Now let’s come home

Yesterday, the United States killed Osama bin Laden. This is a time to rejoice and to remember those on 9/11 who died at the hands of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. But we are still in Iraq, Afghanistan, and also in Libya, at the cost of billions of dollars a day. The loss of 3,000 on 9/11 has been exceeded in ten years with 20,000 US casualties (around 5,000 dead) and tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis, many of them civilians, who have perished due to our mislaid policies and military actions. Bin Laden reached power and notoriety because of the US, and it was right for the US to get rid of him. But let’s not forgot the immense pain and suffering we’ve done in our name, with badly needed tax dollars, to get to this point. It’s now time to heal, to generate, to build, to provide living resources and not take more lives. Osama bin Laden is dead. The Wicked Witch is Dead. Now let’s come home. I also wanted to convey the wonderful and energized audiences I’ve encountered in talks and readings since the beginning of this year, including South San Francisco, Richmond, CA; Washington D.C.; Silver Spring, Maryland; Maravilla/East L.A.; Chicago; Buffalo Grove, IL; Ypsilanti, MI; San Luis Obispo, CA; Albuquerque; Omaha; Des Moines, WA, (just outside of Seattle); and at Sonoma State University in northern California. I’ve had audiences of around 100 to 500. We also had town hall meetings, great dialogues, with teachers, librarians, parents, youth, students, law enforcement officers, politicians, gang intervention experts, urban peace advocates, community organizers, and more. I’ve spoke at an L.A. County Probation and Prison Reentry Conference, two gang peace conferences, a writers conference, a Black and Brown Male Summit, and to several schools—including schools, about once a month now, that have made field trips to Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. The hunger for knowledge, ideas, poetry, positive alternatives, for real choices and real challenges, is across the board. I see revolutionary upsurges—I was in Madison, WI in March during one of the biggest pro-collective bargaining rights rallies in the recent spate of rallies there. The voices and poster signs often went beyond collective bargaining to address joblessness, the losing of homes, the falling down of educational process, and the weakening of our financial and economic foundations. People are beginning to imagine another way to live, to relate, to thrive. I was also honored to host the great Sandra Cisneros at Tia Chucha’s this past Saturday. She was gracious, funny, smart, and read new works. The line for the book signing went around the corner. Gracias, mi amiga. And I want to remind everyone that on May 21st, Tia Chucha’s will sponsor our Sixth Annual Celebrating Words Festival (Written, Performed, and Sung), co-sponsored by the LA City’s Department of Cultural Affairs. Go to www.tiachucha.com to find out about our great lineup on stage, the many booths and vendors, and the amazing authors who will take part in panels and readings. The festival is the only outdoor literacy and performance festival in the San Fernando Valley and will be held from 1 to 7 pm at Mission Community College in Sylmar, CA. In two days I leave for Argentina to take part in the Buenos Aires Book Fair, but also to visit poor barrios, with gang youth, in community, and more. I will take my message—pro-youth, pro-community, pro-empowerment, pro-peace, pro-families, pro-cooperation, and on and on—beyond borders. These are global problems and concerns, and much of this will require a global response. I anticipate great audiences there as well. c/s
Read more

