By Reynaldo Mena
With his parents far away, Omar Velasco had to solve the most basic problems in his life at the age of twelve. His siblings were already older and had their own concerns. The eldest took charge of leadership and making things work.
The memory of his mother hit Omar Velasco hard.
“I had formed a friendship with her, more than a mother-son relationship. I helped her with everything, ran errands, and helped her sell. She made something she called ‘turrones con azucar,’ and she would pack them for me so that in the afternoon, I could go out and sell them on the street. I must have been around 10 or 11 years old. I wasn’t embarrassed, and thanks to my observant and analytical personality, I could assess my potential customers. I knew which block they would buy from me. When my mom gave them to me, I already knew the houses where my customers were. They even told me after paying, ‘We’ll be waiting for you tomorrow,'” he recalls.
What happened to him during those times he experienced later in life. That introversion, the silence, disappeared when he faced those tasks. Now the same thing happens when he’s in front of a microphone; he lights up, and the silence disappears.
The intensity of his relationship with his uncle Chava was such that disagreements also arose, as happens with friends.
“I was a bit older by then, and things like that happen. We would distance ourselves and then get closer,” he says.
That normalcy and everyday life had taken control of his life; he had his little ‘banda,’ responsibilities at home, school, and with Uncle Chava.
And then that call came.
“I was 15 and getting ready to start high school. My mom called and told me to take advantage of being on vacation and travel to California with my cousins. The plan was to spend the summer there, so I prepared for the trip,” he says.
Since he thought he would return, he didn’t formally say goodbye to his uncle. He remembers seeing him when he left his house from one of the windows on the second floor; that’s how they said goodbye.
After a long journey, he arrived in Pacoima. He was immediately struck by the diversity of people, and he didn’t speak English either.
With the hardworking culture of his family, Omar velasco didn’t spend much time “on vacation.” He started working at a bakery where he washed pots.
“I came to hate that job,” he says now with a laugh.
Later, he moved to a warehouse where he packaged sporting goods.
Perhaps counting the days until he could return to Guadalajara and be with his friends and Uncle Chava, Omar received new instructions from his mother.
“‘Mi’jo,’ don’t go. I don’t want you to leave. We’re here together; why go back there alone? Your siblings have already made their lives. You have us here,” his mom told him.
Omar knew he didn’t even consider another option. If his mom said so, that’s what had to be done.
“It didn’t affect me; I was very impressed with the United States. Plus, years before, we had seen the movie ‘La Bamba,’ which has some scenes filmed at San Fernando High School. I found out I would go there, and that excited me,” he says.
Omar Velasco never thought about finding his Donna, the girlfriend of the character Ritchie Valens in the movie.
“I was very young; I was never much of a dater,” he confesses.
Repeating the story of Guadalajara, on the first day of school, his mom gave him instructions on how to get to school, and that was it. He was facing that mysterious and challenging path of figuring things out on his own once again.
At the age of 15, he started a relationship with his father, which helped him a lot.
“I had always seen him come and go. He didn’t spend much time with us. When he was there, he would take me to school some days. It was strange; we didn’t know what to say to each other. We didn’t recognize each other; we traveled in silence. Gradually, the conversation started to flow. I admired him; he had a great ability to speak, very positive,” he adds.
He began to make friends, worked part-time at Chuck E. Cheese, and after saving a few dollars, he bought a white Fairmont car. Perhaps without realizing it, Omar was reconnecting with his homeland, his culture. In Colima, he listened to Bee Gees music, ballads by José José and Emmanuel, and in Guadalajara, he became a fan of Rock en Español. In the Californian streets, at the age of 16, he drove with his friends while listening to Bronco, Los Temerarios, and Los Bukis.
He still wasn’t clear about what he was going to do with his life; he enjoyed his youth, living his age, liking the noise of driving his Fairmont.
Some time later, he decided to study computer science at CSUN and worked before and after. Omar Velasco was always interested in contributing to the family’s economy.
In 1994, his life changed.
He heard a commercial on the radio; it was the popular Radio personality Pepe Barreto saying, “Do you want to have my job? Enroll in this school for announcers in Hollywood.”
It was like a sign. He didn’t hesitate. He called, took some tests, and was accepted.
He never imagined that nine years later, that commercial had predicted his future. In 2003, after various jobs at different radio stations, he took over Barreto’s position on the morning show at K-Love.
“Who could have imagined it? I forgot to mention that my dad worked in the radio when he was very young; I don’t have many details. I remember that when I told my family that I wanted to be a on air personality, some of them laughed; they couldn’t imagine that young man who liked silence and intimacy in front of a microphone,” he says.
“However, when the microphone turns on, all the teachings of Uncle Chava, my father, both conversation geniuses, come to me,” he says.
Before taking over the K-Love show, he worked in a late-night slot, and one of those days, he had to “hand over the microphone” to Barreto. When Barreto arrived, he asked if Omar was the one he had been hearing on the air, and when he answered affirmatively, Barreto looked at him in a very peculiar way.
“I felt it; I saw it in his eyes. He was wondering if I was the guy who was going to take his job,” he adds.
Shortly after that, programmer María Elena Nava contacted him.
“She asked me to cover for Barreto for a week. Just do the basics, play the music, and Argelia Atilano will do the weather. That changed everything. The producers really liked how we sounded together. Barreto extended his absence, and they left me in charge indefinitely. I spoke with Argelia, and immediately, I saw that I had a treasure in front of me. I opened the microphone to her, and we created a new format. The ratings went through the roof,” he says.
“From that moment on, I told myself, ‘This is where I belong.’ I wondered what I had to do to not give up that microphone,” he adds. “Destiny had these plans for me, alongside the person I was meant to be with,” Omar Velasco mentions.
In 2006, his uncle Chava passed away.
“It was a very tough blow; I remembered everything I learned from him. His stories, anecdotes, his fight for life, his humanity. On the radio, we do our best to help; that reminds me of that time with him,” Omar Velasco reflects.
“I thought so much about him that in 2007, I signed up to run a marathon. I said to myself, ‘He couldn’t use his legs; I’m going to use mine in his memory,'” he says.
And we can imagine in that long-distance race the thousands of memories that passed through his mind with each stride he took, one after the other, plas, plas, plas. His trips to the store to buy Raleigh cigarettes, Coca Colas, plas, plas, plas, the laughter, the joys, the tears, plas, plas, plas. That man who used to say, ‘Súbete, morro,’ when he got on the bus on the first day of school, plas, plas, plas, the little games with his friends on the streets of Guadalajara, plas, plas, plas, his drives at the age of 16 while listening to Los Temerarios, plas, plas, plas.
Perhaps that image when, as a young boy, Omar Velasco embarked on his journey to California and saw his Uncle Chava from the second floor of his house, looking out the window, unable to come down to say goodbye, plas, plas, plas. His arrival at K-Love, sitting in that chair, meeting Argelia, starting a family, plas, plas, plas. Every step and every stride continued forward, amid the silence around him.