R/ “There’s a bit more to it”

Some may have seen my standard signature closing my letters and emails. Many of you might have guessed that it was simply a notation of the first letter of my first name. Maybe even leaving you to wonder, “Is he really too lazy to write out his full five-letter name?” 

Maybe. But, there’s a bit more to it. 

Recently, I shared a bit more about my military experience. The R/ is pulled from the pages of that chapter of my life. 

As you might imagine, military communications – especially formal communications – have a specific style & format. In fact, there’s no shortage of Department of Defense manuals that dictate every detail of military correspondence. 

Amongst the many arcane rules and regulations, there is a common closing – or valediction – for informal but professional communications between servicemembers – “Respectfully” or some version of “R/” and in some cases, “Very Respectfully or “V/R.” A simple sign of mutual respect afforded to every rank whether the words above bring welcomed news or hard to read.

I’m no longer in the active ranks of military service, but the R/ is a regular reminder of an important lesson that shaped my daily outlook – a simple gesture of mutual respect embraces our common humanity and moves us closer together as a community.

Today, far too many leaders advance their cause of choice through divisive rhetoric that draws supporters closer and pushes opponents even further away. A conscious choice typically for a momentary advantage in the fog of political combat. The reason it’s all too common is because it’s often rewarded with the cheers of those we love the most. Admittedly, I’m occasionally guilty of it too.

But, we often forget there is another person, a human being on the receiving end of our harshest words. Or at the very least our words are often ultimately about the well-being of another person or even humanity itself. So, just as we should not shy away from expressing our righteous indignation at the many wrongs in our world, we also cannot forget our common humanity in the process. Without it, we and the causes we fight for are ultimately lost.         

So yes, R/ – conveniently, the first letter of my first name – is a quick, easy sign-off to most of my informal communications with a nod to my military service. But for me, it’s much more. It signifies to the reader that however my words might be received they are always submitted… respectfully. 

People who do the work: Hugo

Photo of Hugo

Latino Heritage Month often focuses on the rich culture of the Latino community & the contributions of the community’s most well-known names. 

But, the power of the Latino community might be better understood in the stories of those we’ve not yet met. And may never meet.  

Meet Hugo.

I recently met Hugo at a festive Latino Heritage Month celebration in Fresno. But Hugo wasn’t there just to celebrate. He was there to work – registering new voters. 

Hugo is an immigrant from Mexico who became a United States citizen five years ago.

Upon arriving in the United States more than 38 years ago, he supported his family with nearly every odd job imaginable. Now retired, he volunteers for nearly every community cause. And a lifelong commitment to his community has never wavered.

I find the duality of his love & pride a fascinating example of what it means to be an immigrant in America – and why we are better for it as a Nation. 

He wears a Mexican jersey. He carries a Mexican flag. He loves the country he once called home. 

But, Hugo is a proud American too. And his love for the country he now calls home is palpable. Even contagious.

It seems a deep connection to his Mexican heritage better informs his appreciation for all that the United States offers – an appreciation for the way things are and a hopeful aspiration for the way things can be. And the power of a single voice through a single vote. 

So, with joyful exuberance, he shares with me that he has attended every single Naturalization Ceremony for the last five years – registering new citizens to vote. 

And by the way, I see him engage unsuspecting passersby, I know his passion and experience make him one of the best at this important work. 

In fact, I see him register several people in the short time I’m with him. And they all register as Democrats, of course. 

He tells me that his life’s work is to serve as a “voice for the voiceless” and his own hard journey informs his work. 

Hugo’s story – a passionate immigrant engaged in our democracy – is simultaneously unique and common. And it’s of the many, many untold stories that capture the complexity, resilience, and power of the Latino community. 

It’s unlikely Hugo will ever be a household name. But, his hard work and unwavering dedication – maybe even to the very idea of an American Dream – will leave an indelible mark in the countless lives he touches. 

This Latino Heritage Month, we celebrate the very ordinary – yet extraordinary – Latino leaders whose stories we may never know.  

Our Nation is better because of Hugo. And the millions of others just like him.