The First Rule of Punk: A Book Review (of sorts)

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I got Celia C. Pérez’s The First Rule of Punk  less than 24-hours ago, and I read it in two sittings, finishing this afternoon, crying over the climax at a table in my neighborhood café.

I have never wanted to hold a book in my hand more than my own book The Spitboy Rule, until I learned about First Rule of Punk. The First Rule of Punk is a middle grade novel. I learned about it from Bustle online in February. It got a lot of early buzz months before its scheduled release, I think, because a book about a punk rock Xicana in middle school in the era of Trump gives dems, leftists, feminists, book nerds, zinsters, ex-zinsters, librarians, Xicanas, punx, ex-punx, punk parents, and perimenopunxs hope.

I also cried when I read this summary of it: “There are no shortcuts to surviving your first day at a new school—you can’t fix it with duct tape like you would your Chuck Taylors. On Day One, twelve-year-old Malú (María Luisa, if you want to annoy her) inadvertently upsets Posada Middle School’s queen bee, violates the school’s dress code with her punk rock look, and disappoints her college-professor mom in the process. Her dad, who now lives a thousand miles away, says things will get better as long as she remembers the first rule of punk: be yourself.”

On February 28, I wrote this on the Spitboy Rule Facebook page: “This book looks awesome and like the middle grade version the The Spitboy Rule!” Twenty people shared the Bustle link straight away, the post reached over 35000 views, and I got excited and reached out to the author on Twitter.

She responded with this tweet:

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I was smitten right away and we began following each other on Twitter and Instagram, and we recently became friends on Facebook where she promised to send me an advance copy of the book when she got them. Not too long after, I began seeing people post copy of their books, their advance copies (probably straight from the publisher or a conference), and I began obsessively checking my mailbox. I haven’t checked my mailbox so religiously since I was single and had a crush on my Puerto Rican neighbor who I eventually learned was engaged to be married (but that’s a whole other story!).

Yesterday, I checked my mailbox, hoping to find some stickers that I ordered, and out popped a recycled manila envelope, book-shaped, and with Celia’s name and address. I tried to open the envelope carefully, so as not to rip the book, but I was excited. Out flew the book, a FRP book mark, a FRP button, and two Sherman Alexie zines!

“Move,” I told my 15 year-old son who was sitting on my spot under the reading lamp on the couch. “Don’t anyone bother me until dinner time.”

I turned the bright yellow book over in my hands, looking for things you can’t see in picture of the book online. I saw pan dulce, a sugar skull, an anarchy symbol, and a quetzal wearing a Walkman.

I read the back cover, and then I took a deep breath, and opened the book to Chapter 1.   I cried twice in the first fifteen chapters, once because I was touched, and the first time because I simply could not contain my joy over the existence of a book written about a girl like me. I am 47 years old, 48 in October, and not once in my life have I read a book (fiction) about someone so much like me. There are books by Xicanas about Xicanas who have had many of the same experiences and feelings that I have had, like Teresa in Ana Castillo’s Mixquahuala Letters. Still, last winter on Facebook, it was a thing to change your profile photo to a character from a children’s book character who was most like you, and I wanted to play along, but found I couldn’t think of any character who was like me or who I identified with. I posted a photo of Speedy Gonzales. It was all I could come up with and I wanted to make a point, but it was the first time that I realized that something seemingly trivial on Facebook could make me feel so sad.

Growing up, Speedy Gonzales was literally the only children’s character who was anything like me. Kids at school used to scream, “Arriba, rriba, andale, andale,” when I walked by.

But now, at nearly 50 years-old, I have Malù, but most importantly, kids all over America get to have Malù too – brown kids, comic book or zine nerds, punk or rock music fans (since electronic/digitized music has taken over the airwaves),  budding activists, kids who break the school dress code, tough girls, and unladylike girls who want to pour drinks over the school mean girl’s head (I actually did pour beer over a trendy girls head at a party, which Malù would never do because she doesn’t drink beer).

