Friday, August 23, 2013

Guest Post: Honoring a "Town Elder" - Remembering "The Mexican Girl" - Classic Poetry Reissued

Today's guest post comes from Gloria Velásquez, author, educator, musician. She wrote the following essay in tribute to one of her father's compadres for the Johnstown Breeze in January, 2013. Johnstown is a typical small Midwestern town with a past rich with the contributions of Mexicans and other immigrants -- a past not always acknowledged or even known by the current residents. As Gloria told me, the essay is not only about Don Nacho, but also "about the dignity of our raza in all areas of Colorado, not just in Johnstown."

Tribute to Don Ignacio Rivera: The Last of the Town Elders
Gloria L. Velásquez

Don Ignacio "Nacho" Rivera

The Molinars, the Riveras, the Botellos, the Holguins, each of these families represent the Salt of the Earth of Johnstown. The roots of these families, which began in Mexico, are now firmly planted in the small northern Colorado town destiny chose for them. Fleeing poverty and the economic displacement that resulted from the Mexican Revolution of 1910, these families sought refuge in another Ellis Island. And like the twelve million German, Italian and Irish immigrants who fled to the United States between 1892-1954, they crossed borders, their hearts filled with hopes and dreams of a better life for themselves and their children: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

The life story of Don Ignacio Rivera reflects the journeys of these huddled masses seeking freedom and the pursuit of the American Dream. Don Ignacio Rivera or “Nacho,” was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1923 to Juan and Martina Rivera, who had crossed the border from Mexico into the United States seeking employment. Don Nacho spent the first four years of his life experiencing first-hand his parents’ search for socioeconomic betterment in the United States. He would later return with his parents to San Ignacio, a small pueblo in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico, where he would spend the first twenty years of his life. “It was a small, peaceful life, though sad. We lived in a small adobe house, very poor,” Don Nacho explained when I interviewed him. It was there in a small ranchito that this proud humble man would learn the value of hard work, helping his father plant corn and cotton. “My father was very hardworking. Era pobre como yo.”

It was also there in San Ignacio that Nacho fell in love with Maria Francisca Nevel or “Kica,” creating a love that would endure the test of time amidst economic difficulties. A love that would produce ten children—Leo, Jesse, Lupe, Socorro, Tony, Gloria, Johnny, Olivia, Irma, Sally and an adopted son, Adam. A love that would transcend time, transcend borders. In 2011, Nacho and his wife would celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in Johnstown, Colorado, surrounded by thirty-five grandchildren, fifty-nine great-grandchildren and sixteen great-great grandchildren. “Era mi primer amor. She was fifteen and I was eighteen. I knew I wanted to join my life with hers. We fell in love. I asked her if she would go with me and she said yes. So we went the first night to stay with friends in San Ignacio, then we went to Juárez for a few days. Then we went back to the ranchito. Luego nos casaron. That was the custom back then. The girls would go with the man, then they would marry.”

Don Nacho and his young bride would spend their first seven years of marriage in San Ignacio. Nonetheless, the economic hardships of the post-revolutionary era in Mexico would force Nacho and his family to leave their beloved ranchito. “A lot of people left San Ignacio when they didn’t have any water to work the land. We didn’t have any work, so I came to the U.S. to work. We didn’t have anything, not even water.” Nacho first crossed the U.S. Mexican border into Fabens, Texas where he worked for a rancher picking cotton and alfalfa. His wife and children would join him several weeks later. They lived in Fabens for almost a year and a half, returning to San Ignacio one more time, then crossing the border again into Denver City, Texas. Nacho would stay in Denver City with his family for three years, working in the cotton fields.

It was then that destiny intervened in Don Nacho’s life, taking him to the small northern Colorado town of Johnstown where he would remain with his family until his death on January 20, 2013. Upon visiting with his parents who had moved from Mexico to Johnstown, Nacho made the decision to move his family there in order to be closer to his parents. “Kica didn’t like Johnstown, but I did. I still do. This is where we’re all buried. My parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, everyone is here now.”

Nonetheless, the pursuit of the American Dream during the 1940s and 50s proved to be difficult for Don Nacho and countless other Mexicans living in the small agricultural towns of Northern Colorado. Like my own parents and those of many other Mexican and Chicano families whose roots are embedded in Johnstown, Nacho joined the marginalized groups who became a source of cheap labor for the local farmers. They lived in run-down shacks, making only enough money to support their families. “We all worked in the sugar beets. We lived in different ranches. I remember the snow would come in through the holes. No electricity. Wood stoves. We went to the bathroom in tinas or outside. I would get up at 3:00 a.m. to start the stove. The first house was real bad. In the second house it was better. All the workers were mexicanos. We were paid $200 a month. That was enough to eat on. And with my Amá and Apá, we were around thirteen and we all ate. I don’t know how, but we did.”

Times were indeed hard back then if you were a Mexican. Not only did Don Nacho work seven days a week, barely earning enough to feed his family, but he endured the discriminatory attitudes of the time. “Tenían al trabajador como a nadie. Some discriminated. Some were good. They paid very little. They didn’t speak any Spanish. We had to go cut wood, we’d cut branches. We would sometimes go to the dump to get wood. It was very difficult. They didn’t even know if people needed wood. It was all about work. They would give us credit at the store. Every two weeks I would buy food. Sometimes I wouldn’t have any money left, but I would still pay them.”

Despite the intense anti-Mexican sentiment of that era, Don Nacho would remain in his beloved Johnstown until his death. He eventually left farm labor, working seasonally at the local Great Western Sugar Factory and later at the Johnstown Feed and Seed, where he was employed for ten years. “I learned to work hard from my parents. I didn’t have any education, any schooling here, a little in Mexico.” Yet, Nacho never forgot his life on the ranchito in San Ignacio. “I loved being out doors, the fresh air. In the sugar factory it was indoors all the time, noise from the factory, the smell. I still like the rancho. My daughter, Gloria, came out like me. She lives on a rancho.”

Like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and César Chávez, the humble beginnings and life story of Don Ignacio Rivera have influenced the lives of many. Nacho’s legacy will remain in the historical archives of Johnstown. Virtually uneducated and speaking very little English, Nacho has contributed significantly to the history and local economy of Johnstown. During his many years in Johnstown, he purchased several homes as well as an apartment building. Nacho’s children would go on to model their father’s hard work ethic and entrepreneurial skills, developing their own local businesses--Leo’s Place, Kica’s and Nacho’s, Lozano Insurance and Ultimate Style--which have contributed to the local economy of Johnstown. There is no doubt that Don Nacho’s tenacity and his endless pursuit of the American Dream embody the spirit and greatness of a true American hero.

At the end of our interview, when I asked Don Ignacio what his greatest accomplishment was, he did not hesitate. “Tener una familia como ésta. My family is my greatest accomplishment. My children’s success. I never had money to give them, but I taught them to work, to be hardworking. I get sentimental. Muy unidos, día y noche. They have to work, but as soon as they get out, they come to the house. They all come to eat. They talk, they shout. I get so happy.”

Hasta pronto, Don Nacho. Until we meet again….

Gloria L. Velásquez is an internationally known writer and poet who graduated from Roosevelt High School (Johnstown) in 1967. She is also Honored Alumni from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley where she became the first Chicana to be inducted into their Hall of Fame in 1989. In 1998, Stanford University honored Velásquez with the “Gloria Velásquez Papers,” archiving her life as a writer and humanitarian.

Jack Kerouac's "Terry, The Mexican Girl" Dies At Age 92

I received the following press release from the Beatrice Kozera estate through Tim Z. Hernandez, La Bloga friend who has a book coming out about "The Mexican Girl," Manana Means Heaven. Tim's book is getting a lot of buzz and sounds like a great read.  The heroine of the book lived long enough to see it become a reality through Tim's hard work.

Fresno, CA. (August 19, 2013) — Beatrice Kozera, a.k.a. Bea Franco, a.k.a. “Terry” of legendary American author Jack Kerouac’s magnum opus, On the Road, died of natural causes on the morning of Thursday August 15, 2013 in Lakewood, California.

In her own words, her life was “nothing special.” Which might be true, if you do not count that her role in the author's career was important enough to include her name in over twenty biographies on Kerouac, and that she had amassed a literary cult following for the past 56 years, all unbeknownst to her and her family. In late autumn of 1947 she met the young Kerouac in Selma, California where she was living in the farmworker labor camps with her family. The two struck up a relationship that lasted fifteen days, which he chronicled in his book On the Road— a novel that sparked the counterculture generation and was recently made into a movie featuring Brazilian actress Alice Braga in the role of “Terry.” What has been largely unknown is that after six years of rejections it was the story of “Terry, the Mexican Girl” that opened the doors for the publication of Kerouac’s novel.

The timing of her death was unfortunate, considering that later this month a book based on her life and written with her participation, Mañana Means Heaven by author Tim Z. Hernandez, is being released. “My mother hung on just long enough to see and hold the book in her hands,” her son Albert commented.

Beatrice Kozera was born Beatrice Renteria in Los Angeles, California in 1920, and spent most of the early part of her life following the seasons with her family, picking cotton, grapes and other crops. She eventually settled down in Fresno, California with her husband LeRoy Kozera, who in her own words, “Was a good man who gave me a good life.” She is survived by her son Albert Franco and her daughter Patricia Leonard, along with several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Letters and condolences are being accepted at: The Beatrice Kozera Estate, 596 Palo Verde Drive, Bullhead City, Arizona 86442. For information or interview requests contact:

Thirtieth Anniversary Edition of Again For The First Time by Rosemary Catacalos

Again for the First Time
Rosemary Catacalos
Wings Press - October, 2013
[from La Bloga friend Bryce Milligan, the publisher]

Again for the First Time was originally published in 1984 by Tooth of Time Books in Santa Fe. It received the Texas Institute of Letters Poetry Prize. The book went on to achieve near-legendary status as one of the best books of poetry ever by a Texas poet. Wings Press is proud to publish this 30th anniversary edition. It was the first full-length collection of poetry by Rosemary Catacalos, who went on to become a Dobie-Paisano fellow, a Stegner fellow, a recipient of an NEA creative writing fellowship, and numerous other honors. The book is unique in that it pairs and often plays against each other the mythologies of Catacalos's mixed Greek and Mexican backgrounds. At the same time that it is populated with characters like Ariadne and Theseus, it is also very contemporary in its settings and the issues it addresses, including San Antonio street life, racism, mass killings, and foreign wars. It is a strongly feminist work as well. Rose Catacalos is the 2013-2014 Poet Laureate of Texas -- the first ever Latina Poet Laureate of Texas.

Rosemary Catacalos is the eldest grandchild of Greek and Mexican immigrants to San Antonio, Texas, where her extended family has made its home since about 1910. Her work is deeply rooted in place and in the classical myths, folklore, family stories, and history of both cultures. Her writing has been translated into Spanish, Italian, and Greek. A former literary arts administrator, Catacalos has been executive director of San Francisco's Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives, and the San Antonio literary center, Gemini Ink. She lives in San Antonio.


Later this year I'll be making presentations about writing and my books in Minnesota, Texas, California, and Colorado. Stay tuned for details.


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