Amelia Vara, Mary Hernandez, and Dawn Leal

Recorded December 18, 2009 Archived December 18, 2009 38:01 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY006073


Amelia Alice Vara (87) talks with daughter Mary Hernandez (65) and granddaughter Dawn Leal (37) about her service to her community.

Subject Log / Time Code

Amelia talks about her mother and her father. Her father was a Spanish translator.
Amelia talks about her experiences in school. She remembers being segregated at school from her sister because they had differing skin tones.
Amelia talks about being President of the Galveston-Houston Diocese. She was the first Hispanic President.
Amelia talks about her involvement with the rodeo in Houston.
Amelia talks about her involvement with a charity called “Project Capable.”
Amelia explains why she has such a commitment to civic duty and helping her community.


  • Amelia Vara
  • Mary Hernandez
  • Dawn Leal

Recording Location

MobileBooth West


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00:04 My name is Mary Alice Hernandez. I'm also known as candy. I am 65 this year. I have today's date is December 18th 2009. Where in Houston Texas and we're here talking with my mother.

00:23 My name is Dawn Leal. I'm 37 years old today is December 18th 2009. We are in Houston, Texas and I'm here with my mom and my grandma Alice.

00:40 I'm a baby yet at least you.

00:44 My father's last name is Susanna and my husband was Rudolph.

00:52 And

00:55 I was born in Port Arthur Texas a believe. I mentioned that we moved to Houston and 1941.

01:03 And today's date is December 18th 2009 here in Houston, Texas.

01:13 And this is my daughter and granddaughter.

01:20 Great.

01:21 Well, Grandma was wondering can you tell us a little bit about where you were born in Port Arthur in a little bit about your parents? And how many siblings you had?

01:30 Like I said, I was born at 1948, Houston Avenue.

01:36 Which was about two blocks from the entrance of the Texaco company.

01:43 Just a few yards from the commissary built. It had a big, Sarah and that's where I was.

01:56 And how many brothers and sisters did you have?

01:59 I had

02:02 I'm thinking of but

02:05 I had two brothers.

02:09 And two sisters

02:12 I worked wins at 1.

02:16 At five weeks, but the other twin still lives.

02:23 That's their nana and she still living right about 5 years older than you right.

02:33 And can you tell us about your mom and dad?

02:39 Buzzer

02:41 What's Barton?

02:47 That it was born in Monclova mother was born in Via quarters.

02:53 Mexico

02:56 And dad was about 8 months old.

02:59 When he came across

03:03 And then it was about 10.

03:06 And know he had gone to the convent for school. It's so he had learned to read and write English.

03:14 So

03:16 They would take him down to the

03:19 Entry into Texas and he would translate further and that was the entry at Eagle Pass and they go flex.

03:30 And so he would try and slide. So Grandpa was very smart for his and then do I get a horse wagon and they would walk I mean right to the end.

03:52 Main Street

03:55 And one time he took the wagon down with his heart.

03:59 Towards the gate and took the packages off for his customer.

04:06 And by the time I turned around one of the officers was taking the the hearts.

04:15 Didn't he think that was some of Pancho Villa's men?

04:23 The heart-struck the bridge

04:26 And when the officer went to the Braves for something daddy grab the horse's reins and brought him up the hell and it didn't stop and from there. Y'all came on to Port Arthur, right?

04:46 And you went to school in Port Arthur?

04:51 Yes, I remember going to

04:56 True a little school in Eagle Pass.

05:01 And they have two buildings.

05:04 And in one building, they had the American children go in there and in the other building was for the Hispanic people.

05:14 And I was too little Farren all that so they send me to one building and my sister 3:11.

05:21 Not sure what to do that. That's my sister. So well, that's the way they do it here later on. We came on to Port Arthur and there's four we grew up.

05:35 And then y'all and then you moved to Houston when you met dad or

05:41 When did you come to Houston? And where did you meet Dad at Port Arthur?

05:48 And we had a dance could have been at 16th.

05:55 Up. September is a size. This is Emily.

06:00 And I have missed your dad cuz she worked with my brother.

06:06 At the envelope company at that time.

06:11 And of course

06:13 He recited a poem.

06:18 That was very touching.

06:21 And I like to know one of the copy of I don't know if he gave my brother a copy of it.

06:28 And that's how I met him.

