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Interview with Frank Rodriguez



Frank Rodriguez was born March 28, 1920, in Sheridan, Wyoming, moved to St. Paul at age two, and was educated in the St. Paul schools. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Family life on the lower West Side of St. Paul while he was growing up during the Depression - his interest in athletics - his activities with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party - his work with the Hod Carriers' Building and Common Laborers' Union, Local 132 - his involvement in Our Lady of Guadalupe Church and various civic organizations - and the importance of his Mexican heritage.





World Region



JUNE 27, 1975



This interview was conducted as part of a series on the Mexican American in Minnesota. Frank Rodriguez, born in Sheridan, Wyoming, moved to St. Paul, Minnesota with his parents at age two. Throughout his life, he has actively participated in

athletiCS, maintaining an appetite for wholesome activities and a lively spirit of competition. Frank is in his thirteenth year as an officer for Construction and His influence in the community and in the entire state is His recent or current membership

General Labor Local 132.

affected by behind the scenes political activity. in organizations include:

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, Knights of Columbus,

Neighborhood House Association, st. Paul Civil and Human Rights Commission, and the Minnesota Press Club. He is the first Mexican American from the State of Minnesota

to serve as a delagate to the D.F.L. Party National Convention. This is a transcript of a tape-recorded 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 Frank Rodriguez for the Mexican American History Project under the Minnesota Hisotrical Society. Could you start off by telling us who you are and where

you were born? RODRIGUEZ: My name is Frank J. Rodriguez. I am a home owner, residing at I was born on March 28,

239 East Robie Street, St. Paul, 55107. 1920 in Sheridan, Wyoming. which live today.

I am the second of ten children, nine of

My parents, Augustin Rodriguez and Dolores Vasquez They were Mexican

de Rodriguez were both immigrants from Mexico. Nationals. year.

My mother has passed away, and my dad is in his 84th My dad had no formal education. My moth-

He is still living.

er had a Mexican formal education, but they were not educated in English. My dad took us, my older brother Manuel, my mother, and He had, some

myself, to Wyoming to work in the sugar beet fields.

time prior to that, been employed by Swift and Company in South St. Paul, Minnesota. After I was born, in March of 1920, he worked

that season in the beet fields, and then migrated to the state of Minnesota again. two years old. I believe we moved to South St. Paul when i was

We later moved down to the lower West Side of St. Educationally,

Paul, where I have resided for over fifty yesrs.

I went to Lafayette Elementary School, Roosevelt Junior High School, and I attended Crowley School for a brief time. to St. Matthew Catholic School. High School in 1940. went to college. I also went

I ultimately graduated from Humboldt I never

That was the extent of my education.

When I was a young duffer, I had occasion to sign up

-2RODRIGUEZ: in the Civilian Conservation Corps. You were supposed to be sixteen

years or older to be in the CCC. V signed up when I was fifteen, so subsequently I did lose some time. Humboldt at the age of twenty. Ultimately, I graduated from

I went to CC Camp in 1936 because I earned the whole amount of $30.00 I was given $5.00 a month for

there weren'.t any jobs to be had.

a month, of which my folks got $25.00.

my personal needs and that permitted me to come every other week to visit my folks. sota. I was up on the Canadian border, up near Ely, MinneI

Upon returning to St. Paul again there weren't any jobs.

enrolled in Humboldt High School, so that enabled me to get through high school. I had to go to night school to get the necessary credits

so that I could continue to go to hight school during the day and play athletics. I think I have a degree in athletics behind me.

MOOSBRUGGER: What sports did you play, Frank? RODRIGUEZ: I played football. I was a regular in football. and basketball during I played baseball for over 25 years,and I have bowled for 30 years and I am now

the years I went to school. softball for over 30 years. golfing in my old age.

I spent an awful lot of time playing ball,

sometimes playing four evenings a week, and playing every weekend out of town. today. So I tqink athletics is a very good thing for our youth .

As far as employment is concerned, up to this point, I had

only worked in the CC camp.

