Merida Rodriguez

Oberlin College Library


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00:00:00 - Introduction to interview with Merida Rodriguez

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Partial Transcript: Okay, we have to start by doing what’s called a LEDE. It’s just kind of an introduction by saying I’m here interviewing Ms. Merida Rodriguez and like a formal statement. Do you want me to say Mary or Merida for this?

Segment Synopsis: Yonemoto-Weston conducts a LEDE and introduces Merida Rodriguez who is being interviewed on October 29th, 2022 for the Latino Veterans Oral History Project which is a collaboration between the Lorain Historical Society, El Centro de Servicios Sociales and Oberlin College.

00:00:47 - Early life, from Puerto Rico to Lorain

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Partial Transcript: We’ll begin with some questions about your early life if that’s ok? So I guess we’ll just start with, can you begin by telling me where you were born and where you grew up?

Segment Synopsis: Rodriguez recounts that she was born in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico and then brought to Lorain, Ohio a year later by her family where she has lived ever since. She states that she knows Lorain very well and that the location for the interview (Lorain Historical Society) was once a public library. Rodriguez describes being raised in the neighborhood surrounding Lorain Historical Society, Downtown Broadway, in apartments with many other Hispanic families and attending the local schools. She recounts that she met her husband and other friends, including Celestino Rivera, through Sacred Heart Chapel’s youth groups. Rodriguez describes how she and her husband made their first Communion together as children before becoming a couple many years later.

Keywords: Catholicism; Sacred Heart Chapel; Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico; friends; migration

00:03:34 - Meeting husband and early days of relationship

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Partial Transcript: Wow! That’s so wild! So how old were you when you and your husband started dating?

Segment Synopsis: Rodriguez describes that she and her husband started dating when she was 17 years old after finishing high school. She states that knowing her husband through her brothers growing up made him feel like a friend first and foremost before developing a romantic relationship with him. Rodriguez describes how her husband was drafted and sent to Vietnam while the two were dating. They eventually reunited in Puerto Rico when he received “R and R” and Rodriguez went to meet and visit family there. She describes the joy of meeting both her own family and her husband’s family as well during this trip.

Keywords: Puerto Rico; Vietnam War; family

00:05:15 - Family and friends in the military

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Partial Transcript: I definitely want to talk about, obviously, your husband’s service and everything like that in Vietnam, but before we go there, you talked about your brothers. Did you have any sisters as well?

Segment Synopsis: Rodriguez discusses her family including how she has two older brothers but no sisters. One of her brothers, Hector Rodriguez, was in the air force and served for four years and their other brother, Angel, was in the navy. Rodriguez describes how neither of her brothers were sent to Vietnam but instead to Thailand and The Netherlands. After their military service, both the brothers came back to Lorain and got married. Rodriguez describes how she knew many people in the military and many military families growing up. Most of her friends were drafted, including her husband. However, she describes that her brothers enlisted. Yonemoto-Weston asks about other members of Rodriguez’s family growing up and Rodriguez describes how her father came to Lorain to work in the steel mill. Rodriguez recounts that her father left Puerto Rico for Connecticut with his brother before moving to Lorain and that after he was able to save up money, he sent for Rodriguez and her mother and brothers in Puerto Rico and moved them to the U.S. with him. Rodriguez states that Lorain is most of what she knows in respect to her surroundings as she has lived there for so long and the vast majority of her life.

Keywords: U.S. Air Force; U.S. Navy; draft; military family

00:07:47 - Life in Lorain during husband’s service and difficulties of his return after war

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Partial Transcript: We can talk a little bit more about your husband’s service if that’s alright with you. So you met at Sacred Heart and then how did you learn he was being drafted? What did that feel like to you?

