Posted by: benbacsierra | December 6, 2014

Looking for the Perfect Beat

“LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT BEAT”

For the reasonable person, “justice” is supposed to trigger comfort and complacency.

For the “unreasonable” person, “justice” seems like it should trigger frustration and anger.

Contrary to popular belief an argument’s logos or logic, many times, is not most important. Sometimes logos is lost through the smoke of arguments. The emotional impact of words, their pathos, however, is never lost because we can all relate to powerful human emotions.

Both reasonable and unreasonable justice mean revenge, punishment, stupidity, spite, and hate. The remedy for justice can never be a time machine to the past; that is impossible. Therefore, we talk about this word without even knowing what it means. We dedicate our lives to ignorance.

Justice is a joke.

If I am going to give my life for a word, the vagueness and absurdity of the word justice do not respect my life. So I search:

“Looking for the Perfect Beat” is the ultimate jam.

As a pre-teen kid, for hours, I would passionately practice looking for the perfect beat by break dancing, sweat raining down on the cut cardboard or linoleum pieces that we dragged out to the concrete street. We would catch the San Fran MUNI bus down to Fisherman’s Wharf and dance for pocket change and admiration. Through looking for the perfect beat, we found it—even though nothing ever was or ever would be perfect.

And that is what I am doing today, looking for the perfect beat in an imperfect world. The goal can be reached in the process. It is not found later; it is now.

Right now, we, by looking for the perfect beat are already in the best place, so I’m not going to address the past or the future, but I desire to appreciate the now of simply searching for the perfect beat, and that perfect beat is not necessarily the truth or some abstract fuzzy thing called justice: the perfect beat is what we have right now, and that, at its best, is

Amor.

If I am going to dedicate my present, the only thing I know for certain in this universe, to something then I am going to dedicate my now to the feeling, not the knowledge, not the understanding of it, but just the feeling of amor. No one needs to explain love to me. No one needs to explain amor to you, either.

Do not be fooled by lies and bitterness. Those things waste your precious time, and what you have right now is now. Looking for the perfect beat is the wisdom of never finding it.

Que Viva Alex Nieto.

Posted by: benbacsierra | September 20, 2014

Law School Education

An excerpt from my new book Renaissance Homeboy:

When I began law school in Fall 2001, I felt my job was not to be critical but first to be secretly submissive. Many years earlier in Marine Corps boot camp, a drill instructor had barked in my face:

“Scumbag, do you want to be private or a Sergeant?” He thought it was a simple rhetorical question.

“Sir, this recruit wants to be a private.” I looked forward so as not to eyeball him.

“You must be the stupidest rock I’ve ever seen in my life!” He jumped about two feet in the air. “You want to burn shit and get fucked?! Who doesn’t want power?”

The truth was that at the time he asked me I did not have the confidence or schema for being a sergeant, and though I have relayed how I acted boldly in some undergraduate and graduate classes, sometimes it was just a front to scare people away from me. In law school, in competition with people who were excellent thinkers, I felt that the brash strategy would not initially work, especially when I was so out of my league with the sly language and style of power. At Hastings Law School, everyone was brilliant because they believed they were.

I did not believe in the law. I did not understand it nor care to understand it because I was so very mistrustful of it. In the law there were tricks purposely meant to confuse lower economic class people and keep them ignorant and, more insidiously, scared and hopeless. Simply to have a single legal form submitted to the court could cost you thousands of dollars in attorney fees. You were not good, smart, or wealthy enough even to fill out the blank space designated for your own name, so you were supposed to hire a lawyer to do it. In fact filling out the welfare application form, something I had done for my mother since I was seven years old, was easier; I dealt with someone, a welfare worker, who was kind of like me. To speak to a suspicious lawyer or judge was to confess my utter stupidity and feel ashamed and angry. Varrio gente took that anger out not on the law, for they knew how futile that fight was, but they took it out on themselves and other innocent destitute victims until they were nothing but dry bones. The law, you always knew, was an unrepentant killer.

I did not really desire to be that type of killer, but for me there was no other choice. Plunged into perplexity, I had to brave wicked justice in order to learn privileged secrets. Later, during my second year at Hastings, did I learn through the landmark affirmative action case, Grutter v. Bollinger, that most House of Representatives members and U.S. Senators and many governors and presidents all have or had law degrees, especially from top tier prestigious universities. There was certainly a secret training in law school and a clandestine powerful language being learned, one that not even professional academics could combat. The new clergy, lawyers were the most powerful people on Earth.

Lawyers’ ideas actually action, move things, force someone to do something or shackle that someone in chains. There is no theory. There is simply right and wrong, and lawyers are the ones deciding what that means. No matter whether the client can understand the legal brief or justice’s opinion, one client is rewarded money while another loses his house; one client breathes life while another’s heart is forced to stop. Consider this lawyer invented (and now culturally entrenched) unprecedented American legal phenomenon: Time is punishment; all time can be taken from precious, healthy life for the furtherance of mass incarceration laws. These types of legal and judicial ideas in action draw the clear line of what is good and bad, even though most of the public do not even know how we get to good and bad. Most of the public simply accept it as the way it is supposed to be.

Ben with HOMEY SF at UC Hastings’ Day at Law School, 2013
HOMEY at Hastings

The video attached below was one of the best news interviews of the Alex Nieto Rises! March because Old School, real veterano Mission hombre “Uncle” Ray Balberan saw that we were getting swamped by the media, yet he had the instinct and love to know that community should stand together. He shouted for us to support each other, so in this video you actually see the Justice y Amor for Alex Nieto Committee and others standing shoulder to shoulder in the film. Even though the TV station eventually edited for sound bites only, Uncle Ray’s filming is pure history. (I must also thank Maria Villalta for jamming one of my favorite lowrider soul oldies, Mary Wells’ “The One Who Really Loves You.”)

