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Interview with Alfonso Galvan

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Alfonso Galvan was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in 1898. He fought in the Mexican Revolution and came to the United States in 1919. In 1923 he came to Chaska, Minnesota, and worked in the fields. He also worked as a butcher, for Armour for four years and for Swift for six years. He worked for Cudahy's for twenty-five years until 1954, when the plant closed. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: The Mexican Revolution - crossing the river and entering the United States - working for railroads, in farm fields and in the meatpacking industry - the first people in the West Side neighborhood of St. Paul - the Anahuac Society - celebrations on the West Side - his philosophy and advice to the young. COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW: In Spanish, transcribed into English.

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TRANSCRIPT OF AN ORAL INTERVIEW WITH
I

ALFONSO GALVAN

This interview was conducted as part of a series on the Mexican American in Minnesota. Alfonso Galvan, was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, in 1898. Mexican Revolution. States.
I

,

He fought in the

In 1919, a friend brought him across the river into the United Alfonso worked for the railroads, the meat

He arrived in Minnesota in 1923.

packing industry , in the fields and as a butcher. Mr. Ga1v:n discusses his life in Mexico and the United States; his employment record, the first people on the West Side of St. Paul, the Anahuac Society, the celebrations on the West Side, his philosophy of life and advice to the young. This is an English translation of the tape-recorded interview in Spanish. The orig-

ina1 cassette recording is available in the Audio-Visual Library of the Minnesota Historical Society.

INTERVIEW WITH ALFONSO GALVAN JULY 30, 1975 INTERVIEWER: VICTOR BARELA

/

Barela:

This interview is with Alfonso Galvan, also known as "Monterrey" at 469 Ada St., St. Paul, Minnesota 55107, today is July 30, 1975. Before starting with this

interview, I must ask you if you will give us permission to record this interview? Ga1va'n: Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan:
I
;
/'

Yes. What is your full name? Alfonso Galvan. Where were you born? In Monterrey, Mexico. When were you born? In 1898. What were your parents names? Miguel Galvan and Antonia Galvan Martinez. Where were your parents born?
.I'

,

I

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/

,

They were both born in San Luis, Potosi. What did your father do for a living? He worked in a foundry. The name of the company was E1 Funcion del Dos. He

never worked in the fields.

He was brought up by. priests in a church in San Luis, He married my mother when he was 24 years old

Potosi from the age of 10 or 12. and my mother was 16. Barela: Galvan:
/

Do you remember your father? Yes. In 1919 he worked in a foundry •. When I left he told me, "Son I am sorry to I can't keep you anymore. Go out and you will find a better life He

see you go. than here."

He said, he was sure of me and that I was not afraid to work.

was right too.

-2Barela: Galvan:
4'

Do you remember your mother? Yes, she died here in the United States. died. other. I brought her here. In 1925 my father

From 1919 to 1925 I did not see my family. I got married in 1922.

We did not even write to each

Barela: Galvan:

,

Did your father come to St. Paul? No, he was afraid he would not find a job. whole family. stayed here. He lived in Monterrey. He did not want to re-sett1e the

I came to the United States in 1919 and

Barela: Galvan:
;

Did you attend school in Mexico? Yes. Garzaya1a and Montemayor! in Monterrey. The schools still exist, because I When it gets cold, I am

have met people from Monterrey that have told me so. thinking of going to Monterrey to visit my niece. Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan:
I' I'

Do you remember your youth in Monterrey? Yes, my first job was in the foundry. Do you remember the revolution? Yes, in 1910 I was only 12 years old. was born in 1913. She was very young. There was much fighting. One of my sisters At the age of 18 years.

My father made a hole inside our little Well, not for everyone.
Th~se

home, because the houses are not like here.

that

have money can afford good homes, but we lived in the outskirts of Monterrey. father made a hole to shelter us from the bullets. The "Cal1ansistas" and the I would watch.

