A Tale of Two Barrios

June, 2013

“Barrio” means community. Thanks to the Alisal Union School District, and visionary leaders like Jose Castañeda and state Assemblyman Louis Alejo, Jr., Salinas, now more than ever, has not one, but two competing barrios: the Eastside and the rest of town. The distinction is not strictly geographic, of course, because there are many people of opposite stripes living on each side. Nevertheless, influential elements of one barrio pride themselves on their outlaws, gangsters and contempt for common unity. The other side wishes they would get over themselves and grow up. Despite all the time, money and effort to pull the city together with image studies, logos, slogans and events, you can watch the chasm get wider and wider every day on TV and in The Californian.

But it’s never too late to undo a serious mistake. A column in last Saturday’s Californian by Ernesto Alvero reminds us of several remarkable individuals of Latin heritage (who said they had to be Latino?) that could replace gangster Tiburcio Vasquez as a role model for kids growing up in Eastside gangs, including Raquel Welch. Woa, she’s Latina? Yes, not only is the stunning Raquel from Bolivia, she joins Jim Plunkett, Richie Valens, Joan Baez and others as entertaining alternates to the reprobate Vasquez as the patron saint of the Eastside. On the flip side, Phil Moore, already cursed with a white-sounding name (ala Welch, ironically), might protest that naming a predominantly Hispanic school after a living Latin luminary might be contrary to the rules of appellatory etiquette. Not that rules or laws mean much to some on the Eastside. And anyway, given the size of today’s generation gap, I’m sure zero pre-teens would respond to Raquel’s name as enthusiastically as would more seasoned citizens still boasting a heartbeat. Well kiddies, if you’ve seen the poster hiding the guy’s escape tunnel in reruns of The Shawshank Redemption, you’ll catch a clue.

There’s the rub that makes thinking about Salinas’ image so infuriating: so many wonderful people to choose from and they go straight for the creep. Then they make speeches about justice, equity and pride — code words for racist politics. That tells you something about the mindset over there. It’s not about promoting an image all of the city can be proud of as much as it is about one part of town thumbing its nose (or maybe using another digit) at the side it dislikes. What are we to do?

After much soul-searching and the deepest heartfelt desire to heal our community from this cancerous schism, I most humbly offer myself upon the altar of notoriety. It’s not too late, Alisal, please consider renaming the school after – me. I’ve got the right surname, I’m the right color and I like chorizo con huevos. I’m right here in town and could go over and make speeches about liberty and justice for all anytime you want. In fact, I once was the Grand Marshal for the first-ever Mexican Independence Day Parade in Salt Lake City (long story). Full disclosure, however: my Spanish isn’t very good and I’m a pretty conservative guy. I know what a bad message you believe that would send to the children. To some, those caveats make me a gun-toting woman hater, a Constitution-loving Bible-thumper and, apparently, a potential target for harassment by certain all-powerful government agencies that we used to respect (or at least tolerate). Be that as it may, I am now willing to set aside the crushing anonymity of a working stiff for the limelight of city-wide adoration. Certainly renaming the school after me would do the most good for the community, but I might settle for a small street name or even a soccer field. My contact information is below.

Well, there you have it. Putting our differences aside, the city comes together and we walk arm in arm as one barrio again. I’m already feeling the blush of civic pride.