Eulogy for my friend, Cecilia Teyechea Denogeán de
All Saints Newman Center, Tempe. December 11, 2010.
Good morning. It’s wonderful to see all of you here. You honor Cecilia with your presence. And you grace
her soaring and feisty spirit, with your love for her. ---
United States Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor described herself as “…an ordinary person who has
been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences.” Our beloved Cecilia Teyechea
Denogeán de Esquer, liked to think that Judge Sotomayor’s self-description also described Her, Cecilia.
....I don’t think so. Cecilia was not “an ordinary person”. She was unique. She was fearless. Especially
when it came to matters of social injustice and racism and prejudice--and politics, as you well know.
I met with Cecilia many times, in the course of her research and writing and throughout her career- --
and during the preparation of her recently-published memoir, The Lie About My Inferiority: Evolution of a
Chicana Activist. We talked about how we were young college girls together in the early 1960s at ASU,
so many years ago. We laughed about how much thinner we were then, prettier, no grey hair, no
glasses—and not having much money for fancy things at college, like the other girls.
She spent many hours and months in the archives of the Chicana/o Research Collection at the Hayden
Library at ASU, her alma mater. She deposited her own Denogeán de Esquer Collection and personal
archives there in 1989--- twenty-one years ago. She had a love of history, even then. Her Esquer
Collection continues to draw the attention of researchers, writers, scholars, students, and the general
public who come from throughout the United States to use her materials in the course of their own work
and writings. It never ceased to amaze Cecilia that her Collection had historic value and importance to
others. In our meetings, Cecilia often spoke of what mattered to her the most: her children, Andrea and
Marcos, and her beloved husband, Elias, whom she married in the summer of 1965. Cecilia had a
wonderful command of her family history, the history of the Denogeáns and the Teyecheas, and she
shared that with me, the historian and the archivist.
The first Denogeáns to step foot on this continent were from France. They were brothers: Gabriel,
Cesário, and Miguel Denogeán, travelling the seas from France to Mexico so long ago. Their ship broke
apart in the port of Guaymas, in the north-western part of Sonora, Mexico; and their stop for repairs was
lengthy. So much so that two of them settled and married in Guaymas in the late 1820s or early 1830s.
The first Teyechea, however, was not such an adventurer. He was a man of the cross, a Franciscan friar,
who brought people and cultures together. His name was Modesto Teyechea, who was already in Mexico
by 1840. When he became enamored with a Maya Indian woman and wanted to pursue his relationship
with her, and marry her, he was suspended from the church and relieved of his sacramental duties. They
had nine children together: Mestizos, Mestizas—the children of mixed races.--- And Cecilia liked learning
about her family’s Indian-ness—she liked knowing about her bi-racial/cultural heritage and she sought to
Soon, the Teyechea and Denogeán families would emigrate from northern Sonora, Mexico and become
residents of the United States by 1853. The descendents of the Denogeáns and the Teyecheas made
their way to southern California and also to the region of Superior, Arizona. It is said that the Teyechea
men carried the U.S. mail in stagecoaches from Hayden to Winkelman; managed an ore mill in Hayden; or
were blacksmiths and mechanics in the same area. The Teyechea women became self-sufficient and lived
in California. It was Isaura Teyechea Rosas who graduated from the University of Southern California.
Her sister, Amelia Teyechea Rosas, was a costume designer and a seamstress in Hollywood.
Cecilia told me about her beloved mother, Bertina Teyechea Denogeán, whose family came to Superior
from Hayden in 1928 when Bertina was only 10 years of age. And she was a young girl when she
married Cecilia’s father, Ramón Reel Denogeán, at the age of 16, in 1934. They struggled through the
Great Depression, and began a family. Their first child, Lenora, died as the result of a scorpion sting at
the age of four. Together, the Denogeáns would raise nine children. Cecilia was “in the middle”, as she
would say: born in May, 1942. Bertina took great pride in her children and their accomplishments, and in
being a home-maker, able to meet challenges and overcome them--all for the sake of the family.
