Interviewer: Maddie Martinez
Interview date: May 21, ?
Hello, my name is Maddie Martinez and I am a librarian at the St. Helena Public Library, and today it’s May 21st. We are at the St. Helena Catholic School gym at the Historical Society’s Museum For a Day and we are here with the Oral History Project, and we have as an interviewee Oscar Delgado and Oscar is going to share a little bit about his story. His family and stories he has to share. He has many.
Maddie: Thank you, Oscar, so much.
Oscar: You’ve very welcome, thank you. Well, actually my story of arriving here to St. Helena is a bit different, in a way. Because I was originally born to a family of 11 in Mexico, in Osaros [ph], in Zacatecas. What happened is that I was adopted, but I was adopted by my godparents, mis padrinos were baptizing me in Mexico. What happened is that my biological mother and father, the last name was Sandivar [ph]. So I’m a Sandivar in terms of my birth, but I was adopted by Liardo [ph]. Well, my father who adopted me, was my padrino, was brother of my biological mother. So it was my biological mother giving one of her sons over to her brother, who didn’t have any children. So it was something that was brokered by my grandfather, their parent. Y amelia [ph], amelia is my biological mother, to hermano chano feliciano [ph], doesn’t have any kids. Apparently whenever they would come to visit — because, again, they baptized me. When I would go to visit them, or they would visit us in the rancho, in the village, I guess I was very close to them. I always went to them, and I was only a year old or so, and so my grandfather was the one that brokered that deal, so to speak. My mother tells me, she passed away, my biological mother. She tells me that it was very hard on her. The other reason why was because I was a twin. I’m a fraternal twin, and my mother had just had another set of twins three years earlier. So in our family there was two sets of twins. So we were in the middle of 11 members in the family. So my mother, as Amelia Delgado, and my biological father, was Sandivar, said okay. Well, they’re compadres, right? Because when you baptize them as child then you become compadres. And they were my padrinos, so it was all in the family. Then soon thereafter my father, Feliciano [ph], my adoptive father, Feliciano, who’s now my father, he was part of the program back then during World War II where there was an agreement between Mexico and the United States to import Mexican labor, or Mexican men, to work in the United States to help with the war effort. Because the majority, or a great number, of the men in the United States were off fighting in the war. There was work to be done on the railroad tracks, there was work to be done in agriculture and much of other things throughout the nation. One of the stops that my father was sent to, because you would be contracted for a short period of time; three months, six months; two months. Every time it had to be a new contract.
Maddie: Do you remember the name of that program?
Oscar: Bracero Program.
Maddie: Bracero Program.
Oscar: Bracero Program. It started in 1942, and it lasted until about 1961. Towards the tail end of that program it wasn’t the same, because once the men started coming back from the war in the early 50’s, the need for the labor wasn’t here as much anymore. My father tells me, I remember he tells me that when they were first brought to the United States they were like heroes. Because there was this need for labor, and there was a great shortage of labor. So they were seen like heroes. They were transported in these busses, and they were fed very well, they were housed very well. It was like they were seen as true aid in the war effort. One of the stops that he had, he had several but one was in Yakama, Washington, north of us here, to pick apples. He was also assigned to do some other labor work. I believe it was in New Mexico. Then about 1953-ish, or ’52-ish, they were assigned to work in St. Helena, to assist with the grape industry. That’s when it really began to be very large, it was growing.
Maddie: Who asked the family to move to St. Helena from Washington, too?
Oscar: This was the program, yeah.
Oscar: What it is, they assigned them. For example, Napa County would say, “We need 200 laborers.” So the contractor in Mexico, who already had the authorization by the US government because there was an agreement, would say, “Okay, we’ll send 30 to Napa County, we’ll send 20 to Nebraska, we’ll send 80 to Yakama.” Whatever that work was. The railroad track was another major industry that needed a lot of the labor.
Maddie: Where would those families live when they were relocated? Let’s say here in St. Helena. You arrived here. Where would you live? What was it like?
Oscar: Well, first through the Bracero program it was men only. But then, after 1953, my father was here for about three years and the matriarch and patriarch of the Mondavi family, Cesario and we called her Nana, or la mama, they liked my father’s work so much that they sponsored him. They had to demonstrate through a letter that my father was someone that was reliable, that was hardworking, and that they sponsored — so they sponsored his to get him out of the Bracero program to get his legal status. So he migrated here legally after the Bracero program.
