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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Christmas in Qosqo

For three days before Christmas, Qosqo´s main plaza is filled with people, plants, children, voices, and life. Indigenous people from nearby villages congregate here to take part in a massive marketplace, celebration, and the re-enactment of Christ´s birth. On Christmas Eve, our group walked around the Plaza de Armas, the main plaza in town, with at least three churches facing the plaza. There were many things to shop for, especially indigenous hand-crafted arts and spiritual items. There are also so many poor people -- something that I cannot ignore no matter where I go. We were swamped at times by begging children and/or people trying to sell us everything from earrings to paintings.

Yesterday we visited Piquillaqta and we managed an amazing ceremony at Tipon, at the Temple of Water, that lasted most of the day (after visits to two other major sacred sites). Quite elaborate, it was also emotional and healing.

We also visited ruins of the older Huari culture (pre-Inka), including amazing examples of living structures several thousands of years old.

And we had good talks about spirituality, the poor, and social change. We agreed the Creator is not responsible for so many poor people -- this is tied to a world-wide system of commercialization and capitalist alculturation. While there are many poor people in places like Peru, those who are closest to their traditions, their medininal plants, their community, and spiritual paths are rich in awareness and light.

Still it´s not right that there is so much injustice, inequity, violence, and suffering in this world. We talked extensively on Christmas day about how we deal with these aspects even as we seek our own personal spiritual development.

We feel our spiritual growth has to be linked to being strong, whole, conscious, connected, and intelligent for the ongoing struggle to make this world a place of peace and abundance for everyone.

We cannot separate the two vital goals and values. We also know we cannot change the world unless we have the knowledge, means, and community to change ourselves.

The group we brought to Peru from LA is made up of former drug addicts and alcoholics, raging men, diminished and invalidated women, men who have been in gangs and shot, and one Vietnam vet, all of us products of a disaffected, consumer-oriented society. But we have been working together for a few years now with the assistance of a strong sweat lodge circle (temescal) and our wonderful bookstore/community center, Tia Chucha´s Cafe & Centro Cultural (we also have important political, social, and cultural ties with other organizations and struggles).

Additionally, we have strong roots in the indigenous peoples of these lands -- one of our group is of Yaqui-Raramuri descent; another has ties to the Huicholes of Jalisco, Mexico; another is Mexika-Raramuri; and one has Mayan roots in Chiapas/Guatemala.

Yet having lived in the rough streets of LA most of our lives, we´ve been removed from some our connections, losing our ways and tongues, and often committing some destructive things to ourselves and our families in response. Becoming politically/socially conscious helped me begin to transcend this reality. Now with around 15 years of integrating myself into the indigenous teachings in the US, Mexico, Central America, and now Peru, I´ve begun to transcend to other levels of awareness and connection.

So our work for true social justice, peace, and the end of such human-made calamities like hunger will not stop. What I´ve learned with our teachers here in Peru is that this is all part of our own particular spiritual quests. And that all this transcendence through natural medicines, chants, prayers, and ceremonies should help us become strong and whole for the struggles we must continue when we return.
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Qosqo before Christmas

We arose extra early this morning -- at 3:30 AM for Trini and I to shower and get ready -- to leave our hotel in the Village of Machupicchu. Trini, unfortunately, had twisted her ankle while climbing one of the steep steps in the Machu Picchu citadel the day before. She was in pain coming all the way back. Dona, an indigenous woman from the Amazon forest area of Peru, did amazing work on her foot, pushing the bones back into shape, using coca leaves, lots of prayers, and then a strong band. By morning there was no swelling. Trini was able to walk around, shower, and be back to her old self. We then took a train to Ollantaytambo, and a long van ride to Qosqo. But Trini was strong enough to walk with us as we visited various sections of town, including an incredible center of indigenous artisan craftwork.

I know if she had gone to a US doctor, the ankle would be swollen and Trini would have been on antibodies and painkillers, and perhaps laid up for a day or two. The natural healing knowledge of these lands is real and powerful, as I´ve been a witness to see.

Even the one participant in our group who got altitude sickness is doing well with hot soups and mate de coca (coca leave tea). I´ve even got over most of my cold and other ailments in just a few days of medicine, talks, ceremonies, travel, and companionship. We haven´t even begun our real internal healing work yet, but I trust it will be a significantly meaningful and transformative experience.

When we returned to Qosqo, we were surprised to see a crowd of indigenous women and children linked up for a block from our hostel. They were doing a Christmas giveaway today to the local poor children. It was sweet to see the smiles of the brown native faces of these babies as they walked away with a toy. I must have looked the same way, as a small brown child in Watts, getting presents and food from the local Catholic charity group.

Tomorrow, we visit more sacred sites, commence with more ceremonies, and get to know our own strengths and limitations as we continue on our spiritual quest here among the amazing Quechan people of the Andes.
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Saying Goodby to Machu Picchu

Julian Sasari is a 23-year-old Quechan. He has also been one of our guides in the spiritual journey that five members of the Northeast San Fernando Valley Sweat Lodge Circle -- including yours truly and my companion, Trini -- have taken to Peru. He is wise for his age. Most of us in the group are in our 50s. Still Julian is a worthy and profound teacher.

