THIS IS HOW WE MOVE: An Open Letter to Houston

Good morning mi gente, 

Its funny (not funny) that the last time I touched this blog, it was another open letter - to the poetry community, retooling my investments in the culture of the city I care for very much. Read that letter HERE

Its been a blessing to work as an artist in the city. But I find myself in a struggle. I am trying to balance all things. Artist, Husband, Teacher, Mentor, Writer, Activist. I know I can't do it all, and i can't do it all, all of the time. So I pick and choose my "battles" and lend my action and my voice where I think I can do the most good. But more times than not, (I feel this is the same for many of my fam from across this country and beyond) I am always in defense mode. I am always at the beckon call when something unjust is happening. When we lose the life of a fellow citizen (undocumented or otherwise) or a student. 

If you are wondering why I haven't blogged about this more - simply put, I've been teaching a decolonizing literature. I've been protesting against the senseless deaths of young people. I've been to vigils. I've had to help host "know your rights" events for the undocumented parents of my students. I've had to write poems and get them published when a racist thing happens. I've had to console my students who now, (because of inhumane thoughts are making their way to the light), live in fear of either their parents or they themselves getting deported. I've had to go to velorios. I've had to testify on senate bills and racist textbooks and I am tired. I am not tired of the actions I have had to take, but I am tired of the inaction I see. 

If you see my Facebook and my Twitter, I look like a crazy man. To some, I look like I am on fire and waving my hands around yelling "do you see the crazy hot mess happening here?!?" and they quickly click away from my posts - bemoaning me as too dramatic, or too sensitive or too out there.  To others, I probably seem like I am on point. I really stopped caring. I stopped caring the morning after the election.

Say what you will about the latest election for the office of the president of the united states, but it had an affect. I saw it the next day. We've constantly seen the unfiltered hate and racism out in the open. 

I looked at my students faces. My wife did do. She came to read poetry to them as the end of a unit in my class on Afro-Latino literature. It was the most celebratory thing I could think of to do. I had students in my room crying. I had students enamored with my wife and her words. But at the end of the day, even though it was the best damn thing to offer, I still had over 30+ kids in my room in fear. 

Throughout that day and the weeks that followed, I had students come into my classroom afraid for their lives, afraid for their parents lives. I had students contemplating what they would have to do if their parents were deported, or killed or I don't know what. I had students use me as a sounding board for their feelings, as a co-planner on life plans, as a shoulder to cry on when the world was too much. I've had to walk my kids back into the building when the day and the world was too much for them. I've had to continuously talk some of my kids back into finishing school - because for some of them "what's the point? If my apa gets deported, I won't be able to go to college, who's gonna look after my fucking brother, mister? Who's gonna make sure nobody fucks with them?" And what do I do? What can a writer who is a teacher or a teacher who is a writer do for a kid?  I listened and hugged. I cried with and for them. But I have not written on all these things. (well, I have a little.)  I can't right now. I think this year, I have died a little.

The words have not come as they used to. Perhaps its because I am older, perhaps its because I am living with this now more than ever.  Perhaps because I heard myself say the very same thing I was told 22 years ago. 22 years ago, my government & economics/ track coach told a group of brown and black students in a small group "don't travel alone at night. Get IDs, all of you. Be kind and don't raise your voice to anybody with a badge. I want to see your face tomorrow and everyday after."  I fucking said those words this year. And I cried when I said them. 

I thought back to being an 17 year old me at the start of my senior year when my coach told us this. I always knew the fact, but to have him say it, it was a good reminder of the world we lived in. But now, 22 years later, I hated to have to say it to MY kids. At first, some of the kids didn't get it. Why would they? The world they have grown up in is slightly different than mine. Hell, I teach in a school that is all brown and black. They don't know exactly what it looks like, the full face of ugly racism, of classism. Some of them haven't been hit or cut or shot with it. But they understood. 

First came the executive orders. Then came Texas. 

Gov. Greg Abbot and #SB4. are a wildfire. He and his cronies (yes, I am looking at you Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton and the rest, but especially the gentleman from Irving, excuse me Connecticut, Matt Rinaldi.) They have left the youngest of us, the oldest of us, the females of us, the brown and black of us, naked and without protection. They have left us in favor of some image of "Americana" that doesn't include the poor. They sleep on marble I guess. They eat with gusto and warm themselves with their own words. They aren't shy about telling you they are christian and for families, but I don't know which families or which christians they are thinking of, and I have no fucks left to give. They have led the way for laws and executive orders to come in and upend the lives in my community. And they don't care about the capitol. They are bold, but so am I. So are we. So are the kids I teach. We are smart and ratchet. We are black, brown and we cite things. We work in your kitchens and intern in your energy companies. We stick and move. We listen/read/eat Kap G, Travis Scott, Voz de Mando, Elizabeth Acevedo, Chen Chen, and Tracy K. Smith.  We are young. We'll outlast them. THIS IS HOW WE MOVE. 

