Spring-Summer 2006 Vol. 22, Nos. 1 & 2
Full Rights for Immigrants Now!
supported by students and others, have stood up! One of the most exploited parts
of the capitalist workforce is in motion! Truly massive rallies and marches
have been held this spring in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Denver, Seattle
and many smaller cities including Detroit (which I attended) demanding full
supports this movement. We have always supported full rights for African-Americans
and all other oppressed minorities. Full and equal rights are not only a matter
of elementary morality and justice but are essential for the unity and progress
of the struggle of the entire working class. The so-called "illegals"
have not only paid taxes (without claiming returns), paid in to social security
(with no prospect of collecting) but have been exploited heavily by the wealthy
American capitalists. As the immigrant workers say, if they didn't need us,
there wouldn't be jobs for us. The surplus value the capitalists extract from
these workers' labor has produced massive wealth. All workers are unpaid for
a portion of their day's work. This is the source of capitalist profit. Illegality
forces the immigrants' wages down still further, so the bosses reap even greater
profits from them. This is why many employers want them here - but also want
them to remain illegal or semi-legal. The undocumented have paid their dues.
They deserve full rights.
the ability of one part of the proletariat to associate and organize, keeping
its wages low. This results in competition with the legal workers, undercutting
their wages and forcing them down also. Therefore, legalization and full rights
for immigrant workers benefits both groups, by helping common organization and
common struggle of the workers as a class against the capitalist vampires who
exploit us all.
The great immigrant
rallies and marches of the spring of '06 have been festive and militant. What
glorious events! We hope they mark a new awakening of the U.S. working class.
There is also a resurgence of the anti-war movement and some motion among native-born
workers faced with wage cuts and plant closings. These developments should be
very encouraging to class-conscious workers and justice-loving people everywhere,
including the readers and contributors to this magazine.
The way forward is
a difficult one. Bush and the U.S. bourgeoisie, Republicans and Democrats alike,
plot new war adventures. The cost of living is soaring as CEOs rake in obscene
profits. And in the movement for immigrant rights there is as yet no clear way
forward. House Bill 4437, which threatened deeper criminalization of immigrants
and heavier border repression, seems to have been defeated by the rallies. But
Republican Senate majority leader Frist is promising early passage of a compromise
bill, apparently to be based largely on the Kennedy-McCain bill, which promised
heavy repression while offering a lengthy, virtually unattainable path to citizenship
for immigrants, plus the servitude of a new bracero-like guest worker program.
Only if the activists develop the class-consciousness of the workers, rely on
mass struggle and strive to break free of the influence of both capitalist political
parties will the struggle move forward. The speed of the movement to date shows
that much is possible.
Si, se puede!
Full rights for immigrants now!
Workers of all countries, unite!
The present issue of Struggle highlights the question of immigration. Many of the writers are long-term contributors to this magazine.
Tamar Diana Wilson,
a resident of Mexico, writes a chilling, under-stated story, "The Crossing,"
illustrating the hardships of crossing the border illegally (as the law is defined
by the rich bourgeois lawmakers). The story is based on accounts told to her
by friends in the 1980's; today the situation is only more grim. Evan Christopher's
story, "Helados," gives a painful example of the kind of desperate
struggle to survive that faces Latino working people and compels many to immigrate.
Luis Berriozábal's poems are snapshots of the efforts and difficulties
faced by immigrant laborers in the U.S. J.L. Torres sketches Puerto Rican migration.
Jaspal Singh's poems evoke the hardships and rebellion of immigrant women from
India. Keith Laufenberg's brief story shows how regressive reforms by the Democrats
under Clinton brought disaster to some immigrants.
Bob Vance writes
a lovely poem expressing the age-old aspiration of working people to live without
borders, in harmony with each other. It reminds me of the wonderful Italian
communist song "Bandiera Rossa" which has a verse: "Non più
nemici/ Non più frontiere/ Sono i confini, Rosse bandiere!" (rough
translation: "There'll be no enemies/ We will not be confined/There'll
be no borders where/ The red flag leads us!") This song emerged when communism
had not yet been besmirched by the revisionism of Stalin and Trotsky, when it
still represented the aspirations and militant struggle of the working class
for a society run by working people, liberated from the tyranny of capitalism.
Writers for Struggle
are rebelling against this tyranny. We do not all agree on the path for the
struggle. This issue, like all previous ones, is in effect a dialogue of artists
on this broad subject. As editor I frequently put forth my Marxist point of
view but I welcome submissions from a wide range of anti-establishment viewpoints.
My three poems in this issue come from my own pre-Marxist days in the middle
60's, when I first experienced organized working-class struggle in the California
farmworkers' strike. They are included here partly to show the long involvement
of the radical youth movement with the struggles of immigrant labor. One can
see, in these poems, that I strongly identified with the workers' movement against
a specific set of capitalists in agribusiness, but that I still did not see
the nature of capital as a whole, and that I identified the struggle as one
for land alone, not yet for the control of the entire productive apparatus,
including land. But had I not plunged into these struggles, I probably would
not have continued to learn.
Returning to the present issue: the material on immigration is more or less capped by Nikki Bell de Castanon's militant poem, "Grating the M in Immigrants and The Brown Soul of Our United Nation." This poem expresses the urgency of the present struggle. One can feel here that immigrant labor is standing up. It will no longer accept illegal, or even second-class, status. The country will change. A new militancy is coming into the working-class movement. It should be welcomed by all.
By Tim Hall
The Day Laborer
On the shirtless back
Of the day laborer.
The day laborer
Dirties his hands
For his family.
He is resilient,
He will be here
He will last.
The day laborer
Will give his soul,
Will give his sweat.
He is respected
By his family.
The earth knows him.
The sun beats him.
He will not be defeated.
The day laborer,
He has dreams.
With his work
He feeds his family.
By Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
The Crossing: 1988
bad luck," Castulo observed. "We were held up for almost twelve hours."
"And bad luck
comes in threes," Mundo repeated the old adage. "Who knows what awaits
us in Tecate. Or crossing the border."
"They kept my
gold chain with the horse. The one Sara gave me. I forgot to ask for it back,"
Castulo said as he fingered the neckline of his pearl-buttoned western shirt.
It had been a beautiful
gold chain, twisted links pressing into one another, and it held a galloping
golden horse. Sara had given it to him two years before, on the occasion of
their second anniversary. Sara was his mistress in the United States, a young
woman who had escaped the violence in El Salvador to work first in a bar and
later in a garment factory in Los Angeles. Small, with curly auburn hair, she
had been at a rodeo dance in El Monte when first he met her. She had worked
hard to buy him that golden chain and horse, symbol of their union in lieu of
a wedding ring.
In any case, he was married to someone else. Married for twelve years and with five children. He had married a girl from a nearby rancho when he was nineteen. Slender and with lovely long chestnut hair, she was the first novia he had ever had. But he was so lonely in the United States, where he had been most of the time for the past six years, returning only every two years to his rancho for scarcely a month at a time, that when he met Sara he had grasped onto her as a way of easing the loneliness.
* * * *
Between Fresnillo, Zacatecas and Tecate, Baja California there were many customs and immigration checkpoints, even for those traveling north. Two young men in shabby, baggy pants and t-shirts from a second-hand clothing stall and dusty baseball caps had boarded the bus outside of Guadalajara, where the bus turned from its first southward haul to the north, carrying small back packs which they placed in the luggage container several rows away from where they sat. When the federales boarded the bus in Hermosillo, Sonora, they did a routine check of the luggage. The back packs were not claimed by any of the passengers and when opened for inspection revealed 10 kilos of marijuana in each. The passengers without luggage were marched into the guard house: the two from outside Guadalajara, Castulo and Mundo, and two others heading for the border.
They were held for twelve hours inside, while the driver was not permitted to move the bus until the carriers were found. The guards applied stomach punches and cattle prods to all six, to see who would admit that the backpacks were theirs. The boys in the baseball caps held out for that long before confessing. The federales had confiscated all valuables, including wallets, identification cards, and jewelry before the questioning began. When released, Castulo had been so happy to be free that he remembered only to collect his wallet. He forgot to ask for his chain and horse, which he never took off, even when showering.
"Are these your
backpacks," the short, heavy set, balding federal had asked Castulo. "No
official," he had replied.
A stomach punch beating
the air out of his stomach and lungs had been the response. "Then where
is your luggage, pendejo"
"We have none. My cousin and I are just going to visit my sister in Tecate. We have clothes there." Castulo was lying, but not about having no luggage. He and Mundo had none. He did not want to reveal that the planned to cross the border without documents. The federales were capable of sending them back the twenty-six hours to Zacatecas. They would lose weeks from their journey before they would be able to put together a loan to finance their bus fare back to Tecate, Baja California again. Don Lucas charged ten percent interest a month. It would have to be someone else, someone returning from Los Angeles or Chicago who was bringing money to their families.
* * * * *
They arrived tired
and covered with dust that filtered hazily through the open windows of the old
bus. They deboarded outside the small bus station, and walked into the waiting
room. The room was filled with men in journey-worn clothes, trying to sleep
in the worn red plastic chairs or on the floor. "It's good we have money
to stay in the hotel," Castulo observed.
They exited the waiting
room and walked the three blocks to the Hotel del Norte, where it was only five
dollars per night per person, as many to the room as could be housed together.
Castulo met the manager
smoking a delicado in the mottled green lobby. "Got a room?" he asked.
Mundo looked around him, noting every fly on the wall, every slowly turning
ceiling fan. He had never been in a hotel before. He had never been farther
than Fresnillo, two hours by bus from his rancho before, except to visit the
Niño de Atocha after his son was born. That had been a three-hour walk
you want to share and they want to share with you," the manager answered.
At that moment Manuel,
Castulo's younger brother, stuck his head out a door down the hallway. "You
finally fucking got here," he yelled to Castulo and Mundo. "Qué
"What are you
still doing here," Mundo demanded. "You left the rancho more than
a week ago!" Castulo carefully took a ten-dollar bill out of his wallet
and handed it to the manager. Mundo and Castulo moved toward the room where
Manuel was standing in the doorway.
"We tried to
cross three times and had to turn back each time," Manuel answered, opening
the door wider so they could pass through to the fly-speckled gray room with
three cots and a brown-stained sink.
boys," their uncle Matias waved to them from the cot farthest from the
door. He and Manuel had come to Tecate to cross together. Only a fool would
try to cross without a compañero. And it was Manuel's first time. Mundo's
Castulo and Manuel shook hands with the other two dark, wrinkled men who were sharing the room. From Durango, they had been part of the group that the coyote contracted by Manuel and Matias had formed, and unsuccessfully, tried to cross.
It was after 8 p.m. the following day that the coyote came for them. Besides Matias, Manuel, Castulo and Mundo and the two men from Durango a couple with a baby was in their group. Matias grumbled about it a bit because with a woman and a baby they would have to move over the hills more slowly.
They had assembled
at the cast-iron fence by 9 and with the coyote and his helper pushing them
on they went over it one by one. The father carried the child, peacefully sleeping,
strapped to his back.
Then the climb onto
the rock-strewn hills began. Larger rocks than they had ever seen, and small
boulders close together so that it was hard to find a passageway, a foothold
on the ground. The woman, Matias and Manuel had worn tennis shoes and had an
easier time of it than the men in their western boots. At one point the sole
came away from one of Mundo's aged dusty boots. He tied it together with his
handkerchief and kept going. Mundo decided that if he ever crossed again he
would wear tennis shoes as well.
Suddenly they heard footsteps, many of them, on the rocky clusters over to their right. The coyote motioned for them to stop and remain quiet. It might have been the border patrol, though with their infrared telescopes mounted on pick-ups and jeeps, they seldom got out to scout around. Only if they had spotted them. Eventually they saw in the distance another group of eight making their way over a nearby crest. The coyote motioned them to keep going. He had explained earlier that they were going to a point on route 7 then would drive to the north on route 5. Although this meant something to Matias and Castulo it meant nothing to Manuel and Mundo.
"Route 8 goes
toward the coast," Castulo explained. "Then route 5 goes north to
The coyote would
let them off before reaching San Clemente, then post his helper as a lookout
to see when they closed down the migration checkpoint. They would have to wait
in the surrounding hills, until he gave them the signal that all was clear.
Foot-weary, sweating, and anxious they finally made it to the white-paneled truck parked in a rest stop. Castulo, thinking of his own children, had carried the child for a part of the way, putting the harness on his own back.
amigo," the father had said.
After they entered
the truck the coyote and his helper loaded several rows of used tires, pushed
in after them. Then they headed off west on route 8 and all was well until they
passed Pinesdale. The baby was crying softly in the back of the truck. "Shut
it up," the coyote ordered as the slowed for the border patrol jeep and
were waved down.
An immigration official
came over to the truck, driven by the coyote's helper.
"Where are you
coming from?" was his first question.
the helper answered in almost unaccented English. The immigration officer flashed
his flashlight on the plates. Arizona plates.
"Where are you
was the reply.
a load of used tires."
Automobiles. A used car place."
"At three o'clock
in the morning?"
"They open at
six. We plan on having breakfast at McDonalds."
"For three hours?
Open up and let's see what you have."
The coyote hopped
out and opened the back of the truck. The immigration officer moved one of the
tires to see what was behind it. More tires.
"O.K.. Get going."
Meanwhile, all ten adults in the back of the truck had kept as silent as possible. The mother of the crying baby had placed her hand over his mouth so that he could emit no sounds that might cause them to be discovered. It was not until the truck began moving again that she took her hand away. The baby didn't cry. Didn't move toward her breast as he usually did. She shook him. There was no response. She handed the baby to her husband, sitting close beside her, an alarmed look on her face. He reached for the child, patted him on the back, holding him close to his shoulder. The baby did not move. The baby's face was red, almost purple, the eyes bulging. But the blood was going slowly out of his inflated cheeks. The baby became paler and paler, his limbs stiffened. The mother grabbed her child and began to wail, loudly, uncontrollably. Wailing like a police siren following them in the night.
They were in the safe house in El Monte by 7:30 a.m. The otherwise successful journey had been marred by the dead baby and his distraught parents. There were six others there, four men and two women, each sitting on the floor with back against the wall -- waiting. Waiting for someone, relative or friend, to pay their crossing fees to the coyote and come to pick them up.
Matias and Castulo
had left their three hundred dollars each with Chano before they went back to
Mexico. Chano would have to borrow to pay for Mundo and Manuel though. He was
their only relative. And they would pay him back after they found jobs.
