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José González Oral History Interview, February 18, 2020

Oregon State University
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Annalise Gardella: Ok we are recording here. Can you please tell me your name for the audio?

José González: Yeah, my name is José González.

AG: With a "z" or a-

JG: "Z" of course.

AG: So for this project we're going to talk a little bit about your roots, you're welcome to speak in English or in Spanish, whichever feels most comfortable, and then also we can talk a little bit about how you came to Portland and started this theatre.

JG: Great!

AG: So where were you born?

JG: I was born in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

AG: Missouri...

JG: Yeah.

AG: How did you make your way to...

JG: Well actually I didn't make my way there (laughs) somebody else did. My father was stationed at the army base there, so Fort Leonard Wood is right next to Waynesville, which is sort of like in the southern central part of Missouri 00:01:00and you know he was an army sergeant and my mother obviously was his wife and beyond that I don't know what he was doing there. I didn't ask at the time (laughs).

AG: Of course, and where's your family from?

JG: Originally from South Texas. My mother and father both were raised in Corpus Christi, just about 150 miles north of the border, and most of our extended family in terms of ancestors, within let's say the last 150-200 years were from that Northern México area, based out of Monterrey and into south Texas. [Hey how ya doing (to person walking by)]

AG: Corpus Christi, my mom is actually from there.

JG: Really? Maybe we went to school together.

AG: That's entirely possible.

JG: What was her name?

AG: Her name is Christy Hughes.

JG: Hmm don't remember. Well, the neighborhood school that I went to, the 00:02:00elementary was called Elizabeth Elementary and they changed the name to T.G. Allen to basically honor the principal that was there at the time I was in school, and I can remember only two non-Latino students in there at the time. And it was a really tall, her name was Kathy Angermiller and she was like, we were all like waist-high to her you know she was like giant. And then I think there was another one I think it was Barbara and I can't remember Barbara's last name, but it was a very Latino school-99.9% and pretty much the same happened when we went to junior high school and there, there were a few more because they were obviously coming from different schools, but still probably a handful of 00:03:00non-Latinos at the school, and the only African Americans at that time were special education students because we were still kind of in the segregated system. It was way back in the day.

AG: So did you go to school in Missouri, or did you move back to Texas?

JG: Well we sort of had an interesting route because my father was a soldier and of course like a lot of soldiers you get assigned to different places so at about 1 year old, he was shipped to Germany to shoot guard and so we went to Germany and I spent about I think about two-two and a half years there as an infant or toddler, my next sister was born in Germany, and then we returned back to the states I think it would've been probably about when I was four or in that area, three or four, and he was stationed in El Paso. I forget what the name of 00:04:00the base was there, and we lived in El Paso for at least a year or two and then we moved back to Corpus Christi in time for me to basically start first grade, or before that, so I started first grade when I was six, about six and a half I think you know roughly.

AG: I should've asked this at the beginning, but what year were you born?

JG: I was born in '52.

AG: Ok. So how long did you stay in Corpus Christi?

JG: I stayed until I was 15. Until the summer of '67 and that's when we moved up to Oregon and moved here to Portland. We spent a year in Northeast Portland in a rental house, and then the next year we bought a house over in the southeast 00:05:00side, which is actually very close to here, about a mile away, and that's where basically I continued high school, Benson Polytech, and then from, graduated in 1970, and then went onto university from there.

AG: What was it like moving from a place like Corpus Christi, TX right on the border to Oregon in the 60s?

JG: Well we weren't quite on the border, we were damn close, like 150 miles, there's a lot of difference between the valley where you know would be the border and Corpus, but not a huge amount, it's like everybody was related to everybody else, basically I mean it was a huge cultural difference. I mean first of all there were hardly any Latinos living up here or at least any that were visible. I don't even think there was a Mexican restaurant in town, but that may be exaggeration, but I definitely felt like yeah, yeah you had no neighborhood 00:06:00connections at all, the culture was very different. Like I remember in Texas if you wanted to visit somebody, you just went to their house and dropped in and if they weren't there, you just went to somebody else's house. Here it felt like you had to have an invitation, or you had to set an appointment with everybody. Very little was happening outside, everything was inside homes whereas in Texas we never were in the house at all, you know we were always out in the calle playing and also you know your entire neighborhood, at least where I grew up at the time, pretty much everybody knew everybody else, everybody knew my mother and my uncles, 'cause they'd all gone to school together, they'd all hung out, they knew the cousins and the relations. So you were pretty much pinned from the very beginning, you know, because everybody knew who you were, when you were born, what you were about, whether you were good or you were bad, so in a sense 00:07:00it was like a big extended family, and then of course you know with the exception of elementary school, a very small number of Anglos, everybody was like, most were working class. I think in my neighborhood we were like a little step above the projects where most of the people were craftsmen or working class and we had homes, we had a little house, you know, we had yards, we had all of that, cars, but just across Morgan Street to the north, you got into the projects and most of the folks there were you know basically what you would call like subsidized housing, although I don't think they had it in those days. Most of them were Spanish-speaking and that's where you also have more of the, sort of the gang issues, you know, or the gang community, yeah, pachucos, yeah.


