Monday, August 25, 2014

Poems Can't Revise - Thinking of Mike Brown and Ferguson, MO

As has been the case for most of you, I've been struggling with the death of Mike Brown. I can only imagine what his family and closest friends are going through. I've uploaded a video of a poem I just wrote trying to grapple with the feelings of loss and powerlessness. Below is the text if you prefer to ingest your poetry in written form. 


Poems Can’t Revise
Thinking About Mike Brown and Ferguson, Missouri

I can’t write this poem for you Mike.

Cause I’ve realized

And no,
I won't say this poem
is for others,
I can't write such an ignorant poem.
I can’t write a poem that can prevent
future, unarmed black men
from being killed
and I definitely
can’t write
a poem
can go
back in time

This poem is really about
a forty year old man
walking around
like a zombie
for days,
over a keyboard
trying to write
a poem

Is this a poem about survivor’s guilt?

I guess it is.

But that’s what happens
when you
write a poem
to a person
who you

It’s just that,

I wanna write you a poem.

A poem
that lifts
you off
the blacktop
and turns reality
into an awful dream,
cause that’s the poem you

The problem is Mike,

I just can't
write a poem
that can
do that.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Response to Rick Ross

Hey y'all,

I recorded this video at the request of Hip Hop activist and dear friend, Rosa Clemente. It's my response to the rape lyric used by Rick Ross in a recent song. He "apologized" again today.  His apology today wasn't much better than his last one.  He only gave this apology because one of the companies that he promotes, Reebok, was getting a lot of flack for his effed up comments. A big thanks to Rosa Clemente for calling this out. Her commentary on the issue is the main reason that Mr. Ross is being called out!  Even Lupe Fiasco and Talib Kweli got into a heated dialogue on the subject.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Reclaim the Thunder

(To support the Kickstarter Campaign of Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde entitled: Reclaim the Thunder click here.  Read more about the campaign below) 

On October 18th, 2011, the New York Times published an article entitled: "At the Protests, the Message Lacks a Melody". The article discusses the apparent lack of an anthem for the Occupy Movement.  I'm not a big fan of the article.  When the author James C. Mckinley Jr. opines: "Where have all the protest songs gone?" I want vomit in my mouth.  I mean really they pay this guy?  Luckily he asked Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary, what he thought about the issue.  Yarrow's response sums up my thoughts: “The bottom line is music has been destroyed by the all-mighty dollar.” The music industry has never been a nurturing cocoon of love to protest music however, in the late Sixties and Seventies you were more likely to hear radical songs being distributed by major record labels.  Today the corporate music industry blatantly ignores radical musicians and leaves them to earn a living in underground venues, basements, and friendly cafe's.  Kind of like the way protest music of the sixties and seventies started.
     As most of you know.  I'm in a band, we've traveled the country singing protest songs at colleges, community centers, activist spaces, and demonstrations.  The thing is, we aren't the only ones.  (The we I'm referring to is Broadcast Live, the radical Hip Hop band that I'm a member of.) We've toured the country with numerous radical acts including Cihuatle Ce, Ryan Harvey, Evan Greer, Son of Nun, Spiritchild, Climbing Poetree and many more.  All of these acts have made their mark on the protest movement and in fact have helped to shape it.
     I can't think of a greater example of protest music than the six piece ensemble: Taina Asili y la Banda Rebelde (LBR). Listening to them is like hearing a mashup of Nina Simone, Fela, Janis Joplin, Erykah Badu, and Hector Lavoe.  The unbridled passion of LBR echoes just as powerfully as the giant anthems of the sixties.  The only reason that Mr. Mckinley Jr., doesn't know about them is because the corporate music industry doesn't support protest music finding it safer to promote generic boilerplate musical acts. While the music of LBR may not be included on the Itunes Playlists in the ivory towers of the New York Times, it is no less relevant than the music of Dylan, Marley, or Sweet Honey and the Rock. I would argue that the protest music of today is even more necessary. Radical music like the songs of LBR, are nurtured and supported by the committed members of activist communities and therefore continue to be "for the people".
     Let all of this serve as an impassioned plea to you, members of our progressive future, to support Taina Asili y la Banda Rebelde in their effort to raise $15,000 to offer free concerts to schools and community centers across the United States and Europe.  This radical music is not promoted by a major record label, not shown on MTV, or played in your latest Nike Commercial.  The heart and soul of the anthems of LBR are rooted in a deep and profound love of the people that fight to make change in this society.  Such beautiful art requires our love and encouragement.  Below you will find a link to their Kickstarter Campaign. Now more than ever we need our community to support our artists, we can't expect the New York Times to do it for us.
     We only have a handful of days left so help if you can!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Airport Security

