Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Being Brown, Being Cereus, On-line Floricanto

The First Time You Were Brown
Michael Sedano

“You can’t legislate morality,” racists argued. The nation answered, “No, but you can legislate integration.”

How do you legislate open-minded jurors? Six people in Florida probably think they are open minded. They are members of their culture, they evaluated the evidence and testimony then decided. They did the best they could with what they had. As it happens they had their culture, which places high value only on white skin color.

Skin color is a fact, like white on rice. Attitudes toward skin color develop like language, over time, thus can change. Learning how concepts attach themselves to color, how those concepts morph into predispositions to act one way rather than another, can become a rich lode parents, writers, others will find useful in nurturing generations that don’t kill each other based on skin color.

La Bloga friend Roberto Cintli Rodriguez recently announced a project to catch one’s earliest memories of skin color. The project should pique anyone born before the Korean war. We are folks who lived through bald-faced racism and slamming doors in our faces. Rodriguez wants the stories that go with those memories.

The scholar’s focus is attitude--a predisposition to act one way rather than another--involving skin color and attendant issues of culture, power, position. Rodriguez observes talking about color is a taboo, “During the 'Brown Power' era of the 1960s-1970s, this form of expression flowered in political, artistic or poetic realms, but the full airing of this sensitive [internal] topic by those from within these communities and these cultures was short-lived. It is a topic everyone is aware of, but one that is silenced and continues to be taboo.” For further details of Roberto’s project, review his column at Truthout.

Rodriguez invites writers to share vignettes of their early encounters with the notion of being brown. The challenge for gente of my generation is limiting the number of memories waiting to pounce from a vast storehouse. Here are three vignettes circa 1954, ‘55.

Walking while brown
Motoring west from downtown Berdoo, the woman’s Chrysler Imperial windshield swept the horizon like cinemascope, as far as the eye could see up 5th Street. That white woman would have spotted the four brown kids meandering along the sidewalk, then studied them for a long time as she cruised steadily toward them.

Did she grow concerned watching them play tag, using stop signs and trees as home base, rushing across side streets without looking, playing in the street? She couldn’t have heard the game they’d made up from the movie they’d just seen. The blue-eyed indio named “Esquina.” The kids paused to claim every corner, “When we get home, I get to play Corner. This is my esquina!”

She was half a block away when she saw the children stop to dance around a bus bench. She eased off the gas and steered her white Imperial to the curb. She braked alongside the bus bench and shifted into neutral.

The children froze in wide-eyed curiosity, each turning to peer at the huge white car, then at the well-dressed woman at the wheel. She was a perfect stranger, perhaps in need of directions, who knew? The kids stared and waited.

The woman leaned to her right across the expanse of bench seat. The kids stepped forward to get a look at the angry red face emerging from the driver’s seat. If there was traffic, the kids didn’t hear it, if the motor idled rough they filtered it out. She had their complete attention. The woman’s eyes swept across them. Then she barked out, con gusto like she really meant it, “You filthy little Mexicans!”

She dropped into gear and with scrunching rubber the white Imperial eased away from the curb. We cousins looked at each other. Our eyes shared a moment of recognition, agreement, definition. We exploded into uproarious laughter so intense we were in tears. We played all the way home, laughing, and pointing at each other,  screaming “You filthy little Mexican!”

High School Reunion at The Country Club
“So, are you going to the reunion dinner at The Country Club?” Gary and I went through high school together, ran in the same social circle fifty years ago. Although we had lived in the same city, Redlands wasn’t the same place for me as for Gary, but he did not know that.

“There is no way in hell I will ever step foot in The Country Club,” I answer. Naturally, Gary wants to know more. It was fifth grade, I a newcomer to this side of town, visiting my only friend. We explore his home and estate grounds, then the neighborhood of elegantly kept walled gardens. Bill invites me up to The Country Club to look around and have a soda in the clubhouse.

