Interviewee: Bea Rodriquez
Interviewer: June Hahner
Date: November 19, 1977
Bea Rodriquez was from Salina, Kansas and attended that IWY conference as a representative of the American GI Foreign Women of the United States, of which she was the national vice chairperson. She had eight children, four of whom were adopted. Rodriquez had been involved in the women’s movement for five years and was concerned with Mexican-American women’s issues. Interview includes discussion of how to engage Chicana activists on a local, state, and national level; her children and supportive husband; and how she became active in the IWY activities in Kansas and nationally.
June Hahner: Now, I should get your…maybe you better… I’ll hold this.
Bea Rodriquez: Oh, that’s background noise also. (Laughs) You want me to give my name?
JH: I’ll hold it.
BR: Oh, okay. Get my name? My name is Bea Rodriquez, and I’m here from the State of Kansas and the City of Salina, Kansas. What else?
JH: What kind of a capacity are you here as, a women’s organization?
BR: Yeah, I am representing the American GI Foreign Women of the United States. I hold the national vice chairperson title at this time. I felt that, well, the way I got involved with the International Women’s Year and how I became interested was through a lady by the name of Maggie Wagis, who is the assistant dean of women out at the University of Kansas. And she felt like, because I had become so involved in the last four or five years and she had really just seen me kind of develop into a leader there in the community, that she asked if she could start sending me information on IWY hopefully to get me to come, to help there in the regional and then the state, and of course hopefully be a delegate to the national convention here in Houston.
But as it turned out, the name, when she had referred my name to the regional office, or to Marymount College, there was Sister Agnes Greece was heading it, my name was given to Sister Agnes Greece and they were supposed to have contacted me and never did. Finally, I got a hold of them and I said, look, I understand my name has been given to the college for a resource in the community and to have input on the Hispanic concerns of issue, and I would like to have any kind of input on this IWY thing if possible. And so on that basis I got involved in it.
When I attended the regional meeting there in Salina, I was very disappointed at the representation of Chicano women that we had there. It seems that we still kind of hold on to the old tradition that the woman’s place is at home, and I don’t think it’s going to change for a good fifteen, twenty years. Still a lot of our young ladies get out of college and see that there is a change that has to be made for the benefit of themselves and their children.
As things went on, she referred my name and I kept getting information from her, and of course I got a little more involved with it and I attended the meeting at Wichita, Kansas, and I was a panelist on Women Supporting Women, and I really – I have really enjoyed being a participant of the whole IWY activity, and my being here in Houston today is kind of an ironic thing. I wasn’t really intending to come to the national IWY meeting, but as the day got closer I got excited about it because I had attended the state meeting. They had only expected 2,000 women and when I got there, the hotel was just mobbed, like all the other places here in Houston have been, and the Kansas state meeting had over 5,000 women present. So I almost could feel my heart beating because I wanted to be here and I didn’t know whether I’d be able to get the flight arrangements and whatever.
JH: I guess it was tight. Tied up flights.
BR: It was, and so I’m really fortunate to be here, and I don’t think I could have lived with myself had I missed it. I think this is just an opportunity of a lifetime, and I’ve really enjoyed this thus far.
JH: I’m with you in this, too, I really am, the whole business.
BR: One of my concerns has always been – maybe it’s been stood up here lately, is that because the Mexican-American woman traditionally has maintained the role of the homemaker, and I feel like within the Mexican-American framework of, well, I guess the role that they play, that so many times these women that want to be the homemakers stayed at home, did not ever develop to their fullest potential.
I know from experience, I’ll say this about myself, is that it’s taken me twenty years to get up to the level that I am at. It’s been a slow process, first of all because I had children, my husband was always involved, and I guess his involvement rubbed off on me and the last four or five years I’ve gotten to the point where I’m holding a national position which I think is saying – I’m trying to say is that I know that this can happen to other women.
One supportive factor for me was that I had someone telling me that you can do it. Just put your mind to it. And because of that supportive factor of one individual, and of course my husband has been very supportive of me, I think this has been a contributing factor in my being involved and that’s the reason I’m here.
As a matter of fact, I had a conflicting engagement and it was between parents day at Kansas University to attend the activities over there with my daughter and my son, and being here. And I finally had to make that last minute decision and say I’m going to Houston.
JH: We always have to make those tough decisions, don’t we?
BR: I had been to parents day the years before and I told my daughter, please don’t feel hurt, but I feel like I need to get over there. I want to see what’s going to happen, I want to get involved with the activities, but most of all I want to find out what kind of input I can provide for the concerns and the issues that we have and we can provide for the Chicana, and what we can develop for a real plan of action. That’s the reason I’m here.
JH: I think it’s great. I think it’s good.
BR: It’s really been enjoyable. I have really enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to the afternoon session.
JH: The plenary session?
