Bosnia and Beyond

I leave for Bosnia & Herzegovina today to take part in the International Poetry Festival in the capital of Sarajevo. I have to thank the Italian Embassy and the A. Chorale Foundation for supporting me on this trip. Also a big shout out to Casa della Poesia of Italy for making this possible, especially Sergio and Rafaella. They’ve just informed me that a band of Italian and Bosnian musicians will accompany me during my reading there. I didn’t place this festival in my website’s events calendar because I wasn’t sure I was really going, but now it’s confirmed. I’m excited to visit this ancient city in a vitally important part of the world. I’ll be back at the end of September. Also my son Ramiro, who’s living at a Chicago transitional housing for the recently paroled, was featured in the Chicago Sun Times yesterday on an article about a jogging program directed at the homeless and parolees. You can check this article online. I’m very proud of my son, who has a difficult road ahead of him, but who’s committed to doing good and making the most of this life. Trini and I were also able to be at the opening day of a new high school in East LA – the only newly constructed school in East LA in 85 years. The school is called Esteban Torres High School, which houses five autonomous academies such as Social Justice, Renaissance, Performing Arts, Engineering & Technology, and Humanitas. Some 2,200 students are already enrolled at the high school. The school was built on top of the old Hammel Street Elementary School, where my oldest son Ramiro and daughter Andrea attended as children (I lived in City Terrace at the time—just down the street, at the Guadalupe Church, I married their mother, Camila, in 1974). The school cost $125 million, which I understand is the most for any public school in history. Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural is one of the community partners for Esteban Torres High School. We were asked to be part of this important endeavor by members of the community, students, and teachers. We hope in a year or two to have a cultural plaza at the school that will include East LA’s only bookstore and a café, performance space & arts workshop center. We are working with other community partners—including a bank and a wellness center—to make this school a truly community/school collaboration. I also spoke to 10th and 11th graders at the Social Justice Academy later that week. We had great talks about the struggles of this community over many years to create this wonderful school. And about how we need to imagine a better life for all the Eastside—one free of violence, drugs, disparity, and lack of power. I hope to speak to 9th graders soon. My goal is to address all the Torres High students at some time. Most of students came from Garfield High School, which was once one of the most overcrowded schools in the country. Teachers at Garfield have for years used my books, including “Always Running,” but also my poetry and fiction. Garfield is still in existence, of course, but with less overcrowding. This school is dear to my heart because of my early years organizing there, but also at Roosevelt High School and other Eastside schools. I also did some community poetry readings, including for poet Damnyo’s new Slam hot spot at the Mangrove Club in Los Angeles. I also took part in the Flor y Canto Poetry Festival at the University of Southern California, which involved Chicano/a and other Latino/a poets from all over California and other states (and a beautiful poet from Barcelona, RaKel Delgado). The luminaries included Francisco Alarcon, Ron Arias, Danny Romero, Gloria Alvarez, Xanath Caraza-De-Holland, Dorinda Moreno, Juan Felipe Herrera, and many others I, unfortunately, won’t be able to name here. I’m honored to be included, although I was limited in catching most of the poets due to my busy schedule. And I was one of the readers for the San Fernando Valley Contemporary Poets event at the Tarzana Family Community Center in Tarzana, CA. On September 19, I also spoke at the memorial service for Richard “Scar” Lopez, one of the four original members of the legendary East LA band, Cannibal & The Headhunters. This band had a Top Forty hit with their version of “Land of 1,000 Dances,” which included the chorus of “naaa, na, na, na, naaa…” that came about when singer Cannibal forgot the lyrics during a live recording. It’s a mistake that changed the song forever and contributed to Rock N Roll history. They were also the opening act for the Beatles second US tour. This music—including the other East LA personalities and groups like The Premiers, Thee Midniters, The Blendells, the Salas Brothers, and others—helped a young troubled Eastside kid like me believe that something good was possible. I thank Scar and his bandmates for being part of this. In addition, Tia Chucha’s on September 18 held a lively bicentennial celebration of Mexico’s independence – as well as independence for a number of Central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. We opened up space in the parking lot for vendors, chairs, bands, and many regional traditional dances. More than 500 people showed up. The next day, at the same parking lot, Tia Chucha’s youth project, the Young Warriors, held their benefit event with the lowrider clubs “Bad Creations,” and “Good Times” showing their customized cars. We held a live graffiti art show where young people worked on their own canvasses. And there were bands, poets, Hip Hop acts, and others on the stage. I thank YW founders Brian and Mayra Dessant for all the work they did, as well as all the youth and their families who took part in making this a success. More than 200 people came by that day. The Young Warriors is a social action, self-healing, youth empowerment group based on the arts. The following day, our Mexika danza group, Temachtia Quetzacoatl, held their Fall Equinox ceremony at Tia Chucha’s on Monday, September 20. Again to lay a spiritual foundation to what we do at Tia Chucha’s and to recognize the energies and elements of the earth and the universe in the blessings we’ve have and hope to have in the future. I thank Monique and all the danzantes for their sacrifice and hard work. I also spoke to various schools that have been coming on field trips to Tia Chucha’s for a few years now—we’ve been getting like two to three schools a month. They come from all over Southern California, and as far away as Oakland and San Diego. This past week we even had a group home for foster youth come from the desert communities of Hemet/San Jacinto. Also I did a Skype teleconference with students at a Chicano studies class at Glendale College—they had great questions through this new (to me anyway) technology. And Trini and I spoke at the weeklong celebration for the new Chicano Studies Department at Mission College, up the street from Tia Chucha’s, in early September—this is a great victory for our community. I hope to enjoy my time in Sarajevo and to return healthy and strong. I plan to stay active and indispensable for some time to come. There’s so much we all need to do to create a world worthy of our children and generations to come. c/s

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