The real meaning of Alo'ha

In my last blog post, I said “Alo'ha—greetings from Hawai'i.” Today the word Alo'ha is used by the state’s tourist industry as a greeting: “hello and good by.” The indigenous Hawaiians, however, say it really means “presence in front of” (Alo) and breathing each other’s air ('ha). In other words similar to the Lakota saying O’mitkuye Oasin (we are all related) or the Mayan In-lak’ech (you are the other me). They are words of connection, love for each other’s humanity, the intrinsic laws that says our lives, our destinies, our futures, are bound together.

I’ve learned so much at the Kalani Oceanside Retreat at this conference of indigenous elders, teachers, shamans, students, activist, dreamers, and soul keepers. We are now in our fourth day. Yesterday an intense healing process was initiated after an affront to a Hawaiian family during a presentation the day before (as one of the family members was teaching, chanting, dancing, this person was rudely interrupted to move the agenda along). I can’t write here the deep healing that eventually happened for all of us during this process. But I will say that it proves spirit has its own “agenda.” Many deep moments of remorse and true sorrow eventually occurred despite counters and semi-counters. In the end we observed a compelling Polynesian (Hawaiians are also rooted in Polynesian cultures) forgiveness ceremony from an elder/teacher originally from Samoa and now teaching at the University of Honolulu that everyone respectfully calls Dr. Tusi.

From what I’ve learned, the Polynesian rooted people are similar to the Mexikas (so-called Aztecs), Mayas, and other indigenous peoples of Mexico, Central America, South America, and North America (we are all related). In fact, there are many who say there was interactions between the boat-making Polynesians and various tribes on the continent called “The Americas”—although there really is only one continent, not many, as US historians and officials have had us believe for rather racist and colonial reasons.

I’ve had great opportunities to teach what we know about our traditions, values, rites. For example, I did a presentation on the 2012 Mayan prophecies. Although I felt it wasn’t enough time to truly present a more complex and nuanced presentation, what I did say resonated with all the indigenous people in the room. Even the white academics of “time shifts” and the galactic alignments took what I said with respect—I usually have to add more to the pieces of puzzles they think they have (and I am only a student of these prophecies, not a master).

We also took an amazing ride to the end of a lava flow. I’ve seen this on TV and never imagined I would actually witness one of these. Lava flows have been happening here for millions of years. Most recently, people have lost homes and lives living near these spontaneous and powerful deep earth eruptions. While they don’t explode like one imagines a volcano would do, the lava does follow many miles from a source to the ocean that creates a large sulfur cloud and red-glowing smoke. Many people were there standing on old sulfite lava rocks from past flows (they cool rapidly and over time can be stood on) taking pictures, singing songs, talking, or just taking in the once-in-a-lifetime scene.

Hawai'i has the world’s largest mountain—deep in the ocean like 27,000 feet with another 15,000 feet above the sea—and is constantly churning new lava-blood and land.

The most valuable aspect of this conference so far remains the teachings and sharing from the various cultures represented here—including, to add from my last post, people from Portugal, Brazil, France, South Africa, West Africa, and many mixed heritages (I met a man who has links to the royal family in Hawaii and Scotland’s William Wallace; another has Hawaiian, Japanese, European heritages in his ancestry, and there was also a Hawaiian with a Puerto Rican father).

I hope today proves as fulfilling and actively energized with healing and sharing as yesterday.

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Alo'ha -- greetings from Hawai'i!

O'ahu island emerged from low clouds as the Hawaiian Airlines plane coasted down into Honolulu Airport by mid-day on Sunday, October 26. It took about five and a half hours to fly from LAX to Honolulu, my first time I ever set foot on the islands. Again, this was a dream come true—the lushness of land and scattered rain clouds added to this dream. I only stayed a short time there, hopping on another smaller plane to Hilo on the big island of Hawai'i. An hour later by bus, we were in dense tropical rainforest, sweat coming from every pour.

I arrived to participate in “Generation Vision Quest: Rites of Passage for an Awakening World,” sponsored by Global Passageways. For five days, indigenous elders, teachers, students of shamanistic practices, and many wise and active young and older people came together to interact, share, and teach. Hawaiian indigenous people greeted us the first full day with an elaborate four-hour ceremony—including drinking from Ava, a sacred medicinal plant.

Present at this conference are an Ecuadoran native elder, a Lakota elder, a Mohawk elder, a Nahuatl-speaking Mexika from Mexico, Alaska indigenous, Navajo, New Zealand indigenous practitioners, a Samoan teacher, people from Barrios Unidos of Santa Cruz, CA, young artists and ritualists from all across the US, people from Europe (Germany, Switzerland, and others), and from Africa, African American communities, Cape Verdeans (via Massachusetts), Chicano and Central American communities, Australia, and more.

Besides rituals and ceremonies, we are having some strong and emphatic dialogue. Our goal is to present ancient and multi-generational indigenous traditions and values to a modern world as we enter a worldwide shift in time, ideas, imaginations, and hopes. We are discussing how to make rites of passage organic and meaningful to emerging communities. We are addressing issues of youth in trouble and how this very thing is how community gets forged, full and encompassing, with intentional and proper initiatory experiences. Young people need to find their own stories to live out, to embrace their true natures and spirits. Much of the suffering and neglect of youth today is due to the lack of proper rituals, rites of passage and initiatory experiences with whole communities—elders, adults, and families.