Today, led by Julian, Aeli and Dona, we revisited Machu Picchu, doing a ceremony with song and offerings at the Temple of Pacha Mama, the embracing mother earth that holds us all. We were given more lessons about the Quechua culture, cosmology, and values. At one point, we sat down inside one of Machu Picchu´s structures, talked, and shared songs -- Quechan songs, Lakota songs, Mexika-Nahuatl songs, Cherokee songs, and even West African songs.

The day opened up for us after two days and nights of heavy rains. It was warm and the clouds cleared enough to offer us a breathtaking view of the green and magestic mountains surrounding the Machu Picchu sacred site.

Later in the day, it was hard to say goodby. I felt so connected to this land and to these structures. There is a 400-meter winding road that buses use to carry people to the entrance of Machu Picchu and back down to the village. Today and yesterday, we had a boy dressed in bright Incan garb come onto the bus, chant a "despedida" in Quechua with his arms in motion (he said it translates into "Go with God"), then run down the old Inka stairway to the community of Machu Picchu.

Each time the bus turned we saw the boy running down the steep steps carved into the earth, doing his chant and moving his arms. He ended up at the bottom at the same time as the bus. He then gets on the bus and redoes his goodby. Apparently, local indigenous boys from ages 8 until 14 end up doing this to the delight of the tourists. I was moved, at his spirit, his stamina, his face with deep contortions as he offered his blessings. The boys, both were around 10 years old, were then allowed to go among the bus passengers for coins and currency, which most people were willing to give.

Tomorrow morning we get up early to take another trainride to Qosqo. Julian, who is patient and knowledgeable and even humorous, will be with us as we continue on our way to more experiences, teachings, and healing.
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The Dream of Machu Picchu

The interesting thing about many of the old Quechan cultures in Peru, including the one most people called "Inca," is that most of their cities, temples, and ceremonial sites were created in the shape of animals -- the llama, the puma, the crocodile, the condor, and so on. Most of this can only be seen from the air (or a high point in a far off location). They also found natural formations that resembled these animals and created temples and often cities around them.

Yesterday, our group visited the Sacred Valley and other sacred sites and did an amazing ceremony below the natural formation of a condor in Ollantaytambo. We also did songs and prayers in the heights of Pizaq. In the evening, we took a train ride, filled with back-packing European and US travelers, to Aguas Calientes, in the foot of Machu Picchu.

We also learned that in most of these sites tourists are most welcomed, but native peoples doing ceremonies often are not. Even film crews (one doing a beer commercial ended up knocking off a piece of important stone in Machu Picchu) have been allowed, and for a while helicopters bringing in politicians and royalty (once from Spain) used to land in the main open field in Machu Picchu before the government stopped the practice -- it was endangering the surrounding structures.

But if an unofficial Quechan group or other spiritual group wants to do sacred ceremonies, even simple ones, they are spotted and chased away. This happened to us yesterday at one of the sites. It's a shame -- the tourist aspect is quite prevalent and consumer oriented.

Still, we stayed focused on our visions, our dreams, our intentions, and our healing.

Today's trek to Machu Picchu was a dream come true for me. I had to stop many times just to take it all in. We also managed a long walk around the edge of a mountain with nothing but air, plants and cliffs to the side of us to visit an Incan bridge. It's truly an amazing place, especially if you come with the spiritual connections and healing this land is so capable of being for anyone who seeks it.
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The Spirit of Ayni

Trini and I landed in Lima, Peru with no complications. Along with us came Enrique, Hector, and Tony from our sweat lodge circle in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. We have been preparing for this trip for several months -- with special sweat ceremonies, weekly hikes, and a trip in the fall to Navajo land for ceremonies with one of our elders, Anthony Lee.

Our guides in Peru are Aeli Ronin Yaka and Dona Cotrina, two amazing woman elders and medicine people. They have been working hard to make sure we have places to stay, places to visits, ceremonies with medicine, baths, and more. They are also providing us teachings in the Quechua culture (the foundation of the Inca culture). One thing we learned was about the spirit of Ayni, sharing and giving without expecting the same in return. This is very much in line with most indigenous teachings.

After a nice dinner and rest in the vibrant Miraflores neighborhood of Lima, we got up at 3 AM to get ready for a flight to Cusco, the old Inca capital. Once in Cusco -- or Qosqo, as it´s often written -- we ended up at the Amaru Hostal, named after the reknown Inca warrior Tupac Amaru.

We also went to several Inca temples and sacred sites: Saqsaywaman, Qénqo, and Tambomachay. We did a few ceremonies there. The attitude issue is strong here -- we're up at around 10,000 feet and you can get disoriented and even sick. But we're in good hands -- with natural indigenous medicine, healing work, and teachings.

Tomorrow we will prepare to go on a train to Machu Picchu, one of the most vital energy sites on this earth.

We are witnessing the wonderful concept of Ayni. It's something we plan to bring back with us after our 13-day spiritual journey in the ancient lands of some of our most important continental ancestors.
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En Lak Ech – You Are the Other Me

Once in 2001 while on a two-week speaking tour of schools, Boys & Girls clubs, colleges, and other venues in the state of Delaware, I heard a strange but familiar language. As I washed clothes at a local Laundromat in Georgetown, I noticed about a dozen dark-skinned indigenous men and women addressing themselves in a tongue I recognized as Mayan. It turned out that several hundred Mayan families from Guatemala had migrated here to work in produce, factory, and service jobs.

