Hard, as in I'll fucking drop your joker ass in the Salinas River if you look at me wrong hard.
And they knew it. Nobody accidentally becomes lo mas chingón. Personal image is just as much a manufactured good as a box of donuts.
Listening to their conversation, half in English, half in Spanish, all Pachuco, I realized instantly why the white salesclerk kept asking if she could help them find anything, why just about every other customer in the place was either staring, making their way to the door, or hanging onto wallets and purses for dear life.
The ink was straight-up hardcore, jail time raw with black and blue lettering. Teardrops and Catholic saints, portraits of Pancho Villa and barrio-friendly iconography. XXXL black Dickies work shirts, raven-dyed hoodies, and baggy jeans covered tiny frames in yards of unnecessary fabric.
They wandered through that tiny clothing store, white hot rivets of la raza firme. Everything about them - their demeanor, speech, and dress - conveyed pure, unadulterated danger, a burlesque freedom built upon street life and gang fights, built upon turf wars and confrontations with authority and a certain ambivalence towards anybody else's version of "current events."
And the group of Chicana women just kept shopping away, pretending to be oblivious to the sheer terror they generated.
They knew they were scaring the living shit out of a store full of normal, decent people. And, yep, they enjoyed every moment as old ladies squirmed like worms in the sun.
* * * *
"They should go back to where they come from. We don't need them here."
A strange statement. The Japanese-American woman shopping beside me, old enough to have had a parent locked away in an internment camp during the Second World War, didn't have to specify who they were or where they supposedly came from. After all, nobody ever looks at an almond-colored woman with Asian features and thinks the same thing...
"When I was a little girl in San Jose, you locked those people up."
Sure, lady, sure.
Don't you have letters to the goddamn editor to write? Maybe family to pester? And aren't you just a tad too old to be pretending that everybody just swears you're 38?
* * * *
I walked out, back into the precious winter sunlight, back towards the borrowed Ford Mustang. Just as I reached the car door, two of the hoodied hynas sprinted down the sidewalk, laughing. Within seconds, the rest of their group sped past.
One of the girls stopped right in front of the car, out of breath, panting and grinning. She looked up from behind thick eyeshadow and purple lipstick. Her eyebrows, in traditional homegirl fashion, were plucked to down to razor-thin lines.
"I useta run back in the day...but...damn... lil mi'ja made me fat, ay ... heyizzatyour..."
She leaned back against a storefront and slid down to the pavement. She pointed at the Ford convertible. I laughed and explained that, well, it was a loner.
"Oh yeah...you...white boy from... holdon..."
She reached behind her back and pulled out a wallet.
"You...Ohio...was gonna... like... dropped it."
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