Joaquin Cuesta Castro

Joaquin Cuesta Castro
Photo by David King via Flickr Creative Commons

Editor’s note: The Community Alliance newspaper covers the passing of people who have touched the lives of members in the Central Valley progressive community. Joaquin Castro will be missed by us all.


After a brief journey with lung cancer, the feather people guided Joaquin Cuesta Castro peacefully to the other side at noon last June 12. His spirit departed this world serenely from his home, surrounded by his daughter Aviv Castro and his partner Nancy Kelly.

Joaquin entered this world on February 24, 1949, in Dinuba, California, the eldest child of Ventura Castro and Griselda Cuesta, who proudly named him Jack. Two years later, his loving sister Susana joined the family. When very young, Joaquin and his family traveled to Tampa, Florida, where he had many wonderful memories of the Spanish-Cuban community in which his mother was raised.

Later, the family returned to the Central Valley, where his father supervised farmworkers and his mother served nutritious meals to many workers in labor camps where the family seasonally lived for several years. His mother was a master chef, whose varied cuisines influenced the entire extended family and provided Joaquin his lifelong love of good and healthy food. The lives and stories of the immigrant workers the young Joaquin encountered remained with him for his entire life.

Joaquin graduated from St. Vincent de la Salle School in Reedley. After matriculating from Dinuba High School, he began college at Reedley College. He was fortunate to be among the first Chicanos in the late 1960s and early 1970s recruited to the University of California, attending the Santa Cruz campus for two years. He majored in Spanish Language and Literature, another lifelong love his father embedded in him at an early age. Like many in his generation, Joaquin was active in the Chicano student movement. He took the name Joaquin as an affirmation of his background and his uncle for whom he was originally named.

Returning to the Valley, Joaquin married. Here the treasures of his life, his lovely daughters Gytana and Aviv, were born. Soon Joaquin began to practice yoga. Trained by Charles Schoelen, he later taught yoga in several settings. He started to meditate. As he developed these practices, he began to work on his anger, continuing through his life to do so. He strove to find peace and gentility. He increasingly lived in the moment, attempting to be less and less judgmental.

Joaquin was a lifelong spiritual seeker. Influenced in his youth by Krishnamurti, he studied different Buddhist traditions and participated in a spiritual circle at the Fresno Center for Nonviolence for more than a decade. He felt close to Native American spiritual belief in the wholeness and connectedness of all life. Continuing his education, he received a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State. Nonetheless, he continued to study and learn until his final days.

Although Joaquin worked at several occupations in his life, he discovered his true calling in his late 40s. Encouraged by two local artists who mentored him, the late Heinz Kusel and Richard Silva, he began his journey in art with oils. Throughout the remainder of his life, his love for art and the truth it brought his life propelled him. He developed his work in several media; pastel, charcoal, watercolor, sculpture, mural, printmaking, photography and papermaking. In August 2009, he had his first one-person exhibit, “Inner Seeing.”

Joaquin leaves a large and extended and loving family: his father Ventura Castro and stepmother Nicolasa, sister Susana and her husband Jose Fajardo, daughter Gytana Leah Castro and her betrothed Eugene Brown III, daughter Aviv Bessi Castro and her husband Ben Thornley, nieces Delailah, Tanya and Galiana Fajardo and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. In addition, he remains deeply in the hearts of his partner, Nancy Kelly, and many friends.

Native American friends gave Joaquin a feather last fall to present to Elfie Ballis at his Endgame Gathering, to assist the feather people in guiding Elfie on his journey. After Joaquin’s diagnosis, he soon received a beautiful feather from Elfie with a note from the feather people. He kept the feather close until his own peaceful passage. Joaquin’s Life and Art will be joyously celebrated on Saturday, September 25, at 4 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church (2627 Alluvial Ave., Clovis), with a reception following. Please join us in sharing our many memories.


  • Mike Rhodes

    Mike Rhodes is the executive director of theCommunity Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. is his website. Contact him at

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