Monthly Archives: December 2013

Holiday Names, Santa, and Ducks: Can We End This Cultural War Already?


In 1787, the Founding Fathers wrote that the U.S. Constitution was necessary “in Order to form a more perfect Union.” Since they were all white Christian men, many of them slave owners, the perfect union they envisioned was probably meant just for them. For the first 70 years of our country’s existence, that’s exactly how it was. Then President Lincoln threw a wrench in the plan by abolishing slavery and keeping the union together.

For the next hundred years, the path to a more perfect union began to form with the women’s right to vote in the early 20th century and the Civil Rights Movement of mid-century. By the 1980s, the LGBT community started to make its voice heard.  By then, the conservative crowd had had enough. At the 1992 Republican Convention, presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan declared that our nation was engaged in “cultural war…for the soul of America.”

While his speech carefully avoided race issues, he was unabashed about conservative views on “radical feminism” and railed “against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women.” Buchanan’s war came to a boiling point two decades later with conservative charges that President Obama is a foreign-born Muslim and women who use birth control are sluts. The nonsense coming from the Right continues to get more desperate and absurd as their war drones on.

Let’s start with the so-called debate about what we ought to name the holiday season in December. As a practicing Catholic who believes in the Jesus nativity story, I say “Merry Christmas” when greeting fellow Christians. I don’t really give a rat’s behind if retail outlets, progressive politicians and others use “Happy Holidays.” How others greet each other during this season doesn’t impact people’s lives, yet it’s a serious topic for conservative news programs.

Then there’s Santa Claus. While channel surfing the other day, I tripped over a Fox News show that was embroiled in a serious discussion about Santa’s racial background. A Fox News personality reacted to a professor’s essay about a black Santa by saying, on air, “For all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white…I wanted to get that straight.” Really? The story actually stayed in the news cycle for another few days, including the obligatory razzing from the nighttime talk shows.

This brings us to ducks. The A&E cable network has a popular show about a duck hunting family business called Duck Dynasty. When the show’s patriarch went on an anti-gay tirade, network executives decided to bench him. Conservatives quickly cried foul claiming that A&E trampled on his 1st Amendment right of free speech. The network big wigs are all about business, not the Bill of Rights, so the complaints were all for naught. A&E put papa duck back on the field as soon as it realized that Duck Dynasty fans aren’t gay.

During the Civil War, maintaining the confederacy’s racist way of life was cloaked as a fight for economic survival. A century later, the same crowd justified legalized segregation in the name of state’s rights. Add another fifty years, the justification to keep same-sex marriage illegal was framed in religious terms. Now the ambitious war plan to maintain “traditional” American values has given way to ridiculous battles about holiday names, Santa Claus, and ducks.

With their entire war effort in peril, the warriors of “traditional” America are no longer armed with the lofty ideals of economic survival, state’s rights, and religious convictions.  They now fight for the soul of America by courageously standing up for holiday names, Santa’s race, and homophobic duck hunters. I have to say though, watching the likes of Jon Stewart pan the conservative news media and its sycophantic audience for trying keep a grip on the not so perfect union of yesteryear is entertaining.

Next summer, on the 22nd anniversary of Pat Buchanan’s vitriolic speech, America’s first Black president will be in his second term, there will be more women in Congress than ever before, and more states will have legalized same-sex marriage. It looks like the conservative Right is losing its own war in a rout. The last major religious war in Europe was called the Thirty Years War, and lasted…well, 30 years. Can we cut Buchanan’s cultural war short by a few years and just end it already?

We’ll never know if the Founding Fathers meant to include everyone. Nonetheless, their words have led to an amazing journey toward a society that is getting ever so close to a place where everyone, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, can fully participate in “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Hopefully, the Right’s cultural war is coming to an end. That way, we can move forward together as a nation of American people toward “a more perfect union”.

Summer in the Waiting Room: Chapter 1 (excerpt #2)

My parents taking a walk in Phoenix, Arizona (Garcia Family photo ca. late 1950)
My parents taking a walk in Phoenix, Arizona (Garcia Family photo ca. late 1950)


Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the second excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.  To read previous installments, go to the Categories link and click on “Summer in the Waiting Room.”


