Manilatown Heritage Foundation/I-Hotel’s Board Member Theresa Imperial Speaking on behalf of tenant Benito Santiago who is being Ellis Act Evicted from his Duboce Triangle Flat of more than 30 years

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Jose

Jose claimed he
Was a poet and he
Was always thinking
Of lines and stanzas

your eyes are beautiful

He carried an empty
Notepad in his back
Pocket and when a poem
Came to him he’d reach
For that notepad

At that moment
Someone always blurted
Out in a loud voice

Jose, we need a
Mop on
Aisle three!

Jose would get
That mop and clean up
The spilled spaghetti
Sauce or dill pickles
Or whatever else

He’d finish cleaning
The mess and another
Poem would come to him
And he’d reach for his note
Pad

And again the voice
Would call
Out

Jose, we need
A mop on
Aisle four!

And Jose cleaned
That
Up

Jose would go home
And drink a
Couple beers

He’d hang his
Pants on the door knob
With the notepad
In the back pocket

He’d fall asleep,
Sometimes landing in
His dreams

The next day he’d
Start all over
Again

Jose

An unfinished
Poem

Just
Getting
Started

© 2008 Tony Robles

Hegemony Central

(Article originally published in POOR Magazine)

Hegemony–The predominant influence, as of a state, region, or group, over another or others.

In my last revolutionary worker scholar article entitled, “You Sexy Thing”, I wrote about my experiences working as a security guard in a supermarket. In this bad economy, it is the only job I can get. Many people tell me, “You should be thankful you even have a job”. Believe me, I am on my knees every night giving thanks to the Gods of private security and loss prevention (LP for short) for allowing me to wear the uniform of 100% polyester, neckline covered in fur and, of course, badge with the security guard company logo.

Something interesting happened during my shift that is worth noting. I was monitoring the activity in the store near the entrance/exit doors. I was in a highly visible position, nestled between stacks of sports drinks and dingdong/hoho (or hoho/dingdong) cakes. I was trying to look alert and attentive but I was in a different place, a different reality. I was daydreaming of getting into the electronic buggy for disabled shoppers and plowing full-speed into the store manager’s ass (complete with painted-on bullseye), bumper car style (A la bull goring matador). I imagined doing donuts in the aisles and parking lot and popping wheelies and leaving skidmarks while flapping my arms and making chicken noises. This is the best part of security for me–being able to let the imagination run loose down the aisles while the manager makes announcements over the loudspeakers about various perishables.

As I stood near the dingdong/hoho cakes, a co-security guard whose post is in the parking lot approached me. “Hey”, he said, “There was a guy who came in earlier, I think he walked out with a beer”. There was a pause. “What you need to do”, he continued, “is walk the aisles so you can see what these guys are doing”. I gave him my most sincere and confounded look. “I didn’t see the guy”, I said, “What did he look like?” The guard looked at me and said under his breath, “He was a young black guy. He came in yesterday too”. I began to notice a pattern among these supermarket employee folk. I heard them say things like, They’re stealing from “us”, when referring to shoplifters. Who the hell is “us” i’d whisper to myself silently. I witnessed a Raza store clerk run after a young African descended woman whom she thought was shoplifting. The lady was merely placing her basket down near the entrance doors and obtaining a larger basket on wheels.

I stood in silence feeling as if I had betrayed some secret code of security guards. Here was this guard (an ex mortgage broker, bless his altruistic soul) trying to school me, trying to bring out the empathy that was dormant in my soul for the Budweiser Beer Company that just got beaten for $1.25. Shame overcame me like a flood of florescent light. I felt the need for a bathroom run followed by a drink (Presumably one I’d pay for, 1.25 to be exact). I recalled a conversation I’d had with POOR Magazine co-editor Lisa Gray-Garcia (AKA Tiny) about people like this. They identify with the man to the degree that they start believing that they own what the man owns, said Tiny. What they own is hegemony.

