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Ricardo Osmondo Francis
Oral history interview conducted by Rebecca Jacobs
June 13, 2014
Call number: 2011.019.101
REBECCA JACOBS: This is Rebecca Jacobs. It's June 13th, 2014. I'm here with1:00Ricardo Francis. Ricardo, can you introduce yourself for the recorder?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Hi, I am Ricardo Osmondo Francis. I am an artist and curator.I live in Jersey City, but I work on my projects, exhibits, and/or shows here, both in Brooklyn and in Manhattan. For the most part. (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: And we're in Brooklyn in Prospect Heights today, doing thisinterview for the Brooklyn Historical Society, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations project. So, let's get started off with some questions about just your background. A little about when and where you were born. So, when and where you were born?
RICARDO FRANCIS: I was born on [date redacted for privacy] in Houston, Texas.My mother is black American, and she's from Chicago, originally. And my father is Panamanian, and he was born in Colón, Panama. And if I'm not mistaken, he ended up working for the US -- through the US Army on the canal, and that's how he came here. And they met in Brooklyn. She was in grad school -- she's a social worker, but she was in grad school. I forget the school that she was at, but they met at a party, here in Brooklyn. And he was working for Con Ed, as an engineer, and that's how they met. And through, I believe, her mother, or my grandmother, persuaded her to move back to Houston. Just so you know, my mother was the only child, an adopted child of my grandmother and grandfather, Ed and Ruth [Simmons], who are both deceased, but-- So, they -- it was harder for, I 2:00think, my grandmother to let go of her -- of my mother.
REBECCA JACOBS: The only child?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Only child, and she was adopted, because my grandmothercouldn't have children.
REBECCA JACOBS: So, what was your mother -- what's your mother's name?
RICARDO FRANCIS: My mother's name is [Portia] Simmons Francis.
REBECCA JACOBS: And your father's name?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Is Ricardo Francis.
REBECCA JACOBS: Ricardo Francis.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: OK, so --
RICARDO FRANCIS: So I'm a Junior. (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: That's great. So, I'd love to hear about -- a little about yourgrandparents, your mother's parents, and their background, and--
RICARDO FRANCIS: With my mother's parents, they -- I'm trying to remember. Iknow that my biological grandfather is from Detroit. And if I'm not mistaken, my biological grandmother is also from Detroit as well. And they were high 3:00school sweethearts, and they had a child out of wedlock, which ended up being my mother. And so, they decided that it was best to give her up for adoption. And that, of course, became a -- an issue, I think, with my biological grandmother. She basically did not want to accept the fact of my mother being in existence. I'm not sure why. It's a long story with that. I'm not sure why that is the case. At least-- Shortly before my biological grandfather passed away, we had the pleasure -- my sister and myself, and my mother, after she spent years trying to find him, found him. He was, at the time, he was in the hospital, dying of emphysema. And we finally got to meet him. And oddly enough, he was a 4:00mortician. That was his trade. So, imagine being a -- I think -- how old was I? Twelve? Imagine being at a -- his place was literally a -- right on top of a funeral home. That's where he lived. (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow. And so you were 12 when you met your biologicalgrandfather for the first time.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yes, yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: And so you -- did you learn more about them after he had passedaway, or--?
RICARDO FRANCIS: I think I -- think I got to know a lot about him throughconversation. Just through speaking to him, and I mean, there were more facts of course that came afterwards, but it was more interesting to hear it directly from him.
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: You know? Sometimes, to get the real deal, the real narrative,5:00it's best to hear it, as they say, from the horse's mouth, rather than from hearsay, or other people, or even sometimes, if it's written down. But directly speaking to the individual. And I think he gave a more real testimony of why what happened happened. And he, at least, was apologetic about all of what took place between my mother and he and her mother. So-- (pause)
REBECCA JACOBS: Sorry for that quick pause, just making a quick adjustment.Wow, so that's really moving that you met them. And now -- and that he was apologetic. And that doesn't always happen when -- you know, adoption. And 6:00what about your adoptive grandparents that your mother was raised with?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Again, their name is -- actually, just for, in terms of names,my biological grandfather is -- his name is Warner [Cosley]. That's his name. The biological grandmother, I never remember her name. You have to ask my mother that question. And she's all the way in Texas, so that would be a bit difficult. But in terms of my adoptive grandparents, their names was Ed -- Eddie and Ruth Simmons. And what I do know about them -- well, when I was born, I would not o-- I believe at the time, like I was able to register who people were, and that kind of thing, as a kid. He was already -- already had Alzheimer's, so he was a bit out of it a great deal of the time, unfortunately. 7:00What I do remember of him is that he was always very jovial in his own way. It was unfortunate to see him declining, in terms of his health, but I think that he tried to enjoy every day as best he could. I do remember my grandmother really being sort of the backbone of the family. And doing everything from cleaning to cooking to making sure my sister and I got up and had breakfast and dinner, and went to school, and this, that, and the other. And my mother did what most, I think, single mothers did. You know, she worked. And I think for -- actually for a long time, she was a social worker, but her specialty was adoption. So, she sometimes would take my sister and I on trips into -- either 8:00around Houston, or sometimes, like, we would take two- or three-hour trips outside of Houston to, like -- I didn't know where we were, half the time. (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: But, like, we would go on to do case studies, and it wasbasically like, she would do a check-up on children she'd placed in particular people's homes. And just did an update on you know, how they were, and what the environment was like for them, and this, that, and the other. But it was very interesting. Most of the -- actually, all of the time. Not even most of the time -- all of the time, when people spoke of my mother, in terms of what she did, in terms of being a social worker with adoption, she was like -- they would be like, you know, "If it wasn't for your mother, I would not have the joy of having --" whichever, you know, child was placed with them. And I saw that as I 9:00think one of my first lessons in what humanity is. And I thought that that was something that -- it was special for me. And you could -- you know, it's like when you -- when people say they could -- they experience joy or whatnot. It's great to see that, you know, because I think a lot of times, kids grow up in the most dire situations or places. And I can at least say that, for me, I was very lucky to see a lot of the good aspects of existence, through my growing up.
REBECCA JACOBS: Through your mother and your grandparents?
RICARDO FRANCIS: And my (inaudible) yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: And so, your grandmother, did she ever talk to you about the-- adopting your mother, and that experience?
RICARDO FRANCIS: That's a great question, actually. Well, what -- she never10:00explained that to me. My mother -- my grandmother and I had a sort of an unusual relationship in the aspect of, in many ways, she regarded me almost as her son, rather than my mother. My mother and I do have a -- I would say a good relationship. I think the difference, though, is that, in terms of the understanding of the virtues of life and existence, I got more of that through my grandmother than I did of my mother. And it's funny, like, I think once I -- I think a few years ago, when I really began to think about relationships I have with people, I realized that, looking back at my upbringing, that a lot of how I shaped who am as a person was really more through my grandmother. And I just 11:00think it was the aspect of circumstance. I mean, like, my mother worked a lot. And -- what is the term? Latchkey child?
