Every day I walk in her footsteps, I think of her – the woman who has been my guardian angel since birth.
From my second book, Como te Llamas, Baby? my mother wrote the Forward…
“..like an electric jolt, I received the news that my mother was dead. I was eight months pregnant…A month later, still in a haze, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Somewhere deep inside I struggled to find a shred of joy. The joy I needed to give to my daughter…Until I remembered a time of innocence and light. Flashes of my six-year-old best friend, Jamie came to my mind…And of course her middle name would be Della, after my mother. Although she would never see her grandmother, her nana, she would always have this incredible link with her. They would share a name; a name that symbolized a strong, proud Hispanic woman, a seventh generation Californio; a woman who fought for injustices and treated everyone with compassion and love. I knew that by gracing her with this name, my daughter would have a most beautiful and protective angel to watch over her all her life.”
A woman who fought for injustices? Because of what she saw? From the Anaheim Packing House I walk three blocks west to where she, her three brothers and parents lived in what people refer to as Penguinville or Penguin City. Every time I am in Anaheim someone refers to this historically very rough neighborhood and riots of Little People’s Park, such a symbolic name, given this unraveling tale.
Taken in 1924, this angelic picture of my grandmother has been the centerpiece of family altars for 44 years. I now know at the time this picture was taken Anaheim was trying to replace it’s correlation with the KKK and their moniker “Klanaheim” with bucolic, pastoral images of citrus groves and sunshine and the grandiose California Valencia Orange Show.
Maybe she could have been a child star of this locally famous show that was akin to the Pasadena Rose Parade, supplanting citrus for flowers?
Is it possible her family was able to rise above petty prejudice because of old Californio bloodline? Is that how she came out of this barrio still believing she was the Daughter of the Don? Or did she rewrite history? Perhaps the ghetto grew up around them?
When I walked by Penguinville’s corner market (the kind with a mural of Latino heroes like Cesar Chavez and cultural icons like Our Lady of Guadalupe), I approached a couple of Latinos – one wearing a blue-collared shirt with the name Jose in indelible marker and the other (named Albert) in the traditional white t-shirt and jeans sitting like a low-rider on his bicycle. I asked how long the market had been there, explaining that my grandmother had grown up across the street and I wondered if the market had been around long enough that she would have gotten an ice cream on a hot day. Jose looked at me incredulously in my silk skirt, briefcase and heels in hand, then smiled slowly, “Ahh, you’re looking for your roots.”
Every day I walk in her footsteps, I think of her. And I wonder…