This interview was conducted by Renee Martinez on April 22, 2010 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Spring 2010 class.
Oralia Menchaca Martinez was born in Skidmore, Texas on July 3, 1953 to her parents Rufino and Eloisa Menchaca she was born the good old way in her own home by a midwife. She is the oldest of 13 children, she has two siblings that were deceased at a very young age, one of her younger sisters passed away of meningitis at the age of 10 and her mother had one child that was born still born. She grew up in a poor farming community but the sense of family and hard work was instilled inside of her due to her upbringing. At the age of 6 years old she became involved in the Huelgas, with Cesar Chavez fighting for a better wage for the farm worker community. She attended Skidmore, Tynan high school and was involved in several extracurricular activities such as homemaking, choir and basketball, but despite all of her accomplishments in high school she did not graduate. She dropped out at the age of 16 to marry her first love Daniel Del Bosque they moved to San Antonio in 1970, her first marriage resulted in two children James Del Bosque who was born on April 12th 1970 and her daughter Melinda Del Bosque who was born on February 25th 1972. This relationship was very abusive and after years of the abuse Oralia decided that it was time to get away and she did and divorced her first husband in 1972. Later that year she met her current husband Robert D. Martinez while working as a credit clerk at Toudouze Furniture store. Together they have two children Rebecca Martinez who was born on April 30th 1974 and Renee Martinez who was born on October 11th 1984. She decided to obtain her GED in 1975 at St, Phillips College after obtaining her GED she decided to go into nursing to and she attended San Antonio College and graduated from the nursing program in 1977. she then got a job at Morning side manor a retirement center. She later worked at Southwest General Hospital as a RN. After years of nursing she decided that it was not the job for her and decided to once again go back to school to change careers, she attended San Antonio College once again and studied to become a paralegal. She successfully completed the program in 1986 and went on to work for a number of successful lawyers, it was through this that she began to learn the in’s and out’s of the legal system and she wasted no time in putting it to work for herself and her community. One day she decided to attended her local church of St. Bonaventure and found that the community and its people were inviting and warm. She decided to meet with the father in charge of the parish to introduce herself, his name was father Nathan. After doing so and talking with him for some time he showed great concern and great interest in the people of his parish this was something that also interested Oralia. She decided that she wanted to do more for her community and her church and she became involved in the Community Organized for Public Service (COPS ORGANIZATION) in 1982. Her first major project was that of filling the needs of the people who were living in poor housing conditions. After much research and hard work her efforts paid off when in 1991 the first home of the major project was complete. She was also responsible for bringing a street drainage project to help the runoff from the streets dispose of its self in the proper way. One of the major projects was that of helping the children of the Southside Community obtain a better education by persuading the ACCD (ALAMO COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT) to bring a 2 year community college to the southside of San Antonio. And in 1986 Oralia achieved her dreams when after many attempts Palo Alto College was built.
What are your earliest childhood memories?
I remember walking with my father and picketing for the Cesar Chavez cause they wanted more wages for the working people of the Latin community. They had a donkey that had to be pulled in the front of the group of people as they walked down the streets and I was the one that pulled the donkey.
Can you tell me when and why you moved to San Antonio from your small town?
Well, that’s just it, it was a small town and I wanted out of there I wanted to do something else with my life and so when I was 16 I decided to drop out of high school and get married to my first love Daniel. I look back on it now and see that it was a big mistake but I guess things happen for a reason. We moved here I believe in 1969 or 1970 I had just turned 17 and we had two children James and Melinda but he was abusive and I decided that I didn’t want to live like that and so I left him and got a divorce and never seen him since then.
When did you get remarried?
I got remarried to Robert in 1974 and he was always there for me as a friend when I was going through all the stuff with my ex-husband and so the friendship grew after I got divorced and Later we ended up having two girls Rebecca and you Renee.
Where did you attend college and what types of jobs did you hold down after that?
I went to San Antonio College and got a degree in nursing and then I worked at morning side manor a retirement home and then I got a better job at Southwest General hospital and then I decided to leave the hospital and go back to school to take the training to become a paralegal. But during the college years I worked as a sales lady in a shoe store, and a clerk in a furniture store you know odd jobs.
Where you involved in any major charities or organizations while your children were growing up?
Yes, I got involved with the Citizens Organized for Public Service or COPS organization.
How did you become a part of this organization?
Well, I became involved through my church. I attended St. Bonaventure church one day and I decided to introduce myself to the father. His name was father Nathan I remember, and we talked and we started talking about his concern for the community and its people he seemed to really care about the parish and so it interested me and so i decided to attend one of the COPS meetings and from then on I became heavily involved. I moved into the area in 1981 and I saw that there was a great need in the area, there was no drainage, dilapidated homes. Father Nathan was new to the area and we decided that the best way for him to meet the people was for him to get out there and meet some of the parishioners at their homes and talk with them and see what exactly was it that they needed. I felt that god had given me this gift because now I was going to be able to communicate their needs.
