THE INSTITUE OF TEXAN CULTURES
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Mrs. Magda Ojeda, Cuban Cultura l Club
7 August 1988
Institute of Texan Cultures
0: I want to thank the Folklife Festival for having a
booth here. And we really appreciate the opportunity that
you've given us to be here. We're really enjoying it. We
are having a lot of fun.
M: The heat's not bothering you?
0: We hardly feel it by now.
M: When I ask you a question, will you repeat it briefly
so that they hear it on the tape? Because I'm way over here
from the microphone.
M: Mrs. Ojeda, could you t e ll us something about the club
that you belong to and how your club carne t o the decision to
participate in the Folklife Festival?
0: The Cuban Cultural Center has existed for now about,
since 1972. It was founded by Sister Trinidad Quintela -
Q-U-I-N-T-E-L-0, and the purpose of our Club has been mainly
cultural and, of course , we ' ve had social events t o raise
money like any other club.
But the main purpose being cultural in reference to the
0: Cuban families who have been here so we can teach the
children of Cuban traditions, culture and language a nd, you
know , anything - everything that has t o do with Cuban
M: How many children, or how many adults are in t he Club?
0: We have approximately, here in San Anton i o , abou t 350
Cuban fami lie s . Even though all of t he , you know, they
don 't pay dues t o the Club , they participate i n one way or
the other in the Cuban Cultural Center .
M: How did your Center come t o the decisiion t o
participate in the Folkl ife Festival? Did you have a debate
on this , was everybody for it? It takes a lot of effort ,
0 : We participat ed in the Fest ival about six or seven or
eight years ago and after that we had a change of di r ection
in t he Club and we hadn't partic i pated. Now this year I
personally talked to Joanna and Vera and all came t o the
decision that we want to be in i t . We have a very strong
l eadership in the Center - the Cuban Cl ub, and we have a lot
of people participating. Every body was very excited. We
have had , I would say, from 60 t o 70 people working.
A family, Latin- American cook ing , especially the older
ladies and then we have the ladies , you know, worki ng here
in the booth and t he men and the kids. Of course , the
children under 16 cannot work in there, but they ' re kind of
around and helping us, bringing us this and bringing the
other. We have a dance group that we want to include but we
0 : didn 't know if we were able to do everything, so we
decided to have the booth. We'll see and wait until next
year and see how we felt and learn this year.
So everybody 's participating and having a lot of fun,
and hoping to be in it next year again.
M: Do you think the dance group will be here next year?
0: The dance group we have is a carnival type group. It 's
65 members so it's about 35 in the adult Comparsa -
C-0-M-P-A-R-S-A , which is a group of people dancing
together with the same costumes and the same step. And in
the children's comparsa we have 30 kids from about 6 years
or so to 15 years o ld.
And so we don't know if we can get everybody t ogther
during vacation time, but definitely if we do not have the
whole group next year, we are at least going t o have 5 or 6
couples from this group.
M: Wil l they dance in the street in front o f your booth so
that people will see your booth and also enjoy the dancing?
0: Definitely. If we had known that we could have done
that this year, we would have done it. As a matter of fact ,
today there's some people here out of costume , o f course ,
t r ying to do some of that but it's impossible getting people
to work, and you know, people working and trying t o organize
a little group at this time , it was kind of impossible.
But now we know, for next year .
M: It's a l ways a l earning process , isn't it?
Tel l me about the long range goals of the Center .
0: The long range goals like, as I said, mainly the
direction of this Club is mainly towards the children. I
want my children to know about the Cuban traditions.
We cannot go back to our country. We cannot take our
kids over there and show them. You know, we cannot tell
them "This is where you come from, this is what we do here,"
we cannot show them. It's impossible because of the
political situation in Cuba. Therefore we have to do it
here. And that is the main directive of our Club.
M: Mrs. Ojeda, can you tell us about Cuban communities
elsewhere in the State of Texas. Are they organized into
clubs or centers, and in what cities might they exist?
0: They have a large group in the Valley. A lot of -
there are a lot of businessmen in the Valley. And they have
organized a club that involves the area of Brownsville and
McAllen; that area of the Valley. All the way to Laredo.
Also in Houston, they have a very large community, I
would say from about six to seven thousand families in
Houston. And they have several clubs and organizations
which are not very active, I'm afraid to say, right now.
And in Dallas they have a very small organization which
is not as - they don't have as l arge a population as in
Houston. Austin, even though they have a very small
community, they do have a strong organization . And I'm
proud t o say , San Anton i o has the strongest organization of
all the State of Texas . We're recognized by the
Cuban-American National Foundation and we're proud to say
0: that we have done a lot of things not only in the
cultural aspect but we have helped very much the Cuban
political prisoners to get out of the prisons in Cuba.
