Name: Katy Price
Date: August 24, 2018
Circumstance: In-person interview; 3rd floor of the Ft. Worth Hilton (Ft. Worth, Texas), 2018 Creole Reunion.
Editor’s Note: Ms. Price brought an interesting and somewhat unique perspective in relation to my other interviewees. As someone whose career had taken her through education and social work, she was decidedly aware of cultural dynamics. This facilitate our conversation tremendously.
Here is the link to a recording of our conversation:
TK: [I asked what she studied at university]
KP: Studying gerontology 40 years ago.
I did it because of my grandmother. It was the 1980s. They had a White House conference on aging, and she went. She started a senior citizens’ center in her little town. I just got interested. I went to the University of North Texas, and they had one of the ten first Gerontology programs in the nation. So, I just went from undergrad to grad, which they tried to discourage because they felt you needed some life experience. I was very young; I had a masters at 22. Many people thought I was just too young. You may find that too.
TK: I feel that here. (laughs) You were born in Venezuela. Was it in an oil camp.
KP: No, my father was there. We lived in a little town out in the llanos. I don’t know if you know where that is. It’s called Guárico. He was working for an oil company, but we were living in the little town. My mother was 23; she didn’t speak any Spanish. They had a kerosene refrigerator. It was pretty primitive. Then my parents moved to Caracas before I was one, and my sister was born there. We moved around a lot the first five years of my life. (When?) I was born in 1954. I started kindergarten in Anaco. My father had his own business at that time. We lived in a little camp. I only remember four or five homes, and his business was there, but the business failed, so he shipped us to the States for eighteen months to live with our grandparents.
TK: So, he didn’t work for one of the big oil firms initially?
KP: No. Well, he initially went down with Mene Grande, which was Gulf I think. He also worked for Panapic. (When?) He went down in 1950, maybe. To Venezuela, then Ecuador, then back to Venezuela. They were living in a camp in western Venezuela when they got married in 1952, and she was the only married woman there. Then they went to Tucupito (not Tucupido which was larger). I remember two houses in Anaco. When we came back from my grandparents’ we lived in Tamari camp in Tia Juana. Then we got a house in Campo Verde. I went through eighth grade in Tia Juana. Then I came to the States for boarding high school. My junior year in high school, my dad got transferred to Quiriquire in eastern Venezuela. We were one of three or four American families there; the rest were Venezuelans. It was beautiful, but I didn’t like it there. My sister and I spent too much time drinking too much. Which you’ve probably heard from many oil camp kids. That was my senior year of high school and freshman year of college, and then he was transferred back to Tia Juana. They were there until 1977 when the nationalization took place. My dad went on to Brazil and then to Africa. Indiana Jones….
You want to know about schools primarily?
TK: Yes. I guess, the life of the students is perhaps a better way to put it. Your mother was American? How did they meet?
KP: They went to college together in Fort Worth at Texas Christian University. I don’t know how they reconnected after college. Pretty brave of here to head to Venezuela at 21. Venezuela was all bachelors. She was the only married woman at that first placement. It was probably very lonely for her. She could only speak a little “school” Spanish. When I was born, I think about having your first child and having no one to talk to. Any communication with the States was ham radio or telegram.
TK: At the time, was there much Spanish speaking presence in Fort Worth in the 1950s?
KP: Yes. I think Fort Worth has always had a large Hispanic population. I started working in Fort Worth when I was in graduate school and my mother was warning me about the north side, where the stockyards have always been. I worked for a senior citizens organization on the northside. But I think there have always been a lot of Hispanics here. My mother grew up in Saint Angelo, and there were a lot of Hispanics there.
TK: I was thinking about the areas where Creole recruited, and was wondering if that was because they might have spoken Spanish?
KP: I don’t know. My father was recruited for his geology degree. But some of the dads didn’t have degrees. I had always assumed they were all petroleum engineers, but some hadn’t gone to college. He roughnecked in the summers in West Texas, so he had drilling experience. As the American oil companies were entering Venezuela, they were just recruiting anyone they could to go down there. If they had oil field experience, they were desirable.
You may meet Jean Bailey. She grew up down there, and then she got married and raised her child there. Her father went after serving in WWII because he heard they were hiring. He never went to college. She would be interesting to talk with. (She can be a little forgetful sometimes.)
TK: You said it was really rural at times. Do you know anything about where you were born?
KP: It was in a hospital. In fact, my grandparents came to visit after we’d moved back. It was in second or third grade maybe. We took a trip to the hospital building where I was born, but it was an animal corral. I remember thinking I was born in a stable. The building had lost its roof.
