Mastermind: An Open Letter to the Storytellers

Mastermind: An Open Letter to the Storytellers 

In re: Molina Speaks Cultivates Creative Power and Hustles for Denver’s Soul by Kyle Harris

April 10th, 2017

To Kyle Harris, and the Storytellers,

First, Kyle, know that I appreciate your interest in my artistry.  I respect your time writing about me.  The constant state of hustle The Artist is locked into in a capitalist society cannot be understated.  We are constantly fighting for our livelihood, told in one ear to sell out, and in the other… to accept the life of a “starving artist.”   A Westword “Mastermind” award, accompanied by a feature story in print, is a big deal for the independent artist.

Your story is a fine story.  You speak to some important moments in my life.  I perceive you to have good intentions towards me as an artist and human being.  I acknowledge the truth within your story, as all of the facts are correct, and all the words that are attributed to me are in fact words I said.  I also want to acknowledge that it is your story, as much as it is mine.  Perhaps, it is more about you than it is about me.  While I am the subject, I am not the lens, nor the storyteller of your article.

I am writing here to address the framing of the story.  For me, Art is about exchange.  And the art of storytelling shapes both reality and the dream.

The story you wrote is one story among many that could have been told.  In roughly three to four hours spent in conversation over the course of several interviews, I must have said 30,000 to 50,000 words to you.  Given the substance of our conversation and the scope of my artistic work, the story may have been set up within the context of time travel through music; choosing the future over the past; the cycles of life and death within an artist’s work; the bending and blending of artistic genres; the art of collaboration; or an artist’s effort to highlight cultural knowledge.  There are other possibilities as well.

While there is a genuine sense of depth to your story, the ultimate framework we get is one with which we are all familiar: the egotistical rapper.

The story begins with the statement: “Molina Speaks is not demure.”  This sets up the premise that I should be demure, i.e. reserved, modest, meek, timid, unassuming.  The fact that I am not appears odd, and must be explained.  The titles of some of my works, including Greatest Rapper Never Heard, Brown Genius and Chicano Picasso further set the context for the story of the ego-driven rapper… you find it necessary early on to explain that the rapper (me) is not an egomaniac, despite the titles. Given the premise of the first two paragraphs, the rest of the story must naturally reinforce, relate to, or circle back to the starting point: the affirmation that “[the rapper] is not demure.”  Certain words and phrases from the interviews are cherry picked to highlight and accentuate this storyline.

The rapper is not demure.  The rapper is egotistical.  Why does he see himself this way?

The rapper thinks he is Somebody…

I have thought a lot about this storyline.  I have come to the conclusion that it speaks to the pervasive dynamics of race, culture and power within our society.

When the classical artist plays, directs, or composes the music of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven, this act of artistic expression is not thought of as egotistical, despite the fact that these artists are channeling and reciting the work of those who are considered musical geniuses.  When rock and heavy metal artists personify and channel the energies of gods, devils, demons or other supreme beings, they are often written about as creative, mystical, and edgy, as opposed to egocentric.  When the country artist calls himself a champion or a star, he is celebrated as an emblem of the American dream, as opposed to ego-driven.  I could go on.

The successful artist of color as rapper is always required to account for why he or she thinks that We are Somebody.  This is true of the east coast rapper, the west coast rapper, the southern rapper, the midwest rapper, and rappers from reservations and small towns.

The underlying impression laid upon us by society is that we are not supposed to control our breath like this.  Our spirits are not supposed to be this strong.  Our words are not supposed to carry such force.  Our stories are not supposed to embody such magnitude.  The system was supposed to have beaten this out of us.  If we are to exist at all, it is as Nobodies…

Yet, we are never confined to the stories that have been imposed upon us.  We whirl words together to birth new worlds.  This is the realest and most basic form of Resistance.  We tell stories of greatness, because our survival depends upon it.

The album Greatest Rapper Never Heard (2013) was not the birth of an ego.  It was the death of an ego.  By music industry standards, to call one’s self the “Greatest Rapper Never Heard” is absurd.  While the album addresses real life matters of manhood, fatherhood, love, culture, land, artistic freedom, activism, and technological manipulation, the entire project is flanked with satire.  The comedy of my collaborators from the Black Actors Guild provides the backdrop.  Greatest Rapper Never Heard was meant to pierce the veil of corporate controlled rap spectacles.  By clowning the notion of rap success, the rap game, conversations of who is “top five dead or alive,” and so on… I murdered the insecurity that existed within me as a “rapper”.  In doing so, I created space for new works, with fresh concepts and themes—the success of which could be defined only by me.  This was also the point in which I stopped calling myself a rapper.

