This interview was conducted by Kristina De La Garza on September 12, 2010 in Pontiac, Michigan as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Fall 2010 class.
Manuel Gilbert Negrete Sr. was born on September 1, 1922 in Dilly, Texas to Cleto and Francis Negrete. He was born into a home with an older brother named Alfredo Diaz Negrete, and later on Alicia Negrete(Rodriguez) would be brought into the world as well. Manuel was raised to the age of five in Dilley, Texas and then moved to San Antonio. Manuel went to Navarro Elementary school on San Fernando Street, and finished school at Harris Junior High on Flores Street. Manuel had many jobs during his lifetime, too many to remember. His first job that he had though was as a doughnut shop boy. The doughnut shop was on Flores street downtown San Antonio. Throughout his life Manuel has been married 3 times. His first wife was Guadalupe Beltran in 1943.He had three children from that marriage. Their names are; Alfred, Rachel and Rudy. His second wife was my grandmother. Ramona G. Negrete. With this wife they together had 6 children together. Their names are (oldest to youngest); Manuel Gilbert (60), Linda Suzanne (58), Alice (57), Victor (55), Rebeca Christina (my mom 50), and Francis Tracy (2 when she deceased, would have been 43). Manuel LOVED to play poker in his younger years. He states he only lost once in his entire lifetime. Manuel is of the protestant religion and used to manage a church in central Michigan. Manuel Negrete was in the army and fought in WWII and received a purple heart for being wounded. Manuel Gilbert started on the subject of being from Dilley. Then he went on to tell about his life in San Antonio, Texas. Manuel Gilbert Negrete is my grandfather, and this is his story. Manuel discussed the topic of Old San Antonio and his life there for around 2 hours on September 22, 2010 through phone interview from 7:24 pm to 9:36pm.
When is your birthday?
I was born a LONG time ago on September 1, 1922 in Dilly Texas.
Did you grow up with both parents and siblings? If so what are their names.
I grew up with my lovely mother, hardworking brother and little sister. I never knew my father. He was with us till I was 2. When my sister was born he left my mother. My mother’s name was Francis Diaz Negrete, my fathers name was Cleto Negrete, my brothers name was Alfredo Diaz Negrete, and my Sisters name is Alicia Negrete (Rodriguez).
Do you remember any presidents from your youth?
I remember President Hoover, he was during the great depression also the 31st president I believe from 1929-1933. There was also president Roosevelt. He turned the economy around for us Americans. Honestly President Roosevelt was my favorite. He was the 32nd president of the United States from 1933- 1945. I really don’t know how I remember these dates (haha).
What did your mom do for work?
Well, she worked for rich people, they owned the Richter Bakery in downtown San Antonio. She usually worked for 2 to 3 days out of the week. Mostly on weekends. They hired her for her cooking. My mother was an AWESOME cook. She was their house cook, and did some cleaning as well.The bakery is still downtown you should go look for it and see if the family is still the owners.
How old were you when your family moved out of Dilly?
I was 5 years old, when we moved to San Antonio Texas. I think it was the best thing that could have happened for my family. We had a lot more opportunities in a bigger city than in a small town like Dilly.
Did you go to school at all? If so, till what grade did you stay in school?
Yes I did, my mother and brother had jobs so I actually had the privilege to go to school. And at that it was a Spanish school. My mother and brother were working to raise money to go and live in Mexico where my mother was from. Since they were making money I was allowed to go to the Spanish school in downtown san Antonio. The name of my elementary is called Navarro Elementry school which is on San Fernando St. My mom and older brother wanted me to be well educated so when we went to mexico I could be smart to get a great job. I would walk 6 blocks to and from school. I also went on to Junior high school which is on Flores St. named Harris Junior High. After finishing Harris Junior High, I did not go on to high school. I had to get a job and start working.
What are your earliest memories of San Antonio back then? How did Downtown San Antonio look? What do you remember most?
