Where do you start when somebody you look up to so much suddenly slips away.
Patrick or “Primo!” as we affectionately called each other was the cousin who I shared the most with.
In that spirit, here are 5 exhortations I think Patrick might have for us today as we seek to honor him.
- Write to your spiritual / political / movement celebrity crush. “Dude, you should write to him!” Patrick would exhort me. “Just reach out, tell him what you’re doing and what you’re thinking about — they’ll love it!” Whether it was Fr. Richard Rohr, Marshall Ganz, a New York Times columnist, or Pope Francis, Patrick would see the potential in me and also in celebrities. He saw the way a potential new connection could be mutually nourishing. Patrick saw authenticity and integrity and was drawn to these values and a desire to connect people who shared these values.
- “This should be a case study.” Patrick consistently wanted to elevate examples of authentic relationship-based organizing, movement building, cooperative business, and shared leadership. From his training at Harvard and MIT, Patrick saw how the next generation was learning and what kinds of ideas and possibilities they were exposed to through case studies. If he were here, he would try to persuade each of us to tell our story in a way that Harvard Business School or the Kennedy School would read and appreciate it. Go Deep. Define your terms. Explain your analysis, the hypotheses, the real impacts and the results.
- Embrace the political challenges by leaning into relationship. One motivation for Patrick’s move back to Miami these past few years was a decision to lean into his most important work. It was about embracing the emotional labor of having really difficult conversations and making lasting change. It was about creating tension, but doing so from a place of real authentic relationship. I think this was the core of his approach at Miami Freedom Project and also to his work at Future Partners. For example, in exploring community wealth building strategies in Miami, he would tell me about conversations with our cousin Francis Suarez, the Mayor of Miami and others who had meaningful power and real relationships with Patrick. While he may differ from their thoughts and policies on many things, Patrick sought to engage them on topics where there was potential to work together — on economic development, housing, real estate, energy policy, entrepreneurship, faith partnerships and more. While Patrick held his views and values deeply, he leaned more into his belief in the power of relationships. I can hear his voice clearly: “I was just texting with Francis… I think there might be a real opportunity…”
- Honor and take care of your parents. Patrick would often talk about his parents. He would give me a lot of credit for what my parents did as well. He often saw me as a continuation of decisions my parents made (for example, to live with and organize with and among migrant farm workers for many years in Immokalee). He always gave me credit for this work that my parents did, but it’s because he honored his parents as well. So much of the last few years of his life he was aware of his parents, and wanting to spend more time with them. I remember just a few weeks ago Patrick sitting next to his father in a big chair as they joined one of our Zoom video calls together to talk about Pope Francis and his call to young economists and entrepreneurs.
- Live Generously. A few months ago, I was with Patrick and we were walking out of the Starbucks on the ground floor of the Citi bank tower in Miami. We were headed to one of the upper floors for a meeting with Ines & Valeria. “You want anything?” “How about a coffee?” He then proceeded to insist on buying me a bottle of Fiji water…. then chocolate covered espresso beans, then pivoted to grab something healthy… He was doing what any loving friend or Latino parent would do… pushing food on me to make sure I was healthy. It actually reminded me of Esperanza, and her unbelievable generosity to us when we would go back to Cuba and visit the Gaston family sugar mill — el Ingenio Dolores. Patrick along with his siblings, led our family in reconnecting with our parents’ roots and the lives of our parents and grandparents back on the island. He would want us to continue that work and to do so generously and with love. No matter what the situation, Patrick lived generously & would want us to do the same.
Patrick & I were part of a 5-person spirituality group that began gathering in early 2019. We took time in silence together. It was contemplative prayer that was so deeply nourishing for each of us. Then we would share vulnerably with one another. We would share our latest visions, hopes, but also the pain and grief, and suffering that each of us was in the middle of.
Patrick loved deeply. We all know how much he grieved the loss of his mother. For me, this was part of Patrick’s tuning in. He was being called into closer communion with the Spirit. He was feeling pain in a deeper way.
Patrick knew pain, heartache, and also joy in a very real way. Patrick was a romantic.
Patrick ached for love. Patrick yearned for a better world.
Patrick was always building community wherever he went. One of my recent memories was going to a rally for Elizabeth Warren last summer at FIU in Miami and everywhere we went, Patrick was introducing me to somebody new.
Patrick had this unique warmth. He would always speak so highly of me. Nobody in the world introduced me in the way Patrick did. He always spoke to the parts of me that I was still aspiring to. The way he introduced me made me feel so respected, so appreciated, and so “seen”.
Patrick really could “see” people for all that they were. He loved people. He fell in love often and lived his life from that place of love… that passion that takes hold and carries you.
