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In 2014, the City of San Antonio voted to rezone Mission Trails Mobile Home Community, removing it from the banks of the San Antonio River so that White-Conlee Builders could construct luxury apartments on that site. As a result, about 300 low-income residents, half of them children, were forced from their homes. Working at the time as an organizer around gentrification and land use politics, I became deeply involved in efforts to support resident organizing at Mission Trails. Later, after everyone had been displaced, I worked with Vecinos de Mission Trails to document the causes and consequences of displacement at Mission Trails, based on interviews with 51 families forced from their homes. That report, “Making Displacement Visible: A Case Study Analysis of the Mission Trail of Tears,” can be found here.
But because I am a creative writer as much as I am an activist or scholar, I also found myself writing poems as I wrote the report: they crept up alongside its numbers and analysis, walking in tandem but never quite converging with these more direct ways of knowing. They crawled up from beneath ground, emerging from fissures in the historical record where people could not be interviewed, either because they had died or couldn’t be located or were too traumatized to talk about what had happened. For awhile these poems–originally included in the report but ultimately excised, out of concern they would undermine the legitimacy of our data–posed an irreducible problem: what do you do with the art that oozes out of political struggle like tears? Where should it live, and how? How can it return to the ground of that struggle to feed and water it?
One obvious answer, if a first step only, is simply to make these poems public. To that end, I collaborated with Double Drop Press (a micro-press run by book artist Léo Lee) to produce I Call on the Earth, a limited-run chapbook of documentary poems which bear witness to the traumas of displacement—speaking elliptically what even the most careful collection and analysis of data cannot.
Though it’s my first, this little book has never had a proper release, interrupted first by the pandemic and then by the release of Luz at Midnight. In many ways, its production is still in slow progress as Léo and I figure out things like how to get an ISBN number and what we want to do with the book so that it gives back to the struggles that birthed it. We’ve talked about pop up readings at a mobile flipper house gallery that can be called upon to support various neighborhood struggles. We’ve talked about creating different versions of the book at different price points–a limited edition art book version for fundraising purposes; an inexpensive collection of broadsides that activists can post or (shhhhh) wheatpaste in strategic locations.
In any case–here is an oral sampling of some of these poems, which I read as part of a poetry panel at the 2018 National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies Tejas Foco: