Saturday, March 6, 2010

Volume 5, Issue 5

Monday, May 4, 2009


Omar Moreno

The words of Lincoln in a letter
to a mother in Boston, heartbroken
over her lost sons is what I think of
When the projects have their latest casualty.
I say this as if this were Iraq or Afghanistan,
a lonely field in Gettysburg,
in defense of democracy, but no.

I have lived here, a place like this,
for my whole life. To me,
a shooting should be a shooting,
nothing akin to the Revolutionary War,
(no fanciful calligraphy telling King George,
thanks but no thanks) but a massacre.

You see, I jump into books a great deal,
A literary ostrich and the helicopters
are from a world that is not my own.

The boy is shot running from the
Police. His wounds exit from his visage.
I know his little sister, whose heart
Was empty before her brother left,
Who knew that mine was empty as well.
She asked me to dance at a Valentine's Party.

The people from the projects,
the neighborhood, march to say
this occupation is enough.
Their way of saying Thanks but No thanks
to the bed of nails, the different King Georges
across the country. I like their lack of Metaphor,
how a shower of Rose petals is not
the real way a person dies.

My perch on a stack of books
is how I see the world.
Trying to describe a death
and assuage the eventual grief of
People I know. Words Lincoln deemed fruitless.
A leaf against a wave
of water is who I am.
Leaves against a wave of stones
is how his family feels.

An Appalling Charm

Fernando Romero

The killing streets took another victim one July night almost eight years ago. We lived on a small, second-fl oor apartment on Seventh Street and Lime Avenue. This is a part of Long Beach ridden with all the idiosyncrasies of society; violence, drug activity, prostitution, racial hatred, crime, alcoholism and poverty. There also exists a morbid sense of magical realism that can sometimes be attributed to this place; a dichotomy that fuses the ugliness of life with that of the human spirit. Almost like a sign of hope and a testament to the will of instinct. There is something about this place that speaks of an appalling charm. It is a place where the angels starve. Where children will play soccer out in the street with the carcass of a dead rat like my brothers and I once did. Where you could tie a string to the legs of a June bug and fl y it like a kite. Perhaps, it is the way a loved one’s shoes will hang from power lines like a eulogy. Or maybe it is simply the way gun shots sound like the clap of a hand echoed off in the distance. And how you sometimes feel envious when you see people fall asleep under the bright light of day.

Published on July 10, 2001, Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA)

A single mother with seven children was shot to death outside her home and her neighbor was wounded when a gunman opened fi re on them Sunday night. “I don’t know why this happened,’“ said the neighbor, who was sitting outside in the 700 block of East Seventh Street with Graciela Zavala and two teen-age boys at about 11:15 p.m. when someone walked out of a nearby alley and opened fi re. “We were just sitting out here, just talking and laughing.” Ms. Zavala was reportedly sitting on the front porch of her apartment with neighbors when an unknown assailant walked up and fi red multiple shots into the group.

I saw the front page of the Press-Telegram the following Tuesday. I read the story of the slain woman. Her name was Graciela; she was 39, a single mother of seven and of working-class background. Maybe it was a sense of guilt and fear that I felt that grabbed and tore at me, but I waited for the twilight of the setting sun before I walked over to the street corner where she had fallen two days earlier. On the steps of the porch, there was a candlelight vigil in honor of this woman whose life had come to a deafening end. I passed by. I saw candles alight bearing the vibrant image of the Jesus Sacred Heart crowded by fl owers, cards and pictures of the departed. I saw a photograph of her that stood pressed against a candle. She had a round face, high cheek bones and small brown eyes coupled with long, fl owing black hair. She was wearing a black a dress and in her left hand she was holding a rosary. She had a picaresque smile, probably reminiscent of her younger days.

The vigil had a gathering of about a dozen people. I assumed most were relatives and close friends, and like me, people just came and went. I wasn’t there more than ten minutes. I didn’t know any of the people that were gathered so I stood there almost with a sense of indifference. Albeit, it was my neighborhood, the resistance for a sense of community and the need for isolation had dictated everyone’s life until a tragedy struck, the same way we made new neighbors late one nigth in January 1994 when the Northridge earthquake shook the world and reminded us, all of us, of our existance and what binds us.

I saw the people there; I saw their eyes and they were sad like a defeated race. I could sense death. I crossed myself and left in the selfi sh hope that such a tragedy should never hit close to home. It was one of those Summer nights I felt the most cold, but also felt a little more closer to this strange thing; this humanity.

