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.

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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.