Los Angeles Recognizes One of its Own

It was a surprise to me.

Today, April 26, I met with LA City Councilman Ed Reyes (District 1) to thank him for his use of my poem, “The Concrete River,” as part of an exhibit of poems, photos, and paintings commemorating the Los Angeles River (on the Third Floor Bridge area of City Hall). I thought it was to be quick hello and good bye.

However, Councilman Reyes arranged a small reception for me and my wife Trini. Then he took me to visit the council chambers where I was presented with a signed, beautifully designed, certificate of recognition by the City, and allowed to say a few words.

I was surprised, and terribly pleased.

When a writer and activist like me writes and organizes, it is hardly for any official recognition. In my case, “official” recognition may smell of compromise and capitulation. I have been one who has fought “City Hall” on issues of justice, urban peace, and the arts since I was a teenager. But as one observer today said, “Could you ever imagine a time in the past when someone like you would ever be honored in the council chambers?”

Los Angeles, like many other cities, has undergone a major complexion, and I hope character, change—more people representing communities of color and the poor are now sitting in this parlor of municipal power, including a few Chicanos—Ed Reyes, Alex Padilla, Tony Cardenas, and Jose Huizar. And we also have a Chicano mayor, Antonio Villaragoisa.

This, I believe, has helped make the difference.

Of course, I also thank the other council members who supported this recognition, including African American Bernard Parks as well as Eric Garcetti (President of the Council), Tom LaBonge, and Bill Ronsedahl, all who shook my hand that day.

For poets and most writers, our only currency is acknowledgment. For political, class conscious, and socially engaged poets, even this is not forthcoming. So, yes, I’m honored and moved by this effort on the part of Councilman Reyes. I also hope to continue to struggle and fight for the rights of all people, including the millions of undocumented immigrants currently under attack in Congress, on the border, and in the workplace (with carefully calculated Migra raids around the country).

On May 1, cities will explode with work stoppages, demonstrations, vigils and marches. Thank you, City of Los Angeles, for honoring me. Now let’s realize the best ideals of this country and provide full and complete amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and the rights accorded any human being to live free of hunger, exploitation, oppression, and fear.

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