From Lowell School to San Diego Waterfront-Sixty Years a Longie!
Augie Reyes, From Lowell School, Logan Heights To the San Diego Waterfront - - Sixty Years A Longie
In the 1954 Elia Kazan classic movie, On the Waterfront, the most poignant scene is when the gang boss blows the whistle for the Longshoremen to shape up. The gang boss picks who gets to work that day. If you get called great, if not your shit out of luck. No appeal. No nothing-- but take a hike. The point of the scene was to impart the message that working on the waterfront as a Longshoreman is a tough job for tough guys. The hard work swallows you up. It's not for everybody and for many years it was harder to get in, than the hard work that awaited you. The key was always who you knew or who your family was; it always helped if they had worked on the waterfront or the canneries. The San Diego Waterfront, had since the 1930s, been home to a thriving fishing industry with fishing boats and canneries, creating jobs and economic opportunities for many San Diegans. It thrived until the early 70s, when the fishing boats had to relocate and the canneries began closing or moving away. The Port of San Diego had in the mid 50s come out of being a major military installation during the World War II and the Korean Conflict, to a port not sure of its identity. Did it want to be a commercial port or a Leisure port? Whatever the character, it needed Longshoremen to do its work.
Published on LatinoLA: November 22, 2017
The flow of Mexicanos to the United States began in 1920 and hit its stride by the late 20s, they settled throughout the Southwest and followed the flow of work. Many families like Augustine Reyes and his wife Jenny looked to California for the chance to work and provide for their family. In the early 1920s the Reyes family came to San Diego settling in Logan Heights on Newton Avenue. Logan Heights was near the jobs of the time, mostly construction related to the railroad and other commercial pursuits. Logan also was attractive to Mexican families because it had the presence of friends and relatives who had come in the first wave of immigrants in the early 1900s. This was important to Augustine and Jenny Reyes, who were from Arizona and New Mexico and understood that kin relations and friendships were sometimes the only things that could sustain a family during hard times. The bond of family and friends would later be strengthened by a new industry, the Tuna Canneries. They were built at the harbor, and employed many Mexican men and women from Logan Heights. Logan Heights also had a unique feature called the Neighborhood House, founded by Helen Marson, the daughter of San Diego business leader George Marston. Helen Marston who because of her philanthropy saw a need to create a settlement house for the Mexican immigrant families to aid them in their Americanization process. Little did she realize it would become the heart and soul of generations of Mexican families.
The Reyes family by the 1930s was growing and would eventually produce 10 siblings. In 1935 Augustine Reyes, Jr. was born in the midst of the depression. Times were hard and it seemed to mark the spirit of young Augie Reyes. It was as if his fate was telling him to embrace the idea of hard work because it was and would be part of him. Augie Reyes attended Lowell Elementary, where he formed friendships that would last him from Lowell School to Memorial Junior and San Diego High and beyond to the Neighborhood House and the San Diego Waterfront. He also shared, like many Logan Heights families of the time, an army of uncles and aunts, cousins and other relatives. By 1952, Augie Reyes finished Memorial Junior High and along with his friends Tony Sanchez, Bobby Castro, Frank Castro, Jake Rodriquez and his brother Gomie Reyes. They looked forward to the next step in their life, San Diego High School. This was a time in Logan Heights where guys had to be tough and represent the neighborhood. Clubs like the Black Angels, Yellow Jackets and the Cherry Gang were going strong at the Neighborhood House and throughout the Heights. San Diego High, which Augie Reyes graduated from in 1955, was a powerhouse in sports with the likes of Art Powell and Floyd Robinson leading the way, who were also from Memorial Jr High and Logan Heights. In fact, years later, Floyd Robinson at a San Diego Hall of Champion induction, indicated that some of his most competitive baseball games he played in were when he was playing for the Neighborhood House Team.
As a Kid, Augie Reyes had always hustled from selling the Evening Tribune green sheet to anything that would could earn money to help out at home and get the stuff he wanted for himself. By 1955, his senior year at San Diego High, he bought himself a 1949 Chevy. He was proud that he could buy his own car because he knew after high school he would have to find work and having a car would help. Through some boyhood friends, Dido Cuadras and Paulie Torres, he was told about jobs at the Waterfront working as Longshoreman.They knew about it through their relatives and like most of Logan Heights men, they had either worked at the cannery or been fisherman before becoming Longshoremen. They made it very clear to Augie Reyes that it was hard ass work and you had to pull your weight and you had to listen and do what the older more experienced guys told you to do, or your ass was gone. But the pay was decent and if you did your job, there would be a chance for more work. Your tool box would be a longshoreman hook and your body to load and unload whatever products were placed before you. In 1955, Augie Reyes went through the doors of ILWU Local 29 San Diego Hiring Hall looking for work for the first time. He unknowingly entered a world dominated by Thad Black. Thad Black had been a close associate of the union founder Harry Bridges and as such ran the San Diego Local in accordance with their common vision for the union. Thad Black ran the Local for many years assisted by Bill French. Together they determined who worked and who didn't. According to union lore, the card numbering system and more democratic forms of elections followed the passing of the Thad Black era. The seniority method for work on the waterfront that Augie Reyes first encountered laid out a very specific pecking order. First, A-men, second, B-men and finally the casuals. Each level was determined by the number of hours completed and types of experience you had, and each having authority over the lower, in the completion of whatever task was at hand.
It was safe to say that the A-men, the B-men and old timers that taught Augie Reyes Jr. how to be a longshoreman were tough, hard working guys, who taught by doing the job and letting you learn by doing. One thing the waterfront gives to everybody, especially the longies is nicknames.
Guys with names like Killer, Cucuy, Pelican, Sparky, Uppie, Pontiac, Smoky, Babe, Smally, and Manito. The lessons Augie Reyes learned from the old timers, along with hard work, helped him move through the ranks from longshoreman to wench driver, to crane driver, to dock foreman, to ship foreman and finally super cargo foreman, all in the span of 60 years! He retired in 2015 with 60 years walking out with his seniority number of 13 and a love for his brother and sister longies and an appreciation for the San Diego Waterfront for what it gave to the families of Logan Heights.
San Diego Community Activist, Local Politician and Freelance Writer
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