REBECCA JACOBS: Mm-hmm.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. Well, I think that a -- and I think a lot of friends ofmine went through the same thing. It's like, another family member was there, more so than the actual parent or parents. And I don't think -- I don't put that against my mother, by any means. It's just what happened.
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah. So, what -- were your grandparents -- did they look likeyou? Your adoptive grandparents? Or did they --
RICARDO FRANCIS: No.
REBECCA JACOBS: No.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Mm-mmm.
REBECCA JACOBS: OK.
RICARDO FRANCIS: It was interesting. My mother, I remember that at around eightor nine years old, my mother explained why she left my father.
REBECCA JACOBS: OK.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Then she explained also the story of when my grandmother told12:00her when she was adopted, and she had told her when she was 17 years old.
REBECCA JACOBS: Oh, really?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. So, of course, I could never -- you know, I have a bigmouth, so I always -- I either always asked, or questioned everything or people, or whatnot. And I was like, "Well, don't you think that that was a bit harsh? I mean, it's like, she could have told you when you were younger. It would have been an easier pill to swallow, I think." And she agreed with me on that. But she said, you know, "She chose to tell me at this time, and I did become very depressed over it."
REBECCA JACOBS: When you were around nine? Eight or --
RICARDO FRANCIS: No, well, she -- she was depressed over that. And that's --and she explained, that's the reason why she wanted to do adoption.
REBECCA JACOBS: OK.
RICARDO FRANCIS: To sort of right a wrong that she felt that was done to her.
REBECCA JACOBS: Oh, your mother wanted to --13:00
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yes.
REBECCA JACOBS: -- be a social worker working on adoption?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. I mean, I think that probably was there even before thatstory. But that situation -- that happened. But I think that just sort of was icing on the cake. Or, you know, it was like a -- like a, what is it? Like adding more gasoline to that fire that's already there, in terms of her going and doing something she felt was necessarily for her. So--
REBECCA JACOBS: So your mother didn't know she was adopted until she was 17?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yes.
REBECCA JACOBS: Uh-huh. Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: And so, were there sort of cultural things, growing up that youremember, like food, or religious aspects with your grandmother and mother?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Well, we -- my sister and I grew up Baptist. And for me--14:00Deep in my spirit, I don't -- I never identified with it. I went along with it, because it was -- for me, I sort of saw it as that, this is the thing to do, just continue. My big dream was to always move to New York. That was always there (laughs) in my head, to move to New York, to leave Texas. And I would -- remember vividly -- luckily there was a library at home. My grandma was always about education. She was very supportive of that. So, for me, I would spend hours reading, going through encyclopedias, especially looking at different countries and how people lived elsewhere. And in my head, I'm thinking, I would love to experience what it's like to be in Europe, or to be in Asia, or to be in Africa, and just at least be there for a short time, and know what it's like to experience how other people exist. That was -- that was always there, to some 15:00degree. But I mean, growing up in the church, I would say that you see the hypocrisy in humanity by -- well, at least for me, in terms of how I was -- how I grew up -- you see the hypocrisy of humanity by going to church. And you know, and I'm not trying to make a statement that church is a bad place to be. I think that -- there was one minister that I must say, I had complete respect for. I think I was a teenager when I met him, and I was part of that church for about three or four years, if I'm not mistaken. But I was a teenager at that time. But he was the only one that I -- he seemed to truly live by example. And I think that he was not afraid to talk about the aspects of human error. I 16:00think that he really embraced that and that was part of his -- part of his teachings to his flock. But the others, you know, they say, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," yet the minister is with mistresses, and giving -- or embezzling money, and -- you know--
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Different other things that has nothing to do with the church.And this was also the age, in the '80s of Jimmy Falwell -- was it Jimmy Falwell, or Jimmy Swaggart? I get them all confused.
REBECCA JACOBS: Jerry Falwell?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Jerry Falwell, yes, and Jimmy Swaggart, and I remember vividlywhen he said, "I have sinned against you," and -- and then it was -- what is it? The taking of the money, and the -- all the mistresses. (laughing; inaudible) (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: So this wasn't exactly strengthening your faith?17:00
RICARDO FRANCIS: It was -- it was not. But I always believed in a higher power.And to this day, I believe God exists. But it -- this may sound funny, and I told people this all the time, is, like, God to me, is like when I was growing up, and it was like the last television show. And it had the National Anthem, and then the TV would go blank. And it had, like, the pixels. That, to me, is what God is, visually. Just --
REBECCA JACOBS: No, that's cool.
RICARDO FRANCIS: -- I -- yeah. Just a -- just sort of a -- what was it? A flatscreen of pixels. And you can make him or her or whatever wherever you wish for it to be. But I do believe that God does not condone all of the misdeeds of mankind to each other in his name. That I've never believed. So all of the killing and the -- the-- The aspect of crime and misdeeds, and just misfortune. 18:00All of that really is man-made. And that is unfortunately the truth of people, and I've come to realize that, and one thing that I think God gave all of us is free will. We could either be good or we could be evil, or bad, or whatnot. So he gives us that -- that -- that choice, and -- but, for whatever way you wish to go, you have to pay for it. There's nothing in life - there's always a price for everything. So, that's the, sort of the -- that's how I view spirituality or religion, if you want to call it that. I don't believe in organized religion. I have a lot of issues with that, because man will always corrupt it. A lot of the aspects of it, in terms of the principles, are great principles. 19:00And even all the three major religions, or whatnot, there's great principles in all of them. But of course, you put a person in power, you're always going to have some level of misdeed and mistrust that happens.
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: So.
