Friday, December 11, 2015


Great friends form friendships for different reasons, and these are prolonged because there is a spark that, once connected, cannot be broken. Julio César Guerrero and Lupe Rivera were activists together, and through all the years — the raza, the causa, the struggle — they shared their friendship always.

Though I did not know Mr. Rivera, I have come to appreciate him through Julio César's fond memories of him, and of the materials he’s sent me. In all this I kept seeing references to Lupe's love of food and making people happy with food.

His niece Marge Rivera Bermann captures that essence well when she ties wisdom with food: “...he seemed to never age. His experience brought him great wisdom and I loved to listen to him. I'll never forget the smell of barbacuo wafting through the house in the wee hours of Sunday morning as well as his empanadas de calabaza - the biggest and the best!"

So what better way to remember his friend than through a story of one of Lupe's favorite pastimes? Thank you, Julio César. I am sure Lupe is smiling where ever he may be. 

I was notified this summer of the passing of Lupe Rivera, a dear friend I met in the Quad-Cities area in the late sixties. QC is a cluster of cities located three hours west of Chicago and divided by the Mississippi River, which forms a natural border between Iowa and Illinois.

Guadalupe M. Rivera, 06/11/1933 - 5/5/2015

This is the largest metropolitan area in Illinois next to Chicago with Rock Island on one side — home base to the famous Rock Island Line — turned into a popular folk song by singer Johnny Cash, and Silvis, home of Hero Street, USA, subject of books and documentaries about a group of Mexican American soldiers on the other: these men lost their lives during WWII and the Korean War. On the Iowa side, too, there is Davenport, the city where Chicano rocker Ritchie Valens played his last concert before his plane crashed in the winter of 1959.

This entire area was a hub for large farm equipment manufacturers such as John Deere, International Harvester and CASE, which supported most of the local economy through good UAW Union salaries, benefits, and pensions. Despite the racism and discrimination in the railroad yard and foundries of the times (which still persist today), people of color could enjoy a basic middle class income that contrasted with the low wages and lousy working conditions of families employed in the agricultural fields of surrounding areas.

Latinos — in those days Mexicanos, Mexican Americans, and a few Chicanos — had a place in the local economy and were by then trying to make themselves visible beyond the stereotypical second class citizen images most people thought of by encouraging participation in a small network of community organizations such as the G.I. Forum, LULAC, and the Illinois Migrant Council.

Among the few trailblazers in the area was Lupe Rivera, whose civic background was combined with his great culinary skills. Some local leaders inspired the Raza with speeches, but Lupe gave us a deeper sense of community through his Mexican food. Some people move masses but someone has to feed them — as they say — and Lupe was that kind of individual in the history of La Causa.

Lupe had been in the restaurant business in the US Mexico border for a while, but the Midwest was not ready for Mexican businesses yet and for that same reason, people from around the region would drive hours to the Pilsen Barrio in the south side of Chicago, one of the few places where they could pack on Mexican food, condiments, utensils, clothing, and music on records and eight-track cartridges. 

Murals in the Pilsen neighborhood: this is the Hector Duarte studio, with his mural "Gulliver in Wonderland"

In contrast, the best Lupe could manage was to cook out of his small apartment kitchen in Muscatine, Iowa, to which we would drive up on weekends to pick up our orders of barbacoa or menudo. Memories of the long lines of cars of people picking up food orders by his doorstep, going all around the block, makes me think of an early version of today’s drive-thru establishments.

Lupe would get the menudo meat from an area farmer in the Iowa side who owned a few acres and farm animals. He would supply local meat markets with his cattle and would dispose of all the remains, including the animals’ intestines.

Raw menudo meat -- including intestines -- Lupe used
My friend would show up from time to time to offer money for the intestines, but the farmer was glad to rid himself of all the waste and would not accept money from Lupe, who would walk out with large containers of the raw menudo meat.

During one of those many visits the good farmer got curious about Lupe’s use of so much waste and asked him what he did with it, to which Lupe casually replied, “We eat it.”

The response and how unabashedly it was delivered almost floored the farmer. “You eat this shit?” he screamed flabbergasted at Lupe.

“Yes,” Lupe went on, “we Mexicans like it for breakfast.”

That was too much information: the farmer became so offended, he kicked Lupe out of his farm and told him never to return.

Lupe’s attempts to explain himself and offerings of more money were not enough to convince the farmer, who insisted Lupe leave his property before he call the police. Needless to say the farmer's cultural shock had adverse ramifications in the community, and for an extended period of time we were deprived of Lupe’s menudo on Sundays.

The Menudo’s dry season came to an end when Lupe talked to Julio Gonzales about the issue, however, and Julio decided to intercede.

Gonzales was a young Chicano from Corpus Christi who ended up in Iowa following the migrant stream north with his family and had just returned from his tour in Viet Nam. Unlike many of us, he was tall, had a high school education, spoke English without a Mexican accent, and understood the local culture enough to talk to white people about sports, politics, and even hunting and fishing.

So Julio paid the farmer a casual visit to talk about current affairs: the weather, local politics, and the usual sport chit-chats. In the middle of the conversation Julio dropped a comment about taking his two dogs hunting. That spun the conversation around to the hunting dogs, so now they became the focus. To make a long story short, Julio asked the farmer if by chance he had any meat scraps he could buy to feed the dogs.

“Sure,” the farmer replied, “I have plenty of scraps; you can take as much as you want.” And as they walked along to pick up the dog food, the farmer warned Julio, “Just don’t give any of this to the Mexicans because they will eat it.”

“Nonsense,” Julio exclaimed, “This is dog food. Who in his right mind would eat this shit?”

And that was the end of our menudo dry spell. 

Yummy Menudo Dish, especially when Lupe made it! 

Oddly enough, a year later I would see menudo meat packaged and sold at Safeway food stores and soon after, I caught a glimpse of a bumper-sticker that read MENUDO, BREAKAST OF CHAMPIONS.

Lupe Rivera (1933-2015), PRESENTE…!!!

About the Author

Julio César Guerrero earned a Master’s degree in both social work and telecommunications at the University of Michigan. He spent many years teaching in the Michigan University system, where he developed ample experience in student services, classroom teaching, community organization and development, social and human services, nonprofit and human services administration, community and media relations, diversity training, outreach, and recruitment.

As a pioneer in bilingual community radio, he participated in the development of KDNA and Radio Cadena National News in Washington State, KUFW-Radio Campesina for Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in California, and KRZA-Radio Raza in Colorado. He also worked as a program director and producer for KPFT Pacifica Radio in Houston, KBBF in California, KUAT in Arizona, and WKAR in Michigan.

Under the role of community organizer, he participated in several educational events with union workers and human rights activists throughout the Midwest and Mexico, coordinated tri-national conferences for education and telecommunication workers from Canada, US, Mexico, and France, and coordinated some of the largest Latino workers' leadership conferences for the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations at the 
University of Michigan. 

Most recently, Julio César Guerrero worked nonstop as the national coordinator for Caravana43, an international support network for the Ayotzinapa families of the 43 forcefully disappeared students in Guerrero, Mexico, when they made their tour through the United States. 

Julio César has been a frequent guest contributor to Adjunct Justice. 

No comments:

Post a Comment