Friday, October 18, 2013

Black California Anthology, Welcome to Mexi Cali by Marvin X

Marvin X in new anthology Black California

paperback, 6x9, 384 pages
ISBN: 978-1-59714-146-8

Black California: A Literary Anthology
Edited by Aparajita Nanda

150 years of the California African American experience

Black California is the first comprehensive anthology celebrating black
writing through almost two centuries of Californian history. In a patchwork quilt pieced from poetry, fiction, essays, drama, and memoirs, this anthology traces the trajectory of African American writers. Each piece gives a voice to the resonating rhythms that created the African American literary tradition in California. These voices speak of dreams and disasters, of heroic achievements and tragic failures, of freedom and betrayal, of racial discrimination and subsequent restoration--all setting the pulse of the black California experience.

Early works include a letter written by Pío Pico, the last Mexican governor of California; an excerpt from mountain man, freed slave, and honorary Crow Indian James Beckwourth; and a poem written by James Madison Bell and recited to a public gathering of black people commemorating the death of President Lincoln. More recent contributions include pieces from beat poet Bob Kaufman, Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, comedian Brian Copeland, and feminists Lucille Clifton and June Jordan. Also included are the writings of Langston Hughes, Marvin X, Reginald Lockett, Ishmael Reed, Chester Himes, Walter Mosley, Arna Bontemps, David Henderson, Alice Walker, Al Young, devorah major, Ernest Gaines and Clarence Major, et al.

Advance Praise

"The Black California anthology is a wonderful contribution to the literature. The anthology conveniently places a hundred and fifty years' worth of writings in one volume. Additionally, this publication presents the work of obscure but nonetheless worthy authors alongside those who are more familiar to us."

—Rick Moss, chief curator at the African American Museum and Library at Oakland

"Black California pierces previous perceptions about California's political and social liberalism by presenting its racial history with honesty and human tragedy that is often ignored in the dominant narrative."

—Melba Joyce Boyd, Distinguished University Professor and chairperson of the Africana studies department at Wayne State University

"The essays, fiction, poetry, journalism, and drama Nanda has selected are as varied in tone and timbre as their authors. A fascinating and exciting anthology!"

—Shelley Fisher Fishkin, professor of English and director of American studies, Stanford University

About the Editor

Aparajita Nanda is a visiting associate professor to the departments of English and African American studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and she also teaches at Santa Clara University. A widely published scholar, she is a Fulbright faculty awardee, a Beatrice Bain scholar at UC Berkeley, and was showcased as part of the “Experience Berkeley” outreach team to students across the United States. Her primary fields of interest are African American literature and postcolonial studies.

Black California Anthology--Marvin X's Entry

Welcome to Mexi-Cali

By Marvin X

Vamanos, vamanos

the Mexicans are coming

to reclaim the land

avenge Blackfoot Cherokee Lakota

Comanche Seminole

Aztecs Mayas Incas

the Mexicans are coming

to make the yankees disappear like

civilizations of old

the guns disease greed for gold silver and blood

the Mexicans are coming

tired of poverty mud huts

washing bathing drinking dirty water in streams rivers

the Mexicans are coming

filling American cities with rivers of human beings

seeking new life love hope

after centuries of slavery oppression corruption


the Mexicans are coming

working three jobs by day stealing by night

to come up and stay up in Gringo land

Let the New Negroes arrive and take control

who will do God's will as Elijah promised

Old Negroes never got the concept

too full of pride selfishness greed

no unity no love for self no sharing

The Mexicans are coming to Cali New York Dirty South

working living loving sharing building

enjoying heaven on earth

better than hell on earth below the border

For whatever reason

the negro refused to transform the ghetto

who cares for reasons

Negro thou dost protest too much

Mexicans are coming

turning ghetto shacks into palaces

even the roaches disappear

ghetto is better'n than dirt floor shacks

no electricity no bath no clean water

Remember the Aztec vision of the Eagle on the catcus

Ahora, the catus now lands on the eagle

llike the catcus they are juice to the lazy gringos

starving for cheap labor

even the negroes are tired down to their dna

Oh, gringo, will you have mercy on the Mexican

Will the Mexican have mercy on you?


I grew up with Mexicans in Fresno, California, the central valley, the richest agricultural valley in the world. I used to pick cotton and cut grapes with my grandfather who would take my brother and I to Chinatown at 3 or 4 in the morning to board the bus to the fields. I couldn't wait to hear the Mexicans shout "Vamanos" (let's go) at the end of a hard working day in the fields. On the weekends my grandmother would send my mother and my Uncle Stan to retrieve my grandfather who was stuck in some Chinatown bar and gambling joint such as the "El Gato Negro" (the black cat).