I remember Downtownbeing soo beautiful, there were not too many cars so therefore there was no traffic. Also i remember there was very little work for any one in those days. But the people who did work, were hard workers. There was this program called he WPA program, which tried helping out people in their time of need. This program, also known as the Works Progress Administration , it was there to try and help the economy come back from failure. It gave people $1.00 a day (sometimes less) to do construction or other odd end jobs. These were hard times Mija.
Do you Remember anything about the San Antonio Government?
What i remember most was that there were crooked police. I remember being a young boy standing outside the Alamo shining the shoes of the soilders, i never went inside the Alamo even though i was always near it. I remember going inside the police station to shine their shoes as well, but the cops would try to run me out almost every time. The only person i remember that was nice to me at that station was the Sherriff. His name was Albert West Jr. He always allowed me to go inside when he was there. I shined his shoes alot, he was an intelligent man who took a liking to me. I also remember the Mayor at that time. His name was Alfred Callaghan, I think it was around 1934 or 1935 to be exact.
Where did you and your family live?
Oh well we lived on Guadalupe St. It was very country the way i remember it being back hen. No busses, Very little cars, and there were no paved roads. Everyones homes were very run down and poor. The neighborhood over all looked nice and was kept up by the housewifes of the area. It was not too ugly, but at the sametime not to beautiful. But its what we had.
Did you consider yourself classified as poor?
Well we were poor, but not poor poor. My mother like i said was a working woman. My older brother also worked. He was a very lucky man. He worked in a paint shop, and also did mechanics. On our street he was the only one to won a car. Since he had a good job, he told my mother ” Mama we dont have to go back to Mexico, I’m making enough money and we can stay here.” So on the money scale we were OK. Back then you were either poor or rich, no inbetween. I mean we had no fridge but we got by. As a family of one mom and three children we were pretty well off with what we had and how we saved.
What was your first real job?
Ha ha, i worked as a young boy doing all kinds of jobs such as shining shoes, selling fruit, selling paper (back then we were called paper peddlers), i guess you can say i was a hustler (haha)! But my first real real job was in 1933, i was 11 years old. I worked in a doughnut shop on Flores St. Across from the Kady Depot there was a doughnut shop called the Ripley Doughnut Shop. Yup i was a true hustler. My older brother always taught me, ” If your getting paid money, do the job. Always take the money first.
Do you remember the gas prices and movie prices in Old San Antonio?
Yes I do actually. I remember gas being about 3 to 4 cents per gallon of gas. And the movies, oh dont get me started. If you had a coupon 5 cents would get you popcorn, a drink and in to watch the movie. There were many famous actors and actresses, along with favorite movies of mine that I saw. Like I remember Flash Gordon, Lone Ranger, Casa Blanca, Marlene Dietrich, Clark Gable, and James Cagney. That was a Long time ago. haha!
Do recall here being any racism or descrimination back then?
My family was a lucky family through the racism and descrimination era. Well my mom and older brother were very very light skinned and my younger sister and I were also light, not too light but light. When the immigration officers blew their whistles in the neighborhood, everyone would have to go outside to line up for an immigration check. We were lucky hat me and my younger sister had birth certificates, and my mother and brother had their legalization papers. I never saw any lynchings but i did witness many many brutal beatings and whippings. It was a very very sad sight to see.
Has anything tragic ever happened to you?
Yes. The death of my mother was very tragic to me because i loved her soo much. I was 18 years old in 1940, and I went to the C.C. Camp. It is the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was a project from president Roosevelt to help the economy with work. I got $12.75 a month. I was shipped to Shortcreek Arizona for 8 months, and this is where i was given a telegram stating my mother had passed. I left home to bury her, and then enlisted in the army for 3 years.
What did you do in the army? What war did you fight in?
I was in WWII. I served under one of the bravest, best, most well known Generals. General Patton. I got shipped immidiately to Hamm, Germany. During the war i got wounded and earned a purple heart. I got shot on my right knee and, dont laugh, but my right buttcheek. These wounds still hurt me at times.