My parents were children of the Great Depression, an era of desperate times for all but the richest Americans. For both my parents, poverty was compounded as they were children of widowed mothers who endured the racism and discrimination faced by Mexican Americans of that time. As children, they had no understanding of the American Dream and no real path to achieving it. As adults, they worked tirelessly to provide that opportunity for their children, and the little house on 48 Viewmont Avenue was the base of operations for their pursuit of the dream.

My dad was born Federico Olquín García in the dusty hamlet of Las Cruces, New Mexico, on April 15, 1926. The oral history of my family doesn’t provide much about the first 16 years of his life. This much we know: his parents were Juan and Isabela “Chabela” García, also native New Mexicans, and he had one brother and two sisters.  Juan worked in the dangerous and back-breaking copper mines of southern New Mexico and Chabela tended to the home and their four children.

They lived in a small adobe structure with a dirt floor built by Juan and a younger brother. When my dad was about eleven years-old, his father died of respiratory problems related to his endless hours working in the mines.  With her four kids in tow, Chabela left Las Cruces to join relatives in Phoenix, Arizona. Family stories contend that my dad had to help drive the long and hot road to Arizona. If this is true, his childhood had disappeared in a flash and his years of responsibility and obligation came upon him overnight.

In October 1942, my dad left the small apartment he shared with his mother in south Phoenix to join the U.S Navy. Like many of his generation, my dad shared little about his experience as a sailor during World War II. He told us that he served on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Wasp in the Pacific Ocean, but recounted nothing about battles and dangerous situations. History tells us that the Wasp engaged in several brutal battles with Japanese aircraft from October 1942 through the end of the war, the time my dad served on the carrier. In a personal log he carried, he wrote in detail about the last days of the war and the Wasp’s return to the United States.

My mom was an only child born to a single mother in on January 31, 1930, in Colton, California. Colton, a busy railroad hub and farming town in southern California, was one of many stops on the state’s farm-working circuit where her mother, Joaquina Othon, and her Tía Lipa traveled in search of seasonal work. My grandmother Joaquina was an independent woman trying to eke out a living for herself and her young daughter. Like my dad, little is known about my mom’s early life.

Within several years, my mom and her mom were again on the road, this time to Phoenix to help Tía Lipa care for my great-grandmother who arrived from Sonora, Mexico, to live out the last years of her life. My grandmother continued working odd jobs as a housekeeper, babysitter, and seasonal worker to support her daughter, sister, and ailing mother. Due to my grandmother’s tireless work ethic, my mom had a financially poor, but relatively stable life during her teen years. It was during this time that the lonely young woman raised by her mother, an aunt, and an aging grandmother, dreamed of one day having a big family with many children and grandchildren of her own.

My parents met during a late summer day in 1949 when my mom went out to the neighborhood park with a cousin to watch some boys play baseball. My mom caught the eye of my dad as he strut around the diamond with a smile that could be seen across the field. He was calling at my grandmother’s front door the next morning respectfully asking permission to talk to my mom.

My dad knew his way around girls from the many ports of call on the trip back to the U.S. after the war and his frequent attendance at south Phoenix nightclubs. But this girl was different: polite, demure, and dignified. Before long, he was stopping to see my mom everyday sitting on one end of the old sofa talking with her as she sat on the other end. Her mom and Tía Lipa sat across the tiny living room knitting a blanket or listening to the radio as the young couple talked, laughed, and sometimes just sat.

Their courtship was a whirlwind. After several months dating in my grandmother’s living room, they were allowed to go out to together to the movies or to share a soda, and six months later after they met, mom and dad were married in a small Catholic church on April 23, 1950. They had no place to live, no money, and no idea what the future would hold. All they had was each other and my skeptical grandmother watching their every move.


There will be no post next Wednesday. Chapter 1 returns on January 1, 2014, as my parents move to San Jose looking for opportunity.


Leadership Lessons: Reaching Out to Rivals

President Obama and Cuban Leader Raul Castro Shaking Hand at Nelson Mandela's Funeral (file photo)
President Obama and Cuban Leader Raul Castro shaking hands at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. (file photo)

When President Obama reached out and shook hands with Cuban dictator Raul Castro last week at Nelson Mandela’s funeral the Republican leadership in Congress rushed to the television cameras to criticize the president.  The GOP’s shameful response to the president‘s display of graciousness during a solemn ceremony in honor of someone who epitomized forgiveness is exactly why Congress lacks the leadership skills to get anything done in Washington.

