Wrapping up the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, I am grateful and reminded of the importance of family. Region IV-W prides itself on the family-feel and for me, this was first impressed upon me by the Gonzalez brothers, Alex and Andrew. Earlier this month, Alex passed away unexpectedly and as family, there are many of us in the Region who are brokenhearted. This Thanksgiving, we are all reminded of the empty chair at the dinner table in the Gonzalez family.
As a Latina in Region IV-W, representation of other Latinos in the leadership has been scarce. Yet Alex and Andrew were there from my beginning with NASPA, present and engaged. Not only were they familia, the Gonzalez twins encouraged me to serve and inspired me to see myself in roles and positions because of their leadership. Alex was one of the founding members of the then NASPA Latino/a Knowledge Community (LKC). From 2008-2010 he served as the National Co-Chair for the LKC. A dedicated member to NASPA, Alex served in numerous roles and volunteered both regionally and nationally. He served as one of the first Region IV-W NASPA Foundation Ambassador and was a Diamond Club member, committed to supporting the mission and goals of NASPA.
Alex made a tremendous impact at the University of New Mexico (UNM). Coming to the university in the late 80’s, Alex completed his education and began working at UNM. He dedicated the last almost 30 years to the institution and its staff, faculty and students. Above and beyond anything else, Alex was an amazing mentor and supported so many students and colleagues along the way. Over the years Alex mentored several NUFP’s (NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program) and now many of them have matriculated into the profession. It is without question Alex acquired a family at UNM who are also grieving.
Attending Alex's funeral service, I recall the priest making a statement saying something to the effect of do not worry about Alex, we know where he is, and he is fine. For those grieving, how we keep him alive, in love and in memory, is how we fill and heal this incredible void. It was a stunning revelation, numbing actually, however it took a bit to resonate. What the priest stated made sense. As much as it hurts, it is more important for all of us to keep alive the spirit of good that Alex possessed. His memories live on and we must find ways to continuously honor it.
After the holiday meal, my family went to see the movie Coco. Coco is a beautiful animated film filled with Mexican culture and an emotional story, at the core reveals the importance of family. It was a timely reminder of the tradition of life after death and Dia de los Muertos, a day of remembering those who have died. I found myself overwhelmed with pride and warmth hearing the lyrics to the main song and I am reminded of Alex:
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I'm with you the only way that I can be
Until you're in my arms again
Alex left us with an incredible legacy in such a short amount of time. Alex being a first generation college graduate himself, he promoted access and supported students. His love for student affairs and passion for purpose is how we can honor Alex’s memory and serve as a reminder to live in such a legacy. It should be how we, as Region IV-W family, remember Alex and serve as an example of why we do the work we do. And as familia, mi hermano Andrew, we are here for you.
Editor's Note - For NASPA IV-West family members interested in attending, here is a link to a Celebration of Life Service occurring December 11, 2017 at 5:30 pm at the University of New Mexico - https://news.unm.edu/news/lobo-community-invited-to-memorial-for-alexander-gonzalez