Many of you have embraced me and commended me for my leadership (and loco) actions, but I share with you that I am somewhat selfish. I loved Alex Nieto. I told him many times that I loved him. Like unashamed real men, we commanded those words. We would talk on the phone or depart from each other’s presence, and I would declare these words to him: “I love you, Bro.” If I said it to him, to anyone, what does that mean? I must be true to my word and prove love, and that is my selfish reason, ultimately, for everything that I do: Amor.

I loved Alex because he and I would strategize all the time, and through those discussions, we developed curriculum and ideas to empower our community in unique ways. We both treasured gutter roots, but we also promoted evolutionary education. In this video, I can speak the way I do not only because of my street or Marine Corps history but also because I have read hundreds of books, written thousands of pages, and spoken to audiences for twenty years. I was once a shy boy, a cry baby, a street runt. I have tasted the happiness of sweet watermelon on a sunny day and the sadness of mama stuffing scorching peppers down my cursing throat. I combine it all for something new.

Alex Nieto would want for this movement to promote education and to inspire young people, especially young people of color. Homeboys and homegirls need strict yet loving leadership and inspiration. We need renaissance homeboys and homegirls to dedicate their lives to intense exploration, physical fitness, and rigorous education. We should check each other often: “What book you reading, homes?” or “How many push-ups did you hit?” I thank all of you who contributed to our unprecedented Alex Nieto Rises! March, but I am especially proud of the young homies who took the mike as we marched and led us with their chants.

I do not know what justice is more than that the future generation is justice.

It is my pleasure and my life to serve you.

Posted by: benbacsierra | July 17, 2014

An Excerpt from my New Book, Renaissance Homeboy

Education in the educational institution was not my priority. I wanted to be someone, and to be someone I had to belong to a gang, but I was too fearful to make that ultimate move. I was doing an excellent job of keeping under the radar. Besides my brother, no one was bullying me. I was intelligent enough to know how not to create too much attention, but during lunch when I saw the separate sets of solid homeboys on the Luther Burbank school courtyard, what I saw was coolness and power, and I sensed that it was more than just a little muscle. The young middle school homies owned a lifetime of status. I understood this even back then: they would never change. The other school kids were striving to find themselves, but the young cholos had something embedded in them that I knew was permanent. I wanted that confidence, that belief that my life was certain.

My brother saw my confusion, but he was also attempting to uncover his own eternal identity. With my father alive, we had been good, scared children, but now we were becoming very separate. I was afraid of who my brother was becoming. While I had always admired and respected him, I had not feared him. Now he was choosing to purposely be the worst, the most traditional type of cholo. My brother Jeff ignored varrio evolution. Even though other homies his age were already break-dancing to Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, he would jam to Santana, El Chicano, and Malo. He was opting for the lowrider cholo style, the pinto penitentiary tradition. For me, that world was too foreign and frightening, representing something beyond even the streets. I knew an underworld existed and the penitentiary cholos were it. But that did not concern me; I cared only about immediate playground politics. My brother, however, was future minded, planning for our destiny.

Part of that purpose required foolish fun. During my childhood, one of the funniest episodes I remember is my brother with giant garden shears ensnaring drunken and high homeboys to sit in a cold steel folding chair and then clipping off their hair as if it were blooming flowers. Afterwards, before homies stopped crying or laughing, he would straight-razor their remaining stubble and create bowling ball locos. Many times, giggling, I witnessed this event that would later invite nostalgia, especially from homies who had been proud victims of my brother’s cholo-ness.

One day in late Fall 1984, when I was still twelve, it was finally my turn.

“Bust out the steel chair,” my brother commanded.

Tired of seeing my confusion, he decided my destiny for me. I believe I resisted but do not think he tried too hard to convince or force me. I would like to believe I fought back with a smile, knowing the entire time that being balded was going to lead me to my ultimate goal (Since that day thirty years ago, only once in my life have I ever regrown my hair to a somewhat long length: before beginning law school, I grew my Mayan-Indian porcupine afro. Once I realized it was futile to ever try to fit in with hair at law school, I happily shaved it back to stubble.). Not even a teenager, I knew it was time for me to mature. Immediately after my brother spit-shined my head, he shot a photo. In it, I tilted my head down because I thought that having it down looked tough and cool like how All-American James Dean looked in the 1950’s film’s Rebel Without a Cause poster. Not until later did I learn that Latino homeboys always took their pictures with their heads tilted dramatically up, so much so that you could not even see their faces, only their chins. That afternoon my brother turned me into a cholo on the outside. After I showered, he dressed me in extra-large working class Ben Davis trousers and a Salvation Army second hand store Pendleton Board Shirt, the rugged multi-colored garment of old west America, the symbol of cowboys and farmers—but also the pride of surfers and locos.

“This is my brother, my carnal,” Jeff said proudly.

That afternoon my brother introduced me to everyone, particularly older people who were beyond their teens. I realized he was not trying to be part of his own age bracket. He acted boldly, with a respect and desire to be wise. At African-American homeboy Shadow’s house, my brother introduced me to sexy, slinky “Anita.” Fifteen at the time, Jeff cornered Anita in the hallway; he was having an affair with her, a woman of thirty. After sharing a quart of Schiltz Malt Liquor, he and I toured the varrio, and he bought me my first ever Mission style super-burrito. Even though we had lived in the Mission all our lives, I had never entered a taqueria. To indulge in something as rich and greasy as a super-burrito would have been to commit a sin. The burrito taste matched the spices of the streets, as my brother and I claimed them together, side by side. As a new cholo I was seeing the opportunity of the streets with fresh eyes. By the time evening sprung, we wandered to La Raza Park. Older mustached and goateed homeboy veteranos stopped by to slap my hand and pass me beers.

