9/11 -- Five Years Later

After five years, what does the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennslyvania still signify to us in the United States? That's the question being asked all over the country in the next two days. I had an opportunity to discuss this very issue for a roundtable taping of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.

Although it was taped last Friday, a condensed version of this talk will air on Monday, September 11 on PBS stations nationwide. Please check your local listings and local PBS stations for air times.

I hope my feelings and thoughts were adequately conveyed and not edited too much, although I understand the constraints. It was a lively discussion and I value the chance to be part of any such dialogue. In this country, we need more of these talks -- not just with like-minded people (although this has its merits), but with those we don't agree with.

I'm convinced we in the United States have more in common as far as issues, ideas, and values than not. I'm also convinced that right now, we are extremely divided. Our leaders and policymakers aren't helping -- they are as polarized as never before. We are at war, yet a significant number of people here don't want to be in a war that in effect has made terrorism more cohesive and stronger (and killed tens of thousands of civilians and close to 3,000 of our own troops) without any positive results. We are seeing a widening gap between the most powerful & rich people of the land and the poorest & least empowered. We are rent not just by idealogies, but class (the fundamental division in our land), race, immigrant status, and more.

I hope you all can watch this show and somehow, somewhere, get more involved in the badly-needed dialogues we need to have as a country about terrorism, war, the economy, our visions, our present, and future. I will do what I can to take part in these, and to facilitate these, as much as I can.
Read more

The Momentum Continues...

To all my blogger friends: I want to report some relatively good developments in regards to Tia Chucha’s Café & Centro Cultural.

Soon after our five-year lease ended on September 1, Tia Chucha's rent doubled. Most any other community-based business would fold under such a hit – something that happens to small businesses every day.

Faced with this prospect, we considered moving the café/bookstore into the much smaller Centro workshop space next door, drastically curtailing our activities and business. We even got the news that the landlords wanted to bring in a high-tech Laundromat service. Of course, I’m thinking this community of mostly working class Latino families needs another Laundromat or 99 cent store or fast food outlet like a heart attack.

As I’ve often stated, there was no bookstores, movie houses, or cultural centers until Tia Chucha's opened its doors in late 2001. This is for an area in the Northeast San Fernando Valley of around 450,000 people (about the size of Oakland). Tia Chucha’s is a breath of fresh air; a need, not a business; a dream of community empowerment, not a profit-driven commercial enterprise.

Over the past five years, we spent tens of thousands of dollars to create this space and to keep it going. Most of this came from my family – with two mortgages and thousands in monthly subsidies.

However, we also received fantastic support from the community; they donated regularly at our request. We also got support for our music, art, writing, theater, film, sculpture workshops and author readings, theater shows, festivals, and musical events from the Liberty Hill Foundation, the LA City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Not Just Us Foundation, The Attias Family Foundation, the Center for Cultural Innovation, Toyota Sales, the Solidago Foundation, Youth Can Service, the Border Book Festival (Denise Chavez and John Randall), Councilman Alex Padilla, and even donations from well-known personalities like Bruce Springsteen, John Densmore of the Doors, Dave Marsh of Rock & Rap Confidential, among other individuals (thank you all).

And over the years, we had some of the best people possible staffing the bookstore, café, and workshop center (thanks to Joaquin, Alicia, Ray, Melissa, Vanessa, Silverio, Mike, Wendy, Yesenia, Carmen, Luz, Esperanza, Yuri, Nani, Marisol, Joe, and Nancy). Many volunteers kept our workshops going, including our board (Angelica Loa, Victor Mendoza, and yours truly) and resident artists like Cuauh Temach Totecayotl (Azteca dancers), Alejandro LaBorde, Juan Pueblo, Cesar Castro and the Son Jarocho workshop, Jovenes Nobles, Young Womyn’s Circle, Hazze Hip Hop Dream Center, Elusive Minds Films, Teatro Chusma, EARTH Theater Company, Tonantzin del Valle Women’s Natural Healing Circle, OmeAcatl and the Mexika/Nahuatl classes, Tres Chingazos Theater Collective, LA Commons, and many more.

Others like Enrique Sanchez, Freddy Chavez, Andres Bustamante, Dan Henrickson, Luis Ochoa, Juan Ochoa, Big Joe Hurt, Alfredo Hidalgo, and others (I can’t name them all, sorry) freely gave of their time and skills to help whenever we needed it.

And my wife Trini put her heart and soul in this space, managing the café/bookstore with lots of love and no pay.

