The Land of the Seven Lamps

As she talked such images gave me great joy. When I got home I’d say: Something is being born inside me, something new that wasn’t there before. I get stronger each time, I’m growing. What was growing was my Mexican being, my becoming Mexican, feeling Mexico inside me…

-Elena Poniatwoska, Here’s To You, Jesusa!

 

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A Conversation In Third Person

               As he bought the plane tickets for Leon, Guanajuato, he remembered this passage from Poniatowska’s book. He often felt this same way, whenever speaking with the descendants of those who died in the plane crash. As they each recalled from memory a Mexico that was unfamiliar to him, he could feel, in his chest, his gut, something rise up, surge even. He was nervous about the trip. Not because of the recent unrest surrounding 43 missing students in Ayotzinapa, or because of the wave of violence that saturated the media, but because he sensed, that over there, somewhere tucked in El Pais de las Siete Luminarias, something new would be born inside him. Perhaps it is the dream of every hyphenated American, removed by three or four generations from the ancestral homeland, to one day return to the source, to witness the origin, and see in the faces of its people one’s own face. Still, the idea that he would be going to Mexico to speak with the families, and in some cases, go looking for them, took some getting used to.

He was undecided whether or not taking his recording equipment was a good idea. Often, he felt, being in the present moment with someone, in a place and time that would likely never occur again, allowing the entire body to record memory of the experience was far more effective than capturing it on some device. In the end, he would decide to take the equipment, but perhaps only use it when absolutely necessary. He prepared as much as one could. Jotted down notes in his small pad, things he didn’t want to forget while there. Began making the proper contacts, checking that his passport and papers were in order, and that his map and itinerary were updated. The local Diocese had given him a few items to take to the families on their behalf: a dozen posters and brochure for the headstone memorial, papel picado, and a standing placard of Jesus Christ rising from the cross, arm extended, reaching for a dove. Along with this, he also packed copies of newspapers, photos of the headstone, and all 28 Death Certificates, one for each passenger. These he would return to the families. For those that were expecting him, he looked forward to meeting them and to hearing their stories. For those who were not expecting him, he looked forward to the unknown. Be alive, he reminded himself. Be completely alive, present as present can be. Avoid, at all costs, being removed from the experience. No third person narrative will do.

I want to tell you this: I’m grateful for the opportunity that all of your contributions have made possible. As I prepare for the trip to Mexico next month (Jan 18-30), I will be carrying all of your good thoughts, prayers, and genuine sentiments with me. I also plan to enter a brief blog for each day that I am there, permitting I have internet access. If you are interested in reading updates, please consider clicking on the subscribe button at the bottom of my blog site. Namaste, amigos!

# # #

Research Fundraiser A Success!

Friends, already your fundraiser contributions are producing results! In light of our upcoming trek to the rural pockets of Mexico, I’ve been making preparations with my good friend, Guillermo Ramirez, who will serve as my guide and research assistant down there. We’ve been speaking to the municipios of various communities and just today he called to tell me we found the family of yet one more passenger! Now that we have enough funds to actually make the trek we’re mapping out our plan, which so far includes visiting the hometowns of seven different passengers. We’ll also be able to purchase some much needed equipment to properly document this journey. I’m feeling very optimistic!

Dan Vera. Watercolor. 2014

Watercolor by Dan Vera, poet/ artist. 2014

“It’s the little acts, the small mostly unnoticeable actions of people,

that in the end will make all the difference.”

—Pete Seeger, Musician

This is what Pete Seeger said to me during our interview a few months before his passing. It was proven during the fundraising of the memorial headstone last year. And once again it’s been proven. Because of all your contributions, small and large, I will be able to finish this final push of my research, which in turn, will help me see the book to completion. In the end, the effort raised a total of $5086! A little more than 75% funded. Thank you to everyone who helped spread the word. I am especially indebted to the following 66 supporters who made this possible:

