Horacio N. Roque Ramirez gave me permission to be a joto and be unapologetically proud of it. In the first class I TAd for him in graduate school at UCSB, he introduced me (and himself) to the students as a “professional joto.” We all laughed. I was embarrassed and shy about it at first, but soon grew to own it. The joto identity and struggle became part of my academic and personal journey and my involvement in NACCS and now AJAAS. He also reminded me of the urgency of telling queer and trans Latina/o stories of resilience, loss, life and death, those stories often relegated to the margins. I remember when I turned in my first draft of my Master’s qualifying paper, he gave it back to me, to my dismay, with TONS of critical comments and edits and wrote, “This paper is about Bamby Salcedo-not Foucault.” At a time when I was enamored with every sexy theory I came across, he reminded me of the importance of staying grounded in the oral history narrator’s life. He was traditional in that way. His teaching and training were stern and rigorous and loving, and I owe to him so much of who I am today as a writer, a scholar and professor.
I met Horacio N. Roque Ramírez at the Sherman Oaks Galleria in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles in the spring of 2006. I had been admitted to the PhD program in Chicana and Chicano Studies at UCSB, scheduled to start that fall, and he wanted to meet me in person, congratulate me, and create a plan for the upcoming year. The Galleria, which had changed drastically since the 1994 Northridge earthquake was now less of a mall and more an outdoor shopping center with a walkway in between the stores and restaurants. I can’t remember if I waited for him on the steps of the galleria facing Ventura Blvd. or if I was sitting outside a café. What I do remember is how funny and friendly, and buena gente he was. I remember how generous he was with his advice, and how he wanted to learn more about me. He asked me about my family, their migration histories, how many siblings I had, and I think we talked about my republican Cuban grandmother, which led to much joking and risas. Horacio was excited about my then proposed project on Chicanos and HIV prevention and his excitement relieved some of the anxiety I felt about the journey I was about to begin.
Horacio received the UC President’s Postdoc and would be at UCLA my first year as a graduate student. During our conversation that day while sipping on cafecito, he let me know that even though he wouldn’t physically be around, he was committed to helping me survive my first year. And that he did. I’ve shared this story a hundred times, but it is so relevant and shows the level of commitment Horacio had for his students and his work. During that first year in graduate school, he made sure to call me often, meet with me in Los Angeles whenever I was there and in Santa Barbara when he was in town for business. Even though he was on leave, I often received more attention than other graduate students whose advisors were actually around. He checked up on me. He made sure I was okay. He took care of me. That nurturance I received from him early on sustained me for a long time. Years later when his mental and physical health deteriorated and he wasn’t around as much, I knew he still had my back and I remembered how generous he had always been with me. Horacio loved his work, and his students, and the communities he served. He was a living manifestation of Gloria Anzaldúa’s call to “Do work that matters, vale la pena.” Horacio showed me what that meant in the way he mentored me, from that sunny day at the Sherman Oaks Galleria, to the tough but loving feedback he’d give me on my writing, to the emails he sent me and my friend Cristina Serna, only months before he passed, telling us to take care of ourselves emotionally, mentally and physically because the academy didn’t show us how to do it. Gracias, Horacio, for all the wisdom you shared with me, and for showing me what it meant to do meaningful work. Horacio believed in me from day one and I am so thankful for the nine years I was able to have him in my life. Presente, profesor. Que viva la joteria!