NOT VERY NICE.
Sometime in first grade, Herman Alarcón and I were coming home
from school. For some reason
Sammy de la Cruz gave him a model wooden Army Jeep.
Sammy was very likely a 7th or 8th grader at
the time. It was a beautiful
toy with lots of detail and with wooden wheels that spun.
Herman, my neighbor across the street, let me hold it until we got
home. I was admiring it,
wishing it were mine. The
moment we got home, at that point, to Hermans consternation,I let it
I was envious. Sammy made everything better when he fixed the
A LA ESCUELITA.On weekends I recall going to the
Hoover to play on the merry-go-round and titter-totter. Connie, some
friends, and I would play act a la escuelita (school) on the
grounds. One school day there was lots of excitement during
recreation. Seems like everyone was running toward the west side of
the grounds toward the street. Across the street was a dairy whose
property was fenced in.
ISABEL VARELA. An
older barrio girl, Isabel Varela, had gone across the street to fetch a
ball, touched a live wire and got stuck there. Oh the dreadful
commotion of what to do! Our hero turned out to be our Spruce Street
neighbor, Mike González, who ran to the dairy farmers house to have
him turn off the electricity. . . Mrs Polka (Polk, a teacher) tried
using a ruler to force Isabels release from the wire (Sal Vela,
2005). The low voltage wire
was used to keep the cows in the cow pasture.
HOOVER, A TERRIBLE
LITTLE SHACK. A couple of
years ago someone referred to Hoover School as a terrible little
shack next to a cow pasture. . . full of flies, and that it
didnt have monkey bars or swings. As
recent as Jan 05, 2010 Wikipedia carries an article where it describes the
multi-classroom, Spanish style Hoover School as a two-room wooden
shack(see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sylvia_Mendez). Although it
lacked the beautiful landscaping and the auditorium of the all white
school on Seventeenth Street School, Hoover was not at all as depicted.
The school, built in 1928, had
Spanish architectureand though simple in design it was hardly a
decrepit building. In fact
when the town became a city in 1957, the city used it for its offices
after remodeling its interior. The
wing on the left housed K and first grade classrooms and bordered Olive
Street. The dairy was two
blocks west of Olive.
BY THE BEST. This is the
title of a Letter to the Editor of the Orange
County Register (March 11, 2007).
The author, Celia Blanco Salas of Anaheim, attended an All Mexican
School starting in kindergarten and graduating in 1940. Her school was
Magnolia School Districts No. 2. This was one of the 15 Mexican Schools
involved in the historic Méndez et al. vs. Westminster et al.
In March 1946 Superior Court Judge John McCormick ruled that the
school districts were in violation of the 14th Amendment of the
Those were some of the happiest years of my life. We had only Anglo
teachers, who loved us and really helped us. They were
They [Anaheim HS] were wonderful teachers.
We had no problems in learning
because we were taught by the best. I never felt that we were segregated.
I only felt that the County
of Orange wanted us safe and close to our families, and for that reason they put a school in our neighborhood.
does one explain to Celia that 1,000s of Mexican American persons felt
cheated by a curriculum that was dumbed down by the Anglo society in order
to perpetuate the status quo of unequal relations?
If Celia knew of the big number of Mexican heritage students who
dropped out of the Santa Ana schools because they were over-age, chances
are good shed have to rethink her evaluation of Mexican schools.
Mexican American students merited excellent teachers, an academically
challenging curriculum, high expectations, and the best school
facilitiesunfortunately, they were treated as second-class citizens.
speaking to Catalina Vásquez (2010) about some teachers in segregated
Mexican schools, she recalls the following.
Mrs Polka would have me and someone else in the closet ripping
apart quilts all year long, I mean, if it wasnt us then others would be
assigned. Catalina was in the combination 6-7-8 grades class at the
time. She recollects that they
would ask Johnny Pérez, who lived across the street, to go pick apricots
for them (the girls).
there are many Celias in Orange County who have similar sentiments.
They would profit from reading Lisbeth Haas Conquests and
Historical Identities in California, 1769-1936 (1996), and Gilbert G
Gonzalez Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation (1990).
