I randomly read a line: "Charles, you're a dangerous man!
You hit me." Moments later, a mangled javelina corpse flies past my window, clipped on the snout by a Mac truck bound for Mexico. Born in Nogales on April 22, 1922, Mingus is known the world over as an innovative jazz bassist, composer, bandleader, author, poet, philosopher and outspoken advocate for equal rights and justice. 5, 1979, in Cuernavaca, Mexico, the legacy he left behind included more than 50 albums and roughly 300 individual works. In the city of Watts, where Mingus lived for most of his childhood, there is the Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center. Postal Service recognized him with a 32-cent stamp bearing his image. I decide to try my luck at the Pimeria Alta Historical Society, where the officially sanctioned history of Nogales is shaped and edited.
However, the landscape is relatively unchanged, and we are able to pinpoint the approximate location of the hospital in which Mingus was born. "When I was in school, I was never taught that the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed here," Ojeda says.
"They never told me that Nogales was the birthplace of Charles Mingus.
I am driving toward Nogales through a freakish November fog in search of Charles Mingus.
On my dash, a dog-eared copy of his rambling autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, flips pages in the wind.
"The focus in this town is commerce, and there has never been enough of a majority in Nogales to focus on history that is not mostly commerce," Holm says. "A lot of history does not get recorded," Holm says.
"I think you will find Nogales was much more tolerant than other places." Regarding upcoming historical projects, Holm does indicate he is looking forward to researching the lives of Martin Laughman and Andy Bookas, a couple of Nogales drinking buddies and merchants, one of whom regularly wrote letters to the local paper. When told Holm initially claimed he never heard of Mingus, historical society general administrator Teresa Leal smiles thinly. There is never a push for history unless you say: Here I am.
On the way, Ojeda explains that Mingus' father, Charles Mingus Sr., was a black Buffalo Solider from the U. Army 25th Infantry stationed with his family at Camp Steven B. The camp, established after the Mexican Revolution to fortify the border, was initially home to mostly white soldiers.
When World War I broke out, the white soldiers were shipped off to fight in Europe.
Replacing those white soldiers were the Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry.
But we still need to talk about how things were then so we can get past it.
The historical society should not just be a repository for elite family histories." BACK AT THE HISTORICAL Society, director Axel Holm has a simple explanation why a cabinet full of musty, dead ducks is more prominently displayed than anything about Mingus. When informed of who Mingus was, Holm, a Nogales native with roots that go back several generations, is apologetic and quick to correct the error, noting he would now like to dedicate an entire room in the museum to Mingus.
Maybe a 4-by-5 index card with a sentence in faded ink noting: "Charles Mingus was born here." But again, there is nothing.