It must have been terrifying. The doctor/nurses didn’t speak English. She didn’t speak Spanish.
Then they moved to Caracas and my sister was born there. When my brother was born, he was born in Saint Angelo, TX because my mother was rH negative for better medical care.
TK: Back to education, where were you living when you were attending school in Venezuela?
KP: Started kindergarten in Anaco. Then I attended kindergarten through the beginning of second grade in Oklahoma. We returned to Venezuela, and we went to Tamari. The two sisters were in “Special Spanish” classes because they’d forgotten all their Spanish while they were in the States. Classes were half day in Spanish and half day in English. But our classes needed to be all in English. There was one guy who said what we were in was like the “short bus” classes, but there’s no one for me to ask now… There was one boy in the class who was mentally retarded, but the others were all different ages who didn’t speak Spanish. I thought my sister was in regular classes, but she says she was in Special Spanish too. I did that program in 2nd-3rdand 4thgrade.
TK: That class specifically was it K through 8?
KP: No, they just pulled us out. The rest of the class had a Spanish speaking teacher and an English-speaking teacher. When my class would be with the Spanish-speaking teacher, I would go to the pull-out Special class. It might have been fourth grade; they decided to put all the kids whose father was on the dollar payroll got all their instruction in English, except for Spanish class an hour a day. All the kids on the bolivar payroll had separate classes. The segregated us basically. We still played together, but we were in separate classes. I don’t know if we had the same recess. I think that was probably harmful to us because I don’t remember having Venezuelan history. The only Venezuelan history I knew was Simon Bolivar’s birthday and the Independence Day, but no real history. I feel like that was a loss for us. The only history I know is what I have read as an adult.
TK: That split would have been in 1970?
KP: More like 1964-65 maybe.
TK: They paid people in US dollars?
KP: Yes, some in dollars and others in bolivars.
TK: Did they have a place to exchange?
KP: Probably. I don’t know how they did it. We had money. Maybe there was a bank…?...
TK: At the camp, would you pay for drinks at the club in dollars or bolivars?
KP: In bolivars. We used bolivars for everything. And I remember coming to the States, we had to exchange bolivars for dollars. Sales tax was odd. We didn’t pay sales tax down there. I was always confused that I needed $1.05 for an item which was $1. Back then it was 4 bolivars to the dollar; now it’s a million. I know my father always had a bank account in the States. There must have been some way to exchange money.
TK: Back to the segregation of the schools. This was a staff school, correct? (Yes) Do you know if your teachers were different from the Venezuelans?
KP: Yes. The Venezuelans had Venezuelan teachers, and our teachers came from the States. A lot of them were Mexican American, like Ms. Rivas. There were not very many Mexicans in Venezuelan, but, to me, the Mexicans in Venezuela were the same as Americans. When I came to the States, I first realized that Mexican Americans existed. And, of course, there were no Blacks. I don’t remember ever seeing a black person. There were black Venezuelans, but not Americans.
TK: Were the Mexicans in the camps different from the Venezuelans?
KP: The Mexicans in the camps were Americans. They were not Venezuelans. Their fathers were professional. Michael Soto will be here. His father was an engineer. I never thought of them as being Hispanic. I thought of them as American. We lived across the street from the Sotos for years. We never even made the distinction of Mexican Americas, they were Americans. It has nothing to do with school. Many of our teachers were Mexican American. My Spanish teacher was Venezuelan. The American teachers lived in the camp, but the Venezuelan teachers did not. Maybe it was like growing up in the South in the 1950s, you didn’t think about the separation: black kids went to black schools, and white kids went to white schools. The only difference was that the Venezuelan kids who went to school with us lived in the camps. Their fathers were professionals, doctors and engineers, but they took classes with Venezuelan kids and Venezuelan teachers in a different wing of the same school. Have you seen a picture of the school?
TK: I saw Ms. Miller’s picture. Did it have two parts?
KP: There was a main hallway with four wings, each had 3 or 4 classrooms, but I think it was designed that way for ventilation. We had windows on both sides. There was greenspace between the wings. I remember watching iguanas out the window. There were fruit trees on the grounds. Kids would pick mamoums outside. There was a big playground, but I don’t remember the Venezuelan kids being on the playground at the same time.
TK: As you got older, into middle school or when you came back from school breaks, were there ever organized sports? Varsity sports as we think of them?
KP: There was Little League for the boys. Girls did ballet. I didn’t take any music lessons, but some kids took piano or guitar lessons. We had Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. It was usually the moms that coordinated that.
