Friday, June 30, 2017

Antonio López: a New Voice in Poetry and Winner at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference

Melinda Palacio

Antonio López, winner of the Poetry Prize at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference 2017

Last week, was the 45th gathering of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Once in a while a student comes along whose talent shines through. Back in the nineties, it was Michele Serros, who wore a simple name tag that said, 'Girl Writer.' This year, I am pleased to introduce Antonio López. Remember the name, he will be rocking your book shelves in the very near future. He won First Prize in Poetry at the conference. Honorable Mentions for the 2017 Poetry Prize include Steve Braff and Claire Hsu Accomando I mentioned to Antonio that the last time a Chicano or Latinx or Person of Color won First Prize in Poetry was myself in 2003. La Bloga is pleased to offer this thoughtful interview with rising literary star, Antonio López. As you'll read from the interview, the 23-year-old poet has a promising career in both literary arts and law. 

East Beach across the street from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference

Melinda Palacio
1. When did you start writing poetry? 

Antonio López
1. I started writing poetry in high school. I started when I wrote a short story for my girlfriend at the time (lasted like 3 months but it was one of the catalysts). It opened up the prospect of "Huh, I'm kinda good at this, and I enjoy getting caught up in my mind, making a story and so forth." In class, we were reading The Scarlet Letter, so a lot of my lines were overwrought, the images were over the top, and probably mixed with each other in confusing ways. But after submitting one story, my teacher, Ms. Gertmenian got back to me and said her work reminded her of Garcia Marquez. One Hundred Years of Solitude was the probably the first Latino author I remember reading.

But as I wrote more stories, I realized I loved, even obsessed, over certain lines and details. I'd be walking the street, using cumbias and rap and sonideros to help induce the image out the mind's womb. After writing my first personal statements for college, then outpoured the stories of all the things I saw grow up--the guns that sounded like fireworks, the slang that I suddenly stopped at my high school prep, the chisme and dirty jokes 8th grade boys say to each other like prayers. the struggle for self-worth at an almost-white school. I encountered my culture on the page, and it lit my world.

2. You are a student at Duke, off to Law School ? Will poetry continue to be a part of your life? Who are some of your influences? 

2. I actually graduated from Duke in 2016, and am now a rising 2nd year MFA student at Rutgers University at Newark, NJ. Law school is an idea that at first, I was toying with, but recently I was accepted into a prep program called the UCLA Law Fellows, an initiative, now in its 20th year, that creates a pipeline for minority students to pursue the profession. Their classes on precedents, their inspiring speakers (many of them alumni of the program), and their scholarship to take an LSAT class in the fall, have made me realized how much support God has laid to follow my dreams. Namely, to represent undocumented migrants while also writing their stories (whether nonfiction or fictionalized). 

As influences, I read Anzaldua my freshman year in college, and I thought both her theoretical understanding of what I was living (the psychic borderlands) along with her bilingual poetry, were just stunning. I also loved watching, and re-watching, the old school Def Poetry Jam where Mos Def would be the emcee. There, I learned of poets like Saul Williams, Louis Reyes Rivera, Victor Hernandez Cruz. From early on, Spoken Word was a genre that drew me. Its energy, its political posture, the way language can pack un golpe, and if you're lucky, un putazo. 

But these usherings of musc came from specific people. Growing up, I burned CD's with my cousin Miguel Angel, and he'd introduce me to Nas, Common, KRS-One, Rakim, as well as some contemporary rappers. When I was 15 or so, a woman at the Boys and Girls Club put on me onto Gil Scott Heron and the Last Poets. Education scholar Jason Mendez gave a presentation that interspersed Pedro Pietri's "Puerto Rican Obituary" with Wu Tan Clan's "I Can't Sleep." I swallowed these beats like water. My mentor in college, Nathaniel Mackey, further added to my list Juan Felipe Herrera and Lorna Dee Cervantes. It's an ongoing list of mentor and predecessor. These muses, or maybe better put, duendistas, all walk with me as I put word to page.

