The New Amerikan Thing

A small fence separates densely populated Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector.  Construction is underway to extend a secondary fence over the top of this hill and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.

A small fence separates densely populated Tijuana, Mexico, right, from the United States in the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector. Construction is underway to extend a secondary fence over the top of this hill and eventually to the Pacific Ocean.

Juan Felipe Herrera’s story is a nice one. Born in California in 1948, he grew up picking crops with his migrant worker parents in the San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys.  After graduating from San Diego High School, Herrera went on to complete degrees at UCLA, Stanford and the prestigious University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

He has published over fourteen collections of poetry, children’s books, young adult novels and served as California’s Poet Laureate in 2012. His work is a key part of the Chicano cannon. Indeed, some consider it to be its backbone.

City Lights Publishing, owned and operated by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, published Herrera’s book “187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2000” in 2008. The book was later awarded the PEN Oakland National Literary Award. The poem below, from his book, is evocative of “Howl” but does its own thing.  As a native Spanish speaker, it is easy for me to transfer between both languages, but I usually don’t enjoy when poets use Spanglish. Here, though, the mix of languages accentuates the hopeful struggle of the song.

 

Are You Doing the New Amerikan Thing”

For all movement, ex-movement and anti-movement affiliates and
for Brandi Treviño, 1978.

Are you doing that new Amerikan thing?
Sweet thing, handsome thing, that thing about coming out, all the
way out
About telling her, her telling him, telling us, telling them that we
Must kill the revolutionary soul, because it was only a magical thing
A momentary thing, a thing outside of time, a sixties thing, a sacred
thing
A brown beret thing, a grassroot thing, a loud thing, a spontaneous
thing
A Viet Nam thing, a white radical thing, an Aztlán thing, a Cholo thing
A nationalist thing, a for Pochos only thing, a college thing, an
August 29,1970
Chicano Moratorium thing, an outdated thing, a primitive thing.

Sweet thing, handsome thing, that thing about coming out, all the
way out
On a Communist scare thing, a Red thing, a let’s go back to war thing
Because we must stop the El Salvador thing because it could lead to
another
Nicaragua
Thing because we need Reagan and Order in the Americas thing.

Are you doing that new Amerikan thing?

The chains, pins and leather thing
The aluminum thing
The transparent plastik underwear thing
The lonely boulevard thing
The hopeless existentialist thing
The neo-Paris melancholy thing
The nightmare thing
The urban artist thing
The laughing thing
The serious suicide thing
The New Amerikan Chicano thing
The end of the world thing
The victim thing
The enlightened quasi-political thing
The university hustle for the pie thing
The We Are the Community thing

Are you doing that new Amerikan thing?

The nacimos para morir thing
The yo te protejo thing
The Dios y Hombre thing
The quién sabe thing
The así nomás thing
The todo se acaba thing
The la vida es un misterio thing
The quisiera ser thing
The vatofirme thing
The chavala de aquellas thing
The no me toques thing
The no quiero problemas thing

Are you doing that new Amerikan thing?

Doing the be clean be seen by the right people thing
Doing the be macho again because women like it anyway thing
Doing the look out for number one because you tried the group
thing thing
Doing the be submissive again because after all a woman needs a man
thing
Doing the Army thing because it really pays more than hanging
around the Barrio thing
Doing the women’s draft thing because you can do it better than the
men thing
Doing the purity thing because no one got to be president by eating
greasy tacos
thing
Doing the spa thing because there you will meet the right tall & dark
& blond & tender thing
Doing the homophobic thing because you caught yourself lusting at
an abberration thing

Are you doing that new Amerikan thing?

Sweet thing, handsome thing, that thing about coming out, all the
way out

About telling her, her telling him, telling us, telling them that we
Must kill the revolutionary soul?

 

Photo Credit (Including caption): Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde (http://www.ngb.army.mil)

 

 

This post is part of my ongoing contribution to Zeteo Journal. Zeteo Journal

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