Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Isidro Files: Volume 1

 *I feel impressed to republish a short biography of my grandfather, Manuel Duarte, called The Isidro Files and which consists of five volumes.  I wrote it initially for my cousins, particularly those who never met our grandfather.  It is addressed to them but there are tremendous lessons in this glorious man's life that can benefit us all.  Our family knows and addresses our grandfather as "Abuelito."

Abuelito’s full name was Manuel Isidro Lara Duarte. He was obliged to relinquish his middle name when he came to the states, but it is one of great importance to his identity. San Isidro is the patron saint of agriculture and also of one horse town Turicachi where he lived much of his early life and where some of our closer relatives, particularly Tia Lupita, still reside. He was also born on El Dia de San Isidro in 1925 to Isaias and Maria Duarte. He actually did have older siblings, Catarina and Jose, but both died hours or days after birth and some months after Abuelito was born, Maria followed suit from infection.

No one knows what occasioned this part of the story but Isaias disappeared shortly after Maria’s death, leaving Manuel with his maternal grandparents. There is some evidence that there may have been some issue between Isaias and Maria’s parents at this time and they asked him to leave but no one is entirely certain. Isaias was very much a broken hearted man after Maria’s death and perhaps they thought it best to send Isaias away to start a new fresh life without the memory of pain. Whatever the case, Maria Lara’s family saw fit to keep Manuel in ignorance of the larger Duarte family, and try as I might when I go to Turicachi I cannot find with surety anything about our ancestry there. Isaias did come to his son later and offer to take him but by that time Abuelito was grounded and rooted to his life in Turicachi and chose to decline. He later made an attempt to discover the whereabouts of his father but by then Isaias could no longer be found. There is some evidence that the Duarte family owned silver mines in southern Mexico and Abuelito could have inherited them but the knowledge and paperwork remained hidden until after he had lost the opportunity to claim them.

Okay guys, I am going to stop talking like a textbook now. Here we come to the fun part and the part that I know all of us love so much we can downright taste it. It is one of the great marks of being a Duarte.

One day little Manuel “Lico” Duarte was returning to his grandmother’s house with a small open package of sugar and one of coffee she had asked him to buy from the tienda when two bigger boys started picking on him. He told them to stop, but they continued to kick him, spilling some of the sugar and coffee into the dirt. He stopped and carefully put down the two packages, and knowing that if he showed any fear at all or hesitated these two would pound him into the dust he grit his teeth and made two little fists. We all know the rest of the story. The first boy went down straight and before Lico had time to turn around the second boy took to his heels and bolted the opposite direction. That day, as we all know, a legend was born.

It is well that Abuelito was so honorable a young man, since he easily could have used his talent and strength for unworthy purposes. But he became something of a vigilante in Turicachi. Abuelita’s brother, Papa Prieto, was a police authority in this small pueblo and very mild mannered. When fights broke out he would immediately attempt diplomacy. When diplomacy failed and the men would not stop fighting, he called for Lico Duarte. Our grandfather, gratefully, didn’t need to be a judge, jury or executioner. He would enter into the brawl, fists swinging, level all of the troublemakers to the earth, and then hand them over to the law.
He was chivalrous and generous in the use of his strength as well. As he had no living siblings, he looked upon his very young aunt Tia Lupita, as his big sister and no man alive could have been a better brother and protector to her than he repeatedly was. Tia Lupita married and was madly in love with Rafael Santa Cruz, who was handsome and charming, and unfortunately abusive. More than once Abuelito threatened and pummeled Santa Cruz on Lupita’s behalf, even with Lupita and her mother telling him to stop. One morning Abuelito entered Lupita’s house to find her with a black eye and a story prepared about how a cow had kicked her in the face. Abuelito nodded calmly, sipping the coffee she made for him and said nothing more about it.

Later that night he found Santa Cruz on his way back home, and decided it was time to invite him to Sunday School. Manuel’s fists and Rafael’s face enjoyed a diplomatic conversation, with Manuel seeking to impress upon Rafael’s mind (and external features while he was at it) the virtuous merit of treating one’s wife with respect. Upon the end of the sermon Rafael seemed rather overcome by the Spirit, so much so that he lay barely breathing on the floor in his own blood. Before walking away Manuel offered the kind benediction and pious offer to introduce Rafael to his Maker the next time he laid a finger on Lupita.

The next morning our hero walked back into Lupita’s house in a rather unassuming manner and found a quiet, rather humbled Rafael sipping coffee. To this day I do not believe Tia Lupita knows who beat her husband to a bloody pulp that night.

Since I do not know the story as well as I should, someone (Jessica, Aaron, Amanda, whoever) please comment and tell the story of David, Angelica, and the ice cream guy – you know the one. I do not believe the older cousins are aware that we have a Manuel Duarte walking among us.

I would not have you mistakenly think, however, that Abuelito was all fists and no intelligence. His work ethic was marvelous, which he passed down to his children. His philosophy was simply that if you are being paid by the hour and you do not give your all every minute, you are stealing from your employer, who trusted you. And he would know the emotions of an employer because at the age of 17 he owned his own milpa in Turicachi and had his uncle working for him.

This is hardly a clear snapshot of Abuelito, but no one can capture the man in one note, and I fear this is getting long. There will be much more later. Hope you are enjoying this as much as I enjoy reflecting upon the man.