Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Up In Smoke: Cho & Lo In A Cultural Misadventure

(Two Vatos pull up on Acacia St. get out of their ranfla and look nervously around. They hold a crumpled up, soiled business card in one hand)

Lo: Ese Cho, are you sure dis' is da right place? Looks purdy spooky to me.
Cho: Pos claro que si. I wrote down da' address on the back of my hand but I think it washed off when I shaved dis' morning! (Laughs at his own joke).  But calmate Homie, it's right here on dis' lil' ol' card check it out: "Pathroads Natural Supplements", see?
Lo: You got the subscription, loco?
Cho: Este Vato. You mean the prescription! Simon, it's right here, mira. (They go inside the building). This shure beats the hell outta' having to buy the stuff from that creepy old Vato down on the corner of Main St. que no?
Lo: (hesitant) Hey Vato, I don't don't hink this is da' right place, look at all the weird pictures they have hangin' on da' walls.
Cho: Looks like the vato who painted this one was on a tripiazo, que no?
Lo: Yeah, look at this one with a piece of cheese hanging out of the vatos' head! And this one, hijola with this woman and a baby lookin' out at da' moon. Man, I cud' just feel this Jefita's love for life and her baby.
Cho: (Excited) And this one with the cactus. Orale, my jefita used to grow cactus in our backyard! We used to eat them!
Lo: This is a cool one too with a Mexican flag draped over a barbed wire fence. And a padlock on the gate.
Cho: Reminds me of all the pedo going on with the illegal aliens, verdad?
Lo: Hey homes, check out how all of the artistas are Chicano names: Gonzalez, Mora, Garcia, Rios, Lua. Are Mexicans the only ones smokin' this stuff?
Cho: Hey Lo, check this out they got all this stuff from Mexico on sale in dis' other room! Check out dis' pot from Michoacan. That's where my Jefitos came from. Orale. You'd never know this was a dispensary, verdad?!
 Lo: Yeah, my Tio used to have one of these posters of Cesar Chavez in his living room.
Cho: But there's nobody here.
Lo: Yeah, the place looks empty.
Cho: (In a loud voice): "Hey, anybody home???"
Lo: "Can we get some service here?"
Girl: (A young girl comes from a back room): "Hi, I'm Maria. How do you like our center?"
Lo: Looks purdy' firme to me, esa.
Cho: Yeah, me too. Kinda makes us feel good to see all this stuff by La Raza, sabes?.
Girl: Yeah, we have art exhibits all year round, and community groups use our space for meetings and different dance groups use it to rehearse. We have Mexican Folklore, Aztec, Salsa and even Haitian.
Cho: Haitian?? Orale, iz dat the girls with da' lil' ol' teensy-weency grass skirts??
Lo: You better chill it, ese. Show a little respeto.
Maria: (Ignores Lo) We also have other cultural events going on, music, poetry, speakers and workshops throughout for young and old during the year.
Cho & Lo: (Together) Orale!! Viva La Raza! You'd never guess this is a dispensary!
Girl: Here's a poster of our upcoming events. You guys can also become members.
Cho & Lo: (Together): Members?? Orale!!
Lo: (Getting Nervous): Give her da' prescription, dude!
Cho: Oh yeah, we're here to pick up some Mota, esa. Here's the prescription.
Girl: (Puzzled & Shocked) Prescription?? Oh my God! You guys got us mixed up with the place next door! They are the ones dispensing Medical Marijuana. This is the Mexican Cultural Center!
Lo: I told you, this wasn't da' right place, didn't I, Loco??
Cho: (Embarrased) Dispensa! It wuz nice to meet you anyway, Maria.
Lo: Yeah, lookin' at all dis' stuff was like a natural high, you know? Maybe you guyz oughta' the ones selling Mota, you'd get more people in here?
Maria: Good Idea!! Anyways, it was nice to meet you guyz. Stop by again!
(As Cho & Lo Exit): We'll be back, Esa!!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Achieving Farthood: See You at Your Next Colonoscopy!

"Como te veo, me vi; como me ves te veras" is and old Mexican proverb that addresses the idea that we all must grow old, saying to the impudent young: "Go ahead and laugh at me, because how I see you I once was, but how you see me, you will one day be!"

It seems that lately all my friends and I talk about is pain, prescription meds, cataracts, enlarged prostrates, and yes my friend Colonoscopies! We gossip about CT scans, MRI's, Sleep Apnea, Hemorroids, and side-effects.

