A FICTIONAL HISTORY
BARRIO SIMONS (Brick Town)
Aka; The Brickyard (La Ladrillera)
1920s Simons Brickyard #3
Do you remember holmes, you remember them times at the village? When was it – the late twenties was it? Those were some good ole times, que no? We was poor, but we lived free and we kept it together. One big familia going through the motions, making a living, surviving all the bull shit the white man threw at us. Living the hard times, but living with a smile on our mascaras. Good folks, fine rucas, firme compas and a proud soul. Simon, them were some good times. Just thinking back on them brings a big suspiro to my lungs and nostalgia to my mind. Man o man how times have changed. I stand here today looking at this immense concrete jungle or as some would call it – a plastic jungle – cause it’s all full of hypocrites and fakes living on credit. Selling their soul to the green devil, never much looking back to their roots, yet always, claiming to be real and claiming to be originals. But do they even know what original means? Chale, just like today’s’ plastic; the credit is taken by many but little do they know about the past that engendered them. So let me fill you up on a little bit from that past. Let me relate to you about a Barrio called Simons aka The Brickyard . . .
The Brickyard was a company town over on the East Side of L.A. The boundaries of the village were Simons Street which later became known as Ford Street, Plymouth Street, Date Street, Railroad Street & Southworth Street. It was called Barrio Simons because that was the last name of the family brothers who started out and built the brick company. The Barrio was situated alongside the tract of land running parallel next to the Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks just north of the L.A. River. Some 150 Mexican Familias at the start began their life here in the Village, living in barracks-like housing-courts; A vibrant Mexican community that went on to become very well-known all around.
A clay pit area existed in this Barrio from which the clay-mud was taken from to manufacture bricks out of. This area became known as El Hoyo (The Hole), and it was here that a group of Vatos from La Ladrillera would go down to kick-back at, to get all huarumos (fumed up), bien cucarachas (all roached up), this was back in the year 1919 from what I remember. You always knew where these vatos be heading, por que they will say to each other “let’s go down to the The Hole” The older folks upon seen the Boys heading down to the road to the pit, knew what they were up to and you would hear them say – “ya se van de mariguanos estos chamacos, ay chingado.”
The Barrio during those early years was compromised of many Mexican immigrants from the Mexican States of Guanajuato, Jalisco and Michoacan. The Simons Brickyard Company seemed to benefit out of having jente in the community that came from the same States out from old Mejico; this was said to keep arguendes and pleitos from occurring on the regular. Everyone during those times was very jealous of keeping their barrios and jobs free from outsiders, be they from problematic white men or other ethnic groups; or even from other Mexicans who could compete for the jobs or the available housing. Therefore, it was imperative that all outsiders be challenged. This all changed with the wheels of time, but in the early years, that’s how it was in the Barrio. Life was hard and life was desperate for many all around, but in Barrio Simons, life was full of hope. The Barrio soon had its own Church, its own small businesses like the Botanicas and tienditas y little restaurants. Of course, most of these came after electricity came to town, before then, it was all darkness and dirt streets. But if you ask me, them were the best of times. Those were the times when our Jefitas would cook on wood stoves or cook outside on water-barrels ingeniously cut up in the middle-side and the tin metal folded up towards the inside, exposing a side for the wood to be fed into and lit, which then would warm up the top plancha of the barrel on which homemade tortillas and other good refin could be cooked. In those days, there were no street lights, only darkness. Bonfires and dim lit kerosene lamps were the only starlight substitute to brighten up the night. Men would sit outdoors by a fogata and play their guitars, singing melancholy corridos or baladas about real personages or events, as well as about the everyday hardships which engulfed our lives. Songs full of meaning, sang out with mucho corazon. In them days, los Vatos would hang-out outdoors --after a long days work at the brickyard-- out in the many empty lots, or down at the pool halls. All the members of the families would be out at night. Los morros (youngsters) would be out playing a las escondidas (hide and seek) or la roña (tag). Los Vatos would be found sitting on porches next to las ñeras (quinceañeras) courting them under the watchful eyes of their relatives. The more adventurous ones would risk it and stroll out to the neighboring little hillsides and riversides, or if with permission – out to a dance. In the cholo-courts type housing barracks, there were more men than women. This was due to the ever increasing immigrations from unmarried men who would leave their rucas back home in Mexico until they saved up enough money to send for them and their chamacos, as well as the ever greater number of teen-age young men who made the journey alone from Tejas and Mexico. This disparity in numbers of women versus men always made for problems due to the competition for the available women. In 1912 “Monte Carmelo” Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish opened it’s doors in the community and on Sundays, after mandatory mass, La Raza would head out to La Laguna (The Lake) over by Laguna Road in the Montebello Park area of the Simons Company: but that could get dangerous, because even though it was on company land, the near-by residents there where mostly white and they did not welcome greasers like us in their part of town. They lived in nice white houses surrounded up with little white fences, living in luxury in comparison with us from the Barrio, so we had to be careful, otherwise, we faced some trouble with the white kids. The same discrimination was a factor in regards to schooling; Spanish was not aloowed to be spoken in school and rarely did us Mexican kids venture out from La Vail Escuela to the white kids Greenwood School in near-by Colonia Flores (Montebello), because trouble awaited with the Anglo kids, so “there was lil’ sense in pushing the boundaries by us kids from Simon Town.”
