Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Chicano Diet Private

There are two kinds of diet privates at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego: those that must lose weight and the others who are required to add more. I was considered a fat body even though I was a California Community College state runner up grappler at the 177 lbs. weight class in 1984. But according to the USMC body mass index, I was a panzón. So the Second Battalion platoon number of my gray recruit sweatshirt was ignominiously spray painted with two red bars marking me a diet private. During chow time the diet privates, fat and skinny bodies, lined up to present their trays to a DI (Drill Instructor) for approval. The fat bodies gave their bread, sweets, and delicious fatty food to the double-ration skinny body privates and they gave us their bland waxed beans, spinach, or corn. Before this, I never cared for vegetables but I came to like them.

Suffering from a sugar withdraw, I hid sugar packets into my cargo pockets and consumed the sucrose in the middle of night. Now I realize how addictive sugar can be. I am glad that I was never caught. If I had, I imagine an outcome similar to the scene in Full Metal Jacket when DI Hartman busted Private Pyle with a jelly doughnut in his footlocker during a pre-turn in inspection.

Ironically, I came to be proud of my diet private status. In my final PFT (Physical Fitness Test) I scored a maximum 300 points by finishing a 3 mile run under 18 minutes, kipping 20 pull-ups, and completing 100 abdominal crunches within 2 minutes. My score, however, was mixed up with that of a private with a lower score. But I knew better than to object. I learned early in the, then, 11 weeks of Marine basic training that anonymity was a virtue.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sir, Yes, Sir.

In the summer of 1985, I decided to follow a friend, who followed his brother, into the United States Marine Corps as a reservist. For those who do not know, Marine reservists experience the same basic training (boot camp) as regular, enlisted recruits. The first night of boot camp was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. After a long day of signing paper work, invasive physical exams, and interminable waiting at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) somewhere in the Los Angeles region, I was bused with other recruits to San Diego. Upon arrival at the dead of night, a Drill Instructor (DI) boarded the bus and barked, “YOU ARE NOW AT THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORP RECRUIT DEPOT AT SAN DIEGO. THE FIRST AND LAST WORDS OUT OF YOUR MOUTH WILL BE SIR, YES, SIR. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!”

We instinctively yelled back, “Sir, Yes, Sir.” The DI then yelled at us to get off the bus and stand on yellow foot prints on the ground. A host of other DIs met us where we stood and yelled directly into our faces in rapid fire as we stood on the foot prints just before our hair being completely shaven from our heads. I think the fact that this took place during the late evening made this extremely disorienting. I did not sleep at all that night. I wanted to contact the lawyer I did not have to get me out of the there.

Whenever I get together with fellow Marines, we never fail to exchange endless boot camp stories. For non-Marines click on this link of the movie The Boys in Company C to get a small sense of the greeting Marine recruits receive at Parris Island or San Diego. Viewer discretion advised.

Con Safos


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Not only in Berkeley or in East Los Angeles—also in Oxnard

The LA Times printed today the informative column of Hector Tobar on the Chicano Moratorium protest march of August 29, 1970. The piece highlighted Rosalio Muñoz’s organization of the protest and the exhibition commemorating this historical event at the Mexican Cultural Institute next to Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. Check it out. Both the column and exhibit.

Tobar concludes his essay by writing, “‘One tourist who went there recently told Muñoz: ‘I thought these things only happened in Berkeley.’ No ma'am, he answered. They also happened in East Los Angeles.”

So, anti-war protest occurred in many communities, one of them in the City of Oxnard. Twenty-two days later, on September 20, close to 1,000 Chicanos and Chicanas and their supporters also protested the Vietnam War by taking it to the streets. Organized by persons such as Ricardo Carmona, Roberto Flores, and other Brown Berets, the people of Chiques listened to the anti-war speeches of Muñoz, Blase Bonpane, Roberto Aliasa, and others.