Across the porch where the candlelight vigil stood, was a Catholic gift shop and down the street on Olive Avenue, St. Anthony’s Church, where we attended Mass on Sunday mornings. Down Seventh Street toward Los Alamitos Avenue, was St. Francis, where we would go with my mother, when we my brothers and I were all young, family struggling for money and still new to this place. There, we received donations of canned fruit, canned food, and other food stuffs and as restless as we were, my brothers and I would help my mother carry these home. No car, no transportation, nothing, just the six of us walking with fortitude without any lament, like mother goose leading her ducklings to a pond somewhere over a green pasture buried amidst this inner-city jungle.
About two weeks later, I sat inside the front offices at Millikan High School. For the summer session, I had a graphic arts class for first period and was a student aide to the front office of the school for second period. I was talking to my friend Helen when a girl, also a student aide, came to me.

“Hey, is your name Fernando?” she asked.

I nodded.

“Yeah, I think there’s a phone call for you,” she said.

I was perplexed, but followed her.
She handed me the phone.
“Hello,” I said into the phone.
“Hey, it’s me. It’s Paula,” I recognized my sister-in-law’s voice immediately and by the tone of it, I knew that something was wrong.

“Your mom’s in the hospital. She fell down the stairs this morning. She’s hurt pretty bad.”

I cringed. I felt kicked in the stomach.
“Is she gonna be okay?” I asked calmly sensing the room and this girl who still had her eyes locked on me.
“Well, kind of… She’s at St. Mary’s. Everyone’s is already here or on their way,” Paula said.

“Okay…I’m on my way.”
I hung up. I rushed back to where Helen sat to grab my stuff.
“Is everything alright?” Helen asked with her eyes widened.

“No, I have to go,” I responded. “My mom’s in the hospital.”
Helen gasped as I ran out the office and out of the school in a frantic dash to catch the first bus headed Downtown. While on the bus, my thoughts were on my mother’s welfare. I fashioned my own prayer asking for my mother to never die. I thought about my father and my brothers and wondered what they were thinking at that exact moment. I thought about the woman who had ceased to exist two weeks prior; and of the similarities of one mother to the other. I thought about life and death and concluded that time was never on our side.
I arrived at St. Mary’s within an hour. I was the last one there. My brothers and my father were gathered in the lobby. It was a sight to see; seven males huddled together with an expression of fear not unlike the dangers of warfare. As the last one, it was my turn to see my mother. I didn’t want to see her at all; not like this at least.
We waited about anxiously until I was ushered in to see my mother at around noon. Her room was in one of the upper floors of the medical center. Inside the hospital room, my mother was in a cast up to her neck. I could see her face and eyes only. Her eyes looked weary and the hazel in her iris gave off a grey reflection. It took me a while to recognize her. She seemed to have aged decades in only one day. It was obvious she was numbed with a lot pain medication. The medical staff had said she wouldn’t be able to talk much and that each visit would be better if it were short.
I stood against the side of the hospital bed. She looked up at me and gave me a concerned look. In her eyes, she saw me as if though I were still a child. In a way, we were all still kids. My youngest brother was seven and the oldest was 22. I felt helpless. I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t know what to say. She was in a full body cast and the questions such as; how are you doing, or are you okay? They all seemed redundant. But I still felt like the worst son in the world. Because there, underneath the body cast and the bandages was the woman who had birthed and raised six boys, the woman who’d given me life and I couldn’t utter a word of encouragement.

“Hi mom,” I finally said.

She forced a smile and with a raspy voice she said in Spanish, “I’m so glad you could make it. I didn’t see you when everyone else came in. Did you talk to your dad and your brothers?”

“Everything is going to be okay, she reassured me. “The doctors said I will be here for about a week. Then, they’ll probably send me home in a cast.”

“That’s good,” I said.

Then, I just stood there. Her left hand was free from cast. I held her hand until my time ran out. I kissed her on the forehead and left.
Visiting hours were over. There was nothing else to do, but to go home. So we did. “Can we go back tomorrow?” my seven year old brother Eduardo asked indiscriminately to the platoon of men that marched out of St. Mary’s.

“Yeah,” my father said. “We’ll come back tomorrow.”

I was seventeen at the time, aged in between Gonzalo and Valentin who were two years younger and older than me respectively. Ezequiel was the oldest and David had just turned 21.

It was quiet. No one said anything on the way home. We got home, ate and idled about the afternoon until my father went off to work.
That night, my brothers, my father and I were swallowed by an immense solitude. In the midst of the binge and purge of the expression of loneliness, there was a sense of guilt among us, as if though we could have prevented this.
“So what happened?” I asked. “Why’d she fall?”

“I think she was just tired and slipped and fell,” Valentin said.

“She was probably sleepy too,” Gonzalo said.
At the hospital, my mother had told Ezequiel, the oldest, what had happened.
“She said she was getting out of bed to move the car,” Ezequiel said.

