The weekly newsletter of the México Solidarity Project


August 31, 2022/ This week's issue/ Meizhu Lui, for the editorial team

Illustration: עלי_באבא_מתחבא_על_העץ

These Words Still Have Magic: Open Sesame!

We humans from time immemorial have been amazed we have language. Where did we get this miraculous gift? Chants, incantations, prayers, spells, poems: Words allow us to tap into what lies beyond our mundane daily lives.


The Mexican poet Rafael Gonzalez — he considers “Mexican-American” redundant — explains in our Voices interview this week that he sees language as “a world.” Being bilingual, he believes, gives him two worlds to live in simultaneously.


For me, this Rafael Gonzalez perspective evokes a real epiphany. I remember words in Chinese I heard as a child — words for certain smells, for instance, words with no English equivalent. I say these words, and my mother appears, back in my childhood home, with its sounds and smells so different from my life today. I see my father. Certain English words like Chicago — “Scargo,” he pronunced it — fascinated him. He would say them over and over, delightedly rolling each one around in his mouth like a pebble in the surf, his way of exploring the new world he found himself in.


In the story of Ali Baba, the magic words “open sesame!” reveal an entry into a secret cave full of treasure. Our words today project outward, just like those magic words, and we don’t even know what they might open.


Here in our 21st century, how we use the power of words can be life-threatening or life-saving. Into this mix Rafael Gonzalez has brought us a revelatory word for our time: joy! His joy, our joy, can open the hidden door to a new world that treasures us all.


Don’t miss an issue. Subscribe to the weekly México Solidarity Bulletin!


Rafael Jesús González: ‘Heir to Two Muses’

Rafael Jesús González grew up in the bicultural/bilingual world of El Paso, Texas/Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and later taught at various universities before settling at Laney College in Oakland, where he founded the Mexican and Latin American Studies Department in 1969. Four times nominated for the prestigious literary Pushcart Prize, González received a César E. Chávez Lifetime Award in 2013 and a similar Lifetime Achievement Award two years later from the City of Berkeley. That city has also honored him as its first poet laureate.


How did you fall in love with language and discover the power of words? 

Poetry has always been an integral part of Latin@ cultures, and my mother read poetry to me from the time I could first listen. My ears learned first how magical words could be.


I didn’t know any English when I started school in the United States, and I was punished for using Spanish. Some immigrant parents capitulate to the idea that their kids must un-learn Spanish to fit in and get ahead. But not my parents. They insisted that I never lose their language. They saw insisting on “English only” as insisting on ignorance. To forbid a language, as happened in my school, recognizes the powerful role language plays in shaping a people’s identity. To vanquish a people, you must suppress their language.


I taught English when I became a teacher, but I told my students that what they would learn from me would be “standard English,” a tool for getting certain kinds of jobs. But “standard” ranks as only one of many kinds of English. What you speak in the ’hood will always be just as valid. The language you use will be just as good in the context you use it.


You were born in the borderlands, an economic/cultural/spiritual space both Mexican and estadounidense — we have no English adjective for “of the US! How does your poetry reflect this duality? How does poetry give words to the wordless, to the sacred?


On this permeable border, I had family on both sides, and we had a constant interchange. I have two languages, two worlds in dialogue with each other. I am heir to two muses. I write my poems almost always in two tongues. Sometimes the English muse speaks first and sometimes the Spanish, but neither dominates. The two versions you read side by side come together as a single work. 

The “sacredness” I talk about has nothing to do with religion. Yes, of course, I was raised a traditional Catholic, but I found it too moralistic and became a born-again pagan in college. Creative power rooted in the sacred can either be beautiful and peaceful or violent and destructive. In any case, this creative power fills our hearts and veins. As poets, we give words to what is wordless. A good poem makes you gasp, takes your breath away.


If you examine any culture, including those cultures without a written language, poetry will be the first literature you find. In oral traditions, rhymes and rhythms trigger memory, making a poem easier to memorize than prose. Writing historically develops much later. 

Given the importance of sound, reading or reciting poetry becomes a performance, like playing a piece of music. I’ve sometimes heard poets read their poems as if they were classified ads. Poets must taste the words, savor each one!