3. I see you are attending several conferences this summer, including the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, where you impressed a whole conference with your poetry, where are you off to next? I think you mentioned Squaw Valley? Is the SBWC your first conference or have you been to others? If so which ones and how were they different? 
Congratulations on winning first place in poetry. (I wasn't there for the ceremony, were there runners up, honorable mentions?) 

3. a. I am indeed in Squaw Valley right now. Strictly within writing, I've also attended the Yale Writers' Conference, Santa Barbara of course, and AWP this year. I believe our beloved friend, Claire, received the honorable mention for the Santa Barbara competition. 

3.b What are some of the other poetry awards you have received and when? Did you receive a full scholarship for Squaw Valley?

b. Here at Squaw, I'm grateful to have received the Lucille Clifton Memorial Scholarship, which covers tuition and housing. Other awards I've won is AWP's Open Mic & Old School Poetry Slam Competition this past February. I was also a finalist for the 9th Annual Nazim Hikmet Poetry Competition (also this year). And in 2016, I was the inaugural winner for the William Rosati Creative Writing Award at Duke University.

4. At Duke, you study with Aracelis Girmay? Can you describe the mentorship and which courses you've taken with her? Is this for your MFA at Rutgers? You mentioned, I think, also going to Law School?

4. At Duke, I studied with the likes of Nate Mackey and Peter Moore. But poetry is a fairly recent endeavor as a career path. Before that, I heavily studied Cultural Studies with Wahneema Lubiano, Antonio Viego, Walter Mignolo, William Darity, and in the field of African-American Studies, the late, brilliant Raymond Gavins. At Rutgers, I'm blessed to have the mentorship of Rigoberto Gonzalez and Brenda Shaughnessy. I've taken workshops with both, where they've always provided a critical, but nurturing space for all us poets. I should also say that while a Fiction professor, Alice Dark is a person who has moved (both in the physical and sentimental sense) me to expand my craft. I am working on a memoir, Bajo Otra Luna, and it'd be a disservice to her work if I din't mention that the first few chapters came from her "Writers at Newark" class.

5. Do you also study history. From the few poems I've read you seem well versed in Aztec culture and Meso American history. Can you talk about your use of juxtaposing the ancient cultura with current times and how you started putting the two together in your poems? Did you also minor in Spanish or have you formally studied Spanish? It's impressive how seamlessly your poems switch between Spanish and English. 

5.  History was my first love. I remember taking World History in high school, and learning about different civilizations and wars felt empowering in Menlo School, a place where I was often the only Latino in my classrooms. In college, the very first class I took was one on the US-Mexico Border with Sarah Deutsch. In my spare time, I watched and re-watched PBS' Chicano: A History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement. There, I learned of the '68 Walkouts (which made me realize that what we were doing for the Day Without an Immigrant Protests were the same), the Moratorium, Sal Castro, Reis Lopez Tijerina, but most importantly, Corky Gonzalez's "Yo Soy Joaquin." This encouraged my continual private interest in studying Aztec mythology. 

History (and study) is a huge marker for me. As an undergrad, I became obsessed with radical left philosophy (anarchism), then moved to studying political dissidents (Angela Davis, George Jackson, Leonard Peltier), and now I've settled into a religious mythology phase (Sufist poetry, Aztec myths, the Naat devotional songs to the prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the South Asian qawwali form [songs to God] and studying the Qur'an. I think reciting the Qur'an has affected and heavily influenced my penchant for the anaphora.  

5. b. Maybe you have other poems that reveal different identities. I only heard two of your poems. Can you talk a little more about how you identify yourself and what is the cultural background of your family/parents, is it different from yours? 

b. We need more myths, because that's how we remember we come from greatness. That we too speak of rivers, called chinampas, called El Rio Bravo, etc. Incorporating ancient culture gives the present moment (whether it be immigration, deportations, poverty, discrimination) more perspective. It makes us richer, more powerful. If we just caught up in the present, then we lose sight of our longevity as a people. As the EZLN (Ejercito Zapatista Liberacion Nacional) said, as their opening words to the NAFTA-sparked uprising of 1994, "We are the product of 500 years of struggle."