Immediately after I got out of school, Back

I went to work for Construction and General Labor Local #132. in 1941, in the fall:

Because there were an overabundance of jobs,

I was not required to join the union. ' I worked as a "permit" in May of 1942. I formally joined Local # 132 on July 3, 1942. I·am still

a member in good standing.

So actually, my employment revolves around I may qualify that by

Construction and General Labors Local #132.



saying that during the times that I went through high school, I worked at the Neighborhood House as a coach and an umpire. I was a teacher in classes and a1ubs. at their Owendigo Camp. I worked out at Carver Lake I I have

That was, more or less, an odd job.

have worked for the Construction General Labors Local #132.

worked for over twenty years with a pick, shovel, and jackhammer. Finally, in June, 1963, I sought office. For the first time in

my memory, a non-incumbent defeated an incumbent on the first time, without ever having run for, elective office before. seven years as the Recording Secretary.

I served some in my I



present positio~, SecretaryLTreasurer, unexpectedly passed away. was appoin,ted t() fill the vacancy. I have run two terms and then

been re-e1ected to the office of Secretary-Treasurer.

I have, in the

last two weeks, been re-e1ected, tin-opposed, for another three year term. I am now starting my thirteenth year as an officer.
As for organizations, I am a charter member of Our Lady of



a member of the Knights of Columbus 3rd degree, I am a member of the Board of Directh..~

Council 4186 of\West St. Paul.

tors of the Neighborhood House Association, a member of

Men's Club at Our Lady of Guadalupe, and various other civic organizations probably too numerous to mention. I will note that I served I

for four years on the St. Paul Civil and Human Rights Comission. am a memuer of the Minnesota Press Club. I have, until recently,

served on the Governor's Advisory Board of the Rehabilitation Advisory Committee, of which the Governor has made some changes and dissolved the participation of the citizens. I believe the work will now be

done by legislators and people within the commission itself, or the people working in that group. They feel they will do a better job.

-4MOOSBRUGGER: Government employees will be doing this? RODRIGUEZ: No, the people who work in the program. To get that involvement of They feel

the people who meet with the people, to see the problems.

they can relate better than some citizens that meet every other month or so. MOOSBRUGGER: I see. I agree with that. I agree whole heartily.

If you are on the Board of Directors at the Neighborhood

House you must be meeting with them quite frequently these days? RODRIGUEZ: We have a meeting once a month. we have a luncheon meeting. that they have there. The second Monday of every month

I have served on almost every committee

Whether it is the scholarship committee, which I suppose I'm getting old!

is very important, or one on the aged.

I have also served under nursery and various other very unpopular committees that are very important for our community. involved. We do get

We scrutinize and interview and appoint, with limitations,

people who are coming on so that we avoid politicing" in-that area. It has proved to be quite successful. A lot of decisions are made,

most of them involve the Mexican Americans and they are very important: We now have

rarticipation, and I think that's a

wonderful thing. MOOSBRUGGER: When you say unpopular committees, do you mean that they are a lot of work? RODRIGUEZ: Yes. People don't give a damn about the aged until they get old This society doesn't do

themselves.or they have an aging father. enough for the aged.

Not until our father or our mother or our

grandparents are being denied something that you would like them to have,or they have been accustomed to have. People don't give a damn;

When you are going out there, fighting for reinstituting funding for'-:day care centers, the average person doesn't give a damn about them. And the same thing when you are going out there on social issues.

-5RODRIGUEZ: They have this clinic down there, sure it's unpopular! When-

ever people are going, raising questions about trying to get some funds for something where they can relate to people of their native tongue; people just don't carel Let me emphasize another area that

involves the Mexican American that I'm very, very disturbed about:
As a member of organized labor, we have had, from time to time,

requests from the United Farm Workers.

They are an 'affiliate of We have endorsed Yet, when the people

the AFL-ClP, of which my union is a member. their program and we have been supportive.

from the farm workers group come, they do not relate to the Mexican American in this community.

They go to big business in the unions.

of Commerce but the Trades Labor Assembly That's what I mean by "big business" within

and the state AFL-CIO. the union movement.

They ask their support and they want money, but Today

I feel they should go and meet with the troops down there.

I see Mexicans who, because of the problems in California, are thousands of miles away. They don't even recognize that when they

buy the "scab lettuce" and "grapes" that they are

the very

people who have the heritage and background that they have. They fail to recognize and ca£knowledge it.


So, this is what

I'm saying, that we don't want to recognize something that is going to be hard. I used to buy grapes by the lugs and my grandson says, He can't understand that we That's what I'm saying here,

"Grandpa, where are the grapes?"

are supportive of the farm workers.

that a selling job to get the full participation of the Mexican American has been lacking. fault. Getting back to the religious, I'm a Roman Catholic. Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. I've mentioned before. I attend It's my fault, your fault, and everyone's

I did go to St. Matthew's School as My wife's last name was Reyes.

I am married.




She also came from a large family, as I did. children. Two have died, and six are living.

We have had eight We have two that are

married; our oldest daughter Shirley Marie, and our oldest boy, Frank Jr. We have four living at home now, two who we are supportin.g and two who are self-supporting. John and James support themselves.

Anna Marie, who is fifteen, and Michael, who will -be twelve next week, are the ones we have at home. MOOSBRUGGER: What is your daughter's married name? RODRIGUEZ: She is Mrs. Joseph E1izondo,Jr. years old. She has one child who is four Frank Jr. is married and

He was my first grandchild.

has two children; one boy, David, three years old, and one daughter. When I went to school, I happened by coincidence to be the only Mexican in the class. When I went to Crowley, St. Matthew's, Roosevelt,

and Humboldt, somehow or another I got rather defensive about my heritage and maybe a little bit ashamed. About seven years ago, when

Our Lady of Guadalupe phased their Mexican school 9ut and went into Project Discovery, I realized how much it is to lose your Mexican heritage. I am proud of the fact that I was one of the three people Yet people voted

who voted strenuously to retain our own identity.

to enter into Project Discovery and today it has been the largest "f10peroo" around. We no longer have our own Mexican Identity. Now

I'm rather proud of my Mexican heritage.

I'm ashamed of my position

in the past because I realize now, the great cultural heritage that we have. I was not given that kind of educational information when
p./ Caucasi~ns,

I was growing up because I was in a middle room with all except myself.

I would hope that my children will be proud of their

Mexican heritage and that they will, on their own, seek to take up Spanish in school. My children do not speak Spanish. I was taught

to speak English first'

I still speak Spanish every time I meet with

-7RODRIGUEZ: Mexicans. We were brought up to be courteous and respectful, and I

think that that's one of the fine things that I can remember. When I was a little boy, that was one of the things that I was the most proud of. But, now lam afraid that we are in:'a day when we are not I see great efforts on the part of a handI would extend

emphasizing this enough.

ful of people trying to emphasize our heritage.

whatever support I could to keep that kind of identity for our people. MOOSBRUGGER: Do you think that Our Lady of Guadalupe Church still plays a vital role in keeping some kind of cohesive Mexican American community? RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Father Raymond Mansour, who recently returned from South

America where he spent several years learning to speak, write, and read Spanish is trying to bring about more and more of the Mexican customs. And yet, in just the last few days, I have heard criticism I don't find that criticism

of that, that we are going to the past. valid.

I think that one of the nicest things is that part of the Unfortunately, it's mostly

Mexican community still plays the role. with elderly people. together.

Our youth today is a different kind of cat all

Our society today has made more of an effect on the young I see now that the Latin Masses that are said

than the church has.

in Spanish are really crowded, because we only get one once in a while. So, yes, I think people recognize what we have lost, and I think we all regret that very much. But, we are living in a society that I'm sorry to see

years t.o come they'll be phased out eventually. that. Spanish is not spoken ifl my home.

