In this interview, Schofield describes growing up in the multiracial community in Mexicantown. She discusses the activities done within the neighborhood, friends and neighbors in the neighborhood, and what stores, housing, and schools within that neighborhood were like.
Note: I had given the interviewee the questions prior to the interview. She followed the questions and I did not speak, as I did not want to interrupt her train of thought. Thus, why I only spoke at the very beginning and the rest is her speaking
Note: I had given the interviewee the questions prior to the interview. She followed the questions and I did not speak, as I did not want to interrupt her train of thought. Thus, why I only spoke at the very beginning and the rest is her speaking
Detroit Historical Society
Detroit Historical Society
Rosemary (Solano) Schofield was born in 1944 and grew up in parts of Corktown and Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit. She is Catholic and Mexican American. She currently lives in Livonia, Michigan.
Matthias Reed: Okay, so where and when were you born? Rosemary Schofield: I was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1944, December 5th. …I grew up in Southwest Detroit my whole life. I first grew up on, we lived on Porter Street in Detroit. There was a couple of sets of apartment buildings, and …my mom and dad had immigrated, or migrated up from Texas to …Detroit, Michigan and were married and… started a family. And we lived there until I was about seven… about six years old. And, at that time there were a lotta kids in that apartment building. And there was a big empty lot next door that had a hill on it. And we would go out and play on the hill when… I was little. And the kids would roll down the hill like kids always do. And it was a very mixed neighborhood, even at that point. And I remember that from my childhood; there were a lot of every… nationality under the sun was in …lived in that apartment building. We moved from there when I was about seven years old. And we moved to Fifteenth Street in Detroit, which was a few blocks west of … Porter Street where our, the apartment building was. And we moved to a little… home that my dad rented at the time. And again, it was a very mixed neighborhood, although there were more Hispanics in this neighborhood… there was also a mix of Irish people and African American people… but primarily Mexican people. And we all… but the entire neighborhood, the really good thing about it was that we, we were all good friends, and we remain good friends to this day, which I’ll talk more about later. But… we lived in an area where there were… there was a family down the street that I believe were Maltese; the Lemus family. And they had, their father raised… German Shepherds. He actually breeded them. I never went to that house cause they scared the begeebies out of me. …Across the street were Margie and… the whole Villegas family lived across the street. The Munoz family lived right next door to where my… mom and dad lived at. And then there were some Southern people that lived over on the corner. And there was a big empty lot between some of the houses, where the boys would all go out and play baseball, because at that time girls were traditionally not allowed to go out and play baseball or things of that sort. And then at nighttime, the boys from the neighborhood would all get together and they would play kick the can out in the… street. And I still remember that, I vividly remember that because I had a lot of brothers, I had, all total, nine; or, ten brothers. But, it was so cool because they would all… all… [Interruption] RS: I was talking about the boys being outside playing kick the, kick the can… and… I could be on the front porch watching them play kick the can. But… our house… on Fifteenth Street, we had an old… I guess you would call it, like a potbellied stove. It wasn’t what we cooked on, but we heated the living room, the kitchen, the living room with that potbellied stove on wood and coal. Our stove though, was the old-fashioned kind of stove, with the pipe that went up and in, out [inaudible] vented to the outside. And then, I remember my mom being really excited when she finally got a good stove, because my mom was a great cook, she loved to cook. She made tortillas, and beans and she was a wonderful cook, and, and, taught us the value of cooking as well. My dad was a, a steelworker. He worked at… Great Lakes Steel on Zug Island, and he worked there for thirty-three years. He was a very hard worker; long, long hours. …Very strong work ethic for both of my parents, although my mother worked at home, of course, because we had so many children in the family. …Mr. Munoz, who lived next door to us on Fifteenth Street, where we lived at, was very religious. And he wanted to make sure that we went to Catholic school. Well he, reintroduced my mom to church, and so she started going to Ste. Anne’s… for Mass. And then my father started going sometimes to Ste. Anne’s for Mass when he wasn’t working. Mr. Munoz at that time decided that he was going to pay for us to go to Ste. Anne’s Catholic School, which was very inexpensive at the time, it was like, ten dollars a, a child. So, he paid for that for a while until I got in high school and I started