Friday, October 31, 2008


- - ---------Trick & Treat

Death at the door,
----or lurking among the leaves,
death itself is the inevitable trick;
the only treat worth the having,
----to love fearlessly,
------------------------and well.

-------© Rafael Jesús González 2008

(The Montserrat Review, Issue 7, Spring 2003;
author’s copyrights)

-----------Chasco y Regalo

La muerte a la puerta,
----o en emboscada entre la hojas,
la muerte misma es el chasco inevitable;
el único regalo que vale la pena,
-----amar sin temor,
------------------------y amar bien.

---------------© Rafael Jesús González 2008

In the Western cultures and in the cultures of Meso-America, we come to the Feast of Samhain (sa-win), Feast of All Souls, Día de muertos, in which we render honor to the dead, those who have crossed to that vast realm to which we all that live are destined.

How shall we best honor them who gave us life, whom we loved, or whom we never knew but whose gifts, and curses, we carry in our genes from since the very roots of our species in ancient Africa, and beyond?

In this nation of the United States, and by extension, the world, we have come to our moment of truth. In essence the contention, the choice is between a wide-hearted spirit of compassion, of justice, of care for one another, and respect for the Earth on the one hand and a narrow-hearted spirit of meanness, of unjust privilege, of disregard for one another, and abuse of the Earth on the other. One choice is founded on hope and optimism and adherence to our highest ideals, the other on fear and cynicism and willingness to sacrifice the very freedoms for which we once prided ourselves, and the Earth itself.

By what choices we make, what votes we cast we will declare ourselves in one camp or the other. Our myths in the West no longer serve us and it is up to us to honor our dead by honoring life with compassion and love or dishonoring them by choosing the road to extinction through fear and disregard for one another and for the Earth itself.

May we choose wisely and truly honor our dead by honoring one another, life, and the Earth that bears it.

~ Rafael Jesús González

En las culturas occidentales y en las culturas de Mezo-América, llegamos a la Fiesta de Samhain (sa-huin), Fiesta de todas las ánimas, Día de muertos, en las cuales rendimos honor a los muertos, los que han cruzado al vasto reino al cual todos los que vivimos somos destinados.

¿Cómo mejor honrar a los que nos dieron la vida, a quienes amamos, o a quienes jamás conocimos pero de quienes dones, y maldiciones, llevamos en nuestros genes desde las meras raíces de nuestra especie en la África antigua y más allá?

En esta nación de los Estados Unidos, y por extensión el mundo, hemos llegado a nuestro momento de la verdad. En esencia la contienda, la opción es entre un espíritu compasivo de amplio corazón, de justicia, de amor uno por el otro y respeto a la Tierra en una mano y un espíritu estrecho y mezquino de privilegio injusto, de falta de respeto uno al otro y abuso de la Tierra en la otra. Una opción se basa en la esperanza y el optimismo y adherencia a nuestros más altos ideales, la otra en el temor y el cinismo y una disposición a sacrificar las meras libertades de las cuales una vez nos enorgullecíamos y la Tierra misma.

Por cual opción tomamos, por cuales votos hagamos, nos declararemos en un campo o el otro. Nuestros mitos en el Occidente ya no nos sirven y queda en nosotros honrar a nuestros muertos honrando la vida con compasión y amor o deshonrándolos optando por un camino hacia la extinción por temor y falta de respeto uno hacia al otro y hacia la tierra misma.

Que optemos sabiamente y verdaderamente honremos a nuestros muertos honrándonos unos a los otros, a la vida y a la Tierra que la engendra.

~ Rafael Jesús González


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mexico's Día de Muertos through the centuries


Pre-Hispanic Mexico

Awed by the eternal cycle of life and death and the need of sacrifice to assure the continuation of life, ages before the Spaniards came to the Americas, the peoples of ancient Mexico, particularly the Nahuas, of which the Mexica (generally called Aztecs) formed a part, celebrated the dead in a great feast quite different from the one we know today. It began on August 8, by the European calendar, and they called it Micailhuitontli, Small Feast of the Dead, to honor their dead children. On that morning, the people went to the forest and cut down a tall, straight tree which they brought to the gates of the city. There, for twenty days, they blessed the tree and stripped it of its bark.

During those twenty days, they did ritual, sacrificed, feasted, danced, and made offerings to the dead of cempoalxochitl flowers, fire, copal, food, and drink. Then, on August 28, which they called Huey Micailhuitl (Great Feast of the Dead), in honor of their adult dead, they made a large figure of a bird perched on flowering branches out of amaranth seed dough, painted it brightly, and decorated it with colorful feathers. They fixed the dough bird to the end of the tree trunk, raised it in the courtyard of the Great Temple, and honored it with more offerings, singing, copal, dances, sacrifice, and bloodletting.