Since you probably haven’t yet read the book, you might be wondering now what else it’s about, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. I will say that Malù makes zines and is keen on lists, like the one on the back cover. You might also be wondering how I’m like Malù besides the Xicana punk connection. Here’s my list:

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Thank you Celia C. Pérez for writing a book about someone like me, for making it happen in my lifetime, and for giving me a character to use in my profile pic next time I need a children’s book character to identify with, for making us visible – you’re my hero.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lowrider Legacy

 

If it weren’t for cruising, car culture, and Whittier boulevard in East LA, I wouldn’t be alive. At seventeen, my mom was an East LA ruca, dating a part-time delinquente, Michael Cruz, who skipped school and cruised the boulevard, hung around Chronies, a hotdog and burger joint, and avoided the Lincoln Heights area because it wasn’t his territory. Mom went to school most of the time. She was even there during the walkouts, the day many of the Garfield high kids got locked inside by school officials. Some who got out were battered by police.

Like a lot of Chicano kids back then, Mom’s heart wasn’t in school. School was a prison, a place that that didn’t teach you anything about yourself or your own history, a place that made you feel bad for having brown skin, for speaking Spanish, a place that didn’t allow Latino kids to use the bathroom during lunchtime for fear of vandalism and fights. It’s no wonder the streets, cruising, and cars represented freedom.

It was on those streets where they would, for better or for worse, define themselves: Chicanos, pachucos, vatos locos, soto street, city terrace. Mom and Michael weren’t in a gang, but they lived in Boyle Heights; that was their territory. Their families had crossed the border to make their lives in America, only for their children to close the borders around them. Cruising Whittier, put them at risk for getting to close to other territories, and fights, and violence, but cruising the strip and hanging around Chronies was also a social experience away from teachers, and parents, and rules, some that only applied to them because they were Chicanos and to no one else. So in response, they carved out a piece of freedom and made more rules at the same time, a sort of futile using the master’s tools approach to their discontent. Writer Audre Lorde said that you can’t use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house, wise advice, but still the kind that young people, especially car loving, street-smart kids disregard because they think they know better.

Eventually, too much cutting school and cruising, got mom kicked out of school, which didn’t much matter to her because Michael wasn’t there and she was in love. Mom was in the kind of love that caused sixteen year olds to jump out their bedroom windows at night, the kind of love that caused sixteen year olds to steal their fathers’ Oldsmobile, and forget to put on the hand break, parking it on one of those Boyle Heights hills, where it rolled away and into the neighbor’s fence, the ones who sold drugs, who didn’t want any trouble, so they let it slide. Mom was in the kind of love that got her pregnant at seventeen by a guy with a quick temper and a Napoleon complex. Cruising should have meant freedom for my mom, but instead it meant a shotgun wedding in a knee length white dress, that sort of hid her growing belly, long enough to smile and pretend she was sure it would all work out, even when she knew it wouldn’t. Michael may have had a job and a Mustang, but he would hurt her and she would have to set herself free.

And so goes my lowrider legacy. I rode home from the hospital in Michael’s Mustang, down Whittier from General Hospital, only they weren’t cruising anymore. I had stolen their youth, and Mom and Michael were on a crash course to divorce. Still, I have to honor my East LA-vida loca-Whittier Boulevard-cruising legacy because it set me on the road toward real freedom ever since.

**Originally published in Joaquin Magazine

Making Up with Punk Rock

This summer, as I spend most of my time working furiously on my novel, I will be reposting some of my favorite pieces.

About this piece, when I told her a version of this story, Alice Bag, said, “You really broke up with punk rock didn’t you.” I realized then that I ought to write it down. This piece was originally published  July 16, 2016 on my PM Press blog

In 1998, I broke up with punk rock. It was not a good boyfriend. It liked fucking me, but it wouldn’t introduce me to its mom, worried she’d notice that I wasn’t just punk rock, but that I was something else too, something/someone it didn’t quite understand. I feared I had aged out too. Standing around at 924 Gilman hurt my feet, the cold, hard cement floor. All the young people, seeming to get younger, as I got older didn’t bother me. I quite like young people. I gave birth to one, and I teach at a community college.

I broke up with punk rock, but it appears I’m back, having never really left at all. Still, I feel I have some explaining to do.

