Born in opposite sides of the country--SantAna, CA and the Bronx, NY, we met in the middle--Chicago, IL.
Hector grew up in the Bronx with some time in Connecticut and upstate NY for school but his roots are in Corozal and Guayama, Puerto Rico. After 16 years of cultural, political and educational work in NYC, Hector left behind family, friends In the fall of 2006 and moved to Chicago.
Melody was born and raised in Santa Ana, but her roots extend to Michoacan and Jalisco. She also lived in Indiana where she attended the University of Notre Dame and in Brazil for a semester. Inspired by her family's history in the fields and outraged by the injustices that continue to plague our food system, she moved to live and work in Immokalee, FL with the Student/Farmworker Alliance and Interfaith Action, alongside the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. And in 2006, after winning the Taco Bell boycott, the CIW focused the Campaing for Fair Food on McDonald's. Melody was sent to Chicago to work on the campaign (calling on the fast food giant to take responsibility for the subpoverty wages, sweatshop conditions, and modern day slavery in the tomato fields in Florida and sign an agreement with the CIW).
I remember meeting Hector at a meeting for Chicago allies of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. We had begun our organizing around the McDonald's campaign during the spring of 2006 and were now ready to escalate actions that fall and into the spring of 2007.
Before moving to Chicago, Hector had already been introduced to the CIW's work and so as soon as he moved there he connected with people involved and was ready to be a part of it.
I remember immediately feeling physically attracted to Hector, and what made this attraction so strong was how sincere, open and friendly he was. I had heard he was a founder of the Welfare Poets and about all the amazing work they had been doing for so many years. I felt a strong admiration and respect for who he was. To be honest, as comfortable as I felt around him, I felt he was out of my reach :)
We continued to work together and the friendship and cariño grew stronger. Hector was quickly among our strongest allies and when he took on the role of "Rolando", spreading justice in the streets of Chicago including the McDonald's Thanksgiving Day parade we knew that we could count on Hector to bring the creativity the campaign needed. I will never forget being with hundreds of workers discussing the real significance of Thanksgiving Day with our friend Oanness of Wabanaki heritage and later in our event, having Hector on speaker as he shared with us the work he, his daughter, and other allies in Chicago were doing that day. He was dressed as "Rolando" and they were at the parade with a big sign that said, "McDonald's Exploits Farmworkers". He was excited on the phone and the workers grew even more excited. Everyone cheered.
Throughout my time in Chicago working on the campaign, I always counted on Hector not just on supporting us with anything that had to do with the campaign but also as a friend we enjoyed spending time with. I always said that winning the McDonald's campaign that April 2007 was bitter-sweet. Of course we were overjoyed that the CIW had reached another agreement with a fast food giant, but it was sad to know we would no longer be in the city where we had made so many connections and friendships. And I always wondered what other work could have come out from those alliances. I also wondered when I would see Hector and others I grew close to again. Never thinking that 1 year later our paths would cross again and that beautiful friendship that grew out of respect and admiration, would turn into a beautiful love story.
En mis momentos de inferioridad siempre me pregunté porque no podía encontrar alguien a quien ofrecerle este amor que llevo dentro--sincero, ardiente, intenso y profundo como el mar. Con Hector, por primera vez me sentí amada, valorizada, apreciada. Este amor lo ofrezco a ti, Hector, tu que con tus palabras tiernas y bella voz, suspiro. Tu que con tu alma de niño, río. Eres una inspiración. Eres fortaleza y fuente de energía. Eres simplemente, amor, mi amor.
I remember seeing Melody at the back of the White Hare at an event for Solidarity not Charity in Chicago. She captured me with her eyes. She didn’t look at me but I could see her and felt immediately shy and in awe. She looked like a bird to me, in the most beautiful spiritual way. I never thought she would pay me any attention. I thought she was too much for me. Me, with so much damage and malicia, and her, with so much love. As I came to know her I saw how sincere she is. A sincere love for people, for justice, for music and dancing. I admire her and always feel at peace near her. She inspired me to be the same. To honor my word and interactions with people. To speak calmly but strongly. To love life! Everywhere she goes and with everyone she interacts with she inspires them with her sincerity.
The admiration only grew exponentially as we worked together around the CIW campaign against McDonald’s. Even before she moved to Chicago temporarily, I experienced her contagious love. I called the CIW office to report back on the street theatre action a few of us had just done during the McDonald’s Thanksgiving Parade. After the call Melody told me the Immokalee workers were so excited and animated by our actions and applauded loudly. She made me feel like my little granito de arena was an important part.
At the end of the McDonald’s Truth Tour I confessed to Melody that she was my truth tour crush. I never expected that she would return to Chicago and that I would have another opportunity to enamorarla. But I did! I won’t give away those details but we began a long distance relationship that lasted nearly a year. We would see each other sometimes twice a month. On December 10th, international human rights day, and days before she was to leave Chicago I decided to propose to her and promise that I would be moving out to California to join her. That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. A true partner. Inspiring, loving, always striving. One only needs to see her dancing to see how full of life she is. I love you Melody and want to share that compromiso with the world. See you all at the celebration!