1923 – 1937 The Beginning of An American Mexican Family
According to what my mom told me, my American family started when they came to the United States from Mexico around 1923. They came as legal immigrants and worked picking mostly peaches somewhere outside of Los Angeles. The family consisted of my Grandfather, (who I never met), my grandmother Concha, Uncles Pancho and Danny, my aunt Beatrice and of course my mom Elisa. I don’t know if they went back and forth to Mexico but my mother Elisa did attend Manchester Avenue Elementary School which I also attended from Kindergarten to the 6th grade.
The story is kind of piecemeal but as the story goes my mother didn’t know a word of English at nine years of age and at Manchester no teachers or other children knew Spanish. A year later she won an oratory award in English. So right off the bat I’ll make a statement about the necessity of teaching kids in their own language by stating, it’s bullshit. My mom made it through total emersion and so can anyone else. Anyone who says anything different is either a liar, stupid or a liberal.
Figure 3 From back to Front: Uncle Pancho, My Mom, an unknown and Aunt Bea – Around 1925
Because she was only about nine years of age, it was easier for my mom to learn how to speak, understand and write English. Unlike my grandmother Concha, who was about thirty, she learned to understand, but could never actually speak the English language.
I think there is a time when the human brain just solidifies when it comes to speech, as a person gets older the harder it is to learn to speak a new language. I think the turning point age that is the age when it starts getting harder to learn a new language as you grow older, is around twelve to fourteen years old. But that’s just my opinion from the people I have met in my seventy plus years of living on this planet.
Fast forwarding to 1932, the family completed what was to be the last picking season for them. There was nothing special about that year, as it started, except my Aunt Helen had been born and was a few weeks old at the end of the picking season. As usual my grandfather would stay in the tent they had as the rest of the family worked in the fields. My mother drew the attention of the land owner’s son because she was about 16 years old by then and very attractive. As a result of the attention paid to my mom she was promoted to work inside in the canning factory where the owner’s son could pursue his interest to a greater extent.
End of that story because nothing happened, except that because of the job change my mom made a bit more money than she made out in the fields. For some reason or another, my grandmother asked my mom to keep the extra money and not tell my grandfather, which she did. Old grandma must have thought there was something fishy for her to have done that, but no one will ever know why.
By the end of the picking season, my mom had a tidy little sum stashed away and as usual they all packed into the family car, if you could call it a car, and headed to L.A. Along the way my grandfather stopped for gas and after grandpa filled up the tank and paid the attendant he asked my mother for the money she had been holding out. This really took my mother by surprise and not knowing what to say she said she didn’t have any extra money and pretty much stuck to the story. When grandpa realized she wasn’t going to give up the money, he tried a new tactic. He asked her to get out of the car and then handed her her sack of clothes. Yes sack.
At this point my mom starts crying and begging to be let back in the car. He continues the charade, starts the engine and was about to leave with my mom crying her eyes out pleading for him not to leave her there. As he starts to pull away my grandmother finally told him to stop the car and she would get him the money. My grandmother gets out of the car, rushes over to my now a basket case mom and tells my mom to give him the money. After she coughed up the money grandpa let her back in the car and off to L.A. they went, one big happy family.
When they got to L.A. they stopped again for gas at a gas station on the aforementioned corner of Manchester and Figueroa where, when he finished filling the tank, grandpa asks them all to get out of the car. He then handed my grandmother $20.00, said goodbye and he drove off and headed back to Mexico. It was the last day my grandmother saw her husband but it wasn’t the last day she loved him. So in a way my family history starts on the corner of Manchester and Figueroa, in South Central Los Angeles sometime in around 1932.
My grandmother never stopped loving him and for the rest of her life she never dated another man, held hands, kissed or allowed any man to enter her home, she stayed mentally married to Jose till she died at the age of 101. When she would hear a song that reminded her of him, a tear would roll down her cheek.
My grandfather didn’t dump them off where he did by accident, it was in the area where they had lived in before. While they had no home to go to, there was a cousin of my grandmother’s that lived about four blocks away from that infamous corner. So, with nowhere else to go, they headed there. By some stroke of luck her cousin had a small house in the back of their property that was not rented and they welcomed my grandmother to stay there until she and her family could get on their feet. Somehow I think grandpa knew that the house was available or he wouldn’t have timed everything the way he did.
To make money grandma would make ground beef and bean taco’s (now called Burrito’s) with flower tortilla’s and uncle Pancho and Danny would sell them in the streets. My mom would help by cleaning her new uncle’s house and Beatrice would help her. Helen was too young being about a year old.
In the Mexican world, cousins, uncles and aunts weren’t necessarily blood relations as these people weren’t. They were like good friends from Mexico and called each other Tio, Tia and Primo. The Tio in this story liked to play grab ass with my mother and when she complained about it to my grandma, grandma would say she was imagining things and they should thank God for Tio providing them a home. So mom was left to her own devices to keep him at arms length. There were no sexual harasement laws because women could take care of themselves and did so.
Unlike today where, after the feminist movement, women are portrayed as victims so weak that laws must be passed to protect them from the hint of abuse.
Figure 4 Mom, age 17 – Does she look poor?
Pancho eventually started hustling pool and then got a job at a local market, Foodtown on around 85th and Broadway in the produce department. In those days the produce department ran the length of the store and there was no front wall. It was an open air market and I can still remember the fruits and vegetables stacked up and busy with people buying fresh tomatoes, potatoes, apples, lettuce, all grown in the USA. In those days being a produce man was a career field to be aspired. He reluctantly entered that career, a career he would stay in the rest of his working life.
At the same time Uncle Pancho fell in love with Tennis. He would learn how and play at the Manchester Public Park not far from where they were living. There were times when he wouldn’t show up for work and my grandmother would find him at the tennis courts playing. She would then march him to Foodtown so he could start working. I guess the owners knew my family pretty well because years later, as a little kid I would go behind the stands and the workers and owners all knew my mom.
As things got better my grandmother, two uncles, two aunts and my mom moved to 240 West 89th Street, again, in what is now called South Central Los Angeles. Actually at that time it was called South Los Angeles. The house was the third house east of the corner of 89th & Broadway on the south side of the street. The long block between Broadway and Main Street was primarily a white block with about four Mexican families. A block was about twenty houses on each side of 89th between Broadway and Main Street to the east. A short block was the area between 89th Street and 90th or 89th street and 88th.
Figure 5 Grandma’s house across the street. Today via Google Maps
They lived there from the time my mother was about 18 years old. I can well imagine my mom wanted to get out from under my grandmothers dictatorial rule. While I wasn’t there at the time, I did see how my grandmother ruled over my aunt Helen, she was only five years older than I.
I can remember when grandma would chase my aunt Helen around the dining room table with a coat hanger and eventually catch her. She would then “SPANK” my aunt Helen a few times on her butt. She did so because Helen had done something wrong.
Later, my mother, age 20, married a man she had been dating by the name of Charles Diaz and I was born August 3rd 1937. I was born into a lower working class family and we stayed that way for most of my early life.