memories

Happy memories

Nothing could have ruined our trip, I realize now. One city and then another, winding roads, bridges, freeways, laughter in the car at times, frustration at others. My nephew still remembers to the this day the moment I turned around and told him to be quiet before he burst into tears because he was trying to tell me he needed to use the restroom. Memories like that don’t just fade away, you see. They stick with you. They have a way of making you giggle out loud when you relive them. And then they make you appreciate the road you’ve traveled. Or as the saying goes, lo bailado ya nadie nos lo quita. 

Happy memories indeed!

Happy memories

Halloween in the Hood: Memories & Moments of Happiness

Halloween in the Hood: Memories and Moments of Happiness

Halloween 2010 by tommy.chang.

Three weeks before Halloween the sign would go up.  Right outside of our neighbor’s front door.  Usually atop plastic decorations, mock spiderwebs, and tarantulas or pumpkins that would let us all know the most anticipated holiday of our year was finally here.  We didn’t know why or how this tradition had started, or even how long ago, but the truth was we didn’t need to know.  It didn’t matter.

All we knew was that as soon as the sign up sheet went up, all of the kids at the Bali Hai apartments would line up to sign up for October 31st.  Every day after that, we would walk back up the stairs to the neighbor’s door and check to see how many more of our friends had signed up as well. From then on, that was all any of us could talk about too.  Our parents didn’t care much for Halloween.  It was a holiday most of them had never heard about in their home countries.  It was silly, crazy, even sacrilegious my mother would say.

Esas son cosas del diablo… ¡Ay qué feo!  Por qué mejor no se compran otra cosa, she would always suggest.  And nevertheless every year she would concede to at least letting us buy some black and white makeup for our annual Dracula costumes.  Yes.  All three of us (my two brothers and I) would dress up as Dracula for Halloween every single year.  It was the easiest costume we could all put together with one package of costume makeup and three capes.  Besides those simple additions, we’d all wear our good running sneakers, our nice collar shirts with black slacks, and maybe even a little red makeup for the bloody effect.  That was one of my older brother’s favorite last touches to give himself around the eyes and the mouth.

Just as we would jump out of the restroom and into the kitchen to scare our mom, the van would honk outside, and all of the neighborhood kids would come pouring out in their Halloween best.  None of us were wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, so our costumes por lo tanto were improvisational at best.  We had the cholos with eyeliner-painted mustaches and bandanas on their heads, the princesses with dollar store tiaras, the fairies with civilian clothes and miniature wings strapped across their backs, the more affluent of the bunch with actual store-bought costumes, and then of course, the three traditional Draculas that would never dream of missing all of the fun.

Doña Pera would drive us, all squished up like sardines screaming and yelling in anticipation, all the way to the River Oaks neighborhood nearby where all of the riquillos lived back then and still do.  Ahí sí que nos dabamos gusto.  I don’t know if it was the fact that I was kid back then, or that in actuality Halloween was an entirely different celebration during those years of my life, but I remember having the best times running up and down the streets collecting entire plastic grocery bags full of top of the line candies.  Snickers, Butterfingers, Skittles, at some places we would get entire chocolate bars for ourselves.  And the decorations, man were they amazing!  It was as if the entire neighborhood would spend the entire year planning and preparing for just that single night, to spook us and give us one of the best night’s of our lives every single year.

On the ride home we’d laugh and make jokes, fight over candy, trade stories, and scarf down a couple of our favorite treats before we had to check every single candy in front of our parents to make sure they hadn’t been tampered with.  Even the slightest tear or loose end would result in candies being thrown in the trash because they were too much of a risk.  At least a third of our candies were lost to this process every time.  Still, even with all the trashed loot, between the three of us we would almost always end up with a couple of months worth of candy.  Eventually we would agree to mix all the candies together into one large shared pile, and then eventually we would end up fighting over which candies belonged to who.

Those Halloweens were really magical.

Ironically, it wasn’t until this past weekend when my older brother and I were reminiscing about these memories with our wives that I actually wondered why Doña Pera had even started this tradition to begin with.  She didn’t have any necessity to do so?  At least not that I knew of.   And none of the children that she would transport were actually her own… and still, every year the list would go up and the van would show up on Halloween Day.  It also made me realize I never had the chance to properly thank her.

