Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rise Up / Wise Up

Though I am admittedly not a fan of summer time block busters, I finally went to go see The Dark Knight Rises.  Unlike other films of this genre, I’ve always admired the themes presented in these Christopher Nolan films.  It is for this reason that I was surprised when so called “left-wing” movie critics accused the film of being elitist propaganda claiming that Batman is presented as a crusader for the right-wing agenda.  Though like its predecessor The Dark Knight (which explored the dilemma of battling an uncompromising terrorist, i.e. The Joker), the third film in the series uses real life current events, in this case the occupy movement and the inequities in the disbursement of wealth in this country, as a plot device to enhance the complex nature of the human condition.   Not only does the TDKR explore how the arguably noble motivations of multi- dimensional characters (both antagonists and protagonist) can have disastrous results, the film can also be interpreted as a cautionary tale of what can happen when the plight of the marginalized/ disenfranchised goes unheard and eventually turns on society.  As a result audiences are allowed to question the actions of heroes while sympathizing with monstrous villains.   I swear sometimes you pretentious lefties have no fucking social imagination.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Voice of Descent

"The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence is betrayal."  - Dante

 The United States of America has a rich tradition of assasinating our leaders and then celebrating them on their day of remembrance. Though throughout our public school education we are indoctrined with the I Have a Dream speech, we are not exposed to a diffrent side of Dr. King.  In a speech condeming the violence in Vitenam, Dr. King voiced his opinions and concerns of the morality of the American society.

I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men.  I have told them that Molotov cocktails and riffles would not solve their problems.  But they ask, and rightly so, “What about Vietnam?”  They ask if our own nations wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems.  And I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly about the violence in the world today; my own government.

…We have destroyed their (Vietnamese) their two most cherished institutions; their land and their crops.  This is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolutions impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, as a nation we must undergo a radical revolution of values.  We must radically begin the shift from a thing orienyed society to a people oriented society.
Unfortunayely, as we all know, Dr. King became a victim of the same violence he opposed. Whille nearly 44 years later we have forgotten that hisassassins has yet to be prosecuted, we are bombarded with the black and white images of Dr.  King preaching non-violence.  To you I ask, Why erase history when it can simply be rearranged.
After posting my initail thoughts on the celebration of MLK Day on a popular social network, a fellow student responded:
They assassinate them because they want the "lower" class of citizens who is the labor force to stay exactly there, down. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the wealthy. Bright side of the story is that we still have their ideals to built on and inspire future generations.     
My response to this staement is that it's not enough to think in terms of "us" and "they". We need to accurately identify who "they" are. Its a shame when they use the image and memory our leaders to propagate their agenda, and even worse when we buy into it.  It's wake up time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

La Conclusión

allow yourself to be

The legacy of our ancestors

It is yours

to wear

And psychadelisize

To the inclinations

Of your present


-Alberto Baltazar a.k.a Alurista

When I was a child, my mother would walk me to the local public library that was a few blocks from our small home. I remember the long wall behind the checkout counter and the huge mural that decorated it. I must’ve spent hours starring at that mural, particularly at the man and woman at the center of it all. The brown, dark haired man with thick jet black mustache wore a white slingshot (tank top) and a blue bandana above his brow as did the woman standing next to him. Her black hair was almost animate as it rested on her chest plate. They both stared ahead, at me, with a fierce look of determination in their eyes holding there brown fists in the air? I was confused? They looked like the type of people my mother avoided when we walked to the nearby grocery stores. How could I understand what I was disconnected from? As a first generation Mexican-American, my parents were much more familiar to the ranches and dirt hills of Baja California than Aztlan. It all seemed so primitive and alien.

Many times our brains operate under the false assumption that we have the capability of understanding everything. As a vain reaction to something that is unfamiliar, we simply dismiss it as meaningless or non-sense cal. Though this is as natural as any one of our humanistic tendencies, this almost subconscious denial often prevents us from acknowledging that there is a world outside of our immediate surroundings. As I began immersing myself into these distinct works that are often generalized as simply "Chicano Literature", I realized that the experiences documented in these works are as distinct and complicated as anyone of us are from each other.

