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* Sixto Tarango (1957 – 1987), former student body president Cal State L.A., never finished his history degree. Worked 2 jobs raising his kids, putting his wife thru pharmacy school, now his son David must be older than Sixto was when he died. His kids were too small to know their dad well—he grew up fatherless, mostly on his own all the time, in City Terrace, East L.A. One Christmas day when we were teens, Sixto and I walked the neighborhood together because all our other friends had family to hang out with; we shot baskets at Cal State that hot L.A. Christmas day till we were soaked in sweat, then bought some sodas and drank them in the parking lot of Valley Liquors. He wanted to give his children the kind of childhood he never had.

* Dennis Brutus (1924 – 2009), banned and imprisoned by the apartheid regime in South Africa, shot by SA police in 1963 and imprisoned again, exiled in 1966, I met Dennis Brutus at anti-war events in Los Angeles in the 1980s, and last saw him on a bus in Managua, Nicaragua in 1989; he was a staunch and tireless anti-imperialist.

* Don White (1937 – 2008) charter founder of United Teachers of Los Angeles and leader of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, Don put decade after decade into peace and solidarity work in Los Angeles.

* Michael Zinzun (1949 – 2006) former Black Panther (’70 – ’72), cofounder of the Coalition Against Police Abuse, gang truce and youth intervention activist, lost the sight in one eye in a police confrontation in 1982, he hosted a cable access TV show in the 1990s and died in his sleep, at home.

* Reine Moffett (died 1997), activist with Women of All Red Nations, she fought cancer repeatedly for ten or fifteen years while we knew her. She fought hard to be there for her family. She had worked with the Wounded Knee Legal Defense Committee; she was always looking into what was going on in the local schools and the local community. When our kids were very small, we all picked huckleberries in the Cascades, and washed volcanic ash from Mount St. Helens off them.

review by Jason Kirby

The inside cover of Sesshu Foster’s City Terrace Field Manual features a stark black-and-white photograph depicting skyscrapers on the smoggy Los Angeles horizon. But these buildings are not in the foreground. Instead, the majority of the frame is crammed with houses, houses that look as if they’ve seen better days. From the vantage point of these ghetto dwellings, the big buildings, the centers of wealth and power, seem miles away.Reading this 1996 Foster collection is like being inserted into that photograph. He writes from the perspective of an outsider, a man who understands what race and class conflicts have done to the city he grew up in, and yet refuses to let bitterness overtake him. UC-Santa Cruz, and our creative writing program specifically, are privileged to count him as an alumnus. It seems difficult to say where this book would be shelved in your local bookstore: fiction, poetry, autobiography? City Terrace Field Manual defies classification, it is all three of those genres at once. The reader is presented with 167 vignettes of the author’s life, growing up in the Los Angeles neighborhood of City Terrace. Despite the constant blurring between fact and fiction, it becomes clear over the course of the book that Foster is of mixed Japanese, Latin American, and Caucasian heritage, although it appears that City Terrace is a predominantly Latino neighborhood. As a narrator, he seems to identify most closely with that Latino side of himself, while never turning his back on the other ethnic roots which give his life more complexity and richness. For example, in the fragment beginning “Why black is in style,” Foster declares:

Los Angeles is my city, I sucked on her neck, gave her purple hickeys before she backhanded me out a car at 35 MPH on a turn in Highland Park. From a street corner, all the Chinese signs in Alhambra declare her love. Korean signs of Koreatown are just another word for feelings. Beautiful hair of Vietnamese noodles. Wonderful smile of oranges sold at East L.A. on-ramps. Big bottles of pigs feet & giant kosher dills on the counter at every corner store. (51)

The celebratory and embracing style of the writing is immediately evident, despite the grittiness and violence which also pervades the book. Foster has a truly modern, realistic grasp as a writer on California, a state which becomes more like its own nation every day, a nation of immigrants and many languages. Placing pigs feet next to Vietnamese noodles is an odd, jarring pastiche, but it works.This brings up the overall disjointedness of Foster’s narrative, which cannot really be called a narrative at all. Instead, we get episodes, moments in time that are remembered sometimes with aching attention to detail, sometimes with hazy, stream-of-consciousness thought-pictures. This presentation seems intentional on Foster’s part: a life is being displayed before the reader which cannot be told in a simple, linear narrative common to most Western fiction. Here, the poetic side of his work takes over, offering an escape from stale forms, dragging us by the hand into a world rich with contradictions and complexities.And what a world it is. One of the greatest pleasures in reading City Terrace Field Manual is the way his prose assaults the five senses. In the fragment beginning “Hey, Manny,” the author reflects:The Texaco on Eastern burned down, where Ernie the wino once lived. Remember his face, fried like chorizo, cracked in the morning sun? His clothes greasy black, stretching his hand out to us on our way to school. He looked like that all the time, then one day he puked his guts out and lay face down in black blood. (9)

It is harrowing details such as these, so vivid it almost seems they can’t be fiction, which give this work its lifeblood. Foster tells it like he sees it; there is no time for philosophizing or sermonizing to the reader. He lets the memories speak for themselves.

Memory plays a huge role in how Foster tells his small stories. Most of the fragments are related in past tense, some in present, but never in future. This again seems to be a conscious artistic decision: it is as though in a neighborhood as tough as City Terrace, the only thing that matters is right now, and what got us to that moment. The future can wait until tomorrow. Foster underscores this dependency on the past with multiple references to photographs, such as “Orale, carnal, check out this photograph I found: it’s from the old days out in the desert! What bad-ass dudes!” (163). While it is unclear whether the voice employed here is Foster’s own or that of a friend, we get the feeling of a cluster of homeboys gathering around, peering at a yellowed photo and laughing as it resurrects old memories, some pleasant, some not. And although there is no cohesive narrative to the book, memory does provide some of the few threads which patch it together. For example, the phrase “the thin knife edge of light in dead flies on the windowsill” is first voiced on page 14 and then repeated in the seemingly unrelated fragment on page 161. Such lacing of evocative language throughout causes the reader to question the nature of memory itself, and Foster’s reasons in presenting it this way.

Another memory which permeates the text is a memory of revolution. This is not necessarily revolution on a grand, national scale, but more often little revolutions which the author observed and even instigated in his own barrio. Foster cleverly invokes the Filipino revolutionary writer Carlos Bulosan when on the page 32 fragment, he states: “America is in the Heart and we are in the canebrake, we do not want to see St. Quentin again.” By name-checking Bulosan’s famous novel of immigration and awakening to a radical consciousness, Foster asks the reader just how far revolution for America’s impoverished racial minorities has come since Bulosan was writing in the 1940’s. This doubting of the power of activism continues in the book’s longest fragment, which begins “Maria Altamirando was our community spokesperson” (117). In very straightforward language, Foster details to the reader how the work of his local, predominantly Hispanic chapter of the Progressive Anti-War Organization (PAO) was undermined by uncaring white leadership in Washington D.C. Included in this story is the tale of Maria Altamirando, whom Foster portrays as “selling out” a bit to claim a leadership role within the PAO organization. He comments on her ascension out of LA later in the fragment: “And I wonder what she’s doing far away across the country, over there in the capital, surrounded by white folks and politicians” (120). It is interesting here how Foster maintains the revolutionary fervor of Bulosan without succumbing to that man’s misogynist slant (in his vitriolic depiction of union organizer Helen, for example). Foster seems to recognize that ultimately race and gender intersect in more subtle ways than Bulosan could have imagined, and that sometimes the rise of an individual must take precedence over the dreams of a community. He doesn’t seem to have hate in his heart for Maria, only a sense of wonder as to how she could have succeeded when so many others have failed.

