Amanuensis Monday: The Astor Fire, Part 7 – Epilogue: I Will Remember

Joan (Schiavon) Huesca (1928 – 1987)
Enrique Huesca (1909 – 2003)
Mercedes (Formento) Huesca (1924 – 2004)
Eduardo Huesca (1947 –  )

Introduction:  In the spring of 1978, my father, Gilbert Huesca, sent my mother, Joan Huesca, then 49, on a flight to Mexico City to visit his family while he stayed behind in California to tend to business matters. During this visit, she and three of our relatives were caught in one of the deadliest fires in Mexico City’s history, known as the Astor Fire. My mother wrote a letter to thank her rescuers shortly after returning home to California. She also recounted this nightmarish tale many times to my father, my sisters, and me in the years that followed, always emphasizing that life and the people in it are gifts to be treasured.  This is Part Seven, the conclusion in a series about that night, based on my mother’s recollections, those of my relatives, and my research on the event.  – L.H.T.

One month after safely escaping the Astor fire that killed eight people and wounded over 50, my mother wrote to thank the Mexico City firefighters who saved her life and the lives of my aunt Mercedes “Meche,” uncle Enrique, and cousin Eduardo Huesca. She kept a photocopy of her letter, which is reproduced below. The firefighters also rescued the Estrada family, neighbors who also were trapped on the seventh floor of the La Galia Building on the fateful night of May 13, 1978.  

I do not know whether my mother ever heard back from the fire department or whether the letter even reached the department or any of the firefighters involved in the Astor fire.  In a broader sense, this letter pays homage to all firefighters, no matter where they are – for the noble and unselfish work they do, even when it ends in the ultimate sacrifice. 

There is only thing I would add here.  I hope that if someday one of those heroes – or their families – should stumble upon this story, they would know that their courage and goodness will live on in our memories and inspire us for generations to come. On behalf of my entire family, I thank you for giving us a happy ending.

                                                                         June 14, 1978

To the Heroic Corp of Firemen

of the Federal District,
Central de Bomberos,
Mexico City 1, D.F.


I was one of the eleven survivors of the recent Astor fire on May 13th, 1978.  Several brave and heroic firemen rescued all of us from the seventh floor* of the building at V. Carranza #63.

At the time of our rescue, I had no conception of the seriousness or the extent of the fire.

I was very frightened at the thought of having to descend the telescopic ladders to the street below us.  One of your courageous firemen displayed such patience to me, and finally convinced me to escape via the firemen’s ladder.  This same fireman brought down my purse, with all intact after I had left the terrace of the seventh floor.

There was another courageous fireman just in back of me while I descended the ladder.  This brave fireman, protected me from falling backward, and as I would place a foot out into space, this heroe (sic), with kind patience, would place my foot on each step of the ladder.  These two firemen shall always remain in my memory as two angels in asbestos garb.

We were all lovingly cared for by the doctor of the firemen’s ambulance for more than six hours there in the street.  I shall never forget the love and concern shown to us.

I am trying to express the gratitude that I feel in my heart to you, the heroic firemen of the Federal District.  Words do not come easily, nor do they seem adequate to express my feelings.

A few days after the fire, I saw a television program, in which an official of the Fire Department was interviewed.  This gentleman stated that the most important quality of a Fireman in the Federal District was the ability to love.  The love, patience, and concern of all of you was outstanding.

When I learned that seven brave heroes of your department had lost their lives, my heart went out to them and their families.  God must have a very special place close to Him for these seven loving, courageous men.  I will always remember them in my prayers.

I, a North American, have always loved Mexico for her beauty. art, culture, and the friendliness of her people.  Now, I have more reason to love Mexico even more deeply,  for the gift of life given to me by her firemen.

Thank you for having given me the privilege of continuing my life:

I will remember your love each time I look into the faces of my loved ones, my Husband, my Daughters and my family and friends.

I will remember your love each day as I look about me at the wonders God has wrought.

I will remember your love as I perform my days work.

I will remember your love when I admire a piece of art, listen to beautiful music, or read a literary work.

I will remember your love when I reach out to help another human being.

I will remember your love for all of my life – the life which you have given to me.

You will all be remembered in my heart and prayers with all of my love.

                                                               Gratefully and lovingly,
                                                               Joan Huesca
                                                               (Mrs. Gilbert Huesca)


[Note:  Amanuensis is an ancient word meaning one who performs the function of writing down or transcribing the words of another.  Derived from the Latin root manu-  , meaning manual or hand, the word also has been used as a synonym for secretary or scribe.]

Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

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