The following weekend after a church service, I addressed around 300 of these migrants who were then calling the area around Georgetown their home. In my travels as a writer, lecturer, and poet, I’ve met other Native Mexican and Native Central American migrants, including Nahuatl-speaking people from Puebla, Guerrero, Veracruz, and El Salvador; Mixtecos and Zapotecos from Oaxaca; and Yaquis, Huicholes, and Raramuris from northern and central Mexico. There are in fact millions of native-speaking people (many don’t speak Spanish very well) from south of the border now living and working in the United States.

One organization, EcoMaya Festivals based in Los Angeles, claims there are around two millions Mayans from Mexico and Central America in the greater LA area alone. I don’t have actual numbers, but I would say indigenous people from those countries now outnumber the official Native American population (currently at around 3 million people).

Among many Chicanos (US-born or raised persons of Mexican descent) there has been a long history of consciousness and connection to tribal/native roots. Today you see Aztec dance groups in Pow Wows and other community gatherings; Day of the Dead altars and processions sprouting around the country; and Nahuatl (known as the language the Aztecs and other tribal groups spoke, currently in use by 1.5 million people in Mexico) being taught in schools and community centers.

Many Chicanos have also linked with Native American communities and their ceremonies such as sweat lodges and the Sundance, including with the Lakota, Navajo, Hopis, Chumash, and Pueblos. In the US Southwest, intermarriages and alliances between Chicanos and Native Americans have been going on for generations.

Mayan sayings like En Lak Ech are being used by poets and in greetings – this particular expression means “you are the other me.” Implicit in this is what these native peoples carry over to this country – a fascinating and complicated, yet accessible, way of being, living and relating. Another cosmology.

As for me, I have spent about a dozen years linking to my own Native roots as well as studying and practicing indigenous spiritual traditions from the United States, Mexico, and Central America. My mother has family ties to the Raramuri from southern Chihuahua (also known as “Tarahumaras”). My father comes from a large Nahuatl-speaking area in Guerrero that also had significant numbers of former African slaves and Spanish ranchers. I’ve visited the Copper Canyon region of Chihuahua where some 80,000 Raramuri people still live in relatively traditional ways, using their own languages and customs. My wife Trini and I also helped create sweat lodges in our present home community in the San Fernando Valley – and Tia Chucha’s Café & Bookstore has a large section on indigenous books, including Nahuatl-English dictionaries.

Around 10 years ago, a Navajo medicine man, Anthony Lee, and his wife Delores adopted our family; we’ve been driving to the Navajo Nation for ceremonies ever since. This month, Trini and I travel to Peru with some of our sweat lodge circle to partake in healing ceremonies with Native elders and medicine people.

Despite borders, differences in customs and tongues, we are all connected in more ways than one – there are linguistic ties, for example, between Aztecs, northern Mexican tribes, and US tribes such as the Hopis, Shoshone, Arapaho, and Utes. And according to my Purepecha/Chicano friend, Luis Ruan, there is a linguistic connection between Purepechas of Michoacan, Mexico and Quechua-speaking people in Peru.

Two weeks ago, Trini and I went to see “Apocalypto,” the Mel Gibson film about Mayans in the Yucatan a moment (according to Gibson) before the Spanish conquerors arrived to the so-called New World (in reality most Mayans had abandoned the thousands of structures in culturally advanced urban centers some 600 years before the Spanish ever set eyes on these shores).

Taking into account the license film makers have to change history, mix cultures and times, and generally distort whatever they want, I must say there is a deeply disturbing aspect to what is an otherwise visually-arresting and emotionally-wrenching motion picture.

Whatever authenticity in details Gibson claims he achieved in the film, he continues to promote some historically-destructive “Big Lies” that may be missed by those who aren’t as attuned to the subtexts, the messages beneath the messages, that some of us in this culture have had to deal with to orient and maneuver ourselves into the world.

The first one is about the “savagery” of the pre-Columbian peoples that supposedly required a civilized Christian world to overrun, tame and change them.

In the film, Mayans hunt down innocent villagers, they enslave women, they cut out still beating hearts, and pile hacked up bodies in mass graves. The salvation message got nailed at the end when the film’s protagonist runs to the beach, chased by two enemy warriors. After more than two hours of heart sacrifices, rapes, beheadings, and blood sports, there emerges a pristine image of Europeans coming to shore – a priest is among them holding a cross (we know now they came not for God, but for gold). Without words you feel a sense of relief – it’s about time somebody came to stop these brutal and lost cultures! Sure Gibson portrays the villagers on the periphery as nice, funny, loving (in other words, totally idealized), but at the core, in the main centers of art, life, ritual, and work, everything seemed rotten, ugly, despicable (another idealization).

Here’s the reality: There is no proof that Mayans ever practiced large-scale heart-removing human sacrifice, although they were known for blood-letting rituals. Yes, there were also wars between Native groups, brutality, subjugation, and any other drama and trauma that people have been capable of committing from time immemorial – they are human after all. But nothing about mass graves, mass sacrifices, or slave auctions (seen in the movie as if they were in the Deep South).

