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Home | Tag Archives: el barrio del diablo

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Jose Rico – Beyond the Barrio: Tweety Bird, Ofelia and the Overnight Makeover

In the Southern California town of La Puente, my sister Gloria shared a home with her good friend Ofelia. One summer in July I visited my sister and upon arrival, I immediately noticed Ofelia’s collection of Tweety Bird figurines all over the kitchen and living room.

Tiny plastic Tweetys, porcelain Tweetys…so many of them “decorated” the place. It was a large collection that included framed pictures of the silly cartoon birdie – there was even a Tweety rug ( don’t step on it ).

The most memorable item was hanging from the ceiling, in the living room’s corner. It was a large yellow plastic cage with a seven inch tall Tweety Bird perched on a swing.

Ofelia said, “Walk up to it”. So I did; and when I was a couple feet away, Tweety proclaimed in a loud, squeaky voice, “ I tawt I taw a puutty cat!”

I cracked up thinking, no home is complete without a Tweety Bird Cage motion-sensor alarm – cause you never now who’s gonna be coming in late at night.

Ofelia owned a modest three bedroom house in what appeared to be a quiet neighborhood. To my surprise, before

I woke up on my very first morning there, I was startled by the crowing of a neighbor’s old rooster. It sounded like it was sitting on a fence just a few feet from my bedroom window.

And when I say an old rooster, I mean he sounded old…or sick.

He had a gravelly crow that hardly sounded like a typical “cock-a-doddle-do”. No, this “foul fowl” was bellowing with a very rusty windpipe. It sounded more like, “Er-er-er-er-errr!”….with a slurring at the end that trailed off which made it both annoying and amusing.

So for the next six mornings I was awakened by the day-breaking or glass-breaking rooster with a sore throat

During my visit, one of the first attractions I was fortunate to see was the Getty Center, located about eight miles north of Santa Monica. The J Paul Getty Museum showcases Greek and Roman artifacts, a separate building where a photography exhibit is housed, American and European art, impressive architecture and wonderfully designed gardens.

“Perseus” Ricci
“Irises” Van Gogh

We spent the day wandering and engaged for almost five hours, mesmerized by multiple classic paintings by the masters.

One of which was “Perseus Confronting Phineus with the Head of Medusa” by Italian painter Sebastian Ricci, circa 1705–1710.

But an especially unforgettable piece by Van Gogh titled “Irises”, actually brought a tear to my eye.

“Sunflowers” Van Gogh

I simply could not believe that I was standing a few feet from the 1889 painting by the Dutch artist – who had completed at least 300 works in his lifetime, but never sold a one. Fast forward to the late 80’s when a tycoon purchased Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” for 39.9 million. Not only is life unfair, its damn ironic.

During my stay Ofelia would come and go, leaving my sister in charge of the house. On certain days we’d have a catch-up chat with Ofelia. In my vacation-mode relaxed state I was up to socializing anytime.

Sometimes Ofelia’s boyfriend, Steve, would stop by to pick her up. One afternoon the four of us sat in the living room chatting for a while when the conversation took a turn. Ofelia began reminiscing about her late brother Tomas.

The story took place in the very same home when her daughter Cecilia was only eight years of age. Cecilia always looked forward to her uncle’s visit. They would all go to the beach, Disneyland or Sea World and have a grand time. At the end of the day they settled in for a quiet night and Tomas would neatly tuck and pull the bedding around Cecilia and then he brushed her long hair.

Ofelia would sit close by reading a favorite bedtime story.

As a year or so went by, the tragic early passing of Tomas saddened family and friends. Things were not the same anymore. At bedtime, a heartbroken Cecilia would cry herself to sleep.

One morning Ofelia was awakened by her daughter’s desperate call, “Mama, mama!” Ofelia ran to her Cecilia’s bedroom to find her in bed, covers tucked around her evenly and her hair had also been nicely brushed. “Oh”, gasped Ofelia, “your Uncle Tomas stopped by to visit you!”

Steve, and I sat there listening, transfixed. He broke the augmented pause by saying,”This is freaking me out!” I then thought to myself, he’s freaked out? I have three more vacation days to spend in this house!

Gloria was quiet when Ofelia turned to her and said, “Isn’t it true Gloria?” Smiling, my sister replied, “Yes, it happened to me too. I woke up one morning with my covers nicely tucked in and my hair was brushed as well.”

As I sat there frozen in place Steve got up and said, “Okay, time for us to go….”, and he and Ofelia left to wherever they were going. My guess is that Steve wanted to go have a shot or two of Jose Cuervo.