Life was not easy for Ramón Denogeán. As a young boy, and at the age of 16 in 1929, he began working
as a laborer with the “bull gang” at the Magma Copper Company’s smelter, earning approximately Two-
Dollars ( $ 2.00) for an eight-hour day. The work was hard and rough and the sledgehammer, the pick
and the shovel became his tools of the trade. By 1932, he was a laborers’ helper at the Magma mill,
earning $2.75 per day. But the work was full of danger, as it required the miners to lift, move and carry
heavy bars of steel and machinery and equipment-- and stacks of timber and wood beams-- and crawl,
kneel, or crouch into dirt and rock tunnels to do their work. At one time, Ramón became trapped and
buried in an ore bin for two-and-a-half-hours before the mill operator saw his helmet buried in the rock
and dirt and pulled him to safety--- and back to life—his life, almost lost.
By 1940, Ramón was working 4,600 feet underground at the #5 shaft as a power shovel operator at the
mine. He earned a good reputation among his fellow workers and bosses and friends as being a
dependable, no nonsense, hard-working, but outspoken, miner—one who stood up for himself when
treated unfairly—(…SOUND FAMILIAR???)—and Ramón gained even more respect from these weary, hard-
nosed men. Cecilia said that she always took a great deal of pride in hearing about her father’s good
work, and about how he wasn’t afraid to do the hardest work, like some miners hesitated to do.
While Ramón was a working miner, he was also learning the automotive trade; and he did small jobs as
a machinist helper at the machine shop or did automotive work for friends and relatives away from the
mine, always adding a little income here and there as a mechanic to help his family. And he was careful
with his own money, too—making sure to have a little extra for himself, in his own pocket, Cecilia said—
he earned it; he could spend it.
As a child, Cecilia attended Superior’s so-called “Mexican school”, Harding Elementary school, through the
7th grade. She told me that her teachers made her feel inferior, un-American, and insisted that she claim
she was “Spanish”, instead of “Mexican”, for Mexicans and Indians were undesirables in an American
society. They insisted she change the pronunciation of her surname, “Denogeán”, to “Deno-gene”,
because it was more “American”. Cecilia and her classmates were punished for speaking Spanish inside
or outside the classroom. Her parents shared a similar experience in their copper towns of Hayden and
But Bertina wanted more for their children: a better education and more opportunities for a better life
than what they experienced in the rough and tough copper mining town of Superior. Cecilia said that it
was a combination of her mother’s strength and initiative and respect for formal education and her
father’s willingness to agree with the move that made it possible for the family to come to Phoenix in
1954. During the next 6-year period, Ramón car-pooled with other men and commuted, round-trip, from
Phoenix to Superior to work. By 1961, however, he began working for the City of Phoenix in the
Department of Mechanical Maintenance.
And it was in Phoenix where Bertina’s hopes for a better education for her children became a reality.
Cecilia entered the 8th grade at Lowell Elementary School; and, with the assistance of a faculty
scholarship of $50 dollars, graduated from Phoenix Union High School in 1959. [THAT’S 1950’s $ fifty
dollars—a good deal of money at that time!! ]… She received a two-year scholarship to attend Arizona
State University as a Business Education major. Her good grades earned her the “Outstanding Business
Education Student” award and she became the President of the Business Education Honorary, Pi Omega
Pi. After graduation, and with her Bachelors’ degree in hand, Cecilia accepted a position at Ray High
School in Kearny, where she taught business classes for a year. She returned to ASU as a graduate
student in 1964, and obtained a Masters degree in Spanish and Latin American Literature in 1966.
Over time, Cecilia became an educator in the Tempe Union High School district; an ASU Faculty Associate
in the Foreign Language Department, where she taught Spanish. She earned her Juris Doctorate from
the ASU College of Law in 1976; practiced Civil Law in Tempe; became the Justice and Legal Studies
Department Chair at Phoenix College; and established a solid reputation as a political advisor and a civil-
rights advocate. Her tireless work for the Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee-- and
on political campaigns for human dignity and justice throughout the years-- is legendary.