  1. Lonnie Hendren
  2. Nancy Aide Gonzalez
  3. Anna Canoni
  4. Milton Rosenberg
  5. Lynn McEniry
  6. Sarah Browning
  7. Laura Selleck
  8. James P. McGuire
  9. Melissa Shannon- Anonymous
  10. Indira Ganeson
  11. Laurie Ann Guerrero
  12. Jenne Lorraine Vargas
  13. Annie Ross
  14. Juan Garcia
  15. Nora Guthrie
  16. Joel & Lauren Rafael
  17. Robert V. Hansmann
  18. Robert Roth
  19. Lucia Vasquez
  20. Juan Luis Guzman
  21. William Nericcio
  22. Moses Ayoub
  23. Robin Wheeler
  24. Brian Paul
  25. Lydia & Felix Hernandez
  26. Jan Webb
  27. Deborah Kanter
  28. John and Julie Auer
  29. Esther Garcia
  30. Diane & Bill Vigeant
  31. Gloria Zuniga
  32. Sylvia Ross
  33. Armida & Will Galaviz-Moreno
  34. Wendy Lynn IP
  35. Gracie Madrid Rios
  36. Anthony Cody
  37. Crystal Contreras
  38. Jeremy Lee
  39. Ofelia Trevino
  40. Elizabeth Witte
  41. Joanne Day
  42. Miriam Pawel
  43. Linda Cano
  44. LaTasha Diggs
  45. Diadre Metzler
  46. Michael Plumpton
  47. Lupe Mendez
  48. June Leigh Austin
  49. Barbara Sorenson
  50. Walter Dominguez
  51. Shelly Catterson
  52. Rolf Potts
  53. RT Wright
  54. Lee Herrick
  55. Elaine Corbeil
  56. Barry Ollman
  57. Mike & Nori Naylor
  58. Jaime Ramirez
  59. Darren De Leon
  60. Jane Oriel
  61. Paul Aponte
  62. Chris Schneider
  63. Erin Alvarez
  64. Bill & Deanna McCloud
  65. Johnson
  66. Tim Justice

Plane Wreck at Los Gatos NEWS!!!

Image from Hernandez's research

Just one of the images my research has unearthed. Passenger Guadalupe Ramirez Lara. (Used with permission from the Ramirez family. Copyright 2014)

Dear Friends:

On Labor Day of last year, we collectively made history by raising over $13,000 to install a memorial headstone at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California for the 32 brothers and sisters who died in the plane crash at Los Gatos Canyon on January 28, 1948. Last September we corrected a 65 year historical omission. The event was memorable for all who were able to attend. At the time I had only discovered four of the families of the passengers, and fortunately, they were able to join us. The event was covered by the New York Times, NPR, the San Francisco Chronicle, Univision, and many other major media outlets.

When all was said and done, everyone went home, back to their lives, feeling grateful for having had the opportunity to be a part of such an historical occasion. For me, however, the research and work continued. I have since located two more families of passengers and have taken down their testimonies as well. There are still many families out there who do not know of their involvement in this incident, or if they do, they do not know where their family is buried, or that there is a headstone honoring them.

For this reason, I have created a FUNDRAISING CAMPAIGN to help me complete this important work, and finish the book which has been a labor of love years in the making. I encourage you to please take only 2 minutes of your time to click on the link and consider contributing to seeing this important project to completion. And please SHARE this link far and wide!You can also reach me at the contact form below.

 

With all my appreciation,

Tim Z. Hernandez

 

 

 

 

 

Woodshed: A Summer Update

Woody Guthrie Fest moments before I go on to read the names

Woody Guthrie Fest moments before I go on stage to read the names

 

“Woodshed,” or “Woodshedding.” This is what my good friend, and musical collaborator, Carlos Rodriguez, calls it whenever he decides to hunker down in his home studio and do the work. And what’s the work? For Carlos, it’s making great music. For me, the work has been as follows: Moving our life from Colorado to Texas, settling into our new home in El Paso, continuing the research for missing families, getting into a writing rhythm on the book, preparing my kids for school, writing a few blurbs and Introductions for other books, and getting my own courses prepared for this coming semester. Oh, but I did get to attend the Woody Guthrie Festival in Woody’s hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma. I presented my research there to a packed room, and got to stand on stage with Will Kaufman (author of American Radical), while he sang Deportees, and collaborate with David Amram (two highlights of my time there). I had a great lengthy conversation backstage with Arlo Guthrie too, and of course, hanging with all the other musicians there was an incredible experience (thanks Joel & Lauren Rafael!). But beyond that, this summer has been spent mostly “Woodshedding.” The good news is that I now have my own home writing space (Woodshed I), and a new campus office (Woodshed II). So there should be no excuses why I can’t finish my book by the self-imposed deadline of December 10th.

