By Juan Felipe Herrera


Copyright © 2007 Juan Felipe Herrera
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-87286-462-7


Juan wrote in a frenzy. Poems and antipoems-antipoems most of all. He was fixed on tearing the new language out of the old structures. -from "The Third Conversation," Mayan Drifter

The lines of type on the following pages may at first glance resemble poetry or prose, but if you look and listen closely you'll find they are more like footprints: tracks in which can be heard the rhythms of migrating feet-running feet, trudging feet, marching feet, dancing feet-feet on the move propelled by their own momentum. You may also hear the sounds of wheels, wheels of Mustangs and Volkswagen Bugs, Chevy pickups and Mexican buses, wheels of trains and minivans carrying faces and voices across landscapes, across personal and cultural geographies, across public and private terrain where history, in all its distance and intimacy, can't be kept from happening.

Juan Felipe Herrera's writings are charged with theatrical and athletic energies, with the excitement of extemporaneous performance, spontaneous invention and rebellion, the claiming of physical and psychic territory, the thrill of discovering natural reserves of resilience and creativity-the resources to live, as Emerson called them-powers of insurgent improvisation. Gathered from more than thirty-five years of work in various genres, these "undocuments" are the record of an epic journey across many different borders, frontiers, wildlands of transformation, boundaries of nations, state lines, city limits, edges of farmland, roads through rain forests, urban curbs along nostalgic streets of dreams and nightmares, heterodox crossings and impure mixtures of languages and literary forms, dramatic forms, forms of oratory and investigation, the lyric and the documentary, memoir and satire, incantation and exhortation, autobiography and social history, the pamphlet, the broadside, the joke-inwardness, outwardness, in-betweenness.

A sustained manifesto of resistance and affirmation, political protest literature untainted by self-righteousness, its rhetoric subverted by self-questioning, its anger tempered by tenderness, its comic riffs seasoned with tragic understanding and its tragic laments lightened by laughter, Herrera's writings have the courage of range, the restlessness of a mobile imagination that dares to leap through its doubts into deeper doubts, which give way to a rock-solid confidence in its destiny as a medium of individual and collective expression.

From the campos of Mexico to the campuses of California, the deserts of the Southwest to the pre-silicon city of San Jos��, the barrio of East L.A. to the bohemia of Venice West, the urban labyrinth of Mexico City to La Misi��n of San Francisco, from Fresno to Chiapas, San Diego to Tijuana and back, with foxlike zigzags and formative stays in acutely recalled neighborhoods, alternate roots reaching every which way to anchor the drifter in specific kitchens, dragging the shadows of hotels and the heat of fields where his parents labored and afforded him the adaptive vision and versatility to fashion a different scenario for himself, Herrera remembers everything and gives back to his native places and to the family, friends and compa��eros of his Mexican/American/Chicano odyssey a scrapbook, a logbook, a journal, a multiform confession of proud hybridity and indigenous optimism.

Papers? Permits? Documents? Identification? Open this file anywhere and find the authorization to keep on, permission to be who you are in your own skin, license to cultivate your inner guerrilla, angelic visas of transcendent transit. This book is the passport to a country under construction. It is a symphony for cyclone fence and hundreds of miles of breezes that swirl right through, raising clouds of aroused music. The world you are entering is one where idioms mix promiscuously and the earth itself can be heard speaking several tongues through the soles of your surprised feet. Listen to the footsteps echoing in the footprints and be moved.

-Stephen Kessler



In xochitl, in cuicatl.

In this collection I have gathered my performance & text-in-the-community work-which is at the core of all Chican@ poetry, in particular, my cadre, the Floricanto generation of '71, probably ignited by Alurista's publication of Floricanto & Jos�� Montoya's El Sol y Los de Abajo, Bernice Zamora & Antonio Burciaga's Restless Serpents, Chican@ Latin@ theatre, poetry and arts marauders and books of Chican@ and Latin@ poetry for the people. Along with the word-throwers, the Chican@ small press publishers of the Southwest fueled the early out-loud word-such as El Grito del Norte from New Mexico, Lorna Dee Cervantes's Mango Press in San Jos��, the Bay Area's Tin-Tan and El Grito from Berkeley. In the midst of these journals we had the peri��dico movement, people's papers from La Verdad in San Diego, El Tecolote in San Francisco to the hundreds of other little papers mostly across the Southwest as well as those in Mexico and Latinoam��rica-fused with community art, song, news and word. C��sar Ch��vez's pioneering United Farmworker campesino newspaper, El Malcriado, featured alabanzas (sacred song-poems) and corridos and mostly ran its course through the small towns and camps of the California valleys. We were editors-poets-designers-publishers-and-distributors. And the word? Well, it was spoken in all forms and across time and space-La Prensa, from San Antonio, was perhaps the first brave periodical in Spanish that focused on the political and cultural experience of the Mexican and Latin@ migrant homelanders during the years of the Mexican revolution. We were inspired by these forerunners. As the sixties ended, a Canto Wave appeared: The first annual Floricanto Chicano Literary Festival, held November 13-14, 1973, at the University of Southern California. This was the initial challenge for an organized national Chican@ & Latin@ canto community, founded by Alurista in 1973. From those two days forward, we recognized our faces and rekindled our voices. And we traveled together, wrote together and organized together. To this day, with the energy and heart of many groups, the Floricanto poetry movement and converging literary communities continue to transform and expand through tributaries flowing across the nation, Mexico, Latin America, Europe and Asia.

Here, in this tribute to the Floricanto movement, the pieces are laid out as if they were speaking in their community-moment in time, when their gestation was in motion, and in most cases when their environments and/or narratives were formed; these years are indicated at the beginning of each chapter. Their actual publication sources and dates appear at the bottom of the texts. At times, I have added an "Aztl��n Chronicle," people-news of a sort, to give the sections and the book a little more topography, context, micro-historical sense and mostly a Floricanto sound-& a saludo to the manifold communities of word & soul. I bow to all the home-grown journals, community silk-screeners, small-pressers adjacent to delis & donut shops, chapbookers in flats & apartments, newpapers cut & pasted with hot-wax irons in garages, and Floricanto-word pioneers that have passed on, such as the great mimeographer-poet Corky Gonzalez, postcard & muralist poet Antonio Burciaga, borderlands language-conjurer Gloria Anzald��a, and Motown word-caller Trinidad S��nchez Jr. among many other beautiful women and men-Floricanto singers.

May the canto of and for the people flourish in its multiple forms, like the mini-painting-poem handouts Jack Hirschman gives away on the streets of San Francisco and in the "New Media" electric pages of the Net-Roots blogger & on-liner movement. As a dear friend, Alfonsito Texidor, one of the Prime Ministers of the Word in San Francisco's Mission District, says, "Get on down to the coffee grounds...."

I didn't start out to be a poet. Because I had been silenced, I started out to be a speaker.

Juan Felipe Redlands, TierrasRojas, Califas, September 2007

Excerpted from 187 REASONS MEXICANOS CAN'T CROSS THE BORDERby Juan Felipe Herrera Copyright © 2007 by Juan Felipe Herrera. Excerpted by permission.
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