With regards to my use of billingualism, that's just how we as Latinxs live. In poems like "Moscatero" for instance, you'll hear Mexican slang because it is an absolute necessity to tell this literary world, "This are the people I live, love, dream, and fight about, and in their own words."  Of course, in a largely monolingual canon, I have to always negotiate this code-switching, which is a different act from translation. The latter says I'm ostensibly of another place, whereas this Spanglish is, as Anzaldua said, "a forked de aqui ni de alla." This is a different world, yet one uttered, sung, lamented, and praised by millions of people in this country, every second, every day., every latido, every suspiro. Behind restaurant kitchens, atop broken shingles, inside maquilladoras, inside misas. I've had several folks say, "I don't understand what the speaker's saying," as if that were negative connotations. I want to tell them, "You know how many of my generation and background wish they can talk back to their bosses, who wished they could fight for their rights? Will all due respect, your discomfort pales (often literal on a racial level) with their experience." I want my readers to struggle, to sweat, because that's exactly their , and our, way(s) of living. 

Last little note, when I hear the word frijoles, plumes of smoke in the cocina just burst in my mind. So many recuerdos and fights and flavors and "te sirvo mas mi'jo," and queso cotija falling on my plate like the first snow el barrio's ever seen, and so forth. But if I said beans, it sounds dull, stripped of its sharp. I hear Bush's Best commercials and tacky Westerns of dirt-lathered Anglos roasting a can over a bonfire. These aren't my memories. My mother, my grandmother, my father, even my little brother, all say frijoles, and so that's how it'll exist on the page.

6. Where are you originally from? Did you experience any type of culture shock going to college in the East coast? 

6. I was born and raised in East Palo Alto, once an inner city in the middle of the SF Bay Area, but has in recent years been heavily gentrified by Facebook, and now, Amazon. Culture shock did hit me at the Duke's campus itself, but Durham itself was and is experiencing a huge influx of Latino migrants (almost 300% in the last decade), so I felt I had my people nearby. But again, within the Gothic Wonderland, I hadn't ever seen so much wealth in my life. I experienced this weird twilight zone of PoC mobility, where I had a food points account larger than what my parents made over a month.

Being in Newark, New Jersey, for my MFA has forced me to expand my sense of Latinidad. As a Mexican, I hold the hegemony of being immediately associated with Latino in US public discourse, along with the stereotypical foods, mannerisms, sayings that go with it. Here though, I regularly meet and chat with Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Trinidadians, Brazilians, and folks with multiple origins of descent. I truly believe it's enriched my music on the page, the way I hear Boricua cut through words, like if they're in a hurry, a mini-seminar on elision when I hear them drop the 's' in Moises, to give just one example. 

7. Are there any other poets, storytellers in your family?

7. You know, so much of being called a poet has a class element to it, where you have the luxury of saying, out of the top priorities of one's vocation, "I am a poet." So while I don't have any "writers" in my immediate family-- I do have a couple primas who write for themselves (Shout out to Berenice Silva and Mari Mendez). Because of the demand of full time, they largely don't have a space to carve out their voice textually. 

That said though, my family has some phenomenal storytellers. I always tell people, you can gather volumes of rich commentary just hearing a dinner table. When after the chiquillos are asleep, and papa gets out of a nightshift, and he and his hermana share their lamentos del dia. I consider my tia Carmelita to be an amazing orator, her voice brimming with humor and grace. And to me, that's what inspired my honors thesis at my undergraduate years, titled ethnopoetics, a term inspired by Anzauldua and Chela Sandoval's Methodology of the Oppressed, which attempts to describe our naturally poetic ability to navigate struggle. To me, that's the heart of all Latinidades, and by extension, marginalities. 

8. You don't have a book of poems out yet, but it sounds like you are well on your way to putting a book together. Tell us some of the places that have published your work. Do you only write poetry or are you published in other genres? 


