Friday, December 29, 2006

a splash of red, Central Park, NYC, a few days before christmas

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Thinking all afternoon of Anzaldúa then indigo...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

south texas winter

Never noticed monarch polka dots
like Minnie’s. Everything compared to Disney – reverse similes for red rock and snow-capped landscapes. Who’s to know monarchs from viceroys, pure love from pure love? Two black dots mark orange fan male, Senator. And Queen

Amidala’s decoy feeds from frogs. Gotta get your salt fix, girl. Gotta mimic someone else so low flying saucers mistake you, body mulberry, for sun pretty. Be a fish in a school of plenty – help make a silver streak with waves in the middle of breaking.

And the gulf keeps breaking and lapping into winter, into fisherman, into beached bluebottle man-of-wars. Mouths in pouches, mouths in hooks, sexy piercings and gatherings while your gills still working from a string of shiny things.

Note to selves: Knock your noxious pochisimos as if they were wood. Knock on, knock up, knock out. Endangered sea turtles are immune to polyp tentacles – ooomm delicious bluebubble devils! Ooomm ooomm good!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Thursday, December 07, 2006


I finally took note today (breathed) that it is December. December!

One of my first December memories: taking a bite out of the styrofoam ice cream cone decoration dangling from the Christmas tree. I really thought it would taste like chocolate chips. I remember wanting to taste it for days and days until I finally gave in when no one was looking.

I saw a firefly yesterday near a soccer field. I'm still impressed with fireflies, especially on cool days in Texas, but a locked-up grass field bothers me.

Today I almost asked a woman in line behind me (too close behind) if she'd like to slug me with her chorizo links so that I'd inch up more for her to feel like the long line at the grocery store were moving faster. At the time I felt impatience is a kind of violence. Now I think it's humorous.

It’s been raining all day. If you told me it was late August or September I’d believe it.

I vacillate between wanting beauty, boredom, and excitement as distractions.

I want to write more entries but gotta finish up semester first. Soon enough.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Candlelight Vigil in Santa Ana, CA

KCAL 9 News about last Friday's vigil for José J. García

News story: (in the video portion of this other news story about the murder, I'm sad to report that José is erroneously called "Juan")

The following comes from Adriana Alexander, a community activist in my hometown Santa Ana, California. I met Adriana at the Border Book Festival in Las Cruces, NM, this spring and she and I have kept in touch. Please read on about the tragedy surrounding the murder of José J. García, one of Adriana's students. My heart goes out to José's family and friends, and I am deeply saddened to hear about the brutality surrounding his death. Adriana's words help raise awareness about tragic events that happen to immigrants in the U.S., stories we often hear about only briefly in the news. Thank you for sending this my way, Adriana.

Death of José J. García
Written Saturday, Nov. 18th, 2006, by Adriana Alexander

The last time that I saw my ESL student, José, was the Sunday before he was killed. I was tutoring at the Centro Cultural in Santa Ana, where my mother and I had started a program to help adult immigrant ESL students in Santa Ana succeed in their studies. José faithfully attended our classes every week to practice his English. But today, José wasn’t at the Centro for English lessons; he was attending dance classes just down the hall, learning the intricacies of cumbia and danzón. José loved dance class, and he often cajoled me into dancing a few minutes with him on those Sunday mornings. I didn’t mind. As José left the Centro that Sunday, in a hurry to go home and cook his big meal which he would eat all week, he stuck his head into our class to wave good-bye. He made a point of getting my attention and saying, “Bye, Adriana.” I looked up, smiled and waved, thinking that I would see him again later that week. In fact, there were a number of people who were really looking forward to seeing José on that coming Friday, when our whole class plus friends and supporters were going to hold a mini cumbia dance party, with José presiding as our dance expert.

Early the next morning, on Monday, November the 13th, José de Jesús García Ramos, age 34, was brutally murdered as he walked from the bus stop to the graveyard shift at the factory where he worked doing medical laundry. Three unknown assailants attacked José; he was robbed, beaten, run over, and left for dead.

I knew José as a bright and dedicated student who made us smile often with his sly sense of humor and his kindness to everyone. One day, Jose surprised me with a gift - a beautiful fan that he gave me because we both liked the danzón. This was just like José, giving a gift for no reason in particular, but rather as a token of an experience we had shared together. And José treasured any gift given to him, as well. Sometimes, we gave small, silly gifts to our students for holidays. José carried his around in his backpack. He prized these little gifts, given and received, as keepsakes of valued friendships.

While I always knew that José had a very good heart, it was only after his death, talking to his friends, that the depth of José’s generosity and spirit became clear. He has many friends that will miss him dearly. There are few stories that, in particular, illustrate for me the type of person that José was and the sadness that we all feel at his passing. One young woman told me that she had spoken to José about feeling very isolated, like she had no friends. José had told her, “Aquí estoy, aquí estoy.” He reassured her that he was there – he was her friend. Another close friend of his said that José had helped her through a very difficult time in her life, often sitting with her until her husband arrived home from work, so that she would not be alone. A classmate told me about how he and José had sometimes gone together to a restaurant after class and talked about their families back in Mexico. It was he who told me that José was in the process of getting his immigration papers, so that he would soon be able to visit his elderly mother in Mexico.

The Friday after José’s death, the ESL Support Project held, not a dance party, but a candlelight vigil in his honor. Twenty-five friends and classmates gathered at the Centro Cultural to remember José. Before the procession started, many who attended sat decorating candles and writing letters to José and to his family to give testimony to José’s life in the United States. These letters, along with others written by friends, classmates and co-workers not in attendance, will be collected together and sent to the family in Mexico, who has not seen their son in ten years.

The vigil procession walked seven blocks from the Centro Cultural to José’s home in Santa Ana, carrying candles and accompanied by musicians from the Centro Cultural. En route, they passed the Marketplace Education Center, where José was also enrolled in English and computing classes five days a week. A collection instituted by José’s classmates from Marketplace provided more than a thousand dollars in help to the family, this an extremely generous amount from immigrant students of very modest resources. The money will go to covering the costs of the funeral and sending the body back to Mexico. José will be buried in León de las Aldamas, Guanajuato, México, where he was from and where his parents still live.

José’s family welcomed the vigil procession into their home, up four flights of stairs in a large condo complex alive with people, where José had lived with his sister and her family. The small living room could not hold the procession, and people spilled out into the hall and kitchen. Jim Hall, José’s teacher from Marketplace, presented the money from the collection to José’s sister, Yolanda, and some of José’s close friends read the letters they had written. The family expressed surprise and appreciation for all the support and sympathy they had received. Yolanda told us that José had been very reserved at home, and they didn’t know he had had so many friends and had touched so many lives.

Our classes will not be the same without José. I am still in shock that such a violent death could happen to such a kind man. Besides becoming a good friend, José was also our ambassador; over half our students initially found their way to us because José brought them with him to class. We have stopped holding classes for a while, because we are finding it too hard to go on for right now. But we will start again. José was special, but he was also one of thousands of immigrants in Santa Ana, each with a name and a story. We will continue to strive to help them reach their “American dreams” of success through education. In honor of José, a man who embodied the values that our project hopes to achieve, our program will be renamed in his honor.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Junta: Avant-Garde Latino/a Writing

Call for Submissions for Poetry Anthology (spread the word)

(the following call for submissions comes from Editor Gabriel Gomez, whose forthcoming poetry collection The Outer Bands won the 2006 Andres Montoya Poetry Prize and will be published by University of Notre Dame Press next year. The judge of the book prize, Valerie Martinez, writes: "The Outer Bands shows us a poet who is stretching the idea of what poetry and self and home and country and allegiance mean. It is, all at once, imagination and documentary, song and declaration. It manages the best of what American poetry is doing, right now, as well as asserts its inherent and unique Latino voice. This manuscript matters, both aesthetically and in terms of the moments and stories it offers up on its provocative 'little altars.'") Looking forward to reading Gabe's book. Read on for anthology submission details:


Latino/a writers have historically embraced experimentation of form and craft as a way to explore their culture. Even so, much of Latino/a writing, published in the United States, has been limited to particular approaches to subject and style that have been validated by mainstream publishers. Rarely, if ever, does the writing express the immense diversity of aesthetics practiced by artists in the Latino/a community.

