Interviewees: Maria Imatorre Valentine, Angela Valentine, Osebia Centento Feliciano, and Zulma Solivan
Interviewer: Melba Hollingsworth
Date: October 15, 2008
Location: Cayey, Puerto Rico
Description: Oral history interviews with Maria Imatorre Valentine, Angela Valentine, Osebia Centeno Feliciano, and Zulma Solivan Centeno conducted in Spanish by Melba Hollingsworth on October 15, 2008, at Salvador Brau Elementary School in Cayey, Puerto Rico. Translated from Spanish by Alexandra Castillo, Applied Research Division, National Food Service Management Institute, University of Southern Mississippi.
Melba Hollingsworth: Would you tell us a little about yourself and where you grew up?
Maria Imatorre Valentine (Food Service Manager) & Angela Valentine (Mother)
Maria was born April 9, 1942 in Cayey, Puerto Rico and was raised in the neighborhood of Polvorin in Cayey, Puerto Rico.
Angela was born December 28, 1918 in Cayey, Puerto Rico was raised in the neighborhood of Villeque in Cayey, Puerto Rico.
MH: Tell us about your educational background. What degrees did you earn?
Maria received her 4th year. She studied to be a secretary.
MH: What is your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs? Was there a school lunch or breakfast program at your school? Did you participate? What were some of your favorite menu items?
Angela began a children’s program which was basically a cafeteria. They use to call it the “cafeteria”. The cafeteria would serve the children cream of wheat, milk, cookies, and sausages; little things like this. The program was started in a specific neighborhood for low income/poverty stricken people. During that time period there was a lot of poverty in Puerto Rico. This is where Angela began.
MH: Did you charge for the program?
Yes, they charged but very little.
MH: What was Angela’s title back then?
Person in charge – Kitchen Manager.
MH: How many children did you use to have during that time period?
Angela used to feed for breakfast around 15 children. She was one of the pioneers for child nutrition programs.
MH: What is your earliest recollection of child nutrition programs?
Maria started working with child nutrition programs in the schools in 1967. She began as an assistant since back then they had assistants. In 1994, Maria was promoted to manager where she still remains today. This school that we are at right now use to be located somewhere else and now the school is here. She has been the manager at this school the entire time.
MH: How did you become involved with the child nutrition profession?
Angela began working in the countryside. She used to have to go on horseback since there was no other mode of transportation back then. The countryside was called Jajome. She used to have to boil the green beans since they did not come in cans like they do now. When she worked in the countryside, she worked all along and fed approximately 10-12 children. This is where it all began for Angela. Since the very beginning, she has always been a manager.
MH: How many years have you worked in child nutrition programs?
Angela began working in child nutrition programs in1952 until 1980. She worked in child nutrition for approximately 28 years.
MH: What kinds of changes have you seen in child nutrition programs?
Angela sees how now paper work is very different from when she started. Maria has a lot more paper work than when Angela use to work. All Angela use to have to do is take daily inventory of what she used, take it off the books (records), and record what she had left in storage. The change in paper work has been drastic. When Angela worked they did not offer breakfast. From the countryside, Angela transferred to a high school in Cayey, Puerto Rico, where she remained for the rest of her career in child nutrition. Angela was much loved because she was good to the kids. She remained at the high school until 1980. Angela has seen so many changes in the program. She went to visit Maria’s cafeteria and was amazed by the dining room. The dining room was so big in comparison to how small they use to be.
MH: Was there someone, a mentor, who was influential in directing you into the child nutrition field? Who trained you?
Back then Mrs. Maltabaque, who has since passed away, trained Angela. What Evelyn Colon is now a day that was what Mrs. Maltabaque was during that time period. When Angela began, it was not necessary to be educated like Maria was. For example, now you have to have 4th year and even have to take an exam in order to be a manager. But during Angela’s time period working in child nutrition programs, they were no requirements.
MH: Did you attend school? What schools did you attend?
Angela did attend school until 8th grade. Later on she graduated from night school with highest honors. Maria graduated 4th year, also known as high school, and she took a secretarial course for 2 years.
MH: How did your educational background help prepare you for your career in child nutrition?
Yes, Maria’s education helped her.
MH: Do you have any memorable stories, special children you served or people you worked with, that come to mind as you think back over your years in the profession?
Maria has had a lot of beautiful experiences. She remembers when she worked in one of the schools in Cayey as an assistant. There was a girl named Maria that she remembers with lots of love, even though she is not sure where the girl is now. The girl used to call her “mami”, which is like mommy, because she was a child who was missing love and affection. So Maria used to give her hugs and kisses; sometimes the girl would ask for money and Maria would give her some. No matter where the girl would see Maria, even on the streets, she would call out “mami”. That experience was very beautiful and she has had a ton of experiences with the children. The children give her hugs and kisses. When she finished her education, they applauded her. This past Thursday was Cafeteria Employee Day and the children did a beautiful program/performance for them. They sang for them; it was really, really beautiful. Maria is 66 years old and still working in Cayey.
