Down at the Santa Fe Depot: 46 Years Later

 

April 22, 2016

IMG_2138

Photo credit, Victor Trejo, 2016

Today we are meeting on the concrete steps at the Santa Fe Train Depot in Fresno, California. Twenty-one living writers and seven forbearers. We’ve agreed to meet up to re-create a photograph that has been legendary since it was first taken in 1970. Many of us weren’t even born then.

 

The original photograph, taken by Tom Peck, graced the back cover of an anthology of “new voices” at the time, titled “Down at the Santa Fe Depot: 20 Fresno Poets.” The editors were two Armenian-51VDABY0VGLAmerican poets David Kheridian, and James Baloian. The photograph includes a handful of poets who would later go on to become influential in American letters: Philip Levine, Omar Salinas, Lawson Inada, and William Saroyan—perhaps Fresno’s most internationally recognized writer. In the photo, the group looks aloof, casual, and yet, at least for writers in Fresno, this single image has become somewhat iconic. At the time they were first, second and third generation Chicanos, Armenian, Japanese, and anglo. American writers, all of them.

David Kheridian: “The idea for the photo came from my understanding that place was one of the most critical elements in the nature of poetry. The word itself, when used to name a person or place, became the very embodiment of that thing. This is the power that poetry can convey: the microcosm when named becomes the universal, spring to life.”

*

What brought us together is Fresno’s first ever LitHop, a day long gathering of more than 100 writers in over 30 venues. It’s the brainchild of Lee Herrick, Fresno’s current Poet Laureate. If not for this event, there would’ve been no other reason to get us all into one place at the same time. We had to seize the opportunity.

IMG_1982

Juan Luis Guzman (Poet)

Today, as each of us begins to arrive, despite the rain, there is an electricity in the air. At first it’s me and Michael Medrano. But then Brian Medina shows up, and then Joseph Rios shortly after. He tells us he just got in on the Amtrak from Los Angeles. Says he wouldn’t have missed this. Minutes later, stepping off of the local bus, Fresno’s first city Poet Laureate, James Tyner, appears. One by one they arrive, and each time another walks toward us, the electricity grows. We feel it. We’ve all come to this photo-shoot keenly aware of the homage we are paying to our own literary forbearers, and to our dear friends who’ve since passed on. The rain pours harder, and still they come.

IMG_2141

Andre Yang (Poet)

Andre Yang swaggers up and slaps hands with each one of us, and then Devoya Mayo and Estela Sue emerge from the behind the building. Because it’s now raining hard, we begin to duck under a tree. But then David Mas Masumoto walks up and he’s carrying a shovel. He’s a farmer after all. And he sees us, and sorta laughs, then tilts his head back and lets the huge drops of rain splash against his face. “This is what we want to happen!” he says. And he’s absolutely right. This agricultural region that has fed and nourished us, that has brought many of our families here in the first place, and that has been in a drought for years, WANTS rain to happen, NEEDS rain to happen. We shuffle out from the under the tree and let the rain come down on us. Since we’re all curious, I ask Masumoto what the shovel is for. He replies, “It’s my work tool. It’s what I do.” Of course it is, we say, having a good chuckle over it. Later on, over beers, Joseph Rios and I will talk about Mas’s shovel. “If Fresno writers have one thing in common, it’s that our books do work. Like Mas’s shovel.”

IMG_2014

Mas Masumoto (Non-Fiction), Me, Andre Yang

By 4:45 everyone has arrived. There are twenty-one of us. Anglo, Latino, Armenian, Hmong, Nissei, African-American, Palestinian-American, and Korean. Sometimes, some of us will get asked, why Fresno? Why do so many writers come out of Fresno? I’ve even heard it referred to as “The Fresno School,” which seems kinda funny to me. To my knowledge no one among us has ever taken this question seriously. Sincerely, maybe, but not seriously. What does it mean to have a “school” anyway? The mere thought of any kind of limitation makes me cringe. Limitations are boundaries, borders. And for me, borders have no room in art. A school? Sure, we sometimes share our work with one other, or in small groups over food and drinks, or perhaps a phone call. Of course we champion one another’s work, and celebrate—and we celebrate heartily— when one of us has penned a new book or landed an award. But ask each one of us individually about what makes a place like Fresno a fertile breeding grounds for poets and you’ll likely get a different answer. Fresno, a city of more than half a million people, which consistently ranks first place in nearly every major national survey on topics such as, Worst Cities in America. Worst Pollution in the U.S.. Least College Degrees. Highest Illiteracy. Most Impoverished Counties. Poorest Job Market. And the lists go on. How is it possible that a single region with minimal resources and even lesser hope, has consistently produced some of the greatest literary names to ever have the privilege of occupying space on bookshelves?