Had President Ronald Reagan declined a working relationship with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, the world could have been consumed by nuclear holocaust.  Perhaps the most famous example of leadership by reaching out to rivals is President Abraham Lincoln.  He appointed campaign opponents to cabinet posts; then extended his hand in peace to Confederate rebels promising a post-Civil War America, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

One of the most difficult challenges for effective leaders is to be able to bury the hatchet with opponents to benefit those they serve.  True leadership embraces conflict and bridges differences for the common good.  When I served as a trustee on the East Side Union High School District, overcoming differences with a rival led to the approval of two of the most important district initiatives during the past half dozen years.

The district’s board of trustees appointed me in 2006 on a 3-1 vote.  Trustee Frank Biehl was the lone dissenter who vigorously argued against my appointment, so our relationship started off on the wrong foot.  Adding to that dynamic, he and I are from different worlds.  Frank is white, I’m Latino.  He’s the oldest son from a successful family business.  I’m the youngest son from an east side working-class family.  He’s pragmatic, I’m passionate.  On the board, we rarely found common ground.

Two years later, Frank was again the sole “no” vote on my reappointment to the board.  That term we started off on two wrong feet.  I broke the cardinal rule of leadership; I took Frank’s opposition personally.  Instead of looking for common ground, I sought out conflict with him.  The result was a lack of productivity on my part.

When the board took a preliminary vote to eliminate after-school sports, we again were on opposite sides of the fence.  As a former student-athlete I understood the value of athletics and proposed a plan that would restore funding to the programs.  After Frank’s initial vote to eliminate sports programs, he reconsidered and unveiled his own plan to save sports.  I didn’t like his ideas and prepared myself for a long fight.

My personal issues with Frank had trumped doing what was right.  Rather than fighting for student-athletes and their families, I realized I was opposing Frank’s plan because he had opposed me.  It was a valuable on-the-job lesson.  I learned that leadership shouldn’t be about me, it should be about those I serve.  I reached out to Frank and expressed my concerns about his ideas, and he did the same.  With his pragmatic approach and my passion for student athletics, we compromised and saved sports programs.

He supported my candidacy for president of the board a year later.  When I announced an initiative to make college entrance requirements the default curriculum for all students, Frank and I shared ideas and worked together for the good of students.  I spent that summer in the hospital and he came to visit me.  A personal rivalry had turned into friendship.  That fall, Frank and I joined a unanimous board in passing a historic policy that ensured that every East Side graduate can to go to college.

I learned a valuable lesson.  Leaders must overcome personal differences in order to make decisions that benefit those they lead.  Whether you’re PTA president, on the Little League board, a supervisor at work, or President of the United States, these three simple rules can help you avoid the pitfalls caused by personal problems:

  1. It’s not about you.  Your role as a leader is to serve others, not the other way around.  Your decisions will impact, negatively or positively, those you lead.  So make decisions with them in mind.
  2. Keep Your Eye on the Prize.  Why did you seek out a leadership role in the first place?  Probably to make things better or to make a change.  Don’t let personal issues get in the way of accomplishing what you set out to do.
  3.  Find Common Ground.  Rival leaders may share your vision to make improvements or change, but have different notions on how to get there.  Listen to what they have to say.  You may find that you have more in common than you think.

Leaders are like the rest of us replete with biases, emotions, fears, and dislikes.  Yet unlike the rest of us, they must overcome those personal barriers to ensure the common good.  Just imagine what kind of world we would be living in if President Lincoln didn’t have the courage to embrace his rivals to keep our nation united or President Reagan and Premier Gorbachev let personal philosophies keep them from the Cold War peace table.

Summer in the Waiting Room – Chapter 1 (excerpt #1)

With mom on the day of my baptism ca. 1964 (Garcia Family photo)
With mom on the day of my baptism ca. 1964 (Garcia Family photo)

Blogger’s note: The following passage is the from my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life. It’s the first excerpt from Chapter 1: “48 Viewmont Avenue.” I will post weekly excerpts every Wednesday morning.