Finally, as with Bulosan, Foster remembers youth. His teenage years form a good portion of these fragments, and he captures lovingly the confusions of being young in a world of backbreaking landscape work, hot dirty skies, and gang warfare. In an evocation of these themes, he writes: “the families walking through heat waves at Evergreen Cemetery; ragged-assed palm trees & friends who’d rather read magazines than try to think–hey, whatever, whatever is left; whatever you allow–you know what I’m saying–I’ll take it” (111). This kind of desperation, a sort of grasping for an identity in a fractured world, are at the heart of this book. The passage above captures those feelings when they are clouded by teenage angst, but in the final, extremely moving fragment, Foster clarifies the meaning of another childhood incident:

My dad floats a world away on his shining fucking sea and a cop confiscates the Swiss army knife he sent me for my birthday. The cop loves the knife, he smiles as he puts it in his pocket; “Kids like you are not allowed to carry knives.” Because of that, I despise my dad more than I hate the cops. (168)

We are chilled, as the author can look back on such a story with enough analytical power to make sense of it all, to realize that hatred from the white race only brings on more hatred within the communities they oppress. This careful portrait of internalized racial fury puts Foster in the company of such luminaries as Toni Morrison, who have spent careers dissecting what he states so bluntly (and so well) in just a few lines. Such is the amazing power when poetry and prose are combined, and when a writer has the courage to look at childhood outside the maudlin, idealized model many slip into. Instead, Foster takes on his formative years with the true grit and ambiguity that was really there, and from that experience creates powerful, socially-relevant art.The title of this work, City Terrace Field Manual, is paradoxical: it fits and it doesn’t fit. On the one hand, the book does not give instructions for living in such a harsh environment, as the word manual might suggest. In fact, it seems to raise more questions than it answers. But on the other hand, like any good field guide, Foster’s book gives the reader an wholly unique, wholly immersive feel for the landscape of City Terrace. In those nauseating details, we are right there with him, walking along the cracked asphalt, choking on the smog–bringing to life Foster’s reminder: “I exist. That means trouble” (37). City Terrace Field Manual is searing and shot through with sunlight, and it cannot be ignored.

Jason Kirby is a double major in literature/creative writing and sociology. This is his last year at UCSC.
(c) 2001 Creative Writing Program

1. My dreams sometimes feel more honest than my usual thoughts. My thoughts always feel freighted with rationalizations, judgements and calculations.

2. 1 time I took a nihonzin karate friend to the ER to help him with English and when they brought out the x-rays I told him it didn’t look too bad, but I didn’t know what I was talking about, and they admitted him and operated on him later that night, inserting steel pins in both bones of his wrist and some screws and he couldn’t do karate for 6 months.

3. Once (also karate) I kicked a teen in the hand and dislocated one of his fingers. The finger double-backed on itself.

4. Once (in karate) I looked down when another guy stepped on my foot and my big toenail was pointing straight up. The sensei cut it off with scissors and snipped a raw fresh piece of aloe vera and laid it across the open flesh. That was a live sensation!

5. On the edge of the Marrakech marketplace, a kid asked for the bottle of cola or orange soda I was drinking and I thought he wanted a drink, but he poured it on the dirt and walked off with the bottle.

6. Sometimes people (like Rick or Jennifer L.) I try to engage in conversation in my dreams tell me they’re too busy to talk.

7. I met a classmate I knew in high school in Costco, who told me he was a local politician now. Shortly thereafter I heard he was dead, and I wondered if I had always acted arrogant towards him.

8. Once I dreamed I was an actor in a large animal costume sick of my showbiz routine in Japan and I was in a phone booth semi-drunk trying to call somebody in America but I couldn;t get thru.

9. Once I dreamed I was in some small town in someplace like Texas or Oklahoma crossing the street at midnight and they had coin deposit slots in the push button crosswalks (you had to pay to cross the street with a coin operated crosswalk) and I looked out in the dark trying to figure out if there were any cops around.

10. One of my former students works in the same bldg and has a kid of her own. Every time she passes me by on the stairs or in the hall she looks as young as ever but I feel reminded of time passing. She’s like some Ghost of Christmas Past.

11. I always felt sorry for my roommates who wanted to be musicians. Did they ever have a chance? Seems doubtful.

12. I went to an l.a. weekly party for l.a. writers feeling irritable and when writers I didn;t know looked at me expectantly, I frowned and turned away and didn;t meet them. Then I left (only stopping talk to Michelle Serros, becuz she’s cute).

13. In the 1980s when I did security at demonstrations and other political actions I met some older former Black Panthers doing security too and I got strange sensations of chasms and Grand Canyons of history and vast distances of human experience when I was saying hello and shaking their hands.

14. I saw Chris Hani, leader of the South African communist party speak in Los Angeles before he was assassinated, and hundreds of thousands turned out for his funeral. He led the So. Cal. communists in a militant African dance in a ballroom in a downtown hotel that they did pretty stiffly.

15. On the Nez Perce reservation in Idaho I looked out on the White Bird Battlefield where Chief Joseph’s band defeated the U.S. troops and wondered if any of it was the same for them those many years ago, and if the chill in the wind that I felt was at all the same, or could anything, anything at all be the same?

16. Once I took my sisters on a tour of the International District in Seattle and showed them the cannery union office where union leaders Gene Viernes and Silme Domingo were assassinated by agents of the Phillipine dictator Marcos in the early 80s. Sometimes you walk around past certain locations knowing these things it makes you feel lonely in a crazy way, or crazy in a lonely way.

17. I believe most people, especially young people, have reserves of secret intelligence beyond my understanding. I believe adults waste this intelligence making and spending money and dealing with the lame self-centered terrors they suffer.

18. America has better food now from coast to coast than when I was a little kid and we spent so much time on the road. There were only burger joints and greasy diners, but now there’s Mexicans and Mexican food coast to coast. Maybe I’ll never get over my functional illiteracy when it comes to cooking.

19. I was driving around Eastern Washington once and the great open grassy spaces and crummy little no account towns were giving me huge feelings of some sort of vast American loneliness and I felt too frightened to learn from it. The area was mostly just vast wheat fields across rolling plains but something about the highways and the towns scared the hell out of me.

20. When I was a kid, I thought adults must be wise beyond knowing because of their years of experience, but after enough of their abuse when I was growing up, I realized that many were just total idiots from the terror they surrendered to. That American loneliness.

21. I don’t believe in psychics and telling fortunes, but I believe just by chance and by natural intelligence, people often sometimes just know exactly what somebody else is thinking.

