We Can Do Both: Welcome Immigrants and Be Safe

When I arrived—a couple of hours late mind you—to the Greensboro, North Carolina airport last April 8, around 45 children, teenagers, parents, and community leaders greeted me with signs, specially-made T-shirts, and song.

Other people in the waiting lounge looked interested, and perhaps as surprised as I did, to have such a welcome.

I was completely overwhelmed and honored. They were a group organized by Centro de Accion Latino in Greensboro, who had been awaiting my arrival for talks I was doing in the library, the community, some schools, and county jail. It was one of the few returns I’ve made to North Carolina since I spent ten weeks in early 2000 traveling from one end of the state to the other–from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Outer Banks.

North Carolina, like many US Southern states, has had a tremendous rise in the Latino population this past decade—I read somewhere around 600 percent. These people include many migrants from Mexico, but also from Colombia, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and other Latin American countries. Many are working in the lowest paid, most dangerous work available, including turkey and chicken farms, tobacco fields, service industries, factories, and textiles.

As in most states, tensions between these Spanish-speaking workers and English-speaking Americans, specifically African Americans but also Whites, became the catalyst behind my momentous residence: In two rental cars, I drove my way around this amazingly beautiful country to speak, read, and conduct workshops in some 21 events a week in universities, colleges, public and private schools, prisons, juvenile detention centers, migrant camps, churches, cafes, bookstores, and other venues.

Organized by North Carolina Word Wide (sponsored mostly by the state’s arts council), I spoke to Black, White, Asian, Native American (I now have good friends on the Cherokee rez), and Latino audiences, in English and Spanish.

It turned out to be one of the most healing efforts I’ve ever embarked on.

This April one of my talks/readings was in Greensboro’s Carolina Theater (one of those old ornate turn-of-the-century structures) to around 500 people. That particular visit capped a quick tour of the East Coast with visits to Amherst, MA and Syracuse, NY—both fantastic cities that treated me well and had me addressing many large and important audiences.

There is a growing interest in Chicano/Latino literature, but also in the rapid and extensive growth in the Latino population wherever I go. Here’s what I’ve found—and this after more than 25 years traveling and speaking around the country, Canada, Mexico, Central America, Puerto Rico, and Europe: Most people I’ve met are open, welcoming, and genuinely concerned about why Latinos are here and how we can best incorporate them in this country. I’m also aware that many are scared about our future, about security, about the sense that our resources are being spread too thin.

However, I’m convinced there are imaginative, encompassing, and significant ways to have a country free of terrorism AND a fair, equitable, and humane immigration policy.

The fact that millions mobilized around the country on May 1 for immigrant rights (and they were not only undocumented and documented immigrants, but many American citizens as well) is forcing us to re-examine this issue and find ways to resolve it in the interests of both Americans and non-citizens. This may seem impossible, or at least unlikely, but it’s timely and necessary.

We cannot continue to insist on policies and projects that isolate Americans from the rest of the world—this is the most indefensible position to have.

The vast majority of new immigrants without documents in the United States—reportedly close to 12 million people—are pro-America, willing to work hard, pay taxes, and even go to war (I don’t think they should, but that’s where they’re at).

Minutemen and other anti-undocumented people are cutting their own throats by trying to drive away a mostly peaceful, flag-waving, honest, hard-working people from our shores.

Fortunately, for the moment, their efforts are ineffective. The fact is we need these workers and they need us. It’s time to make this work for all of us; it's time for real imaginative work to make sure we can be safe and have a decent and dignified position around immigration.
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Unfounded Fears Drive Anti-Immigrant Movement

The number of anti-immigrant organizations have exponentially grown in the past few weeks--beyond the myopic racism of the Minutemen (regardless of how many Black and Latinos they manage to recruit) into an alphabet soup of organizations, many of which don't even get along. Some groups are building their own walls on the US-Mexico border, many are rallying in various cities (around 200 average, often smaller), others are waging recall campaigns of candidate they feel are pro-immigrant rights (recently several city officials were kicked out of office by anti-immigrant candidates in a small town in Florida).

