Off to Guatemala to continue my talks, readings and workshops

Well, I'm on my way to Guatemala in a few hours. I'll be catching a "red-eye" that takes off from LAX at 1 AM. I'm going with Fabian Montes and Pascual Torres, two young men I helped mentor over the years and who are now leading staff members for Homeboy Industries, one of LA's pioneering gang intervention organizations (besides many direct services of jobs, counseling, arts, tattoo removal, treatment, and more they have Homeboy Industries that includes a bakery, T-shirt production, and Homegirl Cafe, among other components).

We'll be in Guatemala until October 28--doing presentations, meeting with community organizers, government officials, non-governmental agencies, and gang youth. Guatemala is one of the three Central American countries most hit with gang violence over the past 15 years. Most of this is due to the mass deportation of LA-based gang members in Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18. The deportations began in earnest after the LA Rebellion of 1992. Then in 1996, a new immigration law opened the flood gates of deporting undocumented immigrants with US-based criminal records, including many gang youth--some 700,000 were deported from the US since then.

Most of these were sent to Mexico, where many gangs amassed at the border, often returning. Presently, Mexico has many LA-based Sur Trece and 18th Street gang members, among others, in various poor barrios and urban centers. Tens of thousands also ended up in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, recruiting the thousands of homeless, abandoned and glue-sniffing children in those countries who were victims of civil war and poverty. Now there are an estimated 150,000 gang members--mostly MS-13 and M-18--in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

This past week, I was able to visit Bakersfield College in the Kern County city of Bakersfield, an hour and a half up the road from LA. I spoke to students (who packed the Fireside Room) as well as counselors, librarians and community activists in another gathering. Then in the evening some 400 people showed up to a public event at the Bakersfield College auditorium where we talked about poetry, writing, gangs, rehabilitation, social justice, and personal and social change. There were amazing questions and comments in all the groups. People seemed hungry to interract and dialogue--but also to share and learn.

Last Monday, I was part of the "Skin Festival" in the city of Pasadena, CA that included speakers, performances, discussions and more. I spoke at the Pasadena City College's Forum to some 70 people. Again, we had a lively discussion and Q&A. I talked about the various "skins" that people put on just to survive in this culture--just to be seen or unseen, as the case may be.

The week before, I did a keynote speech and book signing at the Washington Library Media Association Annual Conference (mostly school librarians) in Yakima, WA. This was well received--being that librarians are some of my favorite people of all time. I went there after spending some time in San Luis Obispo on California's Central Coast, a wonderful serene and green space of earth (the weather was wonderful). There I did a breakfast talk as part of Cal Poly's Provocative Speakers series and then another talk to students and community. Again, the audiences were very kind, informed and engaged.

And the week before that, I did another event for the Puente Project in East LA College (a kind of alma mater for me), my second time this year. I spoke to 300 students, teachers, high school students, and others. I read mostly from my poetry book, "My Nature is Hunger," and discussed the struggle to become a person of language & poetry in this largely practicality-minded, business-oriented and unpoetic culture.

Speaking of East LA, my wife Trini and I attended East LA's Garfield High School benefit event on October 14 to help raise funds to re-build their historic auditorium that burned down this past spring in a suspicious arson fire. Some 7,000 people piled into the Gibson Amphitheater at Universal City in Hollywood to hear Old School Chicano bands like El Chicano, Tierra, War, Lil' Joe and La Familia, Los Lobos (with Lil' Willie G and members of the classic Thee Midniters band playing some of their hits). Starting off was Garfield's own Upground band that has been knocking people off their feet with their mix of Chicano ska/soul and barrio boogie.

Needless to say, I went through memory lane listening to these bands. War in particular--one of my favorites--I recall in the early 1970s when they did amazing (and raunchy, at least from some members of the audience) sets downtown and other venues. I also saw them live at the Bumpershoot Festival in Seattle a few years back when Lee Oskar was still their harmonica player. And in Japan, I read poetry with Tex Nakamura playing "jarana" and harmonica--he was one of War's best harmonica players--last November.

I also saw Los Lobos play at Seattle those many years ago. In fact, I've seen them play live many times, including at Lincoln Park in East LA and several gigs in Chicago where I used to go backstage to visit with my East LA "carnales" (brothers) during the years I lived there.

It was also amazing to hear Lil' Joe, one of the best Chicano singers from Texas from the 1960s (the other was Sunny Ozuna of Sunny & the Sunliners and "Smile Now, Cry Later" fame).

But I was particularly partial to hearing a few of the old Thee Midniters hits. In the 1960s and 1970s, Thee Midniters were East LA's most popular band. They had hits like "Whittier Boulevard," "Love Special Delivery," "Chicano Power," along with the ballads that made their singer, Lil' Willie G, famous: "Sad Girl," "That's All," and "Are You Angry?," among others.

For us die-hard Chicanos from those days that benefit event for Garfield High was a shot in the arm. I was also Mecha Central organizer of East LA high schools in the early 1970s, linking me to all those schools, including meeting my first wife at Garfield. I've since spoken many times to all the East LA high schools--Garfield, Roosevelt, Lincoln, Wilson, and Franklin--and many in the surrounding area (Montebello, Shurr, Century, Vail, Alhambra, among others).

So I had a great time.

If you all can, please get a copy of Bello Magazine, the October issue, which has an article by me on the Japan-Chicano connection through the music producer and promoter Shin Miyata, with side stories on Hector Gonzalez of Rampart Records and the East LA band Quetzal (most of this was based on my trip to Japan last November to see upfront the growing Lowrider/Chicano culture & music scene there). For more information go to

And an amazing photo book just came out called "Mugshots: A Celebration of the Journey from Ruin to Redemption," written by Jason Porath, with photos by Jonas Mohr (Real Deal Media). It has the stories and quotes from various former drug addicts/alcoholics/prisoners--including yours truly--who have now turned their lives around and are involved in music, movies, literature, Hip Hop, dance, and more. Included are the stories of Coolio, Danny Trejo, Edward Bunker, Mr. Cartoon, Eric Roberts, Kim Minter, and others.

You can order by going to or calling 1-888-443-1442.

I'll keep you all posted on my travels through Guatemala. Meantime, stay strong, passionate and awake. A new world is possible, but first you have to dream.

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