Goodbye, Mi Jefe...Thanks For the Ride!

The passing of a beloved father, grandfather, uncle, and neighborhood icon

By Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: October 20, 2014

Goodbye, Mi Jefe...Thanks For the Ride!

Once it has before...the warm winds of Aztlan blow softly along the Land of 1000 Dances towards heaven...and another beloved soul leaves us to be with GOD and those loved ones who have left earlier.

My Father passed away this weekend. 87 years young, and he finally called it a day to join my Mother, just like he promised her years ago.

He experienced the pain of watching his only brother, only sister, his wife, first 2 sons, 2 of his beloved nieces, and all his old neighborhood friends go before him.

With one or two exceptions, he represents the end of an era to many.

My heart hurts, the memories flow, his many words & tales of wisdom he shared come at me in waves of clarity & understanding, and of course I'm filled with pain, regret, and sorrow ... but I'm at peace knowing that his pains (both physical & emotional) are done, and that he left a rich legacy of family & friends here on Earth.

He was a colorful character indeed.

My father, Samuel Arzaga Sr., was born in El Paso, Texas, grew up in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and came to East Los Angeles in early 1944 as a low riding OG Pachuco Zoot Suiter, with hopes of enlisting in the Marines or Army during WW II.

He was always fond of telling me and my older brothers of his decision to leave "El Chuco" ( Pachuco slang for El Paso) and jump on a train with some homies and tramp it to "LosCa" (Pachuco slang for Los Angeles, California) just before he turned 18. He was so proud to be an American, and was looking forward to fighting for his Country ... but life wasn't very fair and welcoming to Chicanos in 1944 Los Angeles, with the infamous 1943 "Zoot Suit Riots" still fresh on everybody's mind, anti-Latino racial tensions still running high, and America beginning to win the war.

My father and his friends still proudly strutted in their Zoot Suits, and he told me how he, his homies, and the Filipino homies in L.A. that wore Zoot Suits were mistrusted, suspect, and unwelcome anywhere they went ... in restaurants, bars, movie theaters, and believe it or not, recruiting centers.

After being harassed and unduly questioned by recruiters about his loyalty and who ridiculed him for his heavy accent, my father bitterly decided the U.S. would just have to win the war without him, and he changed his mind about joining ... something he never forgot.

He met and married Guadalupe "China" Lara in 1951, one of the prettiest Pachucas and jitterbuggers (dancers) from the old Clover neighborhood in East L.A., and they were together 'till she died in 2006, raising 7 children and countless nephews & nieces along the way, with many young guys in Bassett getting the benefit of his wisdom, anger, humor, admonishment, and good-hearted lectures about life back in the day.

He loved sports and was a well-known Llittle League coach in the old neighborhood. He and my mother put the love of music and dancing in our souls. Lots of funny stories there! Especially about his temper!

He was always so proud of his father, who rode with Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution (got the family pics to prove it) and he raised us to be fighters.

Starting off his family in Los Angeles in the old Temple Barrio, my father always told me how "they" had "booted us out" of our home when building Dodger Stadium in 1959, and again when "they" were building the 10 Freeway in 1965, so he packed up the family and moved out of East L.A. to La Puente, where we settled in the old neighborhood of Bassett, where he and my mother lived the rest of their lives.

I remember my father always reminding us of our Mexican culture, his family who still lived in Mexico, his love of classic Mariachi & 1940's Big Band music, but yet was always so "CHICANO-TEJANO" in his ways, sometimes admonishing others for calling themselves "Mexicans" instead of Chicanos if they were born in the U.S.

In our house, we didn't have Mexican sweet bread or pan dulce, we had "Pan Chicano."

He didn't ask me or my brothers to speak Spanish, but would have us "Habla Chicano" when we came into contact with Spanish-speaking relatives or friends.

He wouldn't ask my mother to make Mexican food for dinner, but would ask her for "Comida Chicano" when he came home from work.

To him, Jose Alfredo Jiminez & Vicente Fernandez were "Chicano Music."

