Quadalajara: The Utopia That Once Was - a book by Jack Tumidajski - A history of the paraplegic and quadriplegic men and women who rediscovered life in Mexico's second largest city
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Paralyzed Vet from Pawtucket Releases Book
Pawtucket Times - October 9, 2006
By: David Casey

GLENDALE, AZ - When he left for Vietnam in 1968, Jack Tumidajski's chances of getting out in one piece were pretty good. As an enlisted member of the Army's Corps of Administrative Specialists, Tumidajski was stationed in the relatively safe coastal city of Qui Nhon for about one year, before returning to his family's home in the Bishop's Bend neighborhood of Pawtucket. Five days later, Tumidajski found himself lying in a hospital bed with a fractured spinal cord--a car accident had left him paralyzed from the neck down.

By 1972, he had moved to a commune of paralyzed war veterans in Guadalajara, Mexico, an experience which inspired him, 30 years later, to write a book: "Quadalajara -- The Utopia That Once Was."

From the late 60's until the late 70's, the Central Mexican city was a haven for wounded vets who sought comraderie, warm weather, and cheap housing. After spending eight months in Guadalajara, one of Tumidajski's friends strongly recommended the trip: He said, "Jack, you've got to check out Mexico.  You can live like a king for five-hundred dollars a month."

Quadalajara - some of the group
Jack with two Army buddies, Vietnam - 1968
"Guadalajara was, as advertised, 365 days of sunshine, reasonable cost of living, famous for its year-round nearly perfect weather, and beautiful senoritas," Tumidajski explained. "What began in the mid-50's gradually fizzled by the late-70s'. Tremendous influx of people to the city, continual rising inflation, and cost-of-living drove many to consider the stateside option."

The phenomenon which spawned the self-effacing nickname "Quadalajara" was fallaciously portrayed, according to Tumidajski, in Oliver Stone's 1989 adaptation of Ron Kovic's autobiography, "Born on the Fourth of July."

While it lasted, Tumidajski's close circle of friends, some of which married local women, were truly living the Utopian dream. There were some, he noted--largely in rebuttal of Stone's depiction of the depressed, alcoholic, whoring quadriplegic vet--who could never find their way out of the bottle or the bordello, but they were, he insisted, a distinct minority. According to Tumidajski, most of his compatriots were more at peace with their surroundings.

"I would guess that most gringo Paras and Quads prowled around in Quadalajara after dark," he explained. "Most would get this out of their system--as I did--after learning a little Spanish and finding out that many Mexican women had no trouble dating a Para or Quad. You were a gringo first, a quad second."

In 1972, Tumidajski and his friend "Big Earl" Annis, whom he met in the West Roxbury VA Hospital, hopped on a plane and flew to Mexico.  The culture shock turned out to be too much for Big Earl to handle, but Tumidajski stayed behind, eventually falling in with a close-knit group of vets who had come to see this strange and beautiful country as an opportunity for a fresh start, or as Tumidajski put it "to grow up all over again."

Tumidajski's book chronicles his entire life, including his personal experience with paralysis, but is first and foremost, a tribute to the people he met in Guadalajara.

"I wrote the book to set the record straight and preserve the memories of those who experienced it, as well as that unique place in time that will never be replicated," Tumidajski told The Times. "To give people a better understanding of what people with disabilities--whether spinal cord injured or otherwise--have had to experience and overcome since the first paraplegics and quadriplegics, injured during World War II, began to survive long enough to actually be discharged from military and veteran's hospitals into a world not yet ready for them.  Long before Christopher Reeve made the terms quadriplegic, paraplegic and spinal cord injury commonplace and helped raise awareness around the world, many unknown and forgotten people worked tirelessly to help one another and make a difference."

"Quadalajara--The Utopia That Once Was" is available at the Lil' General Market on Central Avenue.

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