This interview was conducted by Shannon Marie Ojeda on November 1, 2009 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Fall 2009 class.
Sylvia Ruiz was born November 09, 1954 to Martin H. Ruiz and Petra A. Ruiz. She has ten siblings including herself which makes eleven kids total: Martin, Roger, David, Rene, Lydia, Mary, Gloria, Rosy, Lolly, and Lucy. Sylvia was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas and was born in her house my grandfather built on the Southside of town. Around 11 months old she was diagnosed with polio, which affects her nerves and muscles in her leg. Sylvia graduated from Harlandale High School in 1973 and went on to attend San Antonio College she didn’t finish right away but later on through her job at Frost National Bank which paid for the rest of her schooling she received her Associate’s in Business. Over the years she still did schooling and she attended the American Banking Institute through the bank and received certificates in Security Processing, and Securities Management, her present job is accounting. She worked at the bank from 1977 to 1991. She met Allen R. Ojeda in 1975 and were married on February 1, 1975. Allen was active duty in the military they lived in Manhattan, Kansas. Manhattan, Kansas. There is were they started their family. Sylvia has three children: Allen, Shannon, and Angel. Sylvia separated with Allen in 1991 and divorced in 1996. She remarried in January 2, 2009 to Eddie Benavidez to whom she was with for 17 years. Still newlyweds she lost her husband and bestfriend (Eddie) on October 5, 2009. Being the strong woman she is she has accomplished so much in her life with polio, divorce, and still managing to stay strong with the lost of her husband. Sylvia is a very devoted Roman Catholic and she is a Democrat, she’s very much into politics and sports (pretty much those are her hobbies).
Where was your birthplace?
At 1004 Keats in San Antonio, Texas.
That was your home?
Tell me about your house?
It was a two bedroom house, small kitchen, one bathroom for 13 people, a big yard and all my sisters shared one room my mom and dad had one room which we also shared with mom and dad the three little ones. My brothers had bunk beds in the middle room which was part of the living area. And that was the house.
What was it like growing up in such a small house?
It was… hard in the mornings we all had to wait our turns to use the bathroom to get ready for school. And really I guess that’s how we grew really close cause we really didn’t have anywhere to go either be in the living area or go to the bedrooms you know which we shared with everybody, you know it was small, small. But of course we were kids so it seemed like it was big but now that we look at it, it was a small house.
Being that you have six sisters with you seven and four brothers how did ya’ll get along?
Hmm… just like everybody else we were normal we would have our little fights. We had to share our (the girls really the boys didn’t share too much) but the girls had to share a lot of the clothes we got a lot of the hand me downs from my older sisters. So it wasn’t like we would get new things all the time. The girls were brought up that we would cater to the men because that’s the way it was back in those days. The women did all the cooking and cleaning and the boys were just the men of the house. But we all got along eventually we had to we all lived in the same little place so we had to get along.
Describe a typical day?
On the weekends it was pretty much cleaning up everybody had their things to do. Cleaning up our room the living room we get up to American Bandstand and watch that on Saturday mornings. During the week everyone would get up and get ready for school and we would all line up and wait our turn to get into the bathroom to brush our teeth and do what we needed to do. Mom would be making breakfast so if you wanted breakfast you get breakfast if not then we would walk to school we had to walk every day. Afterschool come home and watch Popeye the Sailor Man cartoons.
What did Grandpa do for a living and did Grandma ever work?
Mama never worked she was a house wife. Dad worked for the City of San Antonio when I was a little girl that was the job my dad had. I know that he had other jobs in construction that would take him out of town but that I remember he worked for the city he worked for the construction of sidewalks and street maintenance any construction that was going on with the city like improvements. He was part of the Hemisphere Park in ’68. Which he help build and we got to enjoy it all the city employees got to go for the first day and we got to go with my dad it was me and my two younger sisters and we went with daddy and we had a blast out there and that was the grand opening of HemisFair ’68.
