Only Ernesto Che Guevara could disappear into a sugar cane field as a volunteer worker in Cuba and re-emerge as an internationalist fighting for liberOnly Ernesto Che Guevara could disappear into a sugar cane field as a volunteer worker in Cuba and re-emerge as an internationalist fighting for liberation in Africa, living his words with deeds. Guevara learned bitter lessons leading a guerrilla column in the Congo (1965) that in any case would still cost him his life almost two years later in Bolivia. He starts his diary with a gut-wrenching transparency of truthfulness that only he, Che, mastered. So much that this work of his time in the Congo would not be published for more than two decades because of what his critical views of the national liberation struggles and the role and responsibilities of the socialist countries. He wrote something like:
This is the story of a failure.
Would he have said the same of his time in Bolivia, could any one say this about his life and work? Only he could. Yet, he did not get to sum up his year in Bolivia organizing guerrilla movement of internationalist dedicated to a national liberation struggle,
The beauty of his efforts in Cuba, the Congo, and Bolivia was that he did not expect any of his comrades in arms to do what he could do himself. Leadership of a new type, the new human that is still desperately needed, however, to struggle with non-violent strategies. Not at any cost.
In Africa, Che learned (or maybe he didn't) that solidarity and internationalism alone could not transform and convene, converge a fragmented revolutionary movement. That he had to have executive power to make tactical and strategic moves and positions to advance what he believed was the way to advance a revolutionary transformation. In the field, in the camps, in the supply and support lines, in the thinking and development of revolutionary consciousness embedded in practical and revolutionary actions. When he was the subordinate in Africa, because he was there to support and serve, he learned that without unity of vision and a stellar commitment to victory or death that mistakes not his making decisively led to unravel his project. The moral of his troops, all Black Cubans except for him and a few others, was not helped when they would see the warriors they were there to work with and support fail to step up to the front lines of their struggle. Even a seemingly small announcement, when Fidel Castro read Che's letter of resignation -- a tactical maneuver nonetheless to throw imperialism off balance believing there was a riff among the Cuban leadership -- impacted and confused and demoralized his comrades-in-arms in Africa.
Guevara's plan all along was to use his experience and work in the Congo to prepare for carrying out an internationalist mission somewhere in Latin America. He was thinking two, three revolutions ahead of everyone else. Che wrote about the importance of revolutionary movements, if not coordinating at least guided by the same belief that their struggles and blows in different spaces against imperialism could bring about if not its downfall, at least setbacks to create breathing room for national liberations.
Che was a brilliant writer, on top of being a brilliant thinker and self-less warrior. Even as the Cuban internationalists were being pulled out of the Congo, Che was trying to convince himself and others to stay behind, saving face and showing that human determination and invulnerable human will to fight to the end that could only be dubbed Che Guevara. He spent time in clandestinity, writing about his internationalist foray in the Congo. Che was even joined by his wife who came to provide salve and solace to his predicament: a failure in the Congo, publicly disassociated from the Cuban revolution, he did not want to return to Cuba. He written elsewhere that in a real revolution one either wins or one dies. And here he was alive.
In clandestinity Che Guevara was also the keen photographer, taking selfies in his room somewhere in a Cuban embassy. Clean-shaven, the physique of a demigod, Guevara looks like the twenty-something in the photographs of him in Mexico City. Che returns again in clandestinity to Cuba, already with plans to continue his internationalist work and project. He has photos with his wife, they look more like a Hollywood couple on a get-away than two revolutionaries in love and struggle consoling each other with tenderness that could heal the wounds of having being separated.
In Bolivia, Che wanted to collaborate with his ideological counterparts but would not share the leadership of the guerrilla movement with the Bolivian communist leadership. He had learned a hard lesson in Africa and a new lesson appeared with new variations in the Bolivian mountains: that different types of leadership and expertise are needed to transform the transformers. His communication and supply lines, both for cadre and food, weapons and a leadership body that might approximate peers, solidarity from those in Bolivia that mattered the most, and historical timing -- what was possible in Bolivia -- were all off and/or missing. Beset by early losses, illness and lack of medicines and food, a enemy that was adapting new surveillance technology to hunt down the guerrillas tilted the moment in favor of the U.S. and its Bolivian partners.