Admittedly I have only scratched the surface of the Xicano experience and in no way do I claim to have an all encompassing understanding of this genre. I don’t think anyone can claim that. If anything this experience will serve as a reminder that even the most seemingly trivial aspects of my existence require a deeper analysis than I am often tempted to give.

-Martin "Cito" Vela-Sanchez


Saturday, December 17, 2011


Here are few things to keep in mind as you start reading this entry

Xicanismo: Though the word Chicano is often written with a "C", when I write the word Xicano, I do it in two senses. First, as a homage to the Mexica and other pre-columbium cultures of the Americas. Second as a reference to the Algebraic variable that symbolizes the unknown, like Malcolm

Como-xingan-ca-nismo: A mish mash word combining the Word Xicano/Xicanismo with the phrase "como chingan", which loosely translates as "bitch, bitch, bitch". It seems that if we are not busy being criticized by "Puro Mexicanos", Mexican nationals that we as Xicanas/os fail in comparison to, we are busy arguing amongst ourselves in regards to who is the most Xicano, or not Xicano enough. This also refers to the atmosphere provided by the American Southwest that gave birth to the prevailing social inequalities that gave rise to Xicanismo. Sometimes the Beauty that results from a forced entry is amazing.

And now, with no further interruptions, I present to you;


"Spanish speakers, rather, seemed related to me, for I sensed that we shared-through our language-the experience of being apart from the gringos….Spanish seemed to me the language of home. (Most days it was only at home that I heard it.) It became the language of joyful return….My parents would say something to me and I would feel embraced by their words.

-Richard Ramirez, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez

Years ago, during my last stay in the San Diego County Jail, ( what would any Xicano project be without a jail story, right?) I was sitting on a staircase watching Charles Bronson prize fight with bare knuckles on an oblong shaped television that was bolted high up on a wall. It was the evening, the last few hours before every man was to inevitably return to his bunk for the rest of the night. The day room had been a beehive of activity. While some inmates stayed in their bunks sleeping off any recreational substances left in their veins, most of us sat around playing cards, reading the paper, or just plain congregating, all while following the rules and racial guidelines implemented by the inmates. Though was forbidden for Chicanos to eat with, share food, play cards or gamble with the black and Asian inmates, we where more than free to do the same with the woods (peckerwoods, whites), and the paisas (paisanos, Mexican/South American nationals). If you ever find yourself  detained in one of these facilities, it would behoove  you  to follow these rules.

Suddenly  the huge door that divided our housing unit on the 8th floor unlocked and opened. In entered to men, illegal’s as they revealed, caught driving on a free-way the day before. They had just foregone the tedious 12 hour booking process g and where frightened and hungry. After a quick conference with the Xicanos (southern ethnics), the men were giving two extra rations of food that had been stored in one of the bunks. Though the thought of the bland mush heated in a plastic plate covered in laminate doesn't sound so appealing now, the men ate it like comfort food. In a sense it was. They began telling me that they had toured other county jails in the Midwest as they washed down their meals with small cartons of milk. They explained that they had often been the targets of Latino detainees in other facilities. They continued they were greatfull for  the courtesy extended by the Xicanos. How strange. I thought. We’re supposed to look out for each other, aren’t we?

When I was a kid, I knew I was Mexican, just like the other kids in my neighborhood. We were mostly all decedents of immigrants, and most of us first generation. Spanish was the first language spoken by many of us. Most of us attended bilingual classes at the local elementary school. This was the tower of language that connected us. We were all the same. Weren’t we all Mexicans? I t’s funny how some of the innocence and ignorance of culture stay with us into adulthood, even as inmates. The next morning, as I toweled myself off after a quick shower before my release, s I saw these two men again in passing. They were on their way to board an INS bus that would leave them in Tijuana. They once again thanked me and promised to repay the favor. Admitedly, I was overtaken with a sense of pride

Years later I was a student on a community college campus participating in a fundraiser for an academic club I belonged to. Though the tin foil package containing corn chips drenched in lemon juice, hot sauce tamarind and strips of pig skin disgusted me, it was a snack that the predominantly "Mexican" student population seemed to enjoy. I was standing behind a table counting our earnings when I young women approached the table. She was a short round student with long jet black dark hair and a beautiful face. She had walked across the lawn from where the more affluent, upper middle class, Tijuanense (Tijuana residents) students hung out chain smoking. She asked us for change for a five dollar bill in perfect English. I responded that we did speak Spanish, In perfect Spanish. She snapped to me in the same tongue, "Well, you’re the ones who think your gringos!"

