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The Chasers

by Renato Rosaldo

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NPR Summary

Renato Rosaldo's new prose poetry collection shares his experiences and those of his group of Mexican American Tucson High School friends known as the Chasers, as they grew up, graduated, and fell out of touch. Derived from interviews with the Chasers and three other friends conducted after their 50th high school reunion, Rosaldo's poems present a chorus of distinct voices and perspectives that convey the realities of Chicano life on the borderlands from the 1950s to the present.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: The Chasers

The Chasers


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2019 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4780-0477-6


Contents

PRELUDE,
CAST OF CHARACTERS,
I Walnuts,
Never Chicano Enough,
Suddenly Blank,
Nice Meals,
Down the Little Arroyo,
Never Dreamed,
A Dark Side,
Talking with Mom,
Fastest Naked Sprinter,
In the Cactus Chronicle,
The Chaser Mystique,
II Playing Ball,
Sports People,
All about Fun,
A Quiet Guy,
In Formation,
Champagne in a Martini Glass,
White, Black, or Blue,
My Inner Mexican Comes In,
No More Oranges,
No Emblem,
Ode to Ralph,
I'd Like the Job,
III Not from Tucson,
Ornamental Oranges,
I Never Liked You,
A Place to Stand,
Fiftieth Reunion,
I Was Shaking,
Three Months Older,
Guys on One Side,
In the School Yard,
Erased,
You Won't Do Well,
IV Observing,
Never a Fighter,
Papá y yo hablamos,
Dad and I Talk,
You Were or Were Not,
Raw Eggs,
My Brother Raúl,
I Remember,
An Old Story,
I Am a Chaser,
My Dad Died When I Was Six,
Packager,
Sure Hope We Can Enjoy a Few More Years,
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS,


CHAPTER 1

I

Walnuts

My first day, first grade in Pirtleville, outside Douglas, kid breaks a chair, blames me. Teacher sends me to principal's office.

Older brother, Jimmy, looks in window, sees I'm crying, runs home, tells Mother who gets angry at teacher, pulls me out of school.

We move to California, follow crops — first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade. Pure survival. I lose two years of school.

At labor camp — one faucet, one outhouse, one stove. We Mexican migrant kids bused to school, dropped in cafeteria, given paper and crayons, brought back to fields for lunch.

Mother brings burritos and I feel happy. We work until five or six. Being with family is good.

The money's in walnuts, but Jimmy and I pick apricots and tomatoes, bending over. Backaches. Dad picks oranges and lemons.

By grade six we settle in Tucson, but that summer we go back to California's walnuts. Dad takes a pole with hook at one end, shakes walnuts from trees.

Jimmy and I collect as fast as we can, fill gunny sacks, dump, make piles. Mother follows, sits, peels green husks, drops them in buckets.

Back to Tucson, school's already started.

Frank Howe

Never Chicano Enough

Young people in MeCHa, organ of the Chicana/o student movement, flaunt badges of belonging: East L.A., farmworker, gang member.

A daughter of farmworkers, fingers thick from picking crops, English accented, appears Chicana to the max, but she feels like a phony, her Spanish lost to shame during grade school.

As a faculty member I embrace my self-portrait as a Chaser, my Chicano badge of honor, before it was convenient.

Fifty years of icon-clouded memories. Can't sort what I invented from what I remember or what I lived — who we were, what we did. I cling to the remnant of authenticity that hangs in my bedroom closet — my Chasers jacket.

Chico Rosaldo

Suddenly Blank

Summers in Mexico City I play, speaking Spanish with my cousins: Jaime, Héctor, Edgar, Irma.

At home, in Madison, I speak English with Mom, Spanish with Dad. When I'm four, Mom and Dad show me off to their friends, let me speak English, ask me to speak Spanish. On display, I cringe, feeling out of place.

Every day after school, on Dad's lap, I unfold my day in Spanish. Then, at six years of age, I talk about my visit to the zoo, the word "elefante" gone, utterly gone.

It's as if Spanish is a screen that flickers, turns off, suddenly blank. Now I am like the other Madison kids.

The pain, as if my tongue yanked out by the root. A piece of me gone.

Chico Rosaldo

Nice Meals

One morning I ask Mom to put mustard on my bologna sandwich 'cause that's how Willie likes them. Mom sputters. My cheeks blister.

