All posts filed under: volume five

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Introduction to Volume 5

The search, the trip, the obsession with finding some knowledge – these themes have provided fodder for wonderful stories through history – from the Odyssey to Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes to Frozen. These themes also wind their way through many of the dozen stories in this latest volume – Volume 5 – of Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles. Sylvia Castañeda spent 20 years seeking the disappeared children of her grand-aunt before she found what happened to them – and she tells that story here. Felecia Howell tells of the search for commonality that led her to Liberia as a Peace Corps. Much the same search sent Miguel Roura to Mexico as a college student. Susanna Franek discovered an emerging Los Angeles, from her post as an ad saleswoman for La Opinion newspaper. In sixth grade, a Chinese girl growing up in South L.A., Jian Huang seeks, and finds, a friend, finally. Celia Viramontes tells the tale of a Zacatecan bracero searching for his family’s sustenance in Nebraska. Sarah Alvarado contributes a terrific story …

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Made in the U.S.A.

During the summer of 1997, Timothy McVeigh was tried on television for killing people in Oklahoma. The English stood along the streets outside Westminster Abbey to bid farewell to Princess Diana. And in Los Angeles, our closest thing to Sears – the Woolworth’s on Broadway and 8th — closed its doors after years of declining business. But I knew only a little of that in my small corner of the world on 23rd and Los Angeles streets. I was consumed with having to enroll in summer school and retake sixth grade Algebra. I told Mr. Alexanian, my Algebra teacher at John Adams Middle School, that I was gravely concerned about having to walk home at 2 pm each day. That was before the B and C tracks kids got out of class, which meant my chances of getting bullied by the other summer school A track girls leaving with me increased. This also meant nobody would be able to call the cops should I get hurt. I would be left bleeding in an alley somewhere …

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The Dress

When I was in the third grade, I was chosen to be the announcer at my school’s spring assembly, which meant I would go on stage and announce each class as they came up to perform. It was an honor for a student to be chosen by their teacher to represent the school in this way, and of course, the announcer was to dress in her best clothing. I didn’t ask my grandmother, who was raising me, for a new outfit, because I figured we couldn’t afford it, but I told her that the teacher said I needed to look my best. I waited for her to say how she planned to make me look ‘my best,’ instead, the corners of her mouth turned downward, and after a few seconds, she said simply, “Okay.” Over the next few days, I saw her working at the sewing machine that sat on our dining table. The spool of thread at the top of the machine bobbled rapidly, as her left hand guided a piece of tan material …

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The Toolbox

When I was a little boy growing up in East L.A., my father kept a toolbox. It was at the very back of the garage, covered by a blanket, piece of cardboard, or shop towel at the end of each day to hide it from any would-be-burglars. That was my job, to cover it. I thought about it while we sat in the waiting room of the specialist doctor my father had been referred to. This was the follow up visit to a series of visits after he had started slowing down a lot, very unusual for him. We were both anxious. His left hand trembled a bit, so I asked if he was cold. He said, no. He then asked me what I’d do with his toolbox if things went bad. Was it really coming to that? I didn’t want to answer that question. All my life, he would get up early in the morning and go to bed long after I did. Even on weekends, he worked. My childhood memories mostly are of …

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Taxi Dancer

In 1973, I was a single mother of three small children. I was working in a wig distribution warehouse in downtown LA packing wigs in boxes that were sold at major department stores. I was always looking for a better paying job. My co-worker suggested I get a job where she worked nights. She was a taxi dancer. I had no idea what a taxi dancer was, but she said the money was good because you also got tipped by some of the customers, so I went that night to see about the job. In 1943 two brothers, Ben and Edward Fenton, a couple of Los Angeles lawyers who were visiting San Francisco, went into a dance hall. These halls had been in San Francisco since the Gold Rush days. Women danced with men for a dime a minute and were called taxi dancers. Business was good and when the Fenton brothers returned home they opened up the first taxi dance ballroom in Los Angeles known as Roseland Roof. It was at 9th and Spring …

