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An Interview With John A. Rodriguez
Not available online
TitleAn Interview With John A. Rodriguez
AbstractInterviewer: Irene Ruiz. Interview recorded May 19, 1977. 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 printed guide to contents.
NotesAt the time of the interview, Mr. Rodriquez was Executive Educational Coordinator of Community Relations with the Midwest Center of Equal Education Opportunity with the University of Missouri. He was born on May 6, 1941, in Dodge City, Kansas. In the interview he discusses his early life, the importance of education, discrimination, religion, 1951 flood, job opportunities in Kansas and later, etc.

Number 48 on MP3 disc.
Date1977-05-19
LocationSC69-1, Tape 53, CD 53
Local SubjectHispanic Americans
Rodriguez, John A.
West Side
Oral History
Item TypeArchival Material
TranscriptionSynopsis of interview:

Mr. John A. Rodriguez was born on May 6, 1941, in Dodge City, Kansas. His parents are: Anita Sandoval and Samuel E. Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez has three younger brothers and two sisters. His father was born in Mexico and came to this country when he was 13 years old. His mother was born in New Mexico.

Neighborhood: The family lived south of the railroad yard close to the river. There was a large community of Mexicans working for the railroad and packing houses. Schools- The Kansas State provided a school for Mexican-American children. The name of the school was "Coronado School", from kindergarten to the twelfth grade. The school had two rooms but only one teacher. Spanish was the dominant language, but the children also knew English. The school was closed in 1949 and the Santa Fe Railroad sold the property, and the families had to move out. The Santa Fe Railroad used to provide housing for their workers. When the Coronado School closed the children went to public schools and all Mexican American children were put in special education because the teacher assumed the children did not know English. In other words they were put with the mentally retarded children.

Mr. Rodriguez was lucky because he worked for the Principal doing yard work. Therefore, the Principal found out that Mr. Rodriguez knew English quite well and immediately he pulled him out. He then went to Roosevelt School and Miller School. Most Mexican-American children dropped out after the 6th grade because they were discriminated against. However, he continued his education because his parents encouraged him. In the eighth grade of Junior High, he was the first Mexican-American to make the Honor Roll and even to finish high school. At that point he decided to go to a private school – The St. Mary's Plains High School. It was a very expensive school and he worked hard to pay for it. The main reason Mr. Rodriguez went to a catholic school was that Mexican-American children were treated better there than in public schools.

Discrimination – During the time Mr. Rodriguez was going to the public school, the school had set the rule that children could not wear their hair over their ears. However, the barbers of Dodge City would not cut their hair. They were allowed to work in barber shops shining shoes. The children were sent to jail and parents were fined for wearing their hair over their ears. It was a losing battle until his uncle opened a barber shop for Mexican- Americans. Mr. Rodriguez graduated from St. Mary's High School. He played football, basketball and ran track. He won a scholarship to the tenth Sigma College but he was not able to use it because he injured his back.

Religion- Mr. Rodriguez and his folks are Catholic. They went to the Guadalupe Church, a church built by all Mexicans in their neighborhood. This church provided all their social activities and also served as an office for the labor workers. Hobbies – Mr. Rodriguez never had the time to develop any kind of recreation, not even reading because most Mexican-Americans thought their destiny was to work for the railroad or packing houses for which they did not need an education.

Military Service – He went to the Army, to a voluntary program created after World War II, called Advanced Infantry Training which had to do with all combat training with light weapons. He never left the country, he was stationed in Ft. ? California in the Mohamed [Mohave] Desert. He trained other soldiers for five years, but had one year of active duty.Dust Storms – Two of his brothers died because of the storms and because they did not have the money to go to doctors. They had two women healers who helped them.