Only between my wife and

I, my mother-in-law when she comes over, my father, or when some Mexican people come. We still have an old custom of taking the

Blessed Mother out on Novenas and they go out to different a beautiful custom.


We have not done it for several years, but when



we did, we had many Mexican people come.

They pray in Spanish and The next day you pass

then you keep the Blessed Mother for one day. it on to another family. MOOSBRUGGER: Is this the statue of the Blessed Mother? RODRIGUEZ: Yes, it is.

This is done so that on the anniversary of our Blessed

Mother, the 12th of December, the greatest religious day in Mexico, it is returned to the church.

Then they go into another Novena

all the great accomplishments that she made, not Everybody in my The last

only for the Mexicans, but for the entire Americas.

family has gone to Mexico since the last time that I went.

time I visited Mexico I was in a train and the Revolution was going on arolnd us.

They were shooting windows out of the train and I 'thought My mother later told me that they were shooting

it wasla lot of fun. real bullets.

MOOSBRUGGER: How old would you have been when you were in Mexico? RODRIGUEZ: That would have been about 1924 or 1925. It was during the height of

the Revolution. We no longer observe the Mexican traditional holidays as we used to. As the President of the Men's Club, we used to sponsor We sold beer and cleaned up the hall, made arrangeWe used to make quite

dances at Stem Hall.

ments with tickets 'and did all of these things. a few dollars for Our Lady of Guadalupe.

But consequently, at some Now

point in time, a social organization has taken over these.

the church has no involvement whatsoever, they get nothing of the proceeds. So while some people observe these celebrations and fiestas,

I don't recognize them in the sense that I used to reagnize them. Mexican food has always been one of my favorites. ing team, I invited my team over last evening. on the team. Being on a golf-

I am the only Mexican

They were all bragging that they ate a dozen tacos or

more, along with other Mexican food. My wife has a special knack for

-9RODRIGUEZ: being able to make Mexican dishes. and our favorite. Mexican music has always been one of my favorites. don't have that many Mexican records. do not play the stereo often. However, I We They are very much a delicacy

My children do, though.

My personal schedule keeps me away It's very

from my home four evenings a week and most every weekend. rare that we play our Mexican records. brothers have many Mexican records. them extensively. I had parents

However, all my sisters and

When I visit them, they play

not have a formal education.

But I thank

almighty God that they gave me the kind of direction and counseling that encouraged me to continue my education. I cannot be critical

of them because my father was making $17 a week at Swift and Co. at the height of the depression, or the depth. He had ten children to

support and there was no foom for putting any money away for education of his kids. It was hand to mouth, the way we were living then. So

they had a great effect on my outlook on life and my positive approach. My church has played a very prominent role. They gave me a sense of

responsibility and to be able to realize where we came from and who we:-owed what we had to. So I have never forgotten, through my dad's

leadership, and seeing the involvement of the church, and how it related to the people. I like to believe, without getting personal, I wish it could be more.

that I have a personal check every week.

I think the church today appears, in my humble opinion, as possibly the only solution to the many, many complex problems that we have in our society today. I am overwhelmed at the politicians who tell

us what we are striving to do, and then turn around and make very little effort to bring about those changes. Those changes that are

-10RODRIGUEZ: necessary for the working people who are not making as much money to support a family, the people who are underemployed, and the people who have no jobs. Our President today says that the end of

the depression is in sight, that we have hit the bottom and everything is on the up and up. He fails to recognize that millions of

people, and many Mexicans included, have no jobs, and find that they are supposed to celebrate the bicentennial when they have no jobs and no money to put the food on the table. I don't know if our I have many

society is really headed in the right direction. questions on that. MOOSBRUGGER: You testified that perhaps the church is our hope.

Keeping on a

personal level, would you care to comment on what your feelings are on the role Our Lady of Guadalupe Church plays in the Mexican

. American community in St. Paul today, or has in the past? RODRIGUEZ: The role that Our Lady of Guadalupe plays in our Mexican society, and indirectly in the lower West Side and St. Paul, isn't something that you can measure. It is just, how much effect have I had And,

on my child when I try to give him some sense of direction?

you know, we can't tell Our children what to do, we show them how to do it. So how much influence does something that you have no way However, I do see many things there that I didn't

of measuring have? see before.

