Ricardo García, U.S. Purple Heart army veteran
from the green Agent Orange
jungles of Vietnam.
from the asphalt smelling
summer barrio streets of ironic
Palo Alto, California, USA.
Ricardo, Olmec warrior
from the turquoise jade jungles
Ricardo, I remember how I first met you.
You flew by me, like a colibrí, a hummingbird
through the intellectual halls of the
at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Ricardo, you used to shout in disbelief:
¡Mira! Look at the high rate of Chicanos
and Chicanas dropping from high school,
¡Mira! look at the rate of brothers
and sisters incarcerated!
¡Mira! Look at the high rate of brothers
and sisters underemployed!
¡Mira! Look at the slave living and working
conditions in the chemical-infested grape fields
of the central valleys of California,
the world’s richest agricultural valleys.
¡Mira! Look at the IQ tests that test
us as “mentally retarded.”
How we are going to test well
if there are no classes designed
for us who speak Spanish at home,
and broken English at school?
“And for this I went to Nam!”
you shouted again in disbelief.
Ricardo, you should have seen your face light up
full of determination to change the world, and we did.
There came the Chicano Studies Departments,
the Bilingual Education Programs,
the Latino/Latina teachers, the lawyers, the doctors,
the poets, the painters, and the writers,
The Tloque Nahuaque, the Flor y Canto,
The Flower and Song of our people.
Ricardo García, after your tour in Vietnam
one golden day back in 1975
you walked into La Casa de la Raza,
The House of the People.
your face lit up as if it were hit by a golden ray
from the Sun God, Tonatiuh.
Your whole body became engulfed
by a golden, black-striped Monarch butterfly
full of happiness.
Ricardo, you came to do volunteer work for us,
to do social work for poor people,
to put all those university-learned theories
into practice, and joyfully discovering,
that it is wisdom, peace, and love for people
that are the door to change people’s lives and ways of thinking.
Ricardo García, I remember how you hit on the idea of starting
a Latino Chamber of Commerce in Santa Barbara,
You called it “Economical Development in the Barrios.”
Ricardo García, do you remember how we set down
to do our miracle weaving?
All of us, we kept the community programs of
La Casa funded and running.
Ricardo García, you also sometimes
walked and dressed like a pachuco
from the mid 1940s, as if you lived a fantasy
à la Zoot Suiters.
¡Todo un vato loco de Luis Valdez!
A pachuco, barrio boy living in the 1970s.
Ricardo, there were times that your
Vietnam memories called for a martini at Mel’s Bar
at the old location on De la Guerra Street.
Ricardo, I remember that once you grabbed me
by my arm and exclaimed,
¡Orale, carnal, vamos a tomar un Martini Chicano!
Ricardo, I remember your famous Chicano Martinis:
a shot of vodka, gin, mezcal, and tequila,
with four sacrificial pale green olives impaled on their toothpicks.
Then you would say,
“In Nam I danced with the Dead and the Man many times!”
while taking tender sips of your Chicano Martini.
Ricardo, I remember the look on your face
every day you came to work. Full of joy.
You would sing to the wind like a purple butterfly and say,
“It is as if I was at the Our Lady of Guadalupe church down the street,
or at my mother’s house, pura familia.”
Then you would fly away to your office dancing the salsa.
Ricardo, I remember how you inundated La Casa de la Raza,
every single inch, with salsa music
using our grassroots loud systems.
ten homemade speakers
with a central eight-track player and a long plumbers-tube mic.
We said adios to baladas — Los Babys — and Mexican norteño music — Los Tigres del Norte.
Ricardo, then you brought your salseros:
Tito Puente, Celia Cruz, Pérez Prado.
And Chicano music:
Carlos Santana, his brother Malo, El Chicano.
Ricardo, I remember one of those foggy days in Santa Barbara,
we couldn’t see those tall, golden-green mountains
nor the beautiful dark jade ocean
with its mystical Chumash islands.
Ricardo, that day, you came out of your office,
and into the dance hall where
I was painting a Mayan Chac Mool
who looked very much like you.
At that instant you and the Rain God,
had a very sad face on.
Than you said to me,
“Let’s go to have a martini,”
grabbing me by my shoulder
with such affection
I had never felt before.
I had a strong feeling of departure.
Ricardo, your golden eagle eyes looked into mine and you said,
“Carnal, I am leaving La Casa.
I got a job with the state Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,
and I need to go north to take care of mi mamá, mi jefita, my mother.”
Then a golden tear came rolling down your Olmeca face.
Ricardo, today, here I sit down
at the same bar now on Carrillo Street
almost 40 years later
drinking a Chicano Martini
writing your name on a white napkin,
and what will be a poem in your memory.