• May 18, 2022
 Back to the Barrio: A Look Back at Life in the Projects – It’s All Relative

Far left: My father Antonio Rico and his sister Luz to his right. Flower girl: My dad’s cousin, Elvira.

Back to the Barrio: A Look Back at Life in the Projects – It’s All Relative

My parents grew up in the Juarez neighborhood known as La Chaveña. The youngest of five, I was the only one born on this side, in El Paso’s St Joseph Medical Clinic.

My siblings all gave their first cries in our grandparents house on the street called La Cinco de Febrero.

We made the move to EP in the mid 50’s moving from one rental house to another. I have blurry recollections of a tot’s life in the 2nd Ward or, El Segundo barrio. It was when we moved to central EP that we settled in the projects next to Paisano Drive from 1960 to 1965.

I fondly recall the countless outings and weekly visits to our abuelos house; it was like clockwork every Sunday.

Next door to my grandparents was my aunt Emma and uncle Fito’s house (who were also my godparents), and at the end of the block was a mighty fine taqueria that served delicious flautas.

I was a quiet kid, never saying much around grown-ups when we visited our relatives. I’d whisper my hellos but mostly listened to the adults and their platica (chats). If asked about school or my scribbly drawings mom would ask me to bring along, I would respond in a painfully shy manner while staring at my shoes. Then, I’d anxiously seek my cousin’s company for a game of hide and seek.

If my cousins weren’t home, I’d slowly stroll around my grandma’s or uncle’s house, gazing into framed images that transported me to another time: Someone in uniform; an older cousin with a somber look and posed slightly to the left. As the adult conversation continued, I stared at my abuelita’s wedding picture and her beautiful gown, and admired my abuelito’s nice suit.

Another photo caught my attention of another wedding party where even the bridesmaid wore a veil. And as we visited other aunts and uncles, I always took time to see the ceremony photos that were prominently displayed and noticed how the wedding party had absentee smiles.

My grandparents Antonio & Francisca Rico

But all these captures had similarities; the dresses were exquisitely detailed and the men’s suits were tailored to perfection. Gloves added class and formality; most of all, the photographer’s composition and capture of light and shadow was immaculate.

As the years passed I still wondered about my parent’s wedding pictures. Why weren’t they displayed? Were they stored away in a box somewhere in the house?

Eventually, with some photography know-how in my later years, I made some very good quality copies of my relative’s vintage photographs using a digital SLR camera with high resolution settings. (My tias would smile as they noticed my camera bag in hand).

I made prints of my grandparents wedding, my aunt and uncles, and sadly, portraits of tios and tias that I haven’t seen in a couple decades. I was now on a mission and wanted to find my parents collection to complete my set of family photos from yesteryear.

So one day at my mom’s I was ready to ask some pointed questions. I approached her and said,”Mama, I’ve seen my abuelo’s and some of my tio’s wedding pictures in their homes – why haven’t I seen yours and dad’s? Did you have a photographer at your wedding?”

“Oh,” she quickly replied,”We couldn’t afford a photographer”. Puzzled, I pressed on, “But you were married in a church in Juarez?” “Yes”, she casually replied, “I wore a pretty dress and a horse and buggy picked me up at my house and took me to the church steps where your dad waited for me.”

With raised eyebrows, I now felt like I was getting somewhere…“Wow mom, how nice….and our relatives were there?” “Of course they were!” (How silly of me to ask).

With the short Q&A over, I was disappointed that we never owned any photos of my parents wedding day. Mom didn’t elaborate and I sat there wondering how we could have pictures of my grandparents, tios and tias, but none of my very own mom an dad. It wasn’t making sense to me.

I sat there with no further questions and left that it at that.

Until much later when the subject came up when discussing family times with my oldest sister Gloria. I could ask her anything and she was the best contact in our immediate family that could clarify and correct any stories or half-truths anybody told.

“Sis”, here’s a question from left field”, I said. She listened to every word of my conversation with our mom and her recollection of her “wedding day”. Gloria nodded slightly with curious attention and the patience of Job. When I finished, she looked at me with a wry smile and uttered, “Mom said that to you?”

With some hesitation in my voice I managed a “yes-s-s?”

Her cheshire cat grin said it all. ”Oh, my!…Dont you know that mom and dad eloped? Se fueron a caballo!” I gasped. “No, I had no idea”. Gloria was now on a roll…there was no stopping this surprising confession, “Her dad, Abuelito Rosendo, never liked our papa! One day he caught our dad running down the block after visiting mom at their apartment. Abuelito went inside, got his gun and came out firing at our dad!”

My grandfather Jose Rosendo Moreno.
(My mom’s gun-totin’ father)

”WHAT?” My eyes got as big as saucers. My sister wrapped this up with, “Papa knew that our Abuelito Rosendo would never approve of their engagement!”

You could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather. Gloria sipped her soda as I sat there speechless, taking it all in. These were big family headlines and I was there to hear it first. Or was I the last to know? I shook my head and left it at that.

Maybe not.

I should have been an investigative journalist because I couldn’t leave this alone. Questions persisted so I continued my mini quest to tie up a loose ending to this story which had taken a major left turn. All I wanted was a copy of my parents wedding picture.

Instead I learned about a grandfather with a gun, my parent’s not-so-secret romance, their elopement and a wedding that never occurred. Sounds like an episode from a mexican novela (soap opera).

Not convinced about any of what I had been told, I sought my Tio Abelardo’s version. Mom’s younger brother, he had moved into our house after my dad had passed, and kept my mom company for many years. I was visiting them when the right moment came. I casually began the conversation with one of his favorite topics: old cinema.

He loved talking about movie stars from the golden era, enjoyed sharing trivia and at times it was hard to get him to stop. I casually switched topics and asked him about my parents eloping.

“Tio, I need some clarification. I was talking with mom about her wedding day, and she mentioned a horse and buggy picked her up and took her to the church”. He listened. “So, I told Gloria that story and she was surprised, because she told me my parents eloped. She said Abuelo Rosendo did not like my dad and caught him leaving his apartment. He got his gun and shot at my dad as he ran down the block”.

Relaxed and composed, my Tio said,”Yes, he had a gun…but he didn’t shoot bullets at your dad. They were blanks!” He nonchalantly got up to get his coffee in the kitchen where mom was reading the paper.

I didn’t know know whether to laugh or yell out loud in frustration. Running the layered account in my mind, from beginning to end, I realized this story had multiple endings…depending on which relative I asked.

I sat there shaking my head and I left it at that.


Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous  columns HERE

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