An Immigrant’s Birthday Reflection
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, eight children, many uncles and aunts, cousins, and of course my two abuelitas, who ruled with 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 who controlled our valley. 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 that came alive at night. 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.
A catastrophic illness befell my oldest brother (Tuberculosis, Multiple Sclerosis, Hepatitis, or Meningitis; starvation who knows). It 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 along with a fervent belief in the absolute power of prayer, my brother was cured.
My father and his five other brothers 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 love and care for their children. Our poor house was filled with safety that have never felt since.
One day my mother announced: “Su padre a preparado los paples! Nos vamos al norte!” With that simple proclamation we left Ahualulco and headed to Tijuana. As it turned out my father and his brother quickly gained renown as, “ masterful glass house campesinos”, contributing to the world-wide orchid propagation phenomenon (circa 1950’s-2000’s) that had much of its 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 before we entered the land of milk and honey, we waited out an eternity as squatters “paracaidas” immigrants for three surreal years on the outskirts of Tijuana. Our shanty home was situated in the hellish Colonia Hidalgo area; barren foothills that were once the location of a major public dump. It was a shanty town of corrugated metal and cardboard misery.
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.
All of the impotent gnashing of the teeth and handwringing after the election apocalyps 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 shoveled to us by both the liberal left and the racist right media, political pundits, politicos and all the other mass array of know-nothings. We were lulled into mindless complacency and indifference by our own selfish insane moment of temporary pleasure seeking (Capitalism at its best!). Is this why we came to America?
The intellectuals want to spin away our complacent stupidity. By we have to a man and woman were duped. We thought that we had to earn a bit of political leverage in the American democratic Franchise. Wrong!
The know-nothing political pundits and shameless politicos, among us who still want to play the political game, want to spin away our cowardly complicity to 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 won our Civil Rights. Sisters and brothers, it is about to come crashing down. All that work, blood, sweat and tears will now be a revised and vanquished footnote! 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 boomers like me had families 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 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: 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, M.Ed. is Executive Director of Acuna Art Gallery/Café on A, Executive Director for The KEYS Leadership Academy and Chairman of the Oxnard Multicultural Mental Health/coalition