Con safos


Friday, April 16, 2010

diary of a husky kid

My boy had his first run in with a school yard bully recently. Which took me back to my days as a “husky” (read: chunky Chicano) kid. Before my first real run in with such a tormentor, I remember my old man showing me how to defend myself. I am not the smartest person, but I can take directions. “Put your fists just in front of your face, Frankie.” Ok? “No, look at me. Hands at temple height with your left leading your right. Get in this stance. Bend your knees and jab. Jab, jab, jab. Fast and hard. Like Ali and Mando Ramos.” So I did and practiced in the garage regularly.

Then the day came at Driffill Elementary when I was in the 4th grade. An even fatter, shorter, and mean (half Mexican-Japanese-American) Jimmy I. started picking on me in the hallway in front of girl classmates. Feebly, I said, “Stop it.” Emboldened by this weak protest, Jimmy I. was getting ready to attack. Without saying another word, I methodically staggered my stance, bent my knees (à la Bruce Lee), and raised my dukes just like dad showed me. Fat Jimmy I. rushed forward. Jab. Jimmy I., stunned, stepped back. Nose reddened and angered, he tried again. Jab. Jab, jab. I struck on target. Jimmy I. retreated looked at me, for a moment, and those around us and ran home crying.

I held my own. But I felt kind of bad since Jimmy I’s. mom was my Little League team mother. Well this is how I remember it.

Con Safos,


Friday, April 9, 2010

Americana Condiment

The family ate at Doc Brown’s Chicken last week at Universal Studios and discovered that El Tapatio sauce is as iconic a condiment as ketchup and mustard. This is yet another sign that facets of Mexican culture (i.e., breakfast burritos, tortillas, pollo that’s loco) is redefining markers of Americana.

The issue of condiments also reminds me of how Eric, a Chicano-MEChista student of mine at Cypress College, once giggled and blushed when I mentioned the word condiments during a lecture.

Con Safos,


Friday, April 2, 2010

Sundown Towns

An oral history interviewee last week indicated that at one time the City of Oxnard was a Sundown Town. To verify this phenomenon I asked another long time Oxnardian of Mexican descent about this and he indicated that he was not aware of such an ordinance. But he did express that by the actions of the Oxnard Police Department that, "we (Mexican Americans and Mexicans) knew that we did not have any business over there (i.e. the White residential area of the city)." When I shared this with my Osher class today at California State University Channel Islands, a student indicated that Burbank was such a city. James Loewen has a book titled Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. This book is next on my reading list.

Con Safos


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Never say never because . . .

I recall that when I was at Fresno State History Professor John W. Bohnstedt (a WWII refugee from Nazi Germany; his mother was Jewish) stated to the class that in history you avoid saying “‘never’ because ‘never’ is a long time.” In other words, change is constant. So when I read that both my retirement systems, Cal PERS and STRS, are underwater with regards to their long term sustainability, I remembered my professor as I once thought my financial golden years were never in jeopardy as a public employee.

But nothing is a sure thing in these current times when we have witnessed the overnight burning to ashes of the likes of corporate giants Lehman Brothers, GM, Toyota, and Tiger. Oh, well. I still got Social Security.


BTW: I loved the way Professor Bohnstedt pronounced my name with a German accent. Fronk

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Fifth Street Twilight Zone

Last week I met with Dr. David Garcia about a joint research project on the history of the Oxnard School District and the practice of segregation. Being both educated in the city’s public schools, we shared stories growing up in Chiques and situated the school desegregation case of Soria v. Oxnard School District Board (1971) with that of Mendez v. Westminster (1946) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

I mentioned how when I was an adolescent, whether riding my Frankenstein bike or walking, I felt an unexplained unease when I ventured north of Fifth Street. Residents between C Street and Ventura Road and north of Fifth, during the 1970s, were solidly middle class and predominantly of European ethnic ancestry—Italian, German, Irish, French, etc—and Catholic. When I attended catechism classes at a craftsman style home on F Street, in what is now the city’s “historic” district, I was in awe and thought to myself, “I am in the house of rich people.” As I rode my bike home each week, I wondered how it was like to live in a spacious two story home like the ones in this neighborhood, instead of the south side one story two bedroom ticky-tacky residences in the blue collar Bartolo Square.

