My name is Carlos Leonardo Najera de Madrid. I was born in Piedras Negras, Mexico in 1908. My father worked there for the Mexican government as post-master and Consul. He was also a professional photographer. When the Mexican Revolution began, my father and his entire family were in danger of being executed. I was three years old at the time and I can still remember the sound of gunfire, the smell of gun smoke, and the smell of things burning.
Eventually, after many adventures, my family arrived in California. There we settled, in that town with a funny sounding name. The name that my fellow countrymen had such a hard time pronouncing, Oxnard. The old ones would call it “Chiquis” or “Chiquisnaquis”. Whatever we called it, Oxnard became my home town and I spent the rest of my childhood and youth growing up there. I went to school there. I fell in love there. I am nearing ninety years old, and memories pop into my head. Times and places come back to me like old friends, and visit me for a time.
I do not know what reminded me, what started me thinking about her. And yet, the memories are now rushing back to me. I am eighty-seven now and it feels like it just happened, but it didn’t. It was over fifty years ago, and it began with a headline.
I remember that day, in 1945. I came home from work as usual. The kids were hungry. There were two at the time. Two more children came later. I sat down to eat as usual, and unfolded my copy of the Ventura Free Press. You should have seen the headlines. I will never forget what it said. In 3 inch letters across the front page it said, “Lucy Hicks is in Jail.”
I turned to my wife Christina, and said, “Cristi, why is this News?” Lucy Hicks had been in the County Jail innumerable times and was famous for it, the usual charge, conducting a house of ill fame. The story of Lucy Hicks filled the whole front page. There was no space left for the War in Europe. There was no space for the latest from our President, nor the usual local politics. Oxnard was a small town in the late teens and in the twenties. Christi and I knew Lucy since we were children in Oxnard. And I remember that first time I met Lucy.
One day I went to visit my friend Ernest at his house. Lucy lived in one of the houses in his neighborhood. She came out and stopped to talk to Earnest and me for a moment. I do not remember what we said at the time. It was the usual kids’ stuff. You know, the kinds of things kids say when they know there are no grownups around.
Lucy was black, the word we used back then was “Negress.” I guess people don’t say that anymore. She was about sixteen years old, a few years older than the two of us. After that day, I always got this funny feeling in my stomach whenever I was around her. It was like something was wrong and there was nothing I could do about it. I wish you could have heard Lucy’s voice. She sounded like a man! Her hair was very short, she had curls like coil springs about a quarter inch long, all over her head. She wore short skirts like the other teenage girls did. The whiskers on her face and neck also gave me a funny feeling. And please pardon me for noticing this, I was a growing boy after all, but Lucy was kind of flat chested for a girl her age.
Time passed, and we all grew older. Christi and I decided that we would get married some day. I also decided that I was going to graduate from high school, and I am proud to say that I did. I graduated from Oxnard High in 1927. I still have my yearbook to prove it.
Well, Christi and I were going on an errand walking down the street. We were talking and making plans and dreaming about our life together. She suddenly told me to cross the street.
“Hey! This is the wrong way!” I said. “I don’t want to walk near Lucy’s house.” She answered. Then I learned that all the girls in town were afraid to walk near her house. By this time Lucy’s house, you know, became a “house”.
Now that all this time has passed I begin to think that Lucy must have been lonely. It brings back that funny feeling in my gut. Her parents wanted a daughter so much, they raised one. The boys and girls would not even look at her and the Spanish girls were afraid of her. So she must have been very lonely all by herself.
It wasn’t all bad for Lucy. She became famous as the best cook in the county. She won the Grand prize in every cooking contest she entered. She was often hired by the “decent” folks in town to cook on special occasions.
And now my memory is back in 1945. Those of us living in Ventura County were up to our elbows in the War effort. There was the Navy base at Point Mugu, and in Hueneme where the ships docked. The Sea Bees were based here. And even out in the
Channel Islands the armed forces had set up bases. In other words, there were lots and lots of lonely sailors stationed here. All this was good for Lucy. She was doing great business. But not for long! The District Attorney of Ventura County decided to invite Lucy Hicks to be a guest of the county Jail. This brings me back to the newspaper and the three inch headline.
The hearing was held the day after Lucy’s arrest. When the Court convened the Doctor informed the Court that Lucy was a man and not a woman! I still don’t know why the people acted like it was a big surprise. But this was a terrific shock all over the County. It was as if a Bomb had exploded in the Courthouse! Everyone in the County knew Lucy Hicks or knew about her and they were severely shocked. The defense Attorney objected and the Court appointed two other Doctors to examine Lucy. The next day they testified that Lucy was a man.
The newspapers played it up big! They said. “What IS LUCY? A SHE A HE OR A IT?” Of course the Valley Gossipers had a holiday. They were saying, “l told You, I told you but you would not believe me.”
I know that nowadays it doesn’t seem to be a big deal if a man puts on women’s clothes and prances around. I have seen on the news that they even have parades and fancy dances to dress up that way. But here’s the sadness about Lucy, and this I know to be true. She wasn’t pretending. Her parents wanted a little girl so much that they raised her, I mean him, to be a girl. She had no idea she, uh, he, was a boy.
Lucy’s story quickly faded away. We had real problems to worry about: Japan, Hitler, our brothers and friends being sent all over the world to put an end to the madness.
My two sons are grown up now and they turned out all right. Now I didn’t say anything at the time, but I remember the funny feeling I got when they sat down with their sisters and played “Dress Up” with their paper dolls and things. And thoughts of Lucy would pop into my head.
“Lucy Hicks Anderson of Oxnard, California was the first transgendered black person to be legally tried and convicted in court for impersonating a woman.” (from Black American News @ http://www.blackamericaweb.com/?q=articles/news/the_black_diaspora_news/26008)