Maddie: Oscar, how was that sponsorship? Was it common?
Oscar: Well, it was common if you were a good worker. In fact, on the table that we have over here, I have one of the letters from the Mondavi family dated 1954 where they state Feliciano is an employee of ours, he’s a good employee. Blah, blah, blah. Because that was required to get a legal status. So then he, once he got his legal status, then he brought my mother and me over.
Maddie: How different was getting that legal status back then to now?
Oscar: It was very different, because back then there was less Mexicanos here, and those that were here had been part of those who were part of the Bracero program and there was others who had been here for generations. But it was much easier because it was all based on the need for labor. Of course, if you had good character, and if you had all those good things that you needed to have, then a letter from a Mondavi, that was like gold. Right? I mean, you can’t get any more credibility than that.
Maddie: That was enough?
Oscar: That was enough. So he got his green card back then, and then soon he was able to get us our own documents, and so I was born in ’54. I arrived in St. Helena, he brought us when I was two years old, so in ’56. The family has been here since then.
Maddie: Do you have those early memories of St. Helena?
Oscar: I do, because I remember having gone through kindergarten, all through high school. I remember my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Christenson [ph]. Beautiful. As a child, when you’re five, six years old, you don’t understand what beauty is yet, but I saw her and she was beautiful. Tall, black hair, young. Then also went through the other grades. I had teachers, Mrs. Tabes [ph] was a teacher of mine, Mrs. Boyd [ph] was a teacher, Mrs. Snider [ph] was a teacher of mine, Mrs. Beldrum [ph] was a teacher of mine in fifth grade. Again, another tall, beautiful, blonde white hair. She played the piano in class. I remember her because she was very beautiful, very tall, she played the piano. I especially remember her because it was fifth grade. I recall the day President Kennedy was assassinated, and they sent a message throughout the speakers in a class. I recall that. I didn’t know too much about the politics or who he was, but I recall that Mrs. Beldrum started crying. As kids, you’re sort of wondering, this must be a pretty serious thing because they announced it.
Maddie: Do you remember a little bit of that announcement?
Oscar: The President has been shot.
Maddie: Why do you think they gave that announcement in school?
Oscar: Part of it, I think, it was because it could have been an emergency of some kind, but I think more importantly because he was such a loved person. It was something that, I believe, they wanted to make sure that people were aware of. Maybe in case something else would have broken out, a war or something, or just because he was so beloved.
Maddie: How did you feel when you heard that message?
Oscar: Well, at first I really didn’t know much of it, right? Then as you heard more about history, and learning things about who the person was, and I did recall that his brother Robert Kennedy was also really beloved. I was old enough to have wore his buttons, and not campaigned for him so much because I was still young, but I do recall the buttons that we used to wear. Because they were very — first of all, they were Catholic. So Mexicanos are also Catholic. Well, at least then probably 98, 90 percent of us are Catholic. Now it’s less than that, maybe 80 percent. But that connection of the Catholicism was very important to us. So we understood that. Robert Kennedy, he brought us closer together to him and his family, because he supported the farm workers. He actually marched with Cesar Chavez, and he spoke on behalf of rights for farm workers. So Robert Kennedy of the Kennedy clan became very close to — I think many Mexicans when they started to vote, registered to vote, became Democrats because of the Kennedys. Yeah. It was such a strong influence. So we came here and we immediately moved into a home we lived in off of Madrona Avenue, west of us here. It was two houses, and we were in the middle of like a vineyard. So for a while, when I started school, there were times I would walk to school three, four miles from there to school. Things that I do remember is that downtown sometimes afterschool we would walk with my cousins, [indiscernible] and others, and I remember there was a store called the Five and Dime store. Which I think currently is where more or less next to Vasconi’s Pharmacy. The [indiscernible] factory there? That used to be the Five and Dime. We used to stop there to buy candies and all kinds of stuff. Especially these cards you would buy. They were cards about movies, scary movies? Like the Monster of Black Lagoon, Frankenstein.
Maddie: How would they look, those cards?
