Barbara Martinez and Renee Martinez

Recorded March 12, 2010 Archived March 12, 2010 37:26 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBY006305


Barbara D. Martinez (76) talks with her daughter Renee Martinez (49) about her life.

Subject Log / Time Code

Barbara was born in Niagara Falls, NY. She grew up in a small town called Lewistown.
Barbara talks about every place her family moved to. She recalls the schools she attended in Hawaii.
Barbara talks about meeting her Mexican-American husband at Pomona College.
Barbara tells the story about meeting her mother-in-law for the first time at a football game.
Barbara talks about raising her children as multiracial children.


  • Barbara Martinez
  • Renee Martinez

Recording Location

MobileBooth West


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00:04 My name is Renee Martinez. I am 49 years old today is March 12th, 2010 and we're in East Los Angeles and I am interviewing my mother Barbara.

00:18 My name is Barbara doors Martinez. I am 76 years old today is March 12th, 2010 and we are in East Los Angeles and I am being interviewed by my daughter Renee.

00:33 Okay, as I told you before I thought one of the things that I would ask you a little about is just sort of kind of your journey from where you started in the east coast in New York Upstate New York and Lewiston and then how you moved to later? And I know you did a short stint in Seattle, but then how in your teens you spent time in Hawaii and then came to California.

01:01 To go to a university and you met dad and I just kind of wanted to follow what that was like for you in terms of where you originally grew up in the kind of diversity and how things changed and then also married dad and coming into the Mexican-American culture. So you want to describe a little bit about Lewiston and where you grew up and where it is. I didn't say yes. Yes. I was actually born in Niagara Falls from New York, but grew up in a small town named Lewiston on the Niagara River. My dad was a mechanical engineer and he work for the carborundum company in Niagara Falls, and I was just a growing up in this wonderful small town environment in the late thirties and forties. We lived on the Niagara River and spend all our summer swimming in the river.

01:57 My dad your grandpa used to race beautiful 8 meter sailboat sound like Ontario. And of course we had we went ice-skating in the winter on frozen pond and sledding and all those things you do Winter Olympics and my dad joined the Navy during World War II he was sent to the Bronx.

02:30 For officer training and then he was stationed in Seattle tonight at the Bremerton Shipyard.

02:38 My parents split up during that period and then while he was there, that's when he met by and then he married and then he was discharged in 1945 is coming home and so he came home and

03:03 Your uncle herb who's 4 years older than I and your grandpa and buy my new stepmother left New York. Actually she and I January 1st took the train across Canada. Now that we all know what shearling is lived on the river there. I remember seeing it was cold cold winter time beautiful trip across Canada and I remember seeing men taking ice out of the river there for you could see it from any Katie's house. Then they were for harvesting is because people still had icebox icebox if you went on to Seattle

03:53 I was in the seventh grade and so I went to semesters 7th grade of junior high school there and walking to and from school in the drizzle a lot.

04:07 Your grandpa had thought about working for Boeing in Seattle, but he had also been stationed in Hawaii and he just fell in love with Hawaii. No, it was not it was I would wait until after I was married to save his territory. So

04:29 That spring while we were in Seattle. He went to Hawaii. He had already made him a job contacts while he was there and he was the chief engineer at 4 and they're pineapple Cannery and there were two can resend all and so your uncle herb and I invite got on the matsonia to Hawaii.

05:07 What's the weather in and going back to what was like the the makeup like this make makeup of of Lewis? And I remember I remember there was one black man who lived it had a small cabin down in the river older man. But other than that, it was just right now, I mean your background as you know, but I'll go ahead and say it says that you have ancestors that were here since Colonial British time Island in Massachusetts, and actually on Grandma's who tied to 1700 sand in from England.

05:56 When you went to I don't know much about what Seattle it was like then it was a short stint there and certainly Hawaii. Can you talk about what that must have been just a huge change on so many levels obviously weather and actually speaking of a meeting different people. Just Junior High School letter went to kindergarten through 12th grade home for lunch. And you know, I remember meeting Asian American people that I'd never even seen.

