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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also took some time out of one morning there to visit Skyline High School in Oakland where I spoke to an auditorium full of students—apparently there had been tensions and some violent incidents between the African American and Chicano/Latino students. We had a great time—again there were many smart questions and remarks. The students were attentive and respectful, considering how restless they were when I first walked in. I just told my story, as honestly as I could, and I tried to help the youth see their value as human beings, as creative souls, as people capable of contributing amazing and wonderful things to this hurting, unjust, and imbalanced world. We need them more than ever. A’ho.
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Tia Chucha's has Moved -- We're not Closed

Wow, we’ve had a crazy month – with the benefit event on February 17 that brought around 600 people (we also raised $10,000 – thanks to everyone) – and Tia Chucha’s move. Let me tell you—it’s extremely difficult to tear down a café, bookstore, and cultural center (it was hard enough to create it). My wife Trini organized the move, and she did an amazing job. The staff came through, beyond their hours, but we also had an army of volunteers. They packed boxes, moved furniture and heavy bookshelves, unhooked computers, and even tore down some of the Mayan wood motifs and other specialty wood items we had at the shop.

The hardest thing to move was the café stuff (refrigerators, water heaters, espresso machines, ice makers, display cases, and more had to be removed along with pipes and electrical lines). Most of this stuff went into storage, many of which we plan to sell (anyone interested, please contact us). Some of these things went to our new temporary location in Lake View Terrace. The new space is less than half the size of what the old space consisted of, so we won’t have a café, but we’ll have some books, our offices, a little storage, and a performance space (we'll have some drinks for sale and hot water at least). More on this later.

Anyway, last Wednesday Trini turned in the keys. It was sad, heartbreaking really, considering how much money, work, love, and caring went into this space. But as we have been saying, Tia Chucha’s is not about any particular building or structure. It’s a spirit, an essential way to be alive, to be indigenous, to be active and conscious. We will take that spirit to the temporary location, and carry it forward until we create a new permanent or semi-permanent Tia Chucha’s in about two to three years.

It’s about knowing how to rise up stronger and more prepared out of any adversity and crisis, like the Phoenix renewed out of the ashes. It’s something we have to teach and model for our community, our youth, our families. We’re going to stay positive, hopeful. So we’re ready for our move, our next phase, our new beginnings.

Our resident Mexika Danza group, the staff, board members, and key volunteers held a beautiful ceremony last Tuesday, a day before we closed up everything. We buried some sacred medicine and other items near a tree in the back of the old space. We said prayers and a good many wonderful words about Tia Chucha’s – our impact, our importance, and the future. There were also many sentiments of thanks, so many thanks, for the blessings we’ve been bestowed and the community we’ve helped engender and grow.

Our new temporary location is at 10258 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace, CA 91342. Our new main number is 818-896-1479 and our fax number is 818-896-1489. However, we are not yet open. We will inform everybody about our opening date – we’ll have a new Grand Opening event – and our plans for future workshops, events, meetings.

I do want to remind everyone to keep May 19 on you calendar. That day we’ll hold our 2nd Annual “Celebrating Words: Written, Performed & Sung” Festival at Sylmar Park, free to the public (with poets, bands, speakers, booths, books, and more).

And to set aside July 29, 2007 for the “Tia Chucha Under the Stars: First Annual Celebration of Community & Culure” benefit to be held at the Ford Amphitheater – 2580 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90068 – from 6 PM to 8 PM. Our theme this year is “Si Se Puede/Yes We Can” and we’ll be joined by the bands Tierra, Ollin, Upground, and others. We’ll have poetry by John Densmore of the Doors and Luis Rodriguez, the Chicano comedy group, Culture Clash, and our host will be comedian Ernie G. Our Azteca Danza group will open the event and Power 106 DJs will be on hand for music and entertainment. Tickets are $30. You can get more information at the Ford Box Office at 323-461-3673 or go to our website at
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Spreading the Word

In early February, I ended up in Paterson, New Jersey, home to both William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, to read at the Poetry Center at the Passaic County Community College. My friend Maria Gillan served as host. I was also being honored for receiving the 2006 Poetry Award for my poetry collection "My Nature is Hunger" (Curbstone Press/Rattle Editions); I read with many of the other honorable winners. It was a cold couple of days there--although they had little snow in the Northeast up until then, they were actually at the beginnings of an intense cold spell.