“Follow me”, said my security guard comrade. He led me across the aisles past the sodium, fat and high fructose corn syrup laden foodstuffs. We went up a flight of stairs until coming to a door that said, “Manager”. We walked inside. The manager sat at a desk strewn with papers and orange rinds. Her hands were folded into a little pyramid. “I heard you have a different outlook than the others”, she said, leaning back in her chair. “What outlook is that?” I asked. The manager looked at the other guard, then at me. “You know very well what I’m talking about”. She opened her drawer and pulled out a medicine bottle and tablespoon.

She approached me and unscrewed the cap. I looked at the bottle, on it was the word: Hegemony. The other guard grabbed me from behind in a Full Nelson. “Open wide”, said the manager, the syrup oozing onto the tablespoon like a disease. “What is that, I asked. “It’s good for you”, she replied, “We get the stuff by the truckloads, at marked down prices. Open up!” She put the spoon to my lips. I opened my mouth and took the tepid liquid. It burned into my tongue like a freshly lit match. In a flash I spit it out, wanting to expunge the medicine and everything it stood for in the annals of supermarket history. The liquid landed on the manager’s face like a frenzied molecular species that had just been let loose from the lab. She screamed like a hyena (which is an insult to that species). The guard shoved me against the wall and landed 2 knees to my groin–the left first, then the right. “Get him the hell outta here!” the manager screamed.

The guard led me down the stairs by the scruff of the neck like a bad little boy who disturbed the class–past the aisles with dog food, floor wax, snack cakes, clothes detergent and frozen fish sticks. He led me through the exit door and out of that market and into the street. The birds were perched on a wire waiting for me. I walked away from that market leaving behind a current opening for a security officer.

Santiago Goes to The Dentist

Santiago
Dreams Cuban
Beaches and beaten
Machetes

I went to the
Dentist,
He says

They replaced
My front tooth
And put caps
On 4 others

He opens
Wide

A bird sings
At the
Fang of rock

The ocean dances
Rhythmic foam
Of crane’s feet

Santiago
From Cuba

Chocolate skin,
Hair going
Thin

In San Francisco
Now

The dentist works
His art while Santiago
Smiles through hum
And wire

Closes his eyes,
Dreams the
Beach

Walks a street
That bears
His name

While Cranes beat
Wings in the
Hollow cave

Of his
Mouth
© 2006 Tony Robles

You Sexy Thing

(Article originally published in POOR Magazine’s “Revolutionary Worker Scholar” column)

I believe in Miracles

Since you came along

You sexy thing

–You Sexy Thing, Hot Chocolate

It is 7:15 AM and I’m standing guard at a supermarket. The shelves are stocked with soups, toilet paper, cereals—everything. It is cold and I begin pacing back and forth. I think of tigers in cages. I feel a brotherhood with them although I am not locked in a cage. Music is piped into the store’s overhead speakers. Suddenly I hear the famous guitar riff of the 70’s hit “You sexy thing” by Hot Chocolate. The song was featured in the movie, “The Full Monty” where a group of unemployed steel workers in England—some of whom work as security guards for lack of anything else—devise a scheme to make big money as strippers. The final unforgettable scene shows the group dressed in security guard uniforms stripping at a club before an audience of screaming women.

I look at my uniform and want to dance—to tear my uniform off and dance while cans of soup and other items jump off the shelves and into the pockets and outstretched arms of people who walk right out the door and into the sunshine—no questions asked. I am jolted out of my daydream when the manager calls for a price check over the loudspeakers. People begin filtering in—I acknowledge each with a nod. They are elders, youth and migrants. I’m the first person they see.

My job is to be a deterrent to shoplifting. Would-be shoplifters are supposed to look at my uniform and see me as a symbol of authority–making a 360-degree turn and heading out the door. When I take my 10-minute break I go to the bathroom. I look in the mirror. I don’t see a symbol of authority but a symbol of a bad economy.