When did you get out of the military?
Well lets see here, I married Guadalupe Beltran in 1939, so that means i got out in 1943. Guadalupe was my first wife. Together we had 3 children. their names are Alfredo, Rachel, and Rudolfo. Getting out of the military allowed me to provide for my children and my house.
What religion are you?
I consider my self a protestant.
How long did you live in San Antonio before moving to michigan?
I lived there for about 13 to 14 years.
Who was your second wife?
Haha you should know, she was your grandma. He rname was Ramona Gomez Negrete. Together we had 6 children.They are Manuel Gilberl who is now 60, Linda Suzeanne who is now 58, Alicia who is now 57, Victor who is now 55, Rebeca Christina who is your mother and she is 50, and last but not least my baby Francis Tracey. She passed away from Lukeimia when she was just 2 years old. She would have been 43 years old. Me and ramona were 10 years apart, we married when she was 18 and I was 28. we were married for 26 years. 1951-1977.
Were you a party man?
I was never really a drinking man, I could probably count on one hand how many beers I drank, but i did gamble wuite a bit! haha that was my fun. I only lost twice in my entire lifetime. If i can remember correctly. haha!
Who is your most recent wife?
Her name is Claudia Negrete, I met her in a hospital. We got married March 30, 1981. And we are still currently married. I knew she was THE one (final one haha) becuase she had this certian smile. She was so beautiful.
Have you ever had a run in with the law?
Only one time have I ever in my whole life got in trouble with the law. I got a speeding ticket driving to San Antonio from Michigan.
When did you move to Michigan?
When in was 28 years old i moved. I worked for Wilson Foundry for $68.00 a week, this was right after WWII ended. After that i worked for GMC as a trucking coach for 10 months and i also welded there as well. Right after my 10 months ended i started a job at Pontiac Moters and did a few odd end jobs there. But my last job was from July 1, 1952 to July 4, 1977 @ Fisher Body in Pontiac Michigan. I did not want to retire, but i had really really bad asthma, and they made me retire.
Grandpa what do you believe is your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment was working hard at two maybe 3 jobs and taking care of my kids and wife without any government help or welfare. My Grandpa was and still is a very noble and well respected man. Although his family had little to no money he got by. His story will be here for generations of family to come.
-What did you learn from doing this oral history project?
From Doing this project I learned so much about my grandpa as well as some history of Old San Antonio.
-What were the most important points made in this interview?
The Most important points made in this interview had to be the parts of him describing how downtown looked in that time, and his schools that he went to knowing his elementry is still there standing tall.
-What did you learn about your interviewee that you did not know before?
I found out that my grandpa got shot in his butt, lol in the war. Also I found out that he was into gambling. I NEVER knew my grandpa to be a gabler, let alone a “Hustler” as he called himself.
-Did your view on this topic change due to this interview?
My view on the topic changed alot when we started getting into the actual history of my grandpa’s life. He talked about so many things i didnt know which way to make the topic go. i finally decided on one and went from there.
-Include your six word memoir and your interviewee’s six word memoir.
-How did the interviewee express her/his feelings- not only in what was said,
but how it was said?
My grandfather is a real funny man and expressed his feelings in a funny joking matter, even though some parts were hard to speak of he still tried to make me feel comfortable by speaking in a joking matter.
-What did these stories teach you about the topic?
The stories my grandpa was telling about the crooked cops back then, and the sherriff being the only nice one made me think, What if the sherriff was just like the crooked ones? what would have happened then.
-How did you attempt to verify the stories told to you?
I asked questions to my mom, aunt, and Grandpa himself. Asked him statements like, Are you sure grandpa, then laugh about it.
-What are the benefits and drawbacks of learning about the past through the oral history process?
The benifits of learning history through doing oral history is that you are getting facts from the people who actually lived it. Quotes from actual people who lived that lifestyle and can tell about it. It is a great way of learning history and should be the way we learn about alot of things.
-Overall, is this an effective way about learning about the past? why/why not?
