They’re in their 70s now, but they’ve been friends since childhood.
Every first Monday of the month, this group of Chicano Veterans from Brighton meet at the same restaurant to catch up and reminisce about when they were young.
"I mean, I'm a hugger," said Art Quintana. "And when I see these guys, the first thing I do is shake their hand and give them a hug.”
The breakfast table of more than 20 friends is raucous and jovial as they all flip through a 1965 yearbook and talk about growing up in Brighton.
"We all lived pretty close to each other," said Tony Abeyta. "Probably a radius of four blocks. We had 50 friends!”
Not only did they play together, but they also worked together. Part of growing up in Brighton in a Chicano family was working in the fields.
"Memories of getting up at 4 in the morning with a bucket with mama, the brothers, and everybody in the neighborhood," explained Larry Montoya. "We all got in the back of the truck, and the truck drove us out to the bean fields or to whatever we were picking at that time. That was routine for us.”
In school, Tobias was Toby, Carlos was Charles, and Lorenzo was Larry. They didn’t think much of it when the teacher changed their names.
“It was just something because it was easier for the teachers to pronounce," said Toby Morales. "We never thought anything about it. We just said, yeah…alright.”
It wasn’t until they were older when they realized that they were being treated differently.
"We had to meet with a counselor in our senior year," Quintana said. "I had another individual who did not happen to be Hispanic and he was in there for about 30 minutes with the counselor. I went in there and the counselor told me almost immediately the best thing you can do is go in the military because you're not going to be able to succeed in college. We weren't encouraged to go to school.”
"They channeled us in a different way," Montoya said. "And I say us because I think they did that to most Hispanics."
Because they had no support or money, they decided to join the military, where they felt like they were treated equally.
"When we got into the military, we were with everybody," Quintana said. "And we worked together. We encouraged each other. We helped each other. That was something that was very different for me and I just really, really enjoyed it.”
But when the Vietnam veterans came home from the war in the mid-70s, they didn't get a warm welcome.
“When I came back from Vietnam I came to Fort Lewis, Washington," Quintana said. "We had a lot of protestors there calling us baby killers and, you know, other things like that.”
So, in May of this year, many of these Veterans got a re-do. They were chosen to visit Washington D.C. aboard the Northern Colorado Honor Flight. The experience was very emotional.
"My memory of that is driving on the bus to the airport and seeing people on the road, fireman, policeman. People waving flags and waving at us,” said Montoya.
"It was nice to see those memorials. God. That's a dream come true, you know?! I thought it was awesome,” said Abeyta.
They're more than friends. They’re brothers.
From playing on the streets of Brighton to serving in the military. They've been through a lot together. They'll see each other again in a month. Same place, same time to relive it all again.
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