Doña Pera, if you’re out there, muchas gracias for the kindness and the memories.   

I hope you’re still out there delivering smiles to children’s faces on Halloween Night!

Imported: Mexican Treats & Memories

Family going to Mexico always means getting lots of great goodies when they come back.  Recently my parents came back from a trip to our Cerritos, San Luis Potosí in México, and desde luego mamá had to bring enough Mexican treats for all of our huge familia.  Most of these items are already long gone.  What can I say?  We don’t get them fresh from México all of the time.  But we did have the presence of mind this time around to snap a few pictures for show and tell.  Here’s what we got:

mexican treats antojitos juanofwords

Mexican candy.  Two of my all time favorites since generally I don’t like anything too sweet.  Suckers with hot chili powder on them and salt and lemon powder that goes great with anything or by itself.

mexican treats antojitos juanofwords

Pepitas.  Or pumpkin seeds.  Dried, toasted and lightly salted.  Delicious as a snack for any occasion.  Especially handy to have around while watching the telenovelas.

mexican treats antojitos juanofwords

Churros.  Kind of like chips, before there were Takis these awesome treats go great with a lot of Valentina and some lemon.  They actually sell them here in Texas too, but they’re way better made from scratch.

mexican treats antojitos juanofwords

And finally, Gorditas de Horno.  Think of them as a cross between biscuits and corn bread.  Not too sweet.  With a soft texture that goes great with coffee, coke or any other drink of your choice too.

Miracle in Edingburg, Texas

El milagro de tres carritos.

Whether it had been a particularly difficult year only my parents knew.  We’d still managed to make it to school everyday like we normally did.  On Saturdays like clockwork we’d all pack into the chocolate, our fudge brown colored, four door, rusty sedan, and drive down to the Valley Mart in town for mamá to do the weekly grocery shopping for the household.  Eggs and milk were mainstays on our shopping list and so long as we had beans and rice to go along with them, we were in pretty good shape.  For school there were always clean clothes waiting for us in the morning.

Sure there were patches on most of our pants, usually a different shade of blue from our original blue jeans, but hey, we were in the Rio Grande Valley.  It was the kids without the raggedy jeans who stood out in our school.

They were the ones we all looked up to and wanted to be around.  They could afford to buy nice clothes and keep them clean.

Our clothes, on the other hand, were literally all purpose.  Not to mention destined for an existence of repurposing.  Once they’d outlived their ability to be handed down, and if they weren’t packed into our car for our summer trips to Mexico, where they were gifted to any relative who could almost fit into them, mamá would cut them up and sew them into blankets, bed covers, pillow shams, or whatever else she could come up with, anything not to throw them away.  Eso hubiera sido un desperdicio, and that we avoided at all costs.

Just days before Christmas Eve, though, that year our mother pulled us into the room and looked at us in that way we knew meant she had something to say.  There was warmth in her smile, her eyes kind of glistened with just a hint of sadness, her touch was extra tender, and the rhythm in her voice was more gentle than usual.  In confusion my two brothers and I just sat there and waited for her to tell us what she had to say.  Este año no van haber regalos.  Su papa no ha trabajado mucho… no habido mucho trabajo y no hay dinero para regalos.  Nomás vamos hacer una comidita aquí y ya. 

Inevitably we were disappointed, but the three of us knew that was just the way life was for us.  Sometimes we got what we wanted.  Most times we just imagined we did and made the best of what we had.  There wouldn’t have been a reason to throw a tantrum.  That wouldn’t have helped us achieve anything, and in truth this was long before our deep affinity for material things – things like our friends would eventually have in the city years later.  Our only concern then was having time to play and run around outside with each other, making up our own games as we went along.  Red Rover, Ring around the Rosie, London Bridge, and jumping rope were our big pastimes.  That and incessantly digging in the sand were bliss for me.

Early Christmas Day, though, we groggily made it out of bed, following my mother into the living room.  She’d woken the three us up as only she could by caressing her hand across our hair and down our backs, ever so softly whispering in our ears, mijo… ya leventate, mijo… mijito.  Slowly we obliged, yawning, wiping the lagañas out of our eyes, too tired to wonder what was going on, just walking straight out of the bedroom, through the kitchen, and into the living room behind her.  There, smiling from ear to ear next to the white three story bookshelf he’d built with his own hands was my father, not saying a word, just pointing at what was sitting on each layer of the shelf.  We couldn’t believe our eyes.  Immediately we raced across the room, screaming and hollering, jumping from one end of the room to the other with our brand new toy cars in our hands.  The size, make, model, and even the color of our cars, today, are memories long gone, many, many years ago, but the one thing that has always remained in the deepest and most treasured of my childhood memories is the feeling in our hearts that morning.

