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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Color Purple

There is a photo of my Father squatting down to me and holding me in my first year or two of life. I joke about how this was the closest I ever was with my Father. I learned early on, to hate this man.

I was once interviewed by a female psychologist for a public service job who had a "Ph.D." in the study of domestic violence. What a joke! I don't mean to boast, but if they were to hand out Ph.D.'s for DV experience, I would have a dozen. Fact of the matter is I lived it.

There is a movie called "The Color Purple" I went to see in my college years. What a mistake. My life on screen. I balled through the entire movie. I was well acquainted with the color purple on my Mother's face.

At a young age, I can recall the the many times when I was too small to do anything so I ran to my neighbors for help, the many times I jumped between my Father and Mother, the many tears my Mother shed on my shoulder, the sleepless nights I stayed awake until my Father came home from the bar. You see, my Father was out at the bars regularly enough, that I became efficient in recognizing when the the shit was going to hit the fan. In my teens, my bedroom was situated to the front of our home next to the front door. When my Father came home from the bars, I looked for a certain breathing pattern to figure out whether he was drunker than a skunk. This breathing usually involved constant sobbing. If he had this breathing, then I knew I had to be ready to jump and run to my parents bedroom in defense of my Mother.

I was the oldest of four children, and the only male. My destiny and script were already written out for me. On my Father's side, there were four generations of DV. I was destined to continue the legacy. I have a B.A. degree in Developmental Psychology. It was taught that in early adolescence, kids learn and adopt behaviors by what they see visually. I decided early on, around high school, to live my life in a proactive manner. I didn't have any friends or support system that could relate to my experience.

When I started college, I had to ask advice from my professors. I conveyed to them my fears of continuing the legacy of domestic violence and my fears of becoming like my Father. One professor introduced the "pyramid of fears" tool. I was to start with the least fear, work through it and work my way down the pyramid to the next hardest fear. I came up with a simpler tool. It involved two columns. On one column I would write all the positive characteristics of my Father, on the other column I would write all of his negative characteristics. Needless to say, the negative column far outnumbered the positive. I used this visual aid tool for the rest of my high school years.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Part of my motivation for writing this blog is to inspire. The holidays were always the hardest for me in my home. We had dysfunction, with all capitals, DYSFUNCTION.

Not everything of the Mexican culture is good. In a conversation with a "Hispanic"  psychologist, I was told about the role of males as that of machismo. Wiki defines machismo as "excessive masculinity." I don't believe machismo is culture specific. The hispanic psychologist continued, mujeres (women) played the subservient role as that of the virgin Mary. That was it?!? That's just how things were? Bullshit (with emphasis), I say!

It's because of people who believe or think in this manner that certain social norms are accepted. These particular social norms serve as the basis for, and set up beautifully behaviors such as domestic violence. Domestic violence (DV) sucks. I will say it again, Domestic violence sucks.

What about this? Men should live out their "excessive masculinity" in being responsible and loving  husbands  of their wives and Fathers of their children. Ever thought of that?

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Certain smells and/or odors take us back to our childhood or places. For me, the smell of a burning cigar reminds me of Dodger Stadium. Another smell is that of burning incense at Catholic mass. This smell reminds me of Christmas eve mass.

In my early adolescence, mass was boring as heck for me. Especially because I remember it being held in Latin (what were they thinking?). Mass became more interesting when the padre (priest) began to have mass in ingles and or espaƱol. 

Every Sunday, my Mother would kick me out the door with my limosna (tithe) and had me go to mass. Also a mandatory service in our household was Christmas eve service. We would stay up watching TV and then head out to misa de media noche (midnight mass). While I may not have understood the homily of the evening, I did come away having enjoyed the wonderful smell of the burning incense used during the mass. To this day, I remember that very distinct aroma that takes me back.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Once heard a speaker at a mens conference give Zig Ziglar's definition of love, T-I-M-E. It only made sense in that we give our time to those things most important to us. We give our time to those things we are most devoted to. Those "things" I refer to are relationships.

The most important commodity we possess to give away is our time. You see, what I devoted my time to, early in my adolescence were 1) my Mother whom I was there for (who was physically abuse seven days a week) 2) my friends whom I previously mentioned & 3) baseball.

I found a refuge from the chaos at home while hanging out with Ray, Mark, Lawrence and Ronnie. If we weren't listening to a Dodger game or at one, we were outside playing baseball in front of their house. You have to understand, they lived on 5th Street/Rowan Avenue which was a hill. We designed a makeshift asphalt baseball diamond so we played uphill. All we did was spray paint bases on the street. Naturally, we spent a lot of time chasing balls downhill.

Ronnie, who was the oldest, later was old enough to drive us to Dodger games in Chavez Ravine. Dodger stadium became my field of dreams. Needless to say, this is how I became a die-hard Dodger fan. I bleed blue to this day.

I love Dave Dravecky's opening comments in one of his books. He likens baseball to life played within lines/boundaries or parameters; the green grass representing everything rich in our lives; the game's slow tempo as how life should be lived; and alludes to the players as grown men playing as little boys.

