Ramiro and I -- a poetic journey home

Since August 1, my 38-year-old son Ramiro and I have been on a whirlwind poetry tour, a car trip, talks to youth, participation in retreats, gatherings, conferences, and a white water rafting adventure. We also hanged out with many family members in a variety of configurations (my family in two gatherings, family on Ramiro’s mother’s side in more than two, and with my wife Trini’s family). This began as soon as Ramiro got off parole in July after three years (he was released from prison in July 2010 following thirteen-and-half years with the Illinois Department of Corrections). The trip brought my son and I closer—to learn from one another, to begin relating on another level as men, as fathers, as revolutionary thinkers and leaders, as native healers. I must say the highlight of the past couple of months was the birth of my fifth grandchild, Jack Carlos Kinney, from my daughter Andrea. Andrea was the main reason Ramiro and I drove from Chicago to California (their mother Camila flew out later from Chicago as well). Andrea’s daughter, Catalina, is now a big sister at age 17. Big ups to dad Sean who stood by little Jack every step of the way (Trini helped in the delivery—a life-transforming experience, she says). Also our trip coincided with my youngest sons, Ruben and Luis, leaving the family abode to live in university dorms at UCLA and the University of California, Riverside, respectively. Trini and I are now “empty nesters” (although we have our two-year-old Chihuahua-Terrier mix dog, Chula, and a cat named Prudence). So many transitions. First Ramiro and I took part in a National Gathering for Peace at the University Church in Hyde Park, Chicago from August 1 to 4. We had participants from Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Wisconsin. It was a small but potent group, especially since Chicago garnered around 500 murders, outpacing the number of murders it had last year (and becoming the city with more murders in the country). After that we began the road trip along with Puerto Rican poet and longtime friend Eduardo Arocho from our beloved Chicago neighborhood of Humboldt Park. We took two-to-four hour shifts and completed the trip in 36 hours. We drove a 1996 Grand Marquis (I know—a gas guzzler) that withstood everything all the back to Chicago. It costs a lot to get this car ready for this trip, but Ramiro was insistent—it turned out to be a good investment. We arrived in time to Lotus CA to enjoy the American River for white water rafting (our first time) with 40 inner-city Los Angeles youth and mentors, part of the Spreading Seeds/The Healing Network I’ve been working with for several months. My youngest son Luis also took part, standing next to his oldest brother for the first time in at least ten years. What an adventure, including dives from 25-foot cliffs and getting pushed by currents through crevices and rock formations (called “sliders,” “the belly button,” and “the birth canal”). We also hit level three rapids with names like “Meat Crusher,” “The Widow Maker,” and “Satan’s Cesspool.” You get the idea. Unfortunately, one of the participants, well-known Disney TV personality Lee Thompson Young, a week later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This was devastating for all of us. He was 29. Ramiro and I then took part in a Circulo de Hombres Nobles (Circle of Noble Men) retreat in Jolon CA. Here Chicano and Native men gather, as they’ve done for 25 years, to share, to let go, to open up, to re-energize. Ramiro and I took part in a sweat lodge, something we had not done in 17 years. From there we ended up at the six-day Mosaic Multicultural Foundation’s annual men’s conference in Woodland CA near Mendocino, run by my friend, storyteller Michael Meade. I’ve been coming to these conferences, workshops and youth/mentor events for close to 20 years. Again, Ramiro had not been in one since before his prison time. This proved to be quite a healing event, including with some passionate dialogues, teachings, and living rituals. We drove to the Bay Area to then take part in a poetry reading at the Red Poppy Arts Center in the Mission. Eduardo read as well and my old friend Michael Warr. It has been 20 years since Ramiro and I both appeared together in San Francisco. A few people showed up from that time, including my comrade and long-time poet mentor Jack Hirschman. Thanks to Eduardo who also created Ramiro's first chapbook of poems called "Coming Home." It was now time to drive to Los Angeles. Readings were set up at the Corazon del Pueblo Cultural Center in Boyle Heights, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in Sylmar, and the KGB Art Gallery downtown (a benefit for Brooklyn & Boyle magazine). Ramiro and I also talked to teachers in schools, youth in community meetings, gang interventionists, and at the Camp Miller L.A. County probation camp. Ramiro also took part in meetings of the Spreading Seeds/The Healing Network and of Tia Chucha’s Young Warriors, run by youth leader Mayra Zaragoza. Ramiro ended up in a major lowrider show on Point Fermin in San Pedro (his cousin Frankie is a mechanic and a member of the Bomb Squad, a classical lowrider car club of vintage 1930s to 1950s custom cars). And a special father-son sweat lodge ceremony was held in San Fernando where all my sons -- Ramiro, Ruben and Luis -- participated in healing, in good words, in prayer with other fathers, sons, men. By early September Ramiro drove back on his own to Chicago. He took a week and a half due to stops along the way, including visits with Albino Garcia and his family in Albuquerque as well as the Navajo Rez. He also visited a former gang member and Youth Struggling for Survival leader who now lives with his family in Omaha NE. I, in turn, ended up in El Salvador to speak at an Organization of American States before returning to Chicago in mid-September to reconnect with Ramiro. There we both took part in the Healing the Hood Conference in the Pilsen Barrio. Around 100 people showed up, both black and brown (and others) to address peace and how we can heal the pain of violence hitting the poorest most neglected areas of the city. Our other talks included 6th, 7th and 8th graders at St. Agnes of Bohemia and Our Lady of Tepeyac schools as well as teenagers from Imago Dei (Image of God) After School Arts Program, all in the Little Village barrio. We also took part in a peace circle at North Lawndale College Prep School, a predominantly African American school. In addition we spoke to service providers in the field of gang prevention/intervention at the YMCA Pilsen/Little Village--these talks proved to be productive and meaningful. Ramiro and I also did a poetry reading with Eduardo Arocho, Denise Ruiz and Mike Reyes—back to my humble beginnings when I first began reading poetry in Chicago some 25 years ago. This was held at a performance space in Paseo Boricua of our old neighborhood, Humboldt Park. And I did a talk with the most troubled youth at the Cook County Juvenile Center, young men, all black and brown, who were not programming or going to school due to a myriad of problems. With me, however, they were engaged, attentive, smart. I’m now in Los Angeles as of last Monday. I left Chicago and my son in a good strong place. This two-month healing journey with Ramiro proved to be a blessing in so many ways. We had been at war with each other in one form or another during his teenage years. While Ramiro was in prison, we managed to get closer, working out many issues in visits, on phone calls and through many letters (I wrote him every month during his incarceration whether he wrote me back or not). I’ve been sober for 20 years now and I know this has been a turning point in our relationship. And on his own Ramiro found sobriety while in prison (a most difficult place to do this) around 15 years ago. I thank the Creator for this time and space with Ramiro. And I thank Ramiro for the capacity to love, mature, think. To create and be a positive soul in this world. Life is hard, full of surprises, many painful. I’ve endured much of this. But to persevere, to never stop loving. To keep growing. That’s the task of living. After my return Ramiro posted these words on Facebook. I want to share them as a way to express the power of what fathers and sons can do in this world. This also goes out to my daughter Andrea and her new baby Jack Carlos as well as my sons Ruben and Luis as they embark on university lives. Dropped my dad off at the airport today. It’s been a great two months spending time together. Two months of reflection, of healing. In the past our relationship was tumultuous. Issue after issue. Trying to obtain an understanding of who we were in each other’s lives. Step forward into the future, and now that is all gone. We have finally found peace. It’s a testament to the bond we have forged from the fires of love. A father and son stepping into the battlefield, with weapons that can bring true positive solutions to the lives of our youth. We are not done. Our journey is just beginning. With the help of our families, our communities, lives can be saved. Thank you to everyone for showing me that together we can truly make a difference. c/s
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El Maestro Jose Montoya -- R.I.P.

