Rafael Cardenas and Anna Laura Cardenas

Recorded October 18, 2014 Archived October 18, 2014 40:25 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: sfb002944


Rafael C. Cardenas, 56, talks with his daughter Anna Laura Cardenas, 18, about his childhood in El Paso, TX and the San Joaquin Valley in California, his career as a dentist, and the tight-knit bond in their family.

Subject Log / Time Code

R talks about growing up with Mexican immigrant parents and always translating for them.
R talks about how the man he calls his father is his stepfather and his biological father not being consistently present.
On being happy Anna lives so close, now in Berkeley. On their family being very tight-knit.
On their upbringings being very different.
R discusses his path to becoming a dentist.
R talks about his wife being White and their early relationship days.


  • Rafael Cardenas
  • Anna Laura Cardenas

Recording Locations


Venue / Recording Kit



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00:02 Okay, so, my name is Ana Laura Cardenas. I'm currently 18 years old. It's October 18th 2014. We're in San Francisco and I'm interviewing my father.

00:15 Okay, my name is Rafael C. Carton STD S. I am 56 years old a today's date is October 18th 2014. Where in San Francisco California today and my relationship to this wonderful lady across from me is my most wonderful daughter.

00:35 Okay, Dad. So I guess I wanted to interview you on your childhood and your background. So if you could I don't know just tell me about what it was like growing up when you were young and what it was like in that culture of your family.

00:55 Well first of all time

00:57 My parents are Mexican and neither of them spoke English. So I was thrust into the position of having to interpret for them and my life really revolved around helping them a lot filling out paperwork and doing a lot of the things that they couldn't understand and it was quite interesting because it's rest responsibility on me right away. It was right quite interesting whenever one of my siblings had to go to a teacher meeting very few are siblings got to go with her parents because they had to interpret which I had to my culture. I grew up as a Hispanic we watch Channel 19 and everything to Spanish. My father said we watch nothing but Spanish at home and we can do all your English. So that was one of the reasons why I became so bilingual and the other thing to is it we were tight-knit family.

01:55 We always kind of like grounded the troops whenever something didn't go right and we all helped each other out. So growing up was quite interesting because a lot of my friends would go skiing or playing sports shirt doing things that are extracurricular which you and I and your brothers have been able to do and I was not I had to stick around to help my folks and there's not there's some need any interesting stories of what I had to do that. My siblings didn't have to do. So, I'm one of the most bilingual ones are you my sister and my brother and my brother not so much because you didn't have to be thrust into interpreting so

02:42 A Spanish n you can speak a little bit of it but not as extensive nobody or tell somebody with the other thing is saying that a person could you just

03:04 I should know this but could you say how many siblings do you had? And how big was your family Crush my mom my dad?

03:18 And you had two dads. Could you talk about that?

03:23 I was raised by stepfather and at the early age of 7 years old one day I kind of mouth off to him and I told him you're not my father and he slap me and kick me in my rear and said that's the last time I ever do that. And after that I respected him growing up. He was my father could use there all the time and he gave me some of my

03:51 What some of the things that I do in life the way I see things and how I react to certain things. He was very instrumental in that my biological father. He was not around he was always showing up. Can I get the wrong time? And so I knew of him but I really didn't bond with him very much. I bonded with my real father which is the one that raised me. So those are all the kind of things that you do when you're young kid you whoever is around is going to teach you the way of life and that's usually the way you turn on and that's why the reasons why whenever I'm going somewhere I always want to take one of your kids with me. So, you know me so, you know about me what I did and didn't do and how I feel about things and I know now that you're 18, you kind of think so many things I tell you, I'm sorry. That's the way I was raised. I remember you telling me a story a while back that a long time ago that when you were growing up you really

04:51 Did your biological father and that you would you would actually lift weight so that you could go and feed him up, right? But he's passed now and how is your relationship changed. How do you think that's interesting? You bring that out? Because you yank it. Yes. I did have all pent-up anger that my biological father did not really put too much time into us. In fact that I would go visit my uncle in El Paso, Texas. He did have to call him to come over and visit with us and later on I grew up realizing that maybe he was more like I have children, but I'm not really that responsible to her. So I used to work out lift weights run one day. I'm going to grow up and I'm going to face him and I may not get in his face and tell him a couple of things and straighten it out while the day finally came and

05:42 He pulled me over and he said I just want to tell you something. He said Maya my mom, which is your grandma. We had a large family, and I was one of the older siblings and I had to help support the family and help her. So please don't judge me.

