Taking a Bite of the Big Apple

I just returned from an extremely productive trip to New York City. Wet and cold, I still got around in my favorite subway system (I’m partial to subways—I’ve ridden them all over the United States, Mexico City, and Europe). I was also on the Larry Davidson Cable TV show “Writers on the Vine” in Long Island, and radios shows such as WPAT-FM with Gene Heinmeyer, WOR-AM with Joey Reynolds, and Sirius Satellite Radio with Dave Marsh. At the high rise offices of Sirius Satellite Radio, I got to see the construction of Howard Stern’s new studio for his move there in January.

Dave Marsh, an old friend and editor of Rock & Rap Confidential , one of the first publications that ever published my work, also played host to my visit, including moderating a rich dialogue on health care at the American Federation of Musicians Hall, Local 802, in Manhattan. A potent group of people showed up, including local labor leaders like Joe Delia of Local 802 and Susan Borenstein of the AFL-CIO; jazz trumpeter Jimmy Owens; actors Mark Weber, Tim Dowlin, and Rocco Rasanio; James Bernard, co-founder of The Source magazine and labor organizer; Susan Brennan, poet and organizer for Acts of Art; among others.

The lack of decent and affordable health care in this country is becoming the cutting edge issue of our day. Joann Lundy of the Physicians for a National Health Plan also attended with information on the importance of a single payer health plan for every person in the country. Why not? People are dying (and we’re spending more on taxes and out of our pockets) with the so-called system we have now.

The present health care system’s primary purpose is to keep a multi-billion dollar insurance and health industry profitable—while increasingly more Americans are being pushed out of paid health care plans.

We deserve the best health care possible—we’ve all worked hard for it and have fought for it with the lives of our sons and daughters. We can’t keep maintaining a society where health care, decent housing, good schools, and other basic needs are available only to those who can afford it. The rich and powerful must not dictate our policies and values.

I also did a wonderful workshop at the Bowery Poetry Club, run by my old friend Bob Holman, as part of their Study Abroad on the Bowery program. Another friend, and Chicago transplant, Tara Betts, an amazing poet in her own right, is now working there and she did an amazing job putting these workshops together.

With the help of some friends in the New York City public library system (and writer friends like Patricia Spears Jones), I also got to talk to a group of alternative school students in East Harlem’s Aguilar Branch on 110th Street. We had a wonderful time—their questions were thoughtful and engaging.

It reminded me of the trip I had to the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court Detention Center in Cleveland earlier in October—where I spoke to about 300 young men and women awaiting trials for various crimes. They were also attentive, respectful, and full of questions. These have become some of my favorite audiences.

The rest of my time in New York City involved meetings with my agent and editors and good friends (although I did miss a couple of important meetings—just not enough subway trains or time to do it all). All in all, I value my time in the Big Apple whenever I can get there, a city I’ve been visiting for some 25 years now.

I was reminded how I took a leading role in the American Writers Congress in the fall of 1981, sponsored by The Nation magazine and others organizations, that helped create the National Writers Union (where I was an active member for many years). I had come as part of the LA Latino Writers Association, representing East LA and including writers like Helena Viramontes and Manual “Manazar” Gamboa. This gathering eventually helped us gain a national presence in the arts and the media after decades of working and writing in the LA area (and being largely ignored by most publishers and media).

Now Latinos have inroads that never existed before—including the success of one of my publishers, Rayo Books of HarperCollins, headed by my editor and friend, Rene Alegria (with whom I had a short but meaningful talk during my current visit).

As always, Latino writers have a long way to go—but our place in American letters is irreversible. Although some people may try to change this, we’re here to stay.

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