Migas on a Bright Sunday Morning
by Elena Dolores Solano
Recently I made migas for breakfast. I ripped the tortillas up and placed them in a cast iron pan of hot olive oil and cooked them until they were golden colored. There are a myriad of ways to make migas, a traditional Mexican dish. While the tortillas fried, I chopped onion, garlic and green pepper on an old cutting board mi mamá bought for me years ago.
After the tortillas were crispy, I added the vegetables. I sautéed them for a minute and then gently folded in the eggs and waited for them to cook, stirring the dish occasionally. The best corn tortillas are made from three ingredients, corn, lime and water, but when the lime is fried it lets off a peculiar smell of bitter tones. Eventually the smells of the green pepper and garlic catch up, and the mezcla, the mixture of flavors fills the air.
My mother taught me to cook that dish and many others. When we made migas, she handed me the bag of corn tortillas wrapped in paper and told me to rip them up. If the pieces were too big, she told me to rip them up smaller. If I cut them into pieces with a knife, she said, “No, no, no,” and shook her head. I eventually figured out what size she wanted for them. For some reason I was always determined to learn how to cook from her, so I let her tell me again and again what to do in the kitchen.
She believed in my ability to become a good cook. For her, being a “buena cocinera,” a “good cook,” as I often teased her, was important for many reasons. It meant you could take care of yourself. You could stock a pantry and fill your kitchen with homemade food.
But her cooking was also tied to being a traditional Mejicana, where culture, faith, identity and being a woman, were also a mezcla. She was renowned for her cooking in our small barrio in Detroit. She constantly offered food to anyone who walked through her doors or sat on the stoop. I recall her making me take a full plate of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn to a homeless man who was sitting outside on the stairs to our building. At that moment I learned, not by words but by action, to serve others, to give freely, even when you have a large brood of your own to feed.
She cooked with her comadres, making menudo to sell after mass. They sold the menudo to raise money for flowers for the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. To her, cooking was second nature. When I use her recipes, I sometimes look around the kitchen, as if she is here, waiting with a toalla, a kitchen towel, draped over her shoulder, waiting to eat. Cooking was a gift of love you gave to yourself and others.
I am eternally grateful that I learned to cook from her—and that she had the patience to put up with me. I remember being five years old, making tortillas with her. She let me roll small tortillas on her wooden board. She put them on the comal for me. I always let them burn. I loved the smell of the burnt masa. But more so, I loved her turning to me, saying, “You're fired, vayase.” I feigned resignation.
When I was in my twenties, she gave me several of her molcajetes, a tool made of smoothened volcanic stone. In English it is called a mortar and pestle, but there is so much more. It is a touchstone, a memory stone, a portal to the past. When I grind garlic, tomatoes or peppino in the heavy bowl, I feel deep calls to tradition and culture.
I feel my mamá, her comadres, my abuela and tías when I use those molcajetes. I am filled with memories that cause me to yearn for arms that are no longer here, to dial a phone number that no longer exists. I strain to hear a voice that has passed to the other side. I yearn for the smell of her comal, fire—hot, ready for tortillas.
This longing is the hardest to bear. It is the call from the deep that causes such surprise. I know it well. I have seen it in the face of friends as they talk about husbands and wives, abuelos and abuelas, and friends now gone. I have heard that yearning in the voice of my siblings.
My brother Gabriel died fifteen years ago. He was bold, hilarious, and opinionated. His eyes flashed like those of a sprite. He was always up to something. One Sunday, he called repeatedly and set me up for a prank. He took a beeper and set it off every time I answered the phone. After seven pranks I yelled into the receiver. His boisterous laugh filled the line, filled the air.
He often called on weekend mornings. I drank coffee as we talked about politics and current events. We talked about our childhood, what had gone right and what had gone horribly wrong. Friends have shared with me countless stories of Gabriel helping them out by fixing their washer, or some other odd task. When I was angry or upset he encouraged me to let things go. There are days I want to hear his voice, to answer his phone calls and hear his mantra, “It’s all good, sis, it’s all good.”