In addition, the reality of a U.S. Latino/a Avant-Garde is virtually non-existent in contemporary literary discourse about "Latino/a Art" as well as across the literary spectrum.

Sunstone Press, an independent publisher in Santa Fe, NM is producing an anthology that will be edited by poet Gabriel Gomez. The anthology will feature Avant-Garde poetry and poetics by contemporary Latino/a writers. The tentative publication date is fall 2007.

The anthology will first appear at a conference in Santa Fe, NM, scheduled for October 2007, and will be available nationwide thereafter.

Caveat Emptor

It is not the intention, with this anthology, to categorize and codify certain Latino/a writers as “Avant-Garde” nor to establish any notion of a preferred aesthetic. The objective is to interrogate the very terms "Avant-Garde" and "Latino/a experience" as intersecting locations of poetic practice so as to bring forth work that bears witness to our varying aesthetics as artists and thinkers. The ultimate goal is to encourage both readers and publishers to recognize the breadth of Latino/a writing and thus deepen the public's understanding of the Latino/a experience.


Please submit up to five poems. Manuscripts should not exceed 15 pages. Include a cover page with your name and contact information as well as the titles of your
poems. Your name should not appear on the poems themselves.

Writers are asked to submit only electronic versions of the poems. Send as MS Word attachments only. Both MAC and PC platforms are acceptable.

Submit work to

Writers whose work is accepted for the anthology will be asked to write a poetics statement no longer than 750 words.


All manuscripts submitted by January 10, 2007 will be considered. Contributors will receive two copies of the book upon publication

Saturday, November 11, 2006


"and gold chickpeas were growing on the banks"

(translated by Anne Carson
from If Not, Winter)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Rigoberto González Blogging at the Poetry Foundation site

Rigoberto González is blogging this week at the Poetry Foundation site. Today's entry is "On Being a Chicano Poet." Check it out!

Rigoberto's new books include Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa and a poetry collection Other Fugitives and Other Strangers. Butterfly Boy is beautifully written and I'm eagerly awaiting my copy of the new poetry collection from Amazon.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Always Running, Always Significant

Just finished discussing Luis J. Rodríguez’s book Always Running in class this week. But it’s not like we could ever finish discussing the issues raised in this beautiful, complex book.

This book reminds me how easy it is to neglect all members of our communities... how easy it is to write off children. How easy it is for politicians and institutions and adults to write off "undesirables" of all ages. How easy it is to see a young vato and think that kid is angry, messed up, and he better just stay the hell away from me and my family. A disruption in class. A kid who needs to go to boot camp.

How many young adults who usually don't like to read have asked to borrow a copy of Always Running? How many youth have stolen Always Running from the libraries because they want to read it and keep it because it speaks to them?

I wish more of the students I taught in the detention center went to college. I wish more of them were in my college classes. The two ex-gang members in my class at the community college last semester were some of the best students because they had something to say--they had a lot to write about and they helped to make class discussions engaging because many of the issues we discussed hit close to home. They were also some of the most concerned about the anti-immigration legislation and were involved in organized, peaceful protests.

A high school teacher told me they've had four pep rallies for the football team this year at his school—-a predominately low income, Chicana/o student body. The only four times they have met this year as a school. How the cheerleaders performed their routines facing the team... routines just for those boys.

He says the football players and cheerleaders, generally speaking, seem like nice kids and the whole role-playing for these popular positions seems, in his opinion, unnatural to many of the students. On the other hand, the pep rallies are not mandatory, but still over a thousand show up before school starts.

Have we become so cliché that we cannot ever escape it?

Preparing children to either be literal soldiers or cheering for soldiers.

Why not a gathering to discuss social justice issues? To hear spoken word poetry? To watch dance teams perform beauty for its own sake without the cheering? Band members playing music they like instead of the same ole patriotic tunes? Football players on the field and not always catered to off of the field. They have their stage already--promote stage space and creative opportunities for others.

We also talked about an article that described how gang members make good U.S. soldiers. How it’s much more than tagging in Iraq. When it’s convenient for the government to promote gang activity and violence if it advances the government's purposes.

And yet important books like Always Running have been banned in Texas and other states, primarily on the grounds of a couple 'explicit' sex scenes (not so much because of the violence). Are parents really worried that the book will encourage their kids to have sex? What world do they live in?

Lee Rhyanes has a great interview with Rodríguez. I like how Rodríguez reiterates that books don’t encourage kids to have sex, it’s hormones.

Gang members aren't only gang members because they may come from stressed out and/or broken families. It's time we stop blaming parents for all that goes wrong with children and start looking at the double standards institutions promote. State-mandated testing, football is king, overcrowded classrooms, the same ole history books, the same ole alamo, the lack of arts funding, the same ole abstinence only, the same ole books in literature class, the same ole structure to write your same ole essay that sounds like everyone else's in order to pass uncle sam's exam. The same ole cops using their batons when no one's looking. The same ole kids locked up because of the same ole drugs that someone with a lawyer uses just the same but never gets locked up. The same ole fraternities using the same ole hazing with lots of daddies and alumni power on the corporate breeding grounds backing em up. The internalized racism that's promoted by a host of many factors, dividing the Mexican American community. Class divisions and the pull yourself up by the bootstraps--we did--mentality.

The same ole cheerleading and cronyism that encourages the total destruction of Chicana/o communities via eminent domain and forced relocations to build more shopping malls. The same ole let's push these folks aside, either to another neighborhood, alternative school, jail, country, and we'll get to shop for our next outfit for the next football game in paz. We'll be so progressive in our shallow utopia that doesn't include anything 'ugly' or 'negative' because we are the progressive former cheerleaders and football players in town (or former high achievers neglected socially in school who now want a piece of the pie). Don't you know we know what's best and trendy? We went to the best colleges, we have our law degrees, we know the best books to read that will show us how to become the creative class. How dare you criticize us! We are the 'progressives' and you only want to maintain the status quo. No matter what you say we will eat you alive because we have money and cronyism on our side.

Are we all clichés or archetypes. Predictable. Is it love or pain that drives the cat to eat strands of grass shoots as if a dna command. Censorship of books is a censorship of life. I grew up censored. Didn't we all. The most tragic part of it all is that we censor the very life that is who we are. Language is our working through. Without it, for fear of its acknowledgement, is the very tragedy that we experience daily. As children, as adults. Children afraid of the adult's judgment and the adult's fear of the child's thoughts and power. Children are powerful. They are very powerful. It is time we start respecting their power by helping them access the language that will help them articulate and solve the big mess that they have inherited from us, a fearful people that is the U.S. of America.

Perhaps it is naive of me to think that language will set us free, when language, as a comfort and as a transcript of intellect, continues to be abused and used as an oppressive weapon. It is a shame that intelligent people continue to dumb down the written word--political campaigns and some local newspapers come to mind--for what they consider easy coersion. I want to know... are they always laughing when not b.s.-ing? Laughing, as cops might, after shoving a kid with a dime bag around and letting him free with a physical warning. Laughing, as politicians must, after their big "morality" speeches that have little to do with their elected positions or their own beliefs.

