When You Want Something Done, Call ‘Don Alex’

June 15, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

BELL GARDENS – From volunteering at the monthly food bank to dressing up as Santa Claus for the police department’s toy giveaway, Alejandro Ceja Garcia is always there to offer a helping hand.

The 73-year old Bell Gardens resident was recognized Monday for making a difference in his community, and named the city’s “Older American of the Year.” With his family by his side, Garcia was beaming with pride as he held his certificate of recognition while taking a photo with the city council.

“I didn’t think anybody noticed,” he told EGP. “I’m elated knowing they take me into account.”

Garcia – or “Don Alex” as he’s known by most – can regularly be found at Club Latino, the largest senior club in Bell Gardens, where he always helps with the set up and cleanup of events.

Alejandro Ceja Garcia, center, proudly holds his certificate after being recognized at the Bell Gardens council meeting Monday. (City of Bell Gardens)

Alejandro Ceja Garcia, center, proudly holds his certificate after being recognized at the Bell Gardens council meeting Monday. (City of Bell Gardens)

Ramon Escobedo, recreation coordinator for senior activities, told EGP he wanted to recognize Garcia for his kindness, which has not gone unnoticed.

“He [Garcia] does it because that’s the kind of person he is,” Escobedo explained. “He does not do anything expecting recognition,” he added.

Garcia told EGP he has worked his whole life at restaurants in order to provide for his three children who were at Monday’s city council meeting. He still cooks from time to time now that he’s retired, but only when the senior center is looking for a volunteer to make food, he said.

Alejandro Ceja Garcia, pictured right, with friends during a senior excursion. (City of Bell Gardens)

Alejandro Ceja Garcia, pictured right, with friends during a senior excursion. (City of Bell Gardens)

His daughters Mahiely and Rosa Garcia told EGP they were not surprised their father is being recognized for his big heart.

“Wherever my dad goes he turns into Don Alex,” said Mahiely. “He’s a giver and a compassionate person that steps forward whenever he sees a need.”

“I’m extremely proud of him,” said Rosa. “He’s always been a helpful person.”

His recognition is also meant to inspire others, said Escobedo, who explained many people have misconceptions of what seniors can do.

“They live dynamic lifestyles, they go on trips, take classes, exercise and they love to dance,” Es-cobedo pointed out. “You won’t see anyone sitting down at a dance.”

Originally from Michoacán, Mexico, Garcia says he stumbled on the senior center at Veterans Park one day while out walking after he retired.

“I just didn’t want to stay at home staring at the walls,” he told EGP in Spanish.

“Now I have a group of people around me that treat me right and I don’t feel alone.”

“He’s very popular and very helpful,” chimed in Ana Sanchez, who Garcia calla his “right hand.” “Anytime someone needs something it’s always ‘Don Alex’ that they call for.”

It’s important to learn from seniors, from their wisdom and experience, but it’s just as important to recognize their contributions, Mayor Jose Mendoza told EGP.

“We need to remember they are a crucial part of our community and they add value to our city,” Mendoza said.

Garcia’s daughter Mahiely told EGP she’s extremely proud of her father and thankful for the city’s recognition.

“It’s long overdue,” she said. “I aspire to be like my dad, who just knows how to put a smile on anybody’s face.”

 

Abuelas’ Game: Loteria and Talk

September 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

“La dama (the lady) … el corazon (the heart) … la bandera (the flag): Loteria!

Coffee in hand and coin purses at the ready, a small group of abuelas meet weekday mornings at the Bell Gardens Senior Center for a lively game of loteria, the Mexican version of Bingo.

Regulars at the Monday through Friday game collect donations to buy the coffee; some bring pastries or cookies to share.

At ten cents a card they aren’t going to get rich, after all the pot rarely reaches more than a dollar. But for most of the senior-aged grandmothers, the three-year-long ritual has less to do with the game and more to do with the chance to spend time away from home talking and laughing with neighbors.

Between games, they talk about the latest news, movies they hope to see and trips they are looking forward to taking, but mostly they talk about family – their grandchildren to be exact.

“I’m going to go see that animated movie about the rooster with my grandson,” Irma Huerta, 65, informs the group in Spanish.