TK: Did Venezuelans ever do scouting?
KP: Yes…. I had one friend, Beatriz Sodeno, who was in Girl Scouts. I don’t remember a lot of them. It didn’t seem like there were many Venezuelans in the scouting troops. I’m not sure about baseball. I would think there were more Venezuelans in Little League because baseball is very popular down there. We had a bowling league, and we could always go bowl. I remember bowling with Venezuelans but I’m not sure if they were on the team. The bowling league and Little League was within the camp. We had lots of stuff to do. We went swimming all the time. It was a great way to grow up.
You saw the little 8-year-old girl on the news that someone called the police because she was walking the dog alone? I remember we were always out doing everything alone. We ran all over creation. We were wild.
TK: Since you spent some time in the US as a child, how did that freedom differ from your time in the States?
KP: The school I went to in Oklahoma was very rural. My grandparents lived on a ranch. It was a little bitty school. I remember going square dancing once. It was a very small school there were 15 kids in one classroom and that was grades 1-3. I don’t remember having friends. I played with my sister. My grandmother took us to Sunday School at church, and I guess we socialized there. We simply played at grandmother’s house and in grandpa’s barn. When we were in St. Angelo, I went to a private school for kindergarten or first grade.
TK: Since you were in first/second grade in the States, two very different environments, do you remember how the academic settings in the school room compare between the US and Venezuela? Contrasting high school too.
KP: I’ve also worked in education. When I left Fort Worth, I went to Fort Smith, AR. I got a job with the Fort Smith School District. I was working with preschoolers. It seems like school is much more rigorous now than it was when I was growing up. But I feel like we got a very good education. There were probably things we were weak in, like history. Perhaps that’s universal because kids are generally not very interested in history. I think you get interested in that when you get older. And that’s just my impression. The education system is so different today than what it was. I think in Venezuela; our teachers were part of our family. We never had a teacher come have dinner with us for a holiday, but I know that teachers went to people’s homes for dinner. We were such a small community and within that community there were smaller groups. Many of my friends were Catholic, and my parents were kind of nothing. So the Catholics all went to Church together and had that shared experience. The Protestants had services on the stage at the school building. We used the school for Sunday School. Our parents didn’t make us go, but I remember going to Sunday School because I liked to go. The Baptists had their own church. So at the school were the Methodists, Presbyterians, anything else. We all just met at the school on Sundays. There were many Catholics from the Northeast; they socialized together a bunch. My best friend was Catholic. I’m not aware of any religious animosity within the oil camps. Perhaps amongst the adults, but I don’t know. My parents just weren’t religious.
Also because we were so close, everyone looked out for each other. Even though we ran around like wild children, we knew if we ever did anything really bad, our mother would know before we got home. Someone would see us. All the parents knew all the kids.
TK: I’ve heard about that accountability mechanism, but I’ve also heard a lot about how high school students got into a lot of debauchery. So was there an implicit understanding that they were going to allow that? Or look the other way?
KP: Probably in some families. Not in all of them. My father’s philosophy was (I’m not sure this is a good one) he tolerated a certain amount of misbehavior especially with my sister and me. I remember coming home drunk at sixteen, but we were doing it up here too. When you’re at a boarding school, you’re not being watched all the time. But I remember times being in trouble. We had curfews; some kids didn’t. Mine was about 11 pm, but I remember usually being home before that. I’m not a night person. But there were times, I said when we were in Quiriquire, and my sister and I didn’t have a lot to do, we drank too much. We would drive to the storage dump and drink rum and watch the stars. I came home once at 2 am, and my father was waiting I gave him the car keys. I think there were some kids that had looser controls and some who were tighter.
People got killed on the Venezuelan highways, so I didn’t like driving outside of the camp. The worst thing I did was drink. Kids did smoke pot, but I didn’t.
TK: Today in the South, kids drink a great deal. Did they then?
KP: I remember my grandmother telling us not to drink in high school. My grandmother was my guardian in high school.
TK: Was there a camp curfew?
KP: No, but there was a guard. They patrolled the camp. I don’t remember any crime. There was only one way in. You didn’t have to check in and check out as a resident. There were delivery trucks that would go in and out. There was some sort of security. There was a 10-foot fence surrounding the camp with barbed wire atop it. So if we were going to “sneak out”, we had to pass the security guard gate.
TK: Where did you go to high school exactly?
