January 26, 2007

Where Are You From, Ese?

Reflections on a Sunday afternoon

By Jesse Perez

I kind of zoned out during one of the NFL games this past weekend.

One of the beer commercials took me back to my childhood days when I lived by the old EastSide Brewery in Lincoln Heights. Back then there were houses between the brewery and the L.A. River. That separated our barrio, East Side Clover, from Dog Town on the other side.

Back then, those names didn’t have a lot of meaning because if someone were to ask me where I was from, I would give them the name of my street.

As long as I can remember people I’ve encountered always ask the age old question: “Where you from, ese?”

By the time I got to Jr. High, it started to get serious. Now unless you were jumped into the gang you really couldn’t say you were from anywhere. But if asked you, could still say you lived in Clover, DT, Alpine or wherever, and then be prepared to fight or run for your life.

You could claim the ‘hood; you just better be able to hold your own. In the mid-tumult-ous 60’s, styles changed drastically. A lot of kids traded in their khakis and Pendletons for plaid shirts and slacks. Within the barrios, social clubs and car clubs sprang up everywhere. Guys were sporting their club jackets and car plaques to identify where they were from.

By this time, we were a lot older and more sophisticated and if someone tried to hit you up, most people just claimed their hometown: Lincoln Heights, El Sereno, El Monte, etc. Hopefully you didn’t get jumped or shot or have to go one-on-one with some crazy dude who was trying to make himself a neighborhood name.

What could you do?

Say I’m from nowhere? A nowhere man is a nobody, too sad. Well, the time clock is ticking and you’re out of school, married, working “whatever“ and some fool asks you, where from, A?

You’re the man and you don’t have time for geography lessons, so you just say East Los y qué!

Still alive?

Other guys find themselves in boot camp and everybody wants to know where everybody’s from. Guys are yelling Michigan, Califas, Tejas, New York etc. Damn, as kid I started out on a street and here I am today claiming the whole damm state. Well you know it was coming.

I’m overseas in uniform and some local yokel asks me where I’m from. What do I do? I puff out my chest and say U.S.A.!!

Damm I’m bad to the bone and how my barrio has grown.

I didn’t create this mentality although I did help to perpetuate it. But as life would have it you go from that young kid full of spit and vinegar to, if you’re lucky, becoming a wise old grey-headed grandpa.

I walk around in my short pants with my white socks up to my knees and my baggy Raiders t-shirt and dark shades. But does anybody ask? Does anybody care where all us old guys are from?

I suppose if I hung out on the corner with all the young homies and teqatos somebody would probably hit me up. But you know I’ve gone full circle. Go ahead and ask. I’ll smile, shake my head and sigh and say, “I ain’t from anywhere.”

I don’t know when it happened, it just did. All those things that used to be important mean diddly shit these days.

Hells bells one thing hasn’t changed. I’m still in a musical time warp. After all these years I’m still listening to those oldies and talking about those parties, dance and shows at the El Monte Legion Stadium, Old Dixie, Roger Young, H.P. and Montebello Ballroom, American Legion, Kennedy, St. Alphonsous, Lincoln Park and Union Halls.

It seems like it was only yesterday.

Wow was that a flashback or what?

Yup I was just sitting there drinking a beer listening to some oldies and watching the game with my ace tight boom boom partner, my grandson. He’s just like me. Everytime I talk he just smiles, sighs and shakes his head and wants to know where I get all this stuff from.

But that’s another story.

Reprinted from LatinoLA.com (http://www.latinola.com)

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