Ypsilanti resident Rodolfo Alvarado has made a living writing about Latinx people with unusual stories, but the last place he expected to find such a story was in research about the Holocaust.
Alvarado has written a biography, set to publish in 2021; and a young adult novel, tentatively set to publish this October, about World War II medic Anthony Acevedo, the first Mexican-American to register with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as a Holocaust survivor. He's also written a screenplay based on Acevedo's life, titled "Undesirable," which has been making the rounds at screenplay competitions.
In 2016, Alvarado was feeling offended by media depictions and politicians' descriptions of Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers. As he began a career transition from various jobs related to history and theater to being a full-time author, he made a point of writing about how Mexicans and Mexican-Americans contributed to the United States.
After writing and successfully publishing biographies of other remarkable Latinx men, including horse race caller Joe Hernandez and the famous jockey Garrett Gomez, he began to wonder what other Mexican-Americans needed to have their stories told.
"I was thinking to myself, 'What is the most compelling connection I can find that people would never associate with the contributions Mexican-Americans had made to the fabric of the country?' And it came across my mind that no way would Mexicans or Mexican-Americans ever be associated with the Holocaust," Alvarado says. "And of course I started researching, and lo and behold, came across Anthony Acevedo's name ... and how he and other GIs went through such a hellish experience during World War II."
Acevedo was captured after the Battle of the Bulge and transported to a Nazi POW camp, where he was tortured and deemed an undesirable. He was transferred to a concentration camp named Berga an der Elster outside the German village of Schliben. He was held at Berga until the war was nearly over and was then forced to undertake a 215-mile death march that killed 70 of the 350 prisoners who were involved.
Anthony Acevedo as a young man and in later life.
By the time Alvarado became serious about documenting the story, Acevedo had died. But Alvarado reached out to Acevedo's family, building a friendship with Acevedo's son Fernando, who lives in California and is the manager of his father's estate. Alvarado was already in California doing research on another book and asked if he could come visit Fernando Acevedo and his family.
"Something was calling [Alvarado] on a spiritual level," Fernando Acevedo says. "Something was chipping away at his heart."
The men discussed Anthony Acevedo's life, both before and after his time in the concentration camp. Acevedo suffered horrible abuse at the hands of his own father as a young man, something Fernando Acevedo says "prepared him to be able to endure the camp." Fernando Acevedo says he is still amazed at what a cheerful and civic-minded person his father was, even after all the cruelty he experienced in his life.
"He was such a mild-mannered person who helped any and everybody," Fernando Acevedo says. "He taught me three things: patience is a virtue, kill them with kindness, and never repay evil with evil. He wasn't a pacifist, just a person that cared for people."
Though Anthony Acevedo dealt with severe post-traumatic stress disorder his whole adult life, his son says you wouldn't know it looking in from the outside at the helpful man who loved to laugh and dance.
"I looked at a questionnaire evaluating his PTSD and what I read in there matched up with everything he had been telling me, but there was even more than I remembered. It was so riveting and so horrible," Fernando Acevedo says. "It was hard to believe my father went through that. How could he have gone through that and still acted normal?"
Both Alvarado and Fernando Acevedo were excited at the idea of a film based on Anthony Acevedo's life, but there was a complication. Actor Michael Peña was also interested in the story and was holding onto a contract that excluded anyone else from pursuing a screenplay and movie based on Acevedo's life.
Luckily, the contract ended in May of this year, and Alvarado was able to get an agent for the script and start entering it in competitions, winning or coming in as a finalist in half a dozen contests. Most recently, Alvarado's agent forwarded the script to the producer of a recent HBO miniseries who is interested in acquiring the rights to produce a movie or miniseries based on Acevedo's life.
"I felt the story was a good one that needed to be told right now," Alvarado says, especially with a recent political and societal climate that hasn't been kind to Mexican-Americans. "I wanted to bring attention to the fact that we've died as soldiers, we've built many things, fought in all the wars, and won Purple Hearts. I wanted to bring attention to the fact that everybody, every race, creed, and color, has good people."
More information about Alvarado's previously-published books can be found on his website.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rodolfo Alvarado photo courtesy of the Alvarado family. Anthony Acevedo photos courtesy of the Acevedo Estate.