Friday, October 28, 2011

Always Learning

          I was first introduced to Luis J. Rodriguez in 1995. I won't lie. I was introduced to his writing. His book, "Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days In L.A.", had just been out for about year and a friend of mine thought I should read it. I was 16 years old and I'll be honest with you, I didn't read books if I didn't have to. I began to read this book and it immediately had ALL my attention. I felt like I could relate to a lot of what he wrote and even though I was never tempted to join a gang, living in Boyle Heights during my teenage years, I saw many friends who were tempted and eventually did. That and the familiarity of the places he wrote about kept my face between the pages. Yeah, I knew the places he mentioned, Boyle Heights, The San Gabriel Valley etc. but it was the way he wrote about 'em that made it so easy to picture.
        Man, I loved that book and I talked to everybody I could about reading it. I looked for more of his books and began to read as many as I could get my hands on. Working for the library, years later, made it easy to pick up those I missed. I read the novels first but threw in some poetry books to mix it up a bit. There was a poem in one of them called "Echo Park". I related to this poem most of all and as a matter of fact posted it here, on my blog, a while ago. You see even though I spent my teenage years in Boyle Heights, my childhood belonged to Echo Park. I associate a lot of happiness and even though there were some sad times growing up in Echo Park, I only feel good every time I visit her. Yes, I call Echo Park "her". Her original name IS Eden. I knew the places Mr. Rodriguez wrote about in that poem. He mentioned the "Paradise Motel". I lived with my grandparents on a hill on Everett St. It looked over "Paradise" and the carnival my parents took me to that was held every year in the empty lot across from the motel.
     I got the chance to meet Luis J. Rodriguez (in person this time) one night at "Tia Chucha's", his Cultural Center in Sylmar. I say I "got the chance" but maybe it was supposed to happen. He was working at a desk. I wanted to meet him but didn't want to disturb him. I was worried I'd piss him off and he'd might not be as personable as I hoped. The lights came on as "Open Mic" took a break and I went for it. I told him everything you read in the first two paragraphs in about as many seconds. I also told him my mom was born in El Paso in 1954, the same year he was. That really was a great night. I went home and couldn't wait to text, tweet and tell anybody and everybody. I even asked him if I could take this picture with him. My son, Anthony jumped in at the last second. Smart kid.
          Months later I found out that someone I met through my kids interest in music was related to Mr. Rodriguez and introduced me to someone else who knew him very well.It was at that point that I started thinking how crazy it was that someone you've been a fan of could be so close one day.
          Luis J. Rodriguez held a signing for his latest book, "It Calls You Back" on Oct. 15th at Tia Chucha's. This book is a sequel to Always Running and one I've been waiting a long time for. His writing is honest and strong and like I said before, even though I was never in a gang, I related to a lot of other things in the book. Feelings as a man, husband, father and son. That's another post.
      You see, I honestly believe EVERYTHING happens for a reason. People are put in your path for a reason. You meet people because you are supposed to meet them. Everything IS a learning experience but sometimes you've gotta work hard to find that lesson and learn from it.
      We've all heard, "What doesn't kill me only makes me stronger." I believe that's true as long as you learn the lesson. If you don't, how much stronger are you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Immigrant Advantage

 The Immigrant Advantage: What We Can Learn from Newcomers to America about Health, Happiness and Hope.
  • How to Save: From the Vietnamese "Hui" to the  Mexican "Tanda", these "Money Clubs" teach us how easy it can be to save the money we foolishly spend each month.
  • How to Mother a Mother: The Mexican "Cuartentena" is a 40 day period where family members "mother a mother" so she can concentrate on bonding with her newborn child.
  • How to Court: South Asian assisted marriage shows both old and new customs and how a nice balance can help a young person with what might be the biggest decision of their lives.
  • How to Learn: Covers the "Model Minority" and the importance Korean "hagwons", or afterschool study places, can have in a child's academic future. 
  • How to Shelter: Building important relationships in life begins at home and how better than to live with extended family. 
  • How to be a Good Neighbor: In a time where everybody seems too busy to stop and shoot the breeze this chapter shows how the bond you make with your neighbors can actually help you live healthier and happier.
  • How To Eat:  The Vietnamese Monthly Rice helps parents avoid the extra stress of having to cook dinner after a long day at work and allows them to spend that time with family instead. 
          I've kept this book close to me since I began reading it. The first reason was, I was intrigued from page one and the second reason was, every time I did put it down, it seemed like every body was asking to read it. They gave me a good idea.
          I was very lucky to have crossed paths with this book. When I think about every thing going on in the world, I look at this book and all the valuable information it has to offer. This country IS big enough for us all if we can all just learn to "Be A Good Neighbor" we can learn from each other and make this a better place.
          I've finished reading the book and I can't think of a better way to share what I've learned than to donate this book to the library I work for. Can you imagine how many people in Los Angeles will benefit from these great customs?
          Many of the ideas in the book are ones that my grandparents believed in and with time and passing generations have slipped away in my family. I'm glad to have been able to learn their importance and have begun to pass them onto my kids.
          Thank you, Claudia Kolker

 About the book: The Immigrant Advantage is a fascinating look into the lives of immigrant enclaves in the United States that we so seldom gain access to, and an inspiring exploration about how these customs can enrich our own lives, You may purchase a copy of this book on

About the author: Claudia Kolker has reported extensively from Mexico and Central America, as well as the Caribbean, Japan, India and Pakistan. A former Los Angeles Times bureau chief and member of the Houston Chronicle editorial board, she has written for The Economist, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, O: The Oprah Magazine, Slate and Salon. She lives in Houston with her family. For The Immigrant Advantage, Kolker visited Korean and Chinese afterschools, West Indian multigenerational households in New Jersey, and Chicago's "Little Village", among others.

Claudia Kolker will also be visiting each of these blogs on their respective dates to join in the conversation so make sure to check in to find out what other people are saying about this great book.
 Monday, October 24, 2011: Juan Of  Words
Tuesday,  October 25, 2011: The Chicano Soul
Wednesday, October 26, 2011: Spanglish Baby 
Thursday, October 27, 2011: Latinaish
Friday, October 28, 2011: TikiTiki Blog
Tuesday, November 1, 2011: Voto Latino
Wednesday, November 2, 2011: Motherhood in Mexico 
Thursday, November 3, 2011: Aztlan Reads 
Friday, November 4, 2011: Multicultural Familia

FTC Disclosure: Chicano Soul recieved a free copy of the book from the author as part of a Simon & Shuster Book Tour. Chicano Soul was not required to write a positive review, The opinions expressed are completely his own.