Posted in Musings and Reflections

La Lluvia Viene Como La Raza

Years ago, so long ago it seems like it was a dream, or that the man in the street was someone other than myself, I marched with my Latino sisters and brothers through a Columbia Heights very different than the neighborhood of today. It was right after the Mt. Pleasant Riots, the anger at an unarmed Hispanic man being shot by police on Columbia Road still present in the chants of the marchers.

“¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”

“The people united will never be defeated!”

We marched behind a red banner with the same words in white spray paint on the front. (Later, I took the banner home, tore it into strips, and made an art piece with it).

It began to rain. We laughed, shouted louder, and kept marching.

I began to say these words.

“La lluvia viene como la Raza.”

And then;

“La Raza viene como la lluvia.”

“The rain is coming like the people.”

“The people are coming like the rain.”

I no longer recognize the place I called home those many years long ago. Condos and chain stores crowd the sky, looming over what used to be burned out storefronts and the charred pavement where the police cars were set ablaze. A different kind of people walk the sidewalk where I staggered, my eyes burning with tear gas.

Change came, but I doubt it was the kind we were marching for. I can’t help but wonder how many of the people in the crowd behind that red banner on that rainy day were priced right out of their own barrio.

Yet, I doubt any us regretted our march through the streets, or the subsequent protests, or the candlelight vigils, or the community meetings at the Unitarian Church, or the light in the dark eyes of the youth who finally felt empowered to do something, whether we agreed with their methods or not.

You see, the people keep coming like the rain.

And we will keep coming, marching behind banners, be they red, white, or blue, raising our voices, until the noise of our passing rattles the powers that be like hard rain on a metal roof.

Yes, we, the people, will keep coming like the rain, until, as the prophet Amos said, “justice roll(s) down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Posted in Longreads and Essays

Street Secrets Redux

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Today, at this moment, I sit on the bench in the park where I walked 20 years ago. Back then I captured the place with a piece I wrote called Street Secrets.

This neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant has changed. But this park beneath the church towers has stayed the same, right down to the graffiti-scrawled benches and gum-stained paver stones. I wonder if the homeless men still gather here at night for a meal.

The pedestrians seem younger and of a paler hue. La Raza is represented but not like it used to be.

Do these newcomers know the history of this place that they now call home?

Here is where I told the man to let her go.

Here is where I stood between two gangs at the drop in center.

Here is where I taught them to play chess.

Here is where I mourned Walter.

Here is where the cop cars were torched.

Here is where the tear gas fell as I kept the youth at bay.

Here is where I walked 20 years ago past the bench where I sit today.

Posted in The Ugly American: An 80s Travel Journal

The Ugly American

To say that my travels to Central America as a college student in 1988 changed my life would be the proverbial understatement.

It was a conversion experience, a journey with echoes still reverberating in my soul and heart to this day. I had two main goals when I went: One, to drink the experience dry, and second, to strive NOT to be an Ugly American. I accomplished the first goal. I am still working on the second.

It has been a remarkable experience to travel back in time as I have read my notes from the many conversations and moments I shared with a people whose pain and suffering did not diminish their hope and strength. I am forever grateful for their hospitality and generosity in word and deed.

I do hope to publish the journals in their entirety someday. For now I will share the many poems and small essays that lie interspersed amidst my copious impressions of these beautiful lands and people.

Beginning today (see Ledge), I invite you to travel with me for a moment down the dusty streets of a Central America of 25 years ago.

Perhaps as I was, you will be forever changed.