However, they are organizing in the midst of the greatest mobilization of people in the history of the United States--for example, on May 1 millions marched, rallied, got off work and school in support of amnesty for undocumented immigrants and fair and equitable immigration and border policies.

These millions also include many citizens and legal residents; the weight of their efforts is on the side of human rights for all people, including undocumented immigrants.

Not so the anti-immigrants. They want whatever pie the US economy consists of to be just for them (although, they'll find that they're being pushed out of the economy just the same, and not because of immigrants).

Yet, it's very likely the Senate will more or less heed the smaller number of Americans who want greater border enforcement and removing undocumented immigrants from US society. Although, I'm sure some Senators will pull away from the total absurdity of the House Sensebrenner Bill that got passed earlier this year (the bill included a 700-foot border wall to the tune of billions of dollar; the criminalization of undocumented immigrants and anybody who helps them; and other inane proposals).

Yet what most pro-immigrant rights groups have been fighting for will probably not see the light of day.

Guest worker programs, different tiers of amnesty approval, and other suggested policies are not good enough. They maintain a second-class population, to be exploited below the exploitation most American workers have to endure.

Our basic premise: If we lift the repression and remove the exploitative nature of being undocumented in this country, it will help all workers, whether they are citizens or not.

But the anti-immigrant groups are poised on fear. One woman called the large number of Mexicans in this country a "genocide" (presumably of white citizens). A recent editorial in the LA Daily News (and echoed on TV shows, including Lou Dobbs on CNN) continues to decry the Mexican flags at rallies (although this is mostly sparse, with millions more US flags in evidence), the spectre of Mecha as a pro-Aztlan takeover organization (Mecha is none of that; besides this movement, which most Mechas support, is much larger than Mecha), and the Spanish-version of the Star Spangled Banner (although there are now reports that George W. Bush sang the National Anthem in Spanish while campaigning in Texas; also, there is evidence the US government commissioned a Spanish version of the National Anthem in 1916).

The hyperbole is insane. What are they afraid of? It's clear Mexicans and other immigrants want to be part of the United States, are willing to work, pay taxes, and even fight in their wars (many have already been killed--I understand there are thousands of undocumented soldiers presently fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan).

I don't personally agree we should buy into everything this country is about. But the fact is most Mexicans and other immigrants are very loyal, law abiding, and Christian (although there are many non-Christians among them).

These anti-immigrant people are undermining one of the most solid pro-American sectors in this country. Again, I'm for the end of all borders, for the end of nations to determine our future and destinies, and for the equitable and just distribution of our vast resources to benefit everyone. But, hey, that's just me.

The anti-immigrant groups, driven by unfounded fears and paranoias, are cutting their own throats--similar to what the Confederates did when they seceded in the 1800s and the segregationists did when they opposed Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.

The world is changing. This country is becoming more like the world. This is not bad; it can be very good. But don't blame this just on immigrants--the corporations went global a long time ago. They have long participated in shifting the borders and our formally "sacred" delineations of country and culture.

However, while the corporations do this to enrich themselves, immigrants are here to make real whatever American Dream still exists. Most whites I've talked to support this. It's just a few old-guard whites (and, again, some Blacks and Latinos) who just can't adapt until they're forced to.

With the current pro-immigrant movement issues of race and class are coming to the fore. We don't need to divide around our shallow racial/social positions. We can find the essential goals we all need to unite around--and begin to create a country worthy of all of us, not just the few.
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Expand the rights of Immigrants to include all People

I was privileged enough to take part in the May 1 massive mobilization for immigrant rights that involved 150 cities and millions of people in the US (as well as Mexico and Central America). Our bookstore/cafe, Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural, closed for the day in solidarity with the Great American Boycott. I took part with my wife Trini, my daughter Andrea, my son Luis, and my grand-daughter Cati who joined Tia Chucha's other partner, Enrique Sanchez, and three Tia Chucha employees/volunteers.

