the youngest elder
i remember arizona through my aunt eloise’s house, wild and faded. beaten by the sun and heat, the economics of race and my latent family along the salt river. from there i can see my grandmother’s apron and stern face whom i never knew in person only by photograph. my aunt eloise’s daughter, my cousin raquel… i always thought she had such an exotic name. she was a nurse and married to gustavo guiterez the farm labour and native american activists of arizona. gustavo passed earlier that year. it was “raquee’s” turn now. my mother always wanted me to know them better. she told me once, “gus is a communist”. it was the cold war and he had the beard to prove it. the thing i think they had was the love and respect for other people. that is what she wanted me to know with them. whatever trouble gus got into as an activist, they shared it. “raquee” was cesar chavez’s nurse when he fasted for 22 days, while gus organised across mexico and the southwest. they were always helping, doing, traveling in an old truck or van. though my mother and her mother lived in different worlds, the spirit of travel was something they both shared. these same traits i see in my siblings and cousins. she was tapia.
raquel, her daughter’s name as well and gustavo her grandson bend down to begin spreading her ashes in the desert. everyone takes a turn and with a small cup we scoop up some ashes. each of us wanders off into a secluded corner of papago park. you can’t say one name without the other. when gus and raquee moved nearby so many years ago, the area was wild desert. i would hear stories about the salt river and camping trips, pow wows and my cousins voices, “come to arizona and visit, johnny”. the last time i saw raquee was under the mural a local artist painted in their house. we never sit long enough… now it is me telling my nephew arturo, “visit your cousins, they live right down the street from you”.
05.19.12 — 11.10.13
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