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah. So I guess -- I liked talking about your experience as achild growing up with religion. I realized maybe before we get too much into your childhood, a bit more we should talk about any memories you have of your father or not, and sort of your father, which we didn't really discuss yet. So--
RICARDO FRANCIS: He -- if I'm not mistaken, because a lot of things was keptfrom me. (laughs) I think a lot of things are kept from a lot of -- a lot of kids. But he did win the right, through court, to have visitation rights. So, 20:00there was some -- there were some weekends, you know, I would go there, and -- to the best of my ability, I could say that he and I had a pretty OK relationship. I think that one thing I could say I liked about him is that he treated more -- in terms of his style of parenting, more as a friend than as a son. I think a lot of times there's been debate on how children should be raised. Some parents feel it's probably better to treat them more as like a best friend. And then others are like, well, no, you have to be -- you know, a parental -- you always have to have a parental presence, and there always has to be that boundary of, "I'm in charge and you're to follow," and this, that, and 21:00the other. But his -- his style was more as a buddy kind of situation. My issue with him is that he was not consistent with that. I wanted a relationship with him, and I think because my mother and he had a very difficult past -- and he didn't like the fact that she just up and left -- which I'm glad she did, but -- (laughs) based on his philandering. But you know, she just up and left, and he always held that against her. So I think that a lot of times, he -- that became like the reason why he, for the most part, especially towards the end of our sort of getting to know each other through the visitations, were not 22:00interested. It just sort of stopped. I think the visitation period was roughly maybe two years. And I think by age nine, I remember waiting for him to pick me up to stay with him for the weekend, and he never did. And that was the last I saw of him. So in my mind, I chose to just put it in a box and keep it there. Because it was just easier to -- I think people are-- What's the term? It's -- they become bitter by the choices of family, friends, this, that, and the other. And I've realized that people make choices all the time, and a lot of times, those choices are not the correct choices, in terms of dealing with certain situations and with certain people. You know. And I think with forgiveness, it's about taking -- looking at everything neutrally, or as neutral as you can. And then saying, how do we come to a healthy conclusion to move forward, and to 23:00just let whatever happened just -- you know, we try to correct it, and we try to move on from there. And I think most people don't understand how to do that. And I would -- I'm not sure where I learned how to do that. But maybe it was -- I would probably say maybe it was -- oddly enough through my grandmother. I think she -- she was funny, in terms of, like, she had issues with a lot of people and a lot of things. But at the same time, I think that she knew how to -- she was a very strong individual. And I think she knew for the greater good that sometimes it's best to just say, "Forget it." Move on. So, for me, I think that I learned from her how to deal with him, in terms of just -- just let 24:00it be. There is more to life than worrying about a relationship that may not have been the best or may not be worth delving more into, because the other person doesn't want that with you. You know. But there were some good times with him. I think my first time ever seeing Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was with him. (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: It was a good movie.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. He had a -- someone that he was seeing -- her name wasMyrtle. And I really liked her as a person. She gave me a lot of proverbs about life and existence. And I remember having some great dinners with him and her. And one thing she told me about -- we had an interesting conversation about women, actually. And she said, she doesn't understand why people think 25:00that makeup is a great thing. And I was like, "Well, what do you mean by that?" Mind you, I probably was a seven- or eight-year-old, and we're (laughing) having this conversation. And she said, "Real beauty is in the inside of the person. And a woman is really more beautiful without all of the makeup, not with this -- all of that stuff -- all of the lipstick, and the eye shadow, and this, that, and the other. It's basically making them into a caricature of themself." And I thought about that. Actually, I thought about that for quite some time, and I realized that she was right. But I took that a step further, and really thought of -- that could really be said about even men, too, to a certain degree. And the issue of makeup goes beyond that. It's just attire, it's the aspect of how people wish to project themselves to others. And I think 26:00a lot of times, people project themselves as a character that they feel that people will accept and better as than what is really there. So I think one of the things -- and I think this has probably a lot to do with spirituality is, I've always -- even -- I would say, even as a kid, I'm more interested in the reality of the individual than the surface that they present to me. I think also, because I chose at age four to be an artist -- believe it or not, that was a willful decision. I just was -- some may call me crazy for saying that. But it's like, at age four, I knew consciously that I was to be an artist. To what exact degree, don't -- I didn't never really knew. But I just knew that I 27:00wanted to draw.
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: And luckily, I was -- both my mother and grandmother supportedme with that. So it was the -- there was a lot of after-school programs. And art teachers in school noticed that I really had a real, you know, connection to drawing, and to the best of their abilities, you know, really helped aid me or guide me with that. But always -- and eventually, that went on into-- There was a fifth-grade teacher. His name was James Woods. He was a singer. And he wanted to create a boys' choir. I went to -- one of the elementary schools that 28:00was very close to where I lived what called [Lockhart] Elementary. And so, he created a boys' choir. And I think that was the first time I saw a male figure that was almost like a father. And there was a certain level of discipline. He was very, like, hard-nosed, in many way. And for me, I think that children need people that are very structured in that way. He was also my fifth-grade teacher, which (laughs) is --
REBECCA JACOBS: So you saw him often?
RICARDO FRANCIS: -- so imagine, it's like you have him; and he was a very, very-- he was always about discipline, and he was always about, if you're going to make it in life, you have to be ready for what people throw at you. So imagine being told that at fifth grade. But it's true. And ironically, that was also my grandmother's view of people, too. She's like, "You know, you're black, and 29:00you're a man. And you're going to have to work twice as hard as other people. And that's just the unfortunate aspect of how it is for you."
I never, though -- what I will say, though, before I get back into the aspect ofMr. Woods -- being black was never an issue for me. I think for a lot of people, being black, and even being a man can be very difficult. But I chose not to have that as an issue. And I think that I've survived life better by not allowing that to be an issue. I don't want to be bitter, and I don't want to be angry. To me, being bitter and angry gets you nowhere, and it will just -- 30:00keeps you always in the same situation. So, in terms of the aspect of my Panamanian heritage, that was kind of an odd situation for me. I did not understand why. So of course, with my mother, I'd be like, "Why him? Couldn't you have just been with an American?" And -- I think it was an issue of trying to understand why my name was Ricardo. (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: And did you identify with that heritage, or not, or do you?
RICARDO FRANCIS: I do. Now. But it was -- I don't think I came to peace withit until much later in life, like really, really in peace with it. I, I think, understood the aspect of it, for the most part, when I was growing up. I understood that it was just two people were in love with each other. Or thought 31:00they were in love with each other. (laughs) At a point in time, and whatnot. But-- But in terms of the real, like, for me, identifying, it wasn't until much later in life, where it was like, I think, more came together. And that was -- and I think that the really -- the biggest piece with that was trying to -- was -- I had to learn Spanish. And it's still a process. Of course, it's harder to learn at -- later in life than it is if you were a kid, and that was one of my little fiefdoms with my father, was that, you know, he wasn't around to teach me these things. (laughs) But you know, as with anyone, it's best that one learns to do something on their own, rather than to wait for someone else to do it for you. 32:00
REBECCA JACOBS: I think we're just going to pause for one sec while --
RICARDO FRANCIS: Sure.
REBECCA JACOBS: -- the sanitation truck passes. (laughter) Let's just --(laughs) (pause; loud noise) OK.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Thank you. You read my mind.
REBECCA JACOBS: So-- We're just pausing for one sec. OK. I definitely want toget back -- so you were frustrated that your father didn't teach you Spanish?
RICARDO FRANCIS: I was more frustrated with the aspect that he just wasn'tthere, period. But I think that, you know, it -- I just like, in terms of when you think about it, it's like, oh, damn, if he as around, I would know more about what Panama was like. Or, I would have known Spanish. I would have had a 33:00deeper connection. And the irony is that, when I moved to New York, you know, especially here in Brooklyn, there is a big Panamanian enclave here. So, I began to -- I think being here in New York, I began to see right away the many people that you studied about as a kid, or had either curiosity, or some level of inquiry about. I got to see them and deal with them directly, here. So--
REBECCA JACOBS: So, yeah, because when you were a kid, you would read the, youknow --
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: -- encyclopedia about people from all over the world.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: And that's really interesting that, as a kid, you knew you were34:00an artist, and you also knew you wanted to move to New York at a very young age.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: That's really interesting. To talk a little more aboutchildhood, and then I'd love to get into the sort of New York, and learning Spanish and more recent sort of way in which your identity has changed in some ways. Did you have any siblings?