When my mother was alive, we sometimes had a family tradition of reading the same books. Gabriel and I read Tecumseh: A Life, written by John Sugden several years before he passed away. We lived in Detroit, close to the river, close to historic Fort Wayne and we were lifelong parishioners of Ste. Anne de Detroit, which was also close to the river. We knew our parish and the land all along the Detroit river had once been home to the Objewe, Potawatomi and Ottawa—the Anishinaabe peoples.
We often talked about the injustices and crimes committed against Native Americans. Tecumseh gave us a much deeper insight into the history of the Native Americans of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Gabriel was much more expressive in his anger and emotions., and while I felt the injustices deeply, I was much more subdued.
When the Archdiocese of Detroit closed all of the Catholic High Schools in the city of Detroit, students and staff marched in protest from Southwest Detroit to the Archdiocese in downtown Detroit. I was the bilingual school counselor for the only Catholic School in the city that served Latina/o students and families. Gabriel walked with us that day.
I felt a deep loss at the closing of the school. I knew it meant I had to look for employment elsewhere. Gabriel saw it as an injustice against our community and he railed against its closing. I was lost in my emotions and didn’t know how to respond. I felt betrayed by the Archdiocese, but I was also afraid to admit the blow that I felt. We were a Latino/a community, we were Catholic. How could they shut us down? How could they betray us?
But Gabriel was fearless. He wanted to stand up in mass and yell down the priest, but I knew my mother, a leader in our parish, would be mortified and would never recover from the shame. I knew I would feel embarrassed. The Archdiocese was wrong for shuttering the numerous Catholic high schools in the city. It was about money and dare I say, race. But I was a good Mexican daughter, I could not allow him to stand up in mass. Somehow I talked him out of the idea.
I wish I had learned more of how to be fearless from him. I wish I had his strength and willingness to live more on the edge and take more risks. Too often, I let fear get the better of me.
When I think of Gabriel now, I think of our shared love of food and music, of reading and social justice. I picture an angel, not a white angel covered in feathers, but an angel that looks like my brother, brown and strong, with dark feathers and hair as black as coal, carrying a sword and a shield. He does not fly lightly, he flies with a force for justice, while seeking peace.
Another brother, Anthony Juan, died in 2019. He was a fierce patriarch and protector. He was rough and struggled with many demons, but he was also a storyteller. He was filled with stories about the streets and his many adventures.
Tony was 15 years my senior. But his laughter and sense of humor were quick. While many people feel hugging and kissing are no longer propio, Tony always insisted I kiss him on his cheek. It always felt like kissing a brillo pad.
He was a giant in my eyes. As a child, I prayed for him often. He gave my parents grief, but their love for him was relentless. He told me he promised himself he would no longer cause my parents sorrow when he saw my father cry over a situation he was involved in.
Tony was an incredible artist. I longed for his artwork. He did it in bits and pieces. At the end of each October at our home parish, I put up a community Ofrenda. It is large and changes every year. I think about the theme over the course of the year. I sit in front of the space it will occupy and I try to think and pray and listen to what it should be, to what it wants to say. The year that Tony passed away was also the year that numerous children from Central America and Mexico died while crossing the Rio Grande River, trying to cross over. As a family we loathed (and continue to loathe) how our people were, and are, treated by the Right and the Left.
That year I dedicated the Ofrenda to the children who had died crossing over. But I also set up a section dedicated to Tony. Pictures of the children covered the top section of the Ofrenda and on the buttomsection was Tony and his art work.
But it was so strange to me that no one brought in pictures of their loved ones that year until the month of November was almost over. Normally hundreds of photos adorn the Ofrenda by the middle of November. But it was almost as if Tony was guarding those children in the underworld. His work wasn’t finished. He was still protecting, still guarding, still doing his work.
Tony created stories wherever he went. One Christmas, he took my children aside and pulled a long blade out of his walking cane. He told them that if anyone ever touched them, that person would disappear and never be found. We knew he meant every word. He left my children with countless stories of boldness and misadventure. Tony loved astronomy. After he died, I had the distinct feeling that a new star had joined the cosmos—heaven was not quite ready for him.
