Book fair features moving collaboration

Emily Mather Moretz

The San Diego City College International Book Fair featured a collaboration of author Luis Rodriguez and Grammy nominee Perla Batalla and her band Oct. 2.

“Words are power,” Rodriguez tells the packed house of the Saville Theatre. Rodriguez read selections from his work and related his experience of being raised in East Los Angeles as a child of Mexican immigrants. Rodriguez discussed how he dealt with his feelings of powerlessness in destructive ways. Through a lifetime of community work, helping others and writing he has overcome his past mistakes and dedicated his life to being a positive influence for future generations.

“We invited author Luis Rodriguez because his work and life experiences resonate with those of so many of our students,” Virginia Escalante, book fair organizer and English professor at City College, said. “An estimated 500 people attended, but, unfortunately, many of them could not get in-once again underscoring the need for a larger venue for our events. The response from the students has been overwhelming, and many of them are still talking about the impact that the reading and concert had on them.”

As in his memoir, “Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.,” Rodriguez reflected on growing up as a Chicano in poverty while facing discrimination from police, teachers and classmates. He then turned to drugs as an escape and gang activity to feel a sense of belonging. Rodriguez discussed how he spent most of his youth in and out of prison, high on heroin, and contemplating suicide.

During the live reading from his new poem “Freedom Shapes” he discussed about his first time attending a poetry reading for the first time at age 18. He said he was “instantly drawn to spoken word.”

Rodriguez also said he believes “that this encounter was divine intervention telling him to wake up and unleash his imagination”.

He has now published “My Nature is Hunger: New & Selected Poems, The Republic of East L.A.: Stories, Poems Across the Pavement,” “The Concrete River,” and “Trochemoche.” He also released “My Name’s Not Rodriguez,” a CD of poems and original music.

Rodriguez said he is now 17 years sober and attributes his success to helping others.

His contributions to the community include cofounding the Tia Chucha Cultural Center, a bookstore, performance space and workshop center in the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

The workshop sponsors the “Celebrating Words: Written, Performed and Sung” Literacy and Performance Festival.

“If you take care of the development of everyone, we help ourselves,” Rodriguez said.

He has also founded the Tia Chucha Press, one of the country’s premier small presses, Rock A Mole Productions, which produces CDs, films, and music and art festivals in Los Angeles and Youth Struggling for Survival, a nonprofit Chicago-based organization that works with gang and non-gang youth.