Las Aventuras de Angel 

 

“Back in my days” we were raised to respect our older siblings, I had 6 older siblings that I had to give that allegiance to. Pero, sometimes things got fuzzy, lines got crossed with my sister Patty, since we were only 2 years apart we were friends mostly, until I would tick her off for one reason or another and she’d have to check me. I didn’t mess with my big brother Angel. He grew up having to face many of the issues of the 60s and 70s. He didn’t expect others to solve things for him, and he didn’t shrink in fear. When language was an issue, when skin color was a barrier, he handled his affairs In a matter of fact way. And so it was when he saw the girl he wanted to marry. He saw studious, quiet and very petite Mary at school one day and was smitten, but that’s not anything my cool and collected big brother could ever outright admit. Y asi fue, Mary, now his wife of 50 years, said that Angel told himself “That girl, she’s gonna be my wife” And before long she was. He learned how to defend himself while maintaining his head high and obtaining his goals. 

By the time I was out of my toddler years he was an adult and I looked at him with a sense of awe in my eyes and always I hoped for his attention and his ‘like’. I’ll admit that even now, ahora de vieja! I still have that hope in me. 

In the past year and a half since our father died, Angel and Mary have had their trials. Ben and I went to visit them one weekend in Calipatria, it was a bittersweet weekend. Mary has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and like it always is, familia rallies together. It was a hard blow for my big brother and his family. Mary has a big family also and her siblings rallied around her, while my sis Marina and I offered the only help we could think of, our time, labor and whatever knowledge we had gained from taking care of our apa.  

Storytelling

Ben put his handyman skills to good use, but after one one project was excused for more important things. Something about my quiet husband drew my stoic older brother out of his shock. He began sharing some of his many adventures from his truck driving career with Mary. Remembering the places they drove to and the people they met along the way refreshed my brother. I was busy with my project, organizing and decluttering and so I missed a lot of these stories. Angel uses colorful language when he talks, and always has a hidden smile when he gives a punch line. It’s very enjoyable to listen to him, and it very much reminds me of when I watched and listened to my apa tell his stories. Somewhere in his story telling his memories shifted and he began talking about some of the youthful adventures he experienced while living in Mexicali. I was glad to be done with the ‘work’, I needed to hear some of these stories, I had been asking for some time for more of our family history. Mary and I sat down with Ben and Angel at the kitchen table to listen to the stories about the Zepedas before my days.

Before we could sit down though, we couldn’t be at the table without our cafecito y pan dulce. The stories came flowing out, a wealth of experiences. 

De Jalisco A Baja California

When dad decided it was time to leave Jalisco and take his wife and two small boys to El Norte, he brought them right to the border of Mexicali, Baja California. It was a three day journey by train. Upon arriving they met another family from back home. Immediately they connected and became fast friends. My father was immediately working across the border so their new friends helped my mother as she adjusted to a whole new life.

As if resettling and two busy little boys wasn’t enough on her plate, through the years, my parents were fruitful, four more kids during the Mexicali years and that wasn’t the end. Her busyness made Angel’s adventures possible. He was quite savvy in the colonia and she needed his quickness. It was a win-win situation. He explored every calle, every empty lot, looked into different businesses and stands, he studied his new location. All the while as he made his connections, he was completing the errands assigned to him. 

By the time my big brother was around 12 years old he had learned a few things about making money, no opportunity was wasted. Angel took a newspaper route, then, with that money earned, he’d  run over to the magazine stand and buy the popular magazines from the doña and resell them. When he couldn’t sell his magazine, he’d rent it for a reasonable price to a willing reader. 

On top of all his business, and son duties, he also had school to attend. He and his little brother, my other big brother, are two peas in a pod when they’re together. They went to school with the nuns, and they ran a tight ship, but even there Angel learned to manage, only occasionally did he get busted for a travesura. One he told me of wasn’t exactly his fault but his indirect contribution didn’t help his defense.

In his ‘travels’ through la colonia Loma Linda, Angel found or purchased different useful items, like purchasing upholstery needles from a shop along his path. He used these needles to make darts, a crucial tool for a blooming adolescent boy, verdad?  He inserted the needles into tender twigs from tree branches and secured them tightly with string. Then to bring the needed flight to the dart he created cardboard feathers and soon he was ready to beat any boy at a dart throwing game. 

