Saturday, December 27, 2014

His plastic cup between his legs
he plays music in the dark
plucking an imagined keyboard.
Notes line up in his mind
each awaiting its turn,
and his fingers release
them from bondage
into the Michoacan air
and the ears of
passersby who now and then
toss a coin in his cup.
On the wooden chair
he perches like
potted plant on a stand.
Stone walls behind him
stone streets under
his feet. Every stone
unturned. Laid there
by ancient hands. To
be walked on, 
to be leaned against.

R. Rios

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Keeling

(Adapted from an old Mexican Folktale)

Marcelino had been a crafty one since he was a child; he knew how to make a quick peso by smooth-talking people into buying things they didn’t even need. Once, he sold a broken watch to his neighbor, Prudencio, convincing him that even if it didn’t work, “You can still impress your friends with how expensive it looks.”

One day, at the Mercado, he met a man selling huaraches, or sandals. “Young man”, said the merchant, “I usually sell these shoes for 3 pesos a pair, but if you buy 2 dozen pairs today, I will give you a 15% discount. Surely, you can resell them for 5 pesos each and make a hefty killing for yourself?”

Marcelino was dubious, all too familiar with these unscrupulous salesmen. He would think it over. Yet, the man’s proposition gnawed at him all day. He tried  making calculations by using his fingers: “Let’s see, if I buy 24 pair at three pesos each, that’s a total of seventy-two, and then if I deduct 15% off that, then….” But each time he ran out of fingers to count with! Whatever, he concluded, “that’s one chinga worth of pesos!

But who would he sell them to? In the city, people already had shoes. Suddenly, an idea hit him! Nearby, in the hills, were many villages full of barefoot Indians! If he could convince each of them to buying one pair of huaraches, he would make a killing!

He raced to the Mercado hoping to catch the shoe salesman before he closed up for the day, or worse, changed his mind on the deal. He was relieved to find the man still in his stall. “Amigo,” he stammered. “Is your offer for the shoes still open?” “Sure, marchantito, it’s still open and I will even throw in a free pair just for you!” Marcelo, as everybody called him, excitedly loaded the shoes into his mochila, or back pack, paid the man and headed home. He would go to bed early, get a good night’s rest, and head for the village of Puropedo, early the next day.

At dawn, Marcelino took a few tortillas, smeared them with beans and chile sauce and began the arduous trek to the village. He envisioned pesos floating all around him, and he stuffing them into his pockets, at will. When he arrived at Puropedo, he asked for the Cacique, or village chief. Marcelino explained to him that he was a shoe salesman from the city, and would he gather the inhabitants at the plaza, so he could tell them of his marvelous product. The chief graciously acquiesced, and instructed a young boy to ring the church bell.

When the citizens were gathered, Marcelino began his well-rehearsed pitch: “SeƱores,” he began, “today, I have brought a product each of you must own,” and proudly dangling a pair of sandals before them, said “These, my friends, are not only comfortable to wear and long lasting” (he ran his fingers through the deep tire treads on their soles), “but, most importantly, they will protect your feet from snakes, scorpions, and disease! Yes, “Mis Amigos, I said disease! Why did you know that most diseases enter the human body through the feet? A collective “Ooooo -” was heard in the crowd.

“Now, I need one volunteer, to demonstrate how they are worn.” An awkward silence followed. Finally, a young man came forward, and Marcelino deftly slipped the shoes on his feet. “Today, and today only, all of you can own a pair of these fine shoes, for a special price of five pesos! Think of it! FIVE measly pesos for protection from disease and sickness!!”

Slowly, all the villagers lined up to buy a pair. “I will make a keeling today!” But no sooner had the third man purchased a pair of shoes, when a man in the crowd spoke up: “Wait! WaitI”, he cried. “Listen to me!” As the crowd parted, Marcelo could plainly see the man had no legs below the knees. “Look at me! Look at my legs! I have no feet and I have NEVER been sick one day in my entire life! This man is a fraud! Do not listen to him! Don’t waste your pesos on these useless ‘shoes’ of his!”

Marcelino was dumbfounded. Those who already bought the shoes approached him, one with his hand on the handle of his machete! Their quaint looks of humility had now turned menacing. “But… but… Mis Amigos… surely we can’t believe the testimony of one man…?” The crowd edged toward him. In a flash, Marcelino reached into his pocket, and refunded the men their money. “Well, my friends,” he stammered as he hastily stuffed the shoes into his mochila and slowly backed away. “Perhaps you will be more disposed to buy my product at another time?” He turned and rapidly descended the hill, never once looking back.

“There will be no keeling today, except maybe my own,” he grumbled, as he lugged the 24 pairs of huaraches back to his home. “Let’s see, maybe I can sell them to....” 

(Copyrighted and published in Joaquin Magazine

Answering Their Country’s Call

In the book, Among the Valiant, Mexican-Americans in World War II and Korea, by Raul Morin, he chronicles the extraordinary and little-known heroics of Mexican Americans in combat.  One such story tells of Company E, 144th Regiment of the 36th (Texas) Division, the “all Chicano Infantry Unit.”

According to Morin, the soldiers were all Spanish-speaking, and included Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, and “so-called Latin-Americans.” Most were former members of other units, including the Texas National Guard. Thus, while other companies filled their ranks with “raw recruits”, Company E was “up to full strength with seasoned and well-conditioned GI’s.”

The unit says Morin, shipped out of Staten Island in 1943, bound for Europe. “Everyone agreed that Easy Company ‘era la mas alegre.’”  They kept each other company onboard with songs, corridos, boleros and rancheras, skits, and comedy acts using language from the barrios they had come from, aboard two ships, the “Argentina”, and the “Brazil.”