RICARDO FRANCIS: I'm -- oh, yes, I have a sister. She's two years younger thanI am.
REBECCA JACOBS: OK. And is -- was she -- does she have the same father as you?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yes.
REBECCA JACOBS: OK. And where -- and how was that, growing up with your sister?
RICARDO FRANCIS: It's funny, she and I have a -- our relationship is not astandard brother-and-sister relationship. I think that -- in this particular situation, I don't wish to go too -- too much into it. I would say that we have 35:00a good relationship. I think there were some moments as we were growing up, where there was tension. But I think we worked through all of that, and now that we -- we have a real understanding for each other, and she gives some great advice to me, and I feel that, you know, I could do that with her as well. But that was just a lot of -- it was some hurdles we had to get through, in terms of understanding each other a bit. But you know, and for the most part, though, she's -- even when we were growing up, it was a pretty -- it was, in many respects, a smooth childhood together. She was doing her own, thing, I was doing my own thing. (laughs) You know what I mean?
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: And I don't think that there -- I'm not sure if there was asibling rivalry of any sort, or whatnot. Sometimes that happens or whatnot. I'm not - I don't think that that was the case here. I just think that there 36:00were some things that happened, and we kind of were apart at times. But we -- I think we worked through that.
REBECCA JACOBS: Great.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: I'm wondering -- I'm kind of interested -- did you hear storiesfrom your grandmother and grandfather that -- your -- the ones who adopted you, who you were close to -- about any of their memories? I mean, it's interesting that your grandmother said, "You're a black man, you're going to have to deal with this challenge." Did she have sort of relatives who had been through things, or see your grandfather going through things, or why --
RICARDO FRANCIS: Well, she -- I found out more-- It's ironic with people. Youfind out more through other people than through the person (laughs) themselves. She actually was in many ways, directly part of the civil rights movement. 37:00
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: And so, I remember this one story vividly. My mother told methis, that she -- that Martin Luther King had came to Houston, and there were some meetings with area local ministers or whatnot, and there were protests and this, that, and the other, and so on and so forth. So one thing she did was, she organized a dinner, at her place. And Martin Luther King actually came there with -- you know, he usually had a entourage with him, of course.
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: And she had made -- she had made the dinner for him. And fromwhat -- and I had the great, what is it? Honor of having her cooking, uh -- 38:00pretty much every day. But he was very complimentary to her food. And it was just -- oh, again, a story I heard from my mother, and when I asked my grandmother about it, she just sort of laughed, and was like, "Yeah, it's true." (laughs) That was pretty much her explanation. (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow, I'm glad I asked that question.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. But I think she -- she had it hard, from what I'veheard. Her life was hard, and I think somet-- and not to sound horrendous, but I think she had it probably harder from other black people than -- and her family, than others. And that's the thing about, if you want to talk about the aspect of racism, a lot of times -- and this is something that people do not talk about every often, is that a lot of times racism is an inbred issue within the same group of people. And it's -- you know, I think that if you're going to 39:00talk about it, it's always the white man against the black man, or white man against Latinos, or white man against (inaudible) or Amer-- white, male Americans or white, female Americans against anyone that's -- or the Christian right against anyone else that's coming into the US. But no one likes to talk about how each other points the finger, and will say, you know, derogatory things towards each other. And the more I found out more about my grandmother, the more I saw that that was the dynamic that was in her own existence. And I think that that was something that she did not like to talk about. She did not like to go too far into that. I think that as much as she wanted to get me to see the world for what it is, she hid a lot, as well. And I don't think it's 40:00out of embarrassment, I think it's the aspect of, she did not want me to be bitter. And sometimes keeping information -- I don't -- I personally don't feel that she should have done that. But I think that, in her -- in her mind, she felt that that was the best way to -- to deal with the subject.
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: It's to kind of keep certain parts of it closed.
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: To protect you, to a degree.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: Or something. Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: Well, that's really interesting. So, if you want to talk moreabout the community you grew up in. So you grew up in Houston, Texas.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Mm-hmm.
REBECCA JACOBS: Memories, from neighbors, or school, at a young age. It soundslike you have some really vivid early memories.
RICARDO FRANCIS: I do. People -- I do want to say this about the South. People41:00-- and I've heard this many times. People from New York, or in the tri-state area that, oh my God, you grew up in Texas, that must have been horrible, and it's the South, and it must have been racist. And I'm like, to be quite honest, it's like, I never remember my childhood being all that bad, in terms of racism. There were moments of that. But they were minor in comparison to some of the aspects I've seen here. I think that, especially in many cases, New York has a sort of silent segregation. And people know what it is. But it's not really talked about, too much. It's like, it's the same -- it's the aspect of, if you're a person of color in the Upper East Side, at a certain time, you shouldn't be there. Or, if you're in a particular neighborhood in almost any part of the city, there are particular people that are only there. So, if 42:00you're someone different, and you're in that neighborhood, especially in this day and time, in the present, there is the belief that -- of white people are moving in then, that rent is going to go up. And all the yuppies are moving in, and then we're all going to be kicked out. And also that could be said about just -- that seems to -- and in fact, I think that seems to be the dynamic now that is here. And it's interesting, in some of the -- in a lot of the conversations with people about neighborhoods in the area, some -- a lot of them are mixed. But at the same time, again, the aspect of you in that neighborhood, or these people in that neighborhood, that -- why is that? Or, you know, that that seems bizarre that he or she is in that neighborhood. How can they, when only these people are there? So, I find it strange, again, when the issue of 43:00people believe that being from Houston, Texas, that it was -- I went through this horrendous, or horrible, racial problem. I really didn't. You know? Not that being here in New York was really difficult either. It's just that, it's -- I think it's a bit unfair, the -- the stereotypes that are given about the South, in terms of the aspect of racism. I find that, a lot of times, New Yorkers, especially if you don't know them, are very jaded. And almost are, like, the don't register simple things, like "hello," or "good morning," or "good afternoon," or "thank you." And I -- in the South, that's expected. You go into any place, any [subway station] or the gas station, or bakery, or store, 44:00and people are like, "Hello, how are you?" And like, they're very happy to -- and they don't necessarily know you. They could be from a completely different group or race of people, but it's typically, in many instances what hap-- instances, rather, what happens. But here, it's almost like you have to know that person for a while for them to open up. And, as the old saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." I never made that as a issue of, oh, like I have problems with New Yorkers or whatnot. To me, I just thought it was an interesting quirk that's part of the aspect of being here. I do generally find New Yorkers to be, believe it or not, very nice people. They're definitely not Bostonians, that's for sure. (laughs) Which, they are -- they're a trip, in many ways, (laughing) for me, personally, but -- but no, I find most New Yorkers to be very kind and -- in their own way. 45:00
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: And they are -- I think especially once -- when 9/11 happened,and certain other things happened, or, like when the blackout in 2003 happened, everyone forgets they're in their bubble and they are -- they work as a collective. And that's one of the beautiful things about being here, is that that sense of -- of, what is it? Being a team, is definitely seen.
