A View from the Quad in 71...A Moment to Remember!
In high school I had attended many assemblies. The assembly in May, 1971, is the only one worth remembering.
Assemblies were always announced by the homeroom teachers and they always reminded us not to leave campus and ditch the event.
Normally, the assemblies would take place in the gym or football stadium.
We’d sit on the bleachers and look down on the speakers or entertainment being provided to us.
But this assembly would be held in the school quad. Our quad wasn’t the classic architecture you would fine in older campuses.
Ours was a quadrangle, with asphalt pathways going in every direction.
It was lined with red brick walls of different heights.
On some walls, you could sit right down with no difficulty.
Others, you had to hop up on.
Those were the walls I liked. Whenever I saw an attractive girl having difficulty hopping up on the wall, I would ask her, “May I assist you?”
If the damsel said, “Yes.” I’d put my hands firmly around her waist and gently lift her up and seat her on the wall. Chivalry lived at Los Altos High School!
Then again, there were the high walls you had to jump and pull yourself up on too. You’d usually find the jocks sitting on those walls. And always near or below the walls were long redwood benches bolted down on the asphalt pathway. There were sporadic patches of grass, different shapes and sizes – you could kick back and take a snooze.
It was the garden month and almost noon when we were released from our classes for the assembly.
We packed the sidewalks all the way to the quad. The word from the mob was that the drama club and some other students with skills were putting on a talent show showcasing a variety of acts.
When we entered the thirty by thirty-yard quadrangle, we noticed a two-foot-high stage had been set up in the center of the quad. It sat amongst the red brick walls. So, today, we would be looking up at the performers.
When the student body of Los Altos High had finished pouring in our makeshift Greek theater, I realized I had never seen the quad with this many students. The quad was where we spent our lunch hour, patrolled by a few teachers.
Los Altos was a society of subcultures. The students were like clans, each with their own territory in the quad. The center of the quad was the senior mall, ruled by the varsity letter men. They were surrounded by all the other clans.
The seniors were surrounded by plastic hippies, wanna-be Biker, Street Racers who wanted to be Steve McQueen in the movie, Bullit.
Surfers, who didn’t even own a board or a Beach Boy album, Poindexters (aka: Nerds), in conversations that only they knew what they were talking about.
Girls, that liked to jump up in the air at school sporting events and show their underpants – I never held it against them. And, there were Guitar Players wanting to be like James Taylor.
At the northeast corner of the quad was a twelve-foot section of wall, held down by a dozen Chicanos.
And then there was the Soch’s (snobs) who strolled the pathways as if they were of the aristocrat class, noticing no one.
When all the clans settled down, the MC stepped on the stage and introduced the first act. It was a singer, doing a Broadway show tune. Next was a tap dancer, he fell once. Then a magician, with no rabbit.
The acts kept coming, jugglers, clowns, pantomime’s, actors doing Shakespeare, and long-haired guitar players.
Each received a warm applause. I got to admit, my school had talent.
The next act was just about to step on stage, even though he had make-up on our little clan recognized him.
There was no mistaking his black shoulder length shag. Whispers of, “Steve, It’s Steve,” hovered amongst us. Steve hadn’t let anyone know about his participation in the show. We were surprised.
The moment Steve stepped on stage, he caught the attention of the audience due to his attire and make-up. He wore blue denim, farmer john overalls, a white Mickey Mouse T-Shirt, with red trim around the collar and sleeves and bright red sneakers.
His face was covered in white make-up, with a big black question mark painted on his forehead that ended at the bottom of his nose.
The student body seemed puzzled; his presence was unlike the previous acts. I thought he was made up for a mime act. The crowd became silent.
That was Steve’s cue. With his hands in his overall pockets, he began reciting a poem, the vast majority of us had never heard.
It was about a Vietnam veteran that just got back from the war, where fighting was still going on, wondering when it will ever end and the hardships of a returning Vet. The audience immediately perceived the poem was about Nam.
They were tuned in, nodding their heads in rhythm with Steve’s words and message, “Can’t find no work, can’t find no job my friend, money is tighter than it’s ever been.”
Knowing Steve, he was a little nervous when he began, but when it became clear the audience was feeling him, his confidence kicked in.
The subject of war touched everyone. I didn’t know anyone in those days the war hadn’t affected, brother, relative, friend, neighbor. Everyone knew somebody in the land of rice paddies and jungle. Our boys had been fighting since 1964.
It was now 1971, most Americans were tired of the war, we wanted our boys’ home now. My favorite stanza of the poem was, “Are things really gettin better, like the newspapers said.” To me, that verse is offering hope, for a better tomorrow. Our poet had captured the hearts and minds of the students.
At that moment, all the clans of Los Altos High were one; like fans at a football game whose team had just won. When our poet finished his last line, you could hear a pin drop. Then suddenly, everyone in the quad, even the teachers, went wild with applause, cheers, and whistling. No act got a heartening ovation like Steve’s. And nobody cheered louder than our little patch of the quad. We cheered loudly because someone who looked like us, was the hit of the show.
Steve was the only Chicano performer. With the student body still applauding, Steve stepped down from the stage and walked straight to us.
He was adorned with hugs, pats on the back and a large amount of Carnalismo, which he accepted graciously.
You see, Mexican American students at Los Altos were only about eight percent of the student body. And not all considered themselves to be Chicano's.
But we will not speak of those coconuts! Chicano's at neighboring high schools had much larger Mexican American student body representation.
Chicano's looked at Los Altos as a white school. Witnessing our Gavacho classmates being receptive to, our Steve, made my heart feel light. Steve was an alpha-male mentally, but not physically. But he wasn’t afraid to argue with those self-proclaimed mental giants at school.
Now Steve was a bit arrogant but he knew he had a little more on the ball than most of the guys in our crowd.
I found out later, the poem Steve had recited was a song from a newly released Marvin Gaye album.
Steve presented it as a poem – Isn’t a poem, like a song without music? Steve was always on top of music, politics and fashion. I bet Steve got that album the day it was released. Overall, Steve was a good egg!
At Los Altos High, during the late sixties and early seventies, to be a member of an after-school activity, like sports or club, you couldn’t be just average, you had to be one of the best to compete. And on that pleasant May afternoon, on the quad of Los Altos High, a mostly Gavacho student body audience, went wild for a Chicano Poet for being the best of the day.
Right on Steve! Yes, It was a good day to be a Chicano