The Lucky Banana Pup


My Grandfather Atanasio, like many other Mexican men was a drinker, a gardener and a tinkerer. Often he would combine all three activities into one afternoon. His inspiration resulted in a backyard of mosaics and fountains (a whole post on this coming soon). Although he passed away in the late 70s many of the plants he grew live on today at the old family homestead, including a great big walnut tree – a favorite of the neighborhood squirrels.

In this photo, he is standing next to what looks like a freshly planted banana tree. Generations of this banana tree live on today, each succession of pups churning out hanging bunches of fruit. This small grove of bananas was divided and spread around the garden, at times the trees were on the verge of taking over swaths of the backyard. The trees are easy to maintain but they do need to be kept in check.

About ten years ago I decided to take a pup (a baby banana plant, they reproduce by sending up shoots from underground rhizomes) home and planted it in a pot. I thought I would carry on the banana growing tradition at my home. I never had a proper place to plant it until I moved to my new place a few years ago. The tree grew tall and flourished, sending up 4 or 5 new pups in one year. I looked forward to harvesting my first bunch of bananas, until one morning when my landlord knocked on the door with a request. She asked if I would remove the banana tree. I told her not to worry the roots were very shallow and would not damage the foundation. She then said Chinese people do not like banana trees and it is bad luck to have the trees growing on her property. As to not offend her and my Chinese neighbors and because it was more a demand than a request, I removed the large banana tree and replanted the pups in pots.

I now have a couple of pups in pots I do not need and would like to keep this banana family going. I’m sure my grandfather received his pup from a friend and so I will continue this tradition. If you would like a banana tree for your garden, leave me a note in the comments area.

Why are bananas never lonely?
Because they hang around in bunches.

Hobbs Battery

(please click to enlarge)

It’s rare to have photographs of people at work, that’s why I was quite excited when I came upon this photograph of my Grandfather Atanasio in work mode at Hobbs Battery Company. He is the first worker on the left. I don’t know too much about his work at the battery shop. I know he also worked at a company called Smallcomb Electric.

What I love about this photograph is it seems to have captured the various personalities of these men, they look to be so different from each other. It’s almost as if the photo was staged. Who is the mysterious Zoot Suiter in the hat? Most striking to me is the fellow with the upturned collar. He looks to be a heartbreaker or the workplace snake. There is the double-headed ghost man and the White guy stuck in the shop full of Mexicans, perhaps he was the boss? The curly-headed worker filling the batteries with toxic goo looks to be the clown, the payaso quick with the jokes and biting comments. My grandfather is so fresh faced here, slightly dazed as if he slept in a little too much. He was probably the one who’d tsk Mexican style while waving his hand away in a sharp motion and saying “Ay, estas chingaderas!” But in the next minute would crack a smile and think about the beer he’d be having at quitting time.


My uncle has been cleaning out the last of my grandmother’s things and recently handed me a big Danish cookie tin containing forty years worth accumulation of my grandmother’s junk drawer. In the jumble of rusted paper clips, plastic stirrers and other flotsam was this badge from the Hobbs Battery Company. What a find! I pleaded with my family to never throw any of my grandmother’s things until I have gone through them for this very reason. I imagine this badge was long forgotten.

Little Castles


My grandmother’s favorite craft/hobby was to construct these little castles from leftover scraps and refuse from around the house. Sometimes her depression era ways would confound and annoy my brother and I but nowadays she’d be rather fashionable. We should be having a resurgence of depression era habits very soon.

She would gather empty cereal boxes, baking soda boxes, oatmeal canisters, toilet and cardboard tubes and the ubiquitous Bisquik boxes that seemed to be everywhere in her house (her breakfast specialty was waffles) and glue them together to form the shape of the castle. She’d then spray paint them whichever color suited her fancy but usually white. From the Sunday Los Angeles Times magazines she’d collect clippings of windows, doors and all sorts of other objects which she would glue on the exterior of the castles. The steeples were made from construction paper. We’d sometimes help her but she seemed to find solace and relaxation in creating these little castles on her own.

Hospital Quiet


A photo of my great-grandmother Matilde taken somewhere in Los Angeles, perhaps Echo Park. Her heavy coat suggests the photo was taken in the winter.
Although, she died long before I was born, something about her smile seems familiar and knowing. It’s as if I can tell exactly what kind of person she was through this photo: spunky, warm, mischievous, responsible and independent.
She died in her 50s and quite tragically of a heart attack. It was told to me that this heart attack came after she received a error ridden phone bill of an extremely high amount. Her second husband was never told of the phone bill because the family believed if he knew this was the cause of her death, he would have gone to the phone company and killed someone!
I was told they were very in love with each other.

Coincidence, part one

Love and Rockets, #13 by Jaime and Beto Hernandez

By coincidence, the creator of the above publication came up to me when I was 14 years old and told me I reminded him of a character named Maggie from a comic book called Love and Rockets. Interestingly, the story of said character eerily mirrored my life for the next six years, love life and all. I related very closely to this fictional world of SoCal Chican@ punks, cholos and weird, spooky unexplained happenings – it brought me a bit of solace during the dark days of my teen years.

Mr. Freeze-Dr. Know

Not knowing there were any connections between the above story and incident, I saw this band one and half years later after reading my first Love and Rockets comic book (which was bought at a store called Y-Que.)