Arizona Teacher's Letter is Sleepy Lagoon All Over Again

[ The following opinion piece by Luis J. Rodriguez was originally published by Fox News Latino on March 28, 2011. ]
"When the Spaniards conquered Mexico they found an organized society composed of many tribes of Indians ruled over by the Aztecs who were given over to human sacrifice…. This disregard for human life has always been universal throughout the Americas among the Indian population, which of course is well known to everyone."
These vicious sentiments were written in 1942 by Edward Duran Ayres of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office after the indictment of close to twenty Mexican American teenagers during the so-called Sleepy Lagoon murder case. Sixteen were convicted on various charges related to the murder of one person in early 1943. Later that summer U.S. sailors, aided by police and white citizens, attacked mostly Mexican youth in the “Zoot Suit Riots” of Los Angeles. Now flash forward to March 2011 in the Arizona state capitol, where Republican state senator Lori Klein read a letter written by Anthony Hill, a substitute teacher in the Phoenix area, that had this line: “I have found that substitute teaching in these areas most of the Hispanic students do not want to be educated but rather be gang members and gangsters.” Almost seventy years later, politicians, supposedly representing the white majority, are still attacking their darker-skinned brothers and sisters during war, chaos, or economic uncertainty. They are spreading fear by lies and innuendo to turn Americans away from tackling the very real joblessness and home foreclosures spreading across the land (and afflicting people, regardless of race). As a child I was punished in school for speaking Spanish. I read textbooks where Mexicans were nonexistent or only mentioned as bloodthirsty people—although in reality Aztecs, who are really called Mexicas, had the most beautiful orderly cities with gardens, astounding architecture, and menageries along with deep ties to nature, mathematics, and cosmology. And despite the Zoot Suit Riots, Mexican Americans fought heroically during World War II, garnering more congressional medals of honor than any other ethnic group. They’ve played leading roles in wars in Korea and Vietnam as well as other military engagements, including the most recent ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. For more than 150 years their labors have helped build whole industries, including in agriculture, railroads, steel, auto, garments, canneries, construction, and more. Once again, politicians are spreading hate at a time of war and financial distress, and once again Mexicans and other Latinos respond by giving their all to this country, including their most precious sons and daughters. Of course, soon after Lori Klein read her letter, the school district where Mr. Hill briefly taught refuted his observations and State Senator Steve Gallardo stated, “(Hispanics) do not have dreams of being gang members… These are good kids.” In fact, in my work among the most gang-ridden neighborhoods in this country and elsewhere I’ve found that the majority of youth are not in gangs. And those that are usually join them when they are poor in material matters as well as cultural and spiritual ones. How long do we have to keep saying this, defending our place in this country and in its history? I’m convinced we can solve the economic mess we’re in by drawing on our common hopes, common aims, and common energies—and not at the expense of the most vulnerable or easily targeted among us. What have we learned in all this time but that hate only begets hate, and in the end everyone loses.
Read more

