Requiem for a Homeboy
The silent passing of a camarada
My music reflects a lifestyle of not so long ago.
Published on LatinoLA: August 26, 2003
A time when vatos grew hair to comb, and knew how to comb it. When we didn't talk like wannabe black New Yorkers. We didn't want to be in anybody's face unless the message was personal. We had our own code of street honor, a suave sense of cool, and the ability to exchange chingasos was more respected than the ability of some young, tweaked-out cherry pulling a trigger from a moving vehicle.
We danced to our own music, and danced with style, we did. We had an enviable sense of street class, and an acceptance of inevitable hard times inherited upon our people.
Because we couldn't afford new cars, we fixed up and maintained old cars, in a manner and style that eventually spawned a culture that survives today, misunderstood as it is.
And we cruised in those fixed up old cars like proud warrior tribes on parade, much to the chagrin of others. We were the vanguard of generational rebellion to come, (later to be credited to undeserving others), and provided the standard from which all Chicanos were measured, either pro or con.
Everbody knew who the Pachucos, Cholos, Cruisers, and Lowriders were in the neighborhood. They were the stylish fighters and dancers others hoped to emulate, or avoided out of fear. There was always hopes and dreams of good and better times to come, with the Oldies keeping those hopes and dreams alive through musical mentoring and inspiration, if not examples of talent to be followed.
Getting out of the 'hood was a goal, with survival and the lessons learned from the 'hood making some of us stronger, wiser and more competitive in the real world if we were lucky enough to escape the curses of crime, alcohol, drugs and the revolving door of incarceration.
Not forgetting where you came from became a badge of honor, if only recognized by a certain few. Veteranos served as the "village elders" of sorts, when respect mattered amongst homies, and lessons were passed down from generation to generation in a tribal manner. These Veteranos seemed to annoy their same aged peers with contempt for their unwillingness to "grow up", give up the lifestyle, and denounce the 'hood.
Where these Veteranos ultimately ended up is anybody's guess. The lessons taught, however, benefitted many. Sadly, there is no commercial or historical value in the lifestyle, hence, there ar e few monuments outside of the 'hood to their commemorate valuable contributions to young men's lives, if in only street terms many will never understand.
Let this story be but one of many I hope to see, as I am one of those few that benefitted from a Veterano's existence.
My homeboy Mongo recently passed.
Nobody really important or significant. Just a homie from the 'hood whom I remember growing up with during the Civil Rights, Chicano Movimiento and Viet Nam War era of the 60s and 70s. A chingon and ass whupper in his own right, Mongo taught me and some others some valuable street lessons.
I first came into contact with him when he was 15, showing the "benefits" of good nutrition and weight lifting after a brief stint in Juvenile Probation Camp, which put him on an equal footing with more affluent white guys on the football team who had bullied him earlier in life.
I saw Mongo knock seven kinds of shit out of the local white junior-varsity jock quarterback, who had a habit of bullying and calling young Chicano kids "beaners", "taco benders" and "spics", before using his athletic abilities to beat up younger kids. When the white guy's father came to his defense, Mongo promptly kicked the shit out of him too, forcing a reluctant apology from both of them.
As a 12-year-old kid, I learned that good nutrition and athletic training would belie my previous belief that white guys were superior and better ass whuppers. As I grew older, I followed my older brothers and friends and joined the local gang in defense of the "surfer and biker wars" of the San Gabriel Valley in the 1960's, when it was still heavily Caucasian and discriminatory towards Latinos and Blacks.
Police brutality and racial prejudice were alive and well back in those days, and being a gang member was the only defense from the melancholy resulting from the involuntary disenfranchisement from society . I was involved in many "rumbles" on the streets with Mongo and other homies, and together we developed a reputation for brutality and never backing down. Mongo and the older guys also dealt out deserved ass whuppings when some young homie was learning how to get high (and inevitably acted foolish), disrespected somebody's family, or brought shame to the gang through cowardly behavior.
On at least three occasions, I remember boxing our way out of dangerous situations in rival gang territory while being outnumbered by three to one, Mongo leading the charge. Being a close friend of my older brothers, Mongo protectively kept me from trying heroin at a young age. Mongo showed us the value of keeping yourself in fighting shape while maintaining a clean lowrider and a good "rep" en las calles by marrying the prettiest girl in the 'hood.
When I left for Viet Nam, Mongo got drunk and cried at how proud of me he was. When I got back, he repeated this in a manner only tight brothers and close homies can relate to. Being a master mechanic, everybody went to Mongo when their car broke down and they were short of cash. He was the kind of dude that "hooked you up." He was a crack up and could make fun of anything, making you laugh till you almost peed your pants.
All this would lead you to believe that Mongo should be on top of the world today. Sadly, that is not the case. As much as I respected him, I also am angry at him in a brotherly way. The curse of the streets eventually ate Mongo up, as he would succumb to heroin and alcohol abuse for over 30 years.
Every time I saw him, I would voice my discontent at his condition. He would usually say, "I know homes, I'm gonna get my shit together someday, swear to God, ese". This dope fiend attitude would eventually alienate his wife, kids and most of the homies who all grew to resent him and lose respect for him. Sad way for a chingon to end up, huh?
Two weeks ago, Mongo was found dead in a motel room in the 'hood. He had been dead for almost a week, and nobody had missed him. At his funeral, only my older brother and three of the homies showed up. Even his wife and kids were late for the service, which only drew about 20 people.
I was in the hospital at the time, and only learned about Mongo's demise when my brother came to visit me. We shared a brief moment of pain for our lost camarada, but we both agreed he's in a better place now. We're both angry at him in our grief and loss, but we cannot deny we will miss him.
Orale, Mongo. I'll be playing some of your favorite Oldies this week, homes. Thanks for the memories, ese.
Frankie Firme grew up in the San Gabriel Valley neighborhood of Bassett, and spins the finest lowriding Oldies on the World Wide web every Thursday at 6:00pm, L.A. Time on www.kclafm.com