Gus Velasco

My friend Gus Velasco died last year. He was a boyhood friend who I grew up with. I wrote to Robert Williams, one of his mentors, who gave a eulogy at his funeral:

"He was a bigger than life figure who to me always truly represented the heart of the place I grew up, Canta Ranas."

"Gus was the one who stayed and fought the battles you talk about in your eloquent [eulogy]. People like myself went out into the bigger world, in a way to escape the poverty, isolation and the discrimination we felt being trapped there. But there is something about roots one just can't escape. That's where I perfected my Spanglish and developed my deep commitment to the Spanish speaking community, and to friendships."

But there is more to this story. It starts in 1947 when I moved there. Gus was two years younger than I was. I was in the fifth grade and my teacher Ms. Dunbar took me to a Christmas party at the factory of one of the most important industrialist in the area, a Mr. Riley of the Fluid Pack Pump Company. He gave me a watercolor paint set and asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Canta Ranas. He told me he liked us people down there and he was going to build us a library. I was very excited about that because I was a great believer in libraries and had used one in Los Angeles to protect myself from the gangs that roamed the streets looking for people to beat up when the school bell rang. There were no nearby Canta Ranas. To make a long story short, one was never built.

In 2004 my wife Isabel Allende received an award from the Literary Council of California and the keynote speaker was the head librarian from Santa Fe Springs, which had finally incorporated Canta Ranas into it several years before. I had checked over the years and knew there was none there, but I asked anyway. I was pulled aside by Moncia Pennenger who told me that Gus Velasco told her to say hello to me. I knew through the grape vine that Gus was a councilman and had been the mayor of Santa Fe Springs so I asked her if I could meet with him and some of the current big shots of the City. I went there and met with Gus Velasco and Fred Latham, the City Manager, and told them the story about the library and said that I would make a contribution if the city would commit to build one. I made my contribution in 2006.

Photo Credit, William C. Gordon © 2013

After several false starts and much political infighting it was close to becoming a reality. Then Gus Velasco died. But the promise was kept so more than sixty years after it was made the City of Santa Fe Springs had community center remodeled and renamed it after Gus Velasco. And included in the center is the William C. Gordon Learning Center. As I further wrote to Mr. Williams:

"[It was a] dream come true for me, for as Robert Service once said in a poem, 'a promise made is a debt unpaid,' but I meant what I said in my speech, it would not have happened if it weren't for Gus Velasco and Fred Latham."

Photo Credit, William C. Gordon © 2013

Photo Credit, William C. Gordon © 2013