Afterthought: Santa Maria, California

I lived in Santa Maria for a little over one year, from January 5, 2011 to February 21, 2012. It is more than a small town but not a city.

80% of its acknowledged 125,000 residents speak Spanish as their native language.

There may be a dozen residents descended from people abducted from Africa by slave-traders, who found their way to Santa Maria through a relationship with an inmate at the federal penitentiary in Lompoc.

There’s an airport in Santa Maria, which serves two daily commuter flights each weekday. Thanks to California Redevelopment Law, the nucleus of small shops and cultural dignity was traded for a concrete shopping mall surrounded by asphalt striped for parking cars.  The shopping mall is now mostly vacant, and the new court house, police station and a  library, the architecture of which would resemble Union Station in Los Angeles if it  wasn’t covered with pink stucco.

The library is overseen by a former police captain of African American descent, who has no love for books and less for those who read them. Loudspeakers inside the library advise patrons when it is fifteen minutes before closing time. Printed cards are posted  to inform anyone that reads in Spanish or English that they are under video surveillance. Most of the Spanish-speaking people only check out novellas, 6″ square graphic novels, in which there are no words. The leadership junta of the predominant Hispanic gang with ties to the latino prison cartel, uses certain tables for regular meetings.

Since no one really paid attention to where they denounced Michael Jackson, only to the nature of his supposed crimes, there are only a few reasons why anyone would know of Santa Maria. Some may know that actor, Robin Williams, began his education in theater at Hancock Community College. Jackson’s attorneys understood what they could get away with in Santa Maria but not the cultural trap they were walking into given prejudices of those who live there. In January 29, 2012, while I lived there, one Albert Covarrubias Jr., a Santa Maria police officer, was shot and killed in cold blood by his colleagues on the force because of his alleged sexual relationship with a 17-year-old young lady that was participating in the police department’s Explorer program.

Had I not known the people involved, including the manager of the place where I lived, who I frequently saw in the company of the young lady’s mother and who I suspect set Mr. Covarrubias up with a surveillance video camera on his home, I might never have fully understood this nightmarish aspect of this strange little town in California, the population of which has the outlook of indigenous Mexicanos.

Here is a seemingly American community, with its Lutheran and other churches, typically failed redevelopment district, community college, banks, YMCA, theaters, Trader Joe’s, fitness centers, library, Denny’s, Sisters of Mercy hospital, Home Depot, Target, Walmart, full range of consumer gasoline stations, supermarkets, etc. and yet, beneath this surface, it is in reality and has the values of a large Mexican village.

Clues that seep to the surface are invisible to visitors, the many tienda-like restaurants, mercados and second-hand stores. If you pay in advance, a part for your car is “found”.  Your cop friends will shoot you down in cold blood for consensual sex with a 17-year-old woman and the killers themselves will appear on television the next day, polishing their weapons. Local newsprint will flutter like surprised pigeons for a minute, while CBS and Fox news will headline “California cop sought in sex probe shot dead by fellow officers.”


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