Continued from Chapter 3.
“Brujos are like witches or sorcerers,” said Eddie. “They have strange powers. I hear you have a brujo visiting you, Vincent. What strange things can he do?”
By Richard Juarez
I had been looking forward to a little freedom hanging out with Tony. Since being restricted to the house I hadn’t seen him much except at school. Before leaving for the afternoon my parents told me to get a couple of things at Amador’s. So I decided to do it just before Tony got off work. That way we could take the long way home and walk around the neighborhood a little before my parents got back. I was standing just inside in the doorway of the store waiting for Tony to get off work when Pablito walked in.
“Hey, vato,” he said, smiling, “What’s going on?”
“You dummy, you got us into trouble,” I answered. “That’s what’s going on! That placa you put outside on the wall, don’t you ever think about where you’re putting that stuff?”
“Hey man,” Tony yelled as he walked to the front of the store, “I told you not to put any paint on these walls! That was pretty stupid! Big Mike lectured me and called my dad. When I got home, he yelled at me for an hour! He told me again not to hang around with you guys.”
“You snitched and told him it was me?”
“You idiot,” said Tony, “everyone knows it’s you! The next day my dad made me paint over it while he watched me. It was embarrassing, and I better not have to do that again.”
“Or what?” Pablito asked, sticking up his nose and jutting out his jaw. “You gonna mess with me?” Pablito stared at Tony, then quickly glanced over at me, then back to Tony.
“Don’t tempt me, pea brain,” Tony answered, moving threateningly toward Pablito.
“Cut it out, you guys,” I broke in. I didn‘t need any more trouble. “Pablito, we’re serious. What kind of fun is it if you spray paint on someone’s property, then we get punished for it?”
“Screw you guys. You got no huevos, you sissies,” hissed Pablito.
“Huevos? You got huevos? Just stand right there. Big Mike will be here in just a few minutes so I can leave. I’m gonna watch him kick your ass right out the door.”
Pablito suddenly looked very serious. “He’s really coming?” he asked.
Tony nodded, smiling, and looked up at the wall clock. “Should be any minute now.”
“Hell, if I had known he knew it was me, I wouldn’t have come in here!” He turned and rushed out the door, yelling, “I’ll see you guys later!”
“Pablito, wait!” Tony yelled back. “You forgot your huevos!”
We had barely stopped laughing by the time Big Mike walked into the store. Moments later we were off, headed east on National Avenue.
We walked past the Logan Heights Family Health Center, and at about the middle of the block we stopped in front of the apartments where Tony’s cousin lived. Many of the homes in the neighborhood had one or two apartments in their back yard, but these apartments were different. They were built in a U shape, with two rows of small apartments, three on each side, facing each other, with a small courtyard in the middle, and a larger apartment in the back, facing the middle of the courtyard. The yard wasn’t any bigger than ours, so there were a lot of people in a very small space. His cousin said they lived so close to each other they could hear everything their neighbors did––talking or laughing, coughing or farting.
There were some courtyard apartments next to my Nana and Tata’s house, but they were in much worse shape than these. That owner never took care of them. The paint was peeling off the walls and it sometimes blew through the chain link fence onto Nana’s plants. You could see the exposed wood walls rotting and warping. Here it was different. At least the owner took care of the place. These had stucco walls, with a fresh coat of light blue paint with white trim on the eaves and window frames, with lots of flowering plants and shrubs, and a little bit of grass.
When my father repainted our house to a lighter green, he made me help him with the white trim. I had to paint the wood around the windows and the wood separating the panes of glass, and scrape, sand and paint the wooden window screens. That was a heck of a lot of work, and I hated it. That’s how I spent a lot of my summer last year, while the other guys were out playing around, having fun. Still, I had to admit, after we finished, the house sure looked good––better than any other house on the street. People walking by would tell my father how good the new paint job looked. He’d thank them and, at least when I was out there, he would tell them that he and I did it together, even though I know he did most of the work.
It didn’t look like anyone was home. We called out for his cousin, but there was no answer.
“What do you wanna do now?” I asked, as we both turned and continued up National.
“Arturo’s is just up the street. Let’s go there.”
