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.
c/s
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The Sarajevo International Poetry Festival

The rain came down most of the day on Saturday, not heavy, but enough to bring out a sea of umbrellas in the packed center of Sarajevo. This city has seen some amazing development—apparently $500 billion was invested with mostly foreign capital after the war some ten years ago claimed tens of thousand of lives. There are still buildings pock mocked with bullet holes, other bombed out. One poet recalled coming in 2003 and seeing gravesites scattered around the city center. Travel advisories warn of 500,000 land mines that have yet to be removed from the outlying areas. Yet Sarajevo is presently alive with shops, bars, restaurants, churches, mosques, and people. Apparently the country is also suffering economically like most of the world. There is supposedly a 45 percent unemployment rate. From war to economic distress, the country now known as Bosnia-Herzegovina is working hard to survive. [caption id="attachment_690" align="alignleft" width="271" caption="The author reading at the Kamerni Theater, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Photo by Opal Palmer Adisa. "]Luis J. Rodriguez reading at the Kamerni Theater, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Photo by Opal Palmer Adisa. [/caption] This past weekend—from September 24 to 26—the spirit of these formidable people is alive with the strains of jazz and the powerful performances of poets from Bosnia-Herzegovina, other parts of Europe as well as the world. I’m fortunate to be one of the poets invited, with the assistance of the Italian Embassy and the A. Chorale Foundation. I performed on Saturday evening at the Kamerni Theater, where from 150 to 200 people showed up. Largely organized by the Casa della Poesia in Italy, led by my new friends Sergio Iagulli and Raffaella Marzano, the other countries represented included Holland, Andora, Czech Republic, Jamaica, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, Spain, France, and Turkey. I’m the only one this year—the festival is apparently in it’s ninth year—to represent the United States, in particular the vital stream of Chicano poetry. Video presentations include the voices and poems of writers such as Mario Benedetti, Mahmoud Darwish, Janine Pommy Vega, Taslima Nasrin, among others. The poets reading include my new friend Opal Palmer Adisa, originally from Jamaica and now making her home in the Virgin Islands. She and I had a band of three jazz musicians from Italy behind us when we performed, which was just perfect, adding multi-dimensions to our words. [caption id="attachment_692" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Left to right: Luis J. Rodriguez, Opal Palmer Adisa of the Virgin Islands, Muesser Yeniay of Turkey, and Sergio Iagulli of Italy. "]Left to right: Luis J. Rodriguez, Opal Palmer Adisa of the Virgin Islands, Muesser Yeniay of Turkey, and Sergio Iagulli of Italy. [/caption] I also made friends with a young Turkish poet named Muesser Yeniay. Other poets performing include Petr Hruska, Ferida Durakovic, Ivo Ledergerber, Elvedin Nezirovic, Alexandra Petrova, Giancarlo Pontiggia, Tomaz Salamun, Ada Salas, Gabriella Sica, Christiane Veschambre, and Marko Vesovic. All the poems were translated into Italian and Bosnian. I didn’t understand the vast majority of what was read, but I tried to let the rhythms and tones of voices keep me present—poetry, after all, breaks through all borders. I was particularly amazed to hear poems in Catalonian, an ancient regional language of Spain, read with a powerful presence by Teresa Colom. I was also fortunate to be interviewed on Saturday by a national TV station in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The reporter asked her questions in English—I was impressed how much English people speak here. When I read, I said thank you (in honor of the many languages) in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl (the Mexika, so-called Aztec, language). I have to say how great it was to be in a place where so many languages abounded. Nobody seemed disturbed by this. The interpreters pulled off everything smoothly, even when at times certain words were hard to translate across the idioms. People corrected from their seats. People on stage laughed. Everybody respected everyone else. The festival is now over. I prepare to leave on Tuesday for Los Angeles, via Budapest and London. After I finished my set—which went well with the music of the band that created new sounds for each of the five poems I read—I relaxed and continued to enjoy the other poets. c/s
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Bosnia and Beyond

I leave for Bosnia & Herzegovina today to take part in the International Poetry Festival in the capital of Sarajevo. I have to thank the Italian Embassy and the A. Chorale Foundation for supporting me on this trip. Also a big shout out to Casa della Poesia of Italy for making this possible, especially Sergio and Rafaella. They’ve just informed me that a band of Italian and Bosnian musicians will accompany me during my reading there. I didn’t place this festival in my website’s events calendar because I wasn’t sure I was really going, but now it’s confirmed. I’m excited to visit this ancient city in a vitally important part of the world. I’ll be back at the end of September. Also my son Ramiro, who’s living at a Chicago transitional housing for the recently paroled, was featured in the Chicago Sun Times yesterday on an article about a