This interview was conducted by Jessica E. Gomez on October 19, 2009 in San Antonio, Texas as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Fall 2009 class.
Tomasa Sosa Rios was born March 31st, 1921, in San Antonio, Texas. She has never lived anywhere else but San Antonio, Texas, where she was raised by her mother, Otilia Pedrasa in San Antonio. She didn’t know her father, Matias Sosa, because he died when she was 6 months old. She had two brothers, Matias and Ines, and a sister, Elvira. All of them have already die and her mother as well. Tomasa couldn’t go to school because she had to work since she was twelve. Her first job was at a nut factory, peeling nuts, where she earned about two dollars a week. She had a lot of jobs such as at refrigerator factory, furniture factory and pastry shop. She retired at the age of 62. Tomasa married Alvaro Rios April 19th, 1936, when she was 15 years old. She gave born to two boys Raul in 1938 and Alberto in 1944. Her son Raul was in the U.S. Navy for 4 years. Unfortunately her husband and her two sons have already died. She lives alone in her house. As hobby she likes to read medical and prayer books and magazines. She receives money from the government, is Catholic and supports the Democratic Party. Today she is 88 years old. She is a former neighbor of mine.
The interview was conducted bilingual. She was born here and doesn’t know very good English but I realized she doesn’t know perfect Spanish either. She would respond to some questions mixing the languages.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Sabinas Street and Perez. That’s where I grew up. That’s why we had to go to Bowie elementary School and had to go walking.
How difficult was it for you go to school?
It was very difficult because it was too far. We had to walk from Sabinas Street. I lived by Sabinas and Navidad Streets, by the corner street. Then go walking to Ruiz Street. We got to Ruiz and walked until reach Colorado Street. Finally, from Colorado Street to Arbor Street Pl, and there it was, the school. We had no good sweaters or shoes or anything. Also, almost nobody had a car. So, almost everybody had to go walking. At school you were allowed to got out to eat, when you wanted. You could leave at any time because… it was other time. There was not so much vice. When I went out to eat… my mom worked washing others clothes. She worked by the Arbor Street Pl. she washed to some nurses, and I went with her at noon to stay a while and then I came back to school. It was until we were six years old, to be allowed to go to school because nobody spoke English. English began to be use for people who speak it, after World War II. I think that it was when it began to be more speaking. When we went to school we couldn’t speak English. The teachers were Americans. There were, only about one or two that … that was the only school I went to. The school’s name was Bowie. It had other name. I think it is already close, but, the building is still there I guess. The school was between Colorado and just before arriving to Poplar. We spent once a year. It was, was the first grade, the first, the second, and the third. We said low second, high second, low third, high third. I think I went until… I think I got out of school at 12. My mom took me out of school, because she couldn’t afford my school. She didn’t have any clothes to send me to school. No one said anything if you weren’t going to school. The teachers didn’t care and come. I’m still remembering all those things I learned, like homky Donky…. I’m still remembering what we said, and also I enjoyed reading the story of “Jinge brave boy. And the little songs, sometimes I remember. People learn better when little than when adult, because you have already your mind on other things. There was a library, it was close around San Pedro. I do not know if this still or no. We went there, sometimes, with other girls or boys. There, they lend us things such as things to see. There was nothing in those times.. There was no television. And, at school because it was light and everything,
but we had no light, we had lamps. I’m still remembering I go to school, and when classes finish, I came home and going out to play left me. My mom, let me to go to play.. I was alone because all my brothers were great, they were married.
The teachers were American. How did you communicated with them?
Well, some of them understood us, like me. There was a very good American teacher that I loved very much. All the time, I never forgot her. Her name was Miss Bailey and his boss’ name was Miss Kim. But there were some Mexican Teachers too whose last name was Cardenas. I don’t know, I guess that was why we didn’t learn English, because they couldn’t understand us. There were some girls who could speak English, but not me. You have to keep talking. I was there playing with the girls, and learn more and more English. Well, I’m from here, but I don’t speak English as correctly as I should. Just like my granddaughters. Even the little ones, correct me because they know I’m saying something wrong.
At school, were you prohibited to speak Spanish?