The problem was that
Chano had already left for work by the time they got to the safe house. The
coyote wouldn't be able to call him until after six that evening. And they hadn't
eaten since prior to crossing the border. It could be worse, sometimes crossings
took up to three days, Matias told them. They had been lucky that the checkpoint
in San Clemente had not been closed at the time they arrived. Sometimes you
hid in the fields outside San Clemente for twenty-four hours or more and only
if you had money would the coyote go to get you food -- usually something like
crackers or cookies and a soda.
Chano knew they were
coming of course. Matias had called him collect, the night they planned to leave
Tecate the first time. And the coyote, of course, had called as well, to make
sure he had the money. But whether the crossing would be successful was an unknown.
Matias and Manuel had failed the first three attempts. That Mundo and Castulo
had crossed so quickly left Chano little time to get the money together for
his brother Mundo.
The four of them
found a wall space and leaned back against the dirty gray wall to sleep.
They woke about 11
a.m. and were hungry. Matias asked one of the women associated with the coyote
if there was food and would she sell it to them. "Beans and tortillas,"
she replied. "Five dollars a plate." Luckily Matias had brought thirty
dollars with him. He paid for the four of them, then ordered two plates for
the mother and father of the dead baby, buried somewhere near San Clemente while
they waited for the coyote to return and tell them when they could pass the
The woman, whose
name they knew was Martha, had cried and protested that she wanted the baby
to be blessed by a priest before they buried her. "Martha, mi Martha,"
her husband cried, holding her close, "We must bury her here. I'll make
a cross of stone. But we do not know how long it will be to Los Angeles. Or
how long it will be until your aunt can come for us." Helplessly, the woman
released her grip on the small body, hugged closely to her breast, and her husband
took the dead baby from her. He drug a trench, helped by Castulo and one of
the men from Durango, and the other men looked for rocks to make a small cross.
Mundo, thinking of
his small son, offered a prayer, "May the soul of this little one join
the angels in heaven and never fear hunger or cold or suffering again."
As each of them began
to throw a handful of earth over the baby's inert body in its shallow grave,
the child's mother became hysterical, shouting "I killed my baby. I killed
my baby." She moved toward the small grave, tried to pull out the body
her child. Her husband moved toward her, gathered her in his arms and forced
her to stop her flailing.
"There is nothing
to be done," he said.
Her husband thanked
Mundo for his heartfelt prayer. He held his wife closely in his arms and murmured
to her that she must accept their destiny, that they would have other children,
that the baby now would not suffer any more but become an angelito. Tears streamed
down both their faces.. And the seven men and one woman sat waiting in a field
outside of San Clemente until another truck came to pick them up.
The woman barely
touched her beans, brought in the smallest soup bowls any of them had ever seen.
Her husband ate, slowly, and as though it were a necessary task he was performing,
and wiped his mouth with a tortilla after finishing his meal. After eating,
the four men from Zacatecas talked among themselves, quietly. They avoided talking
about the dead baby, glimpsing occasionally at the child's parents who sat stunned
by life, victims of a false hope. But they only glimpsed, not wishing to meet
their eyes and read the pain contained in them. And they tried to talk of happy
Castulo told Mundo
and Manuel about the rodeo in El Monte, exactly like the rodeos in Zacatecas
and followed by a dance. The problem was getting someone with a car who wanted
to drive out -- it was almost an hour if you took streets, from the apartment
in Santa Monica. But you could go to Santa Monica pier and play electronic games,
and that was only fifteen, twenty minutes away by bus. Manuel and Mundo did
not know what electronic games were, and even though Castulo tried to explain
PacMan, a mouth running through a maze eating up small figures, they just looked
at him as though he were talking about another planet, and he gave up. You'll
just have to see, he said. But when you go wear a baseball cap not a tejana,
and they'll think you're a Chicano and not a Mexican, he advised them.
As six p.m. approached Castulo advised the coyote's helper that Chano would be home, could he call. The found out that Chano hadn't been able to borrow a car, or find someone to come for them. "It's twenty-five dollars a head more if we bring them to Santa Monica," the coyote had told him. It seemed that Chano had the money to pay for Mundo and Miguel. And he had agreed to pay the hundred dollars more as well, if they came after eight p.m.
It was only a few hours after they arrived in the apartment Chano was sharing with Matias and his wife's brother Edgar that Mundo broke down. "A baby boy," he told Chano, tears streaming silently down his face. "It could have been my son. My Ernesto."
Manuel stifled a
sob. He had two baby girls at home. "I didn't know crossing could be so
hard on people," he said.
"They must have been from El Salvador. They were so afraid of being deported."
Manuel spoke. "She
didn't put her hand over the baby's nose. I don't think so anyway. Just over
his mouth. The baby had mucus in his nose. He had a cold. That's why he smothered.
No mother would kill her baby. Not even if they were from El Salvador. She couldn't
have put her hand over the baby's nose and mouth at the same time. It just happened.
The baby had a cold. He couldn't breathe. The señora just tried to keep
her baby from crying. Just covered up his mouth."
Mundo looked at Manuel
and Castulo, then said, in a longer passage that anyone had ever heard him say,
"I don't remember the details. The señora was just trying to keep
the baby quiet. So they wouldn't be caught and sent back. So we wouldn't get
caught and sent back. They must have been from El Salvador because it wouldn't
have been such a big thing to be sent back to Mexico and cross again another
day. But in El Salvador it is a desmadre, a fucked up mess. I saw about it on
the news one night at Don Roberto's house. People killing people in the street.
Even kids with great big guns, maybe machine guns."
"They must have
been afraid to go back. Return from there all over again, all the way through
all of Mexico," Matias observed.
"So why not
say they are from Mexico?" Chano asked. "If they were deported back
to El Salvador the baby might have died there. The whole family. They should
just say they are Mexicans." He paused and looked for confirmation.
said Matias. "Could be."
Castulo nodded. "Some
of Sara's friends are learning about who is governor of the state they are going
to say they are from and who is president of Mexico and who was president before.
And stuff like that the immigration asks some of them who try to say they are
Mexicans but are from Guatemala and El Salvador. There is even an organization
downtown that teaches them to pass themselves off as Mexicans. So they are not
sent all the way back. Thousands of miles back. Three times from Zacatecas back."
Chano looked down
at the toes of his boots. Tried to change the subject from the baby. They all
had babies. It was too close to home. "Once we lost a viejo on a crossing.
Remember the time we crossed together Castulo? He was bit by a snake. He didn't
make it to the safe house before he died. Heart failure they said."
"Was it a rattler?"
We didn't see it. Didn't hear it either, like you would if it had been a rattler.
Just saw a body slithering away in the moonlight," Chano replied.
Edgar didn't say
much, as usual. Just looked down at the rug between his outstreched knees, hands
folded, light brown hair falling over his forehead. When he had crossed with
Chano just a year ago they had been caught and deported after a fourteen-hour
stay in the Border Patrol compound at Brownsville air base. No one had given
them food in all that time. From Tijuana they made their way back to Tecate,
to the coyote they knew, and crossed successfully on the next try. But he hadn't
seen anyone die on the way.
A lump in his throat,
Edgar wondered that once he married Chano's sister Ofelia, how he would get
her across. She must come to join him. He knew he would spend the rest of his
working life in the United States. He had no land on the rancho, it had all
gone to pay the doctor bills for his father's many heart attacks. He would have
to support his widowed mother and younger brother with the wages he earned in
the United States, until his younger brother turned 16 and his mother let him
cross as well. That would be two years from now.
It was almost a year
now since he had seen Ofelia, shy, plump, sweet girl whom he had promised to
return to marry. Neither he nor she knew how to read or write, so they had no
contact. He had had to help in the fields too young, she had problems with her
eyes and her family couldn't afford glasses for her. So they hadn't gone to
school, even the two years offered on the rancho. He was shy about speaking
to her on the telephone at Don Roberto's house, and had no right to do so, since
they were not yet official novios. He had not yet officially asked her father
for permission to marry. He had not had the money for the liquor and presents
that had to be given on such an occasion. He would do so when he returned.
Edgar did not mention
his love for Ofelia to her brothers. They must have known, having seen him in
front of their house, talking to her in low tones, grasping her hands, sometimes
being invited inside for a tortilla and beans. There were no secrets on the
rancho. No private places to go. Except up into the hills, the monte. But a
man did not take a woman there, a woman he wanted to marry. Though there were
rumors that Chano had taken Lupe there before they were married. Lupe had gone
there to pick nopales and prickly pear several times. But never alone. She always
took their younger brother.
If only Lupe, his
sister, were here, she would help him send a letter. When his father got sick
with the heart trouble, their mother had sent her to live with their Aunt Lidia,
in a pueblo and hour away, and Lupe had finished primary school there. But then
Ofelia would have to find someone to read it for her -- maybe her sister Cuca
who had gone to school for two years, the only schooling they offered on their
rancho. Though for some reason Edgar didn't totally trust Cuca to remain silent.
In another year he
would return, when he had enough money to pay for their wedding. He wanted her,
a middle child who had received little affection, to have her wedding in white.
He had hoped originally to return in just one year, but he hadn't found steady
work at first, just loading trucks now and then, sometimes painting or gardening
or cleaning up a property two or three days a week.
Now he had a job
cleaning offices on Pico Boulevard, with his aunt's husband who lived in Inglewood.
It was night work, which he didn't like so much, but it was steady work, six
nights a week with Saturday off, and it paid the minimum wage -- which some
of the short-term jobs he had had did not.
Yes, soon he would marry, one year more. And bring Ofelia across, some safer way than climbing over the rock-strewn mountains outside of Tecate. Before they had a baby who could die along the way.
By Tamar Diana Wilson
What's My Worth?
Am I not worth five
dollars an hour?
Hire me and I'll prove you wrong.
I'll peel this whole bunch of potatoes
And cut them and make freedom fries
On which you'll make a tidy profit on.
Am I not worth ten dollars an hour?
Hire me and you won't go wrong.
I'll flip five burgers and grill them
In a matter of minutes, at two dollars
A pop you will make a tidy sum.
I went to school. I passed my classes.
I know how to count. Do I hear five?
Five and a quarter? Do I hear ten?
By Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
North of the Border
All he sought was
A job in sweatshop haven
Or in pesticide land,
A stay at cockroach flats,
Instead he found a border
Patrolman agent's bullet.
He was invisible back home.
Here he was shooting practice,
And I hear there is an
A vacation with pay
For the killer of freedom,
Only in America.
By Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
Those strong hands
My mother inherited
From my grandmother
I remember those hands
Those seven years I spent
In Mexico in their care
While my mother
And father made a living
In America, preparing
My papers to cross the border.
Those strong hands
I see every day.
I will never forget
By Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
Hearing the opinion
Of the dangerous
Thinker, I can see
A cold heart speaking.
Mexicans on the street
Should carry a card
In their pockets which
Proves they're legal.
If they don't have that
Piece of paper, send them
Back where they came
From, he says on TV.
Mexicans walked these
Streets long before your
Manifested theft spread
From sea to shining sea.
By Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
Nation of Greed
This nation is all
If you don't have it,
You don't have anything.
The social status climbs
As the salary rises
In this nation of greed.
The poor are worried
Over a dollar,
Over thirty-five cents
To make one call.
The rich fret over
A million bucks,
A drop in the bucket
For the kings of greed.
This nation is all about money.
If you don't have it,
You've got to get the fuck out.
By Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
A Line We Cannot See
is drawn down the
middle of a river
that writhes like a perpetual snake,
or slashes through the middle of a lake
zig-zags around islands
or splits the unsplittable mountains. We see
over this line from our beds,
from our kitchens
and from our little gardens.
Beyond it may lie the clear source of our water
or hold the marshes
where our water flows.
We do not remember how or when
that line was drawn, that line
that is not even
There are old stories of wars that crashed
through our grandfathers' need
to open ditches to
the way their grandfathers always had,
because of where the line was drawn.
We are told we must
over the line because those wars
made it prickly with guns, razor wire,
and land mines. No
matter that our grandmothers walked there to get
to feed the sheep. No matter.
These stories are
the line had to do with kings. The line
made sure one king had one mountain
and one queen had
were instructed to give our sugar, our fruit
to those on the other side of the line
or die. It did not
matter how much was taken
from us. It did not matter how many
of our children disappeared.
When gold and oil
was found, the story goes,
we were always the ones killed
or driven away from our little farms.
Later, because of
hungers they had
or what they stole from us,
they let us come and care for their kitchens
and children, they
let us pick their avocados
onions and apples, but only if we snuck
across the desert, managed to live
through snake bite,
scorpion and thirst,
typhoid rats in the drains. They let us tend
flowers we brought and they planted
if we kept our true
names secret, pretended
not to require home or medicine;
if we read the children their sacred stories
of liberty, the Mayflower
and glorious freedom given the slaves,
Harriet Tubman, SojournerTruth, Whitman
songs in the cotton
fields, lines at Ellis Island.
If we never ask for more, we could stay.
On my way here, during the secret passage,
honking crosses of
filled the dusk sky above the great river.
That night I dreamt of snow
still on the ground
where I would go;
the same birds crossed every cold road
I traveled or was forced to hide under
until night. In my
sleep I saw the old map
of beaches and rivers every ancestor walked
to leave Africa, with every other man
or woman's ancestor,
before the lines, before
the kings, before the oil war emperors,
before the rows and rows of grapes
before the senators'
suckled on my sisters or sat in their suits
behind my brothers driving to the capitals.
There is a line they
say we cannot cross.
It is only drawn on paper, this line,
but it is enforced by death
and fear of death.
And though it does not exist
on my skin or in my language,
the line's lawyers try to put it there. My feet
shall erase that
line. My songs and poets,
my ways to survive, betray its illusion.
Build all the walls you like, erect your prisons
along all the imaginary
no matter: the cranes of my dreams dissolve
all lines below them as they fly,
and where they fly I swear I also fly.
By Bob Vance
(To our gracious host on the Delano farmworkers' march at Madera)
Mr. Valencia, you who have metal front teeth and are (you told me) a painter,
carpenter, grape-picker, cotton-picker and plumber all in one,
you who still drive a 1947 Plymouth coupe because you say it has sentimental
value being the car in which you first drove to Madera from Riverside
with your little son in that year,
you who have never gotten the wages you deserve,
what made you treat us so good?
I came to you in
my blue eyes, in my skin pale as pillowcases, in my skin pale
with the oppressive fancies of my ancestors,
I came walking on legs that are more friendly with desks that with roads.
And you Mr. Valencia
took me by my two hands and called me by my name and
took me home with six others to your family. This was all a big surprise
to your wife
who in the morning emptied her icebox, her cupboards, her pots and pans to
give us all breakfast,
after which you drove us back to the March in your 1947 Plymouth and
with your wife and your three-year-old daughter whom we each kissed once
just under her grave chestnut eyes
and you went in to Mass.
