Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Manuelito, bring me my eggs! (Manuelito, trae me mis huevos!)

Growing up in rural South Texas, one always had a sense of the country. Farm animals seemed to have a constant presence and importance around the house. There were chores to take care of for everyone, including a 7-year-old boy still trying to figure out who he was and why he lived on a farm, sort of. But, it wasn't a farm. The four-room frame house was but three blocks away from Main Street on the outskirts of town. And, we didn't have pastures or pens for cattle and horses. We had what we called a "paplote" (windmill) for fresh ground water, a hen house and a place where we would fatten the pigs, but we were not living in a true farm. Yet, we didn't live in town, either.

It was in the small four-room frame house with a cement porch facing the garden on the east side of the house that I spent my formative years. While mom and dad worked and lived in the city, I would be taken care of by Nana and José Ángel Flores, the person I would call "abuelo" (grandpa), but later found out he was my great uncle. Nana was his sister and she was my grandmother, but I just called her Nana 'cause she took care of me. Nevertheless, it was clear José Ángel was the head of the household. His wife had died in 1948, about the time of my birth. So, I never knew my "abuela" (grandma), so to say. I only had Nana, who led most of her life guarding a family secret that was not revealed until my father died. My father never knew who his "real" mother was, but such is life and that is another story.

Right now, let's talk about José Ángel Flores. He was a tall, handsome man with deep blue eyes and striking white hair, as I recall. He must have been a very handsome man in his youth. He was light-complected, pero puro (but all) Mexicano, that's for sure. He had worked as a farm laborer all his life, from the fields near Goliad to the those in the South Texas brush country. His hands were calloused because of the hard work. Now in his late 70s, he had settled down, retired and would only do odd jobs to have some spending money. He didn't drink or smoke and seemed the fountain of health. His 6-foot-2, 250-pound frame look sturdy and firm and it looked as if he could still handle himself in whatever situation might arise. José Ángel was a solid person, a caballero (gentlemen), but also somewhat of a prankster, especially with the younger generation of the Flores clan.

He liked to embarrass my cousins and I by using words that had double meanings and often would make rhymes that would embarrass us. This happened to my cousin, Manuel Arredondo. He was my age and as he would be walking up to the our country home, José Ángel , 'buelo (we all called him abuelo) would shout out at the top of his lungs - "Ay viene Manuel Arredondo, fundió hediondo" (suffice it to say that hediondo means smelly and the other word is part of the human anatomy).

At about 5:30 p.m. each day he would urge me to go the hen house and say, "¡Manueito, trae me mis huevos!" (Manuelito, go get my eggs!). Nana would just burst out laughing. The double entendre could well have meant that he had lost his testicles and I had go get them for him. She would stop her laugh mid-way and then sternly rebuke her brother. " José Ángel, no digas cosas así. Vas a mal acostumbra al niño". (Jose Angel, don't phrase things that way. You're going to set a bad example for the boy).

Dutifully, I would go and get the "huevos" (eggs). I would put them in a mid-size pail which I had stuffed with hay to make sure the "huevos" did not crack. After all, the last thing I wanted to do was crack my abuelo's eggs, right?

"Cuidadito con mis huevos, Manuelito. Son my especial, (Be careful with my eggs, Manuelito. They are very special)," he would shout at me as he sat on his rocking chair on the porch enjoying the cool southeasterly breeze stemming from the Gulf of Mexico.

Nana would again rebuke him. "Ay qué hombre tan grosero, (What a rude man)," she would say, before breaking out into a loud laugh and taking a sip of the homemade lemonade which seemed a fitting break from the heat that summer day.

I hardly ever reacted to the taunting. I was used to it. It was a daily occurrence. Somehow, the cackle to the hens was soothing and I didn't mind going from nest to nest gathering the fresh "huevos" so that our family could have something to eat. When I picked up the eggs, they were still warm from the sun rays entering the hen house and, of course, from the hens roosting on them. I wondered, "Are we eating baby chickens tomorrow morning?" I would smile at the thought and continue my chore. Every day I would pick up about a dozen fresh eggs. Nana would sell some of them to our gringo neighbors the next day. She would make about 50 cents from the half-dozen eggs she would sell them. At five days a week, that's $2.50 cents she would make for us. It helped the family income. I heard the rooster crow as the evening gave way to the night and the hens started to dutifully come in to roost for the night. They looked like a little army of drunken birds making their way into the hen house, toddling to and fro as if trying to find their balance. Every now and then, one would stop to scratch the dirt and forage for a late-evening meal. Their cackling was dying down. The rooster made sure they all went in to the hen house as I exited the chicken coop and snapped the door shut behind me.

"Manuelito, ven aquí (Manuelito, come here)!" Nana told me from the rocker on her porch. "Ven a tomarte una limonada con nosotros (Come drink a lemonade with us)."

"Ay voy (I'm on the way)," I answered. "Ya recogí los huevos de mi abuelo (I already picked up my grandpa's eggs)."