AG: Did you grow up speaking Spanish?

JG: No, no actually my mother told me that my father actually refused to have Spanish spoken in the household and part of it I think was a generational issue. I found out later that almost none of my cousins speak Spanish, or speak it as a native speaker, and because we were basically I mean Spanish in that time was very much considered to be a dirty language and there was a significant amount of prejudice and racism, particularly toward my older generation so I think the idea was they didn't want to labor us with that. So my father wouldn't allowed Spanish to be spoken at home, although both he and my mom could speak it fluently, and then occasionally together, the rest of us were all like, speaking 00:09:00English (laughs).

AG: Did you ever experience discrimination? As a kid, do you have any memory of that?

JG: Well you know I think there's things I think that when you're young and you're growing up in an environment where it's pretty much part of the culture that you're not really conscious of, and I think mos-I mean there was a thing that happen that I distinctly remember when I was a kid that we were at a place in Corpus called Six Points and this is where like I don't know six streets converged or something and it was kind of a neighborhood shopping area kind of thing if you think back to the sixties and I remember once, we used to go riding 00:10:00around with our bikes a lot and I remember once we were just there at that location on our bikes, it was close-it was a bus stop kind of area, and I just remember somebody coming by and like throwing a bottle at us and cursing us, you know, basically for being who we were. We weren't doing anything, we didn't even, they were doing a drive by, and just like "you dirty Mexicans," and things like that, so that happened when I was young, I was probably 14, 13 and it was a big shock for me, and I think part of the shock was because we were insulated in a way we were in a majority Latino community, we basically stayed in our community, it was evident that there were other neighborhoods we couldn't go to, or shouldn't go to, or we weren't wanted in, that we really probably didn't experience overt racism because we just didn't encounter the other culture that much. Later on when we moved up to Portland, there was a kind of a different 00:11:00scenario going on there and I think it has a lot to do with sort of where the people come from. So there was, you know there was like I said that part like you couldn't just go visit somebody, you had to be invited, very kind of like, I don't want to say isolated, but very private kind of people that you know maybe held their beliefs very closely but it was only in sort of usual circumstances that you got a reveal and I remember something happening, I think it was probably in I think it was like in '73 or '74, so I spent a year studying in Vienna, in my junior year. I spent my junior year studying in Vienna and when I 00:12:00came back, I didn't want to go back to school, it was just like, so I just took a leave of absence, sort of needed some time to decompress as it were, and in addition to Vienna, we traveled through the Middle East and you know up into Afghanistan, so it was just too much to come back and go to Santa Clara, and sort of that middle class white school kind of thing, and I just wanted to chill, so one of the things I did was I got a job over at Ma Bell AT&T and as a teletypist, one of the skills I gleaned when I was in high school was I could type pretty good and so I got assigned to this department and what we did generally, what a teletypist-what I did as a teletypist is that basically I typed up job orders and sent them off to field offices, so like these guys out 00:13:00here, you know we've been saying you need to go to this place and you need to bring this equipment and you need to install these phones or these services or these trunks and stuff like that so it was pretty ordinary stuff and so I did that and then and you know we had I don't know probably about ten people in that department and we were all kind of in the same part of the building and I was young and I had nothing else to do so anytime they offered overtime, I took the overtime so I would be there 9-5 and then work into the evenings putting out the orders and stuff like that, and so one night I was working there with another young woman who was also employed by the department and out of the blue she just said, "You know you just blew everybody's mind around here." And I went like, "I don't know what you're talking about," you know, and she goes, "Well," she says, 00:14:00"we learned about you coming up here like the week before or a few days before that you would be assigned here," and she said, "we had heard that José González was gonna come work in the department and everybody got to talking. Oh he's gonna be lazy; he's not gonna learn the job, you know, he's gonna do this and do that, he can't speak English so we're gonna have to figure out how we communicate with him, and then you walk in here," and she says, "you're college educated, you work twice as hard as everybody else, you learned the job that usually takes six weeks in two weeks," and she says, "you just blew everybody's mind." So that I think sort of was that reveal, I didn't have any inkling of that the whole time I was working there, nobody ever said anything racial to me, or prejudicial that I could be offended at, but it had been there and it was there and you know maybe in a positive way I was able to change the way people 00:15:00thought about people from another culture, or Latinos in particular, but up until that point I was pretty clueless. During high school you had the usual things, I mean I think that was the first time somebody called me a taco vender, you know, but I guess I just wasn't as sensitive enough to really think about that as being racial or prejudicial because you could give it as good as you got, you know, so and I'm sure I did (laughs). But that was typical high school kind of stuff and I grew up in a culture too where, and I still had to be very careful about it, where it was kind of a sign of affection that you were never nice to your cousins or your friends, so we still kind of meet up today, you know 70 years old almost and my best friend is still alive, and I would still say, hi ugly how you doing? (Laughs) and then you go into this insulting kind of 00:16:00thing and then you go out and eat and have a drink together and have fun so you know I think I guess I just didn't feel the same kind of thing in high school because I was kind of used to that give and take and insults were a sign of affection (laugh).