Chapter 1

48 Viewmont Avenue

The sky was clear and the weather was in the low 50s, a typical crisp November night in San Jose, California. But for my mom and dad, that night and early the next morning wouldn’t be typical at all. As they raced north on U.S. Highway 101 in the their two-toned orange and white 1955 Mercury, they wondered how they were going to make ends meet now that another mouth to feed would soon be added to the family.

 They both grew up in poor single-mother households. Now that they had their own family, they were just getting by living check to check on my dad’s postal worker salary and mom’s odd jobs cleaning houses and working in the canneries. The little creature in her belly causing her so much pain and discomfort would be their fifth child. Nevertheless, both of my parents were excited and happy as the Mercury pulled into the hospital parking lot.

 My dad jumped out of the car to walk her into the emergency room. Wearing a camel colored coat and carrying a small overnight bag, she waddled up the steps to the hospital and breathlessly slumped herself onto the waiting wheelchair. As was the custom in the 1960s, nurses rushed my mom into the maternity room to await the doctor who would deliver the baby and told my dad to wait outside. Hospital volunteers showed him the way to the waiting room to join other nervous, expectant fathers who were smoking up a storm as they paced the floor.

Impatient and restless, my dad didn’t stay for very long. He left the hospital to find a place where he could belly up to the bar and knock down a few whiskey and waters before going back to meet his newest baby. My mom was an old pro, he rationalized to himself, she had been to the delivery room four other times and each time the baby came out without any problems.

Back at the hospital, my mom was going through labor pains as one day ended and another began. The baby would soon arrive as the nurses and doctors prepared for the delivery. Labor for her was not much different than the other four times. Actually, this time seemed to go smoother, the pains weren’t as strong and the actual time in labor was much shorter. Just as my dad predicted, the delivery would be quick and simple.

After finishing his drinks and taking a few more drags of his cigarette, he was back in the maternity ward anxiously waiting for the good news. They had two boys and two girls at home waiting. He was sure this one would be another boy. In the delivery room all was going well. When the baby was finally born, the doctor gently gave the newborn the obligatory slap on the backside and waited for the familiar wails of a new life catching its breath for the first time.

The doctor cut the umbilical cord and the nurses wiped the baby clean before swaddling it and allowing my tired, but happy, mom to cuddle her baby for the first time. As the doctor completed one last check of vital signs, the baby slipped out of his arms and banged its face against the metal railing of the bed. A nurse broke the baby’s fall and prevented a disastrous accident. The baby screamed in pain as the nurses and doctors worked to stop the bleeding that had emerged from the baby’s face. Luckily, that scary incident only resulted in a small scar at the tip of the newborn’s nose.

That baby with the cut on his nose was me, born on November 6, 1963, at 5:25 AM at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City, California. The third García boy, I was 21 inches long, weighed 7.2 pounds, with dark brown eyes, and lots of thick dark hair. My parents were excited and relieved, especially after the brief scare in the delivery room. That little scar at the tip of my nose would forever find a special place in my mom’s heart.

Exhausted, she suggested a name for me, Michael. My dad wanted to name me Edward. After a few minutes of negotiation, my proud parents settled on a name: Edward Michael García. My dad spent a few more minutes at my mom’s side, slipped out of the hospital, stopped at the watering hole for one more whiskey and water on the rocks, slid onto the front seat of the two-toned Mercury, and headed south for the 45-minute drive to San Jose to tell my siblings that they had a baby brother.

At home, my brothers and sisters, David 12, Barbara 11, Patty 10, and Steve 9, were still asleep unaware of what had happened earlier that morning. When my dad burst through the front door of his modest house on 48 Viewmont Avenue in east San Jose, his four older children suddenly woke up and rushed to meet him to hear the good news.  He stood at the counter that separated the kitchen from the dining room, and excitedly told his kids about “Eddie’s” chubby cheeks and thick black hair, and how he slipped, and cut his nose.  After a few minutes of taking questions, my dad turned to the heavy black phone sitting on the counter and started dialing everyone he knew.


Next Wednesday: Chapter 1 flashes back to my parents courtship in Phoenix, Arizona .

