Interview with Lorenzo Rubio (summary)
The Historic Round Rock Collection is a project documenting Round Rock's history, funded in part with a grant from the Texas Historical Commission. These pages are adapted from the original 1991 print version, which is available at the Public Library and Round Rock schools.
Summary of interview with Lorenzo Rubio at His Home
Conducted by P. Scott Brown and Kelly Kaak, August 13, 1991
History of Lorenzo Rubio and His Family
Lorenzo Rubio was the first Hispanic to serve on the Round Rock City Council.
Guadalupe Palacios, Mr. Rubio's mother, came to Round Rock with her family around 1915 at the height of the Mexican Revolution. Amado Rubio (b. September 13, 1892, d. January 24, 1990), his father, followed his fiance shortly thereafter. They were married on October 15, 1915. Amado Rubio and the Palacios family were from Monterrey, in northern Mexico, where they had been farmers. The Palacios' came to Williamson County because they had jobs at the Round Rock White Lime Company. Guadalupe and Amado Rubio went back and forth between Round Rock and Monterrey several times until finally settling in Texas in the mid-1920s.
Some time later, the Rubio family moved to McNeil where Amado had a job at the Austin White Lime Company as an explosives expert. A few years later, in 1937, Lorenzo Rubio was born. He was one of ten children. He grew up in McNeil and went to the local school. His family moved to Round Rock in 1946 so they could own their own house. The house, near the corner of Sheppard and Fanning, was in an integrated neighborhood called the "flats". He continued on in school in Round Rock Rock and was 13 when the schools were integrated for Hispanic students. Summers and after school, he worked picking cotton and as a construction worker.
In 1956, Lorenzo Rubio joined the Navy with his friend Raymond Alvarado, Jr. While in the service, he completed his GED since he had not graduated from high school in Round Rock.
Two years after being discharged from the United States Navy, Rubio and his brother Mack opened a grocery store on Rubio Street. In 1969, Mack Rubio opened a restaurant named Casa Rubio along with his wife Janie. During that time, Mack had two other jobs. Later that year, Lorenzo and Mack moved their store to its present location in downtown Round Rock. Both Rubio families dedicated themselves to the store full-time.
In 1968, Lorenzo Rubio decided to run for a seat on the City Council after discussing it with David Carlin, Jr., Sam Mercer, Sr., Vincent Sanchez and Dale Hester. Mr. Rubio believed that for life to really change for the Mexican-American community, it had to be changed from within the system. He felt that representation on elected boards was an important start. Mr. Rubio won a seat on the Council, in an election colored by the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. a few days before. He was the first Hispanic in Wiliamson County to win a seat on the City Council. After serving for one term, he decided not to run again, but there have been Hispanic members of the City Council ever since. He wishes that a Hispanic woman would run, since there are many who are well-qualified.
The Way of Life in a Company Town
The families that worked for the lime company rented houses for a nominal charge. These were simple living quarters on half-acre lots without indoor plumbing, electricity or telephone service. Most families raised chickens, cows, pigs and some vegetables. Beans, corn and meat, which were staples for Mexican-American families, were purchased at the company store.
Other important components of their diet were pork sausage (chorizo) and pork which was dried on Clotheslines. Nearly every part of the pig was used in some way.
Like most first-generation workers at the lime plant, Mr. Rubio's parents did not speak much English. They were avid readers however, and subscribed to La Prensa, a Spanish-language newspaper from San Antonio. Once they were finished with the paper, it was passed along to other people in the community.
When the Rubios arrived, Ben Alvarado was one of the most prominent Mexican-American citizens in McNeil. He had been in the area some time already and spoke English well enough to be a translator. Other prominent Hispanics in the Round Rock/McNeil area were Silverio Diaz, the head vaquero for the Robinson family, and Augustil Dominguez, the first Mexican-American foreman of the lime company.
During cotton season, local farmers came to McNeil to hire workers and drive them to the fields. Most of the workers were women and their children and occasionally men who picked cotton after finishing at the lime company. The workers took tacos, potted meat and Vienna sausage to eat. Pickers were paid by weight, approximately $2 per hundred pounds. Good pickers could earn $10 per day.
When Lorenzo Rubio lived in McNeil, women did not work at the lime company, not even at the store. They helped support their families by picking cotton and pecans. Many children also helped this way. Women also took care of the houses and the small farm plots. Later, women would work at the lime company and the store. Rebecca Lozano and Lupe Avila were among the first Hispanic women to work at the company store.