I often felt smaller than my brothers. They were large, dark, strong, muscular, very popular in our Southwest Detroit community, with the high cheekbones of my mother and the dark skin of my father. Their hair was coal—black. I was just me. Mousy, bookworm, with a big heart and a thirst for knowledge. But I also sing. So I sang at their funerals. I do not relish singing at funerals, but perhaps they knew they were leaving this earth before the rest of us. They told me what songs they wanted sung at their funerals. I did what I could. But each time I saw Tony, he told me he wanted me to sing “Ave Maria”. And while I sang it at my mother’s funeral and at Gabriel’s funeral, I was recuperating from a head, facial and ear injury at the time of Tony’s funeral. I still owe him that song. Promesa.
My brothers were shadow and light, another mezcla. They danced on the edges with angels and demons and often fell, but they always got back up. They were tenacious traviesos--mischevious to a fault, but they lived unafraid. They loved running and reading, baseball and science. They both had a passion for social justice and helping others.
I have seen enough of death to know the long shadow it casts, but I have also learned of the life it can bring. I am determined to remember the living. In my mind’s eye, my mother was full, a heart and life bursting with healing and love. Her quiet faith and certitude carried her. Her eyes carried laughter and sorrow, and her body showed frailty and strength. A softness enveloped her, it was as if La Virgen de Guadalupe really did cover her.
Wasn’t that mi mamasita’s prayer each time we left her house in Detroit? That La Virgencita would cover us and protect us with her tela? I hold her rosary beads and sit in the well—worn white armchair where she welcomed her grandchildren, where she spent her last hours on earth. It is in a corner of my bedroom, in a window facing west. I watch the setting sun and remember her.
I want to remember the light in my brothers, their passion for justice, for the broken and the poor. I want to remember their loud, boisterous voices. Their houses always had stacks of magazines, newspapers and books on history, science and politics. Gabriel always challenged me to look at my other siblings from another angle, to see with a new view, without hurt or bitterness, to live without judging yourself or others.
I want to remember how safe I felt because of them. No matter where I went in Detroit, I knew they were looking out for me. After Gabriel died, I felt vulnerable. I wondered who would protect me. After Tony died, I felt it again. Who would look out for me? It took a while for me to realize my other brothers were there for me, too.
When the migas finished cooking I put them on a plate my mother gave me years ago. The smell of garlic, green pepper and lime hung in the air. In the curls of steam that rose from the plate, I saw my brothers and mother, their laughter and grief, their sorrow and healing. I remember that we are all a mezcla of the present and the past.
I look at the plate and think of her and others who have gone on to the other side—my brothers, my tias and tios, friends, and other people I have loved. They left pedazitos de sus corazónes, little pieces of their hearts, here and there, spread throughout our lives, like migas on a plate on a bright Sunday morning.
Elena Dolores Solano was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. She is one of fifteen children. Her parents were migrant workers who moved north in the 1940s. She is a certified school counselor and works with Latino/a students in the public school system of Detroit. She is also a Licensed Professional Counselor. Ms. Solano has written for many years of her experience growing up in a large Mexican American family in Detroit. In her spare time Ms. Solano enjoys collecting anything old, a Solano family tradition, cooking Mexican food and spending time with her children, her family and friends.
The Art of Jacinto Guevara: Documenting Unique Latino Culture
by Ricardo Romo
First published in Ricardo Romo’s Blog, Latinos in America, November 19, 2021. Reprinted in La Prensa Texas, November 26, 2021.
The seventies are remembered as a monumental decade for most Americans. In the early years of the decade President Richard Nixon’s resignation and the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade dominated the news. Earth Day, Godfather movies, and disco music fascinated young people. The advent of the computer revolution marked a major change in society.
For Latinos, the decade included significant events as cities across the Southwest experienced school walkouts, and California farmworkers won important union and legislative policy victories. Talented youth introduced Chicano poetry, plays, and film, and universities developed Chicano Studies classes and programs.
Chicano artists who grew up during the seventies witnessed great transformations as they saw for the first time a flowering of their own artistic cultural creations. Jacinto Guevara of San Antonio emerged as one of the fortunate individuals who rode the early waves of this artistic movement. His story provides some important insights into one of the most significant eras of Chicano artistic creativity.
From an early age Jacinto Guevara discovered that art represented an important means of communicating. Guevara came of age artistically during the early 1970s while attending Belmont High School in East Los Angeles. At the time, few Latinos went to museums but most grew up surrounded by commercial art, usually in the form of billboards and posters. Significantly the early expressions of Arte de La Raza appeared in public art.