We live in a world that thrives off of censorship for fear that the everyday person in the crowd snaps out of the coersion and realizes that "winning" a football game, new place to shop, or violent war will not set him free.

If more young people wrote their life stories, especially those who are living la vida loca as many still call it, I can imagine that it would only increase their understanding of themselves and the complex factors behind their choices. Similarly, when we read their stories, we learn more than we can imagine. In my experience teaching incarcerated youth this past year, I learned that the amount of substance abuse is alarming, as is the amount of violence they have witnessed and/or experienced. In my experience reading their writing and talking to them, the amount of love, pride, and hope these young people have to offer is not only life-affirming but also a testament to their creative potential, which theoretically should extend far beyond cell walls, but is one of the greatest challenges all communites face.

With all of my respect for community activists like Lee who work with young people, and for writers like Rodríguez and raulsalinas who have made it their life mission to reach out through the written and spoken word, through teaching and healing, through the promotion of young voices who have something to say and a need to say it. I hope that more people will want to listen.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Conversation with Indiana Review Editors

Check out this e-interview/conversation in TERTULIA with Francisco Aragón and the editors of the Indiana Review's recent Latina/o writers issue. It provides a thorough glimpse into the editing process and contributes to the larger dialogue about the past, present, and future of Latina/o letters.

* * *

Wow, I just noticed nearly a month has passed since my last post.

Día de los muertos, día de amor.

Follow the path of marigold petals... the path that will lead you back home.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Momotombo Press

I followed Eduardo's links to recent Momotombo Press interviews. I love these interviews. I have all of the MP chapbooks, and each one is a wonderful work of art. I love using these beautiful books in my classes. Hats off to Francisco Aragón (w/ Letras Latinas at Notre Dame), María Meléndez, and Richard Yañez for this important work.

In addition to Eduardo's recent interviews, it's great to see that Carolina Monsivais conducted an interview with Michelle Otero about Michelle's essay-collection Malinche's Daughter. ¡Viva las mujeres! And I'm going to miss :( Carolina reading with María Meléndez this Friday (I think it's this Friday night) at New Mexico State University. If anyone's in the area--check out the reading... two Chicanas gonna rock da house.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Disturbing slides

Race, ethnicity, and class enter El Paso's downtown "revitalization" plan debate in a most disturbing way. Apparently, the city paid a marketing firm lots of $$$ (around $100,000) to find out what others think about El Paso's residents and community. These presentation slides suggest that a new marketing strategy should be employed to hide our faces and elders from visitors so they feel more comfortable visiting and spending money downtown. (Not only are some of these slides offensive, this so-called "research" will contribute to the displacement of hundreds of Segundo Barrio residents and destroying, forever, a historically signficant portion of the barrio for big box stores and trendy shopping):

Newspaper Tree article

"Offical Insult..." by We the People

whole presentation

Paso del Sur updates

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Blog Nepantla

blog nepantla #1:

As a child I loved the movie Grease. In my mind it's at least 20 times I saw it at the dollar movie theater, though it was probably four times (playing the songs and staring at all the little photos inside the double album cover is another story entirely). This was an early indication of obsessive behavior.

Obsession as worship
Time to move on

Blog as electronic bracelet, as monitor

I’ll go thru moments of summer lovin', longing, Betrayal, Who’s the real me, Until we meet up again.

Slave to the email.

Enjoying hard peaches as genetic trait.

Why do I care to explore that? No one wants to know except me.

Everything is labeled so private these days, and I admit I enjoy my privacy and the few rights we have in this area. I’m also aware that we live under the illusion of privacy as U.S. citizens. Snazzy grocery stores like albertson’s: I don't like shopping there cuz of high prices but also the record keeping, all my purchases in da big machine. If anyone wants the so-called “discounts” gotta swipe your membership card. If you want discounts, gotta be a marketing statistic.

Blog as electronic anklet.

Birds in the grass hopping, pecking, chirping.

Could I learn to love that white brick?

This air conditioned, manmade cave.

Where do flowers live?

I saw a man in a wheelchair selling watermelons and pineapples on the corner.

I miss the oncoming traffic of bridge pedestrians. I miss that continuous line like an artery connecting us. The river an organ that runs dry and tattooed by graffiti artists of all ages.

The 'criminal' mind. Charming.

I mean it.

Back to privacy. The family’s business was to remain private. The students you work with, their business is to remain private. What little time is left in the day? Bloglandia.

I’m hungry but don’t want to eat. That is unlike me. It is because I’m somewhere unfamiliar and don’t want to consume just yet.

Many of us want food made lovingly for us by strangers. The erotic nature of food getting. I want some food. I don’t want to make it cause it don’t taste as good. I love the way food tastes when it’s made lovingly, even between strangers who never meet or who never meat. Hah, hah, gotta ruin the mood like that.

My dream... The lion on a leash... fun and happy... me too... then the leash slipped free from my hand... worry filled me, the danger unleashed to others, including the lion. The lion was happier than ever... plans filled its eyes.

Before that--flooding...

Tarahumara chief
Significant other

Monday, September 18, 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006


Thanks for info on the poetry bus tour, Eduardo. I haven’t paid much attention... maybe because I knew that under representation was likely. In other words, I’m not shocked. Perhaps it strikes a chord in some people because it is indicative of larger issues in our communities and country, such as school curriculums, the power structure, and many, many more issues beyond the poetry world.

“Emerging poets” is the key here. If few emerging poets of color are included, perhaps this strikes another chord that maybe things haven’t changed as much as many would like to believe, not just with this tour, but with other issues that affect people of color in our communities as well.

I propose to anyone who wishes more poets of color were included in the tour: on the day(s) the poetry bus stops in your state, ride the public bus and pass out poems by poets of color, read work in a public library or a shelter or a school... teach someone in the neighborhood who has never written a poem to write one.

And then let's keep it going beyond that date.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Thursday, September 07, 2006

feels green

gotta either step in or step out...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lorna's Essay

From Lorna Dee Cervantes (posted on her blog): "Please, if you like this piece: 'Towards the Mater of Chicana/o Poetry - Towards What Matters', then go ahead and copy it, repost it on your blogs and sites, republish it -- with proper credit, of course, as I retain copyright. Please credit this blog and include url." The Poetry Foundation was going to publish it and due to "technical difficulties" the essay did not make it online.

I was present when Lorna read "Towards the Mater of Chicana/o Poetry - Towards What Matters", at AWP this spring.

* * *

I still remember reading Emplumada as a senior in college (not in class... but at the suggestion of a professor from another department who organized a public reading honoring Audre Lorde, who had died a year prior, and women writers. It was the first reading I ever participated in. At the event, I read Lorna's title poem "Emplumada," one of my friend Flavia's poems, and two of my poems). I was about to graduate, and I was utterly amazed by the Emplumada poems that I had not read until I was nearly in graduate school. I am still astonished by the beauty of these poems and Lorna's subsequent work. It was a treat to meet her ever so briefly at AWP this year to have her sign a copy of her newest book Drive: The First Quartet. To all of you poetry teachers out there... please help your students find books that are going to feed them. I am eternally grateful to the professor who helped me find one of the first Chicana writers I ever read, one of our most important writers. It was a real awakening for me... I knew that I had to take my education into my own hands from then on.