During intermission at the show on Sundays, when we took a break from eating popcorn and finger @#%$ the girls, we made our way to the restroom to beat up Mexicans because they were the closest things we knew to white boys, although once in a while white boys made the mistake to visit White's Theatre and found themselves the object of our wrath.

And when Little Richard, Chuck Berry, The Drifters, James Brown, Sam Cooke and others came to town, our main objective was to go fight during and after the concert, and again, Mexicans were the object, unless of course, white boys wanted to rock and roll. The last thing we came to do at the dance was dance. We came to throw down with our hands and sometimes knives but not guns. When we caused a fight during the concert, the Mexicans would be waiting for us outside after it was over. We would meet on the grass and clash like mad fools with nothing better to do. Sometimes people got stabbed, kicked in the head, beat unmercifully.

At school, the Mexicans were the dumbest, according to my white English teacher, although two or three of them were in the honor society with me. For a moment, I had my eyes on a Mexican girl, but my black sisters weren't going for that. My favorite lunch was tacos from the cafe at Walnut and California streets. I can taste those tacos now, and those tamales. Mama used to make us tacos as well.

As a draft resister during the Vietnam war, I found refuge in Mexico City. My contact was revolutionary artist Elizabeth Catlett Mora and she aided me during my stay. She was the witness at my civil wedding to one of my students from Fresno State University whose education I disrupted to come on my revolutionary sojourn.

I traveled throughout Mexico, from Tijuana to Chetumal on the East coast and Oxaca on the West coast. I had no problems in Mexico, especially after I obeyed Betty Mora's warning to stay out of politics, something I didn't do when I ventured down to Honduras, but that's another story.

Mexican poverty was overwhelming, something I'd never seen before. I didn't know people lived on dirt floors watching television with Catholic saints adorning their walls. I didn't know I could have a maid for one dollar a day, that she would do all the cleaning, cooking, clothe washing and shopping for one dollar a day. And yes, even Betty Mora, my revolutionary comrade, had a maid.

I loved Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, near the Paseo de la Reforma, cerca de Metro, which was where I lived. Sundays in the park was for lovers only and families who loved. The Mexicans taught me how to love in ways different from what I was accustomed: their passion was not suppressed as in the US.

And they worked so hard. Recall what I just said about the maid. But all the people work hard or hustle hard. I never saw any lazy Mexicans. Or fat Mexicans either. Where did these ideas come from?

The first thing Betty Mora gave me after dinner was a book on the Mexican revolution. Soon I understood the determination of the people and their will to be free, and the constant sabotage by PRI, the eternal dominant political party until recently. I understood why Betty and her husband Poncho Mora could not let me stay at their house except for a few nights, since they were being watched because they were Communists and radical and non radical people were known to disappear into the night. Just before I got there, students had been massacred at the University and when their parents came to check on their children, the parents disappeared. As I said, Betty told me not to get involved in politics, although I did visit with political refugees who'd fled to Mexico City from throughout Latin America, including Black brothers from the Dominican Republic, Columbia and Venezuela, although the only thing I could say to them was "poder negro" (black power).

In spite of the repression, the poverty, I admired Mexico because at least they had their own country: they made their own soap, own clothes, shoes, own flag, own oil and hated Yankees or gringos, although I was often considered a gringo when they didn't misidentify me as a Brazilian and call me Pele. When they found out I was an American, they could not and would not believe I was without money and poor. After all, their sole objective was getting to America. They lined up around the American Embassy each day for visas. Of course many made the trip north without visas, after all, why do they need visas to visit their own land, now called California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico?

After the rise and fall of the Black Power revolt ignited resistance in other minorities, including white women, gays, grays, Native Americans, Asians and most importantly Latin Americans, the cry "Viva La Raza" was heard throughout the land, surfacing on the East coast as Puerto Rican power and on the West coast as Chicano power. Of course none of these minorities suffered like African Americans, after being named the greatest threat to national security. None had assassinated leaders the stature of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. None gained international recognition like the Black Panthers. But all of these minorities siphoned the Black energy to enjoy social/economic and political benefits after the Black Liberation movement was decimated from within and without, mainly as a result of Cointelpro, the US governments counter intelligence program to destroy the black movement and prevent the rise of a "Black Messiah."

