Celebrating our Local Women's History
Stories from Women Living in the Southeast Valley as told by CGCC Students in partnership with Gilbert Historical Museum
Oral History of Jane Gaitan Carrasco
 

Interview of Jane Gaitan Carrasco
Conducted by Cassie Otero

Jane Gaitan Carrasco Interviewed by Cassie Otero On March 22, 2008

Jane was born March 2, 1938 and had just celebrated her 70th birthday at the time of the interview. Her parents, Merce and Inez Gaitan, met and married in Texas. Due to her grandmother's blindness, her family moved  to Arizona from Texas when Jane was a small child about four years old. They lived in Higley first and then relocated to Gilbert. The family lived together,  farming and ranching. As Jane said laughing, "The WHOLE family!"

The family moved to Gilbert when Jane was in the third grade. "It was a shocker," explained Jane. In Higley, Jane was used to classes in which two or three grades were housed together. Moreover, in Higley all the children were the same in terms of their heritage so the classrooms were integrated. When Jane came to Gilbert, she faced a totally different situation. The school system was segregated. To make matters more complicated, by the time Jane's family moved to Gilbert, Jane didn't speak Spanish anymore as her primary language. Yet she was placed in classes with Spanish-speaking children due to her Hispanic heritage.

Jane recalled many challenging times moving from Higley Elementary School to Gilbert Elementary School. For example, Jane remembers being more advanced educationally than her peers in the segregated classroom.  One day Jane's teacher called on her to read because she was the new student. Jane stood up and read the assigned page before the teacher had time to even look down at her own book. The teacher seemed shocked that Jane could read so easily. Jane remembers feeling that the teacher was annoyed at her ability and asked to her read again to prove her skill.

At that time, the Town of Gilbert itself was segregated by the railroad tracks. On the north side of the tracks was where most of the Hispanic families lived. To the south side, was mostly Anglo families and very few Hispanics. Jane lived on the north side, which made it hard for her to interact with many of the surrounding families. Jane's family never associated with the Anglo families because Gilbert's social structure was very divided along racial/ethnic lines. However, because Jane's family did not speak Spanish as their primary language, she felt they didn't fit in easily with the Hispanic families either.

Jane remembers that the other children didn't accept them. When she and her sister walked to school or played in the schoolyard, other children would be mean to them. Sometimes children untied the bows on their starched dresses or threw rocks at them. "They didn't like us," Jane recalls, "But I just focused on going to school. I just focused on that."

Gilbert schools became integrated  after 1949, which was the last year of the segregated school system. Jane attended Gilbert High School in the building that is now the Gilbert Historical Museum. There were not many Hispanics who went to high school at that time; most had dropped out. And there were no extracurricular activities ….school consisted of just the basic curriculum (unlike today). Jane remembers attending classes in the basement of the building. "Mr. Fuller's class was in there," she recalled.

Jane graduated from Gilbert High School in 1956. "I was really proud of that!" she said. For her times and her environment, graduation was a tremendous accomplishment.

Jane comes from a large family of 8 children. She was the oldest, so a lot was expected of her growing up. She tried to maintain her family and school responsibilities. Jane remembers her father as a hard working man and her mother as a good housekeeper and good cook. "And she knew how to sew too!" Her parents were very strict and stressed keeping the children in school. The children worked in the fields half-days on Saturday, but their main focus was education.

Not surprisingly, Jane states that her love of learning comes from the inspiration of her parents. Jane could not afford to go to college right after high school. However, she did attend Mesa Community College for two years later in life. Jane remembers wanting to learn so many different things…she originally wanted to be a lab technician. Even today her love of learning shows: "That way you never grow old!" 

After high school, Jane married Cecil Carrasco when she was 18 years old. She met him through her sister's friend. They went on to have 6 children: 3 boys and 3 girls, Cecil Jr. "Jim", Diana, Sandra, Joanne, Joseph, and Anthony. Her husband passed away three years ago.

Jane remembers choices being very limited in Gilbert when she was growing up. In 1956, Gilbert was a small town, with only one main street. Before that the streets were all dirt roads. Moreover, there wasn't much for young people to do. "Gilbert had a theater that everyone went to but then it burned down or closed down. After that there was not much to do in Gilbert unless you went to a house party or a church activity at Saint Anne's on Elliot Road, " Jane explained. After the theater closed, movies were shown outdoors on the walls of buildings. "Everyone would go to the back of the building and watch the movies standing or sitting on the ground because there were no chairs!" she explained.

The CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) offered some events for young people. Jane was even chosen as the Queen of the May celebration. "That was something!" she recalled. Jane also rode in the Gilbert Days parade in the old-time cars through down town.

Work opportunities were limited as well. "In Gilbert there were no jobs; if you needed a job, you had to go to Mesa for work." As an adult, Jane first worked at Motorola for a number of years. It wasn't until later on that Jane worked for the school system. She substituted in various jobs such as a nurse, cafeteria worker, an interpreter, and teacher's aid. Her favorite job was working in Mesa in a kindergarten.

Today Jane explores many of her interests such as taking yoga classes, sewing, knitting, and crocheting.  She still has a strong love for learning. Recently she even studied Russian at the Senior Center. When asked if there was anything she would change about her life, she said (not surprisingly), "I would have gone to school more."

Photos courtesy of the family.

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Jane Gaitan Carrasco