IMG_2004

Aris Janigian (novelist), Daniel Chacon (novelist)

Brian Turner’s award winning book, “Here, Bullet,” took the poetry world by storm, because never before had a war veteran wrote so compelling and boldly honest about the realities of war. And then there’s the young Andres Montoya, a friend to many of us, who died at the age of 30, just months before he would get to hold his first book in his hands. He never saw his own first book get published!! We used to say. What a tragedy! But his namesake is now a major award, launching the career of many new talented writers across the country. The Andres Montoya Poetry Prize is synonymous with “new groundbreaking poet rising.” Ironically, no writer from Fresno had ever actually won the award, until this past year. A young, fierce Chicano, who was a student and dishwasher in Fresno, finally brought home the prize. His name is David Campos and the dude has no intention of slowing down. There are others too who’ve paved the way, such as, David St. John, Larry Levis, Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, Victor Martinez, Dixie Salazar, Roberta Spear, Gary Soto, and numerous others. This city has produced two back-to-back United States Poet Laureates, National Book Award winners, National Book Critics Circle awards, American Book Award winners, Children’s Book Awards, screenwriters, songwriters, and playwrights. It is for this reason that today we are carrying the photographs of these forbearers. The fiction writer, Daniel Chacon is carrying his best friend, Andres Montoya. The poet, Devoya Mayo is carrying the image of William Saroyan. Poet, Juan Luis Guzman is carrying Larry Levis, because they both hail from Selma. Poet, Kenneth Chacon is holding up the crazy gypsy, Omar Salinas. Estela Sue is holding up her uncle, Victor Martinez. James Tyner is carrying Ernesto Trejo. And I’m holding Phil Levine. Today they are all here with us. In our writing, and in spirit.

IMG_1987

Estela Sue (Poet), Michael Medrano (Poet), Soul Vang (Poet)

What’s going on in Fresno you ask? Maybe it’s the open brooding sky choked out with methane. Or the drought. Or the rain. If there is a school, then the endless fields are our classrooms. Our chalkboards the blank page. Definitely no rulers or other delineations here. Only comradery. Only support, championing the other. We have place in common. We all know its history. How remnants of the dust bowl Oklahomans who came to this great valley to work the fields can still be seen on the faces of the people 75 years later. We don’t have to look hard to find the Armenian bakeries, and the Hmong gardens amidst the concrete and potholes, or the campesinos who still bend and pick like they’ve been doing here for eons, up and down the dogleg of Highway 99. And I think maybe it’s with this understanding that we’ve all taken a kind of silent vow, in one way or another, to write our collective and individual histories and herstories out of the fields, the margins, and onto bookshelves. The Hmong American Writers Circle is probably one of our best examples of this. Up until 60 years ago the people of Laos didn’t even have a written language! They told stories, sang songs, recited poems and tales, and documented their existence in their beautiful art. Poets like Andre Yang, Mai Der Vang, Burlee Vang, Soul Vang, Anthony Cody, are a generation of outriders, beacons for their communities. They are the vanguard, making waves in literary circles across the country, and yet, they are as American as Walt Whitman. In fact, Mai Der Vang just received the highly coveted Walt Whitman Prize! They are all from here. We are all from here. Brothers and sisters in story, word, and community.

If there is any school at all, this is probably it. Poets, novelists, immigrants, activists, all with vastly different ideas and aesthetic interests, yet, all in a kind of unspoken vow to writing as a way to “Live a life without borders,” as the current U.S. Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera, recently said. “What’s going on in Fresno, they ask me,” he bellowed to a crowd of more than 400 at Fresno City College, “I tell them, don’t you know? Fresno is the poetry capital of the WORLD!!”

51BwE-S+n7L._SL500_SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

IMG_2138

Photo credit, Victor Trejo, 2016

(Bottom row, L – R) Tim Z. Hernandez, Aris Janigian, Daniel Chacon, Kenneth Chacon, Randa Jarrar, Marisol Baca, Devoya Mayo.