We created this vital cultural space not to make gain for my family or any particular individual, but to fill this community with something beautiful, spiritual, visionary, and engaging. In five years, the community has embraced us, including helping us make a turn financially this year. The rent increase was potentially a terrible setback.

However, the good news is that after several talks with our landlords, we’ve reached an agreement that will keep Tia Chucha’s going – at least until we move into a newer permanent facility in the near future (more on this later).

While we will go ahead and pay the doubled rent, we'll give up the workshop center next door that we also rented (we'll continue many of our workshops at the cafe/bookstore). And the landlords have decided to donate $1,000 a month to our not-for-profit Centro.

I think after the landlords sat down at our space, and after talking heart-to-heart with Trini and myself, they got convinced of the immense value of trying to keep this place here. While they may still bring a Laundromat, they will try to help us stay here until we get a larger place. I have to thank them for opening up their hearts and doing what they can to help – I know the banks that hold their mortgages are putting pressure so they obtain a certain amount of rent per square foot. It’s just the realities of capitalist commerce (this cannot be dismissed out of hand when one is dealing in these situations).

In addition, we are now formally pursuing turning over Tia Chucha's Bookstore & Café (presently owned by a private Limited Liability Company) to the not-for-profit Centro, which has had its 501 (c)3 status for two years now.

And, with the help of the LA City Community Redevelopment Agency, we are in talks to create a new, much larger, space for Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center (with the bookstore and café as a legitimate means for the center to meet its non-profit arts/community mission, goals and objectives) in a new development in Pacoima – where Trini spent her formative years.

More on this later as we continue to negotiate our way through this (or any other possible development).

So while we’ve had many obstacles, and face many more to come, we've learned every defeat or possible defeat has renewal, power, and medicine in it -- the stories, the songs, the poetry, the dance, the performances, and voices can be our beacons to light our way. In the end, it’s authentic, self-energized, and whole communities that we want to see created and sustained as we struggle to make art/poetry/song/dance/theater central to our culture again (with good coffee and tamales on the side).

Tlazhokamati (thank you, in Nahuatl).
Read more

The Renewing Power of Words -- and of Men's Lives

I apologize to all my blogger friends for not writing something for more than two weeks. Although I’m busy all the time, I love communicating my thoughts and activities through my blog posts, knowing there is an appreciative and growing readership among you. Thank you all for being out there for me and my work.

My absence was largely due to my participation in two major conferences – The Macondo Writers Workshop in San Antonio from August 6 to August 13. And my annual job as a teacher at the Mosaic Foundation’s Men’s Conference at the Woodlands Camp in Mendocino, CA. from August 14 to August 20.

The Macondo Writers Worshop is a unique, remarkable, and giving community of writers, founded by my friend and fellow poet/story teller Sandra Cisneros. This year it was based at Our Lady of the Lake University, which helped with dorms and meetings rooms (bed & breakfast establishments, hotels, and other spaces were also utilized). This year, I was one of the workshop facilitators (I had eight writers for four days of workshops). I also was the featured reader at the Jump Start Theater’s annual Macondo event that featured a theme of “Suavecito” -- with a lowrider club (thanks to La Familia) and their “ranflas,” aerosol spray art, and lowrider bikes hanging from the ceiling.

A special performance from the resident Jump Start Theater group of my anti-war poems “Nightfall: Poems to Ponder in Times of Uncertainty and War” blew me away – I was practically in tears hearing back my words from the myriad voices involved in the performance. It was also an honor to be accompanied by Chicano actor Jesse Borrego, who read a poem by the late Trinidad Sanchez; Levi Romero of Albuquerque, New Mexico, reading his street/barrio/lowrider poems; and the powerful presence of Sandra Cisneros, reading an excerpt from her recent novel, Caramelo. It was a packed house that later expanded into a party (I danced a good part of the night away, assisted by the knowledge I can enjoy myself without the booze).

I hope to return to Macondo as a teacher, as a participant, or just to write as much as I can. The community is generous and filled with Sandra’s loving spirit and her vision of community engagement through the arts (I also thank Sandra for lending me her friend Reza, originally from Iran and a former Olympic wrestler, for a massage and vital advice on nutrition and exercise – I sure needed this).

I flew from San Antonio to Oakland on August 13, where I hooked up with my compadre Tony Prince – best friend and fellow revolutionary. He is a lawyer, working for a large public employee union. I’m also godfather to his two daughters (he’s godfather to my oldest son, Ramiro). Ramiro still calls him Nino Tony. As usual we talked about life, politics, spirit, writing, change, and almost all topics under the sun. As usual we practically resolved the world’s problems. Unfortunately, we end up going our separate ways, back to the realities in which our ideas and issues must find ground and meaning (or get crushed).