It was street sweeping day and my mother was called out of bed by my father to move one of my brothers’ car.
“Why didn’t my dad wake you up instead of her?” David said. “You should have moved the car.
We all know she barely gets any sleep.”
Everyone’s face became dim.

In those days, both my parents worked late-night shifts. My mother worked in the oil refi neries in Wilmington and my father worked in a factory in West Long Beach. They would leave at around four in the afternoon, the same time we came from school. Sometimes the week would pass by without even seeing my parents. I only saw them early in the morning while getting ready for school.

My mother would come from work around two in the morning. Then, she would get up at seven in the morning, make breakfast for all of us, drive my little brother to school, come home, sleep for a couple of more hours, wake up and go to work again.

She did that for a while. I’m sure her body gave her signs, but she has always been stronger than anybody I know.
During vacation time from school or even on Friday nights, I would sometimes stay up watching Late Night With Conan O’Brien. My mother would come home from work and she would tell me about her day. Some nights she would let it all out and tell me all about her day. If I asked her to fi x me a hot plate; she would. Sometimes, I would lie awake in my bed, pretending to be asleep in the hopes she would nudge at me. She would stand at the door and while I played dead. I wanted to her to nudge me, but she didn’t. I don’t know why acted like that.
She does not remember the day she fell from a fl ight of stairs of the apartment building we lived in. Her mind was lost. She said she simply remembers waking up, walking out the door, grabbing hold of the banister and then being wheeled on a stretcher surrounded by paramedics. She lost her footing on the top of the stairs and fell heavy without rolling like a body bag made of cement. She was unconscious before she reached the bottom steps. No scream, no cries; nothing.

There is a picture buried deep inside one of our photo albums. In it, we are all kids, infants even. I’m wearing a Ghostbusters t-shirt, sporting a really bad haircut, surrounded by four of my brothers as we stand, towered over by my mother. It was 1985, my father wasn’t with us when we went to this family portrait photo shoot. He had gone to other side, el norte style, to help out the family. Back then, my mother, would generate income by selling bed sheets and pillow cases she sewed herself inside the house. She would embroider bed sheets and pillow cases with the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe emblazoned on them. I don’t remember those days, but I’ve heard the will of instinct and perseverance when my parents retell the stories of those moments of hardship.

My mother was released in due time from the hospital and she recovered eventually. But it was those moments in that hospital bed, with the pervasive futility of life which triggered feelings of isolation. She had always been there and one assumed she always would be. She had always been as ever-present as the sun and as free as the eagle; almost unbendable. But nowadays when I see her, I try to be as expressive of how much she has meant to me; to all of us. To not do so would be a sacrilege; an unforgivable sin. ¶

Celina, esto es para ti. Muchas gracias...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Not "My" President: A Letter to Barack Hussein Obama

Dear Obama,

You are not "my" president. I am not recognizing you as "my" president nor am I considering any other person "my" president. For me, recognizing you as "my" president means that I agree with the system that you are perpetuating – and I don’t. Also, recognizing you as "my" president is not giving me "hope" for "change". And furthermore, recognizing you as "my" president would mean I am acknowledge you as my leader, but the only thing that I am following is my heart. Obama I am recognizing you as part of this universal family of life guided by love, and although I am not recognizing you as "my" president, I know you and I are "one".

I am not recognizing you as "my" president when the army you are "commanding" is killing people all over the world. I don’t agree with that system. I am not in agreement with sending more troops to Afghanistan, Iraq, or any other country on a path to peace. Choosing a "path to peace" that includes "shock and awe" strategies consisting of tons of bombs, bullets, and dead bodies is not liberating anybody nor bringing peace to anyone. I am agreeing with Mahatma Gandhi’s spirit saying that "there is no path to peace. Peace is the path." Planting a seed of violence can only produce violence; planting an orange tree will not produce apples. I am agreeing with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh who says that "only deep listening, mindfulness and gentle communication can remove the wrong perceptions that are the foundation of violence."

I don’t recognize you as "my" president because I do not agree with the American myths being taught to the citzens of this "country" in the mandatory public education system, and dramatized by the media corporations, which hides the true nature of these systems. Christopher Columbus did not "discover" America and help initiate the spread of freedom and democracy, but rather intiated the invasion and occupation of the Anahuac continent. These lies are hiding the truth and setting the precedent for other nations like Israel, which is receiving military aid to keep exterminating the Arab people who’ve lived in Palestine for thousands of years. According to the Israeli myth, Palestine was "a land without a people for a people without a land."