Their laughter faded into the evening breeze. I picked up the ice-stopped glass next to Nana's chair on the porch and sipped the ice cold lemonade. . . . . It was a good day to live in the country in South Texas.
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Labels: chicano, growing up, Mexican American
¡Mama, ay viene el negro! (Mom, the Black man is coming)
It's hard to say when a child first solidifies a memory of his or her life. Growing up in rural South Texas, I remember the house we lived in when I was but two or three years old. It was a small wooden frame house with the white paint peeling off and a bright red trim on the window frames and outdoor porch. It was next to El Convento (the convent), better known as Little Flower School. El Convento was a towering three story white stucco structure with a green-tiled roof. On summer evenings, the shade from El Convento would bring welcome shade to our back yard, making it the perfect place for a niño (child)to wander around, dig holes, find worms, throw rocks or just get lost in the wonderment of the outdoors.

I admit, I don't remember much about my childhood at age 2 or 3. But, one memory sticks out. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, about 10 a.m., my mother would ask me to sit by the window and wait for the ice man to come. For some reason, I obeyed and stood still for at least 10 minutes watching out the window. I don't know why I obeyed. Like most two- or three-year-old boys, I usually would run helter-skelter through the house or backyard daring my mom to catch me. When she did, it was only 'cause I let her. Ha!

Still, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings I would take my place at the window facing the street and look to the east, where the ice man's usual trek to our house originated from. It was almost like clock work. I didn't have to wait long after my mom asked me to watch for him.

Sure enough, soon enough, the clip-clop, clip-clop of the mule pulling the wagon through the caliche and chapopote (tar) lined streets could be heard. Periodically, the wagon would stop to deliver ice to faithful customers. The man would get off the wagon, get a pair of giant clippers and pin the 25- or 50-pound blocks of ice. With little effort, he would haul them down and take them inside the house. He was a gracious man. I could hear him speaking to the neighbors. He would speak in both English and Spanish. "Si señora, gracias (Yes, ma'am, thanks)" he would say, tipping his hat to the woman. "You can pay me Friday," was his usual way of saying goodbye.

Clip-clop, clip-clop the wagon went until he came within 25 yards of our house. That's when I would yell out at the top of my lungs, "¡Mama, ay viene el negro!" (Mom the Black man is coming!). She would answer back always, "Ay voy! (I'm coming)." Both of us would wait patiently at the front door as the wagon pulled up in front of our house and the hulking man would get down. "Hola Maria, Manuelito, how are you this morning?"

His name was "Ash!" He got the name from the white folks in town because ash is dark black, like the color of his skin. He was the patriarch of the only black family in a town composed of 75 percent Mexicans and about 25 percent white, give or take 3 to 5 percentage points.

"Ash" was a wonderful, caring person. He worked for the ice house on the outskirts of town. Later, I would learn that it was at that same outhouse where the bodies revolutionary Mexicanos of the early 20th century were brought and burned. My abuelita (grandma, Nana, would always make the sign of the cross and look toward the sky when we passed by the ice house. I always wondered why, until I was a college professor and did some research. The rumors were true.

But, "Ash," what a wonderful man. He would get off the wagon, walk to the door, shake my mom's hand and brush my head with his big black hands and ask, "¿Que tanto, hoy? (How much today?). Mom would usually buy a 25-pound block of ice. On the weekends, she would often buy a 50-pound block (Or, so I remember. Mostly they talked in English and I only really new to speak Spanish at the time). "Ash" would bring the block of ice into our house and place it at the top of our refrigerator. It would keep our milk, meat and other products fresh for at least two days before it melted.

His job complete, "Ash" would drive away to his next customer. I would watch each time with fascination as the mule-driven wagon would pull away. Clip-clop, clip-clop the mule's hoofs would sound as they pounded the pavement with a rhythm that seemed to deny time. Clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop the sound of the hoofs echoed through the streets. And, then, the wagon was gone. If I listened close enough in the still of the morning bothered only by the barking of dogs wandering the streets, I could hear "Ash" greet his customers. He had a deep, strong voice that seemed to carry through the streets. "Yes, ma'am, how much?"

"Ash" was his name. I never knew his real name. I knew that he had kids, some as young as me, I found out later. But, I would never see them in school. Later, I would go to Little Flower School and then to high school in my hometown. I never saw a Black face in my classroom. You see, Blacks were not allowed to go to school (public or private, I presume) in my hometown. They would have to drive more than 30 miles to go to school in another South Texas town. And, if I recall, correctly, "Ash" was the only Black face I saw in town. Much later, my sister, my step father and I would run into him at the ice house. He picked up my sister and she looked at him curiously. She was four years old at the time. Instinctively, she took her right hand and rubbed her index finger on his face and then looked at it to see if anything had rubbed off.

"Ash" just let out a big roaring laugh as both my step-father and I grinned from ear-to-ear. "No child. It don't rub off. That's there permanently on my face," he said as he gave her a big hug while my sister wrapped her arms around his neck and bulky shoulders.

In an instant, my thoughts wandered back to my childhood and how I was so enthralled with the prospects of a Black man visiting our humble home. I could see myself waiting patiently at the window. I would be wearing my cachucha (baseball cap) and hugging my osoito (teddy bear) and looking eastward as the sound of the clip-clop, clip-clop of the mule-driven wagon would get nearer. He would approach our house, stop the wagon,the mule would neigh and and Ash would bring the ice down, come into our house and put it into our "refrigerator." We didn't have electricity yet in our house. It was 1950.

