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A tribute to Daniel Cardenas: A life well lived

Daniel Cardenas Marquez, 77, was the first-boy child of Daniel Cardenas Cantu and María del Refugio Marquez de Cardenas.  Born on November 11, 19 27 on a farm in Edna , Texas , he had fourteen brothers and sisters.   

Although all their children were born in the U.S. , his parents were born in México (his father is from Salinas-Victoria, Nuevo León and his mother is from Saltillo , Coahuila).

Daniel was a very mischievous child.  His escapades included sneaking out to eat sugar straight from a jar—ants and all.  He once set a wild stallion loose into a corral because he felt bad that it was always tied up and kept away from the other horses. 

He needed to have fun to somehow make up for all the hard farm work he had to do. 

Daniel’s mother told him that, “As long as you believe with your whole heart that you are a person of dignity, you will never be poor.”  He always carried his mother’s words with him.

At eleven years old, Daniel worked his first job at the zoo, where he fed the animals.  He enjoyed the work and everything was fine until his father came by one day and saw him feeding the bears.  Afraid for his safety, Daniel’s father made him leave his job. (In 1938, his family moved from the dry area of Rodríguez, México, to the city of Nuevo Laredo .  Danny worked in Nuevo Laredo ’s zoo).

Daniel said he always knew that graduating from school had never been in his future.  He learned at a very early age not to become a burden and any money he made from working went to support his family.

Daniel remembered spending a lot of time with this father because his father wanted him to become real “macho.”  However, Daniel believed that he was more like his mother—his mother was an extremely understanding person, she was very good-hearted with people in need and always calm in stressful situations.  Daniel feels that he learned these qualities from her example.

As an adult, Daniel would immensely enjoy being a parent.  He knew his children needed a lot of his time and attention.  He never tired of listening or helping them, even if it meant delivering the Sunday newspaper with them after a long day at the steel mill.

From age thirteen, when Daniel left home to work in Brownsville, Texas, until he was twenty, he lived in boarding houses and traveled to work at jobs such as picking vegetables, sacking potatoes, and unloading the banana boats.

He remembered sometimes working seventy-two hours straight at a time.  He would visit and send money to his family as often as he could. 

In 1947, while working at a cotton compress company, he organized and led a boycott after the company refused to keep its promise of a pay raise and improved working conditions.  He eventually led half of the strikers to Mansfield , Ohio , to work for the Pennsylvania Railroad laying track and rails.

In 1948, Daniel and a few friends left the railroad and moved to Cleveland , Ohio .  There he taught himself to speak the English fluently by translating an article from the newspaper with the help of a Spanish-English dictionary.  He learned extremely fast, in about four months, Daniel was speaking English well with little difficulty.

About that time, he started working at Jones & Laughlin Steel Mill; he met and started dating a young woman from Pennsylvania .  Daniel and Elsie Cardenas were married on January 12, 19 49 .  On October 1, 19 49 , Elsie gave birth to a baby boy, whom they named Daniel (Danny), after his father.   On January 9, 19 51 , Daniel and Elsie became the parents of yet another baby boy named Andrew.  He was soon followed on October 30, 19 53 , by his baby brother, Eddie. 

In 1954, Daniel started getting involved with community organizations; he joined the Mexican social club called the Club Azteca.  In 1958, he was elected its president and held the position for eight years.

In 1960, he opened a gift shop selling Mexican curios like pottery, jewelry, and leather goods.  The whole family was involved and they would travel to fairs across Ohio and sell the imported goods.  After six years, he closed the store.

However, Daniel continued to volunteer and became one of the eight founding members on the board of directors of the Spanish American Committee (SAC).  The Spanish American Committee helps people by providing services to make living in the United States easier for Spanish-speaking families.  He felt a strong call to give back to the community now that he was no longer in need himself.

From 1976 to 1982, Daniel became a radio program producer and disc jockey.  He played Latin music catering to the tastes of a mostly Puerto Rican Cleveland audience.

On April 6, 1986, Daniel retired from the steel mill, after working there for thirty-eight years.  He had not planned on retiring so soon and his wife didn’t even know about it until it happened.  However, he has never regretted the decision. 

Later that year, he traveled to México with some friends, who were working on a project.  He served as guide, translator, and even gunman in certain areas.  He picked the hotels where they stayed and helped put together dinners for their colleagues. 

He spent his free time going into the mountains to visit the Indians and learned many of the different customs associated with the different tribes.  Every couple of months, he would travel back up to Cleveland and visit his family.  In 1988, after two years of traveling back and forth, Daniel returned to Cleveland to stay.

Late in 1993, Daniel’s health suddenly started to decline.  He would become very tired and just couldn’t function at his regular level.  Medical tests found that the major arteries around his heart were blocked.  Daniel underwent triple bypass surgery.  He recovered quickly and in February of 1994, he even went on a vacation with his wife to Cancun, México. 

On September 12, 1998 , Daniel’s wife suffered a massive stroke.  She needed constant care and Daniel felt that it was his duty to take care of her.  He gave up all outside activities and made their home more accessible for her health needs.  He cared for her twenty-four hours a day for seven months with the help of family and close friends.  On August 12, 1999 Elsie passed away.

Daniel then lived with his sister, Sarah.  He reconnected with community activities.  He helped get the Club Azteca to archive its documents with the Western Reserve Historical Society for future generations to review. 

He became active in such organizations as the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, the Alejandro Ramírez Coalition, and many others.  He received many awards and recognition for all the work he accomplished for these different organizations.

Daniel never considered himself old.        He prepared for his death, preparing a will and such, but he didn’t dwell on dying.  He felt that he was lucky and lived in the golden age of the United States because of such things as pensions, Social Security, and senior discounts.  When he was a young boy, he never dreamed of having such a life as he lived.

Daniel said like to be remembered for the way he was, no more and no less.  He considered himself a real Mexican at heart because he has never worried about the future nor was concerned with accumulating property or money.  He didn’t believe in luck and felt that people made their own opportunities.  He believed that whatever you put into a thing is what you are going to get out of it in return. 

Editor’s Note: This article is a tribute to Daniel Cardenas Marquez, who died in Cleveland, Ohio on January 13th. The information in this memoriam was condensed from an unpublished manuscript, “Living the Good Life: The Life of Daniel Cardenas Marquez,” by Daniel’s niece, Jessica Lynn Cardenas.






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