I slowed to a stop. “I can’t. My parents don’t want me hanging out at his house.”
“Mine neither, because of his brother and their drugs.”
“And because we were with him and Eddie during the great Coke robbery.”
“Man, they’re still on your case about that?” asked Tony. “My parents haven’t said much.”
“Heck, mine ain’t gonna let me forget it. We were just lucky the driver didn’t press charges or we’d really have been in a mess of trouble.”
“Well, you said your parents ain’t here. How they gonna know?”
“Easy. They might drive by here on their way home and see us.”
“Oh, come on. You said they’re gonna be gone for the afternoon. Let’s go check out what’s happening.”
After that lecture from Tío Marcus, and the promises I made to him, I knew I shoudln’t even be considering going up there. “I don’t know … I’m already in enough trouble.”
Tony started walking again, not waiting for me to finish.
“Well, okay,” I said, mostly to myself as I jogged a few steps to catch up with him, “but I’m not going inside!”
We continued east on National Avenue. The next intersection was probably the busiest in the neighborhood, National and Crosby streets. As we were going by, Tony peeked his head into the Ponderosa Market, another small mom and pop grocery store, not much bigger than the size of a house. This one was just one block away from Amador’s Market, yet both seemed to do okay. I figured it was probably because the big supermarkets were so far away that people were forced to shop at the little neighborhood markets.
“Hey, Tony,” shouted Mr. Gomez from behind the counter, “How’s business today?”
“Well, I see you’ve only got two customers, so I guess we’re doing better than you today,” Tony called back laughing.
“Yeah,” Mr. Gomez responded, “but we have the big spenders over here.” He laughed and waved goodbye as we continued on our way.
Across the street we could see some of the firemen out in front of the fire station, which had its doors open. It didn’t look like they were going anywhere, just letting in some fresh air. At the end of the next block we came to Chicano Park, built under the pillars of the San Diego-Coronado Bridge. Arturo’s house was another block up the street.
There in the park, most of the gray concrete pillars holding up the bridge and its on-off ramps were painted with beautiful murals, with scenes from Mexican history and the Chicano movement. My favorite was the painting of Cuauhtémoc, who at the age of 25 became the last Aztec emperor. The mural shows him dressed in battle gear, pointing his outstretched arm, with huge eagle wings behind him. The Aztec Brewery that used to be a few blocks away on Main Street had a mural inside that showed the Spanish conquistadors torturing Cuauhtémoc by burning his feet.
My father told us many times the story of how Chicano Park came to be. He would get very solemn and would make sure we were paying attention. He told us about how the City and the State had destroyed the heart of the community by putting a freeway through it. They relocated families, and destroyed the business district. Then they came back and put the bridge on top of us, moving out more people. A friend of Nana lived where the bridge is now. She was moved away from her friends, her church, and her tienditas—all the things and people who mattered to her. They say she died a few months later, depressed and lonely—she just gave up living.
Then came the ultimate insult. The State tried to put the Highway Patrol headquarters under the bridge, where the City had promised a park. Not that it was an ideal location for a park. But the people had been trying to get the City to help beautify this cold, barren jungle of concrete. So on April 22, 1970, the Chicano community rose up against the City and the State and stopped the bulldozers that had begun construction of the Highway Patrol facility. A community occupation of this land began that lasted 24 hours a day for twelve days. Students from Memorial Junior High and San Diego High skipped school to participate. Men and women, from kids to seniors, took over the land. They planted flowers, grass, nopales cactus and agave plants. People from all over the state came to help. And the people succeeded in forcing the City to acquire the land from the State, and to turn it into a park, Chicano Park.
“Vincent!” Tony yelled from the corner. “Come on!” His voice pulled me out of my thoughts. I hurried to catch up with him.
“What were you doing staring across the street?” he asked as we continued walking.
“Oh, just thinking about the murals, and what my father told us about when they did the big movida and created Chicano Park,” I answered.
“The park and murals have been here for over fifteen years. So why the sudden interest?”
“Oh, I guess the murals made me think of my Tío Emilio. When he arrived he gave us gifts and talked a little about Mexican art and culture, and that’s what these murals are all about.”
“Yeah, my grandfather told me you had a relative from Mexico visiting.”