06:40 Before I course this was wartime or right after the war so they were changed America and there were some black students at the high school to actually has a fairly large black population. And actually when we would go visit my grandmother in Buffalo when I still lived in Western New York, we would occasionally see black people Universe. We were driving through the city but not in Lewiston other than this is very nice friendly man who lived down on the side of the river but yes Seattle was different because there were many different people then we moved to Hawaii and of course my goodness. I was in the minority, but just wonderful Melting Pot

07:40 People haha we lived when we first got there on the windward side of Oahu on the beach and I went to a small school in Kailua. Yeah, and in those days the public school system was divided up. They had an English Standard Division and they have what they called a regular division. So it was it was sent to supposedly it had to do with how well you spoke the language because there were

08:13 Kids who spoke what they called pidgin English and

08:19 So it was written it was really a mixture. We had all kinds of I have all kinds of kids in my classes. And then curse her all kinds of their work is for many different racial backgrounds that they used to call me kids would call me Blondie because my hair was this light and it got even lighter when I was younger and

08:47 Penalize. I just didn't think too much about it. I just thought it was interesting and but they should know these were just kids space grade 2 now that there was a lot of Japanese-Americans there was that was after the war was that a kind of intense at all? I don't think so because the Japanese Americans were not

09:14 Incarcerated or anything in Hawaii. They were letting they were allowed to live their lives as best they could during the war so they were able to go on with their businesses in all of those things and not like it was here in the United States where they were approved chairman and imprisoned all of that sort of thing to a y teen group and we had some older Japanese American guys there and we would Andrew Kailua was a lot of Agriculture there to do they grow bananas in different thing. So some of those families, I'm sure he'd been there these young people that I knew were first-generation. I'm sure

10:05 But we had people from many different backgrounds. You know, there were a lot of Portuguese kids in the class because Portuguese have come there primarily as Sailors at Grand Canyon and maybe also working on it in the islands. It was pretty like you said you had dances and stuff so it wasn't like segregated and now I'm okay. I mean, I'm just curious I asked you before and it really hurts when I went to HighSchool. It might have been a little bit more because there was only one.

10:46 English Standard high school so those of us and and of course the kids who were in The in that division of classes for the kids to wear hopefully college-bound not all of them and we're going to school and most of them probably to the University of 40.

11:21 And the problem with that then you said, you know, you're all funneling into a school but you're coming from all over so it's it's really hard to establish friendships because you don't you don't live near these kids necessarily cuz you were on the other side of the by then we did move into the shortage after the war because you couldn't so it was a while after World War II before they started building homes again, but then they built when so then you you had him and you didn't closer to who founded

12:09 But I would sometimes get a ride to school gently with with my dad Patty carpool for a while. So I ride with all these guys on their way to take buses three different buses to get home my best friend I met at

12:35 Why can't I think and she live just a couple miles away, but she went to Punahou Wachusett private school there.

12:44 Find me a story about so you can you came to California to go to university. Right? So you're going to Pomona College and Claremont, which is not that far from where we are here now and that's obviously this where you met dad. I want to ask you just a little bit about that because of what was that like it just keep keeping with this theme of coming there. It's a pretty small. I mean it's one of four colleges in that cluster there, but it's a pretty small private colleges fairly. I think it's pretty expensive. I had that feeling

13:14 So I don't know what the campus was like what it was diverse and I don't know about the community. We know from Dad stories that it was at least when he was growing up and Incredibly segregated communities in that there was pretty serious discrimination. I mean that the schools were segregated that it was her like the Jim Crow South which most people don't think about thinking maybe in Texas or something right? I'm just curious where you aware of any of that not at all. I came to California probably never having heard a word of Spanish in my life for years of Latin in high school, which was not taught as a spoken language.

13:59 Arrived at Pomona College and you know we're talkin I graduated high school in 1950. I did not come to school until the next year. I was just Seventeen then I think your grandparents very wise. I didn't think I was ready to send across the ocean to school and they actually I just went back east and stayed with your don't like Forever by month couple months and then came back at Christmastime and meantime by and Daddy stop by Pomona College. She knew of it and had taught speech and drama at the University of Washington and she had some good friends who gonna come on. I'd also applied to read and a couple of other small schools, which is where I needed to be in a small residential school. But you know anything you read about college in the 50s was you were just especially a small school like you're just in your own little cocoon.