While I personify the concept of Chicano Picasso within various aspects of my art, this is a concept that extends beyond me.  This work is carried forward into the future, out of respect for Chicano history.  In the eyes and minds of the mainstream, the Chicano—if he is seen at all—is one of the most degraded and caricatured elements of the population.  But from my experience, the everyday Chicana and Chicano that you do not see…is a genius.  We create magic out of pain, oppression, exploitation, and the scraps of a society we helped to build.  We do not require the admiration or legitimation of institutions.  We create Picassos out of everyday life.  This is an ode to a culture and legacy of indigenous peoples who have no tribal recognition.  The Chicano symbolizes poverty.  The Picasso symbolizes wealth.  In pairing these identities together, I am telling a story about the wealth of our artistic, cultural and spiritual contributions to humanity.

The podcast Brown Genius is an effort to disrupt the black/white racial dichotomy that divides human beings.  It is also an effort to highlight the diaspora of Mestizo, Indigenous and Mixed Race peoples of the Americas.  Ninety percent of the airwaves broadcast within this project are offered to interviewees who share their knowledge and wisdom about art, music, theory, folk culture and street culture, the spirit, the soul, food, medicine, holistic health, political systems, social institutions, education, architecture, science, mathematics, astronomy and astrology.  We are building a library of community knowledge, at a time in which our communities are under political and economic attack.

I do not mind the portrayal of me as a badass rapper, as this is true.  I do not deny that I have an ego, as this is an aspect of Self inherent in every human being, and perhaps plants and animals too.  But we need new stories about hip-hop.  It is up to the rapper to BE about something beyond ego.  I also call upon the music journalists and music lovers to see, write and produce new stories about this artistic form.  It’s a mutual process.

Kyle, I look forward to the evolution of our relationship and our conversations.

Peace to Westword.  Peace to Saul Williams.  Peace to Denver Hip-Hop.  Peace to my Co-Creators, I wouldn’t be me without you.  Word to the Storytellers, it is always our job to tell our own stories.

Molina Speaks

 

Molina Speaks - Chicano Picasso1

Bronze Future Poetry Chapbook

Bronze Future Chapbook by Molina Speaks

The Bronze Future literary chapbook is now in print in limited edition.  You can access the digital chapbook here: http://www.molinaspeaks.com/bronzefuture/

***

In Future

Bronze Future: Letters for 2045 was published on YouTube in 2012 .  It is believed to be the world’s first Video Chapbook.  Each of the eight entries was filmed by Nathan Schmit in a different barrio in Denver, Colorado.  Just four years later, many of these neighborhoods are unrecognizable through the process of gentrification. At the time of writing, developing and filming, I saw this project as a Time Capsule to the Future.  As more time passes, I continue to see new layers of this historical and futurist work; this Poetry, these definitions and redefinitions, these Rituals of Storytelling.

We are made up of Stories, Cultura.  We must document ourselves, for our Future Selves.  We owe it to them.  We owe it to Us.  In recognition of the importance of our documentation, this experimental work will now be published in literary form.  Read these Stories aloud.  Observe your Rhythms, your Breath, your Soul’s response.

Through the Artist Lens, I say, if the Digital Age is to be all encompassing, let it be Artful.  And let us not forget, the power of the tangible, the physical, our Bodies, Earth—the abundant gift of Presence—Essence, in these defining Times of Future.

Mexica Tiahui,

Molina Speaks

Indigenous People’s Day, October 10, 2016

A Poetic Tour of Denver’s Shifting Landscapes

Stompin’ Ground Games: A Poetic Tour of Denver’s Shifting Landscapes, by Molina Speaks

In collaboration with Warm Cookies of the Revolution, I have completed and printed a new chapbook of poetry dedicated to the city of Denver.  This is a limited edition chapbook.  There are now 300 copies in print.  Following is the Forward, or as I called it here, For Word.