05:58 I could somebody greater than using to judge me one day and you know, what all that anger and all that stuff just melted away and I said to myself he's right you will be judged on his son on a different format by something greater than ice. I just after that he was just like he's my biological father and I loved him but not as much as I loved my dad who raised me and his name is Manuel and people to this day. We will say to me that you know, you just like your dad and her trying to my father Manuel cuz I'm a personable kind of guy. I like talk quite a bit if she is you can tell but my biological father one-time ask me if I like baseball and I told him yes, but unfortunate he like the Houston Astros and I don't want different directions, but the thing I learned most important anything from that

06:52 If you have children.

06:55 Make time for them because what you invest the time you missed your children is what they're going to invest in you when you're older. So you shall reap what you sow, okay?

07:09 I grew up in I was to lease it to the age of 7 hours in El Paso, Texas. And then after that that we moved to San Jose California and then my mother got remarried in 9 to that growing up in Clements in Lockeford area in California moved all over San Joaquin Valley and Stanislaus. I got educated in The Valleys there and to this day my wife says why did you bring me to this Valley is so hot and so done because of the agriculture. That's my home. I mean you're raised.

07:41 In a certain spot, even though I go to El Paso place like that. I always thought I was going to go retire that one day now is not home where you spend time when you're young and that's where you going to end up.

07:54 So I'm going to end up going to find a paradise somewhere else. You guys can try to run now that makes Enzo College. I was so set on getting away. It's going to go to New York or Tennessee. Right and you always told me no stay close and I'm only 2 hours away, and I'm still I still freaked out. Imagine. If you're going to do this all the way back to the to me if I can reach out to my kids.

08:35 Two to three-hour trip, I'm safe. I'm say I feel good about but if it's going to be a whole day traveling just to touch and get in touch with you. I'm going to find me some good friends, wherever you're at tug on their shoulders so I didn't want to have to do that. So I'm glad you're here and I firmly believe Destiny takes us where we need to be Tim. My older boys across the bay Palo Alto you are here in Berkeley, and we're only 80 miles away from you. So that's great stuff.

09:08 You know, it's so crazy about this is that you grew up in a family where your dad wasn't really you had manual.

09:16 But you could have turned out differently, you know, and I don't know my aunts and uncles very well. So I don't know how they turned out but you turned out we are all very close and we've kept that mentality that are real that ended up happening happening this way boy, and he was a very smart man. He was always very direct and you didn't want to cross him and one day I went to him and I said, my brother is following me wherever I go on my bike and I am with my friends. He's just tagged along and we and they don't like him. Can you tell him not to follow us around anymore? And my father should looked at me and he said take a good look at your brother.

10:11 Because when you grow up all your friends are going to disappear and he's going to be there there for you and over the years. He has been a very good la

10:25 And when I pass away, I hope and your mom. I hope that you children will have the same Bond because I have sisters at like mothers to me and I have a brother that's like a son to me and every once in a while. I'll be talking about Uncle George and I'll say my son. I hope I don't miss my brother. I want you guys to be very close and help each other out and I know

10:58 Yeah, Three Brothers Tim Sean Greg, and I know they can be a tough thing on you. But when you get older and you need to lean on somebody's shoulder trust me, and I know I didn't give you a sister but sister-in-law's one day that you have to deal with so because in college, no freshman year, he always tell you told me this and I school to it. Sorry to hear you're still acclimating and you make a lot of acquaintances but not a lot of friends and that's so true at night.

11:37 The people I talk to you or Tim Sean and Craig on Facebook or video chat with him and we talked about we went through the same things I'm going to do the same thing is he didn't College shirts like Ivory Sean Gregg as well. So you're definitely very close great satisfaction to know that you are closed. I know when we have our Thanksgiving sir birthdays those guys all want to hug and kiss you and everything. Is he running around like that, but you got to go through it because this is all part of being family and

12:17 One of the things that I know that anybody in my family my three sisters I Gabi I sent you and want it and Mary and my brother George.

