Dreams Became Reality, Then Died on June 6, 1968

A look back at Robert F. Kennedy: The man I saw and heard

By Guadalupe Gonzalez, Contributing Writer
Published on LatinoLA: September 6, 2012

Dreams Became Reality, Then Died on June 6, 1968

It was either Saturday, the first of June, or the Second of June, a Sunday. It was 1968.

What is so clear in my recollection is that my Papi had promised to be home on time to drive us to the campaign venue Senator Robert F. Kennedy was to hold in nearby East Los Angeles. We were all dressed and anciosas, looking at the clock every few minutes.

"Ya merito llega tu Papi. Y el Senador va a hablar bastante tiempo." [/i]"Hay, pero Mami, quieremos estar alli para ver todo!"[/i] Just then, my Papi walked in, "Listos, mijitos? Va a ver mucha genta, asi es que coganse de la mano." With a chorus of "Si, Papi's", we all ran toward the station wagon, used of course, that would take mi Papi and all the rest of us to see "El Senador Kennedy." When had seen him numerous times before, on televisions, but never in person.

We knew what he stood for, how he wanted justice for all across the country, how he felt we could build a better country by including everyone: Men and women, Caucasians and African Americans. We knew he was friends with Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta -- and that he had walked with them on their marches para La Raza -- to better the nightmare and trauma in which los campesinos found themselves. We, our lucky familion, we were going to see him: El Senador!

So mi Papi headed toward the venue, he knew the address, it was close by. But by the time we got there, people were sweeping up the debris of thousands who had been there mere minutes before. "No, Se??or," said one young man, {i]"Hablo el Senador y se lo llevaron, decian que iban tarde para el grupo siguente."[/i] My sisters and I looked at one another, helpless and sad, "Now what? How could we ever see the Senator in his run for the Presidency?

Hopelessly, we had begun picking up wrinkled and abandoned campaign photos of the candidate, muttering quietly that at least we has some pictures. "Vamonos, ni??os. Yo se para donde van y creo que los podemos encontrar." One thing about my Papi, he knew this city like the back of his hand. We all jumped into the car (which we usually had to push to start), and off we went.

A million questions went through our minds and we posed them to one another. "What'll we say?" "What should we call him?" "Do you think he will be okay to shake my hand?" "What if he ignores us?" "What if Papi does not know where he is?" and then, "Papi knows."

The next venue, which had been well publicized and touted, was at the Greek Theater. "Ay. Papi, donde estara?"

Mi Papi, who had pulled off the San Bernardino Freeway, which we had been travelling Westbound, drove a bit on surface streets. And then he said, "Los ven! Alli estan!" My Father had decided to take an easy off ramp from the freeway, I suppose in the hope that Senator Kennedy and his retinue would have pulled over for a moment's rest from the surges of people who wanted to touch Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

But we knew him as "Bobby" -- and there he was, sitting on the back seat of a convertible, listening to his aides, drinking water, and occasionally saying a word or two. He was in his rolled-up shirtsleeves. And, of course, running his fingers through his extravagant, but disobedient hair. Papi said it was okay to leave the car, so six of us emerged from the passenger seat and simply stood and looked.

I saw Pierre Salinger and others who looked familiar but whose names I did not know. My Papi said, "Excuse me. My children and I arrived too late for your prior event, but we were hoping to see you on the way to the Greek Theater." Smiling his famous smile, Bobby said, "Well, here we are!"

Used to children, he asked us our names, ages, year in school and when he asked who had gotten us so excited in politics we all pointed to out Papi and said, "Papi did." "Well, good for you all." Spotting our now even more crinkled campaign photos of him he said, "How about if I sign some of those. Then you can really prove you saw me." A chorus of yeses flooded and swirled around him. We were all so happy. We wished him well on the California Primary and the Presidential Race.

Someone quietly signaled they should move. All got back into their cars -- for there were two cars. There was no Secret Service Protection extended for candidates, only for those nominated by their own party. No one objected to our following the small parade, so we brought up the rear.

I was flabbergasted when I saw the crowds standing on either side of Vermont, chanting his name, cheering him, hope was on their faces. Love was in their hearts. Every so often, when we were stopped at a light, someone would run up and shake his hand. Then we moved on. People, so many people, admired and loved Robert F. Kennedy. It was on him that they pinned their hoped and dreams. He carried within himself the best that the others had to offer.

Finally, moving into the Greek Theater parking lot, the entourage moved their cars into the alloted spaces and everyone in the cars moved into an entrance. From where we sat, we could hear The Fifth Dimension singing "Up, Up and Away." There were no tickets to be had to enter. Enchanted by the different turns our adventure had taken, we agreed shortly thereafter that Papi had taken us to enough exciting events throughout the day, and he was tired, so we headed on home after that.

The week started out fabulously, all of us heading to our respective classrooms to tell of our great good fortune. Then Tuesday, June 4, 1968 was upon us. Primary day. All day long I fidgeted in my seat, hoping and praying that the Senator would get a good turnout. Finally, escape from the mundane and into the truly important and historical. My family and I watched, on one of the Big Three Stations that existed at the time.
One by one, the family made their way to bed, even my parents, while I stayed on. I wanted to hear Bobby's victory speech from the Ambassador Hotel. I wanted to see Ethel, said to be pregnant but still looking svelte.

Finally, there he was -- cloaked in the glory that was rightfully his, all the returns in.
Senator Robert Francis Kennedy was onstage. His speech was masterful and he maintained the excitement by saying "And, it's on to Chicago and let's win there!"
I shut off the television set and went into the bathroom to brush my teeth, wash my face and line up my clothes for the next day. Turning on the small transistor, I heard screams instead of commentary or music. What had happened?

I ran to the set in the living room -- heck, my place on the carpet was not cold yet. And when it finally came into focus, I saw the Senator lying on his back, blood was flowing freely, his wife, Ethel, holding his head. The screaming continued. I can hear it today, oh, so many decades later. Watching for a while, all sorts of rumors flew, people were hysterical as they were being interviewed live. And I sat there, stunned.

This man whom I had seen but days before, had been assaulted by another who pushed a gun into him. This man, so full of live of his own, carrying the dreams of innumerable people, this man's lifeblood was flowing out of him with every beat of his heart. It is said that Senator Kennedy asked, "Is everybody safe, okay?" And the busboy, Juan Romero, who cradled the Senator's head said, "Yes, yes, everything is going to be okay." He also put a Rosary in the Senator's hands. I watched, in disbelief. A teenager with dreams and hopes for a better world, watching it all disintegrate


Guadalupe Gonzalez, (2012) (c), contributing writer

About Guadalupe Gonzalez, Contributing Writer:
Guadalupe Gonzalez, Writer, Los Angeles Attorney and Dreamer

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