Augustina Reyes

Duration: 1hr: 3Mins
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Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with: Augustina Reyes
Interviewed by: Linda Quintanilla
Date: March 29, 2000

Archive Number: OH 506

 

LQ:      00:22  This is Linda Quintanilla interviewing Dr. Tina Reyes on March 29, 2000, in her office in the ELCS Department of the College of Education, University of Houston.  My paper is about women in Houston who were activists in the 1970s and ‘80s.  The title is “Not Barefoot in the Kitchen:  Chicana Activists in Houston.”  Your name has come up many times in my research, and I’d like to learn more about you, so I have a few questions.  First of all, do you prefer the term of identification of Chicana or Mexican American and why?

AR:     I think I would even take it a step further, and I would look at the Chicano, Mexican American, Hispanic, or Latino.  And quite frankly, I think because Latino is more universal, that’s my preference.  But as long as someone clearly identifies me, I guess that’s the most important thing.

LQ:      Okay.  What do you mean by “clearly identifies you?”

AR:     That they recognize that I am from another ethnic group.

LQ:      Okay.  What do you see as your most important contributions to the Mexican American community in Houston?

AR:     Oh, I’m not sure that I’ve contributed much of anything.

LQ:      You’re being modest.

AR:     Actually, I’m not.  I mean, it was a good experience for me.  What I’ve done has always been a good professional experience.

LQ:      Which experiences are you talking of specifically?

AR:     02:16  My educational experiences, my community experiences, and my public experiences I think have all enhanced my general knowledge and ability.

LQ:      What do you see as the three major accomplishments of Chicanas, Mexican American women, in Houston in the last 20 years, so contributions or progress in the last 20 years?

AR:     I think that you’re going to find that there are many and that they are at all levels.  I think you can find a lot of women that are involved in the education of their children, and I think that that’s a major contribution.  I’ve done interviewing of parents, and I’ve looked at particularly how Hispanic women, Latina women, are the primary education directors of their children or for their children.  So I think that that’s a major contribution that they’ve made.  I see them involved in schools, whether it be at PTOs or in just helping teachers in the classroom and at all educational levels.  Whether they have any education at all or whether they have a doctoral degree, you see women involved in the education of children, so it’s across all educational levels.  And I’m particularly encouraged by the involvement of women who themselves have very little education but who are promoting education for their children.  I think that’s a major contribution that this city has from Latina women historically and continuously.

LQ:      I’m glad you said that because sometimes in the media it seems to come out every once in a while that the Hispanics are not interested in education and they don’t pursue it and it’s just not high on their agenda.

AR:     I think that you can no longer say Hispanic and mean one size fits all in Houston because we have so many spectrums.  We have third generation and fourth generation Hispanics, we have a continuous influx of first generation immigrants, and they’re all at different levels.  And I think one of the things that I’ve found is that regardless of the economic level, women are always promoting the education of their children.  I think there’s a real misconception.  All you have to do is go into a Latino school and find women involved in the school and find how women on those campuses have made a difference.  So I think that’s a major one.  There are of course a number of others.  The number of women in administration in the school district, in the university, in various public governmental sectors has increased enormously, and there seems to be—  I guess what I see as probably the greatest growth is that there are many different kinds of women with different ideologies, with different backgrounds, with different generational linking to Houston.  Whether they be newly arrived immigrants or whether they be third or fourth generation citizens, there’s a participation of all levels, and there’s room for participation at all levels.  And just the geographic span of Houston allows for much more participation of Latina women, whether it be all the way from Hempstead to Galveston or whether it be in inner city Houston uniquely.

 

cue point

 

LQ:      06:47  Education is obviously of real interest to you, and you talked about women’s contributions to their children’s education, so how do you think your role in the education field—because you have contributed.  Could you elaborate on some of the things you’ve done?

AR:     I’ve been in the education field all the way from the time that I got out of high school.  I started immediately teaching a GED class.  I developed a preschool curriculum.  But I also wanted to tell you about the contribution of women in the civil rights history of Latinos in Houston.  I think that there is a core of women who are community women and also of various educational levels who were really and have really been the pushers of civil rights in this city for Latinos.  It was not the public leaders.  It hasn’t been public figures who have made a difference; it’s been the women who have pushed at a local level, and there are names of them and members of them out there everywhere.  So I think it’s the recognition and the realization that the real leaders here are a number of local community women who have always been the strong fighters behind the civil rights movements for Latinos in this city.

LQ:      Can you give the names of some individuals or organizations that particularly stick out to you?

