"If you ain't from no barrio, then you ain't born." -- a 10-year-old bay from South San Gabriel
One evening dusk came early in South San Gabriel, with wind and cold spinning to earth. People who had been sitting on porches or on metal chairs near fold-up tables topped with cards and beer bottles collected their things to go inside. Others put on sweaters or jackets. A storm gathered beyond the trees.
Tino and I strolled past the stucco and wood-frame homes of the neighborhood consisting mostly of Mexicans with a sprinkling of poor white families (usually from Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas). Ranchera music did battle with Country & Western songs as we continued toward the local elementary school, an oil-and-grime stained basketball under my arm.
We stopped in front of a chain-link fence which surrounded the school. An old brick building cast elongated shadows over a basketball court of concrete on the other side of the fence. Leaves and paper swirled in tiny tornadoes.
"Let's go over," Tino proposed.
I looked up and across the fence. A sign above us read: NO ONE ALLOWED AFTER 4:30 PM, BY ORDER OF THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT. Tino turned toward me, shrugged his shoulders and gave me a whocares look.
"Help me up, man, then throw the ball over."
I cupped my hands and lifted Tino up while the boy scaled the fence, jumped over and landed on sneakered feet.
"Come on, Luis, let's go," Tino shouted from the other side.
I threw over the basketball, walked back a ways, then ran and jumped on the fence, only to fall back. Although we were both 10 years old, I cut a shorter shadow.
"Forget you, man," Tino said. "I'm going to play without you."