06:30 Because she didn't that he would come and he was going to Lamar junior college and they always had book stuck out of his phone and it's that with us arms crossed at the door just look at it and I was dancing Everybody Dance from High School in junior high when I got up and walked across the home.

06:58 And I started to that she said yes, she has books turned over to someone next to it.

07:09 And I don't think he knew how to dance we stumbled for a while, but we got to round up the whole.

07:17 And not tell him after that I couldn't get rid of them.

07:23 And that was still in Port Arthur that was still in Port Arthur and then you came on the Houston. Yes.

07:31 My brother started working. Like I said at the humble Refinery and it were closer.

07:40 Coming to Houston. He didn't want to take us to Baytown cuz she was afraid it was too close their tool ever found it and we had just moved from Water Place.

07:53 But he found a place for their on 74th Street.

07:59 And that's where we there in Magnolia Avenue 1st.

08:05 71st Street navigation navigation

08:10 And then you and dad got married in where are we we went to Siesta at the

08:20 At the Gazebo they have their own Hidalgo Park Hidalgo Park the girl. Do you know one way on the voice and my brother saw your dad? He stopped cephalo and introduced him to us.

08:37 That's why I told him I said after that I couldn't get rid of him.

08:44 That's so we were.

08:47 Mary. Remember where you celebrate it out 25th anniversary.

08:53 And 50th

08:58 And will were just about a month.

09:01 From the 60th anniversary when you passed away on Christmas Day.

09:10 So is your first house on?

09:16 170 75th Street where you had the little restaurant and I know we are the first house for

09:24 Right off of

09:28 Let's say yeah, it was navigation.

09:33 And I will have to get the name of the street.

09:38 Will tell us about the story when Dad went into the service and you wanted to buy the house. They're on 75th Street. How did you do that?

09:49 Oh.

09:52 I was running two little houses.

09:57 That were on one block.

10:00 That was 50 wide and 125 t.

10:05 What's a Mudshark but I've had two little houses.

10:09 And when I went to mister an hour ago, he said why did I want the two little houses?

10:16 Because I want to live in one.

10:20 And my mother who needs help she's crippled.

10:24 Kid lives next door night and take care of.

10:28 So he called a secretary that said come see what you could do for those little lady.

10:34 And I would say want to buy the tri-level houses for $35 a month and mother was right there. So from my daddy have to go to work. He went to the door.

10:47 When do we're doing the shift building they were building ships at that time?

10:54 At the Port of Houston or I was there and I could take care of her.

11:01 I take care of my phone and Rudy and

11:07 Myself candy and was Richard born when we were on 75th Street?

11:13 Yes, but Richard was just a couple of months old and when we were living there.

11:21 You took Rudy and I were going to go to start school at Immaculate Conception. Was that right? And what happened when you took us we went there with her sister sister was father.

11:37 That step. I lived on the other side of Harrisburg. I should take him to

11:45 The other church at Blessed Sacrament of the Sacred Heart of Mary.

11:54 And I went home.

11:56 And of course, we had a little restaurant Sarah on the look on our house. So soon as the people came in from the fox know Mr. Cox Fence Company.

12:11 I told Rudy I didn't finish registering the children. I've got to go back.

12:17 So I took care of the register while they paid and then I left.

12:22 And when I went up there I put my money on the counter and I told her.

12:27 The sister that was in there, what's up tuition for my children?

12:33 And she looked at me I said I want him to come here.

12:38 Say I'm a block away from here and I'm about five blocks away from the Hispanics go down the street.

12:47 Set up cake.

12:51 So I didn't hear anything about that lead to later on for our move on.

12:59 Where I'm living now, he was a bishop at that time and he came to visit and he came by and he looked and looked

13:09 Annette said hello father.

13:11 First modern humans

13:15 So what you like to come in and have tea?

13:18 I hardly ever drink tea, but I always kept it. So I made it two cups of tea.

13:25 And upset that I would talk.

13:29 And I told him about taking the children and I wasn't able to.

13:36 I couldn't send him any further because there I could go see him and then wait for them across from across the street.

13:44 So he said oh, yes, sir. I said well.

13:51 I've got a public school two blocks down and the Catholic church has three blocks down. So I sent him to the closest one when we visit I would remind I said I couldn't afford to pay tuition for school at that time. So I have to send them where I could

14:15 What Bishop was at Grandma when it came to Resurrection?