Aching for Love
Thinking back to the Patrick I knew in Washington DC in 2011, he was somebody loved by so many. I remember an early February birthday party at a restaurant on the corner of 14th and U St NW. There were 25 or so folks there… many were colleagues of his from the Obama Campaign or Harvard or MIT folks or other “political elites” as he would say. Patrick was running in circles where people had lots of worldly success… and while Patrick loved those people, he was also aching for a deeper kind of love. He was wrestling with his own call to love more radically and profoundly. He was at once part of the material and political world and making change through institutions, but at the same time believing in a God that loves all people and has greater power to transform all things.
He was wrestling with how to give his life to public service in a way that paid tribute to all the privileges and opportunities he was afforded, but also listen to the cry of the poor and the call to organize for justice.
I remember this time vividly because I would recall ups and downs of his love life. The ups and downs over the years felt endless, but it was because he was aching for a deep love and part of that ache was his own searching and yearning.
A few weeks ago Patrick texted me a page out of Dean Brackley’s The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times. This book has had a profound impact on me over the years — it’s a modern-day re-interpreting of St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises. At the end of the book it talks about “Downward Mobility”. It was something that I struggled openly with Patrick about all the time and I think it was something he was struggling with right now as well.
As the wealthiest country in the world — and as people privileged by our refugee/immigration status from Cuba — how do we make sense of our story? How do we make sense of all the privilege we have as people living in America?
How do we reconcile that with the pain and suffering of so many in Cuba? How do we reconcile that with the suffering and poverty of so many in the US and around the globe?
Patrick felt called to serve. He felt called to serve by being a public servant, but more than just being in politics, he was an organizer. He was a movement builder. He brought his whole self to the work of encountering other people, and building something from the relationships and the connections that formed when we were together.
I remember going to one of our epic Gaston family reunions — I think it must have been 2004 — and hearing about our cousin who had gone to live in Dubai. That was Patrick. He moved there for love.
I think Patrick’s journey to heaven this week is marked by his following God’s call of love.
Yearning for a Better World
My first real encounter with Patrick was in 2007 at a Raices de Esperanza conference.
He had convinced me to go and since I was just finishing a class with a professor who was a journalist who had spent several years in Cuba — I was just awakening to my own identity as a Cuban American.
Patrick was my older cousin who was already well known in this space and was the most generous cousin you could imagine. He made me feel so welcome. He introduced me and helped me feel at home as I came out and began to realize how it was okay to identify as the son of a Cuban immigrant. He did it in a way that made me proud.
My affection grew for Patrick when we hung out in 2008 and 2009 in Boston while he was getting his graduate degrees at Harvard and MIT.
One of the papers he wrote in grad school was about the need for a new kind of climate movement. He was very influenced by Marshall Ganz (Harvard Kennedy School sociology professor & community organizing guru, who had worked with Cesar Chavez) and Rebecca Henderson (MIT Sloan School Professor of Strategy) and at the time invited me to a special gathering in 2010 that had a profound influence on my life.
That 2-day gathering of environmental leaders helped me find a way to integrate the energy consulting world I had been in with community organizing, and the hopeful movement building that Patrick knew was part of what was and is needed to build the beloved community.
Most recently, over the past year, I’ve watched Patrick’s drive and passion come alive as he’s begun to birth the Miami Freedom Project. A couple weeks ago he was scheming with me about how this initiative could change the political and economic narrative of south Florida, by bringing together the best from Pope Benedict, Pope Francis, the call of St. Francis of Assisi, and our current political and economic moment.
He was in the middle of building the kind of movement, the kind of community that Patrick always built.
It was the kind of community that you wanted to be part of. It was one that was fun, liberative, free, loving… but also grounded in reality. It was sober in it’s assessment of the world as it is.
And at the same time it was full of possibility. It was full of hope and belief and trust that God would be in the midst of us, moving in and through us, and breathing life into every conversation.
I think Patrick trusted that with all of his being.
He knew God was present. He brought that intense presence to each conversation.
One of my last in person conversations with Patrick was in July 2019, on the roof of my aunt Maria Luisa Gaston’s apartment in Calle Ocho. We had just picked up some food and it was a warm night, but cool in that the breeze was blowing beautifully on the top of this building.
Patrick opened up with me about his writing life. He was finding so much meaning and purpose in his writing. He was integrating the story of his grief with his mother, with the new spiritual calling that he was finding more life in.
He was telling me about a retreat he had gone to in the Southwestern US with Mirabai Starr and how much spiritual nourishment and healing he was getting from that experience.
It was helping him live each day from a deeper, more grounded place. A place that I believe was more in tune with God — and the Spirit.
While I still have so much more to process, I wanted to share these initial reflections.
I loved Patrick so much.