August 24, 2007

Xochitl’s Last Dream: the Gates of Heaven Were Open

By Mark R. Day

Alfredo Figueroa eulogizes his daughter Xochitl Gamez Figueroa in Blythe, Calif.

When Xochitl Gamez Figueroa lie dying, she told her mother that the gates were open and it was time for her to go. After her three year-long battle with cancer, Xochitl, 36, passed away Aug. 11, leaving behind her husband Dionicio and six childen, the youngest only a year old.

Xochitl (which means “flower” in Nahuatl), was the youngest of eight children born to Alfredo and Demesia Figueroa in the desert town of Blythe, Calif. on the banks of the Colorado River.

The Figueroa’s earned their livelihood as miners for several generations and have become legendary for their work on behalf of the Chicano and immigrant community in the Pajaro Valley and throughout southern California.

Over the years, the Figueroa’s have developed close ties to the Chicano movement in San Diego, working on farm worker and immigration issues. In Blythe, the Figueroa children were classmates of musician Ramon Chunky Sanchez and brother Rick of Los Ala-cranes, San Diego’s best known Chicano band.

When the United Farm Workers began their strike in 1965, Cesar Chavez appointed Alfredo as an organizer in the Pajaro Valley. He later took an active role nationally in the grape boycott.

In the early 1970’s, when high school officials in Blythe prohibited teenagers from wearing UFW support buttons, the students, including the Figueroa’s children, staged several walkouts.

The dispute became so bitter that the Figueroas decided to start their own alternative school, La Escuela de la Raza Unida (ERU). The school, still in existence, is administered by Carmela Figueroa and husband Rigoberto Garnica. The Figueroa’s also founded a nonprofit clinic and a day care center in Blythe.

ERU has radio station KERU on campus. When Xochitl was 12-years-old, she began working there as a disc jockey and was arguably the youngest licensed broadcaster in the U.S. She also developed her skills in ballet folklorico and was known for her joke telling and sense of humor.

After graduating from ERU, she attended Palo Verde Community College and started her career as a drug and alcohol counselor at the Amity Foundation located at the Ironwood State Prison. Later she started her own business, “Stars Creations and Clown Around Bouncers.”

Before she passed away on Aug. 11, Xochitl composed a letter to her friends. She wrote:

I take nothing with me but precious memories from each and every one of you who brought me happiness and joy. Remember the good times. Don’t cry and don’t mourn.

Keep me in your hearts. My journey on this earth has come to an end, and I am now in God’s hands. His love is boundless and his love is endless. There are no more tears. He took all my fear and hurt away.

The Lord has blessed me. I am peaceful and calm. My spirit is free at last. He opened the door and let me in the door that I so often saw in my dreams. So don’t cry for me. Just pray for me until we meet again.

Xochitl passed away on August 11, 2007. Her rosary and funeral were attended by more than 300 mourners who crowded into St. Joan of Arc Church in Blythe. She was buried at the Palo Verde Cemetery.

Xochitl Gamez Figueoa is survived by her husband, Dionicio Gamez and six children: Eric Grijalva, 17, Estrella, 11, Dionicio Jr., 9, Anaquin, 8, Citlali, 6, and Marco Xol, 1, all of Blythe.

Surviving sisters and brother-in-laws are: Carmela and Rigoberto Garnica of Blythe, Patricia Figueroa of Palm Desert, Maria and Nicolas Rivera of Blythe, Guadalupe Figueroa of Blythe, Angelica and Johnny Rodriguez of Blythe; brothers, Alfredo Figueroa Jr., of Blythe, Jesus and Humberto Figueroa of Blythe, 39 nephews and nieces, and her parents, Alfredo and Demesia Figueroa of Blythe.

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