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Episode #10: Calling on My Angels, My Audacious Family, for Love, Support and Freedom

This episode came to me because I have been connected to my angels, the universe, love and a few of my relatives who have passed on. I have discovered that they are among my angels who I turn to when I meditate and ask my angels, the universe and love to call on my imagination to tell me the story I was born to tell with my life. To tell me the next Audacious Freedom, the podcast episode to write and record for you, my listeners. Among my angels are: my Abuela, my Nanny, Daddygrandpapa and Tio Rico. Let me tell you all about them and you’ll see what we all have in common.

❖ Abuela, my mom’s mom, took a huge chance on my grandfather, moving from Brazil(?) to Queens (NY) to Torbeo (a small pueblo in Galicia, Spain). What did she leave behind? Did she have a better life in Torbeo? 

❖ Nanny, my dad’s mom, could have probably married many different men. I think she was affluent or affluent-ish in Bayonne, New Jersey. She was a petite sky-blue-eyed brunette or red-head and I believe she had many suitors, perhaps even at least one actor and a Naval Academy officer. She chose my grandfather, a West Point graduate and a Mexican man to marry. At least that is how his race was listed on his retirement papers from the Army. HIS father was Mexican and his mother Native American. I grew up thinking she was Shoshone, then I heard as an adult she was Seminole. Now, my grandfather’s Wiki page says he was “a Mexican American, Spanish and Navajo Indian”. More research needs to be done there for sure! 

➢ Anyway, Nanny was bold and audacious and had an inter-racial marriage with my grandfather in 1940. They raised 12 children, most recently in Lake Barcroft in Falls Church, VA, 6 miles from the Pentagon outside of D.C. Some of my aunts and uncles remember being called *wet backs* by some neighborhood kids and classmates because of our last name, Mendez. 

➢ Nanny died in 2012 and I never asked her about what the interracial marriage was like for her. What discrimination she experienced for herself and her children, from her audacity to marry a brown man, a man of color, a half Mexican man, a half Indigenous person. By the way, “Indigenous people” means: “the original inhabitants of a given land or region – “Indigenous people of America” has the same general meaning as “Native Americans”. I have read that “Native American” has been widely used in the U.S. but it is falling out of favor with some groups and the terms Indigenous People or Indigenous American are preferred by many native people. The thing is, I can’t ask anyone because I don’t know my native people. As progressive and bold and audacious as Nanny was, she did not embrace my grandfather’s family. I never spoke with her about this either – or with my grandfather who died in 2001 on September 19th. Eight days after 9/11, the day he was sent home for hospice care. Much later in the day than originally planned because all the local ambulances were sent to the Pentagon after the terrorist attacks on America that morning in NYC, DC and Pennsylvania. My dad’s youngest sister – my grandparent’s youngest daughter, Lori – was visiting from L.A. and she remembers feeling the boom of the plane hitting the Pentagon – again, just 6 miles away and where my grandfather had worked after active service in the army. I was living in Manhattan and didn’t hear or see a thing when the twin towers were hit that sickening day, from Midtown, about 4 miles away from Downtown NYC. Sorry, I was distracted by the date and there are other stories to tell about 9/11. Back to my family. I never spoke with either of my grandparents about their 1940 inter-racial marriage, the effects of it on themselves or their children. And I never spoke with them about my grandfather’s mom and dad. His mom was named Julia and his dad was Louis Gonzaga Mendez (my grandfather was Louis Gonzaga, Jr. and my father – the first-born son – is Louis Gonzaga, III) – that’s pretty much all I know. They raised my grandfather and his brother, Alfred and two sisters, Helen and Carmen, in Trinidad, Colorado. I never met my great-grandparents – I imagine they died before I was born and I DID at least a couple of times meet Albert and his family and Helen and Carmen. There was an amazing family resemblance between my grandfather and and his brother and sisters – I’ve always thought of their characteristics as more Native American – or American Indian or Indigenous American should I say? – with high cheekbones, sharp noses, high rib-cages and long lean legs. I’m proud to say I have those cheekbones, rib-cage and long legs! I am ⅛ Native American and ⅛ Mexican (from my grandfather), ¼ combo of Irish, Welsh, French, German (from my grandmother) and ¼ Spanish – from Spain – from Abuelo, my mom’s father and ¼ Brazilian or am I Argentinian? – from Abuela, my mom’s mom, my Abuela who I never knew. I did meet Abuelo once or twice when I was young, when my mom took my sister and me to visit. My dad needed to stay behind the first time to work and I think he went the second time. I remember my grandfather looking very weathered from sun and hard work and cigars – I guess from tending to the animals and the land on their little farm in the mountains of Galicia, in a very small pueblo called Torbeo. 