REBECCA JACOBS: It comes out occasionally.
RICARDO FRANCIS: It definitely does.
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. And I'm not sure -- and I think in most other cities,that would happen to some degree, but here it's a kind of an interesting -- it's very special -- and I'm lucky, very lucky I got to witness that. And unfortunately some of the situations were not the best for people, but, like, I 46:00would say the last time was Hurricane Sandy. Which was what, I think maybe --
REBECCA JACOBS: Two years ago?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Two or three -- maybe -- yeah, about two years ago. That was-- that was, again, a time where people, again, got out of being in their own bubble, and just --
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: -- we're going to get through this, and work together. And ifI can just think, the whole tri-state area do that. That, to me, is very commendable, and shows a lot about -- I do believe that New York is a great place for just about anyone to come and to deal with -- for at least a short time in their life, even if you're just here for a few months, just to experience it. It is no place on this planet like it. And it's truly the melting pot of the world, and you -- I remember my first year being here, I 47:00hated being here a great deal. I thought it just was too much, it was too difficult. You don't have any money. You know, it was -- and people -- and I felt like I was being stabbed in the back by a lot of people. People that I thought were friends, but they were not.
REBECCA JACOBS: And when was this, when you first --
RICARDO FRANCIS: I moved here three months after graduating from college at --in Baltimore. I moved here August 4th, 1998.
REBECCA JACOBS: OK.
RICARDO FRANCIS: And I lived in -- where was it? It's off of Linden -- was itLinden Avenue or Boulevard? Linden Boulevard, I think. In the projects. I cannot remember the name of the projects, but it's off of Linden Boulevard. And it was through a so-called friend, who was (laughs) -- I stayed with his aunt, and I was there for about nine months. She was difficult. And he ended up 48:00being difficult as well. And unfortunately through -- I remember I had only $300 to my name. And I had -- I had to make a choice. It was like, either do this now, or sit and wait another year, here in Baltimore, and be bored. At least that's where my mind was thinking, at the time. Because I think the plan was, was that I was going to stay in Baltimore for a year, work, and build up my portfolio to do grad school. To continue with my art degree, or to get a graduate, as a -- or my, I would say my MFA or whatnot, here in New York. So that was the plan. But after three months, I was like, I just -- I want to 49:00move. I was -- I'm ready to move. So I made plans to move here. And so the plan to move here, I think was, when I look back at it now, was a bit rushed, and a bit too idealistic.
REBECCA JACOBS: Because you had wanted to move to New York since you were achild, and --
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah. And I do want to get -- we'll talk a little more aboutchildhood. But to continue this.
RICARDO FRANCIS: So I moved -- I got in a Ryder truck, I loaded it up; got init, and-- I vividly remember there were two songs on the radio that played so many times. The Backstreet Boys, "I want it that way," (laughs) and Aliyah's song, "Are you that somebody." Those two songs, for some strange reason, were played so many times. And I think I had a moment of just, like, complete -- it was of -- I felt like I was accomplish-- of accomplishment when I was on 95 50:00coming into New York, and I saw the skyline. And I've seen it before, in traveling here, to either visit friends while I was in college or whatnot. But this was pivotal, because it was myself. And I was actually going to be here for good, or whatnot. But I experienced driving around in New York, which wasn't too -- it wasn't as bad as I expected. And -- but I was sort of good things, sort of in terms of the story, to get it, more quickly go through things or whatnot. But I was there --
REBECCA JACOBS: Oh, sorry.
RICARDO FRANCIS: -- for-- I was there for, like nine months. And it was aninteresting experience. I think I learned a lot about how to trust people, and 51:00how to be very mindful of how people are, or how people can be. So I look back at -- I don't have any bitterness over the little, to me, sort of silly, minor things that happened. I think that -- I wish I had a job when I moved here. I did not. I had to find a job, and I literally beat the pavement. I would go into places, I'd ask if they needed someone. And I was very lucky that I would say within two weeks, I found a job working at Sam Goody, when it was still in business. And the same manager that was at Sam Goody, he ended up leaving that job, and I ended up working with him for The Wiz, when it was still in business. (laughs) And -- in Brooklyn, on -- near -- in King's Plaza. Yeah. So, 52:00Brooklyn was, in many ways, the -- my world, at that time. Like, if I had to go to Manhattan, it had to be for something special, either it was to hang out, or maybe for a special event, or whatnot. But in terms of financially, it was very, very difficult. It was just like -- it was like, well -- and I was -- and I began to hear, like, well, your first year here is going to be a hard one. And it was true.
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah.
RICARDO FRANCIS: By almost the end of the year, I was this close to wanting tomove back to Texas with my family. And all of a sudden, everything changed.
REBECCA JACOBS: It worked out?
RICARDO FRANCIS: It worked out. I had a very great conversation with -- Iforget the woman's name, but she worked at Sony Music Studios. And she said, 53:00"Oh, there's a particular department there in client services, where, you know, you're dealing directly with the artists, with ordering food, and drinks, and just catering, basically, or whatnot. And they're always looking for people." And so, I said to her, "Oh, that'd be -- that sounds wonderful. You know, who do I talk to? Who do I send my resume to, or whatnot, and--" I was -- I had asked -- actually, I was pretty persistent with that, because I thought it just sounded cool, and sure enough, I ended up starting there part-time. And then within three months, I was there full-time. And that was my primary job for, I would say, the next eight years of me being here. And after -- I lived in Brooklyn -- again, I lived in Brooklyn for nine months in one spot. And then I ended up moving out through a co-worker, not at Sony, but at -- when I was still 54:00at Sam Goody. It was with her boyfriend, who had a place on [Kaiten] Avenue. Near Prospect Park. And I actually really liked that area a lot. I just thought it was like a great mix of people. You had -- part of the neighborhood was, like, Hasidic Jews, and then the other part was Indians. And a little bit of everyone else in between, (laughs) as well, in certain pockets. And just was like, wow, like, this is, to me, really New York, in many ways, and whatnot. But the problem with that situation was, I was literally -- and I remember this vividly now. I would give them $100 -- this was very cheap rent, mind you. I was like, if -- when I told this story, people are like, "Oh, my God, you paid $100 a month? To live there?" I was like, "Trust me, you've been in my shoes." (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: Yeah, with New York, you win some, you lose some, right?
