Monday, October 05, 2020

A Proud Chicano Is Called Back: Michael Augustine Olivas (June 12, 1932 – September 23, 2020)

By Daniel A. Olivas

[Note: On September 30, 2020, a funeral Mass was held at the Mission Basilica San Buenaventura in honor of my father who passed away after a long illness. The details of his remarkable life of service to his family, religious community, and country are recounted in this beautiful obituary that my mother wrote. Below, I reprint the remarks I gave at the Mass.]

Most of us know the many qualities and talents of my father, Michael Augustine Olivas. He was a man of faith, someone who cherished his family and friends, a war veteran, and a voracious reader.

Pop did not read narrowly because he was not a narrow man. Complex and challenging ideas did not scare him. He read books on religion and politics, and he loved fiction and poetry.

Perhaps it would not surprise many of you to learn that Pop loved to write. Not only did he write for his job at RTD, but when he was a young man while working in a factory and starting his family, Pop wrote fiction and poetry. 

Sadly, he never got published. Pop was ahead of his time, and I have little doubt that had he been born in 1962 instead of 1932, his creative writing would have been published and read by many. So, the fact that I became a writer—when not practicing law—delighted Pop. 

Not surprisingly, Pop and Mom inspired many of my stories and poems. One poem in particular is specifically about Pop’s desire to become a published writer. The poem was inspired by a book reading I did about dozen years ago at a bookstore in Sylmar called Tía Chucha’s:

Papa Wrote

The crowd at Tía Chucha’s

was sparse but smiling,

encouraging, waiting for

me to read a story or two.

I asked them to wait a few

minutes longer because my

father was late, and he had

promised to attend. And so

we waited in awkward

silence, the espresso machine’s

hissing offering the lone


And we waited,

and waited.

So we had to start. I opened

my book and read slowly,

assuredly, my words filling

these strangers’ minds.

Halfway through, the front

door creaked open and my

Papa nodded, found a chair

in back. I smiled and everyone

knew who this man was.

I finished the story,

a gentle clapping

the final punctuation.

Time for Q&A I said.

A young man raised

his hand, asked a kind

question, a softball, 

easy to answer.

My father then stood,

hands behind his back,

as I noted to the audience

that this is the man I had

been waiting for.

And then Papa said:

“I used to write, too.”

The audience nodded,

smiled, not knowing

where this was going.

Beads of perspiration 

covered my upper lip,

my face frozen with


“But it was trite,”

he continued.

“Nothing important.”

He waved his hand,

palm out, as if to

wipe away the past,

to make certain we


Papa paused, cleared

his throat. “Nothing

like what you write.”

“I wish I could read

your stories,” I said.

Softly, he answered:

“I burned them all.”

He smiled, without

sadness, and sat.

My Papa wrote, once,

long ago. He wrote

stories. Stories I will

never read. Stories I

will never know.

Though this poem ends the way it does, I must add this caveat: Even though Pop destroyed his written stories and poetry, he shared with us on a daily basis the story of his life and the expression of his love. And those are the gifts that we celebrate today.


Álvaro Huerta, Ph.D. said...

I'm so sorry for your loss, Daniel.

It's great that you made him proud and vice versa! This is a rare gift between son and father that I'm sure you'll always cherish and pass down generations of proud Chicanos...

Alvaro Huerta

Viva Liz Vega! said...

Daniel, My sincere condolences to you and your family. He sounds like he was a man of his time and yet ahead of it too. What a gift to have his stories and to honor his memories as you do with your words.

Daniel A. Olivas said...

Thank you, both. We were lucky to have him for as long as we did.