Uncle ray

dads 80th_28

My uncle ray was a true veterano, a varrio legend. He escaped the oppressive climate that mexican indians endured in New Mexico in the 1930’s, as a young boy literally clinging to my grandma’s back. My abuela was his older sis, and she has  many a tale involving him being a baby tied to her back as they worked the fields in Nueva Mexico, then the central valle, then around the LA area.

dads 80th_20

My abuela’s familia first moved to Watts, the landing pad for many a migrants at the time, eventually ending up in the old southeast corner of the “flats” in Boyle heights, the are now south of the 5 freeway around the Estrada Courts projects.  That is the community my uncle ray grew up in, under the shadow of my tios miguel and joaquin (traviesos who founded VNE). They called him “ramrod” because he didnt drink and his vices were much less wild than his male counterparts.  According to family lore, the varrio nuevo estrada gang began as local teenagers policing the neighborhood. During the time of severe segregation, the local police would do nothing when the white hobos would rob mexican schoolkids walking home, so their older brothers banded together to scrap with them, walking kids home from school.  that group became a social club, and then pachucos, and then a full on street gang. My uncle  had an old VNE tat on his forearm, covered with a “mom” he got during the war (or around then). He left the barrio to serve in WW2, came back a decorated veterano who stormed normandie, and lived on estrada street until his recent death.

dads 80th_25

dads 80th_29

He was an instrumental community leader, rode in the east la veterans car in parades, and was a well known mariachi operating around resurrection church, the church of my family. I have many a fond memory playing in that church, or walking up Lorena to the peanut store, or running around the projects on hunter street, or the pharmacia my grandma still goes to at the corner. Both my grandparents are in the next pic, abuelo 3rd from the right looking all firme. He was also a veterano, when we buried my uncle ray his medals sat in my grandma’s dining room next to my abuelo’s, 4 purple hearts between the two of them!

Dads 80th019

This pic is in front of the old resurrection church on lorena. I always was under the impression that this church is now abutting the 5 freeway at lorena, but others say that oscar de la hoya’s new school sits on it. Id like to think the former for preservation’s sake. Supposedly some shite is goin down during this pic, according to family, but I wont delve into that.

Dad 80th0014

There also supposedly is some old 1980s documentary made by eddie olmos about eastlos mariachis that features my tio, he was an eastside superstar, getting hit up by fans everywhere we went. from the sears to el borrklyn to atlantic square and back, that was my universe! Either way, he loved his music, and passed it one to countless others, including members of my own family, I guess the creativity runs in the veins.

.dads 80th_14

I love you uncle ray, my eldest son esai has the same head and long tall features you had. He looks like a carbon copy of you from the back of the head, with the high ears and long neck, it will always remind me of how great you are. as if that is needed! Even when you got old and forgot things, you knew who I was and called my son “curly top”. You were one of the toughest, kindest most admirable men I ever know.

dads 80th_22

RIP Ramon Ramirez, a true eastside legend!

22 thoughts on “Uncle ray

  1. submit these photos to the los angeles public library for the Shades of L.A. collection. i’m not sure what’s going on with the photo collections at the biblioteca with all the budget cut bull#@$%!#% but it would be a great contribution to keep these stories alive.

  2. Thanks for sharing Art, RIP your uncle Ray, it’s tough losing a full blown character from the familia who seemed like a rock and you think would never fade, but I guess that’s life.
    And it’s incredible how similar many of our LA Chicano family histories and photos and memories are. Those photos and also the ones Chimatli puts up could almost be my own family photos and history in LA. I guess that’s what makes us such a tight community.
    There have been times over the years when I have been in other states or even countries and could spot an LA Chicano or Chicana, then when you start talking and sharing experiences it’s just like home
    A unique community we are.

  3. Thanks for sharing your uncle’s story. Family history is intriguing. Telling and sharing with others is such a great tribute. May your Uncle Ray rest in peace and his memory and spirit live on forever.

  4. RIP to your Uncle Ray, Art. The WW2 generation had a toughness and a charm that I don’t think we’ll see again in mainstream American culture.

  5. Beautiful tribute and photos! Interesting how many of the old school Chicano Los Angeles families came via New Mexico. I wonder if we are all related?
    Also, I’m dying to know what was going on in that church photo!

  6. The pedo was hype related. In the wedding table picture where I noted my abuelo being in, the guy on the far right is my uncle bernie, my abuela’s youngest brother and the best known travieso from the family (also from VNE). I guess some tecato he associated with got stupid, hence the commotion. My family has a lot of those stories, like when my tata was in his 60s and beat down some other hype at that old french restaraunt on whittier in Montebello (I was very young but remember it). My uncle bernie was also quite a character (and a mariachi who was mentored by my Uncle Ray); he went awol after during the Korean war and was on the lam for a few years. Somehow he came back from Korea with a shitload of guns and ammo and other contraband (including heroin) which he sold and lived off of for a few years before serving time for his departure. He was also a tough motherfucker.

