Por: Jennifer Bustamante
In Greek mythology, Clio is the muse of history, the proclaimer, glorifier and celebrator of great deeds and accomplishments. Clio is daughter of Zeus and the Titaness Mnemosyne, goddess of memory.1 In San Diego we can say Maria E. Garcia is our very own muse, in her new book, We Made San Diego, she recounts the many stories that celebrate our Hispanic community. Indeed it is a compilation of the great accomplishments that our border region has seen over the years. Maria’s passion for capturing history is not new, she began collecting stories in college, stories that captivated her and then submitted them for the college publications. Later she went on to write the stories of the barrio, in her first book, La Neighbor, which received among other accolades the Governor’s Historic Preservation Award. This first collection of the anecdotes of the local Latino community included 56 accounts of the Logan Heights community as told through individual interviews much like the work for her new book.
There are many ways to tell history, often depicted from the lens of the author such as it is written in textbooks; but when you have the gift to touch a person’s heart so that it can be opened to reveal the footsteps they have taken to create history, then you really see history as it was truly built, that is, from the lens of those who created it. We had a candid interview with Maria to experience her journey to bring together this treasure of accounts, each one told personally to Maria by over 130 Latinos.
Let’s begin at the beginning. Maria was born in Yuma, Arizona and her family moved to San Diego when she was only three years old. She attended local schools and graduated from Morse High School and San Diego State University. She is a retired educator and a Chicana activist, recognized vastly for her work in both roles, including Women’s Hall of Fame -Cultural Guardian ~ Historical in 2016 and the San Diego Union Tribune Latino Champion Award in 2017. Maria has a passion deep inside her heart to connect with people and tell their stories. For two years she produced and conducted a radio show called Vecinos where she interviewed community members about the role they played in the community. When we asked her about her passion to tell these stories she quoted an African proverb: “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter”
“Until the lion learns to write,
every story will glorify the hunter”
The journey to her newest book began five years ago, she never thought it would become the rich compendium that bloomed from her vision. Story after story began to snowball, one leading to the next weaving a colorful tapestry. The people featured in this collection share their stories uninhibited, they tell tales of pain such as rape and abuse, discrimination and violence. They also tell the paths of success, determination and community that made them who they are today: distinguished artists, military heroes, prominent elected officials and activists.
What began as a small collection of stories became such a big endeavor that needed to be organized into seven sections: Community Members, History, Vietnam, Firsts, Organizations, Business and Human Interest. Each section brings forward a unique pattern of perspective that builds on the next, one can read each individual story in order or at leisure and still find delight in the warmth of its fabric. The book opens with the story of Mario Cuauhtlecoc Aguilar and Bea Zamora, with their picture wearing authentic indigenous regalia. They founded the Mexi’cayotl Indio Dance Group, the best way to set the stage for our rich culture through the direct connections to our roots. Their dance group has become a true tribe where its dancers of all ages, young and old, have become a family. New dancers have been born into this group and their commitment to keeping tradition and culture alive grows every year.
The journey of this book also confronts the reader with the reality of war and the many Hispanic heroes that have fought for this country. Vietnam soldiers who earned purple heart medals like our late and beloved Memo Cavada, or Alberto “Albert” Bañuelos who died in battle. These clear revelations leave no room for arguments that we have not earned our place in this land. It even discusses the participation of women civil workers, or as Maria calls them “spies”, who monitored telephone conversations from Mexico when the U.S. feared that Japan would attack from the Southern border.
An element of this book that can be found on pages 178 and 179 speaks of the urgency Maria feels about exposing these stories. Two pages of pictures from the U.S. Library of Congress depicting how Mexicans in San Diego have been viewed. All of these pictures show poverty and strife, many of them quoting “ the Mexican section”.
Wrapped in a delightful and elegant design by renowned local artist Roberto Pozos, whose story is included in the book and is one of the many colors that paints this collection. We Made San Diego is a jewel for the Hispanic community of our region, as well as a cultural beacon to guide our future generations. We Celebrate every person who generously shared their stories for all of us to be inspired and empowered. And we Celebrate Maria Garcia for using her gift of words to paint the authentic image of what Hispanics have contributed to this country for all to see.
“Preservation of one’s own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.”