Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Abre Mis Ojos: a poem

I step out onto brisk silent streets
in my "safe" neighborhood,
with a copy of Luis Rodriguez's
Always Running/La Vida Loca: Gang Days in LA,
tucked under my arm.

I'd borrowed it from 
a 16-year-old student,
my roommate's nephew,
also named Luis,
who lives in what could 
be called a "barrio"
of Orange County,
not five miles from where 
I grew up,

and I am struck by the fact
that it is possible to grow up
a bike ride away
from people whose struggle
is oceans deeper than mine.

In my mostly white, middle-class
elementary school,
I remember one Latino student
(we didn't call them Latinos)
who wore second-hand clothes
and went to ESL classes,
which I honestly thought
were for less intelligent students.
Ernesto spoke "broken" English
and could very well have been undocumented
(we didn't call them undocumented),
I had no clue what that meant.

And then in high school,
there was talk of Prop 187,
which, from what my elders told me,
was a good thing, 
"Get rid of those illegals,
those Mexicans."
But I remember feeling,
even then, though I couldn't
say why, feeling wrong about it.

In high school,
I learned about Martin Luther King Jr
and the Civil Rights movement,
but I didn't learn about Cesar Chavez
or Mendez vs. Westminster
or Doss vs. Bernal,
which happened 
a bike ride away.

Up until college,
I honestly thought Cesar Chavez
was a boxer.

It wasn't until after college,
after even graduate school,
that I began trying 
to fill in the gaps in my education.

Reading Always Running,
I feel a heaviness in my chest,
the heaviness that comes 
at that moment when you learn
that the person right beside you,
in school, in the grocery store,
has struggled and suffered 
in ways you were blind to 
all your life.  Toda mi vida.

But, as someone said,
"Reading is an exercise in empathy."
And, as the Good Book says,
"Lord, open my eyes."
"Abre mis ojos, oh Cristo."

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