Charles M Wollenbergs book is also an excellent source:All
Deliberate Speed: Segregation and Exclusion in California Schools,
1855-1975(1976). In an
area of life so important to eventual happiness and success, a challenging
curricula, up-to-date facilities, and well-educated/prepared teachers are
vitally important. [Article
courtesy of Theresa Fasana of Laguna Niguel, Orange County, CA]
BOYS CLUB HOUSE.
Sal Vela and Catalina Vásquez (2005) tell of the boys club on
S/E corner of Olive and Main Streets.
It was a one-room house belonging to one of the Alarcón brothers.
My interest was piqued when I learned that Mr Micelli, their
teacher at Hoover School, helped them set it up.
I was even more surprised when Joe Arganda (2009) told me the boys
would go to Mr Micellis home in Midway City to do yard work for him.When
I discussed the great relationship the boys had with Mr Micelli, Catalina
confirmed that this was the case (2010).
Mr Micellis wife, the former Miss Marcella, was also my
kindergarten teacher at Hoover.
north part of the barrio also had a name, la Liga (the League).
Other than going south on Olive to the Mexican School, most of my
wanderings were to the nearby Sigler Park, three grocery stores, a 5 Cent
and 10 Cent department store, hardware store, drug store, restaurant, a
dry cleaners, shoe repair shop, beauty salon, and post office.
WINSLOW OF THE NAVY. Though I
couldnt read in 1943, I enjoyed digging for comic books in a big
cardboard box. My favorite book was the one about Lieut. Commander
Don Winslow of the US Navy. He was my hero. He fought in the
Pacific in WWII, flying fighters known as the Wildcats and later the newer
Hellcat. I also recall listening to the older guys warn us not to
pick up steelies (ball bearings). Reason: They were said to be a
Japanese weapon meant to explode and kill or maim.
BLACKHAWKS. Another favorite comic was also
about fighter pilots known as The Blackhawks. They flew two-engine
funny looking stubby fighters built by the Grumman Company. The
interesting part of the comic book is that the pilots represented a United
Nations. The nationalities depicted were Chinese, American,
French, and Italian. To date Ive been unable to find information
on the Internet about THE BLACKHAWKS. Perhaps I have the wrong
SPRUCE STREET. In 1943 my parents,
Margarito and Juana (Jane), bought a piece of property two doors from the
Southern Pacific RR. According to the documents at the Orange County
Recorders Office, they paid $550 to Gozozo [sic] and Lupe Soto
Esparza for our home at 7431 Spruce Street. [Jay begs to differ as
to this amount believing it was closer to $1,400 (2009).] Witnesses to the
signing were John T. Alarcón and Carmen A. López. Lupe Soto
Esparza signed the sales contract with an X. We lived here from
August 1943 to the summer of 1955.
Julia Vela López
in front of their home on 7431 Spruce St., circa 1949
Julia still lives in Westminster.
was an A-frame capboard structure with kitchen and two bedrooms. A
small porch faced south to the street and a dirt alley. It was close
living quarters for the dozen of us. Looking back it seems
impossible that such small living quarters could accommodate us but it
did. Another thing that surprises me is that the small kitchen could
hold us during dinnertime. But it did! It came without a furnace or
indoor plumbing. At first we burned chopped wood for our stove for
cooking and the same to heat water to wash clothes. It would go to
Burns Market with a tin quart size tin container to buy kerosene
that we used to start the fire for our wood-burning stove. Later we
bought a gas range when the Southern California Gas Company brought its
gas line into the barrio.
Long wooden 2 x 10 x 12 planks placed side by side were used when
it rained. They were our sidewalk that led from the back door
(kitchen) to the outhouse. Sometimes a board would slip as one
stepped onto it making it precarious for the next person. In this
case it was tricky trying to step onto it with the real possibility of
falling in the puddles. All the boys helped dad dig the 3 x 3 x 6 ft
holes for the privy one of which became a two-seater. We usually hit
wet clay at about three feet deep. We learned to make what looked
like Army hats from newspaper to shield our heads from the rain. Our
two westerly neighbors outhouses lined up with ours.