Tony drove me the almost four hours from Berkeley, where he lives, up the coast to Mendocino. For the first time, I found myself showing up early to this men’s gathering – only one other person was there. I have been doing these events for twelve years as a teacher, under the invitation of renowned mythologist and storyteller, Michael Meade, founder and visionary behind Mosaic. The organization is well known for intense soul-work and community building among the disaffected, abandoned, traumatized, and forgotten members of our society. This includes vital interactions with indigenous communities, barrio/ghetto youth, homeless youth, refugees (from Sudan and other countries), and prisoners.

The men’s conference is one of the few renewing touchstones in my life – despite the struggles, teachings, heartaches, rages, and sorrows involved. Last year, we lost two of our participants when their car fell into the Navarro River on their way to the conference (Elegba “Legs” Earl and Joe Ranft: may they rest in peace). There was much work to be done to cleanse and coalesce from this tragedy.

This year’s conference was called “Seeking Spirit, Making Soul: The Road of Wounds and Gifts.” The main five teachers in these events were together at once for this one – something we had not done in years. Besides myself, the teachers were Michael Meade, Orland Bishop (community healer and spiritual practitioner), Malidome Some (an initiated West African elder/shaman), and Jack Kornfield (one of the leading American Buddhists, founder of Spirit Rock in the Bay Area). I must say this was a privilege for all of us – working together to deepen the conversations about men’s rage as well as race, class, war, gender conficts, and more.

So much of this week’s efforts involved healing and regeneration. Despite some uncertain, heated, and fractured moments, this year’s group of men (around 100 took part) were wonderfully able to cohere and hold the space, including for three young men who had lost a friend through gang violence a couple of weeks ago; another young man who held his friend as he died from gunshot wounds; and a father whose three-year-old daughter had unexpectedly died in his arms after an illness. Other trauma and life-long pain entered this space, one of a few nationally that adequately and deeply attempts to get to the heart of the matter surrounding these issues. In the end, we left with much song, story, dance, and poetry (I do poetry workshops at these events every year). And we also left with a fierce fellowship of men, filled with substance, myths, ideas, art, ritual, and healing paths.

The event also served to highlight the publication of Michael Meade’s book The Water of Life: Initiation and the Tempering of the Soul, published by GreenFire Press, an imprint of the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation. Please order this through the Mosaic website (www.mosaicvoices.org).

I came back home -- back to family, Tia Chucha’s, my writing, and tons of other work (including 1,000 emails) -- ready to engage, fully energized and awakened to the crucially necessary work we must do in community for deep social/spiritual/cultural/personal transformations.
Read more

The Language that Saves Us

In San Fernando de Apure, a fairly large city in the rural state of Apure in the middle of Venezuela, around 100 people showed up to a uniquely powerful poetry reading sponsored by CENAL (Centro Nacional del Libro—National Center of the Book), a project of the Revolutionary Bolivarian Venezuelan government.

Local poets read, including a cowboy-hat wearing, white dressed 11-year-old girl with dimples (she did a wonderful performance, or “declamación,” of a patriotic poem with guitar accompaniment). Another poet was an 80-year-old man who read his own fantastically-executed work. In addition, two invited poets of the Third World Poetry Festival of Venezuela also took part: Puerto Rico’s Carman Valle and myself, your humble servant.

This was part of a national tour of 28 poets who came from diverse countries in Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Oceana, the Caribbean, North America, and South America to participate in the festival. Twenty two of Venezuela’s 24 states were included in this “invasion” of poets. I also read in the “llanero” (open plains area of mostly agricultural farming and ranching) state of Guárico. In the state capital of San Juan de Los Morros, Libyan poet Idris Tayeb, who had once been imprisoned for 10 years because of his writings, joined with me. A fantastic Venezuelan poet, Antonio Trujillo, also took part. In addition, we heard from local poets, which is a great thing to do so that the community is vested and connected to the international poetry community.

Although we were late in starting due to technical difficulties (all non-Spanish poems had been translated and were being projected on a screen at the same time a poet read in his or her native language), red-T-shirted youth from the local Cultural Mission stood on each side of us and applauded as Idris, Antonio, and I walked up to the open-air lecture stage. Some people were there since 4:30 PM, although we didn’t start until 7:30 PM (it was supposed to start at 6 PM). The majority in the audience stayed all the way until about 10:30 PM when the whole program finished. Their fortitude and love of language was astounding. I couldn’t believe any people would have the patience to stay this long for poetry (we can learn much about this in the United States).

