On August 29, 1970 a 23 year-old poet trekked from San Diego to Los Angeles to declaim his Plan Espiritual de Aztlan, at the massive Chicano Moratorium protest against the Vietnam War. The march had ended. Adult and teenaged men and women rested on patches of grass in a park in unincorporated East L.A., ready for the words and music of organizers and artists.
Alurista fit both labels. The Plan Espiritual was known well in the Chicano movement since he'd written it for a national student conference a couple of years before. It was a declaration of mixed ethnicity, continuous political struggle, and individual spiritual liberation dependent on respect for the land. Alurista's booming voice from the stage belied his wiry, five-foot challenged frame. Midway through his manifesto, L.A. County Sheriff's deputies - Matrix-like - fanned batons on the men and women. A disturbance elsewhere along the march triggered these cops to pummel peaceful marchers here. Several marchers and observers died in the ensuing chaos.
Forty years later, Alurista again made the drive from San Diego to Los to read the Plan on August 29, 2010 at a commemorative reading in a store-front gallery in Highland Park.
He's an acrobat of words, hard-wired from his infancy in Mexico City to reject a singular definition for and instead see each palabra as a fork in the road, with multiple paths to leapfrog, skip, duel with, embrace, kiss, or pass up.
The three or four dozen people in the gallery got in the truck with him. The bilingual ones, like me, riding shotgun with nails dug into the dashboard or hands up in the air as if we just didn't care. Others, the Spanish-challenged, rode in the back, bouncing in the flatbed, as Alurista took flexible lexical roads at speed-limit plus forty. Others still, bodies flapping, held on to Alurista's turn signal lights and license plate. You can look up and read the Plan Espiritual yourself or any of his poetry from seminal works such as Et Tú... Raza? or z eros to get a sense of what he read on Sunday and to hear how he slices and dices words like a master taquero with English and Spanish mounds of al pastor, adobada, and lengua in front of him.
In 1995 Alurista got wind of the Taco Shop Poetry series of taqueria poetry, music, and performance shows I started in San Diego and Tijuana. He found me and said he wanted in. He joined a wild ride of readings in San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. One of the mantras he bequeathed us at the time was, "We are all that is, that is all we are. Tacos in thy bliss, yes we dig it." He was our teacher. He was our student.
I'll leave you with an exchange from the Sunday Avenue 50 Studio reading at the La Palabra poetry series that you won't find in any book. As the reading began, Alurista exclaimed loudly, "ATM! A toda madre!" An audience member objected to the perceived vulgarity, saying her mother wouldn't like that. The fork in the road of meaning here was, "Motherfucking good!" or "To all mothers."
"Usted tiene madre, yo también." You have a mother, I do too, Alurista said in his zen baritone. She's deceased, the woman answered. "Descanse en pace," Alurista replied, "ya cruzo. Sin papeles." Rest in peace, she's crossed over, without papers.