This love/time I would put into my Mama, amigos and baseball would play a factor in shaping me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Trade you for your Hot Wheels

One of the things I wish my Mom had saved for me while I was away at college was my baseball card collection. After some housecleaning, out they went. What I do still have are my Hot Wheel cars and Hot Wheel pop-up storage box. The pop-up box springs open into a makeshift grandstand and you are able to connect the orange plastic tracks to it. The actual cars have the dates stamped on them for the mid-sixties.

Back to the chorizo burrito...

In first grade and in Catholic school, I learned the art of bartering. I tell you, I learned quickly that what was most normal to me was an extravagance to others. When I whipped out my lunch, the chorizo burrito, kids mouths (particularly the gringo kids) would salivate with a longing for like no other. Burritos, heck we ate them all the time. I was introduced to the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich by these kids. We didn't know much about PB & J sandwiches in my home. I later found myself trading my chorizo burritos for the PB & J sandwiches. I was no fool, though, as I soon realized the gringo kids were getting the better end of the deal.

Before long, I noticed the gringo kids playing with these heavy metal cars called Hot Wheels. My Hot Wheel collection thus began when I started to trade my chorizo burritos for kid's Hot Wheels. I believe I ended up with the better end of the deal as burritos were a dime a dozen en mi casa.

What also began were relationships with Ray and Mark Jurado, Ronnie and Lawrence Godinez and a few others. These relationships would evolve and exist for the next several years until high school. These guys were cousins of each other and lived on the same lot around the corner from me. Ray was in my class and was extremely smart. I still had not acquired the mastery of the English language. I remember my Mother walking me on many an occasions to Ray's house for help on my homework. My Mom humbled herself enough to walk me to Ray's house. I excelled enough to get by school. All the while, many of my Spanish speaking friends were being labeled "retarded" and were held back in school. All because they did not speak the mother language.

Am thankful for my Mother and these friends who were my rock these tumultuous years and helped me keep my head up. Significant relationships were my life raft that kept me from sinking.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Las Posadas

One of my favorite childhood memories was that of Las Posadas. Every year in December, two weeks prior to Christmas, for one entire week we would do Las Posadas.

Las Posadas was the enactment of Joseph & Mary's travels in trying to find lodging. Fond memories of walking all around the neighborhood in a procession of people with candles. Everyone sang, recited the rosary and prayed. We would stop in front of at least a dozen homes and sing some more before entering their home.

What followed was my favorite part of Las Posadas, the eating. We would walk into a spread of everything great about being Mexican...tamales, pan dulce, capirotada (Mexican bread pudding), horchata, atole (porridge drink) and my favorite the chocolate version of atole - champurrada. Both atole and champurrada are made with masa & harina (corn dough & flour). After several homes worth of eating I felt like the albondiga I was as a kid. Between the tamales & champurrada, I was in culinary heaven.

The eating was great but this event brought the neighbors into one solid community. I would rub shoulders with abuelos, abuelas, tios, tias, etc. Most satisfying, was that I got to walk around the neighborhood with my abuelita.

What I loved about my Abuelita & Mama, was that they were resilient and strong women that always held out hope in the hardest of times. They constantly pounded into me to live my life unselfishly and think of others before myself. Gracias.

Las Posadas was all about relationship, relationships in our life, and the Hope given to us from above.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hablas Ingles?

Once in awhile I'm approached by an English speaking person and in broken Spanish asks "Habla ingles?" To which I answer a heartily "Yes." I'm good with it, I find it humorous.

When I attended school in the mid-60's, Spanish was my first language. My parents had all together totaled nine years of schooling. We moved from my birth place El Paso, TX, to Los Angeles, CA, in 1963, across from Lincoln Park and General Hospital. I was a naive kid when I started school in 1966. The mid-sixties were the heighth of the civil rights movement. I have vivid memories of what I was doing when I heard of the Watts riots, the assasination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Elementary school brings back memories of constantly having my mouth washed with soap for speaking Spanish on school grounds which was against school rules. (I really never acquired a taste for soap). In essence, I was forced to learn to speak English. To be honest, I am grateful I was forced to learn English. It broadened my opportunities and life pursuits.

Today, my first language is English in that I use it most. I am asked if I speak Spanish, instead. I tell people I speak three languages: English, Spanish & Chicano (common folk/street/informal Spanish). Guess which Spanish is used most in the states? The street form of Spanish, the simple form.

It's amazing how integral and connected someone's language can be to their identity. I have learned, though, over the years most important to someone's identity is their character and moral fiber. In my home we have tried to focus on character and I have failed to teach my kids Spanish. But hopefully they have learned that their intrinsic worth is found in their integrity, honor and self-respect. I certainly am imperfect and a poor example, but I try. My Father-in-law jokes that if it weren't for my bad manners I would have no manners at all.

It's been said the true character of a person is best seen in a time of crisis. My language will not help me in time of crisis (though I could curse in Spanish and I might feel better), but the moral fiber of my being will help me through.