Segment Synopsis: Rodriguez recounts that the draft was a communal thing during the Vietnam War and how most of her male family and friends were drafted around the same time in 1968-69 and pretty much everyone in her community knew someone in the military. Rodriguez describes dating her husband before he served six months in Vietnam and then returning to Lorain together from their trip to Puerto Rico after his service. She states that the two dated for a bit longer after returning to Lorain before getting engaged. Rodriguez recalls that she could see the difference in her husband’s personality after his return from Vietnam. She describes him being less calm and relaxed and having anxiety, which was difficult for her to understand. Rodriguez discusses how the general American societal culture at the time was very hostile towards Vietnam veterans and that her husband experienced harassment including being spit on and being told not to wear his uniform upon returning to the U.S. Rodriguez states that she heard and saw these things but that they were hard for her to absorb or fully understand as a civilian who’s relationship with her husband was independent from the military and his service. She states that the world was in a very different place and time culturally. Rodriguez recalls that this time was very difficult because she did not understand where her husband’s anxiety and depression were coming from and that she felt she was naive to these issues when she married a person who was struggling. Yonemoto-Weston asks what kinds of things Rodriguez was involved with while her husband was away in Vietnam. Rodriguez answers that she attended beauty school and started working in various beauty parlors as she waited for her husband to return. She also states that she found community in her church with other women whose husbands or fiancees were at war. Rodriguez describes this as a traumatic time as the community repeatedly had to experience the loss of friends and family serving overseas. She reminisces about sending letters to her husband while he was away and receiving the letter with the news that he was being discharged.

Keywords: Sacred Heart Chapel; Vietnam; depression; discrimination; marriage; trauma

00:16:15 - Marriage and family life, husband’s journey to recovery

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Partial Transcript: Could you tell me more about your life after he was discharged and what that was like? Your married life?

Segment Synopsis: Rodriguez discusses how over all her marriage has been wonderful and she feels lucky. She talks about how once she and her husband had children in the 1960s, things started to change in terms of her husband’s mental health and Rodriguez could not understand this shift. She gives examples of how his PTSD would affect the family like that he could only sit facing the windows of a building in public settings and did not like crowds and how this represented a loss of trust in the community around him. Rodriguez describes her husband as not feeling secure during this time. She emphasized however, that her husband was a wonderful father and did not let his mental health issues affect his parenting. In fact, according to Rodriguez, her husband would emphasize to his children that they were lucky to have the things they did in the US and that children in Vietnam did not have the same privileges. Rodrgiuez expresses that she feels that she had to keep a lot secret and hold a lot of her husband’s trauma and that she believes many Vietnam veteran wives feel the same way. She discusses how the creation of VA programs and the expansion of mental health awareness has made things a lot easier for their family in the past few decades.

Keywords: VA medical center; Veterans Affairs; children; family; mental health

00:23:21 - PTSD and cultural mental health education

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Partial Transcript: Because it’s, uh, it’s, I have to tell you it’s sad when you see someone you love suffer from anxiety, depression, which is what we know today as PTSD. I didn’t even know what that meant. I remember he used to come home and say, “You know they say I have PTSD!” and I’m like “Well, what’s that?”. So we all had to be educated on that.

Segment Synopsis: Rodriguez discusses how awareness around PTSD and veterans’ mental health has become more widespread in the past 20 years and how this has helped her community and family. She describes that understanding and naming the things her husband has gone through validates her experiences because it was difficult to help her husband through this PTSD.

Keywords: PTSD; marital relationship; spouse; stigma

00:26:39 - Pride and strength

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Partial Transcript: Was there anything you found to be good or fulfilling about being the wife of a Vietnam vet? Or any positive parts?

Segment Synopsis: Rodriguez states that a positive part of being a Vietnam veteran’s wife has made her very prideful and aware of the sacrifices veterans have gone through. She describes feeling glad that she was naive to the atrocities of war while it was happening or else she does not know how the community would have coped. Rodriguez describes the strength, empathy, kindness, and compassion she gained from being a Vietnam veteran’s wife. Though she describes herself as being less trusting as well and feels well aware of the toll war takes on people. She praises her children for enduring the aftermath of their father’s service.

Keywords: familial support; respect

00:31:51 - Message for future generations

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Partial Transcript: What message would you like to leave for future generations who might view or hear this interview?

Segment Synopsis: Rodriguez describes her message for future generations as to not give up on one’s family struggling with mental health issues as veterans. She describes the importance of continuing to support veterans through the hard times and help destigmatize mental health.

Keywords: future; love; support