Chicano art originated with the mural movement in California. Art historians place the birth of Chicano art between 1968-1973. Guevara was a teenager when Chicano artists painted a mural at the headquarters of Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers Union in Del Rey, California. Some of the earliest Chicano murals originated in the heart of East Los Angeles, in close proximity to Guevara’s home.
When Joe and John Gonzalez decided to convert an abandoned meat market into an art gallery, they recruited two future Chicano art stars, David Botello and their brother-in-law Ignacio Gomez, to paint what UCLA art historians have identified as the first public Chicano mural in East Los Angeles. Muralism became the most prominent creative development of Chicano art.
Guevara enrolled at California State University Northridge [CSUN] in 1975, a time when colleges throughout Southern California were reaching out to East Los Angeles students. Guevara had seldom gone to the San Fernando Valley, home of the Northridge campus, but he liked CSUN’s Chicano Studies Program which was in its sixth year. He majored in Ethnic Studies and took classes with famed Chicano historian Dr. Rudy Acuña. Guevara loved music and joined the mariachi band headed by Professor Beto Ruiz. Guevara became a frequent art and cartoon contributor to El Popo, the Chicano student newspaper founded in 1970.
After graduation from CSUN in 1980, Guevarra painted on a regular basis and also joined several musical bands. During these years, while Guevarra remained an early aficionado of the emerging Chicano murals in his community, he focused on his drawings and canvas painting. He bought one of his first canvases for three dollars and spent a half day cleaning it.
Guevara worked at his art but could not seem to make the right connections to get his paintings in galleries and had a difficult time making a living as an artist. An invitation in 1990 by the established B-1 Galleries in Santa Monica offered him some hope. He was invited, along with several of the leading East Los Angeles artists, including Frank Romero, Wayle Alaniz, and Paul Botello to exhibit his paintings. Although Latino art was gaining in popularity, few of the paintings sold. After that show, Guevara began to think of leaving Los Angeles and was attracted to San Antonio because of the city’s thriving Chicano culture.
Guevara found the San Antonio weather suitable for his preference of open air painting, or what the French called “plein air.” Some of his favorite subjects included abandoned railroad stations and warehouses. He delighted in finding unique subjects for his paintings, such as icons and buildings in San Antonio that most observers had overlooked. Many of his paintings reflect the older sections of the East and West side of town. He looked for old houses, residences that did not necessarily catch the public’s attention. These residential structures were simple, but attractive. He told me that these houses “weren’t necessarily pretty.”
In 2016 Lewis Fisher published Saving San Antonio: The Preservation of a Heritage. It told a story of the San Antonio Conservation Society’s organized efforts to save historical houses from destruction. Guevara is also “saving San Antonio” through his paintings. His work captures the essence of the city, areas where not all the houses and buildings are spectacular, but they contain meaning and beauty for their owners. Guevara’s structural portraits, such as that of the 1880s building, “Liberty Bar,” which became a hangout for many Chicano artists, capture a heritage that makes San Antonio unique.
Ricardo Romo is an author, educator, and Latino Art connoisseur. He has degrees from the University of Texas at Austin (BA) and UCLA (PhD).
Memories of a Mexican Boy Growing Up in El Paso: Cuca, Babe, Louie, and Danny
by Daniel Acosta, Jr.
I grew up calling my grandmother—Cuca-- and my aunt--Babe--by their first names; I don't know why but Louie (Babe’s son) and I always did. Babe was my mother's younger sister and Cuca was their mother. Babe, Cuca, and my mother were very close. They seemed like sisters. Louie was named after our grandfather, Luís. Louie was five years older than me and was the one who taught me about life. My maternal grandparents did not have any sons; Louie and I were the boys in the family. A good part of my early childhood was split between my parents' run-down rental home and Cuca's house, which seemed like a palace to me because it had a bathroom with a tub. My parent's home finally got a stand-up shower when I started first grade because there was not enough room for a tub with a shower. When I started first grade in the fall of 1951and until I completed the 4th grade, I remember spending many days and nights with Babe, Louie, and Cuca. Papa Luís had died when I was very young, and I do not remember him.