My All-American Hero: One Story from the Other Side of the Tracks

My dad is somewhere in the first row of this photo taken aboard the USS Wasp in 1944.  The handwritten notes are my dad's (Garcia family photo)
My dad is somewhere in the first row of this photo taken aboard the USS Wasp in 1944. The handwritten notes are my dad’s (Garcia family photo)

I’ve been a history junkie ever since I was a kid.  I would ride my bike to the county library and go straight to the stacks that told heroic tales of Americans revolting against King George III, struggling on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Vicksburg, and defending the world against tyranny.  I loved  the American History course taught by the legendary Mr. Duus and Mr. Hefelfinger at James Lick High School, and I went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in History from San Jose State University.

As a kid, I was most interested in World War II probably because my dad served on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Wasp in the Pacific Ocean.  Like most in his generation, he didn’t talk about the war unless he had a few whiskey and waters under his belt, and even then he wouldn’t say much.  With the tidbits of information he shared, I would scour the books from the library trying to piece together my dad’s experience on the Wasp.

To this day, I could spend hours watching the History Channel and Military Channel gathering more data about our collective past.  Many episodes include stories about the courageous Black Buffalo Soldiers fighting for freedom during the Civil War and the valiant Japanese-American 442nd Regiment defending our flag in WWII.  American-born Latinos have also fought with courage and valor to defend our country, yet they’re nowhere to be found in mainstream accounts.  Why is this?

Several years ago, the award-winning PBS documentarian Ken Burns completed a 14 ½ hour series about WWII.  I had watched with admiration his comprehensive masterpieces on topics like the Civil War, baseball, the Statue of Liberty and more.  I looked forward to the series with anxious anticipation, especially how Burns’ genius might portray the half million Latinos who fought in WWII and the 13 Latino Medal of Honor recipients.  It turns out that Burns didn’t include one story about them.

Prior to the airing of the series, national Latino leaders requested that Burns find a way to tell the important stories of these forgotten Americans.  Burns initially refused to bend to “political correctness” citing artistic freedom, but he ultimately compromised by adding a few interviews with Latino veterans.  I didn’t watch.  When Burns came to SJSU for a lecture with public radio last week, I didn’t go.

In some ways, I understand why Ken Burns couldn’t comprehend what the fuss was all about.  The land that is now California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico formed the northern border of Mexico until they became the spoils of war when the Unites States won the War with Mexico of 1846-1848. Mexicans living in those territories didn’t cross the border, the border crossed them.  Since then, American-born citizens of Latino descent have been treated like foreigners in their own land.

Less than a century later, nearly 1.2 million American-born Latinos were evicted from the U.S. to Mexico during the Mexican Repatriation Program of 1929 to 1939 to open up agricultural and factory jobs for Okies fleeing the Depression Era Dust Bowl.  More recently, Arizona’s notorious Senate Bill 1070 allows law enforcement to detain anyone when there’s “a reasonable suspicion of being an illegal immigrant.”  So in our country, the rule is you must’ve been born somewhere else if you have a Latino surname.

Although those of us born in the United States represent the majority of Latinos in our country, most Americans don’t even know who we are.   I didn’t have to look far to find the answer.  My dad was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1926.  His parents were born near the same place during the 1880s when New Mexico was an American territory.  I’m not sure how far back the family tree goes, but I’m willing to guess that the Garcías were living near Las Cruces when the Pilgrims hit Plymouth Rock in 1620.

When he was 11 years old, my dad, his siblings, and my widowed grandmother moved to Phoenix, Arizona where my dad went to grammar school and high school.  In 1942, at the age of 16, he enlisted in the Navy by forging my grandmother’s signature so he could fight for his country.  One of my most prized possessions is a log he kept during the last days of the war and the victorious trip home on the U.S.S. Wasp.

Back at home, he was refused entrance into a Phoenix dancehall despite wearing his navy uniform because he was “Mexican.”  He took a few classes on the G.I. Bill, married my mom, moved to San Jose looking for the American Dream, and got a job at the Post Office.  Together my mom and dad had six kids (I’m number 5), bought a house in east San Jose, and struggled to give us a better life.  We have become businessmen, school administrators, bank executives, university librarians, and public servants.

That’s my dad’s story.  He’s an All-American hero to me.  I know there are millions of others just like him.  That’s why Latinos can’t wait for Kens Burns or anyone else to understand who we are so our stories can be told.  Until we tell our own stories, our fellow Americans will continue to be confused.  One just needs to look at the recent Twitter-sphere condemnation of the American Music Awards for showcasing American-born Latinos citing that Mark Antony, Jennifer Lopez, et al, weren’t American.

