A BRIEF REMINISCENCE.
Homage to Porfirio Miranda. March 7, 1997
Yolanda del Valle
A very brief reminiscence.
Porfirio has emphasized ideas such as that we are not naturally good, that we are not naturally rational, that we are not even naturally human.
I follow his thought by saying that we are naturally without memory and that as collective memory is a gradual reality, I seize this moment to share a very brief memory of him as a person.
As the idea I have about Porfirio is determined by circumstance, time and specific characteristics of our relationship, it seems to me indispensable to transcend it when I have an opportunity like this to talk about him. It was for this reason I decided to look at Porfirio as others see him by talking with those who played a significant role. Their anecdotes and descriptions helping me present to you a sketch unfinished, outlined by the combination of different views and different époques of the man that we see, that we imagine, that comes from the known and the unknown of a person: to sum up, inevitably, the nuances which we attribute to him without it really being his but ours.
Owner of exceptional personal attributes; charismatic, profound, sensitive and provoking as few are, he generally awakens equally intense reactions, which go from violent persecution which makes one want to lynch him to immeasurable exaltation declaring him an object of veneration.
Neither one nor the other.
Porfirio could be so strong as well as so vulnerable, so delicate and kind, as well as sharp and rude. Sometimes he is the rationalist who listens and dialogues, others he is fully the man who imposes his point of view.
Compromising strictly by reason, passionately sticking to his own ideas, believing to the marrow – as much from the head as from the heart -, a man looking to be known for proven honesty, it would be a clumsy distortion if I transform this acknowledgement into a glorification, or if I dedicated it to his person in the here and now. I will stay, therefore, in the Porfirio of the past. In the visionary who was before his time and that, with a helping hand from his enormous eloquence, establishes as a central part of his work: demonstrate and convince.
I was in the Cerro del Judio Jesuit community the day that Jose Porfirio’s letter arrived outlining his reasons that made him take the decision to leave the Society of Jesus. Here, contradictory and vehement reactions and a diversity of interpretations of his words. There, in Torreon, a desolate Porfirio looking for his mother. Hers were the only arms capable of giving him the will to live through a lacerating suffering as an indispensable condition for a rebirth.
A way with words has been a privileged instrument for him. Great conversationalist, extraordinary teacher and a splendid orator, he has had an enormous influence as a teacher who shapes lives in Guadalajara, Chihuahua and Mexico City. The general context was aggiornamento, the opening of the church to other ideas and contemporary trends, in a counter-position to the traditional blockade of religious colleges to a progressive way of thinking.
The impact of Porfirio in Christian groups was to motivate them in the search for social justice, in accompanying them when they declared their inconformity with established structures, in the fight for democracy and inspiring the creation of alternate and independent organizations in society.
After working for a time in the ITESO in the city of Guadalajara, one day in 1959, in the Templo de la Paz, microphone in hand, in a passionate harangue, he was able to move and shake many who were listening to him, with the result that he was sacked by the Cardinal. He continued working in Chihuahua until developing, at the beginning of the sixties, work of such importance and magnitude that I dare to say that the organization of this meeting is the consequence of what he sowed in those times.
He exacted many hours of study and reading from the students which he himself controlled with telephone calls; also, he expected from them an active and concrete participation for social change: “Go and live like a labourer!,” was his demand for a direct commitment. At this time appeared the “pentagonos,” integral cells of five persons dedicated to the advancement of the people and to the fight for people’s rights focused on commitment and the testimony of life. It meant a clandestine organized structure for the formation of cells that were to influence organizations of workers and students. Their main responsibility consisted precisely in studying. They were, then, groups of study and discipline, with a high sense of discretion. Later on, with the idea of Communitarian Democracy they searched for the creation of a political party different to the PAN which would conserve the philosophy of Christian humanism, but with a clear definition as far as the social was concerned where the fight for justice would have a relevant role.
Porfirio as an ideologist.
After a while the bishop threw him out of the diocese, which caused an enormous sit-in in front of his house. His followers did not take long to object, but the movement received a huge blow: Porfirio was sent to Rome to study the Scriptures, “to be able to return saying the same but now with a greater foundation!,” according to what he one day commented to me.
Even though he had many followers in the Ibero, his relationship with the University was suspicious and distant. In his last visit he gave a lecture which was convened when the political prisoners, Herberto Castillo (writer and critic of the government) among them, went on a hunger strike after having been beaten in the Lecumberri (the notorious penitenciary in Mexico City) by the other prisoners. There also he gave a passionate speech where he used the unforgettable, impetuous phrase: “Know this young men, these are people of my generation and men of my generation, as you see, there is no change!”