AR:     Some of the women that stick out in my mind are women like Rachel Lucas, who was a leader in health—she actually died at a very young age herself—but who provided health care and promoted health care for low income people in this city and in this county for many years until her death.  There’s a woman named Marta Moreno, who has a community center over on the east side.  There was a woman named Carmen Beltran, a mother of seven children, who herself never had any education but promoted education for children in this city for years, and Ms. Beltran is still alive.  There are a number of them out there who have really been leaders in this community and who have made it possible for others to promote in a more public way.

LQ:      09:39  You did mention earlier about the diversity of different women and their views and their activities.  Have you noticed some recent trends?

AR:     Some of the current trends are even the inclusion of women like Karla Cisneros, the new school board member.  Karla is a part of our community, her children are a part of our community, and I consider her as part of the agenda to improve conditions for minority children.  There’s a lot of room out there, and now the spectrum is getting so wide that people like Karla are important in our community as well in terms of leadership and diversity in leadership.

LQ:      What is it especially about her?

AR:     Karla was recently appointed to the school board and for years has worked as one of those parents in schools to promote issues in an inner city school.  Travis Elementary is located right off of North Main in Houston.  And Karla for at least the last seven years has worked in that school to improve conditions for kids there, and she’s recently been appointed to the board of education, which I think puts her in a very important position.

LQ:      You were on the board yourself.  Can you say a few things about your experience?

AR:     I kind of feel like I was on the board back in the Dark Ages because it was probably the period between 1980 and 1990, and it was quite a learning experience for me.  I spent eight or nine years on the board.  I was fortunate to be able to do that because I was finishing up a doctorate and being a board member, so the two were compatible.

LQ:      What are the achievements or the changes that stick out in your experience while you were at HISD in that time?

AR:     Actually, I was not the first Latino on the board.  The first Latino was David Lopez, and David had really paved the way for me, which made it much easier.  So I was not completely new.  And then having a professional background in public education also just made the task a little easier.  The politics were new to me, but eventually, I got to understand those as well.  But I don’t think that I as an individual had any impact.  I think that I and a group of people had an impact on the district.

 

cue point

 

LQ:      13:07  Okay.  What would you say they have done?

AR:     I think one of the first significant things is we were able to bring on board and create two additional seats that became Hispanic seats so that now I believe there are three Hispanics on the board.  So we ended up with three Hispanic seats, and those were pretty much created during that period.

LQ:      That does seem like an important change.

AR:     The changes that are really important for us are how many of our children are passing the TASP, which is the exam that they take in order to go to a state college?  How many are going to college?  How many are staying?  How many are getting doctorates?  How many are becoming school teachers?  I think that we have kind of made a dent in that direction in creating a professional class within our community, but I think within the next ten years you’ll just see an explosion.  And no one can do anything—and I certainly don’t feel that I did anything on the board that wasn’t supported by several people who were in the legislature, people who were on the city council.

LQ:      You were speaking earlier of your work.  Are they volunteer organizations that you are or were very active in that you feel like were important or that you contributed to?

AR:     I think that community-based organizations—and I guess probably elementary and middle schools and high schools are in a way community-based—and the things that people do in their communities, their homes, are important.  Many of the organizations that I worked with were community-based.

LQ:      How, for example?

AR:     My first class that I taught was a GED class, and it was a community-based organization in my home community.  I’ve worked in community-based organizations in Denver Harbor, Magnolia, Northside, and most of the major traditionally Hispanic populated areas.

LQ:      15:59  Which area were you from?

AR:     I was primarily in the inner city.

LQ:      The area that you grew up in?

AR:     Yeah.  But I think that now it’s just much more diverse.

LQ:      People are more scattered.

AR:     Yeah, because I moved over to the west side of town, and when we got there, we realized there were more Mexican restaurants there than there were where we were living, off of Lockwood.

LQ:      Was the fact that you are a woman ever an obstacle, or was it an asset to the goals you set for yourself personally or in your job or in your volunteer efforts?

AR:     When you come in and you volunteer, people really don’t pay much attention.  I was never uncomfortable with the role, but I think what made it fit for me and what made it so comfortable was that there were just so many other women involved in what I was doing.

LQ:      In the field of education?

AR:     Yeah.  Whether it was in public schools, whether it was in community service or community leadership issues, there were women already there, so they got there before I did.

LQ:      Uh-hunh (affirmative).  So that wasn’t a problem in any job area or any volunteer organizations.

