An Opening in Mexico for Chicanos

Although born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Los Angeles (with fifteen years in Chicago), I´ve been able to visit Mexico frequently in my adulthood. In the early 1980s, I took part and wrote about a number of indigenous uprisings in Oaxaca and Baja California. In the 1990s, I visited Mexico City, Taxco, and Chihuahua to attend writers´s conferences, to visit family, and to trace my own indigenous roots among the Raramuri people (La Tarahumara of southern Chihuahua). I´ve also been fortunate to visit Nicaragua and southern Honduras in the early 1980s during the Contra War (I was bombed twice in Honduras and survived). And in the 1990s, I went to El Salvador a couple of times from 1993 to 1996 to study the phenomena of LA-based gangs being deported there. I also went to Guatemala in 2001 and 2006 for the same reason. And I was invited three times to social forums, poetry festivals and book fairs in Venezuela (including the Mexico City Book Fair in 2006) and twice to Peru for indigenous ceremonies. My wife´s family also has a home in Baja California that we have gone to with our boys and many friends over the years. I feel comfortable in Mexico as well as Central and South America, despite my having lived in the United States my whole life. I speak Spanish well, mostly because when I grew up my mother and father only spoke Spanish at home, even when the language was being beaten out of us in school and devalued most everywhere else. This was in the 1950s and 1960s. The Chicano Movement helped change this for coming generations with the implementation of bilingual education programs and the idea that we can learn English without having to sacrifice Spanish. Although in places like California and Arizona, bilingual education programs have been scrapped, this is still an important educational need throughout the country. Now with the large influx of Mexicans and other Latinos to the United States over the past three decades, I feel comfortable speaking Spanish and interacting with mi gente throughout the country. And this despite growing movements of "English Only" and anti-immigrant sentiments. The fact is Mexicans and other Latinos are now in Georgia, North Carolina, Utah, Missouri, Oregon... and points beyond, not just the US Southwest. And still the border has divided the Mexico people who remained in Mexico, many of them struggling for a better life there (there continue to be hundreds of protests, uprisings, and takeovers across the country) and those who had to move to the United States to survive. Some 25 to 30 million Mexicans and Chicanos are believed to be part of the United States, not counting another fifteen to twenty million of Latinos from other countries. Estimates are that by the year 2050 Mexicans and other Latinos will be the majority of the US population. However, for years, me and other Chicanos who have traveled in Mexico have found a lack of connection, or even disdain, among some Mexicans. Not among the poor, many of whom have family in the US, but among academics and much of the media. With a general repression of our culture and language in the US, and with many Mexicans denying or decrying our existence, we felt for years without a home, without a pueblo, without family. This time I´m in Guadalajara as an invitee of the International Book Fair here--the second largest book fair in the world after Frankfurt, Germany, and the largest in the Western Hemisphere. I´m part of the City of Los Angeles contingent--for the first time the Guadalajara Book Fair has made a city its honored guest (honored guests have been countries in the past). The cultural space that my wife Trin and I helped create--Tia Chucha´s Centro Cultural--organized the lowrider show here with Chicano Studies professor, Denise Sandoval. This has become a hit (many people in Guadalajara were not aware of the lowrider culture, although Mexicans and their descendents were the creators). We also have hundreds of Tia Chucha Press books for sell as part of the LA Pavilion´s 7,700 titles of nonprofit presses, organized by the National Endowment for the Arts. In addition, I´ve taken part in about five panels, all of which were well-attended, including a "Encuentro Chicano" (Chicano Encounter). And I´ve been interviewed by many TV, radio and print media, for once happy to hear about Mexicans in the US, including the millions who call themselves Chicanos. For the first time, I´ve seen a favorable opening among academics and Mexican media toward Chicanos. There have always been those academics, like my friend Arturo Santa Maria out of the University of Sinaloa, and others, who have written about and studied the Chicano experience. Now I feel the door has opened wider to bring what we´ve created through culture, through art, through theater, through music (Los Lobos and Oxomotli were two LA-based Chicano bands playing at the Expo here), and politics to a wider audience in Mexico. My hope, and my commitment, is to help this door open even further as we create a dynamic and long-lasting dialogue among Chicanos and Mexicans about who we are as a people, our present common struggles to survive economically, politically and culturally, and how we can move together into the future. I thank all the Mexican media and academics who have been part of the present conversation emanating from the Guadalajara International Book Fair. And the LA City organizing group that made sure that Chicanos were intimately involved in the organization, but also an important part of the contingent of US and LA writers, musicians, dancers, and artists that are taking part in this year´s book fair. More has to be done. But today, in Guadalajara, we´re establishing a strong foundation from which to build from. c/s

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