AG: Do you have any brothers and sisters?

JG: I have three sisters, well actually two living, one passed away in '89, yeah.

AG: And are they, younger older?

JG: Younger, I'm the oldest.

AG: So when you moved to Oregon, everybody moved?

JG: Yeah, yeah it was, it was a huge, huge thing. You know. Yeah... it's a sens-I've talked about it before, but it's a sensitive part. So somewhere around the time when I was five, I think I was five, or si-no maybe I was seven, somewhere around seven, or I forget the exact year, because you know you're 00:17:00quite young at that time, it was I think in first grade, my mother and father were separated, and so for like seven years, we never saw or heard from him at all, and it was just like he disappeared off the planet-

AG:-from your father?

JG: Yeah, yeah. And you know he had been abusive to my mom. When I was younger I remember seeing that as a child, and part of it had to do with he had a significant, he had a bad drinking problem and evidently, he unfortunately had started drinking at a very early age and of course it just doesn't get better, it gets worse. So finally my mother told him to get out, you know she, I mean she did that long suffering kind of thing, and I think it got to a point finally where she just had to say kick him out. So for seven years we didn't have a father, and my mother was our sole, I mean she took care of us, she found work 00:18:00and basically raised the four of us and paid the house off and took in laundry from the neighbors, we did all kinds of things to make extra money to basically pay the bills and maybe even go to a movie once in a while. And then interestingly enough unbeknownst to me at the time, he contacted her, so this would've been when I was about 14, about seven years later, about getting a divorce, and so then they started having some kind of conversation remotely I think because he wasn't there, he was up here, actually. And then some strange thing happened so in the process of discussing getting a divorce, they decided to get back together again. [AG: Oh.] Yeah. And so couple things happened: my 00:19:00mom came to me, because I was the eldest and as far as she was concerned I had the most investment there in terms of friendships and school and stuff and asked my permission, which I thought was really strange you know and then and well not necessarily get back together again but about moving I think she was committed to getting back together again, but the idea that we would move to start a new life somewhere else was big, was big, 'cause we had basically never been out of Corpus Christi other than that initial travel when I was a child, but once we landed in Corpus, we been there you know 7 years was my life and so I said yes, and I think I really didn't know anything about Oregon. I remember telling my friends, they didn't know anything about Oregon, nobody knew Oregon existed and 00:20:00we should have we're not stupid but it's kind of like... but I thought at the time and I do recall that it was for my mom and I loved my mom and that was gonna make her happy then we would do it so we piled the entire family, my four-my three sisters, my mother and my father, in a Ford Falcon [AG: wow] everything that we brought up was in that ford falcon and in the truck, and yeah that was it. Everything else we got rid of. We kept the house, but we rented it and I think my aunt took care of managing that for a while and then everything else just kind of went away, and then drove up, [AG: long drive] through new Mexico, we actually stopped in, I think it was in Albuquerque my father had a 00:21:00friend there from his soldiering days and we stayed with them, they were actually pretty close-or was that El Paso? I don't remember, it was El Paso, and then we stopped in New Mexico, I think, and then we came up I-5 all the way up to Portland and then settled in our new home.

AG: Wow.

JG: Yeah.

AG: A long journey.

JG: I know, I know, I know.

AG: So once you were here, you attend college here in Oregon...?