For me, punk rock was always about participation. I starting listening to punk at thirteen, was in a band, Bitch Fight, by the age of fifteen, and in 1987, by the age of seventeen, I had moved to San Francisco with Bitch Fight, and we began playing shows with bands like MDC, Operation Ivy, Frightwig, and Crimpshrine. When Bitch Fight broke up a year and a half later, I did a stint in Kamala and the Karnivores, and started Spitboy. After Spitboy broke up in 1997, Karin (guitar), Dominique (bass guitar), and I stayed together, and formed Instant Girl, a band we knew that would be short lived because Dominique was headed to Yale to study architecture. No longer hungry to continue participating in this way, I figured I should finish school too, and I got myself accepted, and a large scholarship, to Mills College. I wanted to study creative writing and English. My feet hurt from standing around on cement in my job of fifteen years as a preschool, and Gilman, and my back from hauling around drums all those years. My band days were over, and I was fine with that. I had said a lot through the band, made a contribution, traveled the world. I wanted to study. I wanted to write. I got married too – I felt like traitor, but I was happy.

Punk rock has a way of making you feel like a traitor when you decide to grow up a little, go to college, get married. At least it did back then, but after years of dating men in the scene who liked to pretend they didn’t have families, didn’t come from somewhere, let alone introduce me to their parents, I married a Mexican. I had finally been true to myself.

Photo by Ilona Sturm

For about ten years, when I was in my thirties, nursing my son, going to graduate school, I hardly ever mentioned to anyone that I had been in a band that traveled the US, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan.  A band that put out records, did radio interviews, and for fanzines, a band that got fan mail. I didn’t want to be another boring adult talking about her glory days. Everyone wants to be rock star. Everyone wants to write a book too, but as a wise professor once said, you can’t, especially the later, standing around at parties talking about it. The cool thing about punk rock is that you actually start a band by standing around talking about it. That’s how bands start. Someone says let’s start a band, you think of some cool names, you decide who’s going to play what, you learn to play your instrument if you don’t know how already, and you write your first song. It’s what attracts people to punk rock in the first place – you don’t need to go to Mills College or Yale to do it.

While some people get into punk rock because they just want to fuck shit up, many of us call punk home because of its access to radical politics and people who hold them, people who question authority, people who question their own thoughts, people who read books, and attend demonstrations, and now discuss white privilege, people who don’t believe we should give up our basic privacy rights to protect ourselves from actual, or  so-called terrorism, people who aren’t afraid to call themselves feminists. And it’s         for all these things that I’m back, lending my voice, participating, now, in the best way I know how. 

First and Last Confession

 

My brother in law told me that I had to go to confession. I imagined a wooden closet the size of a phone booth with a screen over the window, but I was directed to the priest’s office instead. He was sitting behind his desk and gestured for me to sit down in the empty chair. I wanted to reach up and touch my wedding pienado, the large looping bun on the top of my head, held in place with half a can of hairspray and about one hundred bobby pins, but I knew better.

            “Shit, shit, shit,” was all I could think.

What if I didn’t understand him? What if he spoke that kind of rapid fire Spanish that my college Spanish couldn’t keep up with? I had told my husband, the man that I had already been married to, by the state, for two years that I also wanted a traditional Mexican wedding.  Naively, I hadn’t quite realized that all this church stuff is what he thought I meant, when what I really meant was Mexico, his family, some birria, and Mariachis.

“How long has it been since your last confession,” the priest asked in Spanish, a phrase that I half understood and half expected.

“Um, nunca, nunca, he confesado,” I stammered not wanting to lie straight away.

“Nunca?”

I shook my head.

I was baptized as a baby, but that was it. Once my mother left my father, she left, Los Angeles, and in some ways, Mexican culture, and definitely religion, behind. I was only allowed (deemed eligible, by men, of course) to marry my husband in the Catholic Church because I had done six months of adult catechism in a progressive Catholic church in the Bay Area. Six months of Tuesday nights talking about Jesus. I wouldn’t have minded six months of talking about La Virgen de Guadalupe, but six months of talking about Catholics, and the Bible, and Jesus just made it clear why I steered clear of religion in the first place: the holy trinity of male deities, too much patriarchy, and way too much misogyny. Still I’m Mexican, a Xicana, and I was marrying a Mexican national, I figured it wouldn’t kill me to learn more about the church, the rituals, and more about the interconnectedness between Mexican culture and its predominate religion.

Fortunately, my brother-in-law, Mario, who planned the wedding, had filled the priest in on my unique situation and I had been sent to Mexico with a letter from the local diocese that assured the Mexican priest I was eligible for the sacrament of marriage once he performed my first communion and confirmation. Fast forward sacraments, each would follow the other in quick succession, the first communion; hold this candle, sip this wine, and the confirmation; please, padre, I prayed silently, please don’t drip oil on my white dress, all performed before my immediate family just before the start of the wedding ceremony itself. It was a lot of waiting before I got my mariachis, but none of it would happen until I had my first and last confession.