I also read and talked to several groups of students at the HARP Academy, located in downtown Paterson. Like many urban core communities, Paterson has its share of gangs, drugs, domestic violence, and poverty. I've gone here a few times, reading at schools like the well-known Eastside High School (the movie "Lean on Me" was about this school) and Kennedy High, another school with tremendous needs and great students and teachers.

I even had a couple of friends from New York drive into Paterson to see me: Tara Betts (another Chicago poet who now lives in Brooklyn) and Rich Villar, of the Bronx and now working with Accentos Community Center.

I've always have a great time in Paterson and count a number of its residents as good friends. For all my West Coast and Midwest credentials, I also have a respectable following in the Northeast area (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire). My 1993 memoir, Always Running, is used in many of the schools there. I've read in high schools, prisons, juveniles facilities, universities, colleges, and done lots of radio, TV and print media interviews in those states (in Spanish and English). I've even been caught in blizzards there.

Last week, I ended up on the other coast--in wonderful warm and clear San Diego (this has to be one of the best cities in the country). I had the fortune of speaking to juvenile offenders at the Rancho de Campo juvenile probation camp. The boys were great--respectful with lots of strong questions and comments. And the staff seemed quite open and supportive.

I also spoke to more than 400 community people who showed up at the Copley Auditorium in Balboa Park. We had middle school students to the elderly, gang and nongang youth, and a most vibrant and engaging program. People lined up to two microphones to air their concerns and ask questions. Pre-teen young people also got up to express themselves--they were intelligent and thought-provoking.

The next day, I addressed a group of lawyers who were part of a National Association of Juvenile Criminal Defense Lawyers' Seminar in downtown San Diego. We had a strong discussion about immigrants and gangs, including the truth about Central American gangs, which have recently been getting tons of bad media and political attention. I wanted to provide the source and context for who these gangs are, how they originated, and what is going on today with the so-called invasion of gangs from Mexico and Central America to the US (this is highly exaggerated, mostly by federal law enforcement and immigration authorities).

Many myths were dispelled and a more accurate assessment of immigrants and gangs was outlined. I have also served as an expert witness in a number of deportation cases involving so-called gang youth to Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. The level of misinformation that is out there about immigrant gangs, and US-based gangs in Mexico and Central America is astounding. It's time to set the record straight. I will do my part--having studied Mexican/Central American gang youth since 1993 (and since 1983 having visited Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua). And with decades of experience among Mexican, Chicano, Puerto Rican, African American, Native American, and Asian gangs, I can give some essential history and characteristics of these gangs and their root basis: poverty, disaffection, and deep social, political, ecnonomic, and spiritual marginalization.

To find out more about my work in this area, please read my 2001 nonfiction book "Hearts & Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times" (Seven Stories Press, New York City)--or try to find past articles I've done at the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, The Nation, the Progressive, US News & World Report, Utne magazine, and more.
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"The Best Place To Be In Town"

Yesterday was a beautiful warm day with intermittent winds in the LA area. That day, February 17, Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural held it's 5th anniversary celebration in the Sylmar community of the Northeast San Fernando Valley. It was also a major benefit event with the goal of raising $10,000. With a notice to vacate by the end of the month, this was going to be Tia Chucha's last public event in that space.

Our patio area had shelves of books, CDs, T-shirts, and gift items for sale at 40 to 50 percent discount. Local vendors sold hand-made jewelry and art works, splitting the proceeds with Tia Chucha's. Home-made Mexican food sold at a another table, served by the women of the Northeast San Fernando Valley Sweat Lodge Circle. Inside, the coffee bar never stopped jumping--people kept coming for what might have been their last cup of Tia Chucha coffee (at least for a couple of years or so until we find a permanent or semi-permanent facility).

In one corner was a couple of tables and shelves for a silent auction of donated items that included paintings, poetry books, rare out-of-print Chicano First Edition books, signed galleys by authors like Sandra Cisneros, and more. A raffle of a Wii video game console and a Playstation 3 sold lots of tickets. The place was crowded with people from noon until 1:30 AM--we must have had 600 to 700 people in and out all day and night. We even had friends of mine from Japan, including record producer and writer Shin Miyata.

