Interviewee: Maria Canfield
IWY TX 092
Interviewer: Veronica Tiller
Date: November 19, 1977
Maria Canfield was born in Laredo, Texas but lived in Houston at the time of the IWY conference. She was active in community volunteering and local politics. Canfield, 41, was a homemaker before she became involved in community activism in the early 1970s. She most frequently volunteered for the Mexican community and she was the only Mexican American from the State of Texas on the Carter national staff in Atlanta. Interview includes discussion of Canfield’s concerns about employment for minority groups and especially her desire to see women of color in leadership positions in local, state, and national governments. She was a member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
Veronica Tiller: Maria, thank you for this interview. This is Veronica Tiller interviewing at the IWY Conference in Houston, Texas, on November 19th, 1977. Maria, would you state your full name and address and phone number for me, please?
Maria Canfield: Okay, Maria Laurel Canfield, 1754 (unintelligible at 0:29) Tower, Houston, Texas. Telephone number at home is 465-5638.
VT: Could you tell me what you are doing at this convention and why you are here?
MC: I’m very interested in the ERA. I have not participated as much as I would like to because I am very involved in doing community work and local politics, and therefore I have not really been involved as much as I would like to be. However, I have been volunteering work. I worked yesterday all day at the Hyatt Regency, and I plan to attend this afternoon’s session, the second plenary session they’re having this afternoon.
I have learned a lot, and I’ve met some very, very nice people, and I hope that from this convention all women will have equal rights. I’m very concerned about employment. That’s the main thing for me.
VT: Are you interested in employing more women, any particular women, minority women?
MC: Yes, minority women, blacks and Mexican Americans. I think there is a need for upper level positions not only in city government, but state and national government. We do not have enough women appointed to commissions, boards, or any high positions in Washington that I think are visible. There have been some good appointments, I will have to say that, but there’s not enough.
VT: So you think that women at this convention can have some impact on getting more women appointed to top government positions?
MC: I hope that there is a strong effort at this convention to put more women in higher positions. That’s very important, and not only high positions where they’re just assembled. I think decision-making positions, policy-making positions, those are very important positions and I think that’s what we need.
VT: Are you affiliated with any organization, or is this a person involvement?
MC: I am involved with the Women’s Political Caucus; I’m involved with a political association for the Spanish speaking organization; I am involved with the Harris County Democrats, and I am involved with Women In Action. I am also very involved with the LULAC, which is a national organization for Mexican Americans.
VT: How did you first become involved? What reason do you have for getting involved in issues concerning women?
MC: Well, let me just go back. I’ve been involved in politics for eleven years, and it had been mostly on the local level, mayoral elections. And when Mayor Fred Hofheinz won his election, I was placed as a distant administrative assistant to the director of Parks and Recreation. At that time, we did not have enough women in that department at high level positions, and particularly minority, and through my efforts I made sure that not only our department but several departments, Mexican American and black women were hired, and not only just minor jobs, but some very good jobs.
I also became involved with the Carter administration. I was the only Mexican American from the State of Texas on the Carter national staff in Atlanta, and I was the only Mexican American female also who was on his staff at the National Convention in New York. What I saw and learned from this campaign was that there were, at the national staff in Atlanta, no Mexican American women. There were about 500 people on staff, and I was the only Mexican American from this state and I thought that was very bad.
VT: Considering the population of Texas?
MC: Considering the population of Texas, and the fact that we are 20 percent of this state.
VT: Do you prefer that term, Mexican American, as opposed to maybe Spanish American or Chicano?
MC: Well, I was raised in Laredo, Texas. I was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and we have always used that term as Mexican American. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as we get what we need to get done. It doesn’t matter to me. If somebody wants to call me a Chicana, that’s fine. They want to say Mexican American, that’s fine, or whatever. I’m just very concerned with the minorities getting employment.
VT: Do you think there’s any difference between the concerns of Mexican American women as opposed to other white American middle class women, or American white women?
MC: I think that the Mexican American women are just beginning in I would say the last three years to get really involved in politics and in conferences like this, and they’re beginning to realize that through this effort is the only way that you really are going to advance. And I feel that they have to work a little extra harder.
VT: Do you think they have the same – I know they have the same problems as women, but do you think they identify with this kind of movement, a conference like this?
MC: I don’t know what the percentage is of Mexican American women involved in this conference, but I was very surprised last night when I attended a function at Commissioner (unintelligible at 8:01) Castillo’s home to see how many Mexican American women were there. I was very, very pleased that there are quite a few involved, but I really don’t know what percentage or how many really are involved. I have no idea.
VT: Do you think the Mexican women would identify with the women’s movement? Would they merge their own interests and pull together, or do you think there are specific kinds of problems?
MC: No, I think the ones that are involved, or ladies that have been involved before in something that can help them advance, I think they will be most cooperative with this conference. I believe that. I think they will be very cooperative.
(Break in taping. Restarts at 9:04.)
VT: Maybe some experiences that tell why you were involved more, aside from your political participation?
MC: I was just a housewife, and I began to realize that my children were growing and I really wasn’t participating and was not getting my say so in my community. And so I began to get involved, and I do a lot of volunteer work in the Mexican community. But as I said before, my kick really is employment because if our people don’t work their kids don’t eat, so most of my involvement has been in that.