Not because … well, just when we talked … because all the girls played games and everything. And how could I speak English, if I didn’t know it. I remember that I said “can I go to the be excused?” I said to the teacher. because we had to raise our hand
to the bathroom. But here at home I had learned as I said. I think someone, a cousin who knew English. They speak only English at home. And they said, “Can I be excused”, but I thought the bathroom was called “be excused”. I told the teacher: “Miss Bailey can I go to the be excused”. But she didn’t tell me that I shouldn’t use all the words. I said it that way, because for me the bathroom was called “be excused” and so I told her. I enter the school saying “can I go to be excused” and got out of it, the same, I still say” can I go to the be excused “. And the girls were laughing a lot, because they did not care about Mexicans. They didn’t care if we learned or not learned. It was another time. It was when there was still segregation of … I saw much of that. The Black people used to sit behind. We went for Ruiz, and on the San Marcos Street, there was the school, the school, for black people because there were where they were to school. They went to that school, and when they were out, we were out too. So, we see them and they were rude with us, they were bad, they hit and steal to us. We bought those little things that you put in your skin to paint it. Painted, tattoos, and put them on me, and my mom said “nice, you got nice now. You only lack the feathers to look like an Indian. I painted all my arms. But came home and I took them off, and it was.
As a child, did you experience any kind of discrimination?
We were all Mexicans who live in my neighborhood. I never knew we were … well we never went anywhere, because my mother had no husband. The other ladies, who had their husband, went to the works. They went to pick up beets, and other fruits or vegetables. Time after, when it started to be work. The only job I had was at a nut factory, peeling nuts. I’m still having the thing that was use to peel nuts.. I quit for a week school and went to work peeling nuts, and bought shoes, which were bought by my mom. But, they lasted not a long time, because the soles were made of cardboard. My mom sent me to school with a little boy, the neighbor’s son. He, didn’t like to go with me, because the boys said I was his girlfriend. He used to let me behind and tell me, “go away, go away” because he didn’t like me. And I would say: “you’d better wait for me, because I’ll tell my mom.” And when I said to my mom, she said: “now you will see how I’m going to tell Mrs. Atanasia”. Then, my mom went and complained to her mother about him. “Mrs. Atanasia, watch this little boy, doesn’t take care of my daughter.” He had no obligation, but the people… We were very ignorant. My Mom also hadn’t gone to school. But, told to
him to better wait to me.
Any experience, you remember from your childhood?
I was like a tomboy. Almost all the boys were my buddies. When we peeled nuts in the house, they came across. They were called the Ortiz, and were many. They only had a sister, I mean, two sisters, Eufrasia and Gloria. We grew together. But, the boys didn’t
go to school, because they had to go to work. And then at night they came and we were under the light. You could bring nuts to peel at home and take them back the next day. And all of them helped. My mom told them: “if you’ll come, you’ll help here.” There was no television, no nothing. Only storytelling about the llorona, and the dead, and… And then, the Ortiz, went back home. We had, I remember so well because I dream about that house so often, it was going to be a door, but my dad made it a window. When my dad died, no vary fixed it, so it was open. And we just jump thru it as goats leaping around. They lived next door, so they could jump thru the window to come into my house. And they left by there. They were … who came were the two who were my age. It was Pancho, whose nickname was “el diablo”. It was Pancho, and it was … I don’t remember about the oldest ones. But, I remember Pancho all the time. He and his other brother, went back home and then came back quickly. They went around ten at night. They were knocking the door. “Who is it?” “Tomy” My mom said “Open the door.” “Doña Otilia,” my mom’s name was Otilia,” Doña Otilia does you allowe Tomy take us home?” And I was going to accompany them. They were afraid to go home by themselves. I think I wasn’t afraid. I went and left them. Then, when we grew, we never saw us each other. To Jesus, who who took care of me, yes, he had came to visit me. I and my husband were invited to his wedding. he saw me as a sister. Varo, my husband, would said, because of he had beautiful eyes, and his nickname was the tiger. My husband told me: “You were the tiger girlfriend, right?” And told him: “no.” “Are you sure? Everyone said you were his girlfriend.” He said, “was not his girlfriend, and hopefully if had spoken to me and ask me about it, I’ll be accepted him.” But, we grew up together, as brothers. He started to work in an HEB in vegetables in the Comercio Street. And I was pregnant of Raul, and then he would come and brought me an apple or something. And the fact is that when he came to his mother’s house, he asked her for my address and visited us here, me and Varo. He knew Varo.
Do you recall any particular story, of which people had tell when they gathered to peel nuts?
Yes, the llorona, which was what had killed all their children and who had throw them into the river, and then, later, she was looking for them. And then they had another… when the people were there telling stories. My mom not, my mom didn’t like it. She was very serious. But, other women, and neighbors who came here, told the one about the girls that liked going to dance, and whose didn’t had any permission to go. People said that once, it had appeared to them a man with a hounds tooth. And many stories I do not remember much, because I was still very young. Not really paid attention to things.
Do you remember any relevant experience you ever lived?
It was a very hard time. We had, when the Great Depression, if you had food you ate, if not, there was nobody who would give you. There were churches, to which people will call the church of the Aleluyas. And they sent me there because we sang and everything and they gave us a piece of bread. For the most important thing was that, when started the working men. They were paid with food, and gave us, women, clothes also, because there was no money. But all people lived in the same poor conditions. No one stole from anyone.