Read Guervara's Adrican diary for his brilliant thinking, his fearless critiques and self-critiques, the harrowing experiences of true band of brothers who were trailblazers in making the road on international resistance possible. Che's exploits in Africa, Bolivia and elsewhere built Cuba's capacity to support national liberation movements at strategic turning points, helping defeat the South Africa apartheid regime's incursions in southern Africa that laid the groundwork for successful national liberation movements and the ultimate defeat of apartheid.
My grandmother said that for any one of us to be successful, a thousand others will have tried and failed sometimes the same exact action or dream. Che Guevara was one of those unique thousand trailblazers that implemented his beliefs and theories of revolution so that others could one day be successful. ...more
Snap-review of "This Lamentable City: poems by Polina Barskova"
Because at one time I believed that the capitalist society I lived in could be transfoSnap-review of "This Lamentable City: poems by Polina Barskova"
Because at one time I believed that the capitalist society I lived in could be transformed with deep justice, self-less revolutionary organizing, I looked to other countries that had overthrown this system and looked to their poets to see how they saw and wrote about the the transformations and their attempts at revolutionary transformations. There was much to immerse myself in Spanish: Cuban, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Spanish, Portuguese, Argentinian, Chilean, Bolivian, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Columbian and other spanish-speaking lands.
There were many more poets also striking at the social and economic structures of oppression and liberation with new language, desired consciousness and cultural tanks of organizing to read, thanks to bilingual translators: Greek, French, Eastern Europe, the Philippines, Japanese, Chinese, India, multiple Indigenous poets -- some writing in English, too.
Poetry was a key link, poets the connectors of diverse realities, dreams and struggles.
After being introduced to Mayakovsky in the 1970s, I have always been intrigued by the digested Russian poetry brought to us by formidable translators, Herbert Marshall at the top of the icebreaker list. Mayakovsky's constellation-lines, his still alive viewings of dominant industrial society that purged nature from humans and vice versa and struggled to become human in spite of the inhumanity of the industrialized worlds, renewed my faith in meter, in rhyme, in desire and eros ("standing outside one's body). There are the Russian grandfather/grandmother poets: Velemir Khbelnikov, Marina Tsvetaeva, the myriad groups (Symbolists, Futurists, Acmeists, et. al.) who all lived and wrote trapped in the imagination of the experiment of transforming a country that believed it was socialist. All great social and political struggles and movements are accompanied by great poets and poetry; the tension always between poetic freedom and social compulsions, individualism and collectivizations, community and communes, voice and slogans.
Russian poetry (not alone) has since been caught up in that beautiful contradiction of linguistic and cultural innovation and industrialization, commercialization, neoliberalism, eastern/western-ization, destruction of Indigenous cultures and lands, multiplying attempts to define and envision as outcasts of the world according to capitalism.
So here joining these contradictions of development, nationality, language, gender, coercion, in the pleasures of experiencing the transitions from a bipolar to a unipolar world (that is the wetiko disease, what the Lakota concept for the illness of private property, a socially accepted bi-polar illness that has destroyed the natural world and humanity's place in her) is a small tome of poetry, "This Lamentable City" by Polina Barskova.
I immediately picked up and bought this 33 page book of poems because it was by a Russian poet. I wanted to understand how she plucked herself in the most 21st century of clumps of human settlements the city. I live in a city that was almost totally abandoned by private capital over a period of more than 35 years, Oakland - a truly lamentable city.
Poetry matters in my world. And my world includes every country, every land, every language, every poet who writes to understand her world, to influence her human surroundings and to transform and be transformed form the inside out in the relationships that unfold, blossom, and counter the lesser forces that want to drag us out of our poetic shells, stomp us, make us into clerks, data-shifters and put us in cubicle cells.
Polina Barskova puts herself out in this short poetry collection. She writes in the present tense, accompanying Nabakov's mother, a woman the heroine in Tolstoy's "War & Peace" big book, the grand Akmatova and her own personal desires that take the form of the daily tribulations of relationships. In a poem, one of whose lines provides the title to the collection, she contrasts the human spaces and bodies, the harsh realities she navigates:
Now you will forget what you desired. Now, Who you were. Now, this lamentable city Where we have lived together. Are you still frightened, girl? Already I am a bitter stranger. ("To A.K.")