How are the chores divided between everyone?
Everybody had their day to wash dishes but I am saying the girls did, the boys never washed dishes. The boys did the yard work but the girls we all had our day to do dishes that was the only thing we would divide among the girls. Other than that we all helped clean up the house, clean our rooms, dust, mop that kind of stuff we all pitched in and did that. But the dishwashing was a big job cause you talking about 11 kids all sitting down to eat all the pots and pans all the plates all the glasses everything so we had a stack of dishes to do so when you washed dishes you washed dishes and there was no leaving the dishes causes there were so many and you had to washed them and dry them and put them away.
How were ya’ll discipline?
We were disciplined like the old days like with the belt or with the switch from outside from the trees get a switch and take the leaves off and you get a switchin’. But that was only if you really deserved it other whys you just got yelled at and sent to your room.
What was the financial situation with such a big family?
As far as the financial stuff our parents never really I mean we were kids we never really knew anything about the finances. You know daddy worked and mama stayed home but we always had food on the table we always had clothes wear to school we always had shoes to wear. I know as my older siblings got jobs they would pitch in as far as helping us younger kids have school clothes they would help mama buy stuff for her furnishings for the house. And of course daddy was responsible for the home itself, like the utilities, the taxes that kind of stuff.
How often did ya’ll get new things?
Every start of school year. Anytime school was going to start we would get new clothes new shoes. Then as I got older my mom loved to sew so she would make a lot of our clothes. We would get home and she would have 3 or 4 dresses made for us. I picked that up from her around junior high school I started I would sew my clothes mama would take me to go buy material and I would sit and make my clothes for the year for school. She would still buy us some new clothes from the store but most of it I would sit and sew make myself some dresses and get them ready for school.
What schools did you attend?
I attended Stonewall Elementary. They were making the school district bigger they started building a new school called Flanders Elementary. They started splitting us up by addresses and so in sixth grade I ended up going to Flanders Elementary and then from there I went to Southcross Junior High which is not called Leal Middle School and then I went to Harlandale High School.
What kinds of grades did you get in school?
I was a good student, I was an A and B student most of the time I was on honor roll I never had any kind of problems in school I always did well in school. Mother never had to go to school to go and find out why I wasn’t doing well.
Where you in any kinds of society classes in school?
In elementary school I was a patrol so I would be involved with patrols in elementary school. In junior high school I was in student counsel and got involved in that. In high school I wasn’t involved too much another than trying to get good grades in all my subjects to be able to attend college pretty much involved in my studies.
Did you go to your prom?
I did go to my prom. It was fun. I went with one of my classmates that had to transfer to Burbank High School. And I also went to his prom at Burbank.
One of your turning points in your life is when you were 11 months old when you got polio tell me about that?
That was hard. That was something that if I wasn’t around people I always thought I was normal but when I had to go to school and had to wear my brace you know I was treated differently. It was really hard for me to accept the stares and people talking about me and then there those friends that were really true friends and were accepting of what was going on with me. Of course as I got older and I was going to be going to Junior High School. They still wanted me to wear a brace and I just couldn’t do it because of the fact I knew people were going to be staring and I just felt that it would be better if I didn’t I wouldn’t get so many stares and it would make me embarrassed so that was difficult. It was also difficult not being able to participate in a lot of the school activities because of my disability. In high school the same thing you just got shunned away from having those friends you thought you could have but because of it I was looked at differently so it was hard growing up and then it even got harder when you had to go to the workplace and you had to try to get ahead and people would look at you like you were going to be that sickly person that they were going to have to take care of. But I think I proved a lot of those people wrong. Like I said if someone didn’t point it out to me I would think I would be just like everyone else and one day they would ask you what’s wrong with and I would think to myself “what, oh yeah I do I have that yes I just remembered” and then you would have to deal with that all over again. For the most part I think I kind of learned to live with it and I was kind of wondering when I had kids how would they react and when would the questions come. And then I had grandchildren and Alex (first grandchild) would tell me “grandma that’s not the way you walk, you walk like this” she was always telling me how I was suppose to walk. And she would say “what’s wrong with you grandma” and I would tell her this is the way I walk.
