An empty lot the length of a football field near Judson Street in Boyle Heights was the epicenter of fun and entertainment for the neighborhood children when Joe Corral and his wife, Hortensia “Chickie” Delgado Corral, were growing up.
The kids would form teams, often boys against girls, and play football and baseball, marbles or cowboys and Indians.
“That empty lot has a lot of memories,” said Chickie Corral, 72.
“Everybody would hang out there,” Joe Corral, 76, said. “All the neighborhood kids would come over from different streets.”
They hailed from various backgrounds and included Latinos, Jews, Japanese, Italians and Russian Molokans, Chickie Corral recalled. Most white people lived on the other side of the Los Angeles River, Joe Corral said. The Corrals are both second-generation Mexicans whose families have been in the United States since the early 1900s.
“We got along great, just wonderful,” Joe Corral said of the ethnic mélange in his neighborhood.
“My memory of the community was one of togetherness,” his wife chimed in. She attributed this to the fact that every adult acted like a parent to every child, no matter their background.
Her aunt would treat the kids to tuna fish and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches as they played. Joe Corral’s mother made tortillas to share.
Chickie Corral, who grew up with 11 cousins living on the same street, relished the cultural cacophony.
“It enriches your life,” she said. “You learn other customs that people have, and you respect them.”
One of her best friends was a Japanese American girl named Reiko Takahashi. The kids would have dinner at each other’s homes, and Corral often attended the annual Japanese Nisei Week festival in Little Tokyo with the Takahashi family.
As fate would have it, Chickie’s father and Joe’s mother were both born in El Paso, Texas, in 1908. They attended the same kindergarten and elementary school but never knew each other.
Years later, Chickie and Joe would meet on Judson Street. She was 6 and he was 10 when he moved into the neighborhood. They attended the same elementary school and St. Anthony’s grammar school. They later fell in love and have been married for 56 years.
Today, Joe, a retired truck driver, and Chickie, who used to be a sign language interpreter and teacher for deaf children (one of their two daughters is hearing-impaired) live in Covina but often return to their old neighborhood.
The couple lamented the seeming diminishment of neighborliness and social interaction that was common in many communities in the past.
“I don’t think the unity is as strong as it used to be,” Chickie Corral said. “The children, rather than go out and play together, they’re on their video games, they’re on their computers … texting. And neighbors do not speak to one another anymore, unless it’s to complain about something.”
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