I am saddened by what Lorna has gone through as a guest blogger at the P.F. On Aug. 29th, I showed clips from a video about the Chicano Moratorium and Ruben Salazar in my Chicana/o Lit. class. No students had heard about Aug. 29, 1970 before (I hadn't either as an undergrad). I came home to read Lorna's blog and doubted that anyone at the P.F. knew of Aug. 29th either. Whether they know of it or not doesn't really matter. My point is that this is further evidence that there is still a lot of work to do... I need to get my --- in gear and keep moving forward. I admire all of you out there who keep up the good work (groups like Amigos and PDS immediately come to mind).

I send gratitude to Lorna for her work and generosity.

* * *

I want to congratulate Sheryl for her finalist honor for the Colorado Book Award in poetry!!!!! Great news.

And check out Diana Delgado's poems online. Lovely work.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Book Meme - tagged by Suzanne and Lee (thanks for bringing me back to the blog after an absence... I'm currently rethinking the blog, maybe will start a new one).

One book that changed your life: Dictee, by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. It certainly changed the way I think about books, what a book can be. Beautiful, beautiful work. Even the movie camera written into the book is like a character, a lover's eye and heart. I read this book about two years ago and thought Where have you been all of my life? I think I will write a poem with this epigraph from p. 57: "They say you look other than you say. As if you didn't know who you were. You say who you are but you begin to doubt."

One book that you've read more than once: Asylum, by Quan Barry. I feel very close to many of the concerns raised in this book.

One book you'd want on a desert island: Swimming to Antartica: Tales of a Long Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox. Haven’t read it, but it sounds like something that might come in handy.

One book that made you laugh: La Maravilla by Alfredo Vea Jr. (because so many little details remind me of family stories, from outhouse humor to relationship banter b/t the grandparents...though I want to say that the book as a whole is far from humorous).

One book that made you cry: Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (when I was a child, of course, although I’d likely cry again. Haven't read it in a few decades).

One book that you wish had been written: Theresa Cha’s next book before she was murdered in her early 30’s.

One book that you wish had never been written: Generic U.S. history textbook by No People of Color. Well, it had to be written and served its purposes (both positive and negative), just wishing I had learned more about my peeps growing up in school. Or as I'm just learning (in Ernesto Chávez's book ¡Mi Raza Primero!) that the Brown Beret's included this concern in their Ten Point Program before I was born: "We demand that the true history of the Mexican American be taught in all schools in the five Southwestern States." This is still a concern in our communities today... that any significant amount of Chicana/o history is taught at all. They also requested an end to Urban "Renewal" Programs that destroy neighborhoods... another concern that remains and remains. I'm surprised that I write this as if surprised that these are still concerns.

One book you're currently reading: How Long She’ll Last in This World by María Meléndez. Some gorgeous word combinations, like "ageless azimuth." Didn't know 'azimuth' till I looked it up just now, but love it just as a word. I want to eat it. And these lines from "Why Can't We All Just Get Along?" especially the last two of this excerpt here, resonate.

"I'm not an angry person, really.
I've never yelled at the snow for
Or cursed a grasshopper
For disappearing into the weeds
When I wanted to catch it.

A river killed a man I loved,
And I love that river still."

One book you've been meaning to read: Hearts and Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times, by Luis J. Rodríguez. It should be coming in the mail soon. Looking forward to it.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I have not written much this week. I fear sounding whiny and ungrateful about the future when I am extremely grateful. But the truth is truth when sadness arrives... I see the tan and white adobe homes form a window of sky and happiness between a streetlight where mosquitoes gather under stars and moonlight. It's damn hot and I'm alive.

Some grass is growing for the first time in the soft soil after all the rains. Not much, just the tiniest patch is a surprise. Yards changing every day with the sun and elements.

I'm usually a packrat of paper and memory.

The past was my forte.

This past year has been my present more than ever.

Right now the future feels distant. I will discover it and embrace it once I have finished up things here. I'm feeling resistant to release my life from this beloved place.

I didn't anticipate crying today when we said good-bye.

I always assure them it's okay to cry if they need to, and this time around I stopped my tears and apologized.

No good-byes when words and memory fill our lives.

What I wish for them: healthy, safe lives. Freedom from violence. The big day of opportunity will arrive for them soon.

There is change and struggle every day.

In my life, when the big changes come, the ones that are supposed to improve my life situation, I welcome them as much as anyone. I've lived and moved all over with great happiness and excitement. This time is much more difficult because this place has become home. I don't want a release date from this place or the work I've begun here. It comes down to funding.

I suppose it is good for a writer to always desire a home and not possess.

I feel like a place cannot be possessed (although I know too well the reality of history and present day land grabs).

I should say I feel like I should not want to possess a place.

I have never felt quite home like this.

I remember the children crying 50 years ago in the greyhound bus as they left their life here for another one in another desert, a hotter place in another state. From adobe to HUD housing with indoor plumbing.

I remember this as my mother's memory.

This isn't about leaving family since my dear ones still live in Cali. I "returned" to this place of distant memories (in EPT) not my own, but somehow the most necessary in me making my own.

I didn't anticipate making my own memories. I'm past anthropology.

I haven't checked the graves in the old cemetery after the rains. I will soon.

I will keep this casita as long as I can, and return when I can.

I started this blog this summer to help me work toward what I anticipated facing right now. This has been a very trying week, and I've kept silent and trying to get thru.

I'm thinking of tortoise.

I'm thinking of love, how it is something that arrives with deep respect, through continuous struggle, with honesty, and acknowledgement. Acknowledgement of the past, present, and future--the beautiful truth, the ugly truth, and the struggle. Acknowledgement of life's tiniest warriors. Scorpions and hungry eyes. Acknowledgement is different than tolerance. Without the continuous, changing acknowledgement and struggle I believe it is difficult to truly love. Without acknowledging one's own place in it all it is difficult to love.

I never thought I would love a place as such. Perhaps place is a state of mind, but I don't believe that right now. I think I have finally experienced Aztlán, my way, without ever thinking I was searching for it as such. Mentioning Aztlán in this context does not capture exactly how I am feeling, or maybe I am shy to admit it in this way, as it has always been a concept I viewed as observer, a critical reader of texts, with acknowledgement of others through the lens of history. This is the first time I have ever thought of it in a live way that applies to me here and how I am feeling in this place, right here, right now, in El Paso, in Ysleta, in this exact neighborhood, this dirt, this sweet damp smell when I walk outside. The changing pattern of soft dirt cracking in the backyard according to the weather. The sewer smell of past summer nights. The streetwise, lifewise animal staring at me not quite mammal, part devil, thoroughly mammal, thru the window, eyes refusing to soften. The roosters a constant cry of life and the globemallow plant always grows back each rain. The kind neighbors who wave hello and goodbye and hello, the ones who remember my family here 50 years ago, the ones I wish I visited with more. International bridge just down the road but it is quiet here. It is quiet here though I know that people of all ages, especially youth, out and about, everywhere, seeking acknowledgement. This is not about myth or Aztecs.

I can say in all honesty, that this has been one of the most meaningful years in my life. Right now I'm thinking about John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Maybe because the first part of the suite, 'acknowledgement' readily comes to mind as it builds towards the other sections "resolution, pursuance, and psalm." But it's not about language. Some of it is online right here.

Peace is around us.