One hour before sunset, the young noblemen climbed the pole to bring down the figure of the bird. The youths who reached the top first and brought down the dough figure were much honored. They broke it up and passed it out among the people to eat; they called it “flesh of the god.” Then they brought down the pole and broke it up, and everyone tried to take a piece of it back to their homes because it was holy.

The pole and its god-bird on flowering branches must have stood for the mythical Tree of Life that grew in the earthly paradise of Tamoanchan. The blood of sacrifice nourished the Tree of Life, just as Quetzalcoatl, Plumed Serpent, God of Life, shed his blood to create humankind. The ritual of the pole and the flesh of the god honored the fact that life cannot be separated from death; we live and die, and our deaths are the price of living.

Composed of both joy and pain, life is brief and uncertain, its end a question that disquiets the heart. Many poems addressing this sad truth were composed by the Nahua poets, the most famous of whom was Nezahualcoyotl, King of Texcoco, who said:

------------------Is it true that one lives on earth?
------------------Perhaps forever on the earth?
------------------Only a brief instant here!

------------------Even the precious stones chip away,
------------------even the gold falls apart,
------------------even the precious feathers tear.
------------------Perhaps forever on the earth?
------------------Only a brief instant here!

The peoples of ancient Mexico created wonderful pieces of sacred art in which life and death are united. The greatest, perhaps, is the great Coatlicue (now in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City), who was at one and the same time terrifying and life-giving, the goddess of life and death, Earth-Mother of the gods, of humankind: mother of all. They carved statues depicting Quetzalcoatl, God of Life, on one side, and on the other, Mictlantecuhtli, God of Death. They painted pictures of the gods of life and death indivisibly joined together, such as the ones in the Borgia Codex, one of the very few of their marvelous books that survive.

When someone died, a piece of green-stone was placed in his or her mouth to take the place of the heart. The people believed that most of the dead went to a gray region of shadows called Mictlan (Land of the Dead), led by a little dog through nine levels of trials. Only the warriors killed in battle, the victims of sacrifice, and the women who had died in childbirth went to the realm of the Sun. Suicides and those who drowned, or were struck by lightning, or died of certain illnesses associated with water went to the place of Tlaloc, God of the Rain. Children who died young went to the realm of Ometeotl, Lord/Lady of Duality, to be nursed by a tree in a place called Chichihualcuauhco.

Mexico under Spain

These were the beliefs and the customs of the natives when the Spaniards came to Mexico and conquered Tenochtitlan and the Mexica empire in 1521. Along with the horse, the gun, and disease, the Europeans brought a new religion, Christianity. They called the people Indians and forced them to convert.

Some of the Christian beliefs were similar to the ancient ones: the Sun had demanded bleeding hearts torn from sacrificial victims to pay for life; God the Father required the bloody sacrifice of his only Son to pay for salvation. Coatlicue had conceived the god Huitzilopochtli without intercourse with a man; the virgin Mary had also miraculously conceived Jesus. The Indians ate the “flesh of the god’’ in a piece of amaranth dough; Christians ate the flesh of Christ in a piece of unleavened bread. Indians did penance; so did the Christians.

But some of the Christian beliefs were entirely new to the natives, such as the notion of a place where the dead went as either reward or punishment for how they had lived their lives: a happy heaven, with angels, saints, and gods (as they perceived the Trinity) and a painful hell, full of demons and evildoers. The new Mother of God was not terrible, as Coatlicue was, but sweet and demure as she stood on the black obsidian moon in front of the sun and wore the starry night sky for her cloak. Tonantzin, Mother of Us All, was now called Our Lady of Guadalupe, an Arabic place-name of Moorish Spain.

In spite of their conversion, the native people kept their ancient customs as best they could by adapting them to the demands of the new religion, transferring the old celebrations to the holidays of the Christian calendar. They were forced to change the rituals of their days of the dead but kept as their core the ofrenda (the altar with offerings to the dead). And they still grew (and do to this day) the yellow cempoalxochitl, the cempoal, marigold, known popularly as flor de muerto (flower of the dead), which they used especially to honor the dead. They transferred the two Feasts of the Dead to the Christian Feasts of All Saints and All Souls. (Long before, between the eighth and eleventh centuries, the Christian Church itself had set the Feasts of All Saints and All Souls on the first and second of November, converting the ancient European Celtic feast of the harvest and of the dead, Samhain [sá-win], into a Christian holiday.)