Obama, I know that this government allowed the creation of a private bank in 1913 (the Federal Reserve Act, 1913) owned and operated by private bankers. I know that this bank prints money and loans it to the government at "interest" which helps keep the government in debt to these bankers who in turn have the power to manipulate the economy by raising and lowering interest and is allowing them to stage depressions and what not. This system is allowing these bankers to buy up other banks, corporations, and foreclosed homes when the economy collapses. I know these bankers practically own Wall Street and contributed the most money to your campaign and are receiving bailouts consisting of billions of dollars from taxes. I don’t agree with that system.

I am not recognizing your presidency as "hope" for "change." I know that in this universe the only thing that is constant "is" change. Change is happening every moment. I don’t need to have hope in anybody to bring change to this world, country, community, or myself because it is happening naturally, right now. I have faith in the great spirit of the universe. Most people call this unifying energy God and the Great Spirit, among other things, but I like to call it Love. Love is life. Life is love. It is one. I am not recognizing you as "my" president while you are running a system rooted in slavery. I am living to love and loving to live every moment which naturally brings "true change"; a change I can experience inside of me and all around. This change is guided by love inside of me and inside of everything else in this universe. No external force is giving me "hope" for a change to all the suffering in this American system. Change is happening naturally, we are not making it.

Obama, I believe that when we are born there is an energy called love which is leading our lives. The energy and the actions are "one." Love is the language of the heart which allows us to continue living. The heart is what is leading our lives, showing us how to breathe, digest, grow, etc. It is the only thing that is guiding all the actions I am taking and all the thoughts I am expressing…all the love I am living. I am listening to the heart because it has all the answers that I need. I know that everyone’s heart is holding all the answers they need to live free and there is no need for us to have an external leader. No external force is leading me or anyone else to freedom. Not democracy, nor technology, nor hope. Only faith. Faith in love. Faith in life. Believing that everything is "one" and constantly changing, living, loving. No amount of wealth or power is changing our life or leading it to "freedom and justice for all," it is simply perpetuating this system of lies. The truth is inside of us all and we are all one. Acknowledging our oneness can allow us to stop looking at external forces like terrorists, or "others" as being the cause of our troubles and allow us to find peace inside of ourselves.

Obama I am living the truth. I am living free. I don’t need you as "my" president. This is not a declaration of independence, this is a declaration of "interdependence." You are not "my" president but everything in life has a purpose and I am glad that I am here in this universe and you are here and we are "one."

Jaime Agredano

Our Form of Expression

Geronimo Souza Valdivieso

There are many forms of expression; I just chose one to relieve
Some tension, my poems are an extension of a mind out of body
Experience. Give perfect execution like hanging someone
Without breaking their neck and letting ‘em suffocate, and if you

Think that’s sick… you better check how we do nothing, but love
To watch other people suffering… And I can be equal to my
Surroundings, but once I flip on the television, I get a high interest
In negligence and feel a need to resort to violence, to run on my

High emotions, in a world packed with self-glorification instead
Of self-determination, and you really ain’t nothing, being the
Survivor on Big Brother, doesn’t constitute you as the American Idol,
You chanting we are the champions and winning a championship,
Is fictitious and irrelevant and prevalent to ignorance. The way you
Define yourself, puts you in a bit of a predicament…

You call yourself African, after the Roman General Scipio Africanus,
And you call yourself Latino or Hispanic after the Roman Language,
This not an influence, it’s been forced on to us, down our throats,
Living from Pax Romana down on to Pax Americana, still getting
Your brain washed by the Nazi Propaganda… You’re becoming one

Hell of a pasta, a stereotypical Scarface, Godfather, Mafia,
It’s like the T.V. defines the living room, like a gun defines our youth…
This country is based on bondage, I guess we like getting beat
And punished, and let it be video taped and shown to an audience,
That seems to have a fetish for a history of violence… and so…

You don’t have to be on death row in order to be a dead man walking,
Little by little you’re dying, as you take in the stench of failure,
It’s intolerable; you can’t cover up a drug war scandal, making
Money off the barrios, going from Iran Contra to martial law,
How is it a person goes from looking for work to being a criminal???

The light is starting to beacon, like deception under a lie detector,
So I can’t hold it in, so it’s not my balls that are turning blue,
It’s my tonsils, ‘cause I had enough of people not having a clue,
How they’re getting used, and how society looks down on you, with
A sick perverted mind, lookin’ you up and down, undressing you, and
While you speak, hearing you moan and groan like if it was sex phone…

I guess in this society you got to constantly wear a condom, ‘cause if
You don’t constantly protect yourself, it’s like playing an extreme sport,
With no protection, ending up with broken bones and barely left with
Life, on life support, dealing with the political storms that you can’t even
Control, your cognitive dissonance makes you think you can relate to
The world behind close doors in a studio…

Hate and tolerance shouldn’t have a place here, ‘cause they can break
At any given point, ‘cause how long can you tolerate being slapped
In the face, being harassed by the police, innocent but still losing
The case, and all you achieved lost in a blaze, marching peacefully
And still getting pepper sprayed and maced, watching others succeed
From the other side of the gate???