The priest’s office was heavy and dark. The priest furrowed his brow, unsure of what to do or say, for I’m certain he’d never been in this situation before. I sat, my hands folded in my lap on my wedding gown, watching him decide what to do, nervous that he’d expect me to recite some prayer in Spanish that I had never even said in English.

“Entonces, dime ha sido una hija obediente?”

Had I been an obedient daughter? To whom? My wife beater father who I never knew? My mind raced for a suitable answer and the right words to express them with in a language that I struggled to speak smoothly, and I decided I didn’t need to count my father.

“Si, Padre,” I said, though no one had used the word obedient to describe me since I was in the first grade. I wanted to crack with laughter, but I knew this wasn’t the time.

“Has sido una hermana buena con tus hermanos?”

“Si, Padre,” I said, even though I had told my blonde sister she was adopted, and beat up my brother when we fought until he grew taller than me.

“Muy bien,” he said, and he blessed me, presided over my first communion, confirmed me, and married me to my husband in his family’s church, which brought great joy and comfort to his family who hadn’t seen him in ten years because he wasn’t a citizen, didn’t have legal residency, and couldn’t travel back and forth. So I knelt, and I stood, and I stood, and I knelt, and squeezed my husband’s hand, and sweated in my heavy gown, and mouthed, “watermelon, watermelon, watermelon,” while everyone else recited prayers memorized from childhood. And I stared up at the towering Jesus on the cross, unable to escape his sad eyes and the irony of it all, until we busted from the church and into the arms of family, a showering of rice, and the celebratory sounds of Mariachi horns all around us.

*Previously published in Joaquin Magazine

I Swear Rachel Dolezal’s In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White Word, Is Not Satire, But This Is

In the summer of 2015 we learned of Rachel Dolezal, the wannabe black woman who headed up the Spokane Washington NAACP. In an event almost too shocking to believe, yet, somehow totally believable in America, the news of Dolezal’s deception created widespread use of a word, sure to make it in the dictionary, faster than whites seeking representation for claims they were victims of race-based, discriminatory hiring practices.

The word dolezal, Czech and Slovak in origin, meaning lazy — as of late, especially in light of her new book In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White Word, has come to mean quite the opposite. By popular usage the word dolezal is used to describe someone who works rather hard, going to extensive lengths to pose as someone they are not.

Practical examples include claiming to be descended from a royal line, to be Native American, or having a Native American grandmother or great grandmother, probably Cherokee, or claiming to be Mexican for the purposes of writing a best-selling memoir about growing up in LA, and not common until quite recently, claiming to be African American.

To dolezal, or to dozal for short, describes the act of expending a great deal of energy, time, and even money to coopt and perform another ethnic identity while concealing one’s own. This phenomenon seems to afflict those vulnerable to insecurities about their actual ethnicities, or those who believe that white American culture lacks a specific cultural identity, one with full rights and privileges so omnipresent as to be invisible.

In the recent past, one can find numerous examples of people of color, passing or attempting to pass as white to avoid racial discrimination, or to gain access to the aforementioned rights and privileges, but we can all agree that this behavior, while unfortunate, is excusable, while choosing to be white when its convenient, and to dolezal for a prestigious position that one could have earned as an ally is not.

dolezal

verb

The act of going to extensive lengths to pose as another ethnic identity while concealing one’s own

dolezal

adjective

He married a woman from India, but he’s no dolezal.

zalling (informal)

Verb

She married a guy from Mexico, and she is zalling like she’s Mexican.

Synonyms: wannabe, poser, fake, opportunist

Antonyms: sincere, true, truthful, ally

 

Ministry of Truth II: Do I Have To Keep Telling You To Read 1984?

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In George Orwell’s 1984, Orwell’s governmental agencies are given ironic names, names that might have you think that they responsible for one thing, when in fact they do the opposite of what you would expect given the name – the very definition of irony. For example, the Ministry of Plenty is responsible for wartime rationing, which is to say, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly rationing because Oceania (the super state that is the setting of the novel) is in a state of perpetual war.

