Generations: How Dreams Create Opportunity
I was in high school when we learned that my Grandfather had fallen from a ladder in his garage while trying to change a light bulb. He was in his eighties, but he was ambitious and stubborn, both traits that run deep in our family. His name was Julio Vazquez, and despite all odds, he came to United States of America from Puerto Rico during World War II and flourished. My Grandfather passed away shortly after his unexpected fall, and it left the family in a state of shock, especially my Grandmother who was certainly not prepared to lose him. We all flew down to Florida where they had retired, and we began making preparations. While searching through old photos with my Grandmother, I came across one of Grandpa sitting in an open field in Puerto Rico and holding a guitar. He was surrounded by what appeared to be enchanted women, and he wore a smile wider than the size of his face. I pointed at the picture, and Grandma said, “Yes, your Grandpa always wanted to play that thing. It’s underneath the bed. If you want it, you can have it.”
The guitar was in terrible condition and impossible to play, but it was accompanied by a beautiful strap. To this day, I keep the strap close by, and I think about what it took to give me the opportunities I have had in life.
My Grandfather lost his mother at a very young age. He had two siblings: a sister and a brother. His father could not handle the responsibility, so he gave the children up for adoption. The best we know is that Grandpa was separated from his siblings and he struggled, living in extreme poverty. During the war, he came to the United States to work as a welder at Bethlehem Steel in Baltimore. Without the ability to speak English and without any education, my Grandparents raised three children, all of whom have children of their own who also have children of their own. My Grandmother is now ninety-seven, still alive, healthy, and well taken care of.
After Grandpa passed, I became dedicated to learning about our heritage and where we came from. It led me to developing a relationship with our Puerto Rican family, many of whom I had never met. It turned out that somehow, the once separated siblings found each other. At a time long before the technology that we now know, my Grandfather and his siblings all found one another and maintained a strong bond. His brother and sister never left Puerto Rico. Many of their children and grandchildren live there to this day, and we are one very large family spread out across the island and the mainland.
My family is Puerto Rican. We are proud of our heritage, where we come from, and the sacrifices taken to give us choices in life. Seeing our beautiful homeland ravaged by the hurricane over the past week has been difficult. Not being able to reach family for days has been difficult. Knowing what it will take to repair the damage and restore Puerto Rico to its natural beauty is difficult. But...if there is one thing that I learned from my Grandfather, it is that difficult is not an excuse. It is an opportunity. Puerto Ricans are resilient, hopeful, cheerful, warm, and open people. I have to believe that the events of the last week will lead to a renaissance in Puerto Rico, their culture, and economy. I must have hope beyond what I see because that it is what our family’s history has taught me.
The guitar strap reminds me to be grateful, humble, generous, ambitious, and so much more. It reminds me that the dreams one generation worked toward, the next generation continued, and so on down the line. My Grandfather loved music. When he danced, he was the life of the party. From what I have learned, he always wanted to play, but as an orphan, music lessons were not an option. But the spirit of music was passed down in our family. My father became a musician and retired as the chief percussionist of the United States Navy band after twenty-six years of service. It has been ten years since I first moved to Los Angeles to become a musician myself. Since then, the guitar has taken me to stages in over seventy countries spread out over five continents. Today I am blessed to write this article for students, families, friends, and supporters of our very own music school. And it's all thanks to my Grandfather for giving me opportunities and the passion to play music.