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Maggie Rivas

Name: Maggie Rivas

Date: August 22, 2018

Circumstance: In-person interview; lobby of the Ft. Worth Hilton (Ft. Worth, Texas), home of the 2018 Creole Reunion.

Editor’s note: Maggie Rivas was one of the first people I sat down with when I came to Fort Worth for the 2018 Creole Reunion. The reunion director had told me that she too was coming a day early. What I didn’t know at the time was that Mrs. Rivas was all but a celebrity. As was proven to me again and again upon seeing her old students—now in their late sixties—fawn over her, Mrs. Rivas was beloved. (It surprised nobody that she was going to be giving the keynote speech at the end of the reunion.) Even putting all of this side, however, Mrs. Rivas was endlessly fascinating. Her life after teaching the camps, dedicating herself to bilingual education in the states captures even more her assiduousness.

Recording Link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/14wTo-2SiVoH7A2DVZoLDCT7r9poYRihR/view?usp=sharing

Trent Kannegieter (TK): My main research that I’m doing now is on how Venezuela modernized and how the oil industry became a defining fabric of Venezuela. A huge part of that was the residential oil camps, and the schools within them. Especially the changes in education curriculum in the early part of the twentieth century. It is not a very studied area. To the best of my knowledge there hasn’t been real work analyzing the educational forum and the experience within these schools.

Maggie Rivas (MR): I was there from 1963 to 1971. At the time, everything was going on smoothly. Both countries were getting along. The Ministry of Education required that the children of both countries (US and Venezuela) be educated in both English and Spanish. The Ministry of Education hired the Venezuelan teachers, and the oil companies hired the American teachers. We had everything that was needed to teach. The kids had to be prepared to come back to the States and perform well in US high schools. They finished at the oil camp schools in eighth grade. Some of the kids went to academies or some of the best boarding schools in the States.

It was very interesting because here in the States, bilingual education had never been that important (or common). It was amazing to see the American kids and Venezuelan kids developed.

It was something I never would have experienced in the States. The company flew us to Venezuela first class. I had been teaching in South Texas for eight years before I went. I was getting tired of not getting ahead, and the situation in the schools was not that good. So, the oil school positions were advertised in the newspaper in South Texas. I was teaching in Brownsville when I applied. They responded that they’d filled the positions for the upcoming year, but they would keep my application on file. At Easter time I got a call from a gentleman that said they had an opening for the upcoming year if I was interested in going. I said “well, probably,” but when August came around I still hadn’t made my decision. My parents said you have to make a decision now, because you have a contract with Brownsville in September. Well ok. Not knowing anyone, I went. I stayed for a year. I loved it.

In 1963 I was living in Austin, and they were holding a reunion in Austin, and they asked me to speak to them. They said they wanted me to know that they hadn’t forgotten their Spanish. They sent me a letter with questions of things they’d like to know. (I found the letter last year. The questions were interesting. I will share it with you because you might be interested.)

The questions were:

  • How did you get there?