The soul of resistance is buried deep within the heart. It sometimes takes a tragic event to uncover the beauty of resistance that manifests within our spirit.
A few days ago, my uncle Jesus passed away at the age of 91. He was born in Zacatecas. He came to the United States as a Bracero, and eventually settled down in Boyle Heights, a working-class barrio in the city of Los Angeles.
My uncle never learned to speak English, yet he was able to navigate the system well enough to be able to support his wife and family. He was a loving, family man filled with humility and humor. He loved to work on his automobiles.
He was a voracious reader and was up-to-date on all the current events thanks to his daily consumption of La Opinion, the Spanish Language newspaper in Los Angeles. He encouraged his children to read La Opinion so that they would never forget to speak Spanish.
I wasn’t close to him at all. Of course, I regret this.
I do remember, however, interviewing him for one of my first Chicana/o Studies classes I ever took at Cal State LA. I was required to write a paper about the experiences of a Mexican immigrant family.
I didn’t even know where to begin, but ultimately in writing the paper, I uncovered the struggle of a Mexican family trying to achieve the mythical American Dream.
My uncle clearly understood that for him and the first wave of Mexican migrants, the American Dream was just that an illusive dream.
Yet, he also understood that his sacrifice and struggle would open the doors of opportunity for his children and their children. It was his hope that they would never lose their connection to the Mexican culture.
In retrospect, the interview taught me many things about family struggle and why my own father wouldn’t share many of his experiences with me.
Despite my father being born in Nebraska, he was deported during the Great Depression along with parents and siblings. My dad never spoke about the humiliation his family experienced. My dad would never become fluent in English and his limited education caused many difficulties in life.
I learned about the hardships Mexican families experienced and endured in the United States, but growing up I just believed our socio-economic circumstances was a just case of bad luck.
It wasn’t until I began taking Chicana/o Studies classes that I realized that there was more to it than just bad luck.
Eventually, I discovered that many uncles and aunts on my father’s side were involved during the Chicano Movement. As I have previously shared in other posts in Notes from Aztlán, this was never taught to me.
Unfortunately, I was never able to connect with my uncles and aunts due to either geographical distance or just plain disconnection with my extended family.
My cousin Armando, for instance, was a founding member of the Royal Chicano Air Force art group in Sacramento. The group was initially named the Rebel Chicano Art Front (RCAF), the RCAF was founded in 1969 to express the goals of the Chicano Movement and labor organizing of the United Farm Workers.
I will continue to research my family history because such an act is an act of remembrance and resistance. It is only by remembering and documenting our stories that we will continue to survive.
Chicana/o Studies saved me, empowered me and allowed me to explore the past and recognize larger themes of historical legacies of resistance, but it was a brief interview and the writing of my Uncle Jesus’ story for this one class that taught me to fully appreciate the heart of resistance that an earlier generation bravely carried forward in order to make it possible for us to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
I am forever indebted to his story for it cemented my love for Chicana/o Studies but most importantly to continue the struggle of resistance for social justice on behalf of those who came before us and those that will come long after I’m gone.
I never thanked him for contribution to my education. I never shared my final work with him either. This is not your typical eulogy, but it is my eulogy of resistance for the gratitude that I never shared with him formally.
Jesus Fernandez (September 17, 1922-August 26, 2013)
Que En Paz Descanse