Tuesday, September 11, 2012

the güeros

Even though it wasn’t exactly a barrio, in the Seventies, before the Asians moved in, the part of Rosemead where we lived was predominantly Chicano. Our street belonged to Lomas. The other side of the freeway was Sangra territory. Although the gangs weren’t very active anymore—everybody was in jail, too old or shot up to fight like the good ole days—the signs of old rivalries were omnipresent. Almost any available wall, fence, post, and curb displayed the remnants of their bitter feud in chicken scratch graffiti. We knew the chips in the stucco on the front of our house were from stray Sangra bullets aimed at our neighbor Joker, who used to hide in our crawlspace when the cops came looking for him. Joker had always been cool to us. We were proud to have been born on Lomas turf, but the kids our age, the burgeoning cholos, they never let us forget that we were different. They called us the güeros. There were some old white folks around and the occasional half-breed, but on our street, we were the only white family. And we weren’t just white. We were tow-headed, blue-eyed, lilywhite Mormons. From the first day of school, we weren’t just bullied, we were brutalized. With my baby face and big mouth, I was an easy target of abuse. I had to start running fifteen seconds before the final bell just to avoid a farewell knuckle sandwich. It got so bad, the folks sent us to the YMCA to learn karate. Self defense wasn’t my thing though. So I learned to run faster, but I kept talking shit like there was no tomorrow. Eventually, mom finagled a way to send us all to a school in Alhambra, but the upper middle class kids there knew we didn’t belong. We had the stink of poverty and ridicule on us. They called us white trash. 

I learned at a young age that there was no way to win. 

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