I really liked staying over at Cuca's house on Piedras Street. From her front door we could see the dirt-brown Franklin Mountains looming in the distance. Her house had a small front yard with a white picket fence and vines growing on the enclosed screen of the front porch. There was an unpaved driveway to park the car and further down the driveway was a detached garage, which was used mainly for storage of old furniture. Next to the garage was a wobbly gate that led to a tiny backyard with a peach tree and some scrubby bushes. The backyard was mostly dirt with a few, scattered patches of grass. The house next to hers had a large backyard; a rickety wooden fence separated Cuca's house from the neighbor's yard.
Over the fence I could see my parents' rental home on Hamilton Street, which was essentially two houses away if I wanted to take a shortcut by jumping over two fences. Instead, I ran up the rocky alley between Hamilton and Idalia, which dead-ended on Piedras. One could enter the house from the back by entering a half-door that that connected the unfinished part of the basement to another area with a locked door that was finished into a bedroom for Babe. Outside of Babe's bedroom door was a small area where an old-time washer was located. It had a wringer attached to the washer and once the clothes were washed, they were placed through the wringer and were wrung dry by physically rotating the handle of the wringer. The clothes were sun-dried in the backyard on a small clothesline. Right above the washer was a small basement window just small enough for a small boy like me to squeeze through, which I did a couple of times to get into the house.
The other way to get into the house through the back was to walk up some shaky wooden steps to a door that opened into a small breakfast room and then to the kitchen. At the top of the stairway was a small landing with a window on the side of the house where Cuca's bedroom could be seen. Next to the breakfast room, off from the kitchen, was the bathroom, directly opposite Cuca's bedroom. Leaving the kitchen there was an area I guess one would call the formal dining room, which had a dark mahogany table with six matching chairs. From the dining area there was an arched opening which immediately became the living room, where there was an upright piano under the north window and a sofa next to the piano. Later when I was older a large black and white television was purchased by Babe and Cuca. We spent many nights watching professional wrestling and boxing matches. I learned to recognize many of the fighters from Babe and one of my favorites was Sugar Ray Robinson. We would keep the front door opened so a nice breeze from the west came through the screened front porch into the living room. One could reach Babe's basement bedroom by going down a very narrow staircase which came off from the dining room.
During the winter months, Louie and I often slept together on the sofa in the living room; a large gas heater was in the dining area which was turned on in the early morning by Cuca so Louie and I could get warm before we had breakfast. During the warmer months we slept downstairs with Babe in her large queen-size bed. In the summer the basement was always much cooler than the rest of the house, and I liked the dampness and darkness of the basement, where I could read my comic books under a small lamp.
Babe and Louie
What I remember most about Babe is the way she treated me, as if I were much older. Babe, Louie, and I often watched the soap operas on TV during the summer months, and she would explain things to us about why so and so was divorcing her husband and who was stealing money from the company. We all laughed when Babe got it right and gasped in horror when someone was killed in an accident without any warning. When there was time in between the shows, I jumped up from the couch and ran down Piedras to Beacon’s grocery store to get her favorite drink--not the stubby Coke bottle but the long, thin Pepsi which was sold cold. I also remember watching "A Tale of Two Cities" with Babe, and when the novel was required for my ninth-grade English class, I already had a good idea of the plot. Through Babe and TV, I learned much about how white people lived in America. I instinctively knew that we were different from the Anglos, but it was Babe who taught me to be proud of my Mexican heritage.
With Louie’s guidance, I learned to play all the sports, especially baseball. I was able to play with boys 4 or 5 years older than me and picked up many tricks on how to become a skilled ballplayer. I became interested in organized Little League and Pony League baseball, playing first string as a centerfielder and shortstop for two different teams. Babe, Louie, and her long-time boyfriend, Johnny, were the only ones in my family who saw me play baseball during the summer months. Cuca called Johnny El Árabe; there was a large contingency of Lebanese families (but not really Arabians) living in El Paso. I was not much of a hitter, but I played first string because I was the best defensive outfielder and shortstop on the team and made several outstanding plays each game. They would be in the stands each night rooting for me. After the games, we often walked down Piedras to eat out at two greasy spoons which were near Beacon's. There were two bars directly opposite each other on Piedras—Jimmy's and Pike's--and both had small kitchens. When we were in the mood for good tacos we ate at Pike's Bar and when we wanted great hamburgers we ate at Jimmy's. We leisurely ate and listened to songs on the juke box that the bar customers had selected.
