Hearts and Mayans

Jack Leonard has opened his South Dade home to Guatemalan migrants. What more can he do?

"My life was no different than millions of Irish-Catholics in New York during the Thirties and Forties A easy and comfortable," Leonard says, recalling a childhood spent in Riverdale in the Bronx. "There were no glitches, no traumas. But there were always masses of relatives around."

John Terrance Leonard was born July 29, 1932, the youngest of two sons of John Leonard, a career New York City police officer, and his wife Gertrude, a university secretary and an active church volunteer. "Jack was always good-natured and easygoing. He led a very happy, sociable life," remembers Leonard's mother, speaking by phone from New Jersey, where she now lives. He attended church schools and went on to graduate from Manhattan College, a Catholic institution, she adds proudly.

Leonard says his father, who died several years ago, was rarely around while he was growing up. When he wasn't working, Leonard recalls, John Leonard was usually off at a boxing match at Madison Square Garden or making use of another of the many free tickets he received as one of New York's finest. He didn't miss his dad, Leonard says; he did, however, appreciate his knack for acquiring perks.

Never a dedicated student, Leonard drifted after graduation. He enjoyed writing, he says, but showed no particular flair. Then an uncle who worked at Hearst Corporation in New York offered him a job with the communications conglomerate. "I've never looked for a job in my life, and this one was a hack job, handling accounts, working with numbers. I didn't last long," he says.

Instead he got a transfer to the public relations department, where his good nature and gift for gab served him well. "If someone in the Hearst family was throwing a gorgeous party in the Hamptons, well, we had to get that in the home-and-design magazine," recounts Leonard, clearly relishing the opportunity to name-drop. "If Paloma Picasso was staging an exhibition of Indian art in New York, there was a Hearst newspaper in the Southwest that wanted to know."

Leonard says his work caught the attention of John Clements, who would later become director of public relations for Hearst. "Heavily involved" with the Eisenhowers, the Nixons, and the power elite, as Leonard tells it, his new mentor opened new doors for him, teaching him "life savvy" and taking him on trips to the Hamptons and Palm Beach. "I was there on the expense account," Leonard says, "but I was there."

Then Angelo Bottani, a sophisticated, elegant, and very rich Italian entered Leonard's life, spurring a shift in gears and continents for both Leonard and his friend Ray Heaton, a two-decade European odyssey whose particulars are as fascinating as they are difficult to verify.

Bottani owned several dozen Italian companies. He bought castles belonging to Mussolini, dipped snuff from ornate Ming dynasty boxes, and had a soft spot for shiny new Buicks. He visited Hearst, met Leonard, and took a liking to the gregarious americano.

Leonard is vague when it comes to pinpointing exact facts and dates ("I don't keep a journal"), but he says the next several years were spent in Italy, where he and Heaton worked on a Bottani project that involved an MTV-like manipulation of color TV, and on revamping the Italian version of Fortune and setting up a translating office. "I don't know why, but Angelo trusted me with everything," Leonard says. "I was his americano friend, traveling with him for 'lunch' to Paris and to New York to interpret lucrative business ventures."

After about half a dozen years in Italy, Leonard and Heaton moved to France, still under the patronage of their Italian benefactor. They put in a stint at a perfume factory Bottani owned, taught English classes in Nice, and traveled from Paris to Biarritz to the Algarve in Portugal to San Sebastian in Spain.

Then, in 1987, the two men returned to this side of the Atlantic.
Blood has flowed often in Central America, and freely. In Guatemala it has flowed for longer than in any other nation. There civil war has raged since 1972, and with peace talks stalled once again, it continues. After a military coup in 1982, the national army levied a genocidal campaign against guerrilla rebels and anyone suspected of collaboration. Hundreds of thousands of Mayans, crushed in the vise of the conflict, fled the country. Most settled over the border in Chiapas in Mexico; the first groups are just now being repatriated. Others, lured by the promise of farm work, trekked further north into the United States, to California and Oregon.

Some moved east, enticed by word of an "Indian town" in Florida, where the land was rich and work was plenty. In about 1982, the first Guatemalan workers found Indiantown, just east of Lake Okeechobee. Hundreds would follow in the years to come. Today more than 5000 Guatemalans live there, in the heart of the Florida citrus belt. Migrant workers move with the seasons, and some Mayans eventually moved further south, to Immokalee, a rural area just north of the Big Cypress Swamp in Collier County, and into the Lake Worth area.

Migrant workers first came to Homestead in 1912, when boll weevils destroyed acre after acre of precious cotton throughout the South. Mexican workers arrived several decades ago, followed by Puerto Ricans, Haitians, and, most recently, Central Americans.

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