AR:     It was not a problem.  When it became more of an issue is in more macro level leadership positions, where you end up in a boardroom somewhere and you’re really the only woman or maybe one of two who are in there.  So that’s when you notice it more.  But I think at the community level it was a very comfortable position.

 

cue point

 

LQ:      18:04  But in the boardrooms important decisions are made, so the women are such a small minority I can see that might be a disadvantage for the goals maybe you or the other women might have had.

AR:     When I was on the Houston board, there were five women on the board.

LQ:      Out of how many?

AR:     Out of nine.

LQ:      Oh, okay.

AR:     So the majority of the board were women.

LQ:      Well, then, if gender was not an issue most of the time, what about your ethnicity?  Did you ever feel that was an asset or an obstacle?

AR:     I’ve been bilingual all of my life, and I’ve been this color all of my life, so no.  I mean, I don’t think that was an obstacle, although sometimes you get tired of training people and sensitizing them.  But I’ve never seen that as an obstacle.

LQ:      That’s interesting that you say that and here we are in the year 2000.  Do you think there’s still a need for sensitizing people to a group that they’re not in?

AR:     Yeah.  As we look at training principals, it’s hard for majority principals who are coming in and all of a sudden they realize that within the next 20 years of their profession they have to learn or they have to know how to work with diverse students, because here in Texas the majority of the students are going to be Hispanic.

LQ:      Do you think this is a slow realization?

AR:     I don’t know.  I think it’s—  Yeah, it’s a slow realization.  I don’t know what it is, but we certainly have a responsibility to make sure that we get more Latinos and Latinas in leadership in schools and also that we train those who may not have the sensitivity or the skills, because it’s not just sensitivity, it’s having the skills.  If you’re a principal and you’re responsible for the language program of your school or if you’re responsible for the reading program of your school, you have to really be aware of what the implications of second language learners are for any reading program.  You have to be able to train teachers to help them to understand that so that they can help all kids be successful in reading.  We don’t have homogenized reading or homogenized math or homogenized social studies anymore.  You have to take into consideration how the needs of other children affect that curriculum and how one has to adjust the curriculum so that all learners have success.  For example, if you’ve got a child who’s coming into school, most kids these days come into kindergarten and they already know how to read because they’ve had all these advantages at home where they’ve gone to day care programs, the parents read to them, they have access to toys and all—

LQ:      21:50  Would you say that’s true about the Hispanic community as well?

AR:     Not as much, no; not the majority of them.  I guess with the Hispanic middle class you might have more of that.  And so when these kids come in, they’re ready to learn, and you put them in a classroom with a group of students who haven’t had those advantages, whether those students be African American or immigrant or Chicanos.  They’re not going to be reading at the same level, and you’re going to have to teach readiness skills to the other group, whereas those that are more middle class already have readiness skills.  So if you don’t make sure that the others who don’t have the readiness skills are taught those skills, then those kids will stay behind the rest of their life in reading.  And as a principal, you’re supposed to understand that.  So it can’t be business as usual.  Principals have to understand the implications for learning programs, the implications of having children from different economic and linguistic backgrounds.  And it’s a skill issue; it’s not a sensitivity issue.  I could be supersensitive and not help you learn how to read.  I want people who are able to increase reading skills.  I think sensitivity certainly is important.  I think it’s really important that principals show respect for kids because kids can read whether or not people respect them.  And principals and teachers are in important positions for kids.

 

cue point

 

LQ:      What do you think the College of Education here is doing to advance the ideas that you’ve just been talking about—skills and sensitivity?

 

AR:     24:00  I’m not sure many colleges are doing anything.  I’m not sure they really understand.  Unfortunately, colleges, like schools, think that the needs of at-risk kids go in one class.  In our case, we teach a multicultural class, so we think that in the multicultural class we’re supposed to teach principals everything they need to know about working with linguistically minority or with African American children when in reality it has to be infused in almost everything you teach.  If you’re teaching curriculum in supervision, then you need to train a principal on how to develop curriculum for language minority and low income kids as well as for everyone else.  So you can’t teach one size fits all.  And sometimes because we don’t have staff development funding for the faculty, the faculty sometimes don’t have the skills themselves.  But it isn’t that they aren’t interested; it’s that we haven’t funded that.  We haven’t provided money for faculty to go out and learn these things.

LQ:      “We” being more the state or the university?

AR:     The state, the university, the—  Yeah.

LQ:      Okay.  Thank you.  Did you want to say anything else?

AR:     I think that pretty much sums it up.  Thank you for coming out.

LQ:      Thank you for your time.

[tape ends]  26:05