La Verne Magazine
"The Latino Community in La Verne: Struggle, Progress
Rolling Through La Verne's Barrio
by Enedina Perez
photography by Starr Carroll
Carlos Alejandre, 15, a former La Verne resident who now lives in Claremont,
returns to his childhood neighborhood at least once a week. Expressing
his childhood freedom, he roller blades off the ramp built by him and his
Two toddlers joyously run around in their underwear, enjoying the wet
grass while trying to escape getting splashed by the water hose. A white
leghorn chicken with a vivid red beak struts from the back yard, peeks out
through the fenceless area of the bright sky blue house onto the sidewalk
and soon does an about face. The music of Los Tucanes de Tijuana sifts through
the house windows, travels across the street and is heard on the sidewalk
where Lorenzo Sosa, 12, is sitting with his neighborhood friends playing
with a hamster named "Mouse."
It might seem that this scene can only take place south of the border,
but in reality one only has to travel south of the railroad tracks on Arrow
These children are part of the new generation living in the La Verne
On a sunny afternoon, Sosa, who is also referred to as "Lencho"
by his friends, is accompanied by Guillermo Alvarez, 12, Antonio Gutierrez,
13, and his sister Melissa Gutierrez, 11.
At this hour, they would normally be rollerblading in the middle of
the street, but due to the day being too hot, they decided to pass on the
activity. They now sit on the sidewalk, peacefully observing and playing
with the fallen dry brown leaves.
Like Sosa, both Guillermo and Antonio also go by a shorter version of
their full names. Asked his name, Guillermo looks down at his shoes and
says, "Memo." Antonio prefers being called "Tony," because
of personal difficulties. "It's too long," he says, smiling. "I
can't even spell it."
Melissa, who is sitting Indian style facing the boys, is a regular part
of the crowd. To all of them, she is considered a tomboy.
"She has all boy stuff," says her brother Tony. Melissa, who
plays basketball at Roynon Elementary School, is not at all bothered by
this comment. On the contrary, she admits it herself. Melissa, with her
long light brown braid that falls down her back, simply smiles and looks
down when the boys classify her as a tomboy. Although Melissa mentions
that she does play with girls in school, she does not when she is at home.
"There's no girls in this block," she says.
Sosa recalls the time when he and Tony tried to make her look more like
a girl. According to Sosa, they made her roll up her shorts, but she did
not like it and changed back to her normal self.
As they remain sitting in the same spot taking turns holding "Mouse"
and letting time pass by, they confess that they have not yet done their
homework. "That's for night time," they all say and agree. "We
don't go inside 'til night," adds Tony.
When they are not rollerblading, they usually just sit around, like
they are doing now, to talk about "stuff."
This phrase is soon followed by the topic of girlfriends. The boys begin
to joke with one another by inventing innocent and humorous comments that
bring forth chuckles among themselves, as well as to anybody who is listening
in on their conversation.
After Alvarez shyly lowers and shakes his head to say that he does not
have a girlfriend, Tony says, laughing, "His girlfriend's name is Mema."
Sosa also kiddingly mentions that he has two girlfriends but later brings
the number down to one.
Aside from their normal chit chatting after school, these children also
entertain themselves by playing a variety of games, or should they be called
According to Sosa, they all enjoy playing "Ding Dong Ditch."
He explains how the game works.
The children go to various houses on the block, ring the door bell and
before somebody answers, they run away to prevent getting caught. With an
exciting tone, Sosa says, "The big guys start chasing us."
The boys also recall throwing eggs at the school bus, when it used to
pass down Walnut. Now, they mention that it stops at the corner near the
Living in the Barrio, these children all have the ability to speak Spanish.
Both Sosa's and Alvarez's parents were born in México, so they
are the ones who are the most fluent in the language among their crowd.
The Gutierrez siblings, on the other hand, only have one parent who comes
from México, who is their father.
"I like it," says Sosa about being able to speak Spanish.
He also likes to listen to both Spanish and English music.
All of these children express their roots by the television shows and
food that they enjoy. Sosa admits watching the Spanish soap opera called
Maria la del Barrio. He says that he enjoys this one the most because he
gets to see the protagonist played by the singer Thalia.
Alvarez also enjoys watching novelas adding "I see all the kind
my mom watches."
When it comes to food, they all agree to like eating nopales (cactus).
Some even have them planted in their yards.
"My mom knows how to make them good," comments Sosa.
A boy riding a bike approaches the crowd. As he gets nearer to them,
he steps on the brakes and halts to talk to them. He is Raul Perez, 12,
another La Verne Barrio resident.
Although Perez seems older than the other boys, he is another one of
their rollerblading friends.
Sporting a gray Calvin Klein Jeans t-shirt, Perez shows the crowd his
left shoe with the freshly painted area done by red marker. Expressing his
concern for what his mother might think, Perez says with a rebellious tone
of voice, "They're my shoes."
Even though these children occupy their childhood time by relaxing
or playing harmless, childlike games, their main fascination is rollerblading.
With the same enthusiasm and passion that was found in the hearts of
the older generation of children who would hit a ball and quickly run to
first base just in time to step on the removable plate, today's children
are setting up their own ramp on the street to rollerblade and present a
show that is a breathtaking spectacle to any witness.
