The morning College of Liberal Arts graduation last week was one of those bittersweet moments, not only for graduating students, but for those of us with time left to serve at Cal State Long Beach.
I experienced that mixed bag of emotions (both sadness and joy) while watching many students I’ve befriended during the past year taking their diplomas and heading off to build new lives in the “real world.”
As I observed nearly a dozen graduates from the Daily Forty-Niner stroll to the podium, a friend of mine, Armando Vazquez-Ramos, a Chicano Latino Studies professor, caught my attention from the sidelines. He was there watching his son — another Armando Vazquez-Ramos — getting his bachelor’s degree.
When he called me over, he asked if I would like to go to a service commemorating his grandmother later that afternoon. It isn’t very often that one gets “invited” to a funeral for somebody they’ve never met and, naturally, I said yes.
The service was at All Souls Cemetery here in Long Beach, but it was not a funeral, just like this is not an obituary. I mean, sure there was a deceased person there, but this was obviously not a day to dwell on loss and sadness as much as it was one of celebration; a day hailing a Mexican woman for her importance in her family’s “real world.”
Luz Montes Tovar had passed away three days shy of her 103rd birthday.
Instead of a bugler playing taps or somebody in a kilt blowing “Oh Danny Boy” on bagpipes, “Luchita,” as the elder Vazquez-Ramos lovingly calls her, lay silently in an open casket being serenaded by a mariachi band, the trumpet player being a CSULB alumni.
The snowy-haired woman had moved permanently to the U.S. from Mexico City in the 1970s, seeking opportunity for her children and heirs. In her younger days, she had worked diligently for nearly 40 years teaching Catholic catechism and being involved in community activism.
Rather than acting like a nosy journalist and asking a bunch of questions, I decided to simply watch and learn. The family had compiled a couple of CDs of Luz’s photos that played on a loop on the TV in the small chapel.
The photos told many stories about the immigrant woman who was crossing her final border. The fiery determination in her eyes in the younger pictures never diminished with age. This was the grandmother, mother, sister and friend who inspired all who followed her to be activists.
As the afternoon progressed, other CSULB students and professors stopped in to pay their respects.
Of course, Sra. Montes Tovar’s daughter and best friend Lourdes Vazquez needed consolation, but she was almost as easily drawn into laughter as tears when family members recanted favorite anecdotes.
Mrs. Montes Tovar’s activism is one of the family staples. She was one of the oldest living immigrants from Mexico City living in California. Her lifelong activism was recognized last year in Los Angeles, where she was honored as “Chilanga of the Year” during the annual “Dia Del Chilango.”
It seemed fitting in a “circle of life” way that on the same day Sra. Montes Tovar was bid “adios” by family and friends, her great grandson would make a dignified march to the podium for the piece of paper that would have made her beam with pride.
Duke Rescola is a senior journalism major and the opinions editor for the Daily Forty-Niner.