SDFP exclusive series The History of Neighborhood House: From 1918 to the occupation in 1972
By Maria E. Garcia
One conversation about Neighborhood House always leads to another. When I told Kiko I was working on a research paper about Neighborhood House he told me “You have to talk to John Bareño.” “Kiko” is Frank Peralta, one of the people who spearheaded the effort to construct a war memorial in Chicano Park. I took Kiko’s advice and on a Thursday in May I drove to Spring Valley to interview Dr. Bareño in his home.
I found a man with a wealth of information about Logan Heights, baseball, discrimination and Neighborhood House. Dr. Bareño was born in Loreto, Baja California. His father had been offered $500.00 to move the family to Mexicali. They were going to work picking cotton there.
Dr. Bareño started school as a non-English speaker in Calexico. He recalls that when he had to use the restroom he would run home at recess and use the bathroom at his house. When his father got a job here in San Diego, working on street construction, they moved to Logan Heights. He attended both Sherman and Logan Elementary Schools.
As a young child of about seven years old, he, his two brothers and two cousins decided they would take a walk to Mission Beach and swim at The Plunge. He admits he did not know how to swim and at seven, followed the lead of his brothers. His two brothers and cousins got in to the Mission Beach Plunge, however he was not admitted. He spent several hours outside, waiting for them to come out and return to Logan Heights. To this day, he believes that the boys who were allowed in had blue eyes and he was kept out because of his brown eyes. This was in the days when Mexicans were only allowed in the Mission Beach pool on the day before it was drained.
There was a closer swimming hole at the foot of 28th street, which was a sewage outfall. It was the infamous caquita beach, where “yellow floaters” were found in the water. One day he went there to swim with his friend “Chato”. Chato went in and started to drown. Little John looked around for a pole or something that he could use to help rescue his friend. He made the decision to jump in the water and save his friend. Luckily for both boys the surf tossed them around until they were able to touch the bottom and work their way out of this dangerous situation.
Dr. Bareño was one of the many boys that went to camp with Neighborhood House. One incident in particular stands out in his memory about one of the camping trips. One year that they went to camp it just so happened that Art Linkletter was the camp counselor. This was years before Mr. Linkletter became a famous TV star. “He (Art) knew that Henry, one of the boys, was afraid of snakes, so he put a snake in his bed. Henry got in bed and that’s when the screaming started.”
Dr. Bareño’s interest in sports started at Neighborhood House. He learned to box, took tumbling classes and most of all learned his beloved baseball under Coach Breitenstein. In several of the pictures of the Neighborhood House team you will find him proudly standing in his baseball uniform. He refers to Coach Breitenstein as a “shining star.” I believe the encouragement from the coach and an incident at San Diego High School motivated his desire to play baseball.
At San Diego High School he started playing football. He remembers this incident as follows: “I was practicing football when a guy came up from behind me and clobbered me. I said this is not for me.” He shared that he was a very good baseball player and could have been a professional. Everyone I interviewed who has played baseball in the 1930’s at Neighborhood House takes great pride in having played against a team that included Ted Williams. Their pride comes from having beat Teds’ team. Dr. Bareño added “I was a friend of Ted’s. We were good friends.”
He remembers going to Pomona for a baseball tournament. According to Dr. Bareño, in those days you played in the tournament until you lost a game and a tournament could last several days. Dr. Bareño and Willie Cesena, however,were not given a room. Finally the coach gave Dr. Bareño money to rent a room. For whatever reason, Willie was not given the necessary money. Dr. Bareño invited Willie to share his room and thus the two guys from Neighborhood House ended up being roommates for that tournament.
Dr. Bareño always felt that this incident along with many others reflected the discrimination at the time. Another example he shared was that while at San Diego High School, Coach Morrow promised him that he would receive a scholarship to Berkeley and would soon be playing baseball for the college. It did not happen. Dr. Bareño believes that despite Coach Morrow’s support, that final decision makers did not believe that a young Mexican kid from Logan Heights should receive a scholarship. He commented “you might forgive but you can’t forget.”
He married shortly after high school and admits his wife did not like baseball. While working as a truck driver he sometimes played baseball to supplement his income. It is noteworthy that he played in the Negro League. He remembers being well accepted by his team mates, earning twenty five dollars for playing. During the Depression twenty five dollars was a great deal of money.
He remembers that Neighborhood House gave out cans of corned beef during those hard times. Once again, in the Depression era, the women in the neighborhood became very creative and made tamales from the canned corned beef. He stresses that there was a lot of cooperation and support among the neighbors. He fondly shared how one neighbor had a radio and would play it “full blast.” This assured that everyone benefited from hearing the music or whatever program was on at the time.
Dr. Bareño was part of the infantry during WWII and saw action in Okinawa, Saipan and Iwo Jima. When he returned to San Diego he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to attend barber college. He was a successful barber for many years. At the age of 43 he decided to enroll in college. He has an associate degree in sociology, a BA in Spanish, a Masters in administration and a Doctorate in human behavior.
He then became a college instructor. Dr. Bareño is another example of a kid from the Neighborhood House who was able to achieve and contribute to our country. He stated that his purpose “was to better people.” I would say his purpose and that of Neighborhood House are similar if not the same.
Everyone that I have interviewed to date wants me to stress that Logan Heights was a neighborhood in which residents took great pride in maintaining their property whether owned or rented. It was a neighborhood that looked to Neighborhood House as the heart and pulse of the community. Dr. Bareño firmly believes that San Diego’s political powers destroyed that vibrant community with a freeway and didn’t much care.
Dr. Bareño was recently interviewed on KPBS where he provides additional insight and history.
Prior articles in this series here.