New Books, New Cities

Last week, I spoke at two continuation high schools – the Cesar Chavez School in Santa Ana and the Mission School in San Fernando. Wonderful students – the kind some people may think are too much trouble, perhaps not worth dealing with. Yet, the students were respectful, attentive, and smart. It happens that their teachers and administrators are the ones who do give a damn.

One of those schools had close to 400 students; the other around 40. They were mostly Latino. When I was a teenager, and after getting kicked out of two regular schools, I tried to attend a continuation high school in the west San Gabriel Valley. I didn’t last one day – I got into a fight outside the school with a group of barrio rivals.

A few years after Always Running was published, Century Continuation High School in Alhambra invited me to speak. They treated me like an alumni – with a sign that said something like “Welcome Back.” I felt embarrassed since my time there was short.

Something similar happened in El Paso, Texas where I was born although I never lived there (my family lived across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua). When I first got there in the early 1990s to speak and read, they treated me like a native son. Again, it was their big hearts and natural flow of abrazos that made me one of theirs despite my minimal ties (I now have many life-long friends there).

Just a couple of examples at how many wonderful people there are in this world.

Of course, now I go to regular schools, continuation and alternative schools, juvenile detention centers, and youth prison on a regular basis. I’m even on the board of the HeArt Project – which brings art and teachers of art to continuation schools in LA County.

I have a special place in my heart for these kind of institutions.

At the Chavez and Mission schools, I was given the best receptions. We also had the most amazing discussions.

Presently, I’m in Cleveland, Ohio – home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I spoke today at the central library – again, we had the bountiful and comprehensive talks. Tomorrow I visit a juvenile detention center. The topics include my writings, my activism, my talks – but also the most pressing issues of the day.

“Always Running” has now been re-issued by the paperback publishing house, Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster. A new life for a book that has already had more than 20 printings and around 250,000 copies sold. Because of the new edition (it has a new cover, new introduction, and a study guide) I’ve been coming to more schools and juvenile institutions. I’ve spoken on various radio and TV shows from around the country; and few print interviews have also been conducted. The book has had an amazing impact on young people – and with many communities. I’m honored that it continues to do well twelve years after it was first published (by Curbstone Press in 1993).

The timing coincides with the publication of my fourth poetry collection, again with Curbstone, called “My Nature is Hunger: New & Selected Poems, 1989-2004.” While I’m doing readings at various LA-area bookstores for “Always Running,” Tia Chucha’s Café Cultural , will sponsor a book release party for the new poetry book on November 5 at around 6 PM. Also on hand will be Mark Vallen, who created an oil painting specifically for the poetry book called “My Nature is Hunger.” Books, prints, and posters will be available for sale.

I’m glad I’ve been able to get a novel, a new poetry book, and the reissue of my memoir done this year (my poetry/music CD, “My Name’s Not Rodriguez,” has also been reissued this year). I have to keep writing – in spite of my intense travel schedule, my work for the bookstore/café/cultural center, time with my family, and my other political/social activities.

It’s young people like those at Chavez and Mission that makes this all worthwhile. The issues in my books, even if fiction, are more complicated and substantial than many books being published today. It may be not be an advantage to have such content, but it is vital. We need more important books, imaginative ideas, and an expanded conversation about where we’re going as a country – and where we need to be.

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