All posts filed under: story

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Alice

“Where are we going? I’ve never been down this way before…” “When you’re in class do you understand what’s going on?” “Yes. … When the teacher asks a question I’m usually the first one with my hand up.” “Yeah – but do you really understand what’s happening? I’m just wondering if you’re slow… because right now you don’t seem to understand what’s going on. We are going down the 15. The 15 is another way to San Diego.” Mortified and hurt I sat quietly. I didn’t know that Temecula was not along the 5. The girl intent on making me feel like a fool was my best friend Alice. Alice and I became friends at a time when my heart was aching and raw. My long-time boyfriend had just left me. Every waking moment was like being lost in a cold, isolated tundra. Tears were always waiting behind my eyes. Weekdays were filled with the business of school and work, but I couldn’t bear weekends alone. Alice was in the same situation. We were drawn …

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Pórtate Bien

The acceptance letters arrived from five California universities. My mother beamed but I dared not share the news with my father. “You have big dreams,” he would say. “It’s not good to dream big because the disappointment in not achieving those aspirations is going to get the best of you. And what good does a college degree bring to a woman? You will marry – fill your house with children and then what? No college degree needed for that.” I signed my acceptance letter with my mother’s blessing. I left for college without my father’s consent. It was Move-In Day, one week before the Fall Quarter commenced. My mother borrowed the neighbor’s Mustang and drove me to the University of California at Riverside. Freshman and returning students unloaded their belongings at the horseshoe-curb in front of the Aberdeen-Inverness Dormitories. Students were accompanied by their families – setting up their rooms, meeting their roommates, touring the campus, buying textbooks and UCR apparel. My mother had scrounged money to purchase the basics for living in a dorm …

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Savannah St.

When I walked into the funeral that day, I wasn’t going to go say goodbye to a loved one. I didn’t even shed a tear. My mom and I attended. I wasn’t too thrilled about it. I felt out of place. I only knew of this young man and what he represented to our community. But here I was. Walking up to Our Lady of Talpa church that night, I imagined bullets coming out of nowhere while mourners fell to the floor. The parking lot was full of low riders, of men and women dressed in perfectly creased Ben Davis pants, sunglasses and Nike Cortez shoes. The church was standing room only. Like so many in our neighborhood, this young man went too soon. But you show up for someone’s funeral regardless of whether you knew him personally. Out of respect. I guess that’s a good enough reason. Savannah was a small street nestled between an elementary school and a park in Boyle Heights. The homes sat on large lots with multiple families sharing a …

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The Rabbit Died

Two months into my senior year of high school “the rabbit died.” I had never heard that expression before, but when the doctor returned to the examination room, and used the phrase, I realized I was pregnant. I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell my family, particularly my grandmother, who was my legal guardian. My second thought was of school. I was looking forward to my senior year – there was the homecoming dance, the Sadie Hawkins dance and the prom. Like many schools in the ‘70s, Scott High tracked students. Counselors offered some kids a vocational path, while others were given classes to help them get into a college or university. My grades, and the fact that I had passed the Scholastic Aptitude Test, put me on the college track. Suddenly, I was faced with how to finish my high school education; college seemed off the table entirely. I didn’t want to drop out, although it was common for girls to do so at the time. The sexual revolution was just beginning, …

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Heart of Roberto

The rain came down hard and fast on the September morning my family held the funeral mass at St. Mary’s in Whittier for my uncle Bobby. Robert Daniel Quintero preferred to be called “Roberto” in his last years. We placed his urn, along with a potted cactus (to represent his beloved Tucson) and his framed portrait on a table in front of the altar. His weathered, handsome face grinned back at us. I had taken the photograph two years before; his long hair was pulled back, mustache and beard nicely trimmed. Later that afternoon we brought his ashes to the Riverside National Cemetery. It drizzled until the sun broke through the clouds as his military honors ceremony concluded. As I watched my Dad search the grassy area for bullet casings that had fallen from the gun salute, it occurred to me that rain can be cleansing and also revealing. I realized that the unexpected passing of my uncle, though shocking and sad, was an end with which he was probably content. He was finally at …

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Fairy Tales

A white bandage covered my dad’s eyes as we sat in the ophthalmologist’s office. “Your father is legally blind, Miss Huang. We need some more tests, but it looks like he had a seizure in his sleep that caused the loss of eyesight.” I was 18 years old and just a few weeks out of high school graduation when I heard these words. There were questions: “Did you notice anything different about him these past few days? How long has he been complaining about nausea? When did it start?” “What did he say?” my dad asked me in our native Shanghainese, a dialect of Chinese. He only ever spoke enough English to get by at his motel job, but never had the opportunity to learn more. My mother on the other hand didn’t speak any, so by default I was the family’s representative. I struggled with how to translate the word “seizure.” I translated the diagnosis as a malfunction of the brain. The word “lost” I translated into “disappeared” so to clear up any ambiguities …

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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 …