Welcome everybody to our 9/11 edition of Ghetto Hippie.  Today I've posted an article that I wrote for a Swedish Magazine called MANA. (That's right, people in Sweden ask me to write for their magazines.)  The article they asked me to write is about discrimination against Latino's in the post 9/11 U.S. from a personal perspective. If you want to check out the magazine go here.  Hope you can read Swedish, if not, Google will gladly translate.  You won't find my article on the website, it's only available in hard copy.  So if you want a hard copy of my article in Swedish, order the magazine.  If you are content reading it on the web in English, you can read right here on Ghetto Hippie.  As a bonus, you get the full article I wrote, it was cut substantially by the editors of the magazine. So without further adieu:

I develop a pit in my stomach along with a corresponding bead of sweat every time I go through airport security in the United States.  By all accounts I am a law abiding citizen.  In spite of having nothing to hide, I feel angry and fearful as I walk through the roped aisles on my way through security. 
There is something quite disturbing about being told by armed individuals to take anything off even something as simple as sneakers.  Insisting that my flip flops are a potential weapon is absurd and insulting.  We are told that it is a necessary security measure in lieu of the famous “shoe bomb” attempt in 2001.  Instead, I always wondered if the idea came from some sadistic person charged with defining airport security protocols saying: “Let’s just make everyone take off their shoes because we can”.  I’ve taken many flights since 9/11 and with one exception; I’ve had no problems traversing the brief journey through security.
The exception came in 2007, when I was returning from a brief vacation in Mexico.  As a U.S. born Puerto Rican, travelling to Mexico feels somewhat familiar.  I’ve made many journeys to Puerto Rico and it’s clear that former Spanish Colonies share a certain kinship.  Beautiful Spanish architecture is a commonality shared by Latino Nations.  A token of genocide and colonization bequeathed to us from the Conquistadores. 
                Unlike Puerto Rico, Mexico has preserved much of its pre-colonial architecture like the pyramids of Teotihuacán.  At first I felt sheepish as I and hundreds of tourists transcended the steps of the ancient structures.  Tourism is typically a voyeuristic endeavor but Teotihuacán was built for the purpose of hosting hundreds of people.  The scene felt appropriate, seemingly honoring the intents of its design. Here I stood with citizens from around the world and yet there were no metal detectors or body scans. 
                I returned to the United States the day after I visited Teotihuacán.  As I meandered through the security at the Mexico City International Airport I was on such a high that I didn’t have a pit in my stomach.  I placed my carry-on bag on the conveyor belt and started to slip off my shoes when I noticed I was the only one removing shoes.  I didn’t understand what was happening until it dawned on me that people can keep their shoes on in Mexico.  I realized how foolish the exercise really is.  We’ve been asked to remove our shoes to protect us from a theoretical shoe bomb in spite of the fact that anyone could bring such a device in from Mexico or any other country for that matter.  As I sat on the plane I became convinced that the exercise was really just about power and control.
                Arab people have paid the largest price for America’s post 9/11 security culture.  Discrimination against Arabs has practically been encouraged.  We are made uncomfortable, told that we are in danger, and asked to assist in reporting “suspicious activity” or people.  The dominant culture has defined Arab people as the embodiment of “suspicious” much like Japanese people during World War II.
In addition to the acute discrimination against Arab people, Latinos have been victims of racism in the post 9/11 era.  Since 9/11 there has been intensified border security focused almost exclusively on keeping Mexican people out of this country.  Armed vigilantes were roaming the border of Mexico in states like Arizona and Texas around the time I was returning home from my travels.
I imagined what it would be like passing through customs as a Mexican American.  I supposed many law abiding citizens would walk through with a pit in their stomachs.  Wondering if this is the time they might come under scrutiny, presumed to be an invader coming to steal a slice of the American Dream.  These thoughts were lingering somewhere in my mind as I grabbed my bag from the conveyor belt at baggage claim. 
As I headed to the first checkpoint, a federal officer approached me and asked if I could come with him.  He was a Latino male, most likely having Mexican heritage.  He said that he would like to search my bags and that this was a routine check.  I turned around and watched everyone else walk in a different direction.  The officer could see the frustration on my face.  He asked me why I looked so nervous, convinced that I was hiding something.  He pushes me up against a divider and tells me not to move.  I tell him to get his hands off me.  He and his partner begin feverishly going through my things ripping through gift bags and reading my journals.  Meanwhile I’m racking my brain wondering if I penned something that could be misconstrued as a legitimate reason to detain me. 
I made clear to them that I thought the search was unwarranted.  His partner, a white woman several years older than me looks up from my journal and says to me: “You’re deep”.  She had realized this search was in vain.  It was probably the Spiderman puppets I bought for my kids that gave it away.  Her partner looks at me; my bag completely empty with all of my stuff strewn across a table and says: “this bag feels heavy; I’m going to X-Ray it.”  When the X-Ray search yielded nothing, he told me that I was free to go and left me to pickup my belongings and put them back in the bag.
I will never know if I was stopped that day because of mere chance or if racism played a role, and that’s the problem.  The power brokers in our country have demanded that we give up some of our liberties in exchange for security.  I do not see this culture of fear and scrutiny as a path to freedom.  It should be seen as the obstacle that it really is.  I don’t believe we can heal from the history of racism, in an environment of fear.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wisconsin Recall

