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Today is:
An Interview with Luis Rodriguez
By William  Baptist is pleased and privileged to bring you an interview with Luis Rodriguez, a amazing poet and author.  Luis's work is known throughout the world and thankfully we get to sit down and pick his brain on his writings, his upbringing, community work and of course making change! (GC): Where did you grow up and what kinds of things were you involved in as a youth?


Luis Rodriguez (LR): Although I was born on the US-Mexico border (in El Paso, Texas, although we lived in Cuidad Juarez in Mexico), I grew up in South Central LA, then the East LA area.  I became involved in crime when I was seven--shoplifting and breaking into homes. At 10, my best friend was killed trying to escape from police after we broke into an elementary school. At 11, I joined a gang. At 12, I began drug use--from huffing, to pills, to heroin. At 15, I dropped out of high school and was also kicked out of my house.  At 16, I was placed into two adult facilities after the so-called East LA riot. At 17, I was arrested for attempted murder. At 18, I was facing a six-year-prison sentence for fighting with police, I was hooked on heroin, and by then 25 of my friends had been killed.  But activists in East LA and Watts were also politicizing me. 


I painted 10 murals one year with gang youth. I returned to high school and led walkouts.  I helped organize study groups and became a leader in a barrio community center.  This is turn allowed me to get support in the form of letters to a judge, who gave me a lesser charge when I was 18, which I served in the county jail. I vowed then to leave drugs and the gang life.  I became quite active in revolutionary study and work from 18 years on--some 33 years ago.



GC : When did Poetry enter your life and how did it affect you?


LR : I began to write poetry in jail when I was around 16 years old.  I shouldn't have had any desire for this. I had fallen through the cracks of two languages: my Spanish was beaten out of me when I was a kid, and the schools didn't teach us English very well.  But words somehow became my passion and purpose. I saw my first poetry reading at 18 in Berkeley, CA, which influenced me a lot.  I began to seriously pursue writing and a poet's life at around 25 years old.



GC : What were some of your influences coming up?


LR : As a teenager, I was influenced by books on the urban experience, particularly from Black writers like James Baldwin, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson, Claude Brown, Malcolm X, and Piri Thomas.  I eventually read political/Marxist texts in study circles, which gave me a strong political/social orientation. Then, when I began to pursue poetry, I got into the works of Pablo Neruda (my favorite poet), Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, and others.


GC : What has shocked or surprised you about your experience becoming a writer?


LR : I'm surprised by the support I've obtained doing what I love the most, especially for "Always Running." While it's hard to be a writer--to get known, published, and to make a living--I've had young people, teachers, mentors, organizers, and others appreciate my efforts. It has made it all worthwhile with the large number of letters I've received and the people who come to my readings.  Writing has helped me become a fuller, more socially-engaged, and supported human being.



GC : What is Tia Chucha Café Cultural and how did it come about?


LR : Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural is a multi-faceted arts center--it is a bookstore, cafe, art gallery, performance space, and cyber cafe.  I also have an arts and media workshop center next door (the not-for-profit sister organization called Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural).  It came about when I returned to LA in 2000 after spending 15 years in Chicago. In Chicago, I helped create a number of arts, literary and youth organizations. This experience helped me envision the creation of a gathering place for ideas, creativity, and the arts. A year and a half later, we opened our doors. The cafe/centro is also located in a community with a large number of poor and working class people--about 80 percent Mexican and Central American.  Yet, there were no bookstore, movie houses, or cultural centers until we started this place--what I call "a dream of community empowerment."



GC : What are some of your most positive and negative experiences so far?


LR : Tia Chucha's has brought together diverse groups of people hungry for books, painting, music, theater, poetry, and more. Many young people come here who wouldn't otherwise have a place to go. Our workshops include Aztec Dancing, Hip Hop mixing and MCing, film making, sculpture, theater, writing, Mexican Jarocho music, natural healing arts, music (guitar, harmonica, conga drums, etc.), and more.  We have provided consciousness and awareness of the political, social, and cultural aspects of our lives--and we've inspired and helped orient new revolutionary leaders.


The negative has been the reaction from some so-called community leaders and activists who've tried to block us from creating this place. There are petty jealousies and interests at play here. We've been able to deal with these by putting most of our efforts in the creation and stabilization of Tia Chucha's.  Far more people have embraced our center--and we're not giving up on our vision and our plans to expand.



GC : Your latest book the novel, Music of the Mill, can you tell us about the book and the meaning behind it?


LR : After I left the gang life, and after obtaining a strong political orientation, I began work in industry to survive (and to continue my political work). I worked as a steelworker (for four years), a smelter, a paper mill worker, a carpenter, a maintenance mechanic, in construction, a bus driver, and truck driver. I did this for seven years. Music of the Mill is my ode to those who have worked, sweated and bled in the mills, factories, sweatshops, and construction yards of this country. I saw the battles for adequate union representation, for equality, and for dignity in many of these places. In Music of the Mill, I wanted to write a multi-generational novel about a family in a steel mill in LA (similar to where I worked), and the impact of the de-industrialization that destroyed the major mills and factories in the 1980s. It was a story that has not been properly told--a story that is most telling of the world we're in today--of globalization, deeper polarity between rich and poor, and of war and uncertainty.



GC : Whom do you write for? And why?


LR : The most important person I write for is myself--I have to love what I'm doing, say what's important for me to say, and do it in such a way that I'm held and enraptured by the words. I have many strong political, cosmological, and spiritual concerns that I try to convey in my poetry and other books. I am aware of audience--so I work hard to sustain a high level of clarity, integrity, and weight in what I write. It's important for me to tell a great story, but also to impart vital ideas, to invite more people to the conversation of where we have to go as a people, country, and world.



GC : What do you think about change (think of Uploading Change,'s slogan)?


LR : As most people know, change is the one constant in all existence. People tend to idealize their interests and fears, to stabilize their narrow beliefs and concerns for all time.  But every generation must challenge what is old and dying, and to reinvigorate and renew what needs to be pushed forward and realized. Humans change. Species change. The Earth changes. So do societies. Intentional, conscious, and planned changes are far better (based on deep knowledge, experience, and vision) than changes that happen of their own accord. That's what we bring into the equation: imagination, planning, strategies, directions, and achievement. Change is not only desirable--it's life.


For more information on Luis Rodriguez, his works and community projects please visit the following websites:,,

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