Wisdom Wednesday: Life’s Lessons, Part 2 – The Defining Moments

Gilbert Cayetano Huesca (1915 – 2009)

(This is the second of a three part series.  To read Part 1, please click here.  To read part 3, please click here)

My father, Gilbert Huesca, and me.  Chicago, Illinois,
Easter Sunday, 1956

I used to wonder why my father was so reserved and circumspect. He was not spontaneous like my mother. He was a kind and loving person who went out of his way to help his family and friends. He had tremendous integrity and honor, and he enjoyed the respect of others in his personal and professional life.

While he hoped for the best, he always prepared himself for the reasonable worst.  He chose his words and planned his actions in his life as deliberately as if they were moves in the chess games he loved so much. Even when the unexpected caught him off guard, his response was measured, cautious, and thoughtful.

Recently I found myself thinking more about him this as I wrote about his personal recollection of religious persecution in 1930s Mexico. Another memory about him, my own this time, gave me pause for reflection.

Our family was living in Mexico City in 1966, having moved from Chicago to be near relatives. My parents rented a house next to my father’s sister and her family, at 38-A Altamirano Street in the San Rafael neighborhood.  Our other neighbor was Mr. Torres, an elderly retired professor who did not like Americans. Not long after we moved in, he denounced my father to the Federal Security Directorate, known informally as the Mexican “secret police.” The “crime” was speaking English in our home. 
At that time speaking a language other than Spanish at home could be grounds for suspicious or subversive activity against the then-authoritarian state. During the 1960s and 70s the Mexican government was at odds with left-wing and guerrilla groups in what was called the Dirty War.  The Mexican secret police were known for conducting surveillance on persons they deemed “suspicious” for any number of vague reasons. Hundreds of people were taken into custody during this period.  Many were tortured; some “disappeared” and were never seen again.  The secret police’s existence was as well known as their power was notably feared.

When my father came home from work one day, he was met by two of these plainclothes policemen and whisked away for questioning.  Before leaving, they allowed him to give a quick goodbye kiss to my mother (Joan Schiavon Huesca).  In what must have been a desperate whisper, he urged her to call his best friend and respected attorney, Licenciado Ocampo Alonso.

Mr. Ocampo Alonso told my mother not to panic. He reassured her that he would contact the American embassy and go down at once to the secret police headquarters to negotiate a release. He was optimistic that my father’s status as a naturalized American citizen would aid in his release but gave no guarantees.  He would have to move quickly.

Meanwhile, to be safe, he advised my mother to pack a suitcase and be ready to leave the country right away with my sisters and me in case my father was not home in four hours.  After that window of time, the chances of his returning were slim.

My mother said later that the wait felt like an eternity. I do not remember if anyone came over to be with her during that time, but how she made it still astounds me.  I do not know whether my little sisters were aware of the crisis at hand, but I remember asking my mother why she was packing a suitcase.  She sat me down and explained what had happened as calmly as she could.  She knew she could count on me to be mature and brave and to trust that God would bring my father back.

I was only 11 years old then, but I was the oldest child. I knew my mother was counting on me, but I felt scared, confused, and helpless. Fighting back tears, I ran up the two flights of stairs to our rooftop patio, where I could look across the courtyard adjoining our two houses into Mr. Torres’ study.

It was dusk.  The old man sat at his desk under a stark shadeless light bulb, intently folding and cutting out one string of paper dolls after another. I stared at him in disgust and disbelief. How he could do such a mindless thing without a care in the world while my daddy was being interrogated somewhere and we might never see him again?  Even at my young age, I could see the man must not have been in his right mind.

My father’s attorney obtained his release that evening.  When he walked through our front door, my mother, who had stayed strong for us all evening, burst into tears.  My father tried to hold back his emotion, too, but it was no use.  He cried as he threw his arms around her and us and held on tightly.

We later learned that he had not been charged with any wrongdoing.  I am sure he filled my mother in on the details, but as far as I know, he never talked about it beyond that and tried to forget those hours of fear and dread.

It must be terrifying to be in such jeopardy and have no control over your outcome, to not know whether you would ever see your loved ones again or you would even make it out alive. Though I clearly remember feeling frightened for my father and for our family, I cannot even begin to imagine all the thoughts that must have gone through his head.

Only now do I see that this experience, coupled with his personal witness to religious persecution in the 1930s, were defining moments in my father’s life.  They must have had a lot to do with why he lived with a sense of uncertainty and reserve.

Next:  Thankful Thursday:  Life’s Lessons, Part 3 – The Forces that Shape Us

To read the other installments in this three part series, please click on the links below:

Part 1:  Church Record Sunday – Life’s Lessons: Unbreakable Faith

Part 3:  Thankful Thursday – Life’s Lessons:  The Forces that Shape Us


Copyright ©  2013  Linda Huesca Tully

Did you know Gilbert Huesca, or are you a member of the Huesca family? Share your memories and comments below.



4 Thoughts to “Wisdom Wednesday: Life’s Lessons, Part 2 – The Defining Moments

  1. How terrifying for your parents! I am again astounded by my ignorance of this part of Mexican history – our close neighbor. But I was just a girl at the time too. Every experience shapes who we are in some way.

  2. Thank you for your welcome comments, Kathy! It may have had something to do with not wanting to resurrect the pain of that era that kept people from talking about it. Mexico has progressed since then, and its leadership continues to work hard to open dialogue and address complex issues in constructive ways. Like people, a country's history influences its ways.

  3. Wow. You should really write a book, Linda! Your poor father. I'm just imagining the taciturn fathers and grandfathers that I know. I think they would have handled this situation exactly the same way – with quiet strength. I'm so glad this turned out the way it did!

    And I wonder about that old man… Have you forgiven him? (Nosy question, I know.) It sounds like bitterness had eaten away at him. Making paperdolls while a father is torn from his family…

  4. Thank you for your observations, Jennifer! You ask a great question about the old man. Yes, I have forgiven him. Again, it comes down to not knowing what another person has gone through in his or her life that causes them to do certain things. God knows I would want forgiveness for the mistakes I have made.

    A priest I know recently said that one of the only things we get to bring with us to Heaven is forgiveness. Life is too short to not forgive another. If we don't do it now, one day it may be too late, and then who knows what damage we may cause them – and ourselves?

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