What did you do for fun?
We had the Pastorelas every Christmas, if we had our parents’ permission. I would said “Mom can I go?” It was a block far from my house. My mom would tell me “Well, but don’t back late.” It was in the neighborhood. They had ropes, at the clotheslines, where
the hung lamps to be lightly.All the girls got together, but also I like to be with the boys. I liked to have a lot of boyfriends. Well, at the Pastorela we got candies. Also, we used to have fun at the carpas that came in the neighborhood sometimes. They used to install their equipment in front of my house. They had shows with dancers. My mom allows them to take from our water to drink and everything they needed, and they let me go for free. But, many times my mom wouldn’t let me go anywhere, so I cry a lot because she didn’t let me go. That’s why I think I was a mischievous girl. Then they used to go out in the afternoons, walking by the streets. There were big trucks with drummers playing, clowns behind them and also dancers. Uh… I only could hear the music and I cry, to see if my mom let me go. We played hopscotch, that’s what we played. We had no things to play, nothing. The first television… we went in the afternoon, after dinner. I already had
my boys, so we went there, at the street of…. I can’t remember the street’s name. it was at downtown, where were some furniture stores, there by Commerce Street. Those furniture stores started to have televisions for sell. So, they keep them turn on. Everyone
went in the ca, and got off there. we would sit on the sidewalk to watch the TV. But then, sometimes, the signal failed and was nothing to do. We all just got angry, because we couldn’t fix it, because it was inside the store. And those were the entertainments.
How old were you when you started to work?
I would say … At age 13 I made the first communion. Well, I would think 13 or 12 years, because I married at 15. I went to school and quit it for a week and worked. There’s the nut factory right after crossing… There’s one called on Morales and Sabinas Street, this one called Perez Grocery Store. And I worked there. But, when the inspector came, the lady hid me in the kitchen, because he couldn’t saw me and realize I was too little and had to go to school. We peeled the nuts and thrown them into a cup, the heart and pieces. Then, we weighed them in pounds. The heart was weighed more, but they didn’t pay us. All the people lived by that, and they didn’t pay us, and had to peeled the nut with a tool to peeled them. Each one had to bring their own. We earn, about two dollars per week but had not yet Social Security. They paid us in an envelope. We had no social security. I got it when I was already married.
As a woman, was it difficult to find a job, or was equal as it was for men?
There was not work. Well, my sister worked, but she had gone a little further to school. I was a kid; I was married too young and was working in a nut factory, because my husband was sick. But I never notice anything bad. Well, almost everyone who had a job at a store was because they had gone to school, had finished it, and knew English. My sister worked, before she got married, at a hotel attending the telephone. She was 13 years older than me.
When you marry, things became easier or harder?
Well in a way, it was harder, because we hadn’t where to live. He, my husband, took me to live with his aunt. It was a hard time. My mom had to get out of her house because my older brothers didn’t pay taxes for it. My mom was very ignorant and didn’t know had to pay taxes. Since a kid, I told her once I get married I was going to take her to live with me. That’s why I wanted to get marry. When I married, she came here to visit me. I didn’t work anymore. She was living with my brother, Ines, at his house. Once I started working again, when he began to feel a little better, I got a work at a nut factory again. I talked to the owners and told them if they could rent me a small room where they stored the bags full of nuts. It was a long room. I remember they painted it and took everything from there. And, my mom came to live there with me. She lived with me until she died. We lived there, at that little room, until we bought the house Monclova Street. There was a Jew who sold houses such as the Monclova Street house, we’d bought. You had to have $10.00 down. And who was able to pay $10.00 down for a house? There was no money. I don’t know my husband did. I guess my sister lent him some money, but not sure. We got that little house. There were many houses together like vicinity. But, the house only had one “be excused” as I used to call the restroom. Once everyone finishing paying me, they fenced their houses. We never thought about the idea of they were going to fence, and we would end up without restroom, and so, we did. We had to ask the first one who fenced for permission to used the restroom. And we had to go there. My husband was a broom maker. My husband, made some brooms to be able to get the sure at our house.
the sure passed by Leal Street. We lived by the alley on Monclova Street. There, didn’t pass either the mailman, the trash, or pass by the sewer. We suffer a lot to pay because they had to pierce other houses to pass it trough. I raised my family there. My children, Albert was born there. We were poor but had to eat, because my husband, once he got his payment, the first thing we did was to go buy food walking at a Chinese store. We brought there, and they gave us a ride back to home at theirs truck.
Did you ever experience any sort of division at home among the family members due to the time you were living?