Yesterday Jose Montoya, my poet guide, the first poet I ever heard read, the one who carried his art, his voice, his indigenous teachings with dignity and depth, passed on. He was considered the Godfather of Chicano Poetry. His most famous poem, “El Louie,” vibrantly related the life of a Pachuco from the Central Valley with all the Chicano slang (calo) and humor. Jose tapped into the poetic gene of my soul when I was 18. I was still using heroin, but also on the verge of a breakthrough in my life. I was studying to be a revolutionary thinker, leader and writer. I was looking for a way out of the mess I had created since I was 11 years old in gangs, on drugs, doing violence and spending nights in jail. I happened—the reasons now ring with destiny and alignment—to get invited to a poetry event where Jose was going to read with famed African American poet David Henderson and Puerto Rican maestro Pedro Pietri. This was in Berkeley CA, 1973, where I had flown in after I won honorable mention in the Quinto Sol Literary Awards for poetic vignettes I had written called “Barrio Expression.” I didn’t know what I was doing with my writing, but after hearing Jose, David and Pedro, I knew the “read” road I was embarking on. On stage, with mic and lived-in voices, Jose, David and Pedro woke me up from a dark sleep. They slapped me across the face with metaphors. They had language that swam in a sea of images, ideas and emotions. They were guerillas fighters without guns. Storytellers about the “other” America, the true America, the one with Indian mothers’ hands in corn flour, soul food on street corner grills, and Boricua decimas from inside phone booths. I met Jose again in the early 1980s when I was director of the Los Angeles Latino Writers Association and we sponsored readings at the Self Help Art Center in East Los Angeles. We invited Chicano writers such as Lorna Dee Cervantes, Gary Soto and Jose to share their works with a community hungry for our stories, our poems. I only saw Jose intermittently over the years, but once a few years ago in Sacramento we read together in a kind of homage to our connection as Chicano writers, two generations (Jose was born in the early 1930s), pushing forward traditions that spanned thousands of years. Jose was active in the Circulo de Hombres Nobles (the Circle of Noble Men), which for the first time I was able to attend one of their retreats with my oldest son Ramiro this past August in Jolon CA. Jose was a teacher of indigenous ways, which also grabbed my spirit, on the Red Road, and I’ve been part of this in a serious and profound way for twenty years now. His mantra of “La Locura Cura” (the craziness cures) is reminiscent of my dear Tia Chucha (Maria de Jesus Rodriguez), the creative soul in my family, for which I named Tia Chucha Press and Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, the cultural arts center and bookstore in Sylmar CA I helped create. She was called crazy a few times, but her musical and poetic renderings opened up my own heart to the positive creative craziness we all carry. Jose’s spirit hangs over all of us who ever took to pen and paper; who ever waged war with words or drawings or music. I send love and many prayers to his family, to my friend Richard Montoya, his artistic/actor son, and to all Jose’s many friends, camaradas, mentees, and students. Que en paz descanses, carnal. c/s
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On Martin Luther King's Dream Speech

