In the span of ten years, from 2010 to 2019, I wrote three books but had no biters to publish them. It didn’t matter, as everything I wrote sharpened my style, forced me to invent a new style. A grunt style. I constantly kept writing, but I had to sacrifice fiction for the Amor for Alex movement. For the gente, I had to write lots of non-fiction, legal-based text, lots of social media connections, emails, etc. For two years, from 2014 to 2016, I wrote intensely on all aspects of the case and movement, but, more importantly, I learned to action on the ideas that I wrote about. We were making it happen on the streets and in the courtroom, in an unprecedented trial where all of the evidence was naked to the public for posterity. The writing made me a better speaker. The writing blessed me with organization skills. I became a more fully-rounded writer, one not just stuck in theories but actually seeing first-hand how shit really works.
I had only been writing poetry since about 2010, even though I had never formally been trained as a poet. I just kept doing it, looking at the lines, concentrating on the images, fine-tuning the precise word, respecting the feeling. Reading. Stealing style. Juxtaposing things. Fucking up and trying to capture that confusion cause in it there is insight. We learn from trying and failing and trying some more.
One night in January 2018, after a few shots of Ta-kill-ya and chuckling about my life as a writer, perhaps a little frustrated about all of it, I jumped at the epiphany of combining all of it together: the fiction, the essays, the poetry, all of it and more into a gigantic jambalaya. Pura Neta is actually a jumbo of a lot of different projects fused together to create a coherent story. Some of it comes from a non-fiction book tentatively titled Bone Mountain. Some it is from a hundred pages of a novel I wrote called The Homeboy and the Gypsy. Some are poems from Gangsters and Guerillas, love poems, existential poems, political poems. All of it is life, vida loca.
Nostalgia. Music. Lots of soul oldies. Lowriding. Listening. Love.
At the midnight hour, I thought of the idea of a sequel, part two of Barrio Bushido, my first published novel. At the end of Barrio Bushido, set in 1992, Cartoon gets kicked out of the hood and sent on a Mission by Lobo to “get some education, young blood.” What if Cartoon were to return to the varrio twenty years later? I scratched out some ideas on a piece of paper. Then the next morning, crudo like a mofo, I just started writing. Cutting, pasting, providing context and slipping in story and logic, creativity. The summary that follows is the ultimate outcome:
Set in the San Francisco Mission varrio from 2012 to 2014, Pura Neta explores the creative struggle of Homeboys and Homegirls fighting against gentrification, police brutality, racism, and economic and educational injustice. Cartoon, a Homeboy who had been banished from the varrio twenty years earlier, has returned from his educational and spiritual odyssey. He finds the hood under attack, and it is no longer the gangs, but the monsters of cafes, cheese schools, and micro-breweries, protected by their own police force, that are destroying the native San Franciscans. In order to strategize a meaningful movement, Cartoon visits his old mentor, El Lobo, a varrio shot caller who is now serving a life prison sentence in San Quentin. Cartoon then recruits the young Homeys to begin implementing amor action in the hood, until the police murder a Loved One, which ultimately sparks The Revolt of the Roots.
Here is a sample of how the story works on the page:
“I blood-let, sacrifice my sangre through this ink.
My ancestors would cut their most intimate flesh and spread the pouring blood onto parchment paper, bark cloth that was then burned so that through the smoke that exuded from the flames, the spirits could snake out to reveal blessings—mysteries that drove a civilization to the stars and that were tattooed down in books, thousands of codices ultimately burned by the Spanish Conquistadores’ holy men. Alone in this room, confined to myself, to my mind, to my pride and pain, I blood-let through writing so that I can communicate with spirits, so that I can share with you secrets burned away so many moons ago.
Nuestra purpose—because we are all in this thing together.
Unholy jungle of life
I know you
With your wicked webs and
There is no escape”
Without giving you any spoilers, I will provide you with some context of the book. Cartoon feels he must make amends for his sins, must fulfill his duty, feels obligation, wants redemption, believes in love for his people, for dead loved ones, alive loved ones. He’s learned to be a problem solver, but he doesn’t want to disrespect his old community by inventing his solution for them. He wants their solution. He respects his old Homey Lobo, even though he kicked him out of the varrio, because Lobo was cut-throat ruthless, sick-with-it vida loca to the fullest and got slapped with life in prison for being that way, so Cartoon knows that Lobo has had deep introspection and meditation about many subjects. Cartoon wants this out-of-the-box perspective, because Cartoon knows that the traditional political or intellectual perspective is not truth for most gente.
When he finally visits Lobo at San Quentin, things come full circle. This meeting is the anticipation that drives the story forward. Each and every character that speaks also anticipates their meeting, even though they do not know exactly what will happen during the meeting. The meeting is a mystery that will only be solved with the meeting. Twenty years have passed. Their ultimate plan may seem vague and overly simplistic, that they should promote the idea that the gente need to naturally know themselves, yet it is the most realistic solution, for it is the solution of the spirit.
Cartoon introduces the plan to the young Homeys. This is the theory in full action. Unlike in the 90’s when Big Homeys were recruiting for the prison gangs, in 2012, the OG’s set the young Homeys out to amor action in the hood. Everyone is doing their part in this anarchistic amor, without organizations, public policy, or an educational plan. They are actually producing simple things on the streets, showing the spirit of moving forward even though they do not know exactly where they are going.
Some themes the characters discover throughout the novel: America is yours. Education is not just in the classroom. You hold the power to figure out a plan/solution. You can help guide/lead, not to take over, but to guide by serving. Existence is absurd, yet continuing with love is the best we can do. There is no need for you to be ashamed of who you are and where you come from. We got trauma, and we must deal with this trauma. We can perpetually work towards redemption and acquire wisdom even in the worst case scenario. Art and creativity are our weapons for empowerment.
I found a publisher to have faith in the Pura Neta manuscript: Pochino Press, a small house with lots of love. After we signed contracts, I continued revising the book. Then COVID hit, and I thought all was lost, but it actually turned out to be a blessing as I had even more time and concentration to revise. I reworked the book at least five more times. Then the uprisings throughout the world sparked a new era. Without knowing it, everything made sense. Now more than ever proves that we positively need Pura Neta.