I was in Solvang a couple of years ago and there was this super friendly Chicana janitor that was cleaning the public restrooms. For some ridiculous reason, Solvang management decided to close the public restrooms early but she was covertly letting us use them (she had the key). She adamantly agreed with us that it wasn’t fair to the visitors to close the restrooms at 5pm.
I begin chatting with her and then asked “So did this area have a lot of Dutch Danish people before or something? Is that why they made this town?” She had been so knowledgeable and positive in our conversation, it seemed she could have been hired by the Solvang Chamber of Commerce or something but when she answered me, I was taken aback. A dark look came over her face and she said “Huh? This was once all Mexican land! My ancestors are the ones from this area, not the Danish! How come they didn’t make a town dedicated to my ancestors? My culture? My people that created all this?” And she swept her arm out over the town and towards the hills in the distance. Whoa, I was shocked but I was also like “Right on, hermana!” My friend who was with me was equally impressed.
I’m always surprised when I encounter subversiveness in the most unlikely of places.

La Puente Ranch

My great-grandmother Matilde, her sister Trini, my great-great grandmother (and Yaqui descendant) Matilde Moreno Vizcarra, known in my family as “Nana Grande.” Photograph taken on my great-grandmother’s ranch in La Puente. (click to enlarge)

They bought the ranch after World War Two ended as a relaxing country location for my great uncle Hector who had just finished serving a harrowing stint in the Navy, part of the Pacific fleet. Unfortunately, the property was located much too near some railroad tracks and the nighttime rumbling of the trains terrified my uncle – it sounded much too similar to the war noises he thought he’d left behind. He quickly scrambled back to the original family compound in Echo Park. My great-grandmother lived in La Puente the rest of her life.

De que parte?

My grandfather’s letter to his carnal, 1946

When I was in elementary school (Hillcrest Elementary in Monterey Park) I was often asked the question: “What are you?” Sometimes I would act coy and answer “What do you mean?” but I knew what they meant. Then they’d ask “What’s your nationality?” and I’d say “American” but I knew that wasn’t the answer they wanted. Then they said “No, your parents.” And I’d say “They’re American too.” After being surprised by that answer they would finally ask “Aren’t you Mexican?” And I’d answer “Yes” but thinking to myself : Of course, I’m Mexican. The whole school is filled with Mexican and Chicano kids with the odd Cuban or Central American kid thrown in. The rest of the students were Asian and I’m sure they weren’t asked such questions.

Then I would get asked the question that I’d been really trying to avoid in the first place “What state of Mexico is your family from?” There is no Mexican that has not been asked this question, I even ask it to other Mexicans myself. I’ve always felt awkward answering though because my family has been here for a few generations and I have no real ties to any state in Mexico. I have no grandparents to visit, no Mexican cousins, no houses to visit during the holidays and yet I had to give an answer. I would reply “My mother’s family from Sonora and my father’s family from Michoacan.” Then there’d be this “Oh” as if my response said everything they could possibly want to know about me. In Mexican culture the state you are from is a big deal and there are enough cultural variations in each state for this assessment to be real.

For instance, I’ve always had a slight prejudice against people from Guadalajara, Mexico. Perhaps it’s been because most of the folks I’ve met from Guadalajara here in Los Angeles tend to have more money and also more European heritage which I think makes them slightly snobby. Lately too, as I’ve been doing research on my family genealogy and history, I’ve really come to identify with the states of my maternal great grandparents: Sonora, Durango and Chihuahua. So perhaps, that’s influenced my preference for the northern states.

My paternal grandfather’s family has always been a bit of a black hole. The story passed down to me was my paternal grandfather was deported soon after my father was born and not allowed back into the US. My grandmother told me she was in love with my grandfather but her parents objected to their relationship and kept them apart. They weren’t married when my father was born. She told me my paternal grandfather would send letters but my grandmother’s father threw them away and eventually the tenuous lines of communication faded away.

After asking my dad a million times for info about his father, I finally got it out of him that he had some of these letters. I was thrilled! What secrets would I uncover? Would the mysteries and the countless fictional narratives I’ve created around this man finally be resolved? I’m still working my way through the letters and there’s quite a bit to analyze and decipher. I’ve been impressed by my grandfather’s writing skills, for a laborer/farm worker (perhaps he’d been more) he’s very articulate.  It’s also interesting to notice the language variation between when he writes to my grandmother in a flowery and romantic way and the letter to his “carnal” (above) which is infused with border lingo.

The most shocking discovery about my grandfather’s past and one I would never have dreamed of, is that he and his family are from Guadalajara! My prejudices come back to haunt me. I knew he was from Jalisco but because he has always been so mysterious to me, I just assumed it might not be totally true. Guadalajara is where he finally returned after his unsuccessful attempts to make it to the US. There are few letters from a prison in Texas where he was kept after being caught trying to cross. Many sore spots surrounding his non-existence in my family’s life still persist, things better left unsaid on a public blog. My mother and father did try and look for him once in Guadalajara but their attempts were as unsuccessful as my grandfather’s border crossing skills.

According to the letters my grandfather and great-grandmother lived at this address:
Familia Ybarra-Ramos
Calle Independencia 110
Guadalajara, JAL, 44100, Mexico

Perhaps one day I will make a pilgrimage to Guadalajara and search the city for familiar faces.

excerpt from letter:

Pues yo cria que te avain castigado duro la migracion. Pero veo que eres invunerable y no hay frontera que se te cierre.