Before I go any further, let me state the obvious. If you haven’t, yet, read 1984, now would be the time, if you can find a copy given its recent surge in popularity. I can’t tell you everything about the novel, but I will tell you this: dystopian novels like 1984 are satires, satirical works that employ heavy irony to make a point. Most dystopian novels are also cautionary tales – texts that attempt to warn us about abuses of power in hopes that we’ll do something about it before it’s too late. They are novels that look at history, to what has happened, to show us what is possible, and they look forward to a future, that the author fears, is possibly looming.

Not my president’s top advisor, Kellyanne Conway is a one-woman-Ministry-of-Truth. She who coined the term ‘alternative facts,’ in an attempt to justify the presidential press secretary’s explaining away the very real fact that way more people turned out to witness Obama’s first inauguration than Trump’s. Of his assertion, Spicer later said, “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

While it’s not stated explicitly, it was presumably Oceania’s Ministry of Truth that created concept of Doublethink. Through 1984 protagonist, Winston Smith, doublethink is described this way:

To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling                            carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out,                      knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic                                    against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that                                          democracy was impossible and that the Party  was the guardian of democracy, to                          forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again                        at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again … (Orwell 35)*

Might our current administration want the American people to do just what Winston describes here, “to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic,” and that Conway and Spicer are “conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies.” Could the entire Trump administration be emboldened by the fact that most Americans cannot discern real news from fake news? It sure seems that way to me. And I’m not talking about the so-called legions of ‘un-educated’ folks who voted for Trump. In “Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability To Tell Fake News From Real, Study Finds,” a NPR article by Camila Domonoske, a Stanford study of nearly 8000 students in twelve different US states reveals that students in middle school, high school, and college (even Stanford students) had trouble discerning a fake website from a real one, fringe sources, or the difference between a sponsored and non-sponsored site. Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer are betting on the very real possibility that most Americans adults are as easily duped.

* Orwell, George. 1984. Signet Classic. New York. 1950. Print.

The President Elect’s Ministry of Truth

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I can understand the urge to boycott things as a form of resistance, but I forced myself to listen to and watch  — not my president’s—first press conference since the election because as exhausting as it is and as it will get, I need to get angry and stay angry. We all do. “Let fury have the hour, anger can be power/D’you know that you can use it?”

All that said, I’m not the first person to point out how Orwellian things have gotten in American politics, but having read 1984 with my students just about every year for the past 13 years, and having the ability to recite several parts of it by memory, I feel it’s my duty not to simply make the comparison, but also to point out that Orwell’s chief concern in writing 1984 was to warn readers about authoritarian rulers and the tactics they use to manipulate, confuse, trick, and control. As a disciple of Orwell’s, I realize, all this comes a bit late bit. I should have started writing this sooner, but as a disciple of Orwell’s I also know that one must continue to resist – to keep a record, to remember, to stay focused, vigilant.

1984

If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, IT NEVER                     HAPPENED—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death?  (Orwell                        43-44)

‘I didn’t say shut down immigration.’ Donald Trump

http://thefederalist.com/2016/03/24/10-things-trump-said-but-says-he-didnt/

1984

The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith,               knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago.                   But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case                   must  soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed— if             all  records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who               controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present                   controls the past.’ (Orwell 44)

The day after the Brussels terrorist attack (3/22/16), Trump said in an interview with CBS “This Morning,” “I didn’t say shut it down. I said you have to be very careful. We have to be very, very strong and vigilant at the borders.”

On December 7, 2015, Trump issued a press release that begins, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He read and reaffirmed his statement at a rally that day.

http://thefederalist.com/2016/03/24/10-things-trump-said-but-says-he-didnt/

Video begins at attack of the press, dictatorial behaviors displayed by the pres elect in the recent past.

1984

Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid                     away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be                             conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold                           simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and             believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying                   claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian             of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into                     memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again:               and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate                       subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become                         unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word             ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink. (Orwell 44-45)

Jan. 28, 2016: Asking for Megyn Kelly’s removal from a debate

Trump’s war with Kelly led to him boycotting the Fox News/Google debate in Iowa. An hour before the other candidates took the stage, Trump insisted on CNN his absence was due to a mocking Fox News press release and he “never once asked that (Kelly) be removed.”

We found several instances of Trump and his campaign telling reporters and tweeting about skipping the debate because of Kelly. He went so far as to say Kelly “should not be allowed” to moderate, that she “should recuse herself,” and she “shouldn’t be in the debate.”

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/jul/06/17-things-donald-trump-said-and-then-denied-saying/

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