(reprinted from The Guardian, August 26, 2013) Martin Luther King's movement was a wake up call for Latinos By Luis J. Rodriguez On 28 August 1963, I lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. That day, Martin Luther King Jr spoke the prophetic words of his "I have a dream" speech (pdf) on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC during the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom". I was 9 years old, a withdrawn brown-skinned Chicano kid. Older street kids had been bullying me since they saw me playing dolls with my next-door neighbor, a girl my age who didn't think twice about this. Yes, I was sensitive – in my head most of the time, with no friends. I was harassed for being "homo", although I had no idea what this meant. I was gay-bashed, although I have never been gay. But the feminine aspects of my maleness were strong in my imagination, in words and stories. Yet in the poor barrios where I grew up, this sensitivity could be dangerous. The bullies one day beat on me, causing a fracture in my jaw. It didn't break but I never got this fixed. When my jaw healed, it jutted out, where even today I only have three teeth that meet. I looked ugly. If I was lonely before, now I was a pariah. Girls called me "monkey". When I joined a gang at 11, the "homies" embraced my most damaged feature. After this I was known as "Chin". Now it was cool to be ugly. And my rage turned into a frenzy of violence and drug use – shooting people, stealing, knifings and, finally, heroin addiction. Then at 16, almost exactly seven years after King's speech on 29 August 1970, I took part in the largest protest against the Vietnam War in a community of color of the time – the Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War. About 30,000 people marched and rallied in East Los Angeles, the US community with the most Mexicans. I was arrested, beaten and held longer than most of the hundreds of arrestees who were let go after a few hours. Sheriff's deputies locked up a half dozen of us gang youth – known as "cholos" – for days in the Hall of Justice Jail section called "murderer's row". Deputies threatened to charge us with the murders of those killed in the subsequent riots, including that of Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar. I faced death threats, including having razor blades to my neck by cellmates. I was in a cell next to Charles Manson. Yet I stood up for myself – I would never again be bullied by anyone. Charges were never filed and I was released. Now my first staggered steps to a life of revolutionary thinking, writing and organizing had begun. Despite other arrests by age 19, I left "the crazy life". King's words reverberated in my head; I've been fighting for freedom and social equity ever since. Fifty years ago, Dr King stated how we were all owed "a promissory note ... a promise that all men – yes, black men as well as white (I add every other color, gender, creed, and sexual orientation under the sun) would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". But as King pointed out, the "bank of justice" seems to have insufficient funds. I'm convinced that race, although key to any social transformations, should not be the barrier to the badly needed changes in our economy and politics – the ending of a social system where big money, big banks, big corporations control the laws, most of the property, the environmental decline and the majority of what we are taught and what we see as news. True justice is now about our pocketbooks, about a clean and healthy environment, about an open and free democratic process. It's about ending class inequities and the chains that bind us. King's dream – the dream of millions – must also have a vision and true organic expression. It must be newly expressed in poems, songs, dance, music as well as strategy. Imagine that – jobs and freedom for everyone. After 50 years, I still accept that challenge.
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Justice Party National Call-In on Restorative Justice

Take a Step Towards Restorative Justice on Saturday July, 27 Friend, California's justice system appears blind--blind to the inhumanity of its prison system. Recently nearly 30,000 inmates in California prisons participated in a hunger strike against torturous solitary confinement and other inhumane conditions. The U.S. has more inmates in prisons and jails than any other country. Prisons have become big business through privatization, and they have real economic and social consequences. On Saturday July 27, Justice Party Vice Presidential candidate Luis Rodriguez will speak about restorative justice. We invite you to join us! RESTORATIVE JUSTICE ISSUE CALL Saturday, July 27 12PM ET, 11AM CT, 10AM MT, 9AM PT RSVP by using this link: http://www.justicepartyusa.org/restorative_justice_issue_call Luis will be joined by his son Ramiro in a discussion of restorative justice, why it is important to the individuals behind bars and those getting out, and how you can get involved. In addition we'll learn what others are doing to prevent incarceration, especially among young men living in urban communities of color. Please RSVP and mark your calendar for July 27. We'll send you the call-in information in an email acknowledgement after you register. We encourage you to invite friends and family members to join us for this timely and important discussion. Yours for Justice, The Justice Party National Steering Committee Justice Party · P.O. Box 30726, Seattle, WA 98113-0726, United States · 435-200-JPUS (5787) c/s
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Video Blog: Trayvon Martin


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Justice for Trayvon Martin

Last night my wife Trini and I watched the new film release "Fruitvale Station" soon after we heard about the George Zimmerman verdict. The film was based on how a transit police officer killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was unarmed, at the Fruitvale train station in Oakland on his way home from New Year's festivities. He was caught in circumstances of life, but for too many poor, black and urban youth these often end in death.

Oscar Grant's killer was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and given two years; he was let go in 11 months. The people next to me were in tears. Not long ago, William Masters, a white jogger in L.A., was let go and freed – not even charged – having killed one Chicano youth and wounding another after he confronted them for supposedly tagging under a bridge. One of the youth was shot in the back. Yet police felt Masters was in danger and shot in self-defense. In my youth, sheriff’s deputies killed four of my friends, unarmed and brown. When I moved back to L.A. from Chicago in 2000 – after confronting years of Chicago police murders and even tortures of black and brown victims – a recent report of L.A. County sheriff department shootings – 52 in one year – proved they were all people of color, unarmed, a few mentally ill.

Here's the other side of the coin: I spoke at the largest juvenile lockup in North America last month for a graduation of 30 GED students (the place has between 800 and 1,000 prisoners – 90 percent or more black and brown). The facility is five minutes from my house. Seven of the graduates talked at the podium, saying great words, talking about big dreams. More than a few are going to adult prisons for 25 years to life. Some of those cases didn't involve any actual involvement in murder, but often just being around with friends when someone was killed. The injustices in the face of the current justice system are so palpable and patterned.

Trayvon Martin deserved his day in court, his story told, his life given value. Anyway you look at it, it was Zimmerman’s actions that eventually lead to Martin’s death (and a culture where black youth are feared and profiled). Still the patterns continue. We can't let up. Justice for Trayvon Martin must not end here. The circumstances of poverty, racism and historical imbalances must now be on trial. The anti-poor and anti-working class criminal justice system must be on trial. The exploitative capitalist political and economic system must now be on trial. Most Americans are for fairness – the majority has no idea what their government has done. It's time to change the conversation. No more of our youth, of any color, should be profiled, sought and then killed the way Trayvon was killed. The way Oscar was killed. The way those Chicano youth under the bridge were shot. Or my four homies. Nobody ever again.


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Historic Gang Intervention Bill introduced in Congress

