Saturday, January 29, 2011

Things Could Always Be...

Storm Passing Through
New Mexico

As I journey down the road, I revisit and question mental maps learned.  Some are clearly outdated and the landscape has changed as time passed.  Here's one I think about:  "Things could always be worse."

The expression use to make me feel so good and made me take comfort in just being.  All I had to do was just look around me and find the person with a missing limb, a broken heart, or a terminal disease.  After all, things could definitely be worse.  In other words to feel better, I had to give up hope and be content that I had not been struck by lightening.  I had to give up my dreams and be content on being average and just staying afloat surviving.  I had to go negative to be positive.

I see the storm clouds clearly in front of me.  My view is no longer obstructed as I drive on the open high plains.  On both sides of the clouds, I see that things clearly could be better.  It's just a storm passing through, a radar blip.

The road is bumpy and I have since veered off the main highway.  Down the road and on into the horizon, I can clearly see the rain clouds.  My view is unobstructed.  I keep driving towards my unknown destination.  Things I see don't have to be worse; they could in fact be better.  All of what happens today, could all be just as easily better tomorrow.  I adjust my rearview mirror and keeping driving down the road.  It's going to be better down the road.  The storm always passes.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Some think I am rusty,
I say I am not.
Look closely and see,
What you might have forgot.

What you call rust is nothing to fuss.
'Neath the surface and forged of steel,
Oxidized stronger with time I feel.

Furnace born and fire bred,
of scraps and pieces someone shed.
Stronger not weaker you can feel,
This part it seems was cast of steel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nuts and Bolts

Nuts and Bolts

Sometimes I see nuts and bolts, the details and building blocks.  Perhaps its because it reminds me of new beginnings.  All beginnings start with nuts and bolts it seems.  Simple parts for complex solutions.  Time passes and I forget.  Then I see them scattered along the way, abandoned in rusty heaps.

Steel Channel Waiting to be Used
It's all about the nuts and bolts isn't it?  They are the fundamental hardware to intricate living.  Without these fasteners things fall apart.  I have a notion that its time for me to fasten the nuts and bolts again.  It seems to me that in order for me to reach the end, I have to start at the beginning and insure that all the nuts and bolts are fastened firm.  It certainly wouldn't hurt to double check.

Before I fasten to steel, I need to inventory my supply of hardware.  Do I have enough to build?  It's time to survey and double check.  You see I intend to build with my hardware and supply of nuts, bolts and steel.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Cloudy Day

Discarded Truck Among Trees
Fort Worth, TX

My friend Carter and I  got to spend some time together this past weekend.  Its been a while since we've taken our cameras, gotten into a car, and just driven to some unknown destination to shoot.  It was a perfectly cloudy day, the type of day you just want to stay indoors with the comfort of a book and some hot chocolate, we chose to make the most of it.

Condemned Warehouse
We ended up in north Fort Worth, just south of the stockyards but north of the city.  The area had some industry and lots of worn out warehouses destined to be torn down along with their history.   Apparently, they stood in the way of someone else's  agenda or planned progress.

Oxygen Cylinders
Some photos don't come easy.  You have to work at them.  I suppose before you even take them, you have to have vision.  You have too see beyond the obvious.   I've not gotten to the point where I see all of the possibilities of a scene, but I certainly have not given up hope.  One thing I know for certain, it doesn't have to be pretty.  What really matters most is how I interpret the situation.

It was an ugly day this past Sunday, ugly enough for me to go out and shoot.  I wonder how many other ugly days I've passed up in my life.  Life seems much easier and better when I take advantage of the ugly day opportunities.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Where Does It Come From?

Looking Across  San Juan Bay
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Tio Segundo's Act of Defiance
He was twenty-five years old when he made his declaration to the draft board in 1917;  Segundo Hernandez y Soto (my great uncle), publicly renounced his US citizenship like an unwanted wet coat.  Nearly nineteen years since Puerto Rico was annexed by the US as a result of the spoils of the Spanish American War, Segundo defiantly protested that he would not serve the country whose citizenship he did not choose.    This was a stark contrast to his brother younger brother Pablo Hernandez y Soto (21), my grandfather, who was proud of his citizenship, but was alleged to have a contusion in his leg that impeded his ability to walk and therefor serve.

Near El Morro
Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico
It seems that my questioning defiant attitude, while dormant most of the time,  has been in my genes all along.  My self reliance and self assurance stems from these independent land owners and their ancestors.  I don't have it in my genes to accept blindly what others demand from me.  My family led others for many generations.  We were not followers.  We shaped our own destinies.