Cecilia was there to help shape the political history of Chicanos in Phoenix in the period of the 1960s. ---
She was there to turn away injustice and racism in the Tempe Union High School district in the early ‘70s.
---She was there in the 1980s to challenge the questionable decisions of unethical and sexist and
powerful White judges in Phoenix. ---She was there in the 1990s at Phoenix College to direct their Legal
Assisting Program and to prepare students for paralegal work and become their mentor. --- She was
there in the 21st century to manage and help carry on political campaigns in Tempe and in Phoenix. ---
And all the while, she carried with her a dream of ideals that are rooted in the 20th-century decision of
Brown v. Board of Education—Equality; Freedom; Opportunity.
Cecilia’s dream was to see an end to the evils of racism and prejudice and discrimination against people
of color; against the poor and disadvantaged; against the elderly; against women; against working
people. While she recognized that the world is full of imperfect human beings-- and that we may remain
stubborn and slow to resolve inequality-- she understood the importance of establishing-- and
implementing—equitable, and just laws to end discrimination and civil inequalities.
She often spoke of the importance and her belief in the Dream Act, first introduced nearly a decade ago,
and its link to the importance of a more comprehensive immigration reform policy; and how it would
provide a path to citizenship for undocumented young people who came to the United States at young
ages, to serve in the military or attend college—and how this Dream Act could enable them to develop
their own Dream: an Education, one that encompassed 21st-Century skills: collaboration; critical
thinking; digital literacy; problem-solving abilities---the kinds of things that are important to students,
young or old, to be able to thrive in today’s world.
Cecilia, the teacher, believed that we also needed classroom and political leaders to set ambitious
visions—rallying others to work hard to achieve those visions; planning and executing them to ensure
student learning, and defining the very notion of teaching and changing the life paths of students.
But the teacher in her also believed that students still need to know and understand the history that
brought all of us –and our state of Arizona--to where we are today. It was that belief, that Dream, that
spurred her on to write her self-memoir, a task that saw its birth as a term paper for ASU Professor
Manuel Servin’s 1972 Mexican American History course. And now, throughout the course of 38 (thirty-
eight) years, we have Cecilia’s document—we have her recently-published self-memoir. It’s called: The
Lie About My Inferiority: Evolution of a Chicana Activist.
Cecilia’s Dream for Equality will never die. It will never die because she has given it to you. You must be
her caretaker—AND adopt her dream. Make it your own. Never let it die. Nurture it just as she did.
-------------------There are people who should be remembered for what happened to them. And there are
others who are remembered for what they did. Cecilia Teyechea Denogeán de Esquer will be
remembered as one who changed lives; challenged our perceptions of one another; and loved life. And in
loving life, there should be no sorrow or sadness now, in her passing.
I will see her in your faces—and you will see her in mine. You will see Cecilia in her husband, Elias, and
their children, Andrea and Marcos, for they have inherited her strength and strong will and commitment
for social change and justice--- and we honor them here this morning.
In closing, I’m reminded of the small boy who struggled to tell his grandfather just how much he loved
him, and in a way that his grandfather could understand. Finally, he said, in his own remarkable way: “I
love you Grandpa----all the way up to the sky.”……And so we say:…”We love you, Cecilia----from the
bottom of this desert valley that you loved so much, all the way up to the sky.”
Published by the Hispanic Institute of Social Issues in Phoenix, Arizona
|HISTORY IS ABOUT
Cecilia’s dream was to see an end
to the evils of racism and prejudice
and discrimination against people of
color; against the poor and
disadvantaged; against the elderly;
against women; against working
|A collection of letters written by
students struggling to continue
with their education due to their
immigration status. The letters
document the socio-economic
plight of Arizona immigrant
students who were brought to the
United States as children, and
due to their legal status are
forced to abandon college or pay
out-of-the state tuition. A fully
bilingual book in English and
Spanish; includes black and white
$19.95 + $3.99 s/h