During these early years, the night parties were in reality Catholic wakes, these however became a thing of the past when electricity was brought in and radio became more and more common in homes. Radio re-developed the fiestas scene and the dancehalls as well, and soon thereafter, the dancehalls became the spots to frequent. Along with these came even more rivalry between the distant communities. Jobs became more contested between those living in Simons Village and the near-by neighborhoods from The Flats and Belvedere Gardens. The animosity between more acculturated Mexican youth and immigrants exploded to ever greater proportions, and hostility between the native & foreign born Mexicans became a real factor in many disputes and fights. It became so great that “If you were of light-skin, you were o.k. but if you were of darker complexion, then you were more prone to be racially stereotyped and discriminated against by the natives.” So much rivalry developed, that many of the baseball and sport activities sponsored by the company, turned into all out rumbles. Whenever the local Barrio Simons team played the teams from First Street or from the Eight Street neighborhoods, the Simons Vatos would carry along with them bricks from the brickyard to launch at their opponents at the end of the games. The hard competition between neighborhoods went on to include everything from jobs to boxing matches, and needless to say, they went on to play out in the dancehalls on weekends. It became so that everything from parks to dancehalls became contested grounds. Soon, even the minor feuds that occurred between American-born and Mexican-born Simons brickyard workers and its youth, escalated into real discord, so much that the Vatos from the clay pit area (The Hole) below the Monterey Hills split from “las casas de arriba” – the homes up The Hill. This was reason and cause why the local youth formed a brotherhood – a club, or a gang if you must – which served as “local protection” against those from “down the hill – El Hoyo” or those from outside the brickyard, from The Flats or from El Puerton aka El Paredon”, the cliffside facing west off present day South Boyle Heights.
It was during these times of the early 1930s, that the Vatos from Barrio Simons structured themselves in the same manner as many of those around them. They took on rules and symbols that represented them all as one to the rest of the “outside world.” From the Brickyard, they adopted the athletic-sport team color of “Green” as well as their motto “Strong as an Ox” – this taken on account of the days when the company operated on human and animal power. They took on the club clique name of “Cutdowns” taken from “cortadores” one of the many labor classifications that the Simons company listed. The Vatos became ever more tight-knight, and just like everyone else, they became “A brotherhood within their own local community.” Hell man, the whole Pueblo de Simons (Brick Town) in the early 1930s was wholly Mexican and real tight-knit and was very traditional in the Mexican culture, so much that a father’s authority in the home was rarely questioned. The community re-enforced its Mexican culture with the observance of Mexican Holidays, the adult social-clubs sponsored patriotic parades and carnivals, and they also formed Mutual and Legal Aid Associations which groomed young people of the neighborhood in the arts of political activism. The times were changing and the population growing at an ever increasing pace. Ever since the 1920s when the Union Pacific Railroad moved into the old cornfield area north-east of La Plazita – and displaced many of the Mexican families from the Dogtown and Macy Street Barrios (some 5,000 families); the East Side of the River became ever more “contested grounds.” New neighborhoods sprang up next and all around to the Lincoln Park, Palos Verdes, Ramona, Brooklyn Heights, Boyle Heights, and Belvedere Gardens communities. Soon, together, all these communities became not scattered Barrios, but an enormous sub-cultural Mexican Nation. Belvedere by the 1940s, with close to 30,000 residents, had become the home to the largest Mexican population in L.A. surpassing even the central Barrio around La Plazita. Available jobs in the brickyard and the manufacturing plants east and south of Belvedere Gardens attracted even larger numbers of Mexican families from the The Flats and the central L.A. neighborhoods, and as more and more families were displaced -at times forcibly from their homes –more of these took up on the promise by developers of exchanging their old shacks and tracts of land for new ones in “The Land of the Sunny Homes” – The MARAVILLAS (Marvelous) Homes, as they were called, on the far eastern unincorporated fringe of the city limits. Placed in a cauldron of racism, mixed-in with other immigrants of Japanese, Chinese, Armenian, Russian Molokan or Jew ethnicity. Mexicans were forced into a stance of Cultural Self-defense. Mexicans, whether they were native-born or foreign-born, became part of the new underclass and forcibly pushed into a corner – a corner from which the only way out was to fight it out, for dignity and honor – if nothing else. Barrio Simons in time gave way to community revitalization and re-development. The houses have long ago fallen or been torn down, and the clay pit filled. The last bricks from the yard being used to build the housing projects in near-by Aliso Village, Ramona Gardens and the Rio del Pueblo (Te Town Flats) in Long Beach; and the great well-know Brickyard boxers like Jesus “Wild Man” Macias from The Hole, and Manuel Martinez (who fought as Bert Colima II) are all but forgotten now. But the focus of social trends and issues of the day, which relied heavily on word of mouth and which were the reliable sources of local information concerning events and happenings affecting the Mexican community, remain even to this day, a product of the cultural identity and Mexican heritage of L.A. A cultural product of which Barrio Simons, was unequivocally a “most definite progenitor” over on the East Side of Los.