It’s been almost 20 years since I last worked as a security guard. To work as a guard you have to be licensed by the California Bureau of Security and Investigative Services. I got my “guard card” by taking a class provided by a security officer training school in Oakland. I remember the bold words captured in a frame in one of the school’s offices:

Those who adapt

Survive

Those who don’t

Die

Those words made me think of dinosaurs. I sat through the “powers of arrest” and “duties of a security officer” sections before watching a video on the security implications of the threat of weapons of mass destruction. The class was a cross section of elders, migrants, people of color and ex-military folks. One young man was given an ultimatum by his father, get a job as a security guard or join the marines. Another young man had ambitions of joining the California Highway Patrol. I sat in back of the class next to an elder from Fiji. We looked at each other, he nodded—he knew.

It’s 8:10 AM. More and more people filter in. Many are migrant Raza with families, many are African descended, Chinese and Russian elders. I am part of what is known as Loss Prevention—LP for short—making sure the store doesn’t lose potato ships, toilet paper, and freeze-dried noodle soup. But what of the losses that come through the door, each with a face that tells a story? The list of losses include:

Languages

Lands

Cultures

Identities

His(her)stories

Wives

Husbands

Children

Homes

Jobs

Sanity

Do those losses count–do they ever count? I stand at the front entrance and nod in acknowledgement.

Private security is one of the fastest growing industries in the US. 34 billion dollars a year is spent on private security services to protect private property. This reflects upon the rampant privatization of public safety services, shifting from protecting people to protecting property. In a report by http://www.themorningcall.com, between 11,000 and 15,000 companies employ over a million security officers—double that of police officers. According to Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the occupation of security officer has a turnover rate comparable to that of a fast food employee. In an economy that is spiraling downward, it is ironic that the only job many people can get relates to the enforcement of laws governing property rights. Prior to my security job, I worked as an employment counselor for a local non-profit. I helped low-income people find work and take part in community organizing campaigns. Now I work as a guard—it’s the only job I can get right now.

There were several candidates applying at the security-company that eventually hired me. All were African descended, a couple elders. One fellow had worked in the Tennessee prison system and had failed the test to become a San Francisco Police officer. His eyes lit like pools of flame when he talked about the starting salary of a SF cop. Another applicant was a woman who wore brown polyester suit with fingernails a deep shade of red. She looked like a muni bus driver but could have easily been my auntie. She expressed frustration of ageism in her job search. She then talked about her daughter who was attending classes at UC Berkeley. “My daughter is so smart,” she said, her face beaming.

It’s 9:50 AM and the traffic in the store is picking up. A houseless man walks in. According to my post orders, I am to ask all undesirables to leave the premises. Our eyes lock. I nod and wait for “You sexy thing” to come over the loudspeaker.

An Honest Review

I was talking to this
Black brother
Not long ago

He was the maintenance
Man in an apartment
Complex

He was working in the
Trash compactor room
And he had a radio playing
In the corner

There was much good
Shit coming out
Of that radio

It was like a soundtrack
Of my life, a score
Of ups and downs and missteps
And misfires and things that
Didn’t quite make the highlight
Reel

And the maintenance guy
Spoke about the old days
Which had been his young days
And somehow that garbage room
Became the church I’d been
Searching for

And all was cool

So I wrote an article
About my experience
Talking to the man
And sharing his music

And one day the
Man read it

I ran into him
The other day
And he said:

“Hey, you know
That shit you
Wrote was some
Ok shit

But you got
Some stuff
Wrong

I don’t got
No chipped tooth
And I ain’t from
Louisiana, I’m
From Oakland

And what’s that
Shit about the story
Of my life written on
My black skin?

