“This particular book I dedicated in the memory of my uncle – Alfonso Garza – we actually had four uncles that were enlisted at the same time in the military in World War 2,” Bobbie Garza-Hernandez says. “The story goes, that my grandmother would have everyone down on their knees praying the rosary every night so that they would all come home…and they all came home. My uncle Alfonso was one of the uncles that was in the military and he loved to travel and so I got that book in his memory. It’s another way that we can honor our family members and build our library up.”
This is Bobbie Garza-Hernandez, sharing a bit of her family legacy with me, through literature. We are in the library of Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos, a cultural center that Hernandez participates in as an executive director. In last week’s culture episode, we were introduced to her and the Centro. This is part two of the culture episode on “Threads,” and this is Bobbie’s story.
Hernandez knows Centro like the back of her hand. Its’ modest library holds mostly children’s literature in brightly illustrated hardbacks, their pages lined with sentences in both English and Spanish. A lot of these books have more than language in common though. The books carry the name of a beloved individual who has passed.
“One thing that we began to do last year because we had so many funerals we were going to, we decided that we weren’t going to order flowers,” Hernandez says. “So instead we order a book in memory of that person that passed from our family. We donate a book. This is one I did for my uncle that passed away last Fall – it’s called My Name is Gabito, or Me Llamo Gabito. There were others. We have this one – it’s a story about Emma Tenayuca, who was a civil rights activist in San Antonio at a very young age, and when my aunt Ofelia passed away last year I ordered this book and donated it in her memory. And so it caught, now we have other books that have been donated by other members of my family or their cousins. Here’s one that was given by my cousin Susana in memory of my uncle Balta who was married to my dad’s sister Bibi. Here’s another book – an uncle that we lost two years ago – Aurelio Martinez. He was actually the founder of Victory Cleaners. Here’s another book – Gracias, that was also donated in his memory.”
Centro memorializes many, but most of all, it commemorates culture, the Hispanic culture, with an emphasis on its Mexican American demographic in San Marcos.
Hernandez says that her father hails from a family of 18 brothers and sisters and has always had a very large, connected family.
“Most of us were born here and went to school here,” Hernandez says. “We’ve got deep roots here; many of my parent’s generation, which is the third generation, actually started businesses here and have made a living here. Most of us have stayed here, although now some of the younger generation, as we began to get educated and start careers, some of us had to move because there’s just not a lot of opportunity here in San Marcos. I moved when I was 18 to Austin and just moved back ten years ago. I remarried and I moved back home. ”
She says work at the Centro is important to her, her coworkers, and her family because San Marcos is, for them, where it all began.
“For us, San Marcos has been not only the place we were born – but most of us stayed here, went to school here,” Hernandez says. “Many of us went to Texas State University or Southwest Texas State University as it was called before…and so I think, for some of us its familiarity.”
Yet Hernandez says there is another factor in feeling at home, and that is the close-knit family aspect of her Mexican American culture.
“They say that some of your first best friends are your cousins and that’s definitely the case with us,” Hernandez says. “Those relationships I think become real important to you when you’re growing up. You start school and knowing that you’ve got cousins in the school you can look to, helps you feel more at ease and safe in some respects.”
Hernandez goes on to dispense some wisdom I myself have heard from my own family. She says that even in a place where neither of these factors are dominant, you just have to create your own sense of home to feel at ease with yourself and in tune with your culture.
“I had the good fortune of living in the Middle East for three years and I feel like we made that our home for the three years that we were there, and so there’s a lot to say about, you know, the friendships and the family and the relationships that you develop, which is what creates home,” Hernandez says. “I think it’s not so much about where you live but what you know to be your home.”
Hernandez thanks her parents for this line of thinking. In fact, she thanks her parents many times throughout this conversation for creating in her the desire to preserve the Mexican American culture, a culture, she says, that is accentuated by music, the arts, and an emphasis on education.
“One thing that I learned from my family is you don’t become Mexican by osmosis,” Hernandez says. “Just because you’re born into that heritage doesn’t mean that you’re going to be exposed to it or embrace it unless your parents make a concerted effort to do that. So thank goodness we heard mariachi music and knew the great musicians of that time, right along with you know, Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley and all the other rock’n’roll bands and music of the 50s and 60s. Maybe it seems funny that on one Sunday afternoon you’d be in your backyard having a family bar-b-q and the uncles would be playing guitars and singing in Spanish, and a week later, on a Saturday afternoon, the teenagers would be hanging out in the backyard listening to the radio hearing the doo-wop. So you have that shift I think, where you were able to gravitate, within both cultures. And I think that’s important.”
Hernandez says having traveled herself, being able to express your own culture as well as understand other cultures gives a more global perspective, a more open minded attitude.
“I think the more you can do that, the more opportunities you can create for a child to be creative,” Hernandez says.
Centro aims to provide this opportunity for creativity, Hernandez says, providing art classes, dance lessons and music lessons.