Chicano Latino POV - TV Movies Publishing & Music / historical GROUNDBREAKING real
"The Respada Incident"
Was there a moment in your twelfth year when for one reason or another you suddenly grew?
Not physically, although plenty of that was going on too. What I am asking for you to consider is was there a moment or an event when you were twelve years old when you grew like a growth spurt internally, because, if there was then you’ll understand what The Respada Incident was to me. I was different after that.
After that I knew exactly where I stood in 1959 and that was the day that I left my boyhood behind me and turned to face the gritty and shiny future.
The Respada Incident started with the simple childish desire for a Respada, which is the Mexican version of a snow cone. At least, that is what my friend Delbert told me to call them. My Spanish, when I got to San Fernando was practically non-existent, so I had to take his word for it.
Usually, a bell-ringing pushcart vendor would walk over from the barrio to our side of Mission Boulevard but on some summer days we could wait for hours and no one came by.
My friend Delbert lived on our block. He told me that you could still get a Respada up on Mission Boulevard. He said that not more than two blocks away under a shady tree was a wood slat aqua’s frescas stand. An old Spanish lady there sold a palette of colorful icy flavors, cool refreshing and perfect for a hot summer day.
Delbert said that he was tired of waiting and that he was going up there and I could come along if I hurried up.
It was our first summer in San Fernando and I was taking all my ques from Delbert. Delbert really knew the lay of the land.
So, I jumped out of the rubber pool that Pop had planted on our driveway and up we went. I didn’t have time to put my shoes on so I went skipping and jumping between small plots of grass and the hot sidewalk all the way up to Mission Boulevard.
The lady was there like Delbert said she would be and her Respada’s were reasonably priced too, even for a kid.
It was a nickel for each flavor and mine was a simple red, white, and blue. I only had a dime so the white part was where I could not pay for the third color. Plus, we were free to sit down next to the shack under a shady tree on a small concrete wall at the bottom of an inclined lawn.
The nice people there did not care if we spent a few moments in the shade cooling off. In fact, they liked it.
As we sat in the shade with our colorful Respada’s in hand the old woman in the aqua frescas shack was listening to a Spanish radio station and singing along in an incomprehensible whisper. Tony was there too with his older brother Hector. Hector was not at all like Tony and they didn’t even look alike. Tony smiled a lot and I don’t think that I ever saw Hector smile, not once.
Tony was two and a half years older than I was and later Tony was one of the “Lords” with my older brother David when that gang formed of guys who dressed “Continental style” and who were from both San Fernando and Pacoima, which was practically revolutionary in those days.
The Lords wasn’t a big gang but they were comprised of only fine athletes and that was their secret. Like warriors. In a fight, each one of these guys was like three of anybody else.
My sisters and Mom thought that Tony looked like a movie star but to me he looked like a lot of guys that were in San Fernando in 1959. We were all stuffed in there together in those days so the amount of beautiful people per block in San Fernando in 1959 was very high.
Tony was also the best pound for pound fighter in San Fernando and the women loved him. Tony was my role model.
The white Cadillac
The shout rang out with a roar and it came from a big dirty white Cadillac driving by with three huge white men in it.
The driver revved the Cadillac and the muffler must have had a hole in it because it growls like a grizzly bear. They were all waving one finger above the roof of the car and Tony and Delbert reacted to their yells immediately, like this was not the first-time this had happened to them. Before I knew it, I had involuntarily popped to my feet too.
Tony’s brother Hector was gone. I didn’t even see him leave.
Delbert flipped them the bird and screamed back something about, “Sucking Patties,” and Tony jumped up, and took off his shirt in a flash and started waving his shirt at them like he was waving a flag.
Amazingly Tony was yelling at them to come back and in response the old dirty white Cadillac suddenly screeched to a halt in the middle of the street and for a moment just stood there idling.
For some reason that I would never understand, I started to yell at them too and they were grown men.
I had never done anything like this before in my life. The car waited menacingly right in the middle of the street then the Cadillac slowly pulled over to the curb and the door on the passenger’s side yawed open.
A big blonde man with a dirty white t-shirt and dirty blue jeans stuck a muddy boot out of the door. He leaned back and then rolled back out again with a shotgun in his arms. He turned, smiled a crooked smile, and pointed the shotgun straight at me. The driver got out and pulled a revolver and pointed it at me as well.
I was the only one left on the sidewalk.
Delbert were hiding behind this big tree between the sidewalk and the street . Tony was against the wall of the Raspada shack. I just stood there stunned in my swim trunks and t shirt bare footed on the hot sidewalk with a melting Respada in my hand. This whole situation seemed so unreal but even at this distance I could see the blonde man’s crooked yellow teeth and that was enough to convince me.
