Not even the pouring rain could stop this parade. Saturday afternoon Texans came from across the state to help 5-year-old Raiden Gonzalez celebrate his first birthday without his parents, who passed away from COVID-19 this year.
The birthday car parade drove past Raiden’s grandma’s house on San Antonio’s Northeast Side to show love and support for him and his grieving family.
At only 4 years old, Raiden Gonzalez lost both of his parents to COVID just four months apart. Thirty-three-year-old Adan Gonzalez, Raiden’s father, contracted the virus after being exposed by a trainer at the trucking company he had been employed by two weeks prior. Four months later Mariah Gonzalez, 29, Raiden’s mother, succumbed to symptoms in ten hours after being mostly asymptomatic.
“With Adan, he was in the hospital practically the whole month of June and was one of two of the sickest in the hospital” before his death on June 26, said Rozie Salinas, Mariah’s mother. He started off with what [Mariah] thought was allergies. He got tested because his trainer came out positive.”
“Mariah showed no symptoms whatsoever. She was fine the whole time. October the 5th she was here and until about 8 p.m. that night is when she started complaining about chest pains and having trouble breathing, and she told me didn’t feel good and she was cold. She grabbed my hand and put it on her chest and said, ‘Just sit here with me.’”
Salinas called EMS. “I didn’t think that that was the last time I was going to see her or ever hear anything out of her mouth again.”
By 8:14 the next morning, Oct. 6, Mariah had died.
Salinas said they all got tested twice and the results were negative. “I still find it hard to believe.”
Understanding his parents’ deaths is a work in progress for Raiden, and he wishes he could see them again, Salinas said. “He’ll say that he wishes that they could be adults again instead of angels. And I just gotta explain to him that they’re watching over us and protecting him, so he’s understanding that a bit but he’s still processing everything,” she said.
While Raiden’s actual birthday was last weekend, his family organized the car parade on the 28th to show him some extra love during a difficult time.
“It’s more than what I expected. I’m happy with the turnout. I’m very happy with the way they went out of the way for him. We had people from Corpus, Victoria, Laredo,” Salinas said.
Starting at 11 a.m. Saturday, people came nonstop to bring gifts to both Raiden and Salinas.
A woman drove in from Karnes County to donate and set up a happy birthday sign in the front yard – complete with a few of Raiden’s favorite things, including trucks and dinosaurs. A DJ provided a backdrop of familiar party tunes, and another woman volunteered to bring a huge, colorful balloon bouquet arch. Raiden even received two big birthday cakes.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Margie Bryant, Raiden’s great-aunt. “It comes at a great price and I’d trade it all to have Adan and Mariah back, but we’re trying to stay strong, and I believe these are tears from heaven,” Bryant said pointing to the heavy rain.
Once the car parade began around 2 p.m., El Vedado Street was filled with the sounds of cheers, music, and even train horns as truck club members drove by, honking. Cars waiting to show love to Raiden wrapped around the block as far as the eye could see in two directions. Some people brought gifts, which were collected by men dressed up as the Riddler and Batman, and others drove past with waves and smiles.
“Even in these trying times he’s still in good spirits,” said Randy Rangel, Raiden’s uncle. In true 5-year-old fashion, Raiden was not fazed by the gloomy weather and was soaking up all the unprecedented attention.
Raiden received hand-delivered gifts from representatives of Elmer’s Home Services, retailer Kendra Scott, the San Antonio Fire Department, the Ram Club of San Antonio, the South Texas Ford Truck Mafia, and others. He also has a mountain of packages and messages from all over the U.S. and the world. Rangel said that because of his nephew’s love of dinosaurs, paleontologists from abroad have sent him dinosaur bones and the Witte Museum gifted him a yearlong membership.
Rangel, Mariah Gonzalez’s brother, said Raiden has received calls from the U.K., Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Iran. Rangel’s girlfriend, Naomi Faz, added that packages from states including Wisconsin, California, and New Jersey have filled his bedroom.
Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) also brought gifts for Raiden, acknowledging that “it’s tragic what happened to his parents, but this is just something that the community can give back and show him that, hey, the community is behind him.”
Raiden was spoiled for choice when it came to playing with the interactive Dinos Alive exhibit from Corpus Christi, sounding the siren on a firetruck from Kirby, opening innumerable gifts, and waving to cars in the parade for almost 90 minutes.
Throughout the day Raiden was surrounded by immediate and extended family members who helped him greet guests, receive and open gifts, and just give him hugs and love.
Rangel described Raiden’s bond with his parents as “unbreakable” and they were always laughing and having a good time. “He was talking about his dad earlier today and he wants to grow up to be just like him. He wants a big belly, he wants to drive a truck,” Faz said.
Rangel described his new role in Raiden’s life as “a big step up.”
“I just went from an uncle to a father figure, his main father figure,” said Rangel. “I can’t always be the fun uncle now. I gotta be stern sometimes and watch him.”
After the last car pulled away, Salinas said she is so appreciative for the grand show of support from the community near and far.
While Raiden is very thankful for his many gifts, Salinas said he wants to donate some of his toys to share them with other kids. “He’s already said I’m keeping this one and this is going to somebody else.”
More than 3,500 people have donated to the family’s GoFundMe.