By Charles Chase
I met Juan in the Fall of 1991. Him out and about from his station of the first-floor desk of UTEP’s main library. From there, the Palmore, his residence, came quickly and, as I told Debbie Nathan, his apartment centered the whole of Sunset Heights, or that space between the school’s Tibetan facades, the Santa Fe bridge, and Ciudad Juárez, and made it my favorite barrio. It does feels like the end of an era, Debbie. One where we lived in El Paso as much as Juárez, if not more. Julián Cardona’s passing on September 21th, is the other side of that ending.
Robert Chavez wrote that Juan had ‘substance as an art critic. He had very high standards…Juan was as much a collector, as a critic. Somewhat of a scholar. Juan always seemed very energetic…’ Energetic like no other. It’s surprising to think of him not with us. I last saw him at the defense of Nohemí Orozco’s dissertation defense, the spring before last, with a slight indication of him slowing. Juan introduced me to Alberto Esquinca, and Alberto to Zulma Méndez. These two juarenses—and Juan’s and Debbie’s encouragement—made my move to Jz so welcoming. Coming from UCSC, I recall Juan’s story of Francisco Alarcón’s Palmore visit; later, there were the NACCS conferences in Sac, San José, DF; and then seeing him at the bazaar en los domingos at the Benito Juárez Monumento, sprinkled amongst visits with Israel Gomez Mares at his ceramic studio at 696 Coyoacán.
Always a renter, so to buy more art. Juan’s apartment was a treasure trove that he shared with me and so many others, countless times. How fabulous and appropriate that his life’s work is currently on display for the public in exhibit at the Mexic-Arte Museum. Sure, it isn’t in its home town, but lo sigue en Tejas.
Some are speaking of his distance from political terms, acts, identities. Pero al fin, era lo más Chicano j del Chuco, neta. Victor Macias, ‘He made up funny nicknames for people; he observed them and had them pegged, highlighting a trait or foible in their apodo…In one sentence, he flirted, encouraged, and debriefed you.’ Eso.
At the same time, I think I’m just getting to know him. Monte Vista, Colorado. What more is there to learn of that place of less than four thousand, at his birth, and not much more now? He arrived in el chuco a decade before me, yet we shared coming from somewhere else, finding something to cherish in the pass of the north. He gave me much. El Paso and Juárez created the person I am now, only second to la Bahía. Going away gave me new muscles, ones that my parents, nor the particular Bay Area of my youth, didn’t know how to locate and develop. Juan Sandoval and Julián Cardona, both older than I, provide me with an axis, dos señores who came to that chula frontera from afar, to live and crecer. Colorado, Zacatecas, Alta Califas.
Era la noche del sexto día del septiembre, cuando estábamos sentados en las mesas de afuera del Café Único, y Coni González notó la troca de Julián Cardona entrando al estacionamiento. En la reunión espontánea, él habló de las similaridades de los tiempos de Calderón y ahora. Como en mi penúltima conversación con él, decía de su disfavor con López. ‘Entonces era nosotros, y ahora es Guanajuato.’ Más delgado era, pero su plática ágil. Se hablaron de una masajista recomendable.
En los últimos años su Parkinson’s fue obvio, pero continuaba casi normal, haciendo sus compras en el Smart Rio Grande, subiendo la ruta en el centro, y ojeando en Sanborns. No era de los más viejos tiempos, de cuando durante mis caminatas, de salida o llegada de mi hotel en Cinco de Mayo, nos paseábamos, Julián en su bici, y también pienso de su presencia en el Monumento. ‘Qué piensas de Trump?,’ me dijo entre lxs vendedorxs. ‘Sí, la izquierda está muy enojada,’ le dije. ‘Y también el centro, hermano,’ me clarificó.
Nunca visité su hogar, pero la INBA fue más su domicilio. Una vida publica, en voz alta, era la vida que se practicaba. Café Único, Cafe San Angel, Café Único.
Juan, like my mom, could be tough on las morras, competitiva ambos, the results of patriarchy, cristianismo and América. Juan and mom met once or twice. The last time was at the NACCS conference in San José. It wasn’t much of an encounter. They had a short back and forth on my grandmother’s cooking and her restaurant, Las Cazuelas, that was a fixture of downtown SJ from ’64 to ’88, serving luminaries such as Luis Valdez, the local playwrite, and Angela Davis, during her ’72 trial. Tío Juan he was to me.
It was in the San José Public Library that I first read City of Night, after Gloria Anzaldúa had mentioned him in Borderlands/La Frontera. After my first visit in ’89, to these ciudades gemelas, I went to read Arturo Islas’ correspondence, donated to the Stanford Library, which José David Saldívar had turned me on to. I knew I was going to live there. Juan, Emma, los Ramones, Rosalía, Willi, Rosario, Carlos V., Alejandro, Julián, all made it worthwhile. A trans-border community was ours. I left in ’94, but went back around three times each year. Y siempre, Juan and Julián, muy acogedores conmigo. Estoy agradecido para sus vidas haciendo fronterizas. Una más.
On which building, David, are we to place the retrato de nuestro querido Juansa?
Carlos Chase lives in Oakland, Alta California.
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Categories: Juan Sandoval II