SCARYMOMENT. Mom washed clothes with a scrub
board until about 1949 until Dad bought a new automatic machine with a
wringer on top. Saturday was clothes washing as well as take a bath
day. One Saturday I heard screaming from the washroom. It was
mom. Her long hair got into the wringer. I mustve turned
off the machine in time to prevent a scalping. It was a scary moment
for mom and myself.
As far as I can remember we always kept chickens. While living en la
Casa Verde I was frightened of two mean roosters who had a habit of
chasing after me. Id peek out the screen door to check where
theywere and Id venture out in a different direction. At our new
home on Spruce Streetwe had a good-sized chicken coup. Dad would
pick two hens, stretched their necks on a tree stump, and cut them off
with a hatchet. They were good for soup and a chicken dinner on
Sundays. One Sunday morning that dad was on an errand, mom
asked, "Beto, see those two chickens?" Brave Beto (nickname for
Alberto) rounded them up in a minute. They were easy to catch.
When it came time to putting their necks on the stump, Beto's spirit
left him. The hatchet became too heavy to lift.
special wire fencing material kept our chickens in their pen but they also
had a coop where they roosted at night. Somehow they all cackled
their way into the coop and disappeared at the same time. Two rival
roosters lorded over them. At times during the day wed fold a
newspaper, light it up, and go in to kill the gorupos (ticks).
Dad also raised a hog kept in an enclosed pen that Id visit
occasionally. One day I got the smart idea of cutting the hogs wiry
hair with dads manual haircutting shears. Saturday was also when
dad would give his sons a haircut. Soon, very soon after my failed
experiment, dad saw the defect in the tool while giving me a haircut, and
asked, I wonder how the tooth on the shears got broken? No answer.
Nothing but cold nervous silence from Beto.
the hog weighed 300 lbs, men from the barrio arrived one early Saturday
morning to slaughter the animal. He was kept in a big pen built
three feet off the ground. After a man put a .22 bullet to its head, the
men got busy with the various stages of cutting him up. The best
moment for us little kids waswhen the scrumptious chicarrones (pork
rind) were ready to eat. All who participated took home a share of
the hog: blood, tripe, head, hoofs, chops. Just about every part of
the hog was used, nothing thrown out of this all day operation.
FRECKLES AND DAD. Before dad took down the
old garage and built the new one, in the summer afternoons wed sit
reading the paper in the shady side. Our family pets, Snoopy and
Freckles would find a place near us. Snoopy was bigger than
Freckles. They were always together like true brothers. Soon
dad would start, Freckles, ¡mira que bonito está Freckles! /
Freckles,oh look how handsome is Freckles! Dads attention
made Freckles awfully nervous. He knew dad was stirring up trouble
for he knew Snoopy would get angry from being jealousy. Again dad
repeated the words making the jealous one snarl and bark at Freckles.
And although Freckles knew he would lose in a fight, hed nervously
stand his ground barking his case as if to say, I didnt do anything,
please! This kind of episode never failed.
ALL FED UP.
One time that we were at dinner, mom was complaining how fed up she was
with all the housework. She stated she felt like going to her
cousin, Guadalupe Gonzalezs house in Wilmington and staying there for a
week. Everyone felt bad for mom becoming seriously quiet. (Mom
also had relatives in La Habra and in the Logan barrio of Santa Ana.)
a sudden I was serious when I uttered in Spanish, Mamá cuando pase
el tren, hágalo parar y suba al caboose! Translation: Well,
when the train (steam locomotive, Southern Pacific) comes by, have it stop
and hop on the caboose! That broke the ice. Everyone broke out
laughing at my innocent, simple solution to moms complaint. I
dont know if mom took part in the laughter.
it was Dads turn to get up early in the morning to make tortillas for
the family the whole week mom was gone. The Southern Pacific
locomotive used to pass our house in the afternoons when wed be home
from school. At the sound of its shrill whistle wed hurry to find
long iron nails to place on the tracks along with a penny or two.
The finished products became our swords. Wed stand perhaps 8-10
feet from the huge black monster that shook the ground a block away
starting at Westminster Blvd. By the time it got to where we were
standing, the noise was deafening and the shaking of the ground underneath
rattled our brains. We liked
laying long nails on the tracks so the locomotive would make swords out of
them. It also a neat thing to
have the locomotive flatten our pennies.
