Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Today's guest blogger: Tim Z. Hernandez, author of Manana Means Heaven

Tim Z. Hernandez
Today we are privileged to present a post by guest blogger, Tim Z. Hernandez, award-winning author whose latest book, MaƱana Means Heaven, tells the story of Bea Franco, Jack Kerouac's model for the "Mexican Girl" in his acclaimed novel, On the Road. We reviewed Tim's book here on The Daily Beat on July 31, 2013. It's one you definitely want to put on your reading list.

Before we get to Tim's blog, here is some important information.

Tim's book can be easily and securely purchased online at the University of Arizona Press website: http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/Books/bid2426.htm

More information about Tim and his work can be found on his website: http://timzhernandez.com/

If you are interested in other stops on Tim's blog tour promoting his books, here is his "virtual" itinerary.

Tim Z. Hernandez Blog Tour:
Monday, September 16 | Stephanie Nikolopoulos blog http://stephanienikolopoulos.com/blog/
Tuesday, September 17 | The Daily Beat http://thedailybeatblog.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, September 18 | La Bloga http://labloga.blogspot.com/
Thursday, September 19 | The Big Idea http://www.jasonfmcdaniel.com/
Friday, September 20 | The Dan O’Brien Project http://thedanobrienproject.blogspot.com/
Saturday, September 21 | Impressions of a Reader http://www.impressionsofareader.com/

Below is Tim's guest blog, preceded by two pictures of Bea he graciously shared with us. Thanks again, Tim, and good luck with the rest of your tour. And thanks to the University of Arizona Press for orchestrating this opportunity and being great to work with!

Bea and sister Angie, Selma, Ca, circa 1947
Photo used by permission of the Bea Kozera Estate, copyright 2013

Note from the Author:

What follows here are excerpts from the journal I kept while looking for Bea Franco. This occurred from 2008-2010. At one point, around summer of 2009 I was starting to get desperate, and had decided I would give up my search for her and just write the book based on what little I did know. I had hired a Private Investigator named “Adreann,” and this is who I am referring to here. It would be a year after these entries that I would finally locate Bea Franco. 

July 29, 2009

Adreann wont let me give up. I emailed her with the news that I’m done searching for Bea. If I don’t stop now I’ll go crazy, I explained. I’m a writer, and this will have to be a book of fiction, connected loosely by historical facts from what I already have. I don’t need more info, I stress to her, I have enough to move forward. But she wont let up. We’re almost there, she says, so close, can’t give up now. She sends me this message in a text. She’s a private investigator, so I guess it’s her job to be persistent. In any case, the retainer fee’s already run out and last week she told me she was doing this pro bono. This book has to be published, she said, and I don’t want it to fall short because of me. I tell her I wont hold it against her. I’ll still put her in the credits. It’s done, I say, and thank you for all of your work on this, Adreann, I appreciate it, really. No problem, she replies. The next day she sends me an email; more questions, possibilities, new doors opened.   

August 15, 2009
Today I dialed every last Franco in both the Fresno and Selma Yellow Pages, starting with the only two Bea’s. The first one lived near Peach and Olive. I drove out to the shoddy apartment complex the whole time thinking to myself, there’s no way Bea would live out her remaining years in this dump. I just couldn’t see it. With its faded orange stucco and black iron gates wilting in the dry heat. My cell phone was dead so I had to call from the payphone at Lucky Liquors across the street. A woman’s soft voice answered.   
     “Hi, I’m looking for Bea Franco.”
     “I’m Bea,” she said.
     “This is gonna sound crazy, but I’m writing a book about a woman named Bea Franco.” I had to talk fast. “I know you’re not her because you sound too young, but is it possible that you are named after a grandmother? Or aunt? Or…”
     “I’m sorry, you have the wrong person,” she said politely.
     “Wait,” I said, before she could hang up. “Just in case you are related to a Bea Franco, can I give you my number?”
     I gave her the number and hung up.
     A short while after, an idea struck me. I opened the Selma phone book again and dialed the number of the Superintendent of schools. He answered, and I told my dilemma, asking him about the elementary schools that were in Selma during the early 30’s. Before we hung up he gave me two names. 
     “There are only two Franco families in this town,” he said.
     “Any chance you could put me in contact with them?” I asked.
     “Let me see what I can do.”
      The next morning there was an email in my inbox from his secretary. It read:

      Mr. Hernandez I am a good friend with both Franco families in Selma. This is why
      Mr. Scarbrough asked me to email you. Below are the phone numbers to both
      families. Good luck! –Yvette Salazar 


      Mrs. Salazar, thank you for your help with locating the Franco families. Will they be 
     expecting me to call them? Tim

     Mr. Hernandez I called them last night to ask if it was okay for you to call them. It is
     fine. They know. Good luck. –Yvette


