Immigration Monday Road Report
Sunday, Dec. 2.

Just got back from UC Davis. Yesterday, I delivered a keynote talk at a literacy program for "minority" parents and immigrants. Those evil illegal monsters our heroes in the anti-immigrant uprising are targeting. I would hate to reveal my liberal bias by commenting on how kind and hard-working and sincere and sweet those folks were. Or how heroic a program Gear Up is--how it promotes literacy and education and and progress and Americanism. Oh hell no! This was all Black and Latino people, so screw them! Damn it, I think I might have met a couple of gay people too. I just know there is somebody in Homeland Security I can call.

I feel guilty at moments like this, because Gear Up is a professional organization and they pay for their speakers to come. They do not ask for hand-outs. They may not pay as much as the generous and powerful UC Davis, but they pay. Now, you ask yourself what to do in cases like this. Do you give back the money, or buy a few CD and DVD box sets? Do you take the money, but use it to buy books for the participants? I have been guilty of all three. However, Gear Up had already provided amazing collections of books to their participants. Libraries--including English and Spanish editions of my own Hummingbird's Daughter.

What do you do? Well, here's what I chose to do this time. I took their money! Yes I did. And I added it to the money I was sending Pastor Von and Spectrum Ministries (see Across the Wire) to help him with Christmas costs for the poor and forgotten and hated and despised and reviled children of Tijuana. My home town.

Am I a saint? No. But they are. Yes--I mean Spectrum, and I mean the forgotten unloved masses.

Those bleeding-heart conservative Baptists might just help a cold, hungry, ill, hopeless, coatless, shoeless boy or girl not die, not succumb, not surrender to hopelessness and fear. What if Von inspires one more year of hope and effort? What if Von gets a few more kids into school? Into jobs? Into better houses? What if those children do not come here? What if they work on saving the border and Tijuana and Mexico? What if they don't have to come into Gear Up and wonder how I got out and they didn't?

What if? It's about Hope, isn't it. As Duane, my Sioux brother, reminded me in a sweat-lodge years ago: Hope is prayer.


So you wake up some mornings feeling famous, and on others, you feel like dog-squat. I can vary on the scale, from Turd to Tudor. If you have a teenage daughter in your house, you are already on my continuum. Some days, she clearly thinks it would be swell if your plane went down in flames. On other days, you don't seem to cause her to want to kill herself, but barely. Then, there's the unexpected sunburst of joy that you can't quite fathom. Thus did I head for Sacramento. Baffled Dad and deeply troubled and fed up with this border bullshit.

I got there and United had lost my luggage. Hmm. The total pro artiste handler for UC Davis, Emily, scooped me up and got me to the hotel in Davis. I got there just as their restaurant closed. No supper for Dad. But they did let me have a toothbrush. I swiped an apple from their apples basket and went off to my room--an amazing two-story thing with lots of TVs.

I waited around for my luggage. I read cheap paperbacks and ate cheap food and drank evil hotel bathroom-counter coffee out of that little gasping burping pot you get. The clothes came just in time for me to head out to my NPR interview back in Sacra. Off we rushed, and the show was great and the host had actually investigated my blogs and knew I was friends with Shawn Phillips and was suddenly playing Shawn on the radio! Wow. I felt like I was falling backward in time.

Back to Davis for my afternoon talk with students. On the way, I spied a wallet on the ground and Gary Sue Goodman and I took it to the gallery that was featuring a photo show inspired by Devil's Highway. I told the women it was my ferocious Border Patrol tracking instincts that allowed me to see the wallet. I felt all saintly--the young woman who dropped it left credit cards in it. Saved!

Off to the talk. A hundred (?) or 150 (?) students. Spoke for a couple of hours, I guess. Then I went to supper with the faculty. It was wonderful--I got to hang with Francisco X. Alarcon, whose poetry I greatly admire. Etc. etc. blah blah blah. This sounds like an episode of Access Hollywood.

The next day is the point here. I got up and decided to go for a walk. I figured I'd find food somewhere. I was waiting for Yuma Sheriff Ralph Ogdne to arrive. Ralph was going to face the crowds with me later. And my ol' pal and desert compadre, Brian Andrew Laird (Bowman's Line and To Bury the Dead). So I was hoofing it around Davis, enjoying the morning, following my nose as it tried to sniff out eggs. However, all it found were closed Gaps and bars. But I did find a Borders. Now, it suits my self-image to think of myself as a guy who goes looking for poetry before he finds breakfast. Sort of a trade from Hog-Man to Haiku-Boy. I went in snufflking and rooting around in the poetry shelves.

