by Denise Chávez:
Raul Salinas, known as raulsalinas, that great human being, transformed by life and fire, has died. Raul was a featured poet at the Border Book Festival in 2000. It was a memorable performance as Raul danced, sang and gyrated through the power of his words his English, Spanish and Xicanindio.
His life was hard, yes, as he was incarcerated for many years in U.S. prisons, but those who knew and loved him saw his transformation into a light indescribable–beatific, really. We celebrate his great beauty and his gifts of spirit and words. We will display his portrait taken by Daniel Zolinsky starting this Saturday, February 16 at 7:00 p.m. at a reception at the Cultural Center de Mesilla for The Love of Arts Month (Las Cruces, New Mexico). The evening will feature the portraits of 14 Border Book Festival artists taken by Zolinsky.
In addition, we will offer a program of poetry by Multilingual poets of the Ages with readings in English, French, Spanish, Urdu and Bengali by featured readers: Dr. Richard Rundell, Dr. Jan Hampton, Jorge Robles, Denise Chavez, Sudeshna Sengupta and Ayesha Farfaraz. Musicians Bugs Salcido on guitar and Debarshi Roy on sitar will also join us.
Please join us as Raul has made his way to the Ancestors.
This message comes to us from our friends in San Antonio: “Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thought, fears and emotions, - time - all related…all made from one..all made in one” - John Coltrane Elder statesmen, Xicanindio leader, poet of the people, giver of hope to the oppressed and incarcerated, Raul Salinas passed away last night in Austin, Tejaztlan.
“Raul will be greatly missed. His work, poetry, and philosophy will live on in the good works of poets, artists, musicians and cultural centros throughout America. His spirit we lead us all and help us to survive and thrive in difficult times. His words/poems should serve as maps for us all in our quest to keep culture, heritage and tradition alive in our barrios, cul de sacs, suburbs, ranchos…wherever you/we live. Thank you, Raul. You have blessed us all.”
– Manuel Diosdado Castillo, Jr. San Anto Cultural Arts
A BIO OF RAUL SALINAS
Raúl Roy “Tapon” Salinas was born in San Antonio, Texas on March 17, 1934. He was raised in Austin, Texas from 1936 to 1956, when he moved to Los Angeles. In 1957 he was sentenced to prison in Soleded State Prison in California. Over the span of the next 15 years, Salinas spent 11 years behind the walls of state and federal penitentiaries. It was during his incarceration in some of the nation’s most brutal prison systems that Salinas’ social and political consciousness were intensified, and so it is with keen insight into the subhuman conditions of prisons and an inhuman world that the pinto aesthetics that inform his poetry were formulated.
His prison years were prolific ones, including creative, political, and legal writings, as well as an abundance of correspondence. In 1963, while in Huntsville, he began writing a jazz column entitled “The Quarter Note” which ran consistently for 1-1/2 years. In Leavenworth he played a key role in founding and producing two important prison journals, Aztlán de Leavenworth and New Era Prison Magazine, through which his poetry first circulated and gained recognition within and outside of the walls. As a spokesperson, ideologue, educator, and jailhouse lawyer of the Prisoner Rights Movement, Salinas also became an internationalist who saw the necessity of making alliances with others. This vision continues to inform his political and poetic practice. Initially published in the inaugural issue of Aztlán de Leavernworth, “Trip through a Mind Jail”
(1970) became the title piece for a book of poetry published by Editorial Pocho-Che in 1980.
With the assistance of several professors and students at the University of Washington, Seattle, Salinas gained early release from Marion Federal Penitentiary in 1972. As a student at the University of Washington, Salinas was involved with community empowerment projects and began making alliances with Native American groups in the Northwest, a relationship that was to intensify over the next 15 years. Although Salinas writes of his experiences as a participant in the Native American Movement, it is a dimension of his life that has received scant attention.
In the 22 years since his release from Marion, Salinas’ involvement with various political movements has earned him an international reputation as an eloquent spokesperson for justice. Along the way he has continued to refine and produce his unique blend of poetry and politics.
Salinas’ literary reputation in Austin earned him recognition as the poet laureate of Austin’s East Side and the title of “maestro” from emerging poets who seek his advice and a mentor. While his literary work is probably most widely known for his street aesthetics and sensibility, which document the interactions, hardships, and intra-and intercultural strife of barrio life and prison in vernacular, bilingual language, few people have examined the influence of Jazz in his obra that make him part of the Beat Generation of poets, musicians, and songwriters. His poetry collections included dedications, references, and responses to Alan Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Charlie Parker, Herschel Evans, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, for example. Academics have primarily classified Salinas as an important formative poet of the Chicano Movement; yet, while he may have received initial wide-scale recognition during the era, it would be unfair to limit a reading of his style, content, and literary influence to the Movement.
There were many dimensions to Salinas’ literary and political life. Though, at times, some are perplexed at the multiple foci of Salinas’ life, the different strands of his life perhaps best exemplify what it means to be mestizo, in a society whose official national culture suppresses difference: his life’s work is testimony to the uneasy, sometimes violent, sometimes blessed synthesis of Indigenous, Mexican, African, and Euro-American cultures.
Salinas currently resides in Austin, Texas, were he is the proprietor of Resistencia Bookstore and Red Salmon Press, located in South Austin. Arte Público Press reissued Salinas’ classic poetry collection, “Un Trip through the Mind Jail y otras Excursiones” (1999) as part of its Pioneers of Modern U.S. Hispanic Literature Series. He is also the author of another collection of poetry, “East of the Freeway: Reflections de Mi Pueblo” (1994).
En paz descanse. May he rest in peace.