Growing up I was taught there was nothing more important then family. La familia was what defined you and how you left your mark - legacy if you will - in this world. A Mexican boy would often inherit the name of his father and would be called "Junior" or his name would end in an "ito" - as in Manuelito, what I was called as a child. This was a form of the family's patriarch passing down his name to a new generation. I consider it an honor.
I understood that world. I wanted to be like my father. He was a decorated World War II veteran. He had but a third grade education, but he could read and write with the best of them. Mexican American boys just didn't get an education back then, I feel. They had to work, and he did. When I was growing up, he was a truck driver. For a 6 to 8-year-old boy, that seemed like the best job in the world. Wow, having a big ol' truck to drive all over the state of Texas. Wow!!! I couldn't wait to do that, and at times he would take me with him.
My father died in a car accident when I was nine. The next day, my name changed. I was no longer Manuelito or Memito (another endearing term for Mexican boys whose name is Manuel). I became, MANUEL. Period. I was now the only Manuel in the immediate family and the "ito" part was dropped over night. It was both an awesome feeling of responsibility and a scary notion. I suddenly realized I was expected to work to provide for myself and my family.I was no longer considered a muchachito (little boy0. I was 9!!!! I also learned very quickly that I was the man of the family until someone else - a step dad who would later marry my mom - came along. He did and he is a wonderful man. Thank God! He was a blessing in my life and continues to be my pride and joy.
But, somewhere I lost my legacy and my definition of familia. I wanted to be like Manuel Flores Sr., so I joined the Army. I served 12 years in the Texas Army National Guard and Reserves and retired as a captain, but somehow all those years do not add up to squat when it came to my father's four years of surviving the Germans and their allies in World War II. I mean, he earned a Purple Heart and countless combat medals. Me? I went to Austin a weekend or two a month and partied on 6th Street on Friday and Saturday nights. Some training, huh? Oh, I also went to assorted Army forts throughout the nation to improve my military skills and did very well, earning two promotions. But legacy? Ha, no way.I left no legacy in the Army.
My only legacy I feel are my children, at this point. They are wonderful young people who have grown up right, no thanks to me, and who will make an impact in their world, thanks mostly to their mom. Now it is their responsibility to pass on traditions and build a legacy of their own. It is their job to show their children what familia means. I feel they will do a far better job than I have done. I wish them well in this world and I hope they instill a sense of familia in their youngsters so that they can pass on that value to a new generation of the Flores clan. Familia is very important. I will never forget that.