When people ask where I’m from it seems weird to say Inglewood, it’s usually followed by some “always up to no good” reference from the person asking. Sometimes I say South Bay, because I spent a lot of time in Hawthorne too. I’ve never said I’m from South Central, although that would be geographically correct. I grew up in Inglewood. One day, I’ll write a book about its history because a comprehensive book about it doesn’t currently exist, there’s a “book” out there thats a whole 4 pages long written by an old white lady. Meanwhile, I’ll indulge into my personal story of growing up there.
My parents came to the United States in the late 70s. My dad came from Mexico, he worked as a gardener. My mom was born in El Salvador, she worked as a housekeeper. It was the stereotypical Los Angeles minority love story. At the time when I was born, they lived in a converted garage apartment in the back of someone’s house in Inglewood. We’d toggle around apartments in Inglewood and the adjacent cities of Lennox and Hawthorne. I have two memories of living in the garage apartment around age 2 or 3, the first about a burnt tortilla and the second of being scared when a stranger knocked loudly on the metal screen door. I remember my 4th birthday party at the one story apartment complex with pink shutters. That was where my friend Alex’s brother let go of most of my balloons outside and I passively aggressively fought my mom’s friend’s daughter to stop pulling my Little Mermaid Piñata away from me while we took pictures.
I still talk to Valerie, we are pretty proud about that. We ended up having our daughters just two months apart in our twenties. Alex was my parent’s god son and the first friend of the opposite sex that I ever had. I was a little jealous of how he would kiss my parent’s hand in traditional god parent fashion, I was not into sharing my parent’s affection.
Alex and I sat next to each other for a week in 9th grade at Hawthorne High. Until one day , he asked me “are your parent’s named Jose and Aracely” and I looked at him like you would a crazy stalker until he identified himself. Our families had a falling out over money at some point and I hadn’t seen him since we were 7 years old. He was the closest I ever came to having a brother.
Other than birthday parties, which I had every year until age 7 when my sister was born and it was “time to save for the quinceañera” and the adult get togethers that usually involved other children, I didn’t play outside much. Truly, I have very little to almost no memory of being allowed to play outside as a kid in Inglewood. It was dangerous for little girls to be outside, or so I was told, and so it didn’t happen much. My dad taught me to ride a bike in Hawthorne, I’d ride across the front of our apartment building only, that was my perimeter and I could not exceed it unless I wanted to be kidnapped or run over by a car.
In the spring of 1994, just after I’d finished second grade at St. Josephs, we moved to Nebraska. My aunt and her husband had recently moved there, word was that there were a lot of jobs out there and it was an affordable place to live. My sister was an infant, just 6 months old. We’d sold off so many of our things including my power wheels Barbie convertible that Santa gave me when I was 5, he’d dropped it off early and I’d taken pictures with a huge wrapped Christmas present in the living room for weeks before Christmas. My parent’s were not very good at the Santa Claus/Christmas night thing.
I was sad about letting go of my toys but I was excited that I didn’t have to go back to St. Josephs. We drove from California to Nebraska, towing a U-Haul trailer. In Nebraska we got an apartment in a giant complex built around a golf course. It was actually a network of apartment complexes and most of them were not truly separated. There were a lot of kids there, many of them the same age that I was and suddenly the restrictions of “its too dangerous outside” were gone. Now it was “come home before it gets dark”. For a kid who never had this freedom before, this was heaven. I rode my bike everywhere. I played with my friend Samantha and her little sister. Her mom was pregnant and she’d told me that her mom had all her babies in their house, not in a hospital. My best friend was Angie and she lived in the complex next door, her mom baked the most delicious treats. Angie was born in Kansas and she was the first friend I had with a step dad. We’d play epic games of hide and seek. In the winter, we’d go sledding down the golf course slopes.
I started 3rd grade in Nebraska, where I got a locker (cubby) and kept snow shoes and pants inside of it. The school had a gym, music room with actual instruments, a library and computer lab. I got to stock up on Lisa Frank stationary and funky erasers that year. We had a snow ball fight on the playground that winter. It was the best year of my childhood.
Somewhere around November/December of that year, my dad had gone back to California alone. I didn’t know why at the time, but he’d left to try to get his old job back. A note about the plethora of jobs available in Nebraska at that time; they were all in meat processing factories and it was excruciating, back breaking, health risking work. There was one store, in downtown Omaha, where my parents could find tortillas. I didn’t think about it then (I never had to before), I was one of the very few Hispanics in that school. My friends were mostly white, even Angie was half white. These things didn’t matter to us as kids, but I know it was different for adults. My parents had accents, without better English they’d never get better jobs in Nebraska. The last straw came when one winter day my dad walked outside and slipped on the icy sidewalk, he came inside fuming and decided right then that we were moving back.
On December 22 (or so) we packed up all our things and headed back to California. I remember having to lie to my teacher about why I wouldn’t be coming back after winter break, I don’t know why it was necessary but I did as I was told. I’ve always been a horrible liar. I’d learned to write cursive up to the letter “T”. I didn’t want to leave, I’d never longed to have this but now that I did, it seemed so cruel to give it up.
I slightly despise the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side”… well what if you’ve never known green grass? What if you’ve never known grass period? What if all you’ve ever had is a concrete slab and suddenly you’ve got ta field of Kentucky bluegrass in front of you? How do you live being ok with your piece of concrete? It’s bullshit.
We got to California on Christmas Day of 1994. I thought Santa Claus would for sure be confused and I’d be shit out of luck on my Christmas present that year. Probably out of guilt for what had been torn away from me, ‘Santa’ brought me a Super Nintendo Donkey Kong edition. I’d spend the next few months in a studio apartment in Hawthorne playing on that console, while our landlord got a bigger apartment ready for us in Inglewood.
We would eventually live in that Inglewood apartment, it was two stories with a balcony and a patio. I’d always wanted a house with stairs. My bike would get stolen from that patio. One day, we watched as a guy hopped over the brick wall, ran through the patio and jumped over the other side of the wall trying to avoid police. I wasn’t allowed to play beyond the metal door of the complex, we lived off a main street and a girl had been run over by a car a few years before. We were allowed to have a dog in that apartment but I had to share a room with my sister, she would rat me out when I tried to talk to my friends on the phone at night as a preteen.
Kids are resilient. I was resilient. I’d attend 3 different elementary schools for 3rd grade. I would make a new best friend and Angie would become my pen pal until the days of AOL instant messenger came along. I would eventually listen to my dad when he told me to “listen but be quiet and don’t repeat it” when girls shared gossip. My final third grade teacher would share her story of being a holocaust survivor as a baby who’d been kept safe hiding under floor boards, she’d inspire my lifetime curiosity of WWII.
I was not bitter or resentful because of the move, those emotions would come later when I moved as teenager to the Inland Empire and my “everyone is stupid” attitude had kicked in. I look at my childhood as multifaceted, I experienced enough to make me appreciate having even just a patch of green grass as a grown up.