What made you treat
us so good?
It must have been
your own idea.
By Tim Hall
--March 17, 1966
Who Owns California?
Well, who owns it?
You, Cesar Chavez,
limping with a cane there on the Long March to
do you own it?
You do not possess the correct slips of paper.
Or you, Luis Valdez, the voice of the March, out of whose blood the people are
do you own it?
You too do not possess the correct slips of paper.
And you, campesinos, who march between the Virgin and the Cross, you who
have walked 300 miles on earth that the Governor himself has forgotten
do you own it?
No doubt you possess many slips of paper, but not the right ones.
I see that my question is stupid.
Clearly it is the men with the right slips of paper, stamped with the right
and locked in the correct marble buildings, clearly
they own California.
Clearly it is the paper that matters.
For which of you
would know Robert DiGiorgio if you met him on the street?
Who has ever touched him?
What you touch is a signature, it is 15 letters of the alphabet. What you meet are
two words present and unwelcome in the minds of many.
He is DiGiorgio Fruit Corp. He is the S & W Fine Foods Co. He is Tree-Sweet Fruit Juices, Inc.
He is the Bank of America.
He is so many complicated words that perhaps no one has ever seen him.
Will the real Robert DiGiorgio please step forward and look Cesar Chavez
in the eye?
Behind all those names and soft bellies, behind the frosted glass of many offices,
beyond the green fields of his million-dollar bills, there may be a real
alive and in hiding,
who knows he is wanted by the campesinos for numerous felonious crimes.
If so, will he please step forward for a few questions?
Mr. DiGiorgio, I
would say (for courtesy is one of my failings), Mr. DiGiorgio,
certain facts puzzle me:
1) the fact that hundreds of men, women and children, who are also farm
workers, have stepped all over the land for which you possess the correct
slips of paper,
2) that all these people have worn out their hands on vines that you are
acquainted with only through car windows,
and 3) that they must march as if into battle to get those things that you have
never had to think about,
this puzzles me so much I can only ask:
Who intended it this way?
Who did you consult
with, Robert DiGiorgio, when you signed all those little
slips of paper? Who did you consult with then?
Does the earth know it is "owned" by you? Did you consult with the earth
before you owned it?
Does the sky know it is "owned" by you? Did you consult with the sky?
Did you, Robert DiGiorgio, every try to consult with the wind?
What? You say God
intended it? God? A strange word from the lips of
Jesus ran the money-lenders out of the Temple.
Did you even consult
with the ones who were here before you -- the Mexicans,
the Indians, the Spanish?
And if you did, did you consult with the right ones?
Did you consult with the ones who took possession of the land with their bare
feet, with their feet through sandals, with their feet with much walking
With those who possessed the sun with their faces, the sky with their eyes,
owned the air with their lungs and the vines with the skin of their
Did you consult with the campesinos?
Of course, of course.
If you had consulted the campesinos they would not be marching now.
It wasn't God. It wasn't the earth. It wasn't the air, or the sun, or the sky.
It was you, Robert DiGiorgio. You intended it this way.
And the land?
A man pays his debts. The wheel turns.
(Listen!) You will have to give it back.
For the new deed to the Valley has been signed by men's feet.
Without any paper. With dust alone.
By Tim Hall
The Star Chamber of San Joaquin Valley
Just outside Thornton
on the March to Sacramento,
they slept overnight in a bracero hotel.
It was on a levee by the San Joaquin River.
The highway rode the levee, between the hotel and the river.
The water rushed quietly between the lips
of the great American farmland.
They knew it was
bracero before they were told.
They were the braceros come back again,
quite changed. Not changed in their bodies, or in their sins,
but changed in the way they each looked up to each other.
They slept on the floor, and in the morning walked out,
carrying their lives on their backs as their own.
In the morning, there
on the levee by the river,
long, iron-shelled, gray -- a roofed-over truck,
parked by the river. Empty. Out of use.
While waiting for theirs they looked it over.
"It's a bracero bus." None of them talked.
Standing behind it, they saw the long rows
of straight wooden benches against the iron walls
-- hard, with sharp corners, gray and rubbed.
30 men. 30 men without
30 men with no air. With the doors closed behind them,
30 men in such twilight! For 300 miles,
in other men's breaths, in other men's stares....
I have seen this
The gray, plain, shiny-rubbed wood --
it is not alive!
The iron -- it resists,
while men cry out!
It is true!
The men are gone.
The instrument remains.
Braceros of pain!
of iron! of wood!
They have made you that way. It was done for the land.
It was torture.
For you, and you only, know
that pain is what comes between iron and flesh.
The pain is yours. The iron,
Why not the land also?
By Tim Hall
Grating the M in Immigrants and the Brown Soul of Our United Nation
Our land gone!
Disgracing Guadalupe's name with your lies
Our people dying in the desert heat
For a dream...
The people chant in the streets and on the highways
VIVA LA MEXICO!
VIVA LA RAZA!
Working for less than you
Eating less than you
VIVA LA MEXICO!
VIVA LA RAZA!
The heat scorching our souls
Those living like U.S.
Ashamed of our kin
Yet, you find them
To fight within
And turn against
Hating each other
Women raped by our guards
Building fences that will not be built by the gringos
Nor by us
Because of your lack of trust
The people chant in the churches and in the fields as another dies in the white shacks
WHAT DO WE WANT?!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?!
You spit at our face
You have never
Proposition 187 in California wanted to get rid of us
And now .
Federally it is a felony to be brown?
The people chant in the kitchen and at the factories that would not exist without the S in slavery and the M in immigrant
WHAT DO WE WANT?!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?!
Yet, you do not attack the Asians
Why? Because they bring money and cars
All generations of generalizations that you understand
You do not attack Europeans and Russians
The biggest immigration population
Only the brown,
The Cubans, The Ricans, The Columbians, Haitians,
And especially Mexicans,
The people chant in the schools and in the hospitals
VIVA LA MEXICO!
VIVA LA RAZA!
We are American and United We Stand
Against your bigotry, racism, and inhumane ways of thinking and being.
You know nothing about suffrage.
You know greed, and color breakdowns,
You fail to learn from history,
Civil Rights, Human Rights, Women's Movement, Chicano Movement, Wars, Slavery of all races,
The people chant in the streets and on the highways
VIVA LA MEXICO!
VIVA LA RAZA!
Taking over your schools, your stores, your work that you do not do,
Contributing to what has always been rightfully ours.
VIVA LA MEXICO!
VIVA LA RAZA!
The people chant in the churches and in the fields as another dies in the desert sun after drinking horse piss from days of dehydration,
As another is raped and baby ripped from her breast,
As another man comes to work here for his family there,
As another woman comes to work there for her family here,
May the drums beat to a new song, a new century of your proclaimed hatred and racist lies,
A new generation of freedom
We will not lay down our armor
We will fight until the bitter end.
WHAT DO WE WANT?!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?!
WHAT DO WE WANT?!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?!
By Niki Bell de Castanon
Do I believe in reincarnation? No, I don't think so. It can't be possible, can it? But, then again, sometimes I think it has to be. When I think about Cuitlahuac, Cuauhtémoc and the Mexica, and how they so fiercely resisted Cortes and the Spaniards, I am overwhelmed with a sense of pride. So I had to have been there, right? Maybe I was a jaguar knight, of perhaps a humble macehual who put down his tools and replaced them with a shield and dart-thrower to help contribute during those tough times.
And when I think
about Morelos and how he rose up against the Spaniards, in order to free the
Mexican people from bondage, so they no longer would be enslaved and considered
sub-human, I get so inspired when hearing this I think to myself: I had to have
been there to feel what I am feeling. Perhaps I also took up arms to fight for
When I think about
General Zapata and how dedicated and uncom promising he was in his struggle
to liberate Mexico, I can't help but want to emulate his character and ideals,
so I would have had to of been around back then and known him, right? Perhaps
I was a small child who learned how to read and write in one of the many schools
he set up in the territories he and his guerrilleros controlled, and only admired
him from afar. Or perhaps I was one of the many young men who fought alongside
him. Perhaps even one of the 20,00 men he said he would ride into the capital
with and hang that back-stabbing traitor Madero from the highest tree.
And why else would my blood boil, my heart ache and tears well up in my eyes when I learned how that treacherous old piece of shit Carranza used his lackeys to set up and ambush Zapata? The greatest revolutionary in Mexico since Father Hidalgo rung the bell at Dolores. I'm pretty convinced I was around back then. I had to be!
I'm also pretty positive I met commandante Ché in another life as well. Why else would my blood boil, but this time with hope, when I learned what he and the other revolutionaries accomplished in January 1959, overthrowing that Yankee puppet Batista. That has to be it! There is such a thing as reincarnation. I had to have known these great men! But reincarnation, I can't believe in such nonsense, can I? Or perhaps that's what history is for: to anger, to inspire, to outrage, to motivate, and to make great men such as these immortal .
By E. Maldonado
Techapi, CA 93581
they give me in the office this morning layin' in my pocket like lead. I push
them aside feeling with my hand for the stick of gum I'm hoping will take the
taste from my mouth. This stuff get inside you that way -- you taste it, you
smell it, you even see it sometimes, all day long, no matter you working or
Hector jogging behind
the truck, though I can tell by his eyes he tired. Nothin' bother him. He always
ready to toss his garbage cans when we stop and he gone before my empties hit
the curb. Boy is wacked. Everybody think it. Me, too, I guess. It's not like
I don't like the kid, though; it just ain't good for me to be working with him
Truck stop again
and I ask if he out partying or what. He look at me sideways, shaking his head
like I should know better, sticking his thumb in the air, "New tenants
upstairs. Kids up all hours of the night -- they don't stop sometime 'til almost
ten o'clock." He tosses bags from both hands.
"Why you want
to be in bed so early old man? Night don't get goin' 'til after twelve,"
I tell him, knowing it get him.
He chuck a milk carton
at me. "Look, your daddy's picture on there." I wing it back, but
he up the street already. Once I tell him he run like he stealing something
and his face get all hard. "Not me," he says, "ain't be needing
no more problems with the law." That's all he ever divulged on that subject
but a guy in the yard tell me Hector in there upstate before he work here. Nobody
know what for and if a guy don't talk about it you don't ask. I think maybe
that why he be running, though -- trying to keep hisself clean.
Hector say one day
he gonna' win the big marathon in the city. He tell anyone that listen, but
when he say it to me I can't help myself, "What you talkin', yo? That big
time. The whole world come for that." He swear he do it, though, and I
figure why I'm gonna' bust his bubble? Let him find out on his own. I mean,
the kid fast for picking up garbage and for them little races in the Park, but
the marathon? That on TV. That no joke.
He call this his
speed work. Every Wednesday, Queens Boulevard. Sun still behind the apartment
buildings when he start. Queens Boulevard no joke either. They hang electronic
signs out here telling people how fast they going. Supposed to get 'em to slow
down but I think it do the opposite -- I think it make them want to see how
high they can get to between lights. That what kind of road this is. I ask Hector
why he want to run the most dangerous street in the city.
he say, and that's all.
I tell you the boy's
crazy already, right?
He always start like
this. Slow -- slow even for me when I'm dragging my big rear end -- but that
only a few minutes. "Got to get warm just like a street racer," he
"Yeah, you like
a nasty little Honda," I tell him, 'cause if he was a car that's what I
imagine him bein'. He make a lot of noise.
he say, banging his chest like he King Kong, "I got me a motor here, yo.
V-eight all the way, bro'."
So this how it goes all morning. I'll be dropping off the back of the truck and he's already tossing his empties to the curb, sprinting for the next. We go the route like that: him emptying and sprinting, emptying and sprinting, the whole way. He says it scientific; he got the idea from a book on running. I asked him, "How they write a whole book on running? You put one foot forward then the other," but he just laugh when I say that.
He laugh a lot, but
not so much as he used to. He had himself a little girl with long, black hair
and eyes like midnight. I seen her once and knew she sweet because her words
dance when she talk to him. I don't know Spanish, but you could just tell. One
morning last summer he come in, eyes all red, not saying jack. Finally, I have
to ask what's wrong.
"My girl leave.
She say no more running. She wants to go out and dance, but I tell her I need
sleep to run fuérte."
I tell him, I had me something like that I think about it hard. I tell him about the long time thing I had with my last girl until she wanna' get married and I said, Not yet. Girl has herself a kid now and a husband who look like he know what he got when he walking down the street. I know this 'cause my aunt see the girl all the time and tell me things like that to make me feel worse than I already do.
Hector say, "They
don't give me nothing for dancing," and all he do that whole day is cry
and toss garbage, cry and toss garbage. Time we done, I couldn't even look at
him, his eyes like hamburger from wiping the tears with his gloves.
That was a Tuesday.
Next day he run.
Up at the intersection,
he bouncing like a boxer and throw a hook-right hand at the air. "C'mon.
Usted está durmiendo?" he says, jumping on the truck -- even he
don't run through intersections on Queens.
"It early and
it cold," I tell him. He know I got a late class on Tuesdays and I'm cranky
the next day, but he show them teeth and you can't be mad.
I saw him run once,
in the Park. He brag so much about it I had to go. "Three miles,"
he says, "You'll be home before you know you out your bed." I seen
him at the start, five feet away, and I'm shouting, "Hector! Hector!"
but he don't turn his head. He wearing these flashy striped sneakers and I yell,
"Where your work boots, Hector?" but he didn't hear. And the girls
with their shorts cut up to nowhere? It like he don't even notice; he who whistle
at every little thing we pass on the route. The horn blow and it was like a
club raid: all legs and feet before the place go quiet. I'm sitting on a bench
sipping my container, not even to Lupica in the Sunday News, when I hear clapping
and whistling and here comes Hector with nobody close. People shouting, "A'hight
Hector. Way to go Hector. You the man," and when it over they all "Hector
this" and "Hector that" like he Jeter or something.
yo," I told him when he see me. "That like Queens Boulevard."
"No hills like
that on Queens," he said, all serious, like it be better if there were.
I watch him now,
hanging on to the truck with the tips of his fingers. When I feel like playing,
I tell him , "Hector you don't need no marathon, we got the Wide World
of Garbage every day. You got your Chinese garbage here, you got your Russian
garbage, then your African garbage a little further down. Past that you got
your Indian, then your Italian, so why you need to run?" After I say that
he always run faster.
