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Literary Sampler

Tomorrow Today (2000)

Author Information
Writer: Alfred Arteaga (1950 - )
Writer's Country: U.S.A
Original Language: English
Genre: Poetry
Event: Indigenous Peoples

Tomorrow marks
five hundred and three years
since Columbus found his way
to the Americas, half
a millennium and three years
since the story of contact began,
since Europe came west.
Tomorrow marks the anniversary.
Five hundred and three winters
have transpired, as many springs,
summers, and falls. Those seasons
are gone, those times have passed,
there is nothing we can do,
they are gone.
Tomorrow we will remember
October 12th, 1492,
here in the United States,
tomorrow will be Columbus Day;
here in Berkeley,
it will be Indigenous Peoples' Day;
here in Califas, Aztlàn,
it will be Dìa de la Raza.
As many winters have passed,
as many suns have set, as many
minutes and seconds have come
and gone, up to the same tomorrow:
Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples' Day,
Dìa de la Raza;
but they are not the same.
For we are different and we mean different
when we celebrate
the discovery of a new world, imagine,
a new world, or different when we solemnize
the most severe genocide in the history
of the world, the most severe, or when
we recognize the birth of a new race,
a new race. For twenty-four hours tomorrow
we can celebrate the greatest act
of the Renaissance and the act of the single man
in Columbus Day,
and we can solemnize
the death of tens of millions
of Native Americans and the extermination
of whole peoples, such as those
on the islands of first contact,
remembered in Indigenous Peoples' Day
and we can
recognize miscegenation and the possibility
of contact between races
in the birth of the hybrid, mestizo peoples
in the Dìa de la Raza.
Tomorrow is Columbus Day,
it is Indigenous Peoples' Day,
it is Dìa de la Raza: all exactly
mark five hundred and three years
and all exactly mark something different.
The events that have happened
in the interim have happened,
nothing can change that.
The first joy at the sight of land
happened. The unspeakable terror
of parents watching their child
fed to the conquistadors' dogs happened.
Five hundred and three years of events
took place, we cannot change that.
We cannot stand up like Las Casas
and say this must stop; we cannot
tell Tainos, on first seeing the Spanish arrive,
to run, to run, and not stop running.
What was, was.
We cannot change the number of days, nor
can we change the events that happened.
We can, though, choose to remember or forget,
to celebrate, solemnize, recognize.

Last year
my state expressed hatred for my people,
marking in laws Mexicans as the common evil,
going so far as denying vaccine
so that those of us not deported, aborted,
or incarcerated, could die from childhood disease.
The majority of Anglo Americans, of African
Americans,
Asian Americans, the majority of women
supported proposition 187.
Why?
Why is it that Chicanos and some Latinos
are the only people whose majority opposed it?
I am not bitter, but I do not forget.
Don't all of us know, don't we realize,
the terrible danger when we allow ourselves
to choose among ourselves and choose one
people for exclusion? Don't we realize
what we do to ourselves when we delude
ourselves and support a solution that marks
one people illegal? Any ultimate solution,
any ethnic cleansing, any racism,
any xenophobia of hate, hurts us all.
Each and every one.
For each small act of exclusion
opens the door for more.

This year,
the regents denied affirmative action.
Those regents who direct the university
that employs me, that educated me,
voted for exclusion.
This year, they met and they voted
to prevent Cal and UCLA,
to prevent Riverside, Irvine, and San Diego,
Santa Cruz , Santa Barbara,
Davis, and San Francisco, to prevent
this university from fair policy,
from the policy that opposes the practice of exclusion,
from policy that has made opportunities
for people, including me.
Earlier this year the regents so voted.

Tomorrow, we will not be able to change
five hundred and three years of events:
Columbus did what Columbus; whole
peoples have been exterminated, nothing can
bring them back. But tomorrow, we can
choose to remember or forget, and if to
remember, we can choose how to recall,
we can decide what all that time, all those events,
what all those acts mean.

And our act is significant.
It is true that the regents have voted,
it is true that they have struck down
affirmative action, but it is not true
that nothing can be done about it:
the matter is not over.
Each regent who voted is still alive
and more importantly, I am alive,
and more importantly still, we
are gathered tonight here and we
say the matter is not over.
Some things cannot be changed
but this can.
Whether any individual regent
voted out of intimidation by the governor,
or to support his presidential bid,
whether out of deep seated racism, or
naïve misconception: it does not matter:
that vote was wrong.
I stand here now and say to you
it is wrong to impede us; any step backward
hurts us all. Those who imagine good
from a politics of exclusion delude
themselves: each selfish gain comes at
a cost to all: we share the university,
we share the state.
Affirmative action is not dead history,
sealed and written, it is a live issue
one right now we are waging.
I stand opposed to racism,
opposed to sexism,
opposed to ethnocentrism.
I oppose the politics of exclusion.
I affirm our action.

Biography:

Alfred Arteaga was born in East Los Angeles. He studied at Columbia University, and later at University of California, Santa Cruz. His writings range from poetry and personal essays to literary criticism and theory. He has received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry and a PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellent for his book House with the Blue Bed, 1998. Since 1990, he has taught at University of California, Berkeley.

Bibliography:

Red. Tempe, Arizona: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingue, 2000.

House with the Blue Bed. San Francisco: Mercury House, 1997.

Chicano Poetics : Heterotexts and Hybridites. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.