What’s missing in Gibson’s vision (he’s a known archconservative Catholic) is the fact that the Mayans, like the Aztecs (properly known as Mexikas), the Incas, and others like them were sophisticated, cultivated, spiritually-driven, and intellectually-grounded. At one point in the film, the people act as if they had never seen an eclipse, to be manipulated by blood-thirsty priests and rulers. Yet these cultures had achieved amazing astronomical advances, including devising some of the world’s most accurate calendar systems. The Mayans had a complex writing system, complicated mathematics, wondrous architecture, and advanced achievements in art, botany, zoology, and tools. They also developed sophisticated economic and political systems. They saw no separation between sciences and their spirituality – almost all their practices were tied to natural processes, energies, and events.

You wouldn’t know that from watching “Apocalypto” – or from hearing about or reading most popular accounts of pre-Columbian societies. This is precisely what Gibson is banking on – the public’s conception of what they don’t know or think they know about these people. Gibson, like many others before him, has filled in the missing narrative: Mayans, like other native peoples, were extremely violent and ungodly – they deserved to be destroyed.

Even LA Times film critic Kenneth Turan on December 8, 2006 wrote, “Given that penchant [for violence], it was only a matter of time until [Gibson] would find his way to a civilization that enthusiastically practiced human sacrifice.”

This is simply not true. That “Big Lie” was first expounded by Hernan Cortez and his Spanish invaders to justify the wanton destruction of the orderly and clean Mexika city of Mexiko-Tenochtitlan. Supposedly with a flint knife, priests were able to rapidly remove the heart while the victims watched it throbbing in the priest’s hand. In one account, thousands were thus slain in one day. Yet even today with modern tools, it takes around 15 to 20 minutes to open up the sternum and the surrounding tissues to reach the heart. But we’re supposed to believe a few priests could do this to hundreds, even thousands, in a few hours.

There is a very strong indigenous and academic movement in Mexico against large scale human sacrifice by any of the major indigenous cultures. They contend that most Western scholars studying these matters are wrong – except from a mythological viewpoint, since there is a strong mythological basis for sacrifice. But this is different than actual systematic human sacrifice. Supposedly sacrifices among the Maya involved Cenotes: deep water wells. Some may have occurred following ritual ball games. If they did exist, however, it was done ritually, not among captives or slaves, but among leaders, honored people, warriors in "flowery wars" (among the Mexikas), and considered an honored thing – you would reach the highest levels of the 13 heavens.

But again, most of this is mythology – very little evidence of this except in some skewed materials. For example, the finding of actual human blood on stones in the Templo Mayor in Mexico City, which scholars readily concluded was due to human sacrifices. It may have been blood letting or a result of mass slaughter during the seize of Tenochtitlan. There is nothing about heart sacrifices in any of the codices before the Spanish arrived. There are around 20 Meso-American codices in the world. Only three are pre-Columbian. The rest were done under the order and guidance of Spanish priests. Here human sacrifice, especially heart sacrifice, is greatly illustrated.

The first accounts ever of human heart sacrifice appeared in a letter from Cortez to the Spanish crown. Then there was a major account from one of Cortez's soldiers, Bernal Diaz de Castillo. Gibson is going beyond even the worse of these claims with “Apocalypto.” He even reportedly changed an image in one of the murals where a ruler is extending his hand in a gesture – Gibson had someone paint a heart there (this shows up in one of the scenes).

The Spanish used human sacrifice to justify their destruction. Even the Cathedral and other buildings were built from the very stones of Tenochtitlan’s pyramids. They killed off millions of Natives through war, slavery, and stake burnings (for those who refused to convert to Christianity). Many more were killed from the diseases the conquerors brought with them, such as small pox.

In fact, within 50 years of the Spanish arrival to the Valley of Mexico, the native population went from 25 million people to 2.5 million people. David E. Stannard in his classic 1992 Book, “American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World” (NYC: Oxford University Press) estimates that 95 to 98 percent of the people in the hemisphere perished by swords, guns, famine, slavery, conversion, and, most significantly, illness.

Whatever “human sacrifice” has been fantasized about the indigenous people of this land, the real human sacrifice that occurred after the European invasion is the most monstrous, still resonating hundreds of years later in our own damaged topography of land, culture, ideas, and interests. Remember that Guatemala Mayans were systematically killed, an estimated 140,000, including women and children, during the 36-year Civil War that ended in 1996 (where real mass graves of broken bodies existed).

Yet we are still here, us brown-red people. We are the two to five percent that survived, and are now revitalizing the political and social landscapes of Bolivia, Ecuador, Central America, Mexico (then as now, the country with more native peoples than any other), and parts of the United States and Canada.

Everything is now turned on its head – the brown-skinned native-rooted people among the Mexican and Central American migrants to the US, with roots to these lands as deep as anyone’s, are now the “foreigners,” “strangers,” and “illegals.” However, they also carry a new world view that is about balance (supposedly Gibson “real” message), cooperation, and restoration. There is much we can learn from these teachers who themselves are students of nature, relationships, the stars.

This cosmology is summarized in En Lak Ech, “you are the other me.” We are all related, all life, all being, all things, linked and unified and important. If only an amazing filmmaker could truly grasp the significance of this and find a means to portray it in such a vitally important public space. Instead, Gibson re-portrays the old lies to suit and benefit a worn-out and dangerous religious ideology.