In between, we share the medicinal secrets of fish oil, daily vitamins and the curative properties of Marijuana, tortillas, Fish Oil, Ginger, Garlic and Meditation.

Go ahead and laugh but where I presently am, you will one day be too.

Dr. Oz and Opra mouth their daily mantras against snoring, obesity, fat, and lack of exercise, and we pay little attention to warnings signs until it is too late. There is something frightening about lab work, x-rays, mammograms, and gloved doctors shoving greased index fingers in our rectums to see if our prostrate has grown since last time!

But a colonoscopy? Oh Lord. Luckily, they put you out. As you sit in the tense lobby full of a dozen other patients you wonder "Are they all here for the same thing? Even that good looking young lady over there?"

We watch in horror as previous patients leave, searching in desperation for some sign on their face suggesting it will be horrible. "It's a breeze", one lady says to us, and chuckles, as she is led out of the office.

In truth, the worst part of the whole thing is Prep Day, 24 hours before the procedure and being restricted to a diet of liquid foods, jello! But even that pales against what awaits you at 4 and 6 o'clock that day: having to ingest two (2) 10 oz. bottles of that crap "Sodium Nitrate", and the boweled Vesuvius that follows! Not even my trusted Preparation H was any help!

Anyway, it's all over now and I'm home-free for another 5 years. "Can I get a picture of my hemorroids?" One lady in the adjacent cubicle asked. "Sorry", said the nurse, "but I can give you a picture of mine if you want", she quipped. No thanks.

I was given a photocopy of the inside of my colon; I have absolutely no idea why. Would anybody like to see it? So go right ahead and laugh, but I just attended a funeral for a young female friend who died of colon cancer just days before her 48th birthday. It's really not funny at all.

See you at my next colonoscopy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

San Patricio Battalion: A Mexican St. Patrick's Day

Few history books will tell the incredible story of The San Patricio Batallion, one that seems appropriate to recall during this season of St. Patrick's Day in the U.S. As a kid, the only thing I knew about the day was that if I didn't wear something green to school I would get pinched!

Before 1835, a big chunk of Southwestern U.S. was Mexican Territory, including California and Texas. As the U.S. began its westward expansion, Texas became prime realty for the Americanos who at first sought to live in peace with the Mexicans (Catholics) there. But when American ambition grew, a war broke out between Mexico and the U.S., the so-called Mexican War, or Mexican-American War. President James Polk declared war against Mexico in 1846.

To fill its ranks, the U.S. solicited enlistees from the mass of new immigrants, many of them Irish, seeking to escape The Great Hunger of 1845. These were promised land and wages for fighting on the American side, but the strong anti-Catholic sentiments of their new found country became quickly evident. The "Potato Heads", were a prime target for this discrimination.

The war was not a popular one in the U.S. The Mexican army was no match against one better trained with superior weapons. Moreover, the greed behind Manifest Destiny and westward expansion prompted many soldiers to defect and dessertion rates were high. The Irish soldiers embraced the notion that this was a war attacking ordinary farmers for their land.

But when these soldiers witnessed atrocities, rape, plunder and desecration of Catholic churches in Texas, some (including German Catholics) deserted, joining the Mexican forces to fight against their own country. Mexico, of course, took advantage of the situation encouraging the would-be defectors not to fight against their own religion and stop the U.S. from destroying Catholicism. For foreigners to fight in Mexican Wars was not uncommon and dated back to Mexico's War of Independence in 1810.

Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana decreed that two infantry companies of about 100 men each, be formed, calling them "El Batallon de San Patricio (St. Patrick's Batallion)", each with its own captains, leiutenants, and sergeants. They were even permitted to fly their own banner, depicting St. Patrick, a Mexican coat of arms, reading "Libertad Por La Republica" on one side, and the Irish motto "Erin go Braugh" on the other.

The San Patricios fought and distinguished themselves in two important battles, the Battle of Buena Vista (near Saltillo) on February 23-24 of 1847, and in the final battles against the U.S. Marines at the convent of Churubusco on the outskirts of Mexico City on August 19-20, that same year.

Following Mexico's devastating defeat at Churubusco, the U.S. captured and tried some of the remaining San Patricios, found them guilty of desertion, and hung more than 50 soldiers. A few were pardoned, while others were flogged, beaten and branded with the letter "D" (deserter). After the final battle at Chapultepec Castle, the condemned soldiers were hung facing an American flag, raised in triumph over the castle.

