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An Interview With Catherine Reyes
Not available online
TitleAn Interview With Catherine Reyes
AbstractInterviewer: Irene Ruiz. Interview recorded February 28, 1978. 1 sound cassette (ca. 90 minutes): analog, stereo.; 5 7/8 x 2 1/2 in., 1/8 in. tape; 1 sound disc; digital; 4 3/4 in. Has typed list of contents.
NotesAt the time of the interview, Mrs. Reyes was a librarian-clerk at Switzer Elementary School. She was born March 22, 1931 in Independence, Kansas. In the interview she discusses her early life, family's return to Mexico and eventual return to the United States, discrimination, 1951 flood, career, family, etc.

Number 42 on MP3 disc.
LocationSC69-1, Tape 47, CD 47
Local SubjectOral History
Reyes, Catherine
West Side
Hispanic Americans
Item TypeArchival Material
TranscriptionSynopsis of interview:

Mrs. Reyes, a librarian-clerk at Switzer Elementary School, was born March 22, 1931 in Independence, Kansas. Her father was Enrique Padilla and her mother, Maximina Otera. Her parents returned to Mexico when Mrs. Reyes was one year old. She grew up and attended school in Mexico City. They returned to the U.S. in 1949 when she was age 17. Mrs. Reyes has 2 brothers and 2 sisters. Her father was a laborer; her mother a seamstress.

They came to Kansas City with friends of her parents, knew no English, and had no winter clothes. She got a job inspecting clothes in a clothing factory far 75ยข an hour. She married the son of the family she had been staying with 6 months later in June, 1949. She saw marriage as a way out of her loneliness and difficulty with English. She had 2 children in 2 years and returned to work as a seamstress part-time. Her husband worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad until the flood of 1951. He is now employed at the Darby Corporation.

She loved drawing as a child and her parents paid for her to take lessons. Recollection of a painful childhood episode when she was asked to give a speech welcoming some returning Mexican soldiers from WWII. At the last minute the honor was denied her because a teacher remembered she was not a Mexican citizen. She vowed to return to the U.S. even though her father warned her that she would encounter much discrimination.

Her parents returned to Mexico because they could not obtain U.S. government aid during the Depression. All the children had been born in the U.S. Her older brother was stripped of his rights as a U.S. citizen because he did not report for duty during WWII. He later regained citizenship and entered the U.S. permanently in 1953. Her mother came permanently in 1964 after her father's death.

Flood of 1951: Her sister-in-law lost all of her possessions. She worked off and on as a seamstress, saving money in the Union Cultural Mexicana, a credit union for Mexican-Americans. After 8 years of living with her in-laws, the Reyes purchased a home. They had twins. She worked days and her husband worked nights to afford the house plus sending the children to a Catholic grade school. They had 4 more children (8 total) and decided to take action to prevent further pregnancies. Mrs. Reyes felt trapped working and caring for the family. She enrolled a brother who had just come to the U.S. in English classes at a church at 24th and Benton. She ended up studying English and math herself. Her brother quit, but she continued and took three neighborhood women with her to school. The supervisor at the night school got her interested in workshops. She began attending various classes and seminars. Her husband at first objected.

She came down with pneumonia in the fall of 1974 and was told one lung had been damaged by the chemicals at the clothing factories where she had worked. By January, she was depressed and nervous. The family was running short of money. The doctor suggested she apply at the Board of Education for a bilingual job. Details of the job interview with Dr. Franco. She was assigned to Douglas Elementary as a teacher's aide. She spent 2 months with first graders, then transferred to the bilingual program. Description of job in bilingual program. Some teachers resented her and felt she was intruding in their classrooms. She spent the next 2 years in Switzer Elementary in their bilingual program.

She attended classes at Penn Valley and found few Mexican-American students there. Funding ran low in the bilingual program, so she was reassigned as head of the Switzer resource center. Her older two children have completed college courses and the six younger ones are still in school. Her husband has adjusted to Mrs. Reyes' work and activities outside the home. She some day wants to become a bilingual teacher. People in her past who encouraged her to develop her potential.
Access This ItemYou may come to the Missouri Valley Room to listen to the interview.
Item ID210403
CONTENTdm number36365
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