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 Three of a three-part interview. You can read Part One here, and Part Two here.
Roberto’s passing is a great loss to us because we have no more. Me and the kids have no more aunts and uncles on my dad’s, the Maestas, side. We have nobody.
My son came to me yesterday and said, “You know what, I want to be a Maestas.” He goes, “If something happens to you, I am going to take over your place.” And that is like the most beautiful thing somebody can say to you, “I want to take over.” You know, “Don’t worry, I got you.”
I remember saying that to Roberto: “I’m learning. You put my foot in the door. I’ve done the walking. I know you watch me. I know you kept tabs on me.”
And today my son is like, “Teach me what you know.” And I’ve never heard that. And so I know what Roberto felt like when people were like, “Teach us, we want to know, we want to learn.”
So I am going to do that for my son for Christmas; he is going to get his name changed.
When he found out Roberto had passed, he was down for an hour crying. “Why? Why? We have nobody left.” He’s a Maestas, my son, he has to carry the name. And he knows that and it is a big burden on him. ‘Cause it is like he has own thinking, his own ways.
But I said, “Remember, Roberto will walk with you, through everything that you are going through.”
He’s gonna pick up where I left off. By my son being around Roberto when he was younger, you know, going in and listening.
I’d go: “OK, we have to go help Roberto today. OK, what can we do.” We’d help with mailings, all that. Roberto would come down to see who all is down there.
And losing Roberto to us – you know, you want to ask him more questions, you are not done. To us he is not done. To him, he’s like, “OK, I did what I did, somebody else take over” – his children, his daughters, his wife. But, you know, we will take over in our own ways and still represent that. And it is a great loss. And we struggle with that every single day now.
I look at my son every day now and I say, “What are you going to do? Life is too short, you’ve got to find your way, you’ve got to make something of yourself.” He’s 17, he’ll be 18 in June.
Today for him to come and tell me – I mean that is pretty big for a 17-year-old. And he’s like, “Let me see the project you are working on. Let me see what you are doing, how it is going to affect everybody.” He says, “Mom, I’m not into politics, but I will get into them, just show me.”
I’m glad to have him do that. But like I said, Maestas is a loss not only to the people out there, but to us too, and he is in our hearts.
The thing that he loved the most was his El Centro. That was his home. All the kids in the Day Care – he would go down there and try and grab every single one of their cheeks – he had this cheek pinching thing. He called them all his kids. You know, “I’m gonna go see my babies down there.”
Everybody has lost a warrior. We lost a warrior and a family member. He wouldn’t want us to sit around crying for him. Because he is more like, “Get out there and do something. What would I have done? Get out there and be happy, I lived my life. I left a legacy for somebody else to carry on.” Always remember that: Roberto still lives and that is all we can do.