I will continue to fight them up at the capitol and on as many fronts as I can. I will teach, and I will write. I used to worry about if I was a teacher who is writes or a writer who teaches, but that is a luxury I can no longer afford. I can't fuck with that right now. I gotta do the damn thing, all things. Write all things, teach all the words and cast as wide a net, cast as big a spell and call up all the spirits to protect the two things I know are important: these kids and these books. These are our treasures. THIS IS HOW WE MOVE.

This is I can protect/provide/defend/nourish.  

 If you don't know anything about either the executive orders or SB4, then you are part of the problem. I'm sorry, but you are. And if you haven't gotten up to advocate for students and families who can be affected by this - in any way, then YOU are part of the problem. Don't let the silence be you. Don't freeze and think things will be ok. I have 30+ kids that can tell you otherwise. 

I have one kid who ended up questioned by La Porte, TX police on his citizenship, just for being in a parked car at a park on a Saturday night. He messaged me on Sunday "hey mister, you won't joking around about SB4. The cops asked me if I was illegal."  He came back to school on Monday. It was May. He told my class. It was 2nd Period. SB4 doesn't go into effect until Sept. 1st. The kids asked "but mister, if this doesn't go into effect until September, why can cops do this now?"  

The Executive Order on Enhancing Safety on the Interior of the United States, dated January 25th, 2017, was all I could tell them. 

I have another student who I will mention by name, Karen Rodriguez (she and her family are the point of this letter to you, Houston). She just graduated from the high school where I teach and she has to spend the start of her summer waiting to see if her father gets deported. Its one of over 1,000 stories playing out in the US. Karen and her family are a typical family. She is an outstanding student. The most American thing this guy, Juan Rodriguez has done is put his girls through CATHOLIC SCHOOL. Karen was supposed to go to Sam Houston State University. She's got the goods. She's articulate and brilliant and as positive as she can be. She's a fighter. Just like her pops. I need him here. WHY? Because if he leaves, if this state and this country manage to put this man out of this place he has called home for over a decade, without even so much as driving around with a busted tail light (which someone already got deported for), then its failing to honor its citizens. We are allowing the support system to a group of beautiful young ladies to be put out. We risk the future by taking apart the family though "law and order". 

You've heard this before I know. Some you don't care. Some of you aren't even affected by this or my words, but you will be. You or someone you know or love will be stopped and questions about their citizenship, or shot at or detained wrongly by the police, or have a family member about to be deported. And I envy and worry about this comfort all at once. For I will never know it.

And if you can live with seeing families split up and if you can live with the idea that a law can be immoral and still follow it, then we probably don't need to interact much. You do not have the heart I thought you did. You, Houston, you make me angry. You watch this revolting mess happen nightly on the news. You see it in our city streets. You don't vote when it makes sense to. You hide behind the old history of the space. You don't respond when I call. I am glad I only call when its important. 

But I will make one last plea, like I did with Houston City Council two weeks ago. KEEP JUAN RODRIGUEZ HERE. He belongs with his family in Houston.  He's no criminal. AND EVEN IF HE WAS - keep his ass here. This is his home. This is where his girls are. This is where his wife is. This is where his life is. This is where his job is. THIS IS THE PLACE HE CALLS HOME JUST AS MUCH AS YOU OR I. 

There is a petition that needs 10,000 signatures. As of this morning, it is at 3,652. I need you to sign this petition. (the petition is in the link) Signing it shows the government that we believe in him and his ability to take care of his family. 

Be good neighbors. Show the city that you care about its families. Its what I asked City Council to do and so far, as of last week even, not a one of them have signed it. Today, I will go to speak to them about that

Don't let me down Houston. We rise when the occasion asks for it. We rise when a death occurs. We rise to celebrate with PRIDE. Why not rise to keep our families together? Why not rise to keep awful laws that tear our families apart? 


THEN, ask City Council to join the lawsuit against the State of Texas, so no more families are affected by immoral laws. Existing and earning a living isn't an illegal act. Surviving is not an illegal act. Moving to keep alive is not an illegal act. And if you think so and you think a man like Juan Rodriguez, Karen's father, is evil and a risk to the safety of the nation - then you are blind. We are living in what Gil Scott Heron calls "a turn around world". There are other people worthy of being labeled a risk to safety. And we have already allowed the deportation of so many fathers whose families need them. (Rose and Jose Escobar, you are in my prayers). Don't let this keep happening.  Ask the family of the late John Hernandez. They can tell you first hand. They don't fear or are angry at an undocumented father with 3 girls. No, the problem they face right now is all too American. 

Awaiting your next move Houston, 

Lupe Mendez