At the time of her passing in February of 1999, I was 14 going on 15 and a student at John Marshall High school. I was walking to my locker to pull out my books, That winter I was reading Les Miserables and re-reading Catcher in the Rye, when from down the hall my brother was skip-running towards me. “Michael. Michael!” he shouted down the quiet hall, “Grandma died!”
I doubt that he understood the words coming out of his mouth, he had just heard them himself. My friend Erica, we had both attended middle-school together, asked me if I was alright. I was speachless. I stood there, blank-faced. My great-grandmother Soledad Guerra Quezada, was dead.
Her death would shift the dynamic of our tribe, the life I knew, and the family unit that we had. In the years to follow I would pick up a comprehension of a second and third language. However our language barrier in my adolescent years prevented me from asking questions that I would have like to have ask, mainly, how and why did our family migrate to Los Angeles? I knew that she was orphaned at an early age, but I have only had bits and pieces of the story explained to me via her children– my tíos and tías.
In the winter of 2011, nearly 12 years after her passing I traveled to visit the place that she once called home, a small mining town in Southeast Arizona called Bisbee. On December 26th, I made the 500 mile voyage from (what I consider to be) my hometown of Los Angeles, to Bisbee, Arizona, a city that was once home to the Workman’s Loyalty League, the Bisbee Daily Review, and miners like my Great-Great-Grandfather Encarnacion Guerra.
In all honesty I know very little of my great-great grandparents. I have a city, a name, and a profession for my great great grandfather, but not so much as a name for my great-great-grandmother. Perhaps that was the biggest draw to Bisbee. I wanted to if I could develop some sense of their identity with a sense of place: If they lived in a mining town, then I wanted to see that town.
While in Bisbee I walked the roadways while thinking about Soledad. The city itself felt antiquated. My walk from the Lavender Mine to the mining campsite was approximately a fifteen-minute, walking past from Bisbee’s main plaza, Mimosa Market and up Zapotecas. The main street became a dirt road at the outskirts of the city. Today, a series of tiered flats remain where the campsite was.
There are no lights leading up the road, just a well-worn trail. The mining company which helped to make Bisbee one of the largest cities in Arizona is now a old memory, and a deep scar on the geological landscape. All in all this seems like a nice town; small, kind of hip, but decades away from its hay-day.
Back in town I check out St Elmo, a bar that has been operating since 1902, I imagine Encarnacion Guerra sitting somewhere in the bar, just another face in the sea of miners.
“Maybe he drank here.”
“Did he even drink?”
“I don’t know.”
Seeing the Lavender Mine was a wake-up call. My great-great grandfather is just one of many people that worked themselves to death in the mine, and for what? Copper, Azurite, Turquoise, and a permanently scarred landscape. The St Elmo’s bar was probably where many of the miners drank if they were allowed in– my understanding of America’s xenophobia tendencies has me question the possibility.
I order a beer and get a feel for the place, like much of the town, the building looks as though it hasn’t been updated since 1902, and I like it. Around the rest of town I find street art and points of interest; a sign here, a historical building there, the school, stairs–lots of stairs– and statues.
One set of statues that is a highlight of my journey to this quaint town is a pair of angels emerging from rosemary bushes. My great-great-grandparents are dust, my great-grand parents are gone; it is up to me to decide where to fly next. They may have been in Arizona, but it was not the final destination. In the years to follow my family would travel from Arizona, to Mexico, and then to Los Angeles. I made the trip to this small mining town in Arizona with the hope that I could connect with some cultural identity, instead I realized how far my family has traveled. My conclusion is that Bisbee was not home either.
I do still have questions about the death of my great-great grandfather Encarnacion; I am told that he died in the mines. I’m definitely curious about my great-great-grandmother who died shortly after childbirth. I am also fascinated by the journey that brought my family to Bisbee. The big question that I have after this journey is, “where was my family before the mining town.”
Over the years I’ve spoken with my tíos, tías, and grandmother, creating an ongoing family archive. Signs point to Diné, to Papago, maybe even Pima. I don’t have the answers just yet. What I do have are photos, family, and the lenses of colonialism, African diaspora, and ecological literature. Happy Matriarch Day.
Diaspora De L’angélique
We moved, then settled,
Somewhere between mediocrity and apathy;
erasing our warrior ancestry.
Spilled blood, saturated in captured in oil,
And celebrated with hallow planks of burning redwood desire,
Remind us that here too are the remnants of genocide.
I ask, “Who still has the strength to smile?”
I have crossed rivers, bridges and borders
from La Mirada to the Avenues;
I have slept while gunshots wept
And helicopters screamed ownership of
Padre Sky’s Face.
And yes, I jumped fences, over barbed wired
only to find more twisted metal in my pathway…
Now I walk barefoot,
Having released the lawless shackles of yesterday.
I see the trail of tears, sweat and blood my ancestors left.
I see the seeds of their efforts
Beginning to push through the dirt.
We came, from Arizona, from Mexico, from Los Angeles,
our names forgotten
our past rewritten
But our hearts still beating.
From California with Love,
I’m a social media whiz with interests in ecology, environmental activism, Literature, and California culture. I enjoy reading and writing about plant-based living, and document it all through recommended readings lists, audio broadcasts and short films.
In my non-writing life, I like painting, fashion, yoga, and set design. I’m a graduate of Humboldt State University with a BA in English Literature, and was a costumer for the world-famous Humboldt Circus 2012-13. I love Poesy, spoken word and was Poetry Division editor for The Toyon Literary Journal. Curious about current projects? Want to schedule an interview? Contact me at MRDLA1111@gmail.com.
Keep in touch:
Michael Ray De Los Angeles
Contact: @vampyrohtechnix Media