For Hispanic Heritage Month Dr. Eduardo Montaña Jr. remembers his Colombian born father who made a difference in the rural U.S.
A wise man once said that to live a meaningful life a man must raise a child, build a house, plant a tree and write a book. Men often live their lives contemplating their successes and failures, however, the veritable impact their lives have on those around them are best viewed posthumously.
Such is the case with my dear deceased father, whose decade anniversary of passing was celebrated this summer by loving family members on a small farm on the outskirts of his native Bogotá Colombia around a Magnolia tree brought from the U.S. where some of his ashes were placed.
My father, born in Colombia in 1937, had lived his formative years during a tumultuous time of the dictatorship of General Rojas Pinilla and La Violencia.
He marched alongside other university students protesting in the streets of Bogotá demanding basic civil liberties, justice and equality for all the citizens of this evolving South American Republic. His aspirations were to be a political journalist and through words uncover the socially unjust nature of the ruling elite.
He was temporarily expelled from the Javeriana Jesuit University where he studied for distributing amongst the students poetic political satire he had penned. Later he entered Medical School convinced that he could best serve society by serving children and their families.
1961 A Move For The Family
In search of a future for his young daughters, before I was born, in a place where he heard freedom and democracy prevailed as basic civil liberties, he pursued a Pediatric Residency in the rural U.S. and accepted a permanent Visa to move to Roanoke Virginia in 1961.
Upon arriving, He was astonished to witness the turmoil the U.S. civil rights movement, segregation and the Vietnam War were having on the American Way of Life. Having a sense of duty to his new country, he served in the U.S. Army as an officer caring for the families of soldiers during wartime at Fort Benjamin Harris in Indiana. A rotating residency took my family through cities in the North, Mid-West and East Coast. However, my father settled for a position as a Pediatrician in the Deep South, facing head-on the challenges of racial discrimination and inequalities in the U.S. Georgia during the sixties was a rural. Mainly agricultural landscape dotted with mid-sized cities and towns reeling from the impact that desegregation was having on its way of life, a time where people of color were African Americans who were required to play a subservient role and primarily occupied the domestic and service industries.
The introduction of Hispanics into Georgia was exceedingly slow, much less Hispanic medical professionals who would care for our children. My fathers charisma, compassion and sense of humor enamored the local white folks, who came affectionately to know him as that doctor with the funny accent or the Latin Lover, common stereotypes from Desy Arnes on the Lucy Show. My fathers dark features and brown skin often confused folks for who there were only black folk or white folk.
Rural Pediatricians at that time routinely tended to house calls, delivered babies and accepted all forms of payment including baked goods and livestock. As the young son of a Pediatrician in rural Georgia, I often witnessed sick or injured persons knocking on our front door wanting to see the doctor. It didnt matter that he was trained to care for infants and children, he took all comers. Everyone asked for the good Dr. Montaña or Montana as they called him having no idea what a tilde was used for.