The Names of My Friends

I grew up in a middle-class family in Puerto Rico. My father was a dedicated civil servant, a job he loved and sorely missed after becoming a successful engineer in private practice. My mother was a housewife. They were both college-educated children from parents with very limited education. My childhood was happy, nothing extraordinary — good or bad. When I was not in school my days were spent playing with my friends in their homes or at the park, walking around the neighborhood, going to the neighborhood center, buying candy, or visiting the local hobby shop. It was a worry-free existence — we were safe in school, in stores, and on the streets.

I had many friends. I played cards at Arturo’s house. We would go to Ivan’s or Juan’s to play basketball. Pablo was a great tennis player, always on the neighborhood courts where he worked. Maria was studious, quiet, and shy. Adolfo loved the ocean and was a water skier. Jorge was the cousin of a neighbor and schoolmate who died prematurely as a young man. Luis was a sidekick in a TV program with a baseball theme. We were later college roommates, and he remains one of my best friends. David was the “ladies man.” Margie was my girlfriend.

I am sure you are wondering where I am going with this mundane list of childhood friends and memories of times past. Each of those names from my childhood corresponds to the names of the victims of the massacre in El Paso last month. Just like my friends and me, they were going about the daily routines of life — shopping, walking with family and friends — completely unexceptional except that they were the target of a murderer who hated Hispanics.

It could have been me or my friends. It feels personal. It is incomprehensible to me. How can anybody harbor such hatred and be that violent? Where did the carefree days of my youth go? What is wrong with our society? How can children be children and parents be comfortable in their role as caregivers? I certainly do not have the answers to the above questions, but I do know that at this point our country feels uncivilized, cruel, and scary.

This week (Sept. 15) marks the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, a nationwide initiative that honors the contributions of generations of Hispanics in the United States. Like the victims, these contributors are called Arturo. They are Ivan and Juan. They are Maria and Jorge, and others. I only can hope that as the El Paso community and these families rebuild their lives after this tragedy, that a renewed sense of hope, resolve, and belonging can be found.

- Rafael L. Bras

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  • Provost Rafael L. Bras High School Volleyball Team

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