12:29 I can depend on them. If I really needed something even though they at first base it was but they I know that.

12:39 Like they say Monday I be so I,

12:44 That means for there is a floor there's a bad and I know if I ever needed to go sleep on their bed on their floor, they would invite me in their home. So that's the beauty of it and you know family is very important to me and I love all my children the same like my mother said to me that you're all a little bit different and that's what makes the spice of life great variety is a spice of life and all you children we get together for family outings. Sometimes I can't get in a word edgewise. You know that cuz you guys are going at it like what the heck is happening and of course mom always says to me when I'm trying to get some and she says be quiet. Okay, you're not family is very important and I hope that one day you'll have your own family. And you know, it's it's something that what you learn from me and your mom

13:44 And from the stories that I talk to you about stuff like that. I know one day if you ever have children in a grape meme be a great mother because of the fact that even exposed to not what I call Family stop.

13:57 Camp Wright

14:00 Okay. Well wanted to go a little bit back to your childhood again about remember you telling me another story about when I go George had a dime I think and you had a nickel and he was too young to know like how much fence there were and you said oh there's a smaller so has less value. Give me the diamond that went to my dad was always very sympathetic toward my brother because he was the youngest boy and my father would put his hand in his pocket and he pull out his change out.

14:39 And he's always give my brother quarters dimes and he give me and my sister nickels and pennies.

14:49 Well one time we're sitting there and my dad went around the corner and we conned Uncle George and to trading those so my dad came around a corner later says what happened to the quarters I gave you. He said, oh, I traded them. Look what I got and my dad called us all in and said give him back his money and don't do that. Again. We had all kinds of neat little things like that. By the way, Uncle George's also lots of fun when he was just a little guy we used to ask him to say come here. Let's have some cereal and then you wanted tortilla you were a little bit of butter on it and we put a little chilly on it and give and then he said they're hide your kids now as an adult, of course you realize it but I have to remind you Uncle George is bigger faster and quicker than me now, so I tell him remember all those tricks.

15:49 I plan on using Yak. Don't try to get even with me cuz I'm older than you after spending. So that's how you get away with that. But yeah, I ain't children have a way of realizing that when one sibling is being favored over another you try to get even that's why whenever I hang out with all of you guys.

16:07 Tim Sean Gregg a new Eagle by Jayco time equals everything sometimes I think the boys think I give you more because you're a female but I should not be the most wonderful child, you know because of you and your mom are closer and I think because of you my wonderful daughter the boys have had the ability to know what it's like to have a female around I have four sisters. So I've always had female presents around but they had up to the point when you were born they didn't so they had to adjust and trust me they're better for it. I am too.

16:52 You know if I'd had just all sons have you thinking it would have been like that. It didn't have a fight. I had a daughter. So now I don't have to think about it. I do. Have a great daughter that you

17:02 Gosh, well

17:05 Thinking back when you grow up and when I grow up and still growing up our lives are so different. How do you think

17:15 No, like

17:18 How do you view that because when you were growing up?

17:23 Guys are so different things for things for the dollar. They were a quarter and when I go to the store, you busy can tell me I can get whatever I want. And where does that mentality come from? Because you had to grow up being very frugal and I still try to be frugal but we have funds for his back then it was really good. Me and your mother are like a first-generation in our parents races whole different things were really tight. My folks effort struggled to make the rent to make the house sub PG&E bill and all that stuff, but they did it me and your mom went on to become professionals and because we studied hard we got ahead and because we are very frugal. We have the ability to give you guys more leeway. So because I worked a lot in my first 20 years. I remember not to hang.

18:22 That way you guys too much. And so whenever we went somewhere we'd always say well, what do you want and you say this and we give it to you but we started to realize that that was not the ones you grow up fast. We start to grow up a little bit more in and you need to learn what the value of the dollar is that we cut back a little bit or we may come into work with us in the office. So, you know how we earned it, but

18:49 My parents always said to me.

18:53 Go to school.