***

This collection of poetry is for and about the people of Denver.  As Live Poetic Scribe of Warm Cookies of the Revolution’s Stompin’ Ground Games, October 2015 – August 2016, I have been walking the city’s streets, visiting her corners and cafes, listening to her stories and her heartbeat, her conversations, her sounds, her poetry, her secrets, her trees and weeds, and the jackhammers and bulldozers that are redefining our experience within Denver.  It has been my job to transform observations and realizations into poetry and prose.  In addition to readings and performances in the neighborhoods reflected, these writings are compiled here as a time capsule to the city.

I did not set out with an agenda or a particular story to tell.  Yet as I began the process of choosing and editing material for this chapbook, the theme of swift, defining and dramatic change was evident.  The cultural, political and economic changes within this city within this moment are a microcosm of the shifts that are redefining social and structural landscapes across the planet.  In these mechanized times of comfort for the few and survival of the many, my goal here is to present threads of our humanity.

We should not fear change.  We are self-defeating when we loathe in our perceptions of powerlessness.  We also should not feel compelled to accept change that does not serve us, we the people, the community.  As poet—as architect of the palabra—I recognize our power to inspire ideas that provoke conversations that lead to intentions and actions that Manifest our outcomes.

We are in need of new realities for humanity.  We cannot remain within the old frameworks and old tropes.  We must speak, write, and create new stories for our seeds, our cultures, our townships, and our planet.

In palabra, in celebration of Denver’s history and future,

Molina Speaks

August 10th, 2016

A New Poet’s Row?

has word reached the heard, nouveau?
under the roar of the nu city bird, crane?
above the hum of the Jack hammers bang
next to Allen wrenches panhandling change
gentrifying Neal, Opalanga, and Lalo’s city?
did the hipsters or the yuppies or the smokers
brief you on the roaring development of
A New Poet’s Row?

word en la calle is
housing, public space, and keys to la ciudad
for the cultural architects of denver

ah shit they said westword and ums were gonna showcase the ppls shit now and that is wasn’t just about beer sales and that jupiter’s weed tax was gon trickle down to the masses so the dope folk actually living her present future past paving the stories into her streets and writing Beats into her cloud atlas could actually afford their fuckin rent. palabra.

Stompin Ground Games: Ruby Hill Park

Molina Speaks is the Live Scribe for Warm Cookies of the Revolution’s Stompin’ Ground Games, a monthly event series 2015-16 that highlights Denver’s historic neighborhoods. 

Ruby Hill Park was highlighted in October.  Molina is accompanied on these poems by Randy Runyan on trumpet.

“Dear Ruby Hill”

“South Fed”

Identity: An Open Letter to Bioneers (2016)

Following is a open letter written to the Bioneers community.  I read this open letter during my Live Poetic Scribe session on Sunday, October 25th to conclude conference proceedings at CU Boulder. 

This was initially inspired by a keynote lecture by Lisa Calderon of the Denver Community Reentry Project, who spoke on the prison industrial complex and over-incarceration of people of color and poor people.  She later sat on a panel in which she challenged us all to envision a world in which there are no prisons. 

[Bioneers is a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges. ]

***

Continue reading

A Rebirth for Aztlan

NACCS-Logo-web1I was booked to perform for Cultural Night at the conference for National Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS), held at the Hilton Hotel and Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 2014.   I wrote this with two literary perspectives in mind: 1) documentary prose based on my participation in the conference; 2) a poetic call to action inspired by historical Chicano/Chicano poetry.  I am a Chicano artist and a teacher of Chicano Studies.  I am also outside the canon and institutions of Chicana/Chicano Studies and Ethnic Studies.  I almost always find myself at the intersections of identity and experience, refusing to conform to any particular scene or way of being.   This constant Insider/Outsider quality to all aspects of my identity complicates and enriches all that I do.  It makes me feel fractured, and it makes me feel whole. 

I completed this poem at 6AM the final morning of the conference.  I printed 125 copies at the UPS store around the corner of the hotel.  I passed copies out at random to the conference attendees (i.e. NACCSistas), before eating lunch at Red Iguana Mexican restaurant and boarding a plane back home to Denver, Colorado. 

Some scholars see Chicana and Chicano Studies as a dying academic field, being replaced by the broader and more politically correct “Latino Studies” or Latin-American Studies.  The theme of the 2014 national conference was: Fragmented Landscapes in Chicana and Chicano Studies: Deliberation, Innovation or Extinction?

