“I come from Mexicali, and I’ve lived here for 26 years, 12 at this house. In Mexicali, everybody has nacimientos, but this is the first time I’ve done it here. I consider that this is the best thing for a family to do. I have two daughters, a 4-year-old and a 22-year-old. I did this because I wanted to show my youngest daughter what Christmas really is about. I made the three kings and angel myself. The whole thing took me about 12 hours. I got the lumber for it out of the trash. I got the idea of a palm tree in a religious movie. I’m going to keep adding to it. I tried to make a camel but couldn’t finish it this time. But if you look over on the fence, you can see the lights in the outline of a horse. Come back next year and there will be even more!”
A truck driver, Elizalde has been out of work for a year. “Before, I was too busy, but this year I had time to do this. This is very common in Mexico, but here, all you see is Santa Claus. The real meaning of Christmas is that Jesus is coming. A lot of people have come by here and taken their hats off or made the sign of the cross.”
Several barrio residents recommend a nacimiento in the front yard of a house atop 36th Street hill at Franklin Avenue. On the left side of the front gate is an illuminated Nativity scene. To the right are illuminated figures of Santa Claus, Pooh Bear, snowmen, carolers, and angels. Thousands of lights surround the scene.
While the Latino population admires the display, the owner of the house is not Mexican-American. Pauline Green is African-American. “I’ve been here close to 20 years, and I’ve been putting it up ever since I first moved here. I have no idea how much I’ve spent over the years for this. I just go piece by piece. They got the knock-off stuff and markdowns after Christmas, and that’s when I pick up pieces like that. Then when Christmas comes, I put it up.”
A native of Arkansas, Green moved to San Diego in 1969. “I notice a lot of Mexicans coming around and stopping to look at the display. One year, they came by before I got started, and they wanted to know if I was going to be putting it up again. They said, ‘I come to see if you’re doing your yard,’ and I said, ‘Not yet. I’m getting started.’ It’s mostly anybody’s tradition that wants to do it. One year, a helicopter hovered over the yard and took pictures — I guess it was the news people. My niece saw my house on the news one time and said, ‘Hey, that’s Aunt Pauline’s house!’ People in Arkansas do this all over at Christmas.
“I was raised that way as a kid in the country. I’m a religious person. I used to go to Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, but they’ve closed down now, so I visit different ones. Mary, Joseph, and the baby — that’s everybody’s figures. Anybody can do this. Christmas means for me just like it means for the Mexicans: the holy baby Jesus was born. But nobody’s ever bothered my yard. They just love to look at it."