Revolution #242, August 14, 2011
Alejandro del Fuego—an Emancipator of Humanity
A deeply moving celebration of the life of Alejandro del Fuego was held in Houston on July 23. Alejandro (Alex) was a revolutionary communist youth who tragically died at the age of 21, after a courageous and inspiring two-year battle with cancer.
A beautiful enlarged photo of Alex, with his irrepressible and irresistible smile, beamed at everyone from behind the podium. The sight of the larger than life Alex—smiling, striding purposefully, and carrying an armful of Revolutions—brought forth warm memories, laughter, stories, and softly flowing tears from everyone attending.
The program began with songs by Bob Marley and Outernational—two of Alex's favorite artists—accompanied by a beautiful slide show with photos of Alex. People got up to speak, sing, read poetry they had written, and in other ways recount how much Alex had meant to them—and not only them, but to millions of people throughout the world who never had the distinct pleasure of getting to know Alex; how he had lived his far too short life with such meaning, zest, and joy; what they had learned from him; his endearing habit of giving people funny nicknames based on their actual names.
People from diverse backgrounds and several parts of the world were there; youth and veteran revolutionaries were there; people traveled from other Texas locations to be there; messages were sent from people in other parts of the country.
One speaker ended his remarks with these words: "We're bidding a final farewell tonight to a cherished friend, whose death is truly tragic. But seared in our hearts and our minds, we'll always carry with us a vivid, full color memory of the beautiful and wonderful human being that was Alejandro del Fuego, a beloved comrade, an emancipator of humanity."
The evening ended with a singing of Nina Simone's classic song "I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free," another song Alex loved, begun as an powerful solo, but soon joined by everyone there in a swelling and heartfelt tribute and goodbye to Alex.
The following two statements were read at this celebration of Alejandro del Fuego's life:
Alejandro del Fuego!
Every time I have sat down to write this, I have struggled with how to begin. Surely I should begin with the sadness I share with so many others at the loss of Alejandro's young life. But then, as my mind wanders through memories of Alejandro, it seems obvious I should begin with the joy of having known him. Before long, both those feelings are overwhelmed by the deep inspiration his life provokes and the sense of responsibility he left to us all. Indeed, the tragedy of Alejandro's painfully early death is all the greater because of just how brilliantly he lived.
Alex lived in a way that caused those who got to know him to love him fiercely. He made people he had just met feel like they mattered. And, most important, as a young person deeply committed to communist revolution, he lived in a way that prioritized the needs and lives of billions around the globe who he would never meet. Alex lived honestly; when the things he was learning about the world meant he had to change his whole life plans—he did so. More than once.
One thing I will always remember about Alejandro is how easily he smiled.
At the memorial we held at Revolution Books for Alejandro, Lenny Wolff brought into the program both some personal memories of Alejandro and Bob Avakian's discussion of what it means to live life with a purpose from his talk, "Ruminations and Wranglings." He spoke of how "human life is finite, but revolution is infinite" and emphasized the significance of Alex having contributed to that great river of revolution that brought forth the most liberating chapters of human history and holds the potential to remake human society in the most thoroughgoing and liberating ways. But he also emphasized the importance of really appreciating and remembering the precious and particular person Alex was and the life he chose to live.
With this in mind, I want to share at least a flavor of the stories and sentiments expressed.
Many of us in the city I'm in got to know Alejandro during the Revolutionary Summer Youth Project in 2009 that helped launch the RCP's campaign, The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have. Alejandro was down for just about anything and brimming with enthusiasm.
As such, many stories involved Alejandro volunteering—to teach the whole crew how to march in formation, to go and speak on behalf of the project at an anti-war protest, to go into a new housing project, or to go on some wild-goose-chase across state lines in pursuit of a meeting with organic farmers which turned out to be a party of high school students who were mostly drunk by the time Alejandro and the other volunteer had arrived. The kicker of this story was Alejandro's determination and insistence that, having traveled all that way, they find at least one person at that party who was interested in revolution and Bob Avakian. (And the real kicker, which I only learned after the memorial, was that after all that, Alejandro insisted they go back to the house of the kid who invited them where they stayed up till 3 in the morning watching Bob Avakian's Revolution Talk only to have to catch a 6 am bus back to New York so they wouldn't miss the morning volunteers' meeting!)
A lot of the stories involved Alejandro's love of music and enthusiasm for fun. These ranged from his insistence on getting deeply into the "scientific basis for mice in apartments" to how vigorously he bounced up and down during Outernational's performance one night. They included how he not only helped spearhead a crew to take the Staten Island ferry after the show but helped convince people to sing the communist anthem "Whirlwinds of Danger" as they rode across the water—again at about 3 in the morning.