I'm reading the sale
signs down past the car lots when he jump. Not five seconds later tires screech
and cans bouncing on asphalt. The truck stop so hard I'm almost in with the
trash. Vinny the driver screaming in Italian, which means swearin' 'cause that
all the Italian I think he know. Out front of the truck Hector lying in a pile
of green plastic bags, blood all over his head while Vinny kicking a hole in
the door of a car with an old man driver holding his hands up to God. I'm running
to Hector and all I can think of is, "Please, God let his legs be OK."
I mean, I see the blood, but I'm just thinking 'bout his legs.
His eyes wide and
he shaking his head like he don't know where he is.
"Can you move
your legs?" I ask.
"Of course I
can, yo. How you think I hurdled them cans? That gavone might've killed me otherwise,"
he say. He learn that from Vinny, I guess.
"But your head
bleeding." I try not to let on how bad it look but I feel my face getting
tight. He touch the blood with his finger then taste it and smile.
he say, "Just sauce. Get me out these bags. I feel like a Big Mac."
I pull him out and
tell him how much he stink. There some kind of brown noodles stuck to the back
of his shirt and what look like pink birthday cake flowers pressed into his
cap and across his face. "You a doggy bag, bro'."
Me and him pull Vinny off the car and tell the old man to circle the block and come back when we gone. Vinny cursing in American now so we can understand; he shaking his head, yelling, No more running, Hector, and Hector walking away, nodding like that a smart idea. Vinny tell him to get cleaned up, but Hector already at them bags waiting, his head full of cake and all. He chuck them like he want to throw them through the truck then he off running again, steam shooting from his mouth like he showing us nothing gonna stop him. We at the one hill on Queens where the city right out in front of you, so it look like you can jump across the river to Manhattan. Hector pump his fist then points that way, yelling something I can't understand. For a minute I picture him on my TV, coming down from the Bronx and heading for the Park with them thousands of people trying to catch him. My cell rings and it shake me out of it, but no one there and the truck start rolling again.
That what he do to you. Get your mind working crazy -- seeing things like he do, making you forget where you're at. All day long we in the slop and the mess, but it like he don't even notice and that how I know his head ain't right. Day like this, cold as you know what and twice as dirty as that, and all he think about is running some race he can't ever win. Maybe when he grow up a little he forget it all and start thinking straight. My aunt say it happen to us all. She right. It did to me, just too late. Here I am thirty years old trying to start my life up somehow. That's why I'm getting off this route and heading down to Brooklyn. Not because I don't like the kid. I mean, he my bro' and all, but riding with him messing with my head. You work all day and it like you going crazy. You forget it all just garbage out here.
By G.A. Isaksson
Chasing a Symptom Not the Cause
The "Minutemen" patrol the border
Our Don Quixotes of order
Would be better to care
About trade unfair
Than Mexicans slaving for quarters
By J.J. Keane
long lines of
the hot sun
filling huge bags
to make more
all looking alike
made of dirt
the only color
in the whole scene
was dirt brown
for those giving orders
they are clean
By Rev'd Dr. Jackie Sullivan
The sun shot rays
of light through every crack of the wall of the Blancos' shanty. Juan Antonio
could feel the heat of two rays that landed on his chest as he lay on his bed
in the kitchen. Half awake with the irritating stir of the house, half asleep
with a weariness he could never slay, he dreamed he was the unfortunate volunteer
lying in the box in a magic show as the magician's swords skewered him in front
of an awe-struck audience. His blood drained from him as he begged the enraptured
magician to stop. The magician's fierce laughter hacked at his mind as another
sword pierced the box and his defenseless body. Juan Antonio wriggled with all
his energy to free himself from his predicament. Sweat entered the corners of
his eyes when he opened them to see his father laughing at him from the table.
"No duerme muy
bien, Juan Antonio," his father joked at his fitfulness, then continued
The heat from the
corrugated tin roof had already been conducted through the fetid air of the
three-room shack. His father had rolled in while Juan Antonio was sleeping on
his makeshift bed in the corner of the room that also functioned as kitchen,
living room, and family room. His mother dropped chunks of dough into a frying
pan of week-old lard. Waiting to be joined by eggs, tidbits of chorizo crackled
in another frying pan on a tabletop stove fed by a rusty, gas canister leaning
against the wall.
Juan Antonio's youngest
sister, three-year-old Lucia, clung nakedly to the hem of her mother's floral
house dress. His other younger sisters began to emerge from their adjoining
room. As his oldest sister, twelve-year-old Maria, showed her face, she was
ordered to dress her naked sister and fetch water from the spigot in the yard.
Maria complied spiritlessly, pulling her baby sister's hand from her mother's
dress. Lucia began to cry, but the girls shooed her into the bedroom without
minding her distress.
Juan Antonio's father
yelled at him to get his lazy ass out of bed and get ready for work. His son
squeezed his eyes shut choosing evanescent repose. Fatigue gnawed at the marrow
of his bones. He wished to rebel against his father's orders but knew that peace
would not triumph. Not thirty seconds later, his father again bellowed to get
up, and his other sister, Immaculada, weighed in with a mocking voice. His mother
told her to shut up and go help Maria. Capitulating to the inevitable, Juan
Antonio rolled off the plastic mattress to see the spindly outline of his body
in perspiration on the worn cover sheet. He walked out of the hut without returning
a "Buenos días" to his mother.
Juan Antonio strolled
to the outhouse shared by six other families. His bare feet stirred the dust
but admitted no pain to any of the stones jabbing them. He yanked on the door
to find it clinging to the nail that held it in place when occupied. He heard
Mr. Melendez's "sí" followed by the ripping of newspaper inside,
a testament to the man's literacy. Looking back at his house, Juan Antonio saw
the shabby yellowed curtains hanging limply in the window frames without any
glass. By the intensity of the sun on his bony shoulders, he could tell the
day would be another scorcher. Mr. Melendez came out of the dunny, greeted Juan
Antonio in impersonal rote, and headed to his house next to the Blancos'. Juan
Antonio relieved himself, careful not to pee on the smooth wood surrounding
the hole, and walked to the spigot to splash some water on his face and run
his wet fingers through his medium-length black hair.
Juan Antonio entered
the house to see his four sisters sitting at the table on the various refugee
chairs rescued from trash heaps around the city. As a side business, his father
masterfully repaired chairs and other furniture that had been left for dead
by other households. Señor Blanco had once worked on construction sites
until he lost most of his left leg in an accident. Several months later, the
company put him on as a night guard out of pity for him. When the company realized
how impractical having a man in a wheelchair roll around a construction site
with all the obstacles, it let him go with an apology and a severance check
that he managed to squander in a binge of self-pity. As a former workman, he
preferred the wheelchair to crutches, which kept his callused hands free. Rarely
did Juan Antonio see his father out of his wheelchair since his father left
it only to take care of the bare necessities.
Juan Antonio began
to think back to his early years when his father had use of both his legs, but
was startled from recollection by his father's breakfast table bullying. Juan
Antonio was doing his best to block out the hectic scene. He ignored his mother's
admonishment to sit down and have some breakfast, and instead walked into his
sisters' room. From a pipe wedged into the corner of the planked wall hung the
children's wardrobe. He fingered his two pairs of pants: a pair of dark blue,
polyester dress pants and a pair of brown denim pants, an American knockoff.
Choosing the latter, he pulled them on over his loosely hanging soccer shorts
and slipped on his white dress shirt reserved for work and Sundays. After conscientiously
rolling up the sleeves to his elbows, he sat down for breakfast.
He sullenly acknowledged
his family and endured his mother's Grace before wolfing down his share of fried
bread, sausage, and eggs. His father opined that the hot weather should make
for a good day of business. Juan Antonio grunted in agreement. His father hadn't
finished the daily exhortation for a bigger contribution from his son toward
the family finances when Juan Antonio wiped his mouth with the back of his hand
and left the table and house in singular movement. He heard Maria yell for him
to wait, followed by his mother's order for her to sit down and finish her meal.
Juan Antonio broke
into a run the second he cleared the door. He didn't stop until halfway across
the shantytown when the sight of his house couldn't curse his eyes anymore.
A pair of mongrels with pronounced rib cages quarreled over a dry bone that
even the flies had forsaken. Many of the people in the barrio were sitting down
to eat. Wails of babies, parents' scolds, and children's arguments could be
heard coming from many of the huts. Some household heads would have departed
earlier for the city to their various low-paying jobs or to line up for selection
as day laborers in El Centro. Other family members might sell a variety of goods,
from combs to pencils, pilot lighters to vegetable peelers at subway entrances,
markets, corners, or on the buses to earn some pesos.
much to his credit a believer in work, sold cigarettes at various locales around
the city while his daughters staked out the inner portion of a cool subway entrance
and sold packets of gum. Señora Blanco could be found sitting on a box
nearby selling prayer cards with pictures of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, or one
of the more popular patron saints, according to the season. Despite his father's
inability to walk, he had insisted that the family work and be a burden to no
one. He would readily recall his story of hard-knocks as well as rail against
the system, but would proudly finish in proverbial fashion with "work makes
a man." This blustery statement fell on the inattentive ears of the fourteen-year-old
Juan Antonio, who had been working for more than half his life and had been
bludgeoned with the story as long as he could remember. His father would say
it was family honor at stake. The truth was, in Santiago de Chile, the philosophical
merit of this idea rang hollow as perhaps the purest form of "successful"
capitalism in the world prevailed. The family had to do something if they wanted
to eat, though its members deserved respect for not begging.
Juan Antonio exited
the shantytown and walked across a barren, littered lot -- the soccer field
to the locals -- to the bus stop on the road into the city. His friend Oswaldo
stood at the edge of the waiting crowd. They greeted each other and spoke in
hushed words as if in deference to the quietude of the morning and the consensual
wish for serenity before entering the noisy city. Even the crushing poverty
of the shantytown couldn't prevent the people from enjoying their lives, but
this unspoken agreement granted many one of their few respites of peace everyday.
Just as likely, the gravitational fatigue of facing another long day laboring
on the fringes of society enforced this atypical pact of silence.
Oswaldo and Juan
Antonio talked about meeting later for the daily game of fútbol. Oswaldo
carried a large steel container of coffee around El Centro like an over-sized
backpack, selling small cups one at a time, for a notoriously tightfisted old
man. The bus pulled up and the doors opened. The two boys scrambled into the
tangle of bodies in the back while most of the people walked to the front to
pay. A Benedición must be made every week for the sheer miracle of the
overcrowded bus's safe passage, especially since it had the breaking distance
of a jet airplane. Working on commission basis, the bus driver would continue
to pick up people all the way into the city in defiance of the apparent impossibility
of adding more bodies to the rolling mass.
After an excruciating
forty-minute commute, Juan Antonio extracted himself from the crowd that disembarked
at the bus station and headed to his destination, a medium-sized store that
carried a variety of hardware in the front but specialized in helados in the
rear. He slid open one of the freezer doors, which, after the oppressive dual
heat of the Santiago summer and the mass of humanity on the bus, provided one
of the more refreshing moments of the day. Freezing air billowed out of the
freezer with such force and intensity that he knew he was among the earliest
to get there that day. He moved a couple of boxes around deliberately, savoring
the arctic air rushing into his open pores, until a voice hustled him from his
momentary bliss, "Apúrate, cabrón!" Juan Antonio grabbed
a box of orange popsicles and walked to the front of the store to pay. Orange
always sold better than the other flavors in the morning as he reckoned it was
like a replacement for a glass of juice.
Behind the register sat a bulky, pock-faced man. Juan Antonio placed the box onto the counter and asked sheepishly, "Crédito?" In recognition of their running joke, the man grinned, displaying a gold tooth in the top row of his mouth that shone dully, and after a dramatic hesitation, uttered the price, "Dos mil pesos hombre." Juan Antonio patted his back pockets in a comical act of forgetfulness, then dug deeply into his left front pocket and gave him the two thousand pesos. The man barked a short laugh and placed a receipt on top of the box, emphasizing the legitimacy of his enterprise. The boy lightly blew it off the box in jest, tucked the box like a rugby ball under his arm, and hurried out onto the street.
Juan Antonio ran
through the same calculations every day. If he could sell the three dozen ices
at 100 pesos each before they melted, and not give any to greedy bus drivers,
he would clear 1600 pesos on each box. Of course, the bus drivers usually wanted
their payoffs, so if all went well, he might clear 1000 pesos, or $1.50 on the
box. He generally gave his father 3-5000 pesos every day as the family's biggest
breadwinner. This meant four boxes and off to play fútbol. His father
demanded all the money his son brought home every day, but Juan Antonio had
recently decided to put a little aside for himself as well.
His father was a
hawk when it came to the dinero his child earned, often weaving a series of
tricky mathematical questions to confirm the figure his son contributed to the
family. Juan Antonio easily cleared these inspections. Once he had been caught,
as he had forgotten to factor in an indulgent trip to a candy store a few years
ago, and had to run out of the house so his father couldn't get his hands on
him. But since that long night of waiting outside until his old man had gone
to sleep, he had become careful to factor in losses through greedy bus drivers
or melting to meet his expenses. The family's survival hung in the balance as
the guilt-inducing mantra went. How this included his mother's contributions
to the church and the liters of Escudo beer his father imbibed on the weekends,
Juan Antonio never understood.
Where to put the
cash presented his largest problem. He couldn't trust anyone in the barrio to
hold his nest egg because everyone lived in the same poverty, the type of poverty
that would tempt the most honorable of men to spend it. With all the people
living so closely together in the shantytown, there was no way to guarantee
the money's security if he buried it in a bottle. His dubious literacy negated
the option of opening a bank account. Besides, banks intimidated him. Until
he could come up with something better, he settled on putting the extra bills
and coins under the insole of his shoe, even though the method seemed like a
perilous arrangement his father might get wise to. As a test the last few days,
he had sidetracked 500 pesos. This added up to chump change as he could only
purchase a cheese empanada and a sugary fruit drink with his savings. Nonetheless,
this puny amount granted him a feeling of manliness and independence because
he had never had his own money. To this point, his experiment with safekeeping
had succeeded. Today he would triple the sum stashed in his shoe.
As he walked, he
tore a crease with his thumbnail into an end of the rectangular box in order
to slip out one popsicle at a time without letting much cold air escape. He
exercised caution as the day began, mindful of not losing any of his products
to melting. If business went well, he would make the crease in the box bigger
for faster distribution. He returned to the area where the buses loaded and
unloaded, and found sales to be brisk, unusual for the early hour of the day.
The people bought as if bracing themselves for the impending heat. Or maybe
they had grown accustomed to summer's presence and purchased out of habit. Regardless
of the reason, he had sold a third of his box before the attendant threw him
out of the passenger area.
