December 6, 2022, one day after her 77th birthday, Carmen Viramontes
Golden passed away peacefully, surrounded by her daughter Hannah and
her grandsons. Her last days involved visits with friends and family,
her bed placed in the living room that overlooked the beautiful
McKinleyville landscape from the same house that she had cherished
for over 40 years.
Carmen Viramontes Golden was born on Dec. 5, 1945 to Antolina Gurrola, a single parent. Because Antolina, or “Toni” as she was known, worked full time as a seamstress for financial support and Carmen was raised with the help of her grandparents in East Los Angeles, a Mexican-American working-class community. Carmen attended Santa Teresita grammar school, becoming a parishioner at Dolores Mission Church. While studying at Sacred Heart High School she met Pamela Rueben and Alejandra Benavides and the three developed a close and steadfast friendship throughout the years from youth to maturity. It was attending Immaculate Heart College that landed Carmen in the Sixties counterculture, which influenced her activism for the rest of her life. Fully bilingual in Spanish and English, she threw herself into social services resisting inequality at every level, also participated in a number of demonstrations against the Vietnam war, racial and linguistic discrimination. She worked in for the Department of Children and Family Services for both Los Angeles and Humboldt County. It was during her early years as a social worker that she met her good friend Gloria Katona.
Carmen was iconoclastic by nature, a playful traveler, an adventurer who sought out ways of being within the political turbulence of the time and experimented with various dimensions of her personality. As a theatrical actress, for example, she performed in a satire on the Nixon presidency completely wired with twinkly lights on her mass of curly wild hair. As a volunteer with various activist collectives, she was always ready to bring her full corporeal attention. It was in one of these collectives that she met her former husband, Jack Golden. One of Carmen’s favorite stories of their early romance involved her tidying his bachelor apartment, throwing out a bag of dust along with the trash. Later, when Jack returned home, he discovered that Carmen had unknowingly thrown out the cremation ashes of his favorite cat!! They married on her birthday, December 5, 1980 and it was Jack who convinced Carmen to move to Humboldt County.
It was challenging to relocate hundreds of miles away from her beloved mother, cousins, and friends, and grandparents. In addition, when Carmen was thirteen, she reconnected with her father and discovered that she had nine half-siblings, one half-sister of which was only a month apart in age. A few years of awkwardness between her and her half-siblings ensued — as this was as much a surprise to her as to her half-siblings. Carmen’s artistic flairs and self-confidence were much admired, and everyone slowly grew to love one another with unwavering tenderness and deep affection. Being a single child, Carmen had said she felt ”thrilled” to discover she was part of a larger family while the female heavy Viramontes familia came to embrace another sister/hermana with wholehearted love.
The city of McKinleyville in Humboldt County offered an encouraging place to root a family. Jack and Carmen bought a house that had plenty of windows and open space. They also ran an Arcata deli called “Plaza Gourmet” from 1981 to 1989 even during the births of their two children. Once the deli was sold and the children were old enough, Carmen returned to social work in Humboldt. While working in the Child Welfare-Social Services, she became a mentor to younger social workers like Carol Smillie. Recognizing the incredible stress that such depressing work can evoke, Carmen’s self-depreciating humor taught Carol and others how laughter released the burdens of such responsibilities. It was her laughter and friendly demeanor, as well as her rebelliously curly hair that left lasting impressions with former Humboldt County co-workers like Jean LaPietra who developed deep friendships that lasted over 30 years.
Jack and Carmen separated in 1996, after 16 years of marriage. Sharing parenthood, they remained steadfast friends throughout and divorced amicably in 2008.
Carmen returned to East Los Angeles temporarily to care for her elderly mother and returned to part-time social working only to retire a few years later after Antolina’s death. Both Carmen’s son Josh and Jack also relocated to Southern California. Carmen continued to live in Antolina’s apartment, where Nancy Miramontes became not only her landlady but her devoted friend and helper. In the meantime, Carmen had become a grandmother and she plunged into the experience like all her other experiences with loving enthusiasm. She sought to spend as much time as she could with her grandchildren, flying across states and oceans for visits. When Hannah returned to McKinleyville permanently with Dash and Scout in tow, Carmen would move back to Humboldt and to her home.
Throughout most of her life, Carmen emanated a semblance of health and even in the glow of age, she carried herself with shimmering elegance. Several years ago, she had received the diagnosis of breast cancer with realism and determined patience, judged it as something else to have to deal in the long line of things needing dealing. Remission offered a renewal, another loving embrace for her world and her faith deepened. When she received her diagnosis of colon cancer last year, she was extremely sad, but her faith never wavered and somehow because of this deepened faith, she became less frightened at the prospect of death. After so many years of practicing empathy, she was able to do so with herself and uttered “I know I’ve done things I regret, but I also know I’ve done some good things I am proud of.” Thus was her legacy, no doubt feeling proud firstly of her children, secondly at being proud of her grandmotherly status, and thirdly at choosing ways of being in the world that were honest, radical, loving, creative, forthright, and foremost unforgettable. Although she would never visit Barcelona, nor see the great Niagara falls, she lay satisfied knowing of a life well lived is measured by the peacefulness of farewell. The world is dim without her, but faith in God reminds us that her light can be felt everywhere.
Carmen Viramontes Golden is predeceased by her mother, Antolina Gurrola, her father, Serafin Viramontes, her grandparents, half-sister Frances Viramontes, half-brother Serafin Viramontes Jr. She is survived by her son Joshua Golden, daughter Hannah Golden, two grandsons Scout and Dash Townsend, East Los Angeles Gurrola cousins, the Viramontes family, and lifelong friends both in northern and southern California.
Services are private, and in lieu of flowers, please contribute to the charity of your choice.
The obituary above was submitted on behalf of Carmen Golden’s loved ones. The Lost Coast Outpost runs obituaries of Humboldt County residents at no charge. See guidelines here. Email email@example.com.