Fifty years later, Neal Manning asks if I remember Willie Cocio, the bean burritos his mom made.

Back in grade school Neal and Willie traded lunches. Then at Mansfeld Junior High, it was my turn.

My mother had bragging rights. Her sandwiches won me those tasty bartered legends.

This story mutated her embarrassment to bologna and mustard pride.

Neal Manning and Chico Rosaldo

Down the Little Arroyo

I looked older than the other guys, so I'd buy the beer at a small Chinese store in the desert by the old hospital west of St. Mary's.

We'd go down Anklam, turn right on a dirt road we'd been smart enough to scout.

We said if cops came we'd go down the little arroyo, drive up, go across, come back on Anklam, then head back to town on a road that went north along a wide arroyo to Speedway.

We'd cruise there, real slow, cross, then speed up.

One time, it happened, the cops came. The guys went west, down the little arroyo, their lights on and, boom, got stuck in the arroyo.

Dickie Delahanty

Never Dreamed

FRANK: You wrote me while I was in Guam. Yeah, writing, we inspired each other. All positive.

CHICO: The letters mattered, the writing. It felt like my going to college gave you confidence. You said, "I can do that. If Chico can do it, I can do it."

FRANK: I took your dad's class in Mexican culture. He gave me an A. I enjoyed your dad because of the way he lectured. He was funny. He had nothing in front of him, everything from the top of his head, a huge class, no podium. He'd walk, everybody listening.

CHICO: Mexican history and culture were in his heart. He led tours of Mexico, spent time in places he lectured about, that history lived in buildings and stories he knew intimately.

FRANK: You came from a more cultured home environment than I. My parents never talked about, never even dreamed of going to New York City, Mexico City, or Guam.

At home all was survival. My dad worked in the moving business, my mother was a housewife and worked at St. Mary's Hospital. Just survival, never dreamed, the furthest they went was L.A.

Frank Howe and Chico Rosaldo

A Dark Side

Kay Barnhill and Patti Dunlap were in a clique, the in-group. They started dating Bobby and Dickie, made the Chasers more visible.

Back then Tucson High included the whole city. It was the end of an era, high schools became smaller, neighborhood schools, more segregated.

You've said how picking up and dropping off the guys was a Chaser ritual, drove the city end to end, took all night. In the car: banter, hard-assing.

At our fiftieth reunion we Anglos celebrated the Chasers. There was a sense of pathways. We thought of our school as a blackboard jungle.

You could do Okay or become a juvenile delinquent. Certain signs told whether you were going one way or the other.

I didn't have the burden of having to look cool, reducing visible signs of being a good student. I could carry books in the halls.

People thought the Chasers would go the other way, that you'd chosen the delinquent pathway.

People at the reunion were delighted you'd done so well. It wasn't so much an expectation, as a worry, about how you'd turn out. A sense you were on the wrong path, a dark side.

It may have been a cold war mentality, the world divided into a dark side and a bright side. There was the rebel without a cause, drag racing around town, flirting with death.

Remember Gene Puga, just beautiful, his hair almost blue, handsome, wasn't going to make it. The story, I heard later: he stole a police car, drove around taunting the cops.

Life can turn out different ways: Gene Puga, one way, the Chasers, another. Seeing the Chasers gave our class a heightened sense of possibility.

John Warnock

Talking with Mom

MOM SAYS,

Our anthropologist friend, Jim Officer, is an expert on Mexican-American teenage gangs in Tucson. He says what you, Chato, have done by joining the Chasers is remarkable. It never happens.

CHATO SAYS,

He gets to be called an expert by talking to guys like us Chasers. We're the real experts.

MOM SAYS,

Jim tells me that only Tucson-born kids can join Mexican-American gangs and only a brother or a cousin can become a member, not someone unrelated.

CHATO SAYS,

He thinks we're following rules, but, remember, we're making it up as we go along.

MOM SAYS,

The Chasers are so much fun. They decorate our house for their parties, tape crepe paper streamers to the ceiling: yellow, purple, green.

CHATO SAYS,

They're nice guys. I'm glad you really like them.

MOM SAYS,

They play music and dance. So lively. They talk with me and your dad. So polite. Call us sir and ma'am.

CHATO SAYS,

They're polite with other people's parents.

Chico Rosaldo

Fastest Naked Sprinter

We had swimming parties at El Encanto Estates. We'd scout, see who's on vacation, and use their pool.