There was also a mural project with $10, $15, and $100 pieces that people could "buy" while several artists later finish painting the panels after all the donations are made.

The first few hours we had events for children--including stories, shadow puppets, comedy, and prizes, hosted by Alberto Ibarra of the Chusma Theater Collective. Other acts during this time included Alejandro LaBorde and his guitar class; children's book writer and storyteller, Rene Collato; The Edgars (a group made up of two Edgars); Trio Amor Y Paz; among others. We also had supporting words from State Assemblyman Richard Alarcon and our good friend, the bookseller and MacArthur Genius Award winner, Reuben Martinez of Libreria Martinez in Santa Ana, CA.

Also Hot 92 radio station set up a booth in the parking lot, thanks to Enrique Sanchez, Jr.

Our Azteca Danza group did two opening ceremonies at the start of the whole day and for the evenings festivities. They also closed with an homage to the four directions near the end. Thanks to Monique Orozco and all the danzantes for this great contribution.

I hosted the evening's events with an opening by Poets of the Roundtable--including Mike the Poet, Sarah Cruse, and the Bustop Prophet. We had amazing performances by groups that were born at Tia Chucha's like the Spanish-language rock band, Noxdiel; the Conscious Mexika Hip Hop group El Vuh; and the Spanish-language traditional and contempory sounds of Hijos de La Tierra. We also heard the guitar stylings of Alfredo Hidalgo and folk songs in Spanish and English by Big Joe Hurt. Local poets like Universe, Gabriela Garcia Medina, Anthony Sanchez, and the Hip Hop power of The Apostles also performed. Special quests included Dramon of West Africa with a powerful set of Djembe drum techniques (he's also Tia Chucha's West African Drumming instructor); Aztlan Unearthed (an encarnation of Aztlan Underground, the Chicano Nation's top Hip Hop hybrid poetry, rock & rap group); Mezklah, well-known compelling duo with guitar and voice; and the feverish Cumbia/Vallaneta group, Very Be Careful, who had everyone dancing--from the babies to the elderly.

We ended with a Fandango in the tradition of Veracruz, Mexico where jaraneros and singers come together to share verses and rhythms as dancers take turns on a tarima with their zapateado--rapid foot movements. This normally continues into the wee hours of the morning (sometimes for days) in the humid temperatures of Veracruz. We went as far as we could, lasting at least until 1:30 AM (although jaraneros and singers kept going just outside our doors for a while longer).

When all was done, it appeared we met our $10,000 goal (and may have exceeded it once we get all our pledged donations). More importantly, there were people who stayed with us all day. We also announced the location of Tia Chucha's new transitional space some 10 minutes by freeway from our present site. The location is at 10258 Foothill Blvd., Lake View Terrace, CA 91342 (on the 210 freeway between Pasadena and Sylmar, just off the Wheatland exit). The address, directions, and our upcoming events there--including a Grand Opening--we'll be announced on our website at We will also have a new phone number, but you can try 818-362-7060 for a possible recording on what this will be.

At the temporary location, we will not have a coffee bar nor the same square footage as the Sylmar location. But we will have our offices, some books for sale (mostly online and to institutions), and as many of our events as possible--including our popular Open Mic nights, Film nights, Noche Bohemia Nights, author readings, theater events, musical performances, and many of our workshops (guitar, drumming, DJing, writing, theater, film, Aztec dance, and more). We hope to re-start operations in March.

Moreover, this place will serve as our base of operations for a mobile Tia Chucha's--we plan to have workshops and some events in locations throughout the Northeast Valley, including Sylmar High School in the afternoons--and to carry out our strategic fundraising plan to raise from $250,000 to $1 million in two to three years for a new Tia Chucha's.

We are convinced we can do it. We must do this--the community is deserving of something beautiful and lasting, the likes of which we have not seen in the Chicano/Mexicano/Central American community to date.

It's hard to give thanks to the hundreds who have helped make Tia Chucha's what it is today. We had so many volunteers in the five years we've been here--painting, fixing, organizing, teaching, and more. I want to give a huge thanks--tlazhokamati--to all of you.