Babe and the Authorities
One summer Babe decided to paint the interior of the house and she said let's go, Danny, and get some paint on Paisano Street, the supposedly dividing line between the Mexican and Anglo neighborhoods in El Paso. Cuca's house was in Manhattan Heights where there were mixed neighborhoods of whites and Chicanos. We got into her old 1950-something Ford Fairlane and took off. Along the way she pointed out the differences in the neighborhoods and the types of people. We both laughed when we saw a man turning left using both his blinking turn signal and sticking his arm straight out with fingers extended; Babe said he wanted us to know where he was really going. On the way to the paint store, we were pulled over by a cop for not coming to a complete stop at an intersection. Babe was very polite and smiled nicely at the policeman, who eventually gave her only a warning ticket. Babe told me that it pays to be always friendly!
When my cousin Louie and I were both going to Rusk Elementary School in El Paso during the 1950s, I remember seeing Babe talking fast and excitedly about her son, Louie, to the principal and some teachers after school. He had been reprimanded for speaking Spanish on school grounds during recess; it was a school rule that only English could be spoken at school. It is a cliche to say now that Babe was a woman before her time. I only wished I could have heard her take down the authorities for what they did to Louie. A few days later she told me what happened, and broadly smiled that Louie would have no demerits on his school record.
One night, when all three of us were sleeping in the basement bedroom of Cuca's house, I heard someone jump over the back gate and look through the bedroom window next to the gate entrance. I nudged Babe and told her that I saw a man outside. She jumped out of bed and took Louie and me to Cuca's back bedroom upstairs. We sat on her bed while Babe called the police and made sure the doors were all locked. It was fortunate that were two locked doors in the basement which made it difficult for the intruder to get into Babe’s bedroom. However, while Babe and Cuca were in the front of the house, Louie and I heard steps on the back stairs. When he reached the back door, we saw his profile against the moon light through the thin curtain of the window. He banged on the back door to make it open but was unsuccessful. He then ran down the steps because police sirens were now getting louder. We heard him yell when he slipped and fell. It was on that same bed that Cuca would often tell us stories of her life and family in Mexico. We learned from her that David Siqueiros, the famous Mexican muralist, was a distant relative. She smiled wickedly that he was a Comunista!
The last thing I remembered seeing was Babe in the living room calmly talking to the police about the intruder, who had fled the scene. A few years later Louie told me that the intruder had recently been paroled from prison and made the mistake to try to break into Cuca's house. He had to go to jail again when he was caught by the police. I also learned much later in life that he was Babe's former boyfriend.
When I was in my fourth-grade class later that same year, our teacher, Mrs. Shlanta, gave an in-class assignment to write a personal story about our family, all within an hour of class time. I thought quickly and decided to write about the intruder. I titled the story, "The Burglar", to make it more interesting and which I could write about without much difficulty in one hour. I left out the part of seeing the intruder a second time on the back stairs. She was very impressed and asked if I was scared. No, I said. It was because Aunt Babe knew exactly what to do to keep the burglar out of the house. Louie and I were really scared to see the intruder so close to us and to hear the banging on the door. I guess we were so lucky that he did not get in. But I couldn't tell Mrs. Shlanta that. I was given an A for the story.
Louie and Danny
Two years later our family had moved to another rental house, still on Hamilton Street, directly across from our first house. Louie was now in high school and was driving a cool, light green Studebaker. I did not spend as much time at Cuca's house as I used to, but I still went over to see Babe and Cuca after school. Having a car and being a teenager, I did not see Louie as often. But one evening around 10 PM my mother and I heard Louie knocking at our front door. He was out of breath, and he told us that a Mexican gang from Chivas Town (several blocks west of Piedras near Alabama Street) was chasing after him. He had left his car up the block on the corner of Piedras and Hamilton, next to Mr. Wicks' house. We called Babe and she said for Louie to sneak over to the back yard, just a few houses from ours. She would be waiting for him at the small basement half-door. About an hour later, we heard police sirens and saw police cars parked near Mr. Wicks' side lawn. My mother and I walked up the street and saw that Louie's old Studebaker front windshield had been completely smashed in with rocks and bricks. Again, I saw Babe calmly talking to the police and asking them what would have happened to Louie if he had been in the car? Louie was not at fault; the police had to go after the gang members. That was my Tía Babe.