How old were you when you realized you were sick and different?
Four, I was four years old because that’s when they started talking about doing surgery and trying to correct it and which they did correct it because I used to walk on the side of my foot and you know they did surgery when I was in the first grade and corrected that so that I could step correctly on my foot rather than on the side of it…..so that was a good thing…and from then on I thought they were going to be able to fix it to where it would be normal but I guess that’s as normal as I was going to get.
Did polio almost take your life as a child?
I don’t think so I didn’t have the polio like were you got the fever kind of stuff I think it was more like the nerves and the muscles and all that was affected to the point that they might think I was going to be in a wheelchair I wasn’t going to be able to walk but eventually my body reacted and all my other limbs came back to be what they were supposed to be except my left leg so I think after that they saw that It wasn’t as bad as it could have been… but I still wasn’t going to be 100%.
Did you ever have to be hospitalized? If so, how was that experience for you?
Yes. That was scary because I was a kid I was six years old when they did the surgery. I remember them telling me that where going to have to put me in the hospital and I remember holding on to my dad for dear life. And I was crying and you know I didn’t want to…..and mother poor mother she was there every step of the way and she spend the night with me and it was pretty cool when I came home and was home for about a week. Someone came from the school knocking on the door to drop off letters from all the kids in my class that they had written telling me to get well.
What hospital did you have you surgery?
Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital.
Was this disease an epidemic at the time? And did you know others who had it?
It was an epidemic at the time but then they came out with the vaccine so of course everybody started getting the vaccine…. But when I was young the only other people that I knew had it were the people I would see at the clinic when I would go and get checked and then later on when I went to Junior High School is when I noticed that there were other kids just like me… but I would say that they were worse than me because some were wearing like extra heal on their shoe cause there leg was shorter than the other or other had braces on both legs, you know so I would give thanks to God “that hey I am not so bad after all I was lucky.
Do you think among your family or your friends that you were treated differently?
I was treated differently to the point if I was outside running with the kids they would tell me not to run because I was going to fall down and that kind of stuff…but I wanted to be a kid… and you know my mom I have to say for the most part my mom did let me be a kid some of my siblings would always tell me I needed to be careful cause I was going to end up in a wheelchair and that wasn’t the kind of stuff I wanted to hear but you know here I am I am still not in a wheelchair I am still walking on both my legs you know I am not saying I won’t end up in a wheelchair but for now I have…… I am still ok.
How has polio affected your life?
It’s still difficult, it’s still difficult I know that there’s still people that you know still stare or ask questions or you know what happened or why are you limping or what’s wrong with your leg that kind of stuff… I guess those questions will never go away but I just feel that not that I am not involved I do, I try to get involve with a lot of stuff which I do a lot of politics…. you know I work the voting poles I get involved with that I just feel like if polio wasn’t in my life I probably would have been a dancer, would have been a cheerleader would have been all these things that I see other girls had done but I can’t say that I haven’t done things I went to my prom, I had boyfriends, I went to all the dance its’ just different having to explain yourself all the time you know as far as what was going on with my physical appearance…. You know what’s wrong with you that would be the main question all the time “What’s wrong with you” or “why are you limping,” why are you walking like that and it would be embarrassing at times but I guess you get used to it.
Did you ever receive any kind of therapy?
The therapy that they would give me as far when I would go see the doctors they tell me… they would send me to places they would do therapy for me but that was until I turned 21and then after that it was up to me to continue and just watch myself and do the stretches or whatever I thought would be something I would ask my kids to give me karate chops.
Did you deal with others who had polio?