My

"Federalistas" of Porfirio Diaz would shoot at each other. Barela:
I Galvan:

Did you get to see some of the fighting? Yes, there were many dead people in the outskirts of Monterrey by the "Cerro de 1a Si11a" where the "Carransistas" came out. afraid, that is why I came here. not afraid you end up dead. I remember all those things. I was

Even brave men are afraid, because if you are
/

My grandmother, Fermina Castro de Galvan, my father's She died when she was 85, in Saltillo, Coahuila. I am still following

mother, gave me a lot of advice.

She told me when you see a fight, run, or else you are dead.

-3Galvan: Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan:
I
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her advice here with all the Mexicans.

Some of my friends tease me about it.

Your father did not have to fight in the revolution? No, he was too much of a Christian. Were you involved in any of the fighting? Yes, I did until they discharged me. I volunteered. I did not want to but it was necessary, so

My father was angry and he talked to my captain, Captain Ayala, They were both very young and

and Lieutenant Rafael Cadena of the Cavalry Unit. brave men. Barela: Galvan:
;

Was your family affected by the revolution? Yes. They did not want me to be involved in the fighting. I was their only son.

They did not know if I would come out of it alive.

I fought in the last part of In small battles.

the revolution, when it was like they say here, a "cold war."

At the beginning of the war it was not like this because the fighting did not leave a thing standing. In 1910 it was something else. Mr. Porfirio Diaz was We needed the

taken out of the government because he was a dictator like Castro. freedom. Barela: Galvan:
I

We had to work and earn money to live.

Did you ever get to meet any of the leaders of the revolution? Once they had a convention, I was 12 years old. I saw Villa and Ca'rdenas on the Later when I was fighting I If I were to go

balcony at the 5th of May celebration in Monterrey. got to see more of them.

I was older then, I was 18 years old. No one would know me.

to Monterrey now they wouldn't know me. Barela: Galvan:
I

Why did you decide to come to the United States? I had been
d~charged.

b

I was in the service for four years.

I was in Tampaco Whenever

trying to keep order.

We also fought in the outskirts of Monterrey.

someone asks if I fought in the revolution I just tell them that I walked among the dead. I got to see manYll dead bodies.

I went to San Luis Potosi to see my relatives on my mother's side. an uncle in Dallas, Texas.

,

This was in Coahuila and its outskirts. I also have

He came to the United States to escape the revolution.

-4Galvan:

,.

He brought his three sons with him. ended. This was in 1916.

I did not come here until the revolution My

In 1917, 1918, 1919 I was in Torreon, Coahuila.

mother travelled with my father and I selling food to the soldiers. Barela: Galvan:
I

So your family followed you? We were in Torreon when the bells rang. My mother was selling food to the There were only I am so I had

soldiers and she told my fahter that the revolution had ended. small attacks going on. happy.

My mother said, "Migue1, the fighting is over.

Let's stop selling food and go home to Monterrry with Alfonso. II

decided to go to the United States with some friends that had gone to work in the foundry where my father was a foreman.
lot when he was with the church.

My father was an engineer.

He learned a Friends

Before they would learn in the streets.

of mine from the United States approched my father for a job. English and Latin. go to Minnesota. My
frien~

My father spoke

Tejano, wanted a job so he could save some money to So he suggested He

My father told him that I wanted to go too.

that my friend take me.

I would like him to go with you so you can help him.

worked the beets and he said that I would be able to get a job. 1919. We swam across the border. I was a "wet back".
bec~use

We came here in

At first I tried to come!

across the bridge, but they wouldn't let us, documents.

we did not have the proper

We tried to cross a few times, then I met a group of poor people who I crossed

told me they could get me across the river when the guard went to lunch. by myself. Minneapolis. office was. Barela: Galvan:
I

In 1923 they contracted all the illegal aliens and brought us to From there they took us to Chaska, Minnesota, where their general

What was the name of the company that they took you to? It was in Chaska, Minnesota. I don't know the name of the company. One of the The first

men spoke English and he was our interpreter. jobs were going to the families.

We were all single men.

We were afraid they would not give us jobs.

My

two friends, who were from Guanajuato, and I left Chaska.

We got a ride on a pick

-5Galvin: up to Minneapolis. The first thing we did was go to a movie. Then we met a They were

group of men from Texas.