Below is the text of a Gang Intervention bill, introduced on Thursday, July 11 by U.S. Congressman Tony Cardenas. This bill arose out of the Effective Gang Intervention Model that some 40 gang interventionists in Los Angeles helped create -- including yours truly -- over two years under the auspices of then L.A. City Councilperson Cardenas. In February of 2008, the model was approved by the L.A. City Council and has been used to help reduce significantly the level of violence in a city known as the "gang capital of the world." ALSO please note that on Saturday, July 27, 2013, my son Ramiro and I will be on a national Issues Call for the Justice Party on Restorative Justice and will include actionable plans to end the the billions of dollars in our prison industry and to place real resources in innovative, meaningful and cost effective rehabilitation, jobs training and engagement, arts development, re-entry, and for offenders and victims to work together for the betterment of our families, communities and country. You must RSVP. Here's the link: http://www.justicepartyusa.org/restorative_justice_issue_call?utm_source=justiceparty&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=7_24_issue_call&recruiter_id=15646 Now here's the bill: ..................................................................... 113TH CONGRESS, 1ST SESSION H. R. ll To provide definitions of terms and services related to community-based gang intervention to ensure that funding for such intervention is utilized in a cost-effective manner and that community-based agencies are held accountable for providing holistic, integrated intervention services, and for other purposes. IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES Mr. CARDENAS introduced the following bill; A BILL To provide definitions of terms and services related to community-based gang intervention to ensure that funding for such intervention is utilized in a cost-effective manner and that community-based agencies are held accountable for providing holistic, integrated intervention services, and for other purposes. 1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Community-Based Gang Intervention Act’’. SEC. 2. FINDINGS; SENSE OF CONGRESS. (a) FINDINGS.—The Congress finds as follows: (1) For the first time in the history of the United States, more than one in every 100 adults is incarcerated. (2) The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world, with more than 2,200,000 people behind bars and another 5,000,000 people on probation or parole. (3) The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. (4) In 2007, the Federal Government spent $19,617,000,000 on police protection, corrections, and judicial and legal services, representing a 286 percent increase since 1982. This included a 475 percent increase for corrections and a 287 percent increase for police protection. (5) The growing prison system is also impacting State budgets, with total State spending on incarceration topping $53,000,000,000 in 2012, up  from $10,000,000,000 in 1987. (6) With increased prison costs, vital social programs and services such as education, job creation, housing, and healthcare are being cut or eliminated to maintain the prison industry. (7) Between 1987 and 2007, the amount States spent on corrections increased 127 percent, while the increase in higher education spending was only 21 percent (8) Over the past 10 years, the State of California’s general fund expenditures for higher education have fallen 9 percent, while general fund expenditures for corrections and rehabilitation have increased 26 percent. (9) The State of California has the second largest prison population in the nation with 165,062 prisoners under the jurisdiction of State or Federal correctional authorities in 2010. (10) According to one study, there are now 6 times as many gangs and at least twice the number of gang members in Los Angeles since the start of the 30 year ‘‘war on gangs’’. (11) The City and County of Los Angeles have been dubbed the ‘‘gang capital’’ of the Nation with an estimated 463 gangs and 38,974 gang members in the City, and more than 1,300 gangs and 150,000 gang members in the County. (12) According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, allowing 1 youth to leave school for a life of crime and drug abuse costs society $1,700,000 to $2,300,000, annually. (13) In the State of California, the average annual cost per inmate is $47,421 for an adult inmate, and $218 for a youth inmate. (14) The most recent data on overall State spending on juvenile justice programs reveals that in 1998, States spent nearly $4,200,000,000 on juvenile justice related programs, which was a 65 percent increase from fiscal year 1994. Of those expenditures, 67 percent went towards residential placements ($2,800,000,000), while 8.4 percent went towards delinquency prevention. (15) Gang and youth violence substantially decreases when governments address the root causes of gang violence and adequately fund community-based programs and practices. (16) Studies continue to prove that community-based gang intervention provides long-lasting, cost effective results and opportunities for the youth and  families most susceptible to gang violence. (b) SENSE OF CONGRESS.—It is the sense of Congress that, in developing a comprehensive violence reduction strategy, the United States should acknowledge and address larger, entrenched social conditions and issues such as poverty, homelessness, inadequate educational systems, and limited economic opportunities that give rise to gangs and gang violence. TITLE I—COMMUNITY–BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCIES SEC. 101. COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCIES. The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (42 U.S.C. 5601 et seq.) is amended by adding at the end the following new title: ‘‘TITLE VI—COMMUNITY–BASED GANG INTERVENTION GRANTS ‘‘SEC. 601. PURPOSE. "The purpose of this title is to offer holistic and comprehensive support for the variety of community-based gang intervention activities that focus on and engage active and former gang members, their close associates, and gang members in and returning from confinement. Gang involved youth and their families require specialized intensive and comprehensive services that address the unique issues encountered by youth when they become involved with gangs. Community-based gang intervention involves proactive and reactive responses to gang activities on several levels, including—‘‘(1) the regional level, to promote and coordinate peace truces and cease-fires between groups; ‘‘(2) the State and local level, including community and the juvenile halls, camps, Division of Juvenile Justice facilities, county jails, and State prisons; and ‘‘(3) the neighborhood and street level, including with active gang members individually. ‘‘SEC. 602. SUPPORT OF COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCIES. ‘‘(a) SUPPORT OF COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCIES.—Subject to the availability of appropriations, the Administrator shall award grants to eligible entities to carry out the activities described in subsection (c). ‘‘(b) ELIGIBLE ENTITY.—For the purposes of this section, an ‘eligible entity’ means a community-based gang intervention agency that is a nonprofit organization with a proven track record and expertise in providing community-based gang intervention activities through a community-based gang intervention model. ‘‘(c) GRANT ACTIVITIES.—Each entity awarded a grant under this section shall carry out the following activities: ‘‘(1) Conduct street mediation by working with gang members and persons with influence over such member to defuse and de-escalate potential and actual violence internally between gang members and between rival gangs. ‘‘(2) Develop local and regional truces by creating cease-fires or nonaggression agreements between rival gangs and neighborhoods. ‘‘(3) Serve as conduits who facilitate constant dialogue and maintenance between gangs and neighborhoods. ‘‘(4) Provide services that respond to the high levels of anxiety experienced by gang members to decompress critical situations due to traumatic events. ‘‘(5) Provide 24-hour, 7-day-a-week crisis intervention services by responding to requests for violence prevention services made by gang members, the families of gang members, school officials, intervention workers, social service agencies, or law enforcement. ‘‘(6) Provide targeted training and technical assistance to violence-plagued communities after a major gang-related incident. ‘‘(7) Facilitate the development of a community response plan, including training protocols, situational scene scenarios, and emergency response. ‘‘(8) Make a reasonable effort to prevent gang related rumors from intensifying tension between gangs or igniting violent responses by gangs. ‘‘(9) Establish relationships with community stakeholders to inform and engage them in quality-of-life activities that enhance intervention activities. ‘‘(10) Serve as intervention representatives in communities by attending local meetings involving nonprofit organizations, schools, faith-based organizations, and other entities. ‘‘(11) Develop conflict resolution skills and techniques to address and resolve community concerns related to gang activity in order to improve the quality of life within neighborhoods. ‘‘(12) Work with schools to respond to gang-related issues and crises both in and outside of school. ‘‘(13) Provide support services for youth and families affected by gang violence and other victims of gang violence (including any individual who is physically, emotionally, financially, or otherwise harmed by criminal activity, and those affected by harm done to or by a family member), which may include—‘‘(A) advocating for public sector and private sector assistance and services; ‘‘(B) grief counseling; and ‘‘(C) referrals to treatment and rehabilitation for cognitive, mental, emotional, physical, or financial injury, loss, or suffering. ‘‘(14) Provide comprehensive mental health services to youth and families affected by gang violence or involvement, including—‘‘(A) integrated services comprised of individual, family, and group therapy modalities, and psychological education provided through youth and parent training programs; and ‘‘(B) gang-responsive services including skills training, assessing and servicing youth with developmental disabilities, behavioral modification, and services to address substance use and abuse, anger management, emotional regulation, traumatic stress, family violence, depression, suicide, anxiety, and educational problems. ‘‘(15) Provide public and private sector career job training, development, and placement, including—‘‘(A) job-finding and job-maintaining skills, including skills related to resume writing, interviewing, workplace decorum, interpersonal communication, and problem-solving; ‘‘(B) information about legal rights in the workplace; and ‘‘(C) financial literacy. ‘‘(16) Assist with substance use and abuse treatment, domestic violence victims, and voluntary tattoo removal of markings on the body related to gang involvement. ‘‘(d) AVAILABILITY OF VICTIMS ASSISTANCE.—An entity awarded a grant under this section that provides victim assistance under paragraph (13) of subsection (c) shall not discriminate in the provision of such assistance to an individual based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic level, or past record. ‘‘SEC. 603. DEFINITIONS. ‘‘In this title: ‘‘(1) COMMUNITY.—Notwithstanding the definition of ‘community based’ in section 103, the term ‘community’ means a unit of local government or an Indian Tribe. ‘‘(2) COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION AGENCY.—The term ‘community-based gang intervention agency’ means a community-based organization, association, or other entity that—‘‘(A) promotes public safety, with the specific objective of reducing and stopping gang-related and gang-motivated violence and crime; and ‘‘(B) has a history of, or experience or specific training in, effectively working with gang involved youth and their families. ‘‘ (3) COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION MODEL.—The term ‘community-based gang intervention model’ means a holistic and comprehensive approach to reducing gang violence that utilizes the two-prong approach of community based intervention and an integrated approach of providing rehabilitative service delivery to gang-involved youth that—‘‘(A) deploys specialists in community based gang intervention who are are trained to utilize the two-prong approach of community based gang intervention and who intercede, interact, and participate with and in the community to quell rumors, prevent and mediate conflicts, and respond to crises related to gang activity and violence; ‘‘(B) delivers rehabilitative services to gang-involved individuals and families; and ‘‘(C) addresses the barriers that gang-involved youth and their families encounter and the societal factors that promote gang violence. ‘‘(4) EVIDENCE-BASED.—The term ‘evidence based’, when used with respect to a practice relating to gang activity prevention and intervention (including community-based gang intervention), means a practice (including a service, program, or strategy) that has statistically significant outcomes that include a reduction in gang-related violence and an increased number of youth in job development, recreation, arts-based activities, or faith-based activities. Such outcomes may be determined by—‘‘(A) an experimental trial, in which participants are randomly assigned to participate in the practice that is the subject of the trial; or ‘‘(B) a quasi-experimental trial, in which the outcomes for participants are compared with outcomes for a control group that is made up of individuals who are similar to such participants. ‘‘(5) GANG.—The term ‘gang’ means a group of individuals—‘‘(A) organized by geography, culture, or activity; ‘‘(B) that have a group name, and may have other identifying characteristics of the group such as colors and nicknames; and ‘‘(C) who engage in the use of violence to defend the members or territory of the group. ‘‘(6) PROMISING.—The term ‘promising’, when used with respect to a practice relating to community-based gang intervention, means a practice that is not evidence-based, but—‘‘(A) that has outcomes from an evaluation that demonstrate that such practice reduces gang-related violence and crime; or ‘‘(B) about which a study is being conducted to determine if such practice is evidence based. ‘‘(7) YOUTH.—The term ‘youth’ means—‘‘(A) an individual who is 18 years of age or younger; or ‘‘(B) in any State in which the maximum age at which the juvenile justice system of such State has jurisdiction over individuals exceeds 18 years of age, an individual who is such maximum age or younger.’’. TITLE II—AMENDMENTS TO THE OFFICE OF JUVENILE JUSTICE AND DELINQUENCY PREVENTION SEC. 201. DEFINITION OF COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION. Section 103 of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (42 U.S.C. 5603) is amended—(1) in paragraph (1), by inserting ‘‘except when used in title VI,’’ before ‘‘the term’’; (2) in paragraph (28), by striking ‘‘and’’ after the semicolon; (3) in paragraph (29), by striking the period at the end and inserting ‘‘; and’’; and (4) by adding at the end the following new paragraph: ‘‘(30) COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION.—Except when used as part of the term ‘community-based gang intervention agency’ or ‘community-based gang intervention model’, the term ‘community-based gang intervention’ means a two-prong approach to reducing gang violence that—‘‘(A) provides specialized, gang-specific mediation and mitigation to stop or prevent violence by, within, and between gangs; and ‘‘(B) provides the redirection of individual gang members and their families through proactive efforts that increase peace and safety for gang members, their families, and their communities.’’. SEC. 202. COMMUNITY-BASED GANG INTERVENTION REPRESENTATIVE TO STATE ADVISORY BOARDS. Section 223(a)(3)(ii) of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (42 U.S.C. 5633(a)(3)(ii)) is amended—(1) in subclause (III), by inserting ‘‘, community-based gang intervention,’’ after ‘‘delinquency prevention and treatment’’; and (2) in subclause (IV), by inserting ‘‘community based gang intervention,’’ after ‘‘prevention and treatment,’’. SEC. 203. GRANTS FOR DELINQUENCY PREVENTION PROGRAMS. Section 504 of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974 (42 U.S.C. 5783) is amended—(1) in subsection (a)—(A) by redesignating paragraphs (7) and (8) as paragraphs (8) and (9), respectively; and (B) by inserting after paragraph (6) the following new paragraph: ‘‘(7) community-based gang intervention and gang prevention activities;’’. (2) in subsection (c)(2), by inserting ‘‘and community-based gang intervention’’ before ‘‘activities;’’ c/s
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John C. Smith, Dine Elder/Medicine Man: R.I.P.