“Orale, lil homey,” the tattooed pintos said quickly but respectfully.

Silently I tipped my head up to them because I did not have even the homeboy accent to answer. It all seemed crazy, was crazy, and I loved it, even as the mosquitoes took this as a chance to brand dozens of painful bumps upon my freshly clean-shaven head. This event was the initiation of what I consider my authentic street and middle-school education.

My brother had wanted the best for me. The cholo style was a way I could feel proud and not afraid. For me that was the most important confidence. If I would not have gotten involved in the gang lifestyle, I would have been scared into becoming normal, which would have perhaps been a worse curse because it probably would have led to eventual mediocrity. No school teacher or hero police officer was going to save me. The gang persona rescued my dignity.

El Pelon

Posted by: benbacsierra | October 10, 2013

Authentic Educational Empowerment

No capital or curriculum can solve all our educational problems. We must individually and collectively make a lifestyle change. Introducing genius to each other is a start; sharing our innovative genius with each other is a beginning. Forget a classroom as the root of education; spirit is always the root, whether you believe in spirit or not. Call spirit something else if you really want to, even call it nothing: you will not insult it because both spirit and you know that even nothing, the great emptiness, is something or eventually becomes something, even if it is simply death.

But we have this life, and we live. We live! Our lives cannot be meant to be binding to a piece of paper that is a degree, so that if you have that paper it is no longer your duty to think, or if you do not have that paper, you believe you have never had the duty to think. That piece of paper is dead: paper is dead. There is no longer a need for paper and pen. People text most of the time instead of writing things down. Pen and paper—I do not predict we en masse will ever revisit those things again. Time passes. We are all now geniuses. That is the truth of this moment. Today in the year 2013 we, average gente, know more than any and every single human being knew in the year 1913, only one hundred short years ago, which is not even the blink of an eye in the dimension of the totality of time. We now know more than every single past human being—from the coffee picker to Albert Einstein. Knowledge is beyond the speed of light.

Albert Einstein did not know we would fly to the moon or that Mickey Mouse would rule the world. At the touch of our fingers, literally inside of our pockets, we have answers that no human being had in 1913 or even in 1993, only twenty years ago. The information is free to you through your I-Phone or Google glasses. We are literally geniuses if we can now access so much information so rapidly, so painlessly to satisfy most of our needs, either abstract or concrete needs. I know and can know so much right now at this precise moment that it is like I am a walking library. Therefore, now we must admit that knowledge is not enough, and this should be proof that pure information alone is not enough for us to be truly educated. Just because we know things or can know things, this is not enough of a motivation for us to search for education. We must want to search for enlightenment, or else people will search for stupidity, and that is what we love to do to delude ourselves from truly thinking. The mass media thrives on peoples’ blunt stupidity.

Purpose, purpose, even if it is illusory, it is what we desire, and the first purpose that we have is life. Right now you are breathing, and if you are reading these words you have some type of purpose, whether it is to get through this page or to eat or to plan; you have purpose. Animals do not ask about purpose; they don’t care about that. But we question this existence, and we will never find the answer, no matter how educated we get; there are simply too many stories. Inside of ourselves, we want to invent our own story before we expire. The problem with education today is that most education does not help us to invent who we are and who we want to be. The best type of education is one that allows us to invent ourselves: this is the best we can do. These are the most motivating and inspirational truths I can imagine: If we develop a lifestyle of learning, conversing, suffering, playing, and living, then we can change education from something that is stagnant to something that is honest. Honest education would admit that it may not lead you to a “happier normal” life but may actually bless you a more intense suffering, yet I would argue even if that had to be the case, you will have a more feeling, more interesting, more alive life. Our students no longer accept the lie that education will solve all their problems. My favorite ridiculous reason for education: We will all get happy jobs!

I don’t know what your purpose is for you, but I know what I want. For me the goal must be a giant pie in the face and smashed banana in the hair party; that must always be the goal, to laugh at our absurdity, to happily share our preposterousness with each other. In the recognition of the ridiculous there is living genius. With that spirit as a base, we can accomplish anything and have a good time while we are doing it. If you don’t want this as a goal, then you can promote educational capitalism, like test taking skills, but ultimately I believe even our students know that leaves a person with the delusion of emptiness. Like all of us, I have shot for emptiness, and it also keeps finding me, but let’s not be fooled—even in the process of venturing into the abyss, there can be excitement and an addiction, a healthy addiction that keeps me learning and loving education.

We are in a miraculous crisis. As Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman stated, “Only a crisis, actual or perceived, produces real change.” Should I complain about how much education, even public education costs nowadays? How many today in the next ten years will even be able to afford an institutional higher education? Should I chat about what students are actually learning in the classroom, even with well-thought-out Student Learning Outcomes? Perhaps I should rant about teachers’ unions or corporate conglomeration? How can we all be committed to such mass educational schemes that run themselves around in circles? I know nothing about myself; how can I know anything about those things? What can one man do?

My life for a righteous cause. I do not write as an administrator or as the best professor, but I write with an energy and purpose to transform. If you read this, I am in your mind. We are in each other’s minds. I am not humble about it; I may actually be ashamed of it, yet I continue because this is what I believe inside of my heart that can no longer hold the dam:

There is no truth except imagination.