My festival guide, Robinson Velasco, 26, continued to be a most helpful and trusting companion to have on these trips. We took several buses, first three hours, then four hours, and then a particularly brutal 8-hour ride from San Fernando de Apure to Caracas (with a half-working air conditioner, no restrooms, and tons of babies). We stayed in small cockroach-infested hotel rooms (without hot water in one case) in mosquito-laden territory. But we also met wonderful people, local residents, who showed us around their town, fed us the most wonderful foods (including local versions of “arepas” and “chanapas”), and never failed to have a smile and a kind word.

Back in Caracas (and to our Hilton hotel suites, free meals, and pool), other presentations followed, including an amazing closing event at the Teatro Teresa Carreño featuring North Americans poets from the US and Mexico (including Jack Hirschman, Allison Hedge Cooke, Sam Hamill, Jorge Cocom Pech, Maria Baranda, and, again, yours truly).

We also all took part in media interviews, mostly in the hotel’s lobby, but sometimes outside in the streets of Caracas with food and artisan vendors in the background. We appeared in the pages of newspapers, on the radio, and on national and local TV broadcasts.

Again, in the closing event, some 2,000 people showed up (all the readings were free). Books were sold, including classics books from around the world and Venezuela, and contemporary works of poets in the country and other parts of the world. The revolutionary work of the new Bolivariano government (led by Hugo Chavez Frias) includes the expansion of books, literacy, ideas, and creativity.

I saw many wonderful construction projects, including roads, health care facilities, computer centers, schools, and housing, much of it fueled by oil (Venezuela is one of the world’s largest oil producers). The country’s oil reserves had been used for years by a small elite class of rich people; now it’s being used to feed, clothe, house, and change the culture of the poor in the country. However, for me, one of the most impressive labors of any revolutionary society is that of drawing on the creativity, gifts, talents, passions, energies, and ideas of the people themselves to rebuild, renew, and reinvigorate the whole country.

Poetry then is a revolutionary tool, an armament of positive and healing change, as a language that will help pull the people up from the despairing and debilitating consequences of capitalist-driven poverty, fear, hunger, and ignorance. As one Venezuelan poet said, poetry is not just of those who write it. It belongs to the people. It belongs to the revolution. It belongs to the future.
Read more

The World Poetry Festival in Caracas, Venezuela

I'm most honored to be an invited poet to the 3rd World Poetry Festival in Caracas, Venezuela from July 17 to July 23, 2006. I arrived at Caracas Airport on Saturday, July 15 without a hitch. This was in contrast to my visit to Caracas this past January when I took part in the World Social Forum. Then there were problems with a downed bridge, late pickups, hours to get to the capital, confused schedules, and on my way out, spending a restless night in the airport trying to sleep in a plastic lawn chair until the next day when my flight was slated to leave.

This time, I was warmly greeted by members of the poetry festival's staff, including my own personal guide, a knowledgeable and friendly young man named Robinson Velasco. A new road had already been constructed that brought us into the capital of some 8 million people in almost no time. I met other poetry staff and volunteers, was given a nice room in the Hilton in the center of the city, and provided with breakfast, lunch, and dinner at no cost.

The magnitutude of this event dawned on me when I was told that there are less than a handful of world poetry festivals anywhere. Medellin, Colombia has perhaps one of the world´s largest (and, apparently, the largest in the Americas). The Caracas festival has grown in three years with more poets, more audiences, more financial and logistical support. The 28 invited poets came from Asia, Africa, South America, North America, the Caribbean, the Mideast, Europe, and Australia.

They included Hu Lanlan of China, Carman Valle of Puerto Rico, Tendo Taijin of Japan, Ali Al-Shalah of Iraq, Jorge Cocom Pech of Mexico, Nicole Cage-Florentini of Martinique, Tobias Burghardt of Germany, Francois Miguot of France, and Mike Ladd of Australia. Many were also from Venezuela including Miguel Marquez and Laura Antillano.

Four Americans were invited: Sam Hamill (founder of Copper Canyon Press and the amazing Poets Against the War), Allison Hedge Coke (well-known Native American poet), Jack Hirschman (the Poet Laureate of San Francisco and one of the most revolutionary voices in US letters), and yours truly. What a privilege to be linked to all these great poets!