Growing up among the orange groves on the other side of town, “The Country Club” stood as a bastion of the town’s exclusivity and exclusion. It was Private. I’m as curious as I am eager to step into this world.

We watch a mother and son—a classmate--tee off, and hear totally incomprehensible language. “Well, at least you’re away,” the boy tells his mother. My friend Bill has briefed me on golf etiquette so I figure the other boy ignoring us is part of that, too.

Outside, the clubhouse is a busy place of electric Marketeer carts, golfers clacking away toward the locker room, smartly dressed women heading inside to be social. The double doors open to a bar, a picture window, and a store with a wall display of shiny golf clubs, colorful pennants, and trophies. Bill says hi to the man bent behind the long glass showcase of golf equipment, clothing, and trinkets.

The white shirt and bow tie looks up to return Bill’s greeting. The man stifles the greeting, he is standing, pointing at me, shaking, shouting at the top of his lungs, “You! You! Get out! We don’t allow your kind in here! Get out, get out!”

That man was right, to this day, I tell Gary. Gary’s eyes are shiny with tears and I feel like shit.

Goes With the Territory
For every asshole who crossed my path with malice in their being, there are hundreds, thousands, of great souls who do what they can. Not because they are warriors but because they are, like most of us, decent gente.

First day in a new school is disorienting enough, but my fifth grade move brought something else; all those white kids. Except for Sylvia, Christie, and now me, the entire school was anglo. Being a mid-year transfer from Lugonia School on the other side of town came with its own legend. The teacher asked me to read something easy out of a book then gave me a test of long division, something I already knew from Lugonia. On the playground, the captains said, “He’s from Lugonia, he’s gotta be good. I’m choosing the new guy!” I bobbled every ball tossed my way at first base and couldn’t hit a pitched ball, even if I was from Lugonia.

What deeply impressed me that first week in the anglo school was getting invited to a girl’s birthday party. Not just any party. Her birthday would be at Skateland. I was dumbfounded to learn white people parties take over whole skating rinks! And it’s free, even the food? The girl assured me that was the case and asked my address. White people mail their invitations!

The day the invitation card arrived in the mail I jumped with unrestrained excitement at the novelty, the ways of this new world. Parties with ending times. A whole roller skating rink. Though I’d often passed Skateland's windowless walls and heard the organ music all bouncy and square, I’d never been inside Skateland. Ni modo, I couldn’t roller skate—my old street was unpaved dirt and didn’t have sidewalks. None of that mattered. Then the phone rang.

My new classmate has a simple message: Skateland doesn’t allow Mexicans on Saturday morning, so you can’t come to my birthday party after all. I had been disinvited.

I had to think on the call for a few hours. Yes, white people give amazing parties, but they’re for white people. You are brown. Despite being a native son of this pueblito with all its closed doors, I didn’t understand. I thought I knew these people, and tasted the disappointment bitterly. I wondered if it had been hard for her? She’d carried it off quite well, I thought.

My father laughed for me, told me about The Rules when he grew up: the swimming pool drained after “colored night,” relegated to the balcony at the Fox Theatre and only on Saturday night. He wasn’t surprised that Skateland’s policy was unchanged from his day.

At school the birthday girl would not talk to me at first, but I assured her that I understood, and it was OK. But then someone moved heaven and earth and I was re-invited. Skateland decided it was OK for the Mexican to attend. Someone in that family went to bat for me.

Me, with no pride at all, went to that great party and it was everything special. The kids skated, twirled, did tricks like they went to Skateland all the time. There was loud corny organ music, everyone danced, then they danced in a big group. I danced the hokey pokey. Mostly though, I kicked a number of angry shins, fell several times, ate two free hotdogs plus cake and ice cream and soda and I was so glad they let me in.

Beauty Break
Serpentine Night-blooming Cereus

My mother taught me to love gardening, my father taught me to weed and water. He was an orange picker whose livelihood depended on the skills he imparted to me. My mother learned her household gardening from her mother and aunt Jessie.

