There's an Oneida greeting that translates roughly into: What are you doing to bring about the Great Peace?
It brings to mind the life of a long-time friend and elder, Frank Gutierrez -- a man synonymous with East L.A. and East L.A. College. The way he walks his life provides us the answer.
He is part of the Great Peace? that is, his whole life has been dedicated to bringing about that Great Peace. His life brings to mind the idea that peace is not but the absence of war. In his case, he has created the cause of peace among the many thousands of students he has taught and counseled throughout the years.
We write about him today because he will be honored this upcoming weekend. He is being honored the way honorings should take place - while he is alive - not after he has moved on. And it is being done as part of an elder honoring ceremony. In such an honoring, he is recognized for the totality of his life - not just his contributions to his job and career.
Such a ceremony tells us not simply that the individual being honored has contributed greatly to humanity, but that this is how a community chooses to honor one of their own. Such honorings are not a formal part of most American cultures, though they are indeed an integral part of many indigenous cultures.
So just which community is honoring Uncle Frank?
In one sense, it is a spiritual community, not bounded by geography - a community without borders that refuses to forget the East L.A. school walkouts of 1968 and the 1970 killing of L.A. Times columnist, Ruben Salazar. Many of the youths of today were not born during those conflictive times, but it is part of their collective memory and psyche... as are the Zoot Suit Riots of the 1940s? There is something before that too, but we're not quite sure. The Mexican Revolution. Yes. Many of us are refugees from a war that left more than a million Mexicans dead in the early part of the 20th century? and it drove many desperate people north?. only to be driven back south during periodic mass deportations? then back north by ruthless economic conditions. Others came north as a result of U.S.-supported wars in Central America. And those north-south/south-north journeys continue.
This is East L.A. Yet, it is much bigger than the East Side and Frank's memory goes back, even much further back. His memory (beyond romanticized notions of an Aztec and Mayan past) goes back to the circle and the Four Directions.
Perhaps Uncle Frank (counselor and instructor) merits a resume. But you won't find it here. Memory and way of life is much bigger than a biography? and this is what he helped bring back. Yes there is the annual Aztlan Track Classic and the East L.A. Pow Wow. But Frank beckons to a fog of memory - a memory much older than even before Los Angeles was still a part of Mexico. That's what the new mayor of L.A. also conjures up? another era.
Yet, Frank's memory speaks to something even more ancient? something that goes back many thousands of years. (Frank speaks of being influenced by Dakota elder, Ernie Longwalker Peters). And yet, memory is beyond what happened a generation ago or another era. It is a about a sacred trust. About a sacred responsibility. It is about our relationship to the earth itself and about understanding our relationship with others and with all life.
We all remember Frank differently. Long before he passed on to us a map that set us off on a journey (the subject of our documentary, San Ce Tojuan, regarding origins/migrations) he had taught us about respect and honoring. And now, it is his turn to be honored.
How many Franks are out there in this country -- anonymous human beings who toil daily to bring about the Great Peace?
It's time to bring them out of their anonymity and begin to honor all of them, every day, for the rest of their lives.
? Column of the Americas 2005
For info regarding the June 11 event, contact: Rita J. Marmolejo - Frank Gutierrez Scholarship and Endowment Funds P. O. Box 412085
LA CA 90041 (323) 254-1340 email@example.com
Roberto Rodriguez & Patrisia Gonzales:
The writers can be reached at: 608-238-3161 or XColumn@aol.com or Column of the Americas, PO BOX 5093 Madison WI 53705. Our bilingual columns are posted at: http://hometown.aol.com/xcolumn/myhomepage/