working, and then I started paying my own way through… Ste. Anne’s. And they would let me pay whatever amount of money I could pay until by the end of the school year I would have the entire thing paid. … It was incredibly, as I said before, an integrated neighborhood. It was… it was just, we were… it was just a place where you could just love being with the people that you were with. My, one of my best friends, Esther Martinez, who’s still one of my best friends to this day, has the same birthday as me, and she lived two doors down from me. And we would sit on her front porch and just talk and laugh; and she went to school with me, and she remains just as good a friend today as she was back then. …Other friends from the neighborhood: Salome Alvarado and… Kathy Haggerty, Jenny Haggerty, and “Boots,” her name was Carol Agius, we used to call her “Boots.” She was a very good friend also, and they all still remain really good friends, all of us to this day. …After we moved from Fifteenth Street, we moved to Sixteenth Street, which was only a block away and then a block over to the… to the north of where we lived at, but just only a block away. The interesting, one of the interesting things about that neighborhood was that there was a bar on every corner. And my understanding of that was that, that was related to when people came to Detroit to work in the steel mills and in the auto companies, um during the war, where, when they were producing of course, things… for the war, not for… autos. But… these men traditionally went to these bars. And I still remember the names of a couple them, one was the … “White Elephant,” one was the “Green Dot.” … I don’t remember the other two, but there was a bar on every corner. And then there was a little store on the, it was right on Howard Street, and it was called “Woody’s,” was the name of the store. And it actually had a wooden floor and it had wooden cupboards in it, and I still remember to this day, where you would pull the cupboards aside when they were gonna get something out, they would pull these old-fashioned cupboards aside to get whatever it is that you were ordering from them. …And I don’t remember the names of the storekeepers there, but it was, I can still vividly picture that store in my mind. It was… it was just something that you could picture from back in the old days… We lived on Sixteenth Street, that was more integrated than Fifteenth Street was. We had black neighbors, African American neighbors on either side of us. We lived in the middle of the block and it was a small house. And the man that lived in part of our house on Fifteenth Street, actually moved to Sixteenth Street with us. And he lived in the back part of the house, and he was an immigrant, he was a Greek immigrant. And… lived by himself, never bothered anybody, and he stayed there in that house for the longest time, and then ultimately, he moved, I don’t know where he moved to… Didn’t speak to anybody; but he was a nice, nice older man. And… when we lived on Sixteenth Street there were, we had a lot of children in the family by that point. And it was basically, the rules were the same, the boys could go out and play and the girls stayed in the house; well, I was the only girl at the time… and did the things girls were supposed to do at the time: wash clothes, take care of the babies, that kind of thing. …But it was, it was natural so it wasn’t like it was anything that was forced, you just did those things. My mom still cooked a lot, in fact there was no such thing as eating out. We would always have dinners at home, and it would be tortillas, and beans, and potatoes, and really good food, because it was… that’s what you did, that was just the Mexican culture at that time. The… black lady that lived to the right of us on Fifteenth [Sixteenth] Street was …kind of notorious for her reputation. The black family that lived to the left of us on Fifteenth [Sixteenth] Street, they worked in the auto companies, and… the… I don’t know where the woman worked at, but I know they worked too, but the men worked in the auto companies. But again, everybody was just friends with everybody, there was no hostility, and we were basically all in the same boat, nobody had a lot of anything. So… you just kind of learned to just, you didn’t learn… you just, that was the neighborhood. One of the things that I remember about Sixteenth Street specifically is people running numbers. And they would run the numbers from house to house and you’d hear them up and down the street running the numbers, and they did this every day! And it was kinda like the lotto, but it was way before the lotto time, and that’s just what they did they ran the numbers, and you just got used to hearing that going on. And then, across the street from us there lived some people from the South. And then there were some more Mexican families there, and then down the street lived Carol Agius and her whole family, and… they used to, there was… well, I’ll get to that other story in a minute. But, down the street from us on Sixteenth Street, when they would have funerals, they would do the wakes in the home. And so, you would hear this, the singing and the wailing, and mostly singing, and it would go on for hours and hours and all night and all day, and