Once upon a time, the truth was the Earth was flat. That was the truth for more than one thousand years and to disagree with that truth was to be tortured for your imagination. Once upon a time, the truth was that I was supposed to be a dishwashing convict criminal and to disagree with that truth was to fight against the universe.

I chose and continue to choose to fight the universe with my most powerful weapon, my imagination. But how, how can we possibly fight against the universe with only imagination? How can we be good, loyal people by depending on unreliable imagination?
Do not betray your highest truth, your imagination. Imagination believes in the impossible. Imagination loves that which is not logical. Imagination, and subsequently life, is not about only efficiency (which is important and beautiful) but also about the invisible intuition that does not have any quantifiable value.

Invent your destiny.

Know that your destiny is not simply bequeathed to you as if you are royalty; the days of corrupt kings and queens are over. Destiny requires imagination, and imagination requires work, faith, and most of all, luck. You have the consciousness to appreciate your luck and the power to place yourself in situations that trigger your imagination and uplift your life.

It is not intelligence that will fulfill your desires. No, to transform your life, you need your own genius that comes from within yourself. To invent your destiny, you must appreciate your base knowledge and synthesize it with other knowledge and predictions, and create something new, unimagined by others.

My subjective successes, from the strolling on the street to the desperation in foreign jungles to the smiles on stage, they were all inspired by the desires and sublime that are reproduced here in this overly simplistic but effective list:

• Fall in love with the moment.
• Esteem the original.
• Marvel the power of your own mind: spot issues, synthesize information, think critically, invent arguments, and imagine a new, better world, even if that world can only be imagined for you. It is your mind.
• Love to love, not only those who are close to you, but also the universe inside and around yourself.
• Exercise and enjoy your physical temple.
• Cherish both the positive and negative aspects of your own heart.
• Predict a loving future, even in the worst case scenario.
• Trust in your imagination.

To a certain extent, you will ultimately have to accept the limited and unlimited potential of your imagination, and have faith in something completely senseless or totally genius. It is you who must confront the imagination to yourself. You have this gift. Now it is you who must reward this gift to yourself.

Deserve your destiny by inventing it yourself.

For me, for all of us, a new beginning is always dawning if we simply wake up to it. I have had the luck and creativity to constantly perform fresh and crazy feats, beautiful stunts. One of my most pressing personal assignments is implementing a curriculum for struggling students and our entire community so that they can all embrace a lifestyle of learning. Education is not merely about K-12 or college classroom education. Education is about a lifestyle, from the crib to the death bed! Every single day of your life is an education. Still, many want to solve classroom problems as if that will confront the root of the problems. As a formal educator for the past fifteen years, I have not felt student progress en masse. Certainly, I have seen many students develop to become great leaders and successful people. If I listened to cliché advice that says I should be content as long as I help one person, then I should now rest and be satisfied with myself. I have already helped more than one. Perhaps because of my ego and/or my own understanding of how complex ideas are valued in the world, I know I am responsible for so much more.

Of course people are bright, but they usually scratch only the surface of things, and who can blame them when our society promotes so much forgery that is normalized everywhere. To be genius is to be strange, yet strangeness and boldness are exactly what our students need to evolve. I know there are many educational programs out there, such as college success classes, but those types of time management classes are not enough. Time, as a concrete and abstract concept, is much more complex than time management. Time, for example, is actually here right now, even though it is invisible. Time is in the future even when we will not be there, yet we do not pay time the respect it deserves because we have never contemplated its true tricks. How can we expect our students to respect education when we do not respect the obvious? An introductory course dedicated to the understanding of profound universal concepts can help our students become better university level thinkers, better universally human thinkers. Currently, I am implementing a curriculum in San Francisco’s Mission district that presents to HOMEYS the opportunity of embracing an intellectual identity and lifestyle. With this type of identity, melded with a spirit of purpose, they will become better writers and thinkers, true leaders of an authentic educational culture, regardless of the classroom, institution, or non-institution.

Below is a sample of the ten week program I have developed and am now employing in the HOMEY community. The young men and women are discussing genius concepts, and with that knowledge, they will desire to embrace higher abstract ideals. Normalizing an appreciation for genius is one goal. Having students interconnect genius with their own lives is the ultimate purpose.

DEVELOPING A LIFESTYLE OF LEARNING
BY BENJAMIN BAC SIERRA

This program is a ten-week multi-discipline curriculum designed to instill in students an intellectual, empowering, actioning identity so that they become successful leaders in their classrooms, careers, personal lives, families, and communities.
The ten-week program consists of ten lectures/discussions on the following topics:

1. Introduction to Intellectual History and Transformative Leadership
2. Motivation
3. Time: the concrete and abstract components
4. Philosophy
5. Literature/Mythology
6. Physical Fitness and Nutrition
7. Law
8. Technology
9. Entrepreneurship
10. Leadership

Students need this type of program so that they can gain an urgency and confidence for their academic studies and lives. The big challenge today is not that students cannot engage in intellectual activities; the problem is that they have lost faith in academics relating, being purposeful, to their real lives. They are alienated from their own minds. “Developing a Lifestyle of Learning” teaches them practicable life genius ideas in action so that students will truly reflect, desire to further develop their own ideas, and become active participants in transformative education both inside and outside of the classroom. With successful participants as leaders, they will offer social proof that intellectual discourse can be powerful and fulfilling, thus normalizing empowering dialogue and conversations in their communities.

