Manny Cota is a student at Tucson’s Pima Community College. He found his way into my Writing class a few semesters ago and ended up telling me great stories about his history as a native and life-long Tucsonan*.
Here are some of Manny’s early memories of life in his barrio, pulled from some of his writing from my class.
My earliest memories of the barrio are of when I was four to six years old. I remember my Nana Julia, my mother’s mom, in the kitchen always cooking something, and I remember especially how good her food tasted. Me and my siblings’ favorite—there were eight of us all together—was her arroz con leche y pasas.
I remember that, in the evenings, the barrio was like one big family. People usually got together in front of my nana’s house, or someone else’s house, everyone hanging out, talking. Sometimes a game of dump, a card game, or dominoes would take place between the older men and women. The kids usually watched and rooted for our people to win the pennies. They were not high rollers by any means. People began going home about 10:00 pm.
Another thing that stands out in my memory is how peaceful and respectful everyone was. I don’t remember anyone ever fighting or even arguing loudly. My friend, those were the days in the barrio. I recall some men drinking alcohol, playing a guitar and singing. They were really under control. It was so violence-free. I loved it.
In 1969, Nana Julia passed away. I was 6 years old. At this time, my mother and all eight of us lived at Nana Julia’s house on Meyer Street in Barrio Viejo. Talk about hot. The summers were scorchers, and we had no AC or swamp cooler—not that we were too poor to buy fans. This is how people lived in the barrio. In the daytime we went swimming at Carrillo School where the local pool was at, so we cooled off that way or else we just took to the water hose and got soaked until we were told, “That’s enough water wasted already.” Of course we obeyed, already soaked. The next day would pretty much be the same.
The evenings were cool once the sun had set behind A Mountain. The older people didn’t seem to be bothered by the heat. We kids set up makeshift beds outside at night to avoid roasting inside. My mother joined us on occasion, but not always. Other neighbors slept outdoors as well. We had fun at night. We had dirt bomb and water balloon fights with neighbors a few houses away. I remember this game we played called Green Light. One person from each yard battled, trying to identify where the other was and hit him or her with a water balloon. The game continued until someone got hit and shouted, “Green light!” No one ever bothered us, even at night. It was peaceful.
Life in my barrio was so sweet. What I wouldn’t give for just a few minutes, or one full day at least, of that life in mi barrio.
*Manny’s grandfather built the adobe house that his family lived in until the relatively recent changes–Tucson Convention Center, wealthy folks buying adobes for a lot of money.