Angela has had some marvelous experiences. When she was in charge of the high school, she was really good with the kids. The kids used to sneak in and she used to give them a little spanking. They loved her. She was so good to them. To this day whenever they see her, they yell out to her and tell her how she fought a lot of hunger that was going on. They are adults now. Angela realizes that she was really good with the kids. Angela had to resign; she could have kept working but her husband fell ill and she needed to go and take care of him. So she was unable to work anymore. She did have lots of beautiful experiences. The teachers were crazy about her, from the top, principal/director, all the way to the bottom. When she retired, they paid homage to her. Angela realizes that she was good to them as well. They all loved her very much. Angela will be turning 90 years old in December.
MH: What changes have you seen in the child nutrition profession over the years?
There have been many changes in the types of food/nutrition. Before, milk used to be delivered in powder form, it was federal, and they still have it in some places. The children used to have the powdered milk with peanut butter and they didn’t really like it too much. Now, they offer the kids fresh milk. Before, they used to make the kids eat all of the food given to them. Now they have the regulation #94105 of Offer vs. Serve. The children get to choose what food items they want to eat. They didn’t used to have this before. Before, the children would eat from plates and drink from glasses. Now, they have trays. Before, they did not have fresh fruits and now there are a lot of fresh fruits. The meat has changed. Before, they did not have pork chops, chicken, steak, and pork chunks. Everything used to be canned.
MH: When did you begin serving breakfast?
They began serving breakfast in 1966.
MH: How many kids ate breakfast? Was it popular among the children?
Oh yes. It was very popular. Since there are many parents that work, they do not have time to make breakfast. Parents would take their children early to school and the children could have their breakfast. The breakfast was delicious. Overall, the breakfast program was popular.
MH: Have there been many changes in the child nutrition program since the time of your mother?
Yes, the change has been drastic.
MH: How did you become interested in the children nutrition profession? Was it because of your mother?
It actually was not my mother. Since her mother was always the manager, she would always tell Maria that she needed to be a manager since you already have a teacher in your house. So Mrs. Solivan was instrumental in her deciding to go into the child nutrition profession.
MH: Do you have any other memory you would like to share?
Angela has lots of beautiful memories.
MH: What did you like the most about this profession?
Angela enjoyed being able to see all of the children. She was crazy about the kids.
MH: Was the work labor intensive?
Both Maria and Angela said yes. Maria said that everything that is done with love comes out good in the end. All of you saw today that there was a lot of work that was done but everyone works with a lot of love and therefore it all comes out good.
MH: When you get home to cook are you tired of cooking?
You can only imagine.
MH: Would you tell us a little about yourself?
Osebia Centeno Feliciano (Mother) and Zulma Solivan Centeno
Osebia worked with the child nutrition program for 28 years. She has since retired which was sad for her because she really enjoyed her job. She had to leave her job because she became ill and had heart surgery. So it was hard for her to be able to work but it was really good. She worked at the high school for 8 years and then there was a school (plaza) that went up in the neighborhood of Morillo in Cayey. Since she was able to work well with personnel, they gave her that new school (plaza) which had 35 children. These were small children from 1st grade to 4th grade. They loved her. If the children’s pants would tear, they would sew the pants for the children. The children for them were just like their own children because they were so small. Starting in first grade, they had to show the children how to eat and later they had to show them many things because it was new to them. The children’s mothers especially were crazy about them. She began with child nutrition in 1972 and she left in 1980 to go to the other school. She used to substitute for other child nutrition employees when they were sick in different schools even in the countryside. There was this one school that was very low in the valley and the roads were very high up in the neighborhood of Vega, in Cayey. It was very isolated there especially for the teachers and children. Her husband would pick her up from there. She used to think “oh my god how can Isa, the child nutrition employee she was substituting for, work in this school when it is so low?”. She also worked in neighborhood of Maton Abajo, in Cayey for one year. Her husband got sick and had to have open heart surgery so he was unable to take her over there anymore since he was the one who used to take her to work. After that they gave her a junior high school and that is where she worked her last 4 years. Those kids were so good and beautiful. People used to complain about that group of kids but when you offer kids something that is of yourself then you receive from others. If you don’t offer anything then you are not going to receive anything either. Sometimes when she is on the streets and she sees a car passing and it comes to a stop all of a sudden sure enough it is one of her kids from the schools. Her former kids tell other drivers to let her pass. They remember how she used to give them food in the schools with so much love. We are talking about adults now. She was in the pharmacy the other day and she felt that something was touching her. When she turned around one of her former kids says to her “You are going to get scared now when you used to give me so much food.” It has been really good for her. She is a graduate of 8th grade from the year 1940. She got married in 1944 and then had her children. She sews a lot and really enjoys sewing as a hobby. She worked in a silk factory making ladies gloves since back then they used to travel with those types of gloves. They then asked her to teach others and after that she worked making nurses’ uniforms for 11 years. She realized that she wanted to work for the government for job security because in the factories all you have a right to is the “door”. Even if you work hard and do everything there is to do for the factory. So she wanted to work in cafeterias and it was a coincidence that when she was filling out the application my daughter became a supervisor. My daughter showed up and her along with another supervisor talked and they agreed to hire me. She began with child nutrition programs in August of 1972.
