Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Roll Call Dispatch & Radio Days

The February 16th funeral services for maestro raúlrsalinas in South Osten near the campus of St. Edwards University where Raúl taught as an adjunct professor in media studies were met with chill winds, a cold, drizzling rain and finally a rainbow, a fitting signal that the poet had been lifted into the great hogan in the sky and declared a human being. The list of despondent and solemn mourners who offered music, sage, poems and prayer was long. Among those who paid their respects were: UFW's Dolores Huerta; poet and famed Royal Chicano Airforce founding father José Montoya; San Francisco-based writer Alejandro "Gato" Murguía; Dr. Louis Mendoza, who co-edited Telling Tongues: A Latin@ Anthology on Language Experience published jointly by Red Salmon Press and Calaca Press; artist/activist Jane Madrigal; Pocha and Victor Payan who are now coordinating the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Cinefestival in San Antonio; director/actor Rodney Rodriguez; documentary filmmaker Andrea Melendez; playwright and poet Sharon Bridgforth; NOKOA Newspaper publisher Akwasi Evans; painter Anna Salinas; cinematographer Lee Daniel, documentary filmmaker Susanne Mason... the list goes on and on. Laura Varela is working on a documentary about "Tapón" as we speak and made her way north from San Anto to attend as did Victoria Garcia, another S.A. artist/administrator. The creative tide left in our mentor's wake was and is a tanglible gale force of energy that goes on. This week's national broadcast of Latino USA offers my own humble tribute to Raul. The radio essay is called "Death of a Poet."

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Amorindio... descanse en paz, maestro raúlrsalinas

Llantos y lamentos y aullidos y un dolor profundo desde el mero corazón, because the world has lost a blazing warrior, a down crusader for human rights and social justice and a literary lion. Just a month or so shy of his 76th birthday, my mentor and honorary godfather and the vato who kept me off the streets and out of trouble for so many years during a troubled post-adolescence, one ex-pinto, self-described cockroach poet and the founder/owner of Resistencia Bookstore, author of Un Trip Through the Mind Jail y Otras Excursions and so much more, raúlrsalinas caught the bus early this morning. The legendary poet, who shared the stage with Oscar Zeta Acosta, José Montoya, Ernesto Cardenal, Piñero, Pietri and a multitude of others took me on twenty-four years ago and put me to work. Dusting bookshelves, painting rooftop bookstore signs and loading boxes of books onto the back of a pick up for trips to the San Antonio Inter-American Bookfair where he introduced me literally to Luis Rodriguez, Dagoberto Gilb, Trinidad Sánchez and many others, I soaked up jazz monsters and read with a voraciousness that stemmed from his plain, matter-of-fact revolutionary stance. From Angela Davis and Leonard Peltier to Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, my South Austin residency at Resistencia, Casa de Red Salmon Press was all about the education I would never have gotten in the halls of academia. I was proud to lug around the jailhouse graphics department in a plastic file folder case. We ran together for ten years until I ventured out into the world as a reverse mojado in Matamoros, then a music flack for La Mafia in Houston and finally as a sometime wordsmith in East LA. The last time we spoke, a month before Christmas, he had not even the energy to give me my requisite regañada. Just a year before that, at a fundraiser tribute for him hosted by actor Jesse Borrego, he'd given me a serious tongue lashing over the fact that I'd let a good woman get away or run her off, rather. "Nephew, what did you do to her?" he'd asked with his traditional good-natured gruffness, the slight scolding implicit. I could only look away in shame and offer a nervous laugh while shrugging.

Raul spent many years in the prison system and thus became an engaged political activist. His transformation enabled my own eventual commitment to kids caught up in the juvenile justice system. It's ironic that his passing comes a week or so after my own introduction to the inside of a county jail complex and a troubling first hand glimpse at how that jail machine is built to break you down. Raul stood up. He wrote and he taught and he blessed us with his wisdom, a sage body of knowledge acquired through a lifetime of experience filtered through one of the keenest intellects I've ever encountered. His work on behalf of Native American rights and at-risk youth in detention facilities across the nation, his struggles against oppression and political censorship around the globe, and his gentle demeanor as a humble bookminder shall be heralded through the end of time. Adios, uncle. I'm a better human being for having known you and need you to know that your work will go on. It will continue far beyond those admiring liner notes for your first spoken word CD from Calaca Press, te lo prometo... La lucha continua.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Even Malverde Nods to San Valentin

