Blessings to All as we celebrate Eight Reed -- the Mexika New Year

Today is the Mexika New Year – Chicuace Acatl Xihuitl, or Year Eight Reed. Blessings to all and tiahui. We’ve left the year Xikome Tochtli, Seven Rabbit, my namesake, and it was an amazingly powerful year for me, my 52nd, corresponding to the 52-year cycle of the Mexika calendar. A lot of changes in this year, particularly at the end with the forced move of Tia Chucha’s, but also my trips to Japan and Peru and other developments, which proved to be quite life-awakening in their own but different ways.

My spiritual family in the Mexika community of Chicago celebrated the New Year yesterday at the American Indian Center. Present were Youth Struggling for Survival; Teotzin Telpochcameh (Sacred Energy of the Youth), a traditional danza circle; the Blazquez family; and the American Indian Center. The Mexika pantli (flag) was apparently raised inside the halls of the AIC alongside the many others representing Native Nations of the Americas. It’s an important recognition of Mexikas (the so-called Aztecs, which most Chicanos are linked with) as a large and viable indigenous community on these lands – along with Mayas, Incas (Quechuas), Mixtecos, Huicholes, Raramuri, Yaquis, and many more from the lands of the South (not “south of the border” since as indigenous people we don’t recognize such demarcations).

Today I also spoke at Cal Burke Continuation High School in Panorama City in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. A couple hundred students heard me speak, and they asked some great questions about life, passions, regrets, and change. I thank the LA County Office of Education for inviting me. It was a great way to celebrate the New Year.

Recently I also spoke at Sylmar High School, an almost 100 percent Chicano/Mexican/Central American (Mexika and other tribal groups among them) school in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. It is only a few blocks from Tia Chucha’s Café & Centro Cultural’s old site. We’ve been collaborating with them for years. Since our recent move to Lake View Terrace, about ten minutes away, we are now holding our African drum classes and Hip Hop DJing workshops at the school in our continuing efforts to connect to vital community institutions.

Sylmar High School teacher Mauricio Regalado had invited me to speak to one of their academy youth and family gatherings in the auditorium. Other guests included the Chicano actor Danny Trejo ("Spy Kids," "Desperado," "Heat," "From Dawn to Dusk," among others). There must have been around 300 to 400 people in attendance, including many parents. They gave me a few minutes to speak about Tia Chucha’s but also to encourage the students and the adults to work together, to establish meaningful relationships, and to become partners in the health and betterment of their community.

On March 2, I was also privileged to speak and read a poem for the “Voices of Youth” program at Self-Help Graphics Arts Center in East LA, sponsored by the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, Homeboy Industries, Impacto, Shade Tree Mentoring, and Tia Chucha’s. Led by storyteller and mythologist Michael Meade, these events have now brought 200 to 300 people in attendance (there have been around five of these already in the Boyle Heights/East LA area). It’s about working with youth who are often forgotten, abandoned, neglected, and even abused and traumatized. In “Voices,” these young people speak their truths while their words, stories, and voices are recognized and accepted by the community. Despite only having five days with these young people, Michael makes miracles happen—he knows the youth already have stories and passions and issues to bring forth, which is showcased in the end with the gathering. In the past, I’ve been privileged to work with these youth on at least three of these workshops with Michael Meade and Orland Bishop.

One tragic thing that occurred that night involved a Homeboy Industries/Impacto youth named Jonathan Hurtado, 18, who was shot and killed in Pecan Park in Boyle Heights just a few miles from the event. Tears and outcries of anger arose from various members of the audience once the news was related. Rest in peace, Jonathan.

The following week, I helped several members of an Italian film crew with their documentary on Los Angeles. They included two people who a few years ago managed to visit one of the prisons where my son Ramiro was incarcerated—the interview they did with Ramiro was quite good, considering how hard it is to have media interviews with prisoners these days. I respected how it was done (the film was shown throughout Italy and other places in Europe).

One of the aspects of their current film involved gangs and youth. I introduced them to various former gang members who I helped mentor out of the life, including Fabian Montes and Tony Hernandez. We also included the wise words of Hector “Happy” Verdugo, who gave us a tour of the Ramona Gardens Housing Projects, the oldest of LA’s many subsidized housing developments; he also spoke eloquently of life in the streets of East LA—including the devastating role the police have had in the community (over the years, several youth of the projects have been killed by police, adding to a deep rift between law enforcement and the community).

They also filmed a short talk I gave at the Divine Forces Radio Anniversary event at the LA Center Studios in the shadows of downtown's skyscrapers on March 3. On stage was X-Clan, Funkdoobiest, KRS-1, Medusa, Saul Williams, Quetzal, Aztlan Underground, and others, hosted by Divine Forces Radio founder, Fidel Rodriguez. Fidel gave me a chance to address around 2,500 people who were in attendance--about revolution, creativity, and the power of music and words--and to read a poem. It was an honor.

Then from March 8-9, I got a chance to go to Berkeley, CA to speak at a youth justice conference called “Law’s Violence, Ruptured Community: Justice and Healing for Immigrant Youth.” I did the Raven Lecture on Access to Justice at the Booth Auditorium at the University of California, Berkeley; joining me was the progressive San Francisco Public Defender, Jeff Adachi. The participants included young people from schools in the Bay Area, and from as far away as Pittsburg, California.

I even got to see Sonia Carrillo, who I lived with for around two years when she was four to six years old when I lived with her mother in the early 1980s (she’s the closest to a “step-daughter,” in quotes mind you, that I’ve had). She is now 28 years old, married, and getting her Masters at the University of San Francisco on education. I’m very proud of her.

The interesting thing was that I stayed at the Hotel Durant, not far from the renowned Telegraph Avenue. I had stayed there in the spring of 1980 when I was chosen to be interviewed for a slot in the Summer Program for Minority Journalists, which was then held at the journalism department of UC, Berkeley. To my surprise, I was accepted into this program, becoming only one of a few who had been allowed to attend without any college degrees. It was an intensive, 11-week hands-on training. During that time I lived in coed dorms of the campus—an experience in itself. The program also got me my first daily newspaper job as a reporter in the fall of 1980—I was 26 years old.

It was great to revisit this hotel after so many years, and to think about how my life has changed since then. One thing I know for sure—my life has been so much richer and meaningful because I took part in the SPMJ journalism training. Unfortunately, SPMJ no longer exists.

I also took some time out of one morning there to visit Skyline High School in Oakland where I spoke to an auditorium full of students—apparently there had been tensions and some violent incidents between the African American and Chicano/Latino students. We had a great time—again there were many smart questions and remarks. The students were attentive and respectful, considering how restless they were when I first walked in. I just told my story, as honestly as I could, and I tried to help the youth see their value as human beings, as creative souls, as people capable of contributing amazing and wonderful things to this hurting, unjust, and imbalanced world. We need them more than ever. A’ho.

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