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
Where did you grow up and what kinds of things were
you involved in as a youth?
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
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.
When did Poetry enter your life and how did it affect
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
What were some of your influences coming up?
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.
What has shocked or surprised you about your experience
becoming a writer?
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
What is Tia Chucha Café Cultural and how did it come
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."
What are some of your most positive and negative experiences
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.
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.
Your latest book the novel, Music of the Mill,
you tell us about the book and the meaning behind
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
Whom do you write for? And why?
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.
What do you think about change (think of Uploading
Change, GeoClan.com's slogan)?
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
sure to drop GeoClan a line at firstname.lastname@example.org