One day, his lil brother found another use for the needles. The bicycles lined up at school felt the poke of that upholstery needed. Every tire stood flat and the trail of guilt led right to Angel. The nuns were not too happy with the Zepeda boys that day. Lesson learned, he’d have to be more careful with his supplies. With each experience Angel was learning quite a bit from the streets and my apa was getting worried, Angel was becoming notorious in the colonia

En conclusíon

These recent months have been quite difficult for Angel and Mary, but they have amazed me with how they have persevered, they know that it is God who carries them.  Mary is gracious in  her surrender to the One who gave her life in the first place. With much dignity she takes care of her “stinker” as she has always called her husband because of his notorious teasing ways. 
I have always enjoyed hearing our family stories. Talking to my brother recently felt like a secret room that was discovered. He talked about my ama’s family and about the years in Mexicali and of course a favorite of mine is love stories, and I’ve learned about him and Mary’s love story. A wealth of information that spilled from the archives of his memory and Mary’s too. I’m looking forward to more stories and I’m thanking God for my big brother Angel and my cuñada Mary.

Crossing The International Border

I’ve been having alot of conversations with my cuñada Maria. She’s married to my oldest brother Angél.  We’ve been talking about everything from childhood, to cooking, to travesuras, those daring exploits my lil brother Hector did and scared my ama half to death. We’ve also talked about our experiences in Mexicali. Quizas, I’m also thinking of Mexicali since I’ll be visiting the border city of Calexico, Ca. soon.  

Chinese Food In Mexicali

Mexicali, in Baja California Mexico was the last stop just before my apa brought his family to California in the U.S. My parents lived there for a few years and they grew accustomed to it. When dad brought his family to live in America, they still crossed the border into Mexico almost every weekend to do some of their business and socializing. My ama preferred to do her shopping there. She was able to converse and haggle about prices, while we hit the street vendors and looked over the goodies they sold. My apa enjoyed the cocteles de camarón, I loved the mango on a stick with chile y limon, and we all loved the candy, but my ama loved la comida China. 

Asi es, Mexicali has a large Chinese population, which probably grew larger when the railroads were completed and the irrigation system project established. My mother looked forward to our Saturdays in Mexicali, but sitting down to eat Chinese food with her family was an especially wonderful treat for her, not to mention that we loved it too. The chop suey, the red carnitas, the egg patties and the fortune cookies still linger in my memory. Pero, once in a while when we had to hurry to get to the linea to cross the border we did stop for a delicious hamburguesa in Calexico, Ca. These hamburgers were traditionally American, embellished just perfectly, with tomate, lechuga and pickles, then topped with a jalapeno chile to make them a great Spanglish burger served with fat papas fritas that we covered in catsup! It was another favorite. 

The Vendors En La Linea

Ok, back to my memory. One Saturday we had to get back home quickly. There was no time for treats that day. The line moved along slowly. We avoided eye contact with the kids and moms asking for money, we didn’t know what to do about them, but we loved the vendors who displayed their artesenias, there was always something new in their beautiful crafted work, but our ama was rarely impressed. We were not supposed to look at them either because if we stared too long the vendor would come running to our window. We loved it and did it on purpose, without fail it just got us scolded. 

Our family was mixed as far as immigration. Dad, mom and my older siblings had to show their resident alien cards, green cards, but my lil brother and I just had to say “American born” and the officer would ask us where we were born and a few questions in English and let us through. Easy peasy! Except for one day. That particular day, the officer asked to see our birth certificates. My mother emptied her purse and didn’t find the documents. Dad tried to explain the certificates were at home and simply apologized for the mistake. Nope! Not acceptable. A secundaria, to secondary where a full investigation would take place. First we had to get out of the car for the vehicle inspection. The officer talked to my father and through an interpreter to my mother.  No amount of explanations, apologies or other proof of residency changed the verdict. The bottom line was that he would have to prove that their last two kids were American born. So dad left us there at the border and he took the rest of my siblings home. Our family separated to find the needed documents. I was always a big chicken when I felt tension, my lil brother was busy looking at everything and my ama wasn’t too happy about the whole deal. Those couple of hours were pretty long, I never wanted to be stuck in secundaria again! 

Los “American Born”

Imaginate my flashback! Boy does history repeat itself! Thirty years later,  we had our two youngest boys; with us at the international border, this time in Tijuana, Mexico. Emery was about 7 and Thomas was about 2 years old. Hijole! We had rushed out of the house, I barely remembered to grab my “birth certificate” wallet and we went to Mexico. It was a late night as we returned home, the line was not horrific, we inched through it in just about an hour and half. By the time we reached the officer it was late. The boys were knocked out and I wasn’t ready with the documents, strike 1! Then I couldn’t find the birth certificates, I had accidentally grabbed the pouch that carried their immunizations. Strike 2! I explained, my husband explained, he peered in at the boys, they were knocked out, he could not stir them awake, strike 3! Off to secondary. Before they had us get out of the vehicle I tried shaking the boys awake, then the officer tried again. This time, Emery, the oldest of the two groaned, the officer asked “what’s your name? But Emery just moaned. Oh no! I snapped “Emery, wake up!” He asked again. This time Emery whined and said “I don’t know” Oh my gosh! He was delirious, y ahora?! Meanwhile Thomas just moaned. Ben was frantically calling friends so they could go to the house and get the birth certificates. Then, the officer asked, do you have a family picture? You all would think, Of course every mother has a family picture in her wallet, verdad? Bad mother! Bad mother! SMH is how the officer looked at me. Then the heavens opened up and Ben found a family picture in his paint splattered wallet. There we were the happy Greene’s. By this time almost another hour had passed and they hadn’t gotten us out of our vehicle yet so the officer scolded us about our carelessness and explained that many children are stolen and drugged to get them across the border, he had to be sure that they were truly ours, by now Emery was waking up and answering questions. What a scary moment. What an ugly reality of that kind of danger. 