The covers of the book declare that in Russia Barskova "is considered one of the most accomplished and wring of the younger poets." Like all poetry and poets that generate knowledge and culture in their work and words, Barskova does demand a deep knowledge of Russian poetry. Some of her insights, laughter, her eros, require prerequisite readings and traversing the contradictions of Russian- and non-Russian-ness. She provides many inputs and entry-points for anyone curious enough to want to get a taste of what is emerging in other parts of the world that is facing a similar nightmare and hope that we wield against the industrial-smokestack driven social-cultural formations created by capitalism. We share a past that provides direction and examples of how to be and not be,a s poets, as unordinary cultural workers and communty-based visionaries. Writing in the voice of the heroine in War & Peace," Barskova defends us against the official version of things, where the human "spirit" lives in everyone and everything:
...I will be a handful of smoke Over this, lost, Moscow.
I will console any man, I will sleep with any man, Beneath the army's traveling horse carriages.
These are lines that I wish I would have written to take Última out of "Bless Me Última" and make Última anew, walk out of her own confinements, become a healing woman's bodily force, when we need healers and curanderas and human spirit to infuse the problems and the relationships that are threatening ourselves out in this conundrum of industrialized humanity. Turn back the pages, turn back to previous eras and eros, there is something there for us to reconsider, "This Lamentable City" implies. The small things are what counts and they build up. Her daughter appears in her poems to show the depths of culture and the simplicity of relationships, like a true city living in a family caught in the daily routines that change everything.
*** Socially just, poetically sustainable, eros-driven, transformations are possible and taking place. Sometimes just an island at a time, sometimes just a community and place at a time -- and our poets are there taking notes and making their own proposals, utopian and universal, or just writing love poems to their belovéds. ...more
Note: these notes on the Chicano poet, raúlrsalinas, were first written in 2008 and published in my blog right after he passed away. I am reposting th Note: these notes on the Chicano poet, raúlrsalinas, were first written in 2008 and published in my blog right after he passed away. I am reposting them here, slightly edited for time and correcting typos. Raúlrsalinas's birthday is on March 17; he would have been 79 years old this year.
Some notes on the Resistance Indio Poet! raúlrsalinas
Raílrsalinas died on Wednesday, February 13, 2008 at about 9:00 a.m. in Austin, Texas, after a long bout with health problems. Next March 17  he would have turned 74.
Raúlr.salinas was/is a Chicano poet who became a writer and activist in prison and continued working on political and poetic causes throughout his life. He came out prison (Leavenworth? Marion?) and was literally exiled to Seattle, being banned from his home turf for a number of years. He returned to Austin, Texas in 1980.
I was fortunate to have met him when I was still very young and an aspiring poet, writer and musician who was mainly a student organizer with MEChA and CASA-HGT.
Raúl spent a lot of his youth, from his 20s on, in prison. Until he was freed on probation around 1970 to Seattle; he was released as a result of being petitioned by a group of Chicano and European American scholars. They helped rescued a deep community poet whose writing and intelligence was shaping the Chicano and cultural-literary movements of the time.
Raúl went from being a prisoner into the arms of a group of writers and scholars, led by one Joseph Sommers and Tomas Ybarra, preeminent scholars who were breaking ground for then nascent and hardly recognized Chicano literature and her writers, poets and cultural workers.
Raul's work had been writing for various prison newspapers and magazines while in prison. He wrote one of the first seminal poems about the chicano movement from prison. Then he was "discovered" by an Italian literary critic/scholar who wrote about Raúl. This resulted in his first collection of poems, a chapbook, titled Viaje/Trip (Hell Coal Press) being published.
Raúl became politicized in prison, sharing jail space with one of the famed Puerto Rican nationalists, at Leavenworth, and living through becoming involved in the prisoners' rights movement of the 1960s. He lived in the time when George Jackson was assassinated at San Quentin and I remember him saying how everyone who was in prison and fighting for their rights inside and out the prison thought they were all like or were George Jackson.
So raulrsaslinas ended up in Seattle, crash landing on the slopes of Mount Rainer -- Tajoma as the Northwest Indians call her -- feeling raza, chicano, mexicano in the isolation of the Pacific Northwest. I met raúl through an older brother who while on an "EOP" recruiting trip passed by our house. Raúl rolled up on the passenger side as my brother drove. He said in his deep, gravelly voice, something like, "your brother says your a poet; we gotta sit down some time and talk about poetry."