Monday, August 07, 2006


Pitched grenades
(a cuss word not in my vocabulary)

flooding, sputtering

bang bang flame

fascinated by caterpillar eyes



Trina, Chicanita


Entrenched in your love

Put the needle on the record and the drumbeat goes like this

Friday, August 04, 2006

Rain gods

Since I rarely watch television, I didn't realize the extent of flooding and damage to El Paso, Juárez, and the surrounding area until the morning after my frog post when I read the paper. That rainy afternoon: home, my microcosm. I taught that morning but returned before it got really bad. Homes and stores flooded, filled with mud. People staying in shelters in both countries. Lots of damage. The paradox of empty river and then it all came at once: News

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Frog Studies 8-1-06

This little fella and his pal nearby (not pictured) woke me up yesterday morning croaking/bleating (among rooster cries that don't wake me anymore). They were darn happy about the rain. One frog would make a sound while his pal (pictured) sat calmly. Then the pictured fella would respond to the call with a throaty enthusiasm. They had a good rhythm going, back and forth. It rained all day yesterday, flooding everywhere, and these creatures were thrilled to be alive. Pictures were taken thru my window screen so not too clear. I call them frogs even though they might be spadefoot toads which are really frogs a friend recently confirmed for me. I woke up excited, saying, "the barking frogs outside the window!" even though I've never seen a barking frog before. Then I thought only bullfrogs did the throaty thing, but more and more I'm thinking they're spadefoot toads (frogs). Any herpetologists in the house? I told the students at the detention center about them when they asked about the rain... they seemed excited to hear about them too. The frogs stayed in the temporary pool of water beside my house pretty much all day. Once in awhile they'd take a little swim for a few inches among mesquite pods and brush. Watching them spread out like that made me think of the packed public pools I used to go to as a kid. Your little swimming space heavenly. All the crazy activity around you blocked out for the joy of a brief float.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Desert Tortoise

parts of notebook entry last Sunday, 7/23/06, before the rain came later in the week:

goddesses visited this home. Desert tortoise came by early evening after I returned from a day of hiking.

I’ve lived here six years and never saw a tortoise in this area, much less my neighborhood. I didn’t even know tortoises lived here in the city or surrounding desert until a friend mentioned them this very afternoon during our hike, during a larger conversation about wildlife in EPT. He expressed, with great concern and frustration, how the tortoises are disappearing and how they used to be in greater abundance not too long ago.

A few hours later a desert tortoise happened to walk by my front door window for the cats to see and alert me.

I remember the crema de tortuga sold in Ensenada. Thick yellowish tortuga lotion in plastic containers. Stories of sea turtles eaten during Lent, as if they were a type of fish.

When I lived on Cape Cod one winter, I remember hearing how sea turtles were washing up, cold-stunned, by the dozens during NorEasters. I was sad for days. I tried writing poems about them that never materialized. What’s material. The words on the page. The shells on the shore. I am saddened by heaven’s musical instruments. I watched the desert tortoise today and felt more than language.

Turtle water. Tortoise earth.

Ancient tortoise rains patience. Ten or so circles on back, 10 beauties, 10 beauties like a sun-star rippling on the ocean. I fear feeling so much like carapace, need tortoise.

Feared water, loved it once inside a body of it, wave killed me, I remember the fear of jetty. He said jetty and I had no idea what that meant. He from elsewhere, me So. Cali. The tortoise has been living for thousands of years, longer than the Jornada Mogollon rock art at Hueco with its red nature-paint lasting in caves. Small oak trees live near water source edges. Coyotl’s tail disappearing into foliage. I miss the creatures who live with me every day. They too are beautiful. Microchip them, they say, so we scan them at the self-serve line that’s always broken after shopping for the least expensive wholesale food. Tlaloc, you either bring suffering or luck. I'm imagining blue sky and turkey vultures circling the maze for jackrabbits, a ground squirrel scurrying across a dirt road with a squirrel-child riding on its back. Creosote blooming yellow. I see that we need to open up the conversation. Look into the middens and catalogue what we, what I, have taken for greed of beauty.

I don’t profess to know the secrets of spirituality but I do know that I trust my instincts more and more and I don’t question them as much as I used to. I used to think something was wrong with me for suspecting others might have ulterior motives or were possibly sexist, power-hungry, underhanded, racist, etc. I wanted to be wrong. I still want to be wrong but I give more trust to initial and continued observation, feeling, instead of giving more power to the oppressive actions of others by feeling such oppression as my own shortcoming. I remember the small cacti like an army of penises. I remember the oak tree shells, some kind of acorns. I remember the swallows lived above a Tlaloc and its lightening designs. I remember the snake painted under the two twin masks that look like kachinas. I remember pain. At the thought of sweet releases. No release but sadness. It was all the color pink or bumblegum yellow like cactus flowers growing out of the most spiked misnamed succulent.

I remember the red and yellow and black pictographs.

Caves where the spirit rises to music. Caves the sun can’t hatch. And dirt where tortoises lay eggs in burrows where the sun reaches and heats through and through, where the sex of the hatchling depends on the incubation temperature, not chromosomes, females requiring more heat. Is this chance or feeling?

Summer Rain

The rain has arrived. Last night it was flooding everywhere. Tonight is lighter but still plenty of puddles. Spadefoot toads out of estivation, hopping along the street and in my yard. Some have already started their bleating. Some just chillin. I love summer monsoon time when everything digs up and soaks up in the desert.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

'That Thang' - A Little Rant

This is a painting by Andres Muro... thanks Andres for letting me post it

This week, I read a wonderful Juan Felipe Herrera poem called "Are You Doing That New Amerikan Thing?" (1983) in Literatura chicana 1965-1995. It's from his book Exiles of Desire. I was inspired to write a piece inspired by his, although this is hardly a poem or anything near his piece which I find exciting and as fresh today as it must have been over 20 years ago. I really recommend reading his poem and forgiving me for this exercise. :)

That Thang

Are you doing that El Paso thang?
Doing that I wish we were more like Dallas or Austin thang?
Wishing for Disneyland or more sea lions balancing beach balls on noses in the desert thang?
Averting your eyes when the man with whiskers speaks thang?
Doing that City Council is the Last Supper thang?
Hoping for that Olvera Street thing?
Getting your big sombrero ready for that thang?

Are you doing that “activist” thang?
That self-proclaimed, self-congratulatory thang?
That appearances are everythang?
The careerism chain?
The supportive of your peers but really advertising yourself thang?

Doing that “oh, god not another political poem” thang?
Asking for italics for uncomfortable words in Spanish thang?
Or catering to the audience thang? Because acceptance is love is everythang?

Doing that “god she’s self-righteous” thang?

That fundraiser for yourself disguised as charity thang?

Doing that “she’s got a chip on her shoulder” thang?
That career threatening thang?
The god-gave-me-testosterone-worship me thang?
Doing that it’s okay to treat women in your culture worse thang?
The mijo thang?
The $50,000 car professional, and living with Amá thing?
The tortilla flipping while everyone else eats thing?
The--those grad students don’t have a clue because they didn’t worship me but they’re still hot--thing?
That still (and ever) calling women malinchistas thing?
The thing instead of thang thing?

Doing that total destruction is progress thang?
That ashamed of your culture thang?
The don’t write about dead grandmothers thang?
That Manifest Destiny and calling it progress thang?
The Polk thang? The removals and trails of suffering and Andrew Jackson bills thang?
That Hispanic thing?
The right-wing religious more money for us than them thang?
That “Chicana/o means poverty or lower class or gang member” thang?
Doing that class thing?
that academic obfuscation thing?
The coffee shop, private school Marxist thang?
The “she’s a Valley girl” thang?
That beating yourself up thang?