Your poetry expresses love and concern for ordinary people and points to the injustices so many of us face.


A mastery of language brings a responsibility to give voice to the voiceless. I might prefer to write love poetry, but I must write protest poetry because we have an obligation to confront the institutions of injustice. We live in a society focused on greed and a lust for power deeply rooted in patriarchy. I don’t believe we have any such thing as “ordinary” people. The people my poems speak for suffer from our society’s lack of compassion.

I taught at first at several universities with huge, impersonal classes. In 1968, I started teaching at Laney College in Oakland, and I much preferred that. At the time, California had the finest community college system in the United States. The Laney community took joy in education, joy in the teach-ins against the Vietnam War, joy on the picket lines, joy in seeking justice.

Education, subversive by definition, should always question authority. But education’s purpose has become about just producing a labor force. Children thrive as natural poets, but our school systems have eliminated music and dance. We need to teach the arts, to celebrate our joy together. Joy! That should be the measure of a nation’s greatness.


How does poetry help us move to a borderless world, or better yet, a “borderlands” world where many worlds exist simultaneously?

Yes, a world of harmony and diversity. In recognizing our commonalities, we can also not just respect our differences, we can inhabit those differences. One way to do that: by speaking each other’s languages.


Keep your ears open for the music of language and learn the power of words. But also don’t fall victim to language used falsely. We must be ever more alert to what is true.


Be loving, be joyful, and kick up your heels! 


A sampling of the poetry of Rafael Jesús González. For more, check online at his blog.


Los mapas mienten


Borders are scratched across the hearts of men

          By strangers with a calm, judicial pen,

And when the borders bleed we watch with dread

          The lines of ink across the map turn red

                                             Marya Mannes

Mienten los mapas
son colchas de parches sin sentido

de colores pasteles

  (lila, celeste, lima,

  limón, naranja, rosa)
con nombres, costuras arbitrarias

con que imaginamos a la Tierra

pretendiendo poseerla
y le llamamos ‘mundo.


La Tierra no tiene costuras
ni fronteras
ríos y barrancas, sierras, pantanos,

desfiladeros, junglas y desiertos,

cascadas y saltos, mares sí,
pero nunca fronteras.


Los mapas mienten.


Maps Lie

Maps lie —
they are crazy quilts

of pastel colors

  (lilac, sky, lime,

  lemon, orange, pink)
with arbitrary names & seams

with which we imagine the Earth

pretending to possess it
& call it ‘world.’


The Earth does not have seams

nor borders —
rivers & ravines, sierras, swamps,

canyons, jungles & deserts,

cascades & falls, seas yes,

but never borders.


Maps lie. 


¡Por Fin! US and México Together to Clean Toxic Waste 

I wouldn’t have believed it. Los Estados Unidos and México are together going to work to stop the flow of toxic sewage in the Tijuana River Valley. Their new agreement will allocate almost $500 million to fix México’s outdated old treatment plants, facilities that the previous PRI and PAN administrations in México had allowed to decay and break down.

Sewage from Tijuana has for decades flooded into México as well as into the waters off Imperial Beach near San Diego. The Morena administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is now taking action to clean things up. The US will contribute $330 million and Mexico $144 million for this clean-up effort, according to their agreement signed at the Tijuana Estuary. 

The toxic chemicals that flow from México directly impact this estuary, usually forcing the closure of beaches on the US side. The clean-up money will go for sanitation and mitigation projects on both sides of the border, and, if done correctly, these projects will reduce the volume of sludge and chemicals flowing into the Pacific by 80 percent — and cut in half the number of days wastewater flows in the Tijuana River. The work should finish by 2027.

The US media has, of course, focused only on the impact of this toxic pollution on the United States, never mentioning how this toxicity also endangers the health and well-being of gentes in Tijuana, especially los pobres. And the US media coverage gives zero mention to the decades that US factories in México — the maquiladoras — have operated with little or no regard for México’s environmental laws or the international “side agreements” in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Much of the border sewage and pollution has its origin in those maquilas. But the US mainstream media treat the border pollution and toxicity as solely a Mexican problem, leaving the destructive policies and practices of US imperialism completely off-the-hook.