Using a similar self-administered program, I have transformed myself from being a lice headed little jungle boy to being a clean shaven loco professor writer. With over forty years of life locura and fifteen years teaching experience, I have enlisted myself into the grassroots frontline of education, successfully training thousands of students to empower themselves. Dedicated to the soul of literature, I have tattooed thousands of painful and liberating pages (essays, poetry, fiction, short stories) and published a unique homeboy novel, Barrio Bushido. As a motivational speaker, I have presented extensively, in hoods like East Oakland, San Francisco’s Mission district, and East San Jose, yet have also been televised nationally. This bold “Developing a Lifestyle of Learning” curriculum has identified a key component necessary for student success. Through it, students can gain the will to learn. It opens up the concept of genius in their very own lives.

A program like this can help students with more substance than just raising their test scores; it can help with true education, which must be a lifestyle devoted to learning. The ten-week program helps students want to learn gigantic concepts and apply them to their lives. This, of course, will especially boost students’ writing ability because in their academic essays, the students will develop their ideas using profound points. Most professors, regardless of background, want students to engage with powerful ideas. Also, in most college majors and careers, it will be writing, not test scores, that will prove people’s competency. Students who successfully complete this course will be more readily transferable to universities, and they will think of ultra-education as the standard. When transferring to four year universities, they will think of education as something more than for simply obtaining a career.

I do not have the definitive answer. By writing these suggestions, I am not contradicting the introduction to this essay. This sample curriculum cannot substitute for our individual and collective desire to perpetually learn. I predict that unless parents, for example, lead the way for their children’s curiosity, little will actually change. No program may work. Nevertheless, I am not a nihilist. I have an idea, am actioning upon that idea, and believe it will move something in the world. It is really up to you to dialogue further with others about education and life. It will be you who transforms the ideas here into something I have never imagined. Hasn’t the invisible always been here between us?

Imperfect as I am, I am still your “minority” Latino success story. I grew up below the poverty line, have worked hard and intelligently, and, most importantly, have been extremely lucky! There is no way to quantify the unexplainable luck I have converted into who I am now. A real American, I suffered stupidly on American streets yet also served in combat in the toughest military unit, the United States Marine Corps. I have diverse institutional education: a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, a teaching credential program certificate and M.A. from San Francisco State University, and a Juris Doctor degree from U.C. Hastings, College of the Law. Read more about me and you will see how I have I battled through education and how I attempt to try truth.

This sample curriculum is a representation of an effort. My words and ideas are a combined scientific and humanist approach meant to empower our students and community. The curriculum does not pretend to be a perfect pedagogy; it is meant to evolve. Whatever the ultimate evolution, it must promote a lifestyle evolution and not simply a classroom or educational band-aid. In this era, especially with the economic recession and an unprecedented technological boom, students yearn for a new type of curriculum, something outside of institutional bureaucracy. Many students are becoming convinced that education may not be practically obtainable for them because of rising tuition costs and because they may not get jobs after graduation. Students who discover this sample program can hopefully enter education more for the beauty and challenge of the idea and the excitement of trying out those ideas in their own lives.

Times have changed, and times are changing, and times will continue to change at a breathtaking pace. As community members, as learners, as teachers, as human beings, we must look at education in a new light instead of using old lenses that were meant to measure how well our students could function as factory workers. I am one man, but I am also every man. Initially, I was not a scholarship boy. My story is not unusual. My story is our collective story. Our collective story must include others’ stories and others’ genius as well, especially genius we cannot afford to dismiss.

We do not know what the exact future holds, but we can predict that technology will complicate our understanding of education. In the near future, we may very well have chips that can be downloaded into our brains that contain all the information that is on the internet. With information as obsolete, how will we test students? What kind of education will matter when all of us may know calculus just by thinking about it? Even with all this great knowledge, will we care about asking profound questions, or will we use this technology to feed our silliness by scrolling through gossip, propaganda, or the daily news? With that technological revolutionary reality upcoming, as an English instructor, should I also be teaching text messaging and Facebook writing and blogging? We must train ourselves to create intelligent connections for the beauty and glory of learning—connections that the internet has not even downloaded because that information does not yet exist. It is up to those of us who are conscious to create new knowledge. Imagination will be the test, even more so in and for the future.

We must take risks, regardless of the research or lack of research. It is about the invention, and the invention does not care about research; it just actions. At this point in our history, there is no way we can lose. In fact by investing more money in education and trying more of the same, we still, nevertheless continue to lose! General economic statistics show that more money in education does not equal better education. A simple point: per year California spends $10,000 per K-12 student, yet most of our minority public high school students eventually drop out and most who do actually graduate cannot even write university level essays or perform university level mathematics. Privatization is also not the answer because corporations do not offer anything radically different to our students for the $40,000 a year university tuition the corporations charge them. It is not money that we really need; it is a lifestyle change that we need that will not be found in the classroom but that can be fostered in the classroom. The student must will it upon herself to desire learning, and the teacher must be a leader of honest education, of learning for the sake of learning.

We must all become Renaissance Homeboys and Homegirls. Renaissance because we must embrace a multitude of ideas and combine them together with our own concepts to invent new dreams that make our lives more livable, honest, and fulfilling. We must become homeboys and homegirls because we must empathize with those common kids on the lowest strata of society. Without that embracing of the homeboy/homegirl identity, we will be disconnected from them, thereby losing valuable genius ideas that can benefit us all. Without embracing the homeboy/homegirl, we will not believe that education actually works, that they can actually be educated, and that is a disservice to our own imagination. I am a testament to the truth that a homeboy can accomplish unprecedented achievements, all while still being a homeboy but also being more than a homeboy.

