Friday, March 27, 2009

The Cesar Chavez Conference

by Pa Rock
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Today I joined more than five hundred other mental health providers at the 5th Annual Cesar Chavez Conference at the West Campus of Arizona State University. The focus of the event was on issues impacting the Latino community, as well as an examination of cultural issues - presented with the intent of making mental health services more accessible to that important segment of the population.

The highlight of the conference, at least for me, was a very compelling presentation by Luis Rodriguez, an author and civic activist who works with troubled youth in the Los Angeles area. Mr. Rodriguez came of age as a gang member in East Los Angeles and has been hardened and tempered by the fires of real street life. I knew that I was going to enjoy this speaker when, early in his talk, he referred to the sheriff of Maricopa County, AZ, by name, and called him a national clown. This was a guy who wasn't going to mince words - and he didn't!

Mr. Rodriguez talked about the shame of directing our youth straight into prisons instead of focusing on prevention and rehabilitation. He noted that most young people of color who run afoul of the law are sent to prison, while white youth in similar circumstances are often shunted off into treatment.

(There was a story on the internets a few weeks ago that discussed this phenomenon. Of the forty or so states that provided information, Wisconsin was the most racist in its drug sentencing with racial minorities being 42.4 times more likely to go to prison over drug offenses than whites. Surprisingly, at least to me, Missouri was the best of the lot with minorities only being 2.7 times as likely to serve prison sentences over drug charges as whites.)

Luis Rogrigues was very inspirational (in a Dave Pelzer sort of way) and highly passionate. His dedication to making the world a better and safer place for young people is sincere and absolute. He is also a very expressive writer, as is obvious with the following poem on immigration:

Running to America
by Luis Rodriguez

They are night shadows violating borders,
fingers curled through chain-link fences,
hiding from infra-red eyes, dodging 30-30 bullets.
They leave familiar smells, warmth and sounds
as ancient as the trampled stones.

Running to America.

There is a woman in her finest border-crossing wear:
A purple blouse from an older sister,
a pair of worn shoes from a church bazaar,
a tattered coat from a former lover.

There is a child dressed in black,
fear sparkling from dark Indian eyes,
clinging to a headless Barbie doll.

And the men, some hardened, quiet,
others young and loud - you see something
like this in prisons. Soon they will cross
on their bellies, kissing the black earth,

then run to America.

Strange Voices whisper behind garbage cans,
beneath freeway passes, next to broken bottles.
The spatter of words, textured and multi-colored,
invoke demons.

They must run to America.

Their skin, color of earth, is a brand
for all the great ranchers, for the killing floors
on Soto Street and as slaughter
for the garment row. Still they come:
A hungry people have no country.

Their tears are the grease of the bobbing machines
that rip into cloth
that make clothes
that keep you warm.

They have endured the sun's stranglehold,
el cortito, foundry heats and dark caves
of mines swallowing men.

Still they come, wandering bravely
through the thickness of this strange land's
maddening ambivalence.

Their cries are singed with the fires of hope.
Their babies are born with a lion
in their hearts.

Who can confine them?
Who can tell them
which lines never to cross?

For the green rivers, for their looted gold,
escaping the blood of a land
that threatens to drown them,
they have come,

running to America.

A hungry people have no country - and a Christian nation should have no border fences - and a truly Christian nation should love their neighbors.


Brenda from Mac County said...

That is a beautiful poem! I loved it so! Thanks for posting it.

Pa Rock's Ramble said...

The poem, Running to America, is from a collection by Luis Rodriguez entitled My Nature is Hunger. It is available through