Which is out of a possible •.• ? That's the highest you can get on a battery test, on nine facets of a battery. I had a straight nine on all of them. I was second from the bottom in a small I say this, so you can

town of 20 graduating students and a population of 225.

understand the academic level of the community as opposed to a national norm. What I am saying is that in a school of St. Paul or Minneapolis I would have totally failed competitively. There I probably would have carried, and yet the

testing results of schools do not necessarily coincide with the testing abilities of battery tests at a military type intelligence. I was then placed into the

area of intelligence, in the Air Force, and was sent to Syracuse, New York to study Russian. When I got there I signed up and I guess I was in the class for

about a week and a half at which time we were informed that all members of that class, number 29, including one fciend of mine from Amboy, Minnesota, were informed that if .we were to stay in class number 29, if we graduated, would be sent to the Eastern Front in Europe, incognito for two years. Those of us who

didn't want to go would have to pullout, not just pullout of the class, but pullout of the language field. I was engaged and about to be married in a

week and I couldn't see living incognito for two years, so I pulled out from the Russian Language School. I was sent back to another base, and from there I was assigned to the field of personnel. This put me into the area of finance clerk, payroll clerk, promotion



clerk, and administration, on that level. statistics.

I was also sent to a school on

From there I was sent to Europe and I became part of a weather

department detachment, a mobil detachment unit, attached to various Air Force bases. Our job was to report on the weather both for statistic purposes as I was assigned then as finance clerk, morning

well as for daily pilot flights. report clerk.

From there I was changed to statistician and from there to is like a personnel director for the mobil detachment. I

First Sargent which

spent two years in Germany and then I returned to the Minneapolis Airport. At that time it had the 31st Air Division and also the reserve group there. became First Sargent for the weather detachment here in Minneapolis and I was discharged as a Staff Sargent in four years. be. obtained onlY. during war time. It is a very high rank, which can I

Right now, in a four year stretch, you are At that time the promotions were

lucky to make Corporal, or Airman Second.

relatively high, besides the fact that I was in personnel and wrote my own promotions. That helps a lot and I happened to have the right officers agree When I finished the Air Force, I was discharged in I went there one year and I sold the house

as to my capabilities.

Minneapolis and started co11ega at Mankato State.

in fact, that's where I bought my first home, in Mankato. when I was offer ••• Moosbrugger: Hernandez: Were you married at that time? I got married twelve days before I went overseas.

I was gone two years.

I Al-

would wager that would be one of the reasons that we became so different. though my ex-wife and I are very good friends today, we really, just really led very different life styles.

It was really significantly different, but we I went to Mankato one

were at least compatible, workable, when we got back. year and then I transfered to Florida State.

My brother was running a business

-9Hernandez: over there and wanted to have me as a partner. reasons as well as extension of family. in the auto business, selling cars. orchestra leader. Florida. He wanted me both for financial

I worked with him for a year and a half

I also went into my own business as an

I had my own Jazz and Dixieland Band for three years in

In three states; Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, we averaged about I had the G.I. Bill, the orchestra, and money invested I was also an advertiser for asphalt tile in highway

five contracts a week. in the auto dealership. construction.

So ironically, I was making twelve thousand a year through college

and I didn't make that kind of salary unti1 ••• 1et's see I started off at seven thousand. Moosbrugger: Hernandez: As a teacher? As a teacher. It took me a number of years after college to make the kind of

money that I was making as a senior in college because of the connections that I had found in Florida. When I finished college in Florida I got a BA in Then I received a scho1ar-

Spanish, English, Political Science, and History.

ship from Maca1ester so I moved from Florida State to Maca1ester and obtained my Masters Degree in Education at Maca1ester in 1961. I started teaching at

Harding High School in St. Paul and remained at Harding from 1961 until 1969. During the interim of those years, I was in a number of other contracts, namely Adult Education, English as a Second Language, Spanish to the adult community, and also became involved in an International Exchange Program which, I believe, is the time I met you. I was involved in Experiment in International Living, We had a very active

American Field Service, the Work Abroad Program, and Swap. Spanish Club as you recall.