JG: Well I was here at the age of 15 so it was in my-here the high schools were four years, down there they were three years, so I started in my sophomore year at Benson Polytechnic over here on 12th, which at that time was an all-boys school, so add that on top of everything else so you go from like a cultural thing, then to go to an all-boys school and you know I'd been going to school 00:22:00with girls all my life, so it was kind of like what the hell are we doing here? My father was really excited about it, you know, he was like "Gotta go to Benson, gotta go to Benson, gotta go to Benson" and at the time I had no idea what I was doing, I was just trying to make people happy and try to figure things out. And feeling really lost, I mean, I think, I once described this in an article that was done on me, and I said I feel like I spent almost half the year in my bedroom that first year because I was just like, it was just so strange outside. The neighborhood was strange, the people were strange, the houses were strange, and you know I was just in culture shock. I've always been somewhat of a private person, so obviously that wasn't an issue, but yeah, it took a little bit to adjust.

AG: And then once you graduated high school, did you stay here?

JG: No, I graduated in 1970 and then I went to University of Santa Clara.


AG: Is that in California?

JG: Yeah Northern California.

AG: And so then can you tell me a little bit about your college experience?

JG: Yeah it was an interesting thing because I was looking at a lot of different schools at that time. I was, I guess what you would call one of the top tier students. I had a GPA of 3.75, and good SAT scores so, and I was definitely motivated to go to college, it wasn't sort of an afterthought, it was sort of like something that I had been thinking about for many years, so I was looking locally at Willamette University, and Oregon State, which is a state school, and I think that time we were big fans of the Beavers and stuff. And then nationally a couple of Ivy League schools, and then one day that senior, or was it junior 00:24:00year I think it was, was a very active year for campus recruiters, they would come up, and I thought it was a great way to get out of class (laughs) so I went to this kind of a recruitment session for Santa Clara, and I didn't really think anything about it, it was, you know they gave us information about the school and talked about it and there was maybe a handful of us there and they asked some questions and that's all I remember, I don't remember anything, but the recruiter was really active about getting in touch with me afterwards and I hadn't thought about it, that I was probably a sprinkling of Latino students statewide that were, I think I was considered to be an Oregon scholar, I got 00:25:00some sort of certificate for being an Oregon scholar, I don't what I did for it, but I guess it was just getting good grades. So he was very active about recruiting me to go to Santa Clara, and so they offered me a full ride, at least for the first year, not for all four years, but basically at that time I think when I graduated from college, I owed, I had a loan of $1500 which was money actually I borrowed so I could have spending money in Europe, so I could've been 0 when I got out of there, and of course considering what kind of commitments young people have now today was a drop in the bucket. I think I got rid of it in a couple years. It was nothing, but again it was just spending money. So I got scholarships and I got work study and I did a variety of things and I had a little bit of money I think from the GI bill that helped, yeah, I think I had 00:26:00that, so that also helped pay for some expenses, so I didn't really have any issues with money from the school. But it was really kind of, how do you call it when somebody was actively wanting you to go to school and then offering you a really generous scholarship and support to do that, and it was a Jesuit school, it was a private school, high quality education. It was hard to turn down, and then I found also great, you know it's one thing to go an hour away from home, it's another thing to go an hour and a half, it's another to go like a whole day away from home, at least driving-wise so I felt good about going that far, even though it was a challenge, because that was the year I graduated and my father 00:27:00passed away, and so then I was leaving my mom and my sisters up here by themselves but you know.

AG: What did you study?

JG: Initially in the first couple years, was undeclared, so I was confused (laughs). I didn't really care you know I mean I think that initially I was, I really hadn't, didn't have a career mindset, I sort of thought about either going maybe into law or engineering, something like that, but the opportunity to not have to make a decision in the first two years, so basically you spent most of that time getting your requirements out of the way was really great so I didn't have that pressure that boom I have to do this so I can get a job. In the 00:28:00second year, or at the conclusion of the second year, the university offered a unique opportunity to design your own major and so the theory behind that was that university were traditionally, going back obviously, were places of learning and knowledge and becoming better human beings, not about going to get a job, and I liked that, I liked that idea that you could be there just to be better informed and a better person and you didn't have to like "Ah I gotta get an engineering degree or a law degree." So I designed my own major and my primary focus during that time was on philosophy, psychology, and art history. 00:29:00And so I basically cherry-picked all the classes I was interested in and put 'em in a bundle and wrote up a case for them and they granted it to me. So I think I was one of the first students in the university to design their own major and graduate with unfortunately what is called General Humanities degree, but actually now that I think about it it's pretty neat, pretty neat. Yeah.

AG: So you went to Vienna for a whole year?

JG: Junior yeah.

AG: Were you studying there?

