By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Soon climbing trees gave way to hanging out with the other teenagers, kicking back to Motown music blaring over car stereos, drinking beer and smoking pot. A favorite spot was down at the Martinez brothers' house, where the boys were always working on their cars.
Some of the boys were in gangs that took their names from where they lived. They were the 23rd Street or Curtis Park or the Projects. No Bloods. No Crips. And no vice or money involved. If a lowrider drove slowly through the neighborhood, it was to show off, not a prelude to a shooting. Gangs were all about fighting with rivals over dates, insults and street corners. And it wasn't just the boys doing the scraping.
In the late Sixties, the best place to find action was at the weekend dances sponsored by the Crusade for Justice. Corky Gonzales and other Chicano activists had taken over a huge old building on Downing Street, where they tried to bring together Mexican kids from different parts of town. The Crusade workers wanted to promote unity. What they got were melees out in the parking lot.
The guys would fight over turf. The girls would fight over the guys. Everyone knew there would be fights, no matter how much the Crusaders complained that they had too much in common to try to beat each other up. They just didn't understand it was all in good fun.
Theresa and her friends counted on those dances for entertainment. They even dressed for the evening's combat, reminding each other not to wear clothes they cared about. Nothing with buttons. No dangling earrings...not if you wanted to keep your earlobes from being torn off.
The dances took place close to Theresa's neighborhood, which meant the kids from the north and west sides of Denver were the invaders and at a disadvantage. The local girls would mess with the guys from another part of town just to get the other girls riled. There'd be a fight, the police or the neighborhood adults would show up to break it up, and everyone would scatter. All through the week, they'd proudly display their bruises, black eyes and scratches and look forward to the next dance.
But the Crusade for Justice workers were right about one thing. They did have something in common: Nobody had much money. When they did have cash, it went for groceries or, when the girls started having babies, to buy their kids diapers and shoes. And in that neighborhood, the girls started having babies when they were hardly more than children themselves.
Theresa was no different. She was a wild thing who rebelled against her strict mother and grandparents. In their house, drinking and cigarettes were forbidden. So was cussing. So she stayed out until all hours drinking and carousing, hiding when she'd hear her mother walking up and down the street late at night demanding in a loud voice that Theresa come home. More than once, she woke up in the closet of a friend's bedroom with her hand still wrapped around a bottle.
Big-breasted and pretty, Theresa looked like a woman long before she was one. When she was twelve, one of the Martinez brothers, sixteen-year-old Danny, took an interest in her. She lied and told him she was fifteen, and the chase was on.
Danny wasn't very big, but he already had a reputation for taking what he wanted and not letting anybody stand in his way. What he wanted was Theresa. What she wanted was someone who would promise to take care of her...and get her out of the crowded house at 2727 California. She thought she was in love.
Theresa's mother had never remarried. She'd scraped and saved to raise her kids on welfare and never went out except to work after her youngest, Jimmy, was old enough to go to school. Her grandparents slept in separate rooms and seemed to speak to each other only when they had to. There was always plenty of food sitting on the stove, but the family rarely sat down to dinner together.
Ever since she could remember, Theresa had envied Danny's family life and adored his parents. She thought they were the perfect couple. She never saw them fight or even argue. He called her "Mama" and she called him "Daddy." If they were watching television and she noticed him starting to nod off, she'd say, "Daddy, you're sleepy, go to bed." And he'd reply, "Not till you do, Mama." That's the sort of marriage she wanted someday.
Danny's father, Joe, was a hardworking roofer, a good man, fair with his five boys and three girls. He loved to laugh and wasn't afraid to demonstrate his love for his family. Danny's mother, Ida, was a sweet, caring woman who seemed to believe that it was her responsibility to feed any kid in the neighborhood who happened to be there around mealtime. All the family members spent a good deal of time hugging each other.
The Martinezes treated Theresa like a little sister, but Danny had other ideas. She was fifteen when they had their first child, Raquel; they married when she was sixteen and pregnant with Danny Jr.