KP: Denton/Silliman, just north of Fort Worth. I was the first kid from Venezuela to go there, so the first year was really hard. Later more kids went to the school. My sister came the second year. A bunch of us went to high school together, so we’d travel together (10-12 of us). A lot of Texas kids went to St. Stephens in Austin, and a couple in Oklahoma and a Catholic boys’ school in Arkansas. We had a lot of fun. Have you talked with Carol Wilcox? She’s much younger, but she talks about remembering when the teenagers would come home. We were in awe of them. It was funny when I was a teenager I didn’t think of the kids.
TK: What was the transition like? Culturally? How did the boarding school students view you?
KP: As a foreigner. Because I was the only one. St. Stephens might have been different because there were so many students. Also, some East Coast schools had many kids from overseas. But I remember being asked, “Did you live in a tree? Did you have electricity?” I was very shy. In Venezuela, we all knew each other. I came up here, and I was all alone. I remember feeling very alone. The weather was a shock. I was very uncomfortable when it started to get cold. I had never shared a bathroom. Most of the girls were from Texas and they got to go home. They could call their parents, and I couldn’t. I could call my grandmother. It was a difficult transition for me. My sister didn’t have the problems I did. I also think they thought I was Mexican. Because they did a gift exchange for Christmas, and I got a jar of picante sauce. We ate spicy food in Venezuela, but not hot sauce. We wrote letters to each other. My best friend was killed twenty years ago. Mrs. Kozowitz, her mother, is here. I wished I’d saved her letters, so I could share them with her daughters. We’d write one another weekly and we could support each other. My mother wrote me a letter every week. My mother would write us in triplicate with carbon copies to me, my sister and brother. There were very wealthy children in some of these boarding schools. I went to high school with the son of the founder of Braniff Airlines. The East Coast boarding schools had the old money families. I remember when I graduated from high school and one of my classmates got a new very hot car. I didn’t get a car until graduate school. We were comfortable but there were differences
We thought how we were raised was normal until we went to boarding school. I was teased because I had a Yankee accent when I was going to school in Texas.
TK: One last thing that I try to discuss. When you hear people discuss Venezuela, what misconceptions do you find?
KP: This is hard. Because I speak Spanish, I frequently found jobs with Hispanics. When I first started working, I didn’t think about people’s legal status. I never had exposure to black people. I always felt like I was open to anything. I know my father always said he didn’t want my sister and I dating black guys, he didn’t want us dating Venezuelan guys either. But I went to work for Catholic Charities, I was working with poor people and immigrant resettlement programs. Today when I hear people complaining about immigration or racial differences, I really get mad because I feel my life has been enriched by exposure to a multitude of cultures. In Venezuela, we did have a microculture because we lived in that camp with professionals. It was very homogenous. I think some of the boys played with laborers’ children. I feel like I’ve always been open to others from different cultures. I’ve had great experiences with Muslims. One of my Muslim employees on 9/11 hung an American flag on his wall that day. I worry about our society’s intolerance.
I worry about people suffering in Venezuela. That country had so much potential. There were many poor people when we were in Venezuela. There was a growing middle class when we left.
I wish there was some way. My daughter when she was in fourth grade said that people hate because they just don’t know. I think she was right. What this country did to Native Americans and Africans, we can’t ignore.
KP: How did you find out about us?
TK: My advisor was a Middle Eastern woman who focuses on petro-politics. She asked if I speak Arabic? (no) Do you speak Spanish? (not well). I suggest you learn more Spanish and do your work on Latin America. I discovered Miguel Tinker Salas, The Enduring Legacy, and his focus on growing up in the oil camps. He mentioned they did something with the schools. That’s what I sought to explore, but there wasn’t much information available. So I have spent the summer compiling first person accounts of life in the oil camps with the specific focus on education. I found this Reunion through Randy Trahan’s site. He referred me to Jody.
KP: Is someone else looking at the camps at ARAMCO? A friend of mine has a son who’s teaching in Saudi Arabia. It’s an ARAMCO camp. He’s there with a wife and 3 daughters. I know there are camps in Africa and Kuala Lumpur as well.
TK: I think this is why this is more important. People ask what I’m doing. (My professor is about to publish a fairly significant work on ARAMCO.) There’s pretty significant proof that the camps in Saudi Arabia, Africa and elsewhere are copy-pasted from the Venezuelan oil camps. The structure that everyone here lived in was created in the 1930s, predominantly by Creole. The idea is by understanding the Venezuelan case, we will be able to better understand the Saudis and, perhaps more importantly, the Nigerian case where there are concerns with migrant workers.
KP: Are there still American oil camps in Nigeria? I know that ARAMCO camps exist.
TK: [Provides info on Tinker Salas and Bsheer books. Recording ends.]