This online writing environment digitally archives the embodied rhetoric, issues and projects that relate to me as Associate Professor at Santa Clara University and Bread Loaf School of English faculty. E-mail me at: cnmedina AT SCU DOT edu.
The First Chicano US Poet Laureate The title of Juan Felipe Herrera's performance was "Immigration, Migration and the Alien Thing." Herrera came to Santa Clara University for the first time in 1961, when he was a young altar boy. Back then he said he wrote in green ink on Chinatown stationary.
(Poet Laureate Hererra and I)
Francisco Jimenez (in photo below) helped Herrera get published in this 1970s when he was starting out. In his early poetry, Herrera said he traveled to 'Indian country' and learned Nahuatl in late 60s and early 70s. It was good a good feeling writing those poems, he said, keeping the language. Herrera explained that he writes in Spanish and English because he's bilingual. He said 'language is a musical instrument and we all make music more music makes more harmonies--and we be home.'
(Author Francisco Jimenez and Herrera)
Caring and Compassion
Herrera said he wrote Notes on the Assemblage about the terrible bloodletting that was happening. Still, he wanted to talk about kindness and compassion, being selfless and giving all you can give.
Herrera spoke of a friend who said that he wanted to 'read to the ocean.' Herrera said he interpreted this as thinking about the 'bigger world out there.' He read from a poem about the43 students from the rural town of Ayotzinapa.
It's okay not to know everything, he said, just be sure to write with a heart and to care. He asked, 'what's compassion if you can't bring enemies together? Because enemies are not enemies. There's too much pain around.' He encourage students to build their vision because we need to think big picture. Too many little pictures are floating around. Too much violence, war, greed and talk of money.
His Youth and Laundry Bag Poem
Herrera explained that he came from the campos (fields) and he had friends--they were rabbits and ants--'Ants were my legos,' he said. He described the evolution of his sack lunches from potato burritos, graduating to wet sandwiches de tomate, and then to sandwiches de mantequilla, and finally to sardines. His explanation of his lunches was inspired by a laundry bag that he compared to the large brown paper bags that he carried his lunches to school with. He wrote a poem about laundry on the bag, with the verse: "write while you wait."
He read from his book 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can't Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2007 about 1994 when prop 187 threatened to withhold public services from undocumented immigrants in California. Jimenez asked Herrera about his mother. Herrera explained that she was born in 1906 for the revolution and moved to El Paso after the revolution with nothing. He explained that she was a pioneer and that she passed on dichos and poetry as well as love and compassion.
Inspiration from Teacher
Minutes asked him about his third grade teacher. Herrera explained he was born in barrio Logan when Elvis Presley was on the radio and before the freeway split his town in the name of "development." His third grade teacher asked him to come up to the front of class and sing. He said her five words changed his life: "You have a beautiful voice." He understood English, but he asked his friends, "Que dijo Mrs?" And his friend said, "Que tienes un vos muy beautiful." Everyone has a beautiful voice, he said, as poet laureate, that's what he wants to tell everyone.
The Waste Land and Advice for Students and Writers
Herrera explained that when Gov. Brown asked him to be the poet laureate of California Brown asked him how Herrera understood TS Eliot and could apply the The Waste Land to California?" Herrera explained that it was a palm about a multicultural society and the harsh and cold realities we face but it was about how we could create a garden of life in this place. For writers, he said, "Use your resources. Don't think about it[writing] too much, just start writing don't know how to start, that's okay. If our grandparents can make it to the US as pioneers we can write. We can be pioneers with words– meet it head on. Just get one word on the page. Two words--orale! Three words– it's a party."
My Academic Hermana from Tucson By Way of New York Coming to the Bay
On Thursday, May 12, Aja Y Martinez will be talking as a part of a great speaker series coordinated by Adam Banks, the head of Stanford's Writing Program. Below is the great poster. I'd encourage anyone to attend who has interest in the intersection of rhetoric and race, and interested in using storytelling to counter dominant narratives about people of color.
Edward James Olmos Interviewed for "Latino Thought Makers" Series with Rick Najera
Seeing Olmos speak on Saturday April 30 was something of a bucket list moment for me because he has been a part of the pop culture collective consciousness of LatinXs in the US, especially Mexican Americans of my parents' generation who had few role models reflected back at them from the 'silver screen.' Author of Almost White: Forced Confessions of a Latino in Hollywood, Rick Najera interviewed Olmos, who is the godfather to Najera's kids and a longtime friend.
