Zeferino aka Shorty


This post comes to you from that alternate world of chance. By mere coincidence, chimatli and I happened to be taking a look (and pics) of an undeveloped lot in San Gabriel that was rumored to soon turn into a road for some new McMansions. Trying to snap pics over a fence, this voice comes from off in the corner “Do you want me to open that gate?” And that’s how we met Shorty.

There is something disarming when a stranger offers up some help unexpectedly. This incident was a reminder to stay open to the random suggestions of distant voices, as the chance encounter turned into a near hour long tour of Zeferino’s backyard and workshop, peppered with an assortment of stories of life in LA. For a man in his 90’s, Shorty is still very lively and active which I would attribute to his inquisitve and creative nature, which shows itself mostly in his old styled Mexican resourcefulness. You know; making do with what you got, repurposing items, DIY vs. paying someone else to do it. Check out these following pics to see what I mean.


First he showed us his backyard terraced garden, complete with Guadalupe altar. He made a point of explaining that some people were just throwing away those lava rocks and the tiles that decorate the concrete walls.


This piece was also salvaged from the trash heap.


Shorty took on a job of replacing the pipes at a local school and kept the old ones since he knew he could do something with them. These were turned into a trellis, with a little help of some extra fence material.


Inside his workshop he has a prized bag of golf clubs that Jerry Lewis gave to him.


I guess he wasn’t kidding.


Shorty’s most unique creation has got to be this: a DIY Nordic Track style skier, made from repurposed curtain rollers, scrap wood, and iron pipes. The design itself looks neat!


And here he is demonstrating how its used, it seemed to work well, though he did say he was “still working on it.”

But what I loved most about Zeferino aka Shorty was his natural use of Spanglish, switching between Spanish and English depending on what was easiest to get his point across. Check out this clip:

A great command of the Chicano language! Yeah, that’s MJ in the background, I’m not sure what station he was listening. Zeferino is proof that being older doesn’t mean you have to give up on the creative spirit.

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34 Responses to Zeferino aka Shorty

  1. Chuck Morse says:

    Awesome post! 🙂

  2. ritzy p says:

    damn, what an awesome adventure, the meeting of shorty!

  3. cindylu says:

    I trip out when I hear older adults using Spanglish. The first time I encountered it was with Ralph’s parents. All the older adults I know, especially those close to Zeferino/Shorty’s age, just speak Spanish.

    Zeferino/Shorty reminds me of my grandpa in his DIY spirit. I used to think it was funny that whenever Chepe would go for walks in the neighborhood, he’d always bring home some neighbors “trash.” I’m not sure what he used things for, but he gets creative.

  4. Taco Sam says:

    Great post, Chavo. Shorty is definitely old school Chicano. In the video clip, he speaks mostly English, and mixes in some Spanish words and phrases. It would be interesting to know his background.

    Growing up, we had a neighbor just like Shorty, from that era and also spoke Chicano English. He was a WWII vet and worked in the railroad yards for many years. He was just as resourceful.

  5. chimatli says:

    You forgot to mention that when we asked Shorty what he was called, he gave off a list of names that went like:
    “They call me Shorty, Chaparro, ABORTION (!), Zefe etc…” and with a total straight face!

  6. tin says:

    gracias for the fine post. a good sample of rasquachismo, el arte chicano de los pobres. so is his house going to be taken over by rich folks?

  7. thanks for this excellent post. he reminds me of my dad.

  8. JW says:

    Really cool story and post – thanks for this!

  9. L.A. says:

    Este post esta de 10, keep posting more : D

  10. EL CHAVO! says:

    Taco Sam,
    I heard he was born in Guanajuato, Mex. but would come back and forth over the border with his parents for work. Eventually they settled on this side of an arbitrary line drawn up by politicos.

  11. michelle says:

    This makes me miss LA.

  12. THAT MY GRANDPA!!! Seriously. How cool. I can’t wait to show this link to my family! Great post chanfles!

  13. EL CHAVO! says:

    Wow! What are the odds of that? Yup, that’s his last name, if you’d like to share any more info (like background, etc.) feel free to leave it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by Cristina!

  14. mirapapi says:

    This was a great story. I’ve been working on an essay about the DYI and Green recycling culture today and how it’s really old news to Latinos. My grandfather always recycled and reused what ever he could. In the house he built the closets were old lockers from a school, doors were from an old Victorian and so was the mantel that was totally oversized for the room. When I finish I’m going to link up to this post.