14:31 That's when I invited him to come in and have teeth.

14:36 Oh, that's nice. Can you tell us about your involvement at resurrection and with father when Lynn there and you were very involved at the at the parish?

14:46 Oh, yeah.

14:48 Started with the Catholic Daughters

14:53 And then

15:00 At what else we had another group. They all just Society may be here though.

15:06 And then I was always an officer of some kind of another trying to get other people.

15:13 To draw it and a lot of the Hispanic people away that we don't know English October we could learn.

15:20 At 7 if I can take over out. I'll do that.

15:26 So I would do that at church and they are Civic Club.

15:33 I would speak to them in English and then I would speak to them in Spanish.

15:39 And I have another lady. That was a friend.

15:42 And I said if I say anything wrong, will you correct me and I'll call you and you can do the correction, you know each other.

15:56 So we works at to church and then through the city to our Center.

16:02 And then you went on to

16:06 Weren't you the first minority woman to be the president of the and for president of the Galleria in Houston diets that was like in 85 or so.

16:23 Rite Aid

16:26 80

16:28 Something

16:30 And I told this other lady I said she only had one child.

16:37 And he will sit the last grade of Junior High.

16:43 They had electric president and I took why don't you take it for the nine months?

16:51 And after your child graduates

16:55 Lake Cadillac Mi so she came in.

16:59 And she was President for that time.

17:02 And then another later. So where you shouldn't have done that country look to Children of the other two other Hispanic women to try and get more involvement. And you also helped him start. What was it? Well Wellspring Wellspring. Yes. Yes. How did that happen didn't bother. Well, I think it was letter to her that we received and then we talked to know that would be a good cost to work with them was one of the first was a home for Abused Women because they didn't know how to go about

17:47 Getting together in a freshly of the hispanic women about working together for something that

17:57 What useful to a and every time I felt something at the Civic Club of Garden Club or something and bring it home and then I told him I can't wait to this.

18:09 So we started a garden club with little piece of the plants.

18:14 And Mr. Lidiak had a green house right across the street and he would pick me up and its life. They were Germans. She might lose her sweet bread and tie professor and he would take a little bouquet of flowers that you would pick and would go to the Garden Show.

18:36 And that they didn't rise till I drove them up there and I will see you Denver Harbor Garden. Yes, and that was back in the fifties. I think I remember you telling me that there early to Garden clubs in Houston at the time and that was the River Oaks and and Denver Harbor.

18:57 They were just two there were just two at that time and you stayed in there till.

19:05 But years later, you said you just couldn't get any more able to enjoy it very much cuz we wouldn't visit other Gardens.

19:16 Indifference the area of Houston

19:20 Stories, very interesting

19:23 Going back

19:26 Your involvement in the PTA. I remember when I was in elementary school at llq. And you used to come, you know, whenever you could get off work and and they are room other and I know that was that.

19:40 Really hard because you were working and Racine there were five of us you were working and raising a family, but you always had time to hide a room mother. I had a neighbor Miss, Kincaid.

19:58 And the

20:00 She was from Hawaii her daughter had married enough.

20:06 An American Airman, I believe and they came to live down there and sofa and I would go to school at always have a ladies come and stay with them.

20:18 And then she said I would like to come and taste take with the children.

20:23 I sure will. You know what we need someone at school Central. I'll go with you.

20:30 And should go and should get the children together and that's it around and with Clyde and she would watch over them and they started and she would just look at it and it be quiet and while we had our meeting they sat in front of us and they just listen at work white and all that. They got an extra piece of cookie or candy or something and after the meeting they would going

20:55 I need the little sandwiches.

21:00 I prefer a nice computer you went on to Mike rentals and middle school and then as my brothers were growing up and

21:09 And then to Austin High School, I went to we went to McReynolds Junior High and then for a while we went to

21:19 The school in

21:22 What should macro notes when the walls fell remember? Yes. I was going to school there in the wall failing. Y'all were scared. Y'all thought it was.

21:31 Maybe because the girl's name was Mary. I think it was similar to tell me about we went that it was still with somebody else, but they had taken her to the hospital.

21:50 And you were PTA president they are and it often and then you

21:57 Then when she was National PTA.