(Left to right): Irma Huerta, Maria Guzman and Andra Arenteria play loteria and talk about their grandchildren  at the Bell Gardens Senior Center.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(Left to right): Irma Huerta, Maria Guzman and Andra Arenteria play loteria and talk about their grandchildren at the Bell Gardens Senior Center. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

This Sunday, Sept. 13 is National Grandparent’s Day. It’s a day intended to honor grandparents, and perhaps lavish a little extra attention and cariño on them.

With 25 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren, Huerta is glad she became a grandmother while still young because she still has the energy to keep up with her grandkids and still has the strength to visit those living in Mexico.

Ironically, she points out, her in Southern California she’s abuela, but her progeny in Mexico call her grandma.

At 94, Maria Colmenares isn’t sure how many grandchildren she has, but laughs about the potentially large number when she explains that each of her 12 children have at least seven children of their own.

They all call me tita, short for abuelita, she says about the term of endearment.

“Being a grandmother means being there for the grandchildren when the parents cannot,” the senior says with conviction. She says she’s done her share of diaper changes, feeding and babysitting, but these days the grandchildren “take care of me.”

“One cooks for me every day, another makes sure I take my medication,” she said, reflecting on how life has changed over the years.

Being a grandmother is different from being a mother, but the feelings are just as strong, Andrea Arenteria, 67, told EGP.

“It’s a grand feeling, to reach a point in your life to be able to see your children become parents,” she said proudly.

“It was more beautiful a feeling than becoming a mother,” chimes in sixty-eight-year-old Maria Guzman.

Huerta says she cherishes her time with her grandkids. She makes the most of their time together by playing marbles, flying kites and, of course, playing loteria.

“It’s one of the ways I teach them Spanish and sayings from Mexico,” she confides.

Maria Colmenares, 94, keep her eyes on her playing card during a game of loteria at the Bell Gardens Senior Center.  (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

Maria Colmenares, 94, keep her eyes on her playing card during a game of loteria at the Bell Gardens Senior Center. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

It’s through these old-time games that don’t require technology that Huerta says she has taught her grandchildren the concepts of respect and the importance of spending time with family.

“Abuela no speak English,” she says she teases her grandkids, explaining it’s not that she doesn’t understand English but a way to force them to practice their Spanish.

It’s a trick also used by Arenteria, who says her children don’t speak Spanish to their offspring at home but know her rule: No English at grandma’s house.

“Here we speak Spanish,” she tells them so they don’t forget the language.

They’ll have more opportunities if they are bilingual, she says firmly, noting it gave her own children a leg up in their careers.

Most of Colmerares’ grandchildren have moved farther away, but she vividly recalls details about them, having raised nearly all of them.

“It’s been a joy being a grandmother,” she reminisces, a broad smile crossing her face aged with time.

Now, she cherishes the little things they do for her, signs of their affection. Every Mother’s Day and on her saint’s day they greet her with las mañanitas (a traditional Mexican birthday song) and a mariachi, making her feel so special, she told EGP.

Throughout the morning, after one by one moving the decorative stones used as placeholders onto their colorful loteria cards, someone yells out “buenas,” the Spanish version of saying “bingo” to indicate a winning card.

After all the winnings are dispersed and the coffee is finished, the women say goodbye to their other family at the Bell Gardens Senior Center, before making their way to see the grandchildren they have proudly been boasting about all morning.

“I think the happiness brought on from being a grandmother is what keeps me alive,” reflects Colmenares tearfully. “It’s really the greatest gift.”

El Juego de las Abuelitas; Lotería y Recordar

September 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

 “La dama … el corazón … la bandera: Lotería!”

Con el café en mano y las bolsas de monedas listas, un pequeño grupo de abuelitas se reúnen todas las mañanas en el Centro de Personas Mayores de Bell Gardens para participar en un entretenido juego de lotería, o mejor conocido como la versión mexicana del Bingo.

Por diez centavos la tarjeta, las mujeres no se harán ricas puesto que el tazón donde se colocan las monedas raramente sobrepasa un dólar. Pero para estas longevas damas, su ritual de tres años tiene menos que ver con el juego y más con la oportunidad de pasar tiempo fuera de casa hablando y riendo con sus amigas.

Read this article in English: Abuelas’ Game: Loteria and Talk

Entre juegos, ellas hablan de las últimas noticias, las películas que les gustaría ver y los paseos que esperan tomar, pero sobretodo hablan de la familia –sus nietos para ser exactas.