We greeted each othe'r and asked about jobs.

recruiting for the Milwaukee railroad and they hired me because of my previous experience with the Monterrey National Railroad. I knew the work. The others

could not get a job, so they went to work in the fields. for about five months. in the fields.

They worked at the camp

When we finished working for the railroad we went to work Not only Mexicans, but there were also

There were about 300 men.

Blacks, Germans, Russians, and other nationalities. Barela: Galvan:
I

Do you remember your friends' names? Yes. I think one of them lives here. Mr. Cervantes and Matias Pati;Llb went back
~~

to Mexico. dollars.

When he finished working in the fields I had accumulated about $1000 They paid us about 55 cents an hour. They also gave us room and board. I

After I made some money I was planning on going back to Mexico to get married. had a girlfriend, Mar{a Blanco. to our homes. had a job.

After the fields, we went to the depot to go back

I was a hard worker, so even when others were laid off, I always I met an-

The ticket from here to Laredo was $55 dollars by train.

other man from Monterrey that told me not to leave because there was plenty of work. He promised to help me find a job. I spent my money on clothes. He

showed me the town of Minneapolis. I had $29 dollars in my savings. ways.

In about three weeks I spent most of my money. When the money was gone we all went our separate There I met Tomas.
/

I went to the employment office.

He spoke English.

He

made a lot of money and went back to Mexico.

He never worked the fields like I did. He asked me to

He worked as a bartender and played bil1ards to make his money.

give him three dollars and told me that he would get me a job at Armour's packing house. He showed me which street car to take to get to Armour's. In the street I did the same

car I met the same men that had given me the job at the railroad. work Mr. Federico Saucedo and Agustin Rodriguez did.

I advanced to other jobs. I

We were low on materials, so some of the people were laid off, but I wasn't.

-6Galvan:
/

cleaned the floor during this time.

When they found out that I had some experi-

ence as a butcher, they made me a butcher. Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan:
/

So they promoted you from janitor to butcher. This was 1919. How long did you work for the railroad?

What year was this?

r

For about five months in St. Louis Park and Minneapolis.

After that I was planning
I

on going back to Mexico, but then I got a job at Armour's, so I stayed here. worked for four years as a butcher. jobs at Armour's. No high cellar for met
I

also did different

I saw an advertisement in the paper for experience personnel, I wanted to advance myself.
I
:I

so I left Armour's to go and work for Swift's.

Most

of them stayed at the same jobs they first started.

worked sIx years for Swift's.
i

Then in 1925 I quit and went to work for Cudahy in Newport. Barela: Galvan:
I

How long did you work for them? For 25 years. Like it says in the paper. We all have the same guarantees, but it At Cudahy they wanted skilled

is better when you can show a paper that says so. butchers. Barela: Galvan:
/

I was one of the few that had the experience as a butcher.

Did you retire from there?
I

worked until 1954 whet. the plant closed down.

This is why they gave us a certiAfter that I did other odd

ficate.

To show that we were good, reliable workers.

jobs here and there. Barela: Galvan:
I

Do you receive your pension from Cudahy? No, they closed down the plant.
I

receive Social Security.

I

started getting

$120 a month, now I get $203 a month. Barela: Galvan:
I

Were you married? Yes. When I was moving around I lived in an apartment house. My girlfriend lived

on the 1st floor and I lived on the 2nd floor. Barela: Galvan: Barela:
I

Which company were you working for then?
I was working for Swift '-s Company in 1922.

Did your wife work at Swift's, too?

-7Galvan:
(

No.

She was going to school.

I was single and I had no intention of getting

married. I loved.

All I wanted to do was go back to Mexico because that was the land that Now I don ',t, because I know I'll be dying here. She was Irish. Other Irish and French

families also lived in the building. ran and told her mother.

One day I kissed her and she

Her mother asked her if she liked me and she said yes. We were married in 1922. Our daughter

So her mother invited me to their home. was born in 1923. My daughter is now 52.

She speaks good Spanish, as if she had

studied, but my sister taught her. Barela: Galvan:
I'

What was your wife's name? Irene Cawa. My father-in-law was German. They did not like me. Even with our

marriage papers. in Mexico. Barela: Galvan:
I"

My father-in-law was afraid.

