Achy Obejas

writer & translator


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Chicago poet David Hernández has died, but we are his legacy

David Hernández and Street Sounds performed on The Afternoon Shift in February 2013.

David Hernández and Street Sounds performed on The Afternoon Shift on WBEZ in February 2013.

There’s a chance this blog might be a little sloppy. As I write, I’m a mess of tears. And these aren’t soft poetic tears but real sobs.

My friend David Hernández had a heart attack at dawn today and died.

David Hernández — that David Hernández — the poet, the city’s unofficial poet laureate, the playful dude in the fedora, the guy with the perennial smile. The famous poet.

The street dude who took this little Cuban kid who’d grown up in Indiana and introduced her to the beauty of the city more than 30 years ago, infected her with his own enduring love for the muse that hurt and thrilled Nelson Algren and Gwendolyn Brooks and David himself and, eventually, all of us too. I was one of thousands: the writers and poets and musicians and painters who twirled around David, our magical imp, our towering barrio bard.

Let me tell you what happened when David reached up and cupped your face in his hands: You felt like heaven itself was shining a light on you, like you had to be good. Not just good at what you do, but you had to be a good person because this good , good man loved you in that moment.

A lot of people are going to talk about David and his poetry — and it’s important that they do. And they’ll talk about his legacy with Street Sounds, his poetry band, and his contributions to the Latino Arts movement in this town. And all of that is important too.

But I want to say something else: I want to talk about David’s heart, David’s generosity, because that was his real gift. It wasn’t just that he taught and touched thousands upon thousands of students, that he helped so many poets get started in his classes or by inviting us to read with him, or that he’d talk us up at crucial moments.

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Raul Castro teases with retirement while lining up successor

Ramiro Valdes (L) is Raul Castro's most likely successor in Cuba (AP)

Ramiro Valdes (L) is Raul Castro’s most likely successor in Cuba (AP)

Raúl Castro, Cuba’s president for the last seven years (since 2006, though not officially until 2008) sent tongues a-wagging yesterday when he suggested that he’ll address his retirement on Sunday, during the National Assembly’s meeting, when the nation’s president will be selected.

“I’m going to retire,” the 81 year-old Cuban president told reporters, grinning.

And, of course, sparking wild speculation about what should be a pretty predictable government meeting, as nearly all the National Assembly meetings in Cuba have been since the Castros — Raúl and Fidel before him — came to power.

But anyone expecting anything other than routine tomorrow is bound to be disappointed.

Raul Castro is not going to retire on Sunday.

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Rubio and Obama are in a fake immigration fight

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio

The last time Sen. Marco Rubio and President Barack Obama squared off over immigration, Obama swept the floor with the junior senator from Florida.

Which explains, at least in part, Rubio’s evolution on immigration. And explains too why, though Rubio and Obama’s immigration proposals are practically identical, Rubio will not only distance himself from the president because of internal GOP politics but also because the man is rightfully wary.

I’m referring, of course, to the fight over the DREAM Act, which the president supported, Rubio opposed, and Congress rejected — setting Obama up to use executive power to suspend enforcement of deportation rules and allow millions of young people from all over the world to legalize their status.

Obama’s move came not in the wake of congressional action but just as Rubio — who had been hounded by Latino activists for his anti-immigration positions — announced that he was going to propose his own DREAM Act, one that did not include amnesty or a path to citizenship but would “accommodate” these undocumented young people.

Of course, Rubio never got a chance. Obama’s announcement made any proposal from the young Cuban-American a moot point.

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María Irene Fornés returns to NYC but custody struggle continues

María Irene Fornés

María Irene Fornés

María Irene Fornés has gained three pounds in the last two weeks.

Not a big deal, or maybe a big deal in some quarters, but for one of the greatest living English-language playwrights, those three pounds are a very good sign.

“If you made a list of the most influential English language playwrights of the 20th Century, it seems to me you have the vein of writers who descend from Beckett (his lineage includes Pinter, Mamet, Churchill), the poetic naturalists like O’Neill and Williams, all the various kinds of expressionists, and then there is Fornés,” said Jorge Ignacio Cortiñas, who was mentored by Fornés and is best known for his play, Blind Mouth Singing (staged in Chicago by Teatro Vista in 2005). “I don’t know how we get to Paula Vogel or 13P or the ethos or aesthetics of off-Broadway today without Fornés. Why she is lesser known then playwrights that she is just as important as is an interesting phenomenon and seems connected to gender and ethnic bias to be sure, but this phenomenon is also compounded by what an iconoclast she was. How difficult it is categorize her … She is the ultimate playwright’s playwright. Everyone in theater knows who she is and many are deeply influenced by her.”

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Mr. Rubio, that was no rebuttal

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio

Everybody’s having fun with Sen. Marco Rubio’s big gulp, even Rubio himself, during the Republican rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union. And perhaps it’s moments like that parched, wild-eyed lunge of Rubio’s for the Poland Springs that will justify keeping the circus going but, honestly, can we just cut the crap?

The State of the Union is constitutionally mandated, no matter who the president is: a war criminal like George W. Bush or a socialist fool like Obama.

It’s right there in Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution: “He shall from time to time give Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

But here’s what’s not constitutionally mandated: the opposition response. In fact, it’s only been a real thing since the 1966, when Republicans decided to talk back to Lyndon B. Johnson on TV.

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My 50th anniversary of arriving in the U.S.

My family, not long after arriving here from Cuba.

My family, not long after arriving here from Cuba.

Fifty years ago today, my family and I arrived in the U.S.

The night before, we’d gathered just outside of Havana, my parents, my brother and I, joined by 40 other people to board a 28 foot boat to escape from Cuba.

For my parents, it was goodbye forever to the life they’d known. For my brother and me, a transformation of the promise of whatever life we’d had, or could have had, under any circumstances, in Cuba.

For this queer girl (in every sense), that’s been a gift.

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President Obama’s illegal war

AP Photo

AP Photo

This is what I wrote after the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen targeted for killing by the U.S. president, on this blog on September 30, 2011:

“We used to be afraid that President George W. Bush, pushed by his nefarious warmongering VP and a Department of Justice that justified medieval tortures, was going to expand executive branch powers to such levels as to threaten the very balance and foundation of our democracy.

“That’s why so many of us voted for Barack Obama — because we wanted somebody who was anti-war, who would close Guantanamo; somebody who knew and understood the Constitution not as some sacred sentimental Old Testament but as a covenant of fairness, with inviolable safeguards, between the governed and the government.

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