Accents on English: Spring-Summer 2015

An Ode from the Editor: In Honor of Memory

We honor memory in so many ways. 

Remembering anything is a rhyme—it matches something now with something then, perhaps a sound in a line just previous in a poem, or a moment of conversation just a year ago in a life. That rhyme, however subtle, we hear it. We hear it and we remember, for whatever that’s worth. Whole centuries of art have formed around this idea of connection, however, so that I suspect it is connection itself that is, finally, our collective treasure, our real gold.

We remember colleagues in this edition. At the same time, we introduce new ones. And throughout, we celebrate the ones around us and all the genuinely fine work they are up to. 

But we all lead lives in greater communities as well. Just recently, former governor of Arizona Raúl Castro passed away. I had known him since I was quite young. My father had worked with him in Nogales. 

Something I remember from when I was young and traveling to see family in Mexico—in San Luís Potosí, Mexico City, Guadalajara, and so on—was how striking it felt to see pictures of John Kennedy on the family altars there. What so many in this country don’t know or can’t remember is how much a beacon of hope Kennedy was for Latin America, largely because he was Catholic. His religion was not overbearing in any way, but it was a connection to people in this hemisphere that they hadn’t felt previously. A connection and a chance that a conversation between countries and peoples might be entertained. A chance. It was a shared language.

I never thought of Raúl Castro in the same way as President Kennedy, since he did not, after all, suffer the same fate. Castro did his work, became governor, and was chosen to be, of all things, the American ambassador to various countries, even though he was born in Mexico. On the border, this was regular in its way. So many of us and so many of our parents had been born in so many places. 

But now that Governor Castro has passed on, his death feels loud to me personally, if not to the general public. As I was growing up, he was part of what seemed like a natural progression—that people like Raúl Castro, and my father, and others—would become part of the best, inclusive directions this state was moving in. And that we would move forward in this common-sensical direction.

Things did not turn out that way, however, and the governor’s death, when it happened, seemed to rhyme so loudly with something that made me sad. It rhymed with lost possibility. This is a personal perspective, of course. As a Latino, as an Arizonan, as that young boy, however, this all feels like something difficult to name, and difficult to talk about.

I was honored to be asked, as poet laureate of this state, to write a poem on the occasion of his passing. I did so, but I did it as that boy of so many years ago, I think. I did it to keep alive the possibility I felt then.

I don’t own the sentiment, of course. But writing this poem, in English and in Spanish, and then as I read it back and forth between those capitalized languages, I felt something from childhood, a third language, a third kind of feeling, something that was mine but which I hoped could be felt beyond me. In the rotunda of the state capitol, in that politically mixed audience and still feeling the echo of mariachis and hymns, I think there had to be something.

We remember.

Alberto Ríos 

El hombre que no se vaya: The Man Who Does Not Leave Us

—dedicated to Raúl H. Castro, 1916-2015

Nacido en México, pero dado al mundo
Born in Mexico but given to the world,
Boxeador, campesino, profesor, abogado, juez, embajador, gobernador:

Aquí fue un hombre que creía—en sí mismo, en nosotros, 
En la educación, en la justicia fundamental del mundo mismo,
El gran mundo, el gran día, el gran momento.
Boxer, farmworker, teacher, lawyer, judge, ambassador, governor:
Here was a man who believed—in himself, in us,
In education, in the ultimate fairness of the world itself,
The great world, the great day, the great moment.
Pero lo que es grande es también trabajoso, en cada paso del camino.
La vida misma era su trabajo.
But what is great is also hard work, every step of the way.
Life itself was his job.
Él se ha ido, pero somos más a causa de él, más de nosotros 
Con la capacidad de leer, ir a la escuela, usar la puerta principal.
Él pudiera haber desaparecido, pero lo que nos dejó es importante,
Y es más que simplemente su nombre.
He may be gone but we are more because of him, more of us
Able to read, to go to school, to use the front door.
He may be gone, but what he leaves matters,
And it is more than simply his name.
Él era un puente entre países, idiomas, años, trabajos, y corazones.
Él fue tanto el borde y el centro.
Era tranquilo en su trabajo pero fuerte en su impacto.
He bridged countries, languages, years, jobs, and hearts.
He was the border and the center both.
He was quiet in his work but loud in his impact.
Hemos perdido a este hombre, pero no lo que nos ha dado.
No tenemos ninguna manera de decirle gracias
Salvo vivir nuestras vidas con él todavía en ellas,
Agradeciéndole por hacer nosotros lo que él mismo habría hecho.
We have lost this man, but not what he has given.
We have no way to say thank-you
Except to live our lives with him still in it,
To thank him by doing what he, too, would have done.

Photo 1: Raúl Hector Castro visits with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s. Photo from U of A Libraries Special Collections. Call number: MS417, box17, folder11

Photo 2: Raul Castro during his boxing days as a young man, when he was known as the "Douglas Destroyer." Photo from U of A Libraries Special Collections. Call number: MS417, box16, folder33

Header background image from the 1960s: ASU students compete in an Academic Bowl contest. ACC# 93-0994