8. Correct, I don't technically have a book, but stay tuned I suppose insha'Allah (ojala). So far, I've been published in Teenink, Acentos Review (Shout out to Raina Leon), Hispanecdotes, PEN/America, Sinking City Press, and this summer, I'll have pieces in Gramma Press, Eclectica, Permafrost, By & By, and Track//Four.  

But I've published other genres outside of poetry. My very first publication in Teenink talked about the hard-hitting jump from an inner city K-8 to being a token at predominately white, affluent college prep. I've published a number of nonfiction pieces at Duke's newspaper, The Chronicle, while a student. All these articles centered on identity politics as a 1st generation Mexican-American, responding to issues of social justice, including the noose incident, and covering the successful boycott of our own Latino Student Recruitment Weekend in order to pressure administration to fund a Latinx Center, now called La Casa. Most recently, I published a piece in PEN/America on what it's like to be a Latino Muslim. And right now, I am working on a memoir, Bajo Otra Luna

9. We spoke briefly of identity and names. Did you have a stronger sense of self after writing and discovering poetry? 

9. Absolutely! Mil veces si. As a Muslim, I understand God has given me this language to touch others. There's a lovely verse in the Qur'an in surat Al-Nisa (The Women), which goes, " ...Allah knows what is in their hearts, so turn away from them but admonish them and speak to them a far-reaching word."  (4:63) The root word of far-reaching, baligh, can also translate to eloquence, that which can penetrate deeply. To me, this elucidates the power of poetry, and expression generally, to touch others, to the effect of steering them in a better direction. 

In poetry, I can put together La Virgen Guadalupe and Khadijah, I can denounce the racist legislation of Texas' Senate Bill 4, I can praise raspado vendors who post their Venmo accounts on splintered carts, I can laugh in a poem, this public document, at las jorobitas of passing abuelas. To me, poetry is just testimony in its highest form, songs of gratitude for being alive and brown. 

10. Gacias, Antonio. Thank you for taking time out of your retreat at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley this week to talk with La Bloga. Your generous responses are much appreciated. I look forward to bragging and bloging about your future books. I can say I knew you when. Is there anything else you'd like to share with La Bloga? 


10. Just extreme appreciation for the opportunity to express my love for this weird thing we do called writing, especially to say these words at my hometurf of fellows Chicanxs and Latinxs. 

I am huge believer for paying it forward, so if there's anyone aspiring writers reading this, don't hesitate hitting me up, or asking me any, any questions--on identity, writing, family, etc. As cliche as it seems, we're here to help each other. Otherwise, how do we expect outside communities to coalition with us?

Here's is Antonio López's prize-winning poem. This post will also end with Antonio reading his poem at the conference's awards banquet.
Antonio flanked by SBWC Poetry Workshop Leaders
Laure-Anne Bosselaar, Antonio López, Perie Longo
photo by Marla Miller, SBWC Marketing the Muse Workshop

The murder of a teenage Muslim girl beaten and killed by a bat-wielding motorist near a Virginia mosque was likely a "road rage incident", not a hate crime, US police said, prompting outrage from many who say the teen was targeted because of her religion. Darwin Martinez Torres, 22, has been arrested and charged with Nabra Hassanen's murder in an incident police say began as a road dispute with a male teenager who was among Hassanen's group. – Al Jazeera, June 20, 2017

Which Cobija Feels Most Comfy?: A Letter to Sister Nabra
by Antonio López

As-Salaamu Alaykum Sister.

All is know
is that my brother
killed you

with a baseball bat. The same palo
slammed against birthday piñatas,
chased you out of a Fairfax highway.
Paper maché tapestries that bursted
with dulce and confetti stuffing,
now weaves into a hijab.

The slurs crosshaired.

All I know
is that my             brother                         grabbed your bo-
grabbed             your             bod-            bo-

the papers said “dump,”
like your body was kitchen sink sewage,
the weight of chicken bones
and peeled carrots.