Oscar: It was a card, it was a regular like if you look like a baseball card might look like. But they were clippings from these horror movies and you would buy a packet for five cents, what it was, and gum would come with it.
Maddie: Why were you interested in those cards? Because of the gum or for the card?
Oscar: Probably the gum more than anything else. But you would collect the cards, or you would trade them with the classmates. You know? Another place that was very popular I recall was off of Main Street, it was called Western Auto. Western Auto was the store where you bought your appliances, where my father bought me my first bicycle. If you needed to buy washing machine, or a refrigerator, even tires, tools, it was the place to go. That was it. That was the place. Western Auto was a chain, that no longer exists, but that’s where we all went to buy our things. So we got here, my mother and I. We settled and we lived here for — I said we’ve been here since. My father worked for Charles Krug for a number of years. He worked inside the cellar. So he learned how to make wine, I mean, all this other work. Then after he left Charles Krug he went to work for what’s called the Co-op, which is now the same place where Martha Vineyards is, with the winery? That used to be a co-op where growers would take their grapes to be harvested, to be crushed, turned into liquid for the wines. He was there for a while, then he also worked for Heublein. Heublein is now currently where the Napa Wine Company is, there in Oakville. When it was the Heublein, I was about to leave for college. As an employee of Heublein I was eligible to qualify for a scholarship. So I received the scholarship. In fact, not too long ago I was looking through my stuff and I found one of the letter that they would send me about my scholarship because I went to school in Mexico. That was the first school I went to after high school, it was in Puebla.
Maddie: I have questions about that. So while your dad was working all these wineries, how is life with your siblings and mom back home? What was going on while dad was working so hard?
Oscar: Yeah. It’s interesting, because we would go back to Mexico probably, I recall, almost every year. We would drive back, or take the bus back. I recall very vividly that when I went back to Mexico I always went back and would stay the two or three weeks we were there with my other family, with my siblings and my parents. Then I would go with them to the campo, because it was all agriculture. Back then things were truly organic. So I lived with them, I slept with them. I remember that the room that they lived in, that they slept in, was like a large room with about three beds. Because again, there was 11 kids. Well, minus me it was 10. So I would sleep in the middle of the bed with them, because I knew they were my blood. That’s something that my parents understood, that it was important for me to keep that connection. But I would go with them to the campos, to the fields, in the morning. To go walk to the fields, to take them breakfast while they were plowing. And they’re plowing with horses and with a wooden plow.
Maddie: When you went back to Mexico did you see your biological parents there?
Oscar: Yeah, I would stay with them. Every time I’d go back, I would always stay with them. That’s the ones I would share. We would sleep together in the bed, my other siblings, we would do things together. Because I knew who they were, of course, because my parents who adopted me — again, my father and my biological mother were brother and sister — they never kept me away from my family. Now, and so when my sisters got older and they came to the United States to work, they would stay with us here in St. Helena. So that brought me even more closer to my family.
Maddie: Did your parents/godparents have more children?
Oscar: No. That’s why. That’s why. Because they never had any children. They had been married, Juanita and Feliciano had been married, I’m thinking maybe a good seven years or so, and that’s when my grandfather said, “Your brother doesn’t have any kids. You just have a set of twins, you have Oscar and Romelia [ph].”
Maddie: That’s your sister, Romelia?
Oscar: Yeah. “Give him Oscar.” So that’s how that came about. Yeah.
Maddie: Wow. So it was your father here, and your mom here, and then the rest of the family slowly started to come in.
Maddie: Once they came in, tell me a little bit about that high school and getting the scholarship to go to school.
Oscar: What’s interesting is that I came to high school here, was active in sports, I played football. Actually, a couple of friends and I started the first soccer club at the high school back in 1970, or ’71, and we called it Club León, named after a soccer team from Guanajuato. León Guanajuato. And my friend, Rafael de et a Fria [ph] he was Guanajuato, and so he said, “Let’s call it León.” Okay, great. It’s a green uniform with white shorts.
Maddie: Rafael de et a —
Oscar: De et a Fria.
Maddie: Yeah, it was another class —
Oscar: It was a classmate.
Maddie: It was a classmate?
Oscar: Along with other people, like Hector Brambila [ph] who is out here in Napa as well. So as we started a club, we also started one of the first Cinco de Mayo activities as a group of Latinos and Mexicanos.