JG: Actually the same thing, but more of an emphasis on philosophy and art history. Little less on psychology even thought that was the home of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. I did study those, and actually I have a library of Carl Jung's complete works, and read Freud and then a few other psychologists along 00:30:00the time, because they kind of mingle things a little bit, you know Carl Jung is-you know he was a student of Freud so there's definite his-how do you call it-definite early stage understanding of human psychology, but that was also impacted to considerable extent by the-how do you call it-not so much the philosophy, but the cultural and almost like the DNA part of you and me, he was talking about the collective unconsciousness, and stereotypes, and different things like that, he was blending in what was at that time was a very common practice which was to be in exploration of our world beyond our sort of white, Eurocentric ideas and to incorporate Middle Eastern, Eastern ways of thinking and philosophy, and Carl Jung was really good about doing that, he was pulling from everything, and then of course one of them was Joseph Campbell, who took 00:31:00that to another level as he began to explore mythology, collective unconscious and archetypes and other things in our current world, so anyway I was kind of into all of that stuff.

AG: What was it like being out of the country?

JG: God, it was pretty cool, pretty cool, yeah we were all like, what the fuck is going on here? (laughs) sorry don't quote that, you know like whoa, I think with all, I don't know if there wasn't exceptions, all of us we came from all over the country, you know east coast west coast, central, south, most of us had never been outside the country before and even the time that I spent as a child in Europe I don't remember hardly, I don't remember anything honestly. You know I can see pictures, and I can manufacture memory, but realistically I don't 00:32:00remember anything, so I think we were all walking around with eyeballs you know the size of our heads because like what the hell was this? But it was great. It was really great. You know all that exposure it was sobering in so many ways, sobering to see how limited we were in terms of our exposure, but not universally, there were some students coming from obviously better circumstances than me, or communities where the cultural landscape was much richer, but there were a few like me who grew up in poverty, never saw a play, never went to a concert, and Benson was a technical school and we never did anything like that. 00:33:00And so we were exposed to things for the first time. Like I saw my first play there; I saw my first opera there. I met playwrights. I encountered the world of philosophy and I learned a lot more about our cultural history. I studied philosophy of the east there interestingly enough, Buddhism, Tao, other things like that, and then of course I traveled all through Europe and every time you crossed the border it was like another, well it is, but it was like another country, so Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland, England, and then traveling to Turkey and Iran and Afghanistan, again you know you had all of these incredible 00:34:00cultural encounters, the people, the places, the art, you name it.

AG: Is that part of how you got involved in the arts?

JG: (Laughs) Yes. Very clever. (laughs)

AG: Can you tell me a little bit about your pathway to arriving-I know this is fast forwarding through kind of a lot, but I want to make sure we touch on-

JG: You sure this is going to be documented? Ok I'll have to go in and...You know I've told these stories before, so it's not a secret. It seems, sometimes it seems like it doesn't make any sense because I think we're so geared to make a decision, you do this and then you do that, and I think the real story is that life often makes the decision for us, but are we willing to follow it or not? So I mentioned the fact that one of the things that I encountered was the study of 00:35:00Asian I would say philosophy, and [greets someone walking in the room, makes sure she is okay carrying a load of laundry for the show] so anyway, that was one of the-probably the most fascinating class that I ever had in any university setting and it was taught by Arnold Kaiserly who actually was a count, whose father was Count Herman Kaiserly, and he was a philosopher, and he really 00:36:00studied both traditional philosophy and there's another word...esoteric philosophy and I think that probably the esoteric was really fascinating to us but also that period of time in the 70s and late 60s was when we were really rediscovering the world around us, and that was the time when people were suddenly discovering yoga and Zen and meditation and Confucius and Lao Tzu and all these influences that before that we didn't know about, you know we were very western-oriented and suddenly this whole universe of thought and expression and new religions was being opened to us as well as new cultures so I remember my roommate and I, George, we, I think we had class like one day a week, it was three hours long, and we would just tank up on espresso, and I would go into that class like BZZZZ and we would, I would literally write down every word he 00:37:00said, and I still have the books, I still have all of the notes that I took of all of the, it was just amazing, so anyway, one day his wife, who was a yoga practitioner, Wilhelmina, for some reason I can't remember why, we did a class or a session at their home, somewhere in inner-Vienna, and I remember going over there, I couldn't find it if my life depended on it now and what she was gonna do was she was gonna cast our horoscopes, 'cause that's also something she did, she was an astrologer and of course she was like a perfect partner to her husband. They were into all of that, you know. And so she did everybody's natal horoscope, and then in the session there proceeded to read it to each one of us. Not in depth but at least give us some highlights, and the thing that when they 00:38:00came to this section, the period where your profession is identified, she said to me: you will succeed in a profession either as a banker or a theatre artist, or the banking or the theatre, and I remember going like what? I said so banking was completely anti-establishment, you know like forget it that's not gonna happen, and actually economics was the only class I ever got a C in, and so I said obviously that's not it, that's not for me. The theatre, I had seen my first play that year, and interestingly enough my first play was William Shakespeare's Coriolanus at Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of William Shakespeare, and I'm going like uh, that was it, you know. And I mean I'd seen a few things subsequent, but I never thought it was a career move or anything like that, but the idea fascinated me. Banking? Pshh, out the window, not even, it's 00:39:00just not-it's too establishment for me. But the theatre kept you know intriguing me, I read Shakespeare, I read Tennessee Williams, you know, so when I came back to the states, the idea continued to nag me, but I also had to find a job and so one of the thoughts that I had, so I must have done the telephone thing before that... yeah I think I did because when I came back to the states after that I said well I have to find a job and my roommate at the time, who we went to high school at the time, his father was a boiler maker, which is the welder's union nowadays and I had done some welding in high school, as part of my studies at 00:40:00Benson because it was a polytechnic school and so he said well we're gonna send you out to try out for a job on the shipyards. I said okay, so I went out to the shipyards and they gave me like a welding test, and I failed it pretty bad (laughs) they were laughing, and I was like daaamn, why did you do this to me? I hadn't welded in years so I was like obviously very rusty and I came back and I told Mr. Becker and I said you know I failed the test, I'm totally embarrassed and he says, (imitates voice) "arggh like don't worry about it, we'll send you out for another one, you'll get a job," and I thought about it and I thought you know he will do that, he will do that, 'cause these are the old guys and they'll get me into the union whether I'm any good or not, and I thought I'm gonna go down to the theatre and ask them for a job. And I did.