14:59 I remember the first time I had Mexican food. We went to a restaurant some of the women in the dormitory. We all in we lived in dormitories freshman and juniors together and you had a junior suite mate to assertive. They took us to a Mexican restaurant. I don't I should remember the name of it, but I don't know the first time I ever had Mexican food didn't know how to pronounce.

15:36 Street names and things about a course in Clermont that wasn't probably because you had Yale and Harvard in the first and second and third anyway, and I go to the ER French struggled with it a little bit because I didn't want to have to memorize things.

15:56 And then I thought. Now I don't think I'm going to take anymore of this. I would go home during the summer.

16:04 I did have a friend in the dorm named Gloria Gonzalez and learned many years later that she didn't let your dad know her from Clermont, but she didn't grow up in the Barrio where he was. It was the one over on the east side of town.

16:27 And I just she was such fun and I liked her so much. But I also remember that she had to change roommates cuz somebody didn't want to live with somebody didn't want to live with her and I just was done with that because I come from Lewiston where I didn't even think about that and went to Hawaii where you really didn't have to think about it too much either just the opposite side of the coin and then to be in this situation and see that happening.

17:03 Were you know exchange students from the black colleges have usually a couple of those American bisque?

17:18 I don't think we had any Asian American students that I can remember which in California doesn't surprise me for that time. Burgess work. If you know where what five years after the war is over five or six years after World War II.

17:41 I left tomorrow night. It was very happy time for me. Can you talk a little bit about meeting Dad and how you ended up my junior year. I went back to get home.

17:54 Which wasn't much fun after I've been away and took the bus to University and had a wonderful educational but I just couldn't wait to get back to Pomona your great-grandma had passed away actually a few years before and there should left money and you know small amount to the Grand all the grandchildren and so by said to me well, honey, you know, you could you can finish up here at the University and then who knows where would that money or if you really want to go back to work tomorrow night you can spend the money on that not in control button control.

18:47 So boy a week after I got out of school. I came back at 9, so I was going to summer school and taking some classes.

18:56 At M in Clermont and

19:01 We're at waist when I that's when I Met Your Dad when you were working at the phone. Well now that was another what am I in my first or second year? I spent a little bit of time working cuz I've done this before and in a little restaurant Cafe.

19:19 In Clermont, and that kind of thing I didn't do it do it for very long. I don't think but when I time in there and there's a guy there looks like he's about 15 years old except he's got a new suit and shirt. I just got some papers and stuff and then I realized it then these young teenagers were coming in and they were breeding one another and calling him. Mr. Martinez and I thought oh, well, I guess maybe he's a teacher.

19:51 And I don't remember talking to him. I guess I was serving him coffee. I don't know but I just didn't like his attitude.

20:03 And that was the only encounter I had and then here two or three years later start of my friend Carolyn.

20:13 His name's Pat Martinez said she'd met both of them and she got in the names confused and your dad and that was a freshman at that time. So I'm looking she's finding out your dad across the way and I looked over there and I said I don't know who that guy is, but I don't want to meet him. Well, eventually we did meet and we dated that summer and that whole semester.

20:47 And then I thought well, you know, I'm going to be graduating in June. I guess I better figure out what I'm going to do with my life. So I decided your your grandma.

20:58 Elizabeth was in New York city, so I thought well, I guess I'll crash into the publishing world or something anyway, and then I think it was probably January maybe.

21:31 January February whenever I think I it was probably the end of January I just take time and I just taking a final.

21:41 History final and your dad and I were out and he turned to me and he said

21:49 Oh, I told my mom we're going to get married.

21:53 I've never let him live that too and just tell him you know, you never really proposed to me but I understood what he was saying because as you know, he was teaching he was living at home and he was supporting all his way and he had to discuss with his mother and she they were gave him look like anyone know this family. Now, you must have met. All right, I had met I had met your grandma. In fact, that's another interesting story. We we were supposed to be going to a formal dance at the college.

22:42 And your dad told me that that was in the fall.