The blonde man pulled a box of shotgun shells from the glove compartment, placed the box on his lap then jacked a shell into the chamber and prepared to fire.
I wondered why. Why would the blonde man want to fire his shotgun at me?
My twelve years passed before my eyes, but the last three months in slow motion since we arrived in San Fernando.
It seemed like a new lifetime to me here completely new. Then I remembered my old life. Then I remembered Lincoln Heights.
In Lincoln Heights there I had been different, an overly zealous "church going" newspaper boy out on the streets of North Broadway running around the big city streets every afternoon after school shouting the news to the masses In the Fifties the newspaper really meant a lot to people.
Although, the Fifties was a tough and gritty time in Lincoln Heights every adult watched out for the kids whether they knew you or not and whether you liked it or not. When I was out on the streets of Lincoln Heights in the Fifties I was on my own but I was not entirely unprotected. I helped old ladies home with their groceries refusing the quarter they offered and went around blithely discovering the world on my bicycle. Lincoln Heights was a venerable big city neighborhood that had been multi ethnic for years and it surrounded and protected me. Now, with that shotgun pointed at me I thought about how I lived out my elementary school years in Lincoln Heights protected from dirty blonde haired racist white men with shotguns.
Then, my family moved out of the city “out in the sticks with the hicks” and everything changed and then, it was like I went back to the Old West somehow, and suddenly I have shotguns pointed at me.
I snapped back into it. I snapped back into now.
Tony jumped out from behind the Respada shack and pushed me behind the tree next to the street. All three of us were standing in a line behind the tree trunk.
“Louie, you stay behind the tree and Delbert in two seconds you and I will jump over to behind the shack on the other side of the sidewalk. Louie, you stay here, get down on your knees and don’t show your face around this tree.”
The burly blonde men with their shotguns were screaming at us to show ourselves and Tony and Delbert jumped back out onto the sidewalk but instead of jumping behind the shack with Tony, Delbert stayed out in the middle of the sidewalk and began a torrent of expletives standing in the bright sun daring them to shoot.
Tony was leaning with his back to the wall of the shack and yelling at Delbert to get out of the line of fire, but Delbert didn’t listen to him.
” No, I don’t have to, come on you chicken Gavachos! Shoot at me and hit me if you can!” Delbert’s tall skinny body was wiggling back and forth like a ballerino and suddenly I got a new respect for Delbert. The white men were trying to aim but Delbert was moving back and forth and the shotgun was moving back and forth too trying to take aim. Delbert finally jumped over to join Tony behind the shack.
Tony said, “Louie, grab some rocks” and Tony and Delbert went for some rocks up on the lawn. I went into the street behind a parked car and picked up broken pieces of asphalt and some concrete chipped off from the sidewalk.
Tony I knew, played baseball for the American Legion League so he knew how to throw for maximum effectiveness. He took a nice sized rock about the size of the cup of his hand and threw it high and it almost hit the blonde man aiming from a block away. Tony’s rock barely missed the man’s leg and when he pulled his muddy boot back into the car we yelled like he had hit a home run.
I watched Tony carefully when he threw his rocks.
He really leaned back and threw his shoulder into it and pivoted on the ball of his foot and twisted his trunk. When I did the same my rock miraculously sailed high up in the sky and came down right on top of the roof of the Cadillac which made the car jump with a start.
Then, we gave them the horse laugh.
Tony said, “OK Delbert you keep yelling and watch where they go, don’t let them get away we’ll be right back, come on Louie”.
Tony ran directly into the back yard of the house behind us and jumped the fence behind it like he was an Olympic hero. I ran as fast as I could to keep up through several back yards finding ways through the fences and jumping like a gazelle.
We got to Tony’s house and ran into the kitchen and his brother was there, but went right back into his room as soon as he saw me.
I waited in the kitchen and Tony went into the front room and came back with a hunting rifle. He searched around and found the box of cartridges in a drawer, and took out the clip filled it with five rounds and jacked one into the chamber.
We started for the door and he stopped looked around searching and told me to hold the rifle and left the kitchen and just then Tony’s brother Hector walked back into the kitchen and saw me holding the rifle and was about to say something when Tony came back in with an old serape.
He told his brother that my dad might want to buy the rifle but I knew that my Pop didn’t want anything to do with a rifle. After he left the army in 1945 after the Second World War he didn’t want anything to do with rifles at all.
Hector pretended to believe him and nodded suspiciously and walked back into his room.
Once his brother left the kitchen Tony handed me an old-time revolver from his waistband just like the one
the driver of the dirty white Cadillac had pointed at us and I stuck the six-gun into the band of my swimming trunks.
Tony took off with me right behind him.
