Monday, August 11, 2008

East L.A. Bobsleds

I've been blogging for many years now and during that time, I've told bits and pieces of my life story in various posts and interviews, but I'd never seriously thought about writing my autobiography until fairly recently. My husband had been after me for some time to write life stories that could be worked into a novel, or more specifically, a graphic novel, which is a format that I am particularly fond of. I had actually begun writing some of my memories down expressly for this purpose when I went to the latest Comicon and it dawned on me that publishing a graphic novel based on my life might actually be possible.

In the punk spirit of doing it yourself and jumping into the water before you've fully learned to swim, we've decided to post my autobiography (or autoblography, since it will appear as a blog) as a work in progress, in hopes that those who read it will find it worthwhile and interesting. Perhaps a comic book artist is out there who would find the challenge of illustrating and lettering my little stories intriguing. I am hoping to find someone whose aesthetic and graphic style matches the material. If you think this describes you, please contact me by email at

So begins the saga of Violence Girl, which can be found on

I will continue to post on Diary of A Bad Housewife about my usual interests (which is to say, anything and everything) but my Violence Girl blog will only feature excerpts from my autobiographical stories.

Poor Little Poor Girl

Growing up poor in East L.A. during the early 1960's didn't bode well for one's future success. It certainly didn't put you on the fast track to rock stardom, especially if you happened to be an overweight, unpopular, eyeglass wearing, Spanish-only speaking daughter of Mexican immigrants like me.

When I first sat down to write the memories of my early childhood, I was shocked to realize how much of it was a blank. My memories of that time are like shards of a broken mirror or a movie, cobbled together from film clippings left on the editing room floor. Instead of a neat, linear montage of stories, my memories grudgingly crawl back to me: my mother, battered and bleeding, standing in the bedroom. My mother, covered in blood, kneeling on the floor. My father in a violent rage, spitting his false teeth out of his mouth as he screams curses at my mother. My father, commanding me to spit on my kneeling mother. Past and present collide and as I recall more details and images, my stomach begins to hurt. I feel the urge to vomit. Nearly fifty years later, long buried memories of my caustic childhood still have the power to bring me to my knees.

The first house I lived in was on 8th Street in East L.A. We had moved from this house to another house on Ditman Avenue by the time I entered kindergarten, so I don't have many memories of it. Our second house on Ditman was tiny, even by the standards of a poor barrio in East L.A. and it was completely infested with brown German cockroaches. The funny thing was that even though our house was too small to have a dining table, we did have an upright piano, which I think my dad must have gotten in trade for some of his work.

My dad was a self-employed carpenter, which meant that sometimes he worked a lot and other times he didn't work at all. He had printed up some business cards, advertising his services and he'd carry them around with him, posting them on public bulletin boards and that was how he sometimes found work. My mom didn't work outside of the home and she cooked, cleaned, sewed and looked after me and my older sister. Both of my parents immigrated from Mexico, although my mother had grown up in Los Angeles and my father had come over as an adult. They met on a bus in Mexico. My father was coming home from work, sweaty and dirty from a day of labor and he sat down next to my mother. They started a conversation and eventually my father said, "I'd ask you out to the movies, if I wasn't so dirty," to which my mother replied, "You're not dirty." My father always laughed when he told this story, recalling that he was, in fact, extremely dirty - so he knew that my mother liked him.

When I was older, I accidentally found my parents' marriage certificate, showing that my mother had been eight months pregnant when they finally got married. I confronted my father with it, joking with him by saying "You didn't want me." It was obvious that he'd waited until the very last minute to marry my mother. He replied, "I always wanted you, I just didn't want to get married."

My earliest memory is of being at Hollenbeck Park with my father. We are sitting under a tree. I am very young, maybe three years old and there is a vague sadness connected to the memory. My father is trying to cheer me up. My mother is missing. She is in the hospital, and hasn't been home in days. The memory fades there, but usually another image of the same park appears.

I am older now, 6 or 7 years old. There is a bald spot on the hilly part of the park. A group of children have flattened large cardboard boxes and are riding them down the dirt slope like toboggans, kicking up clouds of dirt. I muster up my courage, grab a discarded box and join the strangers, who don't seem to notice me. I push off and feel the rush of excitement as I race down the hill. Some of the children get a much bigger box and climb onto it, one behind the other. The boy in front pulls his knees up to his chest, the others stretch their legs out in a V and pile on behind him, in a choo-choo train style. They have made a cardboard bobsled, but it's a bust. It crawls too slowly down the hill, looking like a big centipede as the kids try to propel the box with their legs akimbo. It's back to single-person toboggans, or doubles on luges. The more adventurous kids go down head first, face up or face down. We take turns, speeding down, adding tricks as fast as we can make them up. I am a coward and I ride seated, holding onto the upturned sides of the cardboard. My tricks are simple: legs stretched out in front of me, then legs bent to my chest, but nobody cares. Nobody's looking at me. They're all planning their next trick, or enjoying their current one. The heat of the summer day and the activity has made the kids sweaty, providing something for the flying dirt to adhere to. They all look like Pig-Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. Mothers start coming over to put an end to what will surely mean an extra load of laundry. My own mom waves me back, she's been sitting under a tree with my older sisters, reading Novelas de Amor and Confidencias. The fun is over, but who would have thought that a few spontaneous moments of makeshift play with a castoff cardboard box, a dirt hill and a bunch of kids who were having too much fun to bother picking on me would be one of my happiest childhood memories?

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