Shaping San Francisco Donations
or make a
one time donation

Folsom Park

Historical Essay

By Francisco FloresLanda and Edgar Morales

Folsom-Park-team-portrait-c-1969.jpg

Folsom Park allstars!

Photo: courtesy Francisco FloresLanda

Most of the Folsom Park gang, or the hardcore, as they grew older quit playground and went on to La Veinte. Most of them were Spanish monolingual; they came from Nicaragua, El Salvador or Mexico reflecting the Mission ethnographic composition. If they were monolingual or bilingual, Spanish was the vernacular language of discourse among them; at home, Spanish was spoken. When they were newcomers, they attended Horace Mann Junior and at Gompers High they learned English in a classroom they used to take ESL and then would go back to Horace Mann. Edgar’s mother spoke English she came from Bluefields in Nicaragua, the British colonized this area of Nicaragua and the residents speak English, so he managed to practice English at home with her. El Pinguino, el Gallinita, Edy, el Chupa, Jose Mena and others went to Gompers. It was part of the tracking, the low performing students stayed at Gompers they didn’t go on to Mission High like the better performers. The guys at Folsom Playground of course came for recreation and to see their friends. Soccer was the main game even before soccer became known in the US displaying their cultural heritage. As the Folsom Park youths got older they got more into the hustle and less into soccer.

Rigo had access to the basement in his building on 20th between Shotwell and Folsom and here a shooting gallery began. Two doors down from this fixed up basement El Pocito Dulce; a Puerto Rican bar was located. The Puerto Rican addicts that came to El Pocito became role models for the budding addicts at Folsom Park. The old timers, El Gorilla (el King Kong), Tito Garcia and others seemed like the people to emulate. Many of the clients in the bar were merchant marines who had access to junk, others came from New York, a city with an old tradition of Puerto Rican junkies, besides seeming slick and cool they listened to Salsa music a new cultural form that was being adopted in the Mission, before this Cumbia was the latest music in vogue. We hung out in front watching the goings on Rigo started pulling everyone into the junkie scene since it was offered to him. Then we had that in common “we were now junkies.”

El Tito was a Puertorriqueňo musician, and sold dope, he left behind two sons Carlos and Ramon who today has become a salsa musician on his own right. The Medina family, one of which was in the life, were Puerto Ricans they also lived at 20th and Folsom, they were close to la Folsom.

Several episodes happened where the Folsom Park youths participated.

Eighth Grade St. Peter’s Soccer Team. The first is the “good” episode; soon after we met, we joined the Eight Grade Saint Peter’s Soccer Team. Edgar Morales recruited me. The coach was Alejandro AKA El Pisado (the screwed one, something like the messed over or like sexually molested), who eventually ended up as a person from La Veinte and a junkie. We had uniforms and the whole enchilada, which was the first and only time I participated in a formal sports team. From here on it was the “concrete and asphalt” jungle for me. I got good at that sport. The major accomplishment for the team was taking second place for the year. The Team took second place because the night before they celebrated and dropped reds and drank booze so when they got to the game the core of the team was still high off the drugs. Everybody was out of it Barraza, Mena, Arnold and others. Peter Gallegos, George Monterrey, Martin Monterrey, Joe Saenz Luis Ruiz, Omar Alvarenga, who was somewhat uppity, Julian, and Luis, who also played for the Gompers team, were in the team.

Another episode was when, Folsom, 24th St. and 26th St got together to fight the Filipinos from the bowling alley on Mission by the 30th St. Safeway. An incident happened that raised the ire of the Latinos from Folsom and 24th St., the Filipinos had shanked (stabbed) a known fellow Latino. Word got around and the informal leaders of both groups decided to march on the Filipinos and beat them up. As the entourage walked along, more and more, Latino youths joined the procession that had started on 24th St, as they marched along Roberto Vargas, then a community worker with Horizons Unlimited, a youth service organization, ran into the entourage and found out their intent he tried to discourage the plans when he saw that was impossible he went on ahead to the bowling alley (across the street from Safeway) to warn them. When the entourage arrived, there was no one to fight. Roberto had spoiled our goal.

A further episode was when Edy Morales, began an ethnic conflict when he fought a fellow African American student at Mission High School. Members of Folsom Park, as well as La Veinte, were eating lunch when Edy calmly arrived at our usual lunch spot. Shortly, this black kid, his brothers and friends showed up wanting to beat up on Edy. Three of them were brothers, after stating their intent, the middle brother said, “No, I’ll fight” instead of the younger one involved in the altercation with Edy. Edgar, Edy’s older brother to even out the fight, jumped in and told him, “No, I’ll fight you.” Then the oldest brother of the three blacks said, “I’ll fight.”
President of America Latina Unida Pee Wee and El Muerto Menjivar
At this point Henry Menjivar from La Veinte, RIP, yelled out, “A darles en la madre” (“Let’s kick their ass.”) At which point as we struck out, all the blacks tried to jump us, but since only one or two could come up the stairway where I was and the ones not corralled in were around their flanks we beat them back. Immediately many Latinos that knew us came from behind them to help us, the blacks, intelligently ran back to safety. All, what appeared to me all the black students, began lining up on the sidewalk by the girl’s gym on 18th and Dolores Streets. Simultaneously the Latinos lined up on the other side of the street facing the blacks; before the punches began, the police arrived and separated us. During the confusion among the rest of the students the ‘white shoes’ came to swear allegiance to us. Please follow the link for the whole story.

