|I have often wondered if humanity is able to recognize the fallacies that exist within their
own individual life. I would venture to guess that the vast majority do not and the simplest
way I can explain this is with the example of the addict regardless of what the addiction
may be. Those of us who have worked to help individuals overcome their addiction know
that unless the individual can admit he or she is an addict all the help offered to them will
end up in failure.
As a family counselor I faced the challenge of the individual who both abused his or her
spouse and often times their children. I didn’t need to spend time in the classroom or
bukou bucks for tuition and books to learn this lesson. The reality of my background in
this field was that I lived it within the confines of a home that had the foundation of a
home that Maslow would have used as an example to support his Theory of Psychology or
as it is more often recognize the Hierarchy of Needs. The story of what I experience in the
home I would later use as the model for good parenting is for a later chapter in this book.
The story for now focuses on my first experience, although I did not know it at the time,
with bigotry. Derby, now called Commerce City, in the year 1956 was community that
contained a park we knew as Holly Park and this was a well kept secret. The vast majority
of Derby’s children unless you were a part of the upper crust used either the empty lots in
their neighborhoods or streets as their playgrounds. I was the second oldest kid on the
6500 block of Poplar Street, the oldest was a student in one of our Junior High schools at
the time and he little to do with the other kids on our block.
In our subdivision the home were small two bedroom frame homes with a verity of colored
sidings. As you drove through our subdivision you would see the red, blue, green and grey
sidings homes lined up in rows of 8 to 10 homes on each side of the block much like you
would see all over America in the fifties. The siding on these homes consisted of a quarter
inch thick material that was pretty hard and consisted of a mixture of hard plaster and
asbestos. As kid we would go around the subdivision and collect the broken pieces of this
material and use it as one of the variety of materials to build our club houses.
In Derby only the main streets were paved and unless you lived in the Tichy subdivision we
had no curves and gutters or sidewalks, most kid and adults walked down the middle of the
street until you saw a vehicle coming down the road then you stepped to the side of the
road. The streets in front of our home on Poplar were a mixture of road base and gravel
and this was our playground. The streets I described were our football fields and baseball
diamonds and almost every day or evening the kids would get together and play one or the
One spring or summer day in 1956 a group of us were out in the street playing the game
which was the national pastime, baseball. With our beat up gloves and more often than not
we played bear handed passing the time away pretending we were a Mickey Mantle or an
aspiring Roger Maris playing stick ball on Poplar Street. Home plate was a coffee can lid
in the middle of the street, first base was the mailbox of the Garcia’s, and second base was
either another coffee can lid or maybe a pile of gravel with 3rd bases being the Quintana
The uniqueness of the 6500 block of Poplar was the houses on the south end of the street
were owned by Spanish surnamed families, there were the Padilla’s, the Martinez’s, the
Landin’s the Mora’s, the Garcia’s and yes the Quintana’s. The home on the north end of
the street we all owned by anglos and the only name I can recall were the Hampton’s only
because Jim would hang around our home to play with us Spanish surname kids and enjoy
my mom’s tortillas as did all of the Spanish kids. Mom always started each morning
making a fresh batch of tortillas and as soon as they came off the hot plate we would grab
one and spread a little butter and salt and enjoy one, except me I hated butter so I would
substitute lard or jelly on my tortilla. all the kids loved moms tortillas.
My only concept of racism in my early years on Poplar Street was that to be called
anything but American or Spanish American was wrong. Every once and a while we
would be referred to as Spics and this was from our perspective very degrading. This
change one day as we the kids on the 6500 block of Poplar were playing a game of stick
ball, aka baseball on the gravel playground in front of our homes. This game and this date
lives in my memory not so much for the outcome of the game but for the outcome for a
group of kids playing America’s national sport.
Who I was as I stood at home plate does not matter now, I could have been Mickey, Roger,
Clint Boyer or even Babe Ruth all I knew I was at the bat. One thing for sure I did know
was that I was not a Willie Mays because the bigotry that existed within the confines of my
own home was that los negritos or blacks were lower class individuals then Spanish
Americans. It would be many years later after reading Laura Gomez book “Manifest
Destiny” that I would come to understand why los manitoes felt this way even to this day.
That is a detail I address in another chapter of Just Larry.
In came the next pitch and with all I had I was going it was my intention to hit a home run
and knew that was what going to happen when I heard the crack of the bat as it connected
with the ball. I watched as the ball sailed towards the outfield and landed in the middle of
the lawn of one of the Anglo neighbors. I raced towards first base and as someone ran
after the ball now sitting on the front lawn of a neighbor. As I approached the coffee can
lid which was second base I heard the screams of a lady yelling at the kid trying to retrieve
the ball I had just hit and stopped my dash towards the third base mailbox.
The lady who was not the owner of the house but a visitor from out of town stopped the
outfielder from retrieving the ball I had just hit for what should have been a home run was
now screaming at one of my friends. I stopped and walked over to the yard and tried to
explain all we wanted was our ball and heard this words that yet burn in my mind.
“Get out of this yard you dirty Mexicans”
Lady, I tied to explained we just want our ball.
