Sunday, May 26, 2013

El Huero and El Tapo: Best Friends and Gang Affiliations

Huero and I, you can say we were childhood friends. We met around the 4th grade, but weren't really around each other until the 7th grade. Eventually we both ended up at high school and around our sophomore year he dropped out. We would still hang out, usually cruising, because he already had a license, man how we loved to waste gas, but then again it was cheap as fuck in comparison to now. I think back then we still only paid a dollar and some change. Anyhow I had returned home for summer vacation one year after being away at college. He gave me a ring and wanted to hang out, maybe have a couple of beers. Sure enough, we did, and we sat in his car sipping on a couple of cahuamas (40 oz. bottles). We sat there reminiscing about our childhood, and all the mamadas we did back in junior high, and we exchanged what we had heard about friends we grew up with, where they were now: whatever happened to el Arturo and his risa mamona, that he would do when he would impersonate some Mexican tv character named Sixto (Jiota, je-jiota, je-jiota, jaaa!); or what about Hugo, and that fight he got into with a new guy named Richard that was acting all chingon, our friend Hugo fucked him up, jabbed him with in the back with the eraser end of a pencil during the melee for good measure, the guy complained about the pain, but didn't know what had actually happened, but they ended up friends; or la Erica, a tomboyish girl, who eventually was wearing shorts, and form fitting shirts, that ended up in a wrestling match with Huero, because apparently she felt she could take him even though he was on the junior high wrestling team, I still laugh because Huero said he felt he had a chance to hook up, but there were a few guys around that didn't know how to give them their privacy, and tried to watch as if it were a mixed wrestling match on the WWE, Huero was pissed to say the least; or even la Misty, one of the popular girls, and yet one of the coolest girls you could ever meet, and amicable to everyone.

Anyhow as Huero and I recounted stories of these people we grew up with, and we painted some before and after portraits of them, a friend who he grew up with, and considered one of his best friends came to into the conversation-el Tapo. Huero told me how he and el Tapo went from best of friends to being rivals, and he never even realized it. You see, around the time we were high school, I noticed my friend Huero dressing in cholo attire, khaki pants, with a long blue belt that would hang down all the way to his knee even after he had strapped it on, and he slicked his hair back. I never thought he was actually claiming, nor in a gang, I just assumed he was dressing that way, because there were people in the barrio that dressed that way, even though they weren't actually affiliated, it was like the in-style, it was barrio chic for those of us who lived in the barrio. I also had a younger cousin who also dressed that way, but wasn't actually in a gang, I guess you can even call it wannabe chic, because its not like they would go around officially claiming affiliation, they just wanted to look the part. But again, there were many people in my hometown who dressed this way, so I assumed that Huero was being barrio fashionable. Huero cleared it up for me though, and asked me "Don't you remember I used to dress down, like a cholillo?"
"Yeah, pero no mames, I thought you just wanted to dress that way, I didn't think you were actually trying to claim or represent que you were in a gang." I said.
"Si buey," he said, "I was hanging out with some primos that were claiming, so, pues, me interso, y le entre yo tambien."

Except, he wasn't fully in. He just claimed it, and dressed the part to show which gang he affiliated himself with.

This all led back to him, and his run-in with Tapo. You see, Huero grew up in Pajaro, with a lot of other guys that we went to junior high with. According to Huero, he had befriended Napo, around the 3rd grade. They became fast and good friends due to their interest in soccer, and hell they were great soccer players too. And as far as I knew they had remained friends into adulthood, but as Huero told it, it wasn't so. According to Huero, at one point during our high school years, he had moved across the bridge into Watsonville. One day he decided to make the trek back into Pajaro to visit friends and family in that neighborhood. As he walked along the railroad tracks that ran directly behind our junior high, he said a few guys approached him, one of them being el Tapo. He said he sensed no danger, especially once he recognized el Tapo, even though he could tell that the guys with Napo were from the rival gang. Huero said he greeted Tapo, nodded at him, and said "que hubo," not thinking much of it, seeing his good friend. But at that point Tapo raised the crowbar he had in his hand, and told him, "You're not allowed to come around here. If you come around here again . . . you see this?" he dangled the crowbar out in front of him, and said "We'll kill you." I think there was disbelief in Huero, to see and hear his best friend threaten his life. He said that after Tapo, his best friend threatened him, he took off running down the tracks back into Watsonville.