Did you have any meaningful friendships that you developed through this organization?
Yes my whole neighborhood. but I had one particular friend named Oralia Guerra who worked very closely with me on many of the projects and we were a team to be reckoned with they called us the two Oralias.
What major accomplishments did you and your organization do for your community?
Well one of the first projects was called the pentagon project and it was supposed to help people who were living in poor conditions, it was going to be able to provide plumbing and new homes for people who could not afford to do so. It was a project that we worked hard for and in the end we got $14 million dollars to do this. There were streets that had pot holes and had no sidewalks. I think that many of the young people today walk on those sidewalks and don’t realize that I fought really hard to bring a small thing like that to their community. It was a lot of work and the majority of the time we had to fight with city hall to get the money because they had other projects that were not a necessity that were billing for the same money, but eventually we got it. I was also involved with the project quest which was a scholarship that we founded that would help benefit low income single mothers, and allow them to go to college. I also worked on the education partnership program which was a scholarship that would be awarded to high school students and help them go to college.
And why was this college project so important to you?
Because we had a lot of underprivileged people who wanted to go to school but could not afford it. I worked on the project for about six years and when my daughter Rebecca graduated from high school she qualified for the education partnership and I couldn’t believe that she got something that I had worked so hard for. But we realized a long time ago that many children were just like her they lived on the Southside of San Antonio and wanted to go to school but some of them didn’t have cars and transportation was not easy because at that time there was not even a VIA bus that would run out to that part of town that was another project that we worked on later. But I believed that working to bring the college was good.
Why was bringing a college to the Southside of San Antonio, in your mind beneficial to the community?
Because like I said kids wanted to go to school and the only schools at the time were downtown or on the northside of the city and we wanted for the children to be able to go to college in their own community and not drive so far or have an excuse to not attend college. Our initial dream was to bring a 4 year college university but we started small and tried for a 2 year community college. So COPS got together and put a petition together and got ideas from the whole community and went to ACCD and proposed our plan.
At what lengths would you have gone to, to see that this college was a success?
I did a lot of work I went to great lengths, I walked the streets getting people to vote for the bonds that we needed to get the money to build the college because we had no money and we had to get the word out to vote for them so city council would approve them. I remember that there was a rally and that we all lined up the whole community and city council was there and carried a banner with the COPS logo and we say “Oh when St. Bonn’s comes marching in” and it was great we got the attention of everyone in the room. We had the vote and then ACCD said that if we wanted to have a college we had to locate the land. And so we needed one that had access to I-35 and 410 so we met up with city planning department and we got into a helicopter and we flew over the southside and looked for areas of land and we found two.But we ended up choosing the site where Palo Alto now sits. We had to make sure that because Kelly air force base being out there that we did not build on their flight overlay zone. But city council and ACCD finally approved it and then it was time to pick the architecture.
How did your organization become part of the architecture of Palo Alto College?
Well after all the bonds and the wheels were in motion we met with the architects in charge and we wanted a Spanish style of building to go along with the missions and keep with the traditions of the southside, One year later the college was built but there was large cracks in the buildings from where the ground had shifted, there were only two buildings at the time the admissions building and the tech building or so it was called and so the buildings structures had to be changed and so it took on the look of what you see at Palo Alto today.
How did it make you feel to know that your children would be able to benefit from the college?
It made me feel great that’s what I fought for and it was good to feel that I did that for the southside and Palo Alto should let you go to school for FREE (laughs).
Did you know if there were any other plans for that land instead of building the college on it?
Oh yes there was a man who was fighting and fighting with us because he was going to put a recycling plant right there were Palo Alto is and we didn’t want that in our community we felt like people looked down on the Southside of San Antonio already because it was not I guess “grand” as the other parts of town and a recycling plant was just going to add to that negative outlook on our part of town.
What did you and your organization do to make sure that that didn’t happen?
I wrote a letter to Frank Tejeda who was in charge at the time and I met with the man who was trying to build the plant and I told him that COPS had a better use for that land and he looked at me like I was some crazy lady but I fought and fought and I got the community involved and again I went door to door and eventually all the letters paid off they didn’t build the recycling plant they built the college.
You said that you needed to get a VIA bus run out to the Southside of San Antonio why?
Well we had our college and now we needed a way for the kids and people to get there and VIA didn’t run that far down the Southside it only ran to Military drive and so we went door to door signing a petition and we took it to VIA who then had to get it approved from the city and we got out bus route out here and I know a lot of kids and people use that bus system out there but they never knew that I had a big part in making that happen.