When the Austin White Lime Company gave pay advances, they distributed fichas, tokens that could only be used in the company store. They came in denominations up to $5.
After World War II, many families from McNeil moved to Round Rock in order to buy their own homes with utilities.
The Depression hit the lime company hard, causing many layoffs. Many workers returned to Mexico. CC Camps (the Civilian Conservation Corps) also operated in the area.
The Second World War
Many Mexican-Americans were very patriotic and out of a community of 200, Mr. Rubio estimates that 20 men and women joined the service, one of his brothers and a sister included.
Corporal Victor Martinez was one of the soldiers who liberated the Santo Tomas Japanese prison camp in Manila. Mr. Rubio believes that the Hispanic community owes people like Mr. Martinez a great deal since their love of freedom led them to make sacrifices and set an example for others to follow.
When Mr.Rubio was growing up in the 1930s and 40s, schools in the Round Rock area were segregated for both African Americans and Hispanics. The Escuela de McNeil had only one room for six grades. Children had to be bused to Round Rock for middle school. Most of the students were girls, but they rarely went on to graduate from high school since there were few employment opportunities for women. Boys rarely graduated either, since they could begin work at the lime company in their early teams. The Lopez family was an exception. All of the Lopez children graduated from high school and most went on to college. Issac Lopez, Jr. was the first Mexican-American to serve on the school board in Round Rock. He began as secretary, moved on to vice-president and then to school board president. Later he was chosen Man of the Year.
Paula Rubio, Lorenzo's sister, who was a WAC during the Second World War, graduated from high school in Austin and was one of the first Hispanics from Round Rock/McNeil to attend UT.
In addition to segregated schools, Mexican-Americans were not allowed to have funerals in the funeral home in Round Rock. Mr. Ramsey sold caskets and a priest celebrated mass privately.
Hispanics were not allowed into restaurants through the front door and had to enter through the alleyways behind them. This began to change when Epifano Salazar, a Baptist minister came to Round Rock in the late 1940s. He simply ignored the segregated customs and sat in the restaurants. Rubio believes that his affiliation with the Baptist church and its most prominent members helped change the rules. Through the 1950s, segregation diminished.
As a boy, Mr. Rubio walked an hour to Round Rock every Saturday to see movies. The bill, mostly Westerns, began at 3 p.m., and people often stayed all day. At midnight, films from Mexico were shown. The most popular stars were Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Maria Felix, "La Dona", Dolores del Rio, Cantiflas and Tin Tan. The theater was near the northwest corner of Main and Lampassas.
Ben Alvarado had a semi-professional baseball team that played on Sundays. The field was called the "flats" and the weekly games were a popular diversion.
On May 5 and September 16, two of the most important holidays in Mexico, large festivals were held at La Plataforma, which was near Egger's field. The Hispanic community from throughout Travis and Williamson Counties came to Round Rock to hear choirs sing the Mexican and American national anthems and to see the crowning of the Queen. Each July 4th, the Austin White Lime Company held a barbecue. Popular bands in the 1940s and 1950s included Lawrence Salas Orchestra and Nash Hernandez. Conjuntos included conjunto Torres Garcia and Los Hermanos Gonzales from Round Rock. Some members of the Gonzalez family still perform to this day.
Victor's Cantina (later Lee's Place Pool Hall and Tavern and now the Cactus Family Lounge) was a popular beerhall for adults.
The Austin White Lime Company
Mr. Rubio's father first worked in the quarry, drilling holes by hand for the dynamite used to break up the rock. Felix Beltran was chief of the powder crew at the time. His son, Felix Beltran II, worked at the plant for about fifty years and is still living in Round Rock.
When the Rubios arrived in McNeil, the lime kilns were wood fired. Over the years, coal, then gas, and then coal again, were used.
In spite of the danger of working with dynamite, few people were injured, although many of the workers eventually lost their hearing due to the constant noise.
Almost all of the workers at the lime company were male. Boys began working in their early teens loading the broken rock into conchas, triangular containers with handles on either side. Mack Rubio, Lorenzo's brother did this for a while.
During World War II, the demand for lime was high. The quarry was often open from sunrise until 9pm, and the plant operated twenty-four hours a day. The workers were happy to contribute to the war effort. "Shorty" Gunner was the plant foreman at this time.