Once he was settled in UAM at the beginning of the 70s, Porfirio participated in the foundation of the teacher’s union and from then on was a permanent fixture on the academic side.
For a year Gustavo and I attended his classes on Political and Social doctrines. One day Gustavo commented to me that going to these classes was like going to the cinema knowing that is was going to be extraordinary. Maybe his opinion is shared by many of the students who have attended his classes.
Porfirio has been fundamentally a man of ideas, a thinker who sympathizes with others in his discourse. I do not think that the creation of movements and organizations would have been his direct aim; nevertheless, the Christian movement originated with its fervent conviction in the ideas he puts forward. His undeniable influence with the Jesuits and his powerful participation in Liberation Theology puts him in a relevant way among those who inspired the birth of a series of projects and organizations that, by chipping away during decades, have influenced in the social happenings from many sides based on an ant’s work never recognized by officialdom.
Personally I participated in CEIP, a group for education for the masses and of an interchange with different independent organizations which started at the beginning of the seventies, counseled among others by the Society of Jesus who was working along side. Porfirio knew the projects inside out underlining aspects he thought had an outstanding worth. And so, as we meditated during moments of calm which inspired us to finish the project, he knew how to help us without restrictions in moments of real uproar. His generosity and lucidity were constant. Faithful to his idea of the importance of meeting with the unions to change the structures, he connected us to FAT (Frente Autentico de Trabajo) encouraging us to look for ways and means of doing the work together.
Different experiences of this type of projects with time were questioning his own ideas, tactics and methodology in the light of what we were finding and as an effect of the changes found in social reality. This meant many projects were transformed, disintegrated or looked for more imaginative ways of influencing reality.
As the years went by many of them have changed and the only thing that prevails in many cases, is the spirit from which they came.
Porfirio’s work is enough and his life is complete.
We can agree with some of his ideas but not others; we can sympathize with him or not; we can celebrate or condemn his attitude; but what indubitably remains is the huge richness of his person as a human being substantially distinct from the rest who confront the complex task of making himself heard in a world of shortsighted and insignificant people.
On the otherhand, I believe Porfirio’s work cannot be understood as possible without the nurturing – in the most profound sense of the word – of Maria Eugenia de la Parra and of Jose Quintin Miranda during his early years; of the spirit of the Society of Jesus in the second stage of his life and that of Maria Adela Oliveros in the present.
Male came to be Porfirio’s partner with a personal history of fights and commitment in the same area, and she has maintained it up until now in a permanent way. They say that the house they built in Temamatla is of parallel brick walls which, to me, is the best description of this couple, because she embellishes Porfirio’s life as well as occupying herself as much to the infrastructure as to his aims.
Finally, I’ll close these reflections on a more personal level, by making an acknowledgement of Porfirio on a daily basis, because he is one of the few friends who give during their lifetime with enormous generosity. When having hors d’oeuvres and dining in Temamatla and then after dinner talks means that returning home is accompanied by a cartload of good things. Delicious anecdotes, recommendations, diatribes, assignations, reprimands, thundering admonitions, warm reflections: all this together became small heirlooms which, down the years end up forming part of you.
One day, at least four years ago, my daughter Alejandra and Charlie, her future husband, decided to get married in fifteen days as they had the opportunity to study outside the country. Porfirio came to the wedding arriving with a huge suitcase as a present for the couple. When Alejandra showed it to me I thought that even Porfirio did not know how much that suitcase would travel with my daughter as a legacy from him. A lot of what Gustavo and I were taking home since meeting him our daughter absorbed since childhood: Dvorak’s American quartet, Brahm’s double concerto for piano, the grestness of Jean Valjean, the virtuosity of Anne Sophie Mutter, the sweetness of La Guilletta in the Cabririan Nights and the enormous meaning of the final scene….
For my part, I have three of his legacies which are my favourites: his love of knowledge, the friends he introduced me to and, in all its depth of meaning, the idea that the meaning of life is to do our duty.
I thank Ma. Adela O. de Miranda, M. Eugenia M. de Valdés Villarreal, Ignacio Díaz del Castillo, Alfredo Gutiérrez, Petty Guerrero, Mario Monroy, Arturo Alcalde and Bertha Luján for allowing me to interview them about their experiences and recollections of Porfirio, which has given me the opportunity to give a more integral biographical sketch of his person.