(Second row from bottom L – R) Lisa Lee Herrick, Lee Herrick, Michael Medrano, Connie Hales, Soul Vang, Estela Sue

(Third row up from bottom, L – R) Juan Luis Guzman, Andre Yang, Joseph Rios, Bryan Medina, David Mas Masumoto

(Top row, L – R) Steven Church, John Hales, James Tyner

Missing: Juan Felipe Herrera, Margarita Luna Robles, David Campos, Mai Der Vang, Anthony Cody, Sara Borjas, Alex Espinoza, Tanya Nichols, Jefferson Beavers, Mia Barraza Martinez, Liz Scheid-Blau, Dixie Salazar, Jon Vineberg, Marx Arax, Margarita Engle, Blas Manuel de Luna, Destina Unica Hernandez, Michael Jasso, Aideed Medina, Shane Scurvy, Meta L. Schettler…

ALL PHOTOS CREDITED TO VICTOR TREJO, 2016

“All They Will Call You” Timeline

Hi Friends!

Great news. As I write this, the manuscript, which is the culmination of all my research since 2010, is in negotiations for publication. In the meantime, because I’ve been asked on numerous occasions about how this all took shape, I’m posting a timeline of how my research, the headstone, the new version of the song, and documentary have all taken shape. Hopefully this is of some help. Hope to share some good news soon, but in the meantime, enjoy!

 

Los Gatos Plane Crash/ “All They Will Call You” Project Timeline

December 2010: I first saw the newspaper article at the Fresno Public Library, while researching for my previous novel, Mañana Means Heaven. My research began here.

January – December 2011: I immersed myself in the research, and though I found a couple of lists of names online, none were accurate. This whole year was spent solely trying to confirm the names of the passengers. During this time is when I discovered that the Mexican passengers were buried in a mass unmarked grave in Fresno’s Holy Cross Cemetery.

November 2011: I invited musicians Dayanna Sevilla and Lance Canales to perform the song, “Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)” with me reading the names at the Steinbeck Festival in Salinas. Dayanna and Lance began exchanging ideas via email for how the song might go. Eventually Dayanna had to cancel the gig and Lance composed his version of the song solo. I continued my research for the names, filing papers with the Freedom of Information Act, and numerous other archival records. Still was unsuccessful.

May 2012: Lance and I performed at the Steinbeck Festival, and afterward, while walking the streets of Salinas, we spoke about the idea of installing a headstone memorial with the list of names I had.

July 2012: I managed to locate the Gaston family, who owned the crash sight property in 1948 and were eyewitnesses to the crash. I began interviewing them, and they showed me the crash sight for the first time. This meeting was a breakthrough, as I now had first hand accounts of what happened that day. This is when my book began too.  This same month, I also located a woman named Diane, who put me in touch with Martin Hoffman’s family, and I began interviewing them immediately.

August 2012: Still trying to confirm names, I approached the Fresno Diocese, where I met Carlos, the cemetery director. He admitted to knowing about the mass burial site and incident but didn’t know about the names until I had inquired. I asked if he’d be willing to check the Fresno County Hall of Records. He agreed, and was successful. This became the second list of names, not entirely accurate but another breakthrough.

October 2012: I formally submitted a proposal to the Fresno Diocese stating that I would pursue installing a memorial headstone at the gravesite, mentioning it would be with the help of friends, including Lance Canales, Fresno artists, and the Diocese. It was approved.

November 2012-February 2013: The Fresno Diocese issued a Press Release and news caught on that I had found the list of names, and that we would be installing a headstone.  During this time, Lance recorded his version of the song, and emailed it to me so that I could record the names over the track. We would use the song to raise money for the headstone.

January 2013: Fundraising for the memorial headstone was officially under way. A combined effort between myself, Lance, Fresno artists and activists, and the Diocese,
organized a concert to raise funds. People from all over the world contributed.

March 2013: I took the story of my search to the Fresno bilingual newspaper Vida en el Valle, hoping someone might read it and be related. Juan Esparza was the reporter, and he ran the story. Three weeks after its release, it was successful.

April 2013: I was contacted by the Ramirez family, who told me they were descendants of two passengers aboard the flight. I met and interviewed them immediately. That same month I also successfully located the family of the pilot and stewardess. I interviewed them right away. The book was making slow progress. The concert was held, and we raised an initial $4,000 for the headstone.

September 2013: We raised $10,000 and installed the headstone in a large public event at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno. The Ramirez family was present, and so were the families of the pilot and stewardess, Martin Hoffman, and the eyewitnesses. I organized a caravan trip and took the families to the crash sight for the fist time. We also hosted a public discussion at Ole Frijole restaurant in Fresno. Wide spread media covered the story.

October 2013: I met and interviewed Pete Seeger at his home in Beacon, NY. He told me his version of how the song came to be, and I showed him photos of the passengers, and told him some of their stories. He was visibly moved. Our meeting was captured on film by his grandson, Kitama, and I will release some of this footage in the documentary.

