Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On 'Blight' & Beauty

It wasn’t like summer after monsoon rain when the hundred year old cottonwoods sway in clean sky after months of still air.

It wasn’t like the etymology of “blight” which I can’t find. It wasn’t like the words spoken by college-bound, supposed “leaders’” were informed by the living history of our people, only some out-of-town perceptions that speak of this city lazily and thus people, abstractly, in clichés--"lazy" or "dirty" the young man cited. It isn't like the young leaders were truly concerned about poverty beyond 'let's get barrio residents into better housing, out of the neighborhood we want to demolish then develop for our playground and become known as a great city."

It isn’t like sharing half an enchilada plate would make others think we are struggling financially, but I felt like that today. It isn't quite like when I was a pre-teen and a new friend (gal from the new public middle school on the other side of town) and her mother drove me home once under my careful direction--the long way--to bypass any potential “ugliness” I thought I saw through their eyes. They lived in a small condo, and I lived in a house, but still I worried they never had reason to visit my neighborhood before and it was likely not up to their standards. I remember pointing to a big yellow house and saying, "Isn't that a pretty house?" and reality was they weren't that interested either way. I understand the complex reasons behind such inferiority complexes, but then again, when it’s time to grow up it’s time to grow up and look much more deeply at a community.

Those who cite shame for out-of-town perceptions about a barrio do not make a compelling argument in support of destroying a living neighborhood (especially since they do not live there). Cosmetics might fix some people’s self-esteem but not eradicate poverty or the people living in poverty once they are completely removed from a neighborhood. So this is about appearances not deep change or understanding. I wish some young leaders would own up to all the reasons surrounding their shame and stop blaming it on some vague out-of-town perceptions of a barrio or pretend they care about the root causes of poverty. And the seasoned puppet masters leading the young leaders encourage these lines of thinking if the end result is the same. Meanwhile, many barrio residents do not have air-conditioning because the city codes have not been adequately updated.

New shopping experiences = deep social change and progress?

It isn’t like breeding mosquitoes are on anyone's mind. It isn’t like the recent rain puddles lasted long enough for the spadefoot toads to dig up and start their bleating and breeding in the mud.

It’s not like many juvenile delinquents I've met fear the complexity of their heritage. In fact, just the opposite of many so-called "young, bright leaders.” I wish I had more time in class to share examples throughout history, how others embraced the pride in themselves and continued to resist assimilation, how this acknowledgement of anger with due cause and its positive transfer manifested itself in seeking justice for themselves and others in their communities rather than destroying themselves in self-destructive behaviors.

I'm finding it's often a class thing around here if youth identify as "Chicana/o" or "Hispanic."

I used to say "Mexican American" at their age.

I am trying to have more empathy for the college-bound "young bright leaders" because I can imagine their struggle is the result of poor education about their history. I can relate to that but not their lack of empathy. Some say that "yes, we will need to make sacrifices" to make this "revitalization" plan work but in reality I can't imagine they will have to make any if they live outside of the demolition zone.

Presently my empathy gravitates towards the young bright juvenile delinquents. "Bright" and "blight" in the eye of the beholder. Life experience a wisdom. How they use it, express it, or deal with it is another wisdom, destruction, or numbing.

It isn’t like the complacency many of us grew (and grow) up with is by design but rather funded by publicity campaigns to encourage consumerism designed to encourage complacency as it breeds complacency in decision-making. If the best of the best tell us it's good then by god let's buy it.

It’s more like the two year old child who squeals in delight after tearing open a Christmas present and immediately recognizes Sponge-Bob on his t-shirt and then has no reaction to the 2nd gift, a t-shirt with the picture of a realistic bear straight outta nature on it.

Maybe many of our elders thought if we provided the appearance of assimilation others would automatically treat us better. Some bought into assimilation as the cure-all for survival with minimal struggle and in the process rejected some basic beauties about themselves and their children. And I can't blame those elders who grew up in extreme poverty and endured extreme racism. It's when years down the road and they are no longer poor and assimilation becomes the preferred way of life that I begin to worry about them and especially their children. The comfortable life often seeks more comfort, sometimes at the expense of people who become symbols of their previous discomfort.

It wasn’t like the encyclopedia definition of “blight” could provide insight except help me see that the people who define the word in relation to our living, Mexican history in this city are the bacterium.

It isn’t like many of these proponents of destruction were social activists or environmentalists prior to any of this.

It wasn’t like guilt crept in for more than 10 minutes then disappeared when the goal was lots of $$$ and entertainment.