Yesterday, I made a presentation on Rites of Passage with other panelists. Today I spoke about the Raramuri people, the tribe in southern Chihuahua, Mexico that mother’s people originally came from. It was also to commemorate my mother who passed away on October 6. If all goes well, we’ll have a sweat lodge ceremony tonight in her honor.

In other forums, I hope to also address the 2012 Mayan prophecy along with other indigenous prophecies that many of the participants are able to present. The spirit here is strong and beautiful. All races, many cultures, many traditions, are represented. I’ll present more on our proceedings in future blog posts.

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McCain: The worse presidential campaign ever!

Today I finish another week as honorary guest host of the "Front Page" talk show with Dominique Di Prima on KJLH-FM, 102.3, owned and operated by the world class talent and community leader, Stevie Wonder. I'm always honored to be asked to guest host the show despite the 4:30 AM starting time (lots of lost sleep). But once I'm there, I love to exchange ideas, news, facts, poetry, and whatever with Dominique and the many callers from the Front Page family -- you are all amazing.

This week we concentrated on Barack Obama's historic run for presidency. We also had Dick Gregory as guest by phone on Tuesday, and Sister Attilah Shabazz, Malcolm X's daughter, in studio on Thursday, along with others. I truly believe it's the best talk show in LA, concentrating on the issues confronting the African American community, but open for a Chicano like me to have his say.

On Obama, the polls have given the Illinois Senator double digit leads in some cases, but others are too close to call. This is extraordinary considering that he has run a hard-fought and smart campaign, although many efforts have been leveled at him from all angles to throw him off track. So far Senator Obama has risen above all crises, lies, distortions, and distractions from the Republican camp and some media. It's now John McCain who looks like he doesn't know what he's doing, making one bad decision after another, and recently attacking President Bush and other people in his own party for the failure to move his campaign forward. Again, I ask -- do we want a president who cannot even run a decent campaign? Where are his renowned strategic powers and experience? McCain claims he can win wars. Yet most of McCain's problems are due to his own erratic--yes, erratic--choices.

The decision to pick Governor Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate is a case in point. She's attractive, congenial, a good ole sport, but not to help run this country. This past couple of weeks Governor Palin was found to have abused her authority in the "Troopergate" scandal; to have written--and changed--expense reports covering trips that also involved her kids (although they were not invited); buying $150,000 worth of high-end clothing (Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, etc.), and other improprieties that question her character and ability to lead.

McCain has also gone off about Obama's tax plan to "spread the wealth" as border line socialism. Actually Obama's plan only tries to spread around the tax burden. It's not really about spreading the wealth or socialism, but McCain is so desperate he's reverting to tired "cold war" language and red herrings. He knows better.

Besides what's wrong with spreading the wealth? Here's some facts to bring perspective to this issue: The richest 400 Americans (just 400, mind you) have a combined net worth of $1.6 trillion, more than half of the wealth in the US. This is also more than the bottom 150 Americans have combined. During eight years of the Bush Administration (which John McCain has supported at least 90 percent of the time), the wealth of the richest Americans increased by $700 billion--the same number that Congress recently gave for the bank bailout!

Do we need to spread the wealth? You bet. There is a massive disparity of income in this country--the so-called Land of the Free (you can't be free if you are poor). And it's getting worse. McCain attacks "spreading the wealth" because he knows this is the most just issue of today. It's more than just "race," it's about class. Whites are poor--in fact the majority of the poor are white. Right now they are catering to them by linking their interests as "whites" against their interest as poor. It's not working, "Joe the Plumber" notwithstanding. It's time for all the poor--Black, Brown, Asian, Native, and White--to set aside personal prejudices and vote in their interests, fight together for common aims, and begin to organize on another level not seen in this country. Although White and Black slaves once united against their masters in the early years of this country's history, the powers-that-be forced the creation of the Black Codes, Jim Crow, and Lynch laws to keep poor Whites at war with Poor Blacks (while Rich Whites prospered--today the rich also include Blacks and Latinos).

I urge everyone to vote on November 4. Vote for history. Vote for change. And if McCain should win, which is possible with all the reported voting shenanigans already happening in early voting states, we need to keep on struggling. It's not time to get despaired or depressed (remember all the people who wanted to go to Canada should Bush win). But if Obama wins what should we do? Yes, keep on struggling. Most likely he will be blocked and sabotaged. But he also has deep limitations. Only the people can truly make change.

Last weekend I took part in a fine event called "Authors for Obama" in Santa Monica. Writers such as Susan Straight, Percival Edwards, Janet Fitch, and others read pieces and talked about the importance of Obama's victory. This election is galvanizing people like never before. I know the Greens are running and Nader is running. But vote for a difference. The only real difference on the ticket is Obama. Yes, the Greens have a great program and great candidates. But right now, with the desperation in the McCain camp and the Republicans, a vote for the Greens becomes a vote that could be a margin of defeat for Obama. Don't let McCain/Palin steal this election.

