This interview was conducted by Rose Valenzuela on March 19, 2010 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2010 class.
Rosa Gauna-Valenzuela was born October 2, 1953 to parents Martin and Rosa Gauna in San Antonio, TX. Instead of being born in a hospital, she was born at her home on San Marcos Street near Guadalupe Street and South Laredo. Just a year later her brother Martin was born. In 1955, her mother had another son and named him Ralph. In 1957, they moved to a house on Smith Street. After living at this home for a year, her mother had a baby girl named Cathy. In 1960, Rosa started first grade. That same year her family moved again to another home on the same street where they lived for a year. This house did not have electricity or running water. After moving to the “courts,” where they had electricity and water, she really appreciated what she had. In 1962, her sister Connie was born. Just a year later her parents were married. Despite being young, Rosa and her brothers helped their mother with everything. In 1965, their baby sister Anna was born. Rosa graduated in 1973 from Lanier High School. Just two years after graduating, her father passed away. Years passed and in 1983, she had her first son and named him Daniel. Just a year later, she met her soon to be husband Alex. In 1985, Rosa had her second son and named him Alex. She had decided to stop having children but in 1988 she had her daughter and named her Rose. In 1989, Rosa and Alex were married at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in San Antonio. They have been happily married for 20 years and now live on the northwest side of San Antonio. Rosa is my mother and she is the best mom I could ever ask for.
What are your earliest childhood memories?
I must have been 5, when we used to live in a house on a street named smith and there was a big fire. It must have been 10 o’clock and there was a house that caught on fire. I remember the smell. Every time your dad puts the fireplace I always remember that fire.
How has the neighborhood changed compared to when you were growing up?
I guess it’s changed more too where you hardly see kids playing outside like volleyball, baseball or basketball. There were no video games like there is nowadays. You had to go outside to play. Before we went out we had to do our chores. We used to play tag. One person would chase us and when they touched you, you were next to chase everyone. We used to ride our bikes if we had one. Now you hardly see that.
What was your family’s economic “class” growing up?
What would it be considered now? Back then we were very poor. We didn’t have what we have now. Back then we had to make it with what our mom gave us. But we were very happy. We didn’t have the clothes we have now. It was like you had a pair of shoes and that’s what you would wear for the rest of the year. I remember I had a dress and a blouse and that’s what I wore to school every day. We were very happy. We never asked my mom for anything. We are doing better than we did then. Now it would be considered middle class. We are not rich but we are not poor. We are right in the middle.
What chores did you do growing up?
I did very many since I was the oldest of six. I had to help my mom with washing dishes, washing clothes, help her in the kitchen.
Were your parents strict?
Well…..considering my dad was an alcoholic; he didn’t let us be outside after 6 pm because I guess he was afraid something would happen to us but we were good kids. We would not talk back to my mom and she would let us stay outside longer. She would tell my dad that we were good. They were not strict but yet they didn’t let us do too many things. They would pick us up from school cause they didn’t want us to go anywhere else and we had to go to CCD classes every day after school. So they made sure we went. That’s one thing they always made us do. They never spanked us considering we lived in the project homes. My mom was always afraid we would turn out bad, but we graduated high school.
How has the school systems changed from when you were in school?
When I was in school, teachers were very strict. Nobody would talk dirty like they do nowadays. Teachers talked more like you had to respect them. You couldn’t call them “Mrs.” Or “Ms.” We had to talk to them with their last name like “Mrs. Castillo” or “Mr. Castillo.” They were very strict about stuff like that. Nowadays you can talk to teacher anyway you want and they will answer you. Now there’s a lot of cussing, we never cussed. Back then was a lot better. We respected our teachers and we learned more. They wouldn’t leave anyone out. I remember the Principle would use a paddle on us if we were bad and parents wouldn’t get mad about it.
What was a typical day for you?
Get up in the morning; go to school, during lunch time we would run home. We only had 30 minutes for lunch. We didn’t have free lunch. Then we would run back to school, did our studies, go to CCD classes. When we got home, my mom already had supper ready. We ate, I washed the dishes, and then we got to go play. The next day it was the same.
How has downtown changed?
Wow, it has changed to the max! We used to love to go downtown. We would go dressed up in heels. We go for Houston St. to Commerce St. We would just go around. We went to the stores because we didn’t have no malls. We used to have fun. Every Saturday morning we looked forward to go downtown even though we would just walk around.
What was it like growing up in the courts?
Growing up in the courts, The Alazen Apache Courts, was really not that bad considering we lived in the Westside. The courts we used to do our chores and stuff like that. I remember the other courts that we used to hear was the Lincoln Courts, the Victoria Courts, um the Casiano Courts and San Juan Courts. Now those were bad. We were always afraid that when someone moved out of the courts where we lived that we were going to have some bad people coming in, but no we were lucky to have good people. Everybody would just get along. We never heard bad things happening. We had a real good time growing up in the courts; in fact if I could go back I would. It’s probably more dangerous now but back then we had a real good time. ROSE: There were never crimes? ROSA: Yea there was just like anywhere else but not as bad as the other courts. Ok we used to live between San Guadalupe, Brazos and Durango. We used to live in that area. We lived closer to Lanier High School and Tafolla. In that area we had it good. On the other side of Guadalupe St. there was more crime. Growing up in the courts was not that bad. Considering my dad was an alcoholic, my mom never worked and I’m not embarrassed to say that we were on welfare and we had to get food stamps later on in life but it was better, we grew up doing good. We graduated and two of family members went to college and we all got married and nobody grew up taking drugs. Everyone has really good jobs. We all live better considering we went through a lot. I remember my brothers had to sell news papers just to support my mom with the younger siblings. We look back and we are proud of ourselves.
What jobs did you and your brothers and sister do to earn money?
