History Colorado is gathering and sharing memories that celebrate our state’s rich Hispano culture. Here, Lily Griego shares the seventh in our monthly series produced exclusively withThe Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
Veterans Day is quickly approaching. I’ve always known that my grandfather, Juan Domingo “JD” Romero, was a veteran of World War II, but I didn’t know much about the details.
I recently took a road trip with my mom to New Mexico to visit familia. We traveled Highway 285 and enjoyed the gorgeous Colorado landscape. Our primos insisted that we stop to honor our ancestors’ graves with flowers, which led to a spiritual and educational journey for me.
We made our way into San Luis, Colorado. The oldest town in the state. The rain had just stopped, and we struggled to find fresh flowers. Nevertheless, we found the cemetery and the actual graves of my great-grandparents and great uncle. The cemetery is filled with Hispanic surnames and the souls of those who originally settled in southern Colorado long ago.
I will forever remember how my mom asked that I not take photos, but I did anyway, because a photo is worth a thousand words and my spirit was filled with so many emotions. She gently wept when she saw their names and began to speak about her memories of her childhood. She shared that her grandfather would place her on his lap, handing her a pair of scissors to cut his mustache. She described in intimate detail, all in Spanish of course, how he would advise her to cut straight across and how he trusted her to do it. The tradition of oral history continued for the next few days, and I am blessed by it.
After meeting our family for dinner, we gathered around a kitchen table to “visit” and look at photos. I sat and listened to my family laugh and cry over powerful memories and stories that are their lives, and my history. It was there that I saw the photos of my grandfather in his uniform for the first time. I was moved by the men in my family who served with steadfast loyalty to the USA and who left families at young ages. They came back home with the horror of war ingrained in their minds to work the land of Colorado and continue to be good citizens. Our honor of veterans is a time-held tradition, and on Veterans Day, I’m glad we take a moment to say thank you to the men and women who serve and protect us, some giving the ultimate sacrifice. But as a Latina with family roots ingrained in Colorado history, I pay homage to the Hispanos who served and come home to a place that to this day struggles to find a place for the Hispano, the Latino, the Chicano and the brown people of our state. It doesn’t have to be a complicated history, but it often is.
I often wonder if JD would be proud of his granddaughter, who frequently works equal pay into everyday conversations, noting not only the pay gap between men and women, but for Latinas in comparison to our white sisters. I wonder if he’d be confused by the fact that my parents opted not to speak Spanish at home, but I worked hard to learn it in school. I do know that my family continues to honor the men and women who serve our country every day. We especially reflect on the face of sadness of any mother who sees her son leaving for war. We honor the lives well lived by the men of our family who went to war because they were told to and served with glory and pride in America and then came back home to a place where they eventually returned to dust in San Luis, Colorado.
I’ll continue to study my history in Colorado and my genealogy, and to stare into these photos praying that my grandfather is equally honored with the work of his generations here and forevermore.