Fortress:  San Geronimo
As part of my self-discovery, over the years, I've gone back to Puerto Rico not to visit its beaches but to visit the walls of the old city of San Juan.  The weathered walls have withstood the elements, occupation, and time.  I think of the men who made the walls and I am reminded of my own heritage.  We were also hewn out of some pretty solid stuff too and stood the test of time.

Although I wasn't born in Puerto Rico, I have always sensed that there was something different about me.  It turns out that it was simply that my family was hewn out of material that was somewhat impermeable, just like tio Segundo.  Whatever that material was I am grateful and I recognize it as a part of my heritage and an ever present part of my journey.  These independent people stood firm in the face of political, economic, and even meteorological adversity.  Today, I choose to draw from their well as an act of respect and as a source of strength.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

When Can You Start?

In Memory of Lois Milburn

Lately, I've attended more funerals than weddings.  It could very well be just a symptom of my chronicle age.  I've actually become quite good at them.  Although by no means am I an expert, I know a good funeral when I see one.  I jot mental notes and images down as if each was my own dress rehearsal.   What would I want people to say and do at my funeral?  How should I be at my parents funeral?  Should I hold back my tears?

We lost my father-in-law's sister and last remaining sibling, Lois, this past weekend.  (Actually, we really didn't lose Lois because she knew were she was going.)  For eighty-eight years, Lois lived a really good life and even at her funeral she made us laugh.  A vibrant senior lady, with meticulous red hair, sparkling eyes, high cheek bones, and a wide mischievous smile; Lois enjoyed living and made us enjoy the times we spent together, her funeral was no exception.

I'm not fond of attending these types of family reunions.  The idea of having to view an open casket is not something I enjoy.  The symbolism of having to stare at death right in the face haunts me for days.  Lois, however looked asleep with a smile on her face.  The same smile she showed us all at her family photo this last Thanksgiving time.  There she was clowning amongst her children, grand children, and great grand children.  Little did she know that she would suffer a massive heart attack several days later.  Even at death she made us smile.  

What a surprise her funeral was for all of us.  Who would have thought that this Texan would actually have a black minister presiding over her funeral.  First he lead the mourners in Negro spirituals, and all kinds of images raced through my head, images of sorrow, tribulation, and moments of faith.  We then prayed.  Then it was time for this powerful man with a broad smile to address the mourners.  From the moment Pastor Caesar got up to speak, I knew I better participate.  He was a big man but I soon found out how big he really was in Lois's eyes.  You see this man was also touched by Lois.

He recounted his story of how he came to know Lois.  He was a broken man when he interviewed for the minister job at her church in Arcadia Park (Dallas).  He even told the church board that he had just gone through a horrible divorce.  In his own eyes, he wasn't fit for the job and that he would understand if they selected someone else.  When the time came he reentered the room.  Lois approached the minister and said, "When can you start?"  Caesar, a big man, could no longer hold back his tears, as he recounted his first encounter with this woman.  Lois touched his heart with forgiveness and acceptance.  By this time, there was not a dry eye in the chapel.  Most of us understood that this was definitely the person we knew and whose body we were to bury.

We buried Lois's body yesterday.  We mourn our loss and perhaps we even grieve our own mortality.  While I have many questions about this type of loss, I walked away from this funeral feeling better.  You see I know that Lois's spirit will always be with us and I think about, "When can you start?"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

That's What They Say

Checking Out Asses
Decatur, TX

That's what they say is a such a convenient catch all phrase.  "You know, that's what they say..."  Have you ever wondered why people hide behind phrases when it's really they themselves who want to say it?  It's as if they want to be anonymous in their gossip.  Why bother if no one will get the credit?

Truly don't you love it when someone comes up to you to tell you what other people are saying about you?  Who is saying this about me?  Truthfully, I could care less because unless you give me names, I know that it's you who perpetuates the rumor.  No need to hide;  accept responsibility for your own opinion.

Now if you read my blog yesterday, you will realize that truthfully, I could care less what you think about me.  It just flat out doesn't matter.  I know who I am and I don't need anyone else to validate me.  My ancestors didn't need your opinion either.  We existed on this side of the world long before you could say gobble gobble and Plymouth Rock.