I do need to point out the unique contribution of my wonderful companion (my wife, the mother of my youngest sons, my best friend, indigenous elder, and fellow revolutionary), Trini Rodriguez. She managed the retail operations of Tia Chucha's for five years (which consisted of a coffee bar, bookstore, performance space, and cyber cafe) without no pay and sometimes 80-hour weeks (she also had to learn on the job, something I'm amazed to say she did at great odds). And the rest of my family (Andrea, Catalina, Ruben, Luis, and Ramiro) for being there every step of the way.

I want to thank Enrique Sanchez, our partner in this endeavor, including his wonderful family who worked here as well--in particular Luz, Esperanza, and Nani. I want to thank my fellow board members of the non-profit sister organization, Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural, who also voluntarily created from the ground up an amazing arts/music/writing/dance/theater/film workshop center. They are Angelica Loa and Victor Mendoza. Also our able program coordinator, Michael Centeno, and his film company partner, Andres Rubalcava, both of whom have been here since the beginning and have provided invaluable help, sacrifice, and knowledge.

We also have to thank our wonderful staff over these years, including Melissa, Silverio, Vanessa, Ray, Alicia, Joaquin, Marisol, Wendy, Nancy, Joe, Yuri, Yesenia, Carmen, Luz, Esperanza, Nani, and others (some have moved on, but we have nothing but love in our hearts for them). And people like Osvaldo--who did our first business plan--and Tito and Mari, who helped us visualize and set up everything in the first months of our planning.

I want to thank our collaborators--LA Commons, the Ford Amphitheater, Young Women's Circle, Tonantzin del Valle, Earth Company, Tres Chingazos Theater Collective, Chusma Theater Collective, Music LA, Sylmar Park, Sylmar High School, former Councilman Alex Padilla, Tia Chucha Press, Dos Manos Records, Xispas Magazine, among others. Also individuals and groups like Juan Pueblo, Mateo Hernandez, Monica Herrera, Hector Herrera, Licha Herrera, Cesar Castro, Luis Ruan, Adriana Guzman, Dolores Villanueva, Andrea Rodriguez, Mark Vallen, Quetzal, Upground, Blues Project, and so many others who have given of their time and energy to offer their time, teachings, funds, and art.

Over the years, we also had funding support--our first big funder was the Liberty Hill Foundation out of Santa Monica, CA that gave us three grants in the first three years of our existence--a million thanks. Also the Border Book Festival, which organized a fundraiser for us before we opened our doors in 2001 (in particular Denise Chavez and John Randall), netting $16,000. Also the Solidago Foundation (thanks Diane Cohen), the Youth Can Service, and the Middleton Foundation for their support of our early workshops in film and art.

Funders for others workshops, publishing, and events projects through the non-profit Centro include LA City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Community Redevelopment Agency, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Center for Cultural Innovation, Toyota Sales, Attias Family Foundation, Not Just Us Foundation, among others.

Individual donors include Suzan Erem, Mel Gilman, Cynthia Cuza, Janice Witt, Cecelia Sorenson, Dave Marsh (of Rock & Rap Confidential and the Sirius Radio show "Kick Out the Jams"), John Densmore of the Doors, Charles Wright, the Luis & Trini Rodriguez Family, and many others (sorry I can't name them all)

We are most grateful for the donation in 2005 by the popular rock performer Bruce Springsteen, who never forgot our first meeting in 1984 when I was a struggling East LA poet/former steelworker and he was on tour for the "Born in the USA" tour helping de-industrialized communities, like those in Southeast LA, with funds and his presence. Thanks my friend--you are a man of true conscious and commitment.

I also want to thank my friend John Trudell, the Native American poet/leader who donated materials and his time for two events here; Tom Hayden, who arranged a C-Span TV crew for a wonderful talk he gave here on LA gangs; Alex Sanchez of Homies Unidos--gracias, carnal; Tony Hernandez and Caroline Maxwell; Fabian Montes of Homeboy Industries; Mike Garcia of ValleyCore; Tony LoRe; Enrique Perez; Frankie Firme; Hector Gonzalez and Steven Chavez of Rampart Records; Angel Cervantes; our accountant Victor Cervantes; PBS-TV (Realidades); Margarita Escontrias; David Sandoval; Lee Ballinger; Sher and Matt of C & C Printing in Pajaro, CA; the Mechas of Mission College, Cal State, Northridge, Valley College, Cal State LA, and others; Jose Maldonado; Margot Pepper; OmeAcatl; Robert "Picos" Beltran; Freddy Chavez; Orland Bishop; Michael Meade; Ruben Guevara; Fidel Rodriguez and his wife Xol; and the many instructors, teachers, speakers, presenters, poets, singers, bands, performers, and others who have been in and out of our lives over these years.

Also KCET-TV and the Union Bank of California for honoring Trini, Enrique and I in 2003 with "Local Heroes of the Community" awards.

And the many friends we have in the media--print, TV, and radio--who gave us amazing coverage, including those in the LA Times, La Opinion, LA Daily News, LA Weekly, Pasadena Weekly, City Beat, Whole Earth Times, People (En Espanol), North Valley News; the San Fernando Sun; KCET; Val Zavala and "Life & Times in LA"; Telemundo; Univision; KTLK-AM; Power 106; KJLH; and more, including the fantastic friends we've had at KPFK--you've been the best.

Remember--we are not closing down. We are not dying. We are only going through a transitional period. We will create an even better, bigger, and more phenomenal space in the Northeast Valley--perhaps two or three years from now.

Meantime, please check our website for our events schedule beginning in March at our new temporary location:

And don't forget to come to our May 19 "Celebrating Words: Written, Performed & Sung" literacy & arts festival in Sylmar Park. And "Tia Chucha's Benefit Night" on July 29 at the Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood--it's a 1,200-seat theater and we plan to pack it!

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Special words from my 12-year-old son, Luis

As a school assignment, my 12-year-old son Luis Jacinto wrote what I thought was an amazing statement. Here it is--he's not only a great writer, but an inspired artist (he loves cartooning). This is posted with my son's permission.

Childhood has a notable similarity to a rainy day. As you dwell in the rain, these liquid missiles--which resemble the troubles that you may go through--will not miss you, and only if you find some form of shelter from them will you find safety. As simple as that may seem, the amount of open areas with which rain will seize the chance to attack by far exceeds the amount of “shade” areas you may find. Then there are the peaceful moments when you are indoors--similar to any place where you may not feel judged or unappreciated--and you will either cherish the moment or simply take it for granted to let it pass by.

As the pounding raindrops crashed on to the bus window, making it impossible to see through, it reminded me of every car crash that has ever taken place. I watched as the raindrops flew to their death and, soon after, vanished to be forgotten. It seems this is true for most victims of a car accident. With the exception of their families, they are not remembered by most of the witnesses who watch the victim's wrecked vehicle as they pass by on route to their destinations.

As I sit alone on this bus, in this seat, trapped in my thoughts--parallel to every other day--I mature. I answer questions for myself without the disruption or argument of somebody else. I wonder what is truly right in this world full of disagreement, where I think that someone has the wrong idea about something but then I see how they would think that! With this how could either of us be correct. We both have our ideas of our morals, yet morals are supposed to be obvious in a way, are they not? Adding to this, I clearly see many of the problems that exist in myself as well. Therefore, the question of what is correct or not, right or wrong, becomes even more complicated.

Whenever I find any problems, of the many that I might find about school, I feel like I'm just another complaining child speaking of the absurdity of the note on his report card stating “talks too much” or “can't pay attention.” However, I feel that the problems I spot are different. I see the very same kids who complain about their report card, calling other kids names like “retard” or other vulgar names that they might have learned. Why? Are they a "retard," or just an innocent person who made a MISTAKE. I, personally, can see the giant gap between a retarded person and a person who just did something incorrectly.

I notice a conversation and eavesdrop, receiving: “Hey, dude! Did you see, today at school, when Isaac said something about Billy's mom, so Billy just went and kicked his...”

Of course, I knew what he was talking about. I had seen that many times before--the “victim” pushing the “offender” towards the wall, asking him why he said what he said and telling him to take it back, but the “offender” is too scared to take back anything. At this point, the “offender” and the “victim” have switched places and have become the victim and the offender without quotation marks.

This is not a tale, but it is the truth and whole truth that I know--of how the world is and how school should not be... but is anyway. And as the bus screams to a halt, and I look out the window and see that this is my stop, I get out and start to walk home, looking up at the sky, where the sun is shining down on me, as I notice that the sky above is empty of a single cloud.
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Updates on Tia Chucha's Move and other Matters

We are moving along with our plans to relocate Tia Chucha's to a temporary space soon after we move from our current space in Sylmar. We've had tremendous support since word got out about our notice to vacate the premises by February 28. Last Sunday, a community meeting was held at Tia Chucha's that brought around 50 people -- teachers, youth, artist, musicians, poets, and more. KPFK did testimonial interviews with our supporters that was later aired this week. We also had great stories in the LA Daily News, the LA Times, La Opinion, LA Weekly, among others. And Univision and Telemundo have both been airing shows and special shorts on our situation.

I've also had amazing offers from people in downtown LA, East LA, San Gabriel Valley, and other places who want us to come and set up shop in their areas. We would love to, of course. But we are committed to the Northeast San Fernando Valley with a large Chicano/Mexicano/Central American population that has been neglected when it comes to bookstores, movie houses, and cultural centers. We may also consider satellite events at some of these spots, like a mobile Tia Chucha's.

Hopefully, once we are in a more-or-less permanent facility and stable, we can share what we know and help other communities create their own Tia Chucha's (they can name them after their own aunts). The point is every neighborhood should have venues like ours -- where books, ideas, dialogues, music, art, writing, dance, indigenous traditions & thought are alive and thriving for everyone.

One bit of bad news -- I got an attack of gall stones last Tuesday night, January 16. I didn't know what it was at first. I was in tremendous pain and my wonderful companion Trini took me to the emergency at the Olive View Hospital in Sylmar (I don't have insurance so I joined the other uninsured, included the undocumented, with hours of waiting). I was there from 11 PM until 4 PM the next day. I must say though, once I got over the wait and was given a cot and a backless hospital gown, I was treated very well. They gave me tons of tests -- blood test, urine tests, EKG, X-rays, and an ultra-sound. The last one finally discovered the source: tiny gall stones blocking some important passages.

While I may need to consider gall bladder removal, I am thinking this over very carefully and consulting health experts I know before I make such a decision. The upside is that I'm now feeling much better and I'm more knowledgeable of what causes gall stones and what I can do with diet and exercise to avoid another attack. I've had kidney stones (passing them as well, another pain I would rather not ever endure again). I even had a hernia and other ailments at age 10 -- with beatings, accidents, and tooth decays along the way. I know pain. But gall stones... they're up there.

Anyway, none of this has deterred Tia Chucha's from our efforts to move, to find a suitable temporary situation, and to raise around $250,000 in two years before we move into a larger, better, and more permanent space. We thank you all -- all our customers, students, instructors, staff, volunteers, board members, friends, and family who are standing strong with us. Our communities deserve the best, and we will do all we can to do our part.

Remember to make plans to join us on February 17, Saturday from noon til 11 PM for our 5th Anniversary Benefit Event at Tia Chucha's. We will be having a silent auction, raffles, and Aztec dancers, musicians, poets, theater, and more. Go to or call 818-362-7060 for more information.
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Tia Chucha's Must Move -- But Our Spirit, Creativity, and Unity are Intact

Just after the holidays, Tia Chucha's Cafe & Centro Cultural was served with a notice forcing us to move. We have to leave by February 28, 2007. A powerfully energized and thriving bookstore/cafe/performance space/cultural center is to be replaced by high-tech laundry machines. The laundry company is apparently investing $8 million in the strip mall, something we can't compete with.

Maintain a vibrant community space? Of course not! Instead, make way for another laundry outlet! That's capitalism. Money follows money, not needs, not literacy, not community, or cultural expression. In the world we've inherited, most creativity and expression has to make big money, or it's out.

We created a space that requires a lot of personal and community investment. The community came to embrace Tia Chucha's and make this space its own. We plan to take the spirit, creativity, and unity we helped nurture to a temporary site as we plan and prepare to obtain a larger permanent site in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

This is a time to come together, strategize, and work to keep Tia Chucha's viable as a cultural center while we explore our options. We will not give up. We will find a temporary space; we will also curtail our retail operations while we concentrate on our programming, events, outreach, fundraising, and growth.

We ask that you strengthen our efforts by writing letters in support of cultural spaces like Tia Chucha's that we can take to city, county, and state entities, as well as granting agencies, so that these spaces are safeguarded and provided the necessary resources to thrive. Send to: Tia Chucha's Cafe & Centro Cultural, PO Box 328, San Fernando, CA 91341.

We will also have a petition in support of Tia Chucha's at the store/center so that we can come back stronger, bigger, and better endowed than ever. We need this written support to show the various governmental bodies, developers, and foundations that this community will fight for the arts, music, dance, theater, writing, film, publishing, and a vital gathering place where we can share ideas, history, politics, economics, and our indigenous traditions and thinking.

Our strategy this year includes implementing a fundraising plan with a 5th Anniversary event at Tia Chucha's on February 17 from noon to 11 PM. We will also have another "Celebrating Words: Written, Performed & Sung" festival at Sylmar Park on May 19. And we have been approved to do a benefit event for Tia Chucha's at the Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood on July 29, 2007 at 6 PM. Sign up for our e-mail newsletter on our website -- -- or call 818-362-7060 for more information.

--Luis J. Rodriguez Co-founder and Creative Director, Tia Chucha's Cafe & Centro Cultural
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James Brown -- the Meaning of Soul

James Brown died on Christmas day, unfortunately overshadowed by the execution of Saddam Hussein and the death of Gerald Ford soon after. However, it's James Brown's death and life that stands out for me. He was one of America's most important and creative influences over the past 60 years. He is one of my own personal heroes of the last 40 years -- I can name a few that have had significant influences on my life, work, ideas, and writing: Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Ruben Salazar, Pablo Neruda, Tupac Shakur, among others.

James Brown singularly changed the tone and tenor of US music. He was not only the Godfather of Soul ("the king of them all, you'all") in the 1960s, but the mainstay of 70s funk, 80s disco, through early and modern Hip Hop. Much of what we consider the hippest music and performers of today would not exist if it weren't for James Brown.

I understand in his later years personal problems overwhelmed most news about Mr. Brown. That's unfortunate. But in my mind, and not to excuse some rather tired acts and mis-acts on his part, these stories never diminished what his music has meant to people like me -- growing in up in urban LA, in the streets, in gangs, among the pushed out and forgotten, then spending 15 years in Chicago. That's why urban music was always important for me -- including Jazz, Rhythm & Blues, Soul, Funk, and Hip Hop (James Brown was key through most of this).

While the commercialization of music destroyed much of what was vital and significant of the music of the 1960s and 1970s, it still somehow breaks through and re-ignites the soul-spring of dance, harmonies, and unifying rhythms. As George Clinton said, "one nation under a groove."

I was part of that nation. I still am. All the divisions of the streets -- due to competition for meager and exploitative work, for survival, for drugs, for street turf -- somehow vanished when you heard the bass, the drums, the horns, and that wail and grunt. James Brown. The dancing, the voice, the words.

Soul means that kind of unity, that kind of community. Something essential had to be tapped, refined, confined, and let loose. Color, language, religion, and other barriers vanished in the face of the sweep and scope and deep-self penetration that James Brown and the urban music of US streets brought to the world. Yes, the heart of this was African American, but Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, and other urbanized people of color and the working class contributed, picking up the rhythms and sounds, and even taking it to new levels. Ask my friend Ernie Perez, the Mexican Soul Man, who fronts bands like the Boxing Ghandis and is the driving spirit behind Rock-A-Mole Music, Films & Festivals.

It's another way the South with its core culture and central status in US history and expression continues to remake who we are.

Ask anyone making vital music today. James Brown is the epitome, the source, the past and future. Deep-self penetration. Deep Africa in us all. Soul.
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The Medicine We Carry

As many people know, at age 12 I began ingesting many mind and/or body altering drugs: sniffing toxic substances, weed, pills (downers, uppers, mescaline, LSD), to heroin. After my political awakening and rebirth into a conscious and active revolutionary before I turned 20, I gave up the illicit drugs. Hard as this was, I also took an easy way out -- I just drank.

After 20 years of this, I began a recovery process around thirteen-and-half years ago; I´m still a revolutionary, only now I´m clean and sober. Now my energies are focused on family (I have a beautiful, healthy, and wonderful family), my writing, my political/community activism, my ongoing study, and Tia Chucha´s Cafe & Centro Cultural (the bookstore, cafe, cultural center I helped create in the San Fernando Valley section of LA).

One aspect of my sobriety has been my connection to indigenous spiritual practices, particularly from Native peoples in the US and Mexico. Presently, I am part of a sweat lodge circle in the San Fernando Valley and do regular ceremonies in the Navajo reservation in eastern Arizona.

I´ve also done ceremonies/events with other tribes in Arizona, California, Washington, Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota -- as well as Yaqui, Raramuri, Zapoteco, Mixteco, and other indigenous groups in Mexico.

I´ve just finished two weeks of connecting with and doing ceremonies with the indigenous traditions of Peru.

The last three days in Qosqo involved intense ceremonies and flower baths. It involved much internal struggle and meditation. As I have used peyotl medicine on the rez for years, we were able to enjoy a carefully guided journey with the Amazon jungle medicine known as Ayawaska. I also found much healing in the coca leaf, used in teas and for drawing its juices in our mouths on long hikes and climbs. In the hands of proper guides and teachers, these are natural healing plants for mind and/or body altering experiences that can actually bring more clarity, liberation, and balance in one´s life.

I realize, as many have before me, that much of what youth do in using illegal substances in the US and in other highly-urbanized and modern cultures has much to do with seeking such quests and objectives. Of course, as a youth my guides were other lost youth -- and adults who exploit them.

Now, at 52 years, which among the Mexika indigenous is the life-changing cycle, I´ve reached a new stage of my own personal and spiritual development. We are also in the final months of the year Xikome Tochtli, which is my Mexika namesake, recognizing again the new 52 cycle of transformation I am entering.

I feel stronger, wiser, but also on the precipice of intense new changes.

What this trip to Peru has meant is hard to express in words. I only wish to say how thankful I am for my beautiful wife, Trini, who also underwent these ceremonies and experiences, and to my spiritual companions Enrique, Hector, and Tony, who came with us to Peru from our sweat lodge circle. I also want to thank Aeli, Dona, and Julian for guiding us through the sacred sites and medicine. And a special thanks to Frank Blazquez (Tekpaltzin) of the Chicago area, who opened this door for us, and his wonderful family, and all the youth of Youth Struggling for Survival, and the Danzantes (Mexika/Aztec dancers) of Chicago who were originally to accompany us, although in the end our journeys were meant to be separated.

I also thank my family at home (Andrea, Ruben, Luis, and Cati), and all the staff, volunteers, and board members of Tia Chucha´s Cafe & Centro Cultural, for allowing us the time and space to undergo this amazing journey.

Today we go from Lima to San Jose, Costa Rica. We will be in LA later this evening just before the turn of the Gregorian New Year. The real beauty of natural medicine and healing is that it taps into the medicine we already carry. It allows access to energies and capacities that are otherwise hidden or forgotten.

We have much to do in this world for balance, health, coherence of mind and body, and for complete and adequate social healing as well. When we need it, this medicine and access will allow us to do our vital work with the integrity, dignity, and spiritual strength required to achieve this. The innate gratefullness I now have has been the key aspect of my ongoing recovery.

Tlazhokamati (thank you in Nahuatl) to all.

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Time for Peace and Balance

Peru has been so vital for me these days. Even with the layered world we find in places like Qosqo, where indigenous, colonial Spanish, Catholism, and the modern world integrate, collide, and create something new. We spent Christmas day taking a rest to prepare for our medicine ceremonies for the next three days. We did get a chance to visit the Plaza de Armas, which appeared so peaceful, with Christmas-themed decorations in lights. Most of the last couple of nights have been loud with firecrackers and mortars.

At one restaurant off the plaza, overlooking one of several cathedrals around the plaza, we got a chance to hear a wonderful Peruvian band with the flutes, drums, charangos (small stringed instrument), and more. They also included four dancers who did wonderful dances from various regions of this complex land.

One Italian tourist couple got in trouble -- the woman fainted, most likely from the attitude. But Dona was in our group, and she provided some strong indignous medicine and touch. A bottle of concentrated muna was used to revive the young lady. After a while, the woman got well and they thanked us for intervening.

I have prayers this season like all such seasons -- everyone talks about peace and joy during these times. But it is shallow once we realize the reality of war, poverty, disenchantment, and social inequities. We have now lost as many US soldiers in Iraq as the number of people who were killed on 9/11 (and tens of thousands more of Iraq and Afghanistan citizens). Still, I send prayers of peace, balance, harmony, and abundance for everyone. Still we must help re-thread and re-imagine this world.
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