18:54 Learn because that's the only way to how to get out of the farm worker mentality and they're right and my sister one time said to me my you just your aunt Juana. She said the only difference between you and somebody else. That's a doctor lawyer. Whatever is the opportunity to get that education and I firmly believe that if you have the ability you should be given the opportunity but you have to run it to I mean if a guy gave you everything on a platter you would appreciate it. I know you work hard because I've seen you do build mountains with little fingers do Brothers do the same thing and I never really had to tell anybody any of you chosen to go do your homework and that's a good sign because I know that once you get in the real world, you know how the games played you will excel because you come from me.

19:54 To take the coins in your mind and your mind with all your pockets investing in your mind and your pockets and your mind shuffle your pocket. I always like to tell that to anybody to hear it because it's true education is the key and hard work is the other key. You can have all the variables in front of you. But if you not willing to put in the hard work, it's not going to come out for you. So how did you your dentist? Obviously, you got to go undergrad and then you applied for dental school. How did you get through dental school? We went to Ohio State. How did how did you pay for that? And how did you get through school?

20:54 That's why I'm so bright in agriculture. And I decided that wasn't my forte. So I went into biology I transferred over to Stanislaus State Interlock and got my biology degree with a minor in chemistry and I got through school by working and buy I had some scholarship help cuz I was a good student then when I graduated from Stanislaus State, I worked in Aerospace for 2 years older and composite Technologies and bonding and what-have-you which Who would know that that's the same stuff that were using now in dentistry. So anyway two years into working for the Aerospace company. My mother came to me as she saw me looking out the window when Sunday and she knew I was lonely and she knew that she said to me one day me and your dad are going to be here and you need to get out there and find yourself friends and that it about

21:52 So you need to go back to school, so I applied to dental school.

21:57 I got accepted for an interview at Ohio State and a couple others. I went to Ohio State felt. So comfortable there that I applied I got in they told me right in my interview. We love you so much that you're in I said, oh, oh I'm going to pay for this. So I was scared guy came home till my dad and then he was very upset because you said I don't have the money and I can't help you with this. I don't know what to do. Don't worry. I'm 25 years old. I will find a way so I called the banker at Columbus, Ohio Bank 1 and her ex. Remember her name her name is Ann Ewing very wonderful lady and she asked me if the university zwilling what she told me so that you know, she's willing to accept you were willing to help you. Do you have somebody to co-sign you and that's why I went to your and I'll send you and your aunt Robert and they cosine me. I got the loans. I got the scholarship help and the rest tonight.

22:57 My first year I had to work there in Columbus Ohio to establish residency so I can get lower tuition and I work my tail and off and on financial aid and scholarship help and amount and I used to pinch nickels pennies and dimes there was times that there was no food on the cupboard and become because I belong to a fraternity house really fraternity brothers would help me out. I didn't know you belong to a fraternity Columbus, Ohio. I was 25 years old and those guys were younger than me. So when they saw me coming they saw me as a big brother and there's many stories. I can tell you about this iOS, but the bottom line to his they were my fraternity who when I got in trouble, I didn't understand that a project could understand something the big brothers would come in and help me out and there was a lab was always open. So I needed to get something done. I would go there and to this day. I'm very grateful to

23:57 When I graduated from the Ohio State University Dental School

24:02 I graduated early because I was so scared that I might get sick or I might I might fall on me that would finish it and I got through dental school. I Met Your Mother is Mid Winter convention meeting in Chicago and every one of the guys one of the professor said to me a Cardenas. I hear you have a girlfriend. I got good news always travels fast, you know, and so she asked me says hey I hear she goes to Marquette University and I go and he says you got yourself when I'm rich girls wet. I don't know about that, but it's kind of funny cuz one of the first times I spoke to you my girlfriend back then who's my wife not for almost 29 30 years. I asked one of the first things I asked you was.

24:48 What kind of car do you drive right is the first question you asked your dancing. Correct us. You just ask that really good cuz I drove a pickup truck and a Chevette. She can't be too bad. So we had something, but anyway, I finished off dental school. I got married to my wife we came back to California and she was pregnant had a baby coming and everything just went so fast. We've been married now for 29 years and the kids are all grown up and we're looking each other gone. Now what and I suppose have another baby. But oh my gosh wait for you guys to do the fact that you kids are grown up. So wonderful and watching and waiting to see what you're going to do and that we're here to support you. You know, I was talking to Sean the other day.