  15. B. Saavedra says:

    Thank you for posting my fathers most favorite place to be, his garden. He spends many hours with nature…his plants and birds (wild and caged). He is going to be 94 years young in August and we (large family) will celebrate his 94th in his garden.
    Several years ago he was honored at LA City Hall for being the second person to reach the top of city hall using the stair well. The elevators were not working the day it was opened. Since he was a kid and Mexican, the politicos ask him to leave. The first person before him was a young Japanese kid they both had to leave.
    So after sharing the story with the current council member Jan Perry, he was honored when the city hall was rededicated. He has a resolution signed by al the councilmembers. That was a proud day for my dad. He had lots of stories about LA…My dad is a great story teller of the old days in LA. Thanks, again.

  16. johanna & joy says:

    That’s our funny Grandpa and yes he is so original and comes up with the best stories. He is so funny and always has new and old stories to share. How long was your visit with him? Did he offer you some cheese puffs?

  17. johanna & joy says:

    I forgot to let you know that he dances so good, he was dropping it like it’s hot way back before it was popular to do. He has this move where he gets real low to the floor, we call it the “chango crawl.”

  18. Janis says:

    God, I love that backyard!!! And you know I never realized those were pipes under the trellis and I have walked by it a million times. My crazy cool Grandpa, glad you had a blast visiting him. He is a riot. Can’t wait to go home to LA for his b-day in August.

  19. Michelle says:

    My uncle is an amazing person! The only person that can out dance him is my dad! Some of my favorite chilhood memories were in that backyard! Thanks for sharing you visit.

  20. Judieboy says:

    If you want to know Grandpa Shorty, read this story. Grandpa Shorty was born in Leon, Guanajuato in 1913. He came to America with his parents when he was five years old. He did go back to Mexico to work as a teenager and then decided to come back to America. He forgot that he had come to America legally with his parents in 1918, so he snuck back by crossing the Sonora Desert with just two “moldy” burritos to eat. It’s all he had to eat but he “was grateful”. According to Grandpa, when your hungry, you’ll eat anything.
    He hopped a train and rode on top with some other men. When the conductor came round to throw the “hobos” off the train, he immediately picked on Shorty because he was the smallest one. Just then, the biggest man on the train got up and defended my grandpa.
    “Pick on someone your own size!” he told the conductor. He then threw the conductor off the train. Then he grabbed my grandpa on jumped off the opposite side and hid until they stopped looking for him. When the train started again, they ran and jumped back on. They road it to some southwestern town. When they got to the town, the man asked Shorty for his money.
    “Trust me. I can get us something to eat around the corner.” Shorty gave him all his money and the man disappeared around the corner. Shorty waited for the man to come back. He gave his money and trust to this stranger. This is how Grandpa Shorty is. The stranger came back with some food and a book. He kept his word to my grandpa. They went back to the train yard and hopped a train to California. When they arrived in California, they road the train to Pomona when it was still nothing but orange groves. They got off the train there. The big stranger told Shorty to follow the train tracks and that they would take him all the way to L.A. He then gave him the book and told him that if anyone stopped him, tell them he was a student going home. Grandpa Shorty thanked him and they said goodbye. He never saw the stranger again. To this day, Grandpa Shorty believes that that big stranger was his guardian angel.
    This story is known in our family as the “Moldy Burrito Story”. It is my favorite story about my grandpa. I have always wanted to record that story of our family history. I apologize to anyone who knows the story if I didn’t recall it correctly. That’s my grandpa!

  21. Denise says:

    AWESOME!! What a treat to get this link from my cousin Janis about our colorful & inspiring Grandpa!! Between him & our Grandmother, the DIY things he shared w/ you that day, they were just the tip of the iceberg! It’s really incredible all the things those 2 repurposed. And as far as the wonderful stories he could tell you about LA…he could also share w/ you all about the world travels our Grandmother & he took, his bodybuilding/martial arts days, his volunteer work, his US Navy experience during WWII & much, much, more. He’s quite an interesting guy & we all love him to bits!!

  22. Denise says:

    p.s. The posted pictures only give you a glimpse of his garden & the artwork he’s created in it, the yard is huge & very lovely. He really does a fabulous job of keeping it all up!!