When we went back through the slats in the fence, Tony handed me the rifle and I took off running with the serape flying.
At the last fence, I stopped Tony.
“What are we going to do?”
“We are going to defend our Barrio”
“Are we going to shoot them?”
“We have to defend our families. What if your sister Olivia or Lupe or the kids came by and these cowboys tried to shoot them instead? Louie, they came into our barrio with guns. What kind of Vatos would we be if we let them do that? This is our barrio. We can’t let them do that. What do you think they would do if we went to Reseda with guns and pointed them at their kids?”
“Louie, you have to protect your barrio, do you understand”
“Yes, Tony I do”
Tony and I ran back down to the lawn with the guns and sat down calmly on the concrete wall with the rifle under the serape and I took the six-gun from the waistband of my trunks and put it under the serape as well.
Delbert told us that the Cadillac had left.
“I told you to keep calling them Delbert to make sure they don’t leave. Did you see where they went?”
“Down there,” and Delbert pointed back in the general direction of my block.
“Louie go down to the corner and look down the street and see if you can see them, if you do yell at them and wave at them Louie, you have to get them to come back here, OK?”
“OK, Tony I will.”
I ran down to the corner and danced around on the hot sidewalk barefoot.
My feet were burning on the hot concrete and the even hotter asphalt streets but I had no time to go home and put my shoes on now.
I looked down one street and then another and then I saw the Cadillac again.
It was circling around on the next block over and riding back and forth probably trying to find someone else to point their guns at.
Now, they were one short block away from my house and when I realized that my heart raced.
Mom, Pop, my sister Olivia, Lupe, and her kids, and my little sister Debbie and smallest brother Mark all the kids running around our block were all out there completely defenseless.
If those repulsive yellow toothed men went down my street I knew something bad was going to happen and I started yelling at them to come back with a new urgency but they disappeared down the next street over and I ran across Mission boulevard and down to the next street and they must have been going slow now because I caught up to them again.
They were almost to the block of my house.
I ran out into the middle of the street and started jumping up and down and waving my hands wildly and telling them to come back.
I started yelled all sorts of nasty words that I heard Delbert using and that I had never used before and I finally caught their notice.
The car stopped in the intersection a block away.
The driver looked over at me and yelled something and I practically begged them to come back and get me if they could.
I wanted to do anything I could to get them away from my house.
Now, I saw what was at stake. My family was at stake. My whole world was at stake.
It wasn’t just what they were threatening to do to me and that was what Tony had been talking about when he said that we had to protect our barrio, he meant protect my beautiful family.
Protect all our beautiful families.
Suddenly somehow, I knew that they were going to come back in our direction and I ran back to the lawn and to the tree.
“Tony, I saw them down there near my house, Delbert they are going down by your house too!”
Tony said, “Delbert, you, and Louie go back down there and make them come back here, because I can’t carry this rifle all over the street. You have to get them to come back here now so get going!”
Delbert and I took off running, the asphalt was burning. I ran straight down the hot sidewalk and I swore to myself that that I would never leave my house again without putting on my shoes.
I was not a little kid anymore.
Just then, the caddie turned slowly onto Mission Boulevard blocks away. Finally, the ugly white men with dirty boots and yellow teeth were coming back to where Tony sat waiting for them.
“They are coming back!”, I yelled to Tony and Delbert and I ran back.
“Good,” said Tony.
I had noticed the dirt caked on the wheels and bumper of their Cadillac and their boots and they just looked dirty and I asked, “Why are they so dirty?”
“They were up in the boondocks in Saugus shooting rabbits in the hills, and then they come down here to shoot at some Mexicans before they go home.”
“But, Mexicans are in Mexico.”
“They don’t know that and they don’t care. You look like a Mexican to them.”
“But, I’m not I’m an American.”
Delbert said, “you keep saying that.”
“Yes, because it’s true.”
Delbert said, “They have been doing it for years, they did to my uncle twenty years ago, it’s nothing new”
Tony added, “And that’s why they came back through San Fernando. The Gavachos want to keep us scared of them and sometimes they hit somebody and when they do they get away with it.”
“Well, we just have to stop that,” I said impulsively.
“That’s what we are doing,” replied Tony. “Delbert, the gun is right here,” and Tony patted the serape, and Delbert nodded.
The dirty white Cadillac with the repulsive racists men and their crooked teeth and shotguns appeared back onto Mission Boulevard and turned in our way.
Now, they were just a block and a half away and coming in our direction.
TO SEE ANOTHER STORY CLICK ON TV-SERIES AND NOVEL DROP DOWN ON THE NAVIGATION BAR ABOVE TO SEE EXCERPTS FROM "SAN FERNANDO, CALIFORNIA 1959.