On Monday, July 17, we were welcomed by the Venezuelan Minister of Culture, Francisco Sesto Novas, at a reception at the national library. We were also treated to a tour of the rare books section of the library, the pride of this relatively poor Latin American country that has now seen a great rise in literacy among the people. The government has recently published 500,000 copies of "Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo to go with the millions of other classics that are given free to the public. Their publishing imprint, El Perro y La Rana (The Dog and the Frog) is named after an indigenous symbol, connecting to the strong indigenous, African, and Spanish roots of the people. This is part of the Hugo Chavez government´s effort to expand the revolutionary process into all areas of the country (the way it has brought health care, new housing, schools, and computer centers free and accessible to millions of previously neglected populations).

Later that evening, after intense preparations and rehearsal (something many of us poets were not used to, being simple people of paper, pen, and voice), some 2000 people showed up to our gala inaugural event at the Teresa Carreño Theater. 2,000 people! I'm rarely amazed as a poet if I can get me a couple of hundred in the United States (one time I read to six people, four of whom were my family).

The response was tremendous. People sat through two hours of readings, with translations into Spanish of many of the poems projected onto the back wall of the theater. When it was over, hardly anyone had left (the audience included elderly and school children). The applause was enthusiastic, spontaneous, and gracious.

The next day, I did a reading at the Central University of Caracas with Anwar Al-Ghasanni of Iraq (who because of many years of exile was also fluent in Spanish, English, and who knows what other language) and several Venezuelan poets, including my friend Diego Sequera. Again, the response was heartfelt among the 100 or so people who showed up to listen. Press interviews followed at the university and later at the Hilton Hotel. More readings were also scheduled throughout the day.

Tomorrow, I'm scheduled to go to the state of Guarico, about a five-hour drive from Caracas, to read to largly agricultural communities. Other poets will be visiting other states throughout Venezuela so that most people in the country get access to the amazing words, images, ideas, passions, and presence of some of the world´s leading revolutionary poets. Hasta luego!
Read more

Celebrating Words: Written, Performed & Sung

This past June 24, Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural organized the first "Celebrating Words: Written, Performed & Sung" festival in the culturally-neglected neighborhood of Sylmar in the city of Los Angeles. With support from the Youth Policy Institute and LA City Councilman Alex Padilla's Office (and funded by the city's Department of Cultural Affairs), we were able to get a few hundred people to enjoy the poets, spoken word performers, musicians, and bands that played on the stage -- and to see and buy art works, jewelry, T-shirts, books, and tamales from our vendors.

Our sister organization, Tia Chucha's Cafe & Bookstore, had three tables of books, in English and Spanish, to make sure the community had access to literature, words, poetry, and stories to complement the wonderful voices and sounds on stage that included the bands Quetzal, Upground, and Noxdiel. We also had music from Alfredo Hidalgo and Big Joe Hurt, conscious Hip Hop from El Vuh and the Hazze Hip Hop Dream Center, and poetry from D-Lo, Tia Chucha Press author ariel robello, Poets of the Roundtable (Mike the Poet and the Bus Stop Prophet), Tezozomoc, and yours truly.

The whole event was blessed by Tia Chucha's very own Aztec Dance group, Cuauh Temach Totecayotl.

Held in Sylmar Park, I heard comments from a couple of local residents who said they'd live in the area for many years, and never saw such a wonderful celebration at the park. We want to make this an annual event. Already we've received Department of Cultural Affairs' funding for next year.

We are also glad to announce our free Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural's Summer Music Program, partially funded by the Attias Family Foundation and sponsored by the Department of Cultural Affairs Music LA program. This year we will offer workshops in Conga, Piano, Harmonica, DJ/Mixing, Son Jarocho, Folk Guitar, Classical Guitar, Contemporary Guitar, Indigenous Drumming, West African Drumming, and more.

For more information, call (818) 754-2402, write to centroemail@aol.com, or go to www.myspace.com/tiachuchascentro.

Support the arts!
Read more

"Express Yourself"

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band was for me one of the original, funkified, soul-deep bands of the 1960s and 1970s. I loved the urban African American music that hit the airwaves during that time. Earth, Wind & Fire led the pack for me, but they included War, Bloodstone, Maze, Sly & the Family Stone, the Whispers, Parliament, and Charles Wright. The Chicano Funk/Urban sounds emanating from LA, Texas, and the Bay Area around that time mixed right in there, including bands like El Chicano, Malo, Thee Midniters, Sunny & the Sunliners, Azteca, and Tower of Power.