My brother later told me about that when they driving through Snoqualmie Pass and other mountain roads (in Washington state), raúl would read parts of his poem, most parts lost, some fragments published, of his love poems to Mt. Rainier. At that time he wore a handcuff around one of his wrists, a sign of solidarity to show that he would not forget the imprisoned sisterhood/brotherhood, los meros meros as Flaco in the northwest memorialized chicanos in prison.
When I was a Mechista student we used to organize delegations that would go on CInco de Mayos, Independence Day to celebrate with Chicano pintos (prisoners) held in McNeil Island peniteniary. We had charlas, brought in small contraband (dulces, lipstick, cigarrettes), played music, read poetry, performed traditional dances and performed in our teatros for all the brothers in prison. I never met raúl like this but I met a lot of prisoners, chicano brothers, who were doing hard time in federal prisons.
Raúl spent some 18 years or so in prisons; both his torment and his savior. Torment because he became a different man than anyone could have expected. A saviour because he became a poet and activist, met other men who were in prison for political reasons, inspiring him along a path of revolutionary internationalism and recovery. He became who he was when got paroled to Seattle, writing, dreaming, being free and not forgetting his debt to society -- that is the debt that society owed him and all his compas, comunidades, our peoples, who were prisoners without being in prison, cons without having been convicted, criminals who were paying this price because they were poor, brown, didn't speak english, had forced out of schools, forced to abandon their dreams and to work, resist, die young, die a spritual death and submit to the system or go to jail for the crime of being working class mexican, Indio, black.
Raúl changed for the better because of what he did while in prison to be free.
Raúl was one of the first internationalists I met within the Chicano political activist community. The first was my brother, who turned me on to the Cuban revolution, sharing knowledge of the Mexican revolution, which my grandfather dug, because that was his story, his youth, his struggles and hard life that he my grandfather did not want any of his children and grandchildren to experience or suffer.
Raul went to Cuba in one of the first Venceremos Brigade, he was really proud of a picture of him and a cubano where he appears wearing a construction hard hat and a red pioneros' bandana about his neck and shoulders. He recruited me to go when I was still a teenager but I didn't go.
When I got to finally went to Cuba he was on the same delegation. He didn't want to hang with the kids when we had free time in Havana and evaded us to get away with his peers, to be with the revolution alone, leaving us to our own devices. Raúl's jaw dropped after members of thed VB delegation reconnoitered at the bus that was taking us back to the Julio Antonio Mella camp when two white U.S. women, who like everyone else, were talking non-stop about their adventures in Havana said the met and had drinks with some old poet named Nicolás Guillén!
Raul had taken off without us with that same goal, looking for Nicolás Guillén, Cuba's national poet, without luck. That evening I got really drunk with some Cubans who were looking for a Mexican. They were university students who had just returned from a stint studying in Mexico. A group of us went into the Havana club hotel (name?), a famous hotel where the club is on the top floor and has a "sun-roof," open to let the cool tropical breezes cool us from the Caribbean humidity. When we walked in, I noticed after a bit a group of men staring at me. I had played in many night clubs and bars in the U.S. and knew the danger and friendship signals. Or thought I did in a socialist country.
I avoided eye contact in spite of noticing they were eyeballing me in a serious way. Then one of them walks over to the table where I am with a group of brigadistas , expecting a fight, even if it was for mistaken identity. He taps my shoulder and asks: Are you a Mexican? I said without missing a beat. Yep. And he said, "!coño! come over here with us and join us for a drink. He explained how they had just returned from Mexico, loved Mexican hospitality and especially Mexico's unflinching solidarity with Cuba in spite of the U.S. blockade.
We talked, toasted every possible relationship between Mexico and Cuba, mexicans and cubans, and got quite drunk. While we're in the Havana club, raul is out and about with his Cuban and u.s. friends, hoping to hang out and talk with his fellow poet and inspiration Nicolás Guillén.