Shortly, the Black man (el negro), whom I only knew as "Ash" all my life, would be gone. It was time for me to go back to being a little boy.

A vist from the Knight of Spades (Una visita del Caballo de Espadas)

rowing up in South Texas, it was not unusual for a child to have near brushes with the Mexican folk healing tradition known as curanderismo. Children were always visiting a curandera (faith healer) for maladies such as "mal de ojo" (evil eye), empacho (stomach problems) or susto (fright or shock). We saw faith healing as an art, a "don" - a calling or a gift - that gave these special people a relation with the supernatural to help cure illness, calm fears and restore faith among the Mexican population.

Closely related to that was the relationship to the occult, at least in my view. Growing up in the South Texas brush country, we all knew that certain people had special powers. There was talk of lechuzas (male withces), brujas or brujos (withces) who would cast magic spells on people and "make things happen." Some of the conversation on the occult was related closely to the old 13th century Spanish "barajas" or card deck used widely in Mexico, especially during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The deck used in Mexico consists of 48 cards and has four suits. The four suits are bastos (clubs), oros (literally "golds",or golden coins), copas (cups) and espadas (swords). According to legend, the four suits are thought to represent the four social classes of the Middle Ages in Europe. The suit of coins represents the merchants, the clubs represents the peasants, the cups represent the church and the swords represent the military. The cards are numbered. Thus, you would have "el seis de copas (Six Cups)", and so on. In the traditional Spanish card deck used in Mexico, the last three cards of each suit have pictures similar to the jack, queen, and king in an Anglo-French deck, and rank identically. They are the sota, which is similar to the jack and generally depicts a page or prince, the caballo (knight, literally "horse"), and the rey (king), respectively.

Each card has powers, according to legend, if you know how to use them. The suit of spades, in particular, is a powerful one. Spades, according to lore, make reference to the health or mental state of a person, perhaps the one being analyzed. They are almost always negative and related to accidents, illnesses or uncomfortable things occurring in one's life. In the suit of spades, one of the most powerful figures is the "Knight of Spades or Caballo de Espadas."

This card, came to visit our house one night.

José Ángel Flores, the man I referred to "abulelo (granpa)" was an expert when it came to "working with" the Spanish card deck used in Mexico. And, he taught us all to play games like malilla, la malilla platicada and conquián, to mention a few. But he would also dabble into the occult. Some times, late at night, he would brew a pot of coffee on the old wood burning stove and "work with" the cards for what seemed hours. He would mumble words in Spanish which, to an 8 or 9-year-old just learning English, resembled the scary mutterings of the witches in the movie Snow White, where the witches were boiling water in troubled waters as they hunched over a pot of green steaming stew. I was never allowed to see him to do this. He was in the kitchen of the four-room house. I was relegated to one of the bedrooms or living room. At times, he would get visits from the townspeople who would ask him to "leer las cartas (read or work the cards for them). The sessions would last 15 to 30 minutes and they would talk very low. It was very private stuff, I figured. I could hear him shuffle the deck of cards, ask a couple of important questions to the person seated across the kitchen table from him and then, as I said earlier, mutter some words (I don't know if they were Spanish) that sounded more like incantations. The person would soon leave. He would always tell them "Vaya con Dios (Go with God)," which I thought was strange because what he had just done did not seem to be a religious ceremony. As I grew older, I wanted to learn more about this.

One particular night, when my Tía Mage (Aunt Maggie) was visiting, I somehow managed to sneak into the bedroom next to the kitchen by telling Nana (my grandma) that I was sleepy and wanted to go to bed. I was not sleepy. I wanted to hear what was going in the next room. There were no doors. As was the custom back then, a sheet served as the only barrier between rooms. I laid down and Nana sat besides me on the bed, suspicious of what I was plotting.

Again, I heard the conversation in Spanish. I could hear the concern in Tía Mage's voice. José Ángel, my grandpa, sounded very serious. I could hear my Tía Mage sob slightly. Whatever it was they were talking about, it was serious. Then I heard her say, "Tenemos que llamar al Caballo de Espadas que nos venga ayudar (We must summon the Knight of Spades to come help us)." There was reluctance on my grandfather's part to do that. There was a voice of concern which I had not heard before.

Nana would tell me later that the image of the Knight of Spades is very strong in the Spanish card deck. It represents strength, valor and resistance to things that threaten to harm a person. However, it also represented approaching danger and only the Knight of Spades could stop the impending doom if he were asked to do it in the right way. She told me that, according to lore, the Knight of Spades was the defender of just causes and would defend a person who would fight for things that were good.

She said The Knight of Spades could save a person's life, save him or her from alcohol or drug addiction or help him or her overcome an evil spell or a bad romance. It all depended on the person's needs or wants or circumstances, she told me on another night, her breath getting heavier as she explained. But she also said the Knight of Spades could just decide that the person was not worthy of his help and just decide to take fate into its own power and bring an end to the dispute or matter at hand. "En veces, es mala noticias, espcialmente si recibís un mensaje malo de una mujer (Sometimes, the Knight of Spades brings bad news, especially if the word is being delivered by a woman)." She stopped and made the sign of the cross and glimpsed toward the picture of La Virgen de Guadalupe (The Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron "saint" of Mexico and Mexican Americans) on the bedroom wall.

