Saturday, October 06, 2018

Surviving the Teen Years in the Barrio of the 1950's, by Antonio SolisGomez

Recent Photo of Lincoln High School
School work at Lincoln High School began to wear on everyone’s nerves right after the Easter break. We still had some weeks left of baseball and track but football season had long ago ended and so it was with great anticipation that we began looking towards summer vacation. When June finally rolled around, we were extra vigilante, the possibility of old scores being settled, heightened in a school whose students came from several surrounding neighborhood gangs.

Adjacent to the school was the Barrio of Happy Valley, a geographical oddity in a densely populated urban area, the one and only street winding its way through the valley with smaller streets branching off and disappearing into the surrounding hills like tributaries of a river. In those hills were the homes of hundreds of Mexican American families, some ramshackle, all modest to say the least.

Adjacent to Happy Valley was the Rose Hill Barrio, equally hilly and inaccessible to outsiders and infamous because it was where Eldridge Cleaver was raised.

Due south from Rose Hill were the barrios of Big and Little Hazard, the Ramona Gardens Housing Projects smack in the middle and smaller single family homes surrounding the government homes. Parts of those barrios were already beginning to be encroached by the Los Angeles County General Hospital, more so when the University of Southern California took over its management and greatly expanded the complex with new buildings.

Due west of the school was the Clover Street Barrio, a large swath of their homes destroyed when the Golden State freeway was built and yet more homes razed when commercial entities began to purchase the land to park large trucks. Yet it remained, and a new generation of members acquired.

North of the Clover Barrio was the Barrio called The Avenues, also losing homes to the Golden State freeway.

One never knew what gang was gunning for another so it was always best to keep a sharp eye lest one get in the middle of a fight and get jumped.

On occasion, there were other barrios represented when an individual was kicked out of his school proper as happened with a gang member from Temple Street who transferred in. He was a quiet, angry looking young man that mostly kept to himself. On the last day of school, out of the blue he told a Melton, one of the few Asian students, that he wanted to kick his ass and to meet him in the boy’s rest room. Melton didn’t stand a chance and it was over in a few minutes leaving him bloodied in the face from punches and kicks he received.

Broadway in Lincoln Heights
Our vacation always started off with a lot of enthusiasm for the freedom from schoolwork. We would visit one another’s home to play records, listen to Hunter Hancock, the only DJ playing rhythm and blues music, pool our money for a six pack of beer that we would order home delivery from Nate’s Liquor store, walk up and down Broadway during the day and at night sneak into the Starland Theater through a side door that one of us would open for the others after having paid the admission.

We hardly ever left our barrio but every so often on hot summer days we would decide to go to the beach. It meant first siphoning some gasoline the night before from the Bell Telephone trucks. Dario was our teacher, older, moreno, quiet, like a western hero quiet, a man of few words. He held the record for the number of times he had masturbated in one day, a whopping nine. He was also the linebacker on the football team, quick, agile and fearless, often at the bottom of a pile of helmeted bodies.
1949 Buick like the one Arturo's mom owned

The morning of our beach trip we went to the local supermarket to swipe some necessities: lunch meat, fruit, drink and bread. Then we were off in Arturo’s mother’s 49 Buick, a lumbering gas guzzling behemoth. Usually we went to Santa Monica to lay in the sun and body surf the waves.

We looked forward to weekends because sometimes there was to be a party or a wedding that we could crash. The Gigi Hall was the local venue for weddings and if there was one we would go. House parties were more likely and word of mouth traveled quickly with details and it was difficult to keep out uninvited guests, which we usually were. Our first stop was always the kitchen to grab some food and beer or with any luck a mixed drink.

Even back then house parties could be dangerous, a drive by shooting that would take us down to the floor or a fist fight with young men yelling and running about, trying to punch anyone within range.

Lincoln Heights proper at that time was gang free until a new gang emerged called Lil’ Valley headed by the infamous cholo named Black Bird who already was known to the local Juvi. In late June Lil Valley jumped an undercover policeman at the Starland Theater and the police went on a rampage, picking up any young man that was on the street that evening and the following day, roughing him up and threatening more harm. With the exception of Reuben my friends and I stayed indoors during the roundup. Reuben was taken off his front porch, thrown into the police car and taken to the Highland Park Police Station.
Fernando and I at a Tucson Water Reclamation Park 2015

Our enthusiasm for being out of school began to dissipate as boredom coupled with the hot summer heat intensified during July. Maybe boredom is just an essential aspect of growing up as today’s youth, who have many more distractions, are also bored much of the time. I did like to read and would read books my grandmother found in the hotel rooms she cleaned, pulp fiction mostly. And there was a public library that I frequented.
Lincoln Heights Branch Library

In August we began trekking up to the football field to begin practicing for the coming season. The Gym was closed and we had to jump the fence to get onto the field. Arturo was the quarterback, Fernando a running back and Reuben and I were receivers. We spent hours throwing and catching passes, running the bleachers, wind sprints and of course racing one another. We finished worn and sweaty and we would force open a two inch water line mounted three feet off the ground and showered and shivered with the cold water pelting our bodies.

Years after we had graduated the school began to open the gym during summer, providing a full complement of weight training equipment, supervised basketball games and warm showers. I stay in touch with both Fernando and Reuben. Arturo died a few years back. Dario I lost touch with after I graduated from high school.

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