  23. Jihan says:

    I hope my grandpa reads this. There is no one like him. He is tough-tough! My Grandfather was the first person to tell me about my culture. I was four years old and he asked me, “Are you Mexicano or Americano?” you can imagine my answer. He then said, “You’re both! You’re Mexicano-Americano!” He also taught me how to count from 1-10 in spanish without sounding like a valley girl. I still remember him saying, “No, not Uuu-nooo! UNO!” He is as funny as he is resourceful. HE IS FUNNY. One time he tricked my brother into eating his “chili candy”. Haha Jordan! That’s where i get it from. hehe. Really…all i can think about sometimes is getting married right away so that my husband and kids will know who he is. I want everyone to know who he is. Because I’ve never known anyone like him. He and my Uncle Moses sure can get down. I’ll try and post my Birthday party pics.

  24. Jihan says:

    Michelle that is true. I used to love and both dread my Uncle Arthur pulling me onto that balcony to dance. Funny how those things stick to you. Good times!

  25. Jihan says:

    Uncle Arthur can cut a rug too. You’re right Michelle.

  26. Laura says:

    Uncle Shorty is the cutest! I havent seen him in a while so this was so cool to get to see him and his amazing backyard that I have so many great memories from. You dont see backyards like that anymore. Thanks so much for sharing this! Happy 94th in August!

  27. Ana Sirena says:

    We all love Shorty–his neighbors that is! We have some stories to tell!!!
    He checks in on my neighbor Ruth (who once lived in Manzanar)once a week. She’s also going on 94.

    They used to work at Calvary Cemetery floral shop awhile back, where my mom and I went to buy flowers for her mom and my dad. Small world no?
    Ruth is as spry or more than Shorty! Ruth is another story to investigate in finding out about this barrio…

  28. Deborah says:


    I am the eldest grandchild of Zeferino Saavedra. My Grandpa Shorty has taught me endless life lessons: the value of hard work(both mental and physical), pride in one’s accomplishments, to remember the foundation our ancestors laid for us, how to not worry, how to endure, how to excel, to grab all the joy you can! He has an endless library of oral history in his cabeza. He beats Victor Villasenor has hands down in stories (but I guess it’s all relative que no?).

    I did not know that my granfather was a 1st Degree Black Belt in Jujitsu, until after I completed my own training as a Second Degree Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do. He was taught in LA’s Little Tokyo by a man named Yoshi Taro, who was eventually sent to an internment camp during WWII.

    I had mistakenly believed in the myth that only gringo GIs brought back
    Karate from Japan, which was not the case. There were instances when “outsiders” were taught here. I really believed that it was my Grandfather’s unpretentiousness that proved him worthy and the acceptance by his Sensei. In the 1930’s you had to earn your belt by winning at tournaments, so off Grandpa went to places like Fresno and Bakersfield to earn points towards his Black Belt. By the time Grandpa married in 1940, he gave his Black Belt away to the friend of a relative! He had learned the true lesson of martial arts training: it has nothing to do with winning trophies or belts, as much as it has to with building character and finding your own Way.

    Deborah Nevarez

  29. Veronica says:

    I truly enjoyed reading this post and meeting Zeferino. I hope you’ll write more about him in your future posts.

  30. Jacqueline cazares says:

    My grandpa Shorty passed away on February 8th this past Friday at 99 years young. He will forever remain in our hearts. He had the best stories and I never got tired of hearing them. <3

  31. EL CHAVO! says:

    Sorry for your loss. I did hear of his passing a few hours before your comment. I am glad I was able to spend, even if brief, some time with Shorty.

    RIP Zeferino.

  32. Just a few days ago this post came to mind and I tried as hard as I could to remember his name. Very belated, but I’m glad you were able to share his story, Chavo.

  33. Damian Nevarez says:

    This is the famous Grandpa Shorty a man of men. I am proud to say he was my grandfather he taught me many things over the 45 years of being around him.
    I have found memories of being in his garage as he upholstered furniture while he had tacks in his mouth and a tack hammer in his hand. When I was a kid he would show us his bicep and the vein that came out of it and say he ate a rat and it was now in his arm. I was 6 and was like really! On this post I see the Jerry Lewis Golf bag I remember when he got the back way back in the early 80’s. I inherited the bag and will show it off and tell the story of how he came about this golf bag and it’s contents including the golf balls Jerry Lewis Golf Shoes with dirt still attached.
    My Grandfather was awesome and full of stories and comical expressions. He is now gardening in Heaven loving every minute of it! God Bless you

    Note; I came across this post today Feb 1st just short of the 1 yr anniversary of his passing

  34. Manuel Gonez says:

    I like Shorty and his familia. God bless you all…

    Manuel A. Gonez, Jr.
    Roybal Foundation
    May 2014

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