The Flood of 1951 – Since most Mexican Americans lived close to the River, many people lost their homes. They also had close ties with Kansas City through the railroad and knew how Mexicans we affected by the flood. Kansas City was very meaningful because Mexicans had more freedom here such as movie houses, barber shops, dances etc. and they were not rejected. Discrimination was visible but not to the extent of Dodge City. College – Mr. Rodriguez graduated from St. Mary's Plains College in 1965. It took him six years because he worked during the time he was attending college. He got a Bachelors degree with a major in Spanish and a minor in French and Theology.

Immediately, upon graduation he went to work teaching languages in a High School at Elkard, Kansas. He was the first Mexican-American teacher in that area, but it took him seven months to find a house and he felt very isolated there. Mr. Rodriguez taught two years at Elkard, Kansas but he was fired because he would not utilize the laboratory equipment the school provided. However, his teaching method was far better than the equipment because his students always seemed higher than any other times. From Elkard he moved to Harper, Kansas. He worked as a tennis and track coach. He also taught French and Spanish at High School level for four years. He also drove a truck on week-ends and worked at a filling station at nights. He was married and had an adopted son, hence he needed to increase his income, and at the same time he was completing his Masters degree in teaching by going to college at night. He got his Masters degree from Northwestern Steele Teacher's College in the summer of 1971. He was offered a job as Guidance Council at Hutchinson, Kansas which he accepted because the salary was fine and gave him the opportunity to show he could teach languages. He taught four years French and Spanish literature at Hutchinson Junior College.

Mr. Rodriguez at the time became acquainted with Ed Martinez whose father was the first Mexican-American in the State of Kansas to become the Mayor of the city. He started the first Mexican-American group in the State of Kansas and organized these groups to receive counseling in careers and education. He asked people in downtown Hutchinson to let him use office space twice a week at night to help the Mexican community, in a volunteer basis.

Kansas City, Mo. – He worked in this project for one year. At that time someone in the University of Missouri was looking for someone with experience working with the community. He applied for that job and obtained the position in 1972. Mr. Rodriguez was the first Mexican-American director to provide service of the University of Missouri to Mexicans and Blacks with pre-college courses in math, reading and more of the ground work. They formed two centers, one is located at the West Side. Mr. Rodriguez is presently Executive Educational Coordinator of Community Relations with the Midwest Center of Equal Education Opportunity with the University of Missouri since 1973. Coming to Kansas City has been very good for him, professionally, socially and politically.

Board Member – The Mexican community informed him that Mexicans never had any representation in the educational field. Therefore he ran a very good campaign and got into the race to win. The night the vote was counted he was very hurt as it seemed that the incumbent had won. However, his immediate reaction was to review the records of people who voted absentee. He went to the Board of Election and found out that the absentee ballots were never counted. At that time they decided to sue the Board of Election Commissioners and he won the case. It was the first time the absentee ballot was challenged. He won the election and he was sworn in May 16, 1976. The Mexican-American community got involved and the fair election was established.

Outstanding Events – His motivation was negative since grade school because of discrimination toward the Mexicans. He wanted to show he could to anything because he had the intelligence to do it, but it was not until he went to a Catholic school that a Nun gave him courage and told him his potentials were unlimited. At home, his father was an inspiration. With only a third grade education his father taught himself to read and write English, and while working as a bus-boy in a restaurant he met the Mexican council of Kansas City, who impressed by his writing ability asked him to become his secretary, which he did.Outstanding Events – He is proud that in spite of all negative background he had in his youthful years, he opened the path for others. Every achievement in his life has been not a major achievement but, it's always been the first. He has upgraded the status of the Mexican-American people in Western Kansas.Plans for the future - Mr. Rodriquez plans to terminate his studies for a PhD and would like to be a Clinical Psychologist. If not he will get a PhD in Business Administration. His interest is making the public aware that the Mexican-American people have a unique culture and that they seek to be respected and identified. He hopes that ten years from now young people who listen to his tape can say to themselves, "I am doing much better now."
Access This ItemYou may come to the Missouri Valley Room to listen to the interview.
Item ID210412
CONTENTdm number36372
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