Fortunately, I’ve become friends with Mr. Wright some 30 years after “Do Your Thing,” “Express Yourself,” and “Love Land” brought him international success. He came late last year to Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural at the invitation of our mutual friend, David Sandoval (one of the original producers of Los Lobos). He was there during our last Anniversary event this past February.

On Saturday, June 17, 2006 I was honored to host Charles Wright’s new CD release party at Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural with an amazing band that included original members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band as well as players for Earth, Wind & Fire and other musicians. In the audience were personalities like Charles McCormick of Bloodstone (“Natural High”) and a member of Sly, Slick & Wicked.

The new CD is called “Finally got it Wright” (Million Dollars Worth of Memories Records), now available at record shops and on the Internet (www.expressyourself.net).

Being there at this listening party and hosting this event was a dream come true for this once violent street kid. Music was one of the few sweet aspects of my crazy life then, particularly that era’s R&B. And Charles Wright and the band performed like there was no tomorrow. Playing some of his hits and cuts from previous albums, he also sang a few of the new ones. By the end, when he brought in the bass notes of “Express Yourself,” everybody in the house was on their feet, dancing, swaying, and singing along.

It’s important to note that this was one of the most authentic and original music this country ever produced. It was a time when people talked about important things like love, but also about the state of the world. There was consciousness and action in the streets and in the songs. While many of our youth today do not know much of this history, they hear the sounds in the various sampled records and current movie soundtracks. It’s still part of their world, although I don’t think we’re doing much to preserve the music or the musicians. I want to do my part to do both.

I want to thank Charles Wright, his band, and all those who attended this fantastic CD release party – for making this such a magical night.

Also please be on the lookout for another classic soul/rock/funk night when Chicano radio personality and music impresario Frankie Firme holds a CD release party of the new Ramparts Records release (featuring some of the West Coast, Eastside Sound they’re famous for) at Tia Chucha’s on July 8 from 5 PM until 10 PM. There will be live performances by Pepe Marquez and Anthony Prieto. Called “The Soul of Aztlan Show,” we’ll also feature a documentary by Ramparts owner Hector Gonzales and film maker Jim Velarde on the Ramparts Records phenomena (we’re also going to give yours truly a musical send off as I get ready to attend the World Poetry Festival in Caracas, Venezuela from July 15 until July 24).
Read more

Completing Circles of Life

Jose Montoya is a pioneering Chicano poet whose legacy surpasses the Sacramento community where he lives and where he's much beloved. He's been honored in Mexico, Europe, and throughout the United States for his writings and his art. His poetry collection, "In Formation" (Chusma Press) is a classic. The father of Richard Montoya of the reknowned Chicano comedy group, Culture Clash, Jose has also planted seeds of consciousness, indigenous knowledge, literature, and community for future generations.

I first met Jose Montoya when I was 18 years old. I was just out of jail, using heroin, and sporting long Indian-style hair. I was inbetween two worlds -- the street life of my barrio, a street life I had known since age 7, and the movimiento, the Chicano movement for dignity, rights, land, and justice.

I probably could have gone either way at that time. One of the events that pulled me further into the movement, and a lifetime of revolutionary study, work, and writing, was connecting with Jose Montoya.

I was in Berkeley, CA (the first time I ever flew in a plane -- quite harrowing, despite have been shot at, having ODed, and jailed) after winning honorable mention in the Quinto Sol Chicano Literary Prize. The winners were Rolando Hinojosa Smith, another veteran Chicano expositer, and the late Estella Portillo Tramblay, a master storyteller.

I attended a poetry reading that featured Jose along with the Puerto Rican master poet Pedro Pietri and the African American word shaman David Henderson. It was the first poetry reading I had ever attended. I sat in the audience totally enthralled. I felt the energy, the spirit source of words and wounds, and I was changed forever. I didn't know then that my life would follow this thread. But somehow these voices and verses pulled me into my present life's passions and purposes (I now read all over the country, Latin America, and Europe).

That was 1973. I saw Jose again in the early 1980s when he read as part of the LA Latino Writers Association's reading series at Self-Help Graphics in East LA (I was director of the LALWA for a short time). Then about three years ago, Jose read at Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural -- the bookstore, cafe, art gallery, performance space I helped create in the San Fernando Valley in December 2001.