The melding of two cultures

Spanish art offered images of death, similar to those the natives knew, in the martyred Christ and saints, and memento mori (“remember that you die”) images of skulls from the medieval tradition of the Dance of Death. The conquered people merged their old symbols with those of the conquerors. The indigenous cross of the four cardinal points became the Christian cross. The Tree of Life came to refer to the Garden of Eden as well, and eventually gave rise to the beautiful clay árboles de la vida with birds on flowering branches that we know today. The amaranth-dough offerings were replaced by the popular wheat pan de muerto (bread of the dead).

One great change in the Spanish colonial period was the evolvement of humor and whimsy that we today associate with los Día de Muertos and that make the holiday so uniquely Mexican. The Spanish may have brought these elements from the medieval tradition of the Feast of Fools (associated with Carnaval, carne vale, farewell to the flesh), where everything is equal and open to criticism, ridicule, and frivolity. “We are all equal in death and nothing is beyond mockery,” this tradition said. And humor became a part of los Día de Muertos that we know today.

In the latter part of the colonial period, the people began making sugar-candy skulls, brightly decorated with names spelled out in colored sugar, to exchange as tokens of affection among family and friends. They placed them on the Día de Muertos altars along with the image of Guadalupe, the flowers, the water, the bread, the food and drink, the candles, and the copal that the old ways demanded. They also made toys in the shape of skeletons and little skeleton dolls of clay and papier maché that made fun of people and every sort of human activity. They made playfulness part of the tradition and took from death a little of its sting.

Another thing that the Spaniards brought was the pasquín (mocking verses scrawled on walls to which passing readers added their own lines and comments). Between 1535 and 1539, the first printing press in America was established in Mexico City, and soon pasquines printed on broadsheets were being pasted on the walls of public buildings. These eventually gave rise to the funny verses called calaveras (skulls, also popularly meaning empty-headed fools), often illustrated with caricatures, through which the people freely criticized and mocked the rich and powerful who ruled their lives. The calavera became a part of the Día de Muertos.

Corridos (ballads in the oral tradition whose themes often focus on current events) had grown to be the popular form of political expression by the time Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, and by the late nineteenth century, the corrido and the calavera had almost completely replaced the pasquín. Small print shops throughout the country published the most popular corridos and calaveras on broadsides of colored paper, disseminating information and ideas against the authoritarian Porfirio Díaz regime. The best-known of these presses was that of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo in Mexico City, made famous by the witty poet Constancio S. Suárez and by José Guadalupe Posada, a talented engraver. Posada illustrated the verses written by Suárez, who succinctly put the truth which is the soul of the calavera:

--------------------It is a most sincere truth
--------------------that this adage makes us see:
--------------------only one who was never born
--------------------can never a death’s-head be.

Día de Muertos in the Twentieth Century

These are some of the elements of los Días de Muertos inherited by the twentieth century. With the Revolution of 1910, modern Mexican art exploded into its own, and the young artists repudiated not only the French orientation of the Díaz era (1877–1911) but their own Spanish heritage, idealizing their indigenous past. For the young artists of the Revolution (José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and David Alfaro Siqueriros among them), Posada was the father of modern Mexican art and quoted his images in their own work. Indeed, many of Posada’s images (such as his Calavera Catrina) took on the nature of icons that are now hard to separate from los Días de Muertos.

Rediscovering and reclaiming their Indian roots and folk arts and festivals, modern Mexican writers, musicians, dancers, and graphic artists created works that burst with images, sounds, colors of dazzling brilliance and originality. But for the Indians, Mexico was a country colonized for four hundred years, its dominant language and culture European; what the writers, musicians, and painters accomplished was to foment a new respect for, even to romanticize, indigenous custom and form, not adopt them as an integral part of their own lives. The artisans of the people continued to produce the ever popular Día de Muertos sugar skulls and toys, of course—and the artists and the new and growing educated middle class avidly collected them as arte popular (folk art.

To simply see the tradition of the Mexican los Días de Muertos as a quaint folk custom does it little justice. It has always been a religious practice alive with its own cosmology, vibrant with spiritual and emotional meaning for the people who participate in it. At its center, Día de Muertos is full of reverence, sorrow, and prayer; the levity is more peripheral, an aside. Without their core of belief, of spiritual and emotional power, Día de Muertos would hardly have survived to our day, much less inspired such art.

After the revolution, Día de Muertos lived on in Mexico among the indigenous populations close to their pre-Hispanic roots; thus it was a holiday of the poor, and most especially the rural poor. The urban middle class rarely put up Days of the Dead altars except as quaint displays of “indigenous” art. On All Souls Day, they might visit the cemetery and place flowers on the grave, perhaps attend Mass, but Día de Muertos was not modern, and the tradition was certainly more Indian than they would ever want to be. It was one thing to show off indigenous art, another to be Indian. That the urbanite Frida Kahlo affected Tehuana dresses and wore strings of heavy, pre-Hispanic green-stone about her slender neck did not make her Indian.