The Mexican population rioted in protest over the inhumane treatment of the San Patricio's, threatening 
 to kill American prisoners in retalliation.

When the war ended, the U.S. sought to extradite the remaining San Patricios to the U.S. but Mexico prevailed, spelling out in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848), which formally ended the conflict, that they would remain in Mexico. Incidentally, Mexico lost about 40% of its territory as a result of the war.

Mexicans showed their gratitude to the San Patricios by erecting a monument in Mexico City honoring the "Martires Irlandeses" (Irish Martyrs), and by establishing September 12, the day of their executions, as a national day of remembrance with a plaque at Churubusco. The street in front of the convent is also called Martires Irlandeses.

They are also remembered on St. Patrick's Day, March 17 each year. Maybe the color green on Mexico's flag is not incidental?

Needless to say, the story was not a popular one in the U.S. media or history books and not until 1915, did the U.S. War Department even acknowledge existence of the San Patricio Batallion and the U.S.' treatment of them, after that devastating war.

Surviving members continued to function as a military unit in Mexico after the war, and some later returned to Ireland.

Lest we forget: Que Vivan Los San Patricio's!!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Going On To Pink Slip Heaven: Save Our Schools

Went on a "Save Our Schools" protest march last night which ended up with a rally at my old Alma Mater, San Joaquin Delta Community College in Stockton. But I, being a senior citizen (70), had seriously underestimated the 2-plus mile distance of the march and was forced to rest a few moments on the bridge over the Calaveras River (aptly meaning "skeleton" in Spanish), alongside University of the Pacific, the oldest university in California. The muddy runoff below roughly raced to the west.

The orderly line had begun to split up, people struggled to keep up. Some dropped out or gave up. I was doing it for something. Myself? To maintain an image of old self? For others? Education? Still a mile to go!

Speaking of skeletons, the marchers had secured an old coffin and fixed an effigy of a  cadaver inside, signifying the "Death of Education", carrying it at the front by pall bearers, followed by the revelers. The hundreds who attended were mostly educators, administrators, board of trustee members, union members, teachers and students, from all over the county, Ripon, Manteca, Tracy, Lodi. Moms with children in strollers.

A lone helicopter circled overhead, its blades chopping loudly into the wind, signs and banners everywhere and cars honking in support. It was wild, reminiscent of the old days, the anti-war and Huelga (Farmworker) marches of the late 60's-70's. The media, here and there interviewed people and shot photos.

Roberto Radrigan, the consumate journalist, hoofed it all the way, darting back and forth from the front to the back of the line, shooting photos, once counting passersby with his fingers, and then passing out copies of his local paper, Bilingual Weekly.

As the marchers pulled away, and I joined in, my eyes welled with tears. I tried to understand why. Why was I crying? Me, a grown man? I tried to not let anyone see. My oldest son kept texting me with updates of what was going on in San Francisco, Los Medanos College, UC BerkeleyOakland where protestors had closed down a freeway, UC Davis, of students being arrested. This was big.

Ours was a law abiding, peaceful march and we made sure to stop at all the red lights, crossing only on green. However, when we arrived at Delta College, I was completely overcome with tears. I felt so grateful that destiny had led me to become a teacher here for 33 years.

I thought of the hundreds of students I taught and how hard I had tried to instill in them the pearl, the gem of free thought.  Just as it had been instilled in me by the incredible teachers who crossed my path in high school, in college. For a moment, I was overcome by gratitude.

For a young Mexican to come out of a poor Mexican barrio in South Modesto, and go to college in the 1950's was nearly unheard of. My two Masters Degrees, one in art, one in English, stand guard on the wall, even as I write this, one to the left, one to the right. My prize possessions. Education changed my life.

Then, the tears dried when the speakers began, and it dawned on me that this, this gift, this pearl was on the brink of extinction in light of proposed cutbacks to California schools of 17 billion! Consequently, Stockton Unified School District has sent out 290 "pink slips". Other local districts follow. Class cuts. Fee hikes. Increased class sizes. Layoffs. The news, not new, was grim.

Afterwards, my wife and I went to Manny's on Pacific Avenue and ate an Avocado Burger on Genova French Bread with a side of chile beans. I felt guilty.  

People need to speak out on this! I think I will: Manny's makes great burgers!