22. Any sincere personal story moves me. Probably lots of insincere ones too.

23. I’m grateful that I refused to go to war and refused to kill anyone. I used to think that wasn’t important, but the wars and killing never ends.

24. I have the sensation in some of my dreams that I am bored being myself and being like myself, like always, especially in my dreams.

25. I remember the voice of a clerk in a store, a stranger, who quietly said my name years ago to get my attention. Somehow she knew my name.


by karen tei yamashita;

art by leland wong and sina grace

Coffee house press; 619 pages; $19.95 paperback)

The International Hotel, perched on the edge of San Francisco’s Chinatown at Kearny and Jackson streets, became the center of the burgeoning Asian American civil rights movement in the 1960s after its tenants were threatened with eviction. For nearly a decade, activists fought to halt the redevelopment – including a dramatic standoff when thousands of protesters formed a human barricade around the building. Although they lost the battle, the community came into its own.

Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel “I Hotel” is a dazzling depiction of those exhilarating, turbulent days, told through the multiple perspectives of a sprawling cast: a Chinese American poet, a Filipino American farmworker organizer and a Japanese-Russian American disability activist, among many others.

Just as diverse are the inventive forms in which Yamashita, who teaches at UC Santa Cruz, shapes her narrative. The 10 novellas include poems, myth, a dossier on the UC Berkeley criminology professor who sponsored the first Asian American studies course in the country, a dance script depicting Asian American memory, recipes for roast pig, and scores of hilarious quotations from Imelda Marcos, wife of the deposed president of the Philippines. That’s in addition to delightful illustrations by Leland Wong and Sina Grace.

As in her previous works, Yamashita incorporates satire and the surreal in prose that is playful yet knowing, fierce yet mournful, in a wildly multicultural landscape. The novel reveals how the civil rights movement intertwines the Black Panthers, Yellow Power, the Indian takeover of Alcatraz, the formation of the United Farm Workers, protests against nuclear proliferation, and the rights of the disabled – and the fascinating contributions of Asian Americans in each.

You may find yourself putting down the book and going online to find out more about this compelling history, and guessing whom the fictional characters are based on. Mo Akagi appears to be Richard Aoki, field marshal for the Black Panthers. Edmund Yat Min Lee bears a resemblance to Ling-chi Wang, activist and retired UC Berkeley professor of ethnic studies. Arthur Hama might be Takeo “Edward” Terada, a Japanese immigrant who painted Coit Tower murals.

Yamashita wasn’t living in San Francisco in those years, but her extensive research and interviews with more than 150 sources enabled her to uncover history that might have been lost. In the afterword, she explains the difficulty of coalescing her research “into any one storyline or historic chronology. … Their choices took different trajectories, but everyone was there, really there.”

With so much ground to cover, and the frequent shifts in point of view, some characters seem sketchy – defined in shorthand by educational degree and political activities. A few abruptly die (terminal illness, motorcycle accident, a shooting), without much discussion among their family and friends, and so their passing lacks full emotional resonance. The author sacrifices sustained narrative momentum in the interest of telling a broad range of stories. Some readers may wish Yamashita had gone deeper into the lives so tantalizingly glimpsed.

In the final pages, Yamashita assumes the voice of the community – the “we” who ask, “But why save an old hotel?” In lyrical, elegant prose, she explains how the hotel became a symbol, a rallying cry for people putting aside their differences to unite for a cause.

“Each room was a tiny home, a place of final refuge for a lifetime of work … when we saw the elderly tenants thrown out on the streets, maybe we saw ourselves, our own stories of struggle and sacrifice connected to their stories, and we knew that whatever our kids had been trying to do, we could agree on this one thing – the honor due to those who’ve gone before.”

In this passionate, bighearted novel, Yamashita has paid just such a tribute.

Southern California writer Vanessa Hua formerly covered Asian American issues at The Chronicle. E-mail her at

UC San Diego professor who studies disobedience gains followers — and investigators
Ricardo Dominguez, an electronic civil disobedience expert, is the target of probes examining whether his work improperly uses public funds and violates security laws.

May 07, 2010|By Richard Marosi, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from San Diego — When protesting students spilled into University of California campus courtyards in March, Ricardo Dominguez took to the streets in his own way — digitally — leading a march to the online office of the UC president.

The bespectacled associate professor triggered a software program that continuously reloaded the home page of UC President Mark G. Yudof’s website.

“Transparency,” hundreds of protesters wrote, over and over again, in the search box of the home page.

The jammed website responded with an error message: “File not found.”

The protesters’ message: Transparency doesn’t exist in the UC system.

It was a virtual sit-in, an oft-used tactic from Dominguez’s academic specialty at UC San Diego: electronic civil disobedience. Another project last year took as inspiration the debate over illegal immigration. Dominguez, a new media artist, unveiled a prototype for a modified cellphone that he called a “mobile Statue of Liberty.” He said phones like it would provide immigrants with directions and inspirational poetry readings during arduous desert crossings.

Never mind that few of the phones will probably ever end up in immigrant hands — there are no plans to mass produce them — or that the virtual sit-in may not have actually disrupted the UC president’s computer.

The projects were political statements meant to agitate, which they did, with unexpected consequences. Campus police are probing whether the virtual sit-in broke any computer hacking laws. The phone has drawn fire for allegedly encouraging illegal immigration. The media showed up, and faculty and students have rallied to Dominguez’s defense, slapping black tape over their mouths at a campus protest.

To his detractors Dominguez is a leftist prankster who wastes public funds pursuing projects that border on the criminal. Three Republican congressmen in San Diego county have written letters to the university questioning his work.

“Time for a change in this country,” wrote Nick Vecchio, a La Mesa resident, in a letter to the San Diego Union Tribune. “My taxes are sky high, and I’m paying a state university to employ activists and professors specializing in civil disobedience? What, pray tell, is a ‘new media artist?'”

Disturbance, answers Dominguez. He ponders the controversy with professorial detachment, studying reactions to his esoteric stagecraft, which is intended to blur the line between advocacy and performance art.

On Ricardo Dominguez

Visual-arts professor Ricardo Dominguez is in a tight spot. His tenure at UCSD is currently in jeopardy, because — ironically — he was living up to his reasons for hire.

It all started with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Hailing from Chiapas — the southernmost state of Mexico — the Zapatistas are self-proclaimed libertarians who have been living in a declared state of war against Mexico since 1994, using nonviolent avenues like the Internet to spread their message.

As fate would have it, the Zapatistas and Dominguez have a few things in common. In fact, the professor partnered with the group in 1994, leading to his 1998 invention of an online activist tool called Virtual-Sit-In — a modern form of rebellion that, once used to spread rumors about the UC President Mark G. Yudof’s resignation, has raised the eyebrows of the UC higher-ups who might just fire him for it.

The Virtual-Sit-In technology — which allows protesters to flood and potentially take down a Web site — is only one of Dominguez’s peaceful weapons in social activism. Dominguez has started projects all over the country aimed at stirring up controversy in a modern, artistic manner.