A few fellow Latino SJSU alums and I traded barbs about Ken Burns on Facebook when we learned he was scheduled to appear at our alma mater.  One college friend, Xavier Soriano, reminded us that we should tell our own stories.  He’s right.  We’re proud Americans who honor and cherish our ancestry.  Our generation is educated and has access to resources.  So let’s get on with it.  Let’s tell our story.

Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Hope & Love Saved My Life – Prologue

The Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz, California (photo from Wikipedia)
The Giant Dipper in Santa Cruz, California (photo from Wikipedia)

Author’s note: The following passage is the first installment of my manuscript of Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Hope, and Love Saved my Life.



There are those who say life is like a roller coaster with its ups and downs, and twists and turns.  I’ve loved riding roller coasters as far back as I can remember.  My favorite is the Giant Dipper, a whitewashed wooden 1920s era coaster with bright red tracks that dominates the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on California’s central coast.  Santa Cruz is about a 40 minute drive from where I grew up in San Jose, California. As my dad drove into town, I remember getting excited to see the high point of the coaster jutting above the squat motels, restaurant buildings, tourist gift shops, and mom and pop stores that lined the streets.

The Giant Dipper was an exhilarating experience from the moment you stepped into the long line that wound its way into the building that housed the coaster station.  While in the safe confines of the fast-moving line, friends and relatives would laugh, joke, and revel in each other’s company, with an occasional pause to watch and hear the frantic riders above squeal and scream as the chaotic train roared by.  I always began to feel anxious excitement when entering the coaster station as riders took their seats on the train.  Soon, I would be securely seated in the two-person car, and without warning, the train swooshed out of the coaster house and quickly vanished into a tunnel.

Adrenalin shot through my body, and fellow riders hooted and hollered, as the train sped through a dark curvy tunnel to a low point before emerging from the darkness and slowly climbing to the first peak with the classic clicking sound of a roller coaster train laboring upward.  Once at the top, the train slowly scaled the peak and screamed down the other side of the tracks in a free fall as it rushed toward the earth.  After a scaling a couple smaller hills and valleys, the train rapidly rose into the sky to reach its highest point before it violently curved downward to its left on the way to its deepest drop.  A few more ups and downs and a slow straight-way led the train to its final resting place in the safety of the coaster station.

My love for roller coasters came from my dad. When we went to the boardwalk, usually because relatives from out of town were visiting, my dad would strut straight to the Giant Dipper. With his trademark mischievous grin, he would egg everyone on to join him on the ride, especially those who looked nervous or scared. My mom never got on the coaster, no matter how much my dad tried to persuade her. My brother Stevie was also a regular holdout, which was funny because he was our family’s tough guy. Stevie had a big heart, but masked it with a perpetual scowl and a look in his eyes that shouted out, “you wanna fight?” He was tough, uncompromising, and angry.

As his little brother, I was regularly collateral damage when he was mad at the world. When Stevie was a teenager, he wore his hair long in the style of a 1970s anti-establishment rebel. Wearing jeans, a leather vest, steel-toed biker boots, and a buck knife attached to his belt, I’m sure he scared people as he lumbered along his way. Despite his bad-boy persona, he was scared to death of that tortuous and seemingly unpredictable roller coaster that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.

Stevie had a big heart, but masked it with a perpetual scowl and a look in his eyes that shouted out, “you wanna fight?”  He was tough, uncompromising, and angry. As his little brother, I was regularly collateral damage when he was mad at the world.  When Stevie was a teenager, he wore his hair long in the style of a 1970s anti-establishment rebel.  Wearing jeans, a leather vest, steel-toed biker boots, and a buck knife attached to his belt, I’m sure he scared people as he lumbered along his way.  Despite his bad-boy persona, he was scared to death of that tortuous and seemingly unpredictable roller coaster that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.

When I was about nine years old, I persuaded Stevie to ride with me.  In line, he had the steely eyes of a gunslinger preparing for battle, but once the train disappeared into the tunnel, he began to scream, giggle, and screech like a teenage girl at a boy band concert.  I laughed harder during the next few minutes than I had ever laughed.  With each dip, twist, and turn, this tough guy with the biker boots became ever more vulnerable to the fierce journey of the roller coaster.

