FROM UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
FOR RELEASE: WEEK OF APRIL 24, 1998
COLUMN OF THE AMERICAS by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
A CELEBRATION OF LIFE: WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN

It's a long road from Aguascalientes, Mexico, to East Los Angeles -- from a provincial town in the heart of Mexico to the largest barrio in the United States. It's the journey our parents (Roberto's) made, and as they celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary at the end of April, we are humbled by their example of selflessness. This journey culminated with the purchase of a home in Whittier, Calif., a community known as the home of Richard M. Nixon. Their union in both countries produced seven children and more than a dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

None of us children could begin to compare ourselves to our parents, Ricardo and Juanita. In the best of all possible worlds, they would receive calls from Washington, D.C., for embodying family values.

They are from the era of courtship in the plaza: Dolores Del Rio on the big screen and the love songs of Agustin Lara. They honeymooned in the floating gardens of Xochimilco outside Mexico City. Then they uprooted and became migrants in "El Norte." After crossing the border, they faced daily denigration and dehumanization, giving their entire lives, just so that we children could be better off. We can find no greater act of love and selflessness. Our sister Maria says, "They saw the future for us."

Both taught us the meaning of work. We saw our father, who had been a cliff diver in Acapulco, a rail-yard worker and a carpenter, almost work himself to death in Los Angeles several times. They also taught us the meaning of honor and courage. Our father first migrated to Chicago, then to Los Angeles, leaving us behind in Tijuana, Mexico. Then he honored his familial commitment by bringing us several years later to a little alley house on Whittier Boulevard in East L.A.

Our mother's courage was to raise us while our father worked three jobs, while neighbor and stranger alike viciously taunted her and all of us because we were "dirty Mexicans." Her kindness and devotion to her family won them over. One memorable example of her courage was when she was severely burned after throwing out a Christmas tree that had accidently caught fire, rather than see us harmed.

The sacrifices never ended. They both went to school, where they became bilingual and eventually citizens. In later life, our mother wrote books of religious poems that she passed out free to people from all walks of life.

We've often said that this society should honor its elders not at funerals, but at special times -- the way native communities do -- where they can see and hear those closest to them pay tribute to their lives. We feel fortunate that our parents have reached this milestone and can be honored while still alive. A 50th anniversary is an amazing testament to staying together, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.

While we have searched the world over for the essence of what it means to be human and have interviewed great women and men in the process, we have found the truest expression within our very home. For it is they who raised us with stories of Azteca warriors, and it was they who ingrained in us the value of "el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz" (respect among peoples and nations is peace).

These words come from Benito Juarez, Mexico's first Indian president. Our parents taught us to love and respect both countries, both cultures and languages, and to always stand up for our rights. A bit of advice they gave us as children has always guided us as human beings. When we were called "wetbacks" daily, they reassured us: "Tell them we didn't swim across the ocean." We took that to heart, and precisely because of those experiences, we could never humiliate anyone. Nor would we want to. We were raised to respect all individuals as part of our family called humanity.

Our oldest brother, John, says our parents are tenacious enough to surprise us with more accomplishments. "Maybe they will last another 25 years."

For instilling all this in us, we have but one word (in the Nahuatl or Mexican language) for our parents: "tlazocamati," or gracias, thanks.

This tribute is our honoring song.
COPYRIGHT 1998 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

* Both writers are authors of Gonzales/Rodriguez: Uncut & Uncensored (ISBN 0-918520-22-3 UC Berkeley, Ethnic Studies Library, Publications Unit. Rodriguez is the author of Justice: A Question of Race (Cloth ISBN 0-927534-69-X paper ISBN 0-927534-68-1 Bilingual Review Press) and the antibook, The X in La Raza II. They can be reached at PO BOX 7905, Albq NM 87194-7904, 505-247-3888 or XColumn@aol.com

* We're on the road, but e-accessible

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