Caesar Chavez did emerge as the leader of the poor, down trodden, exploited Mexican farm workers. And the Brown Panthers attempted to organize the Latin community. But Afro-Latin unity was short lived once Chicanos saw being too closely allied with the Blacks was a liability and furthermore, many Chicanos preferred identifying with white European culture rather than their African/Native Indian roots, although the concept La Raza suggests Native Indian mythology, including the oft-pictured Emiliano Zapata, hero of the Mexican revolution, himself of African/Indian roots, not to mention another revolutionary hero, Vincente Guerrero, the African/Indian George Washington/Abraham Lincoln of Mexico.

But as Blacks no longer worked the cotton, grape fields and orchards of the Central Valley towns, Chicanos and Mexicanos replaced them. On college campuses, Chicano and/or La Raza programs were often empowered at the expense of Black Studies. In other words, Chicanos collaborated with college and university administrations to gain power while black studies was decimated, underfunded or eliminated. There is now a Ph.D. program in Chicano Studies, a Chicano Studies Department on various campuses, but most Black Studies are absorbed in Ethnic Studies or traditional Euro Studies. Many Ethnic Studies programs and/or departments are headed by Chicanos who have no shame in looking out for La Raza, which means too hell with the Blacks.

A similar phenomenon occurs in the prison system. It is a known fact that the white administrators cause division between black and Latin prisoners, especially the prison gangs that are kept divided so they can be contained, preventing Afro-Latin unity. And again, many of the Latin prison gangs have betrayed Afro-Latin unity to align themselves with the white gangs.

A strange thing happened during a performance of my play ONE DAY IN THE LIFE before an audience of exconvicts when several of them marched out in unity because the black former inmates objected to my use of the N word and the white and Chicano excons objected to my Black hero worship. The drug program counselor had to baby-sit these inmates all night, telling them not to be so sensitive, it was only a play.

Moving into the millennium, another strange thing is happening, or perhaps it is not so strange but a demographic reality: Latinos are now the number one minority in America, eclipsing Blacks. A few years ago I was walking with poet Amiri Baraka in New York. He said let's get something to eat. I said what about some Mexican food. He said I was crazy, there wasn't any Mexican restaurants in New York City. If I wanted Puerto Rican food, that was a possibility, but not Mexican. Today, Chicanos are the largest Latin minority in New York.

In California, the ghetto is rapidly becoming AfroLatin, from Watts to East Oakland, Chicanos are moving in, buying property, renting, setting up businesses, especially Chicano grocery stores and supermarkets, also auto shops (since they are known to have ten cars per family—nice racist joke). They can be seen throughout the ghetto hustling on every corner, selling every conceivable item, including Crack and other drugs, but legitimate items Blacks would be arrested for selling or would be told to close down because they lacked various permits, especially health department permits, while Chicanos can sell tacos and burritos without any problem.

The new demographics are indeed creating cultural tensions, but I suggest Blacks learn from their new Latin neighbors who are in many instances simply utilizing the positive aspects of Latino culture, i.e., practicing economic unity, entrepreneurship, political and most of all, family unity. Blacks need to observe the Latinos hustling items other than drugs and do the same. Observe their collective unity Blacks merely talk about during KWANZA. And finally, present Chicanos with a political agenda for Afro-Latin unity that cannot be sabotaged except on the pain of death. Whether we like it or not, Chicanos are the new guys on the block, yes, the hog with the big nuts, so rather than fear them, we should unite with them for mutual political/economic progress. If we sit around playa hatin, we shall slip farther behind in the multicultural ladder and ultimately be forgotten as history marches forward with new people determined to make progress.

I must inform Blacks that employing Latinos to work in Black businesses, because they are cheap labor is no lasting solution to our economic woes. Even though they may be cheap and more reliable, their employment in soul food restaurants such as Sylvia's in Harlem or Lois The Pie Queen's in Oakland, is a disgrace with Black unemployment sky high. Young blacks can and must be found who will work for low wages to gain job training.

Welcome to Mexicali.

Marvin X is one of the founders of the Black Arts Movement and the father of Muslim American literature. The author of thirty books, eight in 2010, he recently founded the First Poet's Church of the Latter Day Egyptian Revisionists.

Black California, A Literary Anthology, edited by Aparajita Nanda, Heyday Press, Berkeley CA, 2011, $24.95, 333 pages.

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