I'm calling the election.  I'm saying that the Democrats will retake the senate in Wisconsin.  You heard it here first!

And for the record, I'm not a fan of the recall effort or the Democratic Party.  I am however a fan of collective bargaining.  And just so you know, just because the Dems won tonight doesn't mean that they will be able to restore the collective bargaining rights that were stripped by Governor Walker.  That's like 30 million dollars (or more) to maybe possibly restore rights that were won decades ago.  You'd like to think that 30 mil could by more than that.  Just sayin.

Update: Looks like I was wrong!/sistertoldjah/status/101149291518767104

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Marriage Equality in New York

Many of my neighbors and homies are celebrating tonight because New York State finally passed  Marriage Equality.  I'm pretty happy too.  Some queer people aren't psyched about marriage equality because it could be seen as a distraction from the continuing discrimination faced by trans people and all queer people.  I definitely hear that.  I think there are a lot of thoughts to be shared on this issue but there is one thing I want to make clear:

I give no credit to our political system for the passage of marriage equality in NYS!

All of the credit goes to the tireless activists that have fought in the streets and demanded justice for decades.  Just like the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, the powers that be, eventually had no choice but to capitulate.

Just look at Barack Obama, a man who as an aspiring state senator nearly twenty years ago supported gay marriage.  As a presidential hopeful, he completely changed his position.  I believe that he changed his position because he assumed that supporting marriage equality was an unelectable position.  Most politicians don't take important stands because something is the right thing to do.  They finally take stands when the groundswell of public opinion has given them no alternative. 

Sure, Republicans could have balked again at marriage equality but the writing was on the wall.  New York residents weren't going to stand for it.  See Frank Padavan a man who was a state senator for 38 years and was voted out of office over this very issue.  Andrew Cuomo knew this, that's why he jumped on it from the beginning.  Now he can go ahead and grab the praise as a crusader for a just cause.  He will do this while he advocates policies that will literally choke the concept of public education into an apparition, leaving poor working people with no hope of climbing out of debt while attempting to gain knowledge and some basic upward mobility.  At the same time, he will save the many millionaires and billionaires in our state the burden of paying taxes that they've already been paying for several years. 

I say the credit goes to Andrew Cuomo over my mom's dead body.  My mom was a feminist professor and gay rights activist.  She fought for a handful of marginalized working class queer students on her community college campus when it wasn't fashionable to carry the banner of "Equality".  No this victory has nothing to do with Andrew Cuomo, it has to do with Danny Garvin, a man who was at the Stonewall Inn in June 1969, the night of the famed riot.  He traveled back to the Stonewall Inn this evening to watch the vote on TV.  This victory is his. 

I refuse to give credit to some Republican Senator for finally realizing that people have the right to be treated as human beings.  Not when we remember the names of people like Brandon Teena and Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado and the many stolen lives that died because of institutionalized discrimination and hatred. 

The powers that be are responsible for the years of discrimination that LGBTQ people have faced. 

And the people are responsible for demanding the justice that is symbolized by this vote!