Now, some of the things I had heard and seen on the previous night made some sense. On that night, when my Tía Mage was visiting José Ángel, I heard the strange sounds and utterings coming from the kitchen. With the smell of coffee brewing and mesquite wood burning permeating the small frame house, I heard a horse galloping at a distance. I thought it was strange, because even in my rural town, very few people rode horses in the dead of night in the 1950s. The gallop got closer and closer. My grandfather's incantations grew louder and louder. "¡Ven, Caballo de Espadas, ven! (Come, Knight of Spades, Come!), he said in a loud voice which I could have heard easily in any of the house's four rooms. Nana got closer to me and embraced me saying simply, "No tengas miedo, niño. Todo va estar bien (Don't be frightened child. Everything will be all right)."

The galloping got closer. I could distinctly hear the horse approaching on the dirt road that led to town and then I heard a horse neigh right outside the bedroom window where Nana and I were. My grandfather's voice got louder. "Ven ayudarnos con nuestros problemas (Come help us with our problems). Salva la vida de nuestro hijo (Save our son's life). Guárdalo del mal (Keep him out of harm's way)."

I could hear Tía Mage's breaths get quicker. Excitedly she said, "¡Ay viene. Ya va llegando (He's coming! He's almost here)."

Just then I swear I heard galloping stemming from the kitchen. I could not stand it any longer. I jumped out of the bed, escaped from Nana's grasp and pulled back the sheet that was keeping me from seeing what was going on in the kitchen. I couldn't believe my eyes. I was in shock. The actual card of the Knight of Spades was circling the table. It was as if it was being held up by strings, like a titere (puppet) in some nightmarish side show at a carnival. But, there were no strings. The horse was neighing, my tía (aunt) was smiling from ear-to-ear and saying in between her joy, "Ya llego. Ya esta aquí. Nos va ayudar (he has arrived. He's here. He is going to help us)!"

Then, they saw me. Nana covered her mouth with both hands and José Ángel shouted, "Manuelito, no!"

Almost instantly, the card fell harmlessly off the table. The galloping sound and the neighing stopped. Tía Mage let out a plaintive screech that echoed through the night air and frightened the dogs outside. As the dogs barked, Tía Mage said, "No va a trabajar (It's not going to work). Espantamos al Caballo de Espadas causa de este niño (We scared the Knight of Spades away because of this child)."

The last thing I saw was Tía Mage storm out of the room. The door slammed behind her as she wrapped her black lace shawl over her neck and walked furiously away from the house. Then, I don't remember the rest. I fainted. My next recollection was of me lying on the bed with my mom and dad and Nana cowering over me. Nana had a bottle of alcohol she had presumably used to get me back to my senses. My mom had a bottle of Mentholatum which I could tell she had rubbed on my chest.

My grandpa, José Ángel , was in the next room mumbling in Spanish "No trabajo (It didn't work). ¿Que vamos hacer, hijo? (What are we going to do, son?). He was talking to my dad, who had walked into the kitchen and had this very concerned look on his face. My dad, a World War II veteran who had survived four years in the Eurpean Theater and earned a Purple Heart and several combat megals, put an arm around my grandpa's back and said, "No te mortifiques, 'apa (Don't worry, dad). Son nomas cuentos de viejas (They are just old wives' tales."

I could hear my grandpa sob slowly. "Pero dijo que te ivas a morir en un acidente (But she said you were going to die in a accident). . . y, Manueltio espanto al Caballo de Espadas (And, Manuelito scared of the Knight of Spades)."

About a month later, my father was killed in a horrific car accident in Oilton, Texas. I was in the car. In my left hand was a Spanish card deck we had purchased in Mexico earlier that day on our trip to Nuevo Laredo. Perhaps it was the Knight of Spades who was with us that fateful day? No se (I dont know).

Was it my fault? Was it fate? I wonder to this day if my father's death had something to do with the visit from El Caballo de Espadas (The Knight of Spades) that night.

One thing I know, I will never forget the visit from El Caballo de Espadas (The Knight of Spades) to our house in the outskirts of my hometown.In this case, his visit was mala noticias (bad news). Did he take matters into his own hands? Or, did I interrupt his interceding with the destiny of my father's life? No se (I don't know).

On graduation at my alma mater

Last Friday, (May 13) I attended the graduation exercises at my alma mater, Texas A&M University-Kingsville (formerly Texas A&I University). With but some exceptions - the traditional non-sensible graduation speeches - they were two beautiful ceremonies in an arena - The Steinke Physical Education Center - much too small to handle the large crowd present to see 550 students (most of whom were present) graduate.

It was a bittersweet moment for me. Now, instead of being a student marching to get my diploma, I was a "full" professor marching in with the faculty. I got to seat and watch everyone of those graduates get their degrees, shake hands the president of the university and exchange hugs from friends and loved ones. I couldn't help notice how things had changed.

More than 45 percent of the students receiving degrees were classified Hispanic. Of those, 207 received their bachelor's degrees, 35 earned master's and seven earned their doctorate. That was a far cry from the numbers in 1970 when only about seven percent of the graduates that year were Hispanics. Wow!

