Ramiro and I -- a poetic journey home

Since August 1, my 38-year-old son Ramiro and I have been on a whirlwind poetry tour, a car trip, talks to youth, participation in retreats, gatherings, conferences, and a white water rafting adventure. We also hanged out with many family members in a variety of configurations (my family in two gatherings, family on Ramiro’s mother’s side in more than two, and with my wife Trini’s family). This began as soon as Ramiro got off parole in July after three years (he was released from prison in July 2010 following thirteen-and-half years with the Illinois Department of Corrections). The trip brought my son and I closer—to learn from one another, to begin relating on another level as men, as fathers, as revolutionary thinkers and leaders, as native healers. I must say the highlight of the past couple of months was the birth of my fifth grandchild, Jack Carlos Kinney, from my daughter Andrea. Andrea was the main reason Ramiro and I drove from Chicago to California (their mother Camila flew out later from Chicago as well). Andrea’s daughter, Catalina, is now a big sister at age 17. Big ups to dad Sean who stood by little Jack every step of the way (Trini helped in the delivery—a life-transforming experience, she says). Also our trip coincided with my youngest sons, Ruben and Luis, leaving the family abode to live in university dorms at UCLA and the University of California, Riverside, respectively. Trini and I are now “empty nesters” (although we have our two-year-old Chihuahua-Terrier mix dog, Chula, and a cat named Prudence). So many transitions. First Ramiro and I took part in a National Gathering for Peace at the University Church in Hyde Park, Chicago from August 1 to 4. We had participants from Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Wisconsin. It was a small but potent group, especially since Chicago garnered around 500 murders, outpacing the number of murders it had last year (and becoming the city with more murders in the country). After that we began the road trip along with Puerto Rican poet and longtime friend Eduardo Arocho from our beloved Chicago neighborhood of Humboldt Park. We took two-to-four hour shifts and completed the trip in 36 hours. We drove a 1996 Grand Marquis (I know—a gas guzzler) that withstood everything all the back to Chicago. It costs a lot to get this car ready for this trip, but Ramiro was insistent—it turned out to be a good investment. We arrived in time to Lotus CA to enjoy the American River for white water rafting (our first time) with 40 inner-city Los Angeles youth and mentors, part of the Spreading Seeds/The Healing Network I’ve been working with for several months. My youngest son Luis also took part, standing next to his oldest brother for the first time in at least ten years. What an adventure, including dives from 25-foot cliffs and getting pushed by currents through crevices and rock formations (called “sliders,” “the belly button,” and “the birth canal”). We also hit level three rapids with names like “Meat Crusher,” “The Widow Maker,” and “Satan’s Cesspool.” You get the idea. Unfortunately, one of the participants, well-known Disney TV personality Lee Thompson Young, a week later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This was devastating for all of us. He was 29. Ramiro and I then took part in a Circulo de Hombres Nobles (Circle of Noble Men) retreat in Jolon CA. Here Chicano and Native men gather, as they’ve done for 25 years, to share, to let go, to open up, to re-energize. Ramiro and I took part in a sweat lodge, something we had not done in 17 years. From there we ended up at the six-day Mosaic Multicultural Foundation’s annual men’s conference in Woodland CA near Mendocino, run by my friend, storyteller Michael Meade. I’ve been coming to these conferences, workshops and youth/mentor events for close to 20 years. Again, Ramiro had not been in one since before his prison time. This proved to be quite a healing event, including with some passionate dialogues, teachings, and living rituals. We drove to the Bay Area to then take part in a poetry reading at the Red Poppy Arts Center in the Mission. Eduardo read as well and my old friend Michael Warr. It has been 20 years since Ramiro and I both appeared together in San Francisco. A few people showed up from that time, including my comrade and long-time poet mentor Jack Hirschman. Thanks to Eduardo who also created Ramiro's first chapbook of poems called "Coming Home." It was now time to drive to Los Angeles. Readings were set up at the Corazon del Pueblo Cultural Center in Boyle Heights, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore in Sylmar, and the KGB Art Gallery downtown (a benefit for Brooklyn & Boyle magazine). Ramiro and I also talked to teachers in schools, youth in community meetings, gang interventionists, and at the Camp Miller L.A. County probation camp. Ramiro also took part in meetings of the Spreading Seeds/The Healing Network and of Tia Chucha’s Young Warriors, run by youth leader Mayra Zaragoza. Ramiro ended up in a major lowrider show on Point Fermin in San Pedro (his cousin Frankie is a mechanic and a member of the Bomb Squad, a classical lowrider car club of vintage 1930s to 1950s custom cars). And a special father-son sweat lodge ceremony was held in San Fernando where all my sons -- Ramiro, Ruben and Luis -- participated in healing, in good words, in prayer with other fathers, sons, men. By early September Ramiro drove back on his own to Chicago. He took a week and a half due to stops along the way, including visits with Albino Garcia and his family in Albuquerque as well as the Navajo Rez. He also visited a former gang member and Youth Struggling for Survival leader who now lives with his family in Omaha NE. I, in turn, ended up in El Salvador to speak at an Organization of American States before returning to Chicago in mid-September to reconnect with Ramiro. There we both took part in the Healing the Hood Conference in the Pilsen Barrio. Around 100 people showed up, both black and brown (and others) to address peace and how we can heal the pain of violence hitting the poorest most neglected areas of the city. Our other talks included 6th, 7th and 8th graders at St. Agnes of Bohemia and Our Lady of Tepeyac schools as well as teenagers from Imago Dei (Image of God) After School Arts Program, all in the Little Village barrio. We also took part in a peace circle at North Lawndale College Prep School, a predominantly African American school. In addition we spoke to service providers in the field of gang prevention/intervention at the YMCA Pilsen/Little Village--these talks proved to be productive and meaningful. Ramiro and I also did a poetry reading with Eduardo Arocho, Denise Ruiz and Mike Reyes—back to my humble beginnings when I first began reading poetry in Chicago some 25 years ago. This was held at a performance space in Paseo Boricua of our old neighborhood, Humboldt Park. And I did a talk with the most troubled youth at the Cook County Juvenile Center, young men, all black and brown, who were not programming or going to school due to a myriad of problems. With me, however, they were engaged, attentive, smart. I’m now in Los Angeles as of last Monday. I left Chicago and my son in a good strong place. This two-month healing journey with Ramiro proved to be a blessing in so many ways. We had been at war with each other in one form or another during his teenage years. While Ramiro was in prison, we managed to get closer, working out many issues in visits, on phone calls and through many letters (I wrote him every month during his incarceration whether he wrote me back or not). I’ve been sober for 20 years now and I know this has been a turning point in our relationship. And on his own Ramiro found sobriety while in prison (a most difficult place to do this) around 15 years ago. I thank the Creator for this time and space with Ramiro. And I thank Ramiro for the capacity to love, mature, think. To create and be a positive soul in this world. Life is hard, full of surprises, many painful. I’ve endured much of this. But to persevere, to never stop loving. To keep growing. That’s the task of living. After my return Ramiro posted these words on Facebook. I want to share them as a way to express the power of what fathers and sons can do in this world. This also goes out to my daughter Andrea and her new baby Jack Carlos as well as my sons Ruben and Luis as they embark on university lives. Dropped my dad off at the airport today. It’s been a great two months spending time together. Two months of reflection, of healing. In the past our relationship was tumultuous. Issue after issue. Trying to obtain an understanding of who we were in each other’s lives. Step forward into the future, and now that is all gone. We have finally found peace. It’s a testament to the bond we have forged from the fires of love. A father and son stepping into the battlefield, with weapons that can bring true positive solutions to the lives of our youth. We are not done. Our journey is just beginning. With the help of our families, our communities, lives can be saved. Thank you to everyone for showing me that together we can truly make a difference. c/s

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