It was a sad day to see that the locomotive had killed the Bermúdez
cow. It had been tied to a
stake but somehow it managed to get loose.
Like most barrio families, we kept 100 lb sacks of flour and pinto beans
that would last us at least a month. Rice and beans would be part of
our daily menu for dinner that also included flour tortillas, green or red
salsa picante (hot sauce), salad and fruit. Breakfast might
consist of fried eggs, bacon, chorizo, tortillas, and Postum (non
caffeinated coffee). By the age of 12 I was able to carry the 100 lb
sack up the stairs and into the kitchen just like dad.
sisters (all older than I) helped the family by preparing dinner.
There was plenty for everyone. Absolutely delicious were the beans
(always pintos). They washed and left over night to soften in a pan
water. A piece of meat would add the right flavor to the soupy bean dish.
GORDITA, POR FAVOR! I
dont remember when I first learned about the use of a fork.
Tortillas served this purpose during meals. And speaking about flour
tortillas, mom made a fresh batch every day on the wood stove, I imagine
about two or more dozen. On special occasions shed make corn
tortillas. But the best tortilla ever made in this world, were the gorditas
or tortas. They were about double the thickness. Id
stand next to mom and in my most cheerful voice say, Mamá, hágame una
gordita, por favor! / Mom, please make me a fat one!
like a fresh gordita in the world!
Everyone in the barrio made himself a taco.
You could heat the torilla if youd like or use it at room
temperature. Then youd put
any kind of food in the tortilla: meat, refried beans (chinitos), Spanish rice, potatoes. . . Or keep it simple by
spreading salsa picante on it.
Of course you could also warm the tortilla and spread margarine or
butter. Ever try placing
cheese on the tortilla and heating it on a wood stove?
Awesome! What a
surprise to learn that what we called tacos in the barrio were labeled
burritos in Mexican restaurants!
say I was always an innocent and obedient son. One time I must have
done something that merited a spanking. Mom was somewhat angry, I
mean, just angry enough to show anger in her face. She called me
over a couple of times so she could spank me. When I was close
enough she told me to bend over so she could swat me one. Well you
guessed it. At the moment when she started her downswing, I ran
away! Not too brilliant because I got it from dad when he got home!
was the disciplinarian. We had lots of respect for his authority.
Boys being boys, sometimes dad needed to step in for correction.
First came the request that we explain what wed done. The process
was unnerving because we knew the spanking was coming up. Did the
spanking hurt? Yes, but the waiting for dad to come home from work
seemed more painful. Spankings stopped at about 12 years old.
Thats when we reached the age of reason. Two words would describe
dads relationship with his children: love and respect in capital
had a gander that laid eggs at least twice the size of our hens. I
couldnt imagine theyd taste good so I never had them. But
Felix did and it seemed that just one egg filled his plate. Our geese
turned out to be mean birds. Theyd chase you with outstretched
wings to cause serious damage.
TO THE HOUSE. Somehow dad acquired
carpentry skills enough to build a house for our married sister, Maria and
her husband Joe Villagómez. It was a one-bedroom house with a small
kitchen and dining area. It cost them $250.00 for the building
materials and perhaps a little something for dads labor and skills.
and Maria would join us for dinner at the table. Joe was fun to sit
next to. He ate with gusto! I would marvel at his tolerance in
eating the hottest chiles. For him eating a jalapeño was
like having an ice cream. I can still hear the crunching sound of
each bite. In three bites the darned thing was gone! Me?
Id take weeny bites making sure I had food in my mouth. Even so
the sides of my mouth burned, eyes got teary, face turned red, nose ran,
and my ears hurt! And forget about the little red Korean chilies!
also built a one-bedroom structure without cooking facilities also behind
our home, and, a large one-car garage. Oh, yes, our bed was cold
those winter nights. Even wearing long johns wed shivered as we
crawled into bed. This is the way it was until the early 50s when
the family bought a gas-fired furnace.
Dec 29, 2009]
SMOKES, A B-36! I enjoyed reading
articles and photos of military aircraft in Mechanics Illustrated
and Popular Mechanics. Imagine how surprised I was to see the
Americas biggest bomber, the Peacemaker, fly a mere 1,000 ft directly
overhead in Westminster. It happened on a clear summer day in 1950.