 

A Rebirth for Aztlán
By Molina Speaks

I do not speak fluent Spanish, but

I had a dream I rode a burro under el Quinto Sol
all the way to la conferencia nacional
de Chicana y Chicano Studies

It was in el barrio under spring sun
in a struggling school
that sings jaded songs of blue hummingbirds
odes to the days
that once claimed Aztlan

All the fancy raza
in their fancy clothes
with their fancy degrees, J.D.s and Ph.D.s
me incluyo
gathered to breathe new life
into a decaying field of dinosaur bones

Black ink from far reaching hyphens and extravagant palabras
like “Institutionalization”
like the students of Sal Castro
walked off their white pages
out into the gray streets
as post-institutional post-sovereign post-conscious post-neocolonial
globalized fragmented representational transformational intersectional
Identity
crawled off the computer screen and out the banquet facilities
Live
into the community
of chavalitos, abuelitas, activistas, artistas, so on and so forth

The transnational corporate hotel chain had lost the year’s bid
and each NACCSista shared a dinner with a host familia
interested in reconnecting with their own
Chicano past, present and future

NACCS fees and moneys did not line the account books
of colonial hotel tycoons
Those tens of thousands of dollars                         
diverted
to la host escuela
to fund the reinstitution of arts and music for the youth

The barrio café that went green
to the mystification of gente at large
catered world class lunches and dinners with local produce
and the scholars drank organic fair trade Mexican coffee
roasted and brewed locally
catered also by the independistas of local commerce

There was more dialogue with strangers from strange schools
I witnessed extraordinary focus, inquiry and outcome driven activities
Sessions sat in circles not rows, less tribalism and invisible phones

Praxis through process-driven learning supplemented Power Point
as community graf writers and muralists collaborated with NACCSistas
to tell a new story
on an old wall
and NACCSistas created a hall                                  
of poetry
alive and evolving day one to day four

Youth scholars from all over la host ciudad came to “Cultural Night”
y los Chicanos Picassos del barrio were commissioned
to create live art throughout time and space
and there was no talk                                                   
of “Post-Chicano Art”

The city’s celebrated poetas were even bussed in on public transit
to pop bottle caps off cervezas
pull corks off botellas de vino
and mix drinks right there in the school commons
(porque why not, they gained propinas?)
Los profesionales did not miss their coveted happy hour
after long and grueling discussions of White Privilege
and everybody was happy
In a display of cross-cultural Intersectionality
the poets even read bilingual haiku
and with each pour of spirits
bled their souls from mouths to ears to glass
I must say the coin margaritas were of fine character
and the fiesta carried the roar of calaveras
dancing through the night

At the conclusion of la conferencia the village curandera
walked out into el parque with her sage y copal
to bless all the conference quetzalcoatls
for their long journeys “home”
The plenaries on spirituality and indigeneity came alive
as spirals of ancient smoke kissed La Virgin sky

Rudolfos Anaya y Acuna y Corky y Cesar nodded in approval
Huitzilopochli tipped his hat
Tezcatlipoca offered his toothy grin
and shook hands with Milagro and El Muerte
Tonanzin y Frida shared a sensual embrace
(Ana Castillo glanced sideways with a smirk and slight hint of jealousy)
Anzaldúa penned a poema to mark the occasion
Roberto y Patricia joined hands once more
raising them high up to the heavens
towards the great salt lake and the seven caves
and the ancient Chicano clap commenced

The spirits were quite pleased                
and I, like you, like them
disappeared into the sunset on mi burro
all the pinche wey                                       
back home
in and out of days
stopping for water                                      
only once

Perhaps it was only a dream
like it was 1968
but it was more like 2015
Beyond Fragmentation
Sneering aggressively                                
at the prospect of Extinction
A Rebirth for Aztlán.

Open Letter: Homeless in Denver

January 7, 2014-

Dear Mayor Hancock,

I write to you to deliver an Open Letter.  I write out of respect for myself, my son, you as a man, and the many faces of our community of Denver.  I understand the economic pressures you face that challenge your role as Public Servant.  You approached me in Washington Park in the summer of 2011 and you asked for my vote.   I voted for you.  If you are who I think you are, I imagine that you will appreciate my letter, and any challenge it provokes from my fellow citizens.  I understand that a person in power can make brave moves only when the community at large is willing to match his or her will.  I wonder if my fellow citizens feel the way I do?