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A shout out to Colgate University--and other issues confronting our country

Colgate University in Hamilton, New York is a compact, venerable, and extremely pleasant campus with miles of fall-turning trees as far as the eye can see. This time of year most of the eastern seaboard is awash with the most amazing colors as nature does its thing. I spoke there yesterday, October 16, invited by the university's ALANA Cultural Center. I addressed a small group of students at noon at the ALANA Cultural Center on issues that mostly revolved around gangs. There was also a barbecue and a dinner I had the pleasure to attend. In the evening, I spoke at the Love Auditorium in Olin Hall. The group was small, but very vested in the discussion. It was a relatively deep dialogue about alignment, change, and challenge. The questions were high level and stimulating. I had a great time--and now have a few friends at Colgate University (which I'm honored to say tends to happen at most schools I speak at). Several students even ended up driving the hour or so back with me to the hotel in Syracuse I was staying at. A million thanks.

On the way to Colgate University from Burbank airport, which took all day on two planes, I got to check out most of the presidential campaign debate. Obama spoke in what has come to be his signature tone--calm, explanatory, and not taken in by McCain (although this time he did a little more sparring than usual).

McCain, for being a so-called straight talker, continued with hyperbole, subterfuge, and lies. For example, he brought up Bill Ayers again--come off it, dude! Ayers is no "domestic terrorist" nor is he a "washed up" radical--he's one of Chicago's leading citizens, a university professor, and family man. He and his wife Bernardine have been strong advocates for schools, justice, and youth. His involvement in alleged bombings were 40 years ago, which he has long repudiated, and for which he was never indicted. I know this because I've worked with Bill Ayers, like many Chicago progressives, when I lived in the city for fifteen years.

McCain attacked ACORN (the nonprofit organization under investigation by the FBI in Nevada for possible voter registration irregularities) by claiming they were perhaps perpetuating the single most destructive voter fraud in US history and will destroy the fabric of American democracy? Yeah, that's some "straight talk."

The fact is this is a gross exaggeration. First of all, ACORN is "under investigation"--presently there are no indictments and no one has been found guilty of anything. Secondly, they are being investigated for possible voter registration fraud, which is different than voter election fraud. And the registration cards that may be in error are so far only one percent of all the registration forms ACORN has filled in several states. The real issue is whether a few people got lazy, played games (registering one voter as "Mickey Mouse," for example) or if this was part of a conspiratorial systemic core problem with ACORN. All this remains to be seen. Still, McCain and Palin have already found them "guilty" -- although she won't "straight talk" about a legislative panel in Alaska that did in fact find Palin had abused her authority in the "Troopergate" scandal.

If ACORN is ever indicted and eventually found guilty of manipulating voter registration forms this is wrong. And there should be consequences. But I will place bets now that this will not result in the fall of the US Democratic Process. Any takers?

The problem with a man who claims to be strategic and able to "win wars" is that his campaign is up till now a total mess--if McCain can't organize a fairly responsible presidential campaign, how's he going to lead this country, let alone win wars?

Obama's people have called McCain "erratic" and that's largely true. Picking Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate is arguably the most erratic of all his decisions (and he's had quite a few). Right now he simply can't be trusted.

Now what about that "Joe Plumber"?

McCain made it sound as if this guy makes more than $250,000 (which only five percent of Americans do) and that Obama will tax the hell out of him (we now find out that Joe Wurzelbacher, who McCain misnamed on air, is doing bad financially and is not even a licensed plumber). Remember, McCain's a Republican. They openly declare that they represent the wealthier and more conservative Americans in this country. Their base is made up of CEOS and major investors. Yes, many poor working class people claim this party--but in every election and every time they'd held the presidency or the Congress, the working class suffers more (although the Democrats aren't immune about using labor's name in vain and then abandoning them).

Many politicians in both parties have evoked people like "Joe Plumber" to attract what they consider the white blue-collar guys. But, if you don't know by now, it is only words. They have never done anything for the working classes. Reagan was one of the worse presidents in this regard (remember his crushing of the Air Controllers union and the millions of jobs lost due to de-industrialization under his watch). So was Bush I. And this got even worse under Bush II.

Don't fall for any of this--and I'm speaking to all you "Joe Plumbers" and other workers (I've actually done this kind of work in a steel mill, in construction, and various factories for many years).

McCain's true colors came out when he attacked "class warfare" and the redistribution of wealth. What's wrong with that? That's the problem--the small number of people who own all the wealth in the country, and don't work hard for it, while millions who work hard every day, when they can get work, are being shafted.

Let's distribute this wealth, man. I'm all for it.

McCain claims he's no Bush, but he's backed up Bush on key issues, including de-regulation that is one of the key roots of the current crisis among the financial markets.

Now, again, I don't think the Democratic Party is going to "save us" from any of this. But I do think that if change is going to happen it will have to be done under an Obama Administration.

Now if you are inclined to vote independent for real programs, then consider the Green Party candidates Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, or Ralph Nader and his running mate, Matt Gonzalez. They have long proven records of activism and advocacy. They are smart and are putting forward the best programs of any parties.

