Saturday, November 18, 2017

Guest Columnist: Antonio Solisgomez

Editor's Note: See Antonio Solisgomez' biography at the end of this column.

All Souls Procession In Tucson 2017
Antonio Solisgomez

Mexicans have always had a fascination with death, with the ghosts of those departed, never shy about talking openly on the subject, nor recounting visits from those gone to the other side and keeping the tradition alive of the velorio, the night vigil where friends and relatives gather in the mortuary parking lot to drink and swap stories of the deceased, their closest relatives returning home to insert a photograph of him or her in their family altar or later at the time of All Souls Day creating a special altar with an offering of food and flowers.

My first memories of the practice of honoring those gone to the other side are from my early childhood in El Paso in the 1940’s, where everyone spoke Spanish, where we and everyone we knew lived in tenement housing and was poor, where every weekend we would walk across the border into Juarez to spend time with my padrinos and to shop for groceries at the open air Mercado with its pungent odors of fresh fruit, flowers, spices, slabs of meat, live chickens, birds in cages.

October brings an astonishing display of items for El Dia De Los Muertos, decorated sugar skulls of all sizes and color, calacas made from thin cardboard whose arms and legs had movement or made of wood and capable of dancing on a paddle, small candies and toys shaped into skeletons, all of it mesmerizing, affirming of the stories and beliefs that were our upbringing for la pelona en bicicleta was a reality and we knew that our friends and relatives who had been whisked away to the other world would be remembered and honored.

She's taking names of deceased individuals being remembered

My classroom, in contrast, during October was decorated with colorful maple leaves, foldout paper pumpkins, witches on broomsticks and magazine photos of costumed children trick or treating, motifs foreign to us Chicanitos living in a desert environment and where the only strangers that came to knock on our door were the bill collectors and the men asking for a taquito of whatever food we could spare.

In this country Halloween, the one holiday related to the subject of death has been cleansed of its pagan origins, converted into an economic activity devoid of any semblance to the purpose of honoring those who have passed over.

Taking names that will be burned at the finale.

Some Christians attack Halloween as an event promoting satanic practices. Fortunately this is changing and we now see more and more evidence that people want to honor their deceased friends and relatives in a special way as is done during Dia De Los Muertos.

There are many reasons for this, one certainly is the greater number of Latinos in this country but also the elevating of humanity’s consciousness and a certainty that there is life after death, bolstered by the thousands of testimonies that attest to this fact and the concomitant need to honor our ancestors and loved ones.

Procession gets underway.
Here in Tucson Arizona, 28 years ago, a group of artists began a practice of dressing in costume and walking a designated route and at the end burning prayer requests.

One hundred and fifty thousand people now join this All Souls Procession, which is not a parade, not so much something to witness as a spectator, but rather a gathering of individuals walking together in remembrance of dead friends and relatives.

Some carry their own light

Many children attend

The Procession ends at a large dirt field.
Meet Antonio Solisgomez

Born in El Psao at the start of World War II my formative years were spent in the rough & tumble Duranguito Barrio where it was not unusual to have 20 or 30 playmates during the day & night speaking only in Spanish with lots of slang & lots of cuss words, playing games that came from Mexico, games that required running, chasing, hiding and no equipment whatsoever. Weekends were spent in Juraez, vising my godparents, eating at the puestecitos, going to the mercado and to the cervezeria, the beer garden, where entertainment was provided and the adults drank and sang rancheras.

It was an idylic life but my family moved to Los Angeles in 1950 where it was rumored that my stepfather could ply his carpentry trade in the housing boom taking place in the suburban areas. We left behind a mountain of unpaid bills, memories that would last a lifetime and a language that has never left me.

Lincoln Heights where we finally settled, after short stints in Bunker Hill and in Central los Angeleas, was a barrio in transition, Mexican Families moving in and Italian families moving out. But for awhile we lived as neighbors, played together at local playgrounds, at the Boys Club and later at the High School, which by then was almost 98 % Latino, most of them new immigrants from Mexico. Lincoln High School where i attended was oriented toward shop programs in wood, printing, upholstery for boys and typing, sewing, and homemaking for girls with limited classes in science, math & Literature. But I went to East Los Angeles College, later to Cal State LA where I graduated in June of 1964 & started working as a social worker for the Los Angeles County program Assistance to Families with Dependent Children(AFDC). I worked as a social worker for the next 10 years for HeadStart, International Institude & Big Brothers but switching in 1970 to working preschools and childcare.

During the late 1960, i helped start the barrio magazine Con Safos and was quite active in community affairs until 1970 when i became disillusioned with the many self-serving Chicanos that began moving into positions being created in the War on Poverty Program, individuals who were all about the rhetoric but were really out for themselves and community concerns were not a priority. I was naive to some extent but it became a crisis for me at the time and i had to search deep to find a new foundation as the Chicano Movimiento that had been my end all, eroded. I started meditating then, became a vegetarian, stopped drinking and getting high and eventually moved to Tucson where i enrolled in a Masters program to become a Spanish speaking librarian, a career that i had for the next 25 years. I retired from the W.K. Kellog Foundation in 2000, my 2nd wife and i travelled around the world for five months then first settled in Carlsbad California and eventually came to live in Tucson.

I have been actively writing since retiring and have self published two books Amen Again in 2012; Pelon on the Lam and the 2nd book The Search for the Brown Buffalo; A Con Safos Quantum Journey. I have a third finished manuscript that has a working title of Archival Murder: A Con Safos Crime Mystery. I also have a few short stories that i hope to publish some day. In addition to writing i also have taught myself cabinet making and more recently have decided to give up all my power tools and work solely by hand, which is more in keeping with my other hobby of weaving that is slow and quiet. I continue to meditate daily and my spiritual life is really my focus, all activities revolve around that and i am particulalry interested in what the Mayans discovered of a new age beginning in 2012, the old age of greed, separation, violence and war, male dominance & intolerance replaced by peace, unity, tolerance, empathy, love and a balance of masculine and feminine energies.

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