He was a big supporter of the Chicano Movimiento and would take me & my brothers and some of the guys in the neighborhood to the protests and marches, much to the chagrin of some neighborhood parents, who didn't like the word "Chicano," or the public attention the protests got.

He called pioneer Chicano music artists Lalo Guerrero and Don Tosti, along with Chicano UFW icon Cesar Chavez, his "Camaradas de LosCa quien tienemos huevos" because they identified themselves as Chicanos before it was in vogue.

He was a strict disciplinarian along with my mother, in their younger days, who always admonished me and my older brothers to "Do good in school...don't grow up stupid" ....He always had a lesson to teach, and tact wasn't one of his fatherly virtues, if you know what I mean.

Pops always got his point way or another.

He would take me & my brothers to the fields of Bakersfield, Fresno, and Delano in the summer to work in the fields picking fruits & vegetables, then cruising through the poor sides of town, later admonishing us, "This is how you're going to live if you don't get an education...I won't always be around!"

I remember how angry he became when then Governor Ronald Reagan came on national TV news during the grape strike led by Cesar Chavez and said, "There's no problems. Most of the people picking grapes are happy and well taken care of."

I was shocked! My father had driven us through the squalor the Mexican grape pickers lived in, and I heard the stories about the farmworkers being abused & mistreated firsthand...Governor Reagan was lying!

"Only the stupid, lame, and Gabachos believe that shit! Remember this son of a bitch! Don't trust him!" he would loudly say, much to the chagrin of my mother.

He was real upset when TV news showed African Americans being beaten, kicked, and sprayed with fire hoses in Alabama during the Civil Rights movement and their fight to desegregate schools in the south.

"See what good people are going through just to go to school so they won't be stupid? Stupid people are always broke when they grow up. That's how people are controlled ... keep them stupid and they believe anything and have to follow somebody else's directions & orders ... Nothing is stopping you from going to school but your laziness ... don't let anybody control you."

His message stuck. All of my brothers & sisters attended college. Seven of us!

As he got older, he mellowed out after he started having daughters and grand daughters, and my older brothers and I followed suit at his pleading.

My younger brother didn't have to be a cholo from the 'hood with Pops and 3 older brothers watching his back ... that made Pops happy.

My 3 younger sisters have no idea or recollection of how hard life was, how much my parents struggled, or how hard core mean and violent we were (or had to be) in our younger days to take care of business and carve a space in life before they came along ... something my father, who we referred to as "Pops," was really happy about, as he always asked us "Not to let the girls see or sabe que onda a la verdad."

Because of a couple ugly incidents where he was ridiculed for his Spanish accent and some financial incidents where he got burned because of his limited English, he made it a point to stop speaking Spanish in the home, and went back to school when we were young.

He always admonished me & my older brothers to "Learn the Gabacho's language so they can't use it against you like they did to me." The only downside to that is that my younger Brother & sisters don't speak Spanish.

He became an avid reader, and came to simply love political debates which he became pretty good at ... after he took your money playing cards or dice. (Some things you didn't learn in school stay with you, LoL!)

I would tease my sisters that they, "Didn't know the young Mom & Dad we had. You know a couple of old folks gettin' in line waiting for heaven. You been taken care of." And we would share a good laugh.

As my Mom & Pops got older, that story became a harder sell .... but that's the way they would have wanted it. After my Mom passed, Pops slowed down, became sick & weak, spent his last years in a wheelchair. He used to tell me when nobody else was around "My time is coming...remember the good shit, Mijo."

I didn't want to hear that, so I didn't visit as often. My sisters, nieces, daughter and grand daughters all pampered him to the end, and I know he appreciated that.

This past weekend, Pops took his last breath and died peacefully in his sleep.

The way he wanted to go...lots of family, lots of memories...knowing that his beloved "Guada" and others are waiting for him on the other side.

...and for my brother & sisters, cousins, kids & grandkids, lots of bittersweet pain, lots of good stories, plenty of laughs ... and of course ... love for Pops!

See you when I get there, Dad! "Tanks" for the ride! I love you!

Your son,

About Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme and the Arzaga & Lara familes once again thank you all for the love, support, and prayer sent during a most difficult time.
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