They brightened our lives

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By Stella Pope Duarte

Every year, as we celebrate el Día de los Muertos, we consider the lives of those who have brightened our lives, who have illuminated the darkness they have encountered and, by so doing, have inspired us to look deep within ourselves for the things that truly matter: faith, hope and love.

Virginia Eugenia Cárdenas

described by her husband, José Cárdenas, as his “dark-skinned beauty with a fantastic smile and a personality as gorgeous as her looks,” was considered one of Arizona’s first ladies in education, arts and in mentoring young Latinas.

An immigrant from Apizaco, Mexico, Virginia’s fiery nature and ability to overcome any obstacle in her way led her to excel in school and become a leader who stood up fearlessly for the immigrant community. Meeting her at age 14, José Cárdenas was enchanted with his bella morena, and their meeting led to their marriage on June 10, 1972. The couple moved to Phoenix in 1978. 

Virginia worked diligently on behalf of youth at Chandler High School and in the Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program at ASU. She served two terms as chair of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, and was actively involved in the board of Xico, Inc.

The couple’s home became a wondrous place for community members inspired by Virginia and José’s extensive collection of Mexican art. Warm and loving, Virginia invited all to her home, conscious of the beauty reflecting from every wall, and perhaps not realizing that her own beauty was the most radiant of all. 

We remember Virginia Cárdenas in her passing at the age of 60 on July 1, 2012, and reflect on José’s final tribute: “You can, I learned, fall in love with someone twice.”

Gustavo Gutierrez

tall, robust, his face so kindly, his smile so gentle it made everyone around him sense peace, power and a belief that we truly are united as one raza, los mejicanos. A powerful civil rights leader, Gustavo led with courage, dismissing his own needs, fully sacrificing his life for those who had no voice.

First in his mind were the farm workers, los campesinos, who toiled daily in the fields. Working side by side with César Chávez, he established the Arizona Chapter of the United Farm Workers in 1967. Appalled by the lack of social services for Mexican communities, he helped found Chicanos por la Causa in 1969. 

His marriage to Raquel C. Gutierrez (Ruiz) lasted 55 years. His family will long cherish the man who laughed, loved and held his beloved raza close to his heart. His daughter, Raquel Gutierrez, describes her father as a man who “will inspire emerging social change leaders for generations to come.” 

On September 1, 2012, at 80 years old, on a Peace and Dignity Journey in northern Arizona, Gustavo Gutierrez suffered injuries that led to his death and ushered his soul into God’s heavenly kingdom.

Art Macias, Jr. 

was described as a listener, someone who was always ready to encourage and motivate those around him. Formerly a director of the Arizona Lottery, Art was serving as chief of staff for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in Washington, D.C. Janet Napolitano described him as “a great friend and colleague who inspired many.” 

Art grew up in Douglas and, after graduating from Brandeis University in Boston with a B.A. in Economics, he ventured to France, earning a master’s degree in international management. Eventually, he came back to Arizona and married his wife, Gabriela.

Battling for his life, Art chose to leave his hospital bed and attend the birthday party for his two-year-old son, Arturo Macias, III. In spite of his illness, “he just wasn’t going to miss the party,” said his wife. 

On March 20, 2012, at 40 years old, Art Macias, exemplary, young leader made his way to heaven, yet left us the memory of his caring heart, his wit and humor.  

Lupe Ontiveros

beloved Mexican-American actress of stage and film will long be remembered for her 35 years in roles that include her portrayals of the murderous fan in Selena, a domineering mom in Real Women Have Curves and as Eva Longoria’s mother-in-law in Desperate Housewives.

Lupe, a native of El Paso, Texas, stood up for her raza, describing herself as “proud to represent those hands that labor in this country.” When asked how she felt about portraying so many maids, she remarked, “I’ve given every maid I’ve portrayed soul and heart.” Edward James Olmos said of her, “She has this incredible ability to make you believe.”

On July 27, 2012, at the age of 69, Lupe Ontiveros, prized actress of our community, succumbed to a battle with cancer. Surrounded by those she loved, she left behind the legacy of her vibrant career, and her love for the hard-working people she loved to portray. 

May these beloved of our community, who brightened our lives, now rest in peace.

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