Confessions of a Third-Generation Latino: Royal Oaks
Posted by Roobs on June 3, 2010
This is the second post in a series. This post focuses on the early development of my personal life in the town of Visalia, CA. It describes my parents and the experiences in elementary school that will have an impact on my outlook and experiences in the coming years.
I grew up in the Southern portion of California’s San Joaquin Valley. Californians in general usually call it the “Central Valley” but hose that live there just call it “the Valley”. This gets a little confusing when i visit Southern California because “the Valley” to them refers to the San Fernando Valley. Oh well. Mine’s bigger.
The city i grew up in is called Visalia (pictured above), which is located about 40-minutes south of Fresno. When i was born, Visalia had a population of around 60,000. Today, the population has doubled to around 125,000.
Visalia is old. Settled in 1852, It’s the oldest town between Los Angeles and Stockton and is the county seat of Tulare County, named one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. Over 36% of the population identifiy as Latino and the vast majority of them live below the poverty line. Many of the Latino’s in Visalia settle in an area known as “North Side”. It is named so for being north of the 198-Freeway that runs through the center of town. North Side is a ghetto in both senses of the word. It is a ghetto in that it is a place where people of similar background settle. It is where you can find the small Mexican shops and grocers. But it is also a ghetto because it is arguably the most run down area of the city. Here is where most of the crime occurs, where the local gangs hangout, and where most of the police spend their time. I didn’t grow up here.
As i implied, this is not a typical tale of rising from the streets by the pull of my bootstraps and making it in the world. No, im sorry to say that I was born on the other side of the freeway. The neighborhood i grew up in is known as “Royal Oaks”. Already it sounds pretentious but i assure you the name is more pretentious than the neighborhood itself.
Royal Oaks is named for the Valley Oak trees that are native to the area and are still quite common. Actually, Visalia has a long tradition of loving those damn trees. In 1907 they accepted a donation of 100 acres of Oak trees (now known as Mooney’s Grove Park). Visalians love their Oak trees so much that in 1971 they passed a law making a crime to cut down a Oak tree without a permit. This law is still on the books today and they will fine you $1,000 if you mess with those trees.
I grew up in a large two-story home in a cul-de-sac near my elementary school, which had the same name as the neighborhood: Royal Oaks Elementary. With the exception of one family that was Japanese and one that was African-American, all my neighbors were white, both directly adjacent and in the overall neighborhood. But this didn’t bother me. In fact, i liked it. They were all very nice. Even the first girl i tried to date was Chinese. I remember playing with children of my parent’s friends, who too were white. Sure, my family is Mexican as well was my extended family. I grew up with a pot of beans boiling on the stove and the first meal i learned how to cook at the age of ten was enchiladas. But we never seemed to expose ourselves too much to that culture.
The why behind that part of this story was later described by my mother. She explained that it was never anything dramatic like trying to keep my and my sister away from the Mexican heritage. On the contrary, my parents were often knowledgeable and encouraging when either me or my sister expressed interest in learning more. But that was just it. They decided things like, learning Spanish and engaging in traditional Mexican culture and events was something that would be left up to us. If we wanted to learn Spanish, great. But if we didn’t, they would not force us to. My mom never said my sister had to have a Quincenera but if she wanted to have one she could (she never did).
As a kid, i was pretty quiet and chubby. I had a few friends growing up but not many. My closest friend was actually my cousin who lived across town. But during my time at Royal Oaks Elementary, I often found myself at the end of typical school-yard bullying. I was never beat up but i was often teased. The interesting thing was that i was teased the most by other Mexican children. Clearly, there was something about me that they didn’t like.
I didn’t really have a concept of race as a child. The joys of young innocence. I didn’t necessarily recognize that i was being teased by Mexican children even though I too was Mexican. But in typical child logic I determined that they were teasing me and, therefore, they didn’t like me. So I didn’t like them. With each mockery they dealt i only furthered my assumption that these kids didn’t want me around. As i said, i had few friends, but the few that i did make were not Latino. I found myself befriending Asian-American children or White children. Compared to other stories of Mexican children growing up, this may sound odd. But i actually found more brotherhood in my Asian and White friends than i did in the Latino community.
The why behind Latino kids teasing is the real question here. Why did the Latino kids tease me? Could this have had any correlation to liberal attitude towards Mexican culture my parent’s had? I will go into my views on this in the next post, but I remember being in school and the other kids mocked me because of my family and upbringing.
My father was a Visalia native, born and raised. He left home to go to college at San Jose State in the Bay Area and then went to law school at UC Berkeley. What often come up in young conversation is the question of what parents do for work. Even at a young age, i knew what my parents did. “My mommy is an accountant and my daddy is a lawyer”, i would say. Kids are more in tune with the world than people give them credit. Even at that age, other kids knew what those careers were. Maybe not the specifics, but they have an image of the world that exists for those careers. Starting around third grade, the other kids started calling me “rich boy”, “tortilla” and “coconut”. It wasn’t until much later did i truly grasp the meaning behind those words. Although, i still don’t really understand “tortilla”.
This continued throughout my time at Royal Oaks and i honestly didn’t truly understand why. Nevertheless, i simply determined that these kids didn’t like me and I didn’t need to like them. I spent more and more time with my Asian and White friends. They never seemed to be bothered by what my parents did for work or the neighborhood i was living in. They often lived nearby.
My next post will focus on the time from middle school to high school and the self-realization of my place in the community.