I was the oldest of the family and then I have two brothers and three other sisters. I didn’t start working until I was about 15. But my brothers they started working very young. They were up very early and they would go sell the newspaper. I remember a man would come and drop off the newspaper and we would help my brothers roll it and they would go to houses and sell it. Sometimes they would go stand on a corner just like they do now. On the weekends they would go around the projects and they would sell the newspaper. At that time it was called the San Antonio Light and the other was Express News. There was an organization called Sano and it was for people with very low income. I used to work there during the summer time. I worked there until I graduated. Then I applied for a teachers aid and did that for 3 years. Then I quit there and worked for and insurance company. Then I started working for Levi’s, the jean company. I did the sewing. I stayed on for 20 years.
Did growing up poor have an effect on you?
It made us realize what it is to have what we have now. Like I tell ya’ll the stories of how I grew up being poor and I believe if you teach your children what it’s like to be poor, they’ll grow appreciating what they have. If I were to have given you everything you’ll want more and more. I didn’t want to teach ya’ll that. I wanted to teach ya’ll how to work for what you wanted and that’s how you grew up.
What has changed the most in the city?
Downtown because we didn’t have malls so we would go to the stores. My favorite store at the time was Solo Serve We used to go there all the time. We used to get off the bus right in front of the court house. The little park wasn’t there. We used to walk to Soledad Rd. where Solo Serve was then to Commerce St. and we would go all around to Houston St. Then to where the Alamo is at. We used to do this about 2 or 3 times. There wasn’t too many buildings either and there is so many things that has changed. Now there’s malls and to many cars in San Antonio. There’s hardly anymore stored like for clothing and the theaters, we loved to go to the theaters. The Majestic, The Aztec. We would go there all the time, but you don’t do that anymore cause downtown has changed. Mostly I wish things would go back to how they used to be.
What activities did you participate in while in high school?
Well, in high school I participated in volleyball. I used to play I think when I was in the 10th and 11th grade. It was our first volleyball team. It was the first time Lanier had a volleyball team. In fact I was the one that named the team. At the time we were “A La Net,” of course they changed it now. I hardly played at the beginning but when my coach Mr. Bird put me up to serve, he was amazed that I served from 1-15 and I won the game by myself. We were going for 1st place but I had an accident so we stayed in 2nd place at the championship. My senior year I was in choir. I was just volley ball and choir. I loved sports.
Was there any goals you wanted to accomplish before you got married and had children?
Yes, I wanted to go to college but after I graduated I knew I had to help my mom financially. So I thought I would go to work for one year then I’ll go to school. But it didn’t work out so I continued working. Since my sisters were still in school I worked cause I knew they would need money. If I could go back I would go to college and become a lawyer. That’s what I really wanted to be.
If you could change anything about your past and how you grew up what would it be?
Actually just to go to school and continue my education. They way I grew up and how I lived, I don’t regret anything, I really don’t. I think we had a good life. We were all very close. We didn’t have what other kids had but we were really happy, we really were. We grew up appreciating what were had. That’s how I want my kids to grow up. That’s why I tell you to work and get your education cause I want you to become somebody.
Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?
I just wish things to go back to how they were. ME: And how is that? ROSA: NO COMPUTERS!!! NO CELL PHONES AND TOO MANY CARS!!! To many people are giving these kids everything they want.
I learned so much from my mother. What I learned the most was how she really grew up. She grew up in a poor yet strong and loving household. One thing my mom couldn’t stress enough was for us, her children and other young adults, to learn to appreciate what they have. I knew my mother grew up poor. However, I did not know just how poor her and her family was. I did not know in one home she did not have electricity or running water. When my mom described and told her past, I could tell that there was lots of emotion. There was happiness and sadness in her voice when she would speak. These stories taught and showed me how much San Antonio’s Westside has changed in the last 50 years. I think learning about the past through Oral History is a very effective way of learning. I learned so much from my mother and how she grew up. I saw pictures of the city before all the changes. The benefits are we get to speak to someone that lived in this city though out the changes and actually see pictures of the years that were so precious to our loved ones.
- 1953-Rosa was born
- 1954-Brother Martin was born
- 1955-Brother Ralph was born
- 1957-Moved to house on Smith Street
- 1958-Sister Cathy was born
- 1960-Moved to another house on Smith Street, Started 1st grade
- 1962-Sister Connie was born
- 1963-Parents Married
- 1965-Sister Anna was born
- 1973-Graduated Lanier High School
- 1975-Father passed away
- 1983-Son Daniel was born
- 1984-Met Future husband Alex
- 1985-Son Alex was born
- 1988-Daughter Rose was born
- 1989-Married Alex
- Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia Confraternity of Christian Doctrine . Ed. Wikipedia. 26 Feb. 2010. Rosa Valenzuela attended these classes to gain knowledge of religion.
- Zelman, Donald L. Handbook of Texas Online – Alazan Apache courts Texas State Historical Association – Home – Digital Gateway to Texas History. 22 Feb. 2010. Rosa Valenzuela lived in tha Alazan-Apache Courts from 1953-1973.
- Donecker, Frances. Handbook of Texas Online – San Antonio Light Texas State Historical Association – Home – Digital Gateway to Texas History. 20 Feb. 2010. Rosa Valenzuela’s brother Ralph Gauna worked at the San Antonio Light.
- Castro, CB. Solo serve
- Google Images San Antonio Aztec Theater. Ed. Google. 2008.
- Photographs and/or documents on this website were provided by Rosa Valenzuela and Rosa Gauna, mother of Rosa Valenzuela. Men in “Dance” photo were unknown. Man in Wedding photo is Alejandro Valenzuela, husband of Rosa Valenzuela. These photos belong to Rosa Gauna, mother to Rosa Valenzuela.