The beautiful blue skies of Orange County in the 1940s and early 50s were
not like in Los Angeles. Our skies were free of smog. I looked
up to find the source of a droning noise. Not finding it and with
the noise getting louder, I climbed onto the roof of our utility room.
Within minutes, there it was coming fast from the direction of Santa Ana,
an enormous bomber, the B-36, on its way to Santa Catalina Island and
perhaps to its base in San Diego. This airplane was so mammoth a
B-29 Superfortress could fit under one of its wings. High school
classmates living in Santa Ana and Anaheim dont recall this occurrence.
Were they were sleeping or something?
PANCHO! Living on Spruce was especially
convenient for us. Or should I say for me because I was asked to go
to either Burns or Menards Market for some daily necessities as
milk, bread or meat. It was easy to find the first two items.
The milk was in the big refrigerator and the bread was on the shelf.
there came a time when I had to order meat from Mr. Burns who was also the
butcher (el buchi). This meant speaking in English for
the first time. I was extremely nervous about making some weird
mistake of saying the wrong word or mispronouncing something, but somehow
I managed OK. But I didnt appreciate el Señor Ray Burns calling
me Pancho. Whyd he call me Pancho? I wasnt the
Cisco Kids partner. I didnt even remotely resemble him.
He was a fat cowboy in the movies. I was just a handsome skinny
Mexican kid who lived on Spruce Street!
EN EL BARRIO. By and by we spoke Spanish
at home and all over the barrio. When they needed privacy, Dolores
(first born), Katie and María (Baudelia) closed the door to the
kitchen/dining room to speak in English. I learned a lot of
English eavesdropping from behind the door. My sisters were fluent
in English and Spanish. As a
matter of fact all second and third generation barrio residents were
EN EL BARRIO. In
general most barrio residents could either understand English but were
unable to speak it, or they were fluent in the language especially the
second generation. My dad
astounded me once when I saw he could carry a conversation in English.
For most of his working life he labored in the ranchos picking the
crop. Most of his fellow
workers were also Mexican Americans who basically spoke Spanish only.
Dad spoke it with an accent but what did it matter?
I was really proud of him.
PACHUCO TALK: A THIRD
LANGUAGE IN THE BARRIO. It
may seem strange to say there was a third language, Pachuco, spoken in the
barrio. It belonged to youths
of the second generation. One
learned by word of mouth. I
learned it growing up by the fact I spoke Spanish and by age 12 I had a
good grasp of it. Socially and
culturally it belonged to youths who were in their teens to young adults,
those in their 20s. Throughout
the Southwest they were known as pachuchos/as.
Hence we may say that we spoke three languages en
LOS CHUCOS. Pachucos
were a gang or club, in reality a subculture.
At least thats what it was in the barrio of Westminster.
Of the Velas only Felix, about 16 at the time, belonged to this
group. When Felix told us he
was going to buy a club jacket, everyone at home strongly protested,
making it known we werent happy with his decision.
HAY TE Güacho!
distinguished themselves by long baggy pants pulled up over their waist
with ankle tight cuffs, and held up by suspenders.
A long chain went down below the knee.
A large, extravagant or avant garde rimmed hat and an extra long,
loose coordinating jacket, and a tie rounded out the zoot-suiter.
Last but not least are a pair of two- or three-soled calcos
(shoes). With their hair kept
long, they combed both sides backward duck-style.
They also had a black tattoo in the shape of a cross with short
lines or rays running from the top of the cross.
It was between the thumb and index finger.
Smoking marijuana was associated with pachucos as well as getting
in trouble with the law.
Their fascinating lingo is a major characteristic that
distinguished them. The
structure or grammar of their lingo is basically Spanish but its
expressive vocabulary seems to come from nowhere.
Antonio Blanco (1971) finds that this pachuco language flowed like
a river between the Southwest and Mexico City (p 534).
He adds, Manners of expression in Los Angeles appear right away
in Mexico and vice versa (p 534). Blanco
studied the Pachuco language and vocabulary in his La Lengua Española
en la Historia de California (1971) based on his dissertation that
merited an award from the Real Academia Española in 1968.
