Man Uno and I were at a corporate lunch last year and were asked to share with the table a childhood memory.  A memory from Tijuana entered my mind immediately. Man Uno went first and his memory was about being in Tijuana too.  I realized at that moment we all have Mexico memories to share.

Here’s one of mine:  Canicas

I grew up in San Diego, South Bay to be exact, 2 exits away from the border.  When I was about 4 years old my abuelita still owned apartments in Tijuana and we’d go down a few times a week.  They were more like shacks that she rented with dusty wood floors, some with out houses and those with indoor toilets had to pour a bucket of water in them to make them flush.

I was friends with all the tenants and one of my buddies was Don Chuey. He lived underneath one row of apartments. LIke under the foundation in the dirt.  Looking back now this doesn’t sound safe, a 4 year old chilling alone with an old dude that lives underneath apartments but it was. He was totally my homie and would give me canicas(marbles) every time I’d come to visit.  I never entered his area mostly because he never invited me in but I stayed at the entrance and could see his set up. A matress , a drawer, some clothes and shoes and the entire dirt floor was covered with canicas. I never felt uncomfortable and at the time thought his set up was cool, like a club house, but not too private since he didn’t have a door.

In elementary school , playing canicas was all the rage. I had my little suede bag with rabbits feet hanging from it. My canicas were dope and no one was the wiser that some dude living under a building gave them to me.

Every time I see canicas I remember Don Chuey. I recently asked my Tia if Don Chuey was real and not a figment of my imagination. She confirmed my memories were correct. I asked why he lived there in first place. Turns out Don Chuey was having issues with his family. He needed a place to stay and all the spaces were rented. He asked if he could chill for a bit under the building and my abuelita said sure. She’d make him breakfast, lunch and dinner. He eventually patched things up with his family and his kids asked him to come home but he decided to stay. He said he liked having his own space where he could come and go as he pleased.

You were real Don Chuey! Though it will remain a mystery as to why you had so many canicas in your space, gracias for sharing them with me.


  1. Ritzy—that is a sweet and interesting memory. Funny how the rules have changed with what is appropriate ‘socializing’ and what is not. Knowing you, I think Don Chuey added to your vivid imagination and artistic memory—in a good way though. My TJ memory, which now seems inappropriate too—was that we were send to the corner store by the adults (I think I was 6 or 7) to buy beer! Yes, a posse of little kids under 8 years old buying the cahuamas. The bribe was that we could get candy or those really greasy potato chips in sketchy packaging. My bag had a few cat-eye canicas, jacks, a pelotita, a colorful barrette, a tiny scorpion frozen in resin, a sea shell, a rock, a piece of glass, a bottle cap—and STILL I keep little boxes with collections that I like to look at.

  2. My childhood canica memories from Lincoln Heights: Kiki Barajas hustling me for my entire bag of cateye canicas; he let me win the first game and then he won every game after that. I also remember when Alfredo Guzman jumped and pummeled Javier(huero)Camacho with chingazos on his back after losing all his marbles to him. We use to call the giant cateye canicas “boulders”

  3. Victoria- great tj memory – always a bribe with mexican candy . its was always interesting to me how this imaginary line/border made the world of difference, on one side i had plumbing and fresh air, then two exits away the air would smell different and i’d have to use an out house but totally glad it was part of my experience so i could appreciate things more.

    XicanoSerg- BOULDERS!! yes we called them that too. Did you guys do “Rainbows” where you put your thumb where you marble was then fan out and the line your pinky made you could shoot from? aaawww canicas… good timers

  4. Ritz-yes, i do remember the rainbow maneuver!…hey does anybody know what the actual material in a cateye is?

  5. Yes XicanoSerg, boulders. And as a kid before computer games, I pods, and even much TV, when us kids would play marbles in the dirt until a fight started, marble games we used to call “snake eyes”, bulls eye, round the world, among others, I used to be the proud owner of marbles called boulders, pee wees, steelies, clearies, and cats eyes.
    There were others too but I’m getting to old to remember them now.
    Hey a little side note, in the prison system years ago there were groups of old timers who were doing life, they would have little bull durham tobacco sacks full of marbles, institutionalized dudes, refered to as “the marble players”.

  6. Canicas: I was the best canica player in Sherwood Elementary, Salinas Ca!
    I remember Catalina (neighbor) would buy bags of 10 marbles and bring them to school, by the end of the day I would have tripled them for her. I felt like Pedro Navaja strutting to the school yard to the area where we played.
    Ahhh the memories …. good times … good times.
    Thanks Ritzy for bringing that memory back !!

  7. I loved this post! I recently came across my old bag of canicas while rummaging through some old boxes at my mom’s house. I wasn’t a very good player…
    It’s kinda sad now the way people think about kid-adult relationships, everyone’s so worried about everything. As a kid, I learned a lot from being able to be around adults (parties,neighbors etc) and the bad stuff you hear, you don’t even understand.

  8. gracias chimatli- i wish i still had my old bag of canicas that’s gold you found.
    so true about our current times. i always hung with grown folks as a kid it was a natural thing plus not that many kids around hahah.

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