AG: Which theatre?

JG: I went down to, it's no longer in existence, it was the Portland Civic 00:41:00Theatre. It was over on the westside, close to the stadium. It was the oldest community theatre west of the Mississippi by that time it was like over 50 years old, and it had two performing spaces, a traditional proscenium house, sat I think around 300 people, and then a small theatre in the round, like around 100 capacity I think there was, and so I just walked in one day and told them I wanted a job and they all kind of laughed at me and said you know we don't have a job but if you'd like to volunteer, the guys in the scene shop can use some help, I said sure and so I went down, introduced myself to them and they put me to work, and boom you know first day was just great, I mean they were showing me how to saw things and measure and not kill myself and all that kind of stuff and I kept going back each day and it seemed like every day I would come in and say 00:42:00I'm looking for a job and they would say we don't have any, ok let's go to work, and then I started, I worked on some shows or worked on a show and two weeks going down there every day, working day and night, at the end of two weeks everybody quit and they came and asked me if I wanted a job.

AG: Do you know why they quit?

JG: I think they were burned out. It's a hard profession. It takes a lot out of you. I remember when I saw the people there, they all looked grey you know, like all like prisoners because they'd been down in the basement and never saw the light of day and but it was yeah, yeah I had no reference for that, but they all quit, the whole technical crew, so they sat me down and said would you like a job? And I went like what do you think I've been saying? (laughs)

AG: So that was like your first job in the theatre field.

JG: But I think that first day that I was there, I knew that was the place I was 00:43:00supposed to be and that was following that idea about the theatre as a profession.

AG: The stars told you.

JG: I think so.

AG: That's incredible.

JG: Yeah.

AG: So how did you arrive here at Milagro?