I think this is a great way of learning about the past becuase you know you have the truth. The person you interview is either family or someone you can trust. The history behind everything is so real when they speak from their heart. YOu just know your getting the real deal. Therefore you learn the truth.
- Manuel Gilbert Negrete Sr. was born on September 1,1922 to Cleto Negrete and Francis Diaz in Dilley, Texas.
- Moved to San Antonio, Texas in 1927.
- Attended Navarro Elementry School beginning in 1928.
- 1930- Manuel got had his first surgery at age 8 on his left shoulder to remove a tumor. (Very important to him).
- Dropped out of school in the 8th grade in 1933.
- 1939- Married his first wife Guadalupe Beltran.
- 1940- Went to C.C. Camp Enlisted in the Army AND found out about his mother’s death through telegram at C.C. Camp.
- 1943- Manuel got out of the military.
- January 15,1946- Manuel’s First wife had their daughter Rachel.
- April 27,1946- Manuel’s 2nd wife had her daughter Estella.(Manuel raised her)
- June 15,1947- Manuel’s 2nd wife had daughter Mary Helen.
- April 22, 1948- Manuel had a son with his first wife named Alfredo.
- January 1950- Moved to Michigan.
- March 3,1950- Manuel Had his first son by my grandmother Ramona G. Negrete named Manuel Gilbert Negrete Jr.
- February 9,1951- Manuel had his son Rudolfo.
- 1951- Married second wife Ramona Gomez Negrete.
- 1952- Manuel’s first wife passed away.
- December 26,1952- Manuel had daughter Linda Suzeanne.
- August 5,1954- Manuel had a daughter named Alicia.
- September 19,1957- Manuel had a son named Victor.
- March 23,1960- Manuel had another daughter Receca Christina.
- August 25,1967- Manuel had his last child Francis Tracey.
- August 23,1969- Manuel’s youngest daughter Francis Tracey passed away.
- August 25,1969- Manuel had to lay his youngest daughter to rest in peace on her 3rd birthday.
- July 4, 1977- Retired on disability due to bad asthma.
- March 30, 1981- Manuel got married for the third and final time to a Puerto Rican woman named Claudia Negrete.
- September 29, 1988- youngest grandchild (me) was born.
- August 8, 1991- The final youngest grandchild was born. (sister)
- April 5,2001- Manuel’s 2nd wife Ramona G. Negrete (my grandma) passed away from liver problems in Pontiac, Michigan.
- September 11, 2001- the Twin Towers went down in New York, Manuel was watching it all on the T.V. as it happened.
- April 8,2010- Manuel’s daughter Estella Becerra passed away.
- September 12, 2010- Got interviewed by Granddaughter Kristina De La Garza for her Oral history Project.
- Dilley, Texas is the town where Manuel Gilbert Negrete was born.
- The Handbook of Texas Online
is a multidisciplinary encyclopedia of Texas history, geography, and culture sponsored by the
Texas State Historical Association and the General Libraries at UT-Austin. It was produced
in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts and the General Libraries at the University of
Texas at Austin. Copyright © The Texas State Historical Association.
- Casa Blanca Poster is on the Legends Revealed site. When my grandpa went to the movies his favorite movie was Casa Blanca. He was in love with Ingrid Bergman.
- Albert West Jr. can be found on the San Antonio Remembers site. Albert West is significant becuase my grandpa remembered him as being the nicest sherrif.
- Cost-of-Living Calculator. The calculator uses the Consumer Price Index to do the conversions between 1913 and the present. The source for the data is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Consumer Price Index reflects the cost of items relative to a specific year. The American Institute for Economic Research. P.O. Box 1000. Great Barrington, Massachusetts. 01230.
- Photographs and/or documents on this website were provided by Manuel Gilbert Negrete and My mother Rebeca Christina De La Garza.The photos that are in this presentation are memories for my family of my grandpa and his life. Most were in old photo albums and were allowed by my grandpa to be used.