Author: Ricardo LaFore
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
In April of 1969 I was approached by a group of Chicano High School students in Las Animas, Colorado who wanted to be able to celebrate Cinco de Mayo as a school sanctioned activity. I had by then embraced the Chicano Movement and was regarded as a community leader. The group wanted me to act as spokesman in presenting their proposal to the school board. I agreed and felt it would be a slam dunk, after all what in essence were the students asking for, merely to celebrate the culture of half the student body?
We entered the school board meeting and signed in. We waited and then it was my turn to speak. The school board was shocked and incensed. They questioned our motives for wanting to celebrate a non-American holiday. “We’re not in Mexico,” quipped one member. Another member who was of Japanese descent asked if we should celebrate Japanese holidays? “Why not, I answered, we celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day!” One member feared that we were setting a dangerous precedent. Finally, after much heated discussion, they claimed they were caught off guard and would need some time to think about our request. They asked us to return the following Tuesday and they would give us their answer. We returned the following week to find 300 citizens all glaring at me and accusing me of radicalizing their children, calling me a communist and an outside agitator. When the audience was asked to stand to show disapproval of what I was proposing all three hundred stood. My first attempt at community organizing had been a colossal blunder and a humiliating defeat.
A man looks into the abyss and sees nothing but darkness. In that moment he finds his character. In that instant I was reborn as a Chicano. In that moment I decided who I was and who I was going to be for the rest of your life.
The school board rebuke was my “looking into the abyss” moment. I had met the enemy and I had lost the first round, but I had learned a valuable lesson, shortly after I wrote my first of many protest poems.
I was betrayed by a boastful giant I was accused and convicted by an army of Bigots, cowards and racists, who try as they might Could not douse the fire in my insubordinate heart By howling jackals who thought that because the body was weak and could be destroyed The mind would naturally follow But I survived; my anger festered and grew In to a terrible resolve. A wicked arrow That would pierce the tyrants heart Yet, only in my pain and anger could I continue Only my love of freedom, kept me strong Only in pain of exile in one’s own land Could the process of rebirth and the march to freedom begin again Just as sometimes in the shadow of the total lie My truths are born. April 1969
That was over 50 years ago, I am still trying to write. I am not a prolific writer I write in both languages, ironically when I write a poem in English and translate to Spanish it sounds better, the opposite is true Spanish to English. I seem to write when I am overcome by an event or feel a need to preserve an emotion or an idea. Many of my poems begin on the back of a cocktail napkins or a match book cover. Most of my poems are political, some are love poems and some are tributes to friends and family.
My early influences were Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Shakespeare, and Walt Whitman, during the Movement I discovered Pablo Neruda, Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Over the years I have managed to write over 100 poems, 4 short plays and am presently working on a memoir of my time in the Chicano Movement. The short time I have been with CALMA has motivated me to begin putting together a manuscript for a book of poems. I have come to realize that we must write and publish so that we can share with the rest of the world an accurate account of our history.
That first poem proved to be important because I discovered the power of the written word. The power to inform, preserve and provoke as well as the best way to communicate ideas and information. After 50 years I am still trying to write, to provoke and to convey the beauty and history of our people.