They said “road rage”—
your death as no more taxing
than a busted taillight

like when they said
Deah, Yusor, and Razan
were a “parking dispute.”

Ay hermanita,
I’ve spent the past four days
whispering your name
with hands             cut by the blades
of grass that pillowed your hair

with hands             willowed in dua,
but my palmlines fled
to trace their ancestry elsewhere,

across the Atlantic, to the Birth of a Nation’s
Nation, where the ghoulish white hood
of a van drove into Finsbury park
shouting “All Muslims!
I want to kill             all Muslims!”

And for the first time,
I saw             an Islamic extremist—
Imam Mohamed Mahmoud
protects the suspect from the mob,
and issues the anti-Western fatwa
“We pushed people away,…
until he was safely taken
by police….”

because John Wayne
and all those aging saloonistas
who hawk a one-lunged Malboro
would’ve shot the sucker in a tacky catchline
that would’ve earned 24% on Rotten Tomatoes.’

Imam Mahmoud!
Imam Mahmoud who professed to Sky News
“I am no hero,”
but then who is ours?

Ya Allah, I beamed for a DC comic adhan
to call for a sunnah superhero.

But there’s no star-spangled shield
to guard your glasses and Jannah-gated smile
because Captain America wasn’t made for you.

No Wonder Woman to sway her jiggling thighs,
half-naked feminism, to deflect blind-eyed
bat swings with an 8 karat belt buckle,
20% off a Macy’s rack.

Sister Nabra, let me make wudu
for you, and pluck from your hair,
the highway-thickets
of sound bites.

Sister, let me still pay
for next year’s prom dress—
a mermaid lavender,

so after iftar, I’ll sip chai
and hear the fiqh disputes
of uncles slamming
their hairy-knuckled

“Istirgfilillah, there’ll be boys, drinking,”
your father will interrupt,
“and me.”

Let me stand
over the Mexican minarets
of Univisión and Telemundo
and la pinta and the bus stop
and la clínica, and the good bench at recess
and tell el pueblo, mi pueblo
to enshroud you in our finest cobijas—
those linens not even hawked at flea markets

and quietly clean tu cuerpo,
over my grandmother’s pila
and wipe away the darkened bloodstains
with our finest jabón

over el agua nacida de la barranca,
the river mountaintops to see the heights
my people could’ve soared for you.

Let my apolog—
take a lifetime,
take my lifeline—
hang on the word,             ‘y?’

Why             must this land learn Arabic names
at the eight o’ clock news?

Why             must sister Aydin write a Facebook post
warning her muslimina girls to travel
in groups, even in broad daylight?

Why couldn’t you just finish Ramadan first?!


Dear. Sister. Nabra,
All I know
is that every Muslim in America,
before Monday’s fajr, became an atheist
to American Progress.

Antonio López can be reached through email, Facebook, and Twitter @barrioscribe.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Listening to the Voices in Buried Libraries