Though this is not the first time a beautiful women has spoken to me in this manner, I was taken back. Once Again I was one of many victims of chingancanismo,  the constant jugement of who is most Mexican and or Xicano when most of us don’t agree or understand on what constitutes either. It is for this very reason that many of us are automatically labeled pocho. For those of you who are unaware, as most of us are:

Pocho/a (adj): 1.) a person of Mexican ancestry living in the United States 2.) a person of Mexican ancestry who does not speak Spanish 3.) A rotten or spoiled piece of fruit.

Renowned writer Gloria Analzaldua gives some insight into this Pochismo when she writes:

"‘Pocho’ Cultural traitor, you’re speaking the oppressors language by speaking English, you’re ruining the Spanish language,’ I have been accused by various Latinos and Latinas. Chicano Spanish is considered by the purist and by most Latinos as deficient, a mutilation of Spanish….
With Chicanas from New Mexico or Arizona I will speak Chicana Spanish a little, but often they don’t understand what I’m saying. With most California Chicanas I speak almost entirely English (unless I forget). When I first moved to San Francisco, I’d rattle something in Spanish, unintentionally embarrassing them. Often it is only with another Chicana Tejana that I can talk freely.:

Though Anazaldua has a clear understanding of this phenomenon that occurs when we try to outdo each other culturally she seems to fall into the same sense of superiority. I can imagine lame publishing houses slapping shinny stickers declaring Anazaldua work as a quintessential Xicano gospel and naïve faux intellectuals and Anglo readers as accepting her the end all be all authority on the issue. I shudder, I quiver. Ironically Anazaldua seems to have her own prejudices which are admittedly easy to fall into. Within the last few years I had come to terms with my prejudice towards Mexicans (Xicanos), whom don’t know how to speak Spanish, which I adopted from my mother. It wasn’t until I could put these in a historical context did I understand that in most cases of early Mexican settlers, assimilation was not a choice.

In Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, Rodolfo Acuna writes of the state of the cultural identity of the Xicanos of the 1920’s:

"The masses of Mexican Americans remained nationalistic. They called themselves Mexicans and kept up the Spanish Language. However Mexican American organizations, dominated by the middle-class, assimilation continued to be the main objective; in public some middle class often referred to themselves as Latin or Spanish."
This of course heightened tensions between Mexican Americans residents and newly arrived immigrants nationals who did not speak English who were already competing for living space and work. Ironically Anaya offers, "…most outsiders never made the distinction between Mexican born and the Mexican American, they were all greasers to them". Though many of these attitudes between these two similar yet contrasting groups are still prevalent, many of us don’t understand that in many cases these conflicts go as far back as the turn of the century.

Eventually, in an attempt to favor the economic interest of the Euroamerican elite, Americanization programs where implemented throughout the American Southwest. According to Historian Gilbert Gonzalez:
"Americanization programs based upon academic and popular literature that tended to reinforce the stereotypes that of Mexicans as dirty, shiftless, lazy, irresponsible, unambitious, thriftless, fatalistic, selfish, promiscuous, and proned to dinking, violence, and criminal behavior."

The purpose of these programs was to civilize Mexican immigrants by having them their tradition customs and language to fit the mold by perpetuated by the Gods of industry and American profiteers. As I delve into history, the effects of these programs begin to manifest themselves in the stories my grandfather told me as a child. According to him, while he was working as a cook at an upscale Manhattan restaurant in the 1930’s, anyone caught speaking Spanish in the kitchen would be slapped in the face with a fish by the head chef. I can only imagine the confusion of barefoot children slapped in the mouth in those cold institutions, the unassuming rural school houses, for communicating the only way they knew how. It’s a wonder their decedents speak at all.