As Mexico became more urban and more industrialized, at least in the major cities, Día de Muertos became more secularized. Were it not for the indigenous communities faithful to their traditions, Día de Muertos might have gradually become merely a colorful Indian custom, a quaint though cherished symbol of national identity.

Día de Muertos in the United States

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, there flared up a new interest from an unexpected quarter. United States intervention in Viet-Nam had flared into a full-blown war in which many citizens of Mexican descent saw the U.S. invasion of Mexico (1846-48) reflected. At the same time, inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, the Farm Workers Movement led by César E. Chávez under the banner of Guadalupe went into full strike in the vineyards of California. These two events galvanized the identity of the young U.S. citizens of Mexican descent who began calling themselves Chicanos.

The quest for and formation of an identity is always a spiritual matter, a moral matter, a matter of empowerment, especially in a society which exerts such pressures to conform and assimilate. In 1970 the Chicano Moratorium against the Viet-Nam War coalesced a political and cultural movement with its own music, literature, and graphic arts, especially the mural. Walls in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other cities throughout the U.S. blazed into color and images that drew inspiration from the mural movement of Mexico. They extensively quoted the work of Posada, Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros, and Kahlo, and incorporated such indigenist images as Sun Stones, eagles devouring serpents, plumed snakes, Guadalupes, and Zapatista campesinos. Chicano art, rooted in Mexican culture but of the United States, was something all its own.

In the late 1960s, some teachers of Mexican descent with ties to Día de Muertos tradition began to introduce it in the classroom. Also in the early 1970s, the Galería de la Raza, the Mexican Museum of San Francisco, the Mission Cultural Center of Latino Arts, and other galleries in San Francisco began to mount Día de Muertos exhibitions, inviting artists to create ofrendas. The same occurred in Los Angeles and quickly spread to other cities, such as Chicago, that have large Chicano and Mexican immigrant populations. And in the mid 1970s, El Teatro Campesino performed satirical skits with calavera characters for the workers in the fields. The richly layered Día de Muertos customs that were traditionally practiced in that area to the south known as Mesoamerica, where the high cultures flourished, were not familiar in Aztlan (northern Mexico and what had become the U.S. Southwest), where native cultures were more nomadic. There the ofrenda was not customary, and up to this point only appeared when people who had immigrated from the south put them up. But now Día de Muertos ofrendas and exhibitions began to appear in New Mexico, Texas, and elsewhere in the Southwest.

New Expressions for Día de Muertos

Avid to reclaim their Mexican—especially Mexican Indian—roots, Chicanos took the ofrenda, the element at the core of Día de Muertos, from its original matrix and made it into a new art form. Very few of the artists participating in these exhibitions had lived Día de Muertos traditions, though some elders and recent immigrants from south-central Mexico were drawn upon to create “traditional” ofrendas. These, even if they may not have included all the elements prescribed by tradition—the image of Guadalupe, the flowers, the water, the bread, the food and drink, the candles, the sugar skulls, the copal—did include an altar bearing offerings of some sort, as well as traditional incidental decorative elements like papel picado and streamers, and, if the ofrenda honored a particular person, photographs and personal mementos.

Though “traditional” ofrendas were occasionally exhibited in Mexico in museums and public spaces, often under the auspices of FONART (the National Fund for the Encouragement of Crafts) as samples of arte popular, the ofrenda had been, up to this point, solely a sacred and private expression of devotion and memorial created for the home, sometimes for the family tomb, occasionally for the church.

The intimate and devotional family ofrenda now became a point of departure for more conscious works of art, giving way to public statements, often political in nature, incorporating the sociopolitical function of the calavera with the religious form of the ofrenda. It is true that many artists considered their work sacred art; they often created ofrendas to honor dead family, friends, or public figures, and they ritually consecrated the gallery space and the ofrenda by smudging with copal or sage. But the religious, sacred aspects became more broadly defined; the emphasis was on fine art. This was a new art form, a variation of installation art. In the context of the gallery, the term “ofrenda” is now popularly used for any installation on the theme of death. The intent of these ofrendas as works of art is often not so much to comfort as to disquiet.

This new interpretation of the traditions of Día de Muertos as art for the public very soon exerted its influence in Mexico, and ofrendas of a political nature, honoring public figures and commemorating political events, started to appear with more frequency in such public spaces as galleries, museums, libraries, community centers, and even government buildings. Furthermore, though Día de Muertos in such places as Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz had always attracted visitors, popularization of the holiday in the U.S. tremendously increased the number of tourists to Mexico during these days so that the cemeteries were overrun with urbanites and foreigners toting cameras.

