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An Interview With Esther Rocha
Not available online
TitleAn Interview With Esther Rocha
AbstractInterviewer: Irene Ruiz. Interview recorded June 26, 1978. 2 sound cassettes (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.
NotesEsther Rocha was born in El Paso, Texas, on August 7, 1920. Her parents were migrant workers coming to Kansas City for work. In the interview she recalls her early life living in the West Side, her work experience in this area, education, etc.

Number 46 on MP3 disc.
Date1978-06-26
LocationSC69-1, Tape 51, CD 51
Local SubjectHispanic Americans
West Side
Oral History
Rocha, Esther
Item TypeArchival Material
TranscriptionSynopsis of Interview:

Esther Rocha was born in El Paso, Texas, on August 7, 1920. Her family moved to the West Side of Kansas City, Missouri, when she was less than a year old. Her parents, now deceased, were Maria Delgado de Rocha and Elpidio Rocha. She is one of ten children although two are deceased.

Her parents were migrant workers. They came to Kansas City because they heard through acquaintances there was work here. Her parents first settled around 19th and Holmes. She recalls a McClure Street. Local government decided Mexicans should live on the West Side so the family moved. Her parents recognized discrimination, but neither denied it nor stressed it in rearing children.

The neighborhood was a happy place. Everyone was Mexican. There were Mexican tailors, a banker, cleaners, theatre, etc. Twenty-third Street was unpaved. She recalls a cohesive family feeling. The Salvation Army trucks came daily, and her parents did not allow the children to go beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood. Her father worked in packing houses or on railroads. He sought jobs which paid more. He lost a job when he was injured and returned to the beet fields for two years. There was no job security.

She recalls unscrupulous insurance salespeople from the Ketterlin Funeral Home. She attended Adams School on Mercier Street (it was originally named Mercier Street School) which was ninety percent Mexican by 1928. It was an unhappy experience--she was punished for speaking Spanish. The Mexican children were assigned to the ''open air'' concept at school because they were thought to be malnourished. She was pulled out of classes to be fed and to take naps. She missed important classes. The school closed in 1941 and she transferred to Lowell School. Her father attended night classes and met Edith Martin, who was active in stopping the ''open air'' program. She attended West Junior High. There were few Mexicans there.

Because homes on the West Side had no indoor plumbing, the family walked to a bathhouse at 19th and Holmes. Mexicans were not allowed in the closer one at 16th and Jarboe. The neighborhood at that time was 23rd to 25th streets and State Line to Summit. Her brothers got into gang fights with rocks and chains against Anglo boys living north of 23rd Street. She attended West High which was a more positive experience. She then went to Jane Hayes Gates, a technical school for girls on Independence Avenue and graduated in 1940 from Manual, a vocational high school on 15th and Forest.

The family attended Guadalupe Church. Her brother struck a deal with the local fruit and vegetable huckster to sell his leftover goods in exchange for keeping the spoiled fruits and vegetables. The parents motivated the other chidren to do similar things to benefit the whole family. Before Guadalupe Center was built, three white houses stood on the site. The center is still occasionally called ''Las Casas Blancas.'' She joined a baseball team, attended Salvation Army day camp with her mother and siblings, and became a member of the ''Swingsters,'' a social club which held meetings, dances, and picnics.

The Martins were very influential in helping area families. They were critical of the Guadalupe Center and Dorothy Gallagher, the woman who ran it. She remembers Mexican-American youths who lived at the center while attending Rockhurst College on scholarships. However, no local boys were ever notified when scholarships were available. Also girls were sent, through the center, to homes in the Country Club Plaza area to train as maids. Girls did the work without pay but found later that maid jobs were open only to Blacks.

Three brothers served in WWII. A sister worked in a defense plant. Miss Rocha was unable to get a defense plant job because her birth had not been recorded, thus she was unable to prove citizenship. She finally received a birth certificate after her parents died. She worked briefly at Swanson's (then on Grand Avenue) as a maid, then at the Continential linen room repairing linens. She worked 20 years in clothing factories. She began doing social work at Catholic Charities. She worked at Catholic Charities for six years. She began by volunteering to translate for a social worker friend. Eventually she got on as a paid staff member.

She found discrimination and low pay because she had no degree. Miss Rocha returned to school to work towards a college degree. She took 16 courses at Donnelly College and then attended Penn Valley. She resigned from her job with Catholic Charities because of the low pay. After much effort and persistence, she was hired by the Model Cities program and has been working since then for city government. She received an associate's degree from Penn Valley. She received a BSW from Avila College and would like to retire early and enjoy life before she becomes too old.
Access This ItemYou may come to the Missouri Valley Room to listen to the interview.
Item ID210410
CONTENTdm number36370
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