    Thank you for the kind words, I agree on how trippy it is how many chicanos come to the Los via new mexico. my abuelo’s family was from Wickenburg Arizona, and were yaqui artisans who helped build the town. My Abuela’s family were apache/papago indians, her mom from marence,az and dad a full blood from the mountains of cahuila. They lived around las cruces until coming to LA around the depression.

  7. Just a guess Art and Chimatli, but an educated guess based on my own family and the history’s of many familia’s I have known who came to LA from New Mexico and Colorado and Arizona too.
    Art mentions Morenci Arizona and place’s around So. New Mexico., maybe Silver City, Tyrone, Santa Rita,. These were mining towns (copper mostly) and LA is filled with Chicano families from those areas, who when the depression or various recessions hit and affected the mines due to the price of the minerals, took off for the promised land, LA, where there were jobs and palm trees and less legal discrimination.
    My own family came mainly from No. New Mexico and So. Colorado where the mining was coal.
    Mining is a tough life that involved moving a lot from one mining town to another where there were jobs.
    My Grandmother used to tell us kids about the time in Dawson NM when a mine explosion killed over 500 men including her two uncles and their two sons and other close relatives. She recalled that sad occasion and the four caskets in the living room of her family’s company house, all the men had died in that explosion and two weeks later, in the middle of a cold winter, the mining company told the women and children they had to leave the company housing because no men were working in the coal mines.
    Good reasons for coming to LA then.

  8. Was this the same Ray who worked many years at Sherwin Williams paints and uncle to Alex Ramirez?

  9. Was this the same Ray who worked many years at Sherwin Williams paint Co. and uncle to Alex Ramirez?

  10. Im not sure if my tio worked for sherwin williams, but he does have several nephews named alex ramirez. Ill ask my around and get back to you on that.

  11. Hey george, that is my uncle ray you speak of. He worked at the sherwin williams on soto. How’d you know him? Got any good stories? He passed away several months back and I have been missing him lately, it would be nice to hear others’ stories. He never spoke of the war, but at his funeral several viejitos in military uniform came up and saluted him. It was very moving. Ray’s brother in law, randy, is my grandpa and basically raised me; i spent a lot of my childhood hanging around him and my gramps playing cards and listening ot the horseraces.

    If you knew my tio, would you happen to remember the name of his mariachi group? And which Alex did you know? Was it Jack’s son, the one who now lives in whittier/norwalk?

    Small world!

    Oh yeah, donq, my family lived in silver city for a while too, I remember that name.

  12. I worked with Ray at the paint co from 58 to 66. his nephew Alex is married to Ellen my ex sister in law. they live on pioneer ave near mines in whittier

  13. My maternal grandmother’s family was from Southern New Mexico and Southern Arizona. I’ve gone back to the cities where they lived to find the old graves and homes. My great(x5) grandfather founded a town in southern Arizona called San Antonio (now Virden) that was eventually taken over by Mormons. With some help, I found his gravesite, although now it’s on someone’s private ranch.
    Anyways, they were all copper miners and lived in Miami/Globe, Clifton, Tucson, Morenci, Las Cruces and often went down to work in Cananea, Sonora. That where my great-grandfather met my great-grandmother (her family was Yaqui also) and brought her back up to the US. My great-grandfather ended up dying of tuberculosis at 32 years of age and that’s how the family ended up in Los Angeles. My great-great grandmother had already been living here having fled Sonora long before…

  14. Chimatli do you mean Virden NM? It’s a small farming community on the Gila River that is near the Arizona state line. I’m kind of familiar with that area having worked and done business in that whole corner of NM and Ariz. Virden is indeed a town that was taken over by Mormons when Brigham Young sent out his “flock” to settle and prosper. The original Mexicano’s were kind of forced out but in many places around that area they have become the majority again.
    Virden is on the Gila River and if you follow it up to it’s source in the Gila Wilderness past the towns of Cliff and Gila NM you will discover one of the most wild, vacant and beautiful places in the USA. This is where Geronimo the great Apache leader was born and raised along with other famous Apache’s like Mangas Colorado, Victorio,. there is a lot of history in these locals.

  15. Yes, DQ! Virden, NM is the town and yup, it’s right on the Gila River. My family also has roots right across the state line in Duncan, AZ. It’s an absolutely gorgeous place. I visited there last spring. With the help of the Bejarano family who has also been in the area for ages, I was able to speak to one of the locals in the “Mexican part of town” who helped me find my family’s small graveyard.
    It’s amazing how intimately the locals in the area know their history and how long they have continuously resided in the same place. In the small Mexican area (it’s a group of houses off the main road), the last of the adobe houses were pointed out to me but they seemed like they were soon to be swallowed by river vegetation.
    There was still lots of animosity towards the Mormons who basically stole the town and renamed it and lots of resentment against the rich folks who were buying up property and then fencing off old walkways and paths across their land. I had to ask permission to visit my family’s grave but I guess lots of the locals refuse to ask because they rightly feel they shouldn’t have to. So there is still a lot of tension in the area between locals and newcomers.
    There was a beautiful story written in the Arizona Daily Star called Mama’s Santos. It mentions my great-great-great-great grandfather Candido Telles. For some reason, it’s not up on the website anymore but I found a link to the cache version:

  16. Hey Chimatli! Beautiful story “Mama’s Santos” you provided. But I couldn’t connect with part two and I was really into it because it was so familiar to me, as so often happens. We really are all related somehow, at least as far as family history and the struggle on the way to Los Angeles, it blows my mind, always.

