Sunday, March 15, 2009
Before I left El Paso, I visited a middle School in Las Cruces, where most of the 120 students I read to were Chicanos, poor like me, some of who would be labeled "at risk" like me.
I read them a new story, one that's still unpublished, and I answered their questions.
Their teacher the amazing true believer in justice, Lisa Weinbaum, had assigned them to read two or three of my stories, including "Too White," "Mexican Table," and "Godoy Lives," all of them from my first book Chicano Chicanery.
They were ready with questions, their hands shooting up, and their little mouths making Arnold Horseshack noises,
Ooo, ooo, pick me!
And then something amazing happened.
Remember, these kids are not the richest kids on the border. Their parents work hard to survive in the economy, but the teacher had told the parents that a Chicano writer would be visiting campus, and if they wanted to send their kids with money, they could buy a book.
I only brought ten books, thinking that only a few would sell.
I've been to readings at universities where only two or three books sell. I've been to other places where all the books sell out.
But after the questions were over, when the kids picked up their backpacks and slung them over their shoulders, they didn't leave. They gathered around the table where I had my books. They held out their money and asked me if I would sign a book for them.
I sold all of them (and gave one away).
It was so cute, but it was more than that. It showed me something Life has been teaching me for many years now.
Recognition from the top doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if I'm invited to great ivory tower universities, where white men with patches on their sport-coat elbows stand in line to buy my book and later write papers about the many metaphorical possibilities of my landscapes.
What matters is to be recognized by the kids at Lynn Middle School.
What matters is that right now and for who knows how many years into the future, my book will be on the shelves of their homes, maybe even one of the few books in the house, and even if they don't read it now, even if it sits unopened for many years, it's there, in their homes. Maybe someday when when they're in high school or when they're adults, they'll open the book and release my spirit into their lives.
And I loved that I started my tour at a Middle School with a majority of Chicano students.
It was like the benediction that opens a poetry book.
It was like a blessing, 120 tiny hands on my head and shoulders blessing me for my journey, blessing my new book.