For three years running, we held International The money was

Festivals that grossed between ten and twelve thousand per year.

used to send students abroad on their own contracts for the American Field Services, with the Experiment, with Work Abroad.

We also prepared our own with

groups that I took to Mexico in air-conditioned station wagons and campers.

-10Hernandez: We moved half a dozen to a dozen students allover Mtxico. The reason we were

able to do that, is also because the year I met you, we were receiving 25 or 30 students from Mexico and Latin America to the various families in the East Side. These families, mostly from Mexico, would then reciprocate in kind.

They would say when you come to Mtxico, "Aqui esta tu casali, (this is your home). We had homes all over M~xico and we were able to travel very, very cheaply. The last trip we made we took six girls, and we spent $310.00 per individual in nine weeks. That included our gas out there and back, and everything. The

reason for that was because of the availability of money, courtesy, and hospitality from the various families whose sons and daughters had indeed lived with us here in the East Side schools. Moosbrugger: Hernandez: I recall your programs. They were indeed spectacular. I also worked for the International Institute

We had tremendous success there.

teaching both English and Spanish to the incoming foreign bodies; then I transfered to Humboldt Hdogh School as Assistant Principal Intern under a minority training program for certain minority teachers in the district. I was to stay

with that program for two and one half years, this would give me time to get on-the-job training as well as to finish my specialist degree at the University of Minnesota. But at that time Bill Gonzalez decided to retire from this job So I turned I am now

to go back to one or two years of teaching Vocational Education.

around and applied for this job rather than finish my A.P. Program.

on the verge of completing my training program as a school principal I rather doubt that I'll go into it for a number of reasons which are personal rather than competition.

I have been offered opportunities to go into princiBut I really think

palship, among them, just a few weeks ago, at Roosevelt.

that because of the nature of my role, I think I am a greater change agent in this kind of work than I would be in the confined atmosphere of a building.

-11Hernandez: Although I think there's a lot that could be done there too, I think more can be done through Urban Affairs, Affirmative Action, Human Relation type of endeavors that are a function of this office. Moosbrugger: O.K. getting back to some of the aspects of your very fascinating background and history, can you go back and mention who your brothers and sisters are, and if they are living; and your folks? Hernandez: My father died in 1951. Hernandez. My mother, about six years ago, remarried another We had six

He is part of the family extension system we had.

Hernandez' in our migrant family. and then my dad died in 1951. changed her name at 'all. Isidor, left home.

The wife of John Hernandez died in 1946,

About 1958 the two married, so my mother never My oldest brother

She just changed partners I guess.

He was the only one of age for the tail-end of World War II. He was dis-

He went to Germany and was trained in the Tank Armor Division. charged after six years in the service. years of college at Florida State.

On the G.I. Bill, he finished four

That is the reason why I went to Florida He now is a Professor of English at the

State, at the tail-end of his career. National University of Mexico. las Americas.

He also works part time at the Universidad de In fact, he got

Linus, my second brother didn't go to college.

a war exemption because he was needed on the farm. in our family.

He ended up the top musician He has won a number of

He is top guitarist and trumpet player.

honors in the field of music. I started.

He still has a Jazz group, the Jazz group that

He still lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and he is a road engineer Frank, after me, is now the Personnel

for the Highway Department in Florida.

Manager for the district in Missouri for the American Family Insurance Company, in the claims division. Chris, after him, is a teacher of Spanish in California.

He went to almost Ph.D. level in hopes of becoming a priest, but there was an inability to show certain certificates and documents all the way back from

-12Hernandez: Spain. Beatrice is a very reserved and shy person. Although she graduated

valedictorian of her class, she married a migrant and to this day is of migrant lineage and is traveling. The youngest one, Emily, married a migrant who has

just gotten off the migrant path and works for the Detroit Chrysler Corporation firm. Moosbrugger: Hernandez: She seems not to be as mobile anymore.