Progressives in México and the US should laud this new Tijuana agreement as an important first step in addressing the many environmental problems along la frontera. And let’s remember this agreement would likely never have happened without the broad, incredible mass support that placed AMLO and Morena in power, support that now expects the health and welfare of people and Mother Earth to be a top priority for each government. This new agreement between the Yanquis and México amounts to a real people’s victory. Si se puede!

Bill Gallegos, a veteran Chicano
liberation activist, environmental
justice leader, and revolutionary
socialist, has a lot to howl about.


Recent news reports and commentaries, from progressive and mainstream media,
on life and struggles on both sides of the US-México border


Six of 43 missing Mexican students were kept alive in warehouse for days, Associated Press. Six of the 43 Mexican students forcibly disappeared in 2014 were allegedly kept alive in a warehouse for days, and then turned over to the commander of the local army base who ordered their killings, the Mexican government official leading the  Ayotzinapa Truth Commission reports.


Fabrizio Mejía Madrid, Entender Ayotzinapa, La Jornada. La “verdad histórica” fue un encubrimiento. Se produjo mediante la tortura de 77 personas, la fabricación de una escena del crimen y un gasto de millones de pesos para producir una película, al menos tres libros y cientos de opiniones en los medios.


México to protest to UN over missing COVAX vaccines, Yahoo. México ordered over 51.5 million doses via the World Health Organization’s COVAX but has received only 24.6 million. Wealthy nations last year snapped up most initial shots to inoculate their own citizens first, prompting complaints from México about unfair distribution.


Diana Lastiri, Osorio Chong, Cienfuegos, Soberón, Rubido, Peña Nieto: los nombres que faltan en el informe, Proceso. En la ruta de la investigación y procesamientos penales para exfuncionarios que fraguaron la "verdad histórica" no aparecen todos los que tuvieron alguna responsabilidad o conocimiento de ello.


AMLO reports on 30 billion peso project to ensure Internet in all of México, Riviera Maya News. The effort will install 5,000 antennas throughout the country to expand access.


NCT busca articular bloque popular con movimientos sociales, La Coperacha. Los días 19 y 20 de agosto se desarrolló de forma presencial e híbrida la IV Conferencia Nacional de la Nueva Central de Trabajadores, donde se reunieron decenas de organizaciones, sindicatos y cooperativas quienes propusieron otorgar un nuevo protagonismo a los movimientos sociales.


AMLO criticizes the US for Travel Alerts after violence and asks for respect for sovereignty, México Daily Post. The Mexican president is noting that México never issues advisories after the “many unfortunate acts of violence” that occur in the United States.


Julio Ramírez, Se ‘infla’ desigualdad alimentaria y desperdicio de comida, Indigo. “El hambre y el desperdicio, se vuelven más crudos, más fuertes hoy en día y ameritan acciones de todos”, explica Tere García, directora del Banco de Alimentos de México.


Serge Dedina, There’s a Tsunami of Trash on the U.S.-Mexico Coastal Border, The Inertia. Plastics, waste tires, and large debris blanket coastal ecosystems. The tons of garbage clog sewage collection systems, exacerbate flooding, and invite mosquito-borne diseases.


Jorge Gómez Naredo, Guerras sucias contra AMLO que ya no sirven, Polemón. López Obrador ha sido, sin duda, el personaje político en toda la historia de México más atacado por la prensa y por sus opositores.


The Mexico Solidarity Project brings together activists from various socialist and left organizations and individuals committed to worker and global justice who see the 2018 election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president of México as a watershed moment. AMLO and his progressive Morena party aim to end generations of corruption, impoverishment, and subservience to US interests. Our Project supports not just Morena, but all Mexicans struggling for basic rights, and opposes US efforts to undermine organizing and México’s national sovereignty. 


Editorial committee: Meizhu Lui, Bruce Hobson, Bill Gallegos, Sam Pizzigati, Courtney Childs, Victoria Hamlin, Agatha Hinman, Steven Hollis. To give feedback or get involved yourself, please email us!


Web page and application support for the México Solidarity Project from NOVA Web Development, a democratically run, worker-owned and operated cooperative focused on developing free software tools for progressive organizations.