In attending a memorial service for a friend, it is at first easy to think only about her and her family. Soon enough, though, we lose ourselves in memories. The nostalgia that comes from recalling our relationship to and time with her moves our minds to ruminate on other aspects of our lives. And those of us no longer young also ponder the immediate future of our own well-being.
Yet something mutes the toll that weighty death take on us – the warm feeling of reconnecting with friends who are friends precisely because they turn out when you need them. And, it turns out, they need you, too. There is, in fact, strength in numbers, and the packed cathedral in San Antonio provided comfort for those of us for whom the sudden loss of Choco Meza to a rampant cancer was shocking, its physical finality too real.
Gazing around the church and crowd, I saw many of us who have lived and experienced the modern emergence of the Hispanic/Latino population into an important demographic reality. And so the Rosary and the Mass we celebrated for her constituted a confluence of both history and future for those of us not yet finished. That our contemporary died at 64 and that we might be slower in gait does not preclude us from knowing that Choco would not want us to be finished with the enduring business at hand – the social, political, economic and cultural progress and development of the Hispanic/Latino community.
The agenda is full. It is constant. And it is perennial – like the cathedral of San Fernando itself.
Having been forced to stand for the Rosary and having to deal with an aching back, I stole outside and walked around the iconic church. In its illuminated state, I marveled again at its magnificent restoration, led by Father David García, a high school classmate, and a host of others in our beloved San Antonio. And I take enormous but totally unmerited pride when I walk the one-block street named Treviño on the building’s northern side. In my mind, the presence of the family name weds me to the cathedral’s old and historic stones that stretch back to before the nation’s founding. I did not get that feeling walking around Independence Hall in Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention in July.
And like the cathedral, Choco exists among the personal icons I choose for my life. No one who met her, as I did oh so many years ago, could forget her wide eyes that would have been wild had they not shone with a goodness that offered immediate acceptance. Her eyes literally exploded with commitment to the Hispanic/Latino community. And so she is an iconic reference point for me not only of our history but for the future.
Julián and Joaquín Castro, in emotional remembrances at the end of the mariachi-garlanded service, personified part of that future and, surely, the history of the labors of Choco’s life. But it was Henry Cisneros who sounded the clarion for us to do nothing less than to extend and continue her work if not her life itself.
Henry called on immediate family first and then cousins and then colleagues and then co-workers and then women whom Choco had helped empower and then the rest of us — and then all us together — to make our presence known as a testament to her. In groups we stood when called and we echoed what Mexicans proclaim when they at a rally, at a meeting, at an event want to make their presence known and felt. They stand and shout:
We are here! We belong! We are with you!
The echo ricocheted off the thick walls of the old church with a force so powerful and willful that to my ear became resolve.
The work continues.
Jesús (Jesse) Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.