My grandmother's garden grew with multitudes of flowers and vegetables and nopales kept rich from the rabbits and goat and gallinas. Granma treasured having good strains of chile and small tomatillo, but her most precious treasures were her epiphyllum plants.

My mother identified her cactus plants and epiphyllums by origin, from her aunt Jessie, from Mamá, the Presidio in San Diego before the war. These plants were familia. Since before the war, where my mother had moved her epiphyllums went with her.

As circumstance had it, I moved my mother's collection of plants to my Pasadena climate where the cacti ran into the wind storm November December 2011. When Santa Ana calmed down the pots had crashed to earth, pencas had blown across the yard and unidentified specimens littered the ground and fence line.

As the recovered pieces return to blossoming health, I'll label and track them and in fifty or eighty years they'll resemble what my mom had before I moved them.

Luckily, one cactus not requiring a label is the serpentine growing night-blooming cereus. The plant's square-pencas grow elongated and work their way into shrubbery, their hard, sharp espinas fending off grasping hands.

Night-blooming cereus was only a name. I'd never seen this bloom, and I don't remember my mom talking about it. Cuttings grow easily and quickly become long, branching specimens.

 The first nubbin of a bud appeared overnight. A fuzzy ball that grew out of an espina node. It grew slowly, swelling rounder then one morning it had begun elongating.

As the bud elongated the closed-tight petal crown began pointing up toward the sky.

She held the position throughout the growing spurt now as the tube grew longer and the flowering bud more pronounced.

One morning I noticed what I thought dew drops but the entire bud wasn't wet. I touched a finger and pulled away a sticky elastic string of gentle sweetness, so delicately perfumed that i guessed I tasted her nectar.

For days I predicted she'd be open in the morning and for days the tube extended, the bud defined itself. Then one afternoon a surprise of yellow petal inside the tight outer brown-red leaves. The dawn would see her in full splendor.

Hours before dawn, the blossom must have been breathtaking. Here in the hour before first light, the petals have already begun closing from their fully spread display. At this hour, even the bees are not about. What was she beckoning during the darkness, a bat, a moth.

Only a few minutes have passed since the sky brightened and she has rapidly begun to close up.

That afternoon, the tube has drooped, the inside spectacle has been sealed tightly by the intermediate layers of yellow sepal petals. If the ovaries have been polinated, a pitaya has begun forming hundreds of tiny seeds to split open when ripe.

A few days pass and the nubbin does not swell fruitfully. The desiccated blossom echoes her glory of the early morning.

Fully desiccated, the pitaya hangs on to its espinita perch by a thread and all it will take is a whisper of a breeze, a flying bee to loosen her grip and separate her from her penca.

Sic transit gloria epi.

From thunderous applause to leaf litter, glorious delight to garden detritus. If I get another blossom, I will hand pollinate it. Vamos a ver.

See a full-sized gallery of these images with dates and times, visit http://readraza.com/serpentinecereus/index.html

Around the Internet - Latinopia
Sal Baldenegro Talks Up Golf Pro

Tucson raza activist Sal Baldenegro's Latinopia column, Political Salsa Y Más, this week highlights professional golfer Bobby Gaona. Gaona's barrio contained a public golf course that allowed his kind--and Sal, too--on the grounds where many developed a dedication to the activity.

Gaona was so good, "The University of Arizona offered Bobby a golf scholarship, but he turned college down in favor of a good-paying job at a local plant. But he kept on golfing, winning the Tucson City Amateur tournament several times."

As the local Pro, Gaona taught Tucson's muni course duffers the game, creating generations of players who owe their intterest to the Pro's influence. Now, Gaona has fallen on hard times, Baldenegro points out, creating opportunities of gente Bobby Gaona helped to give back.

There's an August fundraiser in the works.