Virtual-Sit-Ins use a HTML-based program to target a specific Web site by allowing individuals to sign up to participate. For each individual that joins the protest, the targeted Web site is forced to refresh, drawing in additional traffic, essentially clogging it and preventing use, just as if it were a real location filled with protesters in a real life sit-in. Similar programs, generated by specific programs or computers, can also target Web sites in such a manner, refreshing their servers and forcing, almost like a virus. Additionally, the technology Dominguez developed reveals the individuals participating in the demonstration, their reasons for the protest and how long it will last, giving it far more meaning.

“Electronic civil disobedience allows us to think about the question of art becoming a social manifestation, allows us to think about art allowing communities who do not have access to power to make themselves present, that allows the unbearable weight of human beings to put a stop to the crisis that is around us — especially the juicy crisis of education,” Dominguez said. “It allows us to see that art is an active space in public culture and that it cannot be disregarded.”

Dominguez employed a Virtual-Sit-In on the UC Office of the President Web site on March 4 to allow individuals to protest online for the Day of Action to Defend Public Education.
“On March 4, when about 400 of us and then some did the virtual sit-in, at the same time we had our real bodies protesting,” Warren College Senior — a student of Dominguez — Holly Eskew said. “We are reaching the time when we can compare our real bodies to our digital bodies and online environment.”

Dominguez joined the UCSD visual-arts department in 2005, hired specifically for his work in electronic civil disobedience, and has become involved with CalIT2, acting as director of the b.a.n.g. laboratory – an . Since then, he has used the internet as a means of displaying a number of art projects aimed at stirring discussion in the UC system.

In November 2009, Dominguez created a Web site, nearly identical to the current UC Office of the President Web site, with an announcement for a new “Zero Tuition” program to be employed by the UC system. The project was designed to stir discussion in the community. Several news outlets called in, believing the statement to be real, which the UCOP brushed aside. Soon after Dominguez created a mock Web site holding a resignation statement by Yudof, which also drew much attention and discussion over such an idea.

“Art is as important as science or engineering or philosophy,” Dominguez said. “Art is a space that allows us to expand the way that we can think of the future. This is a product not of activism, and not a product of politics, not a product of science — it is the outcome of artistic investigation.”

While much of Dominguez’s research centers around the Web, his full range of work utilizes nearly every artistic medium. Dominguez began his career in the arts in the early 1980s by studying classical theatre, later moving on to agitprop theatre — a type of politically-driven theatre performance drawn from the terms agitation and propaganda. But after a few years on stage, Dominguez again looked to the future of his field bringing him to his obsession with technology based art outlets.

“In the early 80s, I became interested in thinking about the future of theatre,” Dominguez said. “I began to theorize new forms of electronic theatre, and we wrote a series of books, one called “The Electronic Disturbance,” and another book called “Electronic Civil Disobedience.””

It was at this point that Dominguez moved to New York City to start the research that would lead him to his work with the Zapatistas, who had…

“I started working with the Zapatistas in developing an intercontinental network of struggle and resistance,” Dominguez said. “We initiated the practice of electronic civil disobedience and electronic action in 1998, and there we did a series of performances for the Department of Defense, Congress and many other communities who responded to the issue of civil disobedience as an area of interest and dialogue.”

Since he was hired by UCSD in 2005, Dominguez has significantly expanded the forms of technology he involves in his art, as exhibited by his involvement in *particle group* — a group of artists, poets, new media artists and sound artists who are interested in (poetically) investigating the nature of toxicity in unregulated products that use nanotechnology — especially nanosilver.

Nanotechnology uses particles on the atomic scale that can often create new compounds which, may in turn, be toxic. One of *particle group*’s main projects is large equipment that acts as a “particle sniffer.”

“It allows you to walk through the installation, sniffs you and then tells you the level of toxicity is in your body because you’ve been using say Maybelline lipstick or transparent suntan lotion,” Dominguez said. “The response by the sniffer is a series of poetic scannings of your body. That’s the core vision of the *particle group*.”

Through the numerous projects Dominguez is involved with campus and nationwide, he holds that working in concert with his students and other artists is crucial.
“Collaboration is at the core of the perfomative matrix that I do with all the different groups I work with,” Dominguez said.

Eskew echoed that Dominguez’s attention and respect for with his students is truly an asset to the to the members of the visual arts departments.

“He is equally handed in the way that he gives to his students and his projects,” Eskew said. “He happens to be one of the most spectacular lecturers and the most giving caring professor I have ever come across.


Transborder Immigrant Tool

Funded by Arts and Humanities (Transborder Grant 2007-8), UCSD.

Transborder Immigrants Tool:
A Mexico/U.S. Border Disturbance Art Project
By Ricardo Dominguez and Brett Stalbaum (Principal Investigators)

(Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g lab)…

Lead Researchers: Micha Cardenas and Jason Najarro

The border between the U.S. and Mexico has moved between the virtual and the all too real since before the birth of the two nation-states. This has allowed a deep archive of suspect movement across this border to be traced and tagged – specifically anchored to immigrants bodies moving north, while immigrant bodies moving south much less so. The danger of moving north across this border is not a question of politics, but vertiginous geography. Hundreds of people have died crossing the U.S./Mexico border due to not being able to tell where they are in relation to where they have been and which direction they need to go to reach their destination safely. Now with the rise of multiple distributed geospatial information systems (such as the Goggle Earth Project for example), GPS (Global Positioning System) and the developing Virtual Hiker Algorithm by artist Brett Stalbaum it is now possible to develop a Transborder Tools for Immigrants to be implemented and distributed on cracked Nextel cell phones. This will allow a virtual geography to mark new trails and potentially safer routes across this desert of the real.

The technologies of Spatial Data Systems and GPS (Global Positioning System) have enabled an entirely new relationship with the landscape that takes form in applications for simulation, surveillance, resource allocation, management of cooperative networks and pre-movement pattern modeling (such as the Virtual Hiker Algorithm) an algorithm that maps out a potential or suggested trail for real a hiker/or hikers to follow. The Transborder Immigrant Tool would add a new layer of agency to this emerging virtual geography that would allow segments of global society that are usually outside of this emerging grid of hyper-geo-mapping-power to gain quick and simple access with to GPS system. The Transborder Immigrant Tool would not only offer access to this emerging total map economy – but, would add an intelligent agent algorithm that would parse out the best routes and trails on that day and hour for immigrants to cross this vertiginous landscape as safely as possible.

This art project would be developed in 5 stages:
1)GPS mapping the Mexico/U.S. border on both sides of this border for 3 to 4 weeks, which allow us to find the exact coordinates needed to anchor the triangulations that would frame the start and points for the Transborder Immigrant Tool.
2)3 months to research current and pre-emptive transborder networks and infrastructures, such as, Homeland Security activities, Halliburton border security projects, border patrol and Minutemen activities and water/food anchors established by support communities along the border – with the goal to improve the odds of immigrant safety and determine which of the computationally mediated paths are likely to be currently useful to follow.
3)5 to 6 months to develop the Transborder Immigrant Tool algorithm code and test the GPS coordinates and develop the Spanish and English interface and instructions for use.
4)A 1 week Walkabout Testing of the Transborder Immigrant Tool algorithm by the Principle Investigators and invited artists. We would first walk south into Mexico and then walk back north into the U.S. in the tradition of Richard Long’s walking sculptures, Situationist psychographic gestures and x-border art work of artist Heath Bunting.
5)Passing out the Transborder Immigrant Tool to communities of immigrants on both sides of border for use in developing this project. Each tool would be branded as an art project by Electronic Disturbance Theater and b.a.n.g lab ( – all users would be requested to return the Transborder Immigrant Tool for distribution once they safely reach an end anchor point for upgrades and further distribution.