Seldom did the attendants and other roughs manhandle Juan Antonio due to his boyish, anemic appearance. The moist darkness of his eyes called up in some an oddly compassionate side. Whether from Catholic charity or out of danger of activating a tearful scene, this empathic mystery of the Latino soul didn't matter to him. If a situation got hairy, Juan Antonio knew when to flee or when to call upon his frailty.
Boldly breaking the
implicit pact between the attendants and vendedores, or salesmen, of one removal
per day, the wily teen snuck in through the back entrance and began to sell
in the passenger area again. This time he sold two before an attendant spotted
him and he needed to move on. He kept a vigilant eye behind him as he worked
his way through the clothing market, judiciously yelling helados and the flavor
naranja. Not much happening there, so out the front entrance he went to stand
where the shade met the sun. Sometimes the people would welcome the cooler optimism
of the shade to escape the relentless sun and buy a popsicle. He sold another
ten or so, not at a particularly expeditious clip, before he decided he had
better hit the buses rather than endanger his profits.
Into the fray of
traffic and humanity he darted. Deftly maneuvering between automobiles, trucks,
and taxis, he hopped on a bus just after it had shot forward from its stop at
a green light. The bus driver stuck out his right hand like a secret handshake
for members of an ancient order and Juan Antonio cooled it with an ice. The
driver nodded imperceptibly. Juan Antonio didn't wait for approval before announcing
his presence to the bus's passengers. He sold a couple through the front part
of the cabin when he came upon the mother lode in the back, a mommy with three
whining children. The "ay" of helados had barely come from his mouth
when the mother raised her hand. Four less ice creams and a lighter burden.
He tipped the box to feel the ices slide inside and calculated less than a half
dozen left. Although he hadn't paid specific attention to the stops and starts,
he knew that the bus hadn't gone that far and sped along fast enough to be between
stops. He glanced out the window to confirm location and moved for the rear
exit of the bus. It didn't make sense to work his way to the fore of the bus
and get off in the no man's land between stops. The next stop would do better.
When the bus pulled
over, he hopped off and sold a couple more before scurrying across the street
to catch a bus heading back to the hardware store. His stock needed replenishing.
With luck, he wouldn't need to donate one to the driver. He debated whether
or not to cry poor and hope the driver would relent, but had done well on this
box, clearing 1400 pesos even if he gave one to the driver. The torrid weather
made the debate moot. The driver readily took his payoff when the teen boarded
the bus. Juan Antonio sold his remaining products and enjoyed a rare break as
the bus had to make one stop before the station. He regarded the ski and surf
stickers the gringos had left behind, the tasseled windows, the dashboard carpeting
with the dancing Elvis, and the obligatory framed idol, this one a picture or
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, overhanging and overseeing the welfare of the driver
and his passengers through the perilous Santiago streets. A part of Juan Antonio
regretted wasting time on the bus, but he rested easily in the victory of his
early sales. He calculated his earnings, separated his money into different
pockets, and debated his selling strategy for the next box.
When he got back
to his supplier, trade had grown far more robust. As he waited in line, he modified
his selling strategy for the box. He paid his 2000 pesos, took a gander of the
gold tooth that fascinated him as a symbol of wealth, brushed the receipt off
the box, and hit the street at a faster pace than earlier in the day. This time
he broke right, following the street behind the market and took another right
at the corner. He had decided to try the colectivo stop, figuring no one had
been there yet. These community taxis would release four, sometimes five, possible
customers at a time. If sales stayed flat there, he could always catch a bus
one stop back to the station. Again he had luck, three colectivos pulled up
to the stand and no other vendedores in sight. He sold five to the people getting
out of the commuter cabs and then worked the row of waiting colectivos and a
group of drivers standing under a tree. Ten lighter.
Traffic piled up
three blocks back from the main drag. He walked in the shade of the buildings
to catch a breather from the heat, then cut halfway across the street and followed
the yellow lines in the center of the road, selling to drivers caught in the
jam. Frustrated as they were by their immobility, Juan Antonio only found a
couple of takers before boarding a bus. He worked the back of the bus, as the
rear door stood open to circulate air and allow the commuters the opportunity
to abandon the overheated vessel. In the heat of the bus, his merchandise sold
briskly. By not working his way to the front, he didn't have to pay the bus
driver off. He scampered out the back door just before the bus lunged forward
and the door closed on him. The coach moved a couple lengths forward, so he
passed it on foot, yelling a "Gracias" to the scowling driver through
the front door, and boarded another bus in front of it. He tore off the top
half of the box in the surety of success. This bus he had to enter through the
front door. He handed the driver his reward and shoved his way through the people
bunched up at the front before beginning his sales pitch. His product was moving
well today. By the time he worked his way to the rear door, the lightened carton
signaled a return to the shade in front of the market.
Meanwhile, the bus
had made its way up to the traffic light. From here, the bus would cross the
six-lane intersection to the side opposite the market. He yelled to the driver
to open the back door. When his adolescent voice didn't produce results, a couple
of men with similar escape plans yelled testily, "Abre la puerta huevón!"
The air release mechanism of the door hissed and the three bodies leapt from
the stagnant air of the bus onto the sweltering street.
The traffic signal
glowed green and the three escapees found themselves in a no man's land in front
of a number of cars growling to progress. Horns instantaneously blared as the
two men dodged an auto matador style and bounded to the safety of the sidewalk.
Since Juan Antonio desired to go in the opposite direction, he held his ground
in the middle of the street between the two lanes of oncoming traffic. He felt
the rear of the bus brush his shirt at his elbow and the exhaust blow through
his clothing like a nasty desert wind. One driver swore at him like the devil's
spawn while driving by, and then the traffic mercifully seized again. Juan Antonio
moved to the centerlines and waited for an opening to finish crossing. He put
his hand into the box to feel the ice creams. The wrappers clung sweatily to
them. They were beginning to melt. During the walk to the market, he melodiously
sang out "Helados!" A couple of passersby aided his efforts before
he found a sliver of shade near the doors of the market. All went well minus
the dirty look he received when he handed the last melting ice to a woman in
her mid-thirties. He slipped away as soon as her expression changed. She called
out, "Espera," but that's all she could do, hope or wait, because
he wasn't entertaining either notion.
Juan Antonio charged
through the clothing market, sliding the empty box under an unused stall like
a pro bowler, and paused to separate his money before returning to his supplier.
He had miraculously cleared 2900 pesos, plus he had the 2000 to buy the next
box. With lunchtime and the heat of the day nearing, he debated whether to gamble
on a doble. His momentum and luck boded well, but he had seen a few guys screwed
by trying to sell two cartons at the same time. With the midday heat abetting
the sale of ices while the unsympathetic sun melted them away, buying two cartons
became a calculated risk. In spite of all the vendedores grabbing single boxes,
he wanted to be bold. Others had pulled it off, but he had never done it before,
always cautious with his father's stories about greedy vendedores echoing in
his head. Today would be his day to take the plunge. Besides, he wanted to increase
his savings, so he cut his currency again, separating 4000, and pocketing the
other 900. He suppressed the urge to put another 500 into his shoe.
Juan Antonio opened
a freezer door and grabbed a pair of multi-flavored boxes. Sales strategy and
occupied his mind so much he didn't notice the polar air goose bump his arms.
He was wrestling with a risky choice and the proposition of failure. When he
came to the front of the store, he had to wait behind a couple of others in
line. Some vendedores had advised him to choose one flavor to avoid customers'
quibbling, but Juan Antonio felt it wiser to lure them in with the option and
push whatever came to hand. If the cartons were slit lengthwise, there would
be more access to all the flavors although exposing the popsicles to more heat.
Someday, he would finish with the buses and buy one of those metal containers with the strap that allowed you to carry more helados and stand in one place. His dreams didn't end there. He foresaw moving into other lines, perhaps palomitas, sugary popcorn sold on the street, or maybe maní dulce, roasted peanuts that were sugared before packed into long plastic bags. Instead of always chasing sales, he wanted his customers to come to him, with a few friends, like Oswaldo, working for him. Unlike other vendedores, he perceived one had to invest in a business to make it grow, and he would have to move up gradually. Ultimately, he would be the man selling the ice creams to the vendedores. He knew where the real money was.
Finally. His turn
to pay. No dramatic hesitation. No request for credit. Juan Antonio thrust the
bills and coins into the proprietor's hand and charged out of the store to sell,
sell, sell. He ignored Señor Goldtooth's joke, "Tienes los huevos
bien puestos," and didn't wait for the receipt. Yeah, I've got balls Juan
Antonio thought as he entered the station while fumbling with the best way to
carry the two boxes. He buried himself in a crowd at the end of the line of
buses, hoping not to attract any attention. After speedily selling five ice
pops, his eyes met the accusing look of a bus driver. The driver turned to search
for an attendant, a signal for Juan Antonio to move along. He broke the rules
by using the exit for vehicular traffic, but escaped without notice. He jumped
in line behind two other vendedores waiting to hop on a bus heading for the
Plaza de Armas.
The first two vendedores
drew small buses, and Juan Antonio began to sweat as he imagined his profits
melting away. The next bus, a large one, decelerated to allow a relieved Juan
Antonio on board. To protect his stock while boarding the rolling bus, his left
shoulder rammed into the metal handrail guarding the front passenger seat. He
shook off the effect of the jarring entrance and handed the bus driver his payoff.
"Helados, naranja, cereza, limón, y fresa," he belted the flavors
out in cadence, confident that the disinterested would awaken to all the options.
He did well enough on the first bus, but found the juggling of money, ices,
and the two cartons awkward. Never did he have an idle moment to devise a better
way to carry the two boxes, so he carried the two of them tucked under one arm
leaving his other arm free to collect his take and dole out pops. At the next
stop, he disembarked while the bus slowed to running speed then hopped onto
the next bus without breaking stride. The next driver shook his head negatively
to the free offering, perhaps due to his sparsely occupied bus. Nevertheless,
Juan Antonio persevered. He sold a few, but had to waste time waiting for the
next stop. The delay gave him time to grow anxious at the prospect of the gamble
blowing up in his face.
next stop straddled the intersection of two major thoroughfares. He worked the
crowd for a few minutes before jumping on the next bus to Plaza de Armas. His
eyes scanned for large crowds, buses unloading at their final stops, and anyone
with children. Meanwhile, he continued with his rhythmic incantation, "Hey-y-laa-do-o,
naranja, cereza, limó-ó, y fray-y-sa." Business was steady,
but not eye-popping, and he couldn't find a shaded place to sell from. The sun's
rays bore into the dark skin of his arm (his mother claimed their complexion
came from the tawny, blessed-by-the-sun complexion of Mapuche descendants).
The dual heat of body and sol was speeding up the melting process, so he jumped
on a bus to catch the flow of some cooler air and pick up the pace of his selling.
Juan Antonio had
sold all the cerezas, or cherry ices, from the first box, but he advertised
the flavor for poetry's sake. After giving the bus driver a fresa, or strawberry,
which generally didn't sell as well, his first customer, a schoolgirl his age,
asked for a cereza. Juan Antonio mumbled "sí", took her 100-peso
coin, and handed her a fresa. Upon discovering his mistake, she held the popsicle
in his face, asking not so kindly for a cereza. Juan Antonio, in the midst of
a transaction, brushed her hand aside and insisted that she had received said
flavor. She reiterated her accusation to which he replied that he had sold out
of that flavor. Juan Antonio slipped into a space near the rear door, repeating
his chant. He sold another but turned to see the schoolgirl next to him. She
demanded that he open the other carton. Her doggedness caused Juan Antonio to
break into a miniscule sweat. He answered her with a succinct "no"
and turned his back to her. Positioning herself between him and the door, she
demanded her money back. At the expense of missing a chance to get off the slowing
bus, he relented and gave her a refund. Nonetheless, she barred his way to berate
him until the bus pulled away. He had broken one of his cardinal rules, and
still missed the bus stop due to her contentiousness. Valuable time slipped
away with his fate glued to this bus for another stop.
Disgusted by missing
a chance to board another bus with its new customers, Juan Antonio cursed under
his breath, "La Conde puta," a derogatory reference to her and a wealthy
area of Santiago. He called out his pitch in hopes of attracting any missed
customers, picked up one more sale, and then moved toward the front to get off.
Fate again conspired against him as he drew a short bus at the next stop. What
had appeared to be an optimistic situation dissolved before his eyes as a cluster
of long buses departed as he approached. Handing the driver his treat, he worked
the small bus. He did surprisingly well, finally able to combine the contents
of his first box with the second. Only a hint of coolness drained from the second
box as he opened it. Not good. He hopped off the small bus at a traffic signal,
heartened by the throng of humanity less than two blocks from Plaza de Armas.
He sang out the melodious slogan in his adolescent voice, but the tangle of
humanity smothered the sound. Fortunately, enough people heard him to keep business
flowing in a constant yet trickling stream. He gave a pair of policemen freebies
rather than face questions about his non-existent vendor's license.
After several minutes
of activity, he felt moisture on his shirt where he pressed the second carton
between his forearm and side. He put his hand beneath to feel the sticky syrup
soaking through the bottom of the box. Under the box, a blurry rainbow collage
stained his white dress shirt. He pressed the box back against his shirt and
upped the volume and frequency of his advertising, "Helados, naranja, cereza,
limón, y fresa." If people saw the syrup on the box and his shirt,
they wouldn't purchase his wares. After a frantic effort to sell the leftovers
he surrendered, donating some salvageable samples to a couple of street kids
and eating a couple himself before dumping the polluted box with the profit
of a dozen popsicle packages mired in the bottom. He found a water fountain
to clean himself and his shirt. Factoring the dozen into the write-off, he calculated
Juan Antonio now
had 5800 pesos in his hands, representing a dismal return of less than 1000
pesos despite his superhuman effort of selling the doble. He derided himself
for a couple of minutes. His gamble hadn't met his expectations, though no tragedy
had come to pass. But now he found himself a good twenty minutes from his supply
base during the busiest part of the day. If he didn't know the driver on the
way back, he may have to pay the fare to the station, further taxing his measly
take. All this he could stand, but the actualization of his father's stories
fueled his ire. He could accept a lesson learned, and he could manage having
to redouble his efforts to have a shot at playing in the fútbol game
later, but to have his old man's tired bullshit come to life on him seemed divinely
unjust. His father's laugh of earlier in the morning came to life in his head
as he imagined Señor Blanco, in a magician's cape and hat, binding Juan
Antonio with magic rope, while mesmerizing an adoring audience with his catalogue
of truisms that sickened Juan Antonio to his stomach.
bus driver recognized him and nodded him on free of charge. While the bus stopped
and started its way back to the station, time burnt in his gut the same way
it had seared him when he sensed his proceeds melting away. Defying a nagging
hunger, he put off lunch to rally from his doble defeat.
