Part II of the Lives of Girls
By Maria E. Garcia
Today’s article is a continuation of last week’s conversation with Amparo “Tuti” Zumaya, Consuelo Zumaya Lopez, Noralund Cook Zumaya, Rosa Zatarian Ramirez, Armida Piña, and Bertha Castro Zumaya. While hard economic times affected everyone, there were different societal expectations about what were considered appropriate activities for boys and girls during this time period. These women all provide rich details about the lives of girls who grew up during the war years.
Rosa Zatarian has her own memories about Neighborhood House and about Logan Heights. She and her sister would lay in bed on Friday night and listen to the Latest Hits program. This program came on at 9 p.m. every Friday and they couldn’t wait to listen to the music of the 1940s.
Rosa also remembered that when her family lived in El Paso and did not own a radio, a neighbor would place his radio in the window. Neighbors would then bring chairs and sit in the yard to listen to President Roosevelt’s fireside chat broadcasts. According to Rosa’s mother “Él nos quitó el hambre.” (He took our hunger away.) It seems that helping and supporting each other was a way of life all over our country.
Rosa came home from working at the aircraft plant and found all her family waiting for her to arrive home.
Rosa shared a story about her first husband Armando. He was one of the many boys that played and hung out at Neighborhood House. All the women agreed that he was a nice quiet man. One day this all changed. Armando turned to robbing stores. Even today, over forty years later Rosa cannot understand his behavior. It seemed so out of character. Rosa came home from working at the aircraft plant and found all her family waiting for her to arrive home.
Someone handed her the green sheet (San Diego Tribune) and she read how Armando, aka “little rifleman,” had robbed nine places on Highland Avenue in National City. The family and community were shocked. Rosa had no idea Armando was capable of such a thing. She thinks that drinking is what changed Armando.
Coach Pinkerton from Neighborhood House went to court and testified as to Armando’s character. Armando was given five years to life for his crimes. Rosa waited for Armando while he was in prison. He was released after three years and Coach Pinkerton hired him to teach boxing at Neighborhood House.
Rosa and Armando would be invited to have dinner at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Pinkerton. Coach Pinkerton was always reaching out to “his boys” and their families, trying to guide them in the right direction. Armando did get in trouble again and was told by a judge that he never wanted to see him in San Diego again. He moved to Los Angeles. Armando and Rosa had divorced.
After the divorce Rosa went to work at General Dynamics. A coworker of Rosa’s kept telling her he wanted to introduce her to another coworker. Rosa had been divorced and a single mom for eight years and was not interested in meeting anyone. As it turned out the person that the coworker wanted her to meet was Jerry Zatarian, a man she already knew but had not seen for many, many years.
Jerry had been a neighborhood boy and Rosa’s first boyfriend. Rosa was fourteen years old and Jerry was seventeen years old at the time. They would meet at the Cornet Theater and hold hands. Later Jerry went into the service and was sent to Japan.
They wrote each other for a period of time and then the letters stopped. Now Jerry was also divorced and had a daughter. Jerry and Rosa were married for nineteen years prior to his death. Today she refers to Jerry as the love of her life.
All the girls remembered Chencha peeking through the window to make sure her daughter was there and that she was behaving herself.
Bertha Castro Zumaya describes herself as mischievous teenager. Her mother did not allow the girls to go to the dances at Neighborhood House. Bertha was 15 or 16 years old and loved to dance. She would use any pretext to sneak over to the dance if only for an hour. At times her excuse was that she was going to the store or to ask a friend something. Instead, she would rush to the Neighborhood House. She always got in trouble for it.
The woman wore fishnet stockings, had bright red hair and had “Ginger” tattooed on her leg. To this young girl it all seemed rather glamorous. Bertha approached the woman and told her: “When I grow up I want to be just like you.”
She says it was worth getting hit to be able to dance for an hour. All the girls remembered Chencha peeking through the window to make sure her daughter was there and that she was behaving herself. Girls were kept close to home and constantly under the watchful eye of their mother.
Bertha also remembers walking past the La Bamba night club and seeing the ladies of the evening standing outside. She loved seeing the way they were dressed and did not understand what their profession was. One day she approached one of the women.
The woman wore fishnet stockings, had bright red hair and had “Ginger” tattooed on her leg. To this young girl it all seemed rather glamorous. Bertha approached the woman and told her: “When I grow up I want to be just like you.” The woman told her, “No you don’t” and proceeded to tell her she was never to walk in front of that club again. This is all it took to scare Bertha. She would walk across the street or down the other block to avoid walking in front of La Bamba.
The Cherry gang was well known for causing problems in the neighborhood. They were in constant fights with the Mute gang from National City. In general, anyone from National City was known as the “mutes.” The name was also used to describe any National City gang.
The women all remember members of the Cherry gang going to confession on Saturday or sometimes Sunday morning, then attending Mass on Sunday. The other days of the week were spent causing havoc in and around the neighborhood. Eventually a judge invited some of the members of the Cherry gang to enlist in the service or serve time.
Thank you to all these women for sharing their stories. A special thank you to Tuti Zumaya for hosting us.
The complete History of Neighborhood House in Logan Heights series is available here.