JG: Well you know I'd been in the business since that time, started I think in September of 1975 and for I think a period of about six months thought I would quit the theatre and do something useful with my life, but that didn't work out. So I went back to the theatre, and, and basically I haven't turned back since so...after I did the Portland Civic for about 15 months of just nonstop theatre, I think I did over 25 productions that year both at the Civic and in other 00:44:00theatre companies around town, so basically I was trying everything and anything and I played-I mean I was carpenter, I designed shows, I did lighting, I ran shows, I even acted in shows. So basically I was just like, dived into it. And I was single, I didn't have to worry about anything other than being able to pay my rent. I was making $300 a month, which was a huge amount for me, I didn't care, and that covered my apartment and yeah, you know. So any case after 15 months I was pretty close to being burned out and I decided to take a trip to Mexico, it was with a girlfriend at the time and we went down to Mexico then came back to Wisconsin, where she was from basically to leave her there, you 00:45:00know, got a bus ticket, and my mom had wisely contacted me while I was in Wisconsin and said you know our house in Texas needs a lot of work can you take care of that and I think she knew what was happening and I thought it was a great opportunity to get out of dodge, you know, leave her behind, start anew, so I jumped on it. Next day I was on a bus down to Texas, and my house was a mess, our family home, because I had all these skills I had developed in the theatre about building and stuff, I spent a lot of time rebuilding the house, and I was hanging out on the beach, and hanging out with my friends and family and I would do this thing where, one of the first things I did with the house was tear out the kitchen entirely so I couldn't cook, so that meant I had to go 00:46:00visit my family every night. [AG: Haha, oh darn.] Every time you know "oh quieres comida? Ya mira está" or whatever I was definitely not starving (laughs) and then my aunt interestingly enough one of my aunts kept saying, there's a theatre down there, there's a theatre over there you should go check it out, there's a theatre over there, check it out, and I was like no I'm done with that you know I'm just gonna sit at home, do yoga, do translating, you know. I was translating manuscripts from German to English so I'm gonna do that and then I don't know one day I said ah shit I'll just go check it out, so I went down there, and I kind of saw this guy, he was like, he looked like the guys that all quit two weeks later he's like kahh, all burnt out, all all, and I said you know I've done a little bit of theatre, can, you know do you need some 00:47:00help? He said yeah, sure, you know, and so I built a few things for them, for him, you know that was it just like a day, I built some step units and other things like that and then I went home and I guess I must have given them my contact information because like literally that afternoon or the next day they called me and asked me if I could come in and talk and I was like ok you know I was, I think I was tired of being a bum because basically I was a bum, I didn't have a job, and I was living off of savings, and I went in there and they said we'd like to offer you the job of being Technical Director here and I said what about the other guy, and they said as soon as you came in here he quit (laughs) and I went like oh god, history repeats itself. So anyway, I spent five years there, and then ultimately decided to go to graduate school, and I applied to 00:48:00three schools across the country and got accepted to all of them and that was North Carolina, Carnegie Mellon, and UCLA. I decided on UCLA mainly because it had a strong industry presence, also it was on the west coast so it was closer to my family and I think that Carnegie Mellon really came in late so basically I just had to make a decision, so that would've been more interesting to me because they were really specialized in scenic design there.

AG: Is that what you were studying?

JG: Yeah that's what I was doing. You know so I had done a little design when I was in Portland, but there I had my own house, I had like a 42-foot proscenium theatre, 500-seat house, I have you know line sets and I installed additional 00:49:00line sets so I could fly scenery in, I had a real scene shop on the same level of the stage, so and the whole point of Civic, we built everything in the basement and had to carry it upstairs, kind of like we have to do here, but there it was just boom, wheel it around the corner and we're there, and you know, so I actively started designing and basically was the resident designer so I designed all the shows there.


JG: No, no in Texas, but that was what led me to sort of enhance my understanding of design and that's what I went to UCLA for.

AG: So it an MFA?

JG: Mhm, yeah, MFA program and, but, well I don't want to disparage them but they didn't have a really great design program for my, now that I'm out of here, but you know I got to do a lot of stuff. And I think it was more of a practicum 00:50:00than actually a study. But you know we did things that I think certainly benefit. In any case, that's where I met my wife, my wife, Dañel. And so I graduated, and after I graduated, we decided to move up to Portland and when we came up to Portland, we said what the hell do we do, there's no work here, we did find work with some of the local companies, but there was really a small number, and of course we, even though I had long had a footprint here 'cause I came up every year to visit my family, and I hung out with the theatre people and I did little projects while I was up her, it still was not the same as living here, and so when we came up here we picked up a job at Portland Civic or picked up a job at Willamette Repertory or you know something at Jefferson High School, or something like that so we were piecing together parts of it. And then 00:51:00one day we said we need to do something different and one of my friends said why don't we start a theatre company? (laughs) and we did! And...

AG:-what year was that?