Published November, 2009

The Transborder Immigrant Tool in action. It’s not much to look at, but it has the power to safely guide migrant workers from Mexico to the US and back. (Photo by Ricardo Dominguez)

Over the past two decades, Ricardo Dominguez has been utilizing electronics and the internet to piss off just about every high-level administrative authority in the US. In the late 90s, his performance-art-cum-activist organization the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT) set up a participatory website-jamming network called the FloodNet system, which allowed anyone with an internet connection to gum up the official sites of the US Border Patrol, White House, G8, Mexican embassy, and others, rendering them inaccessible. The Department of Justice retaliated with an electronic attack on the EDT that aimed to destabilize the group and interrupt their online meddling. As any conspiracy wonk can tell you, it’s illegal for the government to use military force against civilians without declaring martial law; that’s the job of cops and FBI agents.

Dominguez, a Zapatista sympathizer and close friend of Subcomandante Marcos, claims the various forms of online mischief conducted by the EDT were experiments in electronic civil disobedience rather than true acts of sabotage. Their work led to massive virtual and physical sit-ins protesting the Mexican government between ’98 and ’99, attracting more than 100,000 participants. But his current project—the Transborder Immigrant Tool—is poised to enrage a much broader spectrum of the North American populace. By augmenting a low-cost Motorola phone with GPS and a battery of applications, Dominguez’s goal is to help illegal immigrants complete safe border crossings without being sent back by the Border Patrol or getting shot in the face by American “patriots.”

The primary goal of the Transborder Immigrant Tool is to increase safety during border crossing by directing heavy-footed immigrants to safe routes, shelter, food, water, and friendly sympathizers. With the recent surge in militia membership and the Obama administration’s announcement that they will be reducing the number of Border Patrol agents next year, it looks like we’re getting ready to witness a showdown for the ages. And Dominguez couldn’t be happier about the level of shit he is about to seriously disturb.

Vice: How did you first become involved in electronic civil disobedience?
Ricardo Dominguez: In the 80s I was a member of something called the Critical Art Ensemble. We wrote a series of books published in the 90s that speculated on what the future, and computers especially, might bring. Our core speculations were that we would see the emergence of three different arcs of capitalism in the 90s: digital capitalism, genetic capitalism or clone capitalism, and particle capitalism or nano-driven technology. We decided we would speculate not only on the artistic aspect of these emerging capitalisms but also on how we could intervene as artist-activists into each of these areas. We developed the idea of electronic civil disobedience as a way to mediate the emergence of digital capitalism. Some Critical Art Ensemble members have even been arrested for their work. One in particular, Steve Kurtz, was brought before a grand jury in 2004. Homeland Security considered his use of nonpathogenic bacteria in certain museum installations a bioterrorist threat.

Sounds grim.
But good has come out of it too. In 2000 I was invited to become a principal investigator at Calit2 (California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology) at the University of California in San Diego, and I’ve been there ever since.

What sort of electronic civil disobedience led the DOJ to conduct so-called infowar attacks on the EDT?
The real core of this was when we conducted our largest project, the Swarm Action, which was an ongoing participatory denial-of-service (DoS) attack that mainly took place on our website It allowed anyone with internet access to overload the websites of several governmental entities. We created a JavaScript that basically hit the Refresh button over and over again on these sites, rendering them unusable or at least limiting their usability. We’d been running the program for a while when the Pentagon responded on September 9, 1998. They unleashed an “information war weapon”—at least that’s what they called it—on our civilian servers hosting in NYC. It simply redirected our requests to an empty page, which caused multiple pop-up windows to open until eventually the screen was full of them and we’d have to shut down the computer.

And the government’s response to the public DoS attack was considered illegal? Why?
It was unprecedented because there is a law called the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which says that the US government cannot directly use military force on protests staged by civilian populations. Any interference has to be conducted via the local police or FBI. We had tested this gray area and lost, but we also won because launching this type of attack on a civilian server was the equivalent of B-52s dropping bombs on a group protesting on Wall Street, at least legally. The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard contacted us and asked if we wanted to sue the Pentagon. We thought that might be interesting but instead decided to develop and distribute the disturbance kit so anyone could use it.

For the past few years you’ve been working on the Transborder Immigrant Tool, which sounds like it’s really going to chafe the asses of millions of people—civilians and government entities alike. What was the impetus for this project?
My research lab at Calit2 is called BANG Lab, which stands for Bits, Atoms, Neurons, and Genes. One of the areas I’ve focused on since I’ve been in San Diego is developing what we call border-disturbance technologies. There’s another teacher here at UCSD, Brett Stalbaum, who really enjoys traveling in the desert, but he has no sense of direction, so he developed what we call a Virtual Hiker Tool—a GPS you can wear on your wrist that always coordinates the most beautiful view, the most beautiful way to go, on the day you’re traveling.

What potential did you see in the Virtual Hiker Tool from the standpoint of an artist-activist who wishes to disrupt the standard protocol for crossing the US-Mexico border?
I thought it was really interesting because it moved GPS away from an urban application and placed it in the natural frontier. I’m always interested in how we shift these ubiquitous technologies and configure them toward other issues and disturbances, as I like to call them. And of course, the border is right there. We know individuals crossing the border mainly die because they get lost or run out of water. It’s the devil’s highway, and it’s been that way for 500 years.

What is the device, exactly?
We looked at the Motorola i455 cell phone, which is under $30, available even cheaper on eBay, and includes a free GPS applet. We were able to crack it and create a simple compasslike navigation system. We were also able to add other information, like where to find water left by the Border Angels, where to find Quaker help centers that will wrap your feet, how far you are from the highway—things to make the application really benefit individuals who are crossing the border.

When will it be available to the public?
We’re at the end of the alpha stage, in terms of the technology, so the next level, which will be the most difficult, is interfacing with communities south of the border: NGOs, churches, and other communities that deal with people preparing to cross the border. How can we train them to use this? What is the proper methodology? Those are really going to be the most nuanced and difficult elements with, let’s call it, the sociological aspect of the project.

Are you worried that you’re going to rile anti-immigration militias?
One of the first things we did at BANG Lab was to interfere with the Minuteman Project in 2005. They were quite angry because not only were we committing public actions against them, but Calit2 and the UCSD system were also supporting it. They’re well aware of who we are and what we do. Once they get full knowledge of the Transborder Immigrant Tool—and we’re very transparent about it—I’m sure they’ll be quite critical.

