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Memorias from colleagues and former students

You may have your tribute to Professor Rojas posted below by sending an e-mail to Rodrigo Sanchez Chavarria at chicstud@umn.edu

From Anne Winkler-Morey

Kindness, Genius, Integrity; Professor Rojas had these in abundance. I
always felt respected, heard, and wiser in his presence.

From Laura Espondaburu

I had the fortune of having Professor Rojas as my advisor. He was an extraordinary teacher because he combined the passion for learning with a sincere love for his students. That love of his students led him to fulfill administrative chores for years as chair of Chicano Studies: without his efforts our department would not have survived.

Let’s hope that in our deeds we, his former students, will be able to honor his teaching and his example.

Hasta Siempre Don Guillermo!

From Linda Alvarez Alcantara

I just heard the news of Professor Rojas.  This is a difficult time for all of us, but know that for those of you who still had a constant interaction with Professor Rojas are deeply affected by his passing.  I send my condolences to everyone in the Chicano Studies department.

Unfortunately, I am regretful that it has been way too long since I have reconnected back to my roots at the U.  For me, this is a wake up call for me to reconnect with my familia at the U that I have been meaning to do for some time.  I gained so much from my experience there and it was professors like Rojas that really opened up my world to new things and forever changed my perspective on the world.

My thoughts are with everyone.  Please let me know if there is anything I can do.

Remembering the Smartest Chicano Humanitarian I have Ever Met: Dr.
Guillermo Rojas by Arcela Nunez-Alvarez

My family joined me for a two thousand-mile long ride and a seven-year
journey when I decided to pursue graduate studies at the University of
Minnesota (U). Soon after we arrived in Minneapolis and found an
apartment to live, I met Dr. Guillermo Rojas (Señor Rojas).  Before we
even had time to fully unpack, Conrado (my husband) and I decided to
have “a little get together” to meet other Chicanos in the area and at
the university. We invited Magdalena Sanchez (Magda), one of the
students I had met earlier, and asked her to let all the Chicanos know
about the gathering. Señor Rojas arrived early wearing a white
guayabera, introduced himself and immediately offered to help us get
ready for our party. We were already busy making salsa, carnitas, and
peeling shrimp for ceviche. We had started early in the morning by
taking a trip to El Burrito Mexican market in Saint Paul to pick up
all the ingredients so by the time Señor Rojas arrived, we were fully
involved. Even our kids, Flor and Marisol, were helping to prep and
cook. Gradually, people started arriving (Chicano time) and everyone
helped to finish preparing what would be a full feast to welcome and
meet new members of what would become our familia for years to come
and thereafter. By the end of the evening, we felt right at home . in
our new home in Minneapolis.  We met professors like Señor Rojas and
students who grew up in Minnesota, others who came from Texas, others
from East Los Angeles, and us . transplanted from San Diego. We
naturally formed a circle and introduced ourselves sharing where we
had come from and how we ended up in Minnesota. I welcomed everyone to
our place and mentioned that Conrado and I were Mechistas so were
looking for ways to promote culture and education. And, given that
September was fast approaching, I suggested that we host an event for
16 de Septiembre and everyone agreed. Right there and then we formed a
committee to help with the planning. As we were discussing what to
call our newly formed group, Señor Rojas suggested “El Ceviche”
committee. since we were in the middle of enjoying tostadas de ceviche
that Mario, one of our new friends, had just made we unanimously
agreed to be known as the cevicheros. From that moment on, and for the
duration of our stay in Minnesota, El Ceviche committee took over all
Chicano cultural and political events at the U. Señor Rojas told us
that it was so great to hear us talk about Chicanos because there
weren’t that many Chicanos around. He attended every meeting we had
and always, always taught us something new.

Señor Rojas became our most committed and trusted adviser, supporter
and ally. Most importantly, he became our friend and family,
especially welcomed for those of us who were so far away from family.
I quickly learned that his actions meant more than words could ever
express. In December, during our first winter in the Midwest, one
night when it was 40 degrees below zero, we were driving on extremely
icy conditions, lost control and crashed into a passing train at an
intersection. My truck was completely destroyed but luckily we escaped
without a scratch. Word traveled quickly about our accident, even in
the days without Face Book. Señor Rojas quickly called to check on us
and said he was thinking about us because he should’ve warned us what
it’s like to drive there in the winter . never drive faster than 25
and avoid being out on the road whenever possible, he said, especially
on nights when it’s 40 degrees below. We were glad to hear his words
of caution but it was too late for us. In fact, the accident made me
even question whether we should stay in Minnesota. what were we doing
there in the first place? Again, Señor Rojas encouraged us to get
through the difficult month ahead trying to get by without
transportation. The following week, our five year old daughter,
Marisol, became very ill with pneumonia and ear infections. I didn’t
have a car and once again, Señor Rojas heard that I needed to get to
the local community clinic and showed up at our door to take us to the
doctor. We spent several hours in the waiting room and Señor Rojas did
not leave our side during the entire time. I know he must have had
tons of things to do on campus but I was certainly grateful to be the
recipient of his time and generosity. When we finally got back home,
he insisted that I call him if I needed anything for the kids. I felt
bad having to call him so I didn’t. However, the following week, he
figured I didn’t have a car so I must be running out of groceries and
he showed up at our apartment to take me grocery shopping. Again, I
knew he must have had many more things to do, but I was once again
glad to see him because we had indeed run out of food. I loaded the
kids in his car and off we went grocery shopping at the Rainbow
grocery store. He would often show up on his way home just to check if
we needed anything until we got our car fixed. Even after we got our
car fixed, he called when the weather was really bad to remind us to
drive below the speed limit and to be careful driving on ice.

