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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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Laser Eye Surgery

Last Friday, I did get laser eye surgery on my right eye. I wasn’t sure I was going to need it, but three ophthalmologists looked thoroughly into the back of my eye with lights, magnifying tools, and depressors (to keep the eye opened in the right areas). They all agreed I had tears and a possible detached section of the retina. With skillful placement of eye and laser, for about a half hour, one of the doctors put drops to numb the eye, then soon after began the laser treatments. I had two to three dozen laser blasts into my eye. I must say, I was amazed how relatively easy and painless this was—a lot better than having to put my eye to the knife and peel back layers to get to my retina (or whatever they do). The technology is wonderful. The only lasting soreness was when I got home and the numbing solution had worn off, but again it was not bad. The next day I was on a plane to Oakland for the weekend and had no more problems. Today I did have to spend from 7:30 AM until around 2 PM trying to deal with the financials—the cost of the surgery was going to run me upwards of $2,600 (an optometrist told me that in private clinics the costs could go to $4,000 or so). But I qualified for one of the LA County health care programs since my income has come down quite significantly over the last year. This is good—I now only pay the regular surgery cost of $120. I return on Wednesday to have my eye checked again. It’s possible I may need more lasers, but I hope not. For now I feel fine. This is all part, apparently, of my particular aging process. Not every one will have tears in their retina or detachments, but the older you get the likelihood gets stronger.  I must say that the LA County Health System, while the emergency waits can be for hours, including whole days or weekends, have great doctors and support staff. c/s
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Taking Care of the Eyes

Our eyes are how we see and feel our way into the world. What we see and experience become images imprinted in our brains, often through the filter of memory that can also distort those images and experiences (memory is a bad historian). We also don’t remember everything that our eyes have taken in or we’d go nuts. For example, I have a memory of meeting my wife Trini in 1976—close to ten years before we eventually became lovers than husband and wife. But this initial meeting started our life-long friendship (she’s still my best friend). I recall that Trini had on a brown pantsuit. She insists she wore a green blouse and skirt (I’ll concede hers is probably more valid, since she is more likely to actually know and this is not an important issue for me). We hang on to certain images and memories that impacted us in someway, or held deep emotional value, or provided us a sense of context and meaning to our lives. Our eyes are first to pull these in, but also of course our hearing, touch, what are called our five senses (and the sixth sense, intuition or seemingly ethereal aspects, need to also be taken into account). Recently I had a small scare concerning my right eye. Last Monday afternoon, while writing in front of my computer, several spider web-like floaters appeared in front of my eye. Floaters, which I’ve had since I was a child, are natural and usually stay in the background. But this seemed odd—my vision was actually blocked somewhat by these strands of black wriggly lines. They didn’t go away. On Wednesday, I went to an optometrist to get new glasses. I raised the issue of the floaters and he decided to use chemicals to dilate my pupils and look into the back of my eye. Using lights and different instruments, he thought he saw a tear in my retina and perhaps a slight detachment. This is extremely serious. He gave me a prescription for an emergency visit to my local LA County hospital. My wife Trini, who has accompanied me many times to emergencies over the years, came with me in the afternoon. Because of the possible retina issues, an ophthalmologist was called from home. He arrived later that evening and began an extensive search (with more lights and instruments) for any possible tear or retina detachment. He couldn’t find anything like this—although having bright lights into my eye at all angles for about an hour took its toll. But I must say the doctor was persistent and polite. It was all necessary. The upshot is that I didn’t need emergency surgery. For now I have what’s called a posterior vitreous detachment. Not as serious, but if not looked into can turn into something quite serious. I have an appointment at the eye clinic tomorrow to see what else I need to do. I’m grateful this didn’t turn out as bad as we had originally thought. For a while there, while waiting in the emergency (Trini and I didn’t get out of there until midnight), I contemplated the great value of seeing, remembering, imaging, of colors, lights, faces, and the beauty around me. I truly love my eyes. I plan to do all I can to make sure I don’t lose any sight. For now, things look brighter, clearer, lovelier since I’ve gotten over this scare. I’m thankful I can still have these experiences and memories. As many people have said, the eyes are the mirrors to the soul. That’s why some memories are soul-deep, unable to be forgotten, lasting, even if somewhat askew. For as far as I’m concerned, the eyes have it. c/s
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A Time for Imaginings

