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In Americo Paredes’s novel “George Washington Gomez,” the main character George Washington “Gualinto” Gomez is a young Mexican-American man, growing up in Jonesville-on-the-Grande, Texas. As the novel chronicles his journey to adulthood in early 1900’s Texas, the historical backdrop provides various trials and tribulations for Gualinto that shape his identity and perspective on life. Pressured to become a “great man” by the idealism of his late father, Gualinto struggles to walk the lofty path set before him. One character who does his utmost to make sure that Gualinto realizes this dream is his uncle Feliciano. Spurred onward by Gumersindo’s wishes that Gualinto become a great man, Feliciano enters the complicated world of politics and business with the intent of providing a financially stable atmosphere in which Gualinto would have the opportunity to achieve this dream. Ironically, Feliciano ultimately disapproves of the man that Gualinto becomes because Gualinto has no intention of helping his people and has a negative opinion of their resistance as a whole. However, without his financial support, his insistence upon a formal education, and his role as father figure, Gualinto would not be the successful man that he has become by the end of the novel.
During a time period when most Mexican-American’s were poor and working dead end jobs, Feliciano was able to guarantee financial security for Gualinto. This was an important venture for him since he “endeavored to make as much money as he could by all means possible to realize Gumersindo’s dream because he knew that dreams are more likely to come true if one has money” (Paredes 155). Thus, Feliciano did not follow Lupe and the sediciosos into Mexico, but mindful of his promises to Gumersindo, moved the family to Jonesville-on-the-Grande where he quickly transcended several socioeconomic ranks. He starts off as a bartender under the tutelage of Faustino Bello, but quickly moves into the political arena gathering votes for Judge Norris and the blues. Then, Feliciano successfully owns his own grocery store which produces the majority of his wealth. Although not rich by any means, as the sole breadwinner of his family, Feliciano is able to provide a home for his family with a “store bought” front door and a porch swing that symbolizes their prosperity. Even once “La Chilla” hits Jonesville-on-the-Grande, Feliciano and his family are one of the few Mexican-American families that are able to weather the storm with minimal damage due to the fact that Gumersindo had not put all of the familie’s money in the bank. All of this he does in order to give Gualinto the ability to become a great man. Unlike other Mexican-American families, Gualinto does not have to work to help support his family, although he chooses to for a short stint while in high school. As Gualinto matures and watches his other friends drop out of school and begin working, he continues to study and develop into a successful man. Others in the story were not as fortunate. For example, Gualinto’s sisters Carmen and Maruca. As girls, Feliciano did not care whether or not they finished school and, because they were women, thought it best that they drop out anyways. Without Feliciano’s support as far as their education was concerned, both Carmen and Maruca eventually do drop out and become nothing more than someone’s wife by the end of the novel. From this, one sees that without Feliciano’s hard work and financial success, Gualinto would not have had the time or the ability to become a man of high esteem in the way that Gumersindo envisioned it.
Feliciano’s financial savvy is another factor that provided Gualinto with the opportunity to pursue the single most important tool to becoming a great man: his education. Feliciano did not know much about the parameters of becoming a great man but he “made as much money as he could, at jobs he enjoyed but that sometimes made him doubt whether he was doing the right thing. All for his nephew’s education” (Paredes 49). Starting with primary school, Gualinto had a difficult time adjusting due to Miss Cornelia constantly picking on him and embarrassing him in front of the entire class. Yet Gualinto persevered and even excelled, getting recognized for things such as his ability to read fluently at such a young age. Next, Gualinto tackled middle school and prepared for secondary school. High school presented many challenges for Gualinto what with Maria Elena Osuna using him for his grades, La Chilla, and Maruca’s pregnancy. Despite his decreasing academic performance however, Gualinto finished this educational pursuit as well. Unlike most of Gualinto’s Mexican-American contemporaries, Gualinto made it not only to high school but also through college and law school. This was something of a privilege for Gualinto as by the time he made it to high school, he was one of only five Mexicans left in the schooling system. Feliciano was the main, if not sole reason for Gualinto’s being able to achieve this. If it were not for his ability to provide for his family and the college fund that he had put away long before “La Chilla” hit, Gualinto would have long since dropped out of school for financial reasons. Instead, Feliciano recognized the importance of education early on in Gualinto’s upbringing and impressed this upon him continuously.
Having guaranteed that Gualinto was educated and financially sound, another contribution of Feliciano that ensured that his nephew became a great man was the father figure position that he took in Gualinto’s life. Feliciano never had a wife or children of his own, so he invested in Gualinto as if he were his own son. Yet, Gualinto was hardly ever appreciative of anything his uncle did for him. He was embarrassed that they were not as rich as other families such as The Osuna’s and could not appreciate what Feliciano had gone through to provide what they did have. Despite Gualinto’s attitude, Feliciano continued to be the father Gualinto would never know, specifically by reminding Gualinto to never be ashamed of his Mexican roots. One sees how Gualinto struggles to reconcile this with his position in the Anglo world. On one hand, he attends a school mixed with Mexicans and white people and he tries to be friendly with them, but on the other hand he still feels the frustration toward the rinches like the rest of his people. This is demonstrated by the scene in the banana grove where Gualinto pretends that one of the trees is a rinche and says to it “Why don’t you kill me, eh? Because you shoot people in the back. Because you kill unarmed men and little children.” (68). Despite Gualinto’s confusion, Feliciano did what he could to keep him grounded. Perhaps Feliciano’s greatest act as father figure in Gualinto’s life was honoring Gumersindo’s dying wish that he would not tell Gualinto how his father died. Keeping this promise was a huge responsibility for Feliciano that he did not even agree with. It eventually causes Gualinto to think negatively of his father but “Gumersindo had given [Feliciano] a job to do. The boy was too young to understand. Let somebody else tell him after [Feliciano] was dead” (Paredes 264). Concealing not only his father’s past but his own from Gualinto ended up being a huge sacrifice for Feliciano because Gualinto ultimately comes to think of both of them as cowards for a time. Feliciano, however, recognizes the gravity of the situation and knows that if anyone were to find out about his role as a sedicioso, he would be in jail and there would be no one to provide for the family. He also knows that Gumersindo wanted Gualinto to grow up without hate, but if Gualinto knew the circumstances of his father’s death, it would be impossible for him not to. Thus, Feliciano allows Gualinto to think what he wants to ensure that he would always be there for him and that he would also honor his promise to Gumersindo.
Feliciano is the single most important reason that Gualinto grew up to be as successful as he was. Feliciano’s constant dedication to his financial success is what guarantees Gualinto the ability to go to school and get an education that far exceeds the education of his contemporaries. In conjunction with that, Feliciano’s role as father figure in Gualinto’s life was another important contributing factor to Gualinto’s eventual prosperity. Despite Feliciano’s best efforts, Gualinto does not grow up to become the great man that helps his Mexican people. In fact, he grows up to adopt a rather negative view of Mexican resistance as a whole, even legally changing his name to dissociate himself with it. Whether or not Gualinto is proud of his Mexican heritage as a grown man, he owes all he has to Feliciano — the Mexican padrino who gave him all.
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