It was also a far cry from the number of Hispanic (the term didn't even exist at the time) graduates when my Tío Juan Rocha and my Tía Clelia graduated in 1959. Those were different times. The Chicano Movement had not even started and discrimination against Mexican American seeking an education was at a high point. That didn't stop Juan or Clelia from making it a point to strive for better things. A year earlier, my uncle Juan was burned in effigy because he had decided to run for A&I student body president. I remember being told at home "Quemaron a Juan" and thinking the worst. Later I found out what they burned was a figure made of bed linens and stuffed with old pillows that was hung out of a dormitory and set on fire. Nevertheless, the figure had his name - Juan Rocha - painted on its chest.

Tío Juan would go on to be a successful lawyer and became the main attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense andEducation Fund (MALDEF) when the organization sued the state for lack of higher education opportunities and professional programs in South Texas colleges and universities. MALDEF won, but like they say, the results are still in the mail. While we have progressed, as the numbers of the 2011 graduation class assert, there is still much progress to be made.

But, back to the talk on graduation. When Tío Juan and Tía Clelia graduated from then Texas A&I, the ceremony was held in Jones Auditorium, a World War II building that still stands and has about 1,000 seats.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s I would accompany my grandfather Pedro G. Chapa, Clelia's and my mom's father, to the A&I graduation ceremonies in Jones Auditorium. I really wasn't sure why he wanted me to come to the graduation ceremonies with him. The first time I came, I was 11. It was May 1959. I could see a sea of proud graduates lined up outside the auditorium waiting their turn to march in as family and friends showed up for the festivities. We would always get there early, so we could find good seats toward the middle of the auditorium. "We can see everything better and they can hear us better from there," he would tell me.

The first year, I just sat there watching the ceremony. He would clap politely and I would just take in the pomp and circumstance of the occasion and wiggle in my seat as most 11-year-olds are prone to do. But then, I heard a distinctly (well, sort of) Spanish surname being pronounced - Fast-su-o Bey - nay - be - days. Grandpa Chapa nudged me and started clapping louder. He made sure everyone could hear him. I clapped to and said "Yea!" as loud as I could. Around the auditorium, small choruses of boos could be heard. A man in front of us looked to his wife and said, "Another God Damm Mexican (graduating)!" as he frowned. His wife turned back to look at us. I couldn't tell if she was embarrassed for what her husband said or felt sorry for us. She looked confused. Oh, wait, she was looking a real Mexican Americans at the graduation ceremony. She must have wondered if we were related to Fastsuo Beynaybedays. We weren't, but I was starting to realize why I was there and each subsequent graduation I attended with my grandfather would be more meaningful.

About 20 Hispanics graduated that day. My grandfather and I cheered as loudly as we could for all of them. We didn't know them, we were just proud of them. We also clapped politely for all who graduated that day, no matter what the color of their skin. We were proud of them, too. As I recall, there were two African Americans graduating that day, too. Like the Hispanics, they were greeted with some boos.

I was a young man. I had been taught in Mexicano culture "que los hombres no lloran (men don't cry)." But I felt a tear roll down one of my eyes when grandpa Chapa asked me if I had enjoyed the ceremony. I told him, "Yes" and thanked him for bringing me. We would do this for another five years til I got to high school and had other "more important" things to do, like growing up. But the message was clear. Getting an education is important. I'm proud to say I got my college degree, two master's and a doctorate. I hope I made my grandpa proud. I wonder what he would have done when he saw me cross the stage, get hooded and get my doctorate degree. I wonder . . . .

So, I will never forget the lessons my grandfather taught me. He was showing me, in his on way, how important a college education was. He was showing me that a college education should be celebrated and honored and that the people who complete their college degree at whatever level must be congratulated with gusto. It takes hard work and discipline to achieve and earn a college degree.

Last Friday at the SPEC on the campus of Texas A&M-Kingsville, 550 students earned their degrees. Three were American Indian, seven were Asian, 15 were Black, 158 were white, 117 were international students and 249 were Hispanic. At least 30 of them had taken at least one class with me. I felt proud. We had come a long way.

Oh, and no one was booed.

On family - familia

Growing up I was taught there was nothing more important then family. La familia was what defined you and how you left your mark - legacy if you will - in this world. A Mexican boy would often inherit the name of his father and would be called "Junior" or his name would end in an "ito" - as in Manuelito, what I was called as a child. This was a form of the family's patriarch passing down his name to a new generation. I consider it an honor.

I understood that world. I wanted to be like my father. He was a decorated World War II veteran. He had but a third grade education, but he could read and write with the best of them. Mexican American boys just didn't get an education back then, I feel. They had to work, and he did. When I was growing up, he was a truck driver. For a 6 to 8-year-old boy, that seemed like the best job in the world. Wow, having a big ol' truck to drive all over the state of Texas. Wow!!! I couldn't wait to do that, and at times he would take me with him.

My father died in a car accident when I was nine. The next day, my name changed. I was no longer Manuelito or Memito (another endearing term for Mexican boys whose name is Manuel). I became, MANUEL. Period. I was now the only Manuel in the immediate family and the "ito" part was dropped over night. It was both an awesome feeling of responsibility and a scary notion. I suddenly realized I was expected to work to provide for myself and my family.I was no longer considered a muchachito (little boy0. I was 9!!!! I also learned very quickly that I was the man of the family until someone else - a step dad who would later marry my mom - came along. He did and he is a wonderful man. Thank God! He was a blessing in my life and continues to be my pride and joy.