M: Thank you. I was going to ask my next question about
what brought all of the Cuban families to Texas and to San
Antonio? Did they c ome at approximately the same time and
for the same reason?
0: You're going to find that the community in San Antonio
- Cubana, of course, you're going t o find a lot of medical
doctors, who came to - they came to San Antonio around 1962
- 1963. The main reason is because of the language. They
were able to speak the language in San Antonio more than if
they would have gone to Minnesota or Chicago, or one of
So for them it was easier to be here and at the same
time they were starting, or trying to pass their boards, or
whatever they could to work. And that was the main reason
for a lot of these people. Others came because of jobs.
Personally, I came because I was sent. I came by
myself and I was sent here to a school. And then my
parents, of course, came aferwards. And we settled here in
San Antonio. But I would say mainly the reason is language.
M: And we can assume that mainly the prompting motive for
people for leaving Cuba was the political situation after
the Castro revolution. Correct?
Mrs. Ojeda, let's talk a bit about your booth at the
Folklife Festival. It l ooks beautiful. It's well decorated.
M: It's very attractive and it has some really lively
0: Yes, even though we didn't know what to do exactly in
the beginning because even though we had been to the
Folklife Festival before we had never really paid much
attention to the booths themselves. Maybe you don't realize
that, but when you come, you don't look exactly at the
booth . You're looking at the parties and the food and all
that and you don't really realize what goes in the booth.
So for us to, you know, we knew it was quite a project in
the beginning. We sort of, the first thing we decided was
the menu. And we decided on something that we were able to
do in large quantities without occupying a lot of space
since we didn't know how we were going to accomplish that.
First of all we talked to Mr. Reynaldo Lopez, the owner
of the the Latin-American Company. It's a Cuban place here
in San Antonio and he let us use their kitchen so we rounded
up about 15 or 20 Cuban ladies so they could cook and have
everything ready for us. We decided on having Ropa Vieja -
R-o-p-a and then V-i-e-j-a. If you translate that, it means
"old clothes." What it is, is shredded beef stew. Why they
call it '' old clothes " because it's a food typical of the
Cuban guajillos or campesinos or peasants where they used to
make soup with a kind of fajita type of meat , skirt steak ,
and the next day after they had the soup they would shred
this meat and they would cook it in this stew.
M: It's the best way to use the leftovers.
0: Leftovers, or hand-me-downs, I would translate it that
way- hand-me-down. That's what Ropa Vieja is and it's
served with rice. We decided that instead of using regular
white rice which i s a Cuban s taple , we decided to have it in
the Congri form - C-o-n-g-r-i, and really what that is is
rice cooked with black beans. And it really takes a lot of
work. You can just not decide that you're going to make
congri. It takes a special timing for the congri and you
really can achieve that nowadays only with the older Cuban
ladies. So that's why we decided to get them involved.
And also, we have the banana chips and the plaintain
banana chips which have been a tremendous success here at
M: What problems did you run into with your plaintain
0: Well, it seems that the health department are not
accustomed to plaintain bananas and the process - the
ripening processes of the plaintain bananas is they get real
dark, almos t black by the time - you know, they're getting
the process so that when the health department came on this
whole banana , they made us throw them away , about 15 or 20
pounds because they said they were rotten . And they were
perfectly green in the inside. That 's what you need, you
need to have them green for the banana chips . But they
couldn ' t understand that's the way plaintain look when
they're in the turning process to becoming ripe.
M: That's terrible that you had to throw so many bananas
M: away. What other foods do you have in your booth this
0: Mainly that's what we have. That's all we have. We
didn't want to go into dessert even though Cuban desserts
are great. And that's what we have request ed as a matter of
fact. We have a lot of people come to our booth and say,
"You mean you don't have any desserts?" I say, " No. " '' My
goodness, Cubans are famous for their desserts, why don't
you have any?" "Well , next year we'll have some."
We didn't want t o burden ourselves with - we didn't
know how things were going to come up. So we tried to keep
it down to the minimum.
M: I guess it's better to start out small and build year
by year. Is the Cuban Cultural Center looking forward to
the Folklife Festival becoming one of its major fund raising
efforts throughout it's annual year cycle?
0: It looks that way. It definitely looks very good.
Everybody's very excited fo r next year. You can hear them
talking there in the booth about next year, having a Cuban
hut - a bohio type of house. Bohio is spelled b-o-h-i-o,
which is the typical house of the peasant in Cuba and having
something like that, or having some typical display on a
lar ger scale next year and having a small group of dancers.
Because we really have good talent here in San Antonio.
We're proud of that.
M: I think you should be.
END OF TAPE I, SIDE 1, ABOUT 30 MINUTES.
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