It isn’t like cosmetic surgery. It’s more like cloning perceived “beauty” from other cities.

It wasn’t like the definition of beautiful came to us in a dream.

It wasn’t like the definition of beautiful came from all the people.

It wasn’t like the definition of beauty was separate from buying and selling.

Last night I dreamt the feral occasional neighborhood cats walked under a few-feet-deep irrigated yard and surfaced from the water every several minutes like calm dolphins for bits of air.

I once dreamt that my overweight housecat was inside a big, three dimensional square of water on my living room coffee table and once in awhile she stuck her paw out to me through the waves of water.

It wasn’t like the definition of starving equaled destruction.

It wasn’t like starving oneself for beauty. More like destroying oneself to attain perceived beauty.

It isn’t like there’s an abundance of oxygen in the thin attitudes that destroy creativity.

Blight as noun, blight as verb, chestnut blight, fire blight, late blight, potato blight. Urban "blight" (and subsequent removal through eminent domain and destruction) is defined and decided by those who either don't know or clearly know the people living inside.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

She Knows What's Up

No flames emerge from her cape. Eight stray estrellas and roses in her turquoise aura. Boy-child beneath her lifts lonestar horns, his wings the Mexican flag or a rocket popsicle with green instead of artic blue.

Someone has wrapped an American flag on the wire mantle. Three white, three red stripes, a patch of warped stars, silk flowers. This comadre is truly brown. She clasps her hands but does not have a submissive face--she knows what’s up and the swirl of her dress like a petal, like a tear dropping gold.

100 degrees and men wear hats, boots, and jeans--no short sleeves or cuts in this life where across the street girls arrive in desperation before their bellies ready to swell and a toddler in yellow’s a soft Easter sun shining on sidewalk.

She doesn’t need the angel or the earthly flames. Doesn’t need roses or stars or countries’ flags or sun-dry paper flowers. Doesn’t need soft hands to pray. Doesn’t need robes or adoration. Her face her experience. She closes, half closes, her eyes in contemplation. She will not be saved nor will she save. Shall continue. With her own. Knowledge.

Milk, Eggs, Candies, Bread painted red--all scarlet rays and pump and dust. Wind kicks it all up around the everyday goddess whose complexion matches adobe bricks for homes and the always-golden arms of girls.

These pictures (taken) and prose notes (written) a few summers ago... recently I noticed Frankie's Grocery in Segundo Barrio no longer in business and thought to revisit this. The mural is still there.

Kermes in Segundo Barrio

Matachines dancing in front of Sagrado Corazon in Segundo Barrio last night.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Not the Olympic Torch

Not the Olympic torch. Not the border though near it. Driving to work with dirty windshield down Alameda Wednesday afternoon. Camera more swervy than writing while driving (I do love writing while driving but not this day). Feels over a hundred degrees and hotter near mountain view. The car ahead's all lit up too. Hint of impending dust storm, feels like ozone action day in eyes.

Great rappers at the library presentation for youth Wednesday afternoon. Cool video and song about the matachines. Good to see a music video set in downtown Juárez.

If you know of any young folks in the area, please spread the word:

Two free poetry workshops for young adults
Thursday, July 22nd:
-Ysleta branch library 1-3pm
-Lower Valley branch library 4-6pm
Facilitator: E. Pérez

-Open mic for teens/young adults
Tuesday, June 27th at 3:30pm
main library downtown

Last open mic was a blast. Looking forward to this one too. Free concert afterwards. Libraries are awesome.

Learned that some kids stay in the library from opening to closing M-F in summer. Library as protector. This makes me sad. Grateful too though.

For more info, please visit Spoken and Written Word Poetry Project for El Paso Youth website at


Sunday, June 18, 2006

Homes & Histories of our Ancestors

I hear the anger of young adults trying to act like the cliché of football players, and later, alone, one boy confesses he once witnessed a murder.

When asked where he lives in his self-portrait, he points to branches in the yang part of the yin yang where it looks like a cracked eggshell, blood-veins in eyes, like baked clay in desert.

The fronts of survival enter another kind of barbed wire. Reflection: waiting hours and hours for the heart and mind’s bus to come by. It's been years.

Action: tufts of angora caught in cruel fences but the goat escaped underneath... now free.

Temporarily. Free.