But, somewhere I lost my legacy and my definition of familia. I wanted to be like Manuel Flores Sr., so I joined the Army. I served 12 years in the Texas Army National Guard and Reserves and retired as a captain, but somehow all those years do not add up to squat when it came to my father's four years of surviving the Germans and their allies in World War II. I mean, he earned a Purple Heart and countless combat medals. Me? I went to Austin a weekend or two a month and partied on 6th Street on Friday and Saturday nights. Some training, huh? Oh, I also went to assorted Army forts throughout the nation to improve my military skills and did very well, earning two promotions. But legacy? Ha, no way.I left no legacy in the Army.

My only legacy I feel are my children, at this point. They are wonderful young people who have grown up right, no thanks to me, and who will make an impact in their world, thanks mostly to their mom. Now it is their responsibility to pass on traditions and build a legacy of their own. It is their job to show their children what familia means. I feel they will do a far better job than I have done. I wish them well in this world and I hope they instill a sense of familia in their youngsters so that they can pass on that value to a new generation of the Flores clan. Familia is very important. I will never forget that.

On the end of the world

om Y2K to Armageddon, Heaven's Gate and the Halley's and Hale-Bopp comets, the end of the world has been predicted now for some time. . . .

The latest doomsday scenario, if you don't count the Mayan calendar,was Harold Camping's predictions that the end of the world would start Saturday (May 21). If per chance you are reading this blog, so far so good.

Yet, some people are disappointed. It's like the world didn't end and they have nothing to wake up to in the morning. No, wait, they actually had something to wake up this Sunday (May 22) morning.

Hallelujah. It just wasn't our time, yet.

Camping and his followers were looking forward to the end. They believed they were likely to be among the 200 million souls sent to live in paradise forever. They were referring to the end of the world as "The Rapture" - a term with Biblical references.

Camping is a religious or Christian radio star and president of Family Radio, a California-based station with affiliates or programming throughout the nation.

Deeply religious, he believes in the Christian concept of "The Rapture." The Rapture is a reference found in Thessalonians where reference is made to Christians getting "caught up to meet the Lord in the air." Problem is, the Bible doesn't really say when it's going to happen. Camping used numerology to pick out a date, it seems, out of thin air. Well, you know what they say about numbers, you can make them tell whatever you want them to tell. Silly numbers.

I like the Mayan prediction for doomsday much better. Good news is, we still have some time to get ready for this one. According to the Mayan calendar and Mayan lore, there will be a series of cataclysmic events that will occur on Dec. 21, 2012. A whole set of theories have arisen from this prediction. What we do know is that the date marks the end of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the calendar used by the MesoAmerican tribes. It's the end. Period. That's it. The date doesn't really mean the end of the world, I feel. I think it means the transformation of society or people in the world, sort of when the Spaniards and Europeans arrived in the "New World" of the soon to be named "Americas."

That arrival certainly did change the world the native inhabitants of the Americas knew. Maybe something similar will happen. Ah, but who would come to visit? A God? Our Lord? Aliens? The people lost in the Bermuda Triangle? Something has to happen. Can't wait. Let's get ready.

Speaking of things that are happening, it's time to revisit the Aztlán theory as seen by the Chicano activists of the 1960s and which many people believe is "right on!" Some say Aztlán will materialize as early as 2025 when the Hispanic population of the American Southwest becomes the dominant force in politics and the economy in this area. That will lead to the destruction of one group of leaders and propel the descendants of the Aztecs to a more prominent in a new era which they would have referred to as the Sixth Sun.

The Aztecs believed there had been four worlds, or "Suns", previous to the present universe, the Fifth Sun or Qunito Sol. These earlier worlds and their inhabitants had been created, then destroyed by catastrophic action. The present world is the Fifth Sun, and the Aztec saw themselves as "the People of the Sun," whose divine duty was to wage cosmic war in order to provide the sun with his "nourishment. Without it, the sun would disappear from the heavens. Thus the welfare and the very survival of the universe depended upon the offerings of blood and hearts to the sun, so the legend says. If the Fifth Sun was the era of a people called the Aztecs, the Sixth Sun, after the destruction of the leadership base that exists, will usher in a new people who will represent the new Aztecs. Those people, some believe, are in the American Southwest. It will take several years for the new people to find a new homeland. It should start with 2012 and then the transition will take place.

Aztlán is the mythical homeland of the Aztecs, a sort of paradise where their displaced people would end up sometime in the future, oh, like 2025. The Chicano Movement took this concept and put a whole new twist to it which sounds, actually, "right on, ese!" Chicanos believe that the sons and daughters of the Aztecs and other indigenous tribes that suffered atrocities at the hands of the Spanish have now relocated in a new land in "El Norte" - north of what is now Mexico - and are about to take over. Population figures certainly seem to affirm that concept.