When the Los Siete incident occurred in 1969, the Committee to Defend Los Siete de la Raza, mounted a grass roots community based social and political defense, opposed to a strictly legal defense, in which the community at large was actively involved, this included the Folsom Park youth, they went to the rallies, picket lines, demonstrations, they sold the newspaper the committee put out, the “Basta Ya!” There was an organic link between the Los Siete themselves and Folsom Park, the reason for that would be that since the Los Siete guys were sometimes at the La Veinte pool hall and the Folsom Park guys would also go to the pool hall, or to Hunt’s and to the intersection of Mission and 20th Sts. where we would all be known to each other. As referred to the above intersection it was a spot where hustling went on, hustling of one kind or another.

Lastly, at another time the Day St. boys chased us from Folsom out of their turf around the Day St Playground by 30th St. The reason for that was that some of our Folsom Park boys were seeing girls from up there. Jose Mena was the one mainly but we went to the Day St Park to hang out until they chased us out.

Brief incident between individuals from two gangs.This story was related to me by Patin from Folsom Park. “Chava (26th St.) was a bully, he wanted to bother me (to take advantage of), I made a deal selling him dope, he ‘shorted me’ (with the cash). We even weighted it (the dope) together after that he kept coming back at me, he had me for a chump, he had me going crazy, to the point that I wanted a gun, I finally got a 25 cal. and went over there to ‘talk to’ Chava,Edgar was with me. When I arrived at the parking lot of the projects I was told he was not there and I said, ‘tell him Louie is looking for him,’, and went like this (showed the messenger the gun). That was it! When he saw me again he said, ‘Aw! You guys are my brothers why you coming off like that?’ After that he never tried anything.” Patin further adds, “He was a bully, the best kind of bully you could find is the kind who would befriend you then want to take advantage of the friendship.” Luis had polio when he was a kid so he has a disability that makes him limp, so that made him more of a target in Chava’s mind; he was a bully already to the newcomers so he thought that here was an easier target.

The youths who belonged to the Folsom Park group around 1965 to the early 70s were; Edgar & Eddy Morales; Alejandro Olivares—El Chupa (One who sucks), Nicaraguense, died of AIDS; Arnold Saenz, Nicaraguan, who married Sonia, managed to get out of the ghetto but for a while came “slumming it” to the Mission. His younger brother was Joe who now lives in Miami. After doing time Joe learned computers in a program for disadvantaged people. With those skills he moved to Nicaragua and worked at the Banco Central de Nicaragua until the Sandinista revolution and then moved to Miami; Rigoberto Giron, or Rigo, another of the earliest deportee I knew. Once, when he was arrested he bragged he was the youngest kid ever to be arrested for heroin and go up to Youth Guidance Center. Doug a lawyer with Los Siete’s La Raza Legal Defense put a law on the books, United States vs. Rigoberto Giron, establishing that you cannot deport a person off the top they have to be given a warning that you are on notice to be deported, today they cannot just deport you; José Barraza from El Salvador, living with Hep C, lives in Santa Rosa and is about to retire from ATT he started with PacBell from high school; Luis Ruiz RIP from Nicaragua; El Coco Liso (Coconut)—Guillermo Mendoza; El Patín AKA Luis Castillo; El Yogi—who spent more time in the joint than outside; myself—Francisco and my brother Enrique, called El Niňo Dios (Baby God) nicknamed thusly for his preaching; Carlos El Güero is doing well today, he works and has a family. His brother Milton OD’d. The brothers Milton and Carlos hustled selling the Basta Ya! Newspaper—the organ of the Committee to Defend Los Siete de la Raza; I last saw Carlos at Jackie’s funeral. Jackie passed away in 2012, he was a happy and friendly person, and worked until alcoholism got the best of him. Jose Mena, played soccer with the soccer team from St. Peter’s; Jose, Francisco and Manuel Cisneros; their friend Nicky Ortega; Ivan Vanegas AKA Pelon; Luis—he worked at Woolworth’s until it shut down; Julian, this Mexicano that passed away or was killed living by the freeway by SFGH, whom when he arrived at Horace Mann Junior High I became his “big brother,” the school used the buddy system with newcomers to show them how the school worked. Dolores a white girl who lived across the street; El Filipino AKA Manuel Perez who has passed, he kept going to the Botica Centro Americana and to buy penicillin thinking that he would cure the Hep C, never got treatment for Hep C; Diana Monge—who made a brief appearance at the park later on moved on to work at the Civil Service Commission in SF government. Mauricio Guerra, and El Pija AKA George Cortez. One can notice the male composition of this “gang,” perhaps this is due to the immigrant nature of Folsom Park reflecting the cultural practice of their Latin American roots; that being, that women stay at home. Hep C has become a big issue among these kids now grown and in the Mission and the US.


previous essay / continue reading