                                                Listening to the Voices in Buried Libraries

Daniel Cano

     I hear voices. They come to me trapped in desk drawers and in stuffed file cabinets. They laugh. They sigh. Yes, they cry. I know them all. Sometimes I find myself hiding from them. Wait. Let me start again.
     Some years ago, I attended a presentation by activist-writer Ernesto B. Vigil, his most recent book, “Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government’s War on Dissent”.
     Ernesto described his close relationship with Corky Gonzalez and their early days in Denver, Colorado starting the Chicano movement Crusade for Justice.
     I asked Ernesto, “Of everything you and Corky talked about, what was the most memorable thing he said to you?”
     Ernesto didn’t hesitate. He answered, “Corky once told me that when we bury an elder, we bury a library.”
     I don’t know if Corky invented the phrase or borrowed it from someone else. I do know that it has stayed with me all these years.
     At the time, my father, mother, relatives, and many friends were in their late 80s, some into their 90s and passing quickly. How many libraries had we buried? How many stories covered, never to be unearthed? Do we, their descendants, bear some responsibility in not mining the book shelves of their lives and keeping their stories alive?
     Fortunately, at the time, I had already embarked on a journey recording the voices of Chicano elders in my community.
     Most of the men and women I spoke to were born in the U.S. Some were descendants of the California rancheros, but the majority descended from parents escaping revolution and seeking better lives for their families. They called themselves “Chicano” in private, as if only they understood the word’s true meaning. In public, they called themselves Mexican, even though they were Americans. They balked at the phrase Mexican-American.
     Many of those I interviewed described a cultural gap between themselves and their Mexican-born parents. After all, the men and women of my parents’ generation were the WWII generation, or as Tom Brokaw dubbed them, “The Greatest Generation;” though, in his book of the same name, not one Chicano merited a coveted spot.
     Still, in their minds, they’d sacrificed for the U.S., some Chicanos experiencing the worst fighting in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific. The women remembered the pain their families suffered upon learning that a brother or husband was not returning home from the war. So, of course, they saw themselves as typically American with few ties to Mexico. Other than partying forays into Tijuana or Mexicali, most had never even traveled to Mexico’s interior.
     They were the children of Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, and Billy Holiday. They preferred jazz to mariachis, though they’d release a giant grito if the spirit struck them.
     To them acculturation wasn’t conceptual. It was a reality. Where their parents had been snubbed by the system, my father’s generation fought to integrate labor unions, politics, education, and employment. They didn’t think in terms of conservative or liberal but in terms of justice or injustice.

     Interested in their view of Mejico, “la madre patria”, I interviewed my 90-plus year-old uncle, Jess (RIP). I didn’t ask him why my grandmother had suddenly sent him to Mexico in his late teens. He wasn’t about to tell me. (Though, I later learned the real reason.) Still, he said he returned to his grandparents’ ranch outside of San Gaspar de los Reyes, Jalisco, for a few years, and saw it as an adventure. Since, he’d been educated in States, he could read and write well, both English and Spanish, which helped in the family ranching business.
     He worked hard. He saved money and bought the most beautiful horse in “all the ranchos,” and, “when I rode through the towns everyone would stop to watch me pass.”
     I could hear the pride in my uncle’s voice, as if he was still that teenage boy. He continued his story telling me that one day, an uncle asked to borrow the horse. He needed to go to town.
     My uncle told me he didn’t see his uncle for days. When he finally did see him, he asked about the horse. His uncle answered, “What horse? Oh, that horse. I sold him.”
     My uncle thought that maybe his uncle needed the money. But no. He just decided to sell the horse. My uncle asked the price. His anger mounted. He told me, “My horse was worth three times that much.” He said in Mexico he had no right to question his uncle’s actions. The first chance he got, he returned home, a bitter taste in his mouth.