Complete and utter joy was in my heart.  Melancholy took hold of me for a second, right before the shrieks of excitement heard round the house, and all I could do the rest of the day was smile and play the hell out of my new car.  Since then, no other Christmas has ever come close to bringing the true spirit of the holiday season into my corazón.  We’ve always received gifts from my parents after that, much better ones at that, and still do today, but none of them have ever meant as much.  We knew they weren’t going through an easy time.  We knew we didn’t have any money.  We didn’t have a Christmas tree, or even so much as a single Christmas light anywhere inside or outside of our house, but somehow, someway, whatever little money they had, our parents had managed to make certain we didn’t wake up to just another day on Navidad.  Even better, my two older sisters didn’t get anything at all and they were just as happy and excited for us as we were.  En toda sinceridad, for me, it was a Christmas miracle in so many ways.

Miracle en el valle de Tejas. 

Growing Up, Growing Old, and Holding On to the ‘Niño Terco’

That was me then... (in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas)

Get up.  Get ready.  And go.  That’s the way we always lived life.  Never having any time to really stand still, at attention, free, just to enjoy the moment.  Other than when we lived in the Rio Grande Valley, and that was just for a couple of years in between getting deported and always hiding from la migra, once we were in the city it was always working for the next paycheck.  Without the jobs we couldn’t get the money.  Without the money we couldn’t pay the rent or do anything else.  Without the rent they were going to put us de patitas en la calle, at the mercy of whatever relative would be willing to take in a complete family of nine.  Luckily it never came to that.  Who knows how long such a temporary living arrangement could have really lasted.

Instead, the sunlight hit y orale cada quien a lo suyo.  My dad running out the door when his ride showed up; my mom finishing up in the kitchen and rushing us all to hurry up and get ready to go to school; my sisters heading out before us, they were in high school and were into fashion and boys by then; then my brothers and I doing the same – well not into boys or fashion, but leaving the Bali Hai apartments by foot también on our way to our elementary school.  The only ones who got to stay home were my two younger sisters who weren’t old enough to go to school, and that was when they were lucky.  When mamá had to go to work it was over to Doña Pilar or whatever other trustworthy neighbor was around.  My sister Linda especially hated this part of growing up.  She’d sit there quietly all day, wherever she stayed, not talking much at all and almost always refusing to eat anything until my mother would come home.  Still, even she wasn’t as resistant as the baby in the household, Blanca, who rarely ever spent the day anywhere without crying the entire time from the moment my mom walked out of the door until she came back.  Even with my older sisters she would throw a fit if mamá was not around.

Fuera lo que fuera, we still needed the extra income and mom had to go to work.

Those times are really quite a blur.  Not sure whether that’s because I’ve chosen to block them from my memory or because things were really moving at such a fast pace that my mind couldn’t entirely grasp and record all of them at once.  I know we never had the chance to play like we did in the Valley.  We didn’t have any sand to kick around.  There wasn’t an acre of land at our disposal to discover, to explore, and to grow up in.  We were confined to the walls of brick and cement around us.  Our playground was our apartment, the property around it, especially in the back of the parking lot next to the garbage can where we all dumped our trash, and the little “tree house” in between the bushes and the fence we’d managed to claim as our own.  In truth, it wasn’t really a tree house at all.  It was a small open space underneath all of the overgrown tree branches that were falling over around the gate on the other side of the parking lot.  We weren’t allowed over there, but we always managed to climb over anyway.

That was the only place we had any true sense of privacy.  And even then, once word got out about our “tree house” it wasn’t very private anymore.  Other kids started showing up and they needed the time alone, away from everything around them, just as much as we did.  It wasn’t the same and I stopped going there all together.