Among the first Americans to land in Italy, they led the assault on Salerno on September 9, 1943.  “They waded right into the thick of things, [and] within one hour the ‘boys’ in E Company became men, battling back and forth with the Nazi defenders,” and it wasn’t long before one of them distinguished himself with bravery, “a tall, bronze-faced Chicano Sergeant named Manuel S. Gonzalez, better known to his friends as ‘El Feo’ (the ugly one).” 

His unit had been pinned down by mortars and a Nazi machine-gun nest, and as he crawled toward the German lines, a grenade exploded beside him, wounding him in the back and in one hand. “But he did not stop until he reached the German position.” Says Morin, “when Gonzalez came crawling back to his outfit, the mortars and the machine gun had been silenced. He earned himself a Distinguished Service Cross, in the process and the respect of his men.

Morin goes on the document many engrossing tales of the bravery and bravado of Mexican American soldiers who distinguished themselves in combat, seventeen of whom were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor, and many more were awarded lesser awards.  

Monday, August 4, 2014


For all of you who claim you care about the current border crisis and illegal immigration, this new series is a MUST SEE. Click on link below to read my blog about how to access the channel through your local providers. Regardless of what side of the fence, (no pun intended), you are on this show will OPEN your eyes. Once you open the link to my blog click on Al-Jazeera link at bottom of that page for listings on times/channels.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Suffer The Little Children"

In any discussion or debate over the  complex issues of illegal immigration there is little talk about one segment of victims that may well be hardest hit by its consequences: children. While it is obvious that adults suffer the perils of treacherous geography, criminal assaults, unscrupulous Coyotes, and even death, there is a surge in unaccompanied children from Mexico and Central and South America who have been apprehended at the border for attempting to cross illegally in the US.

It is easy for Americans to picture our children playing safely in the streets, throwing water balloons at one another, riding bikes, or in their warm, air-conditioned homes watching TV entranced by their cell phones and electronic games. But few of us can imagine them taking their few possessions, stuffing them in a knapsack, and heading out on a treacherous thousand mile trek across deserts and mountains, to another country with only a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of water in hand, can we?

Yet according to figures, from 2008-2011 and average of 6-7500 children were apprehended attempting to cross the Mexico-US borders by the INS. In 2012, over 13,000 - in 2013 over 24,000 - and estimates are that over 90,000 unattended children will be detained in 2014!  Thus, it is welcome news that the Senate has just awarded the Obama administration $2B to help address the issue. But how far this money will go and exactly how it will be spent remains to be seen. This, issue while serious in its own right, does not address the untold trauma caused by children in the US, whose parents have been deported, and are left to the mercy of family and friends to care for them.

Recently, because detention centers at the border are already overflowing with illegal immigrants, excess detainees, many of them children, are being bussed to Texas and California only to meet angry mobs of Americans denying them entrance into their states or cities. It appears that the vast majority of these kids hail from Central and South America who are fleeing to the US due to poverty and to avoid the lure and violence of gangs in their countries. Many have relatives in the US and some of these may be fortunate enough to be reunited with them. Obama has called it a "humanitarian crisis."

But many Americans just don't want to hear the reasons why immigrants from the South are clamoring to enter the US. For them, the easy solution is "round em' up and ship em' back", a primitive method dating to the beginnings of the 20th century, one which has obviously not worked. "Illegals" have been rounded up, bussed, flown and herded into box cars in mass deportations. A large majority of these just turned around, and re-entered the US.

These Americans fear for themselves: "They bring crime." "They bring disease." "I got mine, by God. That's all that counts." But how can we comfortably eat from our full plate with so many hungry eyes watching us? Even the eyes of our own poor and homeless haunt us. If it weren't for the red stoplights that force us to make eye-to-eye contact with the derelict at the corner asking for money, we would never even acknowledge they exist.

To help get a perspective on this issue, let me take the liberty of recommending a few must-see films: "Sin Nombre" (Without Name), the powerful HBO documentary "Which Way Home?", and the documentary "Dying to Get in", for starters.

Monday, April 7, 2014

On the Mexican Tradition of Playing Music for the Dead

For years, my compadres, and other musicians and I have played dozens of masses, rosaries and funerals for deceased relatives, friends, and total strangers. This beautifully made video brought back those memories and made me wonder why Mexicans take their music all the way to the grave?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Honors Long Past Due to Men of Color

 I was moved to read and hear in the news that 24 men of color had belatedly been awarded Medals of Honor, men served in several of this country's wars, who had probably been passed over because of their color or ethnicity, by President Obama. Of the 24 men, 17 of them were Hispanic or Latino.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Update on My Book: "Songs From the Barrio: A Coming of Age in Modesto, Ca." Y Mas

Amigos, it's been a while since I've posted. Been busy writing for "Joaquin" magazine published out of Stockton and doing what I can to peddle my book. In the past year, I've visited many schools, grade levels from 2nd grade to College, and enjoy sharing my story and book especially with students. It's quite amazing how the stories and poems connect with so many people, even with those from other cultural groups, not Chicano or Latino.It seems we have so many shared experiences.

Take a moment to read reviews of my book on and perhaps venture to buy a copy. It is also available in a Kindle edition. I would love to read comments on it, and feel free to post a review yourself on Amazon.

Also, you can go to my Facebook page "Songs From the Barrio", and read about my experiences at the many schools I've visited in 2013/14 and "Like" the page.

Tambien, I have a couple of videos on YouTube of selected readings from my book: 

Visit another Blog I am writing for Stockton's newspaper "The Record" at