The backdrop to this much larger. Don’t know why many want to sell out and sell each other out, why many want to shop in corporate caca, like they wished they lived somewhere else but feel stuck so they want to bring what they wish they had (corporate garbage and false sense of community that gathers around marketing trends not open-air market of necessity for oranges and medicine but whatever trend needs selling to increase city tax base at the expense of destroying a community's history), what they think they’re missing, what many youth think they’re missing as too few of us teach our history and we’re still uncovering it, the continual damage of its secret.

“There’s hope for you as long as you keep on being terrified by history.”

The late Stanley Kunitz knew this first-hand.

We need leaders upon leaders of struggle, humanities, art--not more corporate crapaccino disguised as coffee.

This is about hard suck candy vs. deep kissing or thinking.

And too many presidents, politicians, non-profit and corporate leaders selling out the communities that seem to bring them shame when out-of-town families come around and want a tour of the “other” side of town. Around here, little historical value attached to adobe homes beyond the neighborhoods living in them--too few value this art form anymore, as if we were blessed with so much wood in the desert. I saw a wood-framed house under construction fragile like a paleta stick casita with poker cards taped onto its pressed skeleton, our bones stronger than the telephone wires that hold up red finches. My grandfather’s adobe will last longer than any of us as long as each new owner finds it valuable and as long as it doesn’t fall prey someday to eminent domain--eminence for dominance. Engage all community members in the political process. Leave culture in paz and help build it back up. Businessmen and politicians who pretend they care about substandard living conditions now that the land beneath housing is perceived valuable to out of town investors, friends. Is it easier to demolish homes when residents are abstract concepts, or am I too generous? Residents clear as bells they want to ring elsewhere.

Scorpions and spiders find their way in no matter what security system you install or what bored IQ hacks into my computer screen or what tyrant screams at his employees. I’m talking about the fear instilled in employees and community members, and how some college students reply ‘but that’s the government’s choice’ when questioned what they think about policies. Who taught them to submit? I’m talking about so-called allies threatening careers when we speak our minds which are bright enough to sniff out true intentions, true intentions under the guise of helping the community to ease guilt while promoting one name and one name alone while everyone else does all the work. A teenager recently asked me what the word “revolution” meant, had never heard of the Mexican Revolution or the French Revolution or the love revolution, didn’t think that anything in the world needed changing. And the overwhelming beauty of youth filled with hope and whose parents encourage this path rather than pit bull companions.

Jobs and health insurance dangled like carrots as “leaders” ride people like horses with bits in mouths and reigns in riders’ hands. Elegance and beauty in the running, in strength, before the will lost in the racing. Bosses, parents, white collars, the patriarchy, vendidos, machistas, and so-called allies expecting homage, expecting their desires be perceived as laws and anyone who questions them better watch out, better watch what they’re saying or retaliation in order for "insubordination."

Then there's the black dog in the cemetery where our ancestors buried, the dog who thought he could get to the water puddle in sticky mud but instead plopped down under a pine tree on top of a grave and rested his paws on a cool headstone, the heart beneath it gone but the paws and the heart of the dog finding it in the energy of the shade in hot El Paso day where the air is desert-still and rain clouds sharpen the sky in the p.m. We want it to rain and fall down on us as we sit here dissatisfied because all we want to do is communicate and can’t provide enough information that will help ease confusion, not push decisions like the door-to-door politician rhetoricians.

Struggle for clarity, uncover it, voice it. Anne Carson says Sappho called love “sweetbitter” not the translated “bittersweet”--in love first comes sweet then bitter not the other way around... so terribly true.

Need to learn how to love again after the bitterness. Need to help each other find the tools to communicate, think critically, struggle for change--there will always be struggle, it will never end, because there will always be fear and hate and jealousy and insecurity and hypocrisy and perceived superiority out there... the list goes on. Writing brings sweet sadness and sometimes it's sweetbittersweet or somewhere in between.

The drums of justicia beat down on the pavement--foot, feet, heat, heart. Elemental alchemy. The saxophone reed frees beauty as blue-gray sky brushes ancient and newest blush of heart, salmon beauty pumping, thumping like a fish on packed sand, tail and belly fighting for return.

Release us as we release you.

Corazons, we are heat running from sky. Heart running home.

(rant written a few weeks ago... still working on confonting my naivete. 2006 has been an education, to say the least.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

To Feed or Not

Last night I was torn… to feed or not to feed the cats that took residence nearby. Thought they’d leave after vacancy buzzed on then cooled off for a week. Young mother neon emerald ojos and 2-3 kittens hiding in damp dirt in adobe shade. Mother and 2-3 kittens without food or water. What would help/hurt more? Feeding or not? Images of my grandfather 60 years ago, a block away from here, making rafts for my mom’s cat and the newborn kittens… putting mews on board and sailing them down the canal as all the youngest children, hungry themselves, scream in horror. Last night I knew it was time. I began with water hose and filled a coffee cup with water. Then left a handful of dry cat food.