Around the same time as these programs where being implemented, the more affluent and thus more educated European and Mexican National began writing their tirades as a result of the birth of a new tongue. Case in point:

 Do you Speak Pocho...?  by Jorge Ulica (1924) excerpt translated from Spanish

The pocho is extending itself at an alarming manor.  I am referring to the dialect spoken by many of the "Spanish"
that come to California and in one mishmash  become more entangled in spanish words, english vocabulary, popular expressions and terrible "slang".
At this rate, it will be necessary to fund an Academy and publish a dictionary in spanish-pocho, so we may.


It is no wonder that this sense of cultural inferiority is and ever present element in Xicano Literature. Many authors have expressed the anguish of not understanding a language that is as foreign to them as Japanese or Portuguese is to an Anglo-American. As judgmental as I was unintentionally raised to be, many times have I held my silence when visiting my family in Baja California, Mexico, terrified at the thought of revealing myself to be a rotten piece of fruit because of a mispronounced word, phrase and accent. With a lack of knowledge of History, this would certainly be taken as an offense.

Writer, lawyer, and Xicano activist gives great insight into this anguish when he recalls:

They all are speaking the language of my youth; the language which I had stopped speaking at the age of seven when  the Captain (father) insisted we couldn't learn English unless we stopped speaking Spanish...I hadn't heard the language spoken in public with such gusto since I'd left El Paso as a boy.  I had personally stopped speaking Spanish in front of Americans or Oakies after Mr. Wilkie, my grammar school principal, had threatened to expel me....He came right up to me and whispered, "But you can't speak Spanish Oscar.  We don't allow it....This is an American School..we want you boys to learn English.  If you want to stay in this school.  Yes, you boys will have to speak English while on school grounds.

Perhaps if I had not been in love with madly in love with Jane Adison I might have fought the tall man, but I didn't want to get kicked out of school, so I didn't speak In the language of my parents until that night in Juarez, some twenty-odd years later.When the thick guard in uniform approached me I felt a tingle in my neck.  I had no passport, no identification, of any kind whatsoever.  I had lost my wallet in Taos several months prior to my entry into Juarez....I was certain he’d interrogate me...Where have you been?  Just who are you muchacho?  And just how would I explain to him about Mr. Wilkie If I couldn't speak Spanish?  And would they provide an interpreter? Por Favor? No knew it wouldn't do.  I knew I'd be arrested...Impersonating a mexicano?  Is there such a charge?

More recently, in a poem titled OAXACA, 1974 Author, and Xicana Lorna Dee Cervantes writes:

I look for you all day in the streets of Oaxaca.
The Children run to me, laughing,
Spinning me blind and silly.
They call me in the words of another language.
My brown body searches the streets
For dye hat will color my thoughts

But Mexico gags,
On this blanned pochaseed.

I didn’t ask to be brought up tonta!
My name hangs above me like a loose tooth.
Old women know my secret,
"Es la culpa de los antepasados."
Blame it on the old ones.
They give me a name
That fights me.

Nearly a century later, we find ourselves here, bickering over the same idnetty issues  that stems from an igorance of history. Two cultures, from the same point of origin pressed against each other, confused and conflicted by ourselves  while the while the hands that apply the preaasure prevail.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

State of the Union Adress

"It’s in the blood now and not just my blood… Someone has to answer to all the smothered lives of all the fighters who have been forced to carry on, chained to a war for freedom just like a slave chained to his master. Somebody has to pay for the fact that I’ve got to leave my friends to stay whole and human, to survive intact, to carry on the species and my own Buffalo run as long as I can." -Zeta

A man stands in front of a group of students in a classroom with theatre style seating. His back is to the audience as he stretches his arm up towards the projection of two pictures of a man on a white screen. Two men actually. His palm is adjacent to the wall and his long fingers spread out as if he, through some form of telekinesis, where holding up the four walls in the classroom. He is tall and wiry, brown with and arrowhead nose. He wears a blue suit and a tie stars and stripes. He looks gaudy.

On the left, the a black and white picture of a young man in with jet black hair dark frames standing proudly staring ahead him and away from the camera. He is surrounded by students that look just like him, undeterred, staring straight past an invisible line of scrimmage into the eyes of an opponent who is everywhere, the uninviting future. We are told that this is the same man in the picture on the right, though I have my doubts. The man on the right stands by idlely with an overfed look in his eye. He stares straight ahead at the camera and rests his conjoined hands on his belly. Underneath this photo, after his name it reads "PHD."