JG: It was 198- well we started in '84, and officially I always date us to '84 because that's when we had the idea and that's when we selected the show and we started the preparations and we opened I believe it was in January of '85, or pretty soon afterwards, and then I don't know what happened but before you knew it we were, we didn't really have any money so it was like hand to mouth in a sense. That first show we produced we took all of our savings and basically used that to fund the project 'cause nobody knew who we were and nobody was gonna give us money, and we actually made a little bit of money off of that, which is, I tell people that's the last time I made any money off the theatre. But it 00:52:00started us on a different track because we were both designers and we had to shift to be producers in that process and I guess, well I don't really know I don't think we really knew what we were doing half the time because we were trying to figure it out, we weren't, we weren't educated to be producers and I don't think there were a lot, there was a lot of instruction in the universities for that. Most of the instruction was like set design or building or performing or directing, but the idea that theatre as an administrative activity or business activity hadn't really, I think developed at that time, or not developed as extensively as it is now. So we were learning a lot of stuff, you know how to do marketing, how to manage rehearsals, how to do box office, how to 00:53:00write grants, how to maintain financial records, pay people, do contracts, the whole nine yards. But suddenly I mean people were asking us to produce their projects and we were producing our own and at the same time we were constantly having to work on side jobs to keep the family together, pay for our house and all those kinds of things, raise our kids, and that was the genesis of Milagro. At that time we didn't call it that. The first I think six months we had the notion somehow we could do it as a private company. That quickly evaporated, you know, we realized that we'd never make enough money to pay that and we needed to have the 501(c)(3), the non-profit status to be able to receive donations and grants, so I think I did the paperwork for that in the spring of '85 and then we 00:54:00received official classification as a 501(c)(3) somewhere in September about '85 and that, when we did the non-profit we changed the name from what it had been and we landed on the Miracle Theatre Group at that time. And I tell people we didn't originally create ourselves as a Latino arts organization. We were just a bunch of kids trying to stay alive in the theatre and do what we did and we really didn't know what the path was, I'll be honest with you I didn't, I don't think it was until I did the nonprofit status that I got serious about this being for the long-term, you know, and at that point that still didn't, I still didn't understand what that meant in terms of commitment, in terms of resources, in terms of body of work, all that kind of stuff. But that's when we started 00:55:00asking those questions, and a few years later, we determined to follow our roots, and actually that came from a friend of ours who was a board member, who was not Latino, I remember one day in the meeting he just said, you should be a Latino theatre company, miracle should be a Latino theatre company, and I thought that was crazy, but the more and more I thought about it, that's more and more where my heart was. And it was very much about getting back to my roots and exploring this territory I thought I knew, but honestly every day I'm finding out new things and there's new worlds, I mean it's amazing. So, and then a list...

AG: So we're approaching the end here. I don't want to take up too much of your time, but I do want to ask-

JG:-thank you for being conscious of that

AG: I mean I have a million other questions but


JG: I'm sure

AG: But I just, I want to know what does Milagro now, looking back, it's been what almost 35-40 years since...

JG: Well we're in our 36th season yeah so yeah

AG: So what does this mean to the community now to have this space as a Latino theatre?

JG: Well that's a good question 'cause I think you know I do think that one of the strengths of the organization, if you can contemplate it that way, is its adaptability and resilience and I think that's also part of what, something that should be fundamental to any creative experience or creative inquiry is not having answers, asking questions and looking for paths, looking for, and trying 00:57:00things that maybe they fail and trying things that maybe they're successes, so I think we're still, I still feel that the organization is evolving, that everything we've done is a basis for moving forward, but there may be new things that we need to discover. So one of the things I'm trying to push more on is sort of the sense that we're more than just a theatre company, we're more than just about producing plays, we're also a beacon and a resource for arts, culture, and history. And so I think as we look at maybe the next stage, is that we are pushing heavier to explore what that means in terms of how we connect 00:58:00with community, what kind of programming we do, what is, how does the facility support that differing kind of activity, what kind of changes or adjustments we make, like this area right here was totally designed to basically address that idea in a way, we call it the Zocalo and for me that means the center of where things happen, and it is inspired so much by the Zocalo in Mexico City where so many different activities, you can have political protests, you can have art exhibitions, you can have people sitting in the corner drinking a soda, or singing or dancing or nothing at all, and I wanted to sort of have that place, where people could congregate and do a lot of different stuff. And I think this place is fulfilling that idea. We have more activity here, now that we can 00:59:00handle it pretty much. [Phone rings; spam call] yeah but uh so that, I think that's where we're going and I think that's also, even though we may form the ideas individually, to be complete they need more participation so part of what we're doing is we've already outlined a strategic plan that incorporates that thinking and now we're going to deepen that to look to see what kinds of actions and goals that we want to reach for in terms of accomplishing that vision.


AG: Is Milagro the only Latino theatre in Portland or are there others?

JG: I think so, I think it-it depends on how you define only, I mean I think there was a small company up in Seattle that formed probably in the last 5 or 10 years that does shows occasionally. They don't have their own home, and I don't think they have what you would describe as a season, but you know they're legit in that respect as if you know, but I think when we look at, the word can be used in different ways, you can have the, what I unfortunately call, the fly-by nights, you know, which I kind of love because that describes our early existence, where we could've been here today and gone tomorrow kind of thing, 01:01:00that's how precarious the whole thing is, and then you have the more established organizations that have a lot of years behind them. They have staff, they have facilities, or at least a track record, so along that route there's a lot of, what do you call theatre? Is it a company that opens up in a garage and does one show or is it the company that's been around for forty years and has had, impacted thousands and thousands of people and stuff. So I think what we do, I do to be kind of safe is I just talk about us as being the Northwest premiere Latino arts and cultural organization and don't worry about who's first or second.

AG: Absolutely well I think we'll leave it there.

JG: Okay.