The Story of Nena by Carlos Najera

I was five years old.  El Paso del Norte was by now a distant memory. The Imperial Valley was such a long way from here.

We now lived in Oxnard in a Mexican neighborhood. The people here were descendants of the Spanish, Sonoran colonizers and were called People of the Country. Many lived on the farms or in the original township of El Rio.

I say original because El Rio was there before Oxnard was established, a place by the river crossing of the Santa Clara River and the King’s Highway, El Camino Real. It was established by Simon Cohn in 1875. He called his place New Jerusalem. It consisted of a general store, corral, and eventually a post office. Over time the place was called El Rio because, well, that is where it was. Oxnard was established a short distance away and became the dominant city, but that is another story.

All my life I have awakened before sunrise and have gone out to inspect the world. One day I was walking down the street very early. Two boys lived in the next block. They were bigger than me and they enjoyed knocking me down and kicking me in the ribs. I did not enjoy that a bit.

As I said, I was walking down the street, very peaceful and minding my own business when I heard the boys from the next block running after me and yelling threats.

Since I knew what was going to happen next, I started running. I do not know how it happened but I found myself running through a strange neighborhood and those guys were catching up to me.

I heard a voice that said, “Hurry! Run this way!”  I did not see anyone except a dragonfly, and she was saying, “Hurry! Run this way!”  She was flying in front of me. She guided me through a door in a wall.

We went in but the boys could not find the door, so they did not enter. I could see and hear them but they could not see nor hear me. After we entered through the door we left the boys outside of the wall.

The dragonfly sat upon my hand. I took a closer look. I could see that it was not really a dragonfly. She was a tiny, graceful and delicate creature with a human shape. She was a fairy!

“This is the fairy garden, I live here sometimes.”  She said. “I like the rivers. I love the water. It reminds me of me homeland, the Green Isle.”

She spoke with a strange accent, but everyone around here had an accent.

She sat on my hand and guided me along a path. It was very beautiful here. There were many trees and flowers. We climbed a hill and I rested against a big rock near a river of clear water. It was then I noticed, “How is it that I climbed a hill when this valley is a flat plain?”

Other fairies were flying all around me. So many, all of a different color.

“Hi! Boy!” They said in their sweet gentle voices. I could see the smiles on their transparent faces.

“Hi! Carlitos! Hi! Little Charlie!” They knew my real name and my new American name.

I leaned over a brook to get a drink of water. It was clear and sweet and each time I took a drink it tasted like a different kind of sweetness.

The birds and the fairies sang throughout the day. Sometimes they sang together their gentle fairy songs.

“This place is not me home, but it will do until I find me destiny.”

“Destiny?” I asked.

“Destiny is the place where we are meant to be.”

“Do I have a Destiny?”

“Aye me laddie. It will take thine entire lifetime to seek and find Her.”

A tear fell from her eye. “She is elusive. Not everyone can nor will find theirs.”

Nena sat on my hand.  A tiny tear fell on my palm.

“That tear is me pledge to you. I have been with you since you came into the worl’. I was dancin’ on the big river when I heard your Mum cry out. I had to see. Such a wee child, and then they gave yee the name, the name of another lad I once knew many years ago. I have followed ever since and I promised me self to keep yee safe.”

I remembered the fighting in the street back in Ciudad Juarez. There was a flash of light that made me turn my head.

“Aye! Tha’ was me, and there were many another times.”

“I can hear yur voice and yee can hear mine. I will ne’er be far from yee. That is all yee need to know.

The magical music I heard was like a lullaby and soon I fell asleep. I do not know how long I slept but when I awoke I was lying on our front porch.

I am an old man telling you this, and I do not know when my time will come.  I have never really seen her since that day, but I know she has never been far away.

 

 

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The VCR by Carlos Najera

We had two railroads running through our County.

The Southern Pacific passed through our town coming from Los Angeles on its way to San Francisco and back. It had a whistle and a Bell and a cow catcher in front. Each one of these locomotive engines had its own distinct sound.

After a while I was able to tell them apart as easily as I could identify my friends and neighbors in town. I could tell which locomotive it was without even looking. I even knew who the engineer and the conductors were on each train.

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The local railroad was called the Ventura County Railroad. They carried passengers to Port Hueneme and back. They also ran lines to the sugar the factory and to some of the other farms and orchards. There were many citrus orchards and they ran lines to the packing houses.