Maddie: So it was the students and the parents helping to introduce those things to —
Oscar: The culture.
Maddie: — to the [overlapping conversation].
Oscar: The high school there.
Maddie: Did you get support from the teachers back then, and the principal?
Oscar: Absolutely. No, there was always great support for Latinos and for Mexicanos back there. I guess there is still now. There is still, I guess. Back then, I didn’t sense any sort of discrimination of sorts. Now there was, and there was in this sense, in that it was very obvious who got the guidance to go onto college. So many of us, I would say in my class, 1972, of the 25 or so Mex-American Mexicanos, if I’m not mistaken only two of us went to college. In great part because many of us weren’t guided to go to college because I believe the idea was we were going to substitute. Our parents were working in the vineyards, working in the wineries. We were going to be the next generation of laborers, right? So we were always directed into courses that were not college bound courses. That was real funny, because I can’t do with my hands. I’m very bad at doing things, right? I remember in middle school, in eighth grade, we were asked to do a wood project. A project with wood. I was, “Oh, my God. I can’t even measure three inches.” I just didn’t know. I had made this bookcase, that I still have, out of just three pieces of wood, or four pieces of wood, and I sanded down because I didn’t really know. I guess they were expecting that I would know more and do more with my hands. So many of us weren’t guided to a college bound curriculum.
Maddie: What was [indiscernible] to you, Oscar?
Oscar: Part of it was because I had been here for much longer. Probably because I was able to fit into both worlds of the American, [indiscernible] of the sport. I was able to fit in with a group of kids who are known as — well — at NW back then, you had a lot of kids who were smokers. They called them the heads. They would go off on their lunch time, and you would see this plume of smoke from they were just smoking there.
Maddie: There were students from Anglos, Me– everybody together in that group?
Oscar: Yeah. Yeah. Also, it was the same for those who were athletes. I mean, I didn’t hang out with that group, but I knew of them and we were just friends. You know, I didn’t — but he was — okay, this person was an athlete. I wasn’t anti-athlete, but because he was a smoker I wasn’t anti-smoker, we were just kids. I had known a lot of those kids since kindergarten.
Maddie: Would you consider yourself like an ambassador and a diplomat between all those kids?
Oscar: In sort of a way, yeah. Because I was able to fit in both worlds, if you will. In fact, Bill Yager [ph] is someone who’s been here in St. Helena for many years. His family is also known for their wineries and their vineyards. Bill Yager, when he came to St. Helena High School, he came from Piedmont High School, a very exclusive area here in California. Well, he was a soccer player back there where he was at. So he asked if he could join our León soccer club. He was the only Anglo for all intents and purposes that played on the team because he said, “Yeah, you know, I don’t care if you’re Mexican or not. I like soccer, and I like you guys.” He was a great addition. He had red hair, so he stood out. So we’d go play in Hillsboro, we’d go play in Geyserville, we’d play in Santa Rosa, we’d play in Napa.
Maddie: It was a formal team.
Oscar: It was a formal team, yeah. It wasn’t sanctioned by the high school, but they knew we existed. We’d transport ourselves, so there wasn’t any funding from the school for us. Just that we did it, and our parents did it with us. Yeah.
Maddie: How do you organize the matches. You’re saying that you went to several other places to play.
Maddie: How do you organize that? How do you coordinate?
Oscar: Because we knew of other schools that had teams, and so we’d call them and say, “By the way, you know, we’re so-and-so. Why don’t we play?” “Oh, sure. Come on down.” So I said, Hillsboro High School, the Greyhounds was their name. Geyserville, Santa Rosa, there’s a school in Napa. We had about four, five areas that we used to play against, and then we also would scrimmage among ourselves, as well.
Maddie: Wow. So there were lots of things that you just went for it. You wanted to do it, and — wow.
Oscar: Yeah. Yeah, and it is when I started that where I get my leadership skills. Because I said, “Okay, whatever we do, let’s try it. Let’s do it.” And then you had people who would say, “Yeah, let’s do it. Why not?”
Maddie: Who do you think influenced that personality and that leadership that kind of took you in a different direction that was, at that time, expected for Latino kids?