jogging program directed at the homeless and parolees. You can check this article online. I’m very proud of my son, who has a difficult road ahead of him, but who’s committed to doing good and making the most of this life. Trini and I were also able to be at the opening day of a new high school in East LA – the only newly constructed school in East LA in 85 years. The school is called Esteban Torres High School, which houses five autonomous academies such as Social Justice, Renaissance, Performing Arts, Engineering & Technology, and Humanitas. Some 2,200 students are already enrolled at the high school. The school was built on top of the old Hammel Street Elementary School, where my oldest son Ramiro and daughter Andrea attended as children (I lived in City Terrace at the time—just down the street, at the Guadalupe Church, I married their mother, Camila, in 1974). The school cost $125 million, which I understand is the most for any public school in history. Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural is one of the community partners for Esteban Torres High School. We were asked to be part of this important endeavor by members of the community, students, and teachers. We hope in a year or two to have a cultural plaza at the school that will include East LA’s only bookstore and a café, performance space & arts workshop center. We are working with other community partners—including a bank and a wellness center—to make this school a truly community/school collaboration. I also spoke to 10th and 11th graders at the Social Justice Academy later that week. We had great talks about the struggles of this community over many years to create this wonderful school. And about how we need to imagine a better life for all the Eastside—one free of violence, drugs, disparity, and lack of power. I hope to speak to 9th graders soon. My goal is to address all the Torres High students at some time. Most of students came from Garfield High School, which was once one of the most overcrowded schools in the country. Teachers at Garfield have for years used my books, including “Always Running,” but also my poetry and fiction. Garfield is still in existence, of course, but with less overcrowding. This school is dear to my heart because of my early years organizing there, but also at Roosevelt High School and other Eastside schools. I also did some community poetry readings, including for poet Damnyo’s new Slam hot spot at the Mangrove Club in Los Angeles. I also took part in the Flor y Canto Poetry Festival at the University of Southern California, which involved Chicano/a and other Latino/a poets from all over California and other states (and a beautiful poet from Barcelona, RaKel Delgado). The luminaries included Francisco Alarcon, Ron Arias, Danny Romero, Gloria Alvarez, Xanath Caraza-De-Holland, Dorinda Moreno, Juan Felipe Herrera, and many others I, unfortunately, won’t be able to name here. I’m honored to be included, although I was limited in catching most of the poets due to my busy schedule. And I was one of the readers for the San Fernando Valley Contemporary Poets event at the Tarzana Family Community Center in Tarzana, CA. On September 19, I also spoke at the memorial service for Richard “Scar” Lopez, one of the four original members of the legendary East LA band, Cannibal & The Headhunters. This band had a Top Forty hit with their version of “Land of 1,000 Dances,” which included the chorus of “naaa, na, na, na, naaa…” that came about when singer Cannibal forgot the lyrics during a live recording. It’s a mistake that changed the song forever and contributed to Rock N Roll history. They were also the opening act for the Beatles second US tour. This music—including the other East LA personalities and groups like The Premiers, Thee Midniters, The Blendells, the Salas Brothers, and others—helped a young troubled Eastside kid like me believe that something good was possible. I thank Scar and his bandmates for being part of this. In addition, Tia Chucha’s on September 18 held a lively bicentennial celebration of Mexico’s independence – as well as independence for a number of Central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. We opened up space in the parking lot for vendors, chairs, bands, and many regional traditional dances. More than 500 people showed up. The next day, at the same parking lot, Tia Chucha’s youth project, the Young Warriors, held their benefit event with the lowrider clubs “Bad Creations,” and “Good Times” showing their customized cars. We held a live graffiti art show where young people worked on their own canvasses. And there were bands, poets, Hip Hop acts, and others on the stage. I thank YW founders Brian and Mayra Dessant for all the work they did, as well as all the youth and their families who took part in making this a success. More than 200 people came by that day. The Young Warriors is a social action, self-healing, youth empowerment group based on the arts. The following day, our Mexika danza group, Temachtia Quetzacoatl, held their Fall Equinox ceremony at Tia Chucha’s on Monday, September 20. Again to lay a spiritual foundation to what we do at Tia Chucha’s and to recognize the energies and elements of the earth and the universe in the blessings we’ve have and hope to have in the future. I thank Monique and all the danzantes for their sacrifice and hard work. I also spoke to various schools that have been coming on field trips to Tia Chucha’s for a few years now—we’ve been getting like two to three schools a month. They come from all over Southern California, and as far away as Oakland and San Diego. This past week we even had a group home for foster youth come from the desert communities of Hemet/San Jacinto. Also I did a Skype teleconference with students at a Chicano studies class at Glendale College—they had great questions through this new (to me anyway) technology. And Trini and I spoke at the weeklong celebration for the new Chicano Studies Department at Mission College, up the street from Tia Chucha’s, in early September—this is a great victory for our community. I hope to enjoy my time in Sarajevo and to return healthy and strong. I plan to stay active and indispensable for some time to come. There’s so much we all need to do to create a world worthy of our children and generations to come. c/s
