In Remembrance of Gustavo Guavara
In remembrance of Gustavo Guevara
During the late 1980s, due to a change in immigration laws many workers began arriving from Mexico into the Sodus area to work in the apple harvest.
At the time, Gustavo was working at Xerox in Webster. One day he came to our office at the Cornell Migrant Program and said to me, “I hear there are people from Mexico working out here. Can you show me where they are living?” I was at first a bit suspicious of what this man wanted, but in his gentle way he showed his sincerity. He simply wanted to meet his fellow countrymen.
We got in my car and drove around to a few of the labor camps. I told him that to find the camps “just follow the electrical wires on the poles back into the orchards, they usually lead you to a camp”.
Gustavo reported back to me the next week, telling me that on Sunday he visited people living on several of the camps — taking a keg of beer in his trunk and creating a party at every stop. He had so much fun! It was summer, the apple harvest hadn’t started so people weren’t working much yet. Cuca was in Mexico visiting her family for a month so he was a free bird. Gus visited these camps every weekend that summer.
In September, Gustavo came back to me and asked, “where do people go to church?” When I said “Nowhere” he replied “What? There aren’t any Masses in Spanish around here?” When I told him —“Unfortunately, no” — Gus promptly went to see some nuns from the Rochester Diocese, brought the nuns out to the Sodus area, and took them to visit people on several of the camps. The next thing I learned he was arranging with the Diocese and the Catholic church in Sodus (Father Dillon) to do a Spanish Mass there every Sunday.
It is because of Gustavo that the first Spanish masses were in Sodus.
The services have continued to this day now in Marion, with Father Jesus, Sister Lucy, and Spanish-speaking priests here in Wayne County, all because Gustavo pushed for the church to meet the spiritual needs of the Mexican workers and their families. So we are here today because of Gustavo!
I can’t remember when the first Mass in Sodus was held. Possibly the next spring. Many people from Rochester and Wayne County attended. It was a celebration of Gus’s achievement as well as a celebration of the Mass. As we walked out the church doors and gathered in the lawn by Main Street to chat, Gus turned to me and said:
“Now where do we go?” When I said, puzzled, “What?”, Gus said: “Where do we go to eat and be together? A park? A restaurant?” I I again had to tell him, “Nowhere … There is nowhere to go. All the restaurants are closed on Sunday. And there are no parks for picnics in Sodus.”
So the next thing I knew, Gustavo bought the old car wash on Ridge Road. He gutted it, enclosed it, and opened a small store selling Mexican groceries. It became the gathering place. Not to make money so much, but to provide a service to the workers. Those without a place to sleep often slept on a cot in the back.
Later Maria opened the restaurant on one side, with the store on the other. The rest you all know. El Rincon became the best restaurant in Wayne County and Rafael eventually opened Rio Tomatlan, his famous Canandaigua restaurant.
Gustavo was a member of the Cornell Migrant Program’s Advisory Board. He was the person who advocated for the Mexican community in Wayne County and made sure they were not seen as just workers — as sometimes happened — but their humanity was recognized. He helped create a community for them!