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30 Years Ago in Denver

By Rigoberto González

chicano movement
I’m off to AWP today. On Thursday I sit on a panel in which I have about 10 minutes to say all I want to say about race. That’s not enough time, of course, but I’ll bullet-point my usual statements, among them how despite our incredible numbers, Chicanos/Latinos are left out of the national conversation about race, which is a dialogue between black and white. I’m talking politics and policy, law and literature.

It will grate on me to say those things in Denver of all places, because thirty year ago Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales hosted the First National Chicano Liberation Youth Conference, a meeting of the furious and fierce that gave momentum to the Chicano Movement with the introduction of the manifesto, El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán.

It was a time of anger and empowerment all over the Southwest, but that conference in Denver gave language and agency to a community that was growing tired of its third-rate citizenship.

Of course, important strides have been made: we have an academic discipline (Chicano Studies), we have our cultural production–everything from Chicano art to Chicano literature–and we have generations of literary heroes like Lalo Delgado, whom we will be toasting posthumously at our annual Con Tinta Pachanga. But I certainly wish that our white cousins would keep up with us. Although I’m not surprised that publications like American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry edited by David St. John and Cole Swensen blatantly erase Latino writings from their projects, I’m still disappointed.

As usual, I’ll be taking my swipes during the panel presentation at the Poetry Society of White America, which polices itself only by including African American writers (and even then, apparently, after African American poets send Facebook and Blog reminders–most poets of color, it appears, were not once “very young”!). But again, why bother voicing what everyone knows already, that writers of color have come to expect nothing less than the silent treatment from the literary country clubs. Perhaps where I should expend my energies is in asking other communities to join in solidarity to the Revolution of 2010.

You see, Mexicans love a revolution every one hundred years (1810, 1910). And since two-thirds of the Latino population in the U.S. is of Mexican descent… And since Latinos will be the largest ethnic population in the United States by 2050… It seems to me that we’re a force to be reckoned with. And yet, people don’t reckon. Tsk tsk tsk.

Well, all I can do in the meantime is follow the example set by my beloved antepasados and not keep my mouth shut. Never could. Never will.

In deference, I’ll give the last word to Lalo Delgado (1930-2005):

stupid america

stupid america, see that
chicano
with a big knife
on his steady hand
he doesn’t want to knife you
he wants to sit on a bench
and carve christ figures
but you won’t let him.
stupid america, hear that
chicano
shouting curses on the street
he is a poet
without paper and pencil
and since he cannot write
he will explode.
stupid america, remember
that chicano
flunking math and english
he is the picasso
of your western states
but he will die
with one thousand
masterpieces
hanging only from his mind.

(from Chicano: 25 Pieces of a Chicano Mind, 1969)


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, April 6th, 2010 by Rigoberto González.