The reason I'll vote for Obama is that millions of hard-working, progressive thinking people are moving rapidly to his campaign. I'd like to be among them. We need to be where the revolutionary thread is and pull on that. Yes, for many progressives it's with the Greens--and all power to them. But the numbers aren't going their way (even though I've voted Green for many years, including for Nader).

I like the numbers of people going for Obama. Does this mean he'll be elected President? Right now this campaign is going in his favor. But the numbers are too close in key states and areas. Everyone has to work hard if Obama is to make this historical leap. Will Obama solve the crisis, save our homes, and bring about true peace and justice? I think this is only possible if the working class and progressives learn to organize and grow into the various stages of change. We cannot just drop the ball. Whether Obama wins or loses--this has happened to often in the past for progressives--is not the essential thing (but let's help him win).

Change is objective--it's in the air and on the ground. It's sweeping up everything, including Obama and even Republicans. We have to take this to new levels.

I say to any and all activists and progressives--whether you vote for the Greens, Nader or Obama, hang in there for real change. Keep putting forward the real program of the working class -- jobs, housing, schools, immigration rights, the right to have the best health care possible for everyone, a healthy earth. Don't let up. If McCain wins, don't get depressed and walk away. Hammer away--we should have done this with Bush, but I saw too many people and institutions just back off.

I'm voting for Obama. But even if he wins, we have a long way to go to change this country. Let's take these steps with Obama, and keep on stepping. Change is everywhere. The one missing ingredient is the growing consciousness of those who have suffered the most under any administration, the real basis of value but also exploitation under capitalism--the poor and working class of this country.

Yes, the working class are "the economy," and they've died in wars without question and much heroism that were largely created for the capitalist class and in the long run benefiting the capitalist class (don't ever believe they actually plan to stop terrorism). Instead of just evoking "plumbers," or any worker for that matter, the working class needs to have the knowledge, skills, tools, and organization to create their own strategies, plans, programs, and history.

Vote Green or vote Obama--don't stop regardless of the outcome. It's time for real change.

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Our family is safe and at home

Fires continue to burn north of Los Angeles—this morning the Porter Ranch/Granada Hills fires had consumed 9000 acres (by Friday it burned through 13,300 acres). Meanwhile our family is safe and at home. Yesterday we packed our valuables in case of an evacuation as the Marek Fire consumed 4800 acres in the communities around Lake View Terrace (where Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural is located), Sylmar and San Fernando. Around 40 units in Sky Terrace Mobile Home Park were destroyed as well as some larger warehouses and multiple big rigs. We’re grateful that Tia Chucha’s is in good shape as well as our community. However, we pray for those who lost their homes and the one homeless man who died in the blaze.

One of those who lost their home is a student of our Son Jarocho classes at Tia Chucha's--many prayers go to her and her family.

Today the Marek fire was largely contained. We had bad quality air for a while—which almost got the family to leave last night anyway, but with fans in all the rooms we did okay. Today’s air was much better, but the big fires west of us would probably affect the general quality of air in the LA area for days to come.

We thank you all for the good wishes and prayers sent our way.

I’m writing this in the JFK Airport in New York City, on my way to Syracuse. I’ll be speaking tomorrow at Colgate University. I just wanted to update all my friends on the fires. Be safe and well.
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Preparing to Evacuate -- Marek Fire engulfs 3200 acres near our home

This morning as of 7 AM the Marek fire that began Sunday at 2 AM has now consumed 3200 acres in the canyons above our home, forcing the evacuation of 1200 people so far, and possibly our family very soon. The smell of burned wood, constant whine of sirens, and whirling of helicopter blades have been with us all morning.

We watched TV as flames licked around the area of Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural, but as of now the 60 miles per hour winds have pushed the flames away from that area and are moving the blaze closer to Sylmar and San Fernando. Already Mission College, about two miles from our house, has closed, and the evacuation lines have reached a mile from our home. Other family members, Trini's brother Teto's family, have already been forced to leave.

The brush around the canyons here have been dry for years due to drought. The fire, which the fire department believes may have been arson set, hit hard around the Hanson Dam area. We saw a mobile home park--we think it may be where one of my youngest son's friends lived--burn in the flames. As of now, no injuries have been reported. People are moving swiftly as officials declare the evacuation zones.

We'll try to keep you all updated. For now, we're packing valuable papers into boxes and getting ready in case we have to get out.

Send prayers to all the people in the area. Thank you all for always being there with your thoughts and prayers.
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Last words about my mother at her burial today

This eulogy was delivered by me on October 11, 2008 at Rose Hills Park & Mortuary, Whittier, CA:

Thank you everyone for being here today with Ana, Gloria, Joe and myself, and the rest of the Rodriguez family, in celebrating the life of Maria Estela Rodriguez, our dear mother. I say celebration because, although we’ve sustained a momentous loss with the passing on of our madrecita, her love for us has brought the family closer, a family that has not always been together or seen eye to eye. But today, as we have for the last few years, we talk, we laugh, we enjoy our togetherness—we are still family.

Our mother’s life and example brought you, our friends, our community, closer to us as well. This is what our mother has given us as legacy. And for this we celebrate.