The narcocorrido thang?
Loving the killer thang?
That Chicano gangster rap lyrics thang?
That calling girls 'hynas' thang?
Doing that crystal meth thang?
The I like “getting stupid” with a big proud smile thang?
The I’m going back to my old ways thang?
Doing that I’m no good thang?
That glazed eye thang?

Doing that flirting while at the same time putting her down thang?
That she looks too _______ to be a professor thang?
The bragging to earn minimal respect thang?
The Democrat and Republican almost mean the same thing thang?
The community thang?
Doing that recruitment in barrios thang?
Doing that we’re saving the other country from themselves thang?
The humanitarian killing and dying thang?
The electric chair thang?
The minimum wage gas raise thang?

Doing that appalled that she speaks her mind thang?
The where did she get her confidence thang?
The when is she going to have kids thang?
That you’re so selfish thang?
Doing that token thang?
That pretending to be radical for la raza thang?
That Chuck E. Cheese for kids’ parties thang?

Doing that don’t label me anything thang?

Are you doing that not wanting to get off company phone with friend when customer walks in and apologizes to you thang?
Doing that power thang, that “you’re wrong” thang, to avoid veering from bureaucracy comfort or asking questions thang.
The so-called health insurance thang?
Doing that I only have generosity and kindness for my family thang?
The minutemen have the right thang?

Are you doing that (s)he's nice and thus weak thang?
That if only he weren't so nice... thang?
The she's really nice so I'll try to take advantage thang?
The she asked for it in the desert thing?

Are you doing that "thank you" is not part of my vocabulary thang?
That I don't need to express empathy when a friend's suffering thang?
The you know what I mean thing.
The my arms go limp when I see you struggling to carry a thousand books and can't muster the feeling to open the door for you thang.
The I don't have to express my opinions thang, only get you to express yours so I can judge them thang.
The radical feminist princess thang.

The smoking on the steps and expecting kisses on cheeks thang?
Doing that why did you leave me thang?
That I’m going back to Cali thang?
The I’ll hurt myself so you’ll care for me thang?
That assumption thang?

Forgetting that revolutionary thang for a calm evening and acceptance thang?
The you should keep your mouth shut thang.
The where did all the revolutionaries go thang?
The we like it the way it is thang.
The comfort has us repeating history from our couches thang.
The we don't even have to leave the house thang.
That you're too sensitive thing. That get over it thang?
That rhetorical questioning, slapping the reader thing?
Oh, but this is a dramatic monologue thang?
The laughing and laughing while crying thang?
That life is but a stage or a "G" thang?
The why don't you see the beautiful things in life thang?
I think you're beautiful, a gorgeous thang
I saw a picture of you on the internet spam email thang.

That angry at self-righteousness while self-righteous thang?
The they don't believe the same things I do thang?
The how could they thing?
The can't we all get along thang?

Have you started that forgiveness thang?
The 12 step, 2 step thang?

Doing that Plato was right about the poets thang?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Recording Session for El Paso Youth

The challenge is getting all of them gathered in one location for the recording session. I am sending a prayer to the universe that we get a good turnout. Transportation, work, family obligations, incarceration... the list goes on. All of the beautiful, powerful poems written by El Paso young adults these past six months deserve a wide audience. These young people and voices have changed my life, and I am especially grateful to them for their courage and pride.

BorderSenses' Spoken & Written Word
Poetry Project for El Paso Youth presents...

Spoken Word Poetry Recording Session
for teens/young adults who have participated in our program
Saturday, July 22nd, 11:30am
Lower Valley Branch Library
601 N. Yarbrough (near Bel Air HS)

We plan to make a poetry cd with selected recordings to celebrate your poetry, for the enjoyment of youth in our community, and for educational purposes.

For more information, please visit
Recording Session Flyer and
Spoken & Written Word Poetry Project for El Paso Youth

or contact Project Director at

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Dangling. Waiting for mask on screen, screen as mask, mope etched in rock. Waiting for the right people to find. Waiting for a glass of light. Waiting for the chase, the chase, the chase, the chase. Waiting to catch up to it by the tail. Waiting for albino dog eyes on Yarbrough to get untangled from cement street divides. Running from light, from police, from politics, waiting for yellow tape shred into ticker tape. Waiting for god to show up and show down in thick grass blades, waiting for chickens to steal for the homeless boy on the run. Waiting for trips to trees. Waiting for misnamed frogs. Waiting for salt and wings and insults softened by I need yous. Waiting for I need you. Waiting for concrete ditch drain you called river. You who worried about your people. You who worried about tomates and apples in bookbags as you stepped up and spoke in a language everyone understood. Waiting for elders. Not for apologies or I’m sorry. Waiting for blue-green dreaming not ending in cliff violence. Waiting for blurry words in books to speak. Hoping not to mess up, hoping to catch a glimpse of tv behind the coke machine. Hoping for rabbits instead of chickens to add themselves to the hanging branches.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


Years ago I moved to a place of suffering looking for those I love who live elsewhere.

One chance glance of a forgotten photo in my hallway last week triggered an incomplete funeral inside. I stopped the tears to get proper for work. Throat stung like swallowing bruises.

I remember buying the ceramic frame at some pre-Riots dollar store in L.A. and pretty-ing it up with puffy glitter paints before mailing it off with snapshot of us in Irapuato inside the heart-shaped window.

This February, relatives urged me to take the framed photo with me. I hesitated—felt like stealing. Stealing what no longer existed in the home. Stealing dust and expired shelf life, stealing lost time in the fifteen years that passed while the same guy pushed the same cart afternoons on a street in Northern Cali. Bells ringing. Chunks of mangos in paletas, chunks of sweet icy dying in the home that always felt transitory, the fruit trees more permanent, the night train always shocking deep sleep, to ignore is to survive, to acknowledge to live, the love she had for too many people in the Nescafé, a whole country stirred by a spoon, she pledged allegiance a great many years later, hesitant yet to renounce faith in her memories. For nearly a century, her body an immigrant home. I loved her hands and arms.

That morning, I still expected her to rise when her children stood like testimonies beside her.

And later, the cows on the hillside kept their heads down in extinct (sic). Morning grass welcome, moisture welcome after decades of desert. One daughter’s bones 35 years and a few feet beneath hers.

I felt the busy streets beyond and knew it was only a city.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


The sky above Armijo Park in Segundo Barrio this past Saturday after rain. Today, in contrast, is an ozone action day.

Last night (all night and early morning) I longed to write poetry. The big moon hovered in surrounding halo and darkness above the adobe house between the cottonwoods. I am free to watch this from my screened-in porch without feeling air, breathing sweetness, or slapping absent mosquitoes.

I will teach poetry this afternoon in the units. The concrete floors, smoothed rocks. Among cinder blocks and in the absence of windows, young poets will write their ways to creation.

It's been so long since I climbed through and scraped my knees on the stucco.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Protest before City Council Meeting yesterday

Protest against the current downtown 'revitalization' (demolition) plan before a special city council meeting early yesterday evening.

Francisco Delgado's painting El Plan. Francisco is pictured on the left.

Over 60 people spoke up at the city council meeting and a few hundred were in the audience clapping for various sides throughout the evening. The divisions remain clear. Many plan proponents who will not need to sacrifice anything continue to encourage others (residents and business owners) to sacrifice their livelihoods for the future of the city. (Many younger proponents also cited how this plan is going to ensure their future and the futures of their own children too but did not give any specifics beyond faith.) My goodness, since when did upscale or big box stores or strip malls truly brighten our future? Are their children going to own a Target store or such in the Real Estate Investment Trust? Will their children have more bars and clubs to go to and therefore not leave their families for another city? I apologize for the rhetorical questions... I simply can't understand the logic of many who say they believe in "their hearts" that this plan will transform the lives of all El Pasoans as justification for supporting the plan without question. It seems like they really believe in manifest destiny (they don't even cite the possibility of increasing the city tax base as a reason why they support the plan... they really seem to believe that the cosmetic changes will save the city's image and bring an abundance of everlasting happiness). They really seem to believe they have a right to destroy a portion of Segundo Barrio and many local businesses to build into their playground.

