East LA (A POEM)

East LA, 1979 (Via NPS.gov)

Why is it that no city
Has ever contained
The entirety of me

I come from parents who were born in
Unincorporated territories
Undesirables they called us
Make sure you stay inside the redlines
Forcing communities to form
In places that weren’t on maps
As the powers that be
Continued to expand and explore
Making manifest their destinies
On the backs of our dreams
For centuries

Our dreams
Always fleeting
Like chasing a butterfly
Through a cemetery
Trying to remember
As you sit on your grandparents graves wondering
How this came to be

Your fathers family
Coahuila, Durango, Mexican Revolution pushed up to El Paso
Railroads lead to
East LA
Housing Projects
Proclaiming on walls
“We are not a Minority”
It is this house on Sydney Drive where
Mexican becomes American
Mexican American
Americanization programs taught
If you do not comply
They will beat the Spanish out of you
Or beat you for simply being
Mexican, a woman
Even if you follow all the rules

Rules something you hear your grandfather had a lot of
In your mothers family
As they left Villa Hidalgo, Jalisco
Brothers led each other North
Teaching that some bonds can never be broken
And that there are things in this world
That can not be explained
Just keep your faith, hold it close
As you set down roots on
Sydney Drive
Where Spanish is only spoken in this home
English is for school
Remember even if we are poor
We are never deficient
And to always hold your head with dignity

My father told me things
As I came of age
I was 12
Prop 187
Which was followed by
Prop 227 and

History repeats itself

So I became Chicana
Taking after him

He told me when he was in Middle School
He walked out
Marched during
Chicano Moratorium
He ran as the
Cops beat everyone in sight
And he barely escaped with his friends
He later heard
They killed Ruben Salazar
And for a long time after
Killed Chicano activists in the 3rd street jail
So much brutality they justified
No more
Never again

My mother rarely spoke about years she came of age
But I knew had the 1968 walkouts never happened
A young Mexican girl would’ve never been
Admitted to college on the Westside of LA
East side to West

A world away from
I thought I could do it too
Things are harder than they seem but
I in turn traveled further than I ever imagined
Asking questions while walking
More than having answers
So I did what they said I couldn’t
History repeats itself
Until someone defies it

Undesirables they still call us
As if we don’t know who we are
I am descendent of a traveling people
Always moving forward
Trying to survive in Occupied America
And I know should I ever lose my way
I can go back to Southern CA
To find generations of dreams
Waiting for me to catch up with them
So pick a freeway
Because they all lead back to East LA
And it is here that we put ourselves on map
It is here I don’t have to question
Where I belong or why I am here
I am here
We are here
To make sure certain histories never repeat again


Irene Sanchez is a Xicana, mamá, poet, and writer. She teaches high school Latino Studies in the Los Angeles area. Irene is the founder of Xicana Ph.D. and co-host of the monthly open mic, Poetry y Pan at Cafe con Libros in Pomona, CA. For more information see www.irenesanchezphd.com


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