If you are not who I voted for, then all the more reason to write.

I wish for us all a better year in 2014.

Most Sincerely,

Molina Speaks

Concerning the Case of the Disappearance of the Homeless; An Open Letter to the Mayor of Denver, No Translation, No Comment (EP)

Produced by DJ Icewater.  Beat by Boonie Mayfield.

Molina Speaks - No Translation, No Comment

Art by Karma Leigh

Without Extreme Faith

 

Without Extreme Faith
by Molina Speaks

     Inspired by the words of Junot Diaz
     Americas Latino Festival, Denver 2013
 

“This is no keynote, just an artist”
taking shots—
shots at those calling 
shots 
fired
shots 
at the stories
we all tell
to deniers
within. 

There is a fire burning in the ghettos of time
nobody sees their faces anymore—
the poor
disappeared from Public Space
space disappeared
from public life
there is no public 
in the network republic 
of nanosecond time.  

Coming of age in the 80s
brought up on punk and hip-hop
they thought 
the 90s would be like the 60s
then
the zero zero decade was to be the 70s
so is this the 80s again
obama, reagan? 

Trillions of dollars spent
on de-motivation 
minds bent only to the market
youth speak fluent dystopia 
without Rage
one cannot
be an artist 
without extreme faith. 

Education fails kids
as politicians fail civics fail cities
and passionate teachers
teach the physics of civics
to youth 
who intrinsically know
there is no longer such a thing.

“The world will have a hard conversation 
with you
whether you like it
or not,”
progressives rot
without alternative pathways:

“The white bankers know 
they need diversity training
while the cultural radicals
refuse to acknowledge
systems they recreated.”  

“The only way to survive”
is to gather resources
to care for our bodies
to speak our stories
to see marathons
not fuses 
and brave steps forward
in simple solutions:

“A ten year moratorium
on men’s leadership roles”
why not?  Because

a 3000 year old civilization
could travel forward
to see us doing 
what they were doing
what we are doing—
a calendar society
owning people
counting nature
resource by resource 
creating artifacts
of repetition 
repeating
precipice.

Another civilizational moment
is possible
beyond demonstrations
within imagination.

Disrupt the networks.
Break the class divisions.  Whenever possible
forgive yourself and have patience.

You cannot be an artist 
without extreme faith.

Real History of the Americas

Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO, October 14th, 2013: Real History 2013

Approximately 25 people – students, community members, artists, and Ft. Lewis college staff – sat down this morning to share breakfast and speak about the meaning of The Real History of the Americas, now in its sixth year in Durango Colorado.  This tradition began with a vision by Teahonna Colleen James and Amy Joy Iwasaki in 2008.  The words in this poem are statements I weaved together from this morning’s council.   This is an open letter to America.  

History After Columbus – An Open Letter to America

Issues confront, Buffalo Council
identity, more to America
than spoon-fed books.
Everybody needs to see
our nations, we come from
land.
Good mornings, and history
books written to lie.
Mini steps 
we take, not only indigenous-
poor, working class
suicide, 
drugs, 
alcoholism 
and domestic violence.
Terror becomes America.

Mini steps, working on my own
ignorance,
hope for losing battles,
jews and catholics throwing stones at each other,
at war with muslims, and those undefined and uncapitalized.
Addicted to conquest
we resist, through coordination
scheduling ritual
to replace cultural voids.

I stand for what I believe
and build tomorrow
with what I do not know, challenging grandparents
so often void of wisdom now
we seek balance.
Where are the voices of women?
Where are the voices, period?   
We want to come home.
We keep knowledge
growing,
having grown
without tribes, often
without celebration.
We make time
and observe meaning.

This is not about teaching to hate whites.
This is to heal black, all shades brown, white.
To see history for what it is-
Space
to learn and unlearn.
Responsibility
for lessons to seeds.
Grandmothers sending pilgrims in the mail, fall

in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,
making red land more red
with blood.

The real history is powerful-
part of us.
Hero worship for murderers,
a ceremony for power.
We speak our stories to the wind
to chisel mountains.
A new reality, which is an old reality,
(re)defining real people’s stories
valid, to exist
and function
whole.

Our history really happened
so we carry our names,
educated to agendas
we are global
again.
Clans.

This day means to be here.
Happy
to be alive.

SmallPoster