Your humble servant, Ben Bac Sierra, reading new poems: “My Mother Used to Holler, ‘No Dejan Que te Lavan El Cerebero!’ (Don’t Let Them Wash Your Brain!)”

Voz Sin Tinta, Alley Cat Books, San Francisco Mission 24th Street, August 13, 2015

The media is owned by cartoon characters. Disney owns ABC, so that means Mickey Mouse is giving you your news.

“My Mother Used to Holler, ‘No Dejan Que te Lavan El Cerebero!’”

Learn your ABC of news

To surrender to what

Mickey Mouse wants

He’s not playful

He is a rat

Who gnaws and scratches at your soul

That tastes better than cheese and is less sticky than peanut butter

You are the one trapped

In his reports about

Black people as savages

Brown people as stupid and

Snow White as beautiful truth


Because it comes from within

From what is important

A discovery of depth

Without a voice

The only one brainwashing you

Should be you

“A Gift from God”

Aint no one just gonna give you love

It don’t work like that, baby

No one owes you a damn thing

So hike up that skirt

Build them biceps

Brush your teeth in a circular motion

Most importantly—write fucked-up poems

Cause you can lie about everything else

But poetry is truth.

You choose:

Pretend your shit don’t stink

Or embrace the insanity of existence

By choosing the stink

You love life and life loves you

Take it any way you can get it

“Freedom’s Just Another Word for Nothin Left to Lose”

There is purpose and pride

In me alone

But only for a moment

Laughing by myself too long

I lose my mind

Independence is a great high and illusion

We chase after ourselves as if we could catch

The dust from stars

Independence ultimately equals selfishness

Boring unfulfilling stupidity

Unless we share we cannot have even proof

Of us

We never know ourselves

Community: I need you in order for me to be me

You are my mirror

My liberation from myself

You save me from freedom

“It’s Only You Who Changes”

Wasted time is the worst

You clutch to hope

That will never come

Time does not stop or forgive

Or cry or care

For your petty possibilities

Its answer is always death

You keep on trying to figure it out

Without realizing that the racket blasting in your brain

Is time’s silent persecution

You are a victim

And there’s nothing you can do about it

Your time is gone

Like her ruby red lipstick washed away off your collar

You do not even deserve something to remember her by

The laundry detergent

Too powerful

Too clean

For your soiled plans and parties

Wasted time is

The only alternative

We live for our illusions

Falling down drunk

Flying free

Prudish purpose

The same shit

The same shit

Time is time

The best of times

The worst of times

Is the same shit

It’s only you who changes




More powerful

Than eternity

Subscribe to Barrio Bushido TV for more powerful poetry!

Posted by: benbacsierra | March 19, 2015

“Amor for Alex” Film Premiere and Lowrider Show

Amor for Alex Film Premiere

Amor is absurd. To promote it as the base for a movement is to embrace insanity. Love is too passionate and caliente—a burning trash can in the middle of the night.

Amor leads to ashes.

From ashes I came, to ashes I will return, so why fear or negate my own dust? I was born into San Fran streets where the superheroes were not Batman or Wolverine. The bad-asses were the lowriders, the cockroaches who cruised las calles proclaiming through their dance—in the face of so much despair and desperation–“We exist!” No doubt about their powers.

They convinced me of what I wanted, so before a book, or colorful medal, or a degree were my goals, my mission was a hood classic: a Regal, a 64, another Regal, a 66, and the Monte Carlo Knight. These were more than cars. They were magical spaceships that transported me to the sublime state that only cholos y cholas treasure. While everything else is all fucked up outside, inside your ranfla, you hold dignity, the souldies blasting—dragging you down into the blues but at the same time exorcising you from many difficult demons. Everyone else is walking or riding around pissed off or confused, but you in your vain ass ruby red gangster-mobile are authentic and clear—‘cause you are laughing and crying at the same time:

As I sit here thinking of you, and of the wonderful love we once knew even though you’ve gone away, my heart has gone with you!

And if you hit the switches just right, you can unlock the key to the universe, what every single brown bandido dreams—that lowriding is about more than just flexing your muscles and mad-dogging homeys on the block—you wish love, that loco y loca amor where you aint got shit but a couple of forties and each other rolling not knowing where you’re going—and that is all you’ve ever needed and wanted in this vida loca that you have tattooed green all over your buffed out arms.

Genius: vida loca lowriding is the freedom they never taught you about in school.

This Saturday, March 21, check out the lowriders in a new light. Look into the grills and admire the eyes of those who have been targeted and discounted yet continue to live with class and pride, as an example for us all. They are our history and potential, these OG’s with their pinta records, and pinche jobs, and businesses, and familias, and overwhelming abundance of amor for our gente.