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah, yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: So, struggles in the one way--
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. But what's funny is that the guy wasn't paying his rent55:00at all. So I was giving him - thank goodness it was only $100, but I mean, he wasn't paying his rent, and I remember one day, a City Marshall, and the landlord came by, and said -- the City Marshall was like, "You all -- you have half an hour to get all your stuff and leave." And I was like, (laughs) well, one, this is not my place. I'm renting from the owner of this apartment. And by this time, the apartment was having a lot of structural issues or whatnot. Like, literally, it was like, it was not really worth staying there anymore anyway. So, I explained my situation best I could. And it was -- this probably will sound a bit sensitive for anyone that's listening to this. The owner, who was a Hasidic Jewish guy, he said to me, he's like -- you know, he was like, 56:00"Who are you?" And I'm like -- explained it well -- "My name is Ricardo, and I'm -- so I'm a friend of --" I forget the guy's name; that's how much I put him out of my mind, out of my memory. But I was like, "I was renting a room from him." He's like, "Do you want this apartment?" I was like, "I'm not sure if I'll be able to afford this, at this point." And then he said, "You know, because -- you know, maybe I could help," you know, he was like, "I feel bad that you're in a situation here, but I try to help colored people. You know, I tried to help --" oh, his name was Michael. Yeah, so, "I tried to help Michael out, even. I try to help colored people out," or whatnot. Now, mind you, I knew I was dealing with someone from a different generation. So, I decided to stay calm and not be -- be rude about the situation, or be upset. I should say, be upset about the situation. I just was like, "Well, you know, unfortunately, he chose to swindle you. And he swindled me, too." It was like, "I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to try to stay here," but I was like, "I don't 57:00think I would like to."
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. So, I think within a three- or four-day period, heallowed me to get my -- all my stuff out, and luckily, I was able -- I had a friend who had property in Far Rockaway, Queens. And luckily, there was an apartment that was available -- thank God. (laughs) And it was my own place. And it was -- you know. A decent-sized place, and -- in terms of me being able to do my art there, it was perfect, and this, that, and the other, and it just was -- that was home for me, for about eight or nine years. So the same time I was at Sony was the same time I was living in Far Rockaway.
REBECCA JACOBS: So maybe --
RICARDO FRANCIS: So --
REBECCA JACOBS: Maybe what we could do is take a short break.
RICARDO FRANCIS: OK.
REBECCA JACOBS: And then get back and -- because it's been about an hour, soI'll just --
RICARDO FRANCIS: OK.
REBECCA JACOBS: -- pause for a short break.
RICARDO FRANCIS: OK.
REBECCA JACOBS: This is Rebecca Jacobs. I'm back with Ricardo Francis. It is59:0058:00the 13th of June, 2014. This is the second recording we're starting today in Brooklyn in our interview. So where we left off, we were talking -- you were talking about New York and how you moved out of the apartment in Brooklyn to Queens. Maybe before we talk more about that, we can go back to earlier memories from childhood. Whenever you want to start from, or any particular stories from elementary school or middle school, or--
RICARDO FRANCIS: I'll go back to the one with James Woods in fifth grade. Heformed a boy choir, and we sang in different parts of the city. And it was an interesting dynamic, in terms of learning how to sing, which is -- it's a lot 60:00more -- there's a lot more to it than people think. I think people now, they see American Idol, or they see any of the -- or The Voice, or any of these shows, and they just think that someone can just go out on the stage and just belt out a song, and then that's it. It takes a lot of training, a lot of -- a lot of practice, a lot of knowing how to go into a song, and find its core, and make it believable, so that the audience, whoever hears it, is surrounded by the song that you're singing. And I think that he taught that to me. And that, to me, I learned a lot about how to, as even as an artist -- because it was always really my plan, was to be an artist. That's -- that taught me a lot about how art is, to do the same thing. If someone is to see one of my pieces -- even if 61:00they don't necessarily like it, the image will remain in their head forever. No matter what. That's always been my -- my thing. But getting back to him, I learned a lot about devotion. I learned a lot about discipline. I learned a lot about if a deadline is coming up, you best make sure that you meet whatever is necessary for that. And he was -- he was about that with homework, he was about that with his class. And he was about that with the boy choir. What ended up happening soon after about a year of being in the boy choir that he formed, in Lockhart Elementary School, there was a instit-- well, not an 62:00institution. I would say, it is a boy choir that was formed of -- with -- that one had to audition for, that was called Houston -- Singing Boys of Houston. Which eventually became Houston Boychoir, after some years, or whatnot. But kind of similar to how [Menudo] in Puerto Rico had different members (laughs) of the years. It's the same with choirs, like, a choir is always -- it's the same choir, but they recycle -- I mean, like, the -- well, not recycle, I'm sorry to say that. They choose different members for a particular period of time. So of course, to sing -- and mind you, the vocal range of -- because estrogen and testosterone is for kids, are about the same levels before the voice changes around age 13 or 14 for boys, before they become men. It's first soprano, 63:00second soprano, alto -- depending on what it is for the particular kid. So, I believe then I was a first soprano. (laughs) Both in his choir, and when I eventually auditioned for Singing Boys of Houston, I ended up being a first soprano. Which, to me, when I think about it, it's hilarious, because when my voice changed, it was like complete opposite in many ways. It's like a -- I couldn't hit high C's or E's anymore.
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. But, it was a great experience of being with SingingBoys of Houston, because you had to -- it was very much the same thing with working with Mr. Woods. It was like, you had a concern, you had to be there on time. You had to, of course, to get into the work. You had to -- and I learned a lot at the -- I think at the time, I -- you learned a lot about music theory. 64:00So learning how to read notes. And also I had an interest in piano. So I was sort of learning piano based off of learning music through this experience. So it was interesting to not only know what the melody was, or the harmonies, in terms of the songs we sung, but also just even knowing how to play at least a little bit of the accompaniment as well. Just to know, exactly how, you know, to portray a song, or to get into it or not. And to make a long story short, one of -- the first experience of leaving Houston, and going overseas was Poland, in 1990.
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: I was 14. And there was an international boy choir festivalthat was in [Pontenan], Poland. So, that was my first experience ever leaving 65:00the country. And I was like -- for me, it was like a sort of a small victory. It was like, wow, like, I get to leave the country, and experience a completely different place I knew nothing about. And at that time, I believe Lech Walesa -- sorry if I've butchered the poor guy's name, but he -- the communism had just ended in Poland. And of course, we were -- I'm not sure if it was warned, or we were just instructed that a lot of the country is going through transition, by the time we'll be arriving there. I mean, not that it was going to be not safe, but that a lot of the, you know, the traditions would be kind of, in some places, very obvious that it was part of the old world order. And then in certain parts it would be -- you know, things would be a lot different. And I 66:00think what -- the experience I had is that we were two weeks there. We toured the country. We had one big concert that was in Pontenan, with different choirs from around the world, that were part -- and we sang [A Stabat Mater] by a Polish composer, who I think was still alive at the time. And it was one of the greatest experiences ever, you know? And we were in a big, old, Catholic church that probably, I think it was there from, like -- it had been there, I can't remember the exact time that it was made, but it definitely felt medieval. That was for sure. It didn't have air conditioning or heating, or whatnot. So it was like being in -- like sort of stuck in time somewhere, and for me, that was a great learning experience. But it was interesting to see the difference 67:00between being in America and being in this Eastern European country. And some of the things that they did were completely opposite from what we do here in America, and that's the aspect I cherished was that I was completely in a situation that was so unlike being here.
