I Heard the Dream and Lived the Nightmare

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

As a young boy of 15, living in a valley bordering Mexico, I was coming of age. I was adventurous and curious, like most other boys by age back then. It was the era of rock and roll, Friday night football, and cruising down main street with your buddies.

I HEARD THE DREAM, AND LIVED THE NIGHTMARE

By Al Garcia

As a young boy of 15, living in a valley bordering Mexico, I was coming of age.  I was adventurous and curious, like most other boys by age back then.  It was the era of rock and roll, Friday night football, and cruising down main street with your buddies.  In the Valley, we also had Friday night forays into the nightlife of Reynosa, across the border in Mexico.  Liquor, funny cigarettes and girlie entertainment – no questions asked.  It was 1963 and I saw the world opening up before me.  And I was both excited and apprehensive – typical for a 15-year old I guess.

In 1963 I was a high school student at Edinburg High.  I was at that age when acting pompous and presumptuous came naturally.  It was part of the expected culture.  And I did not disappoint. 

But on March 28, 1963, I watched on television as a man spoke in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington., DC.  That man was Martin Luther King, Jr.  And what I heard that day was the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech.  I was memorized by the eloquence of his words.  I can still visualize the crowd and the sounds when he uttered the now infamous phrase:  “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”  And it was then that I became enthralled, not only with words, and the power they had, but with the idea that in the America I was living in, there still existed prejudice, racism and hate.  I had heard the dream, and I opened my eyes and began to see.

As the words and essence of the speech sunk in, I looked into myself and around me, and I saw prejudice, racism and hate all around me in the Valley that I loved.  It was my awakening as a young boy, as an American, but most of all, as a “Chicano,” living the American dream in a Valley along the Rio Grande – or at least the American dream I was allowed to live at that time and in that place.  I had heard the power of words, and also, the inequality in the world around me.  Vietnam was an emerging issue, but still a distant drum beat sounding in the distance. 

And time, the measure of all things, passed, and with it my pompous and presumptuous ways.  The Valley began to move in a direction that promised more equality for its “Chicano” American population, and I continued to grow and learn and question.  The world was moving forward and so was I.  This meant a Driver’s License, and of course a Draft Card.  I had arrived.  I was a card-carrying member of a special club -- for “Men” only.

Then in 1968, when Vietnam was now a national discourse, and both Martin Luther King, Jr. and his iconic 1963 “I Have A Dream” speech only memories in our national psyche, I joined the military.  I was guaranteed further journalism schooling, along with the normal 10-week basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas, and special training at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

Then, after a while, I found myself in Vietnam -- surrounded by other confused, bewildered, raw and untested young American boys and men.  I found myself in a long-playing theatre of war.  A theatre of the absurd.  A place where boys became men. and where men sometimes became a statistic and a memory for someone waiting back home.  This was our nation’s nightmare, one of America’s most controversial episodes in our history, and I was living it, morning, day and night, as were my friends, and brothers-in-arms. 

This was my story.  My life -- living to realize the promise of a dream, but having to survive a nightmare to realize that dream.

I survived the nightmare, and now, the dream of 1963 is fading, as America returns to a time when I was only 15 years of age, and prejudice, racism and hate prevailed. 

Striving for the dream, and reliving the nightmare, begins again.


Submitted: June 14, 2021

© Copyright 2021 A.Garcia. All rights reserved.

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