Remembering Tonee Mello

by Scott Campbell

More than a week later the news still has not sunken in, and daily the urge to reject it is overwhelming: that my friend Tonee Mello is dead. Tonee was murdered at his home in the outskirts of the city of Oaxaca during a robbery on Monday, April 11, 2011. It is a senseless, vicious loss of life that leaves one with an innumerable amount of emotions and questions which can only be worked through and resolved with time, if at all. While two individuals have been detained in relation to his murder, and the case will make its way through the court system here in Oaxaca, such facts hardly offers themselves as remedies to this tremendous loss.

Tonee was a singular individual, unlike anyone I have ever met. I believe he was the most generous person I have had the privilege to know. If Tonee could have held the world in his hands, he would have happily given it to you, even if it meant he himself was left with absolutely nothing. And even if he had nothing, he would make something of it to share with you as well. He had a boundless, completely unselfish generosity the likes of which I have never seen. As in so many instances, words are insufficient.

Tonee was 63 years old, from San Francisco, who had lived for many years in Oaxaca. A longtime anarchist, he was involved in many struggles in the U.S. and Mexico. He co-founded the Fresno Needle Exchange in 1994 and was arrested when he and others went to the city council to get it legalized (something that finally occurred in 2008). He fought to defend community radio stations in the U.S., such as KFCF and KPFA, and in Oaxaca worked to help indigenous communities establish their own community-controlled radio stations, in particular in the Mixe region. On top of all that, Tonee was a gay rights activist, a gardener, a co-founder of the Oaxaca Study-Action Group, previously a board member of the Oaxaca Lending Library, and loved riding his motorcycle.

I first met Tonee in the summer of 2008 here in Oaxaca. We bonded over our ideological affinity and San Francisco Bay Area connections. He still followed events there and asked all about the recent FBI raid on the Long Haul infoshop in Berkeley. Just hours after meeting us, he offered to lend my partner and me his motorcycle for the rest of our stay in Oaxaca. A few days later, as my partner and others were putting together a rooftop garden in CASOTA, he drove us to his friend’s farm to get seeds and learn about her projects, and then to a dump outside of town to look for planters and other supplies. His enthusiasm was boundless; his desire to share what he knew and what he had was inspiring and never presumptuous. He acted not out of a desire for recognition, compensation or any self-interest, he simply truly enjoyed helping and extending solidarity to others and for him that was its own reward.

One of the last times I saw Tonee was when he brought us to his house that he had just purchased, the house where he would so senselessly be killed less than three years later. It needed a lot of work, but you couldn’t help but smile and be inspired to listen to his vision for the space. A big organic garden, areas for socializing and parties, spaces for friends to stay, whether in need or simply during a visit – a space as open and welcoming as its owner. That’s how I will remember Tonee – a smile on his face and magnanimous, generous spirit in words, deeds, and visions, all of which lives on in those of us whose lives he has touched. Thank you, Tonee. I’ll miss you.

If you have a message or memory of Tonee you’d like to share, please publish it on the post about Tonee’s memorial gathering, which is collecting messages from around the world from those who lives Tonee has touched.