Tuesday, September 11, 2012
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
I was born on the San Bernardino Freeway. Eastbound side. A twelve-foot concrete wall separated our backyard from the fury of one of the busiest freeways in LA: six lanes going west, six lanes going east, and down the center, the Union Pacific. Behind the wall, traffic was a constant roar. During rush hour, the cars crept by, with faulty mufflers sputtering, transmissions grinding, brakes squealing and stereos blasting. Motorcycles mainlined while sedans idled. Eighteen-wheelers struggled in low gear. The occasional voices, franticly shouting into the callbox… At night, the cars came in waves, a few seconds of silence followed by a steady current of traffic. In the ebb and flow of late night transit, I discovered infinity, like a strip of gauze stretched taut.
When we weren’t embroiled in an epic game of Ditch ‘Em, we’d ride our BMX bikes to San Gabriel High and climb the roofs. In the empty dirt lots around town, we’d carve out off-road courses with abandoned shopping carts and practice jumps. We’d scale the fence that barricaded the Wash and ride through the concrete channels to Marrano Beach, where we’d play Rambo in the scum-laden, swampy water. And since there usually weren’t enough BB guns to go around, one of us would have to be the human prey while the rest took pot shots from the trees along the bank. -- from The Baudrey Boys