Published on January 12th, 2014 | by Apuntes LJ0
The Prince of South Waco: American Dreams and Great Expectations
The following is an excerpt from The Prince of South Waco: American Dreams and Great Expectations
MY FATHER NEVER said so, but I always got the impression that he wished Henry Cisneros had been his son. Henry and I grew up at the same time in Texas in the 1960s, each of us attending Catholic schools in our respective hometowns and sometimes competing against each other in interscholastic league speech and drama contests. The only time my father attended one of those competitions, I believe he saw Henry deliver an interpretation of one of Abraham Lincoln’s addresses — the one appealing to the better angels within us — while I did two soliloquies from Hamlet using a Welsh accent I nailed from listening to a recording of Richard Burton.
My father was blown away — by Henry’s performance.
When he learned Henry had enrolled at Texas A&M, my father asked me to reconsider my choice of colleges. In the 1950s and 1960s, A&M was the place all Mexican-American military veterans wanted their sons to attend. It was the school where they could join the corps, graduate as second lieutenants and serve their country as officers.
“Dad, Henry’s the son of a general,” I said, lying. I had no idea what Henry’s father did. “He’ll be an officer. Heck, he’ll probably be president one day. I’m the son of an enlisted man. I can’t lead men on a football team, much less on a battlefield. I’m a rebel and an outlaw. You said so yourself.”
My father had once said writers were all rebels and outlaws, and I wasn’t about to let him forget it. All this came back to me years later when I read about Henry having prostate cancer. I prayed and hoped he would beat it. But what that news about Henry did was shake my foundation of well-being and forced me, for the first time, to seriously confront the mortality not only of someone so close to my dreams as a youth but also of myself as well.
Over the years, Henry’s life and mine have passed each other in Texas, Washington, Los Angeles and anywhere there were political conventions of any significance. I’ve interviewed Henry on occasions and, in our own ways, we’ve praised each other on our successes as well as consoled one another on our falls from grace, personally and professionally. People who grow up together invariably have nicknames for each other, monikers that we use behind their backs. I don’t know what Henry’s was for me, if there was one. I’ve heard them all from other friends and I imagine it might be something similar. Mine for Henry was Manolete, the Spanish bullfighter who rose to glory in the years after the Spanish Civil War. I called him Manolete because I have never seen a picture of Manolete smiling. He always seemed so serious, almost sorrowful and tragic. Henry struck me that way, even when he was smiling, as if something very sad was going on in his life. I’ve never thought of myself as a playboy; but, in contrast, you would have thought I was the life of the party.
“Henry, it’s only words,” I recall saying to him after a high school debate tournament. His team hadn’t won, but neither had mine. Henry, though, wore that game face, as if blaming himself or as if he were facing a firing squad or some fierce 2,000-pound animal in a bullring. “You’re a great debater. You’ll win the next competition.”
I think we all sensed that Henry was destined for true greatness, if anyone we knew ever was. He became mayor of San Antonio and the rising Latino star of the Democratic Party for his time. In 1984, Democratic Presidential Nominee Walter Mondale considered Henry as a running mate before choosing Rep. Geraldine Ferraro. In 1992, Henry finally made it on to the national political landscape when President Bill Clinton named him to his Cabinet. We all have our secrets, however, and Henry’s doomed him. He was found to have lied to the FBI about a mistress, hush payments to her, and a sordid affair that destroyed his dreams.
My father kept up with news reports of the investigation as if… well, as if Henry were his son. My father learned that a journalist in whom Henry had confided about the affair had betrayed him, and you would have thought I had been that writer who ratted him out.
“You work in a profession full of sons of bitches and Judases,” my father said to me at the time.
“And rebels and outlaws,” I reminded him.
A few years later, as my father lay on his deathbed, I wasn’t sure what else to say. We had made our peace, what we could anyway. I just wanted to say something more that would ease his final hours.
“Dad,” I said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t more like Henry Cisneros. I’m sorry I couldn’t fulfill your dreams. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t fulfilled my dreams either.”
My father shook his head, as if to protest. He had tears in his eyes, and I thought we would just sit there for a while longer.
“I don’t care about Henry,” he said, finally. “I care about you and what you did or tried to do. A father’s dreams for his son are never fulfilled. They’re just that — dreams. The important thing, and what I’m proud of you for, is that you had the courage to chase your own dreams. Your dreams — not someone else’s.”
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To learn more about Tony Castro visit his website at www.tonycastro.com