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Red Dust And All

I lay in bed early one Friday morning as the radio crackled with the voice of Liberian President Samuel Doe. “This is your President speaking. Anyone caught on the streets after 7:00pm will be executed, ” he said. “Do not challenge me. There will be consequences.” In the Liberian capital of Monrovia, a ragged group of rebel soldiers led by General Thomas Quiwonkpa had attempted to overthrow the president. Doe himself came to power in a coup in 1980, overthrowing and executing the late President William R. Tolbert and his entire cabinet, all members of the ruling elite, who were descendants of African-American slaves returned to Africa. He easily repelled the coup and was now re-exerting control across the country. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia. The radio broadcast repeated itself every hour. Yet despite news of the coup, I, like most people in the small town where I lived, went about my usual daily activities. That day I needed to go to the town market to shop for rice. “Chicken, you’d better …

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Un Mitote Mas

One Saturday in the summer of 1970, I boarded a Tres Estrellas bus and headed south, down the International Highway taking me on my first in depth exploration of Mexico. I was part of a group of one-hundred-and-fifty Chicano students who rented apartments at La Plaza Tlatelolco while attending classes at UNAM – La Universidad Autónoma de Mexico. I came searching for an identity, encouraged by my Chicano graduate student teachers at UCLA who nurtured me through the first two years, and by my mother’s prodding that I learn the truth about the land of my ancestors. I remember my high school teacher and mentor, Sal Castro, telling us: “Your people founded highly sophisticated civilizations on this continent, centuries before the European stepped on this land.” So this afternoon with this group of young enthusiastic men and women, I loaded my baggage on a coach that took us from Tijuana to Tenochtitlan. That first day of travel started off full of excitement as we jockeyed for a seat next to someone with whom to share …

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Tia

Joanie was the firstborn of nine – the love child of a young girl and an adulterous older man. Her mother, Rosana, had two more children with this man but finally left him when she accepted he would never leave his wife. As the years went on, more siblings were born with various fathers. Rosana was one of the few things they shared. She was young; she drank and knew men. She wore tight black pants, tight low-cut blouses, black hair teased high on her head, and a tattoo on her bosom. Once Rosana’s mother got fed up with the borderline negligent situation in which her grandchildren lived. She rescued them from Rosana’s house and resettled them at her own place. Eventually, though, the children drifted back to their mother one by one. Joanie was their shepherd. She strived to be a good example and take responsibility for her flock of little brothers and sisters. She gave them the love and attention that Rosana did not. Joanie strived to get her siblings to church; she …

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“Okay, Dad”

I never lived in the same home as my father. Or at least, when I did, I was too young to remember. My mom removed my siblings and me from his home when I was 10 months old. What remains of my life with him are bizarre moments. For example, my father had a safe word when we would go out. He would tell me, “If I’m not around and you’re in danger, yell Abraxas.” I was a child and found this strange. Why Abraxas and what did it mean? I never asked my father. My mother later told me that “Abraxas” was the title of Santana’s second album. My father never had a sense of humor, at least not one that you would find traditionally funny. He wasn’t good looking; he was short in stature but muscular. He had fair skin and dark black hair. He looked me straight in the eye that day. “Say Abraxas and I will know.” “Okay, Dad.” I chuckled nervously. He wasn’t amused. When I was 13 and it …

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Echoes From The Past

One day, when I was in second grade at Brooklyn Avenue School, I was at lunch, which they called nutrition. I happened to put back a cookie that I didn’t want and decided to get another one. Before I knew it, my teacher, Ms. Childs grabbed me by my shirt, threw me against the wall, and called me a dirty Mexican. I was terrified to say anything or do anything so I froze there against the wall. I told my mother upon arriving at home and a couple of days later found myself in a meeting with a group of people all dressed in business suites, and known as the administration. Ms. Childs and my mother were there as well. I was brought into the meeting to give my testimony for a minute. I told them what had happened. Later I noticed that the school administration and Ms. Childs treated me with more respect. I remember that same year being stabbed with a pencil and being pant sing in the school playground by a white …