Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Poetry: A Second Look

Here is a poem that didn't make it into the "Urban Graves: 13 Poems from the Machine" book because I found it too regional at the time. But as I read it again, I can see parallels to other traditions besides East Los gang life. It doesn't matter what color your skin or what language you speak; your actions will raise your kids, not your words. This is an important theme in the book as "the Machine" represents culture and civilization and the "Urban Graves" represent the victims of the laws and rules meant to keep us and our families safe. The dreaded words, "Do as I say, not as I do", have created many rebellious generations every decade or so. As such, I print for the first time anywhere my poem, STRAIGHT. Hopefully, it will speak to you about you as it does for me and mine. 


East Los has no options
you go straight into a gang
at birth
you are initiated
you are issued a nickname
you are tattooed
you unlearn Spanish
you relearn English
you speak Calo
you are assigned a mate
named Lettie or Chata
you make the night noise
and carry on to the wee hours
you marry young
'cuz you have to
you find work
you raise your family
you teach your children
the importance of school
and yell at them
for wanting to drop out
like you
you outcast them
you leave them family-less
they find comfort and acceptance
in a gang--your old gang
your colors
your old friends' children
your old barrio 
while you bask in your new job
and avoid the risks of the street
with a six-pack of love
and your mistress Football--
night noise bothers you now
you call the cops on the noisy
they pick up your kids
they serve time
you visit them in jail
and lecture them about the options
but you left them no options
you became East Los
while you slept and
while they found the crooked path 
you went straight.  


This next poem deals with assimilation. Most Mexican-Americans speak only English and embrace American culture over Mexican culture, the traditions of their parents and grandparents. But, because they prefer English TV, movies, and music, hardcore Mexican immigrants do not accept these "pochos" (Mexican-Americans--their word) as true Mexicans. Similarly, Americans do not accept these assimilated Chicanos (Mexican-Americans--our word). Thus you have Chicanos who embrace both their Mexican roots while planting new roots with Chicano TV, movies, and music, in addition to art and poetry. This poem deals with the vicious cycle of this assimilation, being caught between two cultures that neither want you nor accept you as one of their own. It is quite the wake-up call. 

Chicano Mural in East Los Angeles


Pinche Mexicano!
abre tus ojos,
you almost ran me off the road;
learn to drive!
Braseros! Alambristas!
you're not like me,
not at all:
you left Mexico,
took it with you
on our shoulders;
you try
to paint my skin with it
to shove it in my head.
Hey! not enough room up there;
too many American wheels
at work in there,
untying the knots of Spanish,
knotting the ties to English,
and because I speak both tongues
I'm labelled a pocho:
Pinche Mojados!
your children are pochos,
que no sabes?
Chuntaro! Te-Jot!
not like us,
no way!
We're Mexican-Americans!
we grew our own Mexico
in the soil in Los Angeles;
we eat the beans
Mr. Dah-vill-lah sells,
the ones that paid
for the brand spanking new
pronunciation of his name.
Pinche Sinverguenza!
your children are Americanos,
no sabes nada!
Vendido! Vendidor!
not like us,
no way Hoe-zay!
We are Chicanos!
we break our backs
to serve our minds
from the university cornucopia,
which is not very filling,
pero nos llenamos con tortillas
cuando tenemos poca comida;
even when we're outnumbered
twenty to one in the classrooms,
we hold our own
with Affirmative Action
Academic Advancement Programs
and know-how and savvy,
but sometimes on the way to school
when it seems we've come so far,
we cross the white line
to the other side of the road.
Then a voice screams:
Stupid Mexican! 
open your eyes!
you almost ran us off the road:
Wetback! Beaner!
learn how to drive,
go back to your own country!
you're not like us,
no way, dude!
and I look around
for the dumb Mexican driver,
but there's no one there--
except for me.

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