Through the AM radio waves of 70’s Los Angeles, listeners knew Salvador De La Cruz as The King of Shrimp, “El Rey del Camaron.”
KWKW/1330 AM was the Spanish station of the workers in the City of Angels. In the sweaty halls of LA’s maquiladoras, cumbias and corridos echoed over the hardened beat of sowing machines and fabric cutters.
The 12:00 p.m. Friday lunch hour was named The Worker’s Hour or La Hora del Trabajador Con El Rey del Camaron.
A chosen winner during that hour would get a visit from the King of Shrimp himself; his food truck ready to serve shrimp, buffet style, for up to 100 workers and 25 guests.
On the wall of his small room in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio, Mr. Salvador still hangs a photo of himself in his prime.
“Era cuando yo estava fuerte y sano,” he said, pointing at the crooked frame.
“That’s when I was strong and healthy.”
He’s lived here for the last 15 years.
Aside from cooking seafood, Salvador could also weld and made a living of it in the Sun City. One day after work, he blacked out and fell over. When he woke, he was in a hospital bed unable to move his left extremities. A doctor explained that the stroke he suffered had permanently taken the left side of his body; Salvador, the doctor said, would never walk again.
Although shaken, Salvador began therapy in Juarez soon after. He walked within the year.
Twelve years later, Salvador not only walks, he drives and rides his bike. He rides to the grocery store and for visits to downtown. His left leg is not as strong as it once was, but it can sure push the pedals.
He makes a living by driving people and things from one part of town to the other.
His left arm and hand are also not as strong as they used to be, but he used them to pull two chilled mugs from the freezer and served us a bittersweet drink of agua de jamaica.
He and I sat in his room around the sort of metal table one finds at taco stands; Corona branded on to the top. Bowls on the table were filled with bagged rice and chiles poblanos, oranges and bananas.
“Cuando quieres prender una lumbre, no hay nadie que te preste un cerillo. Pero ya prendida la lumbre, todos se quieren calentar,” Mr. Salvador said.
“When you want to light a fire, there is no one to lend you a match. But once the the fire is lit, everyone comes to warm up.”