Posted By Luis J. Rodriguez on March 8, 2005
At 18 years old—some 32 years ago—I was on drugs, barely out of jail, and somewhat suicidal (in an outwardly, gang-violent kind of way) when I climbed onto a plane at LAX to the San Francisco Bay area. It was the first time I ever set foot on an airplane. Despite my tough demeanor, I was scared to death.
I survived, however, to take part in the Quinto Sol Chicano Literary Awards celebration in Berkeley, hosted by Dr. Octavio Romano and Herminio Rios. In 1973, I was given an honorable mention for a group of vignettes I called “Barrio Expressions.” I had been writing bits and pieces of my life and thoughts in juvenile hall and adult jails since I was 15. Then with the help of a teacher and a school administrator, my pieces were retyped and submitted to this prestigious contest that had given recognition to Chicano greats Tomas Rivera and Rudy Anaya.
The winners of the Quinto Sol award that year were Rolando Hinojosa and Estela Portillo Trambley. I was honored to meet them. I was the least known and, for sure, the least skilled. But they treated me with respect and dignity.
A year after this trip, I quit heroin, cold turkey. And I began to seriously dream about a real writer’s life (which I finally embarked on seven years later).
I have just received news that Dr. Octavio Romano passed away this past week. I am deeply saddened by this loss. I want to convey my deepest condolences to his family and many countless friends.
Dr. Romano will forever stand as the leading light of Chicano letters. He had the vision and fortitude to go far beyond whatever existed before. He helped launch the careers of so many Chicano writers and artists in the literary publication “El Grito,” and later through his Tonatiuh Publishing.
I am indebted to his efforts–and to being able to see this once lost indigenous Chicano youth and find a poet and writer. He was so encouraging and supportive of my small but important writing attempts those many years ago. Now I have eight published books in poetry, children’s literature, fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. My first novel, “Music of the Mill,” is being published this April by Rayo Books/HarperCollins; in the fall, my poetry collection, “My Nature is Hunger: New & Selected Poems,” will be out by Curbstone Press/Rattle Magazine.
I can truly say I would not be here today if not for Dr. Octavio Romano. Descanse en paz, hermano.