I started working about five years ago. I’m forty-one years old and I’ve only been working about five years, so I did stay home to raise my children and then started to become involved.
VT: Is there any one single event that might have made you more aware of the situation?
MC: In the Mexican American community, or just women in general?
VT: Women in general.
MC: My involvement has been really with the Mexican American women. Not one particular group in general. Like I said, I do belong to the organization of the Women’s Political Caucus, and NOW and Women in Action, but my total commitment is to the Mexican American community. Not that I want to snob anybody, because if anybody needs a hand and they extend their hand to me I will help them, but I feel that in our community there is a lot of poverty and a lot of people that need some upward mobility, and that’s where I spend my efforts besides my family. So, there’s no time for anybody else except them.
VT: What is the position of Mexican Americans in their own society as opposed to an Anglo society? Are there any cultural constraints?
MC: Like I said, about three years ago Mexican American women just started really getting involved in the open. That’s the way I see it. They just have to compete a little harder. Sometimes you find they feel that there is discrimination, and that is a drawback, and I would say they feel a little insecure. But I think that from I’m beginning to see is that they’re getting over that, and I hope they will because there is discrimination, there’s no doubt, but I think they can overcome that. They just feel a little more secure.
VT: Do you think their position is any better or any worse than the average American woman, in relation to their own society, that is how do the men think about them being involved in an organization and conferences such as this one?
MC: Well, there are still the Mexican American males who do not like their wives to get involved in anything like this. They want them to stay home with the children. Here in Houston I would say that the majority of the Mexican American males really do not like their wives to participate in anything that is going to take them out of the home. And I’m talking about not the middle class or the upper middle class. This would be people who probably make less than $7,000 a year. Income level I think has a lot to do with it, too.
VT: How did you get around this? How does your husband think about this?
MC: My husband is not Mexican American, and I have been married for twenty-three years, so when I started getting involved I had been – well, say ten from twenty-three, we had been married thirteen years when I started getting involved, and he was involved too. He ran for the legislature at one time, and then two years later I ran for the legislature and I was the first Mexican American female here in Houston that ran for the legislature.
VT: Is that the state legislature?
MC: I was the first female here in Houston, and I’m very proud of that because it brought a lot of attention to my race and from our community, and then a lot of women started realizing that they could do it, too. And I very strongly support any qualified Mexican American woman that wants to run for office. I strongly will support her.
VT: How did you come out?
MC: This city was redistricting in 1972, and it was a single-member district. There was no incumbent. It was a very conservative area with 90 percent Anglos, but I gave it a real strong try and I lost by 3,000 votes. I got 10,000 and he got 13,000, but it was a very good experience for me and it made me realize that if a Mexican American female puts an all-out effort in whatever she wants to do, she can get it done.
VT: I’m sorry you didn’t win. Do you plan to try again sometime?
MC: I don’t know. I lost ten pounds. I can’t afford. I only weigh 108. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I enjoy politics very much. I always work for a candidate that I feel, and I sincerely feel, that he is going to work for the people not only in my community but the people in this city. I really do get involved and put a real strong effort in trying to get that person elected. I get involved in the governor’s race, and I get involved in the presidential race. I am very involved in politics. It’s good to know these people, number one, and number two, it’s good to get a candidate in who is concerned with all people, and minorities of course, and women.
VT: What are your expectations for this conference?
MC: Well, I noticed here in the book where they were discussing a lot of things on abortion, and they want the government to pay for those women – I don’t know if I can phrase it right – those women that wish to have abortions. I believe they want a federally funded program so that anyone that wants to have an abortion can have it. Am I correct? This is the way I understand it. And I do not approve of that, because I feel that if the woman gets pregnant and she wants to have an abortion, then it is up to her to take care of it and not our tax dollars. We have a lot of people in this country that need help, and there’s a lot of people that need employment, some people that are hungry, and I think that we need to put our efforts in that area instead of those women that want to have abortions. Expectations, I hope that they accomplish all they came to do, really, except that.
VT: So, your expectations are rather high.
MC: I’m very optimistic, and I hope that we have one at least every two years or every year. I don’t know what their plan is, if they plan to have one next year. Do you know anything about that? Yesterday was my first day that I became involved. That was my first day of volunteer work, and I was really amazed at the number of people that are attending this convention, so really, really interesting. A lot of the anti abortion people feel that – I really don’t approve of some of the derogatory remarks that they made. There was a big ad in the paper the day before yesterday with a picture of a child. It was a half page, and the child said, “Mommy, can I be a lesbian?” I thought that was in very poor taste to put their point across. I think that people have the right to be whatever they want to be. The only problem with a lot of the women’s organizations is that you have a lot of women like me that are involved, but you have also lesbians and that takes away from the effort. Not that they’re bad or that I disapprove, but a lot of people feel that women that belong to organizations like that are all that way and it just takes away. It’s kind of sad.
VT: Too bad they’re getting that much publicity.
MC: I think that basically their efforts are good efforts, and they’re human beings just like all of us, and like I said, I have nothing against them, and I have nothing against the gay people. They do their thing, and we do our thing. However, I don’t approve of the derogatory remarks that have been made about the people participating in this convention. I really don’t.
VT: Thank you for the interview. I appreciate it very much
End of Interview