Juanita Maestas is a member of the Solid Ground Advisory Council, the Statewide Poverty Action Board, and a fierce advocate for people struggling to get by in our communities. She is also a cousin of Roberto Maestas, the longtime civil rights leader who recently passed away. Roberto is fondly remembered and was much eulogized for his legacy: founder of El Centro de la Raza, founder of the Minority Executive Directors Coalition, and one of the Four Amigos of multi-cultural organizing. A few weeks after he died, Juanita sat down with me to share a more personal set of memories about Roberto and his lasting impact on her family. This is Part Two of three-part interview. You can read Part One here.
Now, Roberto was the kind of man that always had a Styrofoam coffee cup full of coffee. When he’d start, when he would leave his office, it would be full. By the time he got to where he was going it would be half empty. You could see the coffee dots everywhere, down the stairs, just everywhere.
A big thing that he taught me is, don’t let people bring you down. I’ve gone to his meetings, once we went to a party with lawyers. Lawyers that are high-class lawyers. I was so embarrassed to be in there because here I am low-class. I’m up here with Roberto on the high-class, and I’m like, “What am I doing here?”
He’s like, “It’s ok, Mija, come on, I’ll introduce you.” And it gave me so much to watch the way he talked to people, the way he does things. And he is quick, very quick. I’ve never seen somebody so into what they are doing.
Once at his office I said to him, “It’s like you live here.”
He’s like, “Mija, sometimes I’m on the couch. I can’t go home, I’m tired.”
One time I found him in a meeting in his office. He’s like “Mija, go get me some food.”
And I said, “OK, Roberto.” And I set up a table for him with the food and everything. He goes, “Would you like to stay?”
“Sure, why not.” So he put me in the corner, but everybody who came in he introduced me. Larry Gossett – I remember Larry Gossett because they were very, very close – and a couple of other people from Eastern Washington. They come in and to hear him talk – he’d speak English and then Spanish, English and Spanish. And you know, Larry Gossett is just sitting back there, going, “Uh huh, uh huh!” I’m like, “OK, look at these guys. Look at Roberto work!” They listened to him.
I told him, “One of these days I am going to walk in your footsteps. I may not be as great as you are. But I will be out there. I will carry on something that you gave me.”
I was up to see him, maybe the last two months of his life. My grandson Anthony was just crawling and I went up there and Roberto looked different.
And I was like, “He’s all skinny, is he ok?”
And he was like, “Mija, come in, come in.” And he’s on the phone. I’m looking at him, and I bring Anthony in. And he goes, “Ok, ok, I’ll call you back.” Hung up. He goes, “Who’s this?”
And I go, “This is Jessica’s son, Anthony.”
And he goes, “ANTHONY!” and he went and grabbed his cheeks!
I said, “It’s another generation!” He goes: “Yeahhh!” And Jeremy came walking in and he goes, “Who’s this?”
I said, “This is Jeremy.”
He said, “Oh, my gosh, you are such a handsome man, come here.” And he went and grabbed Jeremy’s cheeks.
He said, “What’s that on your face?”
And Jeremy is like, “Hair, man.” It was just funny
He looked at me and he goes, “How you doing?”
I say: “I’m trying to get active, I’m trying to do what I got to do, get out there and let people know that this world is not what they expect or think it is.”
And he goes, “You know, you are going to have a lot of people telling you that you can’t do it. Don’t listen to them. If I listened to them I would have never got where I’m at now.” He goes, “Remember your culture; remember who you ARE. Remember that and nobody is going to take you down.”
And I said, “You know what, I never told you thank you.”
And he goes, “For what? Mija, it’s in the blood, you are going to be just as mean as I am!”
And I said, “You are not mean, you know that.” He started laughing.
I said, “Let me see your coffee cup.”
And he said, “Oh yeah, it’s right here.” And there was like half a cup of coffee. And I’m looking, he says, “What you looking for?”
And I say, “Coffee marks!”
And he’s like, “Oh, I know, I cleaned it up…”
So I took a drink of coffee and I said thank you. And that is the last time I seen him. And then I heard what happened.
To be continued…
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