Thursday, May 20, 2010

hierbaloca: the children of aztlán

may we dance
in the living room of hope
our bodies hold memory
we are desert stones

may we rise
in the face of our pain
as Arizona weeds dare
our fists rise most when blown

our hearts pump through sorrow
making way for what is possible
we are farmers, we harvest our own

we are backyard children
playing, watched by la abuela
weaving through each other’s arms

we are leaves
on branches, on roads
fodder after being shade
cover to elders
food for new leaves to grow

we are the blood
rivers, mama’s veins
we are the return
though we never left

our lungs pump through anguish
manifest what is possible
we are Texas breeze in each other’s hair

we are nopal-raised abuelos
we play dice with tomorrow
betting we will overcome

somos, todos, aztlaneros
our roots run deep, run wild
unharnessed, tainted as the Gulf

we were free, we remember
thievery shall not hold us
we have no papers to show

Originally published by Poets Responding to SB 1070.

Inspired by such luminaries as: Joe Jiménez, Alma Luz Villanueva, James Thomas Stevens, Ku'ualoha Ho'omanawanui, Clemencia Zapata, Ahimsa Timoteo Bodhrán, Rajasvini Bhansali, Dawn Surratt, Nikhil Aziz, Gloria Nieto, Héctor Silva, Floyd Johnson, Luz Guerra, Diana Gorham, María Salazar, Marvin K. White, Belinda G. Acosta, Juanita Salazar Lamb, Magdalena Barrera, Irene Mata, Victor Vásquez, Ana Ángel, Favianna Rodríguez, Noralee Ortiz, Robert Unzueta, Rosa Revuelta, Martha Ramos Duffer, Elaine Chukan Brown, Chip Livingston, Francisco X. Alarcon, and Lorna Dee Cervantes.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Thoughts on La Mission and the Ongoing Struggle to Broaden Notions of Latino Masculinities

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see a screening of Peter Bratt’s La Mission. The screening, which was part of a limited release, was at San Francisco’s Metreon Theaters. My compañero and I, joined by two of our queer sisters of color, were lucky enough to find seats in relative proximity to each other in the sold-out space.

It was a late night screening and the vast majority of folks in the theater were people of color. In fact, I’d say most of the people there were Latina/o, with a nice mix of generations representing. The experience was unforgettable as all four of us, none of which were born and raised in San Francisco, were sitting in what seemed to be an intimate living room screening of La Mission.

We all smiled and were occasionally misty-eyed as people in the crowd, youth and adults, loudly expressed their pride in the various shots of San Francisco portrayed in the film. During the movie, I realized that this was the first time I had ever witnessed the screening of a film that embodied the geographic and cultural identities of the audience. People not only saw themselves on the big screen, they also saw the places that have shaped and witnessed them.

All in all, I found La Mission to be a beautiful film. I’m not a film critic and will leave that to those who know better. Instead, I’ll limit my thoughts on what moved me most about the movie, and those areas I wish it had gone deeper.

The relationship of Benjamin Bratt’s character, Che Rivera, and his son Jesse, played by Jeremy Ray Valdez, was sweet, raw and in many ways reflective of my own experience with my father. I was further moved by the depiction of comunidad and the ways in which we, as a village, honor our shared responsibility and opportunity to support each other and our children. Even as the father struggled with the realization of his son’s sexuality, their community intervened, loved and supported both of them in a way that rings true to my experiences of community engagement in times of family crisis. This particularly resonated with memories of how my family responded to the teenage pregnancies of cousins and to my own coming out. This isn’t to say my family, or our communities are romantic portraits reminiscent of Norman Rockwell. Rather, it is necessary to honor the fact that even in our messiness and pain, we managed to love each other in the only ways we knew how.

A question I had throughout the film was the extent to which audience members knew what the film was actually about. This was somewhat answered by the collective surprise when Jesse first kissed his boyfriend, Jordan. However, after the initial shock, people seemed to settle with the idea, though I wouldn’t suggest this was a celebration or affirmation of queerness; yet another reflection on my coming out experience.

In addition to the possibility that some in the audience were unaware of the gay theme in the story, people were very surprised when Benjamin and Peter Bratt entered the theater. The Q&A with the actor and the director was a bit all over the place. Nonetheless, I was excited to hear Peter Bratt, who was both the writer and director, talk about his process.

Something that resonated with me was Bratt’s reasoning for the gay theme in the film. To paraphrase, the writer wanted to portray Latino masculinity in its most vulnerable state. According to Bratt, the best way to expose ultimate vulnerability in a Latino who is deeply rooted in what some would argue is a stereotypical depiction of Latino maleness (dare I say machismo), would be in the realization of his son being gay. Hearing this evoked the memory of hearing my father crying inconsolably on the phone while he asked if his suspicions of my sexuality were true. The call, which ended with my father saying I was a dried-up branch of his family, exposed the darkest and scariest of both his and my vulnerability as Latino men.

