Over the last few years, there have been a handful of San Antonio momentos that I’ve been lucky enough to witness, moments that have spoken to a greater cultural awareness within our community. And Thursday night at Krazy Vatos Emporium was no exception.
The Chicano-powered store, owned in part by Danny de la Paz and Jesse Borrego, saw a Texas-sized crowd overflow la yarda for “Expreso Mi Cultura: Celebrating the Poetry of Gregg Barrios.” Chicanos and Chicanas of all ages and backgrounds were there to witness cultural history in the making, with the voices of Gloria Sanchez, Carmen Tafolla, Ben Olguin, Greg Hinojosa, Trey Moore, and Anthony Flores filling the starry night’s air. Chicano punk band The Way The World Ends provided the soundtrack to their performances.
Mr. Barrios stood offstage for the first part of the engagement, watching other poets, educators, writers, and activists bring his words to life in their own poetic style. A commemoration of his newest book of poetry, the evening was punctuated with performances that captivated the San Antonio onlookers. Gloria Sanchez, a San Antonio native, opened the show with a reading of “Great Cesar’s Ghost.” From that moment, we knew this was not an average poetry reading, typically marked by finger-snapping, quiet participation, and the smell of coffee beans brewing. Instead, a palpable feeling of empowerment was brewing all around us, a feeling that we were creating – or helping to create – something bigger than ourselves.
Donato Arredondo, the emcee for the evening, articulated that feeling when he said: “Makes you feel proud to be a Chicano, listening to those words.” In fact, it did. Our community was coming together for a magical event, building bridges among each other con ganas, cultivating our artistic and political identity, and solidifying our place in the world as a formidable, Mexican-American community.
Ben Olguin, Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at UTSA, came to the stage with a rendition of “Chale Guerra,” and with him he brought a reflection of Mr. Barrios’ purpose as a poet, saying: “He’s brave enough to critique our culture.”
Gregg Barrios, a Vietnam veteran, journalist, teacher, poet, friend to the arts, and brother-in-arms to the movimiento, made his entrance and was greeted enthusiastically by his community. As he approached, I heard the sound of gritos hold near to the applause. Mr. Barrios reminded us of the Chicano fight and how we’re bringing the struggle to the minds of a new generation. As he continued to speak, I began to feel anxious, nervous, but calm all at the same time, as if this were only the beginning of my work. Realizing that the struggle that began decades ago in Crystal City with La Raza Unida continues on in our community, I took in the magnitude of our collective task. As Mr. Barrios later told me, “You’ve got a big job ahead of you.” And that night, in our own way, we were doing the work.
What can we do to keep this fervor alive? Donato later added that we should continue to support our community and our gente in the arts, in whatever way we can. But most importantly, show up. Go to the readings, the rallies, the book releases, the round-table discussions, and as he said, “Let them know that you’re there, listening.”
Mr. Barrios, we’re still listening.