Processions were another notable development in the United States. A procession sponsored by Self-Help Graphics in Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles that started in the 1970s, and another, sponsored by Galería de la Raza in San Francisco’s Mission District in the 1980s, both became so popular that, with the novelty of costumes and samba bands, they were more like Halloween events or carnaval parades than traditional honoring of the dead. Interestingly, in the city of Oaxaca since the seventies, comparsas, skull-masked and skeleton-costumed bands, probably influenced by the U.S. Halloween, began to gain prominence in Día de Muertos celebrations, adding an element of carnaval to the feast.

* ------*------ *

In Mexico, the Days of the Dead are still observed with deep emotion and spiritual devotion by the many who are heirs to the tradition, as well as others who are taking up the practice. In the United States, whose mainstream culture lacks a holiday devoted to the dead, many are borrowing Día de Muertos traditions, respectfully adapting them to their own needs and circumstances, putting up altars every year to honor their dead in the privacy of their homes . . .

Los Día de Muertos tradition, as it is practiced in Mexico, comes down to us from the shades of our pre-European past, a vital tradition laden with historical, religious, and spiritual meaning. It will change as it continues to be popularized and as the cultures that nurture and maintain it struggle to keep their identities in the face of the demands of the twenty-first century with its push towards globalization not only of economics but of culture . . .*

* Some U.S., Canadian, and other foreign artists in such centers as San Miguel de Allende are now producing los Días de Muertos “folk art” for export to the U.S. and abroad. Stores of arts and crafts from around the world, such as Global Exchange in the San Francisco Bay Area, now sell little death-figures and glass boxes from Perú and Bolivia painted with Posada images, bamboo curtains from Viet-Nam painted with Posada images, wood stamping-blocks from Nepal with Mexican milagro images, and skull-shaped glass votive-candle holders from China. And of course more and more artifacts, calendars, and books with los Días de Muertos themes are being produced in the United States.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Feast of St. Rafael Archangel

---------En la fiesta antigua
-------de San Rafael Arcángel

Ángel, un poeta me dijo
que tu raza era terrible,
-----pero tus dedos son suaves
-----sobre mis cicatrices,
---------tu bálsamo de luz de pez
---------en la luna plena de octubre
---------escurre dulzura.

Tal vez sea porque
ya no me importa
luchar —
----------consolar, en vez,
----------acariciar las plumas ojosas
----------de tus alas.

------------© Rafael Jesús González 2008

------------On the Old Feast
--------of St. Rafael Archangel

Angel, a poet told me
your kind was terrible,
----but your fingers are gentle
----on my scars,
---------your balsam of fish light
---------on the full moon of October
---------drips sweetness.

Perhaps it is because
I no longer care
to wrestle —
---------------caress, instead,
---------------stroke the eyed pinions
---------------of your wings.

----------------© Rafael Jesús González 2008

---(Metamorfosis, vol. III no. II vol. IV no. I;
----------------author’s copyrights)

Na festa Antiga de S. Rafael Arcanjo

Anjo, um poeta me dissera
que tua raça era terrível,
-----porém teus dedos são suaves
-----sobre as minhas cicatrizes.
------------Teu bálsamo de luz de pez,
------------Numa lua cheia de outubro,
------------escorre doçura.

Talvez seja porque
já não me importa
-------consolar e sim,
-------acariciar as plumas com olhos
-------de tuas asas.

---------- © Rafael Jesús González 2008

© Clevane Pessoa de Araújo Lopes 2007
Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais, Brasil.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Full moon: Moon Over Union Square

Luna sobre Union Square

para Karen y Paul

Pagando respetos al Gandhi de bronce en su jardín encerrado; pasando los muchachos y muchachas ocupados en su cortejo, su rondas, sus vagares o lo que quieras; miro a la luna de la cosecha más allá del neón rojo deletreando “Union Square.” Su luz, un tanto comprometida por las luces de los edificios y las calles, baña a los árboles de la plaza en plata suave, acaricia las caras de l@s jóvenes (y de todo mundo) con un toque tierno. En medio de la bulla todo es pacífico y me imagino que así lo es, en este momento, por toda esta ciudad de Nueva York, esta nación, este mundo.

Pero solamente por un momento, el más breve de momentos, más corto que ahora; la paz plateada de la luna más difícil de imaginar en la forma encogida del hombre desamparado en su cobija hecha garras y sucia acostado al lado del bote de basura en la Calle 17 una cuadra de aquí, en el asalto sucediendo en otra parte de la ciudad, en el bombardeo y balaceo en otra parte del mundo.

