This week the AWP 2011 Writing Conference will be held in Washington DC. Many different writers, publishers, schools, and journals from all over the country of all genres will gather together from February 2-5 to hold panels on a myriad of subjects and readings celebrating the work of our modern storytellers.
One event I wish I could buy a last minute ticket to DC for is a gathering of poets "for healing, tolerance, reflection and peace on the steps of the US Congress." On Saturday February 5th from 12pm-2pm there will be a press conference, rally, and public "floricanto" (a collective poetry reading) in response to the recent Arizona tragedy, passage of Arizona SB 1070 & HB 2281 (and other copycat state legislation), the death of the Dream Act in the senate, and the latest rounds of deportations.
For more information on the rally and other immigration and "Floricanto" events during AWP this week, go here.
It is essential for writers to speak about what is happening right now with immigration legislation. As quoted on the Poets Responding to SB 1070 fb page (where the Floricanto began), "Peace goes into the making of a poem as flour goes into the making of bread." -Pablo Neruda. It is our job to tell the stories of those that go unheard. It is our calling to be truthful and specific about our worlds and those not known by the mass public. But it is not easy.
NPR did a story this week, "New and Established Writers Redefine Chicano Lit", with interviews with Sandra Cisneros, author of House on Mango Street and Caramelo, and David Rice. I think Cisneros spoke well of the need, especially now, to create spaces for our writers and our stories: "when I wrote [House], I wrote it from someplace, a very optimistic young women in her early 20s, hoping things would get better in the United States for people of Mexican descent. But, I could never dream what would happen post-9/11 and with the community being under siege as it is right now with Mexican people really being vilified at this time of American history."She also spoke about the loss of Chicano literature in schools due to HB 2281 copycat legistlation in Texas: "I think it's a time where we're not having those opportunities to tell our story...I'm just one person that can go out to the schools, and the demand and requests from the schools is enormous. There aren't enough of us published to go out. And the ones that are published are not getting distributed. So it's a difficult task. I feel it every day...especially since, recently, our Texas Board, removed a lot of us from social studies. A lot of us are getting removed from textbooks...So we need those other writers, but it's a difficult time."
Speaking of published writers telling the immigrant story, I've been reading The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse. It's a great read that tells multiple tales of Latinos living and working on the streets of L.A. from the time before Chavez Ravine was home to the Dodgers, up until modern day with an undocumented worker zigzagging through the booths of the annual Echo Park Lotus Festival in search of a place to dump a murder weapon.
Here is a quote from the book that had me thinking about SB 1070 and the like: "Anyone who works on the street knows there's a rule in L.A. the cops have: Special Order 40, or what the trabajadores call "santo cuarenta." The cops can't stop you if they think you're an illegal, only if they think you're an illegal about to commit a crime. This is to encourage illegals to come forward if they have information about a crime. They also can't hold you for more than twenty-four hours if the one thing they've got on you is that you're an alien. It's tougher in L.A. for illegals now, meaning cops have to ask you where you're from no matter what. But as long as you lie and tell them your from here, they won't check your background or report you to immigration. As long as you lie."
With the way the legislation is currently going it will only target the wrong people, and make it harder to convict the real criminals, so we have to look for positive alternatives like The Dream Act.
Unfortunately (unfortunately doesn't really communicate the amount of pain and disappointment, the breaking of hopes, felt by the Dreamers), the Dream Act was voted down in the senate recently, after it passed in Congress. It was a major blow to our educated youth who have been working hard to make a life here in the U.S.
Fortunately, President Obama did not forget about the Dreamers, and in last week's State of the Union Address, called for the senate and congress to look again at The Dream Act saying, "They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation." I think many were unhappy he did not say more, but the fact he is addressing it, can only be positive. This article from Reuters, "Obama to push for Dream Act again in 2011" has more on Obama's plan to push for the passing of the Dream Act.