During the day, when raúl dumped us (I was with another chicano poet with me), we went to a bookstore and ran into some poets who were holding a reading close by. The other Chicano poet (Rubén Rangel) and I accompanied them. This was a reading/performance by poets/cultural workers who working with people were called "anti-social." The poets were trying to organize them to contribute to and be part of the revolution. The reading was held at an incredibly beautiful, fancy, regal and huge mansion that used to belong (they told us) to a Cuban gangster, expropriated after the revolution and converted later into a house of culture.
In Cuba, we partied, worked hard, wrote poetry and performed. Raúl led a small group of us into a nearby field with weeds to find chile piquín, to spice up the cuban fare with a bit of hotness.
*** RaúlRsalinas was an internationalist at home. He worked in the American Indian Movement, in the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, organizing poetry readings, demonstrations, mobilizations, and even smoked salmon sales to raise money for the cause. He participated in the first Long Walk; went to Geneva and other parts of Europe representing the human rights struggles organized by the International Indian Treaty Council, the LPDC and others.
He combined political organizing, literary endeavors and performance, whether it was at El Centro de La Raza in Seattle, with high school, junior high and university students and youth or choral poetry performances. He helped us put together and supported our chapbooks, our concerts and readings.
Raúl led a hard life before he went into prison, during prison and afterwards. He was a man, a human, who channeled his rage into the freedom struggle. Sometimes he would get the best of himself and the majority of time we got to see the best of him.
You have to remember he was a man of his time; living and suffering through the hard times of jim crow segregation, anti-mexican violence, who became politically conscious in prison at the cusp of the jazz revolution, the beat generation and the civil rights movements. He came of age as our community struggles birthed the Chicano, Indian, Black, Asian and other liberation movements in the 1960s and beyond. He was like any poet worth his work in blood and wounds. He was human, contradictory and dedicated to his work as a poet with revolutionary, liberation politics.
That was his primary concern, being a poet who was at the service of communities, of liberation struggles, of being free wherever he found himself.
Over the last couple decades or more, Raúl came of age again: He became a mentor and cultivator of cultural movement and youth. This was a recurring element of his work. That's how I met him, and he related to me not as an older man, which he was, but as a peer and mentor who shared his experiences, good, bad and ugly, with a fearlessness that outmatched his tattooed body.
Even with other crazy poets like us he knew what was real, surreal and that our dreams always had the same roots.
Raúl was multiple raúls: a man, a prisoner, a poet, Indio, activista, cultural center, editor, teacher, publisher, promoter of the good word and cause; inspire-er/conspirator and also nemesis. He made his mistakes in love and politics and paid for them (I am not talking about serving time! Those were not mistakes, but the consequences of the criminlaization of his youth and ours.) HIs goodness, his poesía, his commitment to freedom, will always outlast and overshadow his shortcomings.
I am in mourning for him; I'll miss his letters that he never sent but delivered always in person. I'll miss his telephone calls and other spontaneous interruptions that only raúl knew how to do.
Snap Review It Calls You Back: An Odyssey through Love, Addiction, Revolutions and Healing by Luis J. Rodriguez. A Touchstone Book published by Simon &Snap Review It Calls You Back: An Odyssey through Love, Addiction, Revolutions and Healing by Luis J. Rodriguez. A Touchstone Book published by Simon & Schuster, October 2011.
Luis J. Rodgriguez memoir it Calls You Back is exceptional story telling. Few books, far too few, are published telling the ordinary stories of the working class, survivors of the underclass, the underdogs, who too often prey on each other. Following his initial memoir "Always Running," about his youth as a gang member in Los Angeles, Rodriguez picks up his story as he is leaving L.A. County Jail being taunted by sheriffs that he will be back. And he returns and returns a different man, a changed man, at times trapped by his own upbringing and his own work that separates him from his loved ones, as an activist and organizer addressing the same problems and issues he faced as a young man in the hood.
In "It Calls You Back" the reader is dragged through a series of promising love relationships and entanglements, as he describes them, where Rodriguez unabashedly shares his failures and hopes. Rodriguez makes strides as he goes through a series of jobs, relationships, and stints in political movements. He suffers setbacks every step along the way, pulling himself back through drinking, bad decisions in relationships with women and turns around. Rodriguez's redeems himself because what always calls him back is becoming the father he needed and attending to his family.