Insiders know that Machete Music recording artist Malverde, who takes his name from the patron saint of smugglers, is on the verge of a national breakout. His conscious hip-hop and bilingual rap first came to my attention at about four years ago when he crashed a couple of NALIP conference receptions and offered a demo and some righteous plática. The lyrical eloquence of his palabra, bespoke an awareness of his role as an agent of change, as a young man concerned about the violence in our communities and a visionary who crossed easily in and out of either language. The CD release party held downtown last night was a celebration of his maturation and a second major label release. Distributed by Universal Music, Malverde rallied guests from here to Riverside. Spotted in the crowd were jeweler Araceli Silva and Magdaleno "Guic" Robles, who launched Creativo Management after our own ill-fated feature film project (and his directorial debut) went haywire and bust amidst dubious support from our producers. Taco Chihuahua catered directly from the discos and Jarritos introduced their semi-urban marketing campaign which is highlighted by the phrase "What the fruit?!" Gimmicky but effective. It bears mention that the fiesta was sponsored by MTV3. Mad, mad props to a young artist who's paid his dues and continues to spread positive messages. Aplausos para Daniel Hastings as well, the Chicano-panameño NALIPTster and long-time member of NALIP and president of the Atomicus Creative Group who directed Malverde's scorching new video and a long-time NALIPster who wants to get us in to a Grammy after-party on Sunday.

After the primaries and the optimism derived from Obama's muscular showing in a gap-closing Super-Tuesday election, Malverde was a follow up signal that life is looking up. Malverde delivered his own flows as well as refrains from "Volver" and "Tragos de Amargo Licor," both chicano and paisa sing along standards. He also offered a track to his grandparents who have been married for about 50 years, evidence that life-long love is possible and it leads directly into a round up of the Valentine's Day events and activities that will perhaps make all of our love lives (or lack thereof) interesting this weekend. I'm pleased to confess that I'll be writing love poems on demand with original illustrations by José Lozano at the Self-Help Graphics "Botánica de Amor," a love fair featuring tarot readings, love potions and prints from the SHG print taller. Spoken word artists who will share "sexy-love" poetry include Adolfo Guzmán López and Consuelo Flores.

And if that weren't enough, San Anto-bred Ana Guajardo, la switchera extraordinaria, also hosts a can't miss artesanía and love-stuff happening on Sunday. "Amorarte," as she's dubbed the sale and gathering of good friends over food and wine, brings together a number of LA's best Latina/Xicana/Mexicana artisans, designers and fashionistas who craft their wares by hand at home. Contact her at her website for an invite and details. Meanwhile, Karla Lopez, founder of the enormously popular Mamacita's Market has organized "A Day for Love: As Sweet as Chocolate" with a special performance by musical soulmaster Alex Painter on Sunday as well over at Placita Olvera in conjuntion with Casa de Sousa. Support local artists and taste the fruits of cariño in the process, por fa'...

Saturday, February 2, 2008

La Candelaria & the Beyond the LA County Blues

Today marks the second anniversary of the celebration I came to host at my cantoncito in honor of "Candlemas," La Candelaria. Traditionally, if you find a baby Christ figurine in your slice of rosca cake on Jan. 6th (Epiphany/Reyes Magos) you are obligated to host a fiesta on February 2nd. This year, we've moved the feast to Ave. 50 Studio in order to honor our brother Peter Harris and the spoken word event he's put together as part of the LA Black/Brown Dialogues, a series which seeks to shed light on how we can better understand one another. Peter created and hosted "Inspiration House" over at KPFK once upon a time and actually participated in a journalism program for writers of color at Berkeley alongside my sister almost a lifetime ago.

And on the subject of family tradition, here's the latest from queridisima Vicky Grise, playwright and dramaturge from San Antonio, as well as author of the Panza Monologues, who's written a play about her Mexican/Chinese ancestry. Check out her blow by blow on the nascent production of the piece at Cal Arts where she's getting a Masters.

It wouldn't be a blog without a weary confession of the fact that I'm still nursing my soul after a sojourn into the maelstrom of the LA County lock up on an old traffic violation I never took care of. More on how I earned my County Blues in another blog or an article. It's enough to say that you never want to go there. On another level, it brings me closer to the kids I've worked with in juvenile hall as a creative writing teacher for the last four years and gives me a bonafide perspective from the inside. It was, simply, a tragic and overwhelming, soul-searing, chain-gang rattling mindfreak through the halls and cellblocks of misdemeanor time. Never before had I been on the receiving end of such a brutal, systematic process, a journey that strips you of your dignity and humanity in the worst possible ways. In light of this, the Candelaria has an exponentiated significance... I am once again on the outside under the vibrant glow of a Southern California sun. Light a candle and thank your lucky stars. A community of artists and writers was ready to send out the search party, and I realized, once again, how fortunate I am clan-wise. Mil gracias a mis amigos y a mi familia. Los quiero muchisimo...