Arrowhead nose continues with his sermon; "Notice the transition, the transformation from…activist student to a professional Chicano. A Doctor no less. This is what this organization is about, helping Chicanos focus their energy in positive ways, to put you in these seats of power. At this moment all of you, my brown brothas and sistas of Aztlan, are making this transformation as you choose to accept the challenge of a college education." I shudder. I quiver.

What happened to our anger, the kitchens where two parts gasoline where mixed with one part oil and one part soap, chasing money changers out of churches, protecting ourselves and protecting each other. Lives are still being smothered under the hot sun where an invisible line dictates life or death, the cold nights where the barefoot venture out onto the sides of dark highways, children being shot in the back for pulling their pants up. No wonder there has always been a mistrust of the academic sector. These theories of self-improvement and gospels of solidarity conceal more or as many subliminal messages as the Evening World News or a fucking State of the Union address. It somehow stings more when it’s through the lips of "one of our own". No wonder I’m on my one. We are currently undergoing the process of being fixed, that is castration from ourselves and each other, and are to numb to feel a thing.

A man in the front seat interjects, "Well, when I think of MECHA, I there seems be a negative connotation to the name. I think of low riders." FUCK. That’s what that is. Mentally I’ve checked out, but I stay in my seat to not attract attention to myself. "What will I become?", I think to myself. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see a College Professor. I’ve already learned to adjust my inflections and speech patterns, perhaps I should grow my hair and change the way I dress if nothing more, as a subversive act. I could shave of my mustache and goatee. Maybe I should allow the woman at the barber shop to trim my eyebrows. She says a trim would make me look less angry. I certainly wouldn’t want to upset anyone with the way I look, let alone my thoughts. Maybe I could go by my middle name, Brian, that sounds much more acceptable. Maybe I should smash this mirror. Maybe I should tell these Chicano professionals that they’re full of shit.

Maybe for, just for now, I will hold my peace. One day I will be in front of the classroom with my palms in the sky and I will give my sermon, I will cause tension in the mind by distorting the distortions, altering the shape and characteristic of the seat of power. I won’t even sit in that arm chair.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Somtimes it's Hard to Meditate

In the poem Meditaions of The South Valley, Jimmy Santiago Baca gives a eulogy of sorts to his friend Eddie, a multifaceted young Man who died of a gunshot to the head. There does seem to be contrast to this character, but only to the reader who does not understand that all things are not either white or black.  Eddie is described as the type of man who would walk to the store with his grandmother but at the same time would also stand on the frontlines with his carnales when it was time to do so.  Though there are some references to drug use and what is largely reguarded as "Gang Activity", Baca does not present them as a crtiticism, rather more as a simple newsreport of what was going on in this young mans existance and how it is a reflection of what occurs in many of our communities.
I recall a friend of mine named Charlie who was recently killed by police officers in after stealing a car. When I frequent the Colonia he once lived in, I walk past his eulogy. Black writing on a white wall "Zapata 13". Like Baca, I dont bother myself with looking at people the perspective of morality, rather I look at Charlie much as Baca looked at Eddie, just another young brotherwho left us much to soon. Rest in peace to both of these brothers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reading in Public

The day is unseasonably warm
 I walk into a dark tavern with air conditioning
Mid day, Sunday, right bbefore kickoff
I sit anywhere
And they sit everywhere

I turn a page and look off into empty space
Confusing them
Why wold anybody read a book here
Why would anybody read a book?

The table I'm sitting in is suddenly occupied by women
Bleached hair, gaudy colorfull tatoos
They sit and laugh at the men that admire them
I can tell they want me to leave

In the cold confines of stone buldings
They want too sit next to me in the suns warmth
I let them sit at my table
But I keep one foot on chair and refuse to interact

I am in Cuernavaca looking for Traven
I am in Tenochtitlan being massacred alonside the Mexica
In slotitary confinement in New Mexico
In the court room with a red, white and green briefcase adressing the judge
I am evrywhere and so are they