Interview with Linda Castillo de Zambrano
Interview conducted by Ania Salcedo for the West Side Community Organization in 2021. Interview has been edited for length and clarity. Portrait, above, by Elizabeth Leonardsmith.
Linda Castillo de Zambrano was born April 3rd, 1950 to Nicholas Carrizales Castillo Senior, and Tomasa “China” Castillo. Her parents moved to the West Side flats around 1942, and she and her five siblings grew up at 144 East Minnetonka on the old West Side flats, then moved to 156 East Morton Street, and later to Oakdale Street on the West Side. Her father, originally from Texas, was a well known neighborhood musician and activist, for whom Parque Castillo is named. Her mother was one of the founding members of La Clínica. She and her brother were instrumental in fighting for the creation of the Chicano Studies Department at the U of M. Today, she has three daughters, 21 grandchildren, and 17 great grandchildren. All of them live in Saint Paul.
“Mama and daddy settled in the flats back in the ‘40s because my dad was on the migrant stream. They used to come every day, every summer to work in the fields and then go back in the wintertime. And it wasn’t until the ‘40s that the dad's family decided to settle here and not go back. So the only place you could find, it was all Jewish town back then in the Old West Side, and we were one of the first ones to settle up. The Castillos, the de la O’s, the Vazquez's, the Aguilar's. They were one of the first ones to settle down there, the Lozano's. And it got to be like a Mexican community then. And that's where we were born and grew up in. [...]
When you go down Robert street, go past Robert Street– that's the old West Side! That used to be the old West Side! Yep. You know, where we were growing up, and it's sad and I suppose people in Rondo feel the same way. They took their stores and everything they took their schools, churches and like they did us.
There was a lot of those stores on the corners, you know [...] everybody got along with everybody and everybody used to shop at the same places. We very seldom used to come up on this side of the hill. We all lived on the old West Side, you know, because it had everything down there and there, and people shared everything with each other.
On the old West Side, our church was an old tavern, they fixed up for Our Lady of Guadalupe. It wasn’t until 1960 that they built the church on Andrew Street, you know, which is gone now, they put the freeway coming through there afterwards.
We were happy. I mean, we used to play all together. All the kids and neighborhoods play together because we all went to the same school, Lafayette, in the middle of the neighborhood, in the corners of Fenton, Kentucky, State Street, and Texas, and we all lived around the school. [...]
The houses were no good. They had rats, they had cockroaches. But we never know that because that was our home, that was home, you know, we didn't know any better. Mom and dad probably did, and they couldn't do nothing about it because dad played his music in the wintertime and he was a cement finisher in the summertime. But, you know, back then we were little, you know? And where was there to go? [...] They weren't nice houses or nothin, no furnaces or nothing, but it was home. [...] We didn't have no money but we were happy! Everyone got along with everybody else. You know my mom would tell us come in for dinner and we'd have 25 kids with us, we’re gonna go and eat. Mom and dad never chased any kids away.
And then when they started knocking down the houses that we all had to move, which was sad because a lot of people didn't want to move, but they made us.
The river used to come up and take everything, I mean everything and then when it receded back, mom and dad will go back there and clean their house out and go back. And they used to tell my mom, ‘Why don't– ‘why don't you ever move from that?’ They’d go, “Because it was our house. We're buying it.’ [...]
I think 1952 was the worst one, we were one of the first families to move from the floods. The water started coming up like nine o'clock in the morning and my dad had gone to work and he told me, ‘When the water's coming up. You go to my mother's house!’ She lived on Texas Street by the Vazquez's. So my mom grabbed all five of us little ones. And then they took us to a shelter on the East Side. So my dad– it took my dad till 10 o'clock just to find us.
A lot of people left with the floods in 1951 and 1952. And then in 1960, they decided to move people out of there. And, you know, give us all this story that the land was no good. [...]
Port Authorities came in like in 1959 and they told us that they were going to buy up the land because the land was no good, and they were going to move us up the hill, and they were going to pay us for the houses, which they didn't. They [claimed we] would get so much money, [so] a lot of people started moving right away. They said that they would come to the house, remove them.
It was like the community was just knocked down because they wanted to knock it down. We didn't know at that time that they were going to bring a freeway through there. They just told us that the land was no good, that we had to move because it was contaminated after how many years that people lived there. [They said] they had to move us away, to find another house, and that they would help us move– which they never did.
My mom and dad were one of the last ones to move from the old West Side. So then [...] they moved us to Indiana [Street]. My dad didn't want to sign the papers yet to get his house because, you know, he was buying that house. And it wasn't till he went back, my mom and dad went back to the house to check it out, and they already had the bulldozer in the middle of the house. We lost a lot of furniture and stuff, but they never paid anybody for that. Nothing, nothing.
It wasn't until people moved from the West Side that they put the wall up in 1965 when they made the freeway. That's when they put the wall up for the water won’t come up, which they could have done that years ago when we were small, but they didn’t.