I had a wonderful talk with my grandson Ricky, who turns 18 next month. He says he’s into ideas, into new ways of thinking, into what I call imaginings. I’m so proud of Ricky—he’s graduating next year with honors. He’s a devout Christian and creative person (writing, art, graphics… you name it).  He’s a good son and a great grandson. We happened to be talking about something I’ve been raising to young audiences these past few months. Last Saturday, I was honored to do the keynote talk to around 800 community college students, teachers, and counselors during the Puente Project conference at the University of California, Riverside. I emphasized the power of change, of books, of language, and revolutionary ideas. I did a similar talk last week at the California State University, Northridge to around 300 students. We need to share imaginings. The time of financial constraints, political limitations, budget cuts, record job and home losses are forcing many people to lose their capacity to think beyond the limitations. But I contend this is a time to be more imaginative, not less. Young people, in particular, have inherited quite a mess from us older generations. We can throw blame around, but somehow it seems to me it’s better to put our heads together, work with youth, us olders, elders, mentors, and try to make this a better world for them and the generations to come. This means challenging the archaic capitalist, dog-eat-dog, competitive-based system (a sacred cow for Republicans and many Democrats) and think about aligning to human needs, human health, human hungers (both spiritual and physical), and to the best development possible for restoring the earth and its regenerative powers. Young people respond to this, instead of what too many people emphasize: Folding into the very institutions, systems, ideas, economies, and political choices that have gotten us into this mess in the first place. For me personally, I have to now make another life style change (I’ve had so many, but apparently not far enough). Due to stress, addictive behavior, bad eating, and generally taking in too much of the toxic environment we’re all in, I had a rough time recently. After being diagnosed as diabetic on November 4 (this summer I was officially diagnosed as hypertensive), I ended up with the worse case of gallstones ever (this is my third time). I was in such pain, suffering through 13 hours at the local county hospital. In three days, I passed the stones, and even with Vicodin, the pain was excruciating. I apparently also contracted a throat infection while at the emergency. This has been kicking my behind for the past three weeks. I feel much better today, but all of this points to what I have to do. I will beat this diabetes. I will also control the gallstones since I’ve decided not to get my gall bladder removed (one of the first things the doctors wanted me to do). But this means I have to be strict on what I eat, on exercising, on being hydrated. I must also lose around 50 pounds. I’ve carried this big gut for more than twenty years. It’s time for me to get back to a healthy weight and size, and I plan to do this as natural as possible. Like our communities, our country, this planet, each of us has to get to the healthy balance and regenerative state that is in our means to do so.  I have a wonderful family, a great cultural space/bookstore (Tia Chucha’s), and spiritual healing practices that have stood the test of time.  I have important work—writing, traveling, speaking—and I’m living my passions. I now have to make sure I have the quality years left to continue being indispensable in this world. c/s Copyright 2010 by Luis Jr. Rodriguez
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Celebrate with me—my book’s done!

I’ve finally done it. I’ve finished my latest book, sent to the publisher last night. I’ve been working on this manuscript diligently for more than two years—in-between other writings, travel (including abroad), work with Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, other community work, producing CDs (like Olmeca’s “Contra Cultura”), publishing Tia Chucha Press books, rushing out to distress calls, ceremonies, suicide emergencies, interventions, and, of course, making sure I made quality time for my wife Trini, my daughter Andrea, my sons Ramiro, Ruben & Luis, and for my grand-children as well (all teenagers now). The book is tentatively titled “It Calls You Back: A Writer’s Odyssey through Love, Addictions, Revolution & Healing.” It’s the sequel to “Always Running,” although like I told the publisher it won’t be anything like “Always Running.” It covers the period where the bulk of my first memoir ended—me leaving jail, hard drugs, and the gang life. It ends with my son Ramiro going to prison for 28 years in 1998. But I’ve also added an epilogue—Ramiro was released this past July after 13-and-a-half years behind bars. The epilogue explains how this happened. Of course, we are all delighted and anxious about my son’s early release. For now the manuscript ends on a good and strong note. Our family is united once again. The release date is set for the fall of 2011, another year from now. The publisher is the same one that did the paperback of “Always Running” about sixteen years ago —Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster. I’m honored to be included in their next year’s book list. It’s hard times, as everyone knows, and publishing has suffered big budget crunches, forcing staff and many contracted books to be cut. Still I was given the green light to continue with this book. This is a testament to my editor, Sulay Hernandez, who has worked with me in making sure this book is best one I could have written. Also to my agent, Susan Bergholz, who gave me sage suggestions for re-writes and focus. I’ve done these, although I’m sure more may come, but for now the book is essentially done. Since I don’t drink, I had to just step into nature from my office, look to the sky, shed a tear, and be grateful. Ometeotl. I’m mindful that this book is coming out in a time of darkness, uncertainty, economy failure, and a rightward shift in US politics. But these seem to be the kind of times to find the light and the fight. My wife Trini, who embraced me after I finished, and my sons at home, Ruben and Luis, were most supportive and patient during this writing period. Also the staff, instructors, volunteers, board members, and community of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural. As well as my many friends and family. I’m also sad since I lost my best friend in LA during this writing, my Mayan brother, my homie, Tony Hernandez. Others have passed on as well, including my mother Maria Estela, who I miss very much. So I hope to honor them with my truth and whatever literary dexterity I can bring to these truths. I want to say, in the midst of this during the past few days, I was able to read two poems accompanied by the wonderful East LA band, Quetzal, during their spirited performance at the Autry National Center & Museum. Their set was part of “Viva Los Muertos!” celebration that included authors (Lalo Alcaraz and Father Greg Boyle among them), Mexika dancers, Day of the Dead altars, other acts on October 30. I also facilitated a Bay Area indigenous ceremony for Quetzalli Montes, who turned four on Monday, November 1. She’s the daughter of Fabian Montes, my carnal from Homeboy Industries. What a special person Quetzalli is—and her many family and friends that were with Quetzalli will attest to her strong and unique spirit. These past month I also took part in a panel for the “Norton Anthology of Latino Literature” at the Mark Taper Auditorium, LA Central Public Library, for Aloud!. Present were one of the editors, Ilan Stavans, who also served as moderator, and writers Susana Chavez-Silverman and Ruben Martinez. I was pleased to also be one of the readers for the California Poetry Festival at the Pasadena Library with former California Poet Laureate Al Young and poet Gabrielle Calvocoressi. Besides reading our own work, each poet honored a deceased notable California poet (Al spoke about and read from Kenneth Rexroth; Gabrielle honored Robert Duncan). I read from and talked about my mentor, the Chicano poet Manual “Manazar” Gamboa. And I was featured for “Hispanic Heritage Month” at St. Charles Community College at Cottlesville, Missouri, not far from St. Louis—as always, I was treated well and given a chance to speak my life, ideas, and read my work. Lastly, earlier in October I took part in the Latino Family & Book Festival at California State University, Los Angeles, which featured close to 200 authors as well as vendors, panels, stage events, and more. Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore was active in selling books and with book signings. I’ve been involved with this festival for many years and it’s getting better each time. I do have one bit of bad news. Along with the fact I was officially diagnosed with hypertension this past June, I was also diagnosed on November 4 with diabetes. I’ve been pre-diabetic for some time. Diabetes has also afflicted my mother, my aunt, my uncles, and others in my family. I’ve been given medicine for this, but I also plan to change my lifestyle with proper food, exercise, and less stress. The latter may be hard, but I plan to be around for a long time. c/s
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October’s Events