Sosa and his friends set the ramp in the middle of the street, put on
their rollerblades and show off their moves. According to Sosa, this activity
takes place almost everyday after they come home from school. He also mentions
that everyone plays a role in making the ramp. "I cut it with a saw,"
says Tony. "I nail it," adds Sosa. Behind all these voices, Alvarez
jokingly comments, "And I watch; I am the supervisor."
For these children, the street seems to be the only available resort
for them to rollerblade. "The cops don't want us to be gang related,
but they won't let us rollerblade," says Sosa.
Because of this lack of recreation area, they often find themselves
going to the Claremont Colleges to rollerblade.
"There's no place for the kids to play," says Mary Escandon,
a resident of La Verne since 1919. She feels that the city should make the
big empty lot, found in between two resident homes on Walnut Street, into
a play area for the children.
"It belongs to the city," she says. "They charge so much
for everything, but they don't do nothing. "On the other side of Arrow,
there are no dry weeds. Walnut doesn't even show on the map," she says.
Despite the negative comments about the Barrio, these children are comfortable
where they are.
"We want to live in La Verne... on the same block," says Tony.
"We don't want to go to different schools," adds Sosa. Down the
street reside two cousins who attend Grace Miller School.
Most of these children, who attend Ramona Middle School and Roynon Elementary
School, wish to become professional rollerbladers when they grow up.
It is early in the afternoon, and a short while has passed since they
came from school. They comment on the first thing that they do when they
arrive home. "After school, we make a sandwich to eat," says Catalina
A bit timid to speak at first, Lorraine Sandoval, 11, soon joins her
cousin, adding the types of games that they usually play.
"We play red rover, hide and seek, and we also have egg fights
with the boys down the street," she says.
These boys happen to be the same boys who rollerblade.
Carefree days of youth belie the painful struggles of the Barrio in the
1940s during the Citrus Industry. Still fresh out of school, boys and girls
of the La Verne Barrio put their homework aside to focus on other tasks.
(L to R) Carlos Alejandre, 15; Raul Perez, 12; Lorenzo Sosa, 12; Philip
Alejandre, 10; Guillermo Alvarez, 12; Melissa Gutierrez, 11; Antonio Gutierrez,
13; and Luis Ceja, 6, (center) prepare for an afternoon of rollerblading.
In addition to their normal playing, Ruiz and Sandoval were involved
in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program last year.
With excitement and joy in their voices, they pull out a picture of
the entire group in the program and discuss the variety of events that they
attended by being a part of it.
"We had a trip to Knotts Berry Farm," says Ruiz. Sandoval
adds that during the summer, they also went to Las Flores Park and to the
zoo. "It was pretty fun," says Sandoval.
Aside from their participation in the program, Ruiz and Sandoval are
also active in sports. Ruiz plays softball for the Mariners and practices
four times a week, while Sandoval is a part of the San Dimas "Shooting
Stars" drill team that meets for competitions in various locations.
Sandoval says that she likes drill team because she wants to be a gymnast.
"I like it because it's something I like to do," says Ruiz.
They each have something unique to say about their educational goals.
"I hope to go to UCLA and be a model," says Sandoval, with a
sincere smile on her face.
Ruiz has multiple career goals. "I want to be an anthropologist,"
she says. "I'm interested in dinosaurs. I also want to be a cop."
After she finishes mentioning her aspirations, she squeezes in another
thought. She negatively says that her dreams may never come true. This
comment of hers is then followed with an explanation. "I get bad grades,
and I always get in trouble," says Ruiz. "I hardly do my homework."
Ruiz, who has two sisters and a brother, says that her role model is
Officer De Luca, who works with the D.A.R.E. program. "He helped me,
and he pays attention to me," she says. "I hardly get attention
because my mom pays more attention to my little brother."
Sandoval, on the other hand, has a celebrity to fill in the blank on
the sentence, "My role model is?" She completes this phrase with,
"Selena, because I like her songs," she says. "She was pretty,
and she worked hard to do her songs, even though she didn't know Spanish."
With this in mind, she continues talking about her idol. She says that
she has a big poster of Selena in her room and mentions with assertiveness
that she will be one of the first people to see her movie. Sandoval plans
to one day go to Texas and visit Selena's grave.
As the new generation of La Verne, these children can only live one
day at a time, and by doing this, they can simply observe the occurrences
that take place in the present time.
The events that they witness, at their age, can sure enough cause people
to raise an eyebrow.
Ruiz claims to have experienced some drive by shootings on the block
where she lives, which is First Street.
Sandoval, on the other hand says that nothing of that sort occurs on
her block, which is Walnut Street. "It's pretty safe for me,"
Ruiz's attitude on the entire situation seems to be that of indifference.
"I don't really care," she says, with her hands in her baggy jean
overalls. "It doesn't bug me. What happens, happens. If I get hurt,
then I get hurt."
Although Sandoval has not experienced any violence in her block, she
still is disturbed that it exists. "I wish there was a place, where
it doesn't happen," she says.
While the new generation of children in the La Verne Barrio are living
in an entirely different era from the old generation, similar attitudes
are found between the two.
Like in any other generation, this new one faces difficulties, but
these children are still full of hope.
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