The Graduate by Joseph and Carlos Najera

I made it. I graduated from Oxnard High, Class of 1927. It was a proud moment for my mama. She couldn’t stop crying.

I didn’t think it was such a big deal, but looking back, the teachers thought I was retarded because I didn’t know the language. Then, once they figured out that I wasn’t retarded, they still didn’t like me because of who I am. For the most part they didn’t teach me anything. They just wanted me to sit quietly and not be a bother.

It was the times, I know that. If you were Mexican, you didn’t need to learn. Your future was out there, working in the fields. It wasn’t right. I knew then and I know it now, so I studied. I learned, everything the school system had to offer. I read most of the books in the Oxnard Public Library and I kept on reading, even to this day. It wasn’t that great a fete, back then, in an age before television and affordable radios.

My mama saw how hard everyone worked, John, all his people, all the field workers in the county. She didn’t want that for me, and I was determined not to disappoint her.

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By now my brother Roberto was working in Calexico. He worked for the lumber company and said there were opportunities there for me.  I shook the dust off my shoes and made my way down south.

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The Little Flower by Carlos Najera

Xochitl August 24, 1935 was the day our first born daughter came into this world. That’s her on the left Margaret Christina. That’s not what I called her. To me she was the beautiful little flower and I called her that, the Aztec way, Xochitl. We pronounced her name “So Chee.”

Sometimes this world isn’t fair to the young and innocent. When my wife Christi became ill with TB, Xochitl was the one who took over her mother’s duties and responsibilities around the house. She did the cooking and took care of her two brothers and sister.

She did that until my broken heart couldn’t take it anymore.

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 It Is Good by Carlos Najera

The Lord once made the Earth and likewise made the Sky. And when He looked upon his work, and saw what He had done, He saw that it was good. (Klaus Australis)

I was nine years old in 1917 and another school year started.  I dreaded the thought of going through another gauntlet of scoldings, unkindness, and misunderstandings.

This was why many of my cousins and the  other Spanish-speaking kids that I knew dropped out of school. I do not blame them. I did not want to put myself through this terrible experience.

I had a lot of wonderful teachers throughout my school years but in between I have had the opposite. I never understood how grown-up people could express such hatred for our kind.

This is our land. This was Spain. This was Mexico. We were here many years before they ever heard of our West Coast. So many of the English-speaking people treated us as outsiders.

“Don’t pay them any mind, mijo.” My mother would tell me. She know what me and my brothers and sisters were going through in school. “You show them who you are. You show them that you are better than they are. The gringos want you to give up. They want you to quit so that you would be willing to work out in the fields. Many of our people do just that. Working in the fields is hard work, but it is also honorable and dignified.”

“But that is not your way. You have a brain. You have intelligence. Your father graduated from the University. He was a civil engineer and he wanted you and Bobby to follow in his footsteps. Bobby chose a different way and he works hard in the lumber business. It’s up to you now to be strong, to study, and be the best person you can be.”

“You read. You study. You learn everything you can. Your father is gone now but he can still be proud of you.”

“He can still be proud of you.” My mother repeated.

That is the path I took. I went on to finish school. I graduated from Oxnard High, Class of 1927. I never stopped studying and learning.

I still don’t know that how it works, but sometimes, now that I’m an old man, remembering these things, I feel that my father is not too far away looking down at me and saying:

“It is good.”

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Free Food and The Cold Walk by Carlos Najera

Our old house was on C Street near Magnolia. I am not sure that it actually qualified as a house. A better word would be to call it a shack. It had a frame with 1 x 12 planks for the walls. Strips of wood covered the cracks or spaces that were in between the planks. It had no sheetrock or plaster.

Our house consisted of a kitchen and dining area, a bedroom for my parents, and another bedroom for the rest of us. My sisters slept in one bed, my brothers Frank and Henry slept together, and after my older brother Bobby left home, I had our bed all to myself.

Our outhouse was outside  in our backyard. Every once in a while John would dig a new hole and move it. We did have running water, but it too was outside and it was usually my job to fill a bucket and bring it in.

The city had electricity and many houses were wired for it, but for a long time we relied on kerosene to light our house. We rarely stayed up late. Kerosene was an expense and our family needed to be thrifty with every penny we had. Even now in my old age I go to bed when it is dark and wake up when it is light.

When we could afford it, mama would send me downtown to the feed and seed  warehouse, that was the store where farmers went for their supplies. Nowadays in our modern times we call them hardware stores.

It was still early if you went by the clock, but it was dark and gloomy outside. The late afternoon sun was hidden by a thick fog bank that covered the coast. I walked the few blocks to the downtown area. All I had to warm me was an old sweater that was mostly full of holes. It was Bobby’s when he was still at home. It has been a couple of years since he went off on his own, plenty of time for the moths to have a grand old time eating it up.

