From last night's vigil: Top - The parents of Edgar Garzon lead a crowd in a vigil in their son's memory; 3rd picture down - Armando Garzon, Eddie's father, lights a candle in front of a make-shift memorial; Bottom - 37th Avenue and 77th Street will be renamed :Edgar Garzon Corner" at a public ceremony later this month. Additional photos here.I was a bit surprised by the turn out at last night's vigil in honor of Eddie Garzon considering the late notice and the fact that it happened on the Tuesday right after labor day weekend. Initially about 15 to 20 people gathered on the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 80th Street but by the time Eddie's parents showed up some of them had already left. No matter because they were replaced by others and at the end I counted 30 to 40 people. Among them were old friends of Eddie's, a couple of political figures and some who didn't seem connected other than by having read about of the vigil somewhere else.
Whether it was because there seemed to be separate groups or because some weren't sure what was going on or because Eddie's parents did not show up until 8pm or so, everyone seemed to be aimless and at a loss of what to do.
Personally I was feeling a bit awkward for some reason, so - while I guess I could have easily stepped in and take the lead - I just wanted to take a step back this time around. So I was glad when the Garzons appeared with local District Leader Francisco Moya at their side.
Among the other community and political leaders that showed up were New York State Assemblymember Ivan Lafayette and future District Leader (and friend) Alfonso Quiroz. Marlene Forero, who used to be one of Eddie's closest friends and is now a Board Member of the Colombian Lesbian and Gay Association (COLEGA) as a straight ally, brought some of her friends (they have always been there year after year) and other COLEGA members such as Jose Cruz and Juan Carlos Sandoval (and his partner Julio) also showed up. Yoselli Castillo showed up in representation of the Dominican group GALDE.
When I spoke to Leonor Garzon yesterday morning she was a little nervous about how to lead a vigil, the potential number of people that might show up and whether someone would be able to translate for her if there were a lot of people who only spoke English. I said that I'd translate for her if need be, that she only had to worry about the crowd if more than fifty people showed up and, even then, I was sure the local police precinct would take care of it (she had already invited officers from the 115th precinct in Queens to show up).
But once the Garzons showed up, there was no need to worry as everything ran somewhat smoothly. Slowly everyone marched along the same path we took during that 1st vigil, from the Cositas Ricas restaurant, going by Friend's Tavern, turning right on 77th Street and crossing 37th Road and 37th Avenue to the place where Eddie had fallen, his skull fractured, his blood staining the sidewalk.
During the walk, Leonor asked me once again to translate once we got there and to maybe talk about my memories of Eddie. How could I have said no?
The Reverend John Azzali began by offering a prayer and asking for a minute of silence. I then spoke of the day that we marched down the 5th Avenue Heritage of Pride march with the jaw-dropping float that Eddie had designed for COLEGA, a horse with coffee sacs reading "100% Colombian coffee/100% gay Colombian," Colombian folk dancers dressed up like coffee-cups (one of the dancers was at the vigil last night as well).
Leonor then addressed those gathered around a make-shift memorial - signs and photos posted and tied up around the trunk of the tree that was closest to where Eddie had fallen, candles set on the sidewalk illuminating the images - and was at turns mournful, sad, angry and defiant.
She spoke of her son and his friends, of how the unity of the Garzon family had been shattered by Eddie's death and of coming to the United States to make sure that justice was done. Mrs. Garzon also spoke of the recent trial that ended in a hung jury verdict and of how difficult it had been to take the witness stand to talk about her son's life, of how difficult it was going to be to face a jury again come this Fall when the case was brought to court again, and of hoping that it would be the last time she would have to testify about her son to a jury, that the next time there'd be justice.
She also said that she was surprised that there were so few representatives from gay organizations. She said that she knew her son was gay, had been proud to be gay and had lived an openly gay life in the United States, and how it was hard for her to comprehend how a lot of the gay leaders in the city were not there last night. She urged the gay community to remember their own, to support their own, to make sure that justice would come in the future when it came to her son.
Finally she made special mention of those who had shown up and, in particular, Marlene Forero and those who used to know Eddie years ago; the political leaders that showed up ("for them, not all is politics," she said, "sometimes they also show they have a heart"); Father John Azzali; and the homicide unit of the New York Police Department as well as the detectives and officers at the 115th Precinct who were instrumental in capturing suspect John McGhee when all traces seemed to have expired. She specifically thanked Detective Daniel Corey who was unable to be there last night.
Armando, Eddie's stoic dad, then spoke and nearly broke my heart. He was brief but full of emotion as he told the crowd that someone had taken away half his heart by killing his son. How he didn't know whether to be grateful that Eddie was now gone and perhaps at a better place than any of us but of how much it still hurt and how much he missed his son.
I hope I did them justice in translating their words. It's difficult to translate other people's words when there is so much emotion and tragedy behind them.
I was approached by the new commander at the 115th precinct and I thanked her and the many officers that showed up last night for being there. I laughed and told her that I might have criticized the 115th precinct in the past but that they deserved the warm thank-yous that the Garzon's had given them last night.
People mulled around and signed a memorial book. When most of the people had drifted away as well as most of the security detail I found myself talking to a young police officer who arrived late and remained behind as everyone else left. He wanted to know more, saying he'd been shocked to find out a man had been attacked on that street - which he considered among Jackson Heights' safest. So I told him the story and spoke about the gay community in Queens, the gay nightlife and how I didn't necessarily feel that it was a dangerous place to be gay. "Yeah," he said, "to be perfectly truthful, as a police officer I've always thought that the gay bars are safer and seem to have a funner atmosphere than the straight bars in Queens; I always see trouble there but not at the gay bars."
A small conversation after a mournful vigil that for some reason mad me love my neighborhood even more and seemed an appropriate end to yet another year in which a few of us came together to remember Eddie.
A memorial mass is planned for this Thursday, September 6th at the Our Lady of Fatima Church at 25-56 80th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens. Also later this month, the corner of 77th Street and 37th Avenue will be renamed the "Edgar Garzon Corner" in a public ceremony. A specific date has yet to be determined.
In the meantime, Terrance has offered this perspective and reading someone else's thoughts, for some reason, finally brought the full emotions home.