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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The Politics of Redemption

Governor Schwarzenegger on Thursday decided to parole convicted-murderer-turned-priest, James Tramel, after some twenty years in prison. This is good news. This is a step in the right direction. Tramel, 38, who was convicted of participating in the stabbing death of a homeless man in 1985, was a Christian and deacon before becoming well known as the first ordained Episcopal priest behind bars.

Many people fought for his release, and rightly so.

But now this begs the question: Why is Schwarzenegger, or any government official, determining who is reformed and who is not, who dies—as in the case of Tookie Williams—and who gets to be free?

If a right-wing conservative politician is in power, it appears they will make decisions about granting freedom based on their own politics and even race—releasing a white, conservative Christian, for example.

Tookie Williams was African American, a former Crip leader, and a non-Christian who had reformed and began to write and speak out against gang violence. He also had many supporters, even famous ones. A movie was made on his life. He wrote books. Yet Schwarzenegger, in his statement denying Tookie his life, implicated Williams’ politics and his supposed “lack of remorse” (largely because Williams would not accept guilt for crimes he has always maintained he didn’t do).

Politics killed this man. Politics freed another man. This, by the way, is California history. It’s US history. It has nothing to do with right and wrong, real redemption or fake redemption, remorse or lack of remorse. In many people’s eyes (not the right people, apparently), Tookie Williams did about as much as any man in his circumstances to turn his life around. So did Tramel. Only one went one way and the other went another way. And being that race and class are always at the heart of most major decisions in this country, this also prevailed.

Such a system must not continue. Fairness, objectivity, judging a person on a true measure of what is change and not change is sorely needed here. However, let’s not fool ourselves—such things don’t exist in the current political environment. Taking this reality in account, people should not die just because they don’t correspond politically, culturally, economically, or racially as those in power.

Remember, the last two men executed in California were African American and Native American. These men were convicted of murdering people outside their race and culture. The next person to die was Latino, also found guilty of killing someone other than Latino. So far, he has been spared due to a federal court’s ruling on the cruel and unusual punishment surrounding lethal injections (a doctor was supposed to make sure the prisoner would die without pain, but a qualified physician couldn’t be found who would do this).

Unfortunately, the state may still find a way to kill this guy.

Simply put, it’s time to stop. It’s great that Tramel has been released. Many more men should probably be given the same opportunity. I doubt that will be the case. Most of the men in California prisons are Latino, Black, and poor white. They happen to be nothing like Schwarzenegger. Nothing like those in power.
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Mexika New Year 2006: Year of Xikome Tochtli

More than ten years ago, not long after I began my sobriety from seven years of drugs and 20 years of drinking, I became active in indigenous ceremonies, teachings, and communities, both Native Mexican and Native American. I did sweat lodge ceremonies and other indigenous sacred rites in California, Arizona, New Mexico, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Chicago, eventually involving my wife Trini; my sons Ramiro, Ruben, Luis, and daughter, Andrea (and even a couple of my grandchildren).

I took part in a kalpulli (a spiritual house in the Nahuatl/Mexika traditions) called Kalpulli Yetlenazi Tolteka Trece (including with the Frank and Lou Blazquez family, a strong Xicano family born and raised in Chicago). Frank was also a recovering drug and alcohol addict; together we helped bring the spirit of balance, truth, love, and community to the work we were doing with gang and nongang youth in the not-for-profit organization I helped found, Youth Struggling for Survival.

Around nine years ago, my Xicano friend Luis Ruan (of Purepecha indigenous descent from Michoacan, Mexico) began introducing me to the Dine Roadman and Elder, Anthony Lee, his wife Delores, and their wonderful children, in Lukachukai, Arizona. Every year we did prayer meetings and sweat ceremonies there, honored by the presence of many Dine/Navajo men and women, teachers and medicine people. In short time, Anthony Lee adopted Trini (and consequently the whole family) in a wonderful ceremony--they have been our spiritual family ever since.

I also had my son Ruben, when he was 12 years old, undergo a rite of passage ceremony under the guidance of Anthony Lee. We both received ceremonial names in the Dine language.