Then as life tends to do in the process of completing circles, on May 19 at the Sutter Cancer Center in Sacramento, organized by my friend, the poetry healing doctor, Chip Spann, I read with Jose Montoya in a special evening that brought a standing room only crowd.

To say the least, it was magical. Jose's voice still resonates with years of barrio stories and images and truths. We had a kind of sparring -- Jose reading a couple of poems and I followed in a round robin of back-and-forth, give-and-take exchanges. We didn't rehearse, but it seemed as if we had been doing this for years. And perhaps in our spirits we have been. The elder and mentor, the teacher and student.

Gracias, Jose, tlazhokamati for being there in my life when I most needed this sage light to guide me. And thanks to Chip Spann and his crew who made this last event happen.
Read more

Recent Attacks part of Systemic Plans to Divide and Divert

Today at 5 AM, sheriff's squad cars, helicopters, and bulldozers broke into the South Central Farm (on 41st and Alameda) to evict 350 families who have made a 14-acre garden oasis in an area of urban blight for more than 14 years. The showdown came weeks after the farmers and their supporters tried to get the city to work out a deal so they could stay. A wealthy developer fought in court to get the land back from the city so he could build warehouses in an area already inundated with warehouses.

Academia Semillas del Pueblo, a charter school for kindergarten to eight grade students, in the Eastside community of El Sereno continues to be targeted for closing by Dough McIntyre and other right-wing talk show hosts on Disney-owned KABC-AM 790 radio. The school's sole "crime" -- to be run by Chicanos/Mexicanos/Central Americans (and others) with indigenous concepts, and things like Tai Chi in the morning, and language courses in Spanish, Nahuatl (an indigenous tongue of Mexico and Central America), and Mandarin. McIntyre and his crew are saying the school is run by "terrorists," "self-segregationists," and "racists" because they don't abide by a European-based curriculum. Although the school is meeting charter-school standards and has rising test scores (in a community with some of the lowest test scores in the city), this is not good enough for the real racists at KABC-AM 790 radio. Last week, the school received bomb threats, forcing students to go home.

Attacks against Mexicans have been going on for decades. But the recent removals and targeting against institutions is to destroy anything that provides Mexicans self-sufficiency and independence. The recent anti-immigrant moves by groups like the Minutemen and Save our State (you may as well include the Congress and President Bush) are aimed against the so-called "mexicanization" of the culture. Although undocumented immigrants are made up of people from all over the world, the single largest group comes from Mexico.

This is an unfounded fear. Yet, hysterical calls for English as a national language, billion-dollar walls and National Guard troops on the border, and criminalizing undocumented people who live and work here (and those who support them) shows how desperate a people can be when they perceive a danger.

Terrorism seems to have driven some people mad. Yes, there are terrorists in this world. Yes, 9/11 has changed most everything about how we do things. But Mexicans and other immigrants are not terrorists. Apparently, most terrorists are coming through Canada. The people coming through Mexico are mostly trying to survive.

But just like the US lashed out against countries that had nothing to do with 9/11, including Afghanistan and Iraq, certain groups are lashing out at any people of color, in particular the large number of indigenous Mexicans and Central Americans forced to come here.

They are trivializing the true horror of what happened on 9/11. They are extending terrorism to almost anybody who has an issue or beef with this country. To even loudly proclaim any errors on the part of the government or President Bush has warranted an outrageous response from right-wingers and conservatives (look at how crazy some of them went against the Dixie Chicks, one of whom expressed her righteous opinion against President Bush).

We need dissent. We need critical voices. We need people to challenge the goose-stepping, racist-based, movement of people like the Minutemen and others.

The biggest thing to point out is how divisive this country has become (which is what some of these right-wingers live for) and how much diversion they have stirred up away from the real issues facing all Americans (citizen and undocumented alike, including "red state" conservatives): a polarized economy (falling for most people), increased fuel prices, astronomical housing costs in major markets, global warming, and a war that is a waste of humanity and resources.

Attacking urban farmers and charter schools who are law-abiding and within their rights to exist is a waste of energy, funds, and ideas. But that's where the dividers and diverters like to go.

The real issues facing this country, and the world, are pushed aside.

The problem is most of us won't forget. Our job is to keep bringing these issues back home. Poor whites (even in the Minutemen), poor African Americans, poor Native Americans, and poor immigrants (regardless of status) are in the same boat -- what unites us is greater than what divides us.

It's time we fought for the cohesion and coherency we need to truly safeguard our rights, our lives, and our livelihoods.
Read more

KABC-AM Radio Attacks Eastside Charter School

From Xispas Magazine, June 5, 2006 (www.xispas.com).

