Neighborhood House remembered in book

They may be Chula Vista residents now but during the first part of the last century they were part of the vibrant life blood of Logan Heights. Their unique and often inspiring stories are captured in the new  book, “La Neighbor: A Settlement House in Logan Heights,” by Maria E. Garcia.

The book chronicles life in Logan Heights from 1914 to 1970. The focal point is the Neighborhood House where poor working-class families could access social services, cultural activities and community-building opportunities.

Very little has been written about this community. Chapters are devoted to aspects of every day life as told through a series of interviews with former residents, now ranging in age from 76 to 96.

Of particular interest are the pages devoted to life on the home front during World War II when local residents feared an invasion by the Japanese.

A group of young schoolboys between the ages of 5 and 16, dubbed “Tortilla’s Army,” held maneuvers with makeshift wooden “weapons” and marched around the community. They even dug a trench around their school, Lowell Elementary, to hamper the Japanese.

The first Latino in killed in WWII, Rudy Martinez, who died Dec. 7, 1941 came from Logan Heights.

The individual biographies are perhaps the most interesting to read, as they come directly from the heart — and first-hand experiences.

Johnny Rubalcava gained recognition as a war hero while Tulie Trejo gained fame as an award-winning baker.

Rubalcava began going to the Neighborhood House at age 6 in the 1930s. He remembers it as the place where kids in Logan Heights learned to dance, play on sports teams and enjoy occasional trips to camp.

He would go on to receive a Purple Heart medal in WWII.

Trejo learned her craft at the Neighborhood House and went on to win the prestigious Pillsbury bake-off. She entered her first baking contest at 10 at the Neighborhood House.

She entered her first Pillsbury bake-off in 1960 and in 1961 received a phone call that her fudge layer bars had been chosen for the finals.

She never looked back.

Garcia will host a book signing Saturday, Dec. 10, at 1 p.m. in the garden of the historic Marsden House. Trejo, 92, has altered family plans to attend the event.

Garcia is a retired school principal and has been an activist in the Chicano movement since 1968. Garcia noted the men and women she interviewed experienced tremendous discrimination yet they willingly went to World War II, Korea, Vietnam and every war since then to protect America.

“In the early articles my sense was this is interesting history, Garcia explained. “The more I spoke to the people and saw  what they went through my sense became that they were stronger, and had survived not only the every day family issues but the discrimination when there was no place to turn.

“Recently while making a presentation on what the elders had been through a young women about 20 or 21 said something like. “If they had done that to me I would have called the mayor and complained.’

“It hit me that today young people know they have avenues to fight the battle. It felt like ice water thrown in my face.  It was an accomplishment and yet I could not celebrate knowing how far we have to go.”