Yesterday at around 10 am, I lost one of my teacher/elders among the Dine people (the Navajo). John C. Smith passed on at the San Juan Regional Hospital in Farmington, New Mexico. He was 85.

Mr. Smith was a Hataalii (Medicine Man) as well as a Native American Church/ABNDN Roadman, Historian, Educator, Philosopher, Herbalist, and Elder Statesman. He was of the Ma’iideeshgiizhnii (Coyote Pass Clan) and born for the Dziltl’ahnii (Mountain Cove). Mr. Smith was also a spokesperson and advocate for the Dine Hataalii Association, Inc.

For almost twenty years, I’ve been doing ceremonies, including peyote prayer meetings and sweat baths, with the Dine near the Chuska Mountains on the Arizona side of Dine Bikeyah (Navajo Nation). Medicine man Anthony Lee and his wife Delores of Lukachukai have taken in my whole family – and even adopted my wife Trini in an adult adoption ceremony, which many traditional Navajo do (and they treat these adopted children as their own).

These ceremonies have been one of the most vital aspects of my sobriety that I’ve now carried for twenty years after 27 years of drugs and alcohol (in the Rez, peyote medicine, which is not a drug, although this is the impression usually given by non-natives, is the number one way to deal with the high rates of alcoholism).

Anthony introduced us to John C. Smith, who was almost always at our ceremonies – with songs, with chants, with powerful prayers. Even though I only know a couple of Navajo words, I always felt his spirit, his intense devotion to medicine and ceremony, and was moved when tears would fall. He was a man unafraid to express the range of human emotions, generous and inviting. He was also extremely funny. His jokes, his laughter, were contagious. He knew English and Spanish, with some problems, but he mostly communicated in Dine.

John liked the Chicano Natives that would come to connect to Dine traditions (Trini and I, as well as our two young sons, my daughter, two brother-in-laws, nephews, and many friends, including Louie Ruan who was the first one to bring me to Lukachukai). It has taken a long time, but many traditional peoples have accepted Chicanos as fellow natives, even though most Chicanos, Mexicans and Central Americans have lost direct tribal ties.

It is also true that Chicanos/Mexicans have been responsible for much suffering of the Dine. When this land was part of Spain more than 200 years ago, and part of Mexico more than 100 years ago, ruling governments (during the Mexican period, the country was run by light-skinned mostly Spanish criollos) used other Mexican native peoples (like Yaquis, Chichimecas, Huicholes, and more) to hunt down and kill Navajos, Apaches and others. The old divide-and-conquer has brought much animosity between the large number of Chicanos/Mexicans and other native peoples.

At the same time, our common heritages are now being explored and many inroads have been made to bring Chicanos and Native Americans together. I have done talks to many Dine, Apache, Pueblo and Tohono O’odham youth in reservations and schools. With large numbers of tribal peoples from Mexico and Central America coming to the United States, the issue of us coming together is imperative. There are now three million Mayan people from Mexico and Guatemala in the U.S. (more than the total Native American population) – and millions more such as Mexicas (Nahuatl-speaking people), Mixtecos, Zapotecos, Purepechas, Pibils, and others.

As well Chicanos have been now trained and fully sanctioned as Mexica Danzantes (so-called Aztec ceremonial dancers) and are now a major number in most Sun Dances in Lakota reservations and others across the United States.

John C. Smith will be remembered as one who worked hard to bring our peoples together, although he did this as a Dine, using the complex Dine cosmologies to teach, the wondrous Dine tongue to sing and pray. Anthony and John also taught us how Mexicans – like the Hopi – have been incorporated into the tribe with their own clans. The Navajo know how to adapt and incorporate the world and peoples around them.

I hope what John C. Smith has done resonates throughout all the Native world, regardless of borders that have blinded us to our common heritages, histories and values. We can no longer afford to be divided.



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A new birth date, a new life

Today I celebrate twenty years of sobriety. My new birth date since the last time I drank in 1993 has been June 30. What a long painful and wondrous road this has been. I never imagined how intense this process would be. First I had to deal with seven years, from ages 12 to 19, when I was on drugs, alcohol, “huffing,” and also heroin. The latter finally getting its grips on me when I thought I’d never end up like the tecatos I knew in the barrio – usually in the alleys, chantes (“shooting” shanties) or hobo junctions along the railroad tracks.

I let all this go against great odds, against my own impulses, after getting politically engaged through the radical wing of the Chicano Movement, linking me to the larger working class, anti-war and civil rights struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I liked being on drugs, especially heroin, but I had convinced myself of the one thing I dreaded most in being in a gang, on drugs and violent – I was never going to own my life if I continued toward these pulls and webs. La Vida Loca – the Crazy Life – was a chain I enjoined to my soul and my mind. I had to let this go.

Political consciousness helps one to become self-aware, especially with the demands to be learned, skilled in words and ideas, and in convincing a world not to act the way it had been accustomed to act. I wanted to be true to myself, a difficult thing for an addict who never is. But, unfortunately, I didn’t give up on addiction—I just turned it toward the bottle, which I was good in imbibing, maintaining for a good while, and for the most part functioning, although after many years I reached a point I only thought about the bars, the women, the smoky rooms, the way tequila and rum germinated inside me, mutating my cells, my brain, my values.

Finally, when I was losing my teenage son to drugs and gangs, when I almost lost my present wife Trini, the last big love of my life, and possibly my daughter and two younger boys, I awoke to sobriety. More liked slapped into it. A year before this I had finished my memoir “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” This proved to be a powerfully healing thing. Then I found a Chicago-based recovery program that spoke to my needs, soul hungers and angers. I quit drinking the same year that “Always Running” hit the literary world like a hammer. Although I had one final terrible relapse during a poetry tour in Europe, apparently almost dying from what recovery people said was most likely alcohol poisoning (although I refused medical attention).

I kept myself sober ever since, even when I switched to Native American and Native Mexican spiritual practices, even when my oldest son ended up in worse trouble, eventually getting a long prison term, even when the family moved back to L.A. from Chicago, then trying to create a community-based cultural center and bookstore while writing more books, more poems, stories, children’s books, and a novel as well as traveling to speak, teach, and read. Even when my mother died, my best friends were taken from me (also heroin, cocaine, and alcohol heads at one time or another, two died by suicide), when I underwent some deep betrayals, and I raged and raged.

I’m still here. My body is worn – bad liver, diabetes, hypertensive, high cholesterol, eye retina tears, slipped discs in my back, kidney and gallstone attacks… but I’m still unbelievably better than if I kept drinking. I’ve made it so far. And my son Ramiro is now out of prison after a total of 15 years behind bars. He’s also crime free, gang free and drug free. In addition, my wife Trini and I celebrated 25 years of marriage this year. And my daughter is doing well, presently pregnant with my fifth grandchild, while my youngest boys are in wonderful straits – one just finished a year at the University of California, Riverside, and the other going to UCLA in the fall.

Twenty years. I have many more years to go – more books to write, more talks, more peace and healing work, more community activism, more revolutionary teachings and writings, even perhaps a political campaign or two (last year I was the Justice Party’s vice presidential candidate). And, of course, many more years as a husband, father and grandfather.

I thank the Creator, my community, my family. Nothing could be done in a vacuum, disconnected, or by following the dreaded internal pressures to give up. My biggest battle was with myself. I now have strict loyalties and principles (for fear if I fudge any of these, I’ll fall back). I’m ready for the next twenty – a new adventure, giving back more than receiving, teaching more than doing, and extending my love for family and community to the world.

Twenty years – and I’m still bleeding blossoms, perspiring poems, and an undeterred warrior of peace and justice wherever I go.


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In honor of Paula Quezada Pinedo

In late May, my wife Trini's aunt and "nina" (godmother) passed away after a hard bout with cancer. Paula Quezada Pinedo was much beloved by family and many friends. She was Trini's "favorite" relative for more reasons than one: Tia Paula held many of the family stories, many of the values and hopes. She was always quick with a smile, with pleasantries, with kind and embracing words. Trini would visit Tia Paula from time to time to share and exchange thoughts, updates, and, of course, stories. Her mother's younger sister, Trini found in Paula an example of a spiritually strong woman, rich in faith, a beloved mother, and a woman who spoke her mind, yet never brought shame or dishonor to her life or that of her family. I actually met Tia Paula many years before I ever met Trini. Just to show how intertwined our fates can be. In one of my most troubled years as a youth, at 15 I briefly worked that summer at a well-known Mexican restaurant in San Gabriel. A friend -- worried about my street life, drug use and gang involvement -- persuaded his father, who managed the restaurant, to hire me. I didn't last long, but the time I was there I worked hard. I was a busboy -- picking up dirty dishes and glasses, taking plastic trays with dirty dishes to the dishwashers, making sure people had water, coffee, and then clearing and cleaning tables. I had to be consistently on the move, walking with an eye to any customer that may need silverware, napkins, filled water glasses. There was tension between the busboys -- the low employees in the totem -- and the waiters. Even with the kitchen staff. They bossed us around. They made fun of us. They made us do extra work. I didn't like this. Authority figures generally tended to put my dignity on the line, and this was no exception. The waitresses were different. Most were nice. One or two were bossy. But the most congenial and helpful was Paula. She was one of the waitresses, with a version of Mexican-style uniform (mainly to attract the majority middle-class white patrons) that I found unreal and patronizing. But Paula always asked how I was, always had a smile, and when she saw I was distressed for any reason, always asked what I needed. I didn't trust many people in those days, especially adults, but Paula was different. She was genuine and trustworthy. Little did that I know that in around seven years, I'd meet her niece, Trini, who was active in Chicano revolutionary politics just like me. We worked together for years in community, whether in Los Angeles or later in Chicago (and now that we've returned to the San Fernando Valley). When Trini and I married in 1988 (I was 34 she was 35), I reconnected with this remarkable woman. She became my tia as well. I'm honored to have known her, to have been a witness to her grace and soulfulness. Que en paz descanses, Tia Paula. c/s
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