Todo es perfecto, dicen; Dios, dicen, es todo bueno — allá en la galaxia, entre los billones de galaxias, los billones de billones de estrellas. Pero nosotros en la orilla más lejana de la Vía Láctea, más pequeño de los planetas sostenido por una estrella menor, vemos a la luna y en nuestro corazón de corazones sabemos que el bien y el mal son las cosas que sufrimos, peculiares a nosotros, tales como los son nuestros dioses. Y la luna — tal vez ni buena ni mala, mas bella de todos modos — rueda sobre Union Square y alrededor de la Tierra — y alrededor de nuestro mundo confuso.

© Rafael Jesús González 2008

Moon Over Union Square

for Karen & Paul

Paying my respects to the bronze Gandhi in his fenced-in garden; past the boys and girls busy in their courting, cruising, hanging or what will you; I gaze at the harvest moon beyond the red neon spelling “Union Square.” Her light, somewhat compromised by the lights of the buildings and the streets, bathes the trees of the square in soft silver, caresses the faces of the youths (and everyone’s else) with a tender touch. In the midst of the bustle all is peaceful, and I imagine it is so, at this moment, throughout this city of New York, this nation, this world.

But just for a moment, the briefest of moments, shorter than now; the silver peace of the moon harder to imagine on the huddled form of the homeless man in his shredded and grimy blanket lying beside the dumpster on 17th Street a block away, the mugging going on in another part of the city, the bombings and shootings in another part of the world.

All is perfection, they say, God, they say, is all good – there in the galaxy, among the billions of galaxies, the billions of billions of stars. But we at the outermost edge of the Milky Way, tiniest of planets held by a minor star, look at the moon and in our heart of hearts know that good and evil are the things we suffer, peculiar to us, just as are our gods. And the moon — perhaps neither good nor evil, but lovely nevertheless — rolls over Union Square and around the Earth — and round our confused world.

© Rafael Jesús González 2008

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Columbus Day

-October 12 is a feast-day known in various regions and times by many names: Columbus Day, Discovery Day, Hispanic Culture Day, Day of the Americas, Day of the Race, Day of the Indigenous Peoples.

In Mexico in 1928 at the insistence of the philosopher José Vasconcelos, then Minister of Education, it was named Día de la Raza (Day of the Race), denomination of the Iberian-American Union in 1913 to declare a new identity formed by the encounter of the Spaniards with the native peoples of the Americas. In 1902, the Mexican poet Amado Nervo had written a poem in honor of the President Benito Juárez (a Zapoteca Indian), which he read in the House of Representatives, titled Raza de Bronce (Race of Bronze) praising the indigenous race, title which later in 1919 the Bolivian author Alcides Arquedas would give his book. Bronze (noble metal amalgamated of various metals) came to be metaphor for mestizaje (the mixing of the races.) According to the thinking of Vasconcelos, a Cosmic Race, the race of the future, is the noble race that is formed in the Americas since October 12, 1492, the race of mestizaje, an amalgam of the indigenous races of the Americas, the Europeans, the Africans, the Asians, the world — in a word, the human race made of a mixture of all the races which Vasconcelos called the Cosmic Race.

But that this race is formed at great cost to the indigenous American race (and to the African race brought here as slaves) cannot be ignored. Since 2002, in Venezuela the feast-day is called Día de la Resistencia Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance.)

Be that as it may, by whatever name we give it, however way we cut it, it is the same cake — the date commemorates the arrival of the Europeans to America (which for them was a “new world”), not a visit but an invasion, a genocide, a subjugation of the peoples of that “new world” which we know today by the name of a European cartographer who never set foot on the sacred ground of the continents that bear his name. What the date marks is a continuous colonization, exploitation, abuse, outrage of the indigenous peoples of the Americas that has never lessened, that has persisted these five-hundred-sixteen years.

It could well be called Day of Globalization. Since that date, the Earth is concretely, definitively proven to be truly round, a sphere, a ball, a globe. And from that date is imposed by force upon the indigenous American peoples a quite strange (in my view, mistaken) cosmology, attitude toward life, toward the Earth, toward economics, toward the sacred, toward the human being him/herself — a single truth narrow and intolerant, a rapacious disdain toward the Earth seen only as a resource to be exploited, a concept of progress difficult to distinguish from greed and the lust for power.

The cause of the indigenous peoples screams for justice: their lands, their fields continue to be stolen from them, destroyed for their valuable woods and minerals; their agricultural creations, such as maize and the potato, which have saved a great part of the world from famine, are modified at the molecular level and controlled by rapacious corporations; their traditional medicines are patented by those same corporations; sacred water is privatized and stolen from them; even their right to their own beliefs and cultures is not respected. Even putting justice aside, we should all ally ourselves with the indigenous peoples of the Americas (and of the entire world) in their resistance against such abuse because what threatens them threatens us all throughout the whole world — and the Earth itself. They have a very much to teach us about a healthy relationship of humankind with the Earth.