I see the desire of the Mexican American, the one who:

I knew in the cradle, or I used to run around with their fathers and mothers socially. They're striving to continue on into the ed-

ucational field, to go to high school, to go to college, to graduate, to

out a diploma.

So they are now becoming teachers, attorneys, I think that the future of the Mexican

doctors, and engineers.

American is much brighter than some three years ago when I was. asked to speak at the University of Minnesota. They asked me to speak on

-11RODRIGUEZ: fifty years of progress in the Mexican American community. in and I said, "The first thing I want to do you have been misled. I'm going to. I walked


apologize because

I have been asked to speak on something, and

The topic of my speech will be Fifty Years of FrustraBecause when I weighed the

tion in the Mexican American Community."

progress in fifty years of the Mexican American I could put it all on a sheet of paper and it was merely lip service. years, I see the degrees coming out of colleges. But now, in three I see they are going

extensively into the educational.field, I see them going into eng ineering, and I see that the Mexican Americans are finding their place in the sun. I happen to feel very strongly that this is through

the efforts of various different pastors of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the kind of effect that they had, and you can't measure it. Mo-

tivation is one thing I found very apparent in the Mexican American back in the 20 s, 30 s, and 40 s. v v v I was part of that. I have to

recognize'.it. II didn't qualify for any apprenticeship program, and I sat at the curb and felt sorry for myself. But then I figured it I got a job

didn't get me anywhere, so I did the only thing I could.

handling a jackhammer and through the blessings of Almighty God I have the job that I have now. and the Neighborhood House But, I do

the priest They

have played a predominant role.

have encouraged kids to seek out.

You played all kinds of different

sports and some people ventured out and got scholarships on their athletic ability. When they got out of school they were availed with they were able to

an opportunity to work within their programs, qualify for better jobs in that way. measure,

The church, I can't again,

giving responsibility and bringing motivation about, I Yet today, the church,

think they have played a really important role.

for all that it has done for the Mexican American community,is a victim of the times. Because now I find that the Mexican American is no

-12RODRIGUEZ: different than anybody else. And they, in a sense say, "If the Cath-

olic religion lowers it's standards, I could consider remaining in the Catholic faith." And that is the gospel truth I Anything else?

MOOSBRUGGER: Yes. Do you remember any folk stories, legends or traditions that your folks.might have handed down to you, or that you know by word of mouth? RODRIGUEZ: No. I have a brother, the one who follows rue, Pete. He remembers

everything, I remember nothing..

I want to be honest about it, when No, I can't

they tell jokes at parties, the next day I forget them.

tell you any traditions other than some of the things that my American friends didn't do. When I was four-seven, I would go to these At the wakes they would pray all night

wakes at homes and to Novenas.

and then finalize it by going right to church and to the cemetery with the deceased person. Then they would have the Novena. They

would have it in the room where the person was laid out at home, for nine nights. They would have candles there and that was a little They had what they call a "pinata". A lot of the I thought

bit different than the Americans.

Now,the pinata has taken root here in this country.

Americans in their schools and churches have taken it up. it was a lot of fun and slowly people accepted this. of the things. American people.

These are some

I felt the Mexican people were much closer that the This is a tradition. I was brought up in what was

called "Jew Town", it was a Jewish settlement of people who had migrated here from the old country. people also became very close. migration. They were very close, and the Mexican At that time there wasn't too much

So for twenty-five years there were only about 200 It wasn't until after World

Mexican people living on the West Side.

War 11 that great migrations 'came form Mexico, Texas, and other parts of the country. As far as any other

no, I again say that



my brother remembers all of these things vividly and he is three years younger than I am.

MOOSBRUGGER: Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Rodriguez. RODRIGUEZ: You're welcome.