The first number I called a young girl answered. I asked to speak with her father or mother. She said they were not there but that she would pass my message on to them. I told her about my book, and the research, to which she replied, “I don’t think we’re the Franco family you’re looking for. All of my relatives live in Texas. My family hasn’t been here that long.”
     “Still,” I said, “could you please have your father contact me?”
     I tried the second number. 
     When the woman answered the phone I could tell by her voice that she was elderly. She was reluctant to speak with me at first, until I told her I was a friend of Yvette Salazar’s. She agreed to answer a few questions.
     “I’m not the woman you’re looking for,” she assured me.
     “If you don’t mind I’d like to ask you some questions anyway, just to make sure?”
     “Go right ahead.”
     “How long have you lived in Selma?” I started in.
     “All my life.”
     “Would you mind telling me how old you are?”
     “Eighty seven.” 
     I could feel my stomach roll over. Her age was about right. “Do you have any brothers or nephews, or maybe even a son, named Albert?” 
     “Why are you asking me this?”
     “I’m sorry, ma’am, it’s just that the woman I’m looking for has a son named Albert.”
     “Well, I don’t.”
     “Are you sure?”
     “Of course I’m sure,” she said. “My boys names are George and Felipe.”
     “How about a daughter named Patsy, or Patricia?”
     “I told you I’m not the person you’re looking for. You got the wrong person.”
     I had to talk fast. “Ma’am,” I said, “can you answer just two more questions? Was there ever cotton in Selma?”
     “Are you sure?”
     “I’m sure.”
     “Okay, right, well, do you by any chance know where there used to be a labor camp here in Selma back in the late forties?”
     “I wouldn’t know that, we were truckers, not fruit pickers.”
     Her frustration was obvious. “Ma’am, if you have any relatives with these names I gave you, would you mind giving them my number?”
     “Look,” she blurted, “I just don’t want you writing about me—you hear me?”
     “Excuse me?”
     “Don’t go writing things about me, I said.”
     “No ma’am, I’m not writing about you. I mean the woman I’m writing about is…well, her name is also Bea Franco, and she was from Selma, but…” I stammered.
     “Just don’t write about me.”
     “I wont,” I said.
     Another woman grabbed the phone from her.
     “Hi,” the voice said. “Sorry about my mother, she’s tired, she’s old and tired, she hates talking to people, especially on the phone.”
     “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Look, I was telling her that I’d like to give her my number in case she remembers some of the names I was asking her about.”
     “That’s fine,” the woman said, “I’ll make sure she gets it.”
     “I’m sorry, but can I ask what your name is?”
     “Oh, I’m her daughter, Paula.”
     Paula sounded friendly. “Do you happen to have a brother or cousin named Albert?”
     “Sorry,” she said. “Now what’s your number?”
     I hung up and was left thinking about the tone in the woman’s voice. There was a sense of paranoia, as if she was hiding something. “Just don’t write about me. You hear me?” 

August 25, 2009         

Today I went into the Fresno County Hall of Records and told them I was looking for my great Grandmother’s marriage or death certificate. Either will do, I said casually. I had to wait in this long line for over an hour. The whole time feeling like an imposter. I mean here were people really going for something, a lost bit of something, and here I was, on a self-appointed mission. The clerk called me forward and after filling out some papers she had me follow her to a back room. These are all the old files, anything before 1950 would be here, she said. She pulled out a book the size of a Cadillac and opened it to the index and began looking for your name. After fifteen minutes we agreed it wasn’t there. Probably a good thing, I figured. At some point before securing the goods I would’ve had to show proof I am related to you. Last week I was at the Genealogy Department at the Fresno Library. I poked around for a couple of hours, scrutinizing all the Francos listed but none of them had the right details. As I began walking away the woman helping me asked, “Are you sure she isn’t still alive?” I chuckled and replied, “What farmworker do you know lives to the age of 90?” She agreed, but added, “It’s just that dead people are easy to find. Living people are almost impossible.” This stuck with me days after.

September 13, 2009

It’s a strange thing, calling up cemeteries for records of a woman who I’m not sure is dead or alive, and even more awkward, claiming her to be my great grandmother. I feel like such a con, but how else to get the information? So today I phoned over twenty-two cemeteries in Fresno, Selma, Fowler, Dinuba, Sanger, Parlier, Kingsburg, Hanford and a few other crumbs in between. Each conversation opened up with, “Hello, I’m looking for a family member who is deceased and I believe she might be buried in your cemetery. Can you check on this for me?” The voice at the other end usually asks for the last name, I give it, then the first name, and then some variations of it. There is a pause, long or brief depending on how quick their typing skills are or how accessible their computer files are. They return on the line, “Sorry, no one here by that name.” In two instances they asked, “Are you sure she’s deceased?” Both times I laughed. It’s funny to me. This game of dead or not. Are you sure? How sure? Yes. No. And yes. This is what I tell Adreann, because she keeps asking me if I know for sure. “Are you sure she’s dead, Tim? Alive?” I tell her, your guess is as good as mine.

Possible Answers to the Disappearance of Bea Franco

First possibility: Bea and her family were immigrants, undocumented and living beneath the radar indefinitely, no paperwork, and therefore will never be found, not in the states anyway—dead or alive. A ghost, a phantom figment of this writer’s imagination. The possibility most biographers who’ve included her name in their books have subscribed to. 

Second possibility: She was an immigrant, became a naturalized citizen on the coattails of the Bracero program, and then in ’54 was repatriated during Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback, seven years after her tryst with JK. Either died in Mexico, or still lives there. Or avoided repatriation and lives here or died here, but will be impossible to locate because all proof of her existence is lost in a political void.

Third possibility: She was a U.S. born citizen, still alive, living somewhere not so far away, the Mayfair District perhaps, or maybe Fowler, Los Angeles. Angelinos never leave, my tia Ofelia who lives in Boyle Heights once told me. They only get away long enough ‘til things cool off, then come back. The only problem is that this possibility poses more questions than answers. Did Bea leave the valley? Did she come back? Did she keep JK’s letters? Does she have at least one photo of their time together? Does her family want this story told? It was after all, an affair. Do they know? If none of this is answered, then all the paper, numbers and letters I have filed away amounts to nothing more than trees, carbon, illusion.  

1 comment:

Mark Butkus said...

This is so cool! Kudos to the author and to Rick for a novel way to introduce me to the book and The Mexican Girl!


Mark Butkus