22:01 I was vice president. I could have been president. But this lady just have three more months to her. So I told her to go ahead and then the following year.

22:13 Take over as president and I am George a very much. I enjoyed all the ball games the boys salt took part Lonnie Wilson football.

22:25 Richard

22:27 Horse running jumping

22:32 And I teach the big Bart Rudy cuz they had punished them and I had gone around the the back of the school. And he was what do they call us when they were walking the duck walk? Yeah, that was a punishment punishment.

22:54 He also told me that one time somebody approached you they wanted you to run for I was at the school board or the

23:06 And you you declined because you were afraid they would find out that she didn't finish High School. Would I thought it was it would have been an honor because you were so your dad. She's so much even though you didn't finish High School you just for laughs.

23:27 In the 11th grade

23:29 And I need it very little time. I remember I was working with the youth group at Chaffee Hospital.

23:40 And

23:42 A doctor there's a lady doctor.

23:46 And she wanted to send me to nursing school and I hesitated and she looked up. She said I know somebody's asked you to marry him.

23:57 So I didn't go to medical school, but she sent another one of my girlfriends that go on.

24:10 Grandma can you tell us a little bit about Grandpa and with the lulac and how much he helped the workers that that couldn't speak very good English and tell us a little about that.

24:23 He worked at the humble Refinery and he was very instrumental in the little town.

24:34 In helping the people there.

24:38 Writing letters or forms for the are taking them to the notary public and they need a

24:47 Affidavit of some kind

24:52 And of course just uncle had been the one of the first employees their Hispanic employees.

25:00 And a lot of people knew him from there.

25:05 Endeavor try and help the people that had that needed help for work or for supplies to food, whatever a lot of the

25:17 He was very involved in lulac a lot even though you don't married.

25:22 Yes, it was.

25:25 And then also I remember going with you to sell toltecs. Oh, yeah, but that isn't rice that what's up some rights food market and that was when you had to pay I'd be able to vote and a month later. They were free. So I went back up there and wrote the free one father. He would come by the street and he came over and he brought us dollar. I think it's something for me to write us both time. And then I remember Richard

26:04 Would go with your house to Houston. Y'all used to go house to house and sign people up for Polar pack.

26:19 Can you tell us a little bit about how you and Grandpa got involved with the robbery at the committee with the rodeo?

26:27 Oh, that was fun. I wish I'd gone to a movie.

26:33 And they had shown.

26:37 I forget the name of the picture something but somebody was there that was.

26:44 Had something to do with the rodeo now. I remember I put up my hand and I said that interesting I think fit would like to see that. So which started

26:55 Ripley house we started with eight numbers eight members. I was about 84/85 about 1984 and then we had 40-member so all we had a lot of members. So then from then on it started grew a little bit and then of course when we

27:20 I forget just about him and it members we had.

27:25 And I don't know what it was Mister Grace.

27:29 Hermitage Schaefer

27:32 As they would come and listen to our meeting, you know how to join them. So we did and from there we grew up to where I think we had the largest membership going to Rodeo.

27:48 Yeah that Hispanic day has always been the largest and I think the rodeo through dad's helping other people the rodeo finally embraced the Hispanic community and from the Reata became the goat on a committee. I believe in about 89 or 90 and dad was an ambassador and you're now a lifetime badge member right for all your volunteer you've done there.

28:15 And I always kept a scrapbook so different things that went out on it.

28:21 But I was always interested in what was going on in the neighborhood.

28:26 And if I went someplace I would visit.

28:31 Are people to other parks?

28:34 And as they were giving freeze if it's time, I went to the Civic Club. I want to trade for a truck or whatever. They had improvements with all that I would ask for it. And where did you get it right away, but I keep asking finally we would get bread this or whatever. We need it and it helps our neighborhood. You were very active in the Denver Harbor Civic club for many many years rather well, but I did enjoy that you were president how many times probably have your ten times through the 30-40 years. He lost count and project capable. How did that come about?

29:10 Project capable that came through

29:15 Sisters of Charity or something and that was for seniors in the area.

29:23 Then I remember going to the statement to the statement center with Father for 2.

29:32 And we would make Christmas boxes and y'all would take him for the u.s. Cell or they would take them down to the Seaman Center and they would give them out to the semen to semen would have a Christmas party would have a mass and then from Mass would go to breakfast and would have a party with decorate the hall.