Academia Semillas del Pueblo is an LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) sanctioned charter school in the Eastside community of El Sereno with students from kindergarten through the eighth grade.

"[Academia Semillas del Pueblo is] dedicated to providing urban children of immigrant native families an excellent education founded upon their own language, cultural values, and global realities," their official website says (www.dignidad.org).

Besides meeting all requirements for students in LAUSD schools, ASDP provides an ancestral Mexican (indigenous) school environment, based on the Mexika/Aztec concept of kalpulli, which caters to the mostly Mexican/Central American community in El Sereno. Besides English, they also have language classes in Nahuatl (native Mexican), Spanish, and Mandarin. While the majority of the students are Mexican/Central American, the Academia is open to all children of any race, culture, or creed.

Recently, KABC-AM 790 talk radio, which the right-wing has used for years to spout their ugly divisive politics, has targeted ASDP for closure because "they do not instill 'American' values." In particular, Doug McIntyre, a morning talk show host, claims the school is part of the "multiculturalism" push in this country, which has become a particular focus of attack by some US conservative fringe organizations.

Last week, their rabid attacks against ASDP led to bomb threats against the school and its children (even forcing students to go home).

KABC-AM, which is apparently owned by Disney, is a disgrace to academic freedom and the celebration of a rich, cultural reality in Los Angeles and throughout the country. They argue for the homogenization of everyone in this country into what they deem is "white" American society. In essence, they are saying everyone should believe like them, act like them, talk like them.

This is fascism, pure and simple -- people walking in goose steps (literarily or figuratively, it's the same concept). It's also racist (in fact, McIntyre once stated on his radio show that it was good that Whites attacked and killed Native peoples for their land).

What makes this society truly valuable is the diversity of cultures, religions, tongues, and peoples who have come here (some out of necessity). This country was not just built by Europeans. Mexicans, in particular, have been working and fighting for this country for more than 150 years. They've helped build the railroads, pick our fruits & vegetables, and labor at all levels of industry. They've fought in all major wars in the 20th century, garnering more medals of honor than any other ethnic group during World War II. Although Latinos (including Mexicans) are said to be 10 percent of the US armed forces, they reportedly make up upwards of 30 percent of soldiers, marines, and National Guard units in Afghanistan and Iraq (including many undocumented people).

KABC is trying to close Academia del Pueblo not on any legal basis or for incompetence or any issues of malfeasance. The sole focus of their hatred is that the school is run by Xicanos, for Xicanos, and dedicated to Xicano/Mexicano culture and traditions.

What McIntyre and some of the other KABC anchors fail to realize is that Xicanos, Mexicanos, and Central Americans, particularly the indigenous Aztec/Mayan and other tribal roots that these people come from, are part of "America." They are as native as any Native American in this country. They were here for tens of thousands of years before any Europeans arrived. American English itself has many Nahuatl (Aztec) words, including avocado, jaguar, chocolate, maize, tomato, and more. While we at Xispas are not against European culture or people in this country, we are against any imposition of European (Anglo or otherwise) culture to people who are not European (that's colonialization).

While we agree this country should have a unifying language such as English, we also should be fluent in Spanish and/or tribal tongues (or any other of the more than 350 languages spoken in the United States) if we so desire.

In the United States, we can agree on uniting around essential aspects for all people regardless of their origins or traditions, including following the law (when they are just and based on our healthy development, not control), support for the well-being of all children, English as a common tongue, and the freedoms all of us (not just Europeans) have fought for. We should not demand we become homogenized into one mono-culture (in the US there's no such thing anyway).

American culture has the sighs of Jewish mothers, the scraping brooms of Italian street cleaners, the sweat of Algonquin construction workers, the callused hands of Mexican farmworkers, and the immense fortitude of African Americans through slavery and beyond. The Irish, the German, the French, the Japanese, the Filipino, and the British all belong here. So do the Lakota, the Navajo, the Pueblo, the Cheyenne, the Tohono O'oldham -- and now the millions of Zapotecas, Mixtecos, Mayans, Yaquis, Tarahumaras, Huicholes, Purepechas, Pipiles, and other indigenous groups from Mexico and Central America.

We need to stop KABC-AM's racist campaign to remove the variety of human lives and expression in this country. We ask all activists, leaders, speakers, teachers, youth, and elders to contact the radio station and demand they cease any more attacks against Academia Semillas del Pueblo and other non-European community-based institutions.
Read more