Feeling Mexican Lucky in the Suburbs


We were the first Mexican-American family to move into the cul-de-sac, which, oddly, means back of the bag in French. Our neighbors on Alpine Drive included the Potters, the Wilsons and other families with typically WASP sounding last names, and with the exception of the Indian family on the next block, the Lapisawalas. I was about 5 years old, and this was already my third move, but only the second within the City of West Covina, a small and diverse bedroom community, just off the 10 Fwy in Los Angeles.

Our house was a large English Tudor style mansion built about 15 years earlier. Only one family had lived there before us and it was perfect for a growing family of five. My younger brother had just been born, and my little sister would be in a few years, making this tribe of the Gutiérrez’s seven in all. The house wasn’t fully furnished when we moved in and I remember sleeping on the floor, on those massive and soft Mexican blankets, along with my siblings and nanny for a few days. You know, those giant blankets you get at the US-Mexico border, not the colorful striped kind, but the kind with a brown and tan bear or lion on it or something.

The house my parents owned before this one was almost as big. It was more typically mid-century modern with a simpler 2-story rectangular design, flat roof, lots of windows, and a long terrace. It came with one of those sunken, carpeted living rooms typical of the 60s and 70s, a pool, and peacocks. And it jutted out of the hills, a common outcome for homes along Southern California’s crumbled canyons, say in Malibu or the Hollywood Hills. My parents thrived in the 80s. I still have an old picture of my dad and me with one of our parrots. I think his name was Pepito. He was our pet. We still have birds for pets. And dogs. And cats. And house spiders.

That house is still there on Fairway Knolls, not far from Montezuma’s Revenge, and another small cul-de-sac nearby. There are lots of those, too. When I tell people in L.A. about where I was born, they sometimes know it—maybe they’ve passed it while on the 10 Freeway, or on the way to Palm Springs. Or maybe they actually grew up or lived nearby, say in Diamond Bar or Covina, in a small, normally suburban house, or in some of those apartments with the move-in specials by the freeway. Or they relate it to other more well-known suburban cities within the San Gabriel Valley, such as Pasadena, with a nice reputation, or Pomona, with a bad one; both also on the outer edges or outskirts of L.A. County.

West Covina was established in 1923 to prevent the City of Covina from turning it into a sewage dumping ground. Funny story. In any case, it was, and is, a nice place for kids to grow up, suburban angst and all.

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