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Filberto ‘Beto’ Gonzalez, a Zapoteco in L.A., Loved Providing For His Family and Playing ‘El Basket’

[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]iliberto "Beto" Gonzalez, a father of seven and the eldest brother of eight with an extended family spanning from Huntington Park to San Pedro Cajonos in the Sierra Norte region of Oaxaca, Mexico died from coronavirus alone on the morning of June 4, 2020. 

The Zapotec patriarch and the sole provider of four relocated to Los Angeles in the early 70s for a better life. However, the need to feed his family exposed them to the virus that claimed his life and marked his death.

Beto and a brother of his settled in the Pico-Union Koreatown area in 1974, where fellow Sierra Norte communities with the same or similar Zapotec languages established themselves. Beto is one of the thousands of young men who ventured out of the indigenous communities of the Oaxacan valley and sierras to work in the service industries of Los Angeles. Following the promise of prosperity and the networks that grew from the Bracero Program, often without speaking Spanish, bringing with them the traditions, ingredients, and culture of OaxaCalifornia. 

Beto was the uncle that always promoted healthy eating and exercise. The fit tio that brought fruits and vegetables to family gatherings. A lifelong basketball enthusiast played 'el basket' with this community at Belmont High School and Normandie Recreation Park even after moving to Huntington Park to work in southeast Los Angeles warehouses.

His eldest nephew, Javier Gonzales, shares the beautiful memories of this beloved patriarch. 

He was a generous man that shared what little he had despite his struggles. The loving father who did whatever it took to see his children succeed, often recycling cardboard to make ends meet. The tio who loved music and singing Canciones del Pueblo with his siblings any chance he got. In videos of him singing rancheras, he vocalized the sorrow shared by those who due to financial struggles, migration status, health issues, work, and family obligations, are unable to return to la tierra que los vio nacer (the land that saw them be born and grow).

All five family members of the Filiberto Gonzalez family tested positive for COVID-19. Beto was the first to show symptoms, checking himself into the hospital on May 20 after experiencing shortness of breath. On May 25, the children received positive COVID results; Beto was induced into a coma a day later. His wife, Marcela, suffered a stroke on the 31st. Beto passed shortly after. 

COVID-19 has exacerbated social failures; the lack of resources disproportionately affects people of color. No one knows for sure where the virus infected Filiberto. Huntington Park and surrounding cities are working-class communities where people like Beto have to continue finding work wherever they can get it. Latinos have some of the highest numbers of cases in L.A. county, with 1,128, according to the L.A. County. 

The City of Huntington Park, with a population of 57,723, has 783 cases and 15 deaths. "We need to work. We put ourselves out there. We put ourselves at risk, and unfortunately, more of us are falling victims to this virus. As much as we want to protect others, we are bound to be helpless at home if we can't provide for our family,” says Javier.

Under normal circumstances, a traditional Zapotecan wake in Oaxaca would be met by community members offering baskets full of corn, bread, beef, mezcal, and cigarettes to accompany the body into the afterlife. During this pandemic, the grieving has been done through an international Zoom meeting full of prayers.

The Gonzalez family's native land of San Pedro Cajonos and neighboring communities have closed down completely to protect its residents from the devastating threat of COVID-19. This shutdown has stopped Oaxacans abroad from sending money back to their hometowns. Not to mention much of the mezcal-led commerce and travel that many Oaxacans in both Los Angeles and Oaxaca depend on. The pandemic has also prevented the family from making Beto’s last wish come true: to rest with his parents, being spread in El Cerro de Cascara in his village. 

San Pedro Cajonos population of 1,142, with zero cases and two deaths, Filiberto is considered one because even though he did not live in his hometown anymore, his village still considers him a member of his community. 

Beto is survived by his seven children, José Luis, Sofia, German, Ruben, Sofia, David, and Anthony. Along with several grandchildren.

His eldest, Sofia, is now the caretaker of her two brothers and her mother recovering from a stroke. The same week she graduated from Huntington Park High School is the week she said goodbye to her dad. She is the only person granted permission to see his body before cremation. The extended family is asking for support for Sofia and the financial uncertainty that she faces through the challenges and struggles to come. 

In a video shared on Instagram by his nephew Javier and Beto's brothers strum on guitars and harmonize as tears run among the rest of his family far away from home. Overcome with emotion as they play an ode to their pueblo, San Pedro Cajonos. Javier is heard saying, "I hope Beto is able to roam his ancestral places now." 

A gofundme has been set up for Filberto ‘Beto’ Gonzalez by his family. L.A. Taco has confirmed that all proceeds will go towards helping his family. 

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