A renaissance in action: My name is Benjamin Bac Sierra. The Benjamin represents an Old Testament theology about a favored son and brother, but Benjamin is also a renaissance founder of this great nation. Bac means bone in the Mayan language. Sierra means mountain in Spanish. In English, here now, I am literally Benjamin Bone Mountain, a homeboy representing the spirit of this new country and of the mountain of my ancestors’ bones. Spawned from the streets and your classrooms, I am your Renaissance Homeboy, always for you, always for amor.

Balmy Monte Carlo Poetry

Posted by: benbacsierra | September 13, 2013

Renaissance Homeboy

Over a year-long sabbatical, I was able to complete my new book, Renaissance Homeboy, an unprecedented exploration into the education of a former street kid and Marine turned professor and philosopher. Click on the link to enjoy the preface and first chapter :)

http://todobododown.wordpress.com/nonfiction-writing/

Renaissance Homeboy

The Most Important Issue of Our Time: Save City College of San Francisco!

Hola Friends, My name is Benjamin Bac Sierra, and it is my pleasure to greet you. I am your homeboy professor from City College of San Francisco, the most important college on planet Earth. I say this with a straight face; no offence to any other community college, but CCSF is the most important community college in the United States and thus the world. For the past dozen years it has been my blessing to serve and guide young minds, but it has really been I who have been empowered most, for it is through the students’ intellect and desires that I have been pushed to be all of who I am.

Allow me to introduce myself, the real me who is more than just an English instructor. I was born and raised in San Francisco’s Mission and Cortland areas, two districts that have been heavily gentrified since I grew up there. I attended many schools in San Francisco but basically stopped my formal education by the seventh grade. When I was seventeen, knowing that I was headed for prison or death, I made a decision to leave the varrio and join the United States Marine Corps. Because I was a minor, my mother had to sign the papers to get me in. After serving my four years as an infantryman machine-gunner who participated in front line combat during the Persian Gulf War, I began my college studies at City College of San Francisco.

Without City and all their excellent instruction and freedom, I would not be speaking to you today. With open arms, City embraced me and everyone else I knew. City always believed in me and propelled me forward. With their faith, I marched on to complete a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature at U.C. Berkeley, a teaching credential and Master’s at San Francisco State University, and a Juris Doctor degree at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Once I graduated from law school, City College offered me full-time employment, and I have since had the time of my life leading and learning from our students.

I am not a politician nor am I indebted to anyone else for my words. I hold no office that impedes my speech. I have been trained by what many consider the best institutions in the universe, and I am specifically referring to City College of San Francisco!

On July 3, 2013, under cover of darkness, on the emptiest day of the entire year, during the summer when no faculty or students are really around, the Accrediting Commission for Junior Colleges stripped internationally acclaimed City College of its accreditation. For City College this is a death sentence. For over a year there have been forces planning to shut down City College’s doors. In 2012 the Accrediting Commission penalized City with its ultimate sanction, the threat of shut down. City College rose to its feet and did more than what was expected of them. They raised student achievements and also filled their coffers with multi-millions of dollars that 73 percent of San Franciscans voted for to gift to the college. All faculty and personnel accepted massive pay cuts, yet no matter what City College did, using negotiation, logic, or prayers, it was not good enough. City College has been blatantly swindled to failure, which is a bold in your face challenge to all of us, including voters in a democracy, that no matter what we do, we will be crushed, and who are we?

I am City College of San Francisco. We are City College of San Francisco. Brown, Black, Yellow, Red, and White. Approximately seventy five percent of students at City College of San Francisco are people of color. The Mission, the Fillmore, Bernal Heights have been gentrified. Now there are forces planning to gentrify the educational sector and attempting to pacify us without us even giving them a fight. Chomping on big cigars in backrooms, they are laughing at all of us. We are a joke to them. So stupid, we do not even see they are about to decapitate us, for without education what options do we have?

Prison, the military, aimlessness, or death. Understand this, although Bay Area Skyline, Chabot, or San Mateo colleges are also institutions of higher learning, none of them can compare to the role of a City College in internationally powerful San Francisco, where there are tremendous resources, networks, and unique learning opportunities. Everyone wants to study and work in economic powerhouse San Francisco. Let us admit that this City College shutdown is a class challenge to us all, but especially to poor people of color.

No one is talking about this. There are great, dedicated people who have been working with all their hearts and minds on this accreditation problem, but they have not seemed to want to believe that we are under attack by a force that does not care about logic or goodness. It is my duty as a loco, as a homeboy, as a veteran, as a father, as an instructor and lover of learning that I proclaim these arguments and offer myself totally for this righteous cause, to speak the truth and stand up for City College of San Francisco.

What happens if we lose? Expect that City College will be the first in a domino effect for these private corporations to come in and destroy all of public education. Laney College will be next. Contra Costa College will follow. There will be no such thing as affordable education for the people. Poor students will all become massively indebted, they will not even attempt education and be sucked into despair, and they will consequently have their voices silenced. In classrooms, instructors will promote a private sector type of thinking that does not allow freedom of the mind. Books will be banned; thoughts will be suppressed. City College’s campuses will be auctioned off to the highest bidder. We built the Chinatown and Mission campuses for them! The new Wellness Center and Multi-Use Building will be sold at a discount of what it cost taxpayers to build them. These private corporations made a correct choice in choosing to destroy City College. They knew that City College was the most important community college in the United States of America, and they wanted to smash us in broad daylight as an example. They think they have succeeded.

What can we do? We can make some noise now. Join groups, write letters to your senators, call Mayor Lee and Governor Brown, share this video, make videos like the one I am making now and spread them everywhere on youtube, saturate Facebook all the time, march, join in on demonstrations, support all unions, and give it all you possibly can. This is the most important issue of our time, for it affects our educations, livelihoods, economic opportunities, and our children.