Late-breaking News
Washington State: Farmworkers Seek Support

La Bloga friend Angelica Guillen sends links to a struggle in the Pacific Northwest.

Mid-July On-line Floricanto
Jacob Moreno, Rose Valencia Sanchez, Bulfrano Mendoza, Iris De Anda, Irma Guadarrama

“The Cacophony of Marching Monarchs” by Jacob Moreno
“Vencida” by Rose Valencia Sanchez
“La Llorona” by Bulfrano Mendoza
“America the Beautiful” by Iris De Anda
“Chameleon at the Border” by Irma Guadarrama

The Cacophony of Marching Monarchs
by Jacob Moreno

Butterfly wings flutter
Mariposas sin papeles
Without sin, sin vergüenza
I can hear them coming
In droves, sin miedo
They migrate to the sun
Sippin’ on nectared honey
In the land of milkweeds
In patterned flight
Of generational movement
Returning amidst bordered nets
There is strength in aggregation
As a swarming rabble moves
In the natural beauty of migration
From the shade of frightened shadows
They arise in majestic fortitude
I can hear them coming
As a mass of beating wings
They march upon sacred streets
Singing stories sin derechos
Chanting "¡Si, Se Puede!"
In synchronized solidarity
Grasping fire tinged flags
That flap in cold blooded winds
And dance on the breeze
Of hopes and dreams
In the open sky of opportunity
With fist held high
They scream in boisterous tone
Not voiceless, they roam
On the air streams of liberty
Holding hands and homemade signs
Designed to carry them to freedom
And I, can hear them coming

Copyright 2013 Jacob Moreno. All rights reserved.

Jacob Moreno perceives poetry as a voice for the oppressed, the impoverished and the broken people of the world. He believes poetry to be an instrument of awareness, resistance, rebellion,
 civil disorder, peace, love, hope and healing. His Chicano ideals reflect much of his work and are reflected in his poems. More so, a “Varrio” theme is also prevalent within his writing. In addition to his Chicano overtone, there is also a spiritual undertone that runs concurrent within his pieces. His Catholic core and upbringing, in conjunction with his Zen mind and beliefs, make for interesting poetry. In short, the poetry of Jacob Moreno is a fusion of cultura, spirituality, experience, experimentation and observation, combined with the lyricism of a street poet.

Jacob Moreno was born in the Inland Empire and raised in Chino, California. His poesia flows from the well of a 3rd generation Chicano with roots in Meoqui, Chihuahua, Mexico. He views his poetry as a blend of barrio knowledge, political awareness, spiritual insight and cultural passion.

Jacob Moreno received both his Bachelor of Arts degree in English and his Master of Education degree from the University of La Verne. He currently teaches English Language Development and AVID at a high school in Southern California.

by Rose Valencia Sanchez

Glossy, raven haired girl,
cinnamon skinned,
dark eyes
full of fire.

You could be beautiful
if not for the uninformed
spilling out of your mouth
staining the world around you.

Your young face
twisted with such anger!
Full lips pursed in a smirk,
head snapping back and forth,
fingers pointing
into the face
of one of our elder women.

Tu no tienes respeto!
She was trying to rescue you
Don't you see?
Trying to help you comprehend,
the importance of,
having the ability to
articulate your points.
Becoming part of
productive dialogue.
To find solutions.

Has anyone in your life
ever shared anything with you,
other than what they want you to believe?
Are you free to seek other opinions?
Or, are you forced to be
your momma's minion?
My heart aches for you.

You stood by your momma
skirting the issues,
dodging the questions we asked,
Your momma's anger was so great,
she actually tried striking someone!
Momma proved our point,
she advocates hate.
Her act of violence proved it.

You flaunted those ridiculous signs
printed in red, white and blue,
bubble letters.
You didn't understand the hypocrisy
of screaming at us EN ESPANOL
Did you?
Waving the flag at us
as a Matador would
a red cape to a charging bull.

