Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Why MLK Marched. Time Marches On Las Adelitas

Michael Sedano


Note: Esteban Torres, 8-time United States Congressman from California, graduated Los Angeles’ Garfield High Class of 1949. He and his friends left for Ft. Ord on graduation night. After the Army, Torres returns to ELA to lead the Chicano Moratorium.

In this excerpt from his unpublished, as-told-to-Michael Sedano autobiography, Torres recounts an incident that illustrates one reason we observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

• • • •

I’d told the counselor at Garfield I knew about electricity, that I wanted him to enroll me in Aeronautics, that I didn’t want Electric Shop. He stuck me in Electric Shop anyway. I was ready to quit high school because of that, when I got a chance to convince the Aeronautics teacher to give me a seat, so I stayed in school.

Maybe that counselor saw something in me the Army discovered in its tests. After Basic, I was ordered to Ft. Belvoir, Virginia to train as an Electrician with the Combat Engineers.  Garfield did a decent job of preparing me for the Army’s electrical engineering training. Algebra, that I got to use in aeronautics class, made it easy for me to get into the electrical diagrams, to do line resistance calculations, for example. There’s a lot of technical knowledge a soldier needs, to pull wire for miles along the tops of poles, or string along ground terrain.  

Army training was a serious trade school with high expectations. When you pay attention in school, you find yourself getting good at any mental or manual skill an employer throws at you. 

I got my wish to see new parts of the country. Ft. Belvoir, Virginia sits outside Washington, D.C., in the middle of history. All that history I’d read about in books lay there before my eyes, and I was able to walk the same ground: Gettysburg; Appomattox; Andersonville.

Touring the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., history and art-loving visitors squeeze-in as many places as they can, before they have to go home. 

For me, home was just a few miles down the railroad tracks and I could do a lot of squeezing and not miss the commuter train back to the Army.

The Smithsonian and the National Mall are endlessly involving, and free. I spent days exploring a single gallery then moving over to another artist or major event.


I fell in love with the city’s parks and scenic avenues and took breaks from museums to walk and wander and not spend money I didn’t have. I filled daydreams thinking someday, somehow, I’d live in the Capital again. 

But everything in the nation’s capital wasn’t rosy and enriching.Virginia, and Washington, D.C., are the Deep South. The depth of racism in the South is not something a guy from East L.A. understands. Back home, Ronnie Washington and I can walk into the drug store, order a soda, and, as long as we have a nickel, the drug store serves us. 

Ronnie and I walked into a drug store, not too far from the Lincoln Memorial, and got slapped in the face by racism. Ronnie, a black soldier, couldn’t buy a soda. I was astonished and completely unprepared for the ugly face of our country.

Every Army post across the world, Sunday chow is cold cuts at noon. That’s it until breakfast Monday, so Sunday afternoon is a time for freedom. 

One Sunday, after payday, four of us decide on making a day of it in D.C. We’d take in the sights, work up an appetite, and eat at a good restaurant.

After a couple hours looking at paintings and sculpture in the National Gallery, we go outside for a long walk down the reflecting pond to the Lincoln Memorial, opposite the United States Capitol.

We decide to walk into the business district for a quick lunch. We go into the first drugstore we see. The four of us sit at the lunch counter. 

The waitress asks us what we want. I sit next to “Arky,” a guy from Arkansas. Ronnie, who was from Alabama, is on my left. When the waitress gets to Ronnie she puts down her pad and looks at him scowling like she’s done this many times. 

"You know you're not supposed to be sitting here at the counter. You know where you're supposed to be." 

Ronnie looks around where the waitress nodded with her chin. The drugstore has a separate counter, where you couldn't sit, you stood up. There was a sign.

That's where soldiers like Ronnie Washington have to eat. It’s called Segregation. Ronnie got up to move over there to the Negro Section. He knew.

Arkie knew, but two of us weren’t from around here. We looked at the waitress. 

"Why is that?" 

“Why can't he sit here?" 

She wasn’t flustered at all. She acted like we were in the wrong.

"He knows why. He knows why." 

Like all soldiers, Ronnie had felt a lump in his throat the day he stood and recited The Soldier’s Creed, the one that begins, “I am an American soldier.” It doesn’t say “Negro Soldier,” and it concludes:

“I am proud of my country and its flag. I will try to make the people of this nation proud of the service I represent, for I am an American Soldier.”

Like all Black soldiers, Ronnie couldn’t sit with me at that lunch counter. Private First Class Ronnie Washington couldn’t order a soda and a hamburger in the capital of his own country.

The four of us left. We talked it over, decided to have dinner and call it a day. I felt defeated and disappointed, and struggled to keep my pride strong.

In a few days we’d have our Orders. Our country would send us overseas to defend that waitress and that drug store from the Communist menace that threatened our way of life.

“Pencil Me In”

The twentieth century spawned a welter of expressions that didn’t survive the next century’s technology. Case in point, “pencil me in.”

There’s nothing to pencil in when using an App. No pretty photographs to change with the month. Also, there’s no calendar when the device goes haywire. Or there’s User Error. Or you can’t find your phone!

Paper calendars to the rescue, and Edgewater, Colorado’s Las Adelitas to the rescue.

Michelle Sánchez

Las Adelitas Living the Arts programs organize to assist women healing from trauma, through the arts. Proceeds from the organization’s 2022 Las Adelitas Calendar support efforts, also, for members to embrace their professionalism through training in Mexico with Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández.

Michelle Sánchez, who’s been a Las Adelitas member since 2018, and performs in the Asuka Baile Folklorico group, is also a visual artist seeking sponsorship for herself and the group.

Buying a $25 calendar is a small contribution to Sánchez’ efforts, and a great way for you to revive that old saying, “I’ll pencil you in”.

Details contact Las Adelitas or Sánchez directly: mssanchez@asu.edu On Facebook, search for fridafighter.



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