In unprecedented fashion and style, the lowrider community, hundreds of cars deep, will literally lead the procession across San Fran to the film premiere of “Amor for Alex,” a film dedicated to our fallen lowrider brother Alejandro Nieto, who was shot at 59 times and killed by the San Francisco Police Department for eating his lunch in a gentrified neighborhood. At 7:00 p.m. we combine Aztec danzantes, a singer, a rapper, poets, activist leaders, art, and films to inspire a new breed of street stars, Renaissance Homeboys and Homegirls dedicated to the craziest mission of all: community amor.

The New America: We choose to do it not because it is not crazy; we do it precisely because it is loco.


Welcome to the real news!

Scholarship student and security guard Alex Nieto never pointed a taser at San Francisco Police Officers Sawyer and Schiff. There is at least one witness who saw everything and emphatically confirms that Alex Nieto never pointed a taser at officers. This witness was never interviewed for the district attorney’s report.

But for one moment let’s forget the witness. The district attorney’s report accepts the police department narrative: two veteran San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) police officers have their weapons drawn aiming directly at Alex Nieto who is eating a bag of chips walking down the hill. Both officers KNOW he has a firearm. These two READY police officers then allow Alex to square off with them, reach into his holster (they KNOW he has a gun), and they allow Alex to point this “gun” directly at them BEFORE they finally make the decision to start shooting at him 59 times.

This tale is ridiculous and unbelievable, yet they expect us to accept it.

There was no reason for Alex to have been shot at 59 times! This entire sham is a cover up to hide the SFPD’s incompetence, lack of fire discipline, and illegal and intimidating investigation. They will not take responsibility for killing an innocent, promising young man, Alex Nieto, our brother.

I was Alex’s best friend. For credibility purposes, so that you will not dismiss this as some illogical rant, I must provide you with credentials: I am a combat Marine Corps veteran. I hold a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, a Master’s in English, and a Juris Doctor degree from U.C. Hastings. I have been a college professor for over a dozen years. I am a published author. You can trust that I have analyzed and evaluated this district attorney’s report not to file criminal charges against San Francisco Police Officers.

I now will begin an investigation into the report:

    • During an April 2014 meeting with me, the lawyer for the case, the Nieto family and the district attorney (D.A.) and his subordinates, San Francisco D.A. Gascon promised a thorough investigation regarding the entire shooting and its aftermath. He promised he would investigate the totality of the crimes involved with this shooting.
    • The DA did not thoroughly investigate or question the shooting itself, nor did he investigate the action of SFPD after the shooting—the illegal interrogation of the Nietos, the unlawful extraction of confidential medical records, the attempted warrantless search of the Nietos’ residence, the robbery and warrantless search of Alex Nieto’s car. Why did the police act in such a secretive manipulative manner if the shooting was justified? Why did the police claim to the media incorrect statements that Alex had a gun when they immediately knew, according to the DA report, that Alex had only a taser? This evidence must be examined and looked at as part of the totality of the crimes committed.
    • On page one and two of the report, there is a section dedicated to explaining an encounter with a dog owner witness who saw Alex on the day he was killed. This male witness has absolutely nothing to do with any police reporting about Alex. He never called 911. No police officers knew anything about this witness, so he should have no bearing on the officers’ response to the hill that day. Is the witness a licensed psychiatrist to determine whether a person who looks around at his environment is acting erratically? A trial would have led to this witness’s cross examination. I repeat: he does not contribute in any way to the police coming because he never contacted the police, and the police knew nothing about this witness or an altercation when they came with a military mindset to kill Alex.
    • On page one and two, an exchange between Alex and an uncontrollable dog is described. It is completely reasonable that Alex would have felt threatened by a large dog that was “following” and harassing him and not under the control of the owner. Alex even moved away from the dog to another set of benches in order to avoid conflict with the dog. Yet the dog persisted in harassing him. Alex even tried to wave the dog away. The dog barked aggressively and could not be controlled by the irresponsible owner. Aggressive dogs that do not pay attention to their owners can be a lethal threat to a person. Alex would have been fully justified in attempting to defend himself from this uncontrollable dog. This was a giant dog, yet its description is nowhere mentioned in the report. The DA report simply accepts the owner’s account of what happened, which is biased, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, completely irrelevant to the shooting because this owner never contacted police, perhaps because he knew he was to blame for his aggressive, uncontrollable, unleashed dog. Police knew nothing about this dog owner witness.
    • Alex must have been justifiably shaken from this dog attack.
    • According to page two of the report, two witnesses see Alex and believe he has a gun. He did not brandish it or point it. In fact according to the DA report, Alex did absolutely NOTHING to these two male witnesses who actually called the police. The witnesses do not even claