Dear Fellow Leaders, Thinkers, Artists, Poets, Organizers, Healers:
Greetings from the Luis and Trini Rodriguez household!
There is no word for “art” in most indigenous languages. Why? Because art is in everything, everywhere, the very nature of human beings and a living earth. In time of crisis, the next move is not order, but creativity. It’s time to be in the often-messy place where we contemplate what’s possible, about where the uncertainties and pains are taking us, and how we can activate the most abundant power within everyone: the imagination.
That’s my thought to share, but first I have to relate my recent personal ordeal leading me to revive all this. To begin I honor my beautiful family in our seclusion—my three sons Ramiro, Ruben, and Chito have been wonderful doing most of the shopping, yard work, and plumbing. Everyone lost work except one son. One of my son’s girlfriend, who also lives with us, was laid off as well. I lost around $30,000 worth of speaking gigs through the end of summer. I’ve applied for grants and other compensation. I’m in touch with my daughter Andrea in Chicago and grandchildren (and thinking constantly about my four great-grandchildren).
However, we’re going to be okay. Others have it worse.
And we have a stable, imaginative, and growing Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore community, now almost 20 years in existence. We have the most amazing staff of young people, board of directors, and hard-working interns and volunteers. Despite our active programming being canceled and the bookstore closed, we have established a lively virtual workshop space with Open Mics, Social Justice Book Club, Indigenous Cosmology Classes, and more, including such practices as Yoga. And our books are now promoted online for anyone to buy.
All accessible at www.tiachucha.org.
I’ve done my part, but it turned out about a month ago I began a fever roller coaster ride. Doctors said to just stay at home and report any deterioration. I am in the high-risk category—over 65, diabetic, and hypertensive. Finally, two weeks ago, they let me come in for Covid-19 testing and chest X-rays. The good news—I tested negative for Covid-19. But I did have pneumonia. Due to a possible surge in Covid-19 patients, I was sent home to be quarantined in my room—pneumonia is also contagious, and they treated me as if I had Covid-19. Then one night I had unsurmountable pain. I knew what this was—gallstones. I’ve had problems with these for years. Two of my sons drove me to the emergency. The hospital admitted me because it seemed a stone had blocked my bile duct and my liver had heightened levels of enzymes. I’ve also had liver problems for years due to heavy drug use in my youth and then 20 years of drinking beyond that. This year, June 30, I will have 27 years sober; this has helped me regenerate to a somewhat decent degree a worn-out liver.
The next day I had two surgeries, including gallbladder removal. After two days in the hospital, I returned home since they needed beds for a possible Covid-19 surge. I had a draining tube from my liver with instructions on how to take care of this. Trini has been a pillar for strength and healing throughout this time, and my sons helped without complaint. Despite pain and lack of energy, I’ve rebounded well. Yesterday, the surgeon removed the drain apparatus. I’m on the mend—pain is gone, and my energy levels are getting back to what they were.
I’m blessed beyond measure.
Now I’m doing Zoom conference talks, virtual AA-NA meetings, virtual classes, and live-streaming. Trini and I have continued with “The Hummingbird Cricket Hour” podcast—I recommend people listen to the close to two dozen podcasts we’ve done so far. Here’s link: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/hummingbird-cricket-hour/id1381254966
I also recommend everyone get a copy of my new book, “From Our Land to Our Land: Essays, Journeys & Imaginings from a Native Xicanx Writer” (Seven Stories Press). I was on the verge of traveling around the country to promote it when the pandemic forced events to be cancelled. Still you can order at https://tia-chuchas.myshopify.com/
The book, my first of essays, addresses issues like racism; the power of poetry and the arts; how to find belonging in a time of uprootedness; the four key connections for healthy life and relationships; the spirit of learning and the spirit of teaching; my own odyssey in the development of Hip Hop; my over 40 years working in prisons, juvenile lockups, jails, and with street gangs in Los Angeles, Chicago, Mexico, Central America, South America, England, and Italy; and so much more.
I also helped put together a new anthology of prisoner writing for Tia Chucha Press (the renowned small press I started over 30 years ago in Chicago). It’s called “Make a Poem Cry: Creative Writing from California’s Lancaster Prison,” edited by Kenneth E. Hartman and yours truly. Mr. Hartman is a writer and activist, recently released from prison after serving 38 years. The selections in the book is from participants in my creative writing classes in two high-security yards. The book should be available by the end of April. You can order now at https://tia-chuchas.myshopify.com/
My plan, besides being as healthy as I can, is to continue the Hummingbird Cricket Hour with Trini and work on a YouTube channel. I aim to push the conversation in this country and the world about where we need to go as humanity, guided by ancestral knowledge and led by imagination and revolutionary ways of thinking, organizing, and living.
I see the Covid-19 Pandemic as a crisis that is demanding the old, unequal, exploitative, and oppressive societal structures and governance be removed AND new, encompassing, and embracing societal structures and governance be born. It’s time for an economy that is not based on placing most of our resources and labor for the profit of a few corporations and individuals, but for the wellbeing, health, and thriving of all.
It’s time for cooperation, not competition. For a borderless imagination, not one with fences, chains, and isolation. Not fear, but courage and new ideas. Even with somewhat global distancing and seclusion, we’ve seen the earth renewed, less smog, less crime, less stress, and new ways of living, working, and interacting. It’s not time to go back to “normal”—since “normal” wasn’t good when we last left it: homelessness everywhere, suicides and opioids addiction growing, low-wage work, with decent healthcare and education denied to millions. Instead let’s go forward to an economy that aligns resources to human needs, closing the so-called wealth gap, peace and safety throughout the planet, a clean and green earth, and providing quality healthcare, education, living pay and working conditions for all who need it.
We need to take our time getting our society revved up again, but on a new basis. People should not be pushed back to work and to the roads until all of us have everything in place—like widespread testing, possible cures, or ongoing safe practices. And the largest social safety net ever.
So, again, we must use this time to be imaginative and creative. That’s what the arts represents—the core essence of all human beings. And realize the best of our dreams, visions, and aspirations with practical, short and long term, organization and restructuring.
Let’s stay connected. Read, study, and also help transform the world from the trauma we are all undergoing.
Something old and archaic is trying to die; something new and vital is trying to be born.
Revolutionary blessings to everyone,
Luis Mixcoatl Itztlacuiloh Rodriguez