In the final years of her life, Maria Estela was a sweet and loving person. When we got together for holidays, birthdays, or just to eat out, we saw her smile, her glow, the recognition that we mattered. The last happy image of our mother that will stay with us is of her blowing kisses, and smearing her lipstick in the process, to family members and friends as she walked through the Knott Avenue Residential Manor in Buena Park where she had been staying at for about a year and a half. The occasion was a Luau dinner and I recall how happy she was to be surrounded by so much family. Every once in a while, she’d tap my hand and say, “Is this all the family?” She’d forget why we were there. As many of you know, our mother was progressing through various stages of Alzheimer’s. This is a difficult and devastating disease. But I also remember that when I said, “Yes, the family is here for you,” she would sit back and smile.

I want to give special thanks to the staff at Knott Avenue Residential Manor who made sure our mother was taken care of—and who made sure we knew of the Luau, or we would have missed it.

Our mother lived a lifetime of hard times. She grew up poor in Chihuahua, Mexico, with roots in the Raramuri people, also known as the Tarahumara. Her family moved to the border region in Ciudad Juarez. Despite the poverty and issues such as alcoholism at home, my mother managed to finish the 11th grade, quite an accomplishment in Mexico, but especially in her time when schooling was rare for most Mexicans. She studied hard and became a clerical assistant, eventually meeting my father, who happened to be a high school principal. They married and they had the foresight to have their first three children born in El Paso, Texas, the other side of the border, as they made plans to come to the United States—my youngest sister Gloria was born later in East LA at the General Hospital. Our oldest half-sister Seni and her husband Diego also did the same with their daughters, and they led the way to Los Angeles, eventually persuading our father and mother to follow suit. In time they all became US citizens.

We may have different ways of looking at things in this country, but none of us regrets our parents’ decision to become citizens—and insure our children would be as well.

Despite joblessness and evictions living in South Central LA, the San Fernando Valley, then the west San Gabriel Valley, our parents struggled hard for us to have a better life. Finally, they bought their home in San Gabriel. They wanted the American Dream, but they also knew you had to work hard to obtain this—and we know that in these times, even this won’t suffice.

You should know that our mother was very creative. She worked on and off in the garment industry, but she also sewed on her own for family, neighbors and friends. She made porcelain-faced dolls, stuffed animals, blankets, sweaters, and more. I recalled many a night when the house shook with the constant roar of the industrial sewing machine—either for piece work or for her own projects.

Some of you may know that Maria Estela suffered from many ailments, even when we were children. She had diabetes, thyroid problems, extremely painful varicose veins, no teeth, and more. But she went through all this with such bravery and determination, including the cancer, breaking several bones in a couple of falls, and once burning her arms, legs and face from the sun when she fell in the garden and couldn’t get up or yell for help for hours until my sister Ana came home from work. Then the Alzheimer’s hit—and we had to make the hard decision last year to place her in the residential home where she could get 24-hour care.

A few years ago, my mother beat the cancer. She outlived all her siblings and our father. It looked like she was going to even outlive us. I do need to say here—thank you, Ana, for taking responsibility for our mother, for sixteen years after our father died, for always being there, for never giving up. There are not enough words for all that you’ve done.

My mother passed away this past Monday, October 6, at 3:45 PM at Kaiser Hospital in Anaheim. For several days, various family members came to pay their respects—including Seni, Ana Seni, Aide, and Rebecca: Gracias for always being kind and loving to my mother. I also want to acknowledge the prayers and presence of my mother’s half siblings, Marcelo and Gloria, and their families. Gracias. On the last day, some twenty of us stood by her side, including all four of us, our wives, husbands, a few of the grandchildren, Seni and her daughters.

Maria Estela passed on peacefully with much love, tears and gratefulness. We’re blessed my mother got to live a full life—she was 85 years old—and that she did not have to spend years and years as the Alzheimer’s ate away at her memories, our faces, our names, and the small things that, when the mind goes, become so important. I thank God for that.

So on behalf of my brother and sisters—Joe, Ana, and Gloria—and the rest of the Rodriguez family and extended families, I honor Maria Estela Rodriguez. Our bodies began in her body and so did our psyches, attached by the many threads of our natures, feelings, and habits that compose our lives. Memory and mother are one, the ground of the experiencing soul, the umbilical cord that is never truly cut off, the wise exaltation that transcends reason, the nourishing voice that will forever feed our sacred hungers.

I leave you with these words paraphrased from the poet e.e.cummings:

I carry your heart with me
I carry it in my heart
I am never without it
Anywhere I go, you go
And whatever is done by me is your doing

Here is the deepest secret nobody knows:
Here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
And the sky of the sky of a tree called life, which grows
Higher than soul can hope or mind can hide,
And this is the wonder that keeps the stars apart…

I carry your heart. I carry it in my heart.


A mi madrecita, le deseamos paz y tranquilidad mantenida en las manos abundantes del Creador. Su espiritu y memoria estara con nosotros siempre.

Muchas gracias
—thank you.
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In defense of Bill Ayers--and on the bailout that won't stop the failing economy

Governor Sarah Palin and others, including Senator John McCain, have called William Ayers a terrorist. This first surfaced during the Democratic Party nomination campaign by Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama immediately distanced himself from Ayers, who knew him briefly from progressive and anti-poverty circles in the City of Chicago (although their dealings were minimal as it was, Senator Obama stopped associating with Ayers after 2002). But Palin nor McCain care about this. It appears the Republicans have nothing new to offer so they've reached into Hillary's grab bag. The fact of the matter is neither Republican candidates know much about Mr. Ayers and have not bothered to find out more. I wonder how such insular and mean-spirited people can run for high office if they don't get the facts.

