Making the Break


I want to play baseball. I want to start out like Fernando Valenzuela, but I don’t want to end up like him. You know the highest-paid man is getting $29 million for five years? I wish I could get that money so I could help my mom.

My mom works as a seamstress downtown. She makes $4 an hour. On Saturdays and Sundays she cleans houses for $10 an hour. That’s where she gets the food money.

Me and my brother help. I clean the garden. Sometimes I vacuum the floor, clean the mirrors, make the beds. One day we had to go clean a mansion. It had 16 bedrooms and nine bathrooms, a swimming pool and a tennis court.

If I had a million dollars, I’d buy my mom a house and a good car.


Kids at school say, ‘Do you get an allowance?’ and I say, ‘Yes, I get $5 a week.’ I say, ‘Do you get an allowance?’ and they say, ‘Yeah, I get $30 a week.’ But it doesn’t bother me.

I don’t think of myself as Mexican. I was born in L.A. I’ve never been to Mexico, only to Tijuana, and I don’t want to go back.

At school some kids call me, like, a wetback. I really don’t care. I’d rather go to John Burroughs even if they call me names. I wanted to make the change. At my old school, I was scared. A lot of big kids push you around in that school. And there’s graffiti everywhere, even in the classes. And gang stuff, kids jumping kids. I didn’t learn nothing. I just learned who was the first President of the United States and the last, not the second and third.

First, they chose my brother (for magnet school) but my mom didn’t let him go, so they chose me and she let me go. She didn’t know those schools were better. A friend told her I was going to where there were top students.


The first day, I thought probably I wasn’t going to do so good. History is hard. I don’t remember those funny names so good.

Pre-algebra, that’s one of the hardest. I didn’t know nothing about physical science. They may put me back in seventh grade, till I catch up.

I’m really thinking a lot about the future. I want to go one or two years to college and then to the minor leagues. I play mostly third base and shortstop, but I can play anything, even pitcher. I’m short and they don’t know how to throw good at me, so I mostly walk and I steal base.

If I don’t make it to the majors, I want to be a sportscaster.


I don’t like nothing about L.A. It’s teen-agers, mostly, who’ve messed things up. They asked me to get in a gang. If I did and my mom found out, she’d be real mad. So that’s why I’ll never get in a gang.

My mom always wants us to study, but we like sports more. She says, “Study, Alex, study, Mario, study, Ramon, study, Martha. . . .”

I’m trying to teach my mom English, but it’s not so easy.

I only like L.A. because it’s got the Dodgers. I don’t like to see the homeless. I get kind of, like, sad. But I feel kind of like in the middle, because some of them don’t want to work.


I want to live in L.A, but not real L.A., maybe Beverly Hills, something like that.

We used to live near the Coliseum, but they were going to tear down our house so they could make parking lots. Over there, there’s prostitutes and drug dealers, but they don’t hurt you.

Over here, about three or four times we’ve heard shots, and there are drive-bys on 84th Street. We play in the back. We never play in the street.

There’s a vacant lot next door. We use it as a baseball field. But sometimes cats die over there and it stinks.


We’re a lot of people in this house. My two brothers and my 15-year-old uncle and I share a room. My sister and my aunt, my mother’s sister, sleep on the sofa.

I like my family a lot. I like sharing a bedroom. I’m kind of, like, scared of the dark.

My mom would like to live close to my school so she could put the others in. We’re Catholics but we don’t go to church because we don’t got bus fare and our car don’t work. But we get on our knees and pray to God, and sometimes we read the Bible.

My mom had two husbands. They both left. I never met my father.


Jim is like a dad. (Family friend James Armstead is a widower with grown children who was manager of the building where the family formerly lived.) Jim buys us clothes and stuff.

Jim told me if I went to the new school I’d study more, because I’d feel ashamed because the American kids would do better than me.

He was right. I have to try harder.

Elisandro Duran, 13--his friends call him Alex--lives with his mother, Maria Luisa, and three siblings in a small house in a graffiti-marred neighborhood in South-Central L.A.


His mother, who was born in Jalisco, Mexico, is a seamstress during the week and a domestic worker on weekends.

This year, Alex was accepted into the magnet program at John Burroughs Junior High. He’s finding it rough going academically, but he knows he’s lucky to be there. Alex plays Little League baseball, collects baseball cards and likes television (his favorites are “Married . . . With Children” and “I Love Lucy”), pizza and Chinese food.

Each weekday, he gets up at 5:30 a.m. and has a 90-minute bus ride to school.