REBECCA JACOBS: Why do you think you were interested in traveling and havingthose experiences as a kid? You know, again, you felt like this was something you were looking forward to for a long time before you got to travel there.
RICARDO FRANCIS: My mind believes -- and even at that time, as well as I do now,that every human being has the right -- the God-given right to travel the world. There's a reason why, when you look at President Obama's background, in that he was sort of hopping from country to country or place to place, I almost am kind of envious of him, because he got to really experience many parts of the world, 68:00really before coming the mainland. You know, Hawaii, in many ways, to me, does not seem like it's part of the US, even though, technically, it is. But it's, in many ways, so far away from the ebb and flow of what typically happens in the lower 48. (laughs) So, I mean, I -- but, you know -- but again, for me, I just felt like, one should experience this. One should experience, like, you know, you're in another country, you have to do as the locals do, and for me, that was -- I felt it was this -- it was a distinct honor, to be able to experience that. And it taught me a lot about the value of life, and the value of what life should be about. You hear sometimes, which to me just seems crazy, but some children don't ever leave their neighborhoods. Some people don't ever leave 69:00their neighborhoods. And even here in New York, there's some kids that are always in their neighborhood, and they do not see the splendors of the city, whether it's the Metropolitan Museum, or the Statue of Liberty, or Coney Island. Like, to me, that bogs my mind, like that's simply -- you just get into a train, and you can go to all these things. And yet, a lot of them-- They know it's there, or they have some idea that it's there, but a great deal of them don't -- they, for whatever reason, are not exposed to that. So, yeah.
REBECCA JACOBS: So that sounds like an amazing experience you had as a youngteenager. Great vivid memory. Do you have any others that you want to share from that time period?
RICARDO FRANCIS: I think from the same period, the next big trip we had was to70:00-- what state was it? New Mexico. We went to perform in a few cities in that state. And -- but mind you, I'd been to that area before, because my mother had relocated my sister and I to Los Angeles, when I was eight years old.
REBECCA JACOBS: So you didn't live with your grandmother --
RICARDO FRANCIS: For one -- about a y-- about a couple of years.
REBECCA JACOBS: OK.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Yeah. That was a big production, in many ways, because shedidn't want any of us to leave. And that was, for her, it was almost like a kind of a traumatic -- a traumatic, emotionally, I should say, period for her, because her children are leaving. You know? And so, she fought that with my mother. But for my mother -- and this is the type of person she is, which is, I think, we -- she and I have in many ways the same kind of spirit of adventure, 71:00in terms of like, we want to experience life, sometimes in many -- in different places, just to see what it's like, or to experience something that's different from the last experience or whatnot. She put my sister and I in -- she had a Toyota Corolla, I think. I think, yeah. We drove from Houston all the way to west Texas, which was already two days in and of itself. Which -- (laughs) Texas is a big state, if y'all don't know that already. (laughs) So, but it was wonderful to see the changes of landscape, because Houston is flat. It's just buildings and houses, and this, that, and the other. It -- not particularly very interesting, aesthetically, but once you get to San Antonio, it begins to be more arid, and desert, and the colors of -- of especially, I would say, west 72:00Texas. I really got to see, for the first time, the beauty of land, or the landscape. And I remember vividly one moment where we were at a diner in El Paso. And I remember the sun setting. And the -- it was a beautiful, like, pink, and dark sienna, and blue, with this sun, who -- which appeared orange, in this picture, as it was setting. And I just was like, this is just absolutely beautiful. So no matter what happens on this journey, if I get to see and experience more of this, I'll be happy. And we -- going through Alb-- not Albuquerque. But I think we did go through Albuquerque. But we went through 73:00Arizona, New Mexico -- no, actually, New Mexico first, and then Arizona. And then we did get to see parts of the Grand Canyon. I think we stopped twice, to just sit, to just look. And all I can remember was just -- there was, I think, tears at one point, at one of the moments. Just was like-- For a place that's so -- that's considered barren, and without life, to me it had full of life. And it was so, sort of like a -- a very poetic way of looking at how existence is, is that there's life, there is existence, and there is death, and then there is the rebirth of things, or whatnot. But we eventually got into Los Angeles. And that trip was like a three-and-a-half-day adventure. To me, LA was 74:00important, but -- and there was a pretty decent experience, I would say, like a -- at the time, I was in third grade, and I had a Filipina teacher. Her name was Ms. Sandoval. I never remembered her first name. She was always Ms. Sandoval. She was -- she was kind of short, very thin. She had a very-- You could tell she loved teaching. And you could tell she loved her class. She always knew specific problems with each student. And she somehow knew how to give the right amount of attention to each child, which is rare. I think most teachers are not able to do that. There's quite a few that can, but I think most of them really don't have the gift to knowing exactly what to do, and she -- I could see that, and sense that she did. But that -- I mean, with her, I 75:00would say, you know, in terms of going to school, that was relatively fun, and we had stayed with -- for a short time, with an aunt of -- that was of my mother's, who is a biological aunt. Her name was Aunt Gertrude. I just remember her being very diva-esque in many ways. She was very, like, everything was -- had to be very proper, and very -- what is it? Stately, in some way. Her house was that way. And she just was a very poised and -- she had a lot of poise and a lot of elegance about her, which I -- I liked. We eventually -- I remember one thing about staying with her was that -- my sister and I shared a room with a bathroom, and there was a huge house. It was like, oh my goodness. Like -- I think I asked her once, like, "What did you do to have this big house?" (laughs)
REBECCA JACOBS: That's such a good kid question, right?76:00
RICARDO FRANCIS: She never really answered that question. But, you know, Ididn't really want to get too much into -- to the reasons why. But I remember she -- there was a -- but this neighborhood, it was in Compton. And this was before, like the sort of, the aspect of what people think of Compton, through the eyes of Dr. Dre, and Snoop Doggy-Dogg, or whatnot. This neighborhood was, I would say, pretty quiet. Mostly black and Latino. But it was quiet, and actually a bit like I felt like I was in the country, believe it or not. A lot of homes had livestock in the back yards. And I remember every morning around 6:00 a.m., with like, without fail, there was these three roosters there was 77:00(laughing) in the neighbor's back yard. And they would just -- you know. They would do their thing, as you know.
REBECCA JACOBS: You got to move to LA to live on the farm. (inaudible)
RICARDO FRANCIS: I know, right? But that continued when my mother rented ahouse literally like two blocks away from where Aunt Gertrude was. And the owners of this property was a black, and an Indian couple by the name of Pete and May Wildhorse. Literally their name. They were hilarious. They always got drunk almost every evening. And on the weekends, without fail -- I'll never forget it -- they would have horrendous fights with each other. They would throw glasses, throw plates. They both smoked cigars. It was like, one was -- they're the same exact copy of each other, in many ways.
