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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.
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.
—dedicated to Raúl H. Castro, 1916-2015
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