Back to the hardware
store for a box of cerezas, and a more conservative approach to his work. Juan
Antonio stared dreamily at his supplier's gold tooth, hypnotized by its luster.
He must be rich to afford a dentist, never mind having him put in a tooth of
gold. That gold tooth must be worth more than he could earn in a month, or a
year even. He must own a giant mansion in Las Condes. After commenting about
the faded gray stain surrounded by tie-dye splotches of orange, red, and green
accenting Juan Antonio's shirt as evidence of financial disaster, Señor
Goldtooth gave him his change and ceremoniously placed the receipt on the box.
Looking him straight in the eyes, Juan Antonio decorously dropped the receipt
on the floor in front of the register and skedaddled before the beefy man could
lean over the counter to catch him.
Juan Antonio walked
around the station this time and caught a bus, working it two stops before getting
off. He walked two blocks off the main drag to a park near a school where many
kids his age congregated for siesta. Necessity prodded him into reaching into
his bag of tricks for some snappy sales and an overdue lunch. He hated going
there. To subject himself to the ridicule of his peers while acknowledging the
denial of the opportunity to attend school cut him deeply. Groups of teenagers
in their blue and gray school uniforms that he envied so much stood in groups
under trees, around benches, or sat in the grass in the shade. Solitary souls
and pairs of lovers were sprawled on some of the benches of the park, resting
during the oppressive heat of the day, but students dominated the setting.
Due to the heat,
transactions took place quietly until a couple of bullies began to harass him
for a handout. They sarcastically asked him where he got his cool pants and
where he lived. They conjectured cruelly as to the type of animals that begot
him. Ignoring their victim's efforts to evade them, they persisted to the point
of tugging at his carton before a well-dressed man told the bullies to beat
it. Juan Antonio tried to offer the rich gentleman a freebie in gratitude, but
the man insisted on paying and consoled the youth, telling him that he had grown
up poor as well, but had worked his way out. When the rico left, Juan Antonio
thanked him and sold the remainder of the carton in the park.
Juan Antonio ruminated
about meeting the rico in the park during the walk to a bakery. Here was a man
who had grown up poor but had succeeded. A man who spoke with few words, not
talking this mierda, this bullshit, like his father. Why couldn't he have had
a father like that? Why did he have to grow up poor? Why didn't he live in a
nice house with his own room? In the midst of all these questions, Juan Antonio
concluded that meeting this man was a revelation of God's plan for him. Juan
Antonio could see more hope in his plans. He would have that ice cream cooler
with the straps over his shoulders, and bigger things, too. Someday, he'd meet
that man again, in Las Condes where the ricos lived, and they would laugh about
that day in the park. Showing his gratitude in a way he seldom had reason to,
he kissed the crucifix his mother gave him and crossed himself three times.
When Juan Antonio
got to the bakery, he debated ordering the usual greasy cheese empanada and
a fruit drink. He was sitting on 6800 pesos, calculating the ice he had dropped
on the driver and the cost of lunch. His father had been right after all. Staying
close to his supplier and working straight through lunch hour would have been
more successful, but things weren't all gloom and doom. After averting disaster
with the doble and the run through the park, he could still cut 4800 at present,
while factoring in the 2000 pesos to start his day tomorrow. He decided to live
large and order a meat empanada and a can of soda. This dropped his profit to
4200, but the late afternoon hung in the balance. His lunch dropped like lead
into his stomach, resuscitated by the carbonation of the soda when it converged
with the gobs of grease.
He ran through his
potential earnings for the day. With some initiative, working the late afternoon
school children and the rush hour, he might manage to sell a couple more boxes.
If he worked it smartly, he should clear 3200 per, leaving him at 6600, after
separating the 2000 for mañana. If he gave his father 5600, that would
pacify him while leaving 1000 for his stash. By day's end, he could have the
1500 he had aimed for, with his father none the wiser. And against his father's
counsel, he had entered the world of dobles. Later he'd consider how to best
work the double barrel sales effort more successfully. The fútbol game
might be at stake if he wanted to make his plan work, but maybe he'd get lucky
and play the second half. Despite his exhaustion, he skipped his afternoon siesta
-- usually the best rest he got -- in order to see through his plan. He hustled
back to his supply depot.
When he reached the
register with his multi-flavored box, he avoided eye contact with Señor
Goldtooth. He hoped the big man would forget his antics. Even with their running
joke, he may have gone too far. With his eyes cast down, he handed his supplier
the money, denying his never-ending temptation to sneak a peek at the shimmering
symbol of wealth in the man's mouth. As soon as he paid his money, Señor
Goldtooth's hairy hand descended heavily upon the carton. With his other hand,
he shoved Juan Antonio back from the counter.
"Ahhh, chico cómico, now we have to teach you a little respect," the voice boomed.
He released the receipt
at Juan Antonio's eye level, which fell like a filthy, city pigeon's feather
to the floor. When the receipt landed, Juan Antonio peered up at his business
associate. A satisfied, if not sinister grin, confronted him. A few other vendedores
stood in line waiting to pay for their ices, but now became more interested
in seeing the resolution of the conflict than concerned about the effect of
the Chilean climate upon their goods.
Juan Antonio put the toe of one sneaker to the heel of the other and eased his foot out like a villain slowly sneaking his gun out of his holster in a spaghetti western. Then he crossed his socked foot behind the foot with the shoe on and stepped on the toe of his sock, sliding his scrawny foot out. With his toes he gripped the paper by the edge that curled upward from the floor. He relayed the receipt to his hand without bending down and asked Señor Goldtooth where he kept the wastebasket. The man stared at him for an eternal few seconds and then burst out laughing, shaking his head, blessing God and Juan Antonio and cursing the devil and Juan Antonio. Juan Antonio grabbed his box smiling, then kicked his sock and shoe out the door and followed them.
Altering his strategy yet again, he stood at the exit of the subway station to work the groups of students and women with children. Sales ran in spurts with the arrivals of the trains. He periodically ran across the street when the buses unloaded, timing the waves of people emerging from the Metro. Even though it took him longer to sell this box than any other during the day, he resolved to sell one last carton. Determination fueled his desire to stick to his plan. The fact that he hadn't reduced his profits by the projected 400 stiffened this resolve as he saw the possibility of quadrupling his personal savings.
When Juan Antonio
paid the 2000 for his multi-flavored carton, the delighted Señor Goldtooth
almost gave him change back. And he crumpled up his customer's receipt and threw
it out the door. This time, Juan Antonio cried out that he wanted the receipt
for his taxes, bringing on another fit of laughter from the hardware store owner.
Juan Antonio returned
to the place where vendedores waited for buses, hoping to finish the day with
a flourish. Since he had exceeded his day's projected earnings, it didn't seem
fair to begrudge the drivers their late-day snacks. He felt dead tired, the
kind of fatigue only poverty breeds. The idea of playing soccer suddenly seemed
far-fetched. He came to the front of the line and thought he landed himself
a beauty, but the full-size bus turned out to be too crowded to work effectively.
The driver must have needed refreshment to pack one more person onto the caged
mass of mobile humanity. Juan Antonio plunged in, handed off the payoff, and
wormed his way into the congested aisle of the bus. He shouted out his pitch,
which the density of sweating commuters muffled. Sales went better than average,
but he couldn't gain easy access to his clientele. He imagined trying to squeeze
through a crowd like this with a doble.
His plan was to return
to the busy crossroads where he had been earlier, and work a couple of buses
on the way. If lucky, he'd sell enough en route to peddle the rest on the bus
home. If not, he would catch a bus towards the Plaza de Armas and then cross
the street for a prompt return. After squeezing halfway through the bus, he
decided to abandon the jam-packed hulk for an alternative. The crowded aisle
made it difficult to get to the door. As soon as the bus slackened to running
pace, he jumped off. His feet slapped the pavement hard as he cut his speed
down. He eluded traffic like he would defenders while closing in for the winning
goal, gaining the safety of the sidewalk and a vantage point to scope for another
bus. Subtracting a quarter of his cargo, he had done well for a one and a half
stop ride. No time to pat himself on the back, he needed to score a bonanza
of a bus.
Sometimes when a
driver wanted an ice pop, he would brake enough for a vendedor to board. Luck
was with him as a driver slowed down to let him get on before he walked to the
next light. The suffering half bus turned out to be curiously under-loaded during
rush hour. While laying the popsicle in the driver's hand, he called out, "Helados,
naranja, cereza, limón, y fresa." A few people licked away at fresh
ices. Fat pendejo bus driver must have let a vendedor off at the last stop.
What a dirty trick! At least he would be at the big intersection, though he'd
have to work two more buses before he could think about heading for home. He
slit open the top of his box on three sides, a tribute to his cockiness and
the amount of traffic
He jumped off the
bus before it stopped and spun around leery of oncoming buses. The way the Chilean
drivers operated, practically scraping the paint off other buses with their
exterior mirrors, this was an extremely dangerous move for the uninitiated,
but Juan Antonio had shot the gap under these mirrors between two rushing buses
more than once in his life. Standing still through the moments the two rear
fenders passed and left him unscathed were enough to bring an atheist to prayer.
Buses converged and he moved towards their approach rather than where they stopped.
He wanted to get a jump on any other vendedores who waited at the bus stop.
He opted against a likely candidate, but he spied a vendedor aboard. Another bus looked too empty to bother. It had probably left the station behind a bus on the same route. In a reflex movement, he saw another bus's approaching front corner edge out behind the empty bus and had a good enough angle to see the open door. He tightened his grip on the carton and prepared to jump on. He half turned and began to jog in the same direction as his intended target. As the bus edged out a little more, he caught a blur of a man, a vendedor as well, hopping off. The other vendedor's momentum carried him crashing into Juan Antonio's back. The bigger man flattened the slight boy, sending his carton's contents flying all over the street.
the man yelled as he continued on his rounds without pausing to check on the
A couple of bus horns sounded loudly as they swerved around Juan Antonio, who had his face pressed to the asphalt. When he regained his wits, he pushed his body off the ground and scurried about like a squirrel to salvage some of his helados. Some had been run over by buses, others had their packages torn, and a few were rapidly melting on the superheated street. As what had happened to him sunk in, he cursed all the more while he picked up the good ones. In all, he saved a half dozen out of the nearly two-dozen in the box before the accident.
he dropped a couple of the damaged ices into the box for their added refrigeration
value and to possibly eat or hand to a bus driver for fare on the way home.
Scrapping the plan to catch buses to the Plaza de Armas and back, he went directly
to his bus stop. There was no way he'd go back to that hardware shop for another
carton. He'd had it. After selling the best of his recovered merchandise on
his way back to his stop, he handed the driver a damaged ice for fare. Juan
Antonio unburdened himself of the remaining salable popsicles and found a gap
for his thin frame near the door. Lapping up his last melting and abused ice
pop, he seethed thinking about the pendejo vendedor. The bastard could have
helped him off the ground and picked up the ices with him instead of issuing
a cursory "watch out little boy." A woman overheard his cussing and
asked, "Qué?" Deep in thought, he ignored her.
He itched his forearm
and noticed coagulated blood in his fingernails. He bent his arm to get a better
look and saw that the blood had dried in a trail from his elbow to the heel
of his hand. Some vestiges of red could be spied on his shirt as well. Add his
parents' lecturing him for his carelessness to the grand pile of shit of the
day. His mind didn't dwell upon the habitual hectoring he endured at home for
long, moving instead to his day's earnings. He calculated his total sales for
the day, minus his contributions to the drivers' stomachs, and found he held
5800 pesos after the harsh campaign. Far less than he had expected, but not
a bad day after all.
He considered the prudence of giving his old man 5300 as opposed to 5800. He rehearsed his story, the melting, omitting the doble of course, the schoolyard that always elicited a response of sympathy from his mother, perhaps an embellishment of a lengthy siesta due to his weariness, and polishing it all off with the revelation of the blood and how it happened. To assure success, he ran through his figures again, in case his father persisted in double-checking his math. 5800 or 5300. Which would it be? Juan Antonio took off his shoe and lifted the insole to slip in the extra 500 pesos. He would have that ice cooler with the strap and the palomitas stand. Someday...
By Evan Christopher
Flying Beach Chairs
In the black and white photo
men sit on beach chairs,
on an army transport plane.
Traveling boricuas, not vacationing
by the oceanside, tanning themselves.
They're leaving the beaches of their
homeland to pick the fruit for
gringo tables. They're not sipping
a fria by Luquillo, a good thing
because nothing holds the flimsy chairs,
the flyers need not worry
about spilling cocktails,
or forgetting to put back their dinner trays.
Will they ever see
a beach chair
in America? In between winters
when the sunny days will find them
soaking rays under a watchful eye,
unable to take a dip in the ocean,
now a distant memory.
Their fingers snap the fruit from the trees,
not at a cabana boy who looks like them,
to fetch a cool drink 'cause
their dry throats have lost the ability
to utter sounds amid the silence of their laboring.
The upshot is that now they have ample time
to think about perhaps finding a better travel agent,
one who can get a better package deal
that does not include flying beach chairs.
By J.L. Torres
Doña Vista Talks about Suitcases
Seen a lot in my lifetime; from those no better
than cardboard tied with rope
to fancy ones with super wheels.
They're all the same. Sad.
Today, it's missi there, come from
Las Marias or some other such hick town.
To live with Aunt Lolin, or cousin Chuchi,
who's happy to see them for a few months,
but then it's "when you gonna move your ass out?"
Which ain't easy to do, working the same job
as Aunt Lolin or Cousin Chuchi.
Used to be some sweatshop that don't care
if you're American -- paid you as illegal.
Even the college kids 'cause they don't know English
Nowadays, ain't many sweatshops --
so it's flipping burgers, cleaning toilets,
serving cafeteria food to bunch a brats.
Same difference; takes forever to save money
to move into another crappy apartment.
Ay, don't get me wrong. I feel sorry for dem --
listen, I was like dem. Greener than a guayaba.
Didn't know shit. That's why I get sad when I see their bags --
coming or going, don't matter.
If not coming, they're going 'cause someone died,
or la nena or el nene's got problems -- know what I mean?
The lucky ones -- they're through with this place;
the smart ones who saved and bought a house in PR.
And there's always the ones that don't got a dime
but gotta return anyways 'cause they can't take it no more.
All of dem, it's like they carry dreams in them suitcases,
no matter where they heading.
By J.L. Torres
Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men
have a right that these wants should be provided by this wisdom.
-- Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.