(Me at SCU with Olmos)
Olmos in his April 30 Interview with Rick Nagera
Edward James Olmos said that his different roles as actor, producer, director
are all different, but he likes that they teach him about himself. It's self-serving, but the stories "made me who I am." He remarked that Zoot Suit changed his life, but it also changed theater as an art form.
When Olmos went to East Los Angeles City College, he paid six dollars a
semester. He said he earned his Associates degree for $24. When he went to Cal State LA, he paid $60 a
semester and completed his degree for $300 total. He said "state
university should be free" it should come from taxes and be a force for
(Olmos and Najera)
Olmos on His Career and Storytelling
Regarding his career he said he has been "very selective from the
beginning." He said Hollywood doesn't do anything for anybody, adding
"it's show-business, not show-sociology."
He explained he was not naturally gifted and talented but he was disciplined.
Something he also learned was that it's always better to give to give more to people and causes than he gets.
He said he talked to teachers early in his career but he thought that the
students needed to hear from someone successful but he realized they also need
to hear from people doing things. Olmos said that if you want to grab an audience, tell a story.
He explained that he changed his life by telling stories about his culture. Although Olmos said some actors did not want to be a hyphenated "Latino-American" actor. There were those who did not
want to be tagged with this, but Olmos said its fine, "I'm 1000%
Teachers and Unions
Olmos explained that he represents unions of the world and he said that school
systems have to be regulated by unions and influence what happens in the classroom.
He added that he would never cross a picket line but he tells union leaders to
watch out for him if they're not doing their job as a leader. Olmos said he takes his hat off to teachers because he doesn't know anyone who
did it without a teacher but doesn't guarantee they're all doing great work.
To keep kids in college, Olmos says it starts at third-grade age when students need to find their passion for education. And
children are listening to what's being said about Latino by adults in politics.
On American Me and Stand and Deliver
Olmos explained American Me received the most criticism, but he said truth has to permeate story. Perhaps for that reason, a lot of people didn't like it. But he
explained that American Me was most effective for keeping the kids out of
prison because they did not want to take the journey represented in the film.
Stand and Deliver, Olmos said, is shown 10,000 times each year by teachers. Najera added that American Me is the most stolen DVD ever.
Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication with Filmmaking
Towards the end of the talk, the video below from the Latino Film Institute was shown. Olmos explained that "Nothing I have ever seen in the classroom and allow
children to use creativity creative thinking collaboration and communication
for 90 minutes." And, "Every person who sees these classes has tears in their eyes." Students learning about films is the single most effective way for them to
understand that's everything being taught math everything goes up allow them to
feel something inside the classroom.
Olmos even said that Chapman University (where I earned my MA and MFA) is the first to accept students without standardized test, instead by way of evaluating their film reel submissions. Olmos said students learn all stages of writing, storyboarding, pre-and post-production, and that distribution will be where things are going to change.
Learning this technology, he said, will be as influential as when he learned the
typewriter which allows him as a 70-year-old to still type 60 words a minute
and use his computer. Reiterating his point, he said no poem or book or performance art is as effective as the visual-audio medium projected on the screen, adding that the people who learn it will "dominate the
He said the point is not trying to make filmmakers better students but that
affects the time the rest of the time in the classroom when they're learning
other subjects. He said that a lot of teachers were very skeptical but that it
is taught students to find motivation in lower socioeconomic schools.
Olmos stated, "We need to be able to reach out and share our lives so people get to know us."
"Edward James Olmos has represented the street-wise pachuco watching their backs, the strong role model as teacher, head of family, and captain on intergalactic voyages traversing the collective pop cultural memory. Olmos’ presence challenges the racist punchline for the joke about “why there were no Latinas/os on Star Trek,” by proving that Latinas/os want to work, and do in fact work in the future. More importantly, many of the television programs and films that Olmos has starred in have marked temporal signposts for many Latina/o audiences in the U.S.
I still recall when I was eight years old and I saw Stand and Deliver (1988) in theaters twice. For my family, the film inspired a sense of pride. Both of my parents were educators: my mother taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at my elementary school and my father taught English at a Hispanic-Serving community college. Therefore, Olmos’ portrayal of real-life educator Jaime Escalante, the East Los Angeles math teacher, who excelled in the preparation of Latina/o students for the advanced placement calculus exam, shone a positive light on the ignored efforts of Latina/o teachers and students. (Medina 3)