     Regarding work, I talked to a family friend, Bart Carrillo and his wife, Pearl. Bart, and his family, started one of the first Mexican restaurant-bars on the west side (the first was Casa Escobar, another family friend). Bart remembered when his father, who could barely speak English, wanted to work in construction since it paid more than gardening.
     “My dad heard they were hiring, so he showed up early to the work site,” he said.
     Most construction workers were “white”. The foreman on the site asked Bart’s dad if he could lay a sidewalk or use a trowel? Though, he’d never worked with either, Santos Carrillo answered, “Yes.”
     The foreman handed him the trowel and told him to finish a sidewalk the workers had just poured. Everybody stopped working and stood back to watch. Of course, Mr. Carrillo had no idea what to do, but he jumped in with the trowel and started slapping at the wet cement.
     Bart said, “The foreman couldn’t believe his eyes. The workers were laughing at him. My dad didn’t know anything. It was humiliating. But he was trying.”
     I asked, “What happened?”
     Bart said, “The foreman laughed so hard, he hired my dad for having the guts to try.”
     When I spoke to my parents’ compadres Lupe and Peaches Herrera, long time west side residents, I asked, “Why are you all such hardcore UCLA fans?”
     Lupe answered, “Look, Westwood is right up the road. After school, we would go watch the Bruins practice. We knew all their names. There were no fences then. We could sit on the sidelines.”
     It was an answer I’d heard from many of the west side Chicanos who loved sports.
     Peaches (RIP) spoke up, suspiciously, nudging Lupe. “That’s not the only reason,” she said, rolling her eyes at him.
     Confused, he turned to her. “What else?”
     “You guys used to go goo-goo eyes over the coeds UCLA sent to our elementary school to tutor us.”
     Sheepishly, he answered, smiling, “Yeah, I guess that too.”
     I asked Lupe if he remembered racism ever being a problem.
     Many men of my dad’s generation answered no to this question. They had answered, “We called each other names. If we fought, it wasn’t ‘cause of race but because we didn’t like a guy. We played sports and all hung out together, Chicanos, Okies, and Japanese.” To them any working-class whites seemed to be an Okies.
     Lupe answered, “I do remember one time when we’d go to the Tivoli Theater on Saturdays, a kid would be standing there as we walked in. He’d send half of us to sit on one side and half to sit on the other side. Once I realized, all the Chicanos and Japanese were on one side and all the American kids were on the other side.
     “I didn’t think much of it. But when I got home, this one time, I told my sister Julia about it. Whooo, she was tough. She went to the theater and told the guy she wanted her brother to sit on the other side. She even went to see the manager. After that, we all started sitting anywhere we wanted. I guess that was the only time.”
     To them, I analyzed, the question of racial discrimination was tricky. If a person claimed to have experienced racism, that made him or her a victim. It was clear that the men and women of my dad’s generation refused to be victims. They saw themselves as victors, just like the vegetable gardens they planted during the war, which they called Victory Gardens. They triumphed over Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito. They weren’t about to see themselves as victims.
     Two older men I interviewed separately, cousins Ysidro Reyes and Forrest Freed, (both now deceased), descended from the Reyes, Marques families, early settlers of Santa Monica Canyon and the lands along the mountains up to Westwood. The two seniors were feisty and held tightly to their opinions. One was conservative, the other liberal, one an entrepreneur, the other an educator. Both were close to 90, hard workers, and active in community affairs.
     The one question I wanted answered was, “How did your families lose their land? I mean, historians have written quite a bit about the early California rancheros and how they lost their land.
     Forrest, whose mother was a Marquez, told me about his research and how he found so many illicit, secretive, or ambiguous documents that proved the land had been stolen. He told me that the government (the bank) could confiscate land from an absent owner. First, a newspaper announcement had to be published notifying the absent owners. While researching his family’s land, Forrest found an old newspaper clipping announcing, “Inability to locate owners.”
     Forrest spat, “How could they not find the owners? Hell, my cousin Rosemary and my aunt Angelina still live of parts of the original land grant.” Forrest fiercely maintained that the family’s land was stolen.
     Ysidro, on the other hand, a small man, but firm in character, said, “Nobody was cheated out of anything. That’s just ‘dijeron’.” When I pushed him further, he said, “My family sold Pacific Palisades for $55,000 in 1885.” He looked at me, “You know how people are, saying that everything was stolen, poor people,” (as in “poor Mexicans”). He said, “No! It was their fault, nobody else’s. You wouldn’t be anything if you sat there and just let the world go by. You’ve got to make things [happen] yourself.”
     A good memory for me was when I interviewed my dad’s compadre George Saenz before he died, Georgie to everyone in the neighborhood.
     Georgie was a coyote, a jokester. A handsome, short, light-skinned man, with bright blue eyes and a wide smile, a sailor on a destroyer during WWII, he was a trained carpenter who could fix any gadget you put in front of him.
     Georgie’s parents hailed from Parral de Chihuahua. He told me, “My dad was a captain in the Mexican army. He hunted Pancho Villa. That’s why everybody in Sawtelle called my dad Capitan Saenz. I don’t think they even knew his name,” he said, laughing.
     His favorite story was telling people how his mother, a strong-willed woman, broke the news to her father when she decided to marry el capitan Saenz.
     George said, “You know, my mom was sixteen when she told her dad, ‘Me voy a casar con el Capitan Saenz.’ Her dad said, ‘Ni apenas lo conoces’. You know what my mom answered? She said, ‘Ni el a mi’,” and he laughed, as if it was the funniest thing in the world.
     Max Vigil was rare among my father’s friends, a college graduate, an M.A. from Pepperdine. He worked as an executive at Everest & Jennings, an early innovator in manufacturing wheelchairs. From there, Max moved into politics, working for the Reagan administration. Ironically, he quit high school in the tenth grade.
     His mother taught him the importance of education. In elementary school, he earned A’s. When he got to junior high and earned an A in a difficult exam, his teacher accused him of cheating. Max was shocked but didn’t argue. When he got to high school, the same thing happened. “I realized what the teacher really meant was that a Mexican couldn’t earn A’s without cheating. I was the only Chicano in class. So, when he told me I cheated, in front of the whole class, it was humiliating, degrading. I couldn’t face the other students, so I didn’t go back.”
     He hitchhiked up and down California, worked, and joined the army but was transferred to the Air Force because his test scores were so high. “Some teachers made all us Chicanos feel dumb and inadequate. A lot of guys quit school. But we were smart. We were just like anybody else.”
     Max was a natural mentor. In my 20s, when life got tough, raising a family, holding down a full-time job, and going to college at night, I’d see Max up the street visiting his in-laws. He always walked up and asked how my studies were going. With a serious look on his face, he’d say, “Danny, stick it out. Think of your future. You are too smart to quit. If I did it, you can do it.” It just took a few words of encouragement to get me over the hurdle.
     I did ask Max why he became a Republican. He said, “I followed politics. I read everything, since I was ten years old. I couldn’t stand that Roosevelt (the Democratic president at the time) was kissing Joe Stalin’s ass, one of the cruelest men who ever lived.”
     My aunt Toni Escarcega (RIP) told me she remembered a time in Santa Monica when you could walk from Cloverfield to Lincoln boulevard, about a mile’s distance, and “not hear a word of English.” Nobody thinks of Mexican Santa Monica.
     Another aunt, Gloria (Gogi; RIP) told me that her father was so strict, she couldn’t even be seen talking to a boy alone, even if the boy was a family friend. She said that when she finally found a boy she liked, the two would meet at St. Anne’s Church for the last mass. They would reach the container that held the holy water at the exact same time. They would dip their fingertips in and rub fingers. It was the closest she could get to having a real date.