That’s one word for it. You sound like their worst nightmare.
I would imagine they won’t be too happy with us, but again we’re not trying to hide. It’s a safety tool. It’s not trying to resolve the political anxieties of these communities or resolve the inadequacies of a fictional border for a so-called free-trade community. Again, our position is that it’s not a political resolution; it’s a safety tool. That, at the core, is what we’re attempting to do.

What are some of the other projects you’re working on?
We’ve got a lab where we’re working with similar applications using nanotechnology and labs where we teach researchers about electronic civil disobedience and border-disturbance technologies. For instance, one of our researchers recently developed a pay phone that connects to a free Skype system. When Homeland Security drops Mexican laborers back over the Mexican border, they’ll have this pay phone right there when they get off that they can use to call home or wherever they want. But it’s all interconnected—from the Critical Art Ensemble, to electronic disturbance, to the work I’m doing at BANG Lab today. It’s all a single matrix of investigation and performance, which is quite fruitful in its horizons in an unexpected way.

Do you ever say to yourself, “Wow, I can’t believe my life’s work went from something the government completely freaked out about to a legitimized academic endeavor”?
I guess, yeah. I’m not really quite sure how to interpret it, but what I can say is that I’ve received tenure. I’m an associate professor, which was highly unexpected considering the work I have been doing throughout the years. I suppose one can say, “Well, you know something strange is going on, and it’s not exactly clear what it is,” but certainly I do hope that it shows a positive shift in the way we think about the border and about communities outside our own zones. It’s not about doing away with or altering borders, but about opening new forms of communication and understanding.


11.17.07| CorinneRamey

Ricardo Dominguez calls himself an “artivist.” Half political activism and half art, Ricardo’s projects blur the boundaries between the aesthetic and the political. “We always view our activism within the frame of art and the poetic,” said Ricardo. Ricardo was part of a team that was recently awarded the Transnational Communities Award for a Transborder Immigrant Tool that uses GPS-enabled mobile phones to help immigrants crossing the border between Mexico and the United States.

MobileActive recently had a discussion with Ricardo on art, activism, and mobile phones. Ricardo, a researcher in the Calit2 lab at the University of California at San Diego, was given the award along with colleagues Brett Stalbaum, Micha Cárdenas and Jason Najarro. The project seeks to create a way for immigrants to orient themselves while crossing the border between the United States and Mexico, which is traversed by thousands of immigrants each year. The device seeks to reduce the number of deaths along the border by helping immigrants locate resources such as water caches and safety beacons.

The idea for the project arose from a program called the Virtual Hiker, a project of UCSD visual art professor Brett Stalbaum. “Brett gets lost even going to his house,” joked Ricardo, “so he started working on a locative media project called the Virtual Hiker…He developed an algorithm that took into account a certain terrain, and created a virtual trial or hike based on those algorithms.” By using GPS, the program created virtual hikes and would orient the user towards certain landmarks. Brett was able access “the kind of utility cloud that GPS offers,” said Ricardo.

The Virtual Hiker program led the team to question ways that GPS technology could be used to help immigrants crossing the border. “We asked ourselves, what were the spaces of necessity or danger on the border, and how could we plug in this new element of the GPS structured cell phone?” said Ricardo. The answer to that question was the Transborder Immigrant Tool.

The tool is built on a Motorola i455 phone, which offers several advantages. Not only is the phone cheap — about $40, according to Ricardo — but no service is required for GPS functionality. “What we needed was a really inexpensive telephone, one that we could crack the GPS system, and one that would accept new algorithms.”

The team took language into account when designing the application. “We needed to design the interface in a way that would be somewhat universal in terms of the community that would be crossing the border,” he said. Many of the migrants are from indiginous communities, and wouldn’t necessarily speak Spanish. The end result was a navigation system that looks like a compass. The phone also vibrates in response to certain landmarks, like water or a highway. The vibrations allow the user to concentrate on the surrounding environment instead of constantly looking at the screen of the phone.

Ricardo sees even the interface of the phone as having artistic value. “We were trying to think of many layers of communication — iconic, sound, vibratory,” he said. Additionally, the program helps the user not only avoid getting lost, but helps him or her find a more aesthetic route. “The algorithm would look at it not just in terms of a map or a politics but by suggesting the most aesthetic crossing,” he said. Eventually, the people using the tool to cross the border would form an imaginary “mass desert painting” or “walking art,” Ricardo said. “All the immigrants that would participate would in a sense participate in a large landscape of aesthetic vision.”

The project is still in its preliminary stages, but by the end of next year the team hopes that it will be a working and usable tool. “In the next stage, the research team will go to both ends of the border and work with the tools directly in terms of triangulating the info to the satellites,” said Ricardo. The final step of the project will include workshops and trainings with groups that work with immigrants who are getting ready to cross the border. Possible partners include Casa Imigrante and the Centro de Informacion para Trabajadoras y Trabajadores (CITTAC). “We hope to get them to communities that interface with people getting ready to cross,” said Ricardo.

Ricardo says that the team currently has enough funding to pay for 500 phones, and hopes to purchase more in the future. He also mentioned the possibility of adding about $50 of phone time to each tool, although, he said, that team recommended only using the tools as phones in emergencies for security reasons. The team is also working with a group of teachers to design a simple pamphlet with instructions on how to use and upgrade the tool. He hopes the instructions will be similar to the safety cards available on airplanes — they’ll rely more on pictures and icons than language.

Ricardo sees the Transborder Immigrant Tool as part of a larger trend of border disturbance art. “There’s a long history of artists at the border creating gestures that question the very nature of the border,” said Ricardo. Because disturbance art is framed as art, and not as solely political activism, the “artivists” are given more leeway politically. “The reason they can’t stop us is that we always frame all these gestures within the poetic frame.” By framing politics as art, and art as inextricably linked to politics, projects like the Transborder Immigrant Tool are able to survive as both a life-saving device and an “artivist” concept.

Using Mobile Phone Technology to Transcend Borders, Dimensions

San Diego, CA, June 4, 2009 — As they become more and more ubiquitous, mobile phones have made it possible to communicate with virtually anyone on the planet at any time. But one researcher at the University of California, San Diego, is taking the technology even further by using cell phones to prompt communication in unlikely places: The microscopic arena of nanotechnology; restricted border regions between nations; and even the realm of the paranormal.

Calit2 Principal Investigator Ricardo Dominguez will spend all summer in Spain engaging in a series of projects that will extend the scope of his sometimes controversial research.
“For lack of a better word, we tend to call what we do ‘artivism,’ or the cross between art and activism, where art is always the predominant function,” says Ricardo Dominguez, an associate professor of visual arts at UC San Diego and a principal investigator at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).

Dominguez will spend all summer in Spain engaging in a series of projects that will extend the scope of his sometimes controversial research. Along with several colleagues from UC San Diego and other institutes of higher learning, Dominguez will use cheap cell phone technology to make artistic statements about the many ways human beings ‘cross over.’

“A lot of the work we do is about this issue of crossing over,” explains Dominguez. “We’re working at the cross-section between the social implementation of ubiquitous technologies such as the cell phone and new media aesthetics such as poetry and performance.”