“Voy a ver una película de caricaturas de un gallo con mi nieto”, Irma Huerta, 65, entusiasmada le informa al grupo.

Este domingo, 13 de septiembre es el Día Nacional del Abuelo. Es un día dedicado a honrar a los abuelos y tal vez un momento para ofrecerles un poco de atención extra y cariño.

Con 25 nietos y ocho tataranietos, Huerta esta orgullosa de convertirse en abuela cuando aún era joven porque ahora todavía tiene la energía de lidiar con sus nietos y tiene la fortaleza para ir a visitar a los que viven en México.

Irónicamente, ella dice, que en su casa del Sur de California ella es ‘abuela’, pero en su México nativo los nietos la llaman ‘grandma’ (abuela en inglés).

A sus 94 años, María Colmenares no esta segura de cuantos nietos tiene, pero se ríe del posible gran número cuando explica que cada uno de sus 12 hijos tiene al menos siete hijos.

Todos me dicen, tita, el diminutivo de abuelita, dice.

“Ser una abuela significa estar ahí para tus nietos cuando los padres no pueden”, dice la ancianita con convicción. Así mismo, afirma que ha hecho su parte de cambiar pañales, alimentarlos y cuidarlos, pero en estos días los nietos “me cuidan a mi”.

“Uno me cocina todos los días, otro se asegura que tome mi medicamento”, dice reflexionando en cómo va cambiando la vida con los años.

Ser una abuela es diferente de ser una madre, pero los sentimientos son igual de fuertes. Andrea Renteria, 67, le dijo a EGP.

“Es un sentimiento grandioso, llegar al punto de tu vida donde puedes ver a tus hijos convertirse en padres”, dijo orgullosamente.

Andrea Rentería juega lotería de lunes a viernes en el Centro de Personas Mayores de Bell Gardens. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

Andrea Rentería juega lotería de lunes a viernes en el Centro de Personas Mayores de Bell Gardens. (EGP foto por Nancy Martínez)

“Fue más bonito el sentimiento que el de ser madre”, agrega María Guzmán de 68 años.

Huerta dice que ella disfruta el tiempo con sus nietos. Ella aparta tiempo libre para jugar a las canicas, volar papalotes y por su puesto jugar lotería.

“Es una de las formas que yo les enseño español y dichos de México”, confiesa.

Es mediante estos juegos de antaño, que no requieren tecnología, en los que Huerta dice que les ha ensenado a sus tataranietos los conceptos de respeto y la importancia de pasar tiempo con la familia.

“La abuela no habla inglés”, les dice a sus nietos en forma de broma, explicándoles que no es que ella no entienda inglés pero es una forma de enseñarles a practicar su español.

Un truco también utilizado por Arenteria, quien dice que sus hijos no le hablan español a sus hijos pero conocen la regla: no se habla inglés en casa de la abuela.

“Aquí hablamos español” ella les dice a los niños para que no olviden el idioma.

Tendrán mas oportunidades si son bilingües, afirma, notando que de esa forma sus hijos tuvieron mejores oportunidades en sus carreras.

La mayoría de los nietos de Colmenares se han mudado lejos, pero ella recuerda vividamente detalles de cada uno, puesto que ella los crío a casi todos.

“Ha sido un orgullo ser una abuela”, recuerda, su cara marcada refleja destellos del tiempo en su enorme sonrisa.

Ahora, ella celebra todas las pequeñas cosas que sus nietos hacen por ella, las señales de afecto. Cada Día de las Madres y en el día de sus santo, ellos la visitan con las mañanitas y mariachi, haciéndola sentir muy especial, le dijo a EGP.

Durante la mañana, y después de mover una a una las piedritas decorativas que utilizan para sus coloridas tarjetas, alguien grita “buenas” la versión en español de decir “bingo” para indicar la carta ganadora.

Después de que las ganadoras terminan su café y se levantan, las longevas mujeres dicen adiós a su otra familia del Centro de Personas Mayores de Bell Gardens, para hacer espacio para ver a sus nietos de quienes tanto han estado hablando orgullosamente toda la mañana.

“Creo que la felicidad de ser abuela es lo que me mantiene viva”, reflexiona Colmenares con lagrimas en los ojos. “Es el regalo más maravilloso”.

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Twitter @nancyreporting
nmartinez@egpnews.com

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