29:57 And you you you remember Ripley house, right? Oh, yeah, we grew up as kids going to many of the activities at the red light.

30:08 And

30:11 Why do you think you're so involved in the community? What?

30:16 Why is it important to you to be involved in the community?

30:21 What you mean what's important to be involved in the community?

30:25 So the children would get involved.

30:29 And we seen that late till they could choose what they like to do.

30:35 And of course I had a group of Cub Scouts.

30:42 That I enjoyed working with didn't you help get things ready for the call? Yes. I remember you worked because mom did all these great things while she worked and you would call me and tell me that to get the cookies in the punch. Are you around and if the kids got there before you got home just keep them in the back. You got home for the Scout meeting always amaze me how you could work and handle across.

31:18 Is there anything you would like to say about your?

31:22 That Richard or Lonnie Rudy Cindy Richard was fought the first

31:30 Are the youngest justice of the peace they liked it in Houston.

31:36 When you worked on a lot of his little political campaigns, right, especially that first one I encourage them all to do something that they like.

31:50 And then choose from their work. I should have something you going to do the rest of your life.

31:56 So try different things to put you that you like best.

32:01 Don't fart.

32:05 So Rudy was real interesting and he loved to travel.

32:11 Sofa tables with this company. I can't even think the name of it.

32:17 But he would surprise me.

32:19 Could she would be a different parts?

32:24 And he did send me a souvenir from Africa.

32:29 From Germany

32:34 And I don't know what else.

32:37 And Lonnie

32:40 Mommy would love to do his speeches. He would always get remember his speeches.

32:48 It's something about the Longhorns from one typically Longhorn to the other he set this up the monument at the veterans, but I can't remember and then he go to Washington one time and spoke and there was a young Congressman Bush micronauts Severus a group of students that went and I'm trying to think of the teacher or mr. Thompson.

33:22 The words are speech texture.

33:25 I am in their store and Joe.

33:30 Shijou

33:33 What was Lonnie in football?

33:36 And that was our mascot one time when you were real what their mascot and then he also went into the

33:44 They call it the judicial feel or

33:48 Rolling in the Deep I made him a little tough with the bear.

33:59 You are a cheerleader.

34:03 One of the first cheerleaders cheerleaders. I don't think there are any Hispanics when we first started at my run over. Maybe you could maybe 5 I am fully fat many right now about Aunt Cindy your baby, baby.

34:20 She went to Incarnate Word.

34:24 Shifter Kart to kindergarten

34:28 At the pew pew

34:32 And then when we move there was so close.

34:35 And she was going to church and make friends with other little girl from church and they started going through the car Network. So they invited her and when other mothers would come and pick her up.

34:50 And how about my mommy?

34:54 She was always real helpful.

35:07 How about the Thea make it when she come to ensure she would come and help you with us.

35:15 Heather delivered my baby or something she would come and stay with me and

35:26 And make little to serve like I remember her bringing the water hose then oh yes to watch the kitchen. See thought. I think she was when she originally from Mexico and she just bring the water hose to dust dust and water.

35:51 And went when we move to Denver Harbor it was because you went to mr. Norvell again. Hun dad was in the service and you decided you wanted a bigger Better Home and here we were bought in the

36:06 Was that early 50s or no, or it's late at the light 49 I mean for tonight and you just and we brought Richard my brother-in-law came in from San from San Antonio and they been baptized Richard and we've passed the floats hurts to the church and there was this little house that has been Resurrection Church. You spent so much time writing. So he wanted that Hound a company left.

36:35 I had my friend bring me over to the house. And of course the people.

36:43 Have moved to California.

36:46 And the grass had grown all the way up to the backyard and on the side. You can barely see the little house.

36:55 So we bought it but you went on your own tonight. He'll early again, right? I have a couple of of bonds maybe that $300 cash, but the rest for small were wrong, but I took with me.

37:14 Mr. Norvelt it wouldn't take the bonds told me to keep them this pay him $35 a month.

37:24 And you're still there? What's your address? There are Majestic Grandma. You still there on Majestic Vero Majestic. I'm very happy with my neighbors had a full life there in the community to bus stops Thank you Grandma for sharing your life with us and for helping us to remember all the stories we can pass them on to our kids.