❖ All my grandparents seem very courageous to me: Abuela might have been born in Argentina, raised in Brazil, traveled to NYC where she met my Abuelo who seemed to be living a wealthy man’s life, before he persuaded Abuela to marry him and move back to Torbeo with him. Some of my cousins in Spain say our Abuela got dealt a raw deal, that our Abuelo sort of tricked her. I don’t know – like I said before – what might she have been getting away from in Brazil? 

❖ And I’ve already talked about Nanny’s audacity to marry a brown man. By the way, my grandfather who we lovingly called Daddy Grandpapa – or Daddy G or DG – was also bold in marrying Nanny. She had strong opinions and was an early supporter of gay marriage, that gay men and women should have children and that women should be able to become priests – this fromthe mother of 12 children anda dedicated Catholic. Some say that Nanny’s personality and opinions – maybe or maybe not on those specific issues I just mentioned – could have impacted Daddy G’s military career – that maybe he made it as far as only Colonel because of Nanny. And I wonder how much more we could have known Daddy G’s family and heritage if Nanny would have embraced them. The thing I do know is that Daddy G adored Nanny and worshipped her beauty – and she WAS a beauty! – and her having given him 12 children. If he had any regret about his career or his closeness with his family, he didn’t show it and sure as shit didn’t blame Nanny! So, I can see some of what I have in common with my Abuela, Abuelo, Nanny and DaddyGrandpapa – it’s a sort of “I don’t give a shit about what other people think and I’m willing to live a life of freedom that may be less mainstream than anyone else’s”. These are definitely my people and I wish I could have conversations with them now. I have so many questions for them. The next best thing is for me to talk with my parents, their siblings and my cousins to find out what they heard growing up, what they know about their parents. I will reach out to them all before it’s too late.

❖ Sadly, it’s too late to talk with Rico. It will be 10 years tomorrow – July 18th 2021 – since his husband, my Tia Lance, found him unresponsive on the floor of their San Francisco apartment. He was 56 years old and it was a God-awful call to get. I was 45, not THAT much younger than Rico and we had been peers in many ways since my young adulthood. We liked the same things: cocktails, cooking, throwing dinner parties and dancing until the wee hours of the morning! Especially the Cha Cha and the Pata Pata! I made several trips to San Francisco to stay with Rico and Lance over the decades and can even remember one party where the last three people standing by the end of the party – at 3am – were Rico, Nanny and me! Lance – by the way that night – had long gone to *bed* on the floor IN or at least ON TOP OF a sleeping bag with my baby girl pug, Cookie. I know I have an old-school photo of Lance smiling while sleeping and snuggling with her! For work, Rico was an artist and for many years was the Art Director for the San Francisco Chronicle. He moved to San Francisco when he was 17 – I think – after dropping out of High School and maybe he had even run away from home. 