One time, when we were there, Ray forgot his trunks, the beachcombers we wore. Ray didn't have any. We were swimming when somebody called the cops.

They came and we took off running. They threw on the spotlight and there was Ray running across the street bare-ass naked.

One morning at Shannon's house, her parents took off for the day. Ray lived across the street. He saw the car leave and went over.

They're doing shenanigans when her parents come back and Shannon comes out in a bathrobe.

Her dad goes in the bedroom, opens the closet door and there's Ray. He takes off across the street bare-ass naked.

Ray and Shannon got into an argument. He sped off, rolled that old green thing, flipped it on the corner.

We ran there, Shannon hysterical, Ray stood up, saying, like he did, "Oh, Jesus."

Dickie Delahanty

In the Cactus Chronicle

THE TUCSON HIGH NEWSPAPER

"I'd say we turned out average. We span the spectrum. Some exceeded expectations, some didn't."

— BOBBY SHOUMAKER

The Chasers told stories when they reunited at the Shanty fifty years after graduation. They were a social club with rambunctious football players. Many were neighbors, have known each other since grade school.

When they attended school, they were seen as the "bad guys." They were the ones invited to crash parties, and they were the troublemakers.

The reunion started when a member in New York contacted Dickie Cota-Robles. It snowballed from there and ten of the original twelve members attended. Two were not located in time.

After high school, two worked as lawyers and one each as a neurosurgeon, a singer, and a school principal. Rosaldo received a scholarship to Harvard and is now a renowned anthropologist.

The Chasers hope to get together again and include the two members who weren't present.

Dylan Barnes (Faculty Advisor)

The Chaser Mystique

Most said we'd turn out badly.

Our name signified wild guy, partier, fighter. We thrived on reputation. Whether they admired or hated us, everyone knew who we were, our jackets, our spot in the stairwell.

We played the cat, built a mystique, but we were just Mexican kids out for fun, nothing profound.

One dad in moving and storage, Chico's dad a professor, another selling beer at ball games, another a cop, and yet another, head of a rotating credit association, the Alianza Hispanoamericana.

We were in shape, every summer our arms threw baseballs, our backs strained under bulky furniture. One worked as a lifeguard.

We hadn't seen each other for fifty years, gathered at the Tucson High School reunion, told ourselves stories about ourselves, laughed as if we'd been together the day before.

At our reunion, people still talked about us, still gave a shit after fifty years.

Bobby Shoumaker and Richard RochaCHAPTER 2

Playing Ball

I was one of the original Chasers. The others were Bobby Shoumaker and Dickie CotaRobles. I went to Roskruge Junior High with Bobby, started hanging out, used to meet at Menlo Park.

Then it just started developing. Richard Rocha and my neighbor, Andy Contreras, were originals too.

I don't recall how some of the other guys came on, like yourself and Louie Dancil.

Ralph Estrada was one of the originals. I think he brought in Koenig, his neighbor. Freddy Ochoa came through his neighbor, Dickie Cota-Robles.

We were on the football team: Bobby, myself, Ray Escalante, Dickie Delahanty, one of the quarterbacks.

I was a center. Bobby was an end and so was Ray. Ralph was small, really tough, played defensive back, took no prisoners, gutsy. The core of the Chasers was football and other sports.

Personally, I joined the Navy Reserve in January of '58, boot camp in San Diego the summer between my junior and senior year. When I came back, Bobby and I hung out.

He'd come over to my place in Menlo Park. We'd get ready for football, run up "A" mountain. We started doing the Chaser thing, hanging out.

Ralph had a '53 Chevy, would pick me up at home in Menlo Park. Bobby'd come to Barrio Hollywood, blowing his horn.

We'd jump in the car and go buy beer in Hollywood, at the little Chinese stores. Delahanty'd buy and the Chinese people'd sell the booze. We'd speed off. Away we'd go.

Frank Howe

Sports People

You Chasers were a band of brothers, a fraternity, so close, and you've started again.

You Chasers were smart, kept it secret, two sets of books, never looked like nerds, nobody messed with you.

I know what you were up against. When I taught at Sunnyside, the best students were shamed, called "school boy" and "school girl." The jealousy, the jealousy.

That's why I was shocked to learn Bobby became a neurologist; Richard and Ralph, lawyers; Koenig, a psychiatrist; you, professor of anthropology.