Oscar: Yeah, that’s a question. I think part of it definitely is a work ethic. I don’t know, I’ve always tied work ethic to leadership. Because to be a leader you have to do things. You just got to do things, you have to take that initiative. If you don’t have a work ethic to do it, you don’t know how to do it, or you’re disorganized. Because my father, Feliciano, made it very clear that I have that work ethic because he used to have me pick walnuts, pick grapes. He would send me to pick apples in Sebastopol, with family members.
Maddie: So you worked in the farms, too.
Oscar: One summer, one season, he sent me to pick strawberries in Salinas, when I first got my work permit from high school at the age of 14 and a half, my first try, my first work was Salinas. There was relatives there, and we lived in a trailer camp, and we’d get up at like 3:00 in the morning to go pick the strawberries and be back to the trailer by noon because after 12:00 it’s too hot and it mushes up the strawberries.
Maddie: I have a question about that. When did you get your work permit?
Oscar: At 14 and a half.
Maddie: Did you work before that?
Oscar: No, I worked but just with my dad, pruning stuff or picking grapes here and there. But it was more formalized after that, at 14 years old. But yeah.
Maddie: Because I heard stories of a lot of Latinos that —
Oscar: Oh, yeah.
Maddie: — four years old, five years old, working.
Oscar: Yeah, I probably started working probably nine-ish or so. Again, it was to get the experience of working. The experience of working. The same thing, I remember on Saturdays, we lived in a place that had a lot of trees. Mulberry trees. So every Saturday before I could start to watch cartoons, I knew I had to go outside and rake the leaves. That was my first task on Saturday mornings. I guess, again, it was sort of like a work ethic rhythm that he got me into. I think that’s what helped me become not so much a leader, but to be involved in things. To see the need for things to happen. To see the need to start things that hadn’t been started yet, or to see the need to continue things that had been started.
Maddie: Picking up on when you got that scholarship, who do you got the scholarship from?
Oscar: The company’s called Heublein, and Heublein owned the company where my dad worked, it was a wine company. What was interesting there is the reason why I told you it was only about three or four of us that went to college? Well, two of us, myself and Rafael de et a Fria, we were walking through the halls of the high school one day. Again, because no one told us about — I mean, Napa College was what, 30 minutes away and we didn’t even know about Napa College. So he and I were walking in the hallway one day, and we see this poster with the tear off cards for la Universidad de las Américas in Puebla, Mexico. Actually, in Cholula, Mexico.
Maddie: And that was at your high school?
Oscar: High school, yeah. [Indiscernible] I said, Rafael, it’s a college in Mexico.
Maddie: Who posted that, do you know?
Oscar: No se.
Maddie: Oh, wow.
Oscar: But whoever did, did us a great favor because we’re Mexicanos, right? So we got a card, we send in for the application and we filled it out, we sent it back. We were accepted. They offered us a small scholarship, it was like $200.00. But then I had applied for other scholarships to my father’s work, through the Heublein and they gave me $1,000.00.
Maddie: How do you find out about all this, sending the application by yourself, and the scholarship? Did you do it by yourself?
Oscar: Yes. Rafael and I, we just did it on our own. Now, there was one professor that to this day I love very dearly, his name is Walter Hampe [ph]. Walter Hampe was our teacher for Humanities. He’s probably one that also really, of all the teachers he’s the one that really gave, at least gave me some inspiration to look forward into the future. And that you had potential to do something. His beliefs and mine matched a lot. So he was someone that I really respect. He was a fantastic person, Walter Hampe. Other than that, you were on your own. You know? There wasn’t any guidance, per se. We had counselors, but it wasn’t for all of us.
Maddie: How do you [overlapping conversation] those? Do you have to write essays for the scholarship?
Oscar: Essays for the scholarship, but my insight was my dad was an employee. So it wasn’t automatic, but almost automatic, you know? So.
Maddie: I think that we will have to pause this interview.
Oscar: That’s fine.
Maddie: There’s a party going on, and we’re missing it.
Oscar: Good. Good, good.
Maddie: Oscar, we have to continue this. I have other questions. We’re missing the part of school and coming back to Napa. We have to reschedule. Monty’s giving me the sign. Okay, well thank you so much and we’ll meet soon.