“We call him Tío Emilio, but….”
“But Tío Brujo might be better,” laughed Arturo. He was standing at his front gate and had heard us talking as we were walking up to his house.
“So what’s a brujo?” asked Tomás, one of our homies who was standing there with Arturo.
“Brujos are like witches or sorcerers,” Eddie called from the porch. He was sitting with his friend Manuel, the head of their gang. “They have strange powers. I hear you have a brujo visiting you, Vincent. What strange things can he do? Does he have a magic wand?”
“Or a broom?” asked Manuel. They busted up laughing.
Brujos, witches, and sorcerers? What were they talking about? Were they calling Tío Emilio a brujo or a sorcerer? And they were laughing at him … or at me.
“Leave him alone,” Tony said, coming to my defense. “My grandfather said a brujo is a very special person, a holy man, with special gifts from God that he uses to help people. He also said some ignorant Mexicans make fun of brujos because they think only the priest should bring help from God. Or the idea of brujos having special gifts, special powers, scares them.”
Eddie jumped up and took a few steps toward us. “What are you saying, Tony, that I’m….”
“Hey you guys, don’t get so uptight,” said Manuel, looking at us as he reached for Eddie and pulled him back. “We’re just kidding! Maybe this brujo can help some of the people around here. So, why’s he here? Is he moving here?”
Too late. I was already uptight. I really didn’t like Manuel asking me questions. I never really talked to him before. I was kind of afraid of him. He was bigger than all the other guys—taller and heavier. And mean looking too. His pockmarked face had a deep scar that ran from the top of his ear down to about the middle of his jaw. I never asked anyone how he got it, and no one ever talked about it—like we were supposed to ignore this big ugly scar. I thought maybe he lost a knife fight to some crazy vato when he was younger.
“He’s not moving here,” I answered, “just visiting. He lives in … well, someplace in Mexico. He travels around. He’s visiting friends in L.A. right now, but he’ll be back.”
“If he just visited, why is he coming back again?” asked Tomás.
“His teacher made this leather carving about … well, he’s going to talk to me about….”
“So he’s coming back to talk to you?” asked Manuel as he walked up closer. “I know your folks are all uptight about your bad boy behavior.” That got a laugh from everyone. “Did they send for him to come and put a brujo spell on you to turn you into a good boy?” They laughed again.
I felt really uncomfortable with this mean looking vato grilling me and laughing at me, and with this talk about spells and a brujo. I’d heard of the word brujo before, but I didn’t really know what it meant. I had asked my mother, but she had just brushed it off with, “That’s just old wives’ tales, about the old ways.”
Oh man! That’s it! It suddenly hit me. She said they didn’t talk about him because “…he is of the old ways.” Dang! They didn’t like to talk about him, so I didn’t know nothing. But everyone else seemed to know he was a brujo. Suddenly I just had to get out of there.
“Hey, I don’t know nothing about spells, and I gotta split.” I turned around and started walking back down National. I was relieved that I didn’t feel Manuel’s big hand grab me and yank me back for walking away from him in the middle of his questions.
“Hey, wait up. I’ll go with you,” called Tony.
I didn’t wait, walking quickly down the street. Tony jogged a few steps to catch up with my pace. I wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. He walked beside me in silence for a short while, and then finally spoke up.
“Are you pissed off because they were making fun of your Tío Emilio?”
“Nah. I’m just surprised and angry that everyone, including you, seems to know more about him than I do. How come your grandfather knows about him? From my grandfather?”
“Yeah, he said that last week your grandfather told him his cousin was coming to visit.”
“Did he say that his cousin is a brujo?”
“I don’t know. That’s all he told me. But I’ve heard of brujos before. My grandfather believes in that stuff. He says it’s a part of our culture and our beliefs as Mexicans. But my grandmother says that it’s just old stories about black magic that uneducated Mexicans were told by the old pagan priests as a way to control them. It sounds like some people are afraid of brujos and black magic. But my grandfather isn’t. He must think your grandfather’s cousin is really special. He even called him Don Emilio.”
Maybe he is really special, I thought, but why is this all so secret? And how come no one ever told me anything about him?
Copyright © 2013 Richard Juarez
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