He said the people were different

How old was your wife when you married her? She was 16 years old. my family in Monterrey. Now she is 67 and I am 78. After I got married, I wrote to

They wanted me to move back to Mexico but I did not want

to because I had a two year old daughter and I wanted to', stay here. beautiful woman and my dauther is too. my father was sick. who is a
nurse~'

My wife was a
In 1925,

Our thinking is always changing.

He had a blood clot in his heart, that is what my daughter, She is a big shot

supervisor at University Hospital tells me.

because she can speak both languages. Barela: Galvan:
I

She is married to a good man.

So your father died in 1925? Yes. me.

My sister wrote me telling me my father was dying and that he wanted to see
I did not have much money, like I do now, but my wife insisted that I go. I

borrowed some money and I left.

My father-in-law and their neighbor, who later
When I returned from When my father

became my wife's second husband, took me to the station. Mexico my wife wanted a divorce.

All I cared about was my family.

died he told my mother and my sisters to follow me because I would take care of them. When I got to Mexico my father had already died.

My father had a very

modern home in Mexico.

I received a letter from my wife saying that she wanted me

-8Ga1vtn: Barela: Galvan:
/

to return as soon as possible. How long were you in Mexico? For about two months. During this time I had been working in Mexico. I promised

my mother that I would go back and bring them here with me.

My mother was working

washing dishes, my sister, Vita, worked making dresses and Lola was blind and Lazarita took care of her. divorce and started to work. I had to return. When I came back I gave my wife her We did not

I bought a car and went to get my family.

have much trouble getting them across because they did not require too many papers. I had taken three of my insurance policies to be safe. The Swift Company's insurI did not have a pass-

ance for $1,500 and two $3,400 travel insurance policies.

yort, but I went across anyway •. There were others who could not come back because they did not have a passport. showed my papers and came back. Barela: Galvan:
I

I came back through Laredo.

I paid $18 dollars and

First I brought two of them and then the other two.

When was this? 1925 was when my whole family came. I bought a house and furniture. Later, Vita,

and Sara wanted to work so I found them work at Armour's. I took them with me. fields. I took good care of them.

When I went to Cudahy,

They never had to work in the

Like I tell them, I did not support them, all I did was show them the way All the people that came first spoke broken English because we In 1933 there was a law that So we became

to a better life. are aliens.

We are not European we are Mexicans.
citize~s

we either had to become American American citizens. House. Barela: Galvan:
I

or we would be deported.

I went to classes in So. St. Paul and at the Neighborhood

When you first came to St. Paul, where did you live? I lived in So. St. Paul. high. I rented a room for $3.50 a week. Now rents are very

When I started working I got 55 cents an hour.

After that I got 80 and 90 I was not clever but\my

cents and then $1.80, all the way up to $5.00 an hour. daughter is. She is a supervisor of a whole floor.

When I was sick she talked

to my doctor about me.

He advised her to tell me to take it easy because I have

-9Galv~:

a serious ailment, and I am not supposed to drink. When you first came, who were some of the families that were here? About three or four families. five sons now.

Barela: Galvan:
/

Mr. Trejo, he did not have a family then.

He has

Mr. Federico Saucedo, he married two or three times.

I knew his Now

wife and children.

Don Agustin Rodriguez, I met him when he was a young boy. Don Pomposo Guerra and his wife. She worked at

he has about eight children. Armour's with me.

George Vasquez and Arturo Coronado, he was very young and single.

Alfonso Bravo, he was my roommate. Barela: Galvan:
I

Did the people get together? Yes, we had parties for the 16th of September. homes. We would have dances at people's
My brother-in-law is

We also had musicians that played for the occasion. He plays the saxaphone.

a musician. Barela: Galvan: Barela:
/ Galvan:
I

What is his name? Jose Medina. Do you remember some of the holidays you celebrated? Only the 16th of September and the 5th of May. You did not celebrate El Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day)? No, we did not. How about Our Lady of Guadalupe's Day? No, we did not celebrate that. The first church we had was on Wabasha Street. He died. He baptized my daughter.

,

Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan:
I
/

,

Father Guillemette was the one that started it.

