Scenes of his family’s life, the work of his social activist great-grandfather, and the struggle of the Pascua Yaqui people of Arizona for social justice, are all at the center of Henry Barajas’ Latinx graphic biography and memoir, La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo (with art by J. Gonzo), which will be published this month by Image Comics.
The new book depicts Barajas’ great-grandfather and Latino civil rights activist Ramon Jaurique and his work organizing the Mexican, American, Yaqui, and Others organization (aka the M.A.Y.O.), a 1970s community activist organization focused on improving the lives of the Yaqui people, who suffered from deep neglect and exploitation in the Tucson area. Tata Rambo also depicts Barajas’ personal relationship with Jaurique, an orphan and WWII veteran who was humble about his social justice work (so humble his accomplishments have been mostly undocumented), and whose devotion to organizing often alienated him from his own family. Jaurique passed away in 2017.
The book was written by Barajas and illustrated by J. Gonzo, and was initially funded via a series of Kickstarter campaigns that raised more than $22,570 to publish a periodical series, which is now being collected into a trade paperback edition. PW talked with Barajas while the author was traveling with Gonzo to the Tucson Comic-Con earlier this month.
Publishers Weekly: Can you tell us more about your great-grandfather Ramon Jaurique and his work? Why did you want to tell this story now?
My great grandfather was always someone who was very quiet and stuck to himself growing up, and everyone kept telling me that he had done so many great things and that he was such a great man. But they never really went beyond the surface. And I was always a curious kid. I became a journalist in Tucson, Arizona, so I did a lot of writing about everyone else and things around me. I decided to go a little bit more inward and write about myself and about where I came from––and my great-grandfather, Ramon.
I wanted to document his life while he was still on this earth, and I had an opportunity to talk to him and get to know him and document the things that he had done and also try to figure out what was it that he did. He co-founded the M.A.Y.O. organization. They helped the Pascua Yaqui tribe gain federal recognition, and they also helped them buy their land. The city of Tucson wanted to shuffle everyone around and build Interstate 10 through their land. And for whatever reason, these accomplishments were never documented in the history books or even in the tribe’s history.
What was Jaurique's relationship with the tribe and why did he devote himself to working on their behalf?
Jaurique’s wife, my great-grandmother, was Yaqui. They lived in the Yaqui neighborhood. And I believe my great-grandfather saw an injustice to the people and he was influenced by the migrant farm workers movement and Chicano movement in the 1960s and1970s. And he was a well-spoken, well written and educated person that saw this injustice to the Yaqui.
What is the connection between M.A.Y.O. and the Pascua Yaqui tribe’s use of “Sí Se Puede” ( yes you can), which is also the rallying cry of the United Farm Workers, the legendary union cofounded by Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta?
I think it's because they were so inspired by the UFW. In my research, I found multiple newsletters that my great grandfather had in his personal collection so I could see where he was adopting those tactics. It's kind of like any protest song. This is specific to brown people. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of people to look up to.
Can you talk about the relevance of the UFW legacy, and the migrant farmworkers they represent, in light of today’s geo-political climate?
For the majority of 2019, we saw migrants from South America, from Mexico being villainized and turned into the monsters, rapists, murderers and invaders [by right wing rhetoric]. And these [migrants] are the people who clean your house, take care of your kids, cook your food and farm your fields. This is the time where people have to stand up again and really claim their identity in this world we live in, specifically in Trump America, where people are being deported in mass numbers. Not only are they just everyday neighbors, but they're also veterans in some cases, who are being tricked and lied to and forced to go back to countries that they left when they were children.
Tata Rambo integrates graphic memoir with comics journalism—your research restored the important work of Jaurique and M.A.Y.O. to the public record—what is it like to see your great-grandfather’s life and your relationship unfold visually via the striking art of Gonzo?
I never felt vulnerable because I was sharing a very personal story about my family. It was important for me to paint a realistic picture of Ramon and not just celebrate his achievements, but also acknowledge that he wasn't perfect. That was scary because my family wasn't really comfortable with that. I worship Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and I didn't know that he cheated on his wife. Everybody has something they're ashamed of, or something that they don't want everyone to know about. So it was important for me to be like, “hey, this is what he did.” I think it's a conversation that we have to have.
What are your next plans for spreading the word about La Voz de M.A.Y.O.: Tata Rambo?
I've been becoming more known in the library market. I’m the lunchtime keynote speaker for LibraryCon Live, an initiative [held earlier this month] that gets librarians on a webinar and they get to talk about how they're curating comic book conventions at libraries, raising money and focusing on the graphic novels. For me, it's such an underserved market that we're talking about. There's a larger discussion to be had about them.