From the Roots Up seeks to inform, motivate, challenge, and inspire you to look past conventional wisdom regarding life, faith, and politics. This collection of columns and stories offers thought-provoking story vignettes about everyday people and the issues they face today. Arizona native Randy Camacho has his finger on the pulse of what makes his state tick—its people. He was raised with a strong work ethic, and he knows what it means to pursue freedom and the American Dream.
In this collection of past columns and personal stories from the Arizona Republic, Camacho has included columns that cover political topics and others that profile different personal experiences, including “The Courage of Compromise,” “Patriotism Trumps Dogma,” “Stop and Gain Perspective,” and “Freedom’s Promise Shines in Many Ways.” A great number of today’s challenges can be overcome by gaining a new perspective from the heartfelt experiences of others, as is so poignantly illustrated in this collection.
From the Roots Up warms the soul, touches the human spirit, and provides insight into how Camacho views life, politics, and the world around us. More importantly, it demonstrates that we have more in common than we think.
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FROM THE ROOTS UPA Collection of thoughts on Life, Faith, and Politics
By Randy Camacho
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Randy Camacho
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFAMILY AND COMMUNITY
Freedom's promise shines in many ways
"I trust in God, I love my country and will respect its laws. I will play fair, and strive to win; but win or lose, I will always do my best." These are the words to the Little League Pledge we recited in the early '70s after every baseball game.
During the pledge, our hats were placed over our hearts while standing firmly on the foul-line.
Immediately after, we would dash to the concession stand to grab our free snow cone. We thrilled to the sight and sound of clear ice cubes being fed into a grinder that churned out pellets scooped into a paper cone. The ice was so thin it would cave as it retained every drop of the colored flavor that adorned the ice and the taste buds.
My favorite was cherry. Its color matched my uniform. As was customary, the cherry juice would soon alter course running down my hand and forearm, and, like a cat licking its coat, my tongue followed the path of the juice.
Then came the roaring of an onion-hauling truck, faded green in color, as it ground to halt with giant bursts of air blasting through the brakes of its 10 large wheels, signaling to everyone that my ride had arrived. My Brother Ray and I were to stay overnight in a nearby onion field while Leroy and his crew loaded our truck at dawn.
Leroy, a spry African-American man in his early 70s, tossed onion sacks on the back of flatbed trucks with relative ease, singing gospel songs along the way as trucks moved at a sloth's pace. He had a crew of four Black men who were regarded as the best at loading the most sacksthat meant more moneywithout displacing the weight, which could cause a truck to tip over. This happened one day. There was a truck lying on its side near a canal. It brought to mind the car on the "Flintstones" credits. Loose onions were strewn in every direction. The sacks that remained intact were in a chaotic heap.
After the engines of the lined-up trucks shut down for the night, the only light-source in the truck cab was the rotating beacon of light at Luke Air Force Base. Just a month earlier, while picking onions before the trucking season, I would watch with great pride and fascination as combat aircraft conducted touch-and-goes on the runway. The music playing softly on the radio, in perfect rhythm with the flashing beacon, would lull me to sleep.
It's quite ironic, when one considers, a generally happy little boy in his cherry-stained Little League uniform peacefully lying asleep in an aging truck, without much means but comforted by a beacon of freedom shining proudly in the distance signaling its promise to shine throughout posterity. That's the promise made long ago and its spirit lives in the Little League Pledge.
A tale of three brothers
It's always amazed me how children reared in the same home can wind up with such different characters and personalities. This can be said of my three older brothers; Ruben, the giver, Ray the partier and Ricky, the angry.
Growing up, the four of us shared a small bedroom in a modest home on Pierce Street in the northern part of Tolleson, Arizona. Ruben, the oldest, got the twin bed, Ray and Ricky shared a bunk bed, with Ricky taking the top. Being the youngest, I got stuck with a beige-vinyl couch donated to us by a local elementary school. It came from their teachers' loungeinfested with an ever-present odor of cigarettes. It gave me an eerie feeling, and it didn't help that my brothers constantly joked that it looked like a coffin. At times, on their way to bed, they'd stand at my bedside looking down at me shaking their head with sympathy, as if it were my funeral. They loved giving me a hard time because I had such a bad temper. Sometimes I'd get so angry, I'd throw up.
The corner of the room with the bunk beds where Ricky and Ray slept was a shining example of the different personalities fermenting in our home. Ricky's space was always neat and tidy while Ray's was constantly disheveled. Ricky neatly tacked world maps on his share of the wall while Ray displayed bikini beer models on his.
Of my three brothers, Ruben was the most giving and willing to serve, which is why he joined the United States Army. He also served 25 years in the Army Reserve. In many respects, Ruben was the lion of the brothers. He wasn't tall or muscular but he had a quiet strength about him. There came a time when he landed a salesman job at a Phoenix jewelry store. Ruben did well financially, earning a salary and commission. Having some money empowered Ruben to do the things he'd long desired; like taking me to Phoenix Suns' basketball games when I was a boy. He wanted to expose me to things outside of my limited view of the world. I got to see my favorite players; Dick Van Arsdale and Connie Hawkins take on future legends Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Pistol Pete Maravich.