The only thing
On my skin is
Ash and I use lotion
To take care of it”

The man spoke
a little while
Longer before leaving me
With the words:

“That shit you wrote
was ok but i cudda
wrote some better
shit than that”

He took out
His small bottle
Of lotion

put some
On

massaged it
In

© 2014 Tony Robles

Raza Children At Recess

By Tony Robles

I was moved deeply by something I recently witnessed on youtube. A group of minutemen and their supporters gathered with signs and requisite patriotic symbols in front of the Mexican consulate in Santa Ana in support of Arizona’s immigration law. It was a typical minuteman crowd, dripping of entitlement and no sense of responsibility for the history of the landscape that they so vociferously assert to love and defend—a history of murder, removal, and extermination of native peoples. “America for the Americans” and “Go back to Mexico” they say (as well as “God Bless America”). Again, the entitlement is astounding. Across the street from the minutemen was a school whose yard was filled with Raza children at recess. In beautiful resistance they began chanting: Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co! A feeling washed over my body as if I was deprived of oxygen and, in an instant, the breath of life entered me and nourished everything that had been lacking in my soul. A deep breath took me.

For the last 20 or so years I have worked as a security officer—off and on—making the rounds of the financial district, guarding the loading docks and lobbies of what Henry Miller described as the “Big tombs in the sky”. When I first started out, I was a young kid in community college studying broadcasting. The guard job gave me flexible hours and an uncomfortable polyester uniform—itchy, especially in the crotch area (that I dare not scratch), with a nice little policeman’s cap to top it off. I was dispatched to a variety of places. I was nervous, unsure of myself. I would end up with older guards, most of who seemed to have a desire to lecture me.

One such guy was the “field lieutenant”. He was a guy with a brilliant head of white hair. He stood erect and walked with an authoritative gait. He could have been speaker of the house. He explained my post duties to me as if my country depended on it. He then said, “Loose lips sink ships”. I thought, my goodness, what a dinosaur this guy is, laying the World War II stuff on me. He asked me if I’d ever heard of that expression and I, wanting to be respectful like my Filipino father taught me, answered no. The supervisor explained that talking loosely of security related business—namely ours—could make us vulnerable or, more to the point, sink our ship. I shook my head like a good boy, acting like I’d never heard such precious information, but in reality, I’d heard John Wayne say the same thing on a black and white rerun during “Dialing for Dollars”.

One particular post I was assigned to was an office building a block away from the Transamerica pyramid. The guy assigned to train me was an older man, white (White was his last name), who had seen a thousand guys like me pass through—young, brown and going to school (AKA: YBGTS). I was not in the security business as my life’s work (ala White) but as a means to an end. And–as I had done at the other security guard assignment–stayed quiet—and so did White.

But one day Mr. White spoke, going on for some time about immigrants and the way they freeload off society. And I stood there like a good boy, shaking my head while this man told me that the most important contributions to America were made by the founding fathers. I thought of the image of presidents carved onto Mount Rushmore and how a photo I’d once seen of Ray Robinson, Joe Louis and a young Muhammad Ali held more meaning for me. He stressed the words: most important. I was transfixed by his conviction, imparted unto me like the gospel from Charleton Heston himself. And who could dispute such a man as Charleton Heston, having co-starred with God in all those high budget movies (as well as being spokesman for the National Rifle Association–not to mention the hero in the Planet of the apes)? The man looked and spoke to me like I didn’t know anything. But in the back of my mind I knew that while he was erasing my people from history, their footprints were deep in the American landscape as Filipino agricultural workers, union organizers and leaders, poets and artists. Many ended up at the International Hotel 2 blocks away from our security post, fighting eviction from their homes and community. My people’s history was so close and yet there I was, getting a history lesson from a fellow security guard who thought he was better but was, in reality, making 6 dollars an hour just as I was. But I just stayed quiet as he spoke. It has bothered me for more than 20 years. I have never forgotten my silence.

Those children chanting Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co…in the face of the minutemen is everything I couldn’t say on that day. Their voices are the words I didn’t express when I was working with Mr. White. I thank those kids and want to tell them that their voices are heard, loud and clear, and that they have plenty to teach us. Now, when I feel I’m being silenced, I hear the words Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co…Me-xi-co. I hear those kids.

© 2010 Tony Robles