Little girl,
if you don't understand
that WE were out there
fighting for you too,
you have NO right
to wave that flag around.

You haven't even lived yet.
You have never experienced
the suffering, agony
and soul searing grief
MY people do.
It is obvious you do not
share either our collective pride
or strength.

If you decide
to free your mind.
We will welcome you.
We will shelter you.
Educate you!
Our culture is
so beautiful.
Don't be ashamed.
Learn it.
Embrace it.
Accept yourself!

Until then?
Vaya con Dios.
I cannot wish harm
to an innocent.
someone like you.


Copyright 2013 Rose Valencia Sanchez. All rights reserved.

Rose Valencia Sanchez was born to Santos and Claudia Valencia in East Los Angeles California.
 Rose developed a love for words and reading at a young age, due to playing word games, and reading together with her family. She also enjoyed listening to the many stories of her father's childhood in New Mexico. He painted such a vivid picture with his words, that Rose aspired to do the same.

Rose currently resides Arizona, and is fighting against racial intolerance and injustice aimed at the people she was always taught to be so proud of. The first thing you see when you walk up to Rose's front door is a sign on her front window that states "NO SB1070." She carries this statement inside her heart, and it fills up her every waking moment. She is fighting this war her words, her weapons is drawn, she is ready to battle.

La Llorona
by Bulfrano Mendoza

I see her almost everyday
Do you?
Pushing the remnants
of her dreams and things
in a rusty old shopping cart
by Callaghan and Ingram Road.
She mumbles.. in a language
that only she understands,
or so she thinks.
I understand homeless...
I also understand lost...
Do you?
She once had a home,
a family, and dreams.
At night when it's quiet
you can hear her sad screams!
Sitting in the shadows
shaking her head
she has conversations
with loved ones long dead.
Is this La Llorona
of Indigenous lore?
Or just a sad old vieja
who walks the drainage
ditch across from the
La Fiesta grocery store?
I want to help her,
but what do I say?
I'm afraid the men in
white uniforms will just
come and take her away..
So I pray an Our Father,
and a Hail Mary too,
cause one of these days
she could be me...or
she could be you.

© Copyright 2013 Bulfrano Mendoza. All rights reserved.

I am new to the world of poetry. I have been writing for about two years.

 There is so much to write about all around us. Love, hate, poverty, the effects of war...

It's everywhere! One day I started to write, and I haven't been able to stop..

It's like spirits whisper in my ear and tell me what to write..

America the Beautiful
by Iris De Anda

Does she make you rise
fall to your knees
or keep you up at night?

Glitter in her eyes
shades of paper green
& a torch of flaming light


All the globe seeks your New York skyline
fashioned by rivers & corporate highs
that shine so brilliantly at sunset

Mesmerizing tales of your beauty
ring in the distance
confusing boys & girls the world over


I have known you all my life
nestled in the skirts of your capitalism
since my very first breath

Gasping for air amidst your consumerism
sparkles & crowns never my cup of tea
unlike you oh lady of bought up liberty


Sing me a better tomorrow over too many Purple Hearts
only peace remains

Majestic fields & people's pain
unfold before you now creating a different image of beauty & change


Copyright 2013 Iris De Anda. All rights reserved.

Iris De Anda is a writer, activist, and practitioner of the healing arts. A native of Los Angeles she believes in the power of spoken word, poetry, storytelling, and dreams. She has been published in Mujeres de Maiz Zine, Loudmouth Zine: Cal State LA, OCCUPY SF poems from the movement, & online @ La Bloga. She is an active contributor to Poets Responding to SB 1070. She performs at community venues & events throughout the Los Angeles area. She hosted The Writers Underground Open Mic 2012 @ Mazatlan Theatre & 100,000 Poets for Change 2012 @ the Eastside Cafe. Her book CODESWITCH: Fires from mi Corazon will be published FALL 2013. Follow her story @ http://irisdeanda.typepad.com/la_writer_underground/

Chameleon at the Border
By Irma Guadarrama

Like a chameleon I carve my footprints from the
natural hue of mud and sand pit spoils of my frontera,
a border rich with countless of unheard stories.