A New Poem for Chicago

As most people know, I love to speak, to read poetry, to engage audiences. It’s another aspect of my love of words and stories. Last weekend I drove to San Luis Obispo, a four-hour drive through intense rain. My beautiful wife Trini came with me. We ended up at an Embassy Suites for a gang prevention/intervention conference with around 300 teachers, administrators, counselors, youth workers, probation officers, law enforcement personnel, and others. Three people from Homeboy Industries, including my old friends Fabian Debora and Raul Diaz, also made presentations. The dialogue with this group was rich and powerful. The two weeks from March 4 to March 17 I was in Chicago speaking at schools, including the Rudy Lozano Academy of the Instituto del Progreso Latino in the Pilsen barrio and Telpochcalli grammar school in Little Village. I also did training with the Omni Youth Services in Buffalo Grove, IL, and an interview on the “Eight-Forty-Eight” show of WBEZ-FM radio. In addition, I did an hour-long interview for CAN-TV (public access TV) with my son Ramiro as producer and interviewer (I must say it was one of the best interviews I’ve ever had, and I’ve had hundreds). This should air in April and we also hope to get this on youtube.com and other internet outlets. I also had lunch and dinners with many friends and community activists, and even spent a day-and-a-half near the Iowa border with one of my grandkids, Anastasia, who’s been living there lately with her mother’s family. It was one of my better trips. The main reason I ended up in Chicago this time, however, was to read at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum for the Poetry Foundation, part of their “Poetry Off the Shelf” series. I was also commissioned to do a poem as an alternative label to museum objects (photos, DVD, etc.). I decided to do a poem celebrating Chicago as a destination and a home. I’m aware there are many famous Chicago poems, including by Carl Sandburg. I don’t claim I can ever top or equal these, but still I wanted to add my poetic voice, to contribute to this city that has meant so much to me in my life and for my writing. I can’t say for sure how many people showed up to the reading, but it felt like between 300 and 500 people. It was a solid and engaged group. I read mostly new poems, and in the end I unveiled my new poem. The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum also has placed this poem under glass, which I understand will be there for about a year. I thank Lisa Yun Lee, director of Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, and the rest of the staff (as well as my friends at the Poetry Foundation) for offering me this opportunity. Here is my new poem for Chicago:
A Hungry Song in the Shadows When I think about Chicago’s first settlers, migrants, jobseekers, who sought haven or the hope of one, I think about a place fierce with wails, noises in all decibels, tongues from all reaches, and how this is not just a city, but a dream state of brick and chain-link fences, where poetry clatters along with the El train on iron rails, where temples hold every belief and street corners every color, a city that nourishes all palates, holds all thoughts, and still contains the seed of this vital idea: In accord with nature, all is possible. This is a city that steam built. That muscle and sweat solidified into a church of organized labor. Where a swampy onion field in a few generations could become home to the brightest and most jagged skyline, where fossil fuels are holy water and smokestacks and silos remain as soot-stained monuments to industry—from horse-drawn plows, to the foulest stockyards, the roar of combustion engines, the rattle of metal-tipped tools, and smoke-curling big rigs streaming along cluttered expressways and upturned streets. I came to this city on my knees, laden with heartaches, bitter in the shadows, seeking a thousand voices that spoke in one voice, where steel no longer reigned, but where open mics and poetry slams kept the steel in our verses, lamenting a life of work, in a time of no work, and where the inventive and inspiring could finally burst through the cement viaducts and snowy terrains. Now we are artists or we die. From the fractured neighborhoods where bootblacks and news hawking boys once held sway, to this daunting gentrified metropolis of ghosts, toxic waste, and countless poor ripped from their housing projects, three-flat graystones, or trash-lined bungalows, yet nothing can truly uproot the uprooted. The energy for what Chicago can become is buried inside people, in callings, passions, and technologies, but only if this manufactured garden aligns with real nature, no longer limited, finite, fixed on scarcity, but abundant, cooperative, regenerative, like a song across the lakeshore, blooming with lights, music, dance, banners, and words into a cornucopia of potentials, possibilities, even the impossible. It’s an imagination for the intrinsic beauty and bounty in all things. Chicago. Clean. Just. Free. It’s the city we’ve wept and bled to see.
c/s
Read more

Japan Needs Your Help

As most people know by now earthquakes and a tsunami have devastated parts of Japan, taking more than 10,000 lives so far. A nuclear disaster is imminent as well with damage to at least one nuclear reactor. The brave people of Japan need your help. I visited Japan a few years ago and was astounded by the people, the culture, the vibrant beauty I saw everywhere. I met many great people—including poets, artists, writers, lowrider aficionados, and musicians. My friend Shin Miyata arranged for me to be part of a tour by East LA’s Quetzal Flores, Martha Gonzales, and David Gomez. The best harmonica player in the world, Tex Nakamura, who also played with the band War, accompanied us at nightclubs and cafés. A couple of times I read poetry with jarana guitars, cajon, bass, and soulful harmonica for accompaniment. Shin Miyata owns Music Camp, Inc., a record company/distributor. He has a label called Barrio Gold that has reissued Chicano popular music from the 1960s to the present (I’m talking about classics like Thee Midniters, Malo, El Chicano, the Ramparts Record groups, Quetzal, and more). He also helps bring new acts from Chicano artists in U.S. barrios to an appreciative Japanese audience. Here’s what Miyata has to say about the terrible earthquakes that have shaken Japan to its core (this is from three days ago):
Hi Luis. We had another big one an hour and 45 minutes ago near Mt. Fuji. There are no reports of big damage, but it was a really big event in Tokyo. The electric power has been started up again, but so far it has affected only particular places, and it has only lasted one or two hours. But the earthquake caused much confusion and impaired the train system. As for nuclear trouble, people got very nervous and there was a little bit of panic. People ran to get food and gas. It is kind of crazy. Thank you. Shin
Then yesterday, Shin wrote me this:
Dear Luis. We are now in the third day from the big quake. So many aftershocks have continued. We’re mostly concerned now about the problems with the nuclear power plant. People within 20 km of the nuclear power plant have been forced to evacuate. And as of today electric power will be stopped twice a day, three hours per each time, around the Tokyo area. The transportation system, especially trains, seem to not run on a regular schedule. There are many train lines that are not running. The government says this will continue until the end of April. Apparently this will affect many businesses, including restaurants, convenience stores, hospitals... We in Tokyo do understand this forced situation. We have to sacrifice as much as possible to rescue people in the northern part of the country called “Tohoku.” I will let you know more later. I am going to ride my bike to see how my offices have held up. I’m just trying to keep our business going. Gracias. Shin
To read more from Shin, please see an interview by our friend David Gomez. Please give any support you can to help the people of Japan. c/s
Read more