25:46 On way to work and he's asked me says Dad. You should be retired enjoying life. And I said I I don't work from me. I work for my family. That's the truth. All I want to do is give you guys the biggest push forward and hopefully you'll go further than I did buy it be nice and one of you guys became a senator or Congressman Leonard or something like that. I don't know if this is okay. Well and I know she puts up a lot of my Shenanigans, but that's okay. I'm not a very good speller and I know you guys get me on that, but you know about having fun.

26:46 So I spelled sofa with a pH it's a big deal. And so I spelled attack a track in this moment said I could laugh about it. It's no big deal.

27:02 I wanted to talk about mom a little bit live back way into

27:08 How I feel about something else tell mom is obviously seeing is white or Caucasian right don't know exact background. Another's a lot of makes of European Irish Plumbing show that right when you came back with Mom. Did your family have any prejudice against her or see her differently first while before I married her I said you need to meet my folks. And if you feel there's anything that doesn't rhyme or fix together then I want you let me know right away because I don't want to have any problems that you didn't tell me anything ready to expose them to me. So she was nervous about it. So she went to the hairdresser and when should know they put under hair is got this really curly hair on her. We've got pictures of it and so she look like a compass Cena and so when we got there my wife's got this for my girls going to look like an afro.

28:08 But you know I tell you.

28:10 You don't pick by the Alchemy Taylor's I from a firm believer that when you go out and meet people you're actually picking genetically what you like and I've always been attracted to light skin women but also personality and when I Met Your Mother she spoke to me in Spanish and that was like, woah, was it like fluent Spanish or was she just got back from Dominican Republic? So after that we got serious and I brought her home my folks knew she spoke Spanish understand a lot. But see here's the kicker. Your mom is a very compassionate loving woman, even when I make her mad she still forgive me.

29:10 Care of me so I can't say that about a lot of other women who get mad and throw stuff that you love me. No, but the thing is is my mother.

29:22 Your grandma Kida

29:24 She said to me one day when Mom took the children over to my mom's house.

29:31 She always said she's always on time to pick him up and she's always very cordial and she's always a very good mother and I knew that from the beginning and so your mom is one of the most wonderful people in the whole wide world, and I know that she knows that I know that cuz I tell it all the time and she tells me to be quiet but the bottom light to do that I have picked a very wonderful person to be the mother of my children and I have four of them and when she tells me be quiet for her sake I be quiet but you know just like any relationship when you start dating you start meeting people, you know, when it's right when it's not attending and you'll know what you can tolerate when you can't I think your mother

30:19 Has helped me tremendously. She's a dentist as well as so she's always told me don't do this. Don't do that. Look after this. Look after that. She's always done the paperwork and I've always done to dentistry and vice-versa need help raise you wonderful children and when you guys got in trouble with homework should always be there for you. So, you know, I did math and some chemistry if I got a stew and she did the English spelling dictionary. She's a type-a and type-b off the tracks and too. Well, you know, I think you know what your mom being from

31:03 I think it's Irish inflammation. Probably a couple of the things in there and me being from a Hispanic background. We just

31:12 Play some rough spots, but we'd be over. At least I tried to help children and we're all these half mixes were Mexican and white when I look at you guys. I look at you. I see your mother in you and when the people ask me these kids look just like you I was telling it look like me because he got big ears but you know the Batman chooses it is about love what's inside the person or their heart is like how they treat you and how they are and your mother is the most wonderful person. I can have had the relationship to have each other. And so now that I look back on it and everything. I like I said, I can't wait to see what comes of it because I know I got in you guys so you're older brother and your other brother the other brother and you

32:12 So you have to have you get married you have fine right partner and you guys will have children and me and I'll be happy to take care of your kids once in awhile. So I'm just one day. I mean, I don't speak fluent Spanish. I do understand most of it but like why didn't why don't you teach them Sean Greg and I Spanish as their first language. What was that?