"It Calls You Back" is the story of a working class Chicano/Mexicano who through hook and crook succeeds, at great personal cost, to become a national figure in the peacemaking movement among gangs and youth. Subtitled "An odyssey through love, addictions revolutions, and healing," the book focuses more on his loves and addictions, the revolutions being of a personal nature and the healing a political and cultural community-based breakthrough....more
Beyond the Wall by Bidisha is a brief excursion into the daily life and struggles Palestinians face under apartheid Israeli rule and occupation. BidisBeyond the Wall by Bidisha is a brief excursion into the daily life and struggles Palestinians face under apartheid Israeli rule and occupation. Bidisha presents a first-person account, mincing no words describing the Israeli military and settlers inhumane treatment and obliteration of Palestine. Bidisha brings you along to see the walls, feel the bombing of Palestinians persons, homes, traditions and lands, the normalization of racism, hate the sexism and militarism on the streets, the treatment of women, experience the virtual interpenetration of resistance and culture at the Palfest she is attending.
This is a good book to gift to someone who should already be familiar with the situation in Palestine. While this may not a book for experts or organizers who have studied, organized protests, visited the Middle East, everyone should read it to understand how the occupation of Palestine and her resistance has implications for all of us.
Closer to the U.S. home, the wall the U.S. is building and extending along the Mexican border are directly linked by the same policies of Israeli apartheid. Further, the same companies and strategists that built the Israeli walls have been consulted b the U.S. government for the Mexican border wall. The walls in Palestine and on the U.S.-Mexico border are meant to funnel people, communities and cultures to evaporation, disappearance and death. This is not inevitable but deliberate. Although the walls represent deliberate policies and strategies meant to harm and undermine people's mobility, right to place, and self-determination, survival cannot be deterred by walls, armies and occupation, the Palestinians and migrants and women on the U.S.-Mezico border are paying a deadly price. Survival is the hallmark of resilient cultures. The walls in Palestine will be torn down; it might take a decade or two and from behind them will emerge a new people more determined and having the potential of renewing human culture on a world scale.
Well, Bidisha doesn't say all this in her short "Beyond the Wall." She writes so that we can see over the walls and whatnthey are covering up: settler colonialist violence against Palestinian, against women, violence against the land and dignity. Bidisha lets us oeer over the walls so that we can decide with a deeper certainty if we will be or not be part of this apartheid now or in the future. Our futures are bound up by the walls and the struggles to tear them down. Her book could have easily asked her readers: which side of the wall are you on? Well, which side are you on?...more
In Picasso 1926-1939: from Minotaur to Guernica, Josep Palau I Fabre tracked and linked Picasso's daily output of paintings, drawings, etchings, scultIn Picasso 1926-1939: from Minotaur to Guernica, Josep Palau I Fabre tracked and linked Picasso's daily output of paintings, drawings, etchings, scultpture, collages, poems and other artwork reflecting, almost a chronology of his intimate, private and at times public life. A Herculean task, Palau provides incredible insight into the creative dynamics and cultural process that is named Picasso. Covering approximately 12 years of Picasso's life and work, Palau documents over 1300 pieces of art produced by Picasso. From the monumental piece "Guernica," including dozens of preparatory pieces that are masterpieces in and of themselves, to pencil drawings on pieces of matchboxes, Palau shows the in and out of Picasso's art to the women in his life. "Guernica" was a commissioned painting (about 11 by 25 feet) that became a homage to the city namesake that was carpet bombed during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and a continuing outcry against all war.
In From Minotaur to Guernica, Palau shows how Picasso wove his personal struggles into his artwork and in the process made art and culture that took on a life of their own. Palau links Picasso's art to Picasso's daily strife and tribulations, marriage, love affairs, politics, cultural developments, interpersonal relationships, war and nationality.
Picasso created a new way of seeing art, transforming and creating new spatial dimensions or illusions on a canvass. Picasso's art and life still continue turning heads, being contradictory, controversial, contorted, communist even, utopian, cubist, cartoonish, animated, childish, whole, full, intoxicating. Picasso showed that you can edit an image, much like a writer cuts and pastes words or sentences, and rework an idea over and over, with each iteration a stand alone piece. Fascinatingly detailed, this book is for individuals that want to learn from Picasso's method, his contributions that continuing impacting artistic production....more