One person described how her mother had done a lot of cooking for the volunteers during the summer project. Of all of the volunteers, Alejandro was the one who learned her name (instead of referring to her simply as so-and-so's mom) and would take the time to talk with her and share what he had been learning and doing to spread the revolution. He made her feel that she was part of the revolution even as she had some very big differences, particularly over religion. Somehow—probably because he volunteered for something—she and he ended up out somewhere in an argument with a reactionary Dominican man. This woman's mother listened to Alejandro argue with the guy for a while and then snapped back something like, "I don't agree with everything he says, but if these young people who are here making revolution could stay forever, this world would be a better place."
A young communist told of working with Alejandro on an article for Revolution newspaper. She described—and I couldn't help laughing out loud as I remember this well—the first draft of his article. Man, he really let you know that the U.S. had committed crimes and atrocities! It had waged massacres and torture. It had committed acts of terror and destruction. I mean, this article just went on and on... and on and on... about all that. And the truth is, Alejandro was righteous in his hatred for the crimes of this country and in his insistence that others find out about them. But, really, this article probably wasn't going to move people who didn't already feel as he did.
So she and I just began asking him how he had come to understand what he knew now, what had been pivotal in changing his mind, how his own internal struggle had developed. He shared openly and we both learned a great deal. After a while, one of us suggested, "I think you should write that." His reply was so immediate, so casual, and so confident—something simple like "Okay, I'll send it in the morning"—that I really worried he hadn't understood what a radical recast we were hoping for.
But then, in the morning, just as he promised, we received another draft. Neither of us could put it down until we finished it. As I recall, it really only needed one revision. That's how he was. He would really listen and think about the ideas you put to him—and he would consider deeply what those ideas had to do with reality. He was self-reflective without being self-indulgent.
Finally, a lot of people told of how Alejandro had a real fire in the belly for revolution. How much he wanted to change the world. How deeply he loved Bob Avakian. How much he loved BA's memoir and his life story, as well as how much enthusiasm he had for digging into the theory he has advanced. And particularly how much clarity Alejandro had as to the importance of making Bob Avakian's leadership known throughout society, but particularly among this new generation.
Indeed, this is what I will always remember from my last encounter with Alejandro. I had the opportunity to be down in Houston and hadn't seen him since he had gotten sick. I was not prepared for the physical toll the cancer had taken on him and at first it kind of took the wind out of me. But Alejandro didn't flinch. He smiled broadly—and genuinely. He had a special quality of being both able to radiate warmth and be open to and buoyed by the love of others—and he had hugs for everyone, as we all did for him. After that, he surveyed the food, cracked a couple jokes, and settled into a reclining position where he drifted in and out of sleep as well as in and out of the discussion.
At a certain point someone asked why we make such a big deal about Bob Avakian, the person. They asked, "Why not just promote his work?" Alejandro had been quiet for a while and I didn't even know he was awake, but here he sat up and spoke with great clarity. Rather than go from memory, here is an excerpt of some notes I wrote shortly after that discussion, "Alejandro posed that this wasn't right because a lot of people want to know what kind of person BA is and what led to him developing his new synthesis. He began drawing from all the things he himself appreciated about getting to know BA through his memoir and made observations from other people's reactions to the memoir as well. As he talked, he deepened his own argument. He said that refusing to promote BA, the person, is rooted in petty bourgeois individualism. It's rooted in just wanting everyone equal instead of recognizing how, when it comes to leading and envisioning the process of revolution, BA is head and shoulders above anyone else."
Again, its hard to write any of this without riding that rollercoaster of sadness and joy and landing back at the sense of inspiration and responsibility. Alejandro was very precious. His particular person was unique and the loss of him, I know, leaves a great gaping hole in many people's hearts. Mine too.
But, as Bob Avakian has put it, "The content of people's lives—the quality of those lives, what they are dedicated and devoted to, and ultimately what they've been lived about, whether their death comes sooner or later—is the most important thing and gives meaning, one way or another, to people's lives, short as they are in relation to the infinite existence of matter in motion."
Alejandro dedicated his life to revolution with tremendous energy and conscious enthusiasm. This is something truly great and this is not extinguished. It is also unfinished.
Thinking about Alex's life is deeply inspirational... that he did, as Nina Simone sang in "I wish I knew how it would feel to be free," "give all he was longing to give," that even facing the prospect of death he didn't "do for self," and that he acted with deep morality, conscience and conviction... and again, always with an open heart and easy smile. There is much to learn from Alex, including the challenge that gap leaves for others of his generation and for all those who want a better world. Learn from his life and live like him. Like he did, find out about the world, and our responsibility to it. Take courage in your convictions, seek out the truth, and jump into the river of revolution. Get deeply into Bob Avakian, spread the word of this revolution, fill the greatest need you can in bringing about an emancipated world.
