La Verne Magazine
Spring 1997

"The Latino Community in La Verne: Struggle, Progress and Success"


Today's Barrio:
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 friends.

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 Highway.

These children are part of the new generation living in the La Verne Barrio.

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 pranks?

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 empty gutter.

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 Ruiz, 11.

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," says Sandoval.

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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