Moving up the hill
Some of the people that moved from the old West Side just moved across the black bridge up by Roosevelt School, but other people moved to the East Side, new suburbs, they were all spread out. It wasn't the same as it was on the old West Side, you know?
When we finally left the West Side in 1961, we moved up the hill. And when we first moved up the hill, they didn't want us up here because we were from the flats. We were the ‘river rats’ [...] and the boys, sure, the boys got in trouble fighting because, you know, they were protecting their rights! [...]
When we moved up from the old West Side, we moved to 156 East Morton Street because we had nowhere else to go, and the lawyer found this old condemned house, which daddy fixed it up. Daddy ended up in the hospital because we had nowhere else to go, and then even after we moved up there, in 1965 the flood came up again down there when they were making the bridge and stuff, and we lived on Morton for a couple years until daddy got the GI loan, and then he got us the house on Oakdale and we lived on Oakdale until the day he died.[...]
[The new West Side] is different. Everybody has spread out. I mean, you don't even know who's who nowadays. And when we were down there, everybody knew everybody. Everybody got along with everybody. Everybody took care of everybody else. You know, my mom and dad would always have kids at our house day or night. Mom and dad, you know, they took care of a lot of boys and a lot of girls. And I mean, we were just a big, happy community. You could leave your doors open and when the kids all– if one kid played baseball, they all played baseball, went skating, they all went skating. I mean, everybody did everything together, you know, and people trusted each other with their kids. You could walk down the street at night, you know, doors open. It was nice.
Now you can't even do that. You know, people don’t even talk to each other nowadays. You know, it's different. And now this isn't even a West– well it’s ‘West Side community,’ but it's so different you don't even know who's who nowadays, you know? And I'm so glad that mom and dad are gone now [so that] they don't recognize that.
There's nothing down there [on the old West Side]. Just, you know, factories and stuff is down there. They never built– they never replaced the houses, they never did nothing for the people. Nothing. [...] I don't like to even go down there no more ‘cause there’s a lot of memories, you know, but a lot of people cried when they left the old West Side. Lot of people cried. You know, they didn't want to leave their homes and they had to, and they never paid nobody for nothing.
Mom and dad were one of the first ones that did a lot of stuff for the West Side. Mama just died two years ago. She would've been 100. She was a very strong woman. Mom and dad and Karen Clark and Jim Connelly was the ones that started the Clinica back in 1971 or 1972. Mom wanted a clinica for people that didn't speak English. [...] And it was going good, we had a lot of Mexicanos that couldn’t speak English and didn’t have insurance.
They named the people's park, Parque Castillo, after daddy. [...] That used to be all houses. They started knocking them down, you know people used to feel bad because they had to move, so my dad would go and clean up the area where the park is now and he'd sit there and play music with the Mexican guys, the older Mexican guys, and he'd have my mom make meat and stuff so he'd give food away. [...] My dad even wrote songs about the old West Side, he wrote songs of the streets that were torn down and stuff. You know, ‘Mi Barrio West Side,’ ‘West Side Mambo,’ them are songs that he wrote from his heart, about how he felt about the old West Side. [...] When daddy died it was called people's park. But then the City and WSCO, the governor and the state of Minnesota honored us with that park in 1988, they named it Castillo Park, and it’s still there.
My mom and dad made it so that there was more Spanish teachers in the school. [...] Back then they wouldn't let us. [..] When I was in school you couldn't speak Spanish in the schools. If you spoke spanish they used to put you in special ed they thought you were dumb. And the bilingual program is still off the ground, they have bilingual in all the schools now they even have Spanish immersion schools.
We didn't get no money from nothing that we did, but we did it for our community and for our families and for people to come and enjoy. [...]
That was us, we had our customs, and the people who did the customs they’re all gone now. It's so different now, it's not like it was. But you know, we do the best we can now, but it will never be the West Side again– the old West Side. Like our dad said, you know, mi barrio West Side, always. [crying] My dad used to love the West Side, my ma used to love the West Side. It's so sad that it's not there no more.
Sometimes I wish we could go back and do things differently, why did they knock it down, why'd they bring the freeway through there, there's no houses there no more just a bunch of factories, nobody goes down there. But there's changes, you know. I'm glad mama and daddy aren't here to see the changes going on now. Until the day my dad died he used to cry for the old West Side. There will never, never, never be another West Side like that.
So yeah, I grew up on the West Side, and I'll probably die here cause I’m not moving. I'm already 71 years old so I ain’t goin’ nowhere. See this is the West Side, but it’s not like the West Side that we had at the flats. Everybody did everything together! It was a big, nice beautiful community. We all got along, we all loved, we all grew up together, I don't think we’ll ever find that again. It's just too bad that they had to take those houses from us and promised us stuff that they never gave us. A lot of people have gone now, [...] but people always remember the old West Side. It will always be the old West Side.