I see like the border; I taste like the border;
I feel like the border; the border is all
around me – but, mostly I see the border in their eyes,
anchored on the sight of a new horizon;
so desperate to leave that only
the absence of memory lingers.

I see the terror in their eyes each time
they cross.
Darkness swells inside their souls
at the thought of what lies beyond.
There is no end:
I think like the border; the brown that I am
deep inside and the heart that I have;
and the frontera I call my home.

Copyright 2013 Irma Guadarrama. All rights reserved.

I recently retired after a 44-year career of teaching and research, starting out as a bilingual teacher and finishing as a professor at various universities, the last ones being the University of Houston and the University of Texas Pan American in Edinburg, which is in South Texas.
I begin writing poetry and songs in my twenties but I wasn’t interested in performing or publishing until 2009 when I became involved with the Writer’s Forum group in South Texas. Living on the border was such a unique, inspirational experience, and my literary interests broadened and deepened. I have a collection of poems and songs that I’m still refining and eventually will publish a chapbook, and perhaps, record my songs.
My poetry and song lyrics have been published in literary anthologies and magazines such as the Interstice literary journal from South Texas College, the Boundless 2011 anthology of the RGV international poetry festival, and Voices from the Chicho anthology (Narciso Martínez Cultural Center’s Writer’s Forum Group). I also published two bilingual chapbooks of children’s original fables while a professor at the University of Houston: Cuéntame una fábula and Cuéntame mas fábulas.

I received a bachelor’s degree from Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Master’s degree from the University of Texas in San Antonio, and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. My area of study was education with an emphasis in reading and language and culture.

I was born in Cd. Juárez, México, but grew up in Central and North Texas areas. My home is currently Houston, TX where I live with my two children.

Presently, I work as a writer/researcher for a couple of blogs, which I recently developed: Bilingual Frontera (http://bilingualfrontera.blogspot.com) deals with themes related to social and political issues in the borderlands, and Mujeres, Fronteras y Sus Historias/Women, Borders and Their Stories (http://mujeresfronteras.wordpress.com), that focuses on the plight of immigrant women in the United States. In the former project, I’m collaborating with colleagues from Matamoros, Tamaulipas.



I remembered being told that I was the "wrong" color, "You know, you're like . . . negroes."

Lisa Alvarado said...

This article flips the script on Zimmerman.


I think erasure from public discourse that Zimmeramn is Latino feeds into internalized racism about our fear/hatred of the black other and the blackness that is part of our history. It is also a tacit reminder/encouragement that white skin privilege trumps.

Olga said...

Michael, your personal accounts of racism while growing up reallly moved me. This reality/these incidents are part of American history and the denial, erasure, silencing of them is why those jurors on the Zimmerman case didn't even discuss the issue of race in deliberation. How could they? Our educational system generally teaches us to deny racism. Can you imagine the discussion in the deliberation room if at least of the jurors had been
an ethnic studies major?!

Lisa, well stated on the almost zero discussion of Zimmerman's ethnicity. I just read a blog by Myriam Gurba on this very issue.

Rose Valencia Sanchez said...

I hope everyone reads the beautiful and thought provoking poetry written by the other poets here.....outstanding work!! I also loved Serpentine Night-blooming Cereus by Michael......I enjoyed the beautiful photos as well. Great job everyone! Peace, Rose Valencia Sanchez

Edward Vidaurre said...

Some of my favorite peeps and their poetry and the Cereus *sigh* bravo!

msedano said...

Rose, every time I read "Vencida" it gets better and it started out superbly. I hear Catullus' tongue in "Vencida". And I'm encouraged that she's vencida and "vencida". mvs