After that came Father Dicks and then Father Ward and now Father Monsur. Barela: Galvan:
I

Did you participate in the feasts? Yes, I participated. When it came to dancing I was number one. I went to the

16th of September celebration last year. Barela: Galvan:
I

Do you still dance? No, this was when I was young. There are about four or five women that live in The other day when my daughter came to When I

the building that knew me as a young man.

visit, two women asked me who she was because they did not recognize her.

-10Galvan:
/

told them she was my daughter, Florence Mauricio, they remembered that they had held her in their arms when she was a baby. daughter who her mother was. I was always very proud to show my

She does not like her mother but I tell her she has All

to love her mother because she was the one that brought her into this world. I did was support her until she got married. mother. She has five sons and one daughter.

I tell her she should listen to her Four of them are married now':-hut--I

ask her who's they are and she says hers.

This is exactly how it is with your

mother because even though she did not bring you up she is still your mother. Barela: .,,Galvan: Is your wife still living? Yes, she lives by my daughter's. She has her own home and car. Her brothers and

sisters were very upset because we got a divorce.
my grandchildren.

I still see her when I visit

I will not take her back because I don't want her to think she I have girlfriends but I do not

can leave and that I will take her back anytime. plan on marrying again.

My daughter also didn't want me to get married because

then there would be too many complications. Barela: I Galvan: You mentioned that you knew some of the members of the Anahuac Society? Yes, all the ones that I have mentioned. Saucedo. Barela: Galvan:
/

They have all died except for Mr. Federico

You said that the Anahuac Society was not too successful, why was this? The people in the society did not get along. followers. Too many leaders and not enough

Barela: Galvan:
I

Were most of these people from Mexico? Yes, they were all from Mexico. one that started the society.
/

/

We did not even have a Texan.

Mr. Samora was the
;'

Mr. Trejo, Mr. Federico Saucedo, Agustin Rodriguez,
They were all older men, I

Pomposo Guerra, and myself were some of the members. was the youngest. not there yet.

They have all died now or are in their 80 sand 90 s.

v

v

I

am

We would get together at the Neighborhood House.

We had an office He was

and an interpreter, Esiquiel Moreno, (Brownie), Mr. Samora's son-in-law. born in Houston, Texas.

-11Barela: Did you have reunions at the Neighborhood House? celebrations? Galvan:
I

Is this where you organized the

Yes, then as more people got involved and the celebrations became bigger, we went to the auditorium. We could not have our celebrations at the Neighborhood House We also started having orchestras,

or in homes because there were too many of us.

not like before when we would have two or three playing the accordian and that was it. I like the celebrations we have now. Many people went to our celebrations.

There were very few people when I first came. Barela: Ga1v£n: Barela: Galvan:
/

Your daughter went to school here in the United States? Yes, she went to Lafayette Elementary School. Did she participate in any of the feasts? Yes, we all went to the Neighborhood House. We would also go to the auditorium I never stayed too close to them

for the celebrations of the 16th of September. because I liked to drink.

Now I don't drink anymore because I am sick. We also had a society for the men, but

My sister is a member of the Guada1upanas. it broke up.

The Texans here are good people, but they don't spend the money the We were never afraid to spend it, even Texan women have their men so that

way we did allover Texas and California. though we might be broke the next day. they don't spend the money.
Th~

When I was married I gave my wife the check because I
1ik~d

if I didn't give it to her we would not eat.

to go out.

One time I had She

a fight with my father-in-law because my wife did not like me to go out.

wanted to keep me at home but I was used to going out and having a good time with other women in Mexico as well as here. women in Mexico. money. It hurt me to leave all those beautiful

Before I left, I went out and had a good time and spent a lot of

There is a story about a Jewish man that came to the United States he made He only ate bread and water and saved all his money. He

ten cents an hour.

thought he would never die.

One day he was sick and had to go to the hospital. Death told him, "Someone else will

All he could say was "my money, my money."

spend it and have a good time, because you earned it, but you were afraid to spend

-12Galvan:
/

it.

You should have spent it while you were alive, now someone will spend it withI had many friends. Some would come and work the beets and

out being afraid." then go back. Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan:
I
/

I never went to work in the fields.