November 2013 – March 2014: I continued to search for more families, while writing my book. While I found much information on the passengers, it was moving slowly because I was funding everything from my own pocket.

Early March 2014: A breakthrough! I found the Sanchez Valdivia family after dozens of phone calls to Zacatecas, Mexico, San Diego, and Tijuana. This was the fifth passenger I managed to locate. I interviewed the family via telephone, but knew I had to meet them in person in Mexico before too long. They sent me photos of their deceased relative.

Late March 2014: Another breakthrough! I located the Padilla Marquez family in Stockton, California, after I recited the list of names out loud at a fundraiser breakfast, and made an appeal to the audience. It happened that a friend of the family was in the audience. They knew the story, and put me in touch with the family immediately. This was the sixth passenger I had now found. By noon that day I was at their home interviewing them. My mother was with me, and we documented the conversation on video.

May 2014: I traveled to the Navajo nation to camp in Canyon du Chelly with the friends and relatives of Martin Hoffman. This is where he last lived and where his life ended. I interviewed them all, and this was also documented.

Sept 2014 – December 2014: I launched a fundraiser crowdsourcing campaign to raise $4000 to travel into Mexico.

January 2015: I traveled into central Mexico, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, with Guillermo Ramirez, to knock on doors using the information I had accumulated over the past few years. This was the last big push in my research, and it was a long shot. We ended up finding the Miranda Cuevas family in Jalisco. I interviewed them and they gave me photos of their relative. During this trip I also interviewed family members for the other passengers I had already found, but who were living in Mexico.

January – December 2015: I continued to search for families, and write my book at the same time.

February 2016: I completed writing the book, tentatively titled, “All They Will Call You.” I am still looking for families and conducting portions of research. I’ve also agreed to donate some of my research to the Woody Guthrie archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I am currently working with the El Paso based filmmaker, Valentin Sandoval, on editing the documentary, which is tentatively titled, “Searching for the Plane Crash at Los Gatos.”

Final Note & Credits: To date I have located 7 of the total 32 reported passengers on the airplane.  90 percent of this endeavor, from 2010 to date, has been funded from my own pocket. While the research itself was a solo effort, it wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of friends, family members, and strangers. Lastly, all of the events on this timeline have been documented in film, audio, photographs, emails, and the notebooks I kept throughout. My book will be released in Spring 2017.

The Latest…

Crazy to see that last post back in August, declaring my book was “done!” when in fact, it still had a ways to go. Here’s some insight to a writer’s process (not that you asked). What happened was, after I printed the whole manuscript out, and then sat with it for a few weeks, I had to ask myself one FINAL question, before attempting to find a publisher: “Is this the BEST possible way to tell this story?” It was a question about structure.

After much contemplation, mostly listening to my gut instinct, something in me didn’t sit right. I tried shaking it off, but right away, I knew that this was a sure sign that I needed to delve back in. My head didn’t want to go back into the work and re-envision any of it, but my body, my heart, my gut, knew I wasn’t satisfied. I recalled the time back in 1999, when I was apprenticing on a fresco mural at the San Francisco International Airport with the artist Juana Alicia. There were often times where she and I had spent the better part of a week working on specific sections of the design, only to end up tearing it out (because in fresco you are painting into marble plaster, so there is no easy fix but to tear it out) and starting all over again. Each time she would climb down the scaffold and stand back to have a look at the work my gut would turn, fearing she’d be unsatisfied and we’d have to tear it out and start over. But she taught me something. Something about following our instinct as artists. And something about mastery and discipline. So, I’ve spent the last four months restructuring the narrative, and I have to say, I’m much happier with the results. I just printed out the latest hard copy of the manuscript this morning!! After one last round of revisions, if all goes as planned, I should begin to seek a publisher by late January.

In other news…a couple of weeks ago, I heard from a staff member of Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley. She contacted me to let me know that the Presidential hopeful was releasing a video of himself singing the Woody Guthrie/ Martin Hoffman song, Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportees), and that they would be crediting my research in the video. You can see that video here. While I’m not endorsing any candidate just yet (waiting to see how things play out), I see this as perhaps an endorsement of my research. No doubt my book and its subject are timely in regards to all the “immigration talk” we hear today, but I see this specific story as an opportunity to shed light on the aspect that often goes overlooked among this rhetoric– the human element, which is to say, our stories. All our stories.

Have a great holiday everyone, and whatever you and your family celebrate, celebrate with gusto y mucho amor!!

 

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!

 

photo

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!!!

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.