We marched with around 1.5 million people in Los Angeles (officially, it's been declared 600,000 people in two marches). I felt the spirit of unity, of peace, of the righteous demand that all human beings should to be free of hunger, exploitation, oppression, and fear. This is the cause underlying this movement, the banner of which is: Full and complete amnesty for 12 million undocumented workers, and the establishment of fair and equitable immigration and border policies.

In the march and rally I took part in, there were no fights. No rancor. No anger. People felt strong and united. While most were Mexicans, there were many from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Cambodia, the Philippines, Korea, and other countries (I saw one man with a sign that said: "Polish Immigrants Support Amnesty"). Most people wore white and waved American flags.

The world is here. The world is at issue. What we do as a country will make sure we are a beacon for smart, progressive, and encompassing change--or home to some of the most backward, mean-spirited and idiotic ideas (including building walls on the border and criminalizing undocumented people and those who help them).

I'm not sure the Senate will do the right thing when they meet again to debate this issue in two weeks. But I hope the message makes an impact. As activists and leaders, we know we have to do more.

I was pleased with the participation of African Americans in the march, particularly the leaders who spoke and helped with security. We need more whites, Asian, Native peoples, and others involved. We need to expand this struggle to include all people. We still have a war to deal with. We continue to have growing joblessness, homelessness, prisons, lack of health care, eroding environment, and rotten schools. Immigrant rights is part and parcel of all these concerns.

The battle to push forward the rights and economic realities of millions of undocumented and documented immigrants should be seen as a foundation to address why workers of all races, tongues, and creeds continue to lose ground economically, politically, and socially.

Capitalism can only ensure the profits of a few wealthy will grow at the expense of everyone else (while everything else goes up and down, mostly down, profits have steadily soared to astronomical proportions). Gas prices are beyond $3 a gallon now--while Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, and other major oil companies post the biggest profits in their history.

All this affects immigrants as it does citizens. At some point, beyond all the racist, anti-immigrant stands and hate mail, we can find the common thread that ties us all in the same battle, the same struggle, with the same conclusion: the creation of an imaginative, healing, cooperative, and truly secure social system to replace the present decaying, profit-based, material-oriented capitalist system.
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May 1 – Boycott and Demonstrate for Immigrant Rights

This Monday, May 1, pro-immigrant rights leaders and organizations are asking undocumented and documented residents (and others in solidarity) to boycott their jobs, shops, employers, and schools. “The Great American Boycott” is part of a long and rich tradition of civil disobedience in our continual struggle to improve the lives and rights of all people living on this land.

There have also been demonstrations, vigils, and marches planned that day throughout the country for the same issues: full and complete amnesty for some 12 million undocumented people, and a fair and fast immigration policy for those still needing to come here.

Already some well-known people have gone against the boycott, apparently concerned this will disrupt the economic and social life of the country for a day, resulting in an unwanted backlash. Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahoney is one of the most vocal opponents of the boycott.

And, interesting enough, so is President Bush.

“I think it's very important for people, when they do express themselves, they continue to do so in a peaceful way, in a respectful way—respectful of how highly charged this debate can become,” the President said Friday. “One of the things that's very important is when we debate this issue that we not lose our national soul.”

The fact is the millions of people who have demonstrated, marches, and walked out of schools or their jobs since late March have been peaceful. This has been one of the most peaceful massive human mobilizations in recent history.

The work boycotts are meant to escalate the power of the message that apparently have yet to be heeded by Congress enacting new immigration laws—the people will not accept anything less than the full rights accorded any human being, be they documented or not.

Bush and some of those who have gone against the Boycott appear to be “scolding” their children. That's how much disdain they have for the people.

For the most part, immigrants have worked extremely hard (against great odds), have paid taxes, lived lawful lives, and continue to enrich this country. They have full capacity to think, to organize, to plan, and to implement. They should not be told what will work for them or be scared from what they need to do to win these rights.

A backlash has always existed—it did so against Gandhi's movement, against Martin Luther King Jr., against Cesar Chavez, against revolutionaries in Mexico like Emiliano Zapata, against the US revolutionaries of 1776. Since when did strategies and tactics get determined by a backlash?