22:46 And he and then it last night. You said I can't I have to take my mom and my aunt to a football game and we were talking about that recently. And I finally said, you know, it wasn't even your brother Pat. That was searching it was Larry's cousin Larry on the goddess who ended up going to Pomona College and he and Lupe were classmates O'Leary was a senior. So we go traipsing all of us cozy little car all the way to Brawley or so since place in the end of the world to see this football game and I have never thought much about football.

23:27 But I was like his family commitment buddy pass how old to drive from friendly, you know, and then spoke English pretty well and and Converse. However, she had to do what she did it. Where is your grandma was much more quiet and I think probably spoke English pretty well, but didn't didn't speak it a lot. So that was my I think Lupe went with us too. So that way is my really getting to know the family and then the other funny story and I heard this last week get your uncle passed 75th birthday what they were talking to your dad and and the saying yes, we were just so pleased you were marrying Bobby and Pat said, yeah, we are so glad it wasn't the other one cuz she used to come down at to eat all the time. And she was just hanging around all the time.

24:26 My friend Carolyn said they were calling her that Grendel thought because she was much taller. So, you know your grandma said to your dad when he said he was going to get married. Grandota delighted.

24:51 Back a little bit more about it being married and coming into this family. Like a beastly was laying was difference is cultural religious food. Just everything y'all religion. I had the Soul Town I lived in Lewiston have a Catholic church and a Presbyterian church and a Methodist Church in town said lots of churches and I went from Denver Wednesday Catholic church, but spent time with his companion. I was saying in the Episcopalian choir for a while ago, my parents were not churchgoers. So I I really had no religious new cards, and yes, we can play cards on Sunday and do things like that. So you be at my aunt's my dad sisters at one point left one church and went to another

25:51 Dance and do things that we're not supposedly that were frowned upon and whatever Church they are going to at the time but I did when I was in Hawaii by got us involved in the Methodist Church there and your brother and I were baptized and confirmed in the church.

26:16 Iris, probably about 13 years old and you know who it was on your part of the youth group special thing is that I think I probably was thinking about that too. I knew that that would make her happy and we had John had to forget him my wonderful Soul half-brother who was born when I was about sixteen. So but when you married dad, then you became a Catholic and you're active and of course as we were saying at this birthday party last week. I made a point of telling you a couple of your ass just felt so so welcomed by your dad's family always welcome Isabel header a shower for a summer virus had a class that night and

27:13 Your dad came to pick me up. We finally got there after everybody been there for a few hours. You know, I'm Isabella fix this wonderful food dinner for everybody and that's when I got to meet most of the brothers and sisters and everybody brought gifts and it was just like, I don't know I guess 880. Yes, and when Elizabeth was baptized your dad pretty much is selective some of that he talked with in Riverside to be the godparents and then Isabel and Joe invited us over after the baptism and she fix this wonderful meal for rice and Joe played the guitar and you know, just just very wonderful things like that. And of course it that point it was unusual to have someone I didn't know this out of the family to be a guide to be a godparent. You always had someone in the family that so years later. I felt a little badly about that, but that's one of the things I did not know.

28:13 And I was I was baptized and confirmed after after Leanne was born.

28:21 Take the two priests in those days. You had two priests in the parish. And one of them was a chaplain now, they're Hospital up there and they both came in to visit me and they close the door and they said okay, we got her now. She's flat on her back. She can't say no.

28:36 I'm just sick of everything else of what about what about Spanish in terms of like not being able to communicate because obviously all the all the siblings could speak English, but I can't even remember that. Well how much Grandma's because he talked to me in Spanish if we just probably show and I feel and I think you did and let's certainly would Elizabeth remembers being there make tortillas with grandma always being able to communicate and I think you're right. I think it was mostly in Spanish people arouse many kids around always yes, but wonderful, wonderful family get-togethers and CI I have grown up in a situation where I I just want to spend a lot of time by myself, you know, my after especially after your grandma went to work. But we were there in Lewiston during the war and she was a service Club hostess.

29:36 She worked, you know midday until later tonight. So herb and I were just sort of on our own and how he was a teenager. He was doing his thing.

29:50 You know just just having this whole big wonderful family oversized amazing titty and I had remembered my my boss former boss who is married to a man who spoke French said to me one time.