I still remember that vividly to this day. My girl friend Kathy Haggerty who lived behind me on Six…she lived on Fifteenth and I lived on Sixteenth and there was an alley separating our homes. And her father had a, he was a mortician. And he actually had a funeral home in their home. And so, the front room of the, their home was actually the funeral room and they would have… they had the big wooden doors that would slide together that would separate the funeral room from the rest of the home. And again, it was something that just happened naturally, people didn’t think about it, they just knew that at the Haggerty house there was a funeral home. And the… their grandmother, my friend Kathy’s grandmother who was from Ireland lived in the home with them. So… it was just a natural progression of generations living together. Kathy and I have been close friends and remain close, close friends to this day. …She lives in Florida now, and I live up here in Detroit still, or in the Detroit area still yet. … Carol Agius, the girl that lived down the street, the one that we called “Boots,” one of the things I remember about her is that she was an outstanding dancer. She could dance the “Chicken” better than anybody I know. [laughs] She was good. But…and of course we, many of us went to Ste. Anne’s school, which was right down Howard Street and over to… over a couple of blocks. And it was a school that was affiliated with the church, Ste. Anne’s church that we all went to. And I went there until my, until the tenth grade. And then at the end of the tenth grade, they had to close the school because the third floor was falling in. It has since been repaired, but at that time [chuckling] it was falling in. So… I remember a lot of the names from there: there was Dee Johnson, and Mary Rose Ketler, and… Carol… oh gosh, I can’t remember the other Carol’s last name. Mary Margaret Cormere… Kathy and Jenny Haggerty went to school with me there; Erlin Madrigal, Ruben Flores. So many names of people that… I still that I still know to this day. … I worked when I was in… We moved from Sixteenth Street to Seventeenth Street…This is what did you do for fun… I’m sorry, I digressed. When we went, when I went to Ste. Anne’s, I was on the basketball team. And I’m very short, I’m only five-one, but… so was everybody else on the team [laughs]. And..., we just had fun. It was in the old-fashioned days when girls played, that was basically the only sport girls played at that time in that neighborhood. There wasn’t baseball teams or hockey teams or anything. But… we had fun with just the basketball. And… we would… it would be basketball practice a couple times a week after school and then I’d go home and I would do the things I that I traditionally did. Give the, my brothers and sisters their baths, make sure that… that they were well taken care of. My mom was always a wonderful mother, so, I just helped her with all of these things. … Changed diapers, fed them, whatever needed to be done. … My dad continued to work at Great Lakes Steel. He actually, I’m very proud of him for this, was able to, in spite of working the long hours, and… having this huge family, he managed to educate himself enough to go to…get his certification and become an electrician. Now mind you, my dad and my mom had both been cotton pickers in Texas. And so, for him to achieve that was a huge thing. And he became very politically involved, which I was very proud of him for that as well, because he… knew the importance of being politically involved in order to make changes that had to be… that had to be done. He was very involved in the steelworker’s union, in fact he was a union representative for many years. … Once he became an electrician, he stayed at Zug Island, but then he was working in a much cleaner job. He would come home from work, he would just be covered with soot from head to toe… from all the black soot from the blast furnaces where he worked at originally. So, once he got in to become an electrician, the whole thing… not the whole thing changed, but things got better. We then moved to Seventeenth Street when he got this better position, and we lived upstairs from a barbershop where I used to take my brothers to, to get their haircuts when they were little. Again, keeping in mind that at that time when you were seven, eight, nine years old; ten years old, you assumed a lot of responsibilities as a, the oldest girl, that children today would never experience, but we did it… and again it wasn’t a question, you didn’t think about it, you just did what had to be done. And… so I would take them there for their haircuts. Well, as luck would have it, we moved upstairs and by then the barbershop had closed, because Sam had moved, had retired. So that room was empty and then there were four bedrooms in the flat upstairs. And… it was cold up there because we had only one space heater and it was in the dining room. But during the day it would be warm because my mom would always cook and so we’d have beans and tortillas, and it was always warm in the kitchen and which then transferred to parts of the… some of the parts of the other house. We had a lot of children at that point. We had, there were fourteen of us, at that, by that time. But when I became a senior in high