Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Chicano tribe, mijo

On the way home from school my son Ehecatl told me that another kid had asked him why he had long hair.  Ehecatl said, "I was telling him that we are Indian, but then he asked what tribe I was from and I didn't know what to tell him.  What tribe are we from papi?"  I told my son, we are Chicano (part of the Chicano tribe).  I am not sure if my son understands how his Chicano identity fits in with the identity he has formed through his experiences at the Native American ceremonies we often participate in; wearing his hair long, like his father, and like the majority of the other boys and men that he identifies with at the ceremonies.  Wearing his hair long even after having to tell people countless times, "I'm a boy!"

My father raised me as a Chicano, and part of my Chicano identity is looking to my indigenous roots in the Americas as my main source of identity.  Going to sweat lodge, danza azteca, and other Native American ceremonies and events has been the way that my family has expressed our Chicanismo and the way that our children are forming their Chicano identities.  It is a different Chicanismo than my father's generation - one infused with American Indian culture and ceremony - one of unifying our identities and traditions.

Hector Villegas, an artist born and raised in Barrio Logan, designed and painted Mexikota at Chicano Park.  Hector explains that, "Mexikota is a symbol that honors both Native Mexika and Lakota tradition, ceremony, pride, and way of life.  Many Native/Chicano and Mexicano follow these ways of ceremony: Danza, Circulos, Language, Drum, Song, Sweat Lodge, Sundance, Vision Quest, Naming and Water ceremonies."  (The central image is that of in lak'ech [tu eres mi otro yo; you are my other me] a Mesoamerican symbol of duality, unity of opposites, and of movement.  The heart outlined in lak'ech is surrounded by quetzal feathers, which are revered in the Mexica culture.  The Mexica heart is set inside of the colors of the American Indian medicine wheel, the four sacred colors and directions).  The Mexikota image expresses my combination of indigenous identities, Chicano identity traditionally being rooted in Mexican and Mesoamerican culture, that being the heart at the center, now firmly set within the medicine wheel of North American indigenous ceremony and culture.

My father did not foresee how strongly native ceremonies would influence my identity, but one of the guiding principles of Chicanismo is self-determination.  My father raised me Chicano, which meant that I had a choice - that I could decide for myself what my identity is.  We all have the right, every single person, to determine our own identity.  No one else has the right to put their title on me, or you, or anyone else.  But far too often this is what is done - you over there, you aren't Chicano, you are an American of Mexican decent.  (That's what my seventh grade teacher wrote on my history project about Chicano Park - true story).

The federal government, during the Nixon administration, decided that everyone from Latin America, including Mexicans, and Chicanos, and Peruanos, and Cubanos, and Guatemaltecos, todos, that we were all Hispanic.  We did not decide this.  Chicanismo is a response - a conscious decision to define ourselves, to determine and name our own identity; to identify our roots.  

For my family being Chicana means that we embrace our native roots, strengthening our connection to our native ceremonies and communities for our future generations to come - not so that they will be limited to calling themselves Chicana, but so that they will have the ability to determine their own identity rather than have it named for them.

So mijo, you are part of the Chicano tribe, not a traditional federally recognized tribe, but a tribe with a wide range of identities and people.  Chicanismo is more than who you are, it is your state of mind, it is your right to identify yourself however you please.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


I have three sons.  When people ask about my kids, eventually they ask how old they are.  Their ages are 5, 7, and 19.  "Nineteen?!?" people interject incredulously.  "You have a 19 year-old?" "You don't look old enough to have a 19 year-old."  (I should probably take it as a compliment, one that I may not continue to receive as I go gray and my hair thins).

So then I feel compelled to explain: when I met my wife she had a 7 year old son.  She explained very clearly that she was a package deal, her and her son came together, and I had to accept both of them, or neither of them - no exceptions.  I accepted.

Before I proposed to my wife, about a year after we met, I asked Adrian, her first born child, for his permission to propose to his mother.  He said okay.  He was actually excited about it, he gave me a hug and his approval.  Until right now while writing this, I did not realize how huge his approval was.  Only a year after meeting me, after having gone through many changes, being away from his biological father for long periods of time, and now this guy, this goofy looking guy was going to marry his mother, and he accepted, approved of it even!?  Adrian is a special little guy.

In a car ride a few years later, while his mother was pregnant with his first younger brother, the topic of who my first child was came up.  Adrian said, "I'll always be your first son, right?"  I knew then that he had decided to be my son, not that he had a whole lot of choice in the physical arrangement of his new life circumstance, but he embraced our relationship, and requested that he be acknowledged as my first child.  I agreed with him, "Of course you will be.  You are my first son."

Eventually Adrian started calling me S-Dad instead of just Gabe.  At first it bugged me, I got annoyed that he was making some kind of differentiation between a normal dad, and S-Dad (for Step-Dad).  Eventually I came to realize that his choice to call me s-dad instead of my first name was a step up, not down.  He is acknowledging that I am one of the father figures in his life.  It took me a while, but I can recognize now that he is choosing to codify my role in his life by calling me S-Dad.  He is choosing to respect me, to honor me, as a father in his life.

It is an honor to help raise my son Adrian.  As complicated as our relationship, and the relationship of other family members around us is at times, it is all worth the energy and the work, the patience and the struggle.  Adrian is a special guy in my life.  He is my first son and always will be.

Monday, September 22, 2014

This is a poem for René

This is a poem for René
so it has to be loud and passionate
loud and passionate
it has to be intense, outspoken, and hardworking
it has to shine with laughter and compassion

This is a poem for my father René
so it must have glasses, white socks, and it’s sleeves rolled up
it must be read, analyzed, and written about
it must be welcoming and relaxed
it must have dialogue

This is a poem for René, Papi, Reenee
so if it speaks, listen
if it has fault, please forgive
if it’s too critical, remember empowerment, advocacy
                          and social justice

This is René’s poem
so let’s be sure it shines with sacrifice
let’s be sure it moves with purpose
let’s make certain it relaxes, telling jokes and 
laughing with a cold beer

This is René’s poem
let’s let it rise with passionate dialogue
let’s let it race to read and think and write, and write and write and write and write and write . . . . and write
and please please please let it rest in peace and harmony

This is René’s poem
so it is
full of wisdom
full of long winded talks about life
full of love, compassion, and beauty

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Papihood - Notes from my Papi

My father was named Papi.  I never called him dad, or daddy, I din’t call him father much either.  He was always, and always will be, Papi.  Non-Latino friends of mine made funny faces when they heard me call him.  “What did you call your dad?”  But even so, that was my Papi.  The man who embarrassed me with his loud gritos out of open car windows in stopped traffic.  My Papi, who taught me through dialogue and discussion, through critical analysis, huge smiles, and loud laughs. Papi, who taught me through his actions and habits even when he didn’t mean to.

My father died on June 30th, 2006.  I found a notebook a few years ago in which he had written some observations of his for me to read when I was older.  I am not sure when he had intended to give me the notebook, but it struck me as an interesting idea, writing notes for my children to see and reflect on later in their life.

I have three boys and now my name is Papi (and S-dad, I will have to explain later).  It seems strange sometimes, but most of the time it feels completely natural.  My Papi’s shoes are huge ones to fill; I’m not sure my grito is up to snuff.  

My first step toward being a great Papi  for my children is to leave my father’s shoes for him to fill, that way I can focus on filling my own shoes, and allowing my sons to fill theirs.