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Ramiro’s Words

My son Ramiro has enjoyed almost two months of freedom now. I took off for ten days in Chicago this past August to visit with him as well as my granddaughters, my daughter Andrea, older members of Youth Struggling for Survival, and my many friends in gang intervention work, among others. I miss him already and hope to get back there soon. Ramiro’s already entered the 3-G world—he has a fully-loaded cell phone and even a Facebook page. Last week, when I did an international webchat that involved more than 80 people in the US, Mexico, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, and other countries, Ramiro took part, getting a couple of questions in Spanish through to the moderator. What a trip—I’m thankful he got in on this. When I last saw him, Ramiro gave me a short statement he wanted to share with all of you. I’ve typed it below. Presently he’s in a good space, in strong spirits, and joined by positive family and friends. I present this with many prayers for his safety and strength. And with gratitude for the ongoing support and love he’s getting from many of you.
"It took a while to finally write something down. I have been concerned with family, visits, programs. My mind has been so disorganized and cluttered. Sometimes things become overwhelming for me. Yet no matter how confused my mind may be, I’m just so happy to be free. I’ve had over thirteen years of psychological warfare. My mind has been a battlefield with so many casualties. Disconnections. Reconnections. Everything’s new. It feels good to see my kids, my family, and everyone who has supported me. It feels good to know that on this next journey of my life I don’t have to do it alone. This is a new journey for everybody. All the hardships, the struggles, were not just my own. While I did time, everyone else did life. The ups, the downs. The lefts, the rights. The forwards, the backwards. A life of chaos. So what have I come home to? What’s out there for me now? I am happy to say that I have come home to a lot of blessings. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what the next step was going to be. As I stepped out the prison door, and saw my family and friends standing in front of me, I didn’t want to look behind me. Behind me was desolation. In front of me was absolution. Now I’m just going forward. Taking advantage of all my support. Not afraid to ask for help when needed. For too long I was trying to do everything alone. I was selfish and weak. Full of pain and full of pride. Holding on to so much anger. Never knowing what I was truly angry at. That’s all over with. All that sadness and hurt, I want it to be gone. I look into my daughters’ eyes and all I can do is smile. I wake up with a smile. I walk everywhere with a smile. I smile because I finally made it home."
c/s
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Soul Work and Men

I returned last Sunday from a vibrant, difficult, painful at times, but in the end joyous event with more than a hundred men, including gang youth, ex-prisoners, and former addicts. It was the Mosaic Foundation’s men’s conference in the Redwood Forest outside Mendocino, CA. Called “Paths of Initiation,” for a week we dealt with the vital connections between the hearts of men and the soul of nature with song, dance, drumming, poetry, healing practices, martial arts, meditation, and stories. The main teachers were Mosaic founder and gifted storyteller Michael Meade as well as yours truly. We had additional help from Duncan Allard, who taught songs and dances from the musical traditions of the Shona people of Zimbabwe (he also drummed and played the mbira—a magical instrument if ever there was one). Also on hand was Kokou Soglo Katamani, who brought percussive Ewe music and tribal songs from his homeland of Ghana. In addition, Noel Amherd taught essential Aikido skills and the spiritual basis of martial arts that included insights from his writings on Ifa rites and rituals. And Hector Aristizabal, formerly of Colombia, worked with the “wisdom of the body” gleaned from extensive work with the Theater of the Oppressed and the Program for Torture Victims. On top of all this there was plenty of ideas, imaginations, teachings, and cultural interactions. I must say it was an amazing event all around. Participants included groups of young people from Homeboy Industries, Youth Mentoring Connection, Street Poets and others, including from Watts, Compton, Boyle Heights, East LA, and Pico-Union. We had ex-prisoners who did from 17 to 31 years behind bars—they’re now free, helping themselves and others, and becoming assets to our communities. The men were from all races, walks of life, professions, and income levels. The issues they dealt with ran the gamut of incest, war (one man just returned from duty in Iraq), home abuse, street violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and relationships. The common aspect they all had was trouble—in their lives, their psyches, their hearts, the surrounding realities. I’ve been taking part in Mosaic conferences, workshops, youth programs, poetry events, and more for sixteen years. While it appears I’m there to help heal, in particular through my poetry and Native traditional practices, I’m also there to be healed, to address my own rages, to find my own way. I have nothing but gratitude to Michael and all the men—I’m a fuller more congealed person because of these experiences. To find out more about Mosaic’s many events and projects, please go to www.mosaicvoices.org. c/s
