An Immigrant’s Birthday Reflection (11-21-16)
By, Armando Vazquez
I was born 65 years ago, on a coarse palm frown woven tapete, to two dirt poor indigenous subsistence farmers. My abueltias, both matriarchs and curanderas of the small tribal village of Ahualulco; who performed the sacred task of mid-wives for most of the women in the impoverished village, delivered me into this world.
The extended Vazquez family consisted of my immediate family, there we eight of us children, many uncles and aunts, cousins, a menagerie of domesticate animals and of course my two abuelitas, who ruled with absolute certainty of purpose.
We all worked hard trying like most of the other poor peasant families not to starve to death. Miraculously we never went hungry, and my father never asked for a kernel of corn or one favor from the caciques that control our valley in his entire life.
The women, girls, men and boys worked 12-16 hours a day, first in the barren fields and then in the small mercado, nestled between the towering Catholic Church and the Plaza area that came alive at night with small family owned and operated commerce and drunken stories of the riches to be made in “El Norte”.
The Vazquez men were master zapateros, they could repair any damaged huarache, boots or ladies shoes that were brought to them.
My abuelitas, along with my mother, my tias and sisters sold the best birria in the region. The miserable milpa we harvest coupled with the other creative family skills put shoes on our feet and a few more tortillas in our bellies.
A catastrophic and mysterious long lingering illness that befell oldest brother (Tuberculosis, Multiple Sclerosis, Hepatitis, or Meningitis; starvation who knows) finally drove my father to “El Norte; to earn the dolares he would have to have if his son was to live.
The doctors could never figure out what the illness was, although they gladly took all of the dolares my mother paid them. My abuelitas performed their own form of remedios and curanderismo, along with a fervent belief in the absolute power of miraculous prayer, my brother was cured.
My father journey to “El Norte” with his five other brothers, and they were gone for years.
My mother and my two abuelitas took care of the all of us and went about their responsibilities of running the household with reverent dedication and an absolute devotion of love and care for their children. Our miserably poor house was filled with immense love and safety that have never felt since.
One day my mother announced to all of us, “Su padre a preparado los paples! Nos vamos al norte! With that simple proclamation we left Ahualulco and head to Tijuana.
As it turned out my father and his brother quickly gained renown and prestige as “ masterful glass house campesinos”, contributing to the world-wide orchid propagations phenomenon (circa 1950’s-2000’s) that had much of it initial success in the Southern California area.
As coveted workers the Vazquez brothers were able to get gringo worker sponsorship and a “green card” in a remarkably short period of time.
But for the rest of us, before we entered the land of milk and honey, we wait out an eternity as squatters “paracaidas” immigrants for three surreal years in the outskirts of Tijuana.
Our temporary shanty home was situated in the hellish dreaded and dangerous Colonia Hidalgo area; barren foothills that were once the location of a major public dump that now acted as a shanty town of corrugated metal and card board misery; so near the Pacific Ocean that we would swear that you could hear La Llorona de las Lomas wailing her eternal horrific cries for her lost or drowned children as she too awaited to cross to “El Norte”.
In 1958 the entire Vazquez family entered the United States; we settled in El Monte, California. My first major revelation as a small kid was that I had to learn the ways of the gringo, quick! And really that has been my primary and principal goal: out work, out smart and out create them, and then teach that philosophy to my family, those I love and the community that I have tried to serve.
This philosophical mind set will serve my love ones in today’s tumultuous America. So here are my thoughts as an immigrant for the folks that I love and my adopted country that has so often reneged on its promises, and has never lived up to its lofty ideals!
All of the impotent gnashing of the teeth and hand wring of hands, after the election apocalypse, by arm chair quarterbacking been spewed like the last rites penitence by my liberal Chicano and Anglo brethren is in a word, pathetic.
We got played royally.
We were shown up to be powerless, stupid, mindless, and gutless (what would you prefer lemming or cockroaches?). We ate up all the mierda that was shovelled to us by both the liberal left and the racist right media, political pundits, politicos and all the other mass array of no-nothings.
We were lulled into mindless complacency and indifference by our own selfish endless insane moment of temporary pleasure seeking (Capitalism at its best!). Is this why we come to America?
The intellectuals and fools among now want to spin away our complacent stupidity.
By we have to wo(man) up and face it; we were duped, hoodwinked, punked for the fools we are; we thought that we had earn a bit of political leverage, an almost indiscernible power, an inaudible insiders voice in the American democratic Franchise. With it, maybe even a little social justice, equity and sense of democratic belonging.
The know nothing political pundits and shameless politicos, among us that are still wanting to play the political game, want to spin away our cowardly complicity and stupidity to the infallible and undeniable power and glory of American democracy; sometimes you win and sometimes you lose in the game; and it is a deadly, cutthroat, filthy, complicated and incestuous game. We lost big time!
The incredibly courageous struggle waged and victories won by our Civil Rights movement sisters and brothers are about to come crashing down all around us! All of that work, blood, sweat and tears will now be a revised and vanquished footnote; we are left with nothing!
The professional politicos, career functionaries, los sinverguenzas will find a way to “work together” with the new lily racist white administration (que mas nos queda?); and like cockroaches these pendejos will contort themselves into whatever is required and demanded by the white masters to fill the obligatory quotas that will be available for the sellouts.
We ( the boomers) the early benefactors of EOP (higher education), quotas and affirmative action felt that we had gotten a substantial and permanent piece of the Franchise and then we said; hey “
We worked hard , played by their rules. I got mine, I am in! Game over.” Wrong! What we got were good for nothing crumbs of appeasement and in the process we abdicated our moral responsibility to ourselves, our progeny and our community.
Immigrant’s boomers like me had families and children and we raised our children on one rock solid basic ideal, “higher education is the great equalizer.”
The question today is the great equalizer to what? To love, to social justice, to capitalism, to hate, to greed. What higher education did for far too many of our children (the so called Xers and Millennial) were lulled (all of us) into a false of sense of permanent entitlement, franchise and equality. World class education, work hard and play by the rules and you earn an equal place at the Franchise table! Wrong!
Today these Xers and Millennial “techie rich/democracy indifferent/social justice poor” kids now realize that that they have no real power in American democracy. We come to painfully understand we are all ponds of color/gender/class in this America, to be played as the masters pick and choose, nothing more nothing less.
At the time, the 60-70’s and into the present, it looked like we had struck a great bargain with the Devil, a bit of our soul for some of the franchise.
The American dream blinded us with greed, indifference and avarice. We sold out to a false and empty promise. We did not get the piece of the American pie; what we got were crumbs and useless capitalism trinkets that deftly manipulate us the mindless masses.
So this is what this old Chicano ponders endlessly now in the twilight of my life; that initial revelation that I had as a small immigrant kid arriving to “El Notre”. Did I out work, out smart, out hustle and our create them.
Did I play the game straight, fair and right?
Most importantly did this American blueprint get me and my people the social justice and equality we deserve? My answer today is a resounding terrifying NO!
But the odds for immigrants, Mr Trump and his legions, have always been great and we will always endured the next apocalyptic upheaval that you level upon us. We will just continue to work harder, smarter and with more love to make this country live up to it lofty promises of freedom, liberty and justice for all.
Armando Vazquez is the executive director of Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A and the KEYS Leadership Academy. He has a masters degree in education.
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