I agree—the peaceful way is the best. But this has been a long-gone conclusion. Every tactic and planned action so far has peace built into them. When it can become violent is when the powers that be decide to carry out their plans to criminalize undocumented people as felons, to build 700-foot walls on the border to the tune of $8 billion, or to isolate and attack the most vulnerable workers in the workplace and our communities.

Since the marches and demonstrations in late March and early April, Homeland Security's immigration authorities have carried out highly publicized raids of hundreds of undocumented workers. There was at least one instance of a Mexican restaurant burned (with anti-immigrant messages scrawled on the walls). There have been a few violent confrontations against peaceful students walking out of schools (including wanton attacks by police and anti-immigrant students), death threats to Latino politicians, and even a terrible instance in which a Latino youth, 15, was beaten and sodomized during a party by two teenagers as they spit out anti-Mexican statements.

Bush should address that violence—the real violence occurring in this struggle.

I ask Bush, “What about the national soul that erodes when radio stations put out anti-Mexican slogans, Minutemen pit groups (African Americans and other US workers) against immigrants, and people create video games in which Mexicans, including women with children, can be “killed” for points?"

The “Great Boycott” is on. People who feel strongly about this issue will not work, shop, or carry on any normal business interactions that day. Others who may lose their jobs, their livelihoods, or their homes can choose to take part in the many demonstrations. Many will do both.

The point is we must be heard. We must not let up the amazing national efforts that have rocked this country and the world.

Nobody wants violence. But we must demand justice, rights, and dignity. We are not anyone's children. People will choose what to do—the message, however, must be loud, clear, and united.
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Los Angeles Recognizes One of its Own

It was a surprise to me.

Today, April 26, I met with LA City Councilman Ed Reyes (District 1) to thank him for his use of my poem, “The Concrete River,” as part of an exhibit of poems, photos, and paintings commemorating the Los Angeles River (on the Third Floor Bridge area of City Hall). I thought it was to be quick hello and good bye.

However, Councilman Reyes arranged a small reception for me and my wife Trini. Then he took me to visit the council chambers where I was presented with a signed, beautifully designed, certificate of recognition by the City, and allowed to say a few words.

I was surprised, and terribly pleased.

When a writer and activist like me writes and organizes, it is hardly for any official recognition. In my case, “official” recognition may smell of compromise and capitulation. I have been one who has fought “City Hall” on issues of justice, urban peace, and the arts since I was a teenager. But as one observer today said, “Could you ever imagine a time in the past when someone like you would ever be honored in the council chambers?”

Los Angeles, like many other cities, has undergone a major complexion, and I hope character, change—more people representing communities of color and the poor are now sitting in this parlor of municipal power, including a few Chicanos—Ed Reyes, Alex Padilla, Tony Cardenas, and Jose Huizar. And we also have a Chicano mayor, Antonio Villaragoisa.

This, I believe, has helped make the difference.

Of course, I also thank the other council members who supported this recognition, including African American Bernard Parks as well as Eric Garcetti (President of the Council), Tom LaBonge, and Bill Ronsedahl, all who shook my hand that day.

For poets and most writers, our only currency is acknowledgment. For political, class conscious, and socially engaged poets, even this is not forthcoming. So, yes, I’m honored and moved by this effort on the part of Councilman Reyes. I also hope to continue to struggle and fight for the rights of all people, including the millions of undocumented immigrants currently under attack in Congress, on the border, and in the workplace (with carefully calculated Migra raids around the country).

On May 1, cities will explode with work stoppages, demonstrations, vigils and marches. Thank you, City of Los Angeles, for honoring me. Now let’s realize the best ideals of this country and provide full and complete amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and the rights accorded any human being to live free of hunger, exploitation, oppression, and fear.
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The Paterson Poetry Prize

I want to express my humble thanks to the Paterson Poetry Prize administrators, authors, and committee for awarding my 2005 poetry collection, My Nature is Hunger: New & Selected Poems 1989-2004 (Curbstone Press/Rattle Edition) with the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize.

