Itzolin Valdemar García
August 5, 1975 - May 2, 2003
"My heart of fire. I still believe in love above all things... Remember me beautiful."
Writer and artist Itzolin Valdemar García was born in San Antonio, Texas August 5, 1975 to Norwegian-American writer Mia Kirsi Stageberg and Chicano poet-activist Cecilio García-Camarillo. It was a time of intense cultural life, and Itzolin was a movimiento baby. His parents took him to poetry festivals and workshops all over the Southwest. His mother held him in her arms while typing copy for Caracol, the journal edited by Itzolin's parents. She wheeled him in a stroller at marches like the Texas Farmworkers' long walk to the Texas state capitol. Itzolin's father has since been widely recognized for his seminal contributions to Chicano arts and politics.
Itzolin's parents gave him a name combining the Nahua word itz for obsidian with ollin, movement. His middle name honored his Danish great-grandfather, Valdemar Egekvist.
Itzolin grew up belonging to the community of danzantes, dancers in the Aztec spiritual tradition. He was baptized by the late Andrés Segura, a priest from Mexico who worked in the ancient traditions of the danzantes. Itzolin himself was an Aztec dancer from a very early age. When he was seven years old, he accompanied members of a dance troupe to Mexico City and, during a sacred festival, he was given the honor of performing La Danza Del Sol. Reportedly he executed the steps flawlessly.
Itzolin thrived in an atmosphere of public sharing. Once when he was only three years old, at a literary festival at the University of New Mexico, Itzolin asked for a moment at the microphone. Bemused, the master of ceremonies allowed it, and Itzolin delivered a fiery speech in Spanish, full of apocalyptic images of planets, shooting stars and cosmic battles of good and evil. During his early school years in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he was passionately involved in acting, particularly through the theater group La Companía. He also performed throughout New Mexico in the group Corazoncitos del Pueblo, along with his mother and younger sisters, and was a regular cast member of public radio station KUNM's "Radio Free Children." In addition, he wrote and illustrated several books published and distributed by his father. Itzolin's native language was Spanish, by agreement between his parents. Consequently, he did not learn to speak English until he was about four years old, when he quickly became bilingual.
In the early '80's, break dance came to the Southwest, and Itzolin spent a great deal of time perfecting "popping" moves. He also studied and enjoyed martial arts. He was deeply curious about other cultures and sought out students from other countries.
When Itzolin was seven, his parents separated, and after a few years his mother moved to Washington, D.C. He won an opportunity to study there in 1989 at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, subsequently receiving the Key Award for his drawings. He looked to this classical training to strengthen his skills as a comic book artist, since his primary passion was storytelling through words and visual imagery. He also loved to play the guitar and sing.
Itzolin's parents shared their children through co-parenting in both homes, and Itzolin returned to his father's house in Albuquerque for high school. He took evening life drawing classes at the University of New Mexico. However, he was increasingly dissatisfied with his high school education, and after he was expelled for playing guitar shirtless in the school corridor, he dropped out. When he was 16, he went to San Francisco where his mother had relocated. While living there, he wrote a novella, studied and read intensively, and finished high school in an alternative program. He set his sights on Yale University and was accepted on a scholarship, graduating with a B.A. in Literature with Distinction in 1998. Among his awards was Best Senior Essay in Literature. The Ford Foundation invested in his graduate education by granting him an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship for Humanistic Studies.
After a year as a Duke Endowment Fellow in the graduate Literature program at Duke University, Itzolin took time out to be with his father, who had become ill with cancer. Itzolin would join Cecilio for early-morning runs along the Rio Grande, before going to work at the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice. Itzolin was profoundly saddened by his father's death in 2002. With Cecilio's blessing, he had already entered Stanford University as a doctoral candidate in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Despite Itzolin's grief, he continued in graduate education, developed strong friendships with fellow activists at El Centro Chicano at Stanford, and was inspired by theater studies with writer Cherríe Moraga. He also enjoyed hip-hop music and dance, and went to his friends' events in San Jose, California.
Itzolin had a strong and loving family that supported his dreams. He lived in the Mission district of San Francisco only a few miles from his mother and youngest sister, whom he visited frequently. He often came over to eat picadillo on Saturday nights or Norwegian pancakes on Sunday mornings, and to talk, laugh, and sometimes share his latest writings.
Itzolin eventually found much of the artistic community energy he constantly sought among a group of young San Francisco Asian writers and musicians at Locus arts and cultural center. Dedicating himself increasingly to writing, in 2003 he began taking classes from Truong Tran at the Kearny Street Workshop. He also became involved in the APAture multi-disciplinary arts festival. Describing himself as a passionate educator, he was articulate about the world of vibrant self-expression he believed we could all share in. Itzolin was completing his first manuscript of poetry.
Tragically, on May 2, 2003, Itzolin took his own life. The terrible irreversibility of that decision left his family and hundreds of others whose lives he touched in beauty -- even people who knew him only fleetingly -- in aching sadness and disbelief. The May 7, 2003 Stanford Daily noted that he is remembered "for his zest for life" and that he cared for "not only his friends but for every individual." Friends from every city in which he had lived came to his funeral May 7 in San Francisco. A simultaneous service with an Aztec ceremonia was held in Albuquerque. Christian, Jewish, Native American and Tibetan prayer services have been observed by more than two thousand people, and special tributes were held at Stanford in Palo Alto, California on May 22, 2003 and at Locus in San Francisco on May 27.
Itzolin is survived by his mother Mia Stageberg and sister Karina García in San Francisco, sister Cielo García in North Carolina, brother Stefan Armstrong in Brooklyn, sister Shifra Pride Raffel in Berkeley and sister Kezia Raffel Pride in Israel.
Those interested in publishing Itzolin Valdemar García's work should direct their requests to his mother, Mia Kirsi Stageberg, using this form.
Itzolin Garcia's family invites you to celebrate his life by contributing a memory to the memorial.
Mp3 of 15-year-old Itzolin singing and playing his song "Maker of Rainbows", which he wrote when he was 14, and which was played at his funeral. Thanks to Stephen Pride for transferring the recording. Copyright (C) 2004 by the estate of Itzolin Valdemar Garcia, all rights reserved. Very large file, may take a long time to download.
Beginnings of a photo scrapbook, contributions welcome
Duke University's East Campus Bridge, painted in Itzolin's memory
Winners of the First Annual Flor Y Colibri/Itzolin Valdemar Garcia Concurso de Arte y Poesia for Bay Area Youth
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