As the sky turned deep purple and with Bernal Hill as our backdrop we gathered on an unusually warm night yesterday to show our love for our dear friend Eric. One by one more than 100 of us came. Parents—gay and straight—with young children arrived and kids played in the playground. Latinos—U.S.- born and immigrants—African Americans, African and Arab social justice workers, neighbors, childhood friends, political artists, soccer teammates, city government workers and local business owners – we all came together. As we gathered with each of us with our heavy hearts, we found peace in being together, each of us holding a different relationship with our beloved Eric, some going back 40 years, others five or less and a couple just came to witness a community honoring one of its leaders, each of us wanting to express our love for him and to let the family know they are not alone.
We lit candles as the night was born. Children gathered around the light and we called all to come together. Wendy welcomed people and gave the instructions for the night. “We will walk quietly to his house and stand in silence sending out love.” I translated into Spanish. Then we formed a long procession and we walked two by two to his house. As we walked up the last hill near his house I turned to look and saw that we filled the whole block. People driving by slowed and looked – we must have looked like a group doing Posadas in Mexico or in Eric’s beloved Guatemala.
Eric’s home was lit and as we came in some of his family members were waiting for us with hot coffee, agua fresca and pan dulce. We walked up to the front window one by one and placed our plants on the ground, said a prayer and put our candles on a long table at the front of the house. Some of us paid our respects to Eric’s mom and cried with her as we shared our love and strength. We formed a large circle in the front of the house and held hands, closed our eyes, said a prayer and said our goodbyes.
After 30 minutes, Wendy and I encouraged people to walk back to the park but no one moved. We stood in silence for over an hour and a half as more people came with flowering plants and candles. Some wept, some whispered and shared stories, and all of us hugged and held each other tight. With and without words we expressed our love for each other and for the beautiful community we are building, all of us committing to continue the good fight Eric fought for immigrant rights, for housing rights, and politics rooted in justice for the poor.
At some point a neighbor began to play some soulful Irish pipe music for us – we stood in silence and shared the beautiful sounds. A neighbors’ dog picked a fight with a dog in our group. A child began to cry and some parents began to walk away. The rest of us stayed. Some of us laughed about how “you know you are in the Latino home, when a large jug is filled with Kool-Aid instead of water.”
Wendy and I looked at each other that night with tears in our eyes and not believing that that moment was there, the moment we had all dreaded and that for some many months we fought against. She said “You know, Eric always said that we are all replaceable. Funny, though, I can’t imagine how we are going to keep going without him.” And it is true. Few people have such a deep relationship with people in our community, the clarity of revolutionary politics, the energy, the unstoppable work ethic, and the courage to say the truth and take on anyone who needs to be challenged in defense of community.
As I walked back down the hill to the park, a man I had never met told me a story about how Eric had befriended him and connected him to SF when he moved here 6 years ago. “I didn’t work with him,” he said. “I just played soccer with him but he helped me settle here and we became close friends.” That story represents so much of who Eric was – a San Franciscan committed to the values of inclusion and of welcoming the stranger and making him/her feel the love.
Waking up to the news that Eric had left us this morning made me realize that he would not have had it any other way. He waited for us, his community, to organize one last action and pay our respect to his life’s force, to his work for this community, and to the energy he invested in each of us as his friends. I am sure that deep in his heart and spirit he could feel us outside his home – todos juntos y presentes!
Now we each have to step up and keep his fight, our fight, going and we can’t stop until SF is the city we all know we can be. A city committed to defending the rights of the poor, the discriminated, and the newcomer -a city where families can afford to raise their children and where African American and Latinos alike will not be pushed out. In working for this vision – we say Eric Quezada, Presente!
Ana. C Perez is the executive director of the Central American Resources Center (CARECEN).