I received a phone call from Sandy Taylor, publisher of Curbstone Press, and a letter from Maria Gillan , the long-time Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, Paterson, New Jersey. The prize includes $1,000 and a trip to Paterson to receive the award and to read.

It’s hard to get such recognition, due largely to the vast number of worthy poetry books being published around the country today. Most of these are with small and mid-size presses, the heart of poetry publishing in this country. I’m deeply honored.

I also edit a poetry press, Tia Chucha Press, which I founded in Chicago in 1989. Since then, we have published around 40 major poetry collections and anthologies, three chapbooks, and a CD. Tia Chucha Press, which became part of the Guild Complex in 1991, is now connected with the not-for-profit workshop space and publishing center, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural (that I also helped create in the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles).

To commemorate our 16 years of publication, in December Tia Chucha Press came out with Dream of a Word: The Tia Chucha Press Poetry Anthology, edited by Quraysh Ali Lansana and Toni Asante Lightfoot.

We hope to spread the word about this great collection that features all our authors, including Elizabeth Alexander, Terrance Hayes, A. Van Jordan, Patricia Smith, Rohan B Preston, Sterling D. Plumpp, Michael Warr, Angela Shannon, Marvin Tate, Cin Salach, Carlos Cumpian, Mary Kathleen Hawley, Lisa Buscani, Jean Howard, Dwight Okita, Tony Fitzpatrick, Nick Carbo, Kyoko Mori, and many more.

There is also a study guide in the back of the book for each of the poems—something we did to help poetry, literatures, and English classrooms in high schools, colleges, universities, and writing workshops.

I also want to mention that in 2005 we did the first poetry book of ariel robello called My Sweet Unconditional. This year, we're publishing Patricia Spears Jones' Femme du Monde (out this month) and Alfred Arteaga's Frozen Accident (due in the fall). All our books are distributed by Northwestern University Press .

April is National Poetry Month. Please support your local poets. Buy poetry books. Help make poetry central to our culture, our spiritual life, and our communities.
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We Belong Because We Belong

Again, on April 10, the human rights struggle for immigrants in this country made history—with concerted nation-wide marches, vigils, work stoppages, and other events that involved tens of thousands of people, including more than 500,000 in Washington DC.

Overall, these past few weeks have seen millions of people demand the basic rights and decent life that should be the lot of any person living and working in the United States, regardless of their immigrant status.

They have taken a stand against the second-class status that has been bestowed on close to 12 million people just because they don’t have proper documentation. With the passage of anti-immigrant HR 4437 last December in the House of Representatives, and an intense debate in the Senate with their own worse-and-worser versions of immigration bills, people are saying they must be heard.

Somehow the voices and interests of these leaders, activists and participants don’t seem to be on any of the congressional agendas. What do they want? They want a fair, adequate, and quick legalization process for any undocumented person (including full and unconditional amnesty for the 12 million undocumented among us). They want a fair and humane way for future migrants from Mexico, Central America, and other poor countries to contribute and become active in the economic, social, and cultural life of this country. And they want a livable and fair wage for their hard work—instead of the slave-wages they presently get.

What else? How about speaking their languages and honoring their traditions—and still become Americans. Everyone agrees that learning English, and understanding and abiding by federal and state laws, are important. Nobody is contesting that. But this doesn’t have to mean they should forget their original tongues, value systems, or spiritual practices (whatever they may be, since they are extremely diverse).

These demonstrators are saying they want to be “American” without having to homogenize into an Anglo/racist version of what a so-called American is supposed to be.

When people say assimilate (which is a natural process that nobody has to dictate), they also get the idea this means becoming “Anglo.” Who needs that? This isn’t even better than the cultures most people come from.

Sure if anyone want to be “Anglicized” (by the way, this is a misnomer—most Europeans in this country aren’t even from England) all power to them. But Latinos, Asians, other Europeans, Arabs, Africans, Indians, and more bring with them rich tongues, intelligences, traditions, and flavors. This is America—not the corny “white” people ideal that some people seem to think it is.

The fact is much of what makes “America” has roots in all cultures and traditions.

For example, we take cowboys for granted—some even call them the “American” archetype. Yet it was the Mexican vaqueros who served as model and teachers of the cowboy style and culture.

We say Rock and Roll is the quintessential US export, although it has roots in Africa (which is the main thread running through Jazz, Blues, Soul, and Hip Hop—all-American music if you ask me).

People here go crazy for martial arts (including the mixed-martial arts battles in the Ultimate Fighter), yet its roots are Asian.

And we use American English that includes thousands of words from Jewish/Hebrew, Irish (not Anglo), German, Russian, Asia, African, and other traditions.

I even read that there are around 300 words from the Nahuatl language (from the so-called Aztec people of Mexico), including avocado, tomato, jaguar, maize, taco, and chocolate.

Place names like Chicago, Minnesota, Miami, Wisconsin, Utah, Texas—I can go on and on—have origins in our Native peoples. Other names like Los Angeles, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Colorado, California, Florida, San Francisco (again there are too many to name here) have Spanish origins. Such great American cultures like Cajuns have roots in French, Spanish, Native, and African people.

Most South talk and accents are Scottish-Irish and African. Most of our original laws comes from Native (mostly from the Iroquis Confederacy), Greek, and British sources.

We can’t go by a day without saying or hearing okay, amigo, oy vey, putz, Toyota, geshundeit—all words from outside what’s considered “Anglo.”

From Mexicans/Chicanos, we can say that cholos, lowriders, and burritos are as American as Apple Pie.

As the demonstrators have been saying—We are America.

Yes, we can have a common language, common laws, common interests, and aims. But why do we have to give up our long-standing roots and traditions (they will change naturally anyway, has they have for hundreds of years)?

Already, we have a multi-tiered economy that brings more conflicts and suffering than any cultural differences we may have. Concentrating on changing that would be more important and meaningful than arguing about whether anyone is for hot dogs, enchiladas, or mofongo.
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Marches, Demonstrations... What Now?

This week, historic walkouts across the country in support of immigrant rights--read human rights--dominated the news, Congress, and most conversations. This morning, I was on "Democracy Now," hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales (Pacifica Radio), along with Yasmin Chavez, a junior from Montebello High School who led student walkouts in her community. On the phone was Montesuma Esparza, producer of the HBO film, "Walk Out," which premiered on March 18.

It wasn't planned this way, but then again, this was no accident neither. The "Walk Out" film, directed by Edward James Olmos, is about the 1968 Chicano "Blowouts" when thousands of students, teachers, parents, and activists walked out of schools in the East LA area. Until this week, this was the largest walkout of middle school and high school students in the United States.

We talked about the meaning behind the current civil demonstrations, including thousands of students walking out of schools in LA, Phoenix, Sacramento, Detroit, Denver, and other cities. Most importantly was the 38-year connection made between Montesuma, who helped organize the "Blowouts," getting arrested in 1968, and this young woman from Montebello (who attended a Chicano youth leadership conference this past weekend that also featured 1968 walkout leaders like Sal Castro).

Other veterans from 1968 include LA Mayor Antonio Villaragoisa, State Senator Gil Cedillo, radio personality Luis R. Torres, and countless others. We didn't lose it with our activism (the media and so-called politicians claimed, then as now, that we would be losers for walking out of school). The point is many of us from those times have continued on to become skillful, relevant, and alive.

This is leadership engendering leadership, across the years and generations with deep and lasting links.

My first political act at age 13 began in 1968. I walked out with a handful of other students from South San Gabriel's Garvey Intermediate School in solidarity with the greater East LA walkouts. I took part in Chicano Youth Leadership Conferences that eventually helped create the Brown Berets and the United Mexican American Students (that later transformed into MeCha: Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan).

At age 16, I participated in and got arrested during the Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War, which was eventually attacked by sheriff's deputies, culminating in a so-called riot that destroyed millions of dollars of property and the deaths of several people, including Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar.

Although I had dropped out of school by then, and had became active in gangs and drugs, the movement provided me with revolutionary ideas, tactics, and a new imagination about my life and my community. I eventually returned to high school, taking part in a Chicano student organization, fighting for Chicano Studies and representation on the school board as well as the school's decision-making process.

As a senior, I helped lead three walkouts for Chicano rights and dignity. I wrote plays and poems. I also danced Aztec/Mexika dances and painted several community murals.

Paula Crisostomo, the student leader in 1968 who is the main character in the HBO "Walk Out" film, worked at my high school, helping mentor us young activists and leaders in that rough year of 1972.

In time, I found purpose and meaning in organizing, studying revolutionary texts outside of the school curriculum, and meeting other revolutionary leaders. This eventually helped me remove myself from the violent and paralyzing street life--including seven years of drug use since the age of 12.

At age 18, while I faced a six-year prison sentence, leading members of my community rallied on my behalf, writing letters and convincing a judge to give me a lesser charge and sentence (which I served in the LA County Jail, then as now, one of the worse jails in the country). When I got out of jail, I made a vow--never to do a criminal act that would jeopardize my ability to be a well-rounded and disciplined revolutionary thinker, writer, and leader.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, I found a movement and a cause. This also helped shape my creative spirit that took the form of murals, dance, music, photography, but most importantly, writing.

Watching these young people, and hearing the voice of someone like Yasmin Chavez, I felt emotional and proud. Close to 40 years have amassed between the time of "Walk Out" and this week's actions. But it felt as if it were only yesterday, when the words, the ideas, the rhythms, and the dreams filled the blood and awoke my soul to a life that now I know I was destined to live.

Some schools have locked out students. Many administrators are demanding that students return to schools and "get their education." Police in places like Santa Ana, have attacked and beaten up protestors. Everything now is about closing the imaginations, the purposeful possibilities, and the hopes of these students.

We have to keep the momentum going, but on a higher level. Now it's time for real teachings, real strategies, for vision and direction to come out of all this activity. The fact is these walkouts are education.

It's time to teach and realize a new kind of leader. The youth are hungry to be involved, to change things, to better this world. Real knowledge of where the world has been, where it's going, and how to organize to get it there must now be the order of the day.

I will do my part. I call on all veteranos, OGs, revolutionaries, and thinkers to help make this happen. Not by telling the youth what to do (they have great ideas and energy already), but by helping forge the kind of unity, political savvy, and imagination needed to bring about humane and encompassing policies on our rights and our continual contributions to this country and world.

In time, these youth should be the future Montesumas, the future writers, the future Mayors of cities, the real rulers of this land. Let's help prepare the way.
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March for Our Lives

I was 13 years old in 1968 when the East LA School Blowouts happened (which the current HBO movie, "Walk Out" is based on). Several thousand students, teachers, parents, and supporters stepped out of their schools, confronting police, a confused media, and general indifference (I heard from one young person that she never heard about the "Blowouts" until the HBO film first aired on March 17, although she grew up in LA).

I also walked out of my middle school in 1968, although it was only a handful of us. It became my first political act that would soon become a lifetime of political acts.

Then starting last Friday, thousands of students walked out of LA-area schools (and around the country--I heard from one student activist in Phoenix) against the anti-immigrant Sensenbrenner Bill that passed the House of Representatives in December, and is presently being debated in the Senate. From 500,000 to two million people demonstrated in downtown LA on Saturday--the largest demonstration in the city's history. More demonstrations on Sunday, including one in honor of Cesar Chavez, led to some 40,000 students walking out of schools throughout Southern California on Monday--but also thousands more in the Bay Area and schools from the Midwest to North Carolina.

That morning I almost drove into a couple of hundred students from Sylmar High School as they walked down Hubbard Blvd to San Fernando Road in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. I stopped, honked, and placed my fist in the air. Truckers and others did the same. The students were noisy, but peaceful, displaying a massive Mexican flag (US flags were also quite evident in most of these demonstrations). Later my wife Trini and I caught up with them further along their walk.

By Tuesday, school officials were "locking down" schools (students who come in, won't be allowed to leave until the end of the day). It's no coincidence schools in urban core communities were using prison terms to describe their tactics. For many students, schools are a prison. One adminstrator said the students needed to return to school for their "education." Yet, I see some fantastic education going on in the civil demonstrations and actions the students were taking.

Today, as in 1968, I support these marches. We have seen so many bold infractions and felonies against our future with war (defended by lies), corruption (not just the most recent with Abramoff and DeLay, but the billions stolen by Enron, World Com, Halliburton, and others, all friends of the present White House administration), and civil liberties (Patriot Acts, wiretappings, and torture in US-controlled prisons around the world).

People have to stand up. They must also strategize, think of the next step, reshape the vision, reinvigorate more people, and truly bring about real change.

We need it. The world needs it. In my life--slightly more than 50 years--I've seen the detrimental affects of capitalism, its wars, its divisions, its tactics, and the dense indifferences that result from this.

I'm honored to know our youth, and many of the veteran warriors from the 1960s through the 1980s, are coming together and demanding an end to the direction and motion of this country. Everything the Republicans (and their lame cronies in the Democrats) do now only gets worse for us and worse for them. They don't know how to do anything else.

We can show them there are other ideas. Other ways to go. Where peace, cooperation, community, incorporation, and true security really comes from. At crucial times in history, it's been shown that the people know better than their "leaders."
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Immigrant Rights are Human Rights

HR 4437, the anti-immigrant law the House of Representatives passed in December (and which comes up for vote in the Senate on March 27) is a rotten piece of legislation that would place the United States in violation of basic human rights. Here’s why:

HR 4437 will impose jail time for over 12 million undocumented immigrants (where are we going to get the money for all these jails? The US is already the world’s largest jailer). It allows local police and the U.S. military to serve as immigration agents. It allocates hundreds of millions of dollars to build an enormous wall across our southern border. It will also make it a felony for anyone—be they churches, charities, employers, and even family members—to assist undocumented people. At the same time, there are no provisions in HR 4437 for undocumented immigrants to apply for green cards or to become citizens.

Already a prison in Texas has been created to accommodate 7,000, mostly Mexican, undocumented criminal offenders.

Instead of becoming the land of equality, opportunity, and reaching out, we’re becoming the backward, mean-spirited, and divided land that millions of Americans spent more than half of the last century fighting to change.

These laws are the revenge of the right-wing conservative and pro-capitalist rich and powerful who have wanted to destroy the gains of the 1960s ever since the freedom marches, protests, uprisings, and laws came down on the old Jim Crow and Segregation Black Codes of the South (and the de facto segregation and discrimination in the North).

We must not allow these rights to be taken away. Moreover, we must continue to expand our rights for all people—including the right to live healthy and solid lives. While people themselves have to prepare, get the skills, and do the work to achieve those things, government can help move the resources and social energy to make sure nothing gets in their way.

Right now, the Old Guard is back with a vengeance. In the guise of neo-conservatism, they have brought back war to our doorstep (again sacrificing our children for the sake of markets and power as in Vietnam), neglect (look at the Katrina debacle), corruption (Tom Delay, Abramoff, and others), and fear (every other word from Bush and his cronies builds on fear).

We’ve been through this—perhaps with different characters and nuances—many times before. We must now move forward toward our interests for peace, cooperation, and security like we did thirty years ago—only with a vision that incorporates the future, technology, new ideas, and new strategies.

We need to stop HR 4437. But we also need to lay the basis for the human and civil rights of everyone, regardless of their papers, regardless of their economic standing.

If Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream, we need to dream even harder. Fight and organize even harder. And get the maturity and intelligence to not be taken off track and into complacency ever again. Many of the leaders of the 1960s and 1970s were killed, drugged, imprisoned, or rendered impotent. It’s the people themselves who must insure the future of us all.
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