You Chasers were sports people, five on the football team, you, captain of the swim team, others played baseball and basketball. Anglo girls went after you.

Tom King said Anglo boys felt jealous, wondered why you crashed their parties, didn't know the girls had invited you.

I've always wondered why you went steady with me, a Mexican girl. Most Chasers dated Anglo girls.

At your parties, you danced with your dates, not like Mexicans, guys on one side, girls on the other. There was a lot of respect for us girls.

There was loyalty, everyone had your back. It wasn't spoken, it just was.

Angie López

All about Fun

The Belmonts, Gaylords, Vikings, and Playboys all had jackets. Without jackets we Chasers were nothing.

Dickie came up with the design for our jackets, a glass with booze, big and all. We looked for the jacket at Dave Bloom & Sons. Don't remember how we paid, but each one paid.

We were proud when we wore them at school, but they said, "Forget you." George Hunt was cold, just said, "No, you guys can't be wearing this at school."

We still wore them around town, but not on campus. It was a fun time, all about fun, just hanging out, partying, not paying too much attention, some of us paid no attention to education.

When my senior year counselor Curtis Anderson asked, "What are you going to do after you graduate?" I said, "I'm already in the Navy, then I'm going to college. Am I all set?" He said, "You're all set."

That year I took three courses: wood shop, government, and English. Then at noon I played music on the phonograph in the cafeteria where the ladies would give me their food. That was fun.

I didn't accomplish a single project in wood shop. Hard to focus. I was thinking only about trading my jacket for a uniform, dreaming of seeing the world, of meeting girls.

Graduated Tucson High, June 7th, 1959, then went on active duty July 7th, was overseas for all my tour, twenty-four months, Guam, Okinawa, the Philippines, Japan.

I didn't like the Philippines, Okinawa was nice, Guam was very nice. I went to college in Guam. That's the way you met girls, but I somehow picked up six hours of college credit.

The women in Guam were really pretty, a mixture of Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, Filipina, unique look, pretty girls.

Frank Howe

A Quiet Guy

I do the Chasers thing, hang out in the stairwell, studiously casual, nod chin slightly upward, greeting friends. I watch the others, their chin-lifts, my imitation precise.

Determined to re-learn Spanish (for me a matter of pride), I do relentless grammar drills, make Mexican history mine, read Los de Abajo as well as Pedro Páramo. So bookish, busting ass to be Mexican-American.

I observe Bobby, master of hard-assing: mock aggression, rapid-fire retorts, verbal virtuosity. If only I could be like him.

First time I give it a try, Frank pulls me aside, arm around my shoulder, says, "No more, don't do it again. You'll get in trouble. Remember it's never really about the other guy's mother."

A kid from Madison, I've never hard-assed. I feel like a phony Mexican-American, become a quiet guy, no more banter.

Chico Rosaldo

In Formation

Before school every morning we gather, our spot in stairwell, watch girls go by.

Hard to remember how it started. Dickie and I talked of forming a club with friends.

Dickie and I are cousins, our mothers are sisters. Our bond makes the Chasers like brothers, creates camaraderie. As a group, we're go-getters, trouble-makers.

As individuals, Dickie and I, Frank, Chico, and Freddie are shy, reclusive, prone to blushing. The Chasers need, we need each other.

Other groups, the Vikings, Gaylords, Belmonts, Playboys are united by blood. They're brothers and cousins.

We add new members, stop at twelve. Try to organize, elect president, vice president, but have no top, no bottom, all equal. By next morning, officers forgotten.

Our goals: crashing parties, getting in fights, hard-assing, joking, laughing.

We walk as one, blossom as one.

Bobby Shoumaker

Champagne in a Martini Glass

Our jackets make us who we are, visible, guys on the wild side.

At Dave Bloom & Sons, we look at jackets, need better than the long coats the Gaylords sport. We choose short, wool, gray.

Our name means chasing girls. I draw a guy, like little Abner, running after a skimpily dressed girl. I pass this logo by George Hunt, Dean of Boys. Get nixed.

A seamstress machine embroiders crimson letters, "Chasers" above, "Tucson" below. I design a new logo, pink champagne, three bubbles, one bursting from tilted glass, toothpick in olive.

Chasers: drinks after a glass of hard liquor, but I know nothing, only beer, nothing about mixed drinks. I put champagne in a martini glass, make our jacket unique, beautiful.


(Continues...)