Salvador B. Castro, presente

June 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

IMG_0589 I picked up the LA Times one day in April and read the lengthy obituary of a fiery Chicano educator of the 1960s named Sal Castro. Looking at the photo, I realized Sal was a neighbor, the beefy guy who worked in an office in his garage and whom I saw, when the door was up, on my neighborhood walks. The guy with license plates reading ANIMO (which means “soul” in Spanish, and could also mean “courage” and “encourage”). The heavy-browed guy who never said hello or smiled.

IMG_0587His identity was confirmed when a poster appeared in front of that same garage announcing a memorial service. The Times even covered his funeral at the cathedral downtown attended by 600 people, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Sal Castro would have had stories to tell if I had known who he was and had had the courage to ask. According to his obit, in the late ‘60s Castro was a brand new LAUSD social studies teacher who encouraged his Chicano students to speak up about the overcrowded and run-down schools, lousy teachers, sky high dropout rates, and counselors who thought Latinos belonged in auto shop, not college-prep classes.

In what became a formative event in that era’s Chicano Movement, 1,000 students at five high schools walked out of class March 5, 1968, sparking a broader protest that spread to 15 schools over several days. (Villaraigosa was one of those students.) That landed Castro and 12 others in jail on conspiracy charges and he lost his job.

After parents protested, Castro was rehired by LAUSD but was moved from school to school as a substitute for several years until finally being assigned to Belmont High near downtown.  He taught at Belmont for more than 30 years until his retirement in 2004.

Castro apparently had a secure identity and Chicano pride at an early age. Born to Mexican immigrants in Boyle Heights, Castro started school in Mexico, learning to read in Spanish. When his parents returned to LA and Castro entered second grade, his teacher sat him in a corner because he couldn’t speak or read English.

According to the Times, “I started thinking, these teachers . . . should be able to understand me. I didn’t think I was dumb–I thought they were dumb.”

Fortunately for thousands of Chicano students, Sal Castro channeled his anger at dumb teachers into challenging L.A.‘s racist educational system. He received national attention for his work in 2006 when Edward James Olmos directed an HBO movie, Walkout, about that period of his life.  And it seems LAUSD finally forgave him his bold and outspoken ways: in 2010 the institution sharing Belmont’s campus was named the Salvador B. Castro Middle School.

Not just another grocery store

June 3, 2013 § 2 Comments

IMG_2886There’s a grocery store in Glassell Park that I think of as existing on the boundary between Mexico and Armenia.

Just off the 2 freeway on San Fernando Road, Super King is where you shop if a) you want “ethnic” foods that few stores stock and b) you have to feed a lot of people on little money and c) you believe meals don’t come from a box, can, or freezer compartment but from hours in a kitchen and d) standing in line is a way of life and e) you believe reusable shopping bags are optional.

Super King is never not busy. I’ve driven by at 8:20 a.m.–the store opens at 8– and not only are cars streaming into the lot, shoppers with stuffed plastic sacks wait at the curb for MTA buses that will take them home.

Shopping begins before entering the store. Outside the entrance, bins the size of Rhode Island hold bargain-priced produce: oranges or corn or watermelons or whatever else is in oversupply.

Before shopping, however, you have to find a cart to put your stuff in. Few shoppers return carts to the front of the store or even to satellite holding pens; they’re left . . . wherever. IMG_2887

Once you corral a cart–and they’re BIG ones–you have to fight your way inside the store and through the crowded aisles. I quickly learned that WASP-y behavior doesn’t get you very far at Super King. No one–and I mean NO ONE–gives way.

[I’ve often wondered: Is this “every shopper for him/herself” M.O because customers come with so many different languages and cultural norms that the idea of “common” courtesy is meaningless? Or because “every shopper for her/himself” IS the cultural norm in shoppers’ home countries?]

The massive produce section (where nothing is pre-packaged and digging through an entire pile of plums to find the absolute best is A-OK) could house an entire Fresh & Easy store. Items barely represented at Ralph’s or Von’s–Russian pickles, Armenian relishes, two kilo plastic barrels of Kalamata olives–occupy extended shelf space. They bear labels printed in Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Lebanon, and the West Bank.IMG_2888

You’ll find coffee at Super King, but tea rules: the store had enough pressure-packed, one-pound bricks of green, black, and fruit infused tea to rebuild the Berlin Wall.

And then there’s rice: 10 and 25 pound bags of the stuff stretch for entire aisle. Ditto bags of beans, peas and lentils.IMG_2891

At the deli counter you can buy eight different nationalities of feta and salamis from every country east of the Danube. Fish, poultry, meats, baked goods, nuts & dried fruits each have their own counter: take a number and stand in line. You want baklava? Halva? A tamale steamer? It’s there. As are modest quantities of standard items like orange juice, paper towels, and breakfast cereals.

Your cart of goods will be rung up with dispatch by a bored-looking woman named Nare or Milena or Anahit, though there might be some more of that waiting in line business to get through first.

Exit past the water-pipes, lottery tickets, and security guards, then watch out for in-coming cars as you cross the parking lot.

And your cart? Do something radical: Put it where it belongs.

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