“Something stinks in Wisconsin, and it’s not the cheese”

The sea of people continued to flow most of the day in Madison, Wisconsin. Reports claimed 85,000 to 100,000 people congregated at the state capitol Saturday, March 12, to protest the anti-bargaining bill that the state’s GOP passed this past week and Governor Scott Walker signed on March 10. I got there the night before to take part in helping make history. I stayed with my good friend Tony Prince and his fiancé Mayra, who is working on her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The next morning Tony—who is legal counsel for Teamsters Local 705 in Chicago—and I drove out to the capitol building at around 8 am when hardly anybody was there. We entered the capitol building and had to be searched and wanded—one uniformed officer asked if we had guns. This was insulting—since mid-February protestors have been occupying the capitol building after Governor Scott Walker announced his plans to end collective bargaining rights for state employees. There has not been any violence and only sixteen arrests among tens of thousands of people who have come through here over several weeks. This may be the longest (and most peaceful) occupation of a government building in U.S. history. At first the numbers of people trickling in that day seemed small. But by 11 a.m. large contingents of workers representing teachers, state employees, nurses, teamsters, steelworkers, ironworkers—you name it—surrounded the state capitol. By then tractors representing the state’s farmers came through in support of the state employees—they know if state employees lose their pay, benefits, or jobs, they are also out of work. At noon, the numbers were amazing—Tony and I stood on the fourth floor of the Wisconsin Museum of History where you could see the masses of people with all kinds of signs (some were quite inventive: “Scott Walker is addicted to KOCHaine” (alluding to the oil/energy billionaire Koch brothers who have funded much of the Tea Party movement), “Being Middle Class was nice—while it lasted,” “Scott Walker is the ‘Con’ and ‘Sin’ of Wisconsin,” and even one sign that said “I’m a Christian/Conservative and for Collective Bargaining”). I talked to many people, including Matthew, who was on his eighth day of a hunger strike inside the capitol building. Schoolchildren were there, singing and chanting, along with their parents and teachers. I met with my friend, teacher Erik Shager, who brought three of his students to meet me at Frida’s Mexican Grill on State Street (packed to the gills with people). His parents, who had never took part in protests until the pro-collective bargaining protest began, came with a busload of seniors from Eau Claire, WI. Cops and firefighters were also marching along with union members and their families. This is a critical battle for the whole country. Recall efforts of eight GOP state legislators have begun, including a recall effort to remove Governor Walker. Other strategic plans and actions are being worked out among leaders and the common people. Wisconsin has a long history of working class and progressive politics. What’s happening here is the pinnacle of what’s happening across the land. I stand in solidarity. c/s
Read more