I’ve never met anyone with more humanity than Señor Rojas. He cared
and advocated for students in the classroom and outside of the
classroom every single day. I am truly fortunate to have met him and
to have been his student because he taught me as much about life and
survival as he did about academia. and I learned new vocabulary every
time I talked to him. Señor Rojas, gracias.

From Susan Green

This morning, a great man passed away; my adviser and friend,
Guillermo Rojas. Guillermo was the one who took me aside after taking
3 Chicano Studies classes at the U of MN and asked me: “Have you ever
thought about majoring in Chicano Studies?” He changed my life, to put
it simply. He taught me to love poetry, and to critically analyze
literature. He spun a yarn like no one I ever met; one of my favorites
was about being in Austin the day Kennedy was killed.
He was a good judge of character. He always told me to measure the
worth of a person’s words “by the labor they put on the table.” Talk
was cheap. Action invaluable. He left me with one charge for the
remainder of my years: “to create as many, if not more opportunities,
for young people as I had.” I think about those words every day in
relationship to my own work.

Below is a link to one of his policy papers. Reading it reminded so much of listening to him speak. When he starts you would wonder:
“where the hell is he going with this…?”, then there would be a
brief moment of panic when you thought he might have truly lost his
discursive way this time, but then at the end is the “A-HA” moment he
always had in his mind, but you had yet to see. Take a moment
to read of this great man, for through his influence on me, you have
also been influenced by him.
———————————————————————-
Humphrey Center Paper:

http://www.hhh.umn.edu/centers/wilkins/guillermo_rojas_paper.html

From Gilberto Vazquez

Don Guillermo was my friend but, above all, he was an educator, both thoughtful and passionate, and an amazing mentor. Throughout the years in which I was the Advisor for La Raza Student Cultural Center I became acquainted with plenty of incoming students that took one or more of his classes; it was thus that I witnessed directly how, because of him, they were inspired and transformed and how their understanding and consciousness were raised and enlightened. But his teaching went beyond the mere act of passing on knowledge: I also witnessed over and over again the respect and consideration he showed to all students.

Don Guillermo also consistently showed that commitment and solidarity can only be meaningful when they are practiced. That’s precisely how he did it. Among many other things, every time that La Raza needed his help, time and advice (and that happened frequently), he gave it all. And, yes, on top of all that help and support, he always had a story to narrate, an anecdote to tell that both illuminated the issue and made those meetings enjoyable, interesting and memorable.

I remember all of this but also remember his sense of humor, his expansive personality, his resonant voice, his no-nonsense style, his consistency —since the very first time I met him until the very last time I talked with him, he always and naturally was a real “valedor” because, also simply and naturally, he was “gente franca y buena, que hace lo que dice y dice lo que hace”. And that, by itself, is a whole life lesson that he gave to us all.

Gracias, Don Guillermo. ¡Hasta siempre!

 

From Roberto Calderon

We met Guillermo Rojas only once or twice in person.  We served together on the NACCS national coordinating board for a stretch in the late 1990s.  I remember most clearly having met and spoken with Guillermo at the 26th Annual NACCS Conference held during the spring of 1999.  The conferencia was hosted by the UT San Antonio, Downtown Campus.  What I remember of my meeting Guillermo was of having the feeling of his being someone that you had known for a long time almost as if you had been old friends.  I had the privilege of having a long leisurely lunch during the conference with Profs. Guillermo Rojas and Adaljiza Sosa-Riddell.  It was the only time I would have the pleasure of doing this with either one.  I knew then that Guillermo was from South Texas and that he held a special place somewhere for the thought of wanting to return home. (I guess Minnesota had become home too.)  And while he may not have physically done so in life it looks like in death he will get his wish and indeed return to his beloved Victoria and the Río Guadalupe.  To his family, friends, students, and colegas, our condolences always for a camarada who led a purposeful life of the mind, of doing, learning, loving, teaching, writing, being all those things that matter in the end and that connect us to the world and its peoples and most of all our own terruño, the one we are never entirely able to let go.  We are as much a part of it as it is a part of us.  Te jala.  The power of place is mutual.  Life is continuity, death is too.  Bienvenido a Tejas querido Guillermo y buena jornada.  Por ahí te iremos llegando tod@s tarde o temprano.  Adelante. – Roberto R. Calderón, Historia Chicana [Historia]