En El Barrio De Ayer (Life in the Ghetto)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

As the hot Texas sun scorches the dry cotton fields, the sorrow of despair and defeat could be seen in the lifeless eyes of men, women and children, toiling under the searing summer sun. There is a muted sound of sorrow emanating from their souls, that can break a cold and hardened heart.

EN EL BARRIO DE AYER

(Life In the Ghetto)

By Al Garcia

As the hot Texas sun scorches the dry cotton fields, the sorrow of despair and defeat could be seen in the lifeless eyes of men, women and children, toiling under the searing summer sun.  There is a muted sound of sorrow emanating from their souls, that can break a cold and hardened heart.  It is a sound that reaches into the depth of you, and touches the very soul of you.  This was life en el barrio de ayer – life not lived, just life in motion.  A "barrio" back in the 40s and 50s along the Rio Grande were Mexican or Mexican-American neighborhoods, which some would today identify as "ghettos."  For the most part, yesterday's barriors were the ghettos along the Rio Grandee.

Ghetto life along the Rio Grande was no different, no better, than life in city ghettos, where life was cheap, inferior and too often despicable.  The only difference was city dwellers lived in Ghettos, while brown-skinned laborers lived in barrios – no distinction, just a different place, and a different kind of sorrow. 

Men and women struggled and survived, and children were born en el barrio de ayer.  And always, there was the hot Texas sun above, and the dry, filthy and never-ending fields of cotton, corn, tomatoes, and endless crops that needed tending and gathering by a cadre of chattel – pieces of living, breathing tangible personal property of aristocratic Christian gentry – the children of los barrios.  Human life demeaned and devalued. 

It is hard to spend a lifetime with the festering wound of betrayal and duplicity that scars the heart and ravages the soul.  Yet, the barrios were full of wounded and defeated people, and exhausted and joyless children, too tired to dream, too innocent to know they were no different than the jefes or masters of their lives.  The only difference was that they were brown, poor, available, and expendable.  And mamas and papas cried in their hearts at night, while children slept en los barrios de ayer. 

And life went on in the ghettos and the barrios along the Rio Grande.  There was always hunger in their bellies, and thirst in the minds, while their hearts and souls were numbed by the heartlessness and callousness of those who kept their bodies and minds shackled and bound.  And dreams, dreams were few and far between.  And when they did occur, it was of better days for the children, and of tables filled with food to feed the body, and of hope to fill the empty hearts and souls.  That was life and dreams en los barrios de ayer.  And mamas and papas cried in their hearts at night. 

It is hard not to cry for my past and for those that existed but never had a chance to truly live.  It is hard for me to imagine the unbearable pain of trying to understand and accept the circumstances that defined that time and that place of my birth.  I cannot come to grips with the idea of man’s inhumanity to man, especially when the cruelty, viciousness, brutality, callousness and unkindness, was directed at me, my family, and my kind -- descendants of lowly brown-skinned peónes or braceros (laborers), Mexican-American farmers, ranchers, and even some Spanish and Mexican gentry, who were once forced to live en los barrios de ayer. 

We were born into a world that did not acknowledge our status as equal among men, or citizens of the country we were taught to honor and love.  Yet, we were assured that we were lucky to be here.  Lucky to live in the barrios, in hovels and shacks, and live lives defined by poverty, sorrow and unceasing tiredness.  Lucky to be able to see and hear and feel how our betters lived their lives.  Lucky to be able to press our faces against their windows and dream the dreams they lived. 

I am surprised that the barrios did not grow an army of angry young men, like other ghettos have.  We were taught well.  Despite the mistreatment and abuse, we were told to turn the other cheek, and turn our heads, and forgive those who never saw us as equals or as a part of the family of man.  We were infused with Christian faith, despite the fact that it was so-called Christians that were shunning us, snubbing us, barring us, isolating us.  We were taught patience, tolerance, forgiveness and love.  And I wonder where and how that ever came to be.  How could inspiration and motivation have found their way into the barrios and into the hungry stomachs and empty hearts of disillusioned souls?  Faith, hope, work in mysterious ways.

And although we have weathered the storm, and endured the whirlwinds of struggles and sorrows, and endured and persevered, I am still unable to come to terms with the fact of the inhumanity that lurks inside the human mind and heart. 

We are the human race.  Alike in every way.  One beating heart.  A soul.  A mind.  Dreams that inspire our imaginations.  Blood that flows and bleeds.  Emotions that make us feel joy, grief, horror, and even love.  And yet, there was that time not long ago, when our own kind – human beings like you and I – Christians, like you and I, who for some reason thought themselves to be superior, mightier, smarter, whiter.  And then, the ghettos and the barrios came to be.  And the shackles and the bonds of servitude were cast upon the humble and the meek.

I guess I will never understand.  I may never fully accept.  But this I do know.  It must never happen again.  We have outgrown the shackles and the bonds that once held us and bound us.  We have seen the promised land, and felt the rays of sun that now shine upon golden fields of hope and dreams.  We have seen what lies beyond the barrios and the ghettos.  And we know how hearts and souls should feel – full and proud and free. 

Our hearts may have been born en el barrio de ayer, but we live in today, where hope grows eternal. 


Submitted: May 23, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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