❖ My absolute favorite memories growing up as a Mendez grandchild were any holiday celebration in Lake Barcroft at Nanny and Daddygrandpapa’s house on Stoneybrae Drive. The youngest of the Mendez kids were the most fun and paid the most attention to us. They were also the most creative, especially when it came to putting on skits for the family. Rico and the youngest, Lori – who is just 6 years older than I am – would dress us in costumes and teach us our lines for the skits. I think we did the same 4 or 5 skits each and every year – for years – and I remember the howls of laughter from my aunts and uncles – and their significant others. Every. Single. Time. As if they were watching the skit for the first time. All the adults were crowded around the bar, sipping cocktails, and the ashtrays were full of lit cigarettes and crushed out butts. My aunts wore pretty make-up and styled hair and clothes like women in magazines and I wanted to be just like them. I wanted to be a grown-up and to throw parties and to not have a care in the world. 

❖ I loved telling my friends about the Mendez mayhem at our family parties – about the silly things my uncles especially would do. Rico could make perfect chimpanzee faces and sounds – I mean the loud shrieking and even the hand and arm movements and the chimpanzee walk, too. He’d pretend to eat bugs out of our hair! I remember that none of my friends or classmates had the kind of parties the Mendez’s did and many loved to hear our stories – I guess that was the beginning of my story-telling days, talking about my family’s antics – and how many of us might be packed into that house on Stoneybrae – literally wall-to-wall cousins, aunts and uncles – easily, as many as 40 to 50 of us, especially once the after-party started and the second cousins began to show up, and maybe even some high school friends of the 12 Mendez kids. 

❖ So, Rico, Nanny and Daddy G have been gone now – respectively – 10 years, 9 years and almost 20 years and I know they are among my angels and the universe and love – and they support and love me and understand my need for freedom and my audacity. Because in many ways, they lived freely and audaciously, too. 

❖ I also know that Abuela is with me, even though I never met her. She died when my mom was 16, which was about 6 years before I was born. I know she and my other family I was close with are with me because of the energetic work I do. I check in and I know they are there. They were all audacious in their day and they love and support my audacity and my telling stories about us all. 

❖ One more important person is with me now and he’s very much alive and a free and audacious role model for us all. And he is my Tia Lance, Rico’s husband who survived him these past 10 years. In fact, he and I have been texting all week about he 10-year anniversary coming up. Well, we’ve been texting all week, but not ONLY about the anniversary of Rico’s death, because that’s not where Tia Lance and I go. We catch each other up on our lives – his love life and my daughter. And a little family gossip, but only in the sweetest of ways like who fell down dancing and who told their daughter’s boyfriend after a few drinks that she’d like him to be her son-in-law. I have never seen anyone handle life so well as Lance. He’s always got a smile on his face and seems to look at the world playfully and as way more than half-full. He voluntarily inserted himself into the Mendez family circus for 29 years, and even after Rico’s death. Tia Lance still comes to the funerals and goes to the weddings and has been part of our family for 39 years now. Maybe it’s because Tia Lance likes a circus – a circus he can always UNCLAIM if things get too out of hand or dramatic. Tia Lance is also one of those people who naturally rolls with things and who doesn’t seem to have an anxious bone in his body. And he knows how to live life and to make the most out of a shitty situation. A few years after Rico died, Tia Lance sold their place and made a small fortune. He decided to use part of that money to travel around the U.S. AND Europe, staying with friends and in B&B – for TWO FUCKING YEARS. How fucking cool is that? A TWO-YEAR vacation in his early 50’s. He’s since gone back to San Francisco and to work and he lives very differently than he did before – and the way that most of us live now, with lots of stuff and lots of rooms in our homes. Tia Lance is happy now with a studio with a roof top and a garden and he still travels every chance he gets. And I love him for his joy and freedom. 

❖ I’m glad I could share some of my family heritage with you. It’s fun to see that I inherited some personality traits from my ancestors, even if I didn’t know them well or at all. I guess that’s NATURE for you! I have audacity and freedom built into my core, thanks to Abuela, Nanny, DG, Rico AND Tia Lance, who may not be an actual blood relative, though he is family and we are joyful and alike in many ways. I need to reach out to other living family to get as much family history – at least stories – as I can while they are still around. Stay tuned for a Mendez family update in the future.

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