Do you still go to Mexico? No. I would like to go and visit. I have been sick and I hope to get better.

Has your daughter ever been to Mexc·ico? She would like to go, but she has only been to San Antonio, Texas. of her sons there. She has two

She asked if I wanted to go with her to San Antonio because My grandson,i Jose, is married to a

that is where her sons are in the service. Norwegian.

Junior has a German wife, Billy is married to an Irish, and Martha was She is divorced now. Four of them are married. She only has

married to an Irish. two sons at home.

One is 19.

Carlos Mauricio and Michael, he was named liked my

father, he is 14 or 15 years old. Barela: Galvan:
I

What is your daughter's husband's name? Isaac Mauricio. They had six children in their family. He is a good man. I tell

her that if he ever mistreats her to let me know. should he? Barela: I Galvan: Barela: Galvan: Barela: Galvan:
I'

If I did not mistreat her, why

I am still her father and I'll look out for her.

Do you still enjoy Mexican food? I just made squash with pork. I have it once in a while.

Does your daughter still speak Spanish? Yes, she speaks it better than I do. How about your grandchildren? No, they only speak English. English well. all laborers.

/

My son-in-law is from Guanajuato and does not speak
They were

He comes from a family of five brothers and one sister.

Barela:

You have a very interesting philosophy of life. in your life to arrive at such a philosophy? Avoid fights.

What has influenced you the most

/ Galvan:

The good life. trouble away.

Like my grandmother used to say a good life keeps

Some people think that by fighting and robbing, others will have a

-13Galvan:
I

better life, but that is not so. and I tell them sure.

Some of my friends ask me if I would ever steal,

But if I stole something it sure would not be clothes beIf I stole I would rob a bank. I would

cause I could get caught wearing them.

also do it by myself because if I had a partner, the partner might get caught and tell on me and if I got caught I might tell on him. wrong, don't involve others. not just any little thing. So if you are going to do

And if you are going to steal, steal something big One of my friends told me the story about the shepard Back in those days the people did not put their

boy who found a sack of gold. money in banks. him.

He ran home and told his father but his father did not believe The next day

Finally he said, "O.K., we will go and pick it up tomorrow."

when they went to the spot where the sack was, it was gone. by and had taken it with him.

Someone else had come So don't put off

He did not wait until tomorrow.

until tomorrow what you can do today.

My grandfather used to tell me when you are I eat

hungry, eat, because if you wait until tomorrow you might not have any food. when I am hungry. I learned how to cook a long time ago. We all ate there.

I used to eat at the

cafeteria at Armour's. there.

There were many nationalities that worked

There were some Blacks, and some of the people did not like them, but I

didn't care because we are all human beings. Barela: If you were going to give advice to people that have not had the experience you have, what would you tell them so they could lead a happier life? Galvin: I would give them the same advice my father gave me. lazy, because I did not have to work. When I was young I was very Then I fell in love I talked to my

My father was wealthy.

with a girl from San Antonio, Anita, and I wanted to get married.

father about it and he told me not to settle for the first girl I knew because there were many others that I should get to know. They are all different. Another

thing he told me was that I should learn a skill and have a steady job before I would think of marrying. He also said that if I wanted to keep on with my education, I should concentrate on my studies. He also

there was no room for a girlfriend.

said to first finish my studies and have a good job before I thoughtof getting '"

-14Galvan:
I

He was not going to support me and a wife.

That is why he was not afraid when I

left home because he siad that I knew how to work and that if I starved it was because I did not want to work. He did not feel sorry for me. This is what I

would tell the young men and also the girls.

Marriage is no good until you have other wise if you

completed your studies and are mature enough to handle it. marry young you might end up getting a divorce like me.

When I lived in Mexico

all I thought of was girls but when I came to the United States everything was different. to me. Barela: Galvan:
/

I did not have my father to support me so work became very important I took good care of my family.

I have never been on welfare.

We thank you for your help.
Me too.

I have not had much education but when someone speaks to me I am glad to Don't talk to me about politics because I don't like to get involved

answer them. in fights.