MH: How do you know the family that was just interviewed?
Zulma states how today we are doing these interviews in Salvador Braga Elementary School. Milagros, who is Angelita’s daughter and Angelita, who is Osebia’s good friend also, works at this school. Milagros was very happy to see me since she is the Director of this school district in Cayey; after having many other positions in my professional career. My mom, Osebia, began working with Angelita, who is Milagros’ mother. Angelita was a very good kitchen manager and she loves my mother very much. Milagros needed a job, which was emotional, and so we gave her a job. At the time Angelita, Osebia, and Milagros were working and she came to be all three of their supervisor. It was a beautiful relationship because there was a great deal of respect. Angelita was Osebia’s supervisor and she was Angelita’s supervisor as well as Milagros. With time her mom went to another school, Angelita retires, and Milagros stays in another school. Being here today, it gives her great joy to be able to find Milagros here since she is working so good because of what she learned from two teachers, Angelita and Osebia, both of their mothers. Both of them always give advice to Milagros; she continues to work very well and loves her job and the children. We saw that here today because she works with incredible love. We all love this program.
MH: What changes have you seen in the child nutrition program from when you started to how they are now?
Osebia says there have been grand and extravagant changes like the foods, what they serve the foods in, the type of preparation techniques needed to make the food (for example with green beans so that they taste like green beans), the way they prepare and serve the salads, how they cut the items that go into the salads, etc… For example, me as a manager of a group, we would have to learn to intervene if one of the employees does not want to do things the way you want them to do them or how they should look. Because if you present a plate that does not look good to the kids they wouldn’t like it and she did not like the employees serving things on the trays that looked like it was all just thrown on there. You can ask all of the employees that ever worked with me they all respected me. The employees would say that is the way she wants it land and the kids would come around and eat. Everything was hot. She liked everything to be hot and the time to serve was the time to serve. Zulma mentioned that at the last school her mother worked at the participation for both breakfast and lunch increased. This was a junior high school and for the most part the students do not usually eat the food in the cafeteria. The school is in an area where there are plenty of fast food restaurants close to the school. The students were able to go outside of the school and eat. Yet she was able to reach out to these kids with love and get them to start eating in the cafeteria. Important to note that this school usually did not pass 200 students, she was able to increase about (*audio broke up – I think she said 30 students). She would wait for the kids to play and then she had their lunch waiting for them. Even if the bell would ring, she would tell the kids to come and eat a little something. Osebia would say “look this is hot, it is in the oven” to the kids. She would tell them to come over. She would ask what were you doing out there in the town at this time. She would give them a hard time but still she would give them their lunch. So the kids had confidence and trusted her since she took care of them. She used to tell the other Director of the school district, something that she used to argue with her daughter about as well, if there is a school that let’s say for example has 200 students, plus teachers, and personnel and we prepare food for that many people and they don’t come. This would really upset her because she has responsibility to feed everyone. But they also have a responsibility to us to make sure that they come and not just leave the trays. She has always argued this with the schools because people need to be responsible. They were already old enough to take responsibility. Zulma mentions that her mother is very strict; she used to taste the food beforehand. She would try the rice to make sure it tasted right, let’s try the green bean to make sure it tasted right, and then she would say that things needed to be added to the food. She was teaching the staff how to do things right. One day we had a new employee and the staff had put everything out on the counter already, so Osebia went to taste the food and when she put the spoon in to taste the green beans the tray was full of water. So she asked her employees who is planning on washing here today because these green beans need to go back to the oven. There were all laughing at her but that needed to be fixed.
MH: Can you tell us a little about your profession?
Zulma is the State Agency Director. She went to the University of Puerto Rico where she studied Home Economics and Nutrition. She started her career as a high school teacher in Biology and Physics. Later, she had an opportunity in what she studied, Home Economics & Nutrition, for the child nutrition program as a local supervisor. She has been working 37 years in child nutrition programs and she is getting ready to retire.
MH: What significant differences have you seen working in child nutrition programs the last 37 years?
Zulma has observed that the program has greatly improved.
[The interview ends abruptly as everyone was instructed to evacuate the building because of Hurricane Omar.]