Hello, my name is Luis, and I am proud veteran of Mexican American Studies--hey, Arizona: worked for me.
This is a beautiful book and worth every penny you pay for it. But first:
I have been so busy traveling, writing, dawdling on social media, and trying to be Saint Vato of the Huddled Masses, that I have as usual allowed this blog to lie fallow. Oh, yeah--I also tried to hang out with the power-players. I am probably going to Hell for breaking bread with Pazuzu and his insectile demon minions. I can still smell the reek of curdled ideals.
Yes, I did a gig onstage with Sting last year. Make no mistake: Sting is AWESOME. It amused me and pissed off my wife that Sting gave everyone some new cause to appreciate my work. Well, not my work. My nearness to the campfire light! Fame! See, if Der Stingle stands beside you, you must be SPECIAL. You want to know something funny? The man himself gave no indication that he thinks anything of the sort. I may be a sap, but it felt deep and true.
Sting wanted to appear for the Southside kids of Chicago. Musicians understand the urge to change the world. I have pictures of Los Lobos reading Santino Rivera's books. Real artists feel the blood pulsing in the veins of everyone, not just rich bastards. Now, if we could just get Slayer to pose.....
Here's the prob, if there is a prob--and there is a big drippy prob--you start to think it's about that. Career. Jets. Dinero. It's not about that. It isn't. Do you know what it's about? It's about the Mexican maids who find out I'm from Tijuana and come to my room with a coffee pot that I didn't order and ask me about my books. It's about a diehard cholo warrior in Las Cruces who stands up and thanks me for remembering that cholos are Samurais. It's about the imprisoned prostitute with a shaved head who, when the guards aren't looking, holds my hand and tells me she will pray for me every night if I will pray for her. It's about my assembled 600 brown kids laughing and crying. It's about my nephews coming to their first literary event.
Here's a small cautionary tale: I was at a "high-powered" humanitarian event. A big-time best-selling author was there preaching fire about empathy and human rights. Yes! He's on TV all the time! A hero! In a very expensive hotel in a very fancy city in a big-money gathering. He also had a Mexican nanny caring for his kids. She stood far behind, and when needed, she was called forth with snapped fingers, When the baby was done being worshipped, she was sent away without a single glance. Invisible. Just a beaner in the shadows. She could have been my cousin or aunt or grand-mother.
I woke up from a dream: I remembered I always was and always will be about her, not the superstar. Not even about me trying to be a superstar. Shit. Really? There goes my mansion and fleet of Escalades.
Once upon a time I allowed liars to lure my mojo into penthouse plots because I wanted to help our heart-broken kids who have been shoved into the same shadowlands I come from. And I liked the penthouses for about a half hour. Then I kicked out the back window and hit the road.
Oh, if I had only been driving this:
I spent the better part of the last year on the road meeting those people I love. By February, Cinderella and I had gone 14,000 miles. I got to speak to 22,000+ people. That's twice the size of my father's hometown. (Tres Camarones! Ajua!) 5,000 in San Antonio, 4 in Oconomowoc. But they were the right 4 people.
Thanks to the NEA Big Read and that shaggy-dog little novel of mine that refuses to die. You know, the novel about the "meek" the Bible likes so much. Being read by so many new friends. Meek and unmeek. I am on my knee: gratitude like you wouldn't believe.
And the penthouses? I come from a world where I would have scrubbed the party-goers' stains out of the toilets and begged God to allow me to keep my job so my mom would not go hungry.
But we wonderful ethnics are valuable for raising funds because rich folks require us to be downtrodden so they can save us. Did anybody tell the li'l homies they're worth several hundred thousand dollars if they'll just allow themselves to be photographed with faux do-gooders so other guilty plutocrats will send money for the next penthouse party? Didn't anybody tell Art Meza and Santino Rivera to look sad and let fancy ladies with "orgs" pet them live on their websites?
Warning: not a single downtrodden little weeping ragamuffin in LOWRITING.
2014 is the year to bring mojo back. I'm in control: I have relinquished control. I am all haiku and Ignatian zen and God comes down the block with a bag of gifts. I'm shining.
So! Think of this blog (again) as my little e-magazine. It used to be called "La Vista" in the old days. Had a drawing of our bedroom window in the Auberge des Seguins in Provence. Uy, el vato se cree muy especial. France, cabrones!
What I loved about the Auberge was that a) I was there, b) I got to take my wife, c) I was teaching writing workshops the way they ought to be taught (including Tai-Chi, ancient Roman bridges in the woods, killer food and vino, yoga, naked Germans at the pool, Choco-Taco ice cream, the country market in Apt), d) the strange and ancient top floor bedroom with its seven white walls and rough blue furniture and blue door and its exposed low beams above our bed where I could hang like a monkey and its thick rose vines on the outer walls burdened with cabbage-sized roses and its small lizards on the wall and its butterflies and colibris and great wooden shutters that became Teresita's bedroom in the novel I was perpetually writing, e) and, of course, I was FROM TIJUANA, I had come out of CHICANO STUDIES, dawg, and I was living in the South of France for a month. Come on!