The only gangs near my neighborhood were Mexican. There were two Mexican gangs who fought mainly among themselves over territory and if you did not belong to either gang, you had to be careful about showing any preference for one gang over the other. There were no white gangs at my school, and I never saw any whites trying to beat up Mexicans in my neighborhood. Louie taught me to avoid any interactions with the Mexican gangs, unlike his run-ins with some of the gang members. Seeing his front car window completely smashed on that summer night made a deep impression on me. I kept a low profile at school and stayed away from gang members. It didn't hurt that I was known for being an A student, who academically outperformed many Anglos in the classroom. The word in the street was to not hassle Danny. However, there was a time when I had to intercede when some female Mexican gang members were trying to beat up an Anglo girl, who I knew in one of my classes. This incident occurred as I was walking home after school down Piedras about a mile from Cuca's house. Luckily for me none of the male gang members were around and I was able to convince the Mexican girls from hurting the white girl."
I was friendly with many of my Mexican classmates, and several of them advised me to not associate with the gringos and to keep my Mexican identity untainted. But I wanted to be accepted by the more popular whites at school. I tried out for the 8th grade football team and started as the first-string end, offensively and defensively, which gave me status with some of the white elites. I began to walk a fine line between my white and Mexican classmates by trying to please both groups. In the end, I had problems with my ability to accept my Mexican heritage and my desire to be part of the elite whites in school. It was later in high school that I became proud of my Mexican background. My deficiency in speaking fluent Spanish, like the rest of my Mexican friends, was beginning to be more difficult to hide from everyone
In my 8th grade Spanish class, our Spanish teacher, Mrs. Curry, complimented several of the Mexican students for their excellent pronunciation of Spanish words. Because I was the straight A student in all my classes and recognized openly by many of my teachers, it became noticeable to several of the Anglo students that I was not highlighted for my proficiency in speaking Spanish. An Anglo member of the football team in the class jokingly asked Mrs. Curry about my Spanish abilities. There was dead silence in the class, except for a few giggles. Mrs. Curry quickly started a new topic, and that started my decision to be less sociable with my classmates. Throughout my years at home and school I refused to speak Spanish. I thought by being less Mexican I would be more accepted by my white classmates. Of course, when I spoke in Spanish to my Mexican friends, it was terrible, and I was mocked for trying to be more Anglo. Still, I had some good Mexican friends. Many of my Anglo classmates attended Austin High School and were cordial and somewhat friendly, but I knew my secret was out and that I really did not belong entirely to any one group at school.
By the time I was three, I had decided on my own to not speak Spanish at home or at school; I thought that I would be more accepted by my white neighborhood friends and classmates and by my teachers. My parents would talk to me in Spanish and English and did not force me to respond in Spanish. Babe never made me feel ashamed when she spoke Spanish to me and did not care if I responded in English. She mainly spoke Spanish with me when she wanted to make an important point about some matter.
I learned a lot from Babe: she was a forthright woman, who was proud of her Mexican heritage and spoke out when confronted with discrimination and racism. She had a long and good life, passing away when she was in her late eighties. Louie became a captain in the El Paso Police Department. and later in his career, Chief of Police at El Paso Community College. He received a letter of reference from Mr. Wicks when he first joined the department.
Daniel Acosta is a Mexican American born and raised in El Paso. His grandparents emigrated to the US in the early 1900s. Daniel's parents never completed high school, and he was the first in his family to graduate from college. He has a professional degree in pharmacy and a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology. Daniel's career spanned 45 years as an educator, scientist, and administrator in academia and the federal government. He recently retired in Austin, and plans to write about his experiences with discrimination and bias during his career. He hopes that he can help young minorities with their careers by writing about the barriers he encountered in academia, professional societies, and the federal government.
The Colonial Syllabus in Literature