by Roberto Rodriguez

When Patrisia and I lived in Mexico City-Tenochtitlan in the early ’90s, we attended a seminar on Chicano culture there. When the participants got wind that we were U.S. citizens, we were virtually mobbed as they wanted to know all about Chicanos — about the “cholos.” Apparently, their misconceptions about Chicanos had been formed — as had most U.S. residents’ — by watching gang movies. Continue reading ‘THE EVOLVING XICANO CULTURE’



by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez

We have a brother-in-law whom we disagree with on just about everything, though we get along just fine. We enjoy his cowboy poetry, his storytelling, his tips on gardening, and we love him as the true brother he’s always been to us. Continue reading ‘LOVING AND DEFENDING FREEDOM’



by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez

At the end of 2001, we cast our gaze beyond the tragedy of Sept. 11 to recall the highlight of our year: a trip made to Ocotepec in Morelos, Mexico, to learn the language of our ancestors.
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A little hand-painted sign points the way toward Nahuatl University, a place of learning among the luscious green hills of this Nahuatl-speaking pueblo, of Ocotepec in the land of Zapata. When we arrive, four pyramids greet us as we begin to realize one of our life’s dreams: to learn Nahuatl, the lingua franca of pre-Columbian America.
Continue reading ‘DREAMNG IN NAHUATL: MEMORIES OF 2001’



by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez

“My prayer is for true worldwide peace within every heart.” — Turtle Woman (a reader) We recently went to the San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio to fulfill a “manda” (promise). During the sermon, the priest proffered that to build a more human society, we can’t go around dominating and exploiting other people. He also challenged the congregation to ask what each of us can do to create a better world. Continue reading ‘PEACE WITHIN EACH HEART’



by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez

One of an occasional series of Honoring columns

Carmen the poet calls, and we lament that many of our friends are in a hand-to-hand poetry slam with cancer. The latest poets are raulsalinas, Cecilio Garcia Camarillo, aka Xilo, and Lorenzo “Toppy” Florez. Los poetas, she says, are the first to sense something is wrong. Continue reading ‘CELEBRATING LIFE: THE POETS IN OUR MIDST’



by Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez

We’ve always heard that when governments turn on their own citizens, the first thing they do is come after the poets, writers and artists. When they successfully eliminate or rein them in, there’s no need to go after the guns. Continue reading ‘THE DETAINEES’



by Roberto Rodriguez

Growing up in Los Angeles, I never paid too much attention to birds, except perhaps to the occasional one that fell victim to a BB gun. Years removed from that concrete city, I now know why they don’t belong in cages. I also now know why high-flying eagles and condors are revered and why their feathers are sacred.

I once lost my voice for some 29 years, and I fear losing it again. Metaphorical cages are sprouting up everywhere in the form of new laws and executive directives, intent on silencing voices, not on stopping terrorism. Yet the cages I fear most are not the government-inspired ones, but the ones we ourselves are constructing from fear and hysteria — ones that equate dissent with disloyalty.

Overnight, we’ve gone from a nation to a “homeland,” from national security to homeland security, and from a nation of laws to governance by polls and military justice. To stomp out “evil,” we’re being asked to sacrifice our right to know, question, debate and express ourselves freely. In effect, we’re being asked to don political burkas.

And our body politic? It’s acquiescing to the president’s seeming effort to consolidate all state power, this while he wages an undeclared and undefined war. The extraordinary decrees have essentially gone unchallenged because they’re purportedly temporary and target only “aliens.”

Yet they actually make it easier to spy on anyone, to ethnically profile and round up people by the thousands, to detain people indefinitely and in secret (purportedly to protect their rights) without charges and then try them in kangaroo courts. Such moves conjure up images of banana republics. It also reads like subterfuge. We seem to have forgotten that our system of checks and balances was designed to prevent the rise of emperors, dictators and other kinds of strongmen.

It can’t happen here. Yet something is happening here. The legislative and judicial branches of government — including the free press — have capitulated and are abandoning their constitutional responsibilities. The president has yet to tell us what kind of post-terrorism world he envisions. As he seeks to widen the war — simply because he can — Congress should ask: We are waging this war to build what in its place?

While President Bush hasn’t commented on this, Laura Bush has somewhat. She recently spoke of a post-Taliban Afghanistan where women will be treated as equals. The only thing is, the president, the opposition and the other Middle East-U.S. coalition partners (Kuwait & Saudi Arabaia) have not been informed of this. (Meanwhile, the most powerful military in the world continues its punitive expedition. It has routed the reactionary and badly undermatched Taliban, yet Osama, the leading Sept. 11 suspect, remains free.)

A world without terrorism can still leave tyranny, exploitation and oppression intact. That’s why the president should speak to what kind of post-terrorism world he envisions. It would be interesting to see if it includes democracy, human rights and equality for all men and women of the region, or simply more U.S.-friendly governments? Prior to Sept. 11, the United States walked away from the world conference in South Africa to combat racial oppression and other forms of oppressions. Then the president proceeded to form a coalition, not to combat those oppressions but to prosecute our current war. Something seems incongruent here, or at least disconnected.

Despite the president’s high approval numbers, something tells me most U.S. citizens would opt not to have our freedoms dependent upon other people’s oppression. Perhaps the time has come for each of us to ask what kind of nation and world we all want to live in?

No doubt, most of us want to live in a just society free of fear, where we can pursue happiness and enjoy our rights and freedoms peacefully. (I suspect most people worldwide also want this.) In pursuit of this, no doubt we can put up with waiting in huge lines, taking Cipro for domestic anthrax, or wearing bright yellow, Level AHazMat suits for trips to the mall. But the one thing most will not tolerate is donning political burkas.

It can’t happen here, but I keep wondering how people in other societies have lost their freedoms and how governments are able to persecute one sector at a time? The truth is, it begins with people willingly giving up their rights and voices — then distancing themselves from the isolated groups.

I now know why the iridescent green quetzal — the ultimate symbol of freedom — cannot live in captivity … though I still haven’t learned why the caged bird sings.

(c) Column of the Americas 2001

January 2020
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