Chicanos use the name Aztlán to refer to the lands of Northern Mexico that were annexed by the United States as a result of the Mexican-American War. Yep, that would be parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. Their theory is that the land ceded by Mexico in 1848 would be the new homeland of the sons and daughters of the Aztec. These sons and daughters would then take over this land and transform it into their new homeland. Throw Texas, which Mexico lost in 1836, into the mix and you have the basis for a very sound theory. There are millions of Mexican Americans in those states, millions....nearly 40 million it is estimated.

Mexican Americans - the sons and daughters of the Aztecs - now make up the majority of the people in portions of several states in the American Southwest, according to the 2010 census figures. During the next two decades, Hispanics (primarily Mexican Americans) will probably make up the majority of the population in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. Mexican Americans will compose, at the very least, a major portion of the population in these states, and that would bring the end of Anglo dominance in the territory, politically and perhaps economically. The indigenous (Aztecs?) would again rule.

Some members of the Chicano movement proposed that a new nation be created called Republica del Norte (Republic of the North). It is ironic that in the 19th century, circa 1850, there was a rebellion in what is now South Texas and Northern Mexico to form a new country that would be called The Republic of the Rio Grande. It's old headquarters building and capitol still stand in Laredo. While that movement was ill-fated and politically-based, this movement to colonize the American Southwest is just a natural evolution of population migration and searching for a home. How else can you explain the millions of immigrants who seem to be magically attracted to this land. This evolution is, therefore, a natural occurrence predicted by the Aztec. Could these same people be the lost tribe of Israel? But, that's another story. For now, let's stay on the colonization effort.

That leads us to the concept of reconquista or reconquest. The concept has been advanced by Chicano nationalists of the 1960s and 1970s to describe the creation of this mythical Aztec homeland called Aztlán. They believe, as I said earlier, this place to be the American Southwest. They believe that soon - oh, let's say 2025 -the majority of the population in those American Southwest states will be Mexican American. Perhaps?

After the 2010 census, California was 38 percent Hispanic, Arizona 21 percent, New Mexico 46 percent, Texas 38 percent, Colorado 21 percent and Neveda 20 percent. In almost all these states, the majority of the school-age population is Hispanic, Mexican American to be more exact.

The writing is on the wall - or census figures, anyway. These states are on the way to becoming majority Hispanic. Will that mean the end of Anglo domination in those areas and change how people view the world in those five states or nation? Is that the end of one era and the start of another era means in the predictions of the calendar and the indigenous? I think so. It is not so much, I believe, the destruction of the world. It is, rather, the development of a new structure of leadership that helps shape the world. The Aztec empire, for example, crumbled under Spanish rule. Likewise, in the American Southwest, those who are in charge now passing hideous legislation to try to keep the Hispanic out of their lands, will crumble. A new leadership will emerge and a new world will flourish.

We will find out circa 2025, 2026, 2027, 2028, 2029, 2030 . . . For sure, by then, someone's world will end.

On guns and stuff . . .

The recent hullabaloo about guns on college campuses sent me reeling back to my high school days. I know, I know, it was a different time then. The 1960s and 1970s had some dramatic and traumatic events in our nation that rocked the very roots of our existence and, perhaps, changed the way the world looks at America. Civil rights, women's issues and space exploration were the hallmarks of that era and certainly paved the way for what we have become in the 21st century.

It was also a time when guns and rifles were common place, especially in South Texas. It was not unusual to see a gun rack on the back of a pickup truck. Those gun racks would have the obligatory .22 caliber rifle, a good shot gun and at the very least a small caliber rifle good enough to fire in the brush country and to hit a buck several hundred yards away.

My friend, Louie, had a gun rack in the light blue pick up Chevy truck that belong to his aunt Rosabelle. On selected week days, he would drive it to our high school, guns on display on the gun rack and all. Soon after school was let out and we were through with baseball or band practice, we would all pile into his truck - some of us in the bed - armed to the teeth with rifles, guns and knives. We were going to hunt rabbits, javelina or rattle snakes. We were going to hunt until the sun went down and the next day, at the very least, we would have rabbit stew or rabbit tacos to eat.

But, that is not the point. The point is that guns, especially in South Texas, were accepted. People knew how to treat guns and rifles. Fathers would make sure that children, especially boys, knew how to behave in front of these weapons (and they are weapons). In a rural community, it was not unusual to go out to some one's ranch or lease and have the young boys target practice with a small handgun, a 30-30 rifle and a shotgun.

My gun experience started when my father bought me a B-B gun for my birthday when I was six or seven. He then showed me how to "load" it, aim it and how to stand, crouch, kneel or lay down when I shot. He commanded me to go kill some birds. Dutifully, I went out into my backyard and started looking for the flying critters. I felt like Elmer Fudd in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. "I'm going to get me a birdy, I'm going to get me a birdy, I'm going to get me a birdy . . . .," and so on. I would sneak around a tree, look up into its branches, listen for the chirps and then. . . .

Well, the first time I did this, I was an utter failure. The great little Mexicano hunter came back empty-handed. I couldn't shoot the birds. They were so, well, pretty, and so in peace with nature that it didn't make sense to shoot them. And, I had already been told we couldn't eat "llos pajaros del pueblo (the birds in the city)." I was assured that when I grew up I would be taught how to use a shotgun and we would hunt for dove and quail and maybe duck. Those birds, I was told, we could eat. But, right now, I didn't want to shoot a bird I couldn't eat. It didn't make sense. But, wait, weren't chickens birds? It was too confusing for youngster.