What you think about me only matters to you.  Each one of you forms a different opinion based on your experience and history.  If I were to rely on a survey to run my life, I would never get around to pleasing myself.  Since I can't possibly please everyone, I choose to please myself.  My photography and my prose are meant to please me and to satisfy my need to communicate and create.

By the way, do you know what my mom said?  She said not to count on finding any gold with my ancestors.  Now that's advice I might heed.  We each have to find our own gold or make it.  To that extent I may yet resort to alchemy.  Oh and before I forget, dad say's I am lucky.  Should I believe him?

You know what they say....Happy New Year!!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

It's Been All Relative

El Morro
Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

It's been all relative for me these past two weeks.  I've been consumed by the search for relatives on branches of a tree.  There have been many surprises and few disappointments.  The stories have been quite fascinating and intriguing at times.  Romance, heartache, mystery, and death all packed into our family tree.  What a quest it's been.

Josefina and Pablo with Lydia and Zaidy
Bronx, NY @ 1949
Many of the stories that I was told about my family as a child were based on family folklore built on fact.  My grandfather Don Pablo Hernandez Y Soto and his sons Luis and Pablo Hernandez Y Vargas (my dad) kept our heritage and history alive across the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans that separated them from their ancestors.  Within that family and their stories lied a treasure of stories that surpassed any inheritance I could possibly have receive.

My grandfather would love to say his sons "digame con quien andas y te digo quien eres".  The translations means:  tell me who you hang around with and I will tell you who you are.  It seems kind of odd for a family to repeat this unless there was something different about that family.  Apparently, there was a sense of pride that on the surface had no basis but upon further exploration had a trove of clues sown along the way.  It explains why this Puerto Rican kid from the Bronx felt he was different from the rest.

Always a Scholar
Don Pablo, in between his snorts of Don Q rum, told me that his family name had been shortened from Sotomayor to Soto.  He told me that his ancestors were from the part of Puerto Rico just west of where he lived in Rocha (Moca County) Puerto Rico from the Aguada and Aguadilla Area.  Years later, as an adult, I learned that possibly the Sotomayor Don Pablo referred to may have been the same Sotomayor that colonized that part of the island.  Based on my genealogy research, it appears that my grandfather was right.  The Hernandez and Soto's are in fact related to the Sotomayor's and their blood lines date back at least to 1620.

On both sides of my family, wealth and marriage were relative.  In keeping with their traditions of self preservation, intermarriage between Hernandez, Sotomayor, Soto, Vargas, and Gonzalez families persisted for generations.  The same held true for Rios, Roman, Cardona, Fuentes, and Lisboa's.

My mother's father, Jose Manuel Rios Y Roman married Amelia Roman Y Lisboa.  This was his first wife.  They were married for approximately fifteen years and had no children.  Among their household as of the US Census of 1910 were three household helpers, two of whom were cousins of Amelia:  Florencio (Flor) Lisboa and his cousin Leopoldo Matos. Both cousins were of Portuguese and Italian ancestry.

Shortly after 1910, Amelia hung herself with her bedsheets.  The bedsheets may vary well have been a symbol of her barren marriage.  Jose Manuel Rios found her dead upon his return trip from the city.  She was nearly thirty five years old.

 Within a very short time, Manuel married Leonor Lisboa Y Cardona, Flor's little sister, and the cousin of Amelia (deceased) and Leopoldo.  Again Manuel chose to marry within the Lisboa family and Roman (Leonor's mother was Francisca Cardona Y Roman).  Leonor was a child bride at sixteen and nearly twenty years younger than Manuel.  Together they had fourteen children of which thirteen survived.  (Incidently, one of the oldest girls was named Amelia (after Manuel's first wife and Leonor's cousin).  The family maintained its wealth until Manuel's health failed with the onset of Alzheimers.  Eventually the family lost all of its farm and land after his death but his family had enough to survive.

Leo Roman de Hernandez and daughter Lillian Hernandez
Yes, the last few weeks have been relative for me.  In studying my history, once again I have a better sense of who I am and why I am the way I am.  It's comforting to know that I can rely on their strength and dreams to pull me through difficult times.  Not only do I want to succeed but I don't want to let their memory go to waste.  Yes, I am proud of all of them.  I hope you understand why I feel a tad proud of my family and their history.  Truthfully, I never suffered from an inferiority complex as one junior high teacher alleged as she tried to humiliate me.  My ancestors bread my "orgullo" (pride and arrogance) into me.  Quite frankly, I am unrepentant about it.