Alfredo 'Big Al' Otero smiled at the small group of Cuban refugees, like himself, and sipped at his styrofoam cup of strong Cuban coffee. He sat on a folding chair he carried with him wherever he went, it being one of the last vestiges of his former life. He was at the Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Center in Miami, where he had first received the news that his Supplemental Security Income check would no longer arrive at his small apartment in Little Havana since President Clinton's welfare reform bill had passed and he would have to become a citizen to keep his checks coming. At first, Big Al hadn't believed his friends but then an official letter had arrived at his apartment and he had brought it to the Center where they had read it to him in Spanish. Otero had come to Miami in the 60's but had never learned to speak enough English to become a citizen. He had worked for his brother for nearly forty years, in his restaurant, and had done everything from running the dishwasher to managing the kitchen staff. His brother, a lawyer and businessman, had always paid him in cash and Otero had always lived well, buying a new car every few years and having plenty of cash for the night-life, of which he was more than just a casual observer. He had taken a heavy blow when his brother died and it was learned that he owed more on the restaurant than it was worth. His brother also had gambling debts all over town and his estate was thrown into a quagmire.
Big Al found a job
at another restaurant, but at age 64 he had seriously injured his back. He had
worked at the restaurant for four years but his checks had paid into the social
security system and he had collected disability checks, then SSI checks for
almost five years before the welfare reform bill made it mandatory for him to
become a citizen or prove that he had paid into Social Security for the equivalent
of 10 years. With his brother dead, Otero felt paralyzed to do anything to stop
what he felt was an impending doom, even though another refugee friend assured
him they would not cut him off so callously. Otero wasn't so sure about that
because he had lived under Batista and Castro before escaping to Miami and had
never trusted governments; they all always had one thing in common, when it
came to its populace, they were all heartless.
He finished his coffee and finally left for home, to the small apartment that he was almost a month in arrears on. Big Al, all 6'3" and 220 pounds of him, was in for another shock that afternoon when he returned to his abode just off SW 8th Street and Miami Ave. and found that the lock had been changed. A note, typewritten by the landlord for unpaid rent, was taped to the front window. Of course, Otero had received two written notices in the past month but had expected he would receive his check as he always had in the past and rectify his overdue rent payment.
Big Al walked into the restaurant and didn't so much as bat an eye. A waiter saw Otero walk through the kitchen and yelled after him, the converted ship-restaurant's bow was off limits to customers and the waiter scurried after Otero. He spied Sherry Gonzalez, the restaurant's manager and rasped: "Share, someone's walking out to the front of the ship."
and hurried after Luis Morales, the waiter, and barely caught sight of Big Al,
just before he jumped off the ship, into Biscayne Bay. She scowled when Morales
turned and barked:
"Call nine-one-one Lou-wees, queeck-lee."
"What ayah got, Gee-Man?"
Officer Jose 'G-Man' Guerreo, of the Miami P.D., smiled at his superior and closed a small notebook, slipping it quickly into his back-pocket.
"Nah-theen really Sarge. Jeest another John Doe who got tired of bree-theeng dees fine Mee-yam-me oxygen."
Detective Sergeant Keith Keremsky smiled and walked over to the ambulance. He nodded at a paramedic he knew and barked:
"What a yah think, Pedro?"
Pedro Martinez rubbed his tired eyes and rasped:
"Well, the waiter and manager saw him jump off the ship. Looks like another suicide to me, Keith."
Martinez nodded towards Sherry Gonzalez and Luis Morales and said: "I told 'em you might wanna talk to 'em, you know?"
Keremsky sighed and pulled out a clipboard full of report sheets. He nodded at Martinez and barked:
"Yeah, guess I'll have to, see you around Pedro."
Martinez nodded at Keremsky as he opened the door to the ambulance. His features mimicked Keremsky's, as Keremsky walked towards a brief interview of the only eyewitnesses to the suicide, both men appeared as they truly were, bored. Another day on the job and more paperwork than they cared to encounter.
By Keith Laufenberg
Culver City Gas Station
They stare at my
red pagree I
Cannot understand long-haired boy
Why do I carry a replica of a sword -- a Kirpan?
Chacha Bhagwant murdered at gas station
School children mocked
Grandmother in long Salwar Kameez
Prays to Waheguru
Make our son Kulveer Singh strong give long life
Father left Ma
For white city woman
She unable to communicate in Gora language
threw herself into unholy river
Taking my long hair
in my hands
I bury it in back yard
Homeless shelter refuge for many nights in Chilly City
Days later, home
Despairing sighs and loving touches
No longer a Khalsa -- the pure one
I am tainted
I belong--to the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave!
worn by the Sikhs of India; joora=topknot; kirpan and khanda=swords; tiny ones
are worn around the neck as symbols; Chacha=paternal uncle; Maama=maternal uncle;
maami=maternal aunt; salwar kameez=Punjabi outfit; Waheguru=religious teacher;
Gora=white; dal roti=lentil and bread; Khalsa=the pure ones, created by the
last Sikh Guru, who later became the Sikhs.
By Jaspal Kaur Singh
Ode to Narinder Virk: Lighter of Spark*
She images fields
of mustard green beckon
Red orange ochre green chunnis sway
dancing under banyan trees
Punjabans dance and sing
in mother tongue
His open palm connects
with her eardrums
Her children her heart's nourishments
Terrified cringing watching
her face bruised
fingers bloody from scrounging in garbage
locked in her sanctuary for weeks
she hears chants
Sacred nuptials to
whom parents chose
You'll be free, they'd said
Of karmic destiny
Of being born woman
In Land of Plenty
She cooked cleaned bore children
Communications lost with them
My karma, my fate
Waiting for husband's news
As he travels on road to towns
Neighbors watch as she
A feral being
Forages furtively for nourishment
He sends missive
Sign papers for divorce
He knows her village mentality
will never merge into mainstream America
He dream to take his children to
The one born elite in India
will teach them Gora ways
To blend claim privileges
Clutching children to bosom
as the cold
Channel Island Harbor flows
ripple suddenly tsunamic
Fear in heart and throat
Envisioning Ganga Mata
Come into my bosom
Centuries old tradition
Of women shamed
Of honor lost
Come to me
She floats to Nirvaan
in polluted sacred waters
She hears again
melody of lori
Giddha and bhangra
in white choga
Beckons Putar, ghar aa jaa Putar, ghar aa jaa
Drowning toward home safe cool
Ganga Jammuna pawitar purified.
Saved by Venture
Logged in Los Angeles County jail
Accused of being a baby-killer,
Bachhey Bachh gayei
Mai Kyun na moi?
Allow Punjabi Californian women
Gitanjali, Neelum, Sharmila
To bring succor
dal roti taste of home
Communal legal support
Bring dormant female Punjaban spark fire to fore
Now, Narinder embraces
strangers' children as her own
Her voice for the oppressed, chants
No more violence against woman!
No more violence against immigrants!
No more cultural ignorance as a weapon for oppression!
No more border crossers persecuted by Imperialist government!
No more! No more! No More!
Gitanjali Neelum Sharmila carry her chants to community
in home of adoption
demand command a voice a space in hegemonic locales
Unafraid learning laws to change laws
No more Guantanamo!
No more Abu Gharib!
No more war!
Stop US imperialism!
Stop US hegemony!
Stop opening markets in Tribal Indian lands!
Wrest Change organize
NOW! HERE! HOME!
* Narinder Virk, an abused and battered Punjabi Indian (Sikh) woman, threw herself and her children in the Channel Island Harbor in Los Angeles on Jan 12, 2000 when her husband filed for divorce. Virk was charged and imprisoned for attempted murder of her two young children in Los Angeles County.
Glossary: Chunni=scarfs; gur=jaggery; makki roti=corn bread; saag=mustard greens; Giddha, Bhangra=folk dance; lori=lullaby; kirtan=hymns; gurdwara=Sikh temple; waheguru=praise be to the lord; Ragi=hymn singer; choga=loose garment; Puttar ghar aaja=daughter, come home; pawitar=purified; dal roti=lentil and bread; Bachhe=children; bachh=saved; Mai kyun na moi=why didn't I die.
By Jaspal Kaur Singh
A Small Caribbean Boy and his Recollections about the Cuban Missile Crisis
I was a small Caribbean boy more interested in playing cricket, soccer and hide and seek with my friends and
eating my mother's and aunt's cakes, sweet coconut tarts and drinking black malts
And every night demanding and listening
to my mother tell the wonderful story of "Jack and the Beanstalk" than anything else
Just a little over four years old
I lived on a very small French/Dutch Caribbean island with few cars on it and even fewer paved roads
There was no television and we got all our news from the battery-operated radio mostly from the BBC which even at that age I very often listened to together with my beloved godfather who as a young man in the first decades of the very violent century had spent some time cutting sugar cane in Santo Domingo
Every time he would hear BBC-London, he would start singing: "Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves..." before falling silent and listening to the news with me
He was born in a time when Britannia was indeed still ruling the waves even in the Caribbean
Enfin, we lived on a small French/Dutch Caribbean island relatively isolated from the rest of the world, although many people on the little island had family members living either in the United States, mostly in the New York area, or in France
This was before the great influx of North Americans whose mass arrivals would forever change the character of that wonderful and magical little place for a very young boy to live and to roam
Still, the little island only radically and quickly started to change when I was in my teens
I lived in a family that was quite well off and my parents would always order a great deal of toys for my sister and I every Christmas
Months before both my little sister and I would start looking in catalogues for the toys we wanted, although we absolutely believed in Santa Claus, and his yearly magical journey
Christmas was a huge family time on the little island in those days and we were already eagerly looking forward to it in October
In those days on the little Caribbean island people and neighbors often dropped in and visited one another just to say hello or to celebrate or to mourn together
I can still see my parents and our neighbors sitting on the front steps leading up to their long and partially circular porch which wrapped around nearly half of the front of their house
They were anxiously listening to the radio and I could tell even though I was very small that something very important and crucial was taking place
We were running around in the yard playing when I heard them talk about the Soviet ships on their way to Cuba and that they were getting closer and closer to the American warships
Now, I must say that I had no idea how extremely serious the situation really was but I could tell from the faces and from the body language of my parents and my friends' parents that this was no ordinary occurrence
One of them said that the Soviet ships would be stopped and that this could lead to war
Someone else remarked that there were many American ships in Puerto Rico, which was only some two hundred miles to the west of us, and that could make them a target
All of our parents stopped and looked at us who were playing in the warm afternoon Caribbean sun
I ran over to my dearly beloved mother who proceeded to hug me even more intensely than she had ever done before and my mother and I were and always have been extremely close
My godfather who listened to the BBC morning, noon and night slowly began to shake his head as the leading Soviet ship continued to steam towards the American warships
"These asses goin te kill all ah us if they continya dong this seeme dead end path .
And yo kno the reyal question is whaa the hell we ga te do wit them shit ."
"Tell may ya know . wha the hell we ga te do with them shit right here in this lilplace full a mangoes, knips, tamarinds, guavas, sourssaps them ."
All of the grown-ups looked at one another and nodded their heads and a few even shrugged their shoulders
The father of our friends told us all to go and play and the other kids ran off to play but I refused
"Tha een such a bad ahtall they shoud get all the play they qcaan while they still qcaan ."
The mothers angrily looked at him before looking at all of the other men present in the small group
I looked at my sister and my friends playing with one another trying to wonder how things would be
The only thing I could come up with is the burning fire of hell all over the island
Up to this day, I cannot really say why that image came to me at that point in time because I certainly did not know anything whatsoever about the consequences of a nuclear war
I am not even sure if I had ever heard anyone say anything about nuclear was and weapons at all
They said many other things which I was just too small to understand and to remember
I saw beads of sweat forming on my father's and the other men's faces as the Soviet vessel continued to approach the American war ships with someone saying that they were really starting to get very close
The men started speculating that something had to be going on behind the scenes but they couldn't come top any agreement if this was the case or not
I looked at my mother and the other women who were very still and just looking at their kids playing while listening to the continuing stream of reports on the radio
Our neighbor's house was very close to the main thoroughfare connecting the capital of the French side of the little island with the surrounding villages and
The streets had now become completely empty
I was sitting on my mother's soft lap loudly sucking on my favorite and somewhat worn-down left thumb
Then we heard the news that the leading Soviet ship had stopped dead in the water, but no one really knew what to make of it and none of the grown-ups jumped for joy or anything like that
It was more as if the entire frightening experience had drained all of the life and ultimately the joie de vivre right out of them
By Gregory Gilbert Gumbs
Middle Passage \ Present Voyage
Within a cell's four
seeping from each crack
tortured souls call
"We were here"
Ancestors whose bones
were picked clean
by rats in ships
Babies stolen again & again
carted far away from home
no end to their pain
Each captive full of dread
Thoughts of liberation
resonate in every head
Many took one final breath
steeled racing hearts
and jumped to their deaths
Emancipated bodies fill the sea
bloated shark bellies scream
"thanks Lord for liberty"
This brutal scene
is the Afrikans' reality
and a devil's dream
Our era's slaves are sold
under guise of law & justice
into a penitentiary's hold
New plantations called "yards"
razor ribbon, clubs, and lethal force
etch permanent scars
Torturous tactics reinvent a touch of hell
to all present-day slaves
locked within these cells
New Afrikans enslaved as spoils of war
whole communities slayed
their blood feeds the parks' soil
Labor forced without pay
fuels a fascist empire
into what's seen today
Plantations to penitentiaries
usage of the darkest hued
to sustain a decadent economy
Overseers now called C.O.s
for breaking souls
full of homegrown hatred
for all colored faces
So proud to be
presently employed with
no need of Klan sheets
Guarding a new precious commodity
perennially unwanted Blackfolk
now are traded on Wall Street
Within my cell's four walls
my blood, sweat, and tears fall
while my tortured soul calls .
"I am here" .
By Kamau Imari Olugbala s/n W.L. Burrell
#58517065 U.S. Penitentiary - MAX
P.O. Box 8500 Florence, CO 81226-8500
The mighty oak
with branches hung
can offer shelter
from the sun,
can cast a pattern
in the sky
of twisted limbs
that sag or die.
And gnarled trunk
and roots that spread -
a perfect place
to make one dead,
to hang a man,
the bough won't break,
the neck will snap,
the trunk won't quake.
How many black men
(no one spoke)
felt the rope
that meant to choke,
and heard the crowd
before they croaked
and dangled from
the mighty oak?
By Loraine Campbell
"The more things
The more they stay the same."
The bloods go hunting
And kill a few
Then peddle their wares
To me and you
Now we can eat
And sleep where we please
But for most
These luxuries just tease
As Langston would say
Sometimes it be's thataway
By Rozell Caldwell
In the Trenches
It is the bodies of my people --
black people -
that always fill the trenches.