32:39 I am very proud of you children because you're very good students and to become a very good student. You got to be able to have good vocabulary and you got to have the ability to do the work all the schools teaching English in the united states in the United States. The language is English. So you must learn the command of English and if you pick up Spanish along the way like you have three courses, I'm very proud of you because you can actually understand what somebody saying that I know that if one day you were to go on a trip to like Spain or de Mexico

33:20 Emerson it all the time you pick it up really fast, but the bottom line is I don't feel that you guys had the need to know Spanish because I'm a lesbian speaker and you guys didn't have to translate for me. I got to transfer my folks, but it is very important to me that if you guys can pick up a little bit you'll be able to communicate more efficient. I know a little bit. I don't know enough to actually didn't you know that their significant other doesn't speak any English. They should be pretty good Spanish cuz they're immersed in it all the time. So I'm not worried about that. The most important thing for me is that you guys are healthy that you guys are good students in your going places and that you're going to go far if you just keep working and it doesn't bother you that I renewed my brother's don't speak Spanish fluently.

34:20 Why when I take care of your brothers to a restaurant, I always tell the waitresses and they don't order in Spanish. You're not getting any food. It's funny how they they asked me. What did you just order nail? Say to the waitress? I'll get what he's getting. But you know, I know you know enough cuz you've really worked hard at it. I'm not worried about any of you guys because hearing United States the official language is English and I know you run into somebody speak Spanish, you'll be able to communicate trust me because every Hispanic I've ever ran to who doesn't even speak one word in English.

34:54 Still tries to communicate in English. So if you had to go to another country Russia China or some I'm sure you come back with some keywords in those and I want you but as of right now people just look at me and they see all she's white and then they hear my last name. I say Cardenas, but it's God's honest fact that you are of Hispanic origin. Another words you go to Mexico and there's places like some of the beach areas and stuff. There's a lot of light skin people there and their Mexican and Zacatecas. There's a whole bunch of light skinned blue-eyed don't stereotype Mexican or Hispanic to be just

35:43 Darker skin short straight hair. Do, you know the definition of a Mexican person is a mestizo.

35:52 It's a combination between the Spanish and the Indian and over the years that has been mixed mixed mixers French German Italian Mexico's Melting Pot just like United States affect all the countries are so just be yourself be yourself. Don't worry about it. And if you can speak a little Spanish or you can go fall asleep with two guys portable fans because he do I need to be surprised how many people look at you go cuz you trying to communicate

36:24 I think I'm just at that stage from I'm too uncomfortable to just go out and try to speak Spanish. So when I

36:33 Meet new people in college. You say go try to speak Spanish with them. I'm too nervous. That's why you see me hang around with people might not be Hispanic because I fade away as you get older.

36:47 I used to have

36:51 Limitations because I was worried about what people are saying when you get to be my age of 56, I don't care what people say about me because I know where I am, and I know what I've got and I know that my my treasure is you kids song Bring It On

37:08 And by the way, that's how Dad okay at your mom's tomorrow. I tell you I did make a difference who wins as long as we have fun eating and having fun.

37:29 Well

37:34 I did have a list.

37:40 I want to ask you a question. Go ahead.

37:44 Where do you see yourself here in the next 5 years in the next 5 years?

37:53 Well

37:55 If I am still in college, it will be my last year. I do get an extended year for trying to double major. I do remember I am intending to double majoring in cognitive science and computer science. So in the next five years, I will hopefully be completing that or will hopefully be done and if I have not started to

38:17 Start a tab.

38:20 I start up in the Silicon Valley. I am still contemplating applying to veterinary school. And that means that in these next four years that I will I will have done the prereqs for trying to get into veterinary school, but we'll see. I'm not sure I've berries interest at least you have kind of something in back of your mind and let me tell you I start agriculture engineering and I ended up with dentist. That was such a bad deal. Just work hard. Look forward.

38:55 And you know your mom and Dad are here for you and your brothers are here for you. Yes a great Advantage because the boys went through and broke the water. You not know they can give you some advice as you go through.

39:09 And remember this

39:12 You are

39:14 Powerful

39:16 And you can do it.

39:21 If you could go back would you raise me differently or any of your children differently? That's one thing that when I look back I would not change anything because I have such a great thing right now. I might change of variable here there that'll change the out outcome of what's right now and I like the outcome this right now. Okay, all of you are healthy, you're all be moving in a positive direction and that to me.

39:48 Is a bright future for you guys and I will have accomplished my goal as a father.

39:54 And maybe your mom one day. We'll look back and say I can't believe I had that many kids.

40:05 I love you immensely and I do anything for you.

40:12 Next time I remind you when I went to scratch my back. Okay, it's chill.