It was the summer of 1973, it was hot and it was the beginning of a lifetime friendship. My world opened up the same as it did the first time a few peanuts were dropped into my Coke-A-Cola bottle. We’d just moved to Amarillo and we landed right in the middle of the barrio. Maybe not a barrio by other’s definition, but it was a barrio, our barrio. Alamo Park was the center of it all with the neighborhood built around it and I-40 cutting through the neighborhood. We moved in across the street from the park, so I saw it all. Some things that maybe could have waiting a little longer for me to see. Looking back, one might say this five year old was a bit “rancho” (country, not city), and well, yeah, to some extent I was. There were kids, people everywhere and a huge park in font of me like a blank canvas for me ready to make my marks. Saturdays we’d hear the church bells ring from the Catholic church down the road; as I remember it, shortly after you would hear cars honking driving slow in procession. Sometimes really cool lowriders showing off. The lead car would have ribbons hanging from behind it and around it, cans tied to the bumper clanking down the road as they cruised the park, “Just Married!” The weekends were full of people cruising around the park as well. Having fun, showing off, up to no good, take your pick. During Diez y Seis, they would block off the roads around the park, people gathered everywhere, the OG’s sitting on their porches with front row seats looking at the parade. More cars, Charros on Horseback, bicycles, lowriders of course, and just about anything that said “mi barrio” when you looked at it. Softball tournaments, horseshoes, familia. It was an experience you could breathe in, it was all around you, magical.
Not many know this story, but, there are many that do. I don’t know if he remembers, but it carved itself into my flesh from that day, I can still taste the sand and feel the tears burning down my dirty face. Being new to the barrio and being well, a bit rancho, I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t belong. My family roots did not run as deep as those around me, as deep as the trees in the park. No friends. I remember looking out into the park and seeing everyone running around having a good time. There was a casita that had games and sporting equipment you could check out and at noon they handed out free lunches in a white paper sack. One day I ventured out into the park. There was a sand box there, large, with a little tractor like thing that was embedded into the middle that a kid could maneuver in circles, dig and dump. It was cool., I’d never seen one. Well, it was empty there and no one around, so, well, I jump on and start working the land. Shortly I see these two kids come up to me and ask me who I was. I guess I didn’t answer correctly as they shoved me off the tractor, said it was theirs and started hitting me. So what did I do, I did what any five year old would do in that situation, I cried, buckled up and ate some sand along the way. They stopped, they laughed and ran off. I don’t remember the words, but I can probably guess correctly what they called me. Getting up, wiping my face and would begin my journey to my house. As I was walking I ran into these two kids, cousins, one my age and the other a few year older, I knew the younger from church. The older one asked what happened, I told them and they looked up and like lions in the jungle the scanned the park looking for the two I’d mentioned. As they zeroed in, the turned me around, one on each side and they walked towards them, each with an arm around me. Me in the middle looking pathetic probably. Well, they walked right up to them. Before hitting one of the other kids, the younger of the two said, and I will repeat verbatim as this would not be the last time these words would come out of his mouth, “His dad’s a minister, he’s not supposed to fight!” POW! And a beating commenced. We were friends from that point to present, best friends. I appreciated those words of his and his gesture, but what he probably never considered was that sometimes those words would haunt me when he wasn’t around to shout them, but by then I had learned the world of the barrio and, well, I’m still here today. His family became mine and mine became his. We were kings. I ended up naming my oldest son after him, after both of us, our connection runs that deep. Our families run that deep. I can go back to that park now and feel my roots just as deep as those trees.
A lot has changed in the barrio, and make no mistake about it, in the summer of 1973, I put a little blood, sweat and tears into it that I remember it just the way it used to be.