Wisconsin: Critical Juncture for Labor

[caption id="attachment_732" align="alignright" width="320" caption="Wisconsin Solidarity - Graphic by NoelsLight/ Rock Netroots"]Wisconsin Solidarity - Graphic by NoelsLight/ Rock Netroots[/caption] “It’s been a wild few weeks here,” said my friend Erik Shager from the Wisconsin state capital of Madison. He’s a teacher and department chair at the Work and Learn Lapham, part of the innovative and alternative programs of the Madison Metropolitan School District. For sixteen years he’s used my book “Always Running” with inner-city youth, including setting up websites and innovative interactive means so I can communicate with his students. I’ve even visited his classes a couple of times over those years—he’s one of my biggest supporters. But, moreover, he’s a great teacher, a lover of good literature as well as social justice. “I’m feeling pretty optimistic,” Erik wrote me today. “I think the governor is feeling the pressure. People who have been in Madison a long time, and have witnessed protests from the Vietnam-War era through Bush's wars, have never seen such a large and sustained movement. What was incredible this past weekend was that the bus tour across the state in support of Governor Walker’s bills—budget repair and biennial budget—was completely dwarfed by those opposing the bills. In my hometown of Eau Claire, 1,600 protesters met the 200 supporters (the bus tour was sponsored by Americans for Prosperity—the Koch brothers group.)  People are mobilizing around the state. It's democracy at its best.  I think we needed something like this to get us going.  The ‘waking up a sleeping giant’ phrase is heard a lot around here.” That sleeping giant is U.S. labor. Organized and unorganized, working people in this country are standing up against the corporate thieves and their government cronies (in particular, the Republicans in Congress and in state governorships and legislatures). A grass-roots response to Wisconsin Governor’s Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining efforts began in mid-February with the state’s public employee unions and then spread across the country with all facets of organized labor and other organizations protesting the deep social cuts and anti-labor moves perpetuated by politicians connected to or allied with the Tea Party Movement. It’s evident, especially with the backing of oil/energy billionaires like the Koch brothers, that the Tea Party is becoming the corporations’ social base to perpetrate their anti-working class, anti-social justice agenda. “On most days my eleven-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter joined me and got a first-hand look at democracy in action,” Erik wrote. “My son’s sign read—in response to those who criticized teachers for their actions—‘I AM learning.  Best social studies class EVER!’ My wife, who works for the state, spends her lunch break with the protesters. This past weekend was special in that my parents, both in their late seventies, were able to participate in their first-ever protest. They too were impressed by the positive vibe and the lack of the “union thugs” Fox News says make up the crowd. It’s hard to put into words my feelings on those first few days. Although we were looking at the possibility of terrible outcome for our state, we remained incredibly upbeat. The rotunda of the capitol was filled with chants of ‘Kill the Bill!’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like!’ and ‘Thank You!’ I now know what solidarity really is.” I support these civil uprisings that show people aren’t going to take this growing right-wing thrust into our lives, our ability to survive, into our futures. We are still involved in two major wars, a terrible economic crisis, and social fracturing that the previous Republican administration pushed on all Americans (including some of the worse robberies of people by big banks). Those politicians who don’t capitulate to this will be seen as heroes. Those who go meekly into the night will be denounced and trounced. It’s the people who speak here. “It is truly amazing that after all those days when people occupied that capitol building and converged on the capitol square, there was NO VIOLENCE,” Erik emphasized. “It was the definition of non-violent protest. There were lots of heroes in those first few days, from the fourteen senators who left the state to stop the vote on the bill to those who slept in the capitol and testified at legislative hearings.  I can’t say enough about the young people—and middle-aged people and older people. Everyone together!” Whatever the outcome, the working class of this country, including those who have been pushed out of their livelihoods and homes, must not stop their organizing, protesting, and pushing back. But we also need to have a vision of what’s possible, of where we need to go. In the midst of these important struggles to stop the Tea Party movement from taking over this country, let’s also strategically lay out what we must see in terms of truly just and cooperative changes in both the economy and in politics. For whatever is best and equitable for the least among us (and those being pushed in that direction) will benefit everyone. Thank you Erik and your family for taking up the banner. And thanks to all those workers, organizers, unions, and families in Wisconsin and other states who are saying no to corporate power. I will now and always be in solidarity. c/s
Read more