My brothers and sisters, you got nothing to debate, you been giving
Chase, but you can’t play catch up in a maze; you need to put down
The blunt and get out of the blaze, let the fresh air touch your face,
Look and gaze at yourself and reflect, in a constant mental conflict,
Gather strength, and put your thoughts into context, and you’re
Bound to make mistakes and errors, that’s why pencils have erasers…

But take it one step at a time, like reading a book together, we got to
Be on the same page, ‘cause one wrong step and we’ll be looking
Like Juan Gabriel, falling off stage, but the world is not a stage,
Because actors are the best liars, and those who read from a script,
Can’t really think for themselves, so when the going gets tough,
They’re the first ones yelling: Everyone for themselves!!!

And no matter how hard they try to squeeze their grasp, the sand will
Still slip from their hand
, while we
get it together our hand will form
A fist
, the legist is a test in a mess, where people think less of
Themselves, so they’re like agents and scouts, making wealth off the
Disenfranchised, to capitalize, to create a franchise, built on lies,
Like drug ties… So a word to the wise… Like my sister Michiboo, put it:

You can’t put the words wise and dumb together to make the word wisdom!!!

That’s one hell of an oxymoron, like giving to charity and asking for a tax
Deduction refund… And so we need to quit falling for the images, the way
Society depicts women as frigid, off pseudo-doctors opinions, ‘cause it’s the
Man whose impotent… that’s why the man needs a medicine to give him a lift…
But this ain’t no free ride, like winning a fake ass election by a landslide…

In life you got to cut thru the grime, like 409… There’s always a beginning
And an end, and life is the in between, but life ain’t about getting cream,
And dying ‘cause of all the beef on the street, get off that level of being
The dirt lying beneath the pebbles, and get out of the rubble, or else you’ll
Be as self-conscious as freshmen conversations in college…

Never able to understand… our form of expression

Who Am I?

Jesus Cortez

Who am I?
Well my name would not
answer that question.
To think such a thing could
define someone as me
would mean that a prisoner
is no more than a number,
so you might wonder
and ponder on why my name;
I did not choose it, first or last.
You might cross yourself
as I walk by in mockery,
or ask if I spell it with an "s"
or a "z" – what difference does
it make, if I ache from the pain
of not knowing my true name?
In another time, I might have
been Mexica, now I am "indio",
"mestizo" with a brand on my body,
not my hand or my back.
I’m no savior, I’m no "conquistador",
my name is as meaningless as
words made up by colonizers
to excuse their crimes.
I am more than my name may say--
as "nice" as it may be.
So I inherited the name of my "father’s"
father and probably someone else’s
father, and someone’s slave and someone’s
master. Oh what disaster to think
I am who I am, when I’m not who
they say. I like my other names much
more; as a boy even an insult sounded
much better than my name.
Torturous sounds of a teacher’s
pronunciation, and my indignation –
it’s not Gee-zus, it’s JESUS,
it’s not Cor-tayz, it’s Cortez; and me
foolishly telling them it was in Spanish,
when how "Spanish" am I really.
I am more than my name, a name
that confines me to be a half-breed.
I am the son of the colonized and the bastard
of the colonizer, branded with fire
upon my brain, to think I am who
I have been told I am –
Jesus Cortez

Poema de amor

Roque Dalton

Los que ampliaron el Canal de Panamá 

(y fueron clasificados como "silver roll" y no como "gold roll"),
los que repararon la flota del Pacifico
en las bases de California, 

los que se pudrieron en las cárceles de Guatemala, 

México, Honduras, Nicaragua, 

por ladrones, por contrabandistas, por estafadores, 

por hambrientos, 

los siempre sospechosos de todo 

("me permito remitirle al interfecto 

por esquinero sospechoso 

y con el agravante de ser salvadoreño"), 

las que llenaron los bares y burdeles 

de todos los puertos y capitales de la zona 

("La gruta azul", "El Calzoncito", "Happyland"), 

los sembradores de maíz en plena selva extranjera, 

los reyes de la pagina roja, 

los que nunca sabe nadie de donde son, 

los mejores artesanos del mundo, 

los que fueron cosidos a balazos al cruzar la frontera, 

los que murieron de paludismo 

o de las picadas del escorpión a la barba amarilla 

en el infierno de las bananeras, 

los que lloraron borrachos por el himno nacional 

bajo el ciclón del Pacifico o la nieve del norte, 

los arrimados, los mendigos, los marihuaneros, 

los guanacos hijos de la gran puta, 

los que apenitas pudieron regresar, 

los que tuvieron un poco mas de suerte, 

los eternos indocumentados, 

los hacelotodo, los vendelotodo, los comelotodo, 

los primeros en sacar el cuchillo, 

los tristes mas tristes del mundo, 

mis compatriotas, 

mis hermanos.