Get you ball and I don’t want any of you Mexicans on this property”
My immediate response was to inform here one we were not Mexicans, that we were
Spanish Americans and we were not dirty. The lady continued to refer to us as dirty
Mexican and refuse to listen to our pleas for our ball and at this point because of my
frustration I began to recite a chant that I heard in the privacy of my home when the topic
of how the gringos treated Hispanics. I began chanting in Spanish a chant that started
with the word gringa and although the lady may not have understood what I was saying
she did pick up on my reference to the word gringa.
The lady reach down and picked up something from the ground and came not only after
me but the other Spanish kids playing ball with me, we immediately took off running
towards our homes. I as well as other began screaming mama, mama and rushed for the
safety of our homes, as I reached the front porch of my home I could see my mom at the
front door as she had heard our screams. Closely or so I believed was the white lady with
whatever she had in her hand right behind me and a quickly as I could I ducked behind my
There were words exchanged between the white lady and my mom a number with the
reference to dirty Mexicans with my mom and mom again noted we were not Mexican.
The lady kept waving the object she had in her hand demanding she be allowed to punish
the disrespectful little Mexican that had referred to her as a Gringo. Mom reached down
and picked up the garden hose and told the lady to get off of our property before she
smacked her with the hose and immediately the white lady backed off.
I recall stepping from behind my mom and perhaps feeling a little puffed up I may have
expressed how tuff my mom was, but mom grabbed by the arm and pulled me into the
living room of our house and before I could blink an eye mom was beating me with the
broom. Mom was the fastest broom in town and I actually believed the broom was attaché
to her arm because when there was beating to be had she had that broom right at hand. As
I was getting beat mom was yelling in Spanish how disgraceful my actions were, how bad
a child I was and how angry she was with my behavior.
When the beating subsided and my tears began to dry up I tried to explain to mom that I
did not do anything wrong that I was simply defending myself from this mean lady. My
mom just said I was wrong to speak to an elder the way that I did and that was wrong,
than she sat down and began to cry, I didn’t understand why but I would soon find out.
In an hour or so I heard the door bell ring and as I peeked around the corner of our
kitchen I saw mom at the front door talking to a member of the Adams County Sheriff’s
Department. I was not able to hear much of the initial conversation but after a bit I heard
my mom call me to the door and the sheriff deputy told me that I was disrespectful to the
neighbor and Mom and I needed to apologize for our actions. Mom was visibly shaken and
I was too young to understand what had just happen, mom said we would and the officer
walked away. Little did I realize the worst was yet to come.
Whenever mom had bad news to tell my dad she would go through this ritual. Having the
cops come to the house was going to be really bad news that she would have to pass on to
my dad so she started early preparing for what was to come. First mom would prepare the
best meal she could possibly put together when dad got home. Within five minutes of the
time dad walked into the living room after his 8 hour shift in the packing house he expected
to be sitting at the table eating supper.
There we were at the supper table, I am more than sure mom had outdone herself as she
had done many a time in putting together a fantastic dinner. We ate our dinner and as was
a ritual in our home after a full course meal we always had desert and it was at this time
mom would give dad the report on the kids which was for the most part about me. I know
it was going to be bad because mom would begin by addressing my dad as Joe. My dad
was known as Jose or Bennie but to call him Joe was big trouble and big trouble it was
when mom shared with dad the events of the day. Dad would get red faced when he was
angry and I could see the texture of his skin was getting redder and redder, I was in trouble.
After dinner mom and dad went into the living room to watch the news while I and my
brother cleared the table and washed and dried the dishes. I could hear mom telling dad
about all that had happened and while my dad seldom cursed I could hear him utter a few
choice words. The dishes were done and I let mom and dad know we were finished and
walked slowly down the hall to the bedroom that I shared with my younger brother hoping
for the best. I was probably a few steps from the threshold of our bedroom when I felt the
sting of my dad’s belt across the back of my legs.
Dad seldom if ever spanked us on the butt, but chose to place the strap between our knees
and buttocks; this was where it hurt the most. I am sure I let out a scream as I knew the
moment he grabbed my arm more smacks were coming. As the smacks continued the sting
kept getting less and less painless and although I never could figure out if it was because
dad was getting tired of hitting me or if I was getting use to the hits. My only hope was
that he would be easier on my little brother who would started crying at the first sign of my
Let me take a moment here to reflect on what was taking place. The actions of my parent
at this time were not what today we would call child abuse but the actions of two loving
parent who did not know of a better method to discipline their children. They raised us
kids the best way they knew how, perhaps the concept of “spare the rod, spoil the child”
was their thinking and I didn’t know then but now realize how I could not have been
raised by two more loving parents. Because of my ability to experience a different way of
thinking I would later raise my children in a different manner, but I cannot say that I did
any better than my mom and dad.
The lesson I learned after this incident was that one, as a child I was not to talk back to an
adult, any adult. The next lesson I would learn that anglos were superior to brown people
or Spanish American people who came from Europe. We had to be subservient to the
white people and remember to drop our heads when they addressed us individually or as a
group. The results of not being subservient to the white dominated cultural was the sting of
my dads strap across the back of my legs or worse watching my mom cry for the actions of
a misbehaving child.
With these thought behind me and my continued effort to piece together the story of “Just
Larry” I press forward to someday becoming half the person of the many who has
contributed to the lessons in life that have made me what I am.
|This story was for me the first time I registered my first experience of bigotry and prejudice in what would be a lifetime
of the same in the community I grew up in, that being Derby (Commerce City) Colorado.