by Luis Rodriguez
Luis Rodriguez’s collection of essays From Our Land to Our Land: Essays, Journeys, and Imaginings From a Native Xicanx Writer does not begin with his own words but rather those of a reader he overheard speaking about his 2003 short story collection The Republic of East LA : “You teach Mexicans a little English and now they think they can write books.” His latest book, slated to release on January 28, 2020, is a response to that comment.
The collection itself feels like a type of ars poetica. It is one writer’s reckoning with xenophobia and racism in the United States, but it is also a reflection of his relationship with language and how it has been shaped by activism, faith, pop culture and identity throughout the last four decades. By doing so, he explores the writer’s role in a world increasingly marked by racial violence and natural disaster.
Rodriguez is most known for his 1993 memoir Always Running: La Vida Loca, a reflection on his life growing up in the ‘70s surrounded by gang culture in East Los Angeles. These essays feel like a natural extension of that memoir. He writes about teaching in prisons, his work as a poet laureate and the violent racism he continues to experience despite his accolades.
He also writes about the examples of violent racism he experienced, for example, while in elementary school. In one brilliant passage, he shows how that brutality first taught him the power of language: “On my first day, I went from classroom to classroom because I couldn’t speak English and teachers didn’t want me among their students. A teacher finally let me stay, but she had me in a corner playing with building blocks most of the year. I’d pee in my pants since I didn’t know how to say I had to go to the restroom. Whenever a Spanish word left my mouth, I was punished, including being swatted by the school’s principal. I made the mistake one day of stepping into the kindergarten class my sister was in so I could pick her up. The teacher slapped me across the face in front of everyone.”
Throughout the collection, Rodriguez returns to one question: How, as writers, can we harness the power of language in order to heal? In Remezcla’s interview with the esteemed author and poet, he explains, “every time there’s a racist person, it challenges all of us to find the language to speak out and insist that we all belong.”
From Our Land to Our Land: Essays, Journeys, and Imaginings from a Native Xicanx
Former poet laureate of Los Angeles (2014-2016) Luis J. Rodriguez is the author of fifteen works of fiction, nonfiction, memoir, poetry, and children's literature, including Hearts and Hands: Creating Community in Violent Times and the acclaimed best seller Always Running. His most recent memoir, It Calls You Back, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2011. He is the recipient of the Lila Wallace- Reader's Digest Writers Award, a Lannan Foundation Poetry Fellowship, a Carl Sandburg Book Award, the PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, and more. A script consultant for the FX drama Snowfall, he founded Barking Rooster Entertainment, a production company for original content for film, TV, and web. Thirty years ago he founded the well-respected Tia Chucha Press, which publishes mostly poetry collections, and he is co-founder of Tia Chucha's Cultural Center & Bookstore in LA's San Fernando Valley. In addition to traveling extensively, he teaches every week at two maximum-security yards at Lancaster State Prison. He was the Green Party's candidate for governor of California in 2014. He lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife, Trini, and his children, Ramiro, Andrea, Ruben, and Chito.
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Pub Date: January 28, 2020
-Rodriguez, Luis J. -Authors, American
-Mexican Americans -Racially mixed people
-United States -Social conditions
-Cultural pluralism -Ethnic relations