Roque Dalton was a Salvadoran revolutionary poet.

At The Bottom: Desperate Measures

Jesus Cortez
He stood on the corner, with the same workers he had advocated for at one point— now he was one of them.

"Damn, it’s already noon, and nothing…" remarked Bruno.

"Is okei my fren, tomorro," responded an older man in broken English.

Bruno wondered why his education had not paid off yet, but this made him understand the stories he had heard once at the same corner: he had met ex-rebels from El Salvador, teachers from Mexico, doctors from Guatemala— all waiting for someone, anyone to pick them up and give them work for the day.

"I should head on home, there’s no way I’m getting work for today" he thought to himself as he placed his hands in the empty pockets of his khaki pants. The afternoon had turned cold, and he felt it through his worn-out white shoes and his thin grey sweatshirt.

As he arrived at his apartment complex, he read the graffiti on the walls; some names he still recognized, others were new to him. He thought about the days when he would roam the streets with his friends and his then-girlfriend— at that time his pockets were full and he felt invincible. He walked past the young men with baggy pants, white t-shirts and tattoos. As he approached his apartment door, he could hear Etta James’ song "Fool That I Am", and his daughter’s laughter—he could also smell the scent of beans. Before he could open the door completely, his daughter ran to his arms.

"Daddy!" she said, as his mother turned with a smile. She always smiled.

"Any luck today, son?" she asked with a grin.

"No Momma, not a damn thing" he said frustrated, as he rubbed his bald head. His brown eyes began to water, but before he could cry, his mother gave him a stern look.

"Don’t you dare cry, Bruno Gonzalez," she finally said.

"Okay, okay. Not in front of my baby" he said, and he picked up his three-year-old daughter.

"So, what did you do today little Xochitl?" he asked her. She responded and kept talking for hours; that was his favorite part of the day and the only thing that brought Bruno peace of mind.

Later that night, after tucking his daughter in, he had a conversation with his mother.

"How much money do we have, Mom?" he asked with a worried look on his face.

"Not much. Maybe for another week, but after that we still gotta pay the rent," she responded, as she ran her finger down a list.

"Damn, if that stupid woman had not taken all our savings, we would be alright!" A tear fell from his eye and rolled down his cheek and onto his mustache—he wiped it off. Bruno missed her more than he hated her for leaving him for his cousin. His mother turned on the radio and they listened to a few more songs by Etta James—"At Last" and "I’d Rather Go Blind"—then they were both silent.

"It’s gonna be alright mi’jo, don’t worry" she said soothingly, as she stroked his wet cheek.

The next morning, he got up early, got dressed in the same clothes, and drank his coffee—he was ready to keep searching for work. He trusted his mother, and if she said things would be okay, he had no reason to doubt her words.

As he stepped out of his apartment, he heard a voice call out "Psycho!" At first he thought it was the chilling wind blowing, or maybe he was just hearing things, but soon after, another young man appeared near the gate to the apartment complex.

"What, you can’t recognize an old friend or what, punk?" said the young man as he approached Bruno. Bruno had not recognized his old friend Andy. As soon as they were close enough, they shook hands and embraced.

"Take a ride with me," Andy said as he wrapped his arm around Bruno’s neck.

"Nah man, I have to look for work. I’m almost out of money, my kid needs food and the rent has to get paid," responded Bruno.

Andy insisted; he had just purchased a 1965 black Chevy Impala in mint condition and he wanted to take Bruno out for a ride. Andy knew that Bruno had been going through a rough situation lately, and he wanted to help. In the car, Bruno saw Daniel, his other close friend, and smiled.

"What’s up foo’, aren’t you gonna say wassup, or what?" Bruno said as Daniel stepped out of the car. Daniel was a giant in height compared to Bruno who was only 5’2 tall. When he got out of the car Bruno had to step back to make room. He greeted Bruno as he did in the old days—by play fighting.

Finally the three got in the car; Bruno sat in the backseat. They drove around the city for a couple of hours, listening to funk, Hip Hop and oldies, while Bruno looked out the window, thinking about his daughter and the things he should be doing. Bruno told Andy to turn up the volume when they played Tupac and Scarface’s song, "Smile". Bruno especially liked the introduction,

There’s gonna be some stuff you gonna see that’s gonna make it hard to smile in the future, but through whatever you see, through all the rain and the pain, you gotta keep your sense of humor, you gotta be able to smile through all this bullshit.