The Things I Learned in Secundaria

I can only finish this post with a reminder of a few things I find important:

Don’t leave home and go into another country without your documents!

Be ready to show them when you’re asked.

Carry a family photo. 😀

And be grateful to the God of the universe! He always makes a legitimate way to help his children.

The Picture that Ben carried in his wallet

La Tiendita on Delta St

Our house on 511 E. Delta St. became the go to spot for Mexican candy and other goodies. Before and after school kids would knock on the door to get their supply. It wasn’t an official store, but mi ama ran it like one. She tended it and kept our tiendita running for many years. 

It all started because my 13 year old entrepreneurial self needed money.

Middle School Graduation

Middle school ended with the big show of our 8th grade graduation ceremony. Once again I was subjected to wear a dress. On graduation day our chairs had been arranged on the football field, and we were seated in alphabetical order, the Zepedas are always the last ones. Like the high school graduates, our names were going to be broadcasted on the PA system and we would walk up to get our diploma front and center for everyone to cheer. In 8th grade a person feels real grown up, since they are the oldest amongst all the kids, graduating seals the state of coolness. My big brother Arturo had decided to take me and his sister in law who also graduated out to dinner. It was a big evening for me, I had never gone out to dinner, bien muy muy at a fancy restaurant (at least I thought it was fancy). Then he was going to drive us to the graduation party and hang out. He couldn’t necessarily admit he was keeping an eye on us. As soon as I was able to get out of the big baby blue poofy dress and pull my hair back to control the hairdo, I relaxed and enjoyed my very grown up experiences. 

Rosalba Flores Zepeda

Preparing for High School

Graduation now meant that I needed to get serious about life. High School was around the corner. What were the rules there? Suddenly I was “on my own.” At the Freshmen orientation, I was going to pick my own class schedule. So if I didn’t want math I didn’t have to have it, yet. If I wanted to play volleyball, or any sport, I would have to try out, hijole! The older girls were also trying out or returning to the team. I would get assigned a locker in the gym and on campus. I needed to be ready!

I needed money like the older kids who always seemed to have it. I wasn’t old enough to get a real job and make money. In the summer en el tiempo de la uva, I couldn’t go with mi ama and sisters to pick grapes. I had to stay home to do the cooking for my dad, with no pay of course. What could I do? I planned on making the most out of my high school years, but when school started there were going to be a lot of expenses most likely beyond my amas pocket book.

Opportunity

In my little town of Calipatria, there was no park across the tracks on the East side, but there were a couple of open lots. One was huge, it became our legitimate park a few years later, and I’ll boast a little to tell you that my apa was instrumental in getting us Hernandez Park in our lil ole Eastside. The other lot was private property not yet sold on our street. Our side of Delta street had only three houses on it so it was perfect for our baseball games.

The kids in the barrio would gather for a game of baseball. A few older teens, middle schoolers and little kids came to play.  We’d divide ourselves up according to skill and age and we played hard. We took our games seriously, and developed our skill in these skirmishes. I was just an ok player, not at all like my sister Marina. She loved baseball. I knew I wouldn’t be missed if I was on the bench and here’s where I hatched my money making scheme. Why would I sit around when I could be making money?

Calipatria Hornets was our school softball team.

I took my plan to my ama because I needed an investor. I planned to sell lemonade and cookies at the game. Pero, esperate. I knew nothing about bougie homemade baked goods. En mi casa the oven was used to store the casuelas and comal! Everyone loved cookies, and nobody knew the difference in quality. In fact, we thought that if food was packaged and straight from the store it was obviously better. It was a great plan, if only mi ama would lend me money for my business venture. 

My mom always had a stash of money! Somehow bam! After her ranting about not having any money and needing some herself she would bust out with her dolares. I never accepted it when she claimed not to have any money. I knew that she didn’t have money for all the things we asked for, but she was a true business woman, era bien trucha, turning over and examining our requests. Having raised 4 children with one income in the very expensive city of San Diego, Ca. I now understand her frugality. 