No Justice for Ruben Salazar

[caption id="attachment_722" align="alignleft" width="389" caption="Ruben Salazar in 1970. Photo Courtesy of UCLA Library's Digital Collection."]Ruben Salazar in 1970. Photo Courtesy of UCLA Library's Digital Collection.[/caption] If we are to believe recent news accounts surrounding a watchdog report on the slaying in 1970 of Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department at the time were the equivalent of the fictitious Reno sheriff’s department from Comedy Central’s “Reno 911.” The Times’ pieces on the report in the last few days have used words like “blunders” and “ball dropping” to describe what happened to Salazar, killed when a deputy fired a 10-inch high velocity Flight-Rite missile into the front entrance of the Silver Dollar Café in East Los Angeles. On August 29, 1970, Salazar and fellow KMEX-TV reporter William Restrepo were apparently taking a break from covering riots on Whittier Boulevard following an anti-Vietnam War march and protest when this occurred. As strapped and untrained as the sheriff’s department may have been in those years, I find it hard to believe they were that incompetent. The department’s civilian watchdog report, released on Tuesday, was based on analyzing eight apparently disorganized boxes of documents that had been sitting for more than forty years. It’s a crime in itself that so much time had elapsed before such an investigation could be made. The official story from the report seems to be that there’s no proof that deputies targeted Salazar, a well-known media voice for Chicanos. Well after forty years, what actual proof of this nature would still exist? As far as I’m concerned, the report leaves many questions unanswered, some of the same questions the community has had for forty years. There were statements by twelve bar patrons who said they heard no commands to leave, although a department account of the time said deputies gave such an order. Also a photo exists of a deputy armed with a shotgun forcing patrons back into the bar, although they looked as if they were trying to leave. Incredibly, the bar was not surrounded, leaving the back entrance without deputies, although they were apparently reacting to reports that an armed man had entered the bar. Is this incompetence? Perhaps, but I’m not buying the whole story. Maybe there’s no smoking gun surrounding plans for murder, but Restrepo, who was uninjured, has stated that at the time of Salazar’s death they had been doing reports on law enforcement abuse in the largely Mexican Eastside. And evidence does exist that Salazar was officially seen as some kind of troublemaker for the department. One note reportedly found in the boxes stated, “That (liar) Ruben is spreading bad rumors about us in ELA”—this was from an unnamed sergeant in “intelligence” written about a month before the slaying. Again, we’re left with a mystery. Who was this sergeant? And why was Salazar being investigated? The point is, after forty years of demands for these files to be opened, and not heeded, we finally get a report that exonerates the department of any intentional wrong-doing in Salazar’s death. Yet, even with the incredulous mistakes attributed to one of the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the country, where’s the accountability? Even blunders have to be the responsibility of someone. After forty long years, there’s still no justice for Ruben Salazar. c/s
Read more