At midnight, curious if they’d eaten, I walked out and saw a headless bird (maybe a small hawk because much larger than an Inca dove or pigeon) glistening in the yard, kittens scurrying away from it at the sound of the door. Feathers. I feared little heads buried in that wet open neck, feared the morning bones, the bottom of my shoes, the morning remains, red teeth, ligaments, my naivete, neighbor's roosters headless next, myself half carnivorous without the initial knife or plucking. Only comfortable strumming. Went back in and watched some of the feast from blurry window before going to bed.

Sated. Then gone. Everything disappeared by morning. No visible stain or hard ivory glimmer. Maybe two downy underfeathers. A corn kernel. The sky all hot dust this afternoon. The afternoon all dusty hot sky.

All day Lucie Brock Broido’s “Rome Beauty” from The Master Letters runs through me. The place “where all the demons / Dine collectively on game, the momentous dumb / Switching of the great silvery utensils...”

Hawks, kittens, dust, violence, life, spirits, spit--here then gone
then here...

“When hunger dulls / … / I will / Be beautiful, gazelle.”

Help Save the Barrio

Click on picture to read the plaque commemorating where Mariano Azuela wrote the first novel of the Mexican Revolution Los de abajo in 1915. The Pablo Baray apartment complex in Segundo Barrio is on the demolition map.

Please help prevent the destruction of living and historic communities in El Paso! Visit for more information.


This statement is made on behalf of the Paso del Sur Group and other members of the community who support our efforts. We are composed of academicians from UTEP, the Community College, area high schools, professional people who share our concern for saving the historic Segundo Barrio in El Paso.

The Paso Del Norte plan—with its top-down, secretive, anti-democratic decision-making process and in its illegal provisions—has fundamental flaws. We propose that you scrap this plan in its entirety for the following reasons:

• The Paso Del Norte Plan proposes the destruction of the heart of the Segundo Barrio, both a living community and the oldest neighborhood of El Paso. To replace the neighborhood with upscale boutique stores and service economy jobs is reprehensible. We are long past the mentality that says we had to destroy the village in order to save it. El Segundo Barrio is not part of downtown. El Segundo Barrio is not for sale.

• The use of eminent domain either as a first or last resort to further enrich the already wealthy owners of real estate investment trusts (REIT) is morally repugnant and offensive to the great majority of El Pasoans. It is taking from lower income people to further enrich the wealthy, and will for generations mark this administration as one of the most avaricious in the City’s history. The City's plan should be called the Demolition Plan. This clearly is what it really is.

Please click here for the whole electronic petition.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Luis Jimenez y placita de los lagartos

Luis Jimenez, artist extraordinaire and native El Pasoan from Segundo Barrio, passed away yesterday at 65. This is very sad news.

Here's a photo I took of his lagarto sculpture in the placita de los lagartos in downtown El Paso on April 10, 2006 after a march and during a rally for immigrant rights... this is how I like to remember his art, surrounded by people and for the people. This sculpture commemorates the live alligators that used to be on display in the park. Many people still tell stories about the live alligators, including my relatives. The sculpture brings generations together, triggers our imaginations. The stories begin with lagartos and lead elsewhere. The marchers reach the lagartos and lead elsewhere. An amazing work of art among many, many more works that he created throughout his lifetime.

Another march for immigrant rights, May 1, 2006, that began in the Chamizal and passed by the international bridge before making a U-turn back west to los lagartos:

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Owls & Poetas Chicanas

Saturday afternoon watching burrowing owl...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

El Plan

This painting El Plan by Francisco Delgado
and "Not for Distribution: Behind the Demolition Plan" by historian David Dorado Romo should be required viewing & reading for El Pasoans and all who are concerned about social justice, particularly eminent domain abuse and top-down methods of "community" planning that contribute to the destruction of living and historic communities in the name of "progress." Sections of Segundo Barrio, Chihuahuita, & Magoffin at risk of destruction. For more information on this plan, please visit the Paso del Sur website for links to articles and an online petition at

Friday, June 09, 2006

Late Summer Last Year 'Round Here

Ysleta Late Summer, 2005. Endings & beginnings pronounce themselves like globes of happy-sad perfection, graniso falling from the sky on a warm day in the desert. I hope to experience everything in between more.

