This story culminates a sad case that I wrote about when it took place: Pico Rivera grandmother Maria Hicks shot and killed by some gang members tagging a wall.
The house where they lived was tagged top to bottom. Angel Rojas, 21, was said to be mentally handicapped to some degree.
I remember having a long, quite enjoyable chat with Hicks’ brother, Ruben Quintero, in the backyard of the family’s house, planted with fruit trees by their father years before.
Quintero is a literature professor at Cal State LA and had written about parody in English literature.
He’d also played football for one of SoCal’s legendary coaches, Ernie Johnson, at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, in the mid-1960s. I think the 1967 team was one of the best to ever come out of the region. Ruben told me they used to all do jumping jacks before the fourth quarter to psyche out the other team and would never accept a drink of water on the field.
As Ruben smoked a cigar by a lemon tree, we had a long talk about Aristotle, Vietnam, football and Ernie Johnson, neighborhoods, and murder.
Among the highlights:
- ON HIS FATHER: ”My father [a fruitpicker] cherished the book. He hadn’t reead a lot. But he understood that education was an important tool and he kept affirming that. he admired people like J Robert Oppenheimer.
-ON WHY HE WENT TO VIETNAM:”I wanted to become a physicist. I went to Harvey Mudd [in Claremont] for two years. Played football for Claremont Mudd. I was always among the top in math and science in school. There everybody’s bright. They have the advantage of having fathers who were chemists. Like a fool, I left and, joined the Army for two years. I was a combat veteran. Recon unit. Nobody tells you that your mind is going to get a little bit scrambled. I came back from Vietnam, went to USC. But at USC from Vietnam, I couldn’t connect. I took a thousand showers. It took a while. I became a flattened emotional creature.”
-ON WHY HIS SISTER INTERVENED: “We have lived here since 1953. That’s part of the neighborhood; that’s part of where we live. It’s not necessarily any bourgeous social sensibility that’s been cultivated. It was just very much apart of her character. My mother and father just instilled this thing where we just don’t take crap. Something is wrong, you say it’s wrong. Be honest, direct and not be afraid to stand up for things. This is a quality of life that I want to live. I want to be able to drive from my sister’s house and drive home without seeing these [jerks] putting marks on the wall. They have no right to do that: they should know not to do that. She wanted them to understand that nobody wants them to do that. So she did that. When you realize this is your house in a sense, or your home, you’re not going to allow somebody to come over and do a metaphorical urination on a wall over here.”
An interesting conversation for a reporter in search of a murder story.