Memorial Day used to put me off until I got over it. It all started during a stroll in Washington DC. My daughter was doing an internship in town and we’d flown out for a visit. My kid walks to my left. I keep The Wall on my right. The monument starts and ends with the first guy killed and the last guy killed. As we near the slabs for 1969-70, the names start to blur and I realize I am crying. I do not want to read the names from my two years. We reach the Lincoln Memorial where I sit on a bench and get my composure back. Damn, what a hard walk that is.
A few years later, Shrub starts rattling sabres and clearly the US is going to war in Iraq again, and just as clearly, our kids will do the fighting and dying. So I want kids to know the military as an option rather than their only choice; I want kids to read and write about the impact of war on their family and community, to know they have a personal stake in the upcoming war. I announce a Read! Raza Essay Contest. Entrants would receive two books from me, Stella Pope Duarte’s Let Their Spirits Dance, and Daniel Cano’s collection of short fiction, Shifting Loyalties. Read, write, win a few bucks.
So I go promoting the contest in likely places, including Huntington Park CA, a Spanish-speaking community just South of my workplace. Working with staff in the public library across the street from HP High School, I arrange an after-school promotion for the contest. That library's always crowded at the end of the day with students from the High School; a perfect place. I figure I’ll show up, do my standard literacy / oracy dog-and-pony-show, segue into a bibliographic talk on Chicana Chicano-produced literature of the Vietnam war, and toss in a few poems. In the end, I figure to recruit five or so kids to take the books home, read them, and maybe write the essay.
The day before my presentation I get an urgent message from one of the staffers. I call. The head Librarian is up in arms. I have been disinvited to appear. The Head Librarian doesn’t want me--nor any "Chicanos" -- in the library, because we cause trouble. My contact tells me please not to make an issue of , "I, I need my job," I’m told, and if I cause trouble, the anti-Chicano Head Librarian will fire my contact.
How does that old song go, "Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose"? Am I too old, too tired? Quien sabe, but I let the matter pass. But I think: I’m glad I served in the Army so that Head Librarians can censor people like me.