They made a stop at their favorite taco shop. Bruno had not tasted tacos in weeks, not since his daughter’s mother had left him. After a few hours of eating and talking, they got in the car again and drove around some more. In the evening, they took Bruno to their favorite bar.

There, they met up with another old friend who had just been released from prison after two years.

"Damn, when did you get out, foo’?" asked Bruno in disbelief.

"Last week," responded his friend. He had been drinking for a few hours, so he was already a bit drunk. "I hear you have some financial problems, ese."

"I’ll be alright Stranger, don’t even trip. It’s good to see you foo’. It’s been a while," responded Bruno.

"So, how’s college, you still going or what, eh?" asked Stranger.

"Nah, I had to quit for this semester… gotta take care of my little girl and my momma you know," responded Bruno as he took a sip of a beer his friends had bought him. He was only 19, but he had been going into bars since 17—his thick mustache made him look older than he was.

"I might be able to help you out, ese," said Stranger, as he sat on a stool stroking his thick mustache and beard, "but let’s go play pool and we’ll talk about it".

Bruno worried; the last time Stranger had tried to help, he ended up leaving the state for a few months, Daniel had gotten shot, Andy had left to Mexico and Stranger had ended up in prison serving two years in Susanville State Penitentiary. But they went ahead and played pool, as Andy and Daniel watched and cracked jokes. They talked about old times, when all it took was the four of them to control the neighborhood.

"Hey foo’, remember when we messed up that foo’ Robert?" asked Andy, as they laughed noisily.

After a few minutes of jokes and laughter, Stranger said "I might have a way for all of us to get paid".

They all knew this might be a bad idea, especially Bruno, but he was desperate for money. He had done some terrible things in his life, and did not want to go back to that lifestyle.

"I’ve seen you on the corner with the day laborers, foo’. You shouldn’t have to struggle that much, man. I’m telling you, just listen to my idea," said a drunken Stranger. "Okay, let’s hear it," said a not-so-convinced Bruno.

Stranger’s idea was to break into the neighborhood’s drug connection and rob it. Bruno thought Stranger was crazy. He knew who was in control of the drug connection, and though he was not afraid, he thought it a bad idea. They argued for a few minutes, but Bruno’s desperation was incredible. He finally agreed—he imagined himself driving around in a nicer car, not his mother’s beat up Monte Carlo, and imagined buying some nice clothes for his daughter, and paying the rent for a few months.

"Alright, I’m down" he finally said. "When and who else is rollin’?" he added. "Just us four, like the old days. We got everything ready, and a sawed-off shotgun, especially for you—like the old days," said Stranger. Everything was prepared for the robbery, because the job had to be done that same night. It was the end of the month, and they knew that the connection had taken advantage of pay day in the neighborhood.

"Go home, change, and meet us in front of your apartments, in 20 minutes" Stranger commanded.

Bruno went home, but said nothing to his mother. He ran into his room and changed into his black pants, black hooded sweater, black Nike Cortez; he put a black bandana in his pocket. He kissed his daughter, with a tear in his eye, but hoping his actions would lead to a better life. His mother questioned him. She asked him what his hurry was.

All he said was, "Nothing Momma, it’s gonna be alright," and left.

When he arrived at the front of his apartment, his friends were already there in Andy’s car.
They sped off and soon were on the same street where the drug connection was. "It’s that house." Stranger pointed across the street from where they were parked. As they sat in the car, they downed 40oz of beer, Stranger snorted cocaine, and Andy and Daniel smoked marijuana—Bruno just drank, and held the shotgun close to his chest. Many thoughts went through his mind, especially how long it had been since he had last used it. He thought about his mother, how disappointed she would be and about his daughter, but he decided to think about his ex and his cousin to get mad and more willing to go through with the robbery.

"Are you foos’ ready, or what?" questioned Stranger.

"Simón," was the automatic response from everyone.

They stepped out of the car quietly. They could hear Spanish music coming from the house, but no one was outside. They thought this would make the job easier. They walked quietly across the street: Bruno with the shotgun, Andy with a nine millimeter automatic revolver, Stranger with an AK-47, and Manuel with a Smith and Wesson .380.

They knocked on the door, and when it opened, a drunken man appeared. Stranger pointed the rifle to his chest and told him not to make a sound. They all walked in with their bandanas covering their faces and pointing their guns in different directions.

"Nobody make a damn move!" they all said.

As they walked in, they looked around and saw bags of money, and drugs. They didn’t care for the drugs, but they were overwhelmed by the amount of money. Three women came from the kitchen and were told to stay quiet. Two men came from the bathroom and were hit with Bruno’s shotgun on their heads.

