Another Piece of Brown Christmas

Memories are more valuable than gift cards

By Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: December 24, 2008

Another Piece of Brown Christmas

As I read my homie Al Carlos Hernandez 's "Brown Christmas" piece, I found myself nodding the "I know, huh?" feeling several times, and having an urge to add a bit more to the "Brown Christmas" concept.

I too, grew up in less than luxurious surroundings, with three brothers and three sisters, two working parents, lots of cousins pulling extended visits in our house, and lots of turmoil in the 'hood during the Viet Nam draft era, Civil Rights movement and Chicano movimiento, minimum wage at $1.75, and lots of inequities surrounding people of color.

I could go on and on about tough times, but there's already been enough about that‘«™so I'll chill on that subject. Let's talk about some good stuff.

I realize now that some of the greatest gifts I ever got were good times with family and friends‘«™many of them who are gone now. Memories and good times with simple pleasures like lots of food, love, laughter, and music in our home‘«™something I'd like to provide for my kids & grandkids now. Memories are priceless.

I also didn't grow up with chestnuts roasting, snow, or fireplaces in L.A., and the song "White Christmas" to me meant a day or place for gabachos without a Mexican-American or African-American in the area‘«™(something my Marine buddies from back east used to tease me good-naturedly me about)

As I prepare for Christmas as a faux Santa for my grandkids (already got the hair color and belly), I think about how my cherished memories have lasted far longer than my G.I Joe's, Stingray bike, pogo stick, transistor radio, new Pendleton or any other commercial gift from Zody's or White Front or J.C.Penny I may have longed for before Wal-Mart, Target, or Best Buy even existed. (Macy's, Robinson's, and Neiman-Marcus were, of course, out of the question).

My memories were brought to the forefront this past weekend before Christmas, as I traveled over to the old neighborhood in the San Gabriel Valley, just east of the L.A. river.

Lots of changes, lots of progress‘«™lots of good since I moved out.

December is the month of my mother's and my oldest brother's birthdays, both deceased for two years now. My family had decided to get together and visit the graves of both this past Sunday. As we gathered around, tearfully smiling, exchanging favorite stories, and decorating the gravesites with small artifacts, I looked around to see a most crowded cemetery of families doing the very same thing.

I don't know if it was just because it was the neighborhood (Rowland Heights) where the cemetery is located, but I noticed that the majority of visitors were either Latino or Asian. Never saw so many large groups at a cemetery, post funeral...but I thought it good, if not different.

As I saw that most visitors were in groups, I wondered what their memories were that brought them here, in the midst of Christmas bargain hunting shopping‘«™and none of us seemed to mind the other's laughter or tears, as this was an appropriate moment for them.

‘«™families enjoying a family moment, albeit at a cemetery.

Driving to and from the cemetery through Hacienda Heights, I also saw that the streets are decorated with large street banners on most street light or utility poles that boldly honors and states the name of a young man or woman presently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces‘«™.and I appreciated that! That wasn't the case during Viet Nam, Beirut, or the first Gulf War. Here, they were naming names!

Again, I noticed that the majority of the names were either Latino or Asian‘«™and I appreciated the fact that others making a contribution to our Country were being noticed outright in public‘«™without any reason other than they were serving in uniform during the holiday season.

‘«™a lot different from back in the day, when all military recruiting posters only portrayed Caucasians as defenders of freedom, Hacienda Heights was notoriously known as Caucasian majority, where you never saw a Spanish or Asian name on any billboard or storefront, and voluntarily serving in the military was considered a choice only for losers and hard timers... I felt a sense of calm driving through this city, where many years ago, my friends and I were targets of police harassment just for DWB (Driving While Brown), even in uniform.

Not so in Hacienda Heights today‘«™.thanks!

I did some last minute shopping at one of the local shopping malls, and I observed some white kids and Asian kids hanging out and dancing to black hip-hop music in the parking lot and having a ball in broad daylight‘«™and I smiled as I appreciated the freedoms both these groups of kids can openly enjoy together today, with no second thoughts.

Inside the department store, I observed both customers & store employees of many mixed races, all smiling and interacting in the Christmas spirit without any tensions or reservations as to who was looking at who talk to who‘«™and I felt comfortable that for this brief moment in time, there was peace on Earth‘«™

My checker was a young Middle Easterner who noticed me looking up at his turban as he rang up my purchases‘«™as if almost reading my mind, he smiled and joked " That will be $67.52‘«™what? You thought we only worked at 7-11?..." ‘«™and I laughed as I corrected the folly of my previous stereotypical belief.

Things are tough, yes,‘«™but to all those Gente of color over 50 who can attest‘«™things HAVE been tougher! We have a lot to be grateful for this Holiday season, despite 2 wars and an economy that righteously sucks!

I couldn't afford to buy everyone I wanted to a gift, but most of them being family and good friends understand, and realize that at our age, it's all but a commercial thing, mostly for the kids. A simple Christmas card and invitation to come over for some tamales and a cold one means a lot more, carries a lot more value‘«™and the words "cheapskate" or "Scrooge" never come into mind.

‘«™at least on my part of the Planet!

Merry Christmas, Happy New Years, and wishing a most splendid Holiday season to you and yours.

‘«™and may you be blessed with some cool memories !

Frankie Firme

About Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the 'Al Capone of the microphone & the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul" heard daily on world wide Internet Radio.
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