As the train slowly entered the coaster station at the end of the ride, Stevie gathered himself, brushed his long, thick mane away from his face, put that bad look back on, and glowered at passersby as if he was about to kick someone’s ass. I didn’t know what was funnier, his screeching on the ride or the mask he put on as soon as the danger went away.  Either way; I sure wasn’t going to ask him.

That was one wild ride.

The first forty-six years of my life followed the path of the Giant Dipper. Growing up in a working-class neighborhood on San Jose’s east side was like waiting in line for the coaster. I loved being in the safe confines of family and friends. From time to time, I would be away from them and hear and see the chaos that sometimes unfolded around me. After high school, I ventured away from the neighborhood to attend San Jose State University with the same excitement and apprehensiveness I felt when entering the coaster station as a kid. I eventually flunked out of college and chose a lifestyle fueled by alcohol, dead-end jobs, and the next party. The ensuing undisciplined meandering through the darkness of life was just like the Giant Dipper’s wild ride through the dark tunnel.

I gradually and methodically pieced my life back together in the same way that the Giant Dipper slowly scaled its first peak. I got married, went back to SJSU, graduated from college, and started a family. Vowing to never fail again, I worked tirelessly, eventually climbing the corporate ladder all the way up to the executive suite and serving in public office. The sudden plunge of the Giant Dipper’s first dip and the following short waves that quickly lead to the coaster’s summit mirrors a crushing election loss and subsequent rapid rise to school board president.

Midway through my forty-sixth year, my wife Sandra and I were approaching our 20th wedding anniversary, our two daughters were healthy and happy, and I had achieved some success in my career and public service. I felt like I was on top of my little world. Like the Giant Dipper’s next move after reaching its climactic high point, my life would soon make an abrupt and furious downward turn and plummet toward its lowest depths, changing my very existence forever. What followed was unimaginable horror intermingled with an incredible spiritual journey powered by faith, hope, and love.


Next Time – Chapter 1: 48 Viewmont Avenue

NEW FEATURE – Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life

ICU Waiting Room at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center
ICU Waiting Room at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center

Dear Readers,

For those who believe that they alone hold the keys to their own destiny, God sure has a funny way of teaching life lessons. Due to self-perceived shortcomings, I deemed myself a complete failure by the time I was 22 years old.  With an obsession to excel and a naive quest for redemption, I fought my failure demons for more than two decades working endlessly in my elusive pursuit to find success.

Thinking I had almost conquered the demons, I had a massive heart attack on June 7, 2010.  Ten days later, cardiac arrest caused my heart to stop, and ten days after that, I had an allergic reaction that led to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a potentially fatal lung condition that affects just 150,000 people per year according to the ARDS Foundation.  To treat ARDS, doctors medically induced me into a coma and put me on full life support.

Emerging from the coma, I had to learn how to move my limbs, stand, walk, talk, and swallow all over again. On September 21, 2010, 106 days after the June 7th heart attack, I went home. During my long and difficult recovery and rehabilitation, I had hours and hours to think about mortality, God, faith, and the meaning of love, family, friends, and redemption.

Doctors told me that surviving three life-threatening episodes in one summer is a miracle and encouraged me to write about the experience.  With that in mind, I interviewed family, friends, and the medical team at Kaiser Santa Clara Medical Center.  What resulted is a 200-page manuscript I named, Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved My Life.

It’s the unique and inspiring story of a boy who grew up in a working-class neighborhood, failed at college and lost hope, met and married the love of his life, returned to finish college, raised a family, and built a career in corporate America and public service.  It’s also the story of a man who vowed never to fail again and toiled tirelessly trying to redeem himself, only to find true redemption while in a state of complete helplessness in the ICU.

To share this story, beginning this Wednesday, East Side Eddie will add a new feature posting weekly excerpts from Summer in the Waiting Room: How Faith, Family, and Friends Saved my Life.  My dream is to someday publish the manuscript as a book, so please let me know what you think.  Also, if you like the story, please share the Wednesday posts with your family and friends.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to read East Side Eddie each Monday.  I hope the posts are interesting and look forward to Summer in the Waiting Room bringing you back every Wednesday too.  If you have any suggestions or comments, please send them along.

Gratefully Yours,

Eddie García