Our America

In honor of the next three days and for the purpose of this writing, I am combining November 9, 10, and 11 into a giant jambalaya of spirit. I am stewing up an anniversary of escape, my brother Jeff’s and the Marine Corps’ birthday, Veterans’ Day, the outcome of the election, and the action of writing into one tasty celebration.

Today is November 9. Thirty one years ago, when I was seventeen years old, at five o’clock in the morning, I left my mother’s house, walked to the 24th Street BART station, and vanished to Marine Corps Bootcamp. In order to escape the streets, I volunteered for a nightmare, which is exactly what I wanted and what I got. Thirty years ago on this same date, I was living like a homeless man in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert. The weather was getting cooler, better than that 120 degrees hell heat that had assaulted us every day and every night in the summer. Bravo Company One Five, Task Force Ripper was getting ready for war, what we were told was going to be hand-to-hand trench warfare, just like World War One. In the middle of desert desolation, we would practice fireteam rushes to the trenches and then jump in!

Four years ago on November 9, 2016—that was the first full day after the election—we all also were getting ready for war, and now that specific psychological war is almost over. Text was under attack. Logic. Language. These words and their meaning. Spider Symbols were being bombarded. We had to stand up for and defend the spiders. Here they are: Fleas jumping on this page 🙂

Yes, right now is a celebration for spirit. Perhaps on a mass scale we can get back to being human beings with each other. But I digress.

Back to 31 years ago: I joined the Marine Corps for lots of reasons, but one of the main reasons was because of my brother Jeff, whose birthday is on November 10. In 1989 he was in Susanville State Pinta turning 21 years old inside the walls. In the summer of 89, he had written to me that I should try to do something else besides getting wrapped up. That summer I was on one. Bouncing around a floruescent green tennis ball, with only my boxer shorts on, I hiked around Cortland and all of La Mision. I kept the key to my mother’s house inside of the folds of my sock. I would smoke a snapper every day and night and go wherever vida loca landed me. After all the insanity, I did what a scared confused child would do: I ran away. I escaped to the Marines, and it turned out to be a good escape, but I was guilty, still feel guilty all these many years later that I did what lots of Brother Homeboys said they would do if they could have, if they had not gotten wrapped up. We had no politics except for the politics of the streets, which is war all the time. Many did not make it, like my brother did not make it out of the streets. He is forever planted in that spirit, and that makes my guilt even worse.

Young SFM N Jeff
SFM N Jeff with Homies Inside the Walls, circa 1988.

I wanted to make my brother proud. I wanted to keep making him proud. Since our father had died when I was nine, he had been like my father. He would tell stories of my Indio father, how he would bounce around the Army Street projects playing records on his portable record player. Any court yard would be his party. My brother took on the traits of Eduardo, our father, and transformed those traits to the energy he used on the Cholo Mission Streets.

November 10 is also the most holy day in the Marine Corps. Civilians will not understand it, nor will veterans from other branches of the military. The Marine Corps Birthday is New Years, Valentines, Halloween, and Easter Rising all joined into one holiday commemorating the birth of Marine grunts getting drunk at Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern back in 1775. The Marine Corps was birthed in a bar. When I would show up early morning to my brother’s house on 21st Street on November 10, I would smile, “Let’s celebrate our birthday.” We would go get drunk, which is how we showed love for each other.

Before I got out of the Corps, Jeff had gotten out of the Pen and looked for hope at City College of San Francisco. He got all kinds of education there, all kinds of certificates: Emergency Medical Technician, Firefighters Academy, insurance class certificates. By the Spring of 94, it is he who signed me up for a full roster of classes at City. I was all fucked up, drinking, cursing, nightmares. He is the one who showed me what it meant to go to school. You were supposed to be smart. As a California Department of Forestry Firefighter and later on an insurance agent of his own office on Mission and 22nd, he was a success story, our success story.   

He was also a vida loca loco.

We kept being in competition with each other. He kept pushing me without saying he was pushing me. I transferred to U.C. Berkeley and graduated. Afterwards I went into a teaching credential program and taught at the old Woodrow Wilson High School campus, a school I had been kicked out of a dozen years earlier. I wanted to write so was accepted at and enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program at San Francisco State.

But Jeff wanted and expected and burdened me with more. He liked that I got all these degrees, but he wanted me to do mas. Jeff was a gangster. We were all supposed to be gangsters. We were supposed to be be able to be dignified and wear a double-breasted suit, and also, when the time was right, howl out into the streets without our shirts on! We were supposed to seize power, which is what gangsters desire for their familias. He wanted me to be a lawyer, and specifically, he dreamed of me studying at San Francisco’s infamous cut-throat University of California, Tenderloin—Hastings College of the Law, Jeff’s prized institution, the school of Slick Willie Brown, Civil Rights Public Defender Jeff Adachi, and our vice-president elect Kamala Harris.

At U.C. Hastings Gala with Civil Rights Public Defender Jeff Adachi

I went to law school for lots of different reasons, but I mainly did it for him. I hated that shit. Nervous every day, palms sweaty, anxious, afraid to be called on and have to articulate their fleas jumping on the law book’s pages. I told my brother during the middle of my first semester at Hastings that I didn’t want to do that shit anymore, that I wanted to be a writer. He answered quickly: “Anyone can be a writer.” What counter-argument could I have for that? So, I fucking did it and finally learned to love and hate the manipulation and rhetoric of law.

By the time I graduated in 2004, Jeff’s loco ways were catching up with him. We were supposed to go into business together, right there at his office on the corner of Mission and 22nd Street, a place that has now been burned down to the ground. We had planned to open up my own private practice immigration and personal injury attorney office. He was supposed to send me his insurance clients. But he lost his license. I had already been teaching part-time at City College of San Francisco when they offered me a full-time tenure-track English instructor position. I took that job and broke my brother’s heart.

Novemeber 11 is Veterans Day, the day that marks the end of the bloodiest, most technologically-advanced devastating war up to that time, World War One. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month 1918, the war ended. It was touted as “the war to end all wars,” but it actually led to the most brutal war humankind has ever known, World War Two. Throughout the twentieth century, wars continued to thrive but also die. The 1991 Gulf War was the last mass scale toe-to-toe battle between nations. Mass scale war is almost obsolete now, but a more insidious war still exists: the war for your mind. That is war in the 21st Century. As stated earlier, we are all veterans who have just battled out of four years of war, a psychological war meant to destroy the psyche, especially of people of color. It was a war on logic.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will now be the elected leaders of this nation. They are politicians. They are both lawyers as well. Law is a secret language that many are unable to understand. As an African-American woman, Kamala Harris was only able to enter into that secret world because she is a beneficiary of affirmative action through the University of California, Hastings College of the Law’s Legal Educational Opportunity Program, the first law school affirmative action program in the United States. To understand law is to understand the power of text.

This is the war of the future: education. All of our university education system is based on text. This is relevant to today. Right now students must work online. In a face-to-face class, students can absorb information without having to constantly prove their ideas in writing. In this new online forum that will not be going away, even after the pandemic, students must prove themselves through writing logical arguments and sharing these written words in discussions. Those who do not have the confidence to write may not even attempt education, and they will be left behind.

This is a text-based society.

Spirit matters most, but language and text we also got, and that means if you want to live in the world of language, you should know it and feel it, too. Perhaps language, too, can be transformed to spirit. This is the spirit we must utilize now in this time and place.

It is our time. It is our America.

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