After meeting with David, I studied the 1974 Soria opinion of Judge Harry Pregerson of the 9th Circuit Court. In this document Pregerson cited Oxnard School Board minutes and stated:

To implement the "principle of segregation," the minutes for November 1936 to June 1939 show how Oxnard's School Board not only established and maintained segregated schools, but also established and maintained segregated classrooms within a school. Where segregated classrooms existed within a school, the Board had the additional problem of keeping children of different ethnic groups from playing together. In addressing this problem, the Board debated the feasibility of staggered playground periods and release times. Feasibility also dictated some exceptions to the Board's general principle of segregation. . . . . (Minutes for September 13, December 12, and December 21, 1938.)

Interesting. Then my eyes locked on to the computer screen as I read that in a 1937 board meeting Trustee J.H. Burfeind called for all “‘Mexican’ children living south of Fifth Street to attend the Haydock School, leaving all white and oriental children living south of Fifth Street in the Roosevelt and Wilson schools [in the north side of town]. The moving of Oriental children living south of Fifth Street to the Haydock School will be taken into consideration in case of future emergency, and no further shifting of pupils is intended.” The goal then was to carry out this crass segregation plan “with as little fuss as possible.”

Amazing. The apartheid-like feeling I internalized as a child crossing north of the Fifth Street twilight zone was not a figment of my imagination; it was de jure policy in the city of Oxnard. This is going to be a rich project. Stay tuned.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Continuity and Change

A boyhood recollection consists of the fragrance of my grandpa’s hair brilliantined with Tres Flores (Three Flowers). When he was at work at the lemon packinghouse, I would open my grandparent’s medicine cabinet to take a whiff of the Tres Flores bottle or jar—similar to what I did with Vicks, regularly. The perfume was soothing and culturally linked in my memory with what I closely associated as an aspect of what it was to grow up Mexican. As I entered junior high school and flirted with being a cholo-molo wannabe, as a husky adolescent I straightened my curly-brown hair with Tres Flores as though it would make an impression with the cholitas. It didn’t. I envied the slim and slick boys with straight, jet-black coiffures.

As I have balded over time, I no longer have a reason to lubricate my hands and head with this oil or jell. In an effort to vicariously relive my youth and continue this tradition in toiletry, I purchased a small jar of Tres Flores for my son. He too found the scent captivating. But he has quickly forsaken this hair oil. As historians know, change is the only thing that is continuous. Among Latino youth, I have been told, it is no longer fashionable to grease one’s hair with the old Three Flowers. What is now “in” is not so suave, at least in name. The new popular hair jell is called moco de GORILA.

Go figure. Any lingering doubt of my being a middle-aged, nerdy dad is now gone.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

That Smell

Great Oxnard ambrosia this morning. A hybrid fragance of a dairy, garbage dump, chicken ranch, and burning trash. Mi tierra natal. I love it. Kind of like what Duval's Colonel Kilgore character stated in Apocalyse Now, ". . .that gasoline smell. . . It smelled like. . . . victory. Someday this war is gonna end.”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Old Gringo

True story. I went to visit my old man a couple of weeks ago at his laundry mat in Chiques. I walked up to him wearing a cap before saying, “Hey, dad! How’s it going?” He responded with a bit of relief in his voice, “Oh, it’s you mijo. I was wondering as you were walking up, ‘what does this tall gringo want from me?’” Wow. I still don’t know what to make of this comment, from my dad even, as I don’t identify with being white, much less tall at 5'11 and shrinking. Well, this does contradict the view of Gustavo Arellano (the Mexican) who contends that, “. . . Mexicans don’t call gringos gringos. Only gringos call gringos gringos. Mexicans call gringos ‘gabachos.’” Then again my dad is a Mexican American and does often refer to Caucasians as both gabachos and gringos. So now I wonder (as a middle-aged man) if I should start viewing myself as an old gringo.

Monday, January 25, 2010

¿Quieres un taco?