Yes, William Ayers used to be a founder of the Weather Underground (The Weatherman) some forty years ago. This organization participated in bomb attacks at the time, forcing Mr. Ayers to eventually go underground. Although Bill and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, resurfaced and turned themselves in by 1980, no indictments were ever served on Mr. Ayers. There is no court of law that has determined Mr. Ayers is a criminal terrorist. He does admit his involvement in the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s that involved millions of people, and in the radical Weatherman organization that bombed or tried to bomb various facilities and statues. But none of his actions led to any deaths or injuries. He has since, despite some distorted reportage, repudiated terrorism and has established himself as a leading activist, education professor, writer, homeowner, and father (two boys and two other adopted children).

He has been a mainstay of progressive Chicago politics for years.

I happen to know Bill Ayers. He is a decent, intelligent, and caring person. He does not have anything to do with any criminal acts, let alone terrorist acts, and has denounced the September 11 terrorist attacks--as most decent people, progressive or otherwise, have done.

His long-time companion, Bernardine Dohrn, is another decent professional, a lawyer and educator, who has consistently defended poor communities and youth. She's a leader in justice reform, the kind of reform that many people, including politicians, now support. I've known them from when I lived in Chicago and carried out gang prevention/intervention work. I found them to be passionate, courageous and a great example of progressive politics.

The characterizations of Mr. Ayers by Palin and McCain are erroneous and slanderous. But that's the way they roll, as the saying goes. They don't seem to care who they destroy in the media, as long as they win. And this example is getting more people to denounce others, including Mr. Obama, as "terrorists" and "terrorist supporters."

The problem isn't that many on the far right consider Mr. Ayers a terrorist--they link this label to almost anyone who doesn't agree with them. They've trivialized this term to include Obama, his supporters, media people who dare to challenge them, and anyone involved in progressive, community-based efforts.

Terrorism is real. 9/11 is real. Suicide bombings and beheadings are real.

But the majority of those in anti-poverty, pro-youth, and pro-justice work are now considered "terrorists" even if we have nothing to do with violence.

I have a relative who became a right-wing Christian fanatic (this is not an attack on all Christians, since I know many amazing and courageous Christians, but if you know politics in this country you know what I'm talking about). He once attacked me as a "terrorist" and the same as Osama Bin Laden because of my political views (his Church, like many other churches, are making such inane claims of anyone not in their fold). He linked me to Hitler, who masterminded the murder of six millions Jews and the murders of millions more in camps and invasions. Okay, I don't agree with this relative's politics, but how can you start calling me a Hitler or Bin Laden-type just because I don't? Just because I have my own mind?

Internet, TV, radio, and print stories have now appeared about the growing right-wing "rage" that's being exhibited at Palin-McCain rallies. People have been heard to say things about Barack Obama like "terrorist!," "treason!," "kill him!," and "off with his head!" And these are some of the nicer epithets.

A recent book against Barack Obama claims he's representative of "Black Rage." Hardly. Mr. Obama is one of the calmest, most well-thought out politicians today, and I don't agree with everything he says ("Black Rage" is supposedly characteristic of what intense poverty, discrimination, and close doors can create among some African Americans in the inner-city, manifested as gang and other violence).

When such words are thrown at anyone who just happens to have another opinion, it trivializes the very real nature of terrorism and real violent terror.

There's an over dramatic reaction from the right wing that borders on the pathological. I once had breakfast earlier this year in an Orlando, FL restaurant where I heard a man say he'd rather commit suicide than see either Hillary or Barack elected president. Talk about "drama queens."

Relax. Vote for the person you want in office. Don't lose it if the person you didn't like wins. Progressives have had to deal with the nightmare of Bush these past eight years -- I've seen some strong reactions from people on the left, but nothing like those from the right wing.

Let me tell you what is a form of terrorism, not to be equated with Osama Bin Laden and Al Queda: Giving close to a trillion dollars to the very financial institutions who failed us and that continue to foreclose on peoples' homes. The bailout in my view is like giving Hurricane Katrina more wind after it devastated the Gulf Coast.

The very banks that ripped off millions of Americans, including among the poor and the middle class, among blacks, whites and Latinos, are being rewarded so they can rip us off again. The foreclosures haven't stopped. People are killing themselves, and in at least one case, their families, after losing jobs, fortunes, homes. The government's bailout plan does nothing for these people. The banks insist on throwing people out, although it was their greed and lack of accountability that got us here.

I applaud Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's statement this past Wednesday that he would no longer serve eviction notices to renters who were pushed out of their homes, even though they paid rent, because the landlords failed to meet their mortgages. Unfortunately, a mortgage lender, Accredited Home Lenders, filed a lawsuit on Thursday to get Sheriff Dart to evict a tenant from her foreclosed bungalow in a south Chicago suburb.

That's a form of terrorism. Big corporations and financial institutions should not be pushing mostly women and children around, removing them from their homes. This is something the government should be involved in, but so far has decided not to. Just like in Hurricane Katrina.

Panicking and drama is neither politics nor answers. If people really want to resolve what's happening, they have to be willing to listen to others, including progressives--William Ayers included. These aren't the scary guys. But the more scattered, at-each-other's-throats, and closed-minded we are, the more the real terrorists can strike--the more the big banks and corporations can take us all down with them.

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Maria Estela Rodriguez -- Que en paz descance

Yesterday, October 6, 2008 at 3:45 PM, my dear mother, Maria Estela Rodriguez, peacefully passed over surrounded by her loving family at Kaiser Hospital in Anaheim, CA. That morning doctors removed her respirator after putting her asleep and we all took turns saying our last words and prayers, or just holding her hand, until her final breath. In indigenous traditions, spirits go back to the collective spirits of all who have passed, the Ancestors, to be called on in this world for guidance, support, and spiritual access. She is now part of this "congress," which heals when we heal, and is instrumental in our own healing, and who we can turn to for the natural legislation we need to bring healing to others

My mother was 85.

Maria Estela was of Raramuri descent (also known in Mexico as La Tarahumara), born in southern Chihuahua where the Raramuri have their homeland. She was the daughter of Monico and Ana Jimenez. She was the last of her siblings to pass--which included her brothers Francisco (Kiko) and Rodolfo, and a sister, Chila. She also had a few half-siblings, including Marcelo and Gloria, among others. And she left four children--my brother Jose (Joe), my sisters Ana and Gloria, and myself. On top of this she had twelve grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren.

She was also very much loved by half siblings from my father, in particular my half-sister Seni Rodriguez, her daughters Ana Seni, Aide, and Rebecca, and their husbands and children.

About twenty of us were there most of the day with my mother. With me was my wife Trini and my daughter Andrea. My son Ramiro was trying to call us from prison in Illinois, but the call didn't get through. Still his thoughts were with us. My other sons said their goodbyes over the weekend--in their own way since only Ruben went to see her and Luis felt he wanted to make his goodbyes by himself (he told me he did not want to see grandma this way, and I accepted that--my grand-daughter Catalina did the same thing).

I also received many good wishes and condolences from my many friends. I have to say how significant they were for me in this time of loss. Thank you all! This is also a time of great hurting for all of us as many shared their own losses or impending losses of parents due to disease or Alzheimer's.

And we also have to recognize the losses due to the economic turmoil that is taking many of us down.

At one point, as we sat in the waiting room while doctors prepared my mother, we heard the news about the six people killed in Porter Ranch, CA (a well-off community not far from my house) over the weekend in a murder-suicide that we now know was linked to the financial crisis.

My own sister, Ana, who took care of my mother for 16 years after my father died, was laid off last week. Others in the family are facing mortgage problems and job loss. My brother Joe was set to retire this year after 35 years in the phone company, but has to keep working because the pension and other savings won't allow him to pay his bills.

My mother was also a hard-working immigrant woman (she worked on and off in the garment industry) who struggled through a lifetime of hard times. She practically raised us by herself due to my father's long-time detachment and, finally, dementia and other sickness in the last years of his life. While all of us have tales of my mother's frustration, cruelty at times, and out-of-nowhere anger, she was also a person who would give you food and comfort if you needed it.

I returned to Los Angeles eight years ago from Chicago after I learned my mother contracted Lymphoma. I did not want her to leave this world without us reconciling. I didn't do this for my father, but I felt my mother deserved this. For I recalled too many times when she was a loving mother. Yes, we had many issues between us (for some 20 years, we hardly talked). But in the end, I didn't want any more issues, pains, recriminations, or political/spiritual differences to separate us.

I know she was heartened to see my return. For the first time in 30 years, I had a holiday dinner with all the family soon after that. Often I'd visit my mother, sit next to her on the couch in front of the TV, and just hold her hand. Nothing much to say. But her eyes and her willingness to let me be her son again said it all.

Once, after Trini and I helped create Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural & Bookstore, my mother came to see the place--it was the only time she did. As soon as she walked in she started to cry. I didn't know why, so I asked her, "Mama, I didn't make this place so you could feel bad. Why are you crying?" She looked at me and said in Spanish (she didn't speak English despite more than 50 years in the US), "Mijo, I think, finally, you're going to be okay."

This was an important recognition. As a former gang member/drug addict, then revolutionary activist, thinker and writer, she felt I was a lost cause for many, many years. For once she acknowledged I had done some good in this world--and to live long enough to have your mother say this, which doesn't always happen, helped complete an important circle for me.

Over the past eight years, my mother beat the Lymphoma. She survived breaking a number of bones in two major falls. She also overcame a fall one morning in her garden that, unable to get up or yell for help, ended up with burns on her arms, legs and face by the hot sun until my sister came home to find her. But then she got Alzheimer's, and my sister, who couldn't take care of her anymore, asked a consensus about placing her in a home for Alzheimer's patients. It was a hard decision to make, but last year we placed her in one, and it turned out to be the right thing. Finally, a little more than two weeks ago, my mother had to have her gall bladder removed. But her age and condition was going to make this a dangerous operation--she had a 20 percent chance of survival. But, again, we decided to move forward--for her to live with the pain would have been torturous. She lasted two weeks, but with contracting pneumonia and with a irregular heartbeat, she was not going to make it. The final decision we had to make was to let her go. Again, an extremely difficult thing. But, as in many of these cases, the right thing. Yesterday, many of us gathered at the hospital to be there her last day.