BR: Yeah, and then of course tomorrow when I guess all the action takes place, find out how things develop. I think the consensus of the women that I have met with is that after this whole thing is over, that I think we’re really going to have to try to get lots more publicity out on this real plan of action. There’s only 120 days that we have to work with to develop anything. It’s just going to have to be done very quickly, and hopefully it can be done.
JH: What do you do after the meeting? You go to meetings and then what happens afterwards? How do you act on this? What do we do?
BR: Well, I think with my position on a national level, I have taken a lot of notes already, and of course I’ll develop that into a report and submit that to the general membership on the local, on the state, as well as the national level, which I think will help. The fact that so many people know that I’m here I think it going to make it that much more interesting. Hopefully then, this will stir up I hope for some of them to become a little more involved in the community because that’s where you have to start, right back there in that community.
I just hope by my participation here that I can motivate, I guess, three or four more women there locally, and then on the state more than on the national level. It’s going to take a while for a Chicano woman I think to really get herself involved, because that old traditional rule that we’ve played is going to still be headstrong for a lot of women. And some of the men don’t want their women to get involved, they just downright and flat refuse to let them leave the house to do anything like that.
First we had a conference in Topeka, Kansas, and I was so excited about it after I left that everywhere I went, matter of fact I taped the whole thing and I kept playing it and playing it and playing it, and my husband says, “Why don’t you turn that thing off?” I can’t, I said, I just feel like I’m flying high. Because the things that I guess I knew had to be said, someone else is saying it, and there were so many women there to hear it. Mexican women. Chicana women. Had I stood up there and said the same thing I couldn’t have gotten the message across. And I think this is where I got very interested, again, in this involvement and making sure that I could motivate several women to try to get themselves stirred up to become a little more involved. I’m just happy I’m here. I just can’t get over it. I can’t believe it.
JH: I think a lot of people feel this way. The excitement of the whole thing, you’re here, you’re here, everything’s going on.
BR: I was sitting and listening to all those speakers and just going – and it just really moved me that there’s so many women. And you know, coming in at the international airport over here, I got in a cab with two gals from Maryland and one from South Carolina, and we all, let’s get five of us in that cab and we’ll get to our hotels and we’ll just slip across. Everybody is just so friendly. It’s like this brotherhood, the way it should have been in the beginning anyway, and I think it has stirred so much brotherhood among women here, and I really have experienced this real closeness.
JH: I felt this, too.
BR: Especially during the sessions listening to all the speakers.
JH: Barbara Jordan was so beautifully applauded.
BR: She’s great. It’s the first time I’ve heard her speak.
JH: It’s the first time I’ve heard her speak live.
BR: But it’s going to be on heck of an experience I know I can talk about for quite a long while. I’m really happy with the fact that I’m here representing a national organization and then representing – well, I’m hopeful that my daughter kind of understands me not being with her today, but before I left she says, “Mom, you just have a good time. Don’t worry (unintelligible) over here. We’ll be all right.” I says, well, fine, I’m glad. Listen, I got to run. I don’t know if you have anything else that you want to ask me?
JH: Anything that you want to say. This is your opinions and for you. What do you say? This is supposed to be (unintelligible at 11:58) anybody else what to say. I’m just curious how you first got into some of these things. You say it’s a long haul.
BR: Yeah, it has been. Well, it’s just been, like, over a span of twenty years and I’ve gotten into it the last five years. And I guess it’s just kind of a lack of confidence, which I think you find that very much in our Chicano women, and they believe they just can’t do anything, they can’t do anything right, or if they do it they don’t want to be called down on it and stuff. I really don’t know what it is. I know since I’ve become a little more involved that I have just really gained quite a bit more confidence in myself, and I think I even have been able to relate that to other women, too. They can’t get over – and I probably wouldn’t have done that several years back, is jump in a plane and take off wherever, because I just can’t do that, just couldn’t do that. The fact that I’m doing that now, and again, like I said, my husband has been very supportive of me, and I think family, as a kid, my family has encouraged me too, to take part.
As a matter of fact, I have four children and four adopted children.
JH: Wow, I’m impressed! You’ve made a commitment.
BR: When I left they gave me that mom, take care of yourself and we’ll see you when you get back and have a good time. I said, well, I plan to take anything in that I possibly can. I don’t know. I guess all of a sudden it’s just that lack of confidence a person has and that’s just I guess where I’ve really matured in it I guess, or matured in the fact that I can accept myself as a person now with the additional fact that I have done things that I never, ever dreamed I’d be doing. I think that’s the way a lot of women feel. I was in the home for so darn long and not involved in anything until, well, five years ago.
JH: I think that’s one thing we’ve learned on our own.
BR: I said, my gosh, if I can raise kids, surely I can do something else just as good. You know, there’s molding and taking care when they’re sick and everything else. You just don’t think that way. Like I said, I still surprise myself doing things that I never, ever dreamed I’d be doing.
End of Interview