Because of the hot summer nights, my bedroom window and door always remained open. That evening, I couldn’t get the story out of my head. I was no longer distracted with anticipation of the morning’s sounds of a sick rooster.

My senses were now heightened. I laid there in a sleepless state still as could be, not wanting to move one bit. It was late and the house was very quiet. All I could hear was my breathing.

Then, from the living room I heard a loud squeaky voice say, “I tawt I taw a puuty cat”. I gulped. The tweety bird cage sensor had gone off – something had walked close to it!

Then, silence again.

In the darkened house I finally fell asleep ….with one eye open and one eye closed.


Jose Oswaldo RicoLeave a comment! I’d like to hear from you.

José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous  columns HERE

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

El Barrio Del Diablo: Fast Forward to the Music – Rememberin’ Stevie

On Sunday August 10,1986, I experienced an incomparable performance by Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, taking it all in from the main floor’s fourth row.

Bonnie Raitt opened the show with her charismatic stage presence, long red hair and a honed style of “guitar-girl slide blues”. Her set list was great which included a memorable cool, slow cover of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”.

At the end, she stepped up to the mike and warned the audience, “Stick around for Stevie Ray….he’s gonna kill ya”.

And he proceeded to with extraordinary musical precision.

On a darkened stage, amid a flood of cheers from an over-anxious sold-out crowd, Stevie took the stage wearing his trademark black hat. Looking down on the pedal board as his stage hand held a flashlight, he nodded slightly with the readiness of a pro.

Then, a piercing intro of five screaming chords tore into the air as the band cranked out “Say What?”, from the 1985 “Soul to Soul” LP. No wah-wah pedal made has ever worked so hard during a song like this one.

And his torrid version of “Mary had a little lamb” – a “playful” take on a nursery rhyme transformed into a blistering blues rock number that seriously jams, sounded like he was literally killing his stratocaster.

His cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” featured the awesome keyboard work of Reese Wynans, who provided the funky groove rhythm to the track. Wonder must have said to himself,”Why didn’t I do that?”, after he first heard it.

The show-stopper, Stevie’s big tip-of-the-hat to Seattle and Jimi, came with “Voodoo Chile”; a searing mind-bending nine-minute trip into the darkest blues ever laid down ( A song so intricate and intense it took SRV one year to learn ).

Playing non-stop, he continued rocking it hard with “Pride and Joy” and “Look at Little Sister”, showing off guitar licks and rhythms with such dexterity and ferocity, the audience screamed in approval after each song, wondering what he could do next. ( You will definitely start dancing when you listen to the intro of “Look At Little Sister! Give it a listen ).

Stevie’s stage performance is best described as a master guitarist that poured himself into each song.

The only time the man spoke was just before his last number, touching the audience with some heart-felt advice: “Its tough out there in this world people…when you see someone who’s down and out, give ‘em a hand”.

He then played a beautiful version of “Life Without You”, letting his strat sing and cry the song’s message to the crowd that night. With an extended standing ovation that exceeded the theater’s expectations, Stevie removed his hat, bowed, waved and slowly walked off stage.

After that SRV experience, it took three years for his next album to hit the stores around June of 1989. “In Step” was another collection of his best material, featuring “Crossfire”, “Tightrope”, a passionate version of “Let Me Love You Baby”.

Plus, “Riviera Paradise”, an ethereal eight minute and fifty second slow blues piece that borders on giving the listener and out-of-body sensation. SRV was back in a big way and touring heavily everywhere, even making an appearance on the David Letterman show.

He was in control of his playing like never before and showed his natural talent every time he stepped on stage.

By March 1990 he was well into a major leg of his tour and headed to one of the biggest nights in blues music history; The Alpine Valley Music Theater in East Troy, Wisconsin. It was the concert event of the year with a who’s who of guitar-slingers slated to delight and thrill a crowd of over 30,000.

Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan. An amazing show was experienced with nothing short of extraordinary performances by all the seasoned professionals.

It was August 27, 1990, and the audience’s celebration after the incredible night of classic and rock blues show had not even started.

The concert’s electricity hadn’t dissipated, but Stevie abruptly made his move to leave despite his brother’s pleas to stay and allow the weather to break – the fog has rolled in thick as pea soup late into that Wisconsin summer night.

But as Stevie said, “I need to go,” Jimmie realized his little brother had made up his mind. It was a costly decision. The helicopter carrying Stevie and four others did not ascend to the correct altitude and a horrible scar was all that was left on a hillside.

