two years.

Almost two years have passed since I moved to Los Angeles. When I decided to make the move, I’d only been to L.A. once—back in 2002 for a wedding. Before that, my knowledge of the city was based on information from movies, songs, books I’d read in Chicana/o and Asian American Studies classes, and the after-dinner-stories told by my Papá and Grandpa.

“There’s a lot of Taos people in Los Angeles,” my grandpa still reminds me, whenever L.A. comes up, which is often. “A lot of our people over there, New Mexico people.” During WWII, my grandpa had been in Los Angeles briefly before his troop was shipped to Burma. According to his story, he was among the troops ordered to beat Mexican youth who wore zoot suits. It was during one of the raids that he was walking down the street when someone called his name. “Hey, primo! What say?” “Nothing, primo. Let’s have a beer!” I guess he decided to have a beer with his cousin and some other folks he knew from home, instead of joining the riots. He told me later that he knew he was caught in a strange position, one that he didn’t agree with—a Chicano soldier. I still wonder what it must have been like for him in that moment.

Over 25 years later, my 22-year-old father came to Los Angeles, wanting to experience new places. He lived in Lincoln Heights and drove an ambulance at night. His favorite memory was of walking from Union Station after work in the morning and grabbing breakfast at a taquería near the placita. He only stayed in L.A. for a year or so before moving back home to New Mexico. That was in the late ‘60s. Even though he hasn’t been to Los Angeles since, I think he imagines it as if it hasn’t changed.

When I last suggested that I should take a train back from Albuquerque, my papá protested. “That area around Union Station is not safe for young ladies,” he’d said…or something like that. Actually, it’s not just Union Station that he thinks is “unsafe for young ladies,” it’s all of Los Angeles. He thought the same thing when I’d moved to NYC several years ago. If he could have his way, I’d live in Albuquerque, which is actually just as (un)safe as Los Angeles, only more familiar. This is clearly a gender issue–obviously, he wouldn’t be concerned if it were one of mis manitos living out here. He forgets that Union Station and the surrounding area (100 years ago)–the site of my dissertation research—is what brought me to Los Angeles in the first place. And I wanted to get to know and become a part of the communities that live in the legacies of the people whose lives I study.

I knew four people in L.A when mi manito and I moved my stuff into my new apartment. Friends told me it was a “brave” move—maybe it was just crazy. I remember thinking, “if I hate it here, I can always pack up and go home.” I can’t front, those first few months really sucked. L.A. is a difficult place to be a newcomer. Now, after two years spent meeting new folks and exploring in the city—in person and amid dusty papers in multiple libraries—it has become more and more familiar. And I like it here.

Someone recently asked me whether I could finally call L.A. my “home.” And I surprised myself when I thought, there’s nowhere else I’d rather live right now…. But on the real, though? I’m not sure I can really call it “home” until I find some of the New Mexico gente my grandpa keeps talking about, who know how to make a great bowl of green chile. If you know some, hook this nuevomexicana up!

6 thoughts on “two years.

  1. There’s supposedly a place near Long Beach that makes decent New Mexico style food, I’ll see if I can find the info.

  2. Is your grandpa still alive? If yes, is anyone (you or other family members) recoding any of his stories about being a young Chicano during WWII? I and many others would love to hear his stories.

  3. Thanks, Chavo! I’ll have to check it out.

    Thanks for your comment, too, Dorit. My grandpa is still alive. For a while, my brother was recording his stories. He’s a bit uncomfortable with knowing he’s being recorded. I once tried to have the US Latina/o WWII Oral History Project (at UT-Austin) come out and interview him, but at the time they seemed to be backlogged with so many veterans. Hopefully, we can have him interviewed soon. If you’re interested, they’ve got a lot of the interviews digitized now. It’s a great project. Here’s the website:

  4. New Mexico food is so different than the kind of stuff you get here in Los Angeles. I was also surprised at how different Mexican food was in Southern Arizona (don’t get me started on NORTHERN Arizona where I had the worst Mexican food ever!).
    Mexican food has been changing here in Los Angeles for the past 20 years as more Mexicans immigrate from central and southern Mexico. Previously, a lot of the Mex food came with folks like my great grandparents who were from, guess where? Arizona, New Mexico and Sonora! It’s all about the flour tortillas!
    By the way, I’m sending the link to your story to a couple of New Mexicans I know.

  5. My husband just came back from his 20 yr. high school reunion in Santa Fe. Other than visiting with long lost friends his only other “must-do” on the trip was to eat chile at every possible opportunity. His family was here in LA for a long while & finally packed it up and moved back to Taos in the mid 90s. (I think to get back to the green chile!) We’ve been here continuosly for almost 20 years and have yet to find ANY New Mexican food. If you discover any, let us know!

  6. I’ve been on the hunt for Coloradan/New Mexican-style Mexican food, especially good green chile, for 11 years with no luck. Please, for the love of god, let me know if you find some.

    In the meantime, do what I do: have your family FedEx you a bunch of five pound boxes of chile every year and stick them in the freezer, or order them directly from Hatch:

    Best of all, you can pre-order them from El Rey Farms, who truck them out from NM every year:

    They’ll start delivering in a month or so, and you can get your chiles roasted on site after you pick them up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *