Bebe was the first Mexican American Women to work for the Atlantic Richfield Oil Company [ARCO] in Bakersfield. She is also a singer. She often comes into Wellspring with impeccable, voluminous hair which hints at her former stage presence in elegant nightclubs.
Bebe and Elena are distant cousins and fast friends. Elena, already featured on “Tales from the Heart of Wellspring” has been coming to Wellspring for 13 years and Bebe has been coming to Wellspring for seven years. They come to the Center together.
Bebe agreed to be interviewed for “Tales from the Heart of Wellspring” as long Elena helped narrate her story.
Elena: She wants to record your voice. Tell her something about Wellspring – tell her what you’ve done. I’m gonna get up.
Bebe: No, you get up and I won’t say anything.
Elena: Okay go ahead. Stays Seated
Bebe: My name is Elvia Chavez.
Elena: She was born in Chihuahua, Mexico. The youngest of twelve, she’s worked all her life.
Bebe: I’ve worked since I was twelve years old and maybe smaller than that and when I grew up, I worked in the fields too – picking grapes and all that.
Elena: Bakersfield, California …
Bebe: Yes, I came to Bakersfield, California and then I got a job with Atlantic Richfield. I was the first Mexican-American woman that ARCO hired so I started as the roustabout. We are gophers – you are just there and they say, ‘Go get me this, go get me that.”
Elena: They are training you for the big stuff.
How did you get the job?
Bebe: Elena Rojas got me the job in the oil fields and then I stayed there. It’s not finding a job that is the hard work — it’s staying in a job and keeping the job for years. So that’s how I started.
What was it like to work there?
Bebe: I had lunch with 21 men every day. My first two weeks were the hardest ones and at first they told me that I wasn’t able to do the job — that I wasn’t strong and all this, but I showed them that I could do it and they respected me for it. I got to a point where I was their boss and I had my own crew.
How long were you there?
Bebe: 21 years
Elena: Day and night. She worked the day shift and the night shift and she used to go up to the mountains to Tehachapi and Los Angeles – all of the oil pumps where she used to work were in that area. And then in the meantime, she did a lot of professional Mexican singing. She was on one of Mexican floats for a college at Bakersfield. They have her on film and she would sing for years at nightclubs and at quinceneras and at weddings. She is a professional Mexican singer.
Bebe: Then I took one year of vacation before I started at Frito Lay
Where did you go on vacation?
Bebe: I went to Hawaii, Puerto Villerto and Cancun.
What did you do?
Bebe: I just traveled. I saw the new –- everything, everything new.
What did you do at Frito Lay?
Bebe: I was an inspector. I used to inspect all of the trucks that came in and the potatoes. I stayed there for thirteen years.
What does singing mean to you?
Bebe: It is just part of my life. When I am asleep, I am still singing.
How long have you been singing for?
What is your favorite song to sing?
What do you like about singing?
Bebe: Everything. Everything. I like everything. The music, the mariachi — all of that. I used to sing in a place called the Caputi club in Bakersfield for 6 years. I would sing there every weekend.
Elena: They gave her a trophy for lasting so long as her favorite weekend singer.
Elena: She wants you to talk to her about Wellsprings.
What does Wellspring mean to you?
Bebe: Wellspring means a lot to me. When I first came, I didn’t like it, but then after that I started meeting Sister Jane, Sister Judy and Genelle. So I’ve been here for 7 years. I like it. We come here with something that we want to talk to someone about and you can talk to the Sister and she talks to you and she listens to you.
What does it feel like to be here?
Bebe: Oh, I feel like a million dollars, yes I do. I love it. Like I said, everybody here is my friend.