Child of the Valley of Shadows

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

The late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s were the times of my life in the Valley along the Rio Grande. That was the time when darkness and shadows forewarned the human heart of the evil that man can bestow upon himself and his fellow man.


By Al Garcia

The late 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s were the times of my life in the Valley along the Rio Grande.  That was the time when darkness and shadows forewarned the human heart of the evil that man can bestow upon himself and his fellow man.  It was a time of faceless shadows that surrounded us and enfolded us in its grip of fear, hate and dread that scared our human heart and forever harmed our fragile minds.  Many of us back then learned that darkness and shadows can exist and flourish under the radiant rays of a summer’s sun or under the luminous glow of a silvery moon.  I know, because I was a child of the Valley of shadows, forever scarred by words, deeds, slights and slurs intended to demean and degrade men, women and children, simply because they were brown, poor, vulnerable and unshielded by the very flag they swore an allegiance to. 

Like the shadows in the dark, so too the tentacles of discrimination, segregation and isolation found refuge along the Rio Grande at a time when our country was changing and evolving.  However, along the Rio Grande, the shadows of the worst of America’s narrative were slow to fade and recede into the consciousness of human decency, and in fact, remnants still linger today if you choose to look behind the masks that still hide and cloak the legacy of hate.  America was moving forward, while the Valley of my birth lingered behind the changing times – a Norman Rockwell-like setting, except this portrait of Americana was overshadowed by bigotry and prejudice on display amidst the muted anguished cries of suffering and grief by those that toiled and struggled in fields and pastures, and lived in barrios and hovels, away from the chosen and accepted. 

And, while America was reveling and singing and dancing to the new tunes of the Age of Aquarius in the early 1960s, I listened and I watched underneath the shadows of intolerance, racism and bias.  For I was but a child without a voice and without a choice, but to accede to those with the right color and those with unyielding power.  I was a child of the times along the Valley of the shadows – too young to speak up, but old enough to see the hardship and acquiescence in my parents’ eyes.  And I didn’t understand, nor could I comprehend, why we were seen as being different and apart from those that looked down on us with pity, disdain and distrust.  Even then at that young age, I could sense the apathy and coldness.  Even then, I knew, like so many before me had, that I had been born to be hurt and to live in the shadow of those better than me. 

Yet, despite the grief and the hardship of merely existing and living in each day in the Valley by the Rio Grande, my parents gave me hope and instilled in me a desire to achieve and to succeed in spite of the obstacles of color, of discrimination, of segregation and of bigotry.  I was taught to respect, to appreciate, to listen and to learn from my elders, regardless of age, color, station, authority or influence. 

And I did, just like so many before me had and would – we would persevere, we would thrive and we would survive – that was the dream, the mantra that kept our spirit alive.  And as time passed, the changing social and political circumstances taking place around us, did not seem to find their way to life along the Rio Grande.  And so, I learned to accept the pain and the hardships of growing up in this part of America, as part of my legacy, part of my heritage, part of growing up brown. I learned that being born free and under the banner of the red, white and blue, did not assure acceptance nor approval way back when I was born.  It was not a matter of where you were born that assured one respect and acceptance, but rather, it was who you were born to and the color of your skin and the origins of your lineage or pedigree.  It was a time when the Valley was cloaked under the darkness of the shadows of intolerance and power. 

And as a child growing up along the Rio Grande, I saw and heard and lived the life that was allowed of me and nothing more.  How strange it was to live between two worlds – two cultures.  I was held hostage by my Mexican heritage and taunted and slighted by my American birthright.  I found myself in the middle of nowhere – not Mexican enough to live as a Mexican, and not American enough to be given the rights I was born into.  I merely existed in the Valley of shadows by the Rio Grande.  Nothing came easy, except the nurturing and the love that I felt living in a home surrounded by parents and family that gave me hope and love and patience. 

It saddens me to recall my world back then.  But despite the harshness and intolerance of the times, I still remember priceless moments, and I still possess precious memories that defined my childhood and my early years along the Rio Grande.  Each moment and each memory that I recall is of family and of love.  It is hard to understand how one can be taught to love, to respect and to appreciate those around you in a world and in a place that does not accept you, recognize you, or want you.  Yet that is what my parents did.  And I learned well.

My childhood and my youth now only memories.  My aches and pains betray my fading life as I sit beneath the shade of an old mesquite tree admiring the beauty of another Valley day.  How wonderous that time has erased so many painful and sorrowful memories of my past, leaving behind the remnants of better times and happier days. 

How could people have betrayed me?  Why would someone shun another human being for simply being of a different race, religion, ethnicity or color?  What would make someone tell anyone “You don’t belong here,” or “We don’t want you here”?  These are questions that I have been unable to find answers to in the many years that I have lived.  And even now, comfortable, retired and as self-assured and content as I am, I find myself still hearing and still seeing vestiges of that long-ago time in the Valley of shadows reemerge in words and in actions by some who have not learned the lessons of history, nor accepted the teachings of their faith, of human kindness or of acceptance. 

It is hard growing old and remembering what was, and thinking of what could have been.  But harder still is having been a child of the Valley of shadows, and remembering the loneliness and solitude of being made to feel inferior.

I returned to the Valley not long ago, after 49 years of living in a part of America that welcomed and embraced me after my military service, without questioning my color, my ethnicity or my allegiance or honor, simply because of my heritage.  I was no longer the boy who had left the Valley in the mid-1960s in search of himself, but rather, I was a young man – wiser, stronger, determined, and yes, maybe even a bit disillusioned with life after having spent a year in Vietnam. But, upon returning to the Valley as a mature and seasoned man, I found a flourishing and prosperous landscape in a Valley filled with promise and with hope, despite the lingering wisps of bigotry and racism that seem will never fade away. 

It is inspiring to see and feel the change that has occurred in the Valley of my roots, and the place that sowed the outline of my heart and soul.  I sense a new energy and a fresh resolve to build and to shape a new Valley, without forgetting the hardships and mistakes that were made and lived, when I was young and experiencing the hard knocks of life in an intolerant and unaccepting society.

I see a new wave of aspiring young minds that are gathering strength and knowledge in schools and universities throughout the Valley, where once they would have been in fields and orchards toiling under the hot Texas sun.  And deep down I wonder if today’s generation understands the struggles and the sacrifices that their parents and grandparents withstood and endured to make possible this moment in this new reborn Valley we all call home?

I will always be a child of the Valley of shadows.  I will always remember the hurt and the ache that I felt and that I lived while growing up along the Rio Grande.  But I will also remember the moments and the people that inspired and nurture me along the way.  For now, however, I must enjoy and accept the moment and the brilliance of the sun that shines, and the winds that blow across the same fields and pastures that once kept people like me in their place – apart and separate from the America that had promised so many others who ventured to its shores, hope and expectations beyond their dreams.

The dreams of my parents were contagious.  Their dreams became my dreams.  Their exhausted and expended lives became a part of me.  And I can still hear and feel the power of their silenced voices.  They turned a Valley of shadows into my Valley of dreams.  They taught me to respect even those that devalued and diminished me, and they gave me the power to believe and to trust in better days and better times to come.  And they were right.

But now, it hurts me deep inside when I begin to see the gathering clouds forming over America once again, as they slowly drift and find their way to the Valley by the Rio Grande.  It frightens me to see the forming shadows once again begin to darken our horizon.  And the ghosts and phantoms of my past begin to wake the memories and the nightmares of my childhood and my youth.

Submitted: May 23, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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