In those days it didn’t seem like so little.  We were kids and everything was a new experience to us.  A new opportunity to discover something brand new, to make it our own, and somewhere along the way, without our even knowing it, to discover something brand new about ourselves también.  We were fearless.   Unafraid to fall flat on our faces and get back up; unafraid to be ourselves regardless of what others might think; unafraid to just be a bunch of mocosos finding our own individual places in this life.  Try as I have in the years since I’ve never truly managed to be as brave as I was back then.  Maybe that’s just what happens when the years start to pass you by?  No sé.

The one thing I haven’t lost is the capacity to be that same terco over, and over… and over again.

I’m determined to keep trying.  Hope you’re willing to do the same.

Did I ever tell you about the day I was born? – A Guest Post

Secundino Guerrero, wife Dora, and children Patsy and Dolores (L)

I was very fond of my Dad and we were very close.  For several years on my birthday, he would tell me this story about the day I was born.  My Dad was tall and thin.  His name fit him well.  He was dark olive complected with very black hair.  He was very handsome.  He was a happy go lucky man.  He always appeared to be happy.  He was the kind of man who would come in dancing or singing.  He always seemed to live in the now.  He lived life the way we all should live life, in the present.  It is said living in the now means “that yesterday is gone, so don’t worry about it and tomorrow is not yet a reality so don’t worry about that either.”  I think my Dad had some deep seated emotions from his past that he held inside, yet he never let anyone know.

His character was one we should all learn from.  They also say that laughter can cure anything.  He was always happy.  That’s why I loved him so much.

So on my birthday, my Dad would call me and say “Did I ever tell you about the day you were born?”  I would say “Dad”, and he would go on with his story:

It was winter, January 1948.  It had been snowing and it was very early in the morning, still dark.  Four or five in the morning.  Your mom, wakes me and says, “Seco,” short for Secundino, “the baby’s coming.”  I then jumped out of bed and told her I would go start the car.  Because it was winter, everything frozen at night in Colorado.  As I got dressed, she got her things together.  I went out through the snow and started the car.  I wanted to heat it up before she got in.  Well, he would say, I was driving down the road very fast.  I’m so worried that she might have the baby in the car so I decide to drive faster.  As we’re going down the road, a motorcycle cop comes after me.  He stops me and says “Seco, why are you speeding?”

Rocky Ford Colorado was a very small town.  Everyone knew each other by first names, even the police.  My Dad loved that little town.  It’s where he grew up.  It’s where he married, had children and enjoyed his youth with happiness and joy.

It was the late twenties and early thirties.

It was also where he met my mom and fell in love.  It’s where he had me, his favorite daughter.  No matter what mistakes my Dad made, I loved him very much.

Seco was born in Guantajanto, Mexico.  He came to the United States when he was 6 to 8 years old.  They had migrated to this small town during the early 20’s when the United States had developed a program called the Prasedo Program, which allowed immigrant farm workers to enter the United States for a while and do farm labor.  My grandfather came first and several months later sent for my grandmother, Dolores and his three children, Seco being the oldest.

Now imagine Seco, this jolly man saying to the cop, “my wife’s having a baby.  I got to get her to the hospital.” The cop says “Oh, okay Seco, lets go”, gets in front of him and turns on the siren and takes off with Seco in his car, behind him, speeding down the road with sirens.  Seco would say “that’s how we got you to the hospital and that was the night you were born.”

Year after year my beloved Dad would tell the same story.

I took my Dad to the emergency room on my 48th birthday.  He told me the same story as we waited for the doctor.

My Dad would never go home again.

So now on my birthday, I share this story with anyone who wants to hear it.  It’s become a tradition.

About Guest Blog
It is said that sometimes the universe connects you to others with purpose.  That randomly, for reasons you may not even understand, you cross paths, and are inspired, to do something different, try something new, or even just to continue on the path you’re already on.  Such is the case with my guest blogger today, the gifted and wonderfully inspiring Dolores Guerrero.  We met online recently, talking summer heat and memories, her in the mountains of California, me in the humidity of Texas, and what resulted from that initial conversation, and subsequent others, was her granting me permission to share with you this very touching and poignant personal story about her father.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

About the Author
Dolores Guerrero is an artist and writer living in California, whose artwork has been exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Loyal Marymount University Gallery, The Mexican American Museum in Chicago, as well as featured in several books such as Triumph of Our Communities, Four Decades of Mexican American Art, Chicano Art of Our Millennium and Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art.

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