The city proposed to give Segundo Barrio residents in the proposed demolition zone relocation assistance of equal value. So if a family lives in a 2 bedroom apartment right now, they will get a nicer, equally-sized 2 bedroom apartment somewhere else (that is how the city and others justify taking over... they suddenly pretend that this plan is saving people after continual neglect by the city to maintain city codes in substandard apartments). At one point someone cited how plan proponents are truly helping residents... how some residents have up to 10 people living in a small space. So I guess that means the city will move all 10 of them to another 2 bedroom apartment. Well that sounds "progressive," the word many keep using like a mantra. In this city, the so-called "progressives" seem more and more like Machiavellian capitalists as the days pass. And what about any undocumented residents in the area. Will they qualify for any government housing assistance? I believe if the city were truly concerned about the residents and that area of Segundo Barrio, they would help build it back up in a way that celebrates its cultural survival and importance, not hand it over to private investors because "location, location, location" is of utmost importance in this economic development plan at the expense of the cultural and historical destruction of one of El Paso's oldest neighborhoods. Where are the plans for increased education and outreach? Increased social services? I don't believe these things come along with the proposed Real Estate Investment Trust, only more low-paying service jobs, and a historic neighborhood gone in exchange for a gentrified one.

(The expensive promotional video for this plan states, “Now think about big, urban retail chains just like in larger cities. We’ll have great shopping downtown, including stores that are America’s favorites.” And: “Even more exciting, an urban lifestyle mall. A collection of lifestyle stores like you’ve seen in other cities. Exactly the kind of mall you probably planned a vacation to see—except now it will be right here, downtown.”) Progressive and creative? I don't know too many people who plan vacations to visit malls, and if they exist as I'm sure they do, I really worry for them no matter how much money they have to burn. And it sounds like this part of the video is targeting El Paso shoppers. And while this is only one piece of the plan, it's really indicative of what we're dealing with here.

Many, many opponents spoke against the current plan last night, and nothing much has changed. A significant area of Segundo Barrio is still in the demolition zone and many residents will still be displaced. Many business owners will be forced to forfeit their businesses under the current plan. City council passed a resolution for a 12 month moratorium on the use of eminent domain in the downtown plan to try and silence the opposition. It makes for a good newspaper article about the city's sudden concern (in fact, several tv news clips I watched make it sound like the Segundo Barrio is not going to be touched at all, or that the city is suddenly saving it... terribly sloppy--or intentional--reporting? How are the majority of El Pasoans who don't attend the city meetings ever to know the manipulation they are being fed? I can't believe the amount of misinformation spread through the news media). The city created the opposition by having a plan that did not come from the people but from a private group of elite business folks who paid $1800 to join this so-called "civic group" that hired a San Francisco-based firm to work with them on the plan (with $250,000 of taxpayers' money in addition to additional funds they raised). So now many community members are upset as they should be (except those who do not have to sacrifice or who do not recognize that the sacrifices others will have to make are unjust). And now the city council makes it appear like they are "kind" and "listening" because for 12 months they won't use eminent domain to take away properties for private investment even though they'd need longer than a year to really get started on obtaining the properties for the plan. Unfortunately, there are only three city council members who are clearly against the use of eminent domain in this plan.

As a community member, it was disturbing to see some city council members chatting with each other last night while people were addressing them. One council member in particular often gives his good ole boys the thumbs up sign and smiles when they get up to speak in favor of the plan. It is embarassing to watch his ego on display.

We spent hours last night listening to public opinions again. If city council had voted before the public voiced opinions last night, they still would have voted the same. They have been "listening" to the community for months now after the plan was unveiled but it's as if many of them have not heard a word. It is clear why they did not want to hear from us during the initial planning stages when the maps were drawn and destruction of certain areas was decided upon. Their publicity campaign for the formal adoption of this plan continues. They seem to enjoy wasting everyone's time in this so-called effort to gather community input. Their decisions are firm and their so-called resolutions are calculating, appear scripted, and continue to further their publicity campaigns. Their methods are transparent and their "empathy" disingenuous. They are banking on the disinterest, mild interest, or genuine interest of thousands of uninformed and misinformed El Pasoans who don't or can't attend city meetings and might read the Times or catch a grossly inaccurate news blurb on tv here and there. They must also assume that El Pasoans are easily manipulated. Less than six degrees separate many of the good ole boys and gals that are on their side. It is all so transparent. We are all in a game that has just begun. They are hoping the opposition will give up in exhaustion. But each time there is another meeting of significance, even more voices of opposition speak up. This is only the beginning.

Some excellent interviews David Romo conducted with local leaders in today's Newspaper Tree (Voices of Dissent: Interviews with Pete Duarte and County Attorney José Rodríguez). I recommend these interviews and for anyone who is interested in what's going on around here.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Letter to the Editor

From today's El Paso Times opinion section:

English-only errors

On June 26, I read an interesting letter by Fermin-Fermon Torres regarding English only and I would like to point out several errors in its content.

The writer says that English only is part of the reason the U.S. is a "failed leader." The truth is, I don't see millions of people all over the world trying to get into Mexico (failed leader?).

He says that racism exists on the border. Yes, it does, and anyone who could read the signs carried by Hispanic protesters for illegal immigration could see that anti-Anglo sentiment is present on the border.

It is wonderful to be bilingual, trilingual, or polyglot -- at home. The cult of active multicultural is killing our national identity and, because of it, many immigrants are coming to this country for the money and opportunities but not to assimilate and become Americans!

Philip Darryl
West El Paso

I am often sickened to read the opinion section of the El Paso Times because I am not wanting to face the reality of the blatant ethnocentrism (thinly disguised as U.S. patriotism) that is alive and well in the border community as in other U.S. cities. While I did not read the Torres letter that Darryl responds to, the logical fallacies present in Darryl's response to that initial letter are clearly evident. Many people I know say they have given up reading the opinion section of the Times because they cannot stomach much of what is written.

I admit that I felt the same way for a long time about the opinions reflected in the Times, but now I realize that it's better to know who and what is out there rather than ignore it. And while it's not surprising that this letter comes from the westside of town, I know that plenty more people of all backgrounds feel this way all over the city and express it daily. These are the opinions that continue to silence our youth. These are the opinions that continue to encourage assimilation (at the cost of identity) and cause many vulnerable youth to feel ashamed of their culture to avoid being categorized as anti-American. Some parents are aware of these views and act accordingly to negotiate a world for their children with the least amount of conflict. And some parents hold these views themselves. Either way, some believe their children will not be afforded certain opportunities in life if they do not assimilate. Some parents don't give a care about pressure to assimilate and continue life as they see fit, and I give them a lot of credit.

Opinions like those stated in the letter above are the opinions most often written and printed. These are the opinions that seep into the consciousness of many educational policies and educators who pound 'english only.'

I can't tell how many young, bilingual poets are shocked when I encourage them to write in Spanish. Shocked and happy (for the 'permission'). They are likely shocked because they know that it is still taboo in most school situations. And I'm not talking so much about local college students (although many of them are initially surprised too) as I am the incarcerated youth. Even if my Spanish isn't great, I will have my dictionary by my side if need be. The beautiful words of la gente come alive in letters to parents, in poems about Juárez, El Paso, L.A., and beyond... in poems that switch effortlessly between worlds and situations so that the word "switching" becomes the academic trying to break down the brilliance for others looking in on what is alive and well in our neighborhoods and people.