Electronic Poetry Festival
Dominguez began his sojourn in Spain late last month, when he took part in Barcelona’s Electronic Poetry Festival, the largest conference of its kind in the world. Along with members of the Calit2-funded *particle group,* Dominguez and his colleagues explored “the question of nanotoxicology from a poetic disposition.”

To call into question the unregulated use of nanoscale materials, Dominguez and his group created a series of multi-lingual poems they call “Illuminated Nanoscripts,” which will they display, by way of handheld Pico projectors, onto the buildings and sidewalks along La Rambla, Barcelona’s heavily trafficked central boulevard.

“We also connected a Blackberry to one of the projectors, which allowed us to download the latest news articles on nanotechnology in relation to products,” adds Dominguez. “That way, we were able to develop new poems as we go. We also had members of our group wear lab coats, and we projected the poetry onto their coats.”

Explains Dominguez: “The main core of the question for our group is what unregulated products are being sold in the global marketplace. Because products are unregulated, they have no markings that indicate nanoscale properties. Right now, over 1,000 companies use nano-carbon 60 in their products, from Hugo Boss fabrics, to Maybelline 72-hour Lipstick, to diaper rash lotion. Our interest is in how we can use poetry and performance art to elucidate these kinds of questions.”

Transborder Immigrant Tool
Also while in Spain, Dominguez — who leads Calit2’s B.A.N.G.lab (short for “Bits, Atoms, Neurons and Genes”) — will meet with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activists from both Spain and Morocco to consider possible uses for the Transborder Immigrant Tool. Developed by the B.A.N.G. Lab, the tool pairs inexpensive Motorola cell phone technology with a global-positioning system and continually updated online data to orient individuals who are trying to cross dangerous international borders.

The tool was originally designed for use along the desolate “Devil’s Highway” spanning the U.S.-Mexico border, but NGOs in Spain and Morocco would likely use it to assist those attempting to cross the sometimes dangerous waters of the Mediterranean and North Atlantic.

“With the southern border of Spain, we’re dealing with open water and ocean navigation,” notes Dominguez. “We’ll be looking into ways that a compass navigation safety tool may or may not be useful in that passage, and also the GPS availability within that navigation. The question will be: Is it a useful tool, or do we have to rethink it?”

Although the Transborder Immigrant Tool has not yet been officially deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, Dominguez’s group will conduct “dress rehearsals” this summer with various U.S.- and Mexico-based churches and NGOs that assist migrants with safe passage. Most NGOs counsel migrants to forego the dangerous crossing; however, those individuals who insist on making the trek will be provided with a $30 Web-enabled Motorola cell phone that will receive a constant flow of data from a remote server. That data might point border-crossers to nearby sources of water, parse out the best routes or trails, or suggest the coolest time of the day to traverse the desert.

The Transborder Immigrant Tool, developed by Domingez and members of Calit2’s b.a.n.g. lab, pairs inexpensive Motorola cell phone technology with a global-positioning system and continually updated online data to orient individuals who are trying to cross dangerous international borders.

“The main problem has been that people die of dehydration trying to cross the Devil’s Highway,” explains Dominguez. “But there are other factors at stake. We need to look at, for example, whether this tool will disturb the coyote (human smuggling) economy, and if maybe that’s a good thing, since many of these people have been led by coyotes into bad situations.”

Dominguez and his collaborators are also looking into ways to make the cell phone batteries last longer, such as employing wind-up charging technology, or instructing users to keep the phones turned off unless they have lost their way. Further emphasis is being placed on the importance of fresh data, and partner NGOs are being trained to update the information on the central server at regular intervals. Likewise, the team is making efforts to equip the phone with multiple languages, since more than 40 different dialects are spoken by migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone.

Considering that passage along most international borders is illegal without proper documentation, the Transborder Immigrant Tool is not without controversy. Dominguez says the tool and its deployment are not intended as a political statement, but rather as a new-media research project that combines a long-established aesthetic tradition (regional border art) with the UC San Diego artist’s reputation for digital civil disobedience.

“We are, in the end, artists,” Dominguez explains. “We’re not trying to create ‘effective’ tools but ‘affective’ tools. One of the layers of the tool is a poetic interface — a series of short haikus that welcome individuals and offer poetic respite. In this way, the tool will not only serve as a guide toward sustenance and survival, but will provide another layer of poetic sustenance. This adds another layer to the question of GPS technologies, which can now be named the Global Poetic System.”

“With this project,” he continues, “we wanted to bring new media arts into the space of non-urban research with the goal of creating an inexpensive safety tool. We’ve kept the project very transparent, so for the most part, the reaction has been positive.”

Dominguez says that he and many of his counterparts abroad envision using the Transborder Immigrant Tool (or incarnations thereof) to aid migrants crossing border spaces around the world. To expand the use of the tool, Dominguez and his U.S. colleagues — who include UC San Diego visual arts lecturer Brett Stalbaum and Calit2-affiliated researcher Micha Cardenas, as well as University of Michigan Professor Amy Sara Carroll — have created, a Web site that catalogs open-source development code to allow for replication and custom design.

Passages: Benjamin’s Ghost
Dominguez’s summer in Spain will also mark a collaboration with Professor Carroll on a project known as “Passages: Benjamin’s Ghost,” an endeavor inspired by a dream Carroll had about the Transborder Immigrant Tool and its ability to help people “cross over.”

The ghost in question is Walter Benjamin, an influential Jewish literary critic, essayist and philosopher who died in 1940 in the French-Spanish border town of Portbou, after attempting to flee France in the wake of the Nazi occupation. Dominguez and Carroll will use mobile phone and GPS technology, combined with a custom-designed virtual algorithm, to create a “locative specter” that traces Benjamin’s final hours after he checked into Portbou’s Hotel de Francia, where he later committed suicide.

“I’ve always been interested in thinking about impulses beyond why we’ve created with mobile phone technologies, specifically around the issue of telephoning,” Dominguez says. “With the “Passages” project, we want to recreate the day leading up to Benjamin’s suicide and ultimately reconfigure his movements so that his ghost will be offered the final passage he was never able to take.”
To visualize Benjamin’s final hours, Dominguez and Carroll will create GPS “hot spots” for each of the places he visited in Portbou: The cafe where he sipped coffee, the Hotel de Franzia, the coroner’s office, the Catholic cemetery where he was unceremoniously buried (and later disinterred), and the potter’s field where he was ultimately reburied.

Dominguez says the project stems from a tradition in the locative media community of psychogeography, a playful, inventive means for exploring cities.

“One example of psychogeography would be the use of narrative hot zones, where you’re walking and your cell phone would go off and say, ‘A murder took place in the spot where you’re standing.’ It’s a means for people to interact with the environment in a way that enables them to enter into a narrative by way of a particular location. We want to do the same sort of drift gestures with the ‘Passages’ project.”