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: Ironically, you know, I got to really, as a kid, talk to bothof them, and -- well, their trade, in terms of work, was that they nursed sick 78:00livestock animals back to health.
REBECCA JACOBS: Wow.
RICARDO FRANCIS: And then gave them back to their original owners. So I got to,in the back yard, I got to see donkeys, rabbits, ponies -- which I had learned to ride. Actually, I was petrified of all that stuff and whatnot. But eventually, through their guidance, I grew to learn how to, you know, properly ride a horse, or whatnot. But you know, I was -- what the hell was I? Eight. Yeah, I was eight. And imagine, you know, a little short, skinny kid (laughs) having to get on top of a -- a -- well, at that time, a pony. I mean, maybe some kids love all that stuff. To me, I was afraid they would kick me off of it, or whatnot, and what have you. But I eventually overcame that fear. But I learned a lot about life, oddly enough through talking with them, and they never 79:00-- I think one thing, I -- fro 80:00 81:00 82:00 83:00 84:00 85:00 86:00 87:00 88:00 89:00 90:00 91:00 92:00 93:00 94:00 95:00 96:00 97:00 98:00 99:00 100:00 101:00 102:00 103:00 104:00 105:00 106:00 107:00 108:00 109:00 110:00 111:00 112:00 113:00 114:00 115:00 117:00116:00 118:00 119:00 120:00 121:00 122:00 123:00 124:00 125:00 126:00 127:00 128:00 129:00 130:00 131:00 132:00 133:00 134:00 135:00 136:00 137:00 138:00 139:00 140:00 141:00 142:00 143:00 144:00 145:00 146:00
0:12 - Introduction and mother's relationship with birth and adoptive parents
13:43 - Baptist upbringing and religious convictions
19:28 - Parents' separation and relationship with father
26:38 - Childhood involvement in the arts and Panamanian heritage
36:24 - Maternal grandmother's experiences with the civil rights movement and racism
40:41 - Cultural differences and racial tensions in Texas and New York
46:59 - Relocation to New York City
59:37 - Childhood participation in the Houston Boychoir
80:40 - Return to Texas and travel to New Mexico with the Houston Boychoir
87:00 - Adolescent artistic expression and co-founding BLAFTCO
117:57 - Coming out as gay and the LGBTQ community
127:25 - Moving to Far Rockaway, Queens and founding Apanamae Productions
140:55 - Creating art shows with the Brooklyn Community Pride Center
145:09 - Exhibiting work in Houston and encounters with religious intolerance
151:28 - Learning Spanish as an adult and conclusion
Oral History Interview with Ricardo Osmondo Francis
Ricardo Francis is a 37 year-old artist from Houston, Texas, who has spent time living in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. Ricardo's father is Panamanian and mother is African American. He was spent much of his childhood living in Houston, Texas with his mother and maternal grandparents. His mother's biological parents were from Detroit, and she was adopted by another African-American family in Houston. She became a social worker and has had a career helping families with adoptions. The narrator and his sister and mother moved to Compton, Los Angeles for a short while but they returned to Houston soon. Ricardo sang soprano with a choir as a middle-school student, and traveled to perform to Poland and New Mexico.
Francis went to high school in Houston at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, with a focus on the visual arts. When they were still in high school, Ricardo and a group of his friends started an art collective called BLAFTCO that disbanded in 1997. He went to college at the Maryland Institute College of Art, and soon after moved to New York City, living first with relatives on Linden Blvd until working at various jobs for Sam Goodie, the Wiz, and later Sony Music. He now works for a law firm. For a long time he ran Apanamae Productions, a fine art company, and now curates art for a number of area LGBTQ organizations and continues to produce his own visual art that have been displayed in shows in Houston, TX and the tri-state area. Ricardo currently resides in Jersey City, NJ.
In this interview the Narrator describes how his parents were divorced when he was a young child because his father was not loyal to his mother, and he did not spend much time with his father other than a brief period from around age seven to nine. He did not learn Spanish from him, or much about his Panamanian heritage or family, but vividly recalled one of his father's girlfriends was very wise, and taught him to value people's natural and inner beauty. The last time he saw his father, who is Panamanian, he was around nine years old. He felt sad to be cut off from this heritage, from speaking Spanish, but decided it was ultimately better not to
Ricardo talked about how he spent much of his time with his grandmother (his mother's adoptive mother). His mother did not know she was adopted until she was seventeen and told him she was adopted when he was around eight or nine. His grandmother, who was African American, was very involved with the Civil Rights movement and cooked a meal for Martin Luther King, Jr. Although he did not learn many of the details of her early life, she had a very difficult life, and told him that he would face challenges as a black man that would require him to work harder. The narrator's mother worked full-time as a social worker, so he did not spend as much time with her as his grandmother. He was raised Baptist and went to church regularly but did not find most ministers honest, and today he is very spiritual but does not believe in organized religion. He spent a lot of time reading books and the encyclopedia as a child, reading about the world and wanting to travel everywhere, and move to New York one day. He also knew he would be an artist from a very young age.
At one point when he was around nine, his mother moved Ricardo and his sister to Los Angeles by driving them across the Southwest and they saw the Grand Canyon. He spent time with neighbors who were a black and Native American couple raising farm animals, and he remembers they taught him how to ride ponies there. He also had a wonderful elementary school teacher. Eventually when he and his sister were sent back to live with their grandmother while his mother finished up her job.
The Narrator was involved in a school choir through a teacher, Mr. Woods, who was strict but a great role model. He vividly remembers how exciting it was to leave the United States and tour Poland with his choir in 1990, soon after the fall of communism. When in high school, he established an art group called BLAFCO with friends, where they explored themes as a collective and worked on projects like a program for elementary and middle school students in Houston.
As an painter and visual artist, Ricardo was and still is interested in the differences between how people are perceived and how they experience their own subjectivity. He believes that although his identity as a black gay man informs his experience, first and foremost he identifies as Ricardo, the artist. He reiterated throughout the interview that he does not want to feel bitter about being gay, black and a man, and wants to focus on himself as an individual. He has felt pressured by his peers and people in the art community to focus on these traits and create art that is overtly political, when he is more interested in making art that is poetic. In recent years he received some advice from a mentor who helped him with his approach, and he feels better creating art that is enjoyable rather than burdensome to make. As an adult he came to embrace his Latino heritage, and after he went to Spain with a lover a few years ago, began learning Spanish.
CitationFrancis, Ricardo Osmondo, Oral history interview conducted by Rebecca Jacobs, June 13, 2014, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection, 2011.019.101; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Francis, Ricardo Osmondo
- African Americans
- Gender identity
- Queer theory
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Houston (Texas)
Finding AidCrossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection