by Zata Noriega

(Day 1 – 7-day Writing Challenge)

Little Mexico

As an adult I find myself looking back at my childhood realizing only now that it was everything but normal. Although at that time normal would be the only way I could describe it. Unable to comprehend that it was my ignorance that did not allow me to see how abnormal my childhood  really was. Lennox was a small town in Los Angeles California where majority of the population were Latin families. To be more specific majority of the Latin families were Mexican families. Residents of this town and those just passing by came to know it as Little Mexico. It was a city that brought lots of pain to a lot of people. A city that swallowed it’s youth into gangs, violence and crime. By the age of thirteen I had pretty much seen enough violence to fill a feature length action film. Domestic, gang violence, robberies, muggings, shoot outs, drive by’s. If you can name it, I’ve seen it. A high speed pursuit where a masked gunman hung out the passenger side window aiming his gun back while shooting at the police. Sounds like something straight out of a Hollywood screenplay right? Well I saw it, I witnessed it. That one is particularly vivid and engraved in my memory. I think the reason being is that it was one of my very first experiences with violence. I was only four years old maybe even younger. Sitting on the lawn in our front yard playing with a handful of toys and a few family members as we watched this event unfold. The sun was bright, the skies were clear and the clouds were floating all so peaceful. What seemed like a great day to be out and about soaking up the sun quickly turned into a moment I would never forget , a moment that I will always remember. A beige car zooms by at very high speeds. In a residential neighborhood, that in itself was a pretty alarming situation. If I had to take a guess with the knowledge I have now I would say the make and model of the car was a 70s Chevy Monte Carlo. The next thing I can remember is the blairing sound of the police sirens, piercing my ear drums drowning out every other sound. Until being over shadowed by the loud pops of the gun shots that followed. The event transpired quickly​ and was over pretty fast. The culprits then drove off into the surrounding neighborhoods with the squad car not far behind. I remember seeing the tail end of the cop car as it disappeared behind one of the buildings belonging to the local elementary school that was directly across the street from our house. Once the commotion was over I put my head down and my focus instantly went back to my toys as if nothing ever happened. Though this event in my life lasted maybe five seconds, if that. It is an event that will stay with me for an entire lifetime.
I’ve been held at gun point, once right in front of my own house by a gang member looking to bring harm to members of his rival gangs, but thanks to my mother’s courage my brother and I were able to walk away unscathed and with our lives in tact. There was another incident that happened in my late teens where I was having a conversation with a woman in my car. I was behind the wheel, she was in the passenger seat. We had just finished coming back from a night out and we decided to pull over to the side of the curb and talk a bit before dropping her off at her place. It was a warm night so I decided to let some fresh  air in to the car by rolling down the drivers side window. Everything seemed pretty normal as we interacted with one another. Then suddenly our conversation  was interrupted by two gunmen. One on my side of the  car the other on her side. The gunman on my side decided to lean over and rest his gun a few inches from my head. The gunman proceeded to ask me questions as if i was being interageted. So I answered the way my instincts told me how, using the philosophy once spoken by a great man, “the truth will set you free” and so it did exactly that. The gunmen went on their way, we did the same. Although my companion was startled and frightened to the point where she was shaking and quivering I was the complete opposite. Cool, calm and collect. She asked me if I wasn’t afraid and I could honestly reply to her that I was not. It’s not because I have a special kind of courage or anything like that. I believe it’s simply due to me being immune to situations of that nature. Little Mexico had a way of giving thick skin to the folks that had encounters with it on a daily basis. An adventure or a dangerous situation waiting around every corner for anyone and everyone willing to step out and roam it’s streets. Some people lost thier ways, others lost loved ones. In Little Mexico parents burrie thier children and some children burrie thier parents and they burrie them often. Since I left this city I have only been back a couple of times. Just passing through and I have come to realize that it has some sense of power over me, some kinda of trauma that it instilled in me. Passing through there is not easy for me. It’s frightening and unsedleling. As If the ghosts of all that I experience there come back to life.

One Comment on “by Zata Noriega”

  1. Captured my attention right away. I could “see” Little Mexico and the gangs. Look forward to reading more.

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