Now, you will forgive me for telling you here that many writers reach a baffling stage in their careers. I am apparently pulling into that train station. It is a change from How nice, you're a writer (which, by the way, was preceded by You're a writer--and I care because...?) to this new weitd thing which is: Oh my God, it's you! The man behind the counter looked at me and cried, "Oh my God, it's you! You're you!" I felt trapped by the Migra. I said, "I am! Me!" "Luis Urrea!" he cried. "Yes!" I agreed. The Muslim couple behind me in line started laughing. The clerk said, "What you do! It's so IMPORTANT. To the NATION. And great WRITING." I signed my credit card receipt. "Wish I had something for you to autograph!" he shouted. I pointed out that I had just autographed the receipt. "That's LUIS URREA!" he said to the couple, but fortunately, I got out the door before they said, "Who?"

I was hoohin' it down the street, now pretty certain that my poetry books would have to be my breakfast, when my next ancounter with the fame border patrol occurred. I walked into the gallery with the Devil's Highway show. I was after Christmas presents for Cinderella. Here's the absurd conversation I had with the Gallery Matron:

She: Nice gifts.
Me: Yes.
She: Are you a visitning scholar?
Me: Scholar? No. But I'm here visiting. I have the show tonight.
She: Show.
Me; At UC Davis, you know.
She: So you're a visiting professor.
Me: No. I'm a...writer?
She: You wrote an academic book?
Me: No. No-no-no.
She: Ah, well! You should look around the gallery. It's a non-profit. We are currently featuring an amazing installation focusing on immigration!
Me: Yes, I know. That's my book.
She: (squinting at me) Oh. You're the devil-person?
Me: Yes.
She: Oh. (Turns away.) If you were Stephen King, I'd say wow.
Me: Uh.............................................................if I were Stephen King, I'd say wow too.

I burst out of there and couldn't stop laughing. Davis had encapsulated an entire writing career in two blocks! "I'd say wow" is now one of my cherished mottoes.


Enough of the eprsonal notes! The Sheriff arrived. All ten feet of him, and huge mustache, and cowboy hat and boots. He slayed all of 'em--everybody there was in love with Ralph. I love him, too, and was thrilled he would come to this event and hang out with me. Plus, I figured if anybody had come to give me any shit, Ralph would smite them. He slipped me a Yuma Sheriff's Department medal. "For service above and beyond the call of duty," he quipped. As always, God found a vector to bring me back to earth--this time, it was good ol' Laird who said, "That will impress everybody--in Yuma." Bastard.

The UC bookstore had sold over 1900 copies of the book. 1400 people came to the talk. The signing line was so huge that I spent nearly two hours signing books.

You know it's a hit if you sweat through your shirt and your jacket from signing books and shaking hands (and hugging women and being photgraphed). It's like the world's craziest Homecoming Dance or Senior Prom. LOUIE, SIGN MY YEARBOOK! You know it, sweetie, gimme a hug....

People are still lustening out there. The Davis students did a miraculous thing--they took the GPS coordinates from the book and made a 3-D internet map. You can walk the whole route of the book in day or night conditions. I hope to put the link to this interactive site on next week's I.M.

Along with the amazing experience of UC itself, Ralph Ogden, and Brian "God of Thunder" Laird, was that the executive produce of Hummingbird's Daughter also came. You leave an event like that feeling soem hope. And then you get home and go to Gear Up. How can we not still offer Thanksgiving?

Humanity, even "illegal" humanity, prevails.

Of course, the on-line student paper (The Aggie Online), waited till I left town and ran a review of Devil's Highway in which the student reviewer announced that I had lied the entire time, that the book was a work of fiction, and that it was sad there was not one iota of truth in the whole book.

If I were Stephen King, I'd say kiss my ass.


Back to the trenches. Got to write. Many things waiting for my attention. There's snow and ice on the ground here. I have my medal from Ralph Ogden. I have my integrity. I have my family, even if one of them isn't always sure I have the proper papers to reside in her world legally. You and me, we are warm tonight. Not everybody is, you know. No, almost nobody.

I will return next week with data and news.
WWJD? This week, Jesus Would Deport The Aggie Online!

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