Ruben also bought me a book by Connie Hawkins called "Foul". I remember one time after a Suns' game; Ruben took me to an area outside of the locker room where players exit on their way to the parking lot. When Connie Hawkins emerged, autograph seekers quickly converged from all directions like a pack of wolves. I stood in the rear of the pack, too small and shy to muscle my way to the front. Suddenly, a giant hand reached across the crowd and snatched the book from my hand returning it quickly with an autograph that read in part, "Peace and Love!" I don't recall if he signed it Connie Hawkins or "The Hawk", but all that mattered was that, for some reason, he noticed me in the crowd of fans. At that moment I felt like I mattered. Ruben's generosity exposed me to experiences that taught me I was not just an observer in this world, I was a part of it. Yet, being a part of this world meant that I had to learn about its people. That's where Ray, the partier, comes in.
Ray was never serious about his education. It took him six years to graduate high school. In fact, Ricky, a couple years younger, caught up to Ray and was already in his second year of college when Ray finally made it out of Tolleson Union High School.
What Ray had going for him though was his charisma. He's a people person. As far back as I can remember, he'd tell me to "always be good to people because you never know when you're going to need their help." And boy was he right. Like the time when the Tolleson community raised over $13,000 in four days to help cover funeral costs when my sister Diane passed away. One major reason for the outpour of support came from the years of personal relationships Ray had established in the community; being there for people in good times and in bad.
People loved to be around Ray. In the mid 70's, he converted a couple of rooms that were attached to the rear of the house, assembled from scraps of an old school building, into a party room. It was lined with Christmas lights that wrapped along the top portion of the walls. Some illuminated beer signs hung on a wall behind a long, dark bar counter that took up a good portion of the party room. Ray's backyard barnot a real barwas an instant hit. Folks from the neighborhood brought their own alcohol and would pass the night away playing pool on an uneven billiard table and listening to different kinds of music.
And I was there, hanging out with him every moment. I'd wipe down whatever needed wiping and tossed out the garbage. After each party, Ray and I would go into the kitchen, cook up some breakfast, recount the events of the evening and laugh at the crazy things people did or said at the party. It was more fun hanging out with Ray than it was with my buddies from school. Ray had a unique way of connecting with people. He was a good listener and had a great sense of humor. Whenever I'd ride with him through town, it felt like we were in a parade as folks waved from their front yard or from a passing car. Though Ray wasn't much for school, Ricky, the angry, taught me that education was a ticket to a better life.
Ricky was the middle child. He despised working in the fields, and hated the house we lived in. He'd constantly lash out about how much better others had it, especially when he watched TV commercials. Back then, television was our portal to the rest of the worldand we got to see how well others had it.
There was this television commercial we'd see where a well-dressed homemaker wearing a pearl necklace walked to her round air conditioner thermostat mounted on the wall and turned it counter-clockwise sending a blast of cold air through her warm house bringing quick relief. While this brought a smile to her face, it only served to bring a scowl to Ricky's. Our house was cooled by an old, moldy swamp cooler. Whenever anyone complained that the house was too hot, Ricky went to a nearby wall and mimicked the homemaker in the commercial, turning the knob on a thermostat that didn't exist. Ricky's mocking, which was rooted in anger, always provoked Mom's wrath. She'd say, "Wait until you're older, we'll see just how much better you have it than you do now!"
It was Mom's way of trying to get Ricky to appreciate the things he had, like a roof over his head and food on the table. But that wasn't enough for him. He felt he deserved better.
His anger would also flare as a teen, when he travelled in a rickety old farm workers' bus to a farm field outside of Mesa. He'd stare out the window and see boys his age travelling with their fathers in nice cars. He'd see them heading toward the golf course while his bus turned in the opposite direction onto a nearby lettuce field. His anger and resentment fueled his determination for a better life.
Ricky saw college as an escape, but our family didn't see much value in that path. At least, that's how he tells it. There was one conversation Ricky had with our Tata Teclo, who asked Ricky why he would go to school when there would always be work in the fields. Ricky spat angrily, "I don't want to be flopping in the mud like a pig for the rest of my life!" His words stunned my grandfather. As he took a few steps away from Ricky, he said in a wounded voice: "It's time for me to leave now that I've been called a pig."
It's hard to blame Ricky for his resentment. It was tough enough getting himself through his college coursework, never mind just showing up to class. It was always a crapshoot in his '64 Chevy Impala which often broke down on his 50-minute trek to Arizona State University in Tempe. Ricky stuck with it and earned a bachelor's degree in geography.
Coincidentally, Ricky and I ended up teaching at the same high school, in the same department and across the hallway from each other.
In many ways, I was the fortunate son. Though I spent much of my childhood working in the onion fields, my brothers worked in various types of agriculture throughout high school until they rebelled and found jobs that did not involve toiling on the ground. But what was most fortunate for me was to have three brothers, each with their own set of lenses through which they filtered life.
Taking a piece of each of their lensesRuben the giver, Ray the partier, and Ricky the angryprovided me a kaleidoscope of unique perspectives from which to view the world.
The courage of compromise
There have been many memorable debates that I've seen in my lifetime. But the one that stands out most took place between Mom and Dad in the summer of 1970. I was 10 years old at the time. It happened at my Aunt Betty's place in Gilroy, California. She and Uncle Pete brought their family to Gilroy to work the prune orchards. Like many laborers, they were provided temporary housing by the prune grower. Often referred to as campos, the housing units lay in rows like military barracks.
We travelled to California in a 1963 Buick Skylark, absent air-conditioning, to watch my oldest brother Ruben graduate from Army basic training at Fort Ord in Monterrey near Gilroy.
Mom was adamant that Dad stand for the National Anthem at the graduation ceremony. Dad was Jehovah's Witness and Mom a devout Catholic. Following in the footsteps of my Uncle John, Dad converted sometime in the early '1960s. He tried to convert Mom, but she refused as would the rest of us. Jehovah's Witnesses do not vote or take part in the political process because they view it as the stuff of Caesar, not God. It was common practice at the time to remain seated for the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance.
Family members gathered in the small kitchen where Aunt Betty served as moderator. Dad took his podium leaning against a kitchen counter while Mom took hers in the sink area where she washed dishes by hand. The debate commenced with Mom's opening statement. "All these years I've watched you refuse to stand (National Anthem) and I've never said a thing. But I will not watch you do this to your son! We're going to be on a military base. Your son is graduating from the Army! You're going to stand!" Mom lectured Dad. He retaliated, "You're not going to tell me what to do! What I say goes! You hear me?" Then like the Cold War going nuclear, they unleashed a barrage of personal insults from their verbal silos. Dad's refusal had reached its crescendo.
I recall the look of horror on my Grandmother's face. It was painful for her to watch her son battling to maintain authority and the pain of watching a woman defend her son during a time when it was not fashionable to go against the man of the house. Unexpectedly, the debate morphed into a compassionate tone. It touched the human spirit. It was a battle of wills between maternal and paternal instincts. The rambunctious debate ended abruptly as all in attendance quickly exited the kitchen as if they feared the negative atmosphere could be contagious. Dad and Mom made their case with the verdict to be rendered at graduation.
On our way to the ceremony, the anticipation grew like a perfect storm. The moment of truth arrived when a group of soldiers marched in formation to their designated areas; the National Anthem began to play. I peered over toward where Dad was and noticed him respectfully standing. That was surely a sight to behold.
The issue never came up again. Mom and Dad held firm to their belief. Yet during this battle of wills came a moment of clarity; the realization that winning the argument pales in comparison to doing what's right for a son. And if God does not forgive Dad for that, then he is not God.
Patriotism trumps dogma
Sometime in the late '60s, Dad came home after an evening church service anxious to make an 'important' announcement: The world was going to end in 1975. There was no specific date, just that sometime in 1975, it would cease to exist. Being born in 1960, it was easy for me to do the age math. From that point on, I was told to prepare for the end.
During that time, I was in an unenviable position in the family pecking order. Despite his best efforts, Dad could not convert my older siblings, Ruben, Ray, Ricky, and Yolanda from Catholicism to Jehovah's Witness. They had crossed the age threshold and were allowed to decide for themselves. I didn't have that luxury as a child, nor did our youngest sister, Diane. So from fourth grade until the end of my eighth grade year, I endured Kingdom Hall church service and intense bible studies.
Because Dad worked nights as a crane operator for Reynold's Metals Aluminum Plant, Mom ruled the day except Sundays, Dad's day off. As a result, I managed to spend much time at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church just down the street from my house where I was baptized, confirmed and made my first communion. During Little League season, I would offer flowers to the Virgin Mary prior to our games. Blessed Sacrament is where I felt at home.
But imagine a child growing up with the prospect of the world ending in their lifetime. In one church I was told the end was upon us yet not a mention of it in the other.
Religious conflict posed much stress in our household throughout my childhood. There were the constant arguments between Mom and Dad. He quoted scripture launching attacks on the Catholic Church, while Mom would unleash a salvo of personal attacks until a ceasefire would be declared either by the local police or by a Jehovah's Witness whom Mom trusted would be fair. They were locked in an unrelenting religious conflict mired in dogma that yielded to no one, at times not even the almighty they claimed to worship.
Excerpted from FROM THE ROOTS UP by Randy Camacho Copyright © 2013 by Randy Camacho. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsCHAPTER 1Family and Community....................1
CHAPTER 2Treasured Memories....................20
CHAPTER 3A Different Set of Lenses....................24
CHAPTER 4The Wonder of Faith....................30
CHAPTER 5Learning Moments....................34
CHAPTER 6Inspirational Stories....................41
CHAPTER 7The Faces of Immigration....................48
CHAPTER 8Political Philosophy/Strategy....................53
CHAPTER 9Politics in Arizona....................65
CHAPTER 10Arizona's Education Conflict....................77
CHAPTER 11Informational Columns....................85
CHAPTER 13Teen Challenges....................96
CHAPTER 14The Slippery Slope....................101
CHAPTER 15Offbeat Stories....................109
CHAPTER 16What's Race Got to Do With It?....................114