For the Fellas That Ain’t Here
Dr. Al Carlos Hernandez
On this Memorial Day, as we reflect on the untimely loss of brothers and sisters who fought and won our freedoms, it reminds me of a street tradition that we had that many working men still maintain. The tradition was that before we would take a drink, someone would pour some on the ground and say, “This is for the fellas that ain’t here.”My brother John would snatch the cap off the bottle and throw the cap way high and far into the wind, never to return.
I am of a generation whose many lives were sacrificed during the Viet Nam controversy. There were over 55,000 good men who would never get to see a black president. It is disheartening to know that there are relatively few men my exact age due to our country’s pyritic attempt to save another country from itself … and all engineered by global oil interests.
Regretfully many of my compatriots, brimming with cultural bravado, thought it best to enlist, fight the good fight, and forgo college for a Simper Fi tattoo and a psychotic journey to “The Nam.” Some never to return. Others never to return to themselves.
My journey of civil disobedience afforded me the notoriety of being the first Latino campus radical at community college. It wasn’t that I understood the politics. Rather I was diametrically opposed to people of color killing other people of color for corporate gain. Impudent, I wasn’t going out like that.
We know now that Viet Nam was a political mistake, but knowing that doesn’t bring the sons, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers back. Memorial Day is a day of honor and remembrance. We should value their willingness to serve and the ideals of freedom. Because, in the end, real freedom isn’t free.
I propose a new law whereby family members are allowed to discipline protestors at milatary funerals with civil and criminal immunity.
What is most troublesome for me is that Memorial Day is also the day when we remember family members and intimate friends who have needlessly passed on. Lives cut short due the rigors of street life and the death march of La Vida Loca.
I remember, in a veil of tears, the passing of my younger brother John, comrade Jose, Big Jack, Brad, Bernie, Delgado, and Peter, just to name a few. All of them proud street soldiers taken out way before their time. Some fell victim to substance abuse. Others gave it up to a willful disregard for the gift of life. They didn’t think that it could happen to them. In their brutish machismo they viewed themselves indestructible. But it did happen to them and they are gone. I am bone weary of going to young men’s funerals.
It’s those of us who are left behind, with scarred hearts in hand, who miss the joke that Johnny would have said, the wisecrack Brad would have made, and Big Jack’s three hundred pound New York City laughter. I memorialize them, too, with certain anger, harboring bitterness in knowing that they didn’t have to go out that way, choosing the irresponsibility of street life over the straight and narrow.
We live in a climate of violence. Young men poised to prove their media and rap-fueled bravado. Youngsters flying colors. Innocents smoked over the color of a rag. North verses south. East verses west. All Latinos. All under-paid, over-worked, and leaving scores of teenage baby mamas. Kids raising kids and the cycle doesn’t stop. We, as Latinos, are making ourselves a servant class – an under-educated colonized people.
My kids and I reminisce sometimes about what our world would be like if their uncle was around. How it would be to ride motorcycles with him What kind of insult caps would he boast and how he could get a crowd laughing to the point of tears. I am sure many of you, who have lost a loved one to the ravages of war in a foreign country or on the mean streets, wonder sometimes how would it be if so-and-so was still here. But they are not.
Memorial Day for me is a day of sadness.
War exists in many arenas: the national, political, social, economic, and spiritual. It is a condition that mankind seems to be born with. Some call it the thinning of the herd. Although political and national warfare seems irreconcilably inevitable, the street wars – brown on brown and brother on brother warfare – can and must be stopped.
We should fight the good fight and wage war against community violence, drugs, AIDs, and malediction.
I don’t feel like having a picnic. I am compelled by unfortunate circumstances to ride my motorcycle alone … as the rest of the fellas went home early.