All this was long before TUSD in Baja Arizona realized that Beaner scum like Santino and Art me would never amount to anything studying that crap. (Or, apparently, any other crap, since the kids had Sherman Alexie taken away, as well as Shakespeare, that notorious low-riding zoot-suiter.) RIP, Mexican American Studies. And, if they have their way, Black Studies for good measure. Also, I can take a good joke, so I laugh oh so hard--where the politicians want to have immigration agents check your papers if you take a crap in a public bathroom. Yes. It's awesome. Fight Undocumented Poo, America! Oh, and gay people can't buy a latte or a book or an aspirin. Yeah.
But I digress. It's my blog. Ah dew whut ah wawnt!
LOWRITING has mucho mojo.
"I have said many times in public and in print that I enjoy publishing books that I would like to read."
--Santino J. Rivera
LOWRITING: Shots, Rides & Stories from the Chicano Soul
Photography by Art Meza, Edited by Santino J. Rivera
Broken Sword Publications
When the legendary Tucson book banning ("boxing," they insist) happened, my new Twitter pal, Santino Rivera started to put together an anthology. He has since become my real pal, and we have even gone on national TV together. I give him high praise when I say Rivera thinks this is 1971. Yes, he does. He thinks it still matters to be a "Chicano." Foolish lad. He thinks people still care about the cultura, the love of familia, the respect for our ancestors and our art and our political survival. And he doesn't like liars or bullies. Jeez. What a chump!
Oh, and in old holy Raza style, he decided not to jump through the hoops of the publishing world. Pro-active, not reactive. He went ahead and started his own damned publishing company: Broken Sword Publications. After unleashing his own books of his own poems, he published the TUSD-skewering BAN THIS! anthology. I was proud to be among the miscreants included.
Don't be afraid. No scary cholos will come knock on your door if you buy this book. No lowriders will show up on your lawn making their cars bounce in maniacal vehicular-break-dances. And, nope--it isn't Lowrider magazine, with its sexy models draped over threatening cars. This book is Art. (Art Meza!)
I am in it. I will be in any Rivera anthology. Proudly. I think the cheap bastard should do a good old-school underground book of mine, to be honest. Nudge-nudge. But it's not just me in there--lots of big names grace this project: my tocayo Luis J. Rodriguez, Gustavo DA MAN Arellano, Danny de la Paz, Lalo freakin Alcaraz. And exquisite newcomers like Viva Flores, our future queen and reigning Tonantzin of El Chuco, Tejas. It is a very, very good anthology of recent "Latino" (new flavor of Doritos, that--it's CHICANA/O) literature. We're still here. Anybody? We're still vibrant and wild. Hello? I think all these Latin American Studies courses that have not yet been dismantled would enjoy what these writers say. And these photos...seriously.
Mine is a small poem. Trivia tip: the car in it makes a cameo appearance in my new WWII novel. Now you have a golden nugget. My kids call them Easter Eggs. I love those. My characters wander from book to book, but nobody's caught it yet.
The real star of LOWRITING, no matter what we writers might believe (ha) is the gorgeous photography of Art Meza. This man is a true artist. And a gentleman. (Oh? You don't think lowriders have any gentlemen or ladies around them? Oh, really.) The vato is a library circulation desk hero in Califas! Keeping the flow robust. Steering those fine hearts and minds to great works. So look--he's a gent, an artist, and a hero who is taking our fine American citizens further into literature. Literature = hope. Hope and pride. But he looks big and scary, so I hope he'll be head of Urrea Security from now on.
Art makes the bodies of these cars look like ice bergs and cathedrals and great sculptures. Which they are. To the uninitiated, they may seem threatening, but to the men and women who invest everything to create them, they are acts of reverence. Hope = prayer.
This is one of the most beautiful books to ever come out of Chicano publishing.
I have some experience with this mezcla of genres. I did a book with Jose Galvez called VATOS. Photographs and poetry. You might know it--high schools and colleges and jails and book clubs and after school programs and libraries have given that book a long and robust life. If any teacher or conversation leader or librarian or professor or mentor or student or scholar or vato or ruca or plutocrat or gearhead or Latino movie star or poet or big-money humanitarian org-rulers with a hankering for bad-ass Detroit iron sees this message, GET THIS BOOK. This is the sister of VATOS. But more gorgeous.
Ain't about cars. It's about heart. It's so good. I'm so proud of it and Art and Santino. But now, I want a chopped and channeled '65 Impala. Blue metalflake. A placa in the back window that says URREALISM.
Book club members have been some of my most enthusiastic and careful readers. I’m thrilled to share my work with you, answer your questions and tell you some of the stories behind the stories. This is our spot, just for us. Here, we can chat: If I’m nearby, I’ll come and visit your club. Otherwise, we can Skype, talk over the phone or email. Sometimes, I’ll send surprises or hold contests.
Reading and talk at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Details here.
Proud to be part of the prestigious series in a reading with Laila Lalami and Shobha Rao. Tickets and details here.
Celebrating the NEA Big Read and Into the Beautiful North in Holyoke, MA. Sponsored by the Mary Lyon Foundation, Holyoke has done some great events all year. Now we get to meet each other! Details here.
Details to come