The following day, Jimmie went to the site only to find his brother’s hat amongst the wreckage.

The music world lost a kind-hearted man, brother, and an unbelievable musical talent in a blink of an eye. We have his library of songs to hang on to, and the wonderful photos captured so well by countless photographers.

But it still doesn’t take away the hurtful sting of the loss to his countless fans.

One of my favorite quotes of his was, “What I am trying to get across to you is: please take of yourselves and those that you love; because that is what we are here for. That’s all we got, and that is all we can take with us. Are you with me?”

Born in Dallas, Stevie Ray Vaughan was only 35.

Other voices…
“Stevie Ray Vaughan did to music what Michael Jordan did for basketball. I guess you have to be at the right place at the right time and play the right note at the right recording session. Stevie brought blues alive at crucial moments, so far as I’m concerned. Because they didn’t explode B.B. King like that. I think every guitar player I know should have two Bs on his guitar – Stevie recognized the same thing. I’m telling you now, he brought so much to this music, it would take me longer than I got time to explain to you what he did for the blues.”
Buddy Guy

“He was well-loved. Stevie’s the American apple pie blues guitarist par excellence. He’s American and a southern boy; he had all the credentials to be top of the heap, and he was.”
Jeff Beck

“I don’t think anyone has commanded my respect more, to this day. The first time I heard Stevie Ray, I thought, “Whoever this is, he is going to shake the world.”
Eric Clapton

“Stevie Ray Vaughan was a fine player who developed his dramatic style that stands as the technical achievement of bringing his dedication and feeling onto a stage and into the soul. A great guitarist, a great brother, and a great Texan.”
Billy F. Gibbons

“We jammed many times, and I had so much fun. I really miss him. He did some Jimi Hendrix, some Albert King, a little of me, but he had it together for what he wanted to do. He had a direction, and he made it work. The kids really liked his fire.”
Albert Collins

“People didn’t pay attention to the blues. Vaughan was one of the ones who changed that.”
Koko Taylor

Jose Oswaldo RicoDo you recall any rock shows from that era? Leave a comment! I’d like to hear from you.

José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous  columns HERE

El Barrio del Diablo: A Look Back at Life in the Projects – Take me out to the Bullfights!

Our very humble meager lifestyle at the projects along Paisano Drive had us situated just across the street from the Dudley Field parking lot.

The El Paso Sun Kings ballpark would light up the sky above the barrio at night. Little flying beetles we called “frijolitos” would buzz around the street lights as we sat outside listening to the game announcer: “Up to bat and playing left field is Vic Roznoski”, and the crowd would cheer.

As we enjoyed the day’s dissipating heat, niñas would draw a crooked mamaleche pattern on the sidewalk using leftover chalk from school. Their game markers would be a pair of bobby pins linked together or fichas from soda bottles.

Other kids would have a game of Las Escondidas. A friend and I would conduct a little experiment: I’d stand half a block from him and I’d point at the moon and argue it was closer to me than to him. And he would then disagree, and a mini debate would ensue for no more than five minutes.

Then we’d get distracted by the flying frijolitos that we would try to catch.

The baseball games came and went. Day games, evening games. Mi papa never took me out to the ball game. And did I ever ask him to? Hell no. We left him alone – that was another house rule.

mis papas
Mis papas: Antonio Rico Rubio y Gregoria Rico Moreno, in Chihuahua, 1965.

Dejenlo en paz.

But my wise brother Toño took me to see an exhibition game between the Kings and the major league San Francisco Giants. The huge crowd was there to see the legend Willie Mays knock a few out of the park that day. Thanks, bro.

A big burly man at 6’2” and 245, papa was old school and had other interests. He had a knack for impromptu outings: like an overnight camp-out literally at Mount Franklin’s foothills – way up there in the sticks.

We’d arrive at dusk and he’d point me in safe direction to go explore while he put a camp fire together. On the menu: chuletas ( coyotes were salivating, I’m sure ).

Mama loved it cause she just sat back and relaxed. I had a good time but it was kinda weird to me to be out there…imagine camping out with the moon’s landscape as the background.

Another time papa decided to go visit his cousin Consuelo Larrea. I woke up with my brother shaking me, “Get ready, papa wants to go to Chihuahua”. Then he tells me its 230 miles away…nela canela I want to sleep in! But no, even though it was early on a Saturday morning we had a quick snack, packed some bags and we hit the road in our 1958 Chieftan Pontiac. unnamed (2)

My brother drove all the way; and on a lonely stretch of road, I hopped on his lap and took the wheel. He didn’t let up much on the gas, and I felt like Mario Andretti.