Actually, yes, it was because of poverty. And much time before, it was used to boys to fight among them for their father’s properties. So, my brothers weren’t the exception. My mom suffered a lot because they fought many times. My mother’s daughter in law, used to fight very often with my mom. She complained to my brother, and then he would go
and fight with my mom. “That was why I used to be arguing with my brother” I would say to her. He was one of my oldest brothers, Matias, he was the only one. My sister had already moved there. But no one stole anyone. My brothers, used to sleep outside. We had no closet. My Mom put a broomstick, and we hung our clothes there. We were not a very large family, because my sister got married and left. She was widowed and remarried. My brother lived at home with Mary until they were taking out along with my mom. They lost the house because; they didn’t pay taxes. I was already married, and
was living Varo’s house. Then, when we moved, we moved to a house by the Buena Vista Street. My mom was already living with me and died there, at that street.
When things did begin to improve?
I guess everything got better, somewhat, when I started to work. Raul was 2 years old. I gave birth to him at the age of 17. I guess I was 19 or 20 years when I went to work again, and it was working all my life. When started the fridges factories, some people said they paid better there. I wanted to go work there, but you couldn’t get out of a job, and go to the other as easy. They had to give you a release. I asked for the release, and went to the fridges factories to earn more. There, they put me to work, as welding, because I was tall and chunky. Well, I was working there. We had uniforms, but… if you could see me I had my arms all bruised. I loose a lot of weight. My mom didn’t want me to work there, but they paid me a little more, I don’t remember how much. Then I left there and went to work to Mission Provision. There is where the ham was packaged. It was a butcher.
Because I didn’t like to be close to all the meat, where the sausages and all were hung, they sent me the fridge room department. In consequence I got all these pains now. It was like a big fridge. There, men were at a table with knives, cutting the meat. They opened the door for us to get out from there. We had to go with pants and boots and everything, because they hung, the ham, on our backs. There were also big machines where we had to put the ham to be cut, and then weigh it in pounds. I work there, and went to work to a sew factory. I didn’t know how to sew, but I was the helper of the man who cut the tissue. I got over the table and he would come and put together the materials. There was where I learn how to sew and started sewing. And then, there, I became a seamstress. And then I came to other factory close to here, it was the Galindo Poultry. It was by Culebra Street. I retired from there. Who knows what happen to it. I never had jobs where I was paid well, because you needed education. I retired and never earn 5 dollars at least. Sewing, I earned 4 cents, because there was not the minimum salary yet.
Doing this OHP, I’ve learn a great deal of The United States of America history; based on the topic I wanted to learn about according to the date my interviewee was born. What I guess were the most important facts Ms. Tomasa mentioned during the interview were mostly about poverty and hard work to get the basic supplies for living. Before doing the interview, I can say I didn’t know anything about USA history at all, until I started to research information about the Great Depression. After having this experience, I can compare to countries. I’m from Mexico and many of my relatives could tell me stories about how hard was life in past time there in Mexico and it is still being hard in some places such as my hometown. In the other hand I had never thought about USA having hard times too. Because, when you are from other country and listen to old people talk about a country of opportunity and freedom, the first image that came to our mind is always a country well develop at all, socially, economically, and politically. It is what commonly is called the “American Dream”. I really believe that listening to other’s stories, especially old people, about the past is a great way of learning history. It is because everyone has a different view of what and how they live their youth, and the way they express themselves such as the emotions they reflect when talking. In this case I can say my interviewee talked showing sadness because of the hard it was for her to raise her children, but also I could felt she’s proud of herself because even though it was hard she kept going forward and made it good.
- 1921 Tomasa Rios was born in San Antonio, Texas.
- 1927 – 1932 Started 1st grade at elementary school in San Antonio, Texas. Unknown name of the School.
- 1932 – 1936 Get out from school and started to work at a nut factory, in San Antonio, Texas, until she got married.
- 1936 Married Alvaro Rios in San Antonio, Texas, Santa Ines Catholic Church and stop working.
- 1938 Gave birth to Raul Rios, in San Antonio, Texas. Her oldest son.
- 1941 – 1944 Go back to work at the nut factory in San Antonio, Texas.
- 1944 Gave birth to Alberto Rios, in San Antonio, Texas. Her youngest son.
- 1981 She retired. Between 1941 and 1981 she had work at many places, in San Antonio, Texas but doesn’t remember all of them either the exactly years she got those jobs.
- 2009 Interview by Jessica Gomez on October the 19th.
- “La Llorona – A Hispanic Legend.” Literacynet.org. Web. 03 Dec. 2009.
- “Feliz Navidad – Making Merry in Mexico : Mexico Culture & Arts.” Access Mexico Connect – Current Issue – The Electronic Magazine all about Mexico. Web. 03 Dec. 2009.
- “Mexican Carpas.” Bob Brooke-Writer and Photographer: Writing at Its Best. Web. 03 Dec. 2009.
- 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.