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I was also able to tell the time by the sounds of the trains. Who needs a watch?

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The First Families by Carlos Najera

It wasn’t the same as before, living so close to the Pacific Ocean. It never got hot here. Even warm summer days were never as hot as Ciudad Juarez or the Imperial Valley. Those warm summer days led to completely comfortable cool summer evenings. I will pick another time to remember the Santa Ana winds or the bone chilling foggy nights.

During our first year so my mama tried to keep the same family routines we always had. We got up with the sun, and went to sleep with the dark. Between those two times was work. Sundays were the exception. They were a day for church, a day of rest.

Before sleep Mama would gather us on the porch, make us say our prayers for the night, and then she would tell us a story. Those were the days before everybody had electricity in their homes and using the  Kerosene lamps were expensive.

Sometimes she would talk about her Madrid family who lived on the banks of el Rio Grande. Sometimes she would tell us of her Lucero family from Doña Ana County and Mesilla, New Mexico. Both families, the Madrids and the Luceros descended from the original families that settled New Mexico in 1598.  I know I met some of them, my cousins, aunts and uncles, but I was too young. I wish I got to know them better.

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I drifted into sleep thinking about those people of long ago. Way back then, centuries past, they were already a part of my life.

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Nena the Fairy and the Blind Pigs by Carlos and Joseph Najera

Every down town block in Oxnard had two or three saloons. When Prohibition became law in 1920, bars, saloons and beer joints became illegal. That did not stop people from drinking. They just found new ways of not getting caught.

Speak Easies were places that required a password to enter. They didn’t fool anybody but they gave the County Sheriff an excuse to look away. Blind Pigs was another name for a place where adult beverages were served.

There’s never a good outcome when a story begins with: “I was at this joint last night . .”  I said these words before but this one time . . .

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. . .   One morning I awoke as usual when I saw a hole in the wall, I was curious because it was not there the night before.   I put my finger in it to see what it was. Later that day I learned that two men got in a gunfight in the street in front of our house.  A stray bullet went through the open window and passed about one inch above my head and hit the wall.

One more time Nena the Fairy was protecting me.

 

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Pride and Prejudice by Carlos Najera

   We moved into a town in the early 1900’s where the people, the adults and kids my age had a bad word for anyone who was not them. There was a bad word for every one in the melting pot I knew as Oxnard.   Prejudice, bigotry and discrimination glowed without embarrassment or shame in every face of the Anglo people. I am not sure about why it is like that. It goes on still, it hasn’t stopped through the years.

   This was the land of the Chumash. They were here, in the One World generations before any European set foot on this great continent.

   The Spanish speaking people were here in California generations before the English speaking people even knew we were here.

   My family and I were given no respect. They refused to sell or rent homes except in the area from 6th. Street to Wooley Road and on B street south of 6th. Street and east to the railroad tracks. This area was called Shantytown. The Mexicanos lived on the other side of the tracks in the neighborhood called La Colonia.

 

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Forget it, Jake. It’s . . . by Joseph Najera

   There was a block of Chinatown in Oxnard.  It was an alley was known as China Alley. image002

   I would slip away undetected by my folks and wander into China Alley. A Chinese man would be seated at a little cubbyhole.   The walls had shelves with Chinese merchandise. 

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   I would stop and say “Alow” to the Chinese man, (that was the only word that I knew in English). The Chinese man would answer “Alow” back.    Neither one of us knew English so we just stood grinning at each other.     I would wave good bye, then he would reach into a jar and give me a piece of Chinese candy.

Right away I was learning much more than English.

 

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Day 2 of a Work in Progress by Joseph Najera

To make the “arrow points” I need to cut 24 pieces of steel 2 inches long. I use this measuring instrument. Once set it is faster than using a ruler.

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I grind them then bend them out. They are ready for rivets.

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I use a center punch to mark where I want to drill a hole. Punching it keeps the drill bit fro wandering all over the place.

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The hole is drilled. Now to drill through the other 2 pieces. The trick is to get the holes to line up.

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The holes are drilled. I am ready to push the rivet through then hammer it tight.

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This one looks good. It doesn’t always work out. Sometimes I have to cut new pieces and start all over again.

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It’s not over yet. I need to grind the corners.

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There we go. Not perfect, but close enough to be acceptable.

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Next step: repeat 11 more times.

End of day 2.

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