I had a long line of mostly young people with copies of my books to sign during a highly successful evening at the San Diego City College International Book Fair—held from October 1 & 2, 2010. According to organizer Virginia Escalante, some 500 people showed up to my reading on that Friday night at the Saville Theater. People sat in aisles and many were standing up. A large number were in the lobby, unable to find a seat, but hanging in there until I could finish and sign their books. After my reading, the audience was treated to the great Perla Batalla and her band. Perla sang her heart out—as she always does. And, again, as Perla and I have done in New Mexico, at the Grand Performances in downtown LA’s California Plaza, and the Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood, I read my poem “My Name’s Not Rodriguez” to her rendition of the Mexican classic “La Llorona.” You can view a short video of our performance at the Border Book Festival last year in Mesilla, New Mexico. Although I ended up with a throat infection, I’m doing much better as I continue with other important events this busy October:
Next weekend, October 9 and 10, I’ll be part of the Latino Book & Family Festival at California State University, Los Angeles, Greenlee Plaza. Around 120 authors and artists will be on hand. Nearly 50 panels, readings, and workshops. Over 100 exhibitors. And a children’s stage. The main stage will feature mariachi groups, folklorico performances, and well-known performers. I’ll be doing a couple of panels and I’ll also be at the Tia Chucha’ Centro Cultural & Bookstore booth. Go to www.lbff.us for more information. On October 21 at 7 PM I’ll be on a panel called “Writing in Latino: A National Conversation,” moderated by Ilan Stavans, editor of the newly released “Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.” Also with me will be Susana Chavez-Silverman and Ruben Martinez.  This is part of the [Aloud] series at the Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library, downtown Los Angeles. You can find out more at www.lfla.org/aloud I’m also going to be part of the Fourth Annual Festival of California Poets, sponsored by PEN Center USA and the Poetry Society of America. It’s set for October 23 at 3 PM at the Pasadena Public Library. I’ll be reading my work but also the work of the late Chicano poet Manuel “Manazar” Gamboa.  Other poets reading include Al Young, who’ll also read the poems of Kenneth Rexroth and Gabrielle Calvocoressi, who will honor the work of Robert Duncan. Go to www.ci.pasadena.ca.us/LIBRARY to find out more. ESPN will be showing a documentary “Fernando Nation” as part of their 30 for 30 series. This doc features the amazing Fernando Valenzuela, the first Mexican born US baseball star. Directed by Cruz Angeles, the show features interviews with many celebrities and regular folk, including yours truly. “Fernando Nation” premieres on Sunday, October 24 at 9 PM, Pacific Coast Time. I'll also be honored to do some poems with the renowned East LA band, Quetzal, as part of the Autry Museum at Griffith Parks "Day of the Dead" event called "Viva Los Muertos." The performance will be on October 30 from 7:30 PM until 9 PM at the Plaza. During the day the Autry Museum will have Mexika danza, folklorico, and authors such as Lala Alcaraz and Father Greg Boyle. October is also the month for the US release of the Serpent’s Tail book, “More Miles Than Money: Journeys Through American Music,” by Garth Cartwright. I highly recommend this book, and not only because I happen to be one of the people featured on East LA and Watts music. It’s a great study of roots music from Navajo Land to Mississippi juke joints to Chicago soul sessions and more. Garth is a New Zealand born, South London based, writer whose previous book “Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians” I also recommend. To buy the book, go to amazon.com or any major bookstore—of course, I also recommend Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore if you happen to be in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.
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