Joe Arzate describes growing up in San Angelo
Joe Arzate, a Vietnam veteran, describes San Angelo during the era of segregation.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Okay, alright. This is Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai and today is June 16th, 2016, and we’re at Angelo State University for a War Stories interview. Could you please state your name?
ARZATE: Yes. My name is Joe Flores Arzate, and I’m a major.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Um, United States Army?
ARZATE: United States Army and National Guard.
WONGSRICHANALAI: And where and when were you born?
ARZATE: I was born on September the 14th, 1942, in Sweetwater, Texas. I never lived there.
WONGSRICHANALAI: So, you moved immediately?
ARZATE: Yes. What happened to me is, when I was 9 months old, my father was killed and my mother moved back with her parents, which were living in San Angelo.
ARZATE: Later on, my mother remarried and I stayed living with my grandparents and my grandparents raised me. So, I’m from San Angelo.
WONGSRICHANALAI: And, did you have any siblings?
ARZATE: Yes, I’ve got, uh, I was married once before, uh, and divorced and I had two sons and two daughters.
WONGSRICHANALAI: But do you have any brothers and sisters?
ARZATE: I have half brothers and sisters, and I have eight half-brothers and sisters.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Okay, so what did you grandparents do in San Angelo?
ARZATE: My grandmother was a … She was just a homemaker. It’s funny, because she was born in Del Rio, Texas, and she never stepped in a classroom in her life, and she never learned how to speak English. My grandfather had two years of education and spoke broken English, and what he did, he was a yard maintenance person and he did it all his life, uh, that, from my life forward. Prior to that, I think he worked in the cotton fields but then he became a maintenance yard worker.
WONGSRICHANALAI: What are your memories about San Angelo as you were growing up?
ARZATE: Wow. Great memories. I had a lot of fun. I was raised on 14th Street. Fourteenth and Chadbourne, right in that area. Back in my era, racial discrimination was very, very high. Mostly against the blacks but also against the Hispanics. We lived on the West side of Chadbourne Street in San Angelo. Everything east of Chadbourne was predominantly white. You didn’t dare go to these by yourself. You’d get stoned to death. Anyway, yes, I had great friends. I learned, like I said, my grandparents did not know how to speak English very well. I learned how to speak English because I used to run around with all my neighbors around my neighborhood, and the majority of them were black, neighbors, families. So, I didn’t have any choice but to learn. They all spoke English and that’s how I learned how to speak English, through my black friends. I grew up with them. Of course, I had a few Hispanic friends too but that’s how I learned to speak. Growing up, I really enjoyed it, because I was an athlete and I played football and basketball, and that … It’s good, because participating in sports in school kept me out of trouble, kept me out of the little gangs that were in my era, which they’re still around but, in my era, they had the gangs, like they do now. Probably, I’d guess about 50 percent of the students or friends that I ran around with, Hispanic kids and some black kids, drugs and prison, jail, but I took the athletic route and that right there kept me… I don’t have time to go do drugs. I don’t have time to go do this, to go rob a store or anything. Mine was… I gotta go practice football, I gotta go practice basketball, I gotta go play baseball. That kept me out of trouble and I had a great time. And other than the time that I was gone because of my career, uh, San Angelo has always been a good town to me and my kids, and that’s why I returned to San Angelo.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Where was your school?
ARZATE: Uh, believe it or not, I’m one of the few students left that went to a school called Guadalupe School Elementary. Unless you go to historical books, you probably won’t find it. It’s on Martin Luther King Drive and it’s on… between 12th and 13th Streets. No, it’s between 11th and 12th Streets. and it’s on Martin Luther King Drive. And I think it’s a boys club building now, and they have the little kiddos city, where they ride bicycles, learn how to stop signs, cross roads, I don’t know what they call that little area right next to it but it’s a little kiddo city and they ride bicycles, er, tricycles and they have stop signs like a little town and they teach them how to observe city signs, that kind of thing. Well, the brick building next to it, that used to be Guadalupe Elementary School, and, uh, I was in the 5th grade when they transferred us all. They closed it down as a school and they transferred us all to different schools and I went to Reagan Elementary School.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Where’s that?
ARZATE: Its on, uh, on Volney Street. On 16th or 17th, it’s on the east part of town, east part of Chadbourne.
WONGSRICHANALAI: What positions did you play in these sports, on these sports teams?
ARZATE: Oh, yeah, yeah. Uh, of course, I was like the other kids. We kinda moved around but, uh, if I was kinda just in general, for, uh, I went to Edison Jr. High. I played quarterback. My coach gave me a quarterback. I went to Central, the year it first opened up. I went to Central and like I said, it was very racist, very discriminating back then. And, uh, I, of course, you know, I was playing quarterback. I was practicing. During practice I would practice butting heads, shoulder pads and everything, quarterback. Well, they had a little special white kid, his parents were well off and he practiced with shoulder pads and shorts, and he practiced in the center, running plays. Well, come Friday night games, I’d sit on the bench and he would run the team. Monday morning, he was doing the same thing. Friday, it was like that. Monday, we were back. And one day, I was sitting there after about five games, one of my coaches came up, and he says, “Joe, I really don’t know what you’re doing trying to play quarterback.” He says, “You will never play at quarterback on our team.” He says, “The best thing for you to do, if that’s what you wanna do, you’re gonna have to find another school, because you’re not gonna play. We’re gonna use you as a little dummy to practice with. We don’t want the quarterback to get hurt.” So, I went and talked to the coach at Lake View. He says, “Joe …” Back then it wasn’t hard to get transferred if you were in area of school, you know, a district. He says, “I’ll give you a chance. Just come on up here. I’ll give you a try. I’ll give you a chance. I’m not gonna promise you anything but I’ll give you a chance.” And I did go to Lake View. And there were like four or five quarterbacks that we competed and he made me the starting quarterback and he made another guy secondary quarterback. And we did the same job but we rotated. Certain plays he’d run, certain plays I’d run. In sports, that was probably the highlight of my sports. So.
WONGSRICHANALAI: And did you travel with the team? Did the team travel?
ARZATE: Just local, locally, like we do here. We used to play Midland, Odessa, Ballinger. Of course, back then Lake View was a 3A school, it was a small school. And we played Big Spring, Abilene, the 3A schools. Yes, we did travel. And, I traveled with them. I played. They did give me a chance and it’s funny because Lake View was an all white school back then, and it was an independent school. It wasn’t part of the San Angelo school system like it is now. My first day that I went to school, the first day, I was riding in my dad’s car, because I didn’t have a car. I came out of the school and when I was walking to my car there was like 30 white guys around my car and they were waiting for me because I was Hispanic and they were gonna beat me up. Because it was very racial back then. Of course, I walked out, and I saw the 30 guys around my car. I knew what they were gonna do. I turned around and went back. Hey, I’m not stupid, you know. So, I went to the coach. He had a classroom. I said, “Coach, I gotta problem.” He said, “Well, what kinda problem you got?” I said, “Well, come with me.” So we came out and, of course, as soon as we came out and all the students saw the coach, they all ran. But, by that time, a couple students had taken a hammer or something and broken all the glass on my car, the lights. And I told my dad, you know. But the next day, I didn’t have to come in anymore because our fourth period was out at the football fields. School wasn’t out yet. I didn’t have to come and face them anymore. That’s life.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Did that go away after a time?
ARZATE: Y’know, what took place, there was a time it happened again but by that time I was a football player and, of course, I had all the football players on my side. Well, one time there was a white girl that was trying to make a play for me and a bunch of white students found out that she wanted to go with me and they surrounded me in the school, like lunch hour, they kinda surrounded me, and started heckling me and it wasn’t me chasing the white girl. She’s the one kinda making a play. Well, the football players found out about it and they went up there to where I was at and they said, “Arzate, is anybody giving you problems?” I said, “Well, some of these guys, because this girl wants to go with me.” They said, “Don’t you worry about them. We’ll take care of them.” And as soon as they realized that I had the football players on my side, that ended. No more. I never had any problem anymore.
WONGSRICHANALAI: So, most of the football players were white?
ARZATE: They were all white. No blacks. I was the only Hispanic.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Huh. But they welcomed you?
ARZATE: Yes, the football players, oh yeah. They all… I didn’t have any football players want to hurt me or anything like that. They, uh, other students did but football players, we, they became like, real close. They accepted me real good and they… They protected me too, on top of that. So, never had any problem. But that’s the way it was back then.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Now, you said that you didn’t, that you should not cross the east side of Chadbourne. That was off limits?
ARZATE: Yes, sir, that was all whites. It was the white part of town, west of Chadbourne. And I lived on like 14th, you know. Starting from the railroad tracks, if you go north, starting on the railroad tracks, all the way to 19th Street, because San Angelo wasn’t that big of course and everything west was the black part of town, and the Mexican part of town, because you know, Martin Luther King was… That was the last street. There were a few streets where the freeway is now. Bryant, there wasn’t anything out there. It was all pasture. So that was the predominantly black and white and whites over here. South part of town was Hispanic. The Barrio. Called it the Barrio. And yeah, you had to be careful where you went to. I seen on TV, like Chicago, Baltimore, and Kansas. It’s kinda like that. You know, you don’t wanna cross a certain part of town. You ain’t gonna make it. San Angelo wasn’t that big back then but, still, it was… The east part of Chadbourne was predominantly white. From Chadbourne to Main Street it was all white. From Main Street, that was all pasture back north and that was it.
WONGSRICHANALAI: So, were there movie theaters that you could go to, or parks?
ARZATE: You know what, I was never… The racial discrimination in the movie theaters was only against the blacks, not against the Hispanics. Only against the blacks. Blacks had seating areas up in the balcony or somewhere else. They weren’t allowed to associate with the …And we were. Hispanics were. And all the theaters were like that. They had their own discrimination seats. But it was only for the blacks. Drive-in theaters, I never had any problems going to drive-in theaters like that. But, uh, blacks did have a problem. We didn’t, but blacks did.