Opinions like the ones in the letter above that pretend to support bilingualism (if it's only at home, mind you) should be reminded that such bilingualism has a hard time surviving the generations schooled in English only. Of course this is the intent of assimilation... bleach out what's "foreign" so that we are all more comfortable with each other. Bleach out one of the most powerful tools for the cultural survival of many ethnic groups and thus attempt to strip them of their identities in the hopes that their voices (and thus opinions) sound more mainstream. I want to say: Admit it... there is political power in the Spanish, Navajo, Vietnamese, and many other languages in the United States!

Opinions like the ones in the letter above also continue to encourage publishers to encourage writers to italicize and give context clues or provide a glossary when "foreign words" are used. As a young writer who just assumed it was the "proper" thing to do (italicize words in Spanish), I now offer another perspective to students who also assume it's the proper thing to do: "but the words aren't foreign to you, or to many of us sitting in this classroom, or to your characters who are speaking to each other in the story." It is so easy to pick up a dictionary or look at online dictionaries if words are "foreign" to readers... I do this all the time when there is a reference made to something that I don't know in English, so I don't see it as any different. I give a lot of credit to those writers who paved the way in their innovative use of two languages in their writing. But I worry that today the pressure to continue using italics continues (now if writers choose this themselves I respect them for feeling what's best for their writing). In writing published now, the use of italics for the pure acknowledgment that words are in another language (not for other types of emphasis, and not if the writers themselves would like to use italics) appears to me like a drum roll from publishers....... ta-da! get ready readers! for the words in Spanish! we don't want to make anyone feel too uncomfortable! so italics will be used to let others immediately know that this word might bring a little discomfort.

How many of us grew up always aware of how we were being perceived outside of our communities? This extra sixth or seventh sense of knowing what to do and say to fit in. Sometimes I feel like I (and others) have catered to the comfort of others at the expense of myself (and ourselves). I grew up knowing that the dominant society felt "The cult of active multicultural is killing our national identity" as the above letter written in 2006 states.

And it's not always views on the other side of the spectrum that keep us down. I am tired of some (apparently like-minded) people judging others for not being completely fluent in Spanish as if it were a conscious life choice to be snooty. I know there are some Latin@s who are proud (unfortunately) not to speak Spanish fluently (likely as a response to discrimination outside of our communities and poor education about our history), but that is not the case with me and many, many other 2nd & 3rd generation Chican@s who grew up listening to Spanish. The issues are much, much more complicated, and I don't offer them as excuses. Many judge themselves plenty--plenty. And we're trying to undo the damage of circumstance without the burden of guilt and fear of sounding wrong (grammar, diction) or being laughed at (even by our families) that continues to worsen the situation. One Chicano writer recently put me down and I will never forget the experience (this was immediately after other put-downs and bullying remarks made in response to the shock of me speaking my mind about something unrelated... basically he made the comment about fluency as an easy opportunity to twist the knife, something I'm finding common among Latin@s and non-Latin@s alike (academics especially), who somewhat seem to enjoy equating lack of fluency with having zero knowledge of the language, and thus with the culture, which are both so far from the truth, completely cruel in intention, and I wouldn't say ignorant but a deliberate attempt to stereotype for their own purposes. People: your intentions are quite transparent and even silly. Read Gloria Anzaldúa’s essay "En Rapport, In Opposition: Cobrando cuentas a las nuestras"). We have enough problems in our communities. We have a lot of work to do. Where we exert our energies is of utmost importance. Do we fight each other or do we fight those whose opinions are so deep-rooted and will not change? This is a rhetorical question. I can't use it in good faith without pointing out that I am aware of its intent.

My hope is that we will write, write, and write. My hope is that we will encourage Chican@, Mexican@ youth, adults, the elderly to continue using their languages, and sharing their cultures, their experiences... They don't need teacher-writers at all to express and survive but I say this perhaps selfishly for wanting access to more oral histories, documentaries, stories, poems, songs... the words of our communities beyond college campuses... I have much to learn from them and myself. We have much to learn from each other and beyond each other. History repeats itself daily, hourly, by the minute. We need to keep writing our own histories. Everything I have said above has been written before in many forms and continues to be written because it continues to be felt and experienced. It still has a tough time making it in the curriculum of most public schools, including those that serve Latin@ majority populations.

This goes along with my "On 'Blight' and Beauty" entry of June 28th (below). The downtown El Paso "revitalization" plan that includes the destruction of a historic Segundo Barrio area adjacent to downtown is further evidence of the people in power telling us it's time to change with the times if we want to progress. Changing with the times to them means destruction and bringing in a new way of life, new people, and stores, including "America's favorites" as their expensive promotional video states. They want to make the area of Segundo Barrio (which is not downtown) more "attractive" to outside investors. They really believe they are doing all of us a favor (or again, am I too generous about all the unexamined and examined motives? When the outcome is destruction and displacement, the outcomes become the motives). I'm tired of reading about urban removal in other cities as I see history repeating itself here even though the planners insist it's not urban removal in their legal haven backed by lots of $$$$$$. I'm tired of knowing that what's been done was done with the intent that few would protest and those who held out the longest would be the "anklebiters" who changed a tiny decision here or there but nothing significant enough to prevent their elite plan from pushing through as intended. They did this, of course, without caring to reach out to the majority of residents and business owners in the proposed demolition zone before the maps were drawn to ask their opinions on their future displacement via the likely use of eminent domain. This was a conscious decision. History repeats itself and so do the actions and words of those of us who do not like what is happening.

There is a lot of work to do. A lot of people are counting on us to give up. What they don't realize is that the downtown issue is only one facet of the larger issues that continue to exist and we will continue to write and write about and encourage others who feel the same way to voice opinions in the hopes of future change, understanding, and social justice.

I have said nothing new in this entry and that frustrates me. I rarely write about these things because I feel like they have all been written about, studied and examined time and time again. It's frustrating to see history repeating itself in this community and all over the U.S. and recognize the necessity of writing about it in a tiny effort to call attention to its continued existence.

The sky is so blue today... I want to absorb its clarity beyond the green cottonwood leaves. I want to climb up into it and ask it to feed me.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

On the way to nearby White Sands and Three Rivers last weekend for a two day holiday... train headed south, me north.

Beyond the mesquite tree: solstice snake coiled in endless spiral.

I can imagine the adobe home here... nice spot.

Just when the poem was getting meaningful, I switched directions. I remember pointing this out in much gentler terms to the young poet this morning as if I were speaking to myself. The splash of bright color in the desert offers its red silk as a screen for its needle bed like a brain or heart. Memory resides in dna along arroyos in the sun and dislodges only during flash floods.

I remember motorcycles and wearing a helmut. I remember Crenshaw Boulevard. I remember handing numbers and coins to hands and mouths that wanted everything and nothing. I remember how sometimes fiction makes memory possible, when the confession room makes small gifts feel pushed to the limits. The cleared space with cottonwood remnants either a ruin or a restoration. Why only two choices? Teeth come and go, come and go. The first of the spadefoot toads arrived two nights ago like the promise of the underworld needing the one we live in as much as we need the surfacing. This separation of twos, true or false, is the problem with this line of thinking. Sometimes I forget that childbirth is human, yet I protest when the young poets erase a line of their own hoping for a better one.