school, and at… well, I left Ste. Anne’s when they closed, I went over to St. Vincent’s. Well, St. Vincent was quite a few blocks away over at Fourteenth and Michigan. So, my friend Kathy and I would walk together across the Fourteenth Street bridge to get over to, down Bagley Street and then over to Fourteenth Street to get to school. And we would rush every morning, cause we were both late every morning. So, we’d end up not being late, but we’d make it there by the skin of our teeth. And… we’d always have such fun. And then we both got a job at the dime store on Bagley… I think we started out making thirty-five cents an hour, which was kind of funny. So, and again we still played basketball in high school, so we would, you know, go to work and then go home and do our homework, and then I would of course help mom with giving the kids a bath and making sure that things were done, folding clothes, helping with washing clothes, whatever needed to be done. And then I would go… I would work, and then Kathy and I always had to work on Saturdays. And… we would still be, when we belonged to the basketball team, we would still play, but not, we weren’t as free to go to practice as, so we didn’t play for too much longer. Then… when I was in high school, I actually was, I actually became a salutatorian of my senior year, don’t ask… it was, I loved school, and I learned, and I loved to learn, I still love to learn. I was really good in the sciences, so… math and… chemistry and biology… and… geez what was the other… physics, I just excelled in all of those. And the nuns at that school were really tough, but they taught us very well. And again, I made a lot of friends at that school, and that was again another huge multicultural experience because there were tons of Maltese people at that school. So, when I was in my junior and senior year in high school, there were Maltese people, Mexican people, Italian people, Southern people… Syrian people, black people. There was, it was the most wonderful learning environment anybody could ask for. I don’t think, I don’t know if you could even replicate that today. And again, we were all friends, nobody was any better than anybody else. There really weren’t any cliques because the school was so small… we just, everybody was just friends. And we had a clubhouse that was next to the school, they called it the “Clubhouse”; it was part of St. Vincent’s, just a separate building, but right next to the school. And on Friday nights they would have dances there. So, as long as I got my stuff done at home, I could go to the dances. Me and Kathy would walk over and go to the dances at the “Clubhouse” on Friday nights. And I would dance and dance and dance and dance… I loved to dance, I still love to dance. And in fact, when I was at Ste. Anne’s, I forgot that; we would go to the… they also had CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] dances on Friday nights. But then when it closed, of course, it was ended. And we would, again, everybody would go there, and everybody would dance. And you didn’t dance with anybody in particular, you just, everybody got on the dance floor and danced, so it was fun. …Where did we go shopping? Kathy and I would walk Downtown to… that Woodward Avenue. And nobody had extra cars in that day, there was no such thing, so we walked a lot. And we took the bus. So, we would go walking down to Woodward Avenue and… there was a dime store there and a Hudson’s, and Kerns and Crowley’s and Himmel Haus, Jacobson’s. We didn’t necessarily have the money for those stores, but we could walk in and dream and look around, which we did a lot of. And then we would go to Kresge’s and we would get ice cream. And my mom would… keep me out of school, not all the time; every now and then on a Friday for…Hudson’s had like, a budget day and it was always on a Friday once a month. First Friday of the month or something. So, we would go to the budget day, we would go to the downstairs area, cause that’s where the budget area of Hudson’s was and then when we would leave there, we would go to the dime store across the street, and my mom would buy me…ice cream sandwiches. They were waffles, two waffles with Neapolitan ice cream squares in between. And they were wonderful. Then we would just go home on the bus. My mom and I always took the bus. Back in that day too, you know, I used to pay the bills for my mom and dad. So, I’d go downtown to the Griswold Building, no it was the…yeah, it was the Griswold Building to pay the gas bill. We’d go over to the post office that was on Fourteenth Street to pay the light bill. And I was a kid, but you know, you just did those things… just did it. So anyway, I graduated from high school and… I didn’t go to college right out of school, it just was… not an option at that time. However, later on in life I did go back to school in my mid-twenties and… ultimately became a nurse. Did I feel comfortable in the city? I felt wonderfully comfortable in the city. It was a great neighborhood to grow up in. There was never any fear. Everybody took care of everybody else, and the neighbors were really neighbors. You knew everybody on your block and they knew you. And they knew your brothers and sisters. And they knew, they just knew who everybody was. …There was