Final Edits Done

My new book – entitled It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing – has been sent back to the publisher with the final edits.  As of today we’re still working on the book cover and legal issues (after all this is in the memoir/nonfiction genre and legal concerns are paramount). The plan is to have this book released by October of 2011. Let’s hope everything falls into place and we’ll see my new book out this fall. It’s been more than a three-year ride in writing, editing, rewriting, more editing, to finally get to this place. A heavy burden during a time when I had so much work at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, with other writing, with travel, other community work, and to spend time with my family.  I also had some health issues this past year that I’ve written about—hypertension, diabetes, gallstones, throat infection, emergency laser eye surgery. But today I feel much better—my last visit to the doctor had all my numbers down (blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol, etc.). I plan to keep it this way. Recently, I took part at the Associated Writing Programs national conference in Washington, DC. I was on a panel called “Memoir and Latinidad.” Blizzards across the Midwest kept all of the panelists away from our panel except Rigoberto Gonzalez and myself. We also had help from Francisco Aragon and the panel turned out to be well attended and lively. Writers and editors from Tia Chucha Press who came to AWP this year had a nice dinner at Busboys & Poets restaurant, bookstore, and performance space. What a great place, which I recommend to anyone who goes to DC. I thank all the TCP family who took part. On Saturday, February 5, I took part in a Floricanto poetry reading in front of the US Capitol building to protest Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB 1070. About forty of us read and spoke in a drizzling rain, including Francisco Alarcon, Abel Salas, and Susana Sandoval, among others. I also want to thank my tocayo and longtime friend Luis Cardona for setting up talks at two schools and a community center in the mostly Central American community of Maryland and DC. I’ve always had great support there and these talks keep me connected to a very vibrant and important area. My other visits included community events in the Bay Area community of Richmond, including at the City Council chambers, introduced by the Richmond Mayor, Gayle McLaughlin. This trip was organized by community organizer and teacher Pedro Lespier, who did an amazing job with the schools, community organizations, and city government. Richmond has been known as a violent city, but in recent times has seen violence and crime levels go down. This is good news. Yet, as we know, it doesn’t stop. The people I met and the dialogues I had were significant and instructive. I hope to get back there again soon. I also talked at Martin Elementary School in South San Francisco, where third to fifth graders listened intently and asked great questions. I thank the principal, Rona Jawetz, and teachers and staff who made this happen. I need to mention that this past week I was also a panelist for “Off the Page, Into Reality: A Call To Action” summit, held at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in downtown LA. Activists in juvenile justice and reentry programs from all over LA County were in attendance, including LA city council members, LA County supervisors, and probation department personnel. The LA County Blueprint for Youth and Young Adult Reentry was introduced and addressed by speakers, panelists, and participants during this important gathering. This blueprint is a major step in addressing some vital issues about what we’re going to do about real juvenile justice, rehabilitation, and keeping our youth out of juvenile lockups and prisons. The first thing is to stop seeing these young people as “problems,” but symptomatic of deeper environmental, family, economic, and political breakdowns. Using our imaginations and great capacities to renew and regenerate, we can make a turn-around on saving our children. c/s
Read more

Young Warriors

This past Saturday, the Young Warriors youth empowerment project of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, held a community ceremony to honor a number of San Fernando High School probation, gang youth, and other high risk students who took part in a ten-week self-discovery, self-healing workshops held from October to December of 2010. Run by YW founder Mayra Zaragoza, in collaboration with Tia Chucha’s, Youth Speak Collective, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Los Angeles County Probation Department, these workshops were created to help young people stay in school, improve their grades and attendance, and consider a life free of violence and drugs. The culmination was held at the Pacoima Community Center in the Northeast San Fernando Valley and involved the students as well as their parents (who were also taking part in a separate dialogue during part of the day). Each young person also received a certificate of completion and a Young Warriors T-shirt. Other guests from various community and school-based organizations also attended. We were also honored to have Huitzi and Mextli, two Mexika (so-called Aztec) dancers come to teach about the indigenous cosmology of the Mexika/Maya peoples and to perform a number of sacred dances with members of their danza group. The youth also got to share their passions and ambitions. One 15-year-old participant, who has taken part in a number of Tia Chucha’s music, dance, and photography workshops, shared the amazing photos she’s taken with the other young people. The other youth shared their own concerns and issues, which the Young Warriors workshops helped by opening up a safe and guiding space for them. I thank all the organizations involved as well as the youth and parents. I particularly want to thank Mayra Zaragoza for working hard to make this happen, as well as Cristina Patricio and Stephanie Marron of San Fernando High School, and Mayra Esparza of Youth Speak Collective, for doing all they could to assist the process. We hope to continue these kinds of workshops for the most troubled students at San Fernando High School as well as other high schools in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. c/s
Read more