This is what Blanco says.
todo lo que hasta ahora llevamos expuesto podemos afirmir que aún no se
ha hecho un estudio definido sobre los pachucos y su vocabulario, el cual
creemos que será difícil llevar a cabo debido a que por su dinamismo
sufre un constante flujo de palabras nuevas que le proporcionan una
que casi toda la población fronteriza es nueva y procedente de las más
variadas regiones de México, de donde han aportado los más diversos
provincialismos de expression. Hasta qué punto su lengua usa expresiones
y vocablos jergales o loque para algunos son pachucos, es cosa difícil de
This is my
view of all that that to now we have uncovered, we can affirm
that a definitive study of the pachucos and their vocabulary has
notyet been done, which we believe will be difficult to accomplish due to
its dynamic nature brought about by a constant flow of new wordsthat give
it an extraordinary flexibility.
remember that just about all the population along the border is new and
comes from the most diverse regions of Mexico,
from where the most diverse provincialisms of expression have
originated. It is difficult to say to what degree their language uses
expressions and slang words or that for some they are [happen to be]
best way to describe the language is with examples. Consider this short
piece, a telegram from a pachucho in Los Angeles to another in El Paso
carnal, Ruca tiro vuelta. Guti lágrimas.
My wife died; lots of tears. Luis
Here is a
longer selection, a Pachuco dialogue.
ése, carnal, sabe que dejé la ranfla, ése, sabe, bato, yo guaché esa
bata en Los y estoy seguro que si sabe Chavo que esa ruca ta contigo va
caldiarse y ponerse locote. Sabe, vale más levanter chancla y a volar no
lo vayan a filoriar, ése. Mejor no la guache en la carrunfla.
?Sabe qué, carnal? Al recle me regreso y aguanta la buchaca pa que no
haya catos. La güaché en el borlo y nos fuimos a planchar oreja. Ella me
regaló el tecuchi y la talla pero no sabía que Chalo estuviera
encamicado con ella, ése, ?sabe? me voy de volada porque esta mañana nos
diquellaron y ya me andaba apañando la jura. No estuliés con Chavo, ?sabe?,
carnal, y así no habrá pedo. Voy a cambiarme estas garras, gay, y
descolgarme pa Jariles, sabe.
Paz (1950) observed pachucos during a two-year stay in Los Angeles in the
1940s. He writes about them in
his book, El Laberinto de la Soledad: Postdata, Vuelta a El Laberinto
de la Soledad. In
describing pachucos clothing he notes that Its novelty lies in
its exaggeration. . . tak[ing] its style to its final end and makes it
esthetic (p 18). He writes that where Americans look for comfort in
style, pachucos take it to the impractical.
It is here where Paz finds the aggressiveness and sense of
rebellion in the pachuco. In
other words, the pachuco style of dress symbolizes their decision to
separate themselves from their society. . . their clothing isolates and
distinguishes them As a consequence pachucos have made themselves a new
and exclusive or closed group as a way of affirming their
singularity (p 18).
analyzes the pachuco subculture stating that the pachuco doesnt want
to return to his Mexican origin; not even, it may appear, does he want to
fuse with North American life (p 16).
He adds, Everything in him is impulse where he denies himself, a
knot of contradictions, enigma (p 16).
As for the word pachuco, The first enigma is the name
itself: . . . a word of uncertain source, that says nothing and says it
all (p 16).
quote may sound like an exaggeration to some because it seems so
definitive. Paz continues,
The pachuco has lost all his inheritance: his language, religion,
customs, beliefs. The only
thing remaining is his body and soul unprotected against the rough
elements (p. 17). Mauricio
Mazón, associate professor and chair of the department of history at the
University of Southern California, also discusses the pachuco in his
introduction of The Zoot-Suit Riots: The Psychology of Symbolic
Annihilation (1984). He
seems to confirm Paz observations.
a look-see of fascinating pachuco zoot suits, language as spoken en
el barrio, and música try this most creative Website, www.elpachuco.com.
It is entertaining. And
if you Google photos of pachucos, you wont be disappointed.