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Blessings All Around

I spent ten days in Chicago – from August 2 until August 12 – to see my son Ramiro, recently released after 13-and-a-half years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. It was a wonderful time. My son looks healthy, in good spirits, and focused on a new life. He’s staying at one of the best transitional housing for parolees in the state. I even got to speak to the parolees for about an hour, a request by Ramiro’s case manager. I also found time to re-connect with friends—Gerardo Serna spent a few breakfasts with me as well as visits with Ramiro. He also spoke to the parolees with me—we’ve had many years in Chicago establishing urban peace programs and mentoring/healing relationships with gang and nongang youth. Another friend, James Lilly, is a world-class wheelchair racer (his image will appear on a mural in downtown and in pole banners near a rehabilitation hospital) who was paralyzed at age 15 in gang violence. For the past decade, he’s been moving up the international wheel-chair racing world, including marathons all over the US—and he speaks in schools and other facilities to help keep kids out of gangs and violence. His story is powerfully told at www.pushin-forward.net. My compa from LA, Frank Lizornio, just moved to Chicago and also accompanied me to see Ramiro in my ongoing efforts to surround my son with positive, active, and decent men. Frank—known to his friends as Pancho—is a long-time family and youth counselor. We’ve worked together helping young fathers, gang-involved youth, and teenage drug users over the years. His wife now works with the University of Illinois, Chicago, Education Department. We also had a reunion of the older pioneering leaders of Youth Struggling for Survival, a nonprofit I helped create some sixteen years ago with troubled youth, their parents, and community leaders from the Chicago neighborhoods of Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Little Village, Uptown, among others. Almost all of these young people work, have families, and have removed themselves for a few years now from the world of guns and drugs. A few I knew when they were 12 or 13 years old. Now they are healthy young fathers, mothers, workers, businesspeople, community leaders. Ramiro and my daughter Andrea, as well as their mother Camila, were also there—all three are YSS founders. I have to give props to Manny, Ruth, Rocio, Lorena, Ely, and all the rest who came by Palmer Square Park in Logan Square to join us. It was interesting to see my granddaughter Catalina among them. Now 14, she was just a baby when we started this group. The most special time of my trip in Chicago, however, was a Young Woman’s Ceremony conducted in Sterling, IL for my 15-year-old granddaughter Amanda May, one of Ramiro’s three teenaged kids. My wife Trini and I facilitated a Native-rooted ceremony and circle to acknowledge and honor this important stage in Amanda’s life. My other granddaughter, Anastasia, 16, was there as was Ramiro, of course, Andrea, Catalina, Camila, and our many family and friends. Although it rained earlier in the day, the sky cleared for the ceremony and the feast afterwards, as if to make room for us to pay attention properly and prayerfully for Amanda May. She looked radiant—I was so proud. I also connected with my many activist friends in Chicago, a city I hold dear to my heart. One special gathering on a Friday night was held to welcome back Trini, who's had almost ten years of not coming back to the city. I could tell she was so happy to be re-embraced by many who continue to love and think of her, aware of her new life as Operations Director of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles and as Native women’s sweat lodge facilitator, healer, and teacher. I spent fifteen years in Chicago from 1985 to 2000 (Trini lived here a couple years longer), during the worse gang violence in the city’s history—a city long known for gangs and violence. We established peace efforts that have now become widespread throughout the region and other parts of the country. The violence, unfortunately, continues. Shootings were constant in certain neighborhoods even during my short visit. Yet, I know, great work is blooming and developing to help bring our broken communities together. One good thing is to see Ramiro committed to that work, to help bring healing, peace, justice to cities like Chicago. I returned to LA strong and hopeful, but also with an internal calm. I never could relax or sleep properly as long as my son was behind bars. I can breath more freely now, knowing that dangers lurk at most corners and there are difficult roads ahead. It’s in my son’s hands to shape his life—I plan to be there as a positive and guiding hand whenever I can. c/s
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