Luis J. Rodriguez has 15 books in poetry, the novel, short stories, nonfiction, and children’s books. He’s best known for the bestselling memoir, “Always Running, La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.” and the sequel, “It Calls You Back: An Odyssey Through Love, Addiction, Revolutions, and Healing.” Luis has also written movie scripts, one-man plays, and has worked as a script consultant for two TV shows. In addition, he’s taught all over the country, including prisons, juvenile lockups, public & private schools, colleges, universities, migrant camps, homeless shelters, libraries, and more. He’s been an award-winning newspaper reporter, radio news writer, and freelance journalist, including covering stories in the U.S., Mexico, and Central America. For his writing, Luis has received e Carl Sandburg Book Award, a PEN Oakland Literary Award, a Paterson Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers Fellowship, a Sundance Institute Arts Writing Fellowship, an Hispanic Heritage Literary Prize, a Lannan Poetry Prize, and fellowships from California, Illinois, North Carolina, and Los Angeles, among others. From 2014-2016, he was the official Poet Laureate of Los Angeles.
Union inherited, Union imagined
I once strolled along a San Fernando Valley street,
enjoying the way sunlight cuts shadows
from buildings and trees on cement.
Just then a pickup truck drove by and an occupant yelled
“Go back to where you came from?”
What? I am where I came from.
My mother’s tribal roots are
in the Chihuahua desert that stretches
across northern Mexico and US Southwest.
Our ties to this land go back tens of thousands of years.
When she had me in El Paso, Texas from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico,
we went from our land to our land.
Now my brown skin makes me stranger, foreigner,
“illegal”? When did this get turned on its head,
where the brown-skinned don’t have a place
in America anymore?
Five minutes from my house is the largest juvenile
lockup in the country. I go there from time to time
to speak or read poems to incarcerated youth.
At one poetry event, a 14-year-old teen read
a rather sweet poem dedicated to his mother and grandmother,
both smiling from their seats. A staff member later
told me—this young man faced 135 years in prison.
Not long after the mortgage crisis, homeless encampments
popped up across the Valley—under freeway underpasses,
beneath concrete tunnels, deep into alleys. These people became
part of our community, even though businesses, police,
and homeowners often colluded to push them away.
This is the so-called union we inherited,
one that harkens back to when Natives
were slaughtered and pushed off for land;
when Africans slaved in the fields,
that also fed industries,
that also filled world markets.
Or when migrants from Europe or Asia
crowded tenements and “hollers”
to labor in mills, factories, mines.
It goes back to when US invaded Mexico,
to obtain more land, oil, and minerals,
based on an inane idea called
Laying the ground for Empire.
I imagine a union where whoever steps on these
soils are welcome, like the way Mother Earth
accepts anyone, including the broken or lost.
I imagine a union where poverty is outlawed
instead of the poor. Where resources align to needs,
schools to everyone’s genius, best healthcare to the sick—
not just to those with money.
I imagine a union where if you made mistakes,
the consequences include healing, treatment,
teachings, and a community that recognizes
no one should be judged by their worst moments.
I imagine a union where spiritual morals and scientific
facts are the same, where laws by humans attune to laws
of nature, and where everyone is recognized for their
particular capacities and gifts.
Now we are at odds as a people, everything divided,
estranged from nature and our own natures
as well as the regenerative powers to return,
give back, provide abundance.
To make sure everyone and everything is healthy,
intact, connected. No want. No hunger. No jails.
That every institution, be it churches, political parties,
marriage, production relations, jobs, and schools,
are up for examination, renewal, re-imagination,
and changed accordingly to the new minds,
hearts, and technologies of every generation.
I don’t think there’s a “perfect” union,
but I imagine one that is whole, encompassing,
solid yet fluid, where we unite
around the essential things
have freedom on the nonessential things,
and compassion in all things.
Is that imagination enough for you?