In an Earth much smaller and more fragile than we imagined, we find ourselves in full globalization and struggle against the imposition of an unbridled capitalism and the fascism, its logical extension, that accompanies it. The indigenous resistance that has never ceased these five centuries and some continues in spite of a brutal repression and now all of us of the cosmic race, of pure necessity, must align ourselves with their struggle, for that struggle is ours if we are to survive on the Earth, holy mother of our race, the human race — and of all our relations, the other animals, the plants, the minerals. On the round, seamless Earth all borders are fictitious and what threatens one threatens all. To think otherwise is not only immoral but insane.

© Rafael Jesús González 2007

Berkeley, California, October 12, 2008


Friday, October 10, 2008

Of Color & Light

- - -

Of Color and Light

When he was five, some neighbors, moving away, left Ramón and his little brother Antonio a dog house with a peaked roof and a door rounded on the top and a square window. It was a large, sturdy, dog house and if he stood in the middle there was even a little room to spare.

Ramón's father was often away. José Filiberto Gutiérrez made the family living by selling school supplies, brilliantine, pomade, olive oil, threads and other notions and novelties in distant little places called Canutillo, Deming, Fabens, Fresnillo, Mesilla, Mimbres, Santa Rita, Silver City. He called himself J. F. Gutiérrez & Co. The company part, Ramón concluded, were his mother Clara and his grandmother and grandfather, aunts and uncles who affixed the labels on the little bottles of brilliantine, red (scented with roses) and yellow (scented with jasmine.)

There were always bottles about the house: the flat, fluted bottles used for the brilliantine, the slender bottles with a bulb at the top and a bulb at the bottom used for the olive oil, and others of more or less interesting shapes. Ramón loved these bottles sometimes more but never less than he did his large box of Crayolas whose fine points he jealously guarded and which smelled like no blessed church candle ever could. His father even built him shelves in the dog house so Ramón could arrange his favorite bottles.

One of those god-inspired days of the desert just after Easter when the sun is an alloy of silver and gold, Ramón snuck from the house while his brother and mother slept the siesta. He took with him some bright crepe-paper flowers his mother had given him and some egg-coloring tablets he'd hoarded from the Holy Saturday past. Another treasure, these egg-coloring pills, large and glued to a sheet of paper with instructions, in English so he could not make out even one word. But he knew anyway. He loved the infusions they made and their smell in water and vinegar and how they stained the white china cups in which the eggs were dipped. And he always objected when his mother or father insisted on emptying them into the kitchen sink, careful not to splatter the white porcelain.

Ramón filled all his bottles with water from the back yard hose and forced crumbs of egg-coloring and pellets of crepe-paper down their tight throats. Some he was careful to keep pure of contamination one by another. With some he experimented, though he knew some things to avoid. (He had learned he must keep the egg-colors he hoarded dry, for if water got to them strange things happened: some lovely strange as when green was touched with blue, but some just plain boring strange like when purple ran into yellow.)

After he finished, he arranged all his bottles (with the years they grew to hundreds) on the shelves his father had made him and he stood back near the far corner by the dog house door. And time stopped. As we know it does on god-inspired days. And the light came in just right. As it does when light is an epiphany. And it poured through all those colors in the bottles and he knew them to be more pure than the stained glass windows at 11:00 o'clock mass.

*...... *...... *

Later this became a measure for happiness mixed up with other things: the happiest moments with his father, his mother, his brothers; his grandmother's laugh; a stolen moment of drunkenness in the Navy hospital X-ray room with his best buddy; cutting psychology class with his love Genoveva (Genny to their gringo friends); the tea ceremony, years later, with his other love Doris.

And with his ambitions. He would be a painter and in his fifteenth year, on a pilgrimage to the Basílica de Guadalupe, drunk on murals, he promised her a painting for one of her side altars. But, no, his mother and father gave him to understand, this was not realistic. Okay, he said, pharmacy, thinking it was chemistry that drew him. But it was probably the flasks, vials, alembics, retorts filled with potions, infusions, syrups, tinctures, elixirs, each differently colored, to be arranged on the drug store shelves. He confused the healing for the color and after high school decided pharmacy was not ambitious enough so he set out to become a doctor—and perhaps a priest to boot. After the navy, college completed, when he was accepted to medical school he decided instead to teach—and to write.

And it took many, many years later for him to suspect that at the roots of his being a poet was the patience of cramming pastilles and bits of crepe-paper into the narrow mouths of brilliantine bottles full of water so that the precise and diffuse colors would bleed against the light.