one thing I didn’t mention about Sixteenth Street, there was a diphtheria epidemic. And it was a terrible epidemic in the city of Detroit. And our house was quarantined, and there were, I wanna say seven of us who had to go to Herman Kiefer Hospital, where we were housed in wards…depending on your gender, of course, and your age. …And we had to stay in there, I don’t remember the specific number of days we had to stay in there. I remember getting injections while we were there. And I remember the awful food while we were there. But… other than that, I really have no bad, bad memories of that neighborhood. It was… a good place to grow up in. As I said, I learned a lot about the Maltese community. I learned a lot about… One of the things that I keep in mind about that neighborhood was there wasn’t a lot of talk of any such thing as a resume or the business world… or what it was like in the business world. And so, leaving that neighborhood to go out into the working world, particularly as I got older; one of the things that I found was a significant deficit, was the inability to know and understand what the business world really functioned like outside of my little neighborhood. And because we never left the neighborhood anything outside of the Boulevard was so far away. I remember that specifically. It was like the other end of the moon. And…so we just didn’t do it. And we didn’t go to parks and things of that sort, it just wasn’t, we just didn’t do it. But… the neighborhood was a very enclosed space but with a lot of variety and a lot of good friendships. …There was a restaurant on… Michigan Avenue called Valli’s, its now Slow’s Barbeque, but it was called Valli’s at the time. And we would go in there at lunchtime… And we all had to wear uniforms to…school. So, we would quick run over to Valli’s and get a quick bite to eat or whatever, Coke or whatever go with our lunches, and then run back to the school. Or maybe if we had time after school before going to work, we would go to Valli’s and just have a Coke and it was kind of the neighborhood hangout. And all the Oldies music was playing and… there was a jukebox, and of course everybody sang songs and it… was a good time. Did I venture around the city growing up or did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood? Well, I went to the library and I went downtown… with my friends and… I would take my brothers and sisters to the show… On Fort Street there was a show and I would take them there, we would go on the bus and I would take them, it was like a dime to go there. Everybody was always really nice to us, no matter where we went to, there was never an issue. There was a “Honeybee Market” on Bagley, and Art, the gentleman that owned it was Art… oh gosh, I can’t remember his last name now. But… anyway, he… expanded his store a little bit before he passed away and then they expanded it more. There was a “Mexican Village” restaurant on the corner of Eighteenth and Bagley. Its still there, but at the time it was just on the corner. And then they bought out the little section next to them and they expanded. And then they bought out a store that was called “La Colmena.” And that was, it was a pretty big store, and so “Mexican Village” ended up expanding into that whole area. And there was a little store next to it; right across the alley from “Mexican Village,” and that store remains there to this day. I don’t know if its still in the same family, but its still there to this day, and they sell a lot of… Mexican pottery ware type… [Interruption] Across the street kitty-corner from… Mexican Village was a drug store called … Morrie’s. And I remember a lady named Pearl there. She was the nicest lady under the sun. And she would always help me out with finding things that I needed to find and… she introduced me to things I didn’t know about in terms of hygiene and things of that sort. She was a very, very nice, nice lady. I don’t really remember what was on the other corner of Eighteenth, but I do remember Morrie’s being there, and I remember Pearl specifically. A block down from there at Ste. Anne and Bagley was a house where… this family lived there… I don’t remember their last name right now. But there were three daughters there and they were always so pretty and always dressed so nice. And I never felt quite like I would ever look like that. Probably still don’t feel that way, but that’s okay. But they were again, very nice people. … You know, I can honestly say that I was very proud to be a Mexican woman (girl) at the time. And I think my parents, in fact I know my mom specifically was very proud of the fact that we were not ashamed to be Mexican, we were proud to be Mexican. Because their experience in Texas had been so different because of the prejudices that they faced on a daily basis because of their nationality. And we, fortunately, did not have to face that same… issue, at least not where we lived at, at the time. I know things are very different today, which is sad. But at the time it was a good place to be. And I’m still very proud of my culture to this day. My dad used to play Mexican music on, I bought them a little… record player when I started working when I was seventeen or eighteen years old and I bought a little record player. And my dad