Latest update on my mother and recent events

Yesterday, my daughter Andrea and I went to the Orange County hospital where my mother is in critical condition. Since my last blogpost, mom has now contracted pneumonia. Since Friday she has been on a respirator, antibiotics and morphine. Since Friday, she has not opened her eyes.

We stood around her bed as she lay with her head up, unaware and unconscious, 40 percent of her breathing done with the machine. My sister Ana was there as were my brother Joe and his wife Diana. Their daughters Clara and Emily, and grandson Lincoln, were in the waiting room since there's a limit on who can be in the room with my mom.

We talked around our lives with our mother, how in the last few years she seemed to be sweeter, although she's forgetting more and more due to Alzheimer's.

My mother's had a rough life, with roots in the Raramuri people of southern Chihuahua, that during the Mexican Revolution (1910-1929) lost two daughters, my grandmother and great-grandmother, who walked out of the Copper Canyon, home of the world's largest number of cave dwellers after Afghanistan, where the Raramuri (often called Tarahumara) ended up after escaping the Spanish swords in the early days of the conquest. My great grand-mother and grandmother walked away from starvation and genocide (the Mexican Revolution saw the death of a million people, and the creation of a million refugees, when the country had 15 million people, including the destruction of Native and peasant villages including smaller tribes).

My great-grandmother and grandmother were re-named (till this day nobody knows their indigenous names) to Manuela and Ana when they got to a church shelter in Chihuahua City. In 1925, my mother was born in that city. My grandfather, Monico, was a railroad worker who had to carry rifles and guns on the trains to protect from bandits and later federal troops trying to stop rebels from using the trains. Monico apparently defended Pancho Villa. From history, Mexican rebels were the first to use trains to carry families and supplies, airplanes for bomb raids, and trenches in warfare (all these were used extensively in World War I).

After the revolution, Monico stayed on with the railroads, but also apparently played trumpet and at times ended up in Los Angeles sitting in with Mexican and jazz bands in the 1940s. The family eventually landed in Cuidad Juarez, Mexico, on the border, where my mother lived in deep poverty with Grandma Ana, two brothers, Rodolfo and Kiko, and a sister, Chila. One thing I recall my mother telling us involved my grandfather's drunkenness. How mean and ugly he'd get. How he'd yell at Grandma Ana and even drag her around the house by her hair. My mother, the youngest of the kids, learned to curse him out as the only thing that would stop him from going after her. She'd throw out the most amazing Mexican swear names.

Names that as kids she often used against us.

My mother was also mean growing up, especially in the beatings we'd get from her on a regular basis. We landed in LA as immigrants when I was two years old with my dad, Alfonso, my mother, and Joe, Ana and myself (my youngest sister, Gloria, was born in East LA two years later). We lived in Watts/South Central and we were often evicted from apartments and homes due to not paying rent or gas bills (which also meant taking many a cold bath). My dad tried to work--in a dog food factory, a paint factory, in construction, selling pots and pans, Bibles, and chicharrones (Mexican-style pork rinds), but he was often out of work.

We eventually landed in the East LA area, mostly South San Gabriel/San Gabriel, and my dad finally got a job as a laboratory custodian. In time we bought a wood-frame two-bedroom house that over the years got stuccoed, another bathroom added on, and even much later another smaller house in the back.

But it was always a struggle, like all working class families, in particular recent immigrants. I now know the frustration my mother had trying to make ends meet with four kids and a husband, unfortunately, who was emotionally disconnected to her and his children. My dad also had four other children from other women who often interacted with us (except one sister who died as an infant and a brother who stayed in Mexico and we never knew growing up). Seni and Alberto were the two half siblings we had more ties with.

We talked about how hard it was to get our father to see us, understand us, relate to us. My mother also had hormonal problems, which we didn't understand. She'd be nice one moment, than a raving lunatic the next. Years later she had her thyroid removed and this alleviated some of the madness (unfortunately, we were long gone from the house by then).

I don't want to blame my mother or father for what happened to me, because I made these decisions and I take responsibility for them. But I started my street life early, at age 7, joining a gang at 11 and beginning to use drugs and alcohol at age 12. While I became a violent gang member and then a heroin addict, I did turn this around by age 20 when I turned to revolutionary politics and action that eventually allowed me to imagine a life as writer, speaker, organizer, and family man -- something I eventually realized. But all the while I had seven years of drug use and twenty years of drinking to get through before I finally sobered up 15 years ago.

My brother and sister talked about the alcoholism, how they coped, which we had to all find a way (although my sister Ana said she never got into drinking). We lost our dad in 1992--a sad story in itself--but we've had our mother ever since. And despite some 20 years of estrangement with her, in the year 2000, when I brought my present wife Trini and two young boys back to LA from Chicago, I finally reconciled with my mother and the rest of the family. Besides Andrea and Ramiro, my oldest children, they got to know and appreciate my youngest boys, Ruben and Luis.

So there we were this past Sunday, seeing this brave and troubled woman, our mother, who we love very much despite past hurts and issues, looking so vulnerable and almost not there in the intensive care unit of the hospital. It's possible she'll get better, but her age and all she's been through makes this very difficult. Meantime, Ana tried to hold my mother's hand. Joe and I looked at mom every once in a while. Diana and Andrea stood by us.

I'm still praying she'll get through this. Anything is possible. But for now, prayers are all we can give.

We also got the news that Ana was laid off from her job the other day due to the financial crisis. She's only had this job for nine months. She's 53 years old, a rough time to be without a job, with a house mortgage. We're praying for her as well.

I also want to relate to everyone how in the midst of this, I received the West Algonguin Literary Award from the West Hollywood Book Fair at the Pacific Design Center on Melrose in West Hollywood. I was deeply honored. A busload of students from west San Gabriel Valley -- such as El Monte, La Puente, Industry, etc. also came and I spent a wonderful time signing books, taking photos, and talking to the young people. It was an important acknowledgment, and I'm grateful to the City of West Hollywood and PEN USA as well as everyone involved with the Book Fair for providing me this award.

Unfortunately, I missed the book fair the next day (I've gone since it started about seven years ago) to see my mother. But everyone seemed to understand. I want to give a shout out to Homeboy Industries and Leslie Schwartz who read at the book fair from the writing workshops Leslie has been facilitating with LA-area gang members for a few years now. I was going to read with them, but didn't make it. As I told the audience at the Pacific Design Center, it's time for us to find our voices, our stories, to find the means of expressing them--to live out the stories written on our souls.


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