My childhood was a tale of two lives, making it the best of times and the worst of times (to appropriate a famous opening line in Western literature by Charles Dickens called A Tale Of Two Cities). I was always straddling two worlds: being both a rambunctious child and a reluctantly responsible older brother who tried to safeguard my siblings from harm as the eldest of three brothers and one sister. Paradoxically, I was a behavioral burden to my mother who would be “visited” by complaining parents or police for my mischievous deeds (not the felonious type) on a weekly basis, yet I acted as her protector by calling the cops on my alcoholic and unfaithful father who would verbally and physically abuse her almost every weekend beginning on Friday evenings and right on through Sunday nights (as he would come home late from his baseball playing outings that involved more drinking and philandering than playing ball).
Then, as a Mexican-American, I toggled back and forth between two cultures, often disavowed by both. I was too “American” for my Latino family members in Mexico due to slowly losing my ability to speak Spanish fluently, while not “American” enough from some Anglo-American neigh-bors and the local authorities—making my childhood somewhat conflict-ridden due to the occasional prejudice and discrimination, while wrought with identity issues and challenges caused by such cultural juggling. However, by overcoming such obstacles, I realized it has made me stronger and more resilient by becoming flexible and open to accept one of life’s most fundamental truths—face everything, avoid nothing. But this abridged autobiography is not going to be about a second generation immigrant story, considering there are plenty of Latino writings that document such bicultural struggles—this is not that.
I was born in Southern California at the General Hospital near down-town L.A. and lived in the area for the first four years of my young life. It wasn’t until 1974 that we moved to City of Commerce in East L.A. for two years before relocating to Pico Rivera where I would live out my rambunc-tious childhood “adventures” that has made me the calculated risk taker that I am today. One such example happened when I was age 12. I arrived late to my Junior High School. As I walked the school halls en route to my 7th grade, third period class, I saw my fellow classmates gesturing to each other with three fingers extended to their sides or four in a covert fashion. This continued as I walk to class and at times accompanied with yells from across the school halls….
“No! Third period.”
Despite such shouts among these particular students that defeated the purpose of secrecy that the others were trying to maintain, it was a strange scene and the mystery only resolved once I entered my third period class. Moments after taking my seat, my fellow classmates informed me of the “plan” to orchestrate a school walkout as a form of protest against the per-manent closure of our campus and what was being “debated” in the hallways was when it should start—the beginning of third period or fourth? As this “discussion” droned on and on, I quickly realized that the proposed endeavor was in danger of becoming all bluff and bluster with no action to back it up. Even the “cool kids” and “school jocks” which many students looked up to as pseudo leaders of our school were paralyzed with inaction and the fear of looking foolish in front of the entire school if they were the first to leave the campus and no one followed.
Nevertheless, the end of the third period bell rang and all of the students poured out of class and to our surprise we discovered that the teachers and other school officials had learned of the students’ plot and were now barring all exit doors and gates on campus. The students were stunned into submission. At that moment, one of my closest friends at the time approached me from behind and said, “That’s it… game over…total school lockdown.”
Suddenly, something subconsciously clicked in me (to this day I can’t quite explain it). From this moment on I experienced the following events as if in the third person, who was outside and looking in. Without thinking of the longview nor a word to anyone, I rushed the school cafeteria and my friend followed close behind me with a few others behind him. I headed for the cafeteria’s school exit knowing full well there weren’t enough school personnel to cover all of the entrances, especially those out of the students’ usual line-of-sight. And as I led this small, spontaneous, school insurrection towards the emergency exit, another administrative assistant blocked the doorway just moments before we could reach it. This rebellious thrust towards campus “liberation” was briskly thwarted. However, in a split-second I peered over to my left shoulder at the cafeteria stage and saw another door, an exit stage left and stormed right up the steps, through the double doors and out into the bright, sunlit parking lot—Freedom!
“This Great Escape” had erupted in a collective roar of euphoria and defiance as students started pouring over the extra tall chain-link fences that encircled the entire school campus like water brimming over the edge of a boiling pot of hot water. At this point, nothing could stem the tidal wave of students that surged out of the school. A crack in “the student’s space-time continuum,” if you will, had been breached as most of us flooded out from school grounds and ruptured through the monotony of our daily academic routine. We all jumped up and down in jubilee, grasping each other like the victorious 1981 L.A. Dodgers baseball team that had just won the World’s Series defeating the “Empire State’s” New York Yankees, 4 games to 2.
It wasn’t long before both the media and police arrived to scenes of student protest signs and screaming chants of “Hell No! We Won’t Go! From that moment on, as you can imagine, the following events developed in predictable fashion: television crews interviewed students, teachers and staff; the principal threatened students with suspension for truancy and police called in to intimidate us with a show of force and arrest any who would not comply with orders to return back to school, so I assumed the “anti-hero” role and left the carnival scene with some of my buddies before the rest of the students would get corralled back to class an hour or two later.
Looking back at it now, we weren’t more than a handful of students but we persisted while the rest of the school remained immobile until that breakthrough moment and when it did happen the floodgates poured open. However, despite this personal victory, I learned early on that without any follow-through, such temporary triumphs ultimately lead to failure. Just as we failed to save the school and in the following Fall semester the Junior High was permanently shut down. So it is with today’s activism, especially with social movements of the recent past including Occupy; otherwise we would not be in such dire straits today. However, unbeknownst to me at the time this was the origins of my unintentional first steps towards the creation of integral activism that I would formulate decades later.
And although this experience may have proven to be my baptism into activism; it was not the start of my inner awareness of empathetic consciousness that allows me to be the effective integral activist that I am today.