In this debut memoir, an artist recalls growing up in a large, tumultuous family in 1940s South-Central Los Angeles.
Born in 1942, Garcia was one of five children in a close-knit Mexican-American clan living in the Florence district of LA’s south side. Although money was tight and discipline sometimes strict, he remembers his childhood fondly, including days spent playing games and exploring with neighborhood kids; his mother’s cooking; camping trips; holidays; and evenings that the family spent listening to the radio. He tells of events during the years 1942 through 1954, in mostly chronological order. Each chapter starts with a list of that year’s top movies, songs, television shows, fashion icons and news events, which will provide readers with helpful context. The vignettes illustrate important episodes and themes, such as his two older brothers’ constant rivalry—which sometimes erupted even while they were serving as altar boys. At the Garcia house, church was an important part of their lives: “Father would abruptly knock three times…and in his heavy Dutch-accented voice bellow out, ‘Wake up, you bums; it’s time for Mass!’ ” Garcia’s tone throughout is humorous and affectionate, but not everything he relates about 1940s Los Angeles was idyllic. For example, there was gang violence, polio and child-beating nuns; Garcia even witnessed a Mother Superior punch a grade-schooler in the jaw: “That uppercut would have caught Joe Louis by surprise.” Some readers may find it hard to view the hard physical punishment of small children as tolerantly as the author does; at one point, for example, when Garcia was 3, he messed with his grandmother’s face powder and got “a whack to my butt that would knock a conquistador right out of his armor.” Mostly, however, the author focuses on happy memories of caring parents and a warm extended family; although kids today might see him as deprived, with no TV or video games, for Garcia, “[i]t was a time when children’s creativity was fueled by need, a time when we learned to make do with what we had.” Garcia, who later became a restaurant designer and artist, illustrates the book with his own paintings.
An often entertaining memoir that brings the Garcia family to life.