For Trini with Love

Twenty years ago I did one of the best things I've ever done in my life—I married Maria Trinidad Cardenas. She is my best friend, mother of my two youngest sons, spiritual companion, and fellow founder of Tia Chucha's (and fellow revolutionary for truly encompassing and imaginative social change in this country).

In twenty years we've grown tremendously, having gone through much struggle, pain, sacrifice, and losses. But we also achieved healing, knowledge, wisdom, and mature love. The two most wonderful contributions we made to this world was having and raising our boys: Ruben Joaquin, who turns 20 this year, and Luis Jacinto, who turns 14. I say with much bias and fact—they are the two best boys any parents can have.

I attribute this to the sober fathering I eventually learned to apply with these young men. But mostly it was because of Trini's mothering melded with the most amazing stability and tenderness. In truth this also took much struggle to grasp—Trini like many parents was insecure, fearful, capable of many mistakes (like me). But with an awakened awareness, learned sharing and caring, Trini and I prevailed.

Presently, Ruben is an accomplished musician (he was part of the Inner Spark summer program at Cal Arts in Valencia, CA two summers ago) and a full-time Mission Community College student. He graduated a year early from City of Angels High School, part of LA Unified School District's Independent Studies Options program (where I spoke at their graduation ceremony).

Luis is a mostly A-student at Valley Alternative School in the San Fernando Valley. He's also a wonderful artist and cartoonist. He is applying with a portfolio to a prestigious LA County arts high school. This is very competitive, and Luis is aware he may not be accepted. But he told Trini and I that he wanted to try. That's all we've ever asked of him—“always do your best, even if you don't get what you aim for.” In time, his dreams will come true.

When Trini and I married in Kenosha, Wisconsin those 20 years ago, we both harbored uncertainty about a future and many concerns about each other. We had both been hurt in love and life (I was married and divorced twice before with two other children; Trini had also been married and divorced before). I was 33 years old; Trini was 34 (I always joke how she robbed the cradle when she married me).

I was also drinking, which I had done along with drugs since I was 12 years old. But my life was making a major turn at the time of our marriage: My oldest son Ramiro (then 13) was coming from LA to live with Trini and I in Chicago (my daughter, Andrea, joined us a couple of years later). Trini was also three months pregnant with Ruben—the major catalyst (and our love, of course) for the marriage). By then I also had earnestly accelerated my poetry/writing life, taking part in the growing Chicago poetry scene that eventually led to my helping found the Guild Complex Literary & Arts Center, Tia Chucha Press, the Chicago Poetry Festival, Prism Writers Workshops, and more.

Our first years as married couple were extremely difficult—with a very resentful teenager, a new baby, my absences due to work (I worked two to three jobs, wrote when I could, and attended poetry events), and increased problems with my drinking. I won't go into all of this here, but in time I learned to sober up (I've been clean now for more than 15 years), be a better father to Ramiro and Andrea, and, in time, for Ruben.

In 1994, a year after my biggest book, Always Running, got published and a year after my recovery, we had Luis. I was already active in work with gang and nongang youth due to Ramiro's gang involvement. I helped start Youth Struggling for Survival, the Increase the Peace Network, and the Humboldt Park Teen Reach as a result.

However, one of the most devastating losses (we also lost a few young men & women I helped mentor in the Chicago gang wars during this time) was the imprisonment of Ramiro for 28 years in Illinois's Department of Corrections.

By 2000, Trini and I were ready to return to LA—Trini grew up in Pacoima; I grew up in South Central and the East LA areas. We made sure Ramiro understood and accepted our decision (he did). After selling our house in Logan Square, packing and sending our stuff off in a large tractor-trailer through a moving company, the family took a train with Ruben and Luis back to the old Pacoima neighborhood where Trini had grown up.

In 2001, we bought a house and moved to San Fernando, a couple of miles from Trini's childhood home. We also began work on creating a cafe, bookstore, performance space, and arts workshop center that became known as Tia Chucha's Cafe & Centro Cultural. Later Andrea and her daughter Catalina came to move in with us as well (for which I was most grateful).

The rest is history as they say.

But for now let me say—we've had a difficult time as partners, as husband-and-wife, as parents. But I've never known anyone who has withstood all this and grown like Trini. I'm awestruck by her fortitude and perseverance. She has taught me much about change, focus and love. Today we still work together at Tia Chucha's (it's now Tia Chucha's Bookstore & Cultural Center). We're still actively engaged in revolutionary education and organizing. And we are both healers and water pourers for the San Fernando Sweat Lodge after years of training and ceremonies in the Lakota, Navajo and Mexika traditions (also some ten years ago Trini was adopted by Navajo medicine man Anthony Lee and his wife Delores).

As Trini wrote to me today, “It's been a rocky and wonderful twenty years. I'm so glad we haven't given up on each other when the going got rough. Our boys and you are so worth all the question marks leading to now.”

Yes, questions marks. They are always around us. And I've come to realize, most of them get answered by what we do, what we say, and what we create in our journeys to find true love, parenthood, community, and even social justice. Tlazhokamati, Trini. Gracias, thanks.

I know I have much more life to live, but I've already achieved many, many of my dreams and hopes. And for this—for my dearest Trini—I'm eternally grateful.


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