would put his Mexican records on there and play his Mexican records and sing to my mom. And my mom would make breakfast for my dad every morning before he left for work. And it would always be tortillas and beans and whatever else she had going on at the time. And, you know…we never had big houses, we never had fancy houses, but we were always a very close family. …We did tend to stay, we didn’t venture far from the neighborhood. That’s… very true… we just didn’t do that. Did I feel comfortable in the city? [repeated] Absolutely, there was never, never an issue. … A lot of my friends lived over in the Maltese section by Corktown. And that was off of Michigan Avenue which was skid-row at the time. There were so many bars on Michigan Avenue and you’d walk down the bars; past the bars, you would just keep your head really straight and go really fast past the bars. But again, nobody ever bothered you, none of those men or anybody that was there bothered anybody. They just didn’t. … The decades that we grew up… It was the, I remember primarily the late fifties and the sixties. Mid-fifties actually. And a lot of the old Doo-wop music and a lot of dancing. We all loved to dance. We’d do the old bop, or we’d do the line dances, or the Calypso. …That’s what we did. …There was a lot of civil unrest beginning to happen in the late fifties which progressed of course into the sixties. But again, because of the neighborhood we grew up in being so multicultural, multinationalistic; there wasn’t an issue of racism or people having more than the other person, cause nobody had anything. So, we just enjoyed being friends. I remember the girl next door to us… one of the daughters that lived in the house to the left of us on Sixteenth Street. And she would fastidiously iron her clothes everyday for work. And my brother Steve would iron his clothes. His pants were so well creased and his shirts were starched to the max. And we all learned how to iron really, really well, and wash clothes, and just be very clean. …Detroit in the sixties was… it was vibrant, it was exciting. There was Woodward Avenue, there was always something going on, on Woodward Avenue. And…just in terms of the stores being open and the people shopping down there. Cars and just lots of store and lots of people. …There was, the library was always there. I loved going to the library when I was in high school. The big library down on Woodward Avenue. I didn’t go to the Art Institute very much, cause I didn’t know much about it. Now I do, but I didn’t then. And… I’m trying to think about what else about downtown. Oh, they would decorate the Hudson’s windows. Oh my God, they were so beautiful. I still remember that to this day, I can picture it. The Hudson’s windows were all, they would each have animated things in them and they had Christmas scenes. And everybody would just walk through there and look at all of those stores. Or look at all of those windows. And then up on the tenth or twelfth floor, someplace in Hudson’s they had the “Christmas Winter Wonderland.” And I would, on a couple of occasions I took my brothers and sisters there when they were small to go see Santa Claus. And I still remember how beautiful it was. [Interruption] My neighborhood changed a lot, actually… after the… riots in sixty-eight, everything about that whole neighborhood changed, Southwest Detroit changed. There were… when the riots happened, my mother in law lived on Wabash Street and I would hear the tanks coming down the street, and we would hear gunfire and course, my husband and I went over there and stayed with them during all that was going on. [Interruption] … All the activity going on with the police and the tanks and everybody outside. It was a very scary time. But that’s when the neighborhood really started to change. Also, urban renewal happened at that time. So, they started [sighs], it was really kind of sad, cause they would just take whole blocks of houses and move people out. And then the blocks would just stay empty for…ever. And there ended up being empty lots in Southwest Detroit for years. Now they’ve got houses built in those areas, but for years those lots just stayed empty. So, it was unfortunate that they chose to do it the way that they did. …But they did. There were… I’m trying to think about what else there was about that time of urban renewal. That was a time when they were… when Coleman Young became mayor and a lot of, there was a lot of racial tension that developed that we had never experienced prior to that. The neighborhood is now coming back, its no longer what it was. Its beginning to come back. There’s a big Mexican community that’s moved back into the area around Ste. Anne’s. They never all moved away, but now there’s more of them there and there’s new housing there, which is really nice. The… Corktown area has started a wonderful revival, and hopefully it will continue that way. The Midtown area where I used to go walk to the library is… has come full-circle and its thriving and will continue to thrive, I think. So anyway, …that’s my story, and… honestly, I can say I was very happy with where I grew up.
“Rosemary Schofield,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed October 30, 2020, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/723.