Sixteen years later my feet are walking on the same grounds where I grew up. I’ve come a long way from where I started, but I’ll never forget that I’m a product of that Anaheim barrio on Alberta Street.

The first time I heard someone call my city “Anacrime,” it filled me up with anger.  How dare this person come here and taunt my town with such a horrendous nickname?!  As a teen that just sounded absurd. I stopped and wondered, how valid could this alias be? After all the “Happiest Place on Earth” was only five minutes away from my house, and I could see the park’s fireworks religiously every night by simply stepping a foot outside my door. So really, how could a city that put on such a lovely show every night be nicknamed such a nasty name?

Somewhere along the way well into adulthood I realized a whole different Anaheim existed.

However, I wasn’t entirely oblivious all my life, I knew crime existed.  The older teenagers around my childhood neighborhood were said to be cholos.  During one occasion they actually closed part of the street after one guy had been shot by another gang member, according to my mother.  I vaguely remember peeking a glimpse through the living room’s window that night, and seeing cop cars, bright lights, and paramedics carrying a young man into the ambulance.  Despite the incident it never evoked any real fear.  Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I didn’t understand what gangs were, why they existed or what could possibly make one individual want to kill another.

What did I know? I rode my bike down the street, played tether-ball around the corner with a ball in a grocery bag with a jump rope tied from one end of the bag with the other around the stop sign.

On the corner of Olive and Alberta Street.

I was surrounded by people who looked just like me.  The kids mainly learned English at school, spoke Spanish at home, and Spanglish with the kids around the block.   Come to think of it, I felt more connected to my community there than in any other place I’ve ever lived thereafter.  It wasn’t the cleanest and it was definitely not the fanciest neighborhood.  In those days my parent’s owned a house, one of the biggest on the block, maybe even the nicest. The barrio on Alberta Street in Anaheim was home.

One day, when I was about five my dad left me home alone.  My mom was at work, my older sister was in school, and I had gotten home from Kinder, but Dad had to run an errand.  He instructed me to stay in the room until he returned suspecting that it would take him less than an hour.  As soon as I heard his truck turn the corner, this curious, curly-haired girl (pointing at self) decided to make sure all the doors were locked.  Upon inspecting the first one by the living room, I had the bright idea of confirming if it was secure, I turned the lock from the bottom knob, stepped outside, and closed the door.  I turned the knob rightward and then leftward, again and again and again.  My little heart pounded faster and faster. Within a second I had locked myself out, and I quickly became scared, not because I was out in the cold by myself, but what was dad going to say when I had been such a disobedient child?

If someone would have taken a photograph of the day when I locked myself out it would have looked something like this (with a less fancier looking door), curls and everything. (Photo model: Jaylene Tapia)

To any outsider looking in at this situation they would have surely assumed I was kidnapped or raped but the following is what really happened…

After I gave up on the door I did what any reasonable five-year-old child would do– I cried.  I cried long enough until someone noticed.  The neighbor across the street and two houses down saw me, questioned my parents whereabouts, and before I knew it, I was holding this man’s hand and walking into his kitchen.  The man’s wife, dubbed La Pintorejiada (because she wore heavy makeup), whipped me up a snack, and took care of me like her own. This is what my neighbors were like, they weren’t rich, they weren’t educated, but overall they were honest and hardworking people. Anacrime? No, to me this was AnaHome.

This is the house where the man and his wife “La Pintorejiada” took care of me while I locked myself out of the house. In those days the house was white, this is how it currently looks.

Today I stopped and parked on the corner of Olive and Alberta Street.  There she was my old and beloved home.  Several things looked different as I was now seeing them through the eyes of a much older person.  Tere, the next door neighbor was no longer relaxing on her porch, the chinitos no longer owned the Meat Market next door, El Coco wasn’t riding his bike and getting in trouble by his mom, no, it looked like almost everyone had moved.  The houses sat there in desperate need of paint, while the yards looked depressing without grass.  Right from the beginning I got some funny looks from a man down the street like if I was some kind of intruder. Little did the man know I was a product of that very neighborhood.

My old home, 323 E. Alberta Street. The link gate was removed and replaced, the huge tree in the front was chopped down, but those walls, they still carry my childhood memories.

For many years I felt protected in my hometown.  Now 16 years later, I’m afraid of what I’m going to read on the local news.  A week after I moved into our new place in the 92801 area, a man’s body was discovered on a neighbor’s driveway. I couldn’t help but think that we had made a poor decision and we needed to get out of there quickly.

Last summer, women and children were hit by rubber bullets by the police; a 23-year-old female was murdered this weekend by her apartment complex, and a man in his 60s was fatally stabbed Tuesday morning by a gas station.  Sadly, these are only a few of the most current stories.

So now as I think back on all the times Anaheim was maliciously nicknamed my heart sinks in a little deeper.  Maybe they were right all along, my AnaHome is really Anacrime. However, I can’t help but think that we are still in time. Little girls and boys deserve the freedom to play on the streets without living in fear; women shouldn’t feel restricted in their own neighborhood; and young men shouldn’t feel like gangs are the way of life.

Can we all work together and make this place our home?