I got the opportunity to work with Alex pretty closely for about a year, from a distance. When he got sick, pretty soon after he got back from the Summer Youth Project in NY, we pulled together a national team of people who were going to be part of promoting online a seminal talk from Bob Avakian, Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About. Alejandro loved this talk, in his words, it is "a breath of fresh air." And he felt making it accessible on the net could be a big deal—both internationally and for the youth in this country. He put himself to that with a great deal of determination and creativity. We spent a lot of time on the phone and on the net together and I want to share some thoughts on what I appreciate about Alex and some of his own words that capture his understanding of the grandness of revolution and the giddiness of being alive.
Alex took the responsibility of being part of initiating a new stage of communist revolution very seriously—he felt that he had to make known what he had come to understand about the world, both its horrors, which he felt viscerally, and the fact that the world didn't have to be this way. With a lot of confidence, he would tell people about the leadership of Bob Avakian, that there was someone who had re-envisioned revolution and communism, and was leading a movement for revolution in the world today.
In his words: "Without this synthesis from Bob Avakian and winning increasing numbers of people over to become communists on that basis, humanity will be not only be unable to advance in any qualitative sense, environmental destruction (as just one factor) could have devastating and catastrophic effects on our species along with all the other species on the planet and the biosphere."
He worked to dig into the content of all this repeatedly and in working together, he held all of us to a certain standard.
After a phone call of this team, he called me back to say, "I really like these plans but I don't think we're digging into the theory enough, I think if we're really going to do this, we have to get more into what this talk is, what is has to do with revolution." And he was right.
You hear it in his statement to the event on April 11, a great deal of substance and appreciation for these theoretical breakthroughs. And he didn't want to take shortcuts or go the easy route with people asking them to just do this or do that. He wanted them to make the leaps in their understanding that he did. He wrote me at one point, "there is a dialectical relation between people engaging Avakian (particularly the Revtalk) and spreading his work; while this is not automatic [although he is very compelling :)] we won't have exponential growth without it and if we did, what basis would it be on?"
Here, I have to pause and note how much I got a kick out of his inclusion—in this very serious email—of the little punctuation smiley face... or, at other times, how he would spell "laterz" with a "z."
He also understood the importance of what it meant for him to make the leaps to becoming a communist and learning all he could to fill the needs before us. At one point, he wrote a letter that was going to go to new people about the Revolution talk online. Everything in it was correct on one level, but I have to say I didn't think it was really going to connect... So he and I talked about it, talked methodologically about speaking to new people, what would've moved him if he was just coming to this, he rewrote the letter and it was great. And he made the point to write me later just to say, "Thanks for calling me and working with me and not just changing it yourself."
But he would also go from very serious to sweet and light. He combined this lofty sense of what we were aiming to accomplish, a very serious approach about Avakian and what it could open up to break his voice out into society and a sweet lightness that came from a feeling of togetherness, collectivity and joy.
From one email, "Later all… I look forward to being out of the hospital and working to take the visibility of and engagement with this talk and leader to a new level…"
or from the end of an email:
"Cool beans to all, and to all a good night. Sorry folks, I'm feeling awful after the chemo today so I'm going to hold off on helping send out those messages until the morning.
"Take care everybody, it's great that we've been in such frequent correspondence with one another, it really feels like a team :-)"
He was also a really open person, easy to smile and curious. He always had an answer for what are you listening to, what are you reading? Along with feeling connected through the pages of Revolution, at one point, I asked him where he got hope and inspiration from artistically. He told me about this fantasy anime he was watching and sent me links. He really liked culture that broke new mold and even in trippy ways, helped people think of other ways possible of relating, of being.
He fought to maintain this spirit through very difficult conditions, fighting with herculean efforts. Though it might've been easier at a certain point physically to just let go, he put himself through great physical pain because he wasn't done living. I understand that pretty soon before he died, when he got a very bad assessment, he told someone, "I don't want to die, the world needs me to be an emancipator of humanity and I'm not ready to give up yet." He wanted to keep living, and he wanted to keep fighting.
Through a tortuous and painful fight, Alex maintained his broadness of mind and his heart, his sense of humor and his deep, deep sense of purpose and fire to do all he could with all he had to get as far as possible to making revolution, and to struggle with others of his generation to understand their responsibility in relation to the world and the potential for humanity.
On so many levels, I'm so glad to have known him.
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