Monday, November 22, 2010

La Pistola

A short story by Álvaro Huerta

My father never left home without his gun. It was a sleek .38-Special revolver, which he tucked it in his left cowboy boot whenever he took a walk in our neighborhood, East L.A.’s notorious Ramona Gardens housing project.

My father had grown up on a small rancho in Michoacan, where rural communities are famous for their family feuds. My father, the eldest of ten, led the Huerta-Gomez family feud during the 1950s. It took the lives of dozens of family members on both sides and forced many to flee.

After losing his brother, Pascual, my father and family moved to Tijuana and then to L.A.. Little did he know that he relocated his kids from one violent place to another.

When we first moved into Ramona Gardens, my older brother, Salomon, and I didn’t leave our house for a week. Once we did, a local posse of kids awaited us. Tomás, the leader, arranged a fight with my brother and me. It was a traditional welcome to the neighborhood.

One day, Tomás and Fat Ritchie decided to swing my younger brother, Noel, from his arms and legs until he cried for help. My father ran to save his wailing son. As he pushed Tomás away, Tomas’s mother attacked my father from behind. Like a Mexican luchador, my father slammed her to the ground - and fled the scene.

Later that evening, my father got word that Tomás’ older brother, Chuco, a respected gang leader who had done time for attempted murder, was looking for him - to take revenge.

Unable to locate my older brother, my father summoned me to his room.

“Alvaro, come to my room, I need to talk to you.”

“Here I go,” I said, wondering what I did wrong.

“Here, take this gun,” he said. “Put it under your belt in your backside. I want you to come outside with me. We have some business with Chuco.”

It was cold that night as my father and I walked around our building looking for Chuco. My knees began to shake and my heart pounded as we approached a bunch of homeboys drinking beer.

“That’s them,” my fathers said.

“I think we should call the cops,” I said.

“What for?” he said. “Don’t you know that the cops are just another gang. I’m just going to talk to Chuco to straighten things out. Wait here, I’m going to talk to him man to man.”

My father walked straight to the homeboys. He had a small bag in one hand.

“Chuco, is that you?” he asked the homeboys.

“What is it, old man?” came a voice from the darkness.

“Can I talk to you?” he said.

“There’s nothing to talk about,” said Chuco. “I already know the whole story.”

My father slowly reached into the bag.

“You better stay back or else,” Chuco said, putting his hands in his pockets.

Instead of reaching for my gun, I froze and brazed for the worst.

Undeterred by Chuco’s threat, my father pulled out a bottle of Cuervo Tequila.

Slowly, Chuco took his hands from his pockets and reached for the bottle.

“You have a lot of guts, old man,” he said, giving my father an abrazo.

“So, everything’s O.K.?” my father asked.

“Everything’s cool,” said Chuco. “You could have called the cops but you approached me like a man, so I’m going to forget what happened.”

Relieved, my father returned for me and said, “Let’s go home before we miss Bonanza.”

[Álvaro Huerta is a Ph.D. Candidate, Department of City & Regional Planning (UC Berkeley), a Visiting Scholar, Chicano Studies Research Center (UCLA), and a Visiting Lecturer, Department of Urban Planning (UCLA). This story first appeared in the literary journal, ZYZZYVA. Original artwork by Salomon Huerta.]

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