30:06 Does it does it ever bother you that do you know that they're speaking Spanish and and maybe you can understand them and they might be talking about you.

30:16 And I was just stunned I said of course not they would never do that and yet she obviously had a little bit of that feeling about her relationship with her french-speaking relatives that she didn't see very often. And of course my my biggest failure in life, I think is a fact that I never really learned how to speak Spanish night classes with your dad's night class when Stan Bellamy's night class and you understand I hate to say I do because the night then, you know, you're getting stronger and of course we spent six months in Spain on sabbatical and I said, oh boy, I'm going to learn and the Spaniards bless our hearts will correct your they would correct me on the way. I pronounce Martinez because I did he live at 5, and they did that little things like that and I just destroyed

31:16 Now is that people who are successful in languages are the ones who just talk and don't worry about it and people who are speaking another language are usually so thrilled that you're even trying if they don't care, you know, but here I am the English major, you know, it's got to come out just pretty early and so that's

31:39 Just never did it. Well, I ask you just a little bit about going back to the family always had to even if we just went there I did there was always, you know a part of my life and I was just people coming through and all our cousins and I'm thinking almost so there was eight siblings and almost every single one of those had at least two kids in most about 5 or more. I mean we look at you know, Christina with her 9 or whatever and it says we know we had six so there was always a lot of kids lot of it was different for you. How did that feel? I mean, I don't know how to ask you more about it. But I'm just wondering if you can talk a little bit more about how everything seems like there's something you welcome. It was it was I just enjoyed the companionship and and I knew that you children just love being with your cousins and have such fun. And I you don't remember spending time with my cousins right act and I am his brothers.

32:39 Buffalo it maybe once or twice a year and went fun. That was and so

32:46 Yeah, it was just wonderful and I say I always felt accepted and loved and one-time Isabel made Easter dresses for Elizabeth and Leanne and and everybody was just I felt so so welcoming and I I just felt like I was part of the family and I say said last week you were just the perfect person for Danielle and we all knew that.

33:14 So it just seems like and I never heard that before.

33:18 And here we are coming up on our 55th wedding anniversary and I'm just thinking, you know, I we we definitely are by cultural most of us bilingual and croup. There's some work from our dad cuz he was a reminder accidents in school.

33:47 Did you ever put much thought into sir? How what how might be for us to to be from these two different cultures or a tall? Is it in Beverly station? I did because Elizabeth primarily, you know, if we born on would our oldest child would would come home just really upset and felt that she was definitely being discriminated against and again, this isn't a small town cuz we can I remember we were driving down the street one day and high school kid as we went by saw your dad and yell

34:32 Beaner, and I've never heard the term before beaner. But yeah, your your dad was was

34:50 It is very sensitive and yet I remember getting into a a thing at church when time with some people and

35:01 The next few next time we saw this guy my husband saying Hi, how are you today? And I am just absolutely stone-faced and he said you just rise above and don't lower yourself. At. You just rise above it smile before light and move on which is how he lived and what I sent that young and had to deal with us really sweet and I never had to do that kind of thing. And for the record, I feel like you've always had a very strong sense of of speaking out against Injustice of any kind and I think the combination of the two you with his experiential in like you don't

35:51 Put in a you confronted if it comes at you, but yours to feel that about any kind of Injustice and I feel like you really instill that in us and I think that we've tried at least I think his kids still live my life that way and I think that that was a nice balancing point because because you had that that the big View and that you could see it and that you could name all kinds of discrimination in a way that I think allowed us to Sir to see that and again speak out against different kinds of it when I first met your dad and he started telling me so those stories I was just a Ghazt just aghast about them. You're getting to swim in the swimming pool on the day. The pool was cleaned. I mean the kind of things that we would hear about what happened to the black children in the South and I saw I hear this, you know and sitting in the back of the theater and all those kinds of things and having just come from Hawaii I was

36:51 I can still remember the evening that she started telling me those things. I've I was just stunned to think that.

37:00 Anybody had to to live like that.

37:06 I think we're probably almost done. Thank you Mom. I really appreciate that when we're speaking to someone we loved like I said.