1964 was an important year for Lupita Reyes.
That year, she asked WHTC station manager Bill Gargano why there were no radio broadcasts for the largest and growing minority community in the Netherlands.
After thinking about it, Gargano decided to give him a 25-minute time slot on Saturday night. “Are you kidding?” she says. “I don’t know anything about radio.”
More story:The History of Holland Sugar Company
Still, she accepted the challenge. But what would they call the show? When Gargano asked Reyes how she was most of the time, she replied happy. From then on, they named the show “Alegria Latina”.
The station later moved the schedule to Sunday nights, where Reyes was given a 180-minute time slot. She hosted the show for 57 years.
Prior to its retirement in 2021, the show featured Mariachi, Banda, Tejano, Bachata, Cumbias, and Rancheras music — along with interviews, news, and call-ins from listeners from across the United States.
It was also in 1964 that Reyes, Maria Gaitan and Frances Gamez co-founded the Latin American Society, the precursor of Latin Americans United for Progress. They believed that by banding together, the largest and growing minority community in the Netherlands would have a stronger voice in determining local education and housing policies.
Additionally, on behalf of the working poor, they lobbied for community services, jobs, emergency food and clothing. Three churches heard them and responded. In 1969, Hope Reformed – led by David Myers, professor at Hope College – Third Reformed and First Presbyterian founded the Community Help Center. Today, this organization is known as the Community Action House.
Reyes’ first-hand experiences spurred her into action.
Reyes was born in 1937 near Brownsville, Texas, in Bluetown. Her stepfather was a bricklayer and her mother cleaned houses. In 1945, Lupita and her mother immigrated to Holland. They arrived in the back of a truck loaded with 25 people, with only a tarp for the roof.
The trip lasted five days. Arriving in Holland, the driver dropped them off at the abandoned Holland Sugar Company, where Kollen Park Drive is today. Then someone else transported them to Ninth Street, near Western Foundry, where the DeVos Fieldhouse stands today. There, they move in with an uncle and join his father.
No one in Reyes’ immediate family spoke English. Lupita’s father worked for Northern Woods Products, located in the former Charles Limbert factory, where Freedom Village is located today. His mother got a job in the laundry at the Warm Friend Hotel in downtown Holland.
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An only child, Lupita stayed home with her loved ones except when she was at school. His first neighborhood friend was a girl named Barbara, who had a physical disability. But the friendship didn’t last as Lupita’s family kept moving.
The school Lupita attended was not initially a friendly place. Lupita’s mother enrolled her at nearby Lincoln School, where Hope College’s Martha Miller Communications Center is located today.
Initially, her second-grade teacher believed that Lupita had a “learning disability”. Luckily, when Lupita entered third grade, the principal reclassified because Lupita had an attorney: her third-grade teacher, Minnie Buter.
Buter felt that Lupita had a language impairment, not a mental disability. Buter also supported Lupita in other ways. At that time, Lupita and her family lived off the M-21 between Holland and Zeeland. Buter, who lived in Zeeland, picked up Lupita in the morning before school. After school, Lupita had to walk home.
Later, Lupita’s parents enrolled her in the local Catholic school. There, the Monsignor called her a “problem child.” In response, Lupita became rebellious and the school expelled her because, as the Monsignor told his mother, “she is a bad influence on the other children and calls the nuns ‘penguins'”.
His next school was Beechwood. There, she had a teacher, Mr. Maatman, who understood her. Then her family moved again and enrolled Lupita in the Van Raalte school. By age 13, Lupita was working as a dishwasher at Hoffman’s Restaurant, located on River Avenue between Eighth and Ninth Streets. She continued to work there, as a waitress, while attending Holland High School.
During her sophomore year, Lupita met with a school counselor and shared her dreams of becoming a nurse. But the counselor discouraged her, telling her she didn’t have the grades to go to college.
“After that meeting,” Lupita recalls, “I just wanted to be done with school.”
To be continued.
— Steve VanderVeen writes about local business history. For a limited time, check out his upcoming books at kickstarter.com/projects/holland-me/holland-and-me-the-series.