"Get the money foo’, hurry up!" said Stranger as Bruno grabbed the bags of money.

"Where’s the rest?" asked Daniel as he pistol-whipped a man who had white dust on his nose. He finally told him where the rest of the money was. Soon, they had three bags full of money all together.

"Tie them up," Andy said to Stranger.

They had the money and all the dealers were tied up.

"You go first and turn the car around," said Stranger calmly.

Andy walked out the door, started the car and brought it around. Bruno, Stranger and Daniel ran out of the house with the money and jumped into the car. They sped off and got lost in the foggy night and city lights.

As they sped off, a young man had been peaking through his window, a friend of the drug dealers—he had seen all of their faces. ¶

Houston, We Have a Problema

Tina Vazquez

It’s never a good sign when you have to begin a book review with, "I really wanted to like …" Gwendolyn Zepeda’s completely uninspired first novel Houston, we have a Problema is disturbingly typical — which is perhaps the worst thing you can be as a writer.

I really wanted to like her Latina protagonist Jessica Luna. I was hoping she’d be fiercely smart, funny, and unexpected. Sadly, she stopped being promising about six pages in. Zepeda allows her character to fall victim to the usual clichés featured in both movies and literature pertaining to the Latino culture. Watch as Jessica Luna worries about the size of her ample ass. Watch as she pines and obsesses over the attractive Latino painter who treats her like shit, but superbly provides the drama she "loves." Listen as she makes earth shattering observations, such as "He was the kind of guy who obviously loved his mother, and therefore he always treated women like gold." Aside from that, Jessica Luna simply wasn’t a likeable character.

Perhaps you’re not supposed to admit things like this in a formal review, but I was reading Michelle Tea’s Rose of No Man’s Land at the same time as Houston, we have a Problema. The two books are worlds apart, but they were both written in first person from the main character’s perspective. Tea’s main character is a young teenage girl, while Zepeda’s is a twenty-six-year old woman. Despite this fact, Rose of No Man’s Land managed to be biting and intellectually stimulating; it had backbone and its character had nuance and layers. Zepeda’s character Jessica Luna lacked depth of any kind and was completely self-involved, uninteresting, and annoying. You’re forced to sit through her every mundane thought concerning her ridiculous love life and her boring job at an insurance company. Her internal struggles are so trivial that her "problems" are laughable. This sad state is only compounded by the fact that she visits a psychic for guidance- should she date the gabacho or the Mexicano? Should she do web design or try for a promotion at the insurance company? By the end of each chapter you’re left thinking who gives a fuck?

Houston, we have a Problema was obviously intended to be Jessica Luna’s coming of age tale, but if falls very, very flat. It also only furthers certain negative stereotypes associated with Latinas; that all of us love drama, that we want men who are bad for us, that we’re meek, apologetic, and indecisive. Though the protagonist routinely says she’s purposely steering clear of marriage, she spends more than half the book obsessing over men. Jessica Luna lets her life pass her by, unwilling to make her own decisions and unable to pinpoint whatever it is that she wants. I’d like to say that the novel ends on a promising note, but it doesn’t. In the end she dumps the white guy and the Latino painter … and then entertains the thought of dating two new men. Big whoop. ¶

Tina Vazquez is a writer for Feminist Review.

Circle of Beach

Commuter’s Corner
Maria Ventura

It was a stormy, wet Monday afternoon and I was sitting at the bus stop clutching my umbrella tightly so that it wouldn’t fly away. That’s when she approached me.

"May I sit here?" she asked in broken English.

"Yes," I replied.

She smiled and sat down and then like two old ladies we sat there huddling at the bus stop holding our umbrellas closely together to protect ourselves from the rain.

"What’s your name?" she asked.

"Maria," I replied as I shook her hand and smiled.

"What’s your name?" I asked.

She said her name but I couldn’t understand, so I just smiled. I had been on campus that day to pick up my Bachelor’s Degree from Admissions and to attend an El Reflejo meeting. I looked onto the street staring at CSULB, reminiscing about my memories as a student there. I was so locked into my own thoughts that I didn’t notice when she asked if I also attended the school.

"No, I graduated already," I said.

"Oh, it’s my first semester here."

"Oh, really?" I asked.

"I am here all alone. I am an international student."

"Oh cool, you’re an international student? Where are you from?"

"Vietnam. Do you know where that is?"

"Yes, I know where that is."

She then offered me raisins which I took politely as we waited for our buses to come; we ate the entire box. A short time later, her bus arrived and she waved goodbye as she boarded the bus that took her away. I was alone once more, waiting for my bus and glad that the rain had finally stopped. ¶