It is time right now at this exact moment for us all to wake up and see that only we can change the future.

Always Adelante and Always Amor.

Benjamin Bac Sierra

CON SAFOS

Posted by: benbacsierra | April 18, 2013

TODAY, WE ARE ALL WRITERS

TODAY, WE ARE ALL WRITERS

More than at any other time in the history of the world, we are writers. We write because we know: writing is power, it is beauty, it is life. Through writing we express our emotions and challenge what we do not even know exists within us. What an opportunity we have in this 21st century to share our closest ideals with ourselves and each other! Even if we are master speech makers, it is text that is always proof. In order to truly prove anything, our lovers require us to write love letters, our potential employers to type up resumes, our friends to phone-text ridiculousness. This art of writing has always been the proof that what we believe really matters to us and the world. Inherited from this belief that writing has some type of gospel magic, writing must be true, for it is written. For the reader, he or she must read and listen to a silent voice in his or her mind; this listening required for reading is perhaps the most invasive and intimate communication we will ever hear in our lives. We can listen beyond miles; we can listen even beyond time, through hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

Whether we like it or not, we are all writers, for today we are expected to be writers—writers in our professional, personal, and intrapersonal lives. What we do with our power is our own personal responsibility, but I believe that many people are unaware of the writing power they hold. A life-transformational moment: You are a writer. What will you do with your power? Will you pretend that it holds the same dynamic as your verbal voice? You must know that there is a difference.

Writing has not always been our privilege. In the not so distant past, only the wealthy had the power of the word. Now, however, for approximately ten years, en masse we have been fervently writing using our smart phones and other social media. Do not believe that because of texting or Facebooking we have somehow devolved our writing skills. Many of us happily and boldly write even though we may not know correct grammar. The writing revolution is here, and it is our duty to recognize the art that we all create in the sentences or fragments we share.

This new type of writing is not a hindrance or obstacle to academic or professional writing. On the contrary, this new type of writing is an opportunity for all of us to embrace a dramatic evolution in the history of writing. Let us, therefore, be conscious of the many types of writer we all are. No longer is writing for only the cultured class. Today the word belongs to everyone.

The next time you send out a text, an e-mail, or a blog, consider the voice and art you have created. Make it your best, and make it truly represent you. The writing of today no longer requires a teacher to correct it, unless you desire to make-believe that writing is only about academic type of writing. That is a farce. You must know you are a writer, so write with joy, confidence, and bravery.

Here I have assembled an incomplete list of writing contexts for you to consider in your everyday life. Know that the forms you use or ignore may help or hinder you from reaching your own potential as a writer, yet also know that you have the power within you to play with forms and create new styles of writing.

                                       Writing Contexts:

  • Journal/Diary/Intrapersonal
  • Social media
  • Life planning/list making
  • Intimate relationship
  • Academic essay
  • Professional
  • Complaints/grievances
  • Poetry
  • Blogging
  • Creative writing

This list is meant to show you your range and style; it is not an absolute list of the human complexity we use for writing. Nevertheless, it is my desire that we embrace our new identity of writer instead of ignoring the artist within us. To welcome and accept this new evolutionary persona can help you live a more exciting, investigative, and fulfilling life. Write with your heart, your humor, your intelligence, and your courage. Share your words so that we can all grow.

Posted by: benbacsierra | January 31, 2013

THERE IS NO TRUTH EXCEPT IMAGINATION

There is no capital, curriculum, counselor, plan, professor, or administrator who can solve all our educational problems. We must make a lifestyle change. Introducing genius to each other is a start; sharing innovative genius is a start. Forget a classroom as the root of education; spirit is always the root, whether you believe in it or not. Call spirit something else if you really want to, even call it nothing: you will not insult it because both spirit and you know that even nothing, the great emptiness, is something or eventually becomes something, even if it is simply death.

But we have this life, and we live. We live! Our lives cannot be meant to be binding to a piece of paper that is a degree, so that if you have that paper it is no longer your duty to think, or if you do not have that paper, you believe you have never had the duty to think. That piece of paper is dead: paper is dead. There is no longer a need for paper and pen. I have written this entire blog mostly on computer; some pages were written with a pad of paper and pen on BART, but that is a minority of the pages. Pen and paper—I do not predict we en masse will ever revisit those things again. Time passes. We are all now geniuses. That is the truth of this moment. Today in the year 2013 we, average gente, know more than any and every single human being knew in the year 1913, only one hundred short years ago, which is not even the blink of an eye in the dimension of the totality of time. We now know more than every single past human being—from the coffee picker to Albert Einstein.

Albert Einstein did not know we would fly to the moon or that Mickey Mouse would rule the world. At the touch of our fingers, literally inside of our pockets, we have answers that no human being had in 1913 or even in 1983. The information is free to you through your I-Phone or laptop. We are literally geniuses if we can now access so much information so rapidly, so painlessly to satisfy most of our needs, either abstractly or concretely. I know and can know so much right now at this precise moment that it is like I am a walking library. Therefore, now we must admit that knowledge is not enough, and this should be proof that pure information alone is not enough for us to be truly educated. Just because we know things or can know things, this is not enough of a motivation for us to search for education! We must want to search for enlightenment, or else people will search for stupidity, and that is what we love to do to delude ourselves from truly thinking.