We will make funeral arrangements today. This will be mostly for family and closest friends. I will also hope to have a sweat ceremony soon in her name and for all the mothers in the world--including those suffering from the ills of this world. It's time to make things right. To turn everything around toward the natural order, the natural laws, and like the Raramuri and other indigenous peoples, put ourselves in accord with nature and our own natures.

To my mother, I pray she is in peace, enveloped in the benevolent hands of the Creator, in the abundance of the ancestors, among all the indigenous who have died and been slaughtered for us to live. In the Raramuri tongue, I tell her Kwira Va: Hello and Goodby.

Que en paz descances, mi madrecita.

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The Biden and Palin Debate--more of the same, yet Palin is clearly unfit to be vice president

Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of Senator Joseph Biden, let alone Governor Sarah Palin. Biden is a smart, experienced, and savvy politician, but this is precisely his problem. He talks about change and I don't believe him. Compared to Governor Palin, Senator Biden looks slick and like an old guard congressman. Sarah looks young, alive, out of it (which is apparently cool now), and refreshing. Her gaffes, obsessive rhetoric, and even lies, hold up nicer than Joe's.

I'm still for Obama, which means I vote for Joe as well. Because even if the Senator is one of the Old Democrats trying to surround Obama to keep "change" within certain parameters, Governor Sarah Palin is downright dangerous. Yes, she is not fit to be vice-president--and certainly not a heartbeat from the presidency (I don't wish bad on anyone, including John McCain, but everyone knows he's perhaps too unhealthy for such an energized and demanding position as president).

Here's why I feel this way about Governor Palin. She's got presence. She's folksy. Compared to Biden (or, even worse, McCain) she looks like what she is--a hockey mom, former small town mayor, and mother of a pregnant teenager and a Down Syndrome baby. None of this, in my view, should disqualify her for high office. But she should thank Barack Obama for the historical limelight she's now enjoying. If he did not exist, she wouldn't be here.

Governor Palin as vice presidential candidate is the Republican Party's cynical response to having new and historical "correct" people on the ticket. Right now it's women and/or African Americans. They would never have done that if it wasn't for the fact that a woman, Hillary Clinton, and an African American were the Democrat's top candidates for the presidential nomination.

But I'm not for having women or African Americans be used for political ploys--in contrast to the women and people of color that the Greens and Nader have on their tickets (Cynthia McKinney, Rosa Clemente and Matt Gonzales) who are legitimately there for their activism and fresh ideas.

I can see right through Governor Palin's candidacy. She is being brought up to speed, I mean like real quick, cramming and memorizing (too many instances in the debate Palin came off with repetitive words and statements in lieu of real concrete answers). That's because she did fairly bad in the media interviews she's done so far. And, in my view, her folksy asides in the debate only served as subterfuge (she really doesn't know what she's talking about--it's her people making sure she has some coherent information to go by).

Biden had real answers (some of which I don't agree with) and concrete responses (even if a few were off the mark--although not like Palin's).

Governor Palin's pronouncement that she'd expand the vice presidential powers and her seeming agreement with Dick Cheney that the vice president is not part of the executive branch of government is appalling. Her strident stand against foreign powers and her inane statements about US freedoms and "a shining city on a hill" is sickening. We need real answers to real crises. While she extolled McCain's supposed "maverick" position in Congress, Biden was in his stride when he pointed out (the best part of the whole evening) that McCain was too much into Bush's pocket to be considered a "maverick." He's a maverick within a screwed up concept of goverment and governing.

Remember--during McCain's debate with Obama he said government should be more or less used for national defense and a few domestic concerns, but not much. The trend among the right-wing is to call for a strong overbearing able-to-pounce military in the world AND a virtual police state at home. McCain was almost there with his statements on this.

There's nothing to distinguish McCain from Bush so far except for McCain's temperament and even more outrageous war-mongering. He's more for war, not less. He claims he knows how to "win wars" but I don't know of any he has actually won (certainly not in Vietnam, the only war we're sure he's fought in).

Governor Palin's presence may be fine, but presence does not make a presidency (or in this case, the vice presidency).

We need substance in our candidates. Biden, for all his long-time issues and old-time politics, had this over Palin. She's folksy. But why is this now a criteria for high office? Any more pundits who gush over her "presence" and demeanor should be challenged immediately.

It's time to take the American people seriously, folks. Obama has problems. So does Biden. But they are more seriously able to address what is going on and to address real change than McCain, who's spent the last eight years mostly as a Bush apologist, and a right-wing happy-go-lucky governor of a state with a population half of LA's San Fernando Valley where I currently live.

We deserve better than this. The economic crisis and our terrible standing in the world must demand someone who can effectively lead, bring about a measure of real change, and be flexible and firm when needed. Obama is still the most qualified among the major parties in doing this.

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