Native people may have had their issues, conflicts, and mistakes, but they were sovereign, earth-connected, and free: Shame on Gibson for trying to correct the present roller coaster madness of war, ecological damage, and disaffection at the expense of the very people whose blood and bones became a major underpinning of this so-called civilization.
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The Immigration Issue Revisited

In the last month, I received these responses to a blog piece I posted on May 4, 2006 called “Unfounded Fears Drive Anti-Immigrant Movement.” While most responses to my blog have been positive, from time to time I like to post the negative reactions. It’s important to see the level of dialogue on this (at times very low). Any typos or grammatical errors I’ve left in the letters. I also have my responses at the end of each letter.

I stumbled upon your site and your views of illegal immigrants and those who are against them being here. There are extremists on both sides of this issue that is true. There are the Mexicans filled with hate and disdain for our country and our language and our culture and they just want to take for themselves and have no interest in assimilating into our culture. There are Mexicans who think we STOLE the southern states from them which is preposterous because we paid a hefty sum during the Guadalupe Hidalgo treaty for those parts of the US now known as California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. There are just as many racists on the side of illegal aliens as there are in the groups fighting them.

In the middle you have regular Americans who see illegal aliens with barely a high school education coming into our country and taking unskilled jobs as if Americans won't do them. Who did those jobs before? Robots? What Americans won't do is live in houses like dogs with 20 people sharing the same home. Americans cannot afford the wages paid to illegals because they pay taxes and they like to live ONE family to a home. Americans don't want Mexicans in their neighborhood living 20 people to a home. This is a stretch on the services for that neighborhood which expects a single family per home and now there are 20 people's waste going into the sewers and 20 people are using electricity and on and on.

Our government already has laws in place that says it is ILLEGAL to cross our borders without permission and enter this country. There is a reason we have immigration laws and that is the right of ANY country, including Mexico. Mexico has stricter immigration laws than the US. Why is it that the US gets criticized for trying to enforce their own immigration laws? How you distort this picture so. This is all regular Americans want and a LOT of us want that. A LOT of us are not extremists. A LOT of us are fed up having to press "1" for English. This looks a lot more like an invasion to us because "your people" refuse to assimilate and learn our language and abide by our laws.

The crime rate among illegal aliens is 2.5 times higher than it is for average Americans. So I think the fear that people have over unknown people flooding into our country is a very well-founded fear. Furthermore, lots of enemies of the US are taking advantage of the sieve of a border we have to the south and planting sleeper cells into our country. So stop trying to make this about discrimination or demonizing of illegals. The facts speak for themselves and the majority of Americans are waking up to this threat and getting active. And that is going to mean a LOT more Hazletons and Farmer's Branches and Escondidos that pass bans on hiring illegals. And then your precious illegals will
have to go home.

If our government passes Amnesty for the millions of illegal criminals who are here, there will be a second American Revolution. Believe it. That is my two cents to you Mr Rodriguez.


Angry American Citizen

There are many ways to expound one’s views. One of them is to amass facts, or just statements as if they were facts, and call that an argument. The root basis of the word “argue,” however, demands clarity, to demonstrate, from the word arg – “to shine, be white, bright, clear” (from www.etymoline.com). Proof and evidence is important for this exchange. Mr. Angry American Citizen you make statements that cannot be supported by evidence. You say, “There are the Mexicans filled with hate and disdain for our country and our language and our culture and they just want to take for themselves and have no interest in assimilating into our culture. There are Mexicans who think we STOLE the southern states from them which is preposterous because we paid a hefty sum during the Guadalupe Hidalgo treaty for those parts of the US now known as California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. There are just as many racists on the side of illegal aliens as there are in the groups fighting them.”

Yes, I’m sure there are Mexicans who have hate and disdain and refuse to assimilate. But most Mexicans in this country (and I’ve lived with them all my life) do not. Yes, there are Mexicans who think the US stole land from Mexico, although this happens to be a historical fact – read about James Polk and the Mexico-US war. The US had no legal or moral basis to invade or take ANY land from Mexico. The Slaveocracy in the US was pushing for more land to spread cotton beyond the Southern states (remember “Manifest Destiny” – a racist doctrine if ever there was one). Texas was the first annexation (it later became a slave state). Mexico did not recognize the annexation – it didn’t have to, it was their land.

The US invasion from 1946 to 1948 led to13,000 US troops killed (most by yellow fever; about 1,700 died in combat). While some 25,000 Mexican troops were killed, more civilians were believed killed, although not counted. Mexico didn’t have the military power, funds, nor government (it was racked with deep divisions) to stop the invasion (this sounds like the US invasion of Iraq, a 12th rate military power, when “shock & awe” was initiated in early 2003). For example, the Mexican army had outdated British weapons from the Napoleonic wars; the US had the most advanced rifles manufactured at the time.

The Treaty of Guadalupe on February 2, 1848 gave the US undisputed control of Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming. That’s about 500,000 square miles. Mexico received US$18,250,000. This amounts to .02 cents a square mile (a rip off, even for those times). Sixty percent of Mexico’s resources were lost in that war; in fact, if Mexico had continued to maintain those resources, today it would be the world’s largest oil producer.

A month before the end of the war, Polk was criticized in a US House of Representatives amendment for “a war unnecessarily and unconstitutionally begun by the President of the United States.” I can go on and on – with such personages as Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry Thoreau opposing the war (that’s the basis for the money). This all, by the way, sounds so close to what’s happening today with the war in Iraq.

I wanted to start with that since you brought it up. Now let’s get back to immigration and Mexico. Mexicans have been coming here in large numbers since the 1910-1929 Mexican Revolution (and other rebellions during that time). I can get into the details of this struggle as well, but suffice it to say that it had became a genocide by the Mexican government (supported by US manufacturing and government interests) against indigenous people and the poor, who were the majority of the country. My father’s village was destroyed in Guerrero by federal troops while my great-grandmother and grandmother on my mother’s side had to leave their Raramuri native homeland in southern Chihuahua as refugees.

A million people were believed killed in that struggle; another million migrated to the US. Those people and their descendents built homes, railroads, roads, bridges, and picked our produce ever since. They have fought in every war, mostly heroically in the 20th and 21st centuries. During World War II, those of Mexican descent garnered more Medals of Honor than any other ethnic group. They learned English, worked hard, and by the 1960s (due to their heroic participation in Civil Rights for decades) entered colleges and universities in significant numbers.

However, Mexico continued to have massive economic and social crises. The PRI held power in Mexico for more than 70 years – one author called it “the perfect dictatorship.” In the 1960s and 1970s, opposition leaders were killed and jailed in the hundreds (part of Mexico’s “dirty war” that is still being talked about today). Yet, Mexicans in the US continued to work hard, to pay taxes (yes, they pay taxes), become citizens (which my father and mother did), and die in US wars.

However, during the great depression, a massive roundup of Mexicans led to around a million being deported, including US citizens to Mexico. Such repatriations happened in other times as well. Mexicans because of discrimination (do I have to document that as well – there’s enough evidence of this if you care to look into it) were still in the worse schools, worse housing, and worse jobs. During hard times, US government sponsored quest workers’ programs (often called Bracero programs) brought even more Mexicans.

In the social arena, Mexicans fought alongside African Americans, Native Americans, Women, and Whites for the rights of everyone, for peace, against poverty, and for social justice. Nobody gave anybody anything – everything was fought for, even bled for, some even died for this.

Now, after several waves of Mexican migration to the US, mostly because of declining economic situations in Mexico (the roots of which also involve US corporations, Mexican government corruption, and the North American Free Trade Act of 1994), there is another move to declare these people as the problem to our current economic and social ills. Again, more walls are being proposed to divide the two countries, cities are not allowing undocumented people to rent, work or shop in their communities (that’s discrimination pure and simple), and unfounded fears are drilled into our collective minds.

As the US faces its own economic crises (and the war drains more tax dollars as well as lives), Mexicans become the scapegoats again. What’s new?

Is it racist for me to demand a humane and meaningful immigration policy?

Extremists aside (we can agree they exist on all sides), this is about what’s just, imaginative, and fair. As for what Mexico does with its immigration policy, what does that have to do with what I'm saying – as you can see, I’m critical of Mexico’s government and economic policies as well. This is about people – not criminals, not parasites, not “illegals,” but real people with real needs.

The real suffering of Americans is not coming from Mexicans – the War in Iraq is draining around $10 billion a month. It’s already surpassed the cost of the Vietnam War. There are also large businesses willing to pay Mexicans hardly anything, and forcing some of them into hovels with 20 people (no, most Mexicans don't love to live like this). Target the corporations, making billions off their backs. They are the ones determining the pay and conditions of work. Americans should have these jobs (but they are not being sought, and most would not accept such conditions). The point is businesses who rely on cheap labor (in the US as well as places like Mexico, Honduras, Vietnam, and other places) won’t be fair and equitable. They are more than willing to keep Americans out of the turkey farms, produce farms, service jobs, and sweat shops to have Mexican and other cheap labor.

Don’t blame the Mexicans. Blame the system that has created these conditions that hurt US citizens as well as Mexicans without documents. We waste energy, relationships, our own sense of decency, as well as any progress, when we turn against each other.


I just read your article. Your logic is twisted and as I would expect you bring out the tired, old race card. I've lived in Las Vegas since 1979 and have met many fine Mexican people, polite, English speaking, hard working, generous and overall the ideal American citizen.

The fact is we cannot handle 3,000,000, THREE MILLION people entering the country illegally every year. It is a tragedy that will be America's undoing. I love this country and don't want it to be another Mexico. I greet people I meet with a smile no matter who they are but lately my smile is received with glares of hate from hispanics. This invasion and my stance to preserve my American way of life is making me hated by hordes of people that don't even belong here and their supporters.

I've have struggled greatly to get where I am, even dug graves with a pick and shovel in my younger years for next to no money. After a life time of effort, with the American dream almost within my grasp I am about to see it yanked out from under my feet.

Please stop with the racism ploy, nobody is buying anymore, it's been worn out from misuse. I love experiencing different cultures but I don't want them shoved down my throat.

I have NO idea how you can justify 30 million people with no identity being here, it's a plague of biblical proportions!

I’m sorry, but I didn’t bring in the “Race Card.” It showed up among the Minutemen who amassed on the border with signs attacking Mexicans and people speaking Spanish; in some cases, there was unfurling of Nazi flags. It came from radio and TV talk show hosts, and on internet sites (look it up – you’ll see what I mean). I agree – “race” as a concept is a waste of time, divisive, and totally ridiculous. But when it pops up, it has to be challenged. I don’t hate so-called Caucasions, nor do I believe in any superior race or nation. But that’s what’s coming down the pike. Because you seem to be in denial of this does not mean it’s doesn’t exist.

The fact you even decried 30 million people with “no identity” being in the US as a plague is indicative of your own misinformation. There are around 12 million undocumented people in the US, not 30 million. While most of them are from Mexico, many come from Central America, South America, the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, the Mid- East, and even Europe (and don’t forget the Canadians who come and go pretty much as they please).

Where did the 30 million come from? Well it happens to be the number often given for how many people of Mexican descent are in this country. However, most of them have been here for generations, are US citizens, pay taxes, and even send their sons and daughters to war. Do you mean this is a plague? If so, this is racist.

The fact is Mexicans coming here do not make it another Mexico. They have been doing this for more than 150 years (and for tens of thousands of years as indigenous people). They contribute positively to US culture, economy, and life. As you say, most are fine, generous, hard-working and ideal citizens. So what if US culture changes because of them – that’s what US culture has always done. We wouldn’t have cowboy culture, lowrider cars, burritos, and salsa (it’s all part of US culture) if it weren’t for Mexicans (every group has contributed equally important aspects that we all enjoy in one form or another).

If we want to stop poor people (and that is who’s coming, not an invading army) from migrating to the US, we have to help end poverty in the world. Instead, we send out US products, US factories, McDonald’s, Wal-Marts, our “way of life,” and there a corresponding increase in poverty (yes, governments and business interests in the poor countries also contribute). And when things don’t work out our way, we send in the military. Listen, we are the number one military power in the world – this is something we should never use irresponsibly and only to help the world. In Iraq, for example, we’ve only created a holy mess.

There has to be a way for US people and the Mexican people to unite and cooperate to make things fair, peaceful, and equitable for everyone. The fears seem to be driving the humanity out of most people. I’m asking for us to be morally and humanely aware and active around this issues – why is this “racist”?


You are so slanted, it is hard to figure out how you don't slide out of bed at night! Get some brains, and start writing INFORMED articles and not racist ones!

What can I say – I’m not supposed to say when something’s “racist,” but people can call me racist all day long. What’s a racist? Someone who believes in a superior race. I don’t even believe in “race.” There are no biological or spiritual foundations for race. However, it does have a basis in history, power, economy, and competition. That is what’s driving the “race card” – poor people, of all colors, cultures, tongues, and cultures, competing for the decreasing number of jobs and other means of survival. Race comes in to divide the people at the bottom. It may affect people all the way to the top, but even the most powerful realize that “race” is really not important. President Bush is no friend of labor or poor people. However, he makes sure he has a Secretary of State who’s Black and an Attorney General who’s Mexican. They just have to be his stooges.

Mexicans are dealt with racism because we are mostly of indigenous heritage (not for being “Spanish,” or so-called Hispanics, since they’re mostly white). This, by the way, makes us a part of this land as much as anyone. Our ancestors have been here for tens of thousands of years. But with the present social climate, now the brown-skinned indigenous people are the “strangers” and “foreigners.” Today there are two million Mayan people from Mexico and Central America living and working in the United States. There are Mixtecos, Zapotecos, Huicholes, Yaquis, Purepechas, and Raramuris among the so-called “illegals.” Many of them speak their own indigenous tongues, not even Spanish. They are related to our beloved “Native Americans” (beloved except when they dare to have casinos, stand up for themselves, or try to break out of their reservations). Even those Mexicans (and most Central Americans) who don’t know their tribal names, languages, or traditions are mostly indigenous.

Now this fact doesn’t make Mexicans better than any one else, nor of a separate race. What this says is they have immense ancestral, historical, cultural, and spiritual ties to these lands.

This is why we have to revisit, re-vision, and re-imagine all our immigration laws and policies. That’s what I’m calling for – not a knee-jerk reaction to build walls (at a cost of billions of tax payers’ dollars), to jail people, split up families, or to exclude them.

What’s racist about that?


How generous are you going to be with the United States of American when the freedom-hating Muslims start taking over? Then you'll understand how the Patiotic American Citizens (white, brown, black, etc...) feel NOW with the invasion and takeover by Mexico, NOT MEXICANS, BUT MEXICO!!!! There's a difference. If you can't understand the difference, you don't deserve to be in the United States of America!!

Muslims taking over? Mexico invading the US? What world are you in, my friend? Muslims are not a threat to the US. They make up a large, responsible, and totally valid faith system. You seem to be linking a whole people to the acts of a very few. That’s patriotic – to lose your mind! These are very important issues that will require some serious information, outreach, ideas, and resolutions. Hysteria just puts you outside the key debates.

Since I understand the difference between sane reactions and insane ones, I’ll stay in this country, thank you.

It’s interesting that these responses seem to peg me as an outsider. I’m born and raised in the United States. I am a renowned writer, organizer, business person, homeowner, family man, and law-abiding person. I also travel extensively and can see many of these issues from a long lens as well as a close one. This should not be at issue. However, I do have ideas that are not just falling in line. I do challenge myself and others to look deeper into the pressing concerns in all our lives. While I welcome any response, including the inane ones, I still challenge all of us to a higher level of dialogue, sharing, and solutions. Simple conclusions to complicated realities will not suffice. Look where it has already taken us.

Somebody mentioned another American revolution. Fine, let’s talk about the imaginative and real parameters of such a prospect, one that truly brings equitable, cooperative, and abundant change in this country, and the world. A real revolution – not just a fight.
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Back Home from Tokyo

My visit to Japan ended too soon. On the last night, I had a wonderful dinner with many of my new friends at the Bird Cafe, hosted by Nobuyuki Kamara, the cafe's owner and a great cook. I also met Ray Sandoval, a Chicano/Japanese guitarist orginally from Tucson, Arizona, who has been in Japan studying. He came with his girlfriend, Atika Shubert, a reporter for CNN. Ray's music has been sold in Japan, by Barrio Gold/Music Camp Entertainment, bringing a Chicano smoothness and Mexican soul close to his Japanese roots. I also want to thank Ray for taking the time to have coffee with me, and for the great conversation, the next morning.

There is, of course, so much more to see and enjoy in Tokyo. I barely scratched the surface. On the way to the Tokyo/Narita airport with Shin Miyata, I began to take in the vastness of this city as we crossed a massive bridge. I truly hope this is not my last visit here -- something I will have to work on in the near future.

My family came for me at LAX after a close to 10-hour flight. It was great to be back in LA, where I am at home, and to see my wife Trini, my daughter Andrea, my son Luis, and my granddaughter Catalina (my son Ruben was working that morning -- but we hung out later in the day).

Again, I came home to tons of work -- writing deadlines, hundreds of emails, a box of regular mail, and preparation for more trips. And the funding and outreach work I do for Tia Chucha's Cafe & Centro Cultural.

Still it's a good life -- for which I am truly grateful. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
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Ari Gato -- Thank You, Japan

I am getting close to ending my amazing trip to Japan -- two more days and I'm gone. And, as you can imagine, part of me is already feeling the sadness of departing.

I'm staying in an intense and lively neighborhood called Shinjuku. I've walked around this area and enjoyed some amazing Japanese restaurants. Besides my investigations into the Chicano-Japan connection (including Chicano music shows, LA-style car shows, and Cholo-style stores), I've met truly wonderful and lovely people.

Oki Kiyota, the editor of Subaru magazine, and Yoshi Koshikawa, head of the English Department at Meiji University, invited me to lunch and for an interview. Subaru is one of Japan's leading literary publications. Last year, they published a translation of my short story "Las Chicas Chuecas" from my short story collection, The Republic of East LA.

I was also interviewed by Kenichi Eguchi, a writer for Barfout! magazine (he also translated my story for Subaru). In addition, I was interviewed for Lowrider Magazine in Japan, including by Teruyuki Matsushima, Vice Editor in Chief -- my work, especially Always Running, is known among some literary as well as Chicano/Lowrider circles in this vastly interesting country.

Yesterday, I toured different sections of Tokyo with my Chicana friend (originally from Peru, she grew up Chicana in Oakland and spent a short time in Mexico City), Favianna Rodriguez. We traveled by subway during a Japanese holiday honoring labor (the trains weren't as crowded as normal). We also got a chance to visit a massive and ancient Buddhist Temple in Asakusa.

Shuzo Saito, an English Literature professor who specializes in Chicano writers, joined us later in the day. We visited Omote-sando where throngs of people filled the sidewalks for shopping and enjoying their day off. We also visited a crowded park and stadium. And we had a wonderful lunch at a fantastic restaurant specializing in fruit dishes.

I want to thank in particular Shin Miyata, proprietor of Barrio Gold/Music Camp Entertainment, and the main focus of my magazine piece. His work is vital and so valued -- connecting Chicano music to Japanese audiences. Through him, I was able to take part in the Quetzal/dGomez promotional tour, and to visit lowrider groups and a Chicano/Hip Hop retail shop called Nicety (run by Rikiya Kando) in Machida-shi in Tokyo and Wannabe's (owned by Masayuki Tachibana, managed by Kousake Sakata) in Chiba-shi in Chiba-ken. He also arranged a great radio interview on Power 046-FM in Yamato-shi in Kanawaga-ken that addressed issues of Chicano culture and consciousness, hosted by Masahiro "Cholo" Wada.

I also want to thank Shin's staff, including Emilio Sayrock Nishino, Miho Nagaya, and Miho Okamoto, for being so helpful and welcoming. All of them took me to a funky Mexican restaurant called, appropriately, Junkadelic. The food was great, however, and this coming from an expert on these matters. The guacamole and salsa were fresh and tasty.

Later, I merenqued and rhumbaed at the Cafe Latino for a short time in the mostly foreigner club hangout district known as Roppongi. The next day, we had more talks and I conducted more interviews for my piece. That evening we ate at a leading Japanese restaurant in Omote-sando.

I'm sorry if I missed thanking others whose names I can't remember and who also went out of their way to make my trip here as comfortable and as productive as possible. I thank you all, including "Masa," Masayuki of Wannabe's, who picked me up from the airport, and the rest of the Wannabe's crew -- ari gato.

Also Sound Base in Ichihara-shi in Chiba-ken, Tower Records/Shibuya, and the Bird Cafe in Shimokitazawa, Setagaya-ku in Tokyo for hosting Quetzal, Martha, David, Laura, and myself for a couple of nights of music and poetry readings (and the amazing contribution of Tex Nakamura to our sets).

The next couple of days I'll be spending finishing interviews and doing more research. I also hope to see more sights.
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