Song and Poetry Behind the Walls

Last Thursday I was a guest to witness a special production by members of BRAG (Balanced Reentry Activity Group) they called “Reciprocity,” which involved song, music, theater, spoken word, poetry, and wise words from men who know about hard-earned wisdom. This event was held behind the walls of the old Soledad State Correctional Facility in the Salinas Valley. Invited by Nane Alejandrez of Barrios Unidos of Santa Cruz, CA, I was also able to say a few words and to recite my poem “Piece by Piece.” In fact, a few of the men remembered me when I was last there, around fifteen years ago, speaking and reading poetry one day, all day, to hundreds of incarcerated brothers (I’ve been doing talks, readings, and workshops in prisons for thirty years). On Thursday there were around 400 prisoners, mostly lifers, in attendance at the gym. I told them about the Mayan concept of In Lak Ech—you are the other me; I’m the other you. I also related something I had, unfortunately, just heard that morning—the shooting death of Luis Moreno the night before. Luis had attended a Mosaic Foundation Men’s Conference a few years back, which I’ve been a part of for sixteen years. He was a decent young man working at Homeboy Industries, who we tried to mentor away from the madness of gang and drug life. Unfortunately, like so many of these young leaders, his life was cut short much too soon. May you rest in peace, Luis! The men groaned collectively at the news of Luis’ murder. But they knew—these losses are part of the work we do to help young people save themselves. Of course, more kids are helped, changed, many finally getting on their passion road, their destiny journey, that violence, drugs, and prison have taken off track. It’s a testament to Father Greg Boyle and the teachers/mentors/staff (many of them former gang members) of Homeboy Industries who continue this work despite the losses. The men at Soledad appreciated the efforts we all do—including, of course, Barrios Unidos—to help keep more youngsters from ending up where they’ve ended up. BRAG’s songs, poems, and theater production were all about redemption, change, and helping others. As one inmate, Papa John, said from the podium, “don’t ever look down at a man unless you mean to pick him up.” “You may have started out doing wrong,” Papa John preached. “But you can all finish strong.” The fact that the men were multiracial—mostly African American and Chicano, with Native and white brothers—belies the pronouncements that California state prisoners can’t be united. In their brokenness, in healing, in their dreams of a better world, even behind bars, for themselves and their families, they have come together. That evening I also had the privilege of speaking at Si Se Puede, a residential sober-living home for the recently paroled (many are also sentenced by judges to take part) in Watsonville, CA. In attendance were around twenty-five young men, with additional residents from a couple of other homes, including youth and women. We first dined—to some great refin cooked by residents—with Jorge Sanchez, who manages Si Se Puede’s residential space and programs. Then we met the newly appointed mayor of Watsonville, Daniel Dodge, who also happens to be a long-time Chicano activist—and an indigenous spiritual practitioner and Sun Dancer (I’ve done sweat ceremonies with the brother). Can you imagine—a Sun Dancer as mayor of Watsonville! Later that evening, we were honored to have Dr. Loco (of Dr. Loco’s Rocking Jalapeno Band—in his “other life” he’s professor/scholar Jose Cuellar) play an indigenous frog-shaped flute and then perform an old Mexican waltz on the tenor saxophone. Nane also spoke and brought up Sarah and Angie, staff members from Barrios Unidos, who briefly talked about their experiences with BU (which, like Homeboy Industries in LA, provides jobs, counseling, culture, schooling to gang youth, ex-prisoners, and more). Daniel Dodge said a few words and also introduced me, and again I was honored. That evening we had the young people nodding, smiling, a couple in tears, as we talked about the changes we’ve all had to make against drugs, alcohol, gangs. And how this is part of the changes endemic to the shifts in ages we’re all currently living under—precipitating changes in the cosmos, the earth, community, and family. To help create a healthy, abundant, and properly aligned world, we also have to live as healthy, abundantly, and as aligned as possible. I thank Nane and Barrios Unidos, the men of BRAG (and the men in the audience), Soledad Prison’s warden and staff, as well as the staff and residents of Si Se Puede (and the other residential programs) that made that whole day special and wondrous for me. It makes what I do all worthwhile. c/s
Read more