Poeta with Soul

Ysleta Poeta / Poeta de Ysleta: Sheryl Luna. She grew up here in the Lower Valley and used to live a couple miles down the road from me a few years ago. Her book Pity the Drowned Horses is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. When I hear or read her poem "Bones," specifically when I reach "the last few hares, sprint across..." line, I know that this is a poem with duende:

" people
forget to speak to one another as our ending skulks
arthritically into our bones, and the dust
of a thousand years blows across the plain,
and the last few hares sprint across a bloodied
highway. Here in the desert southwest, loss
is living and it comes with chapped lips,
long bumpy bus rides and the smog of some man's
factory trap. And there are women everywhere
who have half-lost their souls
in sewing needles and vacuum-cleaner parts.
In maquiladoras there grows a slow poem,
a poem that may only live a moment sharply
in an old woman's soul, like a sudden broken hip..."

This work always reminds me that an excellent poem does not quit too soon, not necessarily in terms of length but in the depth and quickness of associations, image to image, line to line. I would describe the poems in this collection like the "last few hares sprint[ing] across a bloodied / highway..." They do not easily give up, give in, or end... they live through risk, evoke loss and life simultaenously: "Loss / is living."

I interviewed Sheryl last fall in Denver and an excerpt from the interview will appear in the summer issue of Indiana Review.

I don't think I would have started a blog without her Chicana Poetics blog as inspiration. I was working on this post before she read my first two entries... I was hoping to finish this entry before she checked out the blog for the first time.

She gave a reading in Ysleta last year. A photo of Sheryl with her grandmother and mother at the reading:

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Ysleta Poeta - Ysleta, Texas

Is "Ysleta Poeta" or poeta de ysleta a thesis statement? Perhaps yes and no. I hesitate to call myself a regional poet since I did not grow up here. I deeply respect writers from here, de la frontera. I mean “Ysleta Poeta” threefold... a burrowing owl appeared a day before my maternal grandmother Goya (in the picture on the left) passed away in February of this year. After Goya’s funeral, my aunt gave me a copy of a poem in Spanish titled “Ysleta, Texas” that Goya wrote about 50 years ago. A few years ago, I wrote a poem in English by the same title. Goya explores the pain of her murdered son in her poem, a story I know well, but I never knew she conveyed that pain and anger and pain so intimately in a poem. If that was the only poem she wrote, I can see why. And she named that pain after her home. Perhaps it was never truly home. It saddens me to think that the birthplace of their children is not home for many mothers.

Goya immigrated from the state of Chihuahua in the 1920’s. Her husband’s family traces back a few centuries in Ysleta, since it was part of México. My mom grew up here till she was about ten before Goya divorced her husband and moved to Cali.

In my Ysleta poem, I search for family history in this lower valley de la frontera. A few years ago, I buried a copy of my poem in a wood panel in my house. I live a town block away from the adobe my grandfather built in Ysleta. Last November, a day before Thanksgiving, I finally found the murdered son's, my uncle's, headstone in the old, unkempt section of Mt. Carmel cemetery after a significant search through the area. As I was about to give up, a jackrabbit darted in the direction of Oscar’s grave and I followed it and found the headstone. I don't care if this sounds hokey. Birds, crows live in the pine trees in the new section of the cemetery... everyone hears them. Jackrabbits appear fast. Down the street, plump goat tied to a fence near tall weeds one day, gone the next. Though my grandfather's buried in the newer, well-kept section of the cemetery, his headstone plate is often packed with dirt from dust storms and neglect.

Just the same, I don't mind if this blog is a little or a lot hidden away. I don't want to be a perfectionist going batty with sentence arrangement, blowing away the dirt on headstone Braille, pink eraser dust. I started the blog to publicly record my thoughts this summer, yes, like a punishment/celebration of the spontaneous. For the joy and pain of the unedited word. I should’ve been a penitente. I feared entering Bloglandia. I forgot my three point “thesis.” Cause for celebration. Bloglandia helps. Why Ysleta Poeta? Not Poeta de Ysleta. I’m not from here and I'm from here. I live here. I love here. What began as a search for the past has now become life. “Ta-ta-ta”… ysle-ta poe-ta, I hear the opening of Nabokov's Lolita. I hope to write poems with lines scavenged from my notebooks: "My passion gone ration.” I hope to write poems ravaged from life, my life. I want to write with eyes, throat, the train’s howl, the balls of a goat.