I did… I knew several people, there was this one lady when I worked at Frost Bank…. we would talk because she had polio but hers was different then mine I mean I for one cannot raise my leg straight up in front of me I kind of throw it in front of me and Judy was different she had a limp and everything but at the same time her motor skills were better than mine….I mean she would go skiing she could ride a bike I cannot ride a bike its one of those things I wish I could do but I just cannot do it…..if the bike was to lean to left I lean to left to and go with it cause I have no way of telling my leg to swing and hold me up….One time I went to a polio seminar were there was people that it was more like a post polio syndrome type thing is the disease coming back is it going to take your other leg you arm just wanted to get informed and find out if that was something that was going to happen to me but at this point this is it for me I am not going to get any worse but I am not going to get any better.
Did you have a mentor?
What kinds of smells do you remember growing up?
Tortillas cooking in the kitchen, carne guisada, beans cooking Mexican, Mexican food.
What is your greatest childhood memory ever?
(long pause)….. I don’t think I have a greatest childhood memory, maybe the one I could think of is one Christmas morning when we woke up my sister and I had these big walking dolls and I remember waking up and they were as big as we were and I was like “OH MY GOD” where did these come from and Santa brought them I was seven.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
My kids……Cause they always told me I could never have kids and I did I had kids that was my greatest accomplishment.
Who told you that?
People because I had polio that if I ever tried to get pregnant I would end up in a wheelchair and probably would be able to carrying the kids during the pregnancy and all that and I did.
Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?
Well as far as the polio concern I think…… I myself learned how people…. how really cruel people can be…. to someone that’s different and that was the hardest thing I had to learn growing up and I think that’s what held me back a lot of times is because having to walk up in class like when you have to go say a poem or give a report or that kind of thing I just felt like they really weren’t listening to me they were more looking at me and my disability rather than listenly to what I had to say….where as somebody else it was different.Response
I learned a great deal about what my mom struggled with growing up and how she felt so different and through it all she remained very strong. The most important points was how she grew up with polio and how she still struggles with it today. I didn’t know my mother grew up with people telling her not to have children. The stories she told me about her life in a small house with such a large family and being the only sibling who was hit with such a disease like polio that might have crippled her for the rest of her life was very interesting to know. I am blessed to have Sylvia as my mother. Being able to interview a person about their life and what they have endured is very interesting to know no matter who you are interviewing.
- On November 09, 1954 Sylvia Ann Ruiz was born at home 1004 Keats in San Antonio, Tx.
- October of 1955 was diagnosed with Polio.
- In 1973 graduated from Harlandale High School.
- Attended San Antonio College in the summer of 1973 but didn’t finish.
- Fall of 1974 worked at the Juvenile Probation as a clerk.
- February 1, 1975 married Allen Richard Ojeda.
- In 1975 moved to Manhattan, Kansas.
- April 30, 1976 had her first child Allen Richard Ojeda Jr.,
- December 1976 moved back to San Antonio, Texas
- January 1977 started working at Frost Bank in data entry.
- September 27, 1977 had second child Shannon Marie Ojeda.
- February 16, 1983 had third child Angle Matthew Ojeda
- On April 2, 1992 my mom’s father (Martin H. Ruiz) past away.
- In 1991 retires from the bank.
- Summer of 1996 she divorces my father (Allen R. Ojeda.)
- Remarried January 2009 to Eddie Benavides.
- October 5, husband Eddie Benavides died.
- 2009 present job accounting and bought her own home in Von Ormy.
- Interviewed by Shannon Ojeda on 11-01-2009
- Frost National Bank Frost National Bank Headquarters in San Antonio, Tx. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 19 Nov. 2009. Web. 3 Dec. 2009.
- Popeye the Sailor Man cartoons. Popeye the Sailor Man. Entertainment Magazine, 2006. Web. 3 Dec. 2009.
- American Bandstand American Bandstand. The Museum of Broadcast Communications (MBC), 2008. Web. 3 Dec. 2009.
- polio Polio-Beginning of the End. End of Polio Resources, 1997. Web. 3 Dec. 2009.