    Hey that story mentioned how tough and resilient our antipasado’s were, they had to be, and in many cases still are.
    Allow me to illustrate this with a little story (DQ always has a story!), about a tough, fearless young Chicano my wife and I ran across from your family’s neck of the woods a while back.
    I was involved at that time with a roofing project at Western New Mexico University in Silver City New Mexico, it was a project that lasted about three months and I was getting lonely and homesick, so I asked my wife to come out from LA and spend a few days with me in New Mexico. I picked her up at the Tucson Airport early one day and started for Silver City. We had a nice lunch in Lordsburg NM and headed up the road. It was about 2PM, and while going through the high country forest that we spotted a young 18 or 20 year old kid hitchhiking along the road in nothing but a T shirt.
    I normally don’t pick up hitchhikers but when I saw this young Chicano he reminded me of my Grandson, tall, thin, good looking but with a kind of humble sad look about him. I said to my wife “Shit look at that young kid up here in the mountains all alone with nothing but a T shirt on, and these fucking mountains, so lonely, isolated, and full of bears and lions and javelina”. That was all it took and my wife says, “how can you just pass that kid by, he does look like our Lance, stop and pick him up before he freezes to death or gets eaten by a mountain lion”
    So I stopped, backed up and asked the kid where he was heading,”Tengo que ir a Silver City Senor, necessito comprar un fuel filtro pa mi Troca”. Like so much of rural New Mexico the language was still Spanish.
    “Vamos a Silver City” I said and off we went.
    Poor kid was cold and thirsty and hungry so we gave him a cold drink and some potato chips. I asked him what the hell he was doing alone up in these wild ass mountains, and he said, in a very matter of fact manner that his truck had broken down (a semi truck tractor we had passed a few miles back on the side of the highway), and he had dismantled the fuel system and found that a fuel filter or line or something had failed, he wanted to go to Silver City, buy the part, get back to the semi truck and fix it himself because he had the tools and the know-how.
    It seems this kids uncle had bought this truck by phone and sent the kid to Denver Colorado to bring it back to Safford Ariz., where they lived. The kid then told us that he had been on the road two days and nights because the truck didn’t have the proper paperwork and he had to drive all the back roads through the mountains of Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona to get it back home to Safford.
    The fucking balls on this kid!
    When we got to Silver City I took the kid to a mechanic I knew but the mechanic told the kid that the part he needed wasn’t available in Silver City and that he would have to order it from either El Paso or Tucson, and it wouldn’t get to him for a day or two.
    Poor kid, he very nicely thanked us all and said that he would wait for a bus to take him to Lordsburg and he would get home to Safford some how from there.
    My wife then gives me the look that says “how in the hell could you allow this sweet young kid (that looks just like our grandson!), to have to get back to his home in these cold dangerous mountain’s all by his lonesome?”
    So, feeling guilty and now responsible, I asked my friend “how far is it to Stafford Arizona?”
    He tells me about 80 to a hundred miles if I headed back down the mountains on the Lordsburg Hwy and took the Duncan Hwy cutoff that goes through Virden, Duncan and into Safford.
    So I tell the kid we’re gonna take him and his smile and look of relief made me feel good. So off we went.
    We bought the kid a chile verde burrito and coke in Duncan and he tells us his story, he is the oldest son of a widowed mother who has 7 other kids, and he and his uncle buy old semi trucks and restore them for resale. His uncle seemed like a hardhearted asshole because he would send this kid all over the fucking place to drive piece of shit semi trucks back to Safford. But this kid had been all over the place and had all kinds of adventures in his travels. He was a proud, tough, independent, youngster who wasn’t afraid of anything it seemed.
    We dropped him off at his uncle’s garage in Safford and the uncle started to chew the kid out for not staying with the truck up in the mountains until he fixed it.
    I got so pissed off I told that old codo tio off. “Hey you old son of a bitch what’s wrong with you? sending a young boy off by himself to pick up your piece of shit truck, having him drive by himself day and night through a bunch of mountain back roads! Then you have the huevos to chew the kid out because it might cost your cheap ass an extra fifty bucks!” The uncle tried to act tough but he was turning pale and had a sick look on his face.
    I felt like kicking the shit out of that asshole but my wife and the kid pulled me outside and the kid tells me very calmly,
    “no te preoccupies jefe, asina es la vida ahora, pero tengo un mejor futuro, quien sabe, possiblemente en Los Angeles, donde ai mas opportunidades.

    On the way back to Silver City my wife asked me “poor mijo, you think he’s going to be all right?”
    I just laughed and said “don’t worry about that kid, he’ll be all right, he a tough little motherfucker”
    Now that I think of it, this story is very similar to the stories’ all our ancestors told about how they got to California.


Leave a Reply

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