dining in an atmospht:Te that r:’13.1 .40 171111 CaStial. Cli/WO list: Alaskan King Crab Mahi 21 THE TEXAS OBSERVER I. obster nings Henry read Carlyle aloud with rocks in his mouth “until papa thought I was nuts and told me to stop.” As he read out loud from Robert Louis Stevenson, he had a friend correct his enunciation. He had four brothers and a sister, and nights, as he declaimed to a mirror, they would creep up to the outside of his bedroom window, spy on him, and run off giggling. In the home there was a piano. Luz, the sister, was a talented pianist; most members of the family played. Melchor was a good athlete and expected a football scholarship at Texas A&M until, Rodriguez reported, “he learned that `Mexicans’ were not awarded scholarships.” Joaquin became a medical doctor; Leonides, Jr., the oldest, became a mining engineer. The neighborhood of Upson Street was middle-class, but quite a mix: Anglo, German, Latin-American, well-off people and the very poor, the educated and the rough. According to the M.A. thesis on Gonzalez by Eugene Rodriguez, Jr. \(written under Dr. Bill Crane at St. Mary’s University in 1965, and a source of other information for this quartered a block from Henry’s house, often caused him trouble. And he remembered that a group of boys he organized regularly raided a neighborhood grocer’s cookie barrel, one of them distracting the merchant while the others snuck in and grabbed handfuls of cookies. Henry was never caught at this. Sonie of the Riverside boys in the neighborhood eventually got into serious trouble and went to prison. Later Henry would say, in a jesting aside during a speech to a labor convention, that his life was an open book, except for a couple of periods during his adolescence; and once, during a rough-and-tumble exchange in the Texas Senate, he said, “I had to come up through the jungle of the West Side and I think I know how it is to have to fight alley-fashion.” When he was ten he had his first after-school job with a retired German sea captain turned druggist, Ernst Von Helms. He sold Crowell magazines like Woman’s Home Companion, Colliers, and American and tried a paper route for the San Antonio Light \(until he computed his net profit for the first three Red and White grocery store run by Chinese people. He remembers that the mother of his best friend went blind from handsewing baby garments for a nickel apiece, working in her home from five in the morning until eleven at night. The women would gather each day and take their garments t6 the factory for their pay, which averaged about $1 a day each. “If there was something wrong with some of the stitches,” Gonzalez said, “they would ask them to unstitch them right in front of them, and tell them that you don’t get. paid for that.” He noticed with approval when, as a consequence of the advent of the Ladies Garment Workers Union in San Antonio, this piecework farm-out system was stopped. Henry had a special relationship with his father. The books Leonides brought home from La Prensa were all in Spanish, and Henry was the only one of the children who cultivated reading in Spanish. Joaquin, one of the brothers, told Rodriguez, “Papa would bring home books obtained through La Prensa’s library and Henry, would be the one to read them.” According to Joaquin, “There seemed to be more communication between Papa and Henry than between Papa and the rest of us.” It is important in understanding Henry Gonzalez to know that Leonides Gonzalez never intended to stay in the United States and regarded himself and his family as Mexican citizens. He yearned to take them back to their country as soon as conditions would permit it. Well, then, was Henry a Mexican or an American? Knowing no English \(“I couldn’t even say mama,” stayed in the low first grade a full year. In the third grade his teacher, a Miss Mason, prepa:ring his .permanent record card, asked him, “Are you a citizen?” “I’m a Mexican,”-he replied. “Where were you born?” she asked. “San Antonio.” “You’re an American.” At first he could not believe it; then he did not know whether to. “My cousins always gave me hell because I was a Tejano,7 he told the Observer. The powerful emotions of family love towed him back toward the country of his mother and father. His uncle, Augustin Gonzalez Cigarroa, trapped ringtail foxes from which he made women’s scarves and traded fine European linens from Mexico City for hides in San Antonio \(“he looked like Daniel Boone,” Henry in Mexico. Once “Nana,” the family’s housekeeper and governess, flipping beans to dry and hearing Henry say he was an American, said, “Acaso un gato nace en un horno es pan” “I guess if a cat’s born in an oven it makes him. bread.” Henry Gonzalez says he was 20 years old before he fully overcame his uncertainties about this. Later, then, some of the jokes he made must have been rever
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