I was beginning to feel the chill of that November afternoon as I walked inside the store with my can. I gave the man the handful of coins my mama handed me and he filled up my can with the kerosene.

On my way back home I could smell pork chops that someone was cooking for dinner. I could tell by the wonderful smells what everyone was having that night. I also knew what my mama was cooking, frijole beans with verdulagas on the side.

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Sometimes I have seen verdulagas in the markets especially in the local stores that served mainly the Mexican people. In our town it grows like a weed. John and I and the girls, went around the empty lots and picked bunches of it for dinner. Free food!

I remember stopping in front of one house on the way home. It was dark by now. The people left their curtains open. The inside of the house was bright with their electric lights. They had a nice fire glowing in their fireplace.  The father and his children were sitting in front of the fire. I stood outside looking in and shivering with the can of kerosene in my hand.  I stood there until the chill finally got to me and made it back home to the kitchen that was lit by a candle.

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The Serenade by Carlos Najera

One late afternoon Willie Vasquez, John’s brother in law, dropped by to visit us. He was one of the few people in town who owned an automobile, he had an Overland and he was very proud of it.

overland

John, among his many other gifts, played the fiddle, my brother Robert played the guitar, and Willie sang. Willie must have been happy to sing because he always smiled when he sang his songs, even the sad ones. The three of them played a couple of tunes in our garden. Then Willie’s eyes lit up above his huge grin.

“Hey guys! Let’s go and serenade the Duartes.”

I wanted to go but John said no.  I had to go to school in the morning. Willie was a very kind and understanding man. He saw my desire and enthusiasm so he insisted that I go along.

“Maybe he will learn how to carry a tune by joining us.”

It was just getting dark when we left our house, we drove in Willie’s car to the Duarte farm north west of town.   Their house was dark when we arrived there. They were already in bed. That did not discourage Willie and the Trio. They started the serenade.

The Duartes got out of bed, lit their oil lamps, and opened the front door. They did not seem annoyed at us waking them up, instead they invited us in.

Mrs. Duarte made coffee and baked a cake, while the Trio played a few tunes.  “Turkey in the Straw” was very popular with them, they played it twice.

Mr. Duarte suggested that we all go and serenade his neighbor. Nobody said no, so he hitched up his buggy then we started out.    The same thing happened at his neighbor’s.    This continued on until  dawn when we arrived at the nearby town of Somis.   There the parade had become quite large and the trio now consisted of about ten men. That is not counting their wives and children.

The lady of the house insisted on serving breakfast to everyone. Their cow was milked and the fresh eggs were gathered.  That old fashion country breakfast was really something. The lady served along with the fresh eggs, hash browns, home cured ham, hot biscuits, homemade jelly and coffee.

When the breakfast was over the party broke up and everyone went home to do the chores and go to work.

As fun as it was, and despite being tired and sleepy from staying up all night, I still had to go to school.

Thank you Uncle Willie. I still cannot sing, but that is a night I will always remember.

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The Land of Calafia by Joseph Najera

 September 28, 1542, was the day Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo entered San Diego Bay. On that day they became the first Europeans to set foot on the California shores.

It was not until 1769 that the Spanish decided to settle there permanently. This is when we hear of Father Junipero Serra and his quest to establish a series of missions.

The plan was to establish their Spanish presence and to “civilize” the local people and convert them to Christianity. The series of missions, presidios and pueblos extended from San Diego to north of San Francisco, at Sonoma.

 Almost at the same time, Emperor Peter the Great ordered the exploration of the North Pacific. They over hunted their own country of fur bearing animals. Peter the Great looked to the Pacific Northwest as a new source.  

It was a conflict in the making.  The United States was not even a country, yet the people on the east coast were already taking an interest in the west coast. 

   Welcome to the whirlwind.

 

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Halloween by Carlos Najera

   The first Halloween Day that I experienced was very confusing to me. The people of the town gathered around the Plaza. Everyone there was having a fun time.

   Bobby took me there to see what was going on. The girls had to stay home. It just wasn’t proper for them to go out at night.

   Some farmers brought their wagons stacked with hay. People jumped on and then they started singing as the wagon went around town. I didn’t know any of the songs. I couldn’t sing anyways, but it really looked like fun.

   There were tubs filled with water with apples floating in there. I recognized some of my school mates sticking their face in the tubs trying to get a bite of the apple. I liked apples. I didn’t want to get wet, didn’t want to stick my face in a tub full of slobber.

   The cake walk looked like fun, but that cost money, so  . . .

   The next morning I woke up as usual and stepped outside to use the “Casita” when I noticed something strange. Across the street the neighbors had a large barn.    

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   I saw a spring wagon on top of the roof of that barn. I kept wondering how it got there and why it was there.

   A few years later some guys from Santa Paula came by and stole all the outhouses. They stacked them up down town.

 

   “Silly rabbit, tricks are for . . .”

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