I grew up with the daily question, ¿Quieres un taco? (sentinels of the Spanish language, and of English for that matter, cut this pocho a little slack with the grammar and spelling as this is not my day job). Being a husky Chicano kid of the seventies, I cannot recall ever refusing this offer of mom, grandma, my tias, and the mothers of my pocho pals. But what warmed my hands between meals was what is now more popularly known as the burrito. But we (my family and generational friends) did not call them burritos. If my family was to eat tacos of the folded, fried—often flour—tortilla variety we knew the difference by when it was to be served. For example, when I asked mom, “What are we having for dinner?” And she replied, “Vamos a comer tacos.” I knew the difference. Hard-shell tacos were an occasion due to the fact that they were more labor intensive to make. Mom cooked hamburger meat, chopped lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, graded cheese and fried the folded over flour tortillas stuffed with meat. Everyday tacos consisted of a comal-heated tortilla clefed at each end, filled with beans and, for me, some jocoque.

Everyday tacos were also much easier to eat. The taco treat needed to be held with two hands and still crumbled onto your plate where the everyday taco could be put together dos por tres and eaten with one hand on your way out the door to school—walking or driving. A daily routine made much more cumbersome, if not dangerous, with the hard shell version.

In discussing the regional, hybrid, and transformational nature of culture in Southern California with students, I occasionally highlight this taco topic. I mention how field laborers warmed their tacos over a fire during breaks and how construction workers placed them in the hood of their cars wrapped in tinfoil to be kept warm by the engine. I have read Cesar Chavez mentioning similar examples to back me up on this and he, too, calling burritos, tacos. This would be totally impractical with a hard shell taco.

Despite this refutation to the burrito title of the taco, I have come to accept the demise of its double meaning. Not doing so would only make my life more complicated than it already is. I can only cherish the boyhood memory of the ever welcomed, and never ever refused, invitation, “¿Quieres un taco?”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Chicano food

(Portrait of Manny in El Tepeyac)

There is a rumor floating around that El Tepeyac Café had been bought out and relocated to Chino. Today, when I asked if this was true, Manuel Rojas, owner of the Boyle Heights restaurant, stated that the story is completely false.

El Tepeyac (aka: Manny’s) is on Evergreen Avenue in East Los Angeles. In addition to the Manny special (a large plate-size burrito that if you could eat in one sitting used to earn you a free meal; an achievement of this writer in 1991 at the near cost of his digestive wellbeing), a signature dish is the Hollenbeck burrito monikered after the barrio’s LAPD division station. According to a 1986 LA Times report by George Ramos, the burrito’s name developed from the years of Eastside cops patronizing the establishment on their breaks.

For good food (and lots of it), a friendly atmosphere, and interesting Eastside stories from Manny go to El Tepeyac. BTW: When meeting up with San Ferndando Valley friends for breakfast, my favorite plate is the huevos rancheros.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Chicano Tortillas

My household recently braved the making of homemade tortillas. This brought back memories of growing up blissfully eating grandma’s and my nina’s warm, aromatic, chewy, flour tortillas with butter and freshly fried beans. BTW: I was a husky (read fat) kid weighing 175lbs. in the 3rd grade. Even though my grandma taught her daughter (my nina) to make tortillas, they had a uniqueness all their own—kind of like beans. They used the same ingredients but they tasted different—equally delightful but different. Each used a metal pipe cured by the rolling out of thousands of tortillas. In trying to roll out a few this week end with a pocho wooden rolling pin, they came out close to being symmetrically round in shape. In the past, the more I tried to shape a semi-thin, circular tortilla like grandma’s the more it came out looking the like the contiguous United States.

When I was attending Moorpark College, I regularly stopped by my grandparents’ house to have lunch with freshly made tortillas. The comal heated their small kitchen and the toasted flour gave their home an embracing aroma. Although my grandma and grandpa are now deceased, their humble home still exist off a dirt road paralleling Walnut Canyon Road in Moorpark, against a hill blanketed with nopales, right by a drainage ditch. After transferring to Fresno State, I would visit them to practice my ever deteriorating capability to speak Spanish on my way back to Fresnal and take with me a stack of tortillas which I stashed away from my roommates. If I felt generous I would share them with my Mission Hills/San Fernando roommate, Dan. I will keep on trying to perfect my tortilla-making abilities as it will re-connect me to my ancestors. Making tortillas, I figure, will be much easier to master than trying to retrieve my capacity to speak a comprehensible Spanish. I hope to pass on this memory to my traviesos.