Soon after my family moved to the Northeast San Fernando Valley in the summer of 2000, Luis Ruan, Trini, myself, and a circle of Xicano men and women here created two sweat lodges--one in the Pacoima barrio in the back of Trini's old family home (she grew up there); and one behind a sober-living home called Casa Rivas in San Fernando. In the past years, we've grown to include many former addicts, gang members, and troubled youth, but also just fantastic men and women who have incorporated their roots and cosmologies into the complexities of the modern world (as guides to get through this world with dignity, valor, beauty, and coherency). Although we no longer have the Pacoima sweat, we continue to grow and do our ceremonies with the sweat at Casa Rivas.

Years before I moved back to LA from Chicago in 2000, I also received a Mexika name through the Kalpulli Yetlenazi based on the Mexika Sun Stone, known as the Tonalamatl. My name involved a correspondence with my date of birth in the Gregorian calendar to the much more efficient and still accurate Tonalamatl. The name given to me by our Mexika elders there was Xikome Tochtli. This translates into Seven Rabbit.

On March 12, the Mexika New Year begins. Based on the Mexika Calendar, we are entering the year of Xikome Tochtli, my namesake. All over Aztlan, sunrise ceremonies, danza events, sweats, and other commemoration will be going on that weekend of March 12.

To help with the vitality and importance of these celebrations, I include here the wise and studied words of my friend and fellow Mexika warrior-teacher, Michael Heralda, who has taken his Aztec Stories around the country and beyond the borders:

Have you ever asked yourself “how can I incorporate some of the ancient traditional practices of my ancestors into my daily life?” Well, with the coming of the Mexica New Year and its preceding Nemotemi day’s (5 days of reflection) fast approaching you have an opportunity to start that reconnection is ways that are easy to follow and maintain.

Traditionally, the 5 days that precede the New Year ceremony are dedicated to days of self reflection, contemplation, rumination, meditation and prayer. During these 5 quiet days important decisions were postponed, participants practised abstinance, and old items were also cast out and/or broken – a symbolic and ceremonial action designed to represent the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.

Do you have personal items (things) that have gone past their usefulness? If so, make some time to sit down (with them) and recall what they represent to you, how were they used and what memories, fond or sad, are associated with them? Did you learn things from them? Did they advance your life in a positive or negative way? It is not as important to recall only the good memories, but also those that became markers in your life – good or bad. It is because of these associations that we learn and advance. If your personal belongings have served their purpose and usefulness, then these may be good candidates to discard or break (it is not necessary to discard more than one object, only those or one that needs replacing). Remember, our ancestors understood that by giving away something important it made room for something else (maybe more important) to take its place.

“Fasting” is also another symbolic action we can take as a means of acknowledging the end of one cycle and the beginning of another – we cleanse our bodies to prepare for the new cycle and new year. Maybe you might consider not eating the foods that are harmful to your body (you know what I am referring to) and focus on eating the 7 warrior foods of our ancestors:

Corn
Beans
Squash
Chili
Nopal
Chia/sage
Amaranth

These 7 foods chemically interact with your body to supply all the nutrients you need to be strong and healthy – they are the foods of the great Mexica Warriors!

In addition, try adding some Spirulina to your (food) dishes and then finish off your healthy meal with a piece of (what else) CHOCOLATE!

If you don’t know all of the foods listed above then do your research. This is a part of re-educating yourself to the beauty of the Nahuatl/Mexica culture. A good book I recommend with regards to learning about a number of the foods listed above is titled “Chilies to Chocolate: Food the Americas gave the World” there is a great essay about the origins and importance of Amaranth/Huauhtli (in the Nahuatl language) and other inportant indigenous foods.

Want more guidance or a recommended plan with regards to a beautiful culinary indigenous experience? Start tomorrow (Tuesday, March 7th) with a simple but nutritious meal consisting primarily of Corn and Beans. Then everyday after that add one (or more) of the remaining 5 warrior foods to your healthy indigenous meal (of corn and beans) on through Sunday when by then you will have eaten all 7 of the Warrior foods and you will have arrived at the Mexica New Year.

One last action to consider is doing a sweat (bath) - a TEMEZKAL in the Nahuatl language. Some people prefer to do this at the beginning of the New Year while others during, or preceding, the Nemotemi days. This form of purification is not only healthy for you to do periodically but will also allow you time to relax and contemplate.

Reflect, contemplate, ruminate, meditate, and pray during these important ceremonial days. These simple recommendations will work with your body, mind, and spirit in a re-awakening process that will draw you closer to your indigenous roots. Embrace who you are and where you come from. In return this acceptance and embracing of your culture will guide you to where you need to be.

Many people around the world will be acknowledging and celebrating the Mexica New Year on Saturday and Sunday, March 11th/12th. To learn more about the Mexica New Year, its meaning and importance, plan on attending one of the many celebrations planned in a community near you and ask questions from those who have this knowledge to share. Remember that coming together as a group (Tloke Nahuake - Together and United) to honor something is very important. As a group we create a very powerful energy field that affects all that exists. In addition, honoring something on a singular and personal level is also powerful medicine. However you decide to honor and celebrate this very important event do it with your heart.

Mexica Tiahui! Onward Mexica!
Michael Heralda
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Returning to Roots

A person's life can often be measured by their returns. People go out into the world, have adventures, trials, tribulations, initiations. Most, however, don't ever come back to original spaces, first contemplations, to various places called home, completing circles. I've been fortunate to have done this many times.

When I left my barrio of South San Gabriel in the west San Gabriel Valley, it took me twenty years to return. Like Odysseus, I had many wondrous but also tragic things happen to me in those intervening 20 years. When I did return, I came back with my recently released memoir, "Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA." I had been contacted by five homeboys and homegirls who wanted me to speak at our old schools, to the youth, many of whom were entering the same gangs we took part in during the late 60s and early 70s. A couple of the homeboys had lost their own children (one, a former heroin addict and friend of mine, lost two sons to the gang warfare that continues to this day).

I even went to "rival" territories, although warned that the battles between my old neighborhood and their so-called enemies were still going on. But they weren't my "enemies" anymore--I had to go and talk to these children and youth as well.

Of course, those talks were rich, powerful, and very respectful. I never felt in danger. I hope someday to return again to that area, by the efforts of teachers and some old friends who still see the need to raise some important issues of poverty, war, gangs, and a meaningful life.

Recently, in mid-February, I returned to another one of my old haunts--the San Pedro section of Los Angeles. San Pedro is part of the world's fifth largest harbor (Los Angeles-Long Beach, the largest in North America). I lived there at age 19 for two months in the old section of the Rancho San Pedro Housing Projects. I had just left the gang life a year before and had barely let go hard drugs, including heroin (which I gave up "cold turkey" with help from friends).

I was in San Pedro gathering myself in revolution: studying Marxist theory and taking part in collective study about society, the world, the present, and the future. I jogged every morning, part of my personal recovery routine, and visited the local San Pedro Library to read books and do research. It was an intense period, with intense study and equally intense activity (running off leaflets all night long for morning factory distributions, speaking at community meetings, bringing new people to study circles).

It was the only way to counteract an intense street/gang life.

I remember walking around those old harbor streets, with the bars, the fish stores, the modest homes, and markets. There was the old Warner Grand Theater, holding around 1,900 seats, built in the amazing Deco style of the 1920s. There was Pacific Boulevard and Gaffey Street. I recall the old canneries (and Joe Biff's bar, where many cannery workers hung out), the shipyards, including Todd's and Bethlehem, and the many warehouses, small bucket shops, and brightly-lit refineries.

The LA Harbor was very industrialized; still is, but not like in the mid-1970s.

On February 15 of this year, I spent a whole day back in San Pedro. I spoke to two large school assemblies at San Pedro High School, whose students were enraptured with my words, many of whom asked thoughtful questions. I met with leaders in the community, including those working in gang prevention (the Harbor has many old gang structures, mostly in the Chicano/Mexicano communities). I ended up on a cable TV show where a density of issues came to the fore. I hung out with old friends Dave Arian (director of the Harry Bridges Institute) and Diane Middleton (who runs the Middleton Foundation, funding important community organizations throughout the city, including film workshops at Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural).

And that evening, with my name in the marquee lights, I spoke to about 350 people at the old Warner Grand Theater--talk about completing circles. It was a great response, full of enthusiastic dialogue, and people lined up around one side of the theater for me to sign books.

It felt good to come back here and have such a tremendous response (of course, I was a working class youth, working in industry, the first time I was in San Pedro -- now I'm a well-known author with ten books to my name and a wonderful bookstore/cultural center in the San Fernando Valley).

Like Odysseus, I came home. I've done this many times. And each time, I've come with gifts, experiences, knowledges, and a spirit that can help enhance the places I once left behind.

Perhaps now, I won't take so long in returning to the Harbor. I have many friends and supporters there. It was another important example of returning to some of my roots.
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