Then there were the Friday nights when we’d go to the Ascarate Drive-In to see a mariachi movie. He liked Antonio Aguilar ( his tocayo ), and Pedro Infante. Others we’d listen to at home were Javier Solis and Jorge Negrete. They made up our household’s record rotation along with Trio Los Duendes and Sarita Montiel.

At my cousin Olga's 7th birthday, next door to my abuelo's house
At my cousin Olga’s 7th birthday, next door to my abuelo’s house

But by far, papa’s favorite pastime were “las corridas de toros”. He never missed one during the summer season. And since we frequently visited mis abuelos in Juarez it was hard to miss the huge cartelones positioned at street corners advertising the upcoming bullfights.

Las corridas were scheduled twice a month on Sundays at 5 p.m. And if that wasn’t enough, papa’s enthusiasm for the sport stretched further. He had me fitted in a tailor-made traje de novillero I wore to La Plaza Alberto Balderas or La Plaza Monumental.

Our typical day’s preparation for a bullfight in Juarez went like this: After crossing the bridge, go to la peluqueria across the street from La Plaza de Toros Alberto Balderas. My haircut “natural claro”, was fifty cents.

Papa would get a shave and a haircut, and I was always amazed at how he never flinched when the hot towel was placed on his face.

From there we’d go the Mercado Juarez, the historic icon along la 16 de septiembre. Ese mercado es mas viejo que el caldo. At the market mama would buy produce, pan dulce and Cafe Cotera – the yellow and red packaging had a monkey logo on it.

El Mercado Juarez back in its heyday
El Mercado Juarez back in its heyday
Papa would “wait” for us at his favorite hangout and second home, Los Cuatro Vientos cantina just across the street. His designated parking spot was in front of the bar’s entrance. Los cuida carros took care of the parking meters.

After a couple hours papa would emerge like an upright bear from his den squinting and ready to face the day…mas o menos. We’d go visit my abuelos and get some take out from a taqueria at the end of the block.

An order of beef flautas came with shredded lettuce, guacamole and crema, washed down with an ice-cold Coca.
El Encierro (1)At the parking entrance to La Plaza Monumental was an awesome bronze sculpture titled “El Encierro”, depicting a horseman followed by five bulls on their way to the corral.

I have always felt this monument to be a great work of art and I would stare at it from every angle as we slowly drove past it. It was here in the early sixties that we saw the living legends Manuel Capetillo, Alfredo Leal, Luis Procuna and Joselito Huerta.

These were los mero meros.

Alfredo Leal, Luis Procuna, Manuel Capetillo, and Joselito Huerta
Alfredo Leal, Luis Procuna, Manuel Capetillo, and Joselito Huerta

Like a miniature novice matador in my traje, I walked hand in hand towards the entrance and up the cement steps of La Plaza with a giant father figure that my Tio Nando dubbed, “búfalo”. We were an amusing site of scale, girth and proportion…I looked like a diminutive wind-up tin toy by comparison.

Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 9.07.57 PMOne Sunday afternoon we witnessed a torero’s brilliant performance as he showed off excellent finess and bravura. At the end of a remarkable round, he circled the ring accepting the thunderous applause while the band’s victorious music filled the packed arena.

Everyone was on their feet. Some women tossed a shoe or two as they waited with baited breath to see which would be picked up by the afternoon’s hero. Hundreds of white kerchiefs waved left and right.

Men threw their hats into the ring in approval and others sent their bota bags flying.

One landed near the matador. Without missing a step, he picked up the wine bag and had himself a shot, much to the delight of the crowd that continued to cheer and chant in unison, “Torero-torero”.

Caught up in the excitement, I pulled on papa’s sleeve and reached for his hat,”Papa, deme su sombrero para aventarlo”. “Quitate, quitate!”, he said brushing me away like a pesty fly. I turned back to see hats, shoes, flowers and roses on the the dirt in the bullring. For a munchkin my age, it was a spectacle to behold.

I walked to our car exhausted from an afternoon of bullfights. Papa bought me a souvenir banderilla with the understanding that the safety cork end would remain on the tip, and it would be placed up on a wall at home – to be looked at but not played with.

I was happy with that deal as I carried the banderilla and walked my novillero walk, hand in hand with mi papa, “el búfalo”.


Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor

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