I walked slowly up the porch. My father was in the living room drinking a beer and watching TV. "¿Que matatas, Manuelito (What did you shoot or kill, Manuelito?)" he asked. I was afraid to look him in the eyes. I was a failure. Out of respect, like many Mexicano children do, I looked down at the floor and was able to mutter very slightly, "Nada, 'apa (Nothing dad)." He let out and roaring laugh, uttered a couple of choice Spanish cuss words and said he would have to take me to my Tío (Uncle) Roberto to help me become a hunter of birds.

Within the next week, we visited Tío Roberto and his wife Carlota on the southern outskirts of town. I was told to pack my B-B gun. Tío Roberto must have been aware of my failures as a hunter-to-be 'cause he was waiting anxioulsy. After eating ice cream on the porch, he summoned me to the backyard. The yard was green and luscious with what seemed an unending sea of mesquite, huisache, oaks and elms. They were lush with green leaves on their branches. The huisache, in particular, was beautiful with a bright yellow bloom. I could hear the birds chirping all over, but I couldn't see them. My Tío Roberto said he would point them out to me. He gave me one more tip on how to aim. "Look at the bird, point the rifle at it and then look through the sight until the bird disappears," he told me in Spanish. "Then, steady yourself and shoot. Don't jerk your rifle, just shoot. And don't get nervous. A nervous hunter is useless. ¿Estas listo (Are you ready)?"

I nodded and yes and we were off on our adventure. We walked slowly, again like Elmer Fudd in the Bugs Bunny Cartoon. Finally, my uncle pointed to a branch on one of the oak trees. There we saw a beautiful blue jay, chirping along without a care in the world. How could the little bird have known a hunter had him in his aim? "You see him?" my uncle asked. "Quiet," he said. I just nodded, aimed and shot. In an instant, the bird was falling to ground and, with a slight thud, dead. My uncle was in a celebratory mood. "Eso, bien hecho, bien hecho mi hijo (That's it, well done my son)." I had completed a rite of passage, I suppose. My uncle walked away and demanded I shoot more birds. He told me not to go to the porch until I had a handful. I dutifully did that. I shot bird, after bird, after bird, after bird. I was good. When I went back to the porch, a large class of fresh squeezed lemonade was waiting for me. The smiles Tío Roberto, his wife Carlota and my mom were evident as my father arrived from a road trip. "How did he do?" he asked in Spanish. "Muy bien, muy bien. Ya esta listo (Very well, very well. He's ready)," my uncle said. "Ready?" I wondered. "Ready for what?" Well, for my continuous journey into the world of guns. Soon I would be handling .22s and 30-30s and next fall I tried a small .410 gauge shot gun. I truly had entered the world of the hunter. I would definitely know my way around guns and rifles and I would pass that knowledge on to my sons. My sons were firing guns by the age they were 10. When they turned 16, each of them received a deer rifle. My daughter also was taught how too shoot, but never really caught on to it. She just loved to go to the outdoors and look at the pretty animals. She doesn't like shooting birds (ha) of any kind. She also doesn't like shooting javelinas, although the young ones make the best tamales. She didn't mind if we shot wild pigs. They're nasty. Mainly, however, she loved the outdoors and often accompanies her brothers on hunting trips.

And, then I realized. The outdoors was the true link to my hunting legacy. It put us in touch with nature and gave us an appreciation of the cycle of life. It showed us how we can come together and mingle with nature (a true eat or be eaten world) and see how we can survive. I have no doubt my sons and I could survive in the wild as long as we had a rifle, some ammo and a knife or two.....

Which brings us to gun control. Recently, the Texas legislature defeated a law backed by Gov. Rick Perry that would have allowed college students to carry guns on campus. My, how things have changed. Half a century ago, my friends and I routinely had guns and rifles on our vehicles in the school parking lot for us to go hunting after school let out. We couldn't do that today.

When I attended college at Texas A&I in Kingsville, I always had a rifle in my truck and there were scores of pickup trucks with gun racks and rifles fully visible. It was a different world. For the most part, no one stole the guns. Imagine what would happen today?

I still go hunting, when I can. Although I have not shot a deer since I downed a 10-point buck in Rancho Soliz near Hebbronville on Dec. 28, 2006. I shot him with a 30-30, sans scope. As I saw the buck making his way down the sandero and through the well-worn animal trail toward my deer blind, I couldn't help but think back to Tío Roberto and his lesson, and also to the time my dad, a World War II veteran and a certified "expert" in the Army, was disappointed and laughed at me. I focused on the buck (he was chasing a doe), picked a spot on the brush country where I could get a clear shot, aimed the rifle and waited til he disappeared on the sight and - bang! He went down.

Somewhere, my dad was smiling. I took him to the shed by the main ranch house and my sons helped me skin it. My step dad, Amando, was so proud. "I do believe that's the biggest buck we've taken out of this ranch in some time, " he said. He slapped me on my back and said those now familiar words that I have used with my sons, "Bien hecho, bien hecho."

We mounted the buck. Every time I look at it I can't help but feel sad. Oh, but don't tell any one....