© Rafael Jesús González 2008

(MIRRORS BENEATH THE EARTH, anthology of short fiction;
Ray González, Ed.; Curbstone Press, 1992; author’s copyrights.)


Thursday, October 9, 2008



----Ernesto Guevara de la Serna

------------14/6/28 – 9/10/67

Entre el acero y el oro
en la escuela de la higuera
se apagó
una rosa de llamas;
segaron una azucena
------hecha roja de sangre,
un corazón ancho y profundo
y a la vez intratable, endurecido,
de una terrible ternura,
de una compasión violenta,
adicto a la justicia;
sanador de medicina amarga
que frente al ultraje
amartilló el bisturí
------en bayoneta,
fervoroso cirujano
de cánceres sociales.
Le cortaron las manos;
de las balas en su cuerpo
brotó el mito
y la palabra ‘Revolución’
recobró nuevo lustre
-----nuevo tinte.

Su epitafio, el lema:
‘Hasta la victoria siempre.’

------© Rafael Jesús González 2008

by Alberto Korda


----Ernesto Guevara de la Serna

----------------6/14/28 – 10/9/67

Between steel & gold
in the school of the fig
was extinguished,
-----(they extinguished)
a rose of flames;
cut down a lily
----made red with blood,
a heart wide & deep
& at once intractable, hardened,
of a terrible tenderness,
of a violent compassion,
addicted to justice;
healer of bitter medicine
who in the face of outrage
hammered the scalpel
-----into bayonet,
earnest surgeon
of social cancers.
They cut off his hands;
from the bullets in his body
bloomed the myth
& the word ‘Revolution’
took on a new luster
------new color.

His epitaph, the motto:
‘Until victory forever.’

------© Rafael Jesús González 2008
- - --

Saturday, October 4, 2008

invitation to a reading in New York

Pandemonium Press

Doorknobs & BodyPaint with riverbabble
invite you
to celebrate the publication of
Doorknobs & BodyPaint
Fantastic Flash Fiction
An Anthology
at a
Launch, Publication Party, & Reading
Saturday, October 18, 2008, 2-5 PM

Roy Arias Theatre Center

Payan Theatre

300 West 43rd Street, 5th Floor
(located on 43rd Street off 8th Avenue)

New York, NY 10036

Introduction: Leila Rae

Special Guest: Rafael Jesús González

MC: Bara Swain


Sam Barasch
Georgina Bates
Paul Beckman
Margot Comstock
Joyce Daniels
Christopher Davis
Marjorie Carlson Davis
Michael Maiello
Rich Pearl
Leila Rae
Olivia Roric
Jen Rubins
Bara Swain
Francine Witte

DVD Presentation:
Colleen Neumann
Sharon Wachsler

Open Mic
open to anyone published in either
Doorknobs & BodyPaint

light refreshments will be served

free & open to the public

Thursday, October 2, 2008



Montículo de arena de tres mundos,
antiguo mercado del imperio
donde el águila que cae
fue guía de hombres
y que el viento cubre,
hace cuarenta otoños que
cuando los juegos de los dioses
que la paz trajeran vinieron
a tu tierra, los violaste
derramando la sangre
de tus propios hijos,
muchos de sus nombres
ya enterrados en los calabozos
de la tortura, fosas incógnitas, perdidas.
Pero se guarda la llaga en la memoria,
la herida que no sana,
la cicatriz terca en la historia.

------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2008

El masacre de Tlatelolco, o La noche de Tlatelolco, tomó lugar la tarde y noche del 2 de octubre 1968 en la Plaza de las Tres Culturas en la parte de Tlatelolco de la Ciudad de México diez días antes de las celebraciones de los Juegos Olímpicos en la Ciudad de México, cuando hombres con armas y militares balacearon a los estudiantes que manifestaban. El número de los muertos, heridos y desaparecidos varían de los cientos a los miles; el gobierno se niega a dar números exactos. El responsable del genocidio fue Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.


Mound of sand of three worlds,
ancient market of the empire
where the falling eagle
was guide of men
& that the wind covers,
it has been forty falls that
when the gods’ games
that would bring peace came
to your land, you desecrated
them with spilling the blood
of your own children,
many of their names
now buried in the dungeons
of torture, graves unknown & lost.
But the sore is kept in memory,
the wound that will not heal,
the stubborn scar in history.

----------© Rafael Jesús González 2008

The Tlatelolco Massacre, also known as The Night of Tlatelolco, took place on the afternoon and night of October 2, 1968, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City, ten days before the 1968 Olympics celebrations in Mexico City, when men with guns and military shot student demonstrators. The number of the dead, wounded, and disappeared vary from hundreds to thousands; the government has refused to release exact figures. The one responsible for the massacre was Gustavo Díaz Ordaz.