What are Beatrice and Emily's married name? Beatrice's is Diazo

In fact, part of her husband's line is the wife of The other one is also a Diaz.

Frank Hernandez, my brother.


In fact, these

three people married into the Diaz family which is a very, very large family in Winnebago, Minnesota. One thing I would like to mention is when I started

teaching in St. Paul in 1961, there was a very small movement of closing the ranks of the Chicano. very new here. In fact, Chicano is still a phenomanon, or is a movement,

The only agitative group at that time was the beginning of the Then it began to pick up movement

Latin Liberation Front and the Brown Berets.

and a number of people were being asked to get involved in the advacacy for the Mexican American. Among them was me. I was at that time involved in the

International Exchange program so I decided to change energies and move to the West Side or try to work on the West Side. I became involved around the clock

and kind of worked for both National Task Force of La Raza, which is a National Organization, and also with Dewitt Western Region from Chicago. I was on the

road as a consultant for that, and to this day, I am a Consultant for the National Task Group. It was just that break of never being home that brought It wasn't for any

about my wife's and my decision to go our separate ways. other reason.

It's just that when you get totally involved in something, you Anyway, my sacrafice happened to be my

get uninvolved in something else. marriage.

-13Moosbrugger: Hernandez: Oh yes, we haven't touched upon that. Yes, I do. Do you have any children?

I have a girl, who has finished high school and lives in Roseville. She is not too involved in the

She is married now, and has no children. movement. resume.

As far as my educational background, you will get that from the My personal philosophy of the Mexican American, which is the philosophy Our defi-

of this department I think, is the philosophy of culture plurism. nition is simply this:

There are basic responsibilities for American citizens, They are very

pure and simple, regardless of color, creed, or nationality. fundamental.

We are convinced at this point that all of us have long fulfilled They are basically established by a number writers

those responsibilities. to be:

payment of taxes; the love of your country through patriotic efforts;

the service in our armed forces when you are called upon to do so; and that's it. Those are the three fundamental reasons that national writers feel are the

reasons for uniting as a national entity for the betterment of the Country. Over and above that, it is the right of individuals to retain their language and culture, not at the expense of the national unity. very simple thing, as I mentioned it to you. National unity is a

Simply fighting for your country, The philosophy

protecting your country, and playing your roll as a tax payer.

of the melting pot however, is in contradiction, because it asks you to give up your language and your culture. The ethnic groups, called in this case

Chicano, has now determined that entry into the melting pot is not complete. You can enter, you can arrive to the very fringe of the melting pot, and when it's all said and done, color is going to be a measurement of exclusion to some degree or another, depending on individuals. are individuals that don't consider color at all. them. I would wager to say there You certainly being one of

But dominantly, there are more people who use color as a division line So we feel it's best to go back to our system and

than those who don't.

-14Hernandez: totally perfect our system. systems: two roles: It's best to become members of two perfected In that sense we can fulfill'

the Anglo system; as well as our own.

be bi-cultural and bi-lingual; and be part of the large groups That

that will teach in this country that which Europe has long ago learned.

is that the gneater the number of cultures and languages available, the greater the diversity in people and the greater uniqueness will come from these people as contributors to the total whole of the nation. You show me a good person,

you show me a contributing person, I'll show you one who is uniquely different is order to do so. Moosbrugger: How true. Einstein being no exception. Thank you very much. Sam is there anything

Beautiful interview.

you'd like to add?


You have the involvement of the individual in such things as in Spanish and so on. is. I am totally bi-lingual and most of my family from my side certainly All of us have made innumerable


In fact, I think all of us are bi-lingual.

trips to Mexico.

In fact, just recently my brother Linus found our family line And as you will see1 'by my involvement in the

in Leon, Guanajuato, a year ago.

activities in social organizations, I'm quite involved in just about everything that this office gives me the opportunity to get involved with. Moosbrugger: Thank you very much for the interview.