Purpose, purpose, even if it is illusory, it is what we have, and the first purpose that we have is life. Right now you are breathing, and if you are reading these words you have some type of purpose, whether it is to get through this page or to eat or to plan; you have purpose. Animals do not ask about purpose; they don’t care about that. But we question this existence, and we will never find the answer, no matter how educated we get; there are simply too many stories, and inside of ourselves we want to invent our own story before we die. The problem with education today is that education does not help us to invent who we are and who we want to be. The best type of education is one that allows us to invent ourselves: this is the best we can do. These are the most motivating and inspirational truths I can imagine. If we develop a lifestyle of learning, conversing, suffering, playing, and living, then we can change education from something that is stagnant to something that is honest. Our students no longer accept that education will solve their problems. My favorite ridiculous reason for education: We will all get happy jobs!

I don’t know what your purpose is for you, but I know what I want. The goal must be a giant pie in the face and smashed banana party; that must always be the goal, to laugh at our absurdity, to happily share our preposterousness with each other. With that spirit as a base we can accomplish anything and have a good time while we are doing it. If you don’t want this as a goal, then you can promote educational capitalism, but ultimately I believe even our students know that leaves a person with the delusion of emptiness. Like all of us, I have shot for emptiness, and it also keeps finding me, but in the process of venturing into the abyss, there is excitement and an addiction, a healthy addiction that keeps me learning and loving education.

We are in a crisis. Should I talk about how much education, even public education costs nowadays? Should I talk about what students are actually learning in the classroom? Perhaps I should rant about teachers’ unions and corporate conglomeration? I know nothing about myself; how can I know anything about those things? What can one man do?

My life for a righteous cause and perhaps this is it. I do not write as an administrator or as the best teacher, but I write with an energy to transform, and if you read this I am in your mind. We are in each other’s mind. I am not humble about it; I may actually be ashamed of it, yet I continue because this is what I believe inside of my heart that can no longer hold the dam. 

There is no truth except imagination.

Posted by: benbacsierra | January 12, 2013

PERFECT LAUGHTER: INSPIRED BY CHARLES BUKOWSKI

Since a chiquito, I have attempted to understand my purpose in life. I hold such intense memories of meditating on top of Bernal Heights, above the San Fran city, how I worshipped the skyscrapers and nightmares, imagining my baby face as some sort of Scarface kingpin, pretending that the city would one day be mine. With a ludicrous laughter, I made that my little kid purpose, both laughing and crying when eventually I was kicked out of my own neighborhood, as most of us were due to prison, death, and the streets’ own demise—gentrification. As royalty we had claimed the streets as if we owned them, without appreciating how the homeboy streets, the actual tar and cement, could betray us; economics knows no friends. The years escaped me, and I made new goals, such as the Marines, such as education, such as family and children and writing it all down. Barrio Bushido. And I did it. I did what I wanted, what my brother wanted for me, and I paid for it, through blood and sweat and lots of beers downed. I tried to do something different, even though that meant, at times, my own sanity and shame, but I did it. No real regrets. I have been lucky. 

Now sometimes I believe myself some sort of sage, some sort of writer, and I fool myself pretty good, knowing I can do whatever I want because I believe in the power of crazy, la vida loca. But by writing this I do not mean to promote varrio craziness because that alone is ultimately destructive and defeating and pretty selfish, too. No, the craziness I have in mind is a more universal insanity, one that we all take part in that is called life. We all have the feeling, which is more powerful than knowledge, that this craziness does not make sense, yet we continue. Things may get better or emptier, but we move forward because of faith, which is invisible, which is some type of stupidity, which is what we like—to smile at our own stupidity. Our biggest laughs, however, do not emanate from witty American accolades or overly intellectual ideas that we finally grasp; our deepest hooting belly laughter booms from the craziness of the Three Stooges in our own life. We love pie in the face, food fight, smashed banana in the hair insanity, goofiness, stupidity, to take ourselves not so seriously—to remember, to agree that we have all been brainwashed in one way or another, some by Scarface, others by education or “normal” or a system—you choose. But in that acknowledgement of our own absurdity, we admit how none of this makes any sense, and that is ok. To laugh with smashed banana in your hair or pie in your face, that is perfect laughter, and that is my goal.

I come up with grand schemes, which I have written down and carry around in my hip pocket: the book I am now completing, the books I will write, the curriculums I will put into practice, the presentations and people I will inspire and offend. But sometimes I take myself too seriously, as if I am some sort of poisoned politician. I am not a politician nor am I an anarchist or nihilist either. I do have purpose, but it can’t be just about me or my decisions for a body of strangers who have their own dreams. This is my purpose: I want to do it all, all that I am supposedly incapable of doing, to do all the craziest, most impossible things I can imagine, the headaches and heartbreaks, the plannings and implementations; I want to continue to do it like no one else has done it because that is my duty to roots, roots that we all share, and once finished, once la locura is laid out, I want to have a gigantic Three Stooges food fight and beer party, so we can all together share the craziness that is this existence. After all the books I have read and pages written, this is as sincere and profound as I can be.

Joy does exist, but it requires a suffering. Therefore, I do not believe joy is a totally selfish motive. Genuinely I believe in a sharing; what good is the proof of my own will to power if it is only for myself? No, in order for it to be true power, it must be able to empower itself to others, or else I am only living in an illusion of myself. If I can entertain, empower, or inspire others through my words and energy, I am filled with joy. I do believe in a transfer of energy, but if it is less than my full force will to power, I am doing myself and others a disservice, a lie to myself and them. I desire that others apply my ideas, combined of course with their own ideas, and become even mightier than me; that is a true proof of power, that the student has learned to teach the teacher. That is not a betrayal but the way it should be. If I cannot risk being laughed at, I am just stroking my ego and attempting to be politically correct or normal, and then my entire writing is a farce, and I would not like to believe that true. I like to believe that my goal is truth, the ultimate will to power. Perfect laughter is perfect truth.

 

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