On stage with Will Kaufman and Carlos Rodriguez

On stage with Will Kaufman and Carlos Rodriguez

 

Carlos and I with David Amram outside our hotel

Carlos and I with David Amram outside our hotel

Which brings me to the next subject. In approximately two weeks, I’ll launch a fundraising campaign that is aimed at helping me complete the research portion of this work on the Plane Wreck at Los Gatos. I’ll post the links to that here, so please keep an eye out, and also, spread the news! I still have files for families I’m trying to reach, whom I’ll need to interview, on video and audio, as I’ve done with all of this work. The move has taken a serious toll on my own finances. Up until now, I have funded all of this research on my own dime. With one exception, my friend and awesome bay artist Jane Oriel, helped by creating limited edition prints that I was able to sell to assist with some of the early costs. (Thank you Jane!!) Otherwise it’s all been a labor of love for me. Since the beginning I’ve felt this was such a worthy cause, and this is truly why I’ve never hesitated to do whatever it takes to see this work to the end. My plan is to make all of my research archives accessible to the public once my book is done, so that all future scholars, students, or community folks can access this history. The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK have already expressed interest in housing it there, among Woody’s archives. Wouldn’t this be nice? On the other hand, a part of me would like to see it remain in the central valley, so that folks have to go there, where it all took place, to get this history. I guess all this is yet to be worked out, but for now, please keep an eye out for the fundraising campaign.

On a final note, as I prepare to teach my first course, “Antropoesia: The Poet as Ethnographer,” at the University of Texas El Paso this fall, I can’t help but feel excited about the many omissions in history that, collectively, we have yet to unearth. The more we share these stories, word-of-mouth, books, etc…the more we find commonalities with each other, aka community building. In the meantime, know that I’ll be working diligently on the book, and that I look forward to reading in your city, town, University this fall.

Sharpening the Knife Blade

This book is more the work of a poet than a trained oral historian. My only real credentials for having written it were that I was native to its situation in nearly every way and had only to listen to hear my own world talking.

—Ronald Blythe, Akenfield

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This quote from Ronald Blythe’s introduction to his seminal book Akenfield has been a mantra for me as I hammer away on this new manuscript surrounding the Los Gatos plane crash of 1948. In the same way Blythe’s book was heavily debated for its redefinition of oral history in the sixties, it’s possible that this book, All They Will Call You, sips from the same stream. At this point I have spent the better part of a year on the writing aspect of it and still have yet to put my finger on any one genre that it might be easily tethered to. I can hear my agent’s voice stressing to me, “What about plot? More plot!” Or a publisher cautioning, “We prefer there to be a clear distinction whether or not this is fiction or creative non-fiction.” Or my mentor’s voice saying, “Consider how the people who populate the book will receive it.” In the face of all this, there is a quiet hum in my skull whispering (dare I even say it) —hybrid.

At the start of working on this book, I had seriously considered that this might even turn out to be a collection of poetry, or even a long poem, taking its cue from Muriel Rukeyser’s Book of the Dead, or Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony—aka poet as witness. I had been excited about the recent book by David Mason, Ludlow, where he uses narrative verse to retell the incident of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre, including pieces of actual testimony, newspaper accounts and other formal documents. My project seemed very much along these lines, at least in the beginning. And in a similar way, Mark Nowak’s work in Coal Mountain Elementary, or C.D. Wright’s One With Others, further opened up the possibilities to me. I figured my project would lend itself to this curious genre that I have sometimes heard referred to as Documentary Poetics, or even Investigative Poetics, as Ed Sander’s deemed it. The idea of taking fragments of this “found language” and organizing it in a way that looks and acts more like poetry than prose was appealing to me, as someone who spent five years chasing two writing degrees with an emphasis in poetry. 

After a little more than three years of research now, I have amassed dozens of files and documents, and more than 100 hours of audio and video interviews with everyone, from eyewitnesses of the crash to the families of the victims, and the musicians who brought the song, Deportees, to light. Between this and the fact that I had spent more of my own money than I care to admit, and at least as many hours researching this single incident, I could not allow myself to succumb to the self-serving lure that, for me, is and always has been poetry. It’s just not how I approach writing. I began writing across genres, not because I had some preconceived path of what my career might look like, but in truth, because I was trying my best to allow the story or idea to dictate the form. Some folks can set out to write a novel, and they do. Some set out to write a poem, and they do. For me writing happens something akin to how Steinbeck describes collecting creatures from a tide pool in the opening of his book “Cannery Row.” There are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter to the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle. 

A story, or spurt of language, or lightening thought arises, and my job is to be a good listener and observer. Awareness is my knife blade, and I do my best to keep it sharp. Sometimes the creature arrives as a blob of language, without direction or rationale. Sometimes it starts out as a poem then morphs into a story, or vice-versa. Still, other times it starts as a song lyric then slowly winds its way back toward a straight narrative. If I pay attention, which is to say, once the idea has squirmed its way onto my knife blade, then with slow and calculated precision, I do my best to guide it into the bottle, unbroken. And this is my approach with All They Will Call You.

