03 de Marzo, 1969
My name is Raúl, and I’m keeping this journal to practice my English. Papi—sorry, my actual father, Jesús Galván—always says that the best way to master a skill is to practice in such a way that you don’t even realize you’re working, and then the learning ‘será tan natural como respirar.’ (comes as naturally as breathing) It certainly was his way, since all the years he spent developing his technique earned him a place at the Salón de la Plástica Mexicana. Finalmente, His paintings and murals are receiving the recognition we knew they would eventually get. It’s cruel that his health is declining just as his art is growing more and more popular. I’m not even sure he’ll live long enough to enjoy the spotlight. It’s the damn tuberculosis. He contracted it very young, he told me. Doctors in the US and even the USSR couldn’t cure it. They say he’s got five years left to live, tops…but the alcohol isn’t helping matters. I can’t imagine how frightening that news must have been to him. I don’t know whether to believe their estimates and make peace, or to pray for a miracle. He doesn’t deserve to go like that; he looks so healthy! But when he coughs, everyone knows something’s not right. Every time I say goodbye to him, I wonder if it’ll be the last time we speak.
Mi padre biológico grew up in Guadalajara, but was so talented that he got a scholarship to study at the Fine Arts School in San Antonio. There he became fluent in English, and has instructed me that I must learn it too. So far my writing is good, but I can’t carry a conversation for too long. Anyway, after schooling in the US, he returned to Guadalajara, becoming very involved in the cultural scene there. Art and politics is still all he talks about. He joined the artist collective Los Banderas de Provincia (Flags of the Province) with his best friend Raúl Anguiano, who incidentally, is my namesake. They went on to form the T.A.P. (Alliance of Fine Arts Workers), and were both active in the Mexican Communist Party. There’s something about artists, murals, and workers; they all speak to each other. My father painted them in Mexico City, Albuquerque, San Francisco, and all over the countryside. All the while, he taught art classes, for over 25 years. He’d tell me stories about his students when I was struggling with my own schoolwork. It helped me get through primary school. Now I’m on my way to attending l’Universidad Católica del Norte, if I keep on top of my studies.
So how did I grow up in Chile? As I said, his condition of ailing health and unpredictable behavior drove a rift in the family. My mother, Gabriella Ignacio de la Rosa, was now raising five children almost single-handedly. We all know that father loved us, but his illness ate away at his ability to parent. He was the one now needing care. As he grew weaker, Father wasn’t able to balance both the demands of his profession and those of the family. He continued to paint, relocating to Cuernavaca. The rest of us, after much debate, decided to return to my mother’s home of Antofagasta to live with my Abuelita by the sea. It was not a messy separation, at first.
We visit my father now and then, once a year or so. Sometimes I wonder if he and my mother had met and started a family when they were younger, if the separation could’ve been avoided. He’s 59 now; old enough to be an Abuelo, even though his looks don’t show his true age. Anyway, a few years after our move to Chile, my mother began seeing someone. It was nothing more than a courtship, she said, and to this day, he remains nothing more than her ‘friend’ to me. His name is Jorge Silva Colón, and he’s a military man. How could my mother let him into our home while still legally married to a leftist painter? The story is far from black and white. They were childhood sweethearts, believe it or not. They didn’t stay together when he decided to enlist, but that was decades ago. While my mother went to Mexico to find work, (and ultimately, my father) he rose to the rank of capitan in the 7th armored infantry battalion, which is headquartered in Antofagasta. After many tours of duty, he’s earned plenty of time off. He’s as good as retired. My mother needed help around the house, and someone to care for her, and he had no ties of his own, so he spent more and more time with us, gradually becoming part of the family. He likes to be called papi, which I can’t stand, since he’s no substitute for my real father. Ava agrees with me; so does Oscar but he’s out of the house most of the time. Mariella and Diego don’t seem to have a problem with him. I mean, he’s not like some of those soldiers; always looking for a fight and all, though he does seem to have a strong sense of duty to his superiors and his country. It’s about honor, he says. Is that so?
Where’s the honor in infiltrating someone else’s marriage; taking advantage of their sick father’s absence and trying to recreate a long-lost high school fantasy? Don’t ask me to call you ‘papi’! You can’t get promoted to the rank of my father, scumbag, no matter how hard you try. If it were up to me, I’d have you court-marshalled for conduct unbecoming of an officer, or a father!