One Last Grito for Los Muertos

We honor those who have recently left us

By Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez
Published on LatinoLA: October 29, 2004

One Last Grito for Los Muertos

This year, the presidential election coincides with Dia de los Muertos. If it coincided with Halloween, we'd be writing about the contest of horse-faced Kerry and Edwards vs. the haunting faces of Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Rumseld, Rice and Wolfowitz. But enough on the election already.

Today we instead honor those who have recently left us and throw a grito (shout-out) to members of the 1960s-'70s Flor y Canto (flower and song) generation. This generation of writers and artists sparked a regeneration of indigenous or African culture within this nation's Mexican/Chicano, Caribbean and Central and South American communities.

Before Sacramento poet Phil Goldvarg moved on to Mictlan several months ago, he sent us a codex titled "Tehuan Tikateh Zenyelitzli -- We Are One." It speaks to us in the same manner as his Zapatista heart spoke to the world. Here, we share his words from a 2001 poem, "Tortillas Voladores":

I had a dream
that our familia
flew over the border
on the backs
of slippery tortillas de maiz
y la migra thought
we were UFOs
and that tortillas
were only made of flour...

En la quiet noche
we heard cantos de Aztlan
and saw singers move
from behind the moon
followed by danzantes
and their feathered conchas. I had a dream
these tortillas de maiz
were packed in our back yards, ready for flight, ready for journey, high mountain marches, never losing
the round circle of connection
y el poder
that lives
in their corazon.

Another great friend who moved on was Denver poet Lalo Delgado. We pay tribute to him with a translated excerpt from his 1974 poem "No Tengo Papeles":
... they blame me
for so much unemployment
and for low salaries
and because the economy
has hit bottom.
It's not my fault ... I was born without papers, I grew up without papers, I am who I am, I am Mexicano.
I ask for work, not handouts.
There are others here without papers
and nobody bothers them because they're white. Yes, my back is wet
but from sweat ...
I don't have any papers
I don't have any papers.

Pedro Pietri, co-founder of the Nuyorican Cafe, also sought refuge up in the big Puerto Rican embassy in the sky. He's best remembered for his Puerto Rican obituary poem. Here's an excerpt:

... Juan/Miguel/Milagros/Olga/Manuel
will right now be doing their own thing
where beautiful people sing
and dance and work together
where the wind is a stranger
to miserable weather conditions
where you do not need a dictionar
/to communicate with your people.

Aqui Se Habla Espanol all the time
Aqui you salute your flag first
Aqui there are no Dial soap commercials
Aqui everybody smells good
Aqui TV dinners do not have a future
Aqui the men and women admire desire
and never get tired of each other
Aqui Que Paso Power is what's happening
Aqui to be called negrito
means to be called LOVE.

We also honor Marlon Brando for his lifelong support of American Indian struggles. And we honor an "alien" -- Christopher Reeve -- who in life was not Superman, but the embodiment of what it means to be human. In the past 12 months, writer-philosopher Gloria Azaldua, L.A. Times columnist Frank del Olmo and El Paso writer Robbie Farley Villalobos (whom we previously wrote about) also left us before their times. We pay tribute to highly respected Los Angeles journalist Pete Moraga and to Fernando Oaxaca, a political nemesis of ours who always stood up for his beliefs. Also checking out was El Paso, Texas, scholar Dr. Ricardo Aguilar Melantzon, translator of "Loving Pedro Infante," "The Road to Tamazunchale" and "Always Running: La Vida Loca." And this year, we again honor the young women of Juarez, Mexico (a Caravan for Justice is currently traversing the continent to bring attention to the more than 400 unsolved murders), and all those who have needlessly died in Iraq.

Our (Patrisia's) uncle Chuy also died this summer. To the end, he remained the "cool cat" that he called his nieces and nephews. Mama said of their 11 siblings: "We were like a mazorka (an ear of corn). The first kernel has fallen; the rest will follow."

Finally, a close family friend, Jaime Vega, writes of his cousin Frank Sotelo: "All of a sudden, within weeks he died of a strange flesh-eating disease. He and our families are children of migrant parents exposed to DDT, etc." While no one's certain of the link, it is a reminder of the price that those who put food on our tables often have to put up with, if not pay.

At this time, we do not allow death to conquer us. We hope that what we hear on Nov. 2 are gritos for life and not screams for the passing of democracy. Death to the Electoral College would be OK.

(c) Universal Press Syndicate 2004

* We have been informed that the United Nations recently adopted the celebration of D?a de los Muertos as a "patrimony of humanity." It runs from Oct 31-Nov 2.

About Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto Rodriguez:
The writers can be reached at

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