Only in dying is our
In incarceration it is greater.
It is we in the trenches,
fighting and dying for
the freedom and equality of others,
freedom and equality that,
after five-hundred years,
we ourselves still don't fully enjoy.
By love, of life we fight.
By dint, of pain we struggle.
By God, we will survive!
A thousand fathoms
beneath the Atlantic's surface,
the bones of my people --
my beautiful black people -
in the trenches,
their watery graves.
Free they be
from forced servitude,
unlike their brethren who
made it to America's shores alive,
those whose plight
has been downplayed,
ignored . . . repudiated.
But God knows!
By love of life,
By dint of pain, we struggle.
By God, we will survive!
By L.A. Lewis
Protect and Serve
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina
apparently ten or so
of New Orleans finest-policemen
rather than help save the stranded
the drowning, the starving
and stop the looting
did a little looting of their own
and holed up together
in a New Orleans motel room
to boot, the officers
took a hospital generator
used for life-support equipment
back to their room
to keep their stolen beer cold
which proves what I've suspected
for a long time
that there's nothing worse
than warm beer
By David Ochs
Home Sweet Home
pack of cigs
By Cathy Porter
The world is submissive to money.
Those who know how to manipulate money -- remain well,
as far I walked through this world, I saw
those who know how to manipulate money -- remain happy.
Wise are those who valued money before their heart,
those who praised money throwing away conscience.
In the land of money-might successful became their taking birth,
the more one is addicted, the more he is a competent follower --
their kind and loving God is even pawned to money's spirit.
Nowadays, without money nowhere can there be a friend,
blood relations get loose,
without money an unsheltered wanderer in bitter cold,
face smacked and dead, stays ignored.
Without money, an educated, pious priest, none
get food into their mouth --
without money love is a waste.
Yes, yes, that's why nowadays
love does not understand heart, understands affluence instead.
As if the men in this world aren't humans any more --
throwing their conscience, heart and all
into the whirlpool of the economy, willfully
everybody became a slave since birth.
Today, money holds more humanity
than the hearts of six billion beings on earth.
I am, therefore, tired and alone, a sold soul, a sold esteem,
have come in front of money's portal,
where if I enter into its golden palace I would find
my warm-hearted brothers, friends, relations and love,
where money will give the "slave of money" me a secure shelter,
will convey braveness, supremacy,
it will bring hopes --
over a day, with the blessings of which
I would get a full-heart love
from my cheered sweetheart,
By Sreeman Barua
How to Destroy
For the people of Iraq
How to destroy a
Make them sell their books
Have them stand in
With hundred-year-old texts
Owned by their mothers
A gift from the priest
Make them bargain
Leaves of words
For loaves of bread
Make them abandon
Learning for survival
Speculation for desperation
Poetry for begging
Reduce them to the physical
Make philosophy a luxury
Book buying a crime against one's children
Force them to surrender
a lifetime of learning
Tell them to be grateful for the trade.
By Jennifer Lisa Vest
"She wouldn't hurt anyone,"
says Sabrina Harman's mother
as the secretary of defense of
the United States, mounts
a defense of the United States
in the wake of the scandal
over what the secretary prefers
to refer to as "prisoner abuse."
"My daughter is a scapegoat.
They're passing the buck,
putting it all on the little kids."
"She wouldn't hurt anyone."
Robin Harman can tell you.
So what does that make
the naked Iraqi men,
hooded, piled, captured in
a candid snapshot with
the smiling Sabrina?
They must be nobodies.
Ordinary young people,
who wouldn't hurt anyone
(all the mothers can tell you) until
they are turned into soldiers to battle
"the Krauts," or "the Wops,"
or "the Japs," or "the Gooks," or
One nobody name or another,
it makes no difference.
At first they put
on everyone rounded up
and brought to Abu Ghraib with
the word "terrorist" engraved
upon it. But they found
it wasn't needed. The MPs easily
recognized who the nobodies were.
"Terrorist," "Muslim," "Arab,"
one nobody name or another,
it makes no difference.
In Vietnam ordinary
who wouldn't hurt anyone
(all the mothers could have told you),
carried severed ears
or testicles, stolen from nobodies,
around with them as souvenirs.
Today a new generation
is more up-to-date, takes
nobody photos which become
screen-savers for their laptops.
is a scapegoat.
They're passing the buck, putting it all
on the little kids. That
is what makes me mad,"
says Robin Harman.
"I cannot understand
how such a thing could happen," says
Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld, President George Bush,
the military chain of command,
along with mothers, sisters, brothers,
and friends across the USA.
"It's so unlike our soldiers."
"It's so unlike our children,
our siblings, our schoolmates."
Some of them, in
fact, really do not
understand, but together you and I
may try to appreciate the true how
and who of these photographs. First
picture severed ears and testicles.
Then think about the chain of command,
and what is generally not revealed
of how ordinary young people learn
to identify the nobodies
and become soldiers.
"That is what
makes me mad,"
says the poet.
By Steve Bloom
It's not enough to
laud their bravery,
or commend them for a job well done,
because there's no bringing back our soldiers,
not after they're dead and gone.
But, of course, he wasn't your son,
and she was not a daughter of yours,
so it was easy to just hand them guns
and then ship them off to war,
to fight for unjust causes
and die alone in foreign lands,
then shipped home in flag-draped coffins
to devastated, grief-stricken parents.
Your face stays on all the channels,
attempting to justify this war you've waged.
Then later over someone's child's body,
you mechanically sing posthumous praises.
By L.A. Lewis
Ibtisam Abdel Rahim Bozieh/George Wentz
Ibtisam. young girl of thirteen.
shot, exploded to dust by Israelis,
you have no child
to replace you.
the five-hundredth Palestinian killed
in the uprising --
you have only myself.
a middle-aged, childless Texas poet
who sees the dark
blood on the land
from the sun's slow-pumping Arabic heart.
Ibtisam. young cowgirl
if you were resurrected into American time.
what would you think
of George Wentz's
western metaphor in the Beaumont Enterprise
for the gun-toting
Israeli settlers --
"the boys who wear the white hats"?
By William Meyer, Jr.
Ibtisam, young girl,
shot, exploded to debris,
in early summer.
By William Meyer, Jr.
Code Orange in Small Town U.SA
Woke up this mornin', turned on the Fox Channel
Heard it was code orange
That's a high terrorism alert
Cause our agents say
They heard lotsa chatter
So I decided I best get prepared
I put on my orange sweatshirt
And hustled down to Sam's hardware
Bought me lots of plastic sheets
And ten rolls of duck tape
I asked Old Sam
How come he raised the price of duck tape a dollar
And he says on account of supply n demand
After that I headed to the Safeway for some rations
On the drive over I saw an aeroplane flyin' kinda low
And I started thinkin'
What if it's a terrorist
With one of them dirty bombs
That duck tape ain't gonna do me
A hell of a lot of good
At the safe way I got me two cases of Spaghettio's
To stock up on
They ain't raised the price
So I guess there ain't much demand on them
All that runnin' around made me klnda hungry
So on the way home I stopped at the Burger King
So I'm eaten my Whoopah
And I see this fella
With dark skin and a moustache
Like one of them A-rabs
And he looks kinda nervous
So I thought a tellin' the manager
Or callin' the terrorist hotline
They show on the Fox Channel
But I forgot the number
I shoulda wrote it down
But then 1 heard the fella speakin' Espanol
so I knew be wasn't no A-rab
When l got home I was gonna duck tape
The plastic sheets to the windas
But I was klnda tired
So I laid on the couch
And turned on the ball game
And had me a few beers
Next thing you know I'm passed out
And didn't wake up till 10:30
l looked over at the plastic sheets
And rolls of duck tape settin' there
And said gosh darn
I hope it's code orange again tomorrow
By David Ochs
Encounter with the Christ
Maybe you like Frost
spoke in parables so the wrong people wouldn't understand
and be saved thereby; I am the wrong one. Every time the sword bites
into the flesh of Man, I feel the chill metal -- so much for righteousness,
rising like bitter acid from hate's liver
so the assassin can smile.
If you are God, I wish you had kept it to yourself.
"And now do
No sir, I do not. You are nothing
but a man, although
I salute you and your illusions;
may you find a church even a little worthy of you.
By Alexander Taylor
The Case for Pre-emption
It's the year 2050
almost fifty years after
the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks
and the start of the pre-emption doctrine
which basically states
America has the right
to bomb a country to death
if we perceive them as a threat
there is a perverse type logic to pre-emption
borrowed from the American Dental Association's
stance on tooth decay
that it's far better
to prevent decay
with regular brushing
before the cavity gets
a chance to set in
so we bomb
instead of brush
our intelligence isn't always accurate
so we've bombed
a bunch of countries that weren't threats
but that's the beauty of pre-emption
if we bomb some country
that's not a threat
then their even less of a threat
or have even less of a chance of
becoming a threat
which is like going to the dentist
for those two annual check-ups
even though you have no cavities
another fringe benefit of pre-emption
is after we get done bombing a country
we can pretty much do
whatever we want with it
like the kid in the candy store
we can eat all the chocolate we want
of course, everyone hates us
and wants to acquire
weapons of mass destruction
to use on us
which is precisely why
we have to keep
By David Ochs
God Is on our Side Again
Supreme Court rodent
except for very rich king rats
and righteously religious
holes in their walls.
The plague of civil
for Pied Piper patriot lies.
Privacy (synonymous with hiding) disappeared.
Habeas corpus (better safe than sorry) disappeared.
Free speech (often
Free assembly (terrorist sentiments) disappeared.
Reasonable search and seizure (looks different) disappeared.
All gone with a blowhard fumigator wind.
Land of the trapped,
home of the scurrying insecure.
Real patriots sulk deep into corners unheard
afraid to be a poisoned suspect
1930's Germany once more.
By Jim Huie
The Body of Truth and Honor in the Mind of the Imperialist
calculated immoralities and despicable
atrocities, that insist a deity is its comrade
and unquestionable leader
no conscience to
infuse its legs with strength
no life giving plasma flowing to
cell, nerve and muscle
choking on the
burning blood, flesh and bone
of the indigenous people of North and South
America and the indigenous people
of Africa, the Middle East, and South East Asia
spewing out lies
from the puppet media
and evil from the churches its body consuming
itself, all decency and beauty
being eaten away by greed and barbarism
truth and honor
die without sustaining nourishment
die without any illuminating light
die in impenetrable darkness
By Doug Draime
Ash, Bosses and War Mongers
When you are holding
the razor blade at
your wrist, or cancer
is eating away
at you like a ravenous
for the marrow.
And no amount of
money or lies or
can save you
from the blade
in your hand, or
the beast finally
reducing you to ash.
I pray you remember
the people you
seconds before you die.
And I pray that that thought
is your final
By Doug Draime
the millions dead
and poetry goes dumb
the millions of dead words
in the killing fields
where to go, now
how can a poem raise
its small voice,
the killing never ends,
on the plains
on the middle passage
in the red halls of congress
the people are dying,
raising hands through
the bland darkness
and touching nothing
how can a poem,
how can a
By Doug Bolling
How Much Longer
I loved John Keats.
I taught John Keats for years
So much Beauty so
It took me years to get
I came to admire
dispatching the nightingale
out of the crucial solipsistic
I thought --
that bird is heading straight for the
filthy factories of the filthy factory
owners, the ones who became Exxon,
Halliburton, Bush Inc.
That bird is flying inside over the heads
of the decapitated workers, the school
boys left behind to toil for pennies
and get TB and die
I thought --
that bird isn't telling them about
Beauty and Truth keeping them alive for
another round or two.
It's sweeping into the ears and brains
of them telling its war songs
to break the goddamn machines/computers
and get out into what's left of fresh air
and breathe and march and organize
and make the laws for the people themselves
and send the owners and their stooges
in the white house the Congress
to the nearest war zone
armed in lead shoes.
By Doug Bolling
Poet warrior fights
against war, hunger, homelessness, insanity.
Only the warrior knows the horrors of war.
The poet has the words
to describe the cold, ugly face of battle
young men bleeding, broken bodies driven mad
for some politician's ego.
Poet warrior makes
love with words
to his woman and the world
crippled, legs gone, blinded
he sees more clearly than you
the hell that we create.
Crying mother, help me, my arm is shot away
could be paradise on earth
if we would only love each other.
By Charles Michael McCormick
Tires roll in rhythm
on the tracks
under Muddy Waters' mannish boy
gazing through fingerprints
on the window of the Metro North.
A movement in the trees,
sycamores rushing past,
reminds him of the sycamore
on Lancaster Avenue under the cupola
on the old Quaker Building near
his mother's home in Powelton;
she married a carpenter twelve years ago,
just now left him,
moved back home
to Powelton. Oh, Powelton,
digs of John Africa.
peace-loving naked folks
smoking ganja & making
sunshine, before the guns,
the wails, the Philadelphia
police bombed MOVE
during those days she wrote
at the old Bulletin,
breathing tips to Black Panthers,
listening to incarcerated men
stripped of their manhood,
beginning to love them too,
those confined, relinquished,
these she loved,
railing against injustice, bigotry,
tyranny, oppression in all
of its manifestations,
Passaic's burning up;
she wrote what she saw
& plumbed a legacy
of suffering, human cargo, men
stripped of their ancestry
chained, herded like cattle
in a peculiar institution that destroyed
slave & master, warping (transfiguring)
the soul of America into wretchedness.
Noxious, mephitic exhalations
rise from a factory at the cusp
of a slice of blue far beyond the trees:
The Long Island Sound shimmers.
Presses his fingertips
to the glass,
making his own prints. He will find
his own way, though he wonders
if he will ever stay with one woman,
or if he will do how she did
and never hold still
under the ever-changing
sky of blues
pressing in on the window
gray and sticky
with July heat, and the aisle
of seats position his forward
focus back toward Grand Central
Station where he boarded this train,
halting with a shudder
& sigh at Bridgeport.
Carries his bag
onto the concrete platform
and sets it down.
Two small children,
peeing off into the Long
Island Sound a hundred yards
below, laugh and the wind
makes the water rustle
& chirp for miles
past steel threads & mortar statues
scraping the only sky
in the distance.
Come children! their mother
beckons. She shouts in Spanish
that they should come!
That they should follow.
By Zachary Watterson
Matilda Watches Animal House
Maltilda sits in the detention center
Her eight-year-old eyes staring up
at the lifted television, a delicacy
not available to her in El Salvador.
They're airing Animal House,
the classic food fight.
Her eyes squint, brow furrows,
as her stomach rumbles memories,
never foreign or distant.
By J.L. Torres
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