Did you meet any interesting people while you were in the organization?
Oh yes, a lot, I met Anne Richards who has now passed away, and I got to meet George Bush Jr. before he was president. He came and walked the streets of Palo Alto, and met with the people and looked at the horrible housing conditions along with Henry Cisneros. And for a long time me and Frank Wing were very close friends he would have coffee with our group at Denny’s all the time! (Laughs) how many people can say that!
How did you eventually get the houses built for your community?
I worked really close with Henry Cisneros for the HUD homes projects and I was really proud of it we always dedicated the houses after they were built and the media was there and it was a great feeling to give that back to the community.
Why was this HUD project important to you?
It was important cause I felt so bad for the people who had rats and their homes would flood when it rained and their roofs would leak very badly their homes were very damaged and many of them couldn’t afford to fix them. Some didn’t have running water we found two families still using and out-house they had no running water and they were used to it because they were poor and couldn’t afford to extend the water lines into their homes and there was no service that was willing at the time to help them and so I made it my personal mission to help them. I was fortunate why couldn’t I help someone who wasn’t.
How did being involved in the organization affect your family life? Was it negative or positive?
I was away from my children a lot and my husband didn’t like it he hated it that I was always gone it caused a lot of arguing and he eventually asked me to stop and so I did I moved away from the community and the church and left the Southside of town.
Are you at least proud of the accomplishments that you made?
I am very proud of myself I was able to be a part of something that helped a lot of people and I was grateful and am grateful that I was part of the process to improve the way of life down here. It makes me sad sometimes to see the things that we worked on so hard and that people have not taken advantage of them or they have let it go. I see some of the houses that have been passed to family members and we worked hard to get them built and they are run down or not what they should be.
Are you still involved with COPS and if not why not?
No I moved out of the neighborhood I had worked so long doing things for other people and I wanted to be with my family and it takes dedication like I said and I saved my money and finally bought me my house of my dreams so I left.
Is there anything that you would like to add about Palo Alto today, or the community that you left behind?
I felt like it was god’s work obviously he put that in my path for some reason I don’t know why but he did. I miss the contacts and the communications with the people I was always busy and it was a great feeling I feel that was what kept me going and I feel like i am missing that in my life. But I love to see Palo Alto and now the new A&M campus that are coming I wish everyone had the will to go to college but I know that that is a personal choice.
My mother was a very powerful woman and I have always known the great things that she had accomplished. It is a shame that in the archives of COPS she is not mentioned but a few times certain ladies steel the spotlights when it was her and her fellow citizens who put in the time and hard work. I am extremely proud of my mother for her accomplishments. I learned that there were other ideas for Palo Alto College, and that without her and her community’s tireless fight it might not be here today for us to take advantage of. It is sad like she said that certain parts of her hard work have been left to something not of what she wanted but I know that she is proud of what she has done. She had been involved in the fight for personal and community rights since she was a child and the pictures and stories line the halls of her home. She is a powerful little lady.
- Oralia Menchaca born on July 3, 1953 to Rufino and Eloisa Menchaca in her home in Skidmore, Texas
- Dropped out of high school in 1969
- Married to her first husband Daniel Del Bosque 1970
- Moved to San Antonio Texas 1970
- First child James Del Bosque born April 12, 1970
- Second child Melinda Del Bosque born February 25, 1972
- Divorced first husband 1972
- Remarried to 2nd husband Robert D. Martinez 1972
- First daughter from 2nd marriage was born Rebecca Martinez 1974
- Obtained GED from St. Phillips college in 1975
- 1975 enrolled in Fox Tech vocational school for LVN
- 1977 Graduated from San Antonio College with a degree in nursing
- 1982 Moved to Southside of San Antonio
- 1982 joined St. Bonaventure church
- 1982 joined the COPS organization
- 1984 Second daughter Renee Martinez is born October 11th 1984
- 1984 started project to build Palo Alto college
- 1986 Palo Alto begins construction
- April 22,2010 interviewed by her daughter Renee Martinez in her bedroom
- Texas Escapes Online Magazine: Travel and History has an extensive collection of annotated photographs of twentieth century Texas. Included in the collection are historical images of courthouses, churches, schoolhouses, banks, jails, cemeteries, gas stations, and water towers. Website Content Copyright ©1998-2008. Texas Escapes – Blueprints For Travel, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
- The history of Palo Alto and the COPS organization. Palo Alto College has dedicated a page to the history of its involvement with this organization.
- Photographs and/or documents on this website were provided by Oralia Martinez they are on her walls and in her yearbooks that are kept in a cabinet in the dining room of her house.