This wasn't his final encounter with Tapo. Huero recalled that one day he was walking on the levee, when a similar incident occurred. As he walked along, a few guys were walking in his direction. One of the guys hit him up, it was Tapo again. Huero again nodded at Tapo, and one of the other guys he recognized from junior high, the guy nodded back slightly, but the third guy stared him down. Tapo asked him, "De donde vienes" ("Where you from?" or "where you coming from?" is the direct translation). Huero misunderstanding the question said, "Vengo de la escuela y voy para mi casa," (I'm coming from school and I'm going to my house). Tapo repeated the question, "No. De donde eres?" Huero, told me he still replied where he was coming from and where he was going, which must have agitated Tapo further, who then replied by socking Huero, who then ended up on the ground. He said that Tapo looked up at the other guys, and motioned for them for them to come over, apparently to join in on the fun stomping on Huero. But the other guy that Huero had recognized from junior high, simply shook his head, he was unwilling to jump Huero, possibly because he remembered him from junior high, and didn't feel like beating the shit out of a guy he got along with back in junior high, even though he wasn't best friends with him, like Tapo formerly was. Apparently the third guy didn't move, because the other guy hadn't walked over, but Huero didn't give him the chance to change his mind, he got up and ran home; I remember Huero being a fast runner from junior high, so if they even would've attempted to try running after him, I doubt they would have caught up with him.

Huero said, that as he ran home, he cried, because Tapo was his best friend. He never would have expected this from someone he considered a best friend. "Ese buey, era como mi mejor amigo, y llore buey." I remember siting there shaking my head, saying "that's fucked up man." Later on I kind of teased him about it; I told him, "Hey fucker, no mames, but if he threatened to kill you with a crowbar the first time around, what did you think was going to happen when you saw him on the levee?"
"Pues buey, I didn't understand his question, I thought after the tracks, we were cool. When I saw him on the levee, he walked up to me and when I nodded and smiled, he did the same, so I thought we were cool, mas tambien aquel otro buey de la junior high was with him. When he asked me 'de donde vienes,' I thought we were cool, and he was just asking me where I was coming from. I thought were going to talk."
I just shook my head and said, "Man, that fucken sucks."
"Si buey, ese buey era como mi mejor amigo." Later, about dressing barrio chic and getting hit up by his former best friend, Huero jokingly said, "Eso es lo que me pasa por mamon."

Even though Huero hadn't been officially jumped into any gang, his affiliation had been clear to Tapo. I don't know whether Tapo had gotten jumped in or not, but his sense of loyalty to his gang was stronger than Huero's if he was willing to turn on his best friend. The thing is that from my understanding, Huero's old neighborhood, has a heavy concentration of the blue gang. Tapo was in the red gang, and still living in that neighborhood. From what Huero told me, Tapo had a few run-ins with another friend of ours, who had been claiming the blue gang since around 7th grade and possibly earlier, and he was still in that neighborhood, where he and Tapo had, had it out a few times already. So Tapo was immersed, fighting guys he'd grown up with, played soccer with, shared classes with, joked around with, and  shared a childhood with. But apparently, further into our teens this no longer mattered as some of us affiliated with one gang or another.

This isn't meant to be a cautionary tale. I'm just writing the story of my friends. Like I've said, memories come to mind, and to me they're stories I need to tell to help quell the phantoms in my head. Stories that I've told orally to some friends, but that still come to mind when I sit around with friends reminiscing and talking about other friends I grew up with. Its easy to find a moral in that story, like don't join a gang, or learn to be loyal to your friends. But the fact of the matter is, that once you affiliate yourself with a gang, and you have friends that affiliate with another gang, you can try to remain friends. But once word gets out that you're hanging out with the enemy, your gang will reinforce the importance of loyalty on your ass, so that you associate your former friends as the enemy. But apparently Tapo didn't need any reinforcing, because he went all in, disregarding his past with Huero, and focusing only on his loyalty to his gang. It remains astonishing to me, because I knew both of these guys. Huero didn't have any hate, or dislike toward Tapo due to the opposing gang affiliations, he still saw him as a friend, but then again, Huero was essentially only dressing the part, as if it were a kids game, something you could choose when to claim, not fully grasping the concept of what it meant. He seemed to think that childhood friends and bonds, transcended colors, numbers, neighborhoods, or gangs. He didn't seem to realize, you can't really choose to turn it off, just because you see your best friend who is in a rival gang. On Tapo's end I'm shocked by how his loyalty easily shifted away from his former best friend, and even tried to show his gang how loyal he was to them, by threatening the life of his former best friend, and even socking him up.

At one point Huero had lived in my neighborhood, down the street from me. He remembers walking down the street, and he ran into that guy Richard, our friend Hugo had been in an altercation with. Richard had actually been on the wrestling team with Huero back in junior high. Richard was walking with another guy; it had been established long ago, that Richard had affiliated himself with a rival gang. Huero told me he was thinking oh shit, he might get hit up by them. As they were about to walk past each other, Huero did notice that the guy with Richard did motion as if they should hit up Huero. Richard apparently shook his head, "No." Huero saw this from the corner of his eye, and he walked home safely having gotten a pass from a guy, who wasn't a best friend, but simply a guy he knew from the wrestling team, and throughout a couple of years in junior high. Even this guy, Richard had a better sense of loyalty to someone he considered a friend, even though he wasn't a best friend.

I try to imagine what I would have done if I would have been in Huero's situation. What if my best friend disregarded our childhood friendship and bond in order to show his loyalty to his gang? If I would have had my life threatened or gotten socked up by my best friend, I would have cried too.


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