The never ending sounds of often violence echoes in the background each and every night as you see people’s faces covered with blood and cop cars surrounding the house as another home invasion has interrupted the night’s events by scattering young and old throughout the streets running away from the cops coming down hard on anyone or anything that moves in the darkened shadows.
Sensationalized by hovering television helicopters and satellite equipped news vans seen pulling up to nearby crime scenes hoping to cover the press release while standing next to the mobile police command center and criminal labs brought there to gather all the evidence of what appears to be another gang related senseless killing of our young people caught in the cross fire of the barrio nightmare.
This extreme kind of violence has brought about more cops into the neighborhood than ever before. Every five minutes a cop car pulls up and checks out anybody that walks or talks on the streets or front porches checking identification cards and taking pictures of tattoos and gang suspects that roam there.
Strangely every morning, this senseless violence is overlooked or ignored inside the barrio as kids growing up have adjusted their lifestyles to deal with the darkness around them. Losing family or friends overnight has become a ritual that is easily accepted once the pain subsides enough to breathe again.
Paying for funerals has resulted in car washes and other charity events on street corners to cover the expenses of the dead as many don’t have enough insurance to pay for a coffin. In this part of town with the dilapidated apartments and run down homes the people have been forced to live with the mayhem by no choice of their own but by the code of the gangs that roam there.
High rent causes people to be kicked out daily. High violence causes schools to be locked down often and low incomes provide just enough food to put on the table with the help of food stamps and other means to barter for income those things no longer valuable to them and easy to pawn or sell at 50 cents on the dollar every day.
Sparsely furnished house owners cruise the streets to find abandoned furniture and relic old broken down wrecked cars litter the neighborhood. The trash is violence overflowing with debris as birds pick the overflow and litter them into the streets. Nighttime is filled with muzzle flash and noises and even on the Fourth of July, the sounds resemble the sounds of violence rather than sounds of freedom.
Oddly, many remain to live hear despite their poverty, their obstacles and the violence. Asked why they stay they shake their heads and tell you there is no other place to go. Living here has given many of them a chance to be free and away from oppression and control by foreign governments south of the border and freedom stays no matter how high the price will be.
My family are some who remained here no matter what goes on during the day or night as they too have no other place to live or go. There is always hope it will change but the days are short and the nights are longer as you begin to dream you way to happiness and contentment regardless of the odds being stacked against you by society, government or even your own relatives.
Not long ago, a baby was born and she met a good man who promised to marry her and take care of her. A hard working man with a small pickup work truck he came to rescue her from the barrio but was quickly sucked in by the quagmire of the culture around him. Resistance was futile and living there was their nightmare but they had dreams that someday they would leave this forsaken place and find a new home for their newborn and themselves.
A carpenter by trade and a construction do it all jack of all trades, his work gave him opportunities to bring home some materials that he could use to fix up their modest apartment. Looking from the outside it looked just like any other tenement apartment but on the inside, he had laid tile and carpet to keep the place nice and neat and clean.
Lights and sirens were common whether it was day or night. Helicopter searchlights and cop car spot lights scanned the darkness for gang members and possible rapist and burglars as this was one of the highest crime areas in the city. In the meantime, prostitutes come by and take the shortcuts to their corners as they stroll by every house and tease young boys and men with every shake and step they make and take.
Monday mornings began the mad dash to find a job or go to work that would allow them to survive and live from day to day. Many women worked in hotels and motels as housekeeping maids and the men were often hired for labor or construction work that seems to be always available but paid out in very meager wages. Cash was best and there were no complaints as the money put food on the table and gas in their cars.
No later than 3 a.m. there was a ritual inside every house where ovens were turned on each early mornings as the fresh made tortillas were filled with Colby Monterey cheese, sausage, ham, chilies, jalapenos, bacon, eggs, chorizo or other simple ingredients that were rolled into a burrito or casserole as lunch was the most important part for the day.
Brothers, cousins, uncles and fathers rode together either in the family pickup truck or the commune transportation system set up to handle it all.
Water was bottled and plenty of salsa sauce was made to give the foods their flavor but it never seemed enough as the workers get first picks on the food and those that stayed home ate the left overs.
Working in the community or far away they wake up every morning and sweat their bodies till the sun is too hot to work in. Arizona weather can only be handled by so many workers and most start their day before the sun rises and the temperatures are cool and tolerable.
By midday the heat slows down the workers and by 2 p.m. they pack up their tools and head for the shade to cool down before the ride back to the barrio where their hopes are still intact that someday they will leave this all behind and follow their dreams.
School for the kids is important as their dropout rates are some of the highest in the country. Working and going to school is common and the family needs every penny they earn to meet the high rent or house payments owned by slum lords who neglect their properties but are quick to evict them if they fall behind on their payments.
The school grounds are saturated with gangs, drugs and bullies. Every kid has to learn how to fight and survive or go down and be subjected to harm and intimidation by those who prey on others and hurt them either for fun or for no other good reason.
Teenage mothers and newborn babies fill the air at nearby clinics as they take their infants for checkup and care. Single parents seem to dominate the numbers when it comes to raising kids and most of these kids rely on their grandma or nana to help them with their kids whether it is babysitting or raising them full time so they can work.
Kids raising kids and nanas raising them and others is the way the culture survives this craziness that exists within these poverty stricken low rent neighborhoods infested with bugs and thugs and there is nothing they can do about it. Talking to the cops is snitching and they learn early that snitches get stitches or end up in ditches.
Then the violence of a demolition and construction crew crashed into their barrio dream. The house was unstable and the city deemed it dangerous so they ordered it to be vacated and demolished. Hiding the real reasons for building a new store, the family becomes homeless in less than 30 days as they scramble to gather up their belonging and ask another family member if there they can stay.
In this neighborhood there were three demolition crews at work. The construction crew, the gangster crews and the police officer crews. They all worked hard to destroy one or another and nobody wins except those who can afford to rebuild and start all over. These crews destroyed structural and social foundations like an earthquakes destroys everything in its path. There is no compassion for the poor and these forces are hard at work night and day without exception.
Those who were fortunate enough to keep their houses had to deal with leaking roofs, worn out air conditioners, leaky sewer and water pipes that rusted and gas lines that exposed them to carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide poisoning if they weren’t alert enough to catch the trouble.
Garages were converted into bedrooms for add on family members and parking on the streets had its own hazards as some mornings, their car or trucks were missing and sold for parts across the border or some other chop shop nearby.
How much more wretchedness of the violence, the social displacement and the poverty can they take? Why is so important to persevere and take a stand? Why is it so important to continue this journey of misery when you can just give up and move away to start all over again?
When it is all said and done and you find your way back to the sanity that often leaves you day or night, you will find the answer in their nightmares and dreams living in the barrio and as they get used to struggle as a person, a family or a community, they know they can never give up.