This post was difficult to write.
With all that is going on with the world at the moment — pandemic, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, and the like — its the worst time to lose an activist, especially one who has been working toward the betterment of people for most of his life.
But the death of Macario Ramirez is a reminder that despite the fight, life continues and that we are, despite how we treat each other, human. And humans don’t last forever.
I wish men like Mr. Ramirez did. I wish that he could have seen the fruits of his activism, all the way to the full equality of people. I also wish that the fight for said equality wasn’t something that is inherited from one generation to another like a bad debt that will never be repaid.
Talking about debt, how can we repay a man like Mr. Ramirez?
Let me attempt to start with this post, these thoughts, which are dedicated to him and his life as he has dedicated so much of his life to us.
Like when the Hispanic community needed someone to speak up, his voice was always the loudest.
Like how his store, Case Ramirez in Houston’s Heights neighborhood, was an opportunity to put down roots, our way, when it was too easy for others to uproot us.
Like how he reminded us every year that we are nothing without our ancestors. That la lucha is nothing without the permission, the help, and the guidance of nuestros ante-pasados.
It is here that I share how he showed me to be an activist in the best way and the most effective way I can.
I am blessed to have lots of feathers in my cap, but one of the ones I am most proud of is being the first on my campus to teach Mexican American Literature.
This was just an awesome opportunity. Growing up in Houston and in the literary community here, I had a front seat to real life Mexican American Literature. I feel the heartbeat, the muscles as they flexed and expanded. I don’t study Mexican American Literature, I inhale it. There is no other way.
So when it was time to show my students what was Mexican American Literature and culture, I turned to Ramirez. No brainer.
Imagine an Afro-Latina with Cuban and Guatemala roots showing students about Mexican American culture. Even I can see the irony and even I could see that I knew just enough to know I didn’t know everything. That’s why the field trip to his store for Dia de los Muertos.
While my family culturally doesn’t directly observe this holiday, we do have alters to our ancestors but none as beautiful and intricate as those at Case Ramirez. Students saw a procession of Aztec dancers in full traditional dress and then walked through the store, awing and being inspired by the floor to ceiling alters and ofrendas.
We passed by him and I said hello. I may have introduced him to my students. At that point he was sitting on a stool, beaming at the people coming into his shop.
The next year, the students’ schedule wouldn’t coordinate to do another field trip so I gave them extra credit to take an alter-making class with Mr. Ramirez. I had more Mexican American students in the class this time. One of them came back and told me how she never felt so connected to her culture than she was in my class. That taking the class with Ramirez made her feel seen in a way she didn’t know she needed to be seen. She started her own alter and thus a new tradition for her family.
For me, as a professor, it was a reminder of how important it was to be all present with my full self to my students. As a person who cares about humanity, this was how I learned that knowledge is a gift. This was how activism could be, a gift.
I suspect Mr. Ramirez has heard this story over and over again. Because, despite all the activism done through his lifetime, this seemingly simple thing — the re-connection to ancestors through ofrendas — is a large part of his legacy.
Yes, while we inherit la lucha, we inherit this too: tradition, connection, roots. A center. A peace. Knowledge that we are not alone and that we continue through the love and memories of those we leave behind.
Rest, Mr. Ramirez. You taught us well. Thank you for the inheritance. We will continue on.
En la lucha,