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An Interview With Robert Mesa
Not available online
TitleAn Interview With Robert Mesa
AbstractInterviewer: Irene Ruiz. Interview recorded September 11, 1978. 1 sound cassette (ca. 90 minutes): analog, stereo.; 5 7/8 x 2 1/2 in., 1/8 in. tape; 1 sound disc; digital; 4 3/4 in. Has printed guide to contents.
NotesAt the time of the interview, Mr. Mesa was a police officer with the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department. He was born in Douglas, Wyoming in 1942. In the interview he discusses his early life in Wyoming, his family, coming to Kansas City in the 1960s and getting on with the Police Department, feelings for the West Side, etc.

Number 32 on MP3 disc.
Date1978-09-11
LocationSC69-1, Tape 36, CD 36
Local SubjectHispanic Americans
Police Officers
Mesa, Robert
West Side
Oral History
Item TypeArchival Material
TranscriptionSynopsis of Interview:

Mesa is an officer with the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department. Born in Douglas, Wyoming, May 14, 1942. Parents are Raymond and Domatila (Tillie) Mesa. Six children total, five boys, one girl. Raised in Orpha, Wyoming, a village of 50-60 people. Attended country school for grades 1-6.

Family moved to Douglas (2,000-3,000 pop.) 15 miles away so children could attend junior and senior high school. Most people in Orpha worked at the railroad depot and stationhouse or on surrounding farms and ranches. Father developed tuberculosis early in life, then a drinking problem. Left the family while Mesa was quite young. Mother worked as a maid to support the family. Children herded sheep for money. During migrant season the whole family--grandparents to children--picked beans and dug potatoes.

Did not get along well at school. Failed three grades. Quit high school to work as a clerk in a Safeway grocery store. Parents originally from Mexico, but mother insisted the children use English at home, presumably because she felt a stigma was attached to speaking Spanish. Children used Spanish with paternal grandparents who lived across the road. Had some problems with English at school. The Mesa's were the only Mexicans in Orpha.

In Douglas there were some six families. All had menial jobs. Only other Mexicans lived on large ranches and were fairly isolated. Attended Catholic church in Douglas. Grandmother very religious, instilled traditions and values in the children. No clubs or organizations to join. Fished, hiked and camped. Loved being outdoors. Family was close-knit. Looked to each other for support, entertainment. Mother stressed value of education.

Mesa and brothers joined the National Guard. Went to Georgia for six months training, the first time he had been away from Douglas. Decided to join the Army and see the world. Spent one year in Thailand, 1 1/2 years in Germany. Assigned to military police. Recalls trauma of leaving home for the first time. Discharged in 1965.

Went to Wyoming for a short time, then joined an Army buddy in Kansas City. Worked at Columbia, a steel company on the west bottoms. Applied for a job with Kansas City Police Department. Only two other Mexican-Americans on the force. Accepted in 1967. Sent for younger brother; eventually for the rest of the family. Family disliked living in the city. Two brothers returned to Wyoming; mother and sister in Florida. Had earned GED in Thailand. Once on the police force, found out about grants and loans for law enforcement. Those plus GI benefits helped pay for college. Began at Penn Valley, finished Associate degree at Longview. Attended Rockhurst and Avila for bachelor's in sociology and administration of justice.

Married woman from small town north of Kansas City. Has two daughters. Got federal funds to set up a neighborhood center on the West Side. Opened a small recreation center at 2641 Belleview. Mostly ran programs for neighborhood children; became acquainted with problems and people. People at first were apprehensive. Of five or six such centers in the city, his was the most successful. Thinks the experience made him a better police officer.

Still has concern for West Side. People began seeking his help with problems such as dealing with utilities being cut off. Participated in West Side Model Cities Board, parents organizations. Would like to see more Mexican-Americans on police force. Feels one reason more don't join is because early bad experiences in life are sometimes related to police. Has talked at high schools, etc., trying to interest young people in law enforcement. Considering joining a police fraternity. Opportunities for Mexican-Americans to become professionals are not much greater than when he was growing up.
Access This ItemYou may come to the Missouri Valley Room to listen to the interview.
Item ID210357
CONTENTdm number36354
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