I appreciate Bratt’s analysis and his courage to quite literally breakdown Latino masculinity on the big screen. However, I am saddened by the fact that he only focused on exposing the vulnerability of the father’s masculinity, and in doing so, left a gaping whole in exploring the vulnerability and possibility of the gay Latino son. Instead, the story seemed to use the son and his sexuality as a conduit, rather than truly honoring the experience of gay Latino men and our relationship with our fathers.

I was also concerned with Bratt’s reinforcement of the notion that gayness is a white construct and something that only exists openly in white-defined spaces such as San Francisco’s Castro District. This is not to say that the Castro is not an important space in queer culture and one that many queer men of color, myself included, have traveled through in the formation of our identities and experience. Yet, to continue leaving gayness within the realm of whiteness speaks to our ongoing inability to claim the many facets of Latina/o sexualities and the many ways we express and manifest gender.

Furthermore, leaving gayness to be embodied by the Castro and a white boyfriend also overlooked the rich history of queer Latinidad that has long been an integral part of San Francisco’s Mission District. As a queer brown man, the LGBT Latina/o community of the Mission, including such spaces as Esta Noche, heavily shaped my identity. Horacio Roque Ramírez, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, has done extensive work on the LGBT Latina/o community of La Misión and has done an excellent job in honoring the legacies of organizing and community building that has taken place over several decades.

To be clear, I am not arguing against depictions of the Castro or against mixed-race relationships. Rather, I ask that we think about what continues to stand in our way of fully acknowledging that LGBT Latinidad can and has long existed outside of the confines and direct influence of white LGBTness. Perhaps acknowledging that queerness can be just as inherently Latina/o as it is to white communities is a vulnerability we are not prepared to experience.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

San José State University Chicana/o Studies Speech

The following is a piece I delivered at San José State University's Chicana/o Studies (the longest standing program in the country) 40th Anniversary on May 1, 2010.

Above all, let me honor, thank and bow poetically to the comunidad, the students, the families, the allies, the Profesoras and the Profesores who birthed and have sustained the art, the craft, the scholarship and the defiance that is Chicana and Chicano Studies at San José State University.

For we are not a people who just happen to be Mexicans in the U.S. We are not the mere offspring of Manifest Destiny and the byproduct of an occupied land. We are a people who dare, whose very identities stem from the resistance that has kept us alive, at times thriving, and always learning.

Over the course of 11 years, Chicana and Chicano Studies on this campus have taught me that we are a people of scholarship, of ancient traditions and of contemporary theoretical, practical and tested wisdom. It has been here, under the guidance of such luminarias as Profesora Julia Curry-Rodríguez that over the course of a decade, I learned to read the inscriptions written on my arm. It was here, where Profesor Marcos Pizarro held my hand as I dared wander the pale hallways of academia as a young man. It was here where Profesor Gregorio Mora Torres taught me of the sacred and irreverent legacies of Chicanidad. It is here, where Profesor Louis Holscher taught me the craft of storytelling, and that our anecdotal knowledge is an academic form. It is here, where Profesora Magdalena Barrera, with unsubtle fierceness, taught me to question my own fundamentalist ideologies.

Chicana and Chicano Studies at San José University is an institution that permeates and is rooted in the resistance, the history and the never-ending presence of Chicanidad in this once orchard-filled valley of San José. As a Brown boy born in the now deceased San José Hospital, raised in my grandmother’s backyard off 1st and Keys, fed 10-cent burgers from the Burger Bar and celebrated at the rambunctious House of Pizza, I am honored, humbled, grateful and elated to have been invited to break bread with you and incessantly utter the words Chicana and Chicano. It is my hope that in our collective communion and utterance of these words, our voices will carry, travel and rush through valleys, farmlands, canyons, and dessert cliffs until reaching the ears of Arizona.

Today, our resistance is emboldened by the police state presence of East San José, by the high school push-out of our youth across the country, by the enslaved Black and Brown bodies in the plantation owner’s prisons, by the targeted military recruitment that purports to finally make us American, by the attacks of Arizona lawmakers, and by the kaleidoscope of injustices of an English-only, pesticide fueling, low- to no-wage funding white supremacist country. Yet, as our resistance is reinvigorated by today’s ancient injustices, let us also remember that while our fight began centuries ago, we have the right, the responsibility and the opportunity to do more than only struggle. We must also imagine what tomorrow will look like and what world we are building for the seven generation to follow.

We are poised for a seemingly never-ending revolution. But today, let us put down our weapons and lift our books, our text-heavy arms, and listen to the oral histories of our pueblo. Let us build on the verbal, written and spiritual documentation of our stories. Let us be the soldaderas who highjack the train of anti-ethnic studies, anti-affirmative action, and anti-Brown rhetoric, and let us graffiti our names on the halls of the academy. Just as we conjure the first class of Chicana and Chicano students on this campus, let us honor the fact that we have been and continue to be many, and that we are composed of more than our heterosexist and gender-conforming mythologies allow.

As we honor and celebrate the 40th anniversary of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San José State University, let us continue to open our hearts, our minds and our scholarship so that we might create a world large enough to fit us all, whole. Let the seven generations to follow know, we were here, we were many, we were strong.