Adds Dominguez: “Once we’ve pinpointed the relevant GPS coordinates, the computerized algorithm will create an automated program that will send messages to our mobile phones, telling us which of these places we should visit. So instead of us connecting to living person via this technology, the idea is that we’re actually connecting to Benjamin’s specter.”

by Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353,

a poetry reading by
Maurice Kilwein-Guevara
& Sesshu Foster

Wednesday, May 19, 2010, 11-1pm, INTNS 1111

Maurice Kilwein Guevara was born in Belencito, Colombia in 1961 and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, where he teaches in the MA and PhD Programs in Creative Writing as well as in the Latino Studies Program. He is the author of Postmortem, Poems of the River Spirit, Autobiography of So-and-so: Poems in Prose and POEMA. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) and was the first Latino to be elected as its President.

Sesshu Foster is a contemporary poet whose work examines how people of different ethnic backgrounds interact within the power structure of Los Angeles and how they affect the cultural composition of the city. He has taught composition and literature in East L.A. for 25 years. His most recent books are the novel Atomik Aztex and World Ball Notebook.

Sponsored by the The Tomás Rivera Endowment and
The Department of Creative Writing

I lift a Corona to Mario Ybarra, Karla Diaz and friends at the Mexico City Book Fair (photo by Harry Gamboa, Jr.)

for citlali, her friend daniela, arturo, naomi, aubre, asher, alicia, sophia and all the spring birthdays

those days and months and years, flung up into the sky
spatter greenish across the windshield like flying bugs flying up out of green fields
memories, seconds and milliseconds, they hung about the air
like the pungency of fresh-cut alfalfa of the summer, like the summer’s fresh-cut hay, like the roadside anise in the summer’s sweet dust;
we puffed out moments, minutes, aspirations into empty air,
into the clean sunlit sharpness of one’s own hurried, excellent keen breathing, even when a fly flitted across your face, buzzed your ear, a gnat flew into your teeth or tongue (or specks floated by in rays of sunlight)
—never forget how we laughed, trying to catch our breath for laughing—shaking with laughter, the way the breeze buffets a bay laurel, the way the cold hard current of mountain water hits your legs crossing the river—
these days, months and years flowing by across the sky in a great wind, in sleeping dark and roaring dark, sweet as baby’s breath, light and brittle as the clatter of dry bamboo, as the clatter of a long empty aluminum can—
so much daylight is dusty now, it’s all dirty now, the riverbed full of stones and the thickets with brush, our foot prints full of sand, time, daylight—
time to scoop them on your way in embraces, days and months and years, fling ’em like hair over your shoulder, like words over your shoulder

Garbled thoracic exploration bungled hardly with any fiberglass resin ironically, outside the mainstream’s inchoate whine, slapping children, slapping the wall, documented instances of rubiate scapular self-absorption and brittle murder, erasures of tiny photochemical vocalisms, some girl might save you, tell you what to do—or not—“Hi, I’m calling tonight, just because of the canker in the rose?” The tanker’s shadow, crows.

Derivatives of oil spill rip-off wrapped in duct tape, electronic lightning along Highway 15 out of Vegas on dark desert nights, tubular choreographed liver-replacement home insurance, bowdlerized emotive screens enacted upon one’s features, grievous, sighing and hissing all the way losing all the air out of the edges of the horizon. They sold the gasoline and you bought some with the lightning flashing across the muddy black sky over the lava rocks. Suddenly old news!

“Adventure Pass” Parking Permit required, wilderness permit at the ranger station Azusa Ave. north (turns into) San Gabriel Canyon Road—poster of 17 year old guy missing since April 25. Past Morris Reservoir and San Gabriel Reservoir, filled high with spring rains within ten yards or so of the green chaparral. Up the east fork to the end of the road, the parking area full already by 9:30 AM.

Short walk into free waterless fireless campsites on a wide bench in the trees overlooking the gravelly river as it rushes with the sound of wind around a broad bend. Yuccas sending up their singular great spike of cream-colored blooms, and as we wended our way up the rocky, sandy riverbed talking of everything. Jen’s house, teaching, student writers, Ava’s travels, Arturo’s (and Dianna’s) adopted twin 17 year olds, Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement, Ben’s black cap matching his black outfit, set off by red bandana, down to his black underwear when he rolled up his pants to ford the first river crossing, the deepest and swiftest running, the current high and hard. Tim, Taiwanese college computer instructor, linked hands with us (we all linked hands) buffeted by the cold water—to the hips—no one slipped under—Tim stayed with us for an assist at all the crossings and later said, “I couldn’t have done it without you guys.”

We wouldn’t have wanted to be in the river if the water had been much higher. Slippery footing could send you swimming, your gear—cell phones, keys, cameras, flashdrives—soaked. The clouds unfurled and burned off and the rest of the day was spent in brilliant sunshine. The alder leafing out luminescent greenery, the poison oak new leaves fresh and tender and often not reddened.


Alder along the river, bigleaf maple, and in the expanses of ruffled eroded stony gravelly riverbed where we filed through the balls of yucca spikes conversing, talking as we went, buckwheat, a few Indian paintbrush, lots of white sage on every embankment and along the trail amid ceanothus, milkweed, weird bright green wild cucumber vines with their big leaves, soft spiky sticky fruits like some sort of joke with corkscrew tendrils—a thought that has gone its own way, it has taken on wholly a life of its own. Jen peered closely at one but nobody grabbed one.

People and dogs the whole way; it took us some four hours at least to negotiate the rocky riverbed, cross-cross the river, regain the high ground to the east and arrive at the Bridge to Nowhere. Arturo said it had the date 1936 on it; but it was covered in some seventy or so bungee jumpers, supposedly paying $70 a pop to leap off the center span into the deep rocky gorge, whooping and shrieking. Up around a bend in the cool shade where the river drowned out the distant shrieks of jumpers, we ate out lunch. Tim, the Taiwanese guy shared in; his water shoes were cutting into his heels and taking the skin off.

The approach to the gorge includes one stretch of trail where I suppose if you took a bad enough fall after a misstep and had some momentum you'd fly, or fall, 80 to a hundred feet into the rocks in the river at the base of the cliffs. There's excitement to this hike. The loose shale or eroded granite footing suggests you not get too wayward in daydreaming. Lots of lizards, pink, gray and black, but not much else wildlife as the place was crawling with noisy hikers. Some fly fishermen practiced catch and release in the river.

Sunflowers, and both common (whitish) and golden (yellow orange) yarrow. I felt repeated silly affection for the surging yucca furiously blooming, their single spike of blossoms before they die; and some already desiccated and blackened, their walnut-sized seed pods emptied of the many little black seeds open to the air. Some of the stalks broken, splintered, fibrous, and the spike ball at the base withered like some crushed old basket.

We didn't break through any hillside brush or grassy areas so I never bothered to check for ticks. Some 9 plus miles later we were back at the vehicle. I'd given away the baggie I carried my cell phone in away to a couple about to cross the first fording. I hadn't told them that they were starting too late in the day to make the bridge and back by dark. They'd find out. Ben and I had been talking about this hike for a year or so, waiting till we could go in a spectacular season like this, when the wildflowers bloomed. That's not how we scheduled it really, but that's the way it worked out.

river fotos by Arturo Romo-Santillano and Tim Yun-Ta Tsai at

May 2010