*   *   *

 

 

All They Will Call You: An Excerpt

His home is tucked serenely within a dense green hillside just north of Manhattan. We ambled our way up the gravelly road to a clearing. A log cabin appeared, and next to it a house only slightly larger. All of it perched on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River. My good friend Anthony and myself stood there for several minutes before approaching the front door. After a few minutes Pete emerged and waved us over.     

“Tim Hernandez?” He asked, addressing Anthony.

“No, that’s Tim over there,” Anthony replied. He introduced himself and they shook hands.

I approached. “It’s an honor to meet you,” I said, to which Pete smiled and nodded.

His living room was an open space cluttered with all the details of a home that had been well lived-in for a few generations at least. Books were scattered on the dining table and shelved along the walls. Photos hung slightly eschewed, and in one corner hung an array of banjos and guitars. Large windows let in the natural light. It was almost noon, but the day was overcast. I sat down on a lounge chair and Pete took a seat across from me. Anthony stood near the kitchen table.

Three years after I first embarked on the search for the 28 passengers of the plane wreck at Los Gatos Canyon, who became known only as “Deportees,” there I was, sitting only a few feet away from the man who first launched that song into the world. A few days before I had jotted down two pages of questions, things I wanted to make sure I asked him, but in that moment it all went out the window. Something strange happens in those bare moments of clarity. It isn’t that I forget my notes. I’m aware of them, they’re usually in my shirt pocket. It’s that somehow those earlier thoughts, the minuscule agendas, are rendered meaningless when faced with the actual. Also, there’s a level of intuition that needs to be heeded. I trust that whatever I “need to know” in that instant will come on its own.

“I was just about to go chop wood,” Pete said.

“Need some help?”

He chuckled, then placed both of his hands on his kneecaps and leaned forward slightly, toward me. He was wearing a ball-cap, and his signature red turtleneck beneath a denim work shirt. He looked up at me with his grayish, green eyes, ready for my questions.

Just a few moments ago, while in the car on our way up here, Anthony had asked me if I was nervous. “I mean it’s Pete Seeger,” he said.

Before answering him I thought about it. “Yes I am,” I replied. “But I was more nervous when I first met Caritina Ramirez.”

“Who?”

“Caritina Ramirez. She was the ten-year old girl who lost her father, Ramon, in that plane crash.” And it was true. Meeting Caritina that first time, it felt like I was staring into the eyes of a child and breaking the news to her, as if for the first time, that her father was killed in a horrible accident.

Here I was now, thousands of miles away from the small oil town that is Coalinga, California. Further yet from Los Gatos Canyon. I turned my small digital recorder on and cleared my throat.

“Pete, in all the years that you’ve performed the Deportee song, did you ever once think that when you sang the words, Who are these friends all scattered like dry leaves…, it would actually be answered?”

* * *

In conversation, at the home of Pete Seeger.

In conversation, at the home of Pete Seeger. Photo credit, Anthony Cody

* * *

*This excerpt is only a draft.
It is from my book-in-progress, All They Will Call You…
Please do not use or quote without my permission.
Copyright Tim Z. Hernandez, 2013

To see the report done by ABCNews/ Univision Fusion TV click on this link

Deportee Memorial Commemorative Print

As some of you may know, since the start of this research project on the 28 Mexican brothers and sisters who died in the plane crash at Los Gatos Canyon I have been working with videographer, Ken Leija, documenting every step of the way. Presently, we have nearly a hundred hours of video and audio interviews, photographs, footage and rare documents (which will eventually need to be archived). The result of this footage will be a documentary about the search, not only for the 32 people who died aboard the plane, but a search for the facts of what happened that fateful day. However, in order to see this to fruition we need appeal to you, the community. Along the way, visual artists have been critical in making all of this happen. It is in this spirit that we present you with our latest opportunity to help this story live on.

 

Jane Oriel Art

 

Bay Area visual artist, Jane Oriel, has created this one-of-a-kind print specifically to commemorate the memorial and benefit the documentary fundraising effort.  This “Deportee Memorial Limited Edition Print” is Hand Silkscreened on Arches 140 lb. paper. 19 ¾’ x 13’ with a deckled edge border, and includes a poem by me along with all 28 names of the Mexican passengers. Each print is signed and numbered. Costs are:

Numbers 100-21, $40

Numbers 20-1, $60

If you are interested in purchasing a print please contact me at tzhernandez@yahoo.com. *Shipping costs will be included if print is to be mailed. We will also have these for sale at the Dinner & Conversation on Sunday, Sept. 1, 5pm, Ole Frijole in Fresno. Thank you for supporting!