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El Abuelo’s passing (eulogy, wrote over cervesa, then read at velorio)

May 15, 2010

The space between a story and a memory is small. This one particular story has been told so many times, by some many tias y tios, and over so many years that I am uncertain if it constitutes one of my memories or merely a story that I have made into a memory. I often thought, this story could not be true, el abuelo would, must have not liked or allowed my irreverent gesture. Growing up I viewed him from below, his stature, strength were augmented by his often serious and reserved manner and stories of his time working on the railroad in the 1950s. I imagined him lifting and swinging a 30 pound hammer over and over, from sunset to sunrise, miles away from friends, family, from home.

One night in the early 1980s los dos abuelos were drinking, a normal occurrence I imagine. As one beer became many, one of the abuelos turned to the other and as he slowly swung his beer bottle from right to left, told Don Ramon, “no te aguites vale yo te hago el paro.” The following day, with a coke in hand, I, only 4 at the time, repeated the phrase as often and to as many people as would listen.

While I’ve heard this story many times, it is only when el Abuelo was sick that I came to reflect on “no te aguites vale, yo te hago el paro.” Driving to visit gramps in the hospital with Don Ramon, my sister and I asked Don Ramon to tell us about his days in the United States. Both los abuelos crossed the border together, faced countless discrimination and racism, and worked long hard and poorly paid hours across the United States. “Yo te hago el paro,” was not a promise, but a fact, a recollection, a confirmation that like in the past, I will continue to “hacerte un paro.” In my telling of this story and the future retelling of this story I hope we remember that los abuelos came to the united states in their late teens to work, to labor, for their families. It was this initial move that eventually created opportunities for the sons and daughter to migrate and eventually the grandsons to be born in the US. In the words of tio raymundo, “they were the pioneers.” While it is difficult for those of us from the younger generations to understand, I think this song beautifully captures what the abuelos might have felt. Paso del Norte, Antonio Aguilar.

I would like to close with two brief encounters with el abuelo, one in 1998, when I was 18, the other 2 days before his passing.

It was the summer of the US World Cup and I was in Guadalajara, staying in la Colonia de Santa Margarita with family friends. I was walking on la calle santa marta to meet a friend who lived in front of the house where la familia Guzman Arellano lived. As I got closer to the house, to my surprise I saw el abuelo, shirt tucked in, black leather jacket, and hair gelled up as usual. He gave me a quick hug, pulled out a 100 dollar bill from his wallet and said “paseate con unas muchachas” and continued walking…I happily obliged.

The Friday before his death we spoke over the phone. Our conversation lasted two minutes. Como estas, donde estas, y echate una cerveza por mi. I had more than one. There was no profound statement, no advice, no declaration of love.

Jose Maria Guzmán lived a difficult live. Hard, unappreciated labor, and often far from his children and wife. In the US or Mexico life continued to be hard, a man often not at peace. He found solace in drink: the occasional cerveza or tequila. I don’t propose that we learn from his life: how we should or not should life. What we should or should not do. I propose we do something much more honorable: to acknowledge that it was his migration and labor, his ability to endure being far from home, that shaped all of our lives in profound ways.  Our present state-how we look, act, speak, and our comfortable living standard cannot be understood without his initial labor. A labor that is a form of love: silent, invisible, always present, often unappreciated. I’ll be having a beer today. I think he would like it that way.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2010 2:47 am

    well done. I had a few drinks when i was 13 and later on in my life. He was a good friend to be around. We were friends more than father and son.I am honor to be one of his children. His memory will be here for years to come. His legacy will continue as more and more grandkids graduate from universities as doctors,Phisicians, historians etc.We are here because his hard work and commitment to his family. Love you always dad. Nicolas

  2. May 26, 2010 1:19 am

    Guau, Pochito! I imagine you are one of my nephews, whom I have yet the pleasure to meet. I used to visit Tia Maria (My mother's sister), all of my incredible cousins and occasionally, had the pleasure of seeing my uncle, Jose Maria, a man who was rough around the edges, much like my own father, but nevertheless, was always respectful and real. He was a human being. I especially remember his comraderie with my father and the many strong drinks they shared together. I had the pleasure of visiting him in the hospital the weekend before he passed and I was amazed at the fact that he remembered me and my mother, even through his escrutiating pain. Although he might have been a hard man, he gave his faults, his insecurities, his pain to Jesus on that day and immediately I thought, "God, I hope I get this chance someday; to be able to give every haunting evil and sin I have committed up to you, before I go." It is such a pleasure to be able to share this moment with you and commend you for your beautiful writing abilty. It is so moving to see the greatness that this man has been a part of. He obviously did many things well and for that my heart is full of thanks to him and my lovely tia! Much love and keep this up! Gabriela

  3. May 26, 2010 7:18 am

    Dear Gabriela,Thank you for the nice comments. hope to chat in person in the near future.saludos de nueva york,romeo

  4. June 5, 2010 2:39 am

    I have read the eulogy, so many times…i have also read the other stories, poems, thoughts.. so many times…..not once i have not cried; I asked myself..what to think?… how can I express so many emotions?… my reflections?… the words that touch my heart?… the gratitude for being part of your life?.. The miracle of being part of it, thank you so much for being my son, love mom.

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