Learning the Business

The lemonade and cookie stand was going to cost more than just a couple of packs of cookies. She pointed out the other things I would need, but I was excited and promised to follow through. She gave me the money so I could prepare for the big day. Although things were changing for me and I was stepping into the more serious side of life I still took advantage of all the other afternoons I could play ball. Playing ball wasn’t just for the little kids, it was a serious thing and because of the hot sunny days, I knew my lemonade was going to bring me that needed money.

I was excited on my big business day. Good old fashion baseball in the empty lot before the many fear of germs or regulators. It wasn’t a snack bar, it was just me and my lemonade and cookies. The kids playing hard in field would return after each ending for lemonade. The little kids watching ran home for money to buy my sweet goods. I sold out that first day.
My ama was impressed. When she asked me what I would do with my profits, I said that my plan was to spend it slowly, thinking that was the shrewd way to do it. I knew I needed money, but I hadn’t realized that money isn’t a one time need. She proposed that I invest my money into another market: Mexican candy, and keep on selling. I was convinced and ready to stock my store.

Saturday’s in Mexicali

Weekly grocery shopping was a big event for my ama, it was a day which she shared with all of us kids.  On Saturdays, Apa would take the family across the border to Mexicali for the day. Mom did her shopping, the boys got their haircuts, and there were all sorts of things on the to-do list.
Sometimes we would eat gusgerias, junk food, that included treats covered in chile y limon, from the carts in the streets. Coctel de camaron (I still can’t stomach shrimp), churritos with plenty of chile, and Tamarindo! A sweet and sour fruit that grows in pods. It has a large dark brown seed covered in a brown sticky pulp and that is encased in a dry easy to break light brown shell. When explained like that it does not sound tasty, but I love that tangy fruit. I always ate too much and made my tongue raw. Much of the Mexican candy I chose to sell is made from tamarindo. Perhaps my favorite treat was the mango on a stick, peppered with chile, limon y sal. My taste buds are getting excited just thinking about it. 

Some Saturdays we would get comida china. Chinese food in Mexicali is delicious but different from what I’ve had in San Diego, I really wish I could describe it and do it justice.  Other times we would stop at a hamburger stand in Calexico, and have a big, good old fashioned hamburger with french fries. It was a real treat for us, because we never ate hamburgers at home. Our wants were endless, and maybe here’s when mom would pull out her stash of cash. 

Inventory for Dulceria Rosalba

There was a certain colonia my dad drove to for the candy. It had a whole street blocked off like a swap meet. Every kind of vendor set up shop, that’s where my mom did her shopping. Vegetables, carnes, tortillas, bolillos, quesos, aguas frescas and of course, dulces. The air was mixed with all the scents of meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables and it would take a minute for our nostrils to adjust to the sour smell. With so many vendors vying for our business, all of a sudden our spanish would be all mangled around our tongue, but mi ama knew exactly how to handle them all.

Since it was my investment, she let me pick the candy after all, I new what would sell. We bought pulpas de tamarindo and powdered chamoy. We got paletas con saladitos, saladitos, those little salted plums are delicious in a sweet orange. I stocked up on rollitos and churritos. This was the start of our tiendita. I must say that it was quite a trial not to eat up my inventory!

In the barrio everyone loved Mexican candy and my business took off very quickly. It helped my sales that I was taking candy in my backpack to sell at school. You would think that with money coming in so quickly and steadily I would have kept my business up.

It got tedious and pretty soon mom was doing all the work. I was done with my tiendita and I told her I was shutting down. She tried to get me to continue, but I was too busy with my sports and besides I was getting too cool to be seen selling my paletas con saladito and pulpas

Dona Chuy’s Tiendita

My mom was not ready to give up the venture. She put out a small table in our already small dining room and set up her array of assorted candy. Her inventory was much bigger and she even branched out and sold ice cream cones. Dona Chuy was now the unofficial spot for candy for the whole barrio. When kids were short on coins, she allowed them to ‘owe’ for the next time and soon she had to have her libretita to keep track of borrowers. No interest was charged, of course, she did it only to keep kids happy and her store running.

My siblings and I had an unspoken agreement with ama. Business boomed after school and when we were home we had to get up and answer the door for a customer and attend to them. Occasionally we’d get a free candy or ice cream cone. 

This little business went on for years. When my mom passed away, dad kept it going. The kids in the neighborhood all knew dad (Don Manuel) because of the candy store. My own kids would always come prepared with change so they could buy candy from Tata when we went to visit. Of course he never charged them and of course they were only too glad to take the blessing.

After a long battle with dementia, my apa has now passed on. The little tiendita has been closed for many years, but it lives on in the memories of countless kids who grew up in our barrio. When my sister and I were arranging his burial and choosing his plot in Brawley, CA the young man who was pointing out plots to us said, “Wait? Are you talking about Don Manuel from Delta street in Calipatria? I used to go buy candy all the time at his house.”

another story for another time, where I again had to wear a dress.