     What my mother, Esther, recalled, were her Japanese neighbors on 22nd Street in Santa Monica. “Veronica lived next door to us. She was so nice. I will always remember how one day they were there, and the next day they were gone. It was so sad, sent to a relocation camp.”
     My father, a born storyteller, told me, “You know, your grandfather was the last cattle baron in West L.A.”
     “He owned the last cow in town. He would let it graze on a vacant lot behind the Nuart Theater.”
     “Wasn’t he worried it would get stolen,” I asked?
     “Nah,” my dad answered. “There weren’t many cattle rustlers left in those days.”
     As I write this, I think about the cassette recordings and transcribed pages that call to me from the desk drawers and file cabinets where I keep them. So many voices, so many stories, a source of history and literature aching to be heard. And they aren’t just cassettes and pages, or plastic and paper. They are people, my elders.

     I hear voices. I know their names. I know their families and friends. It’s as if from the grave, they are alive and calling, “Tell our stories. Don’t just bury us as if we’re in a cemetery. Listen to Corky. Let our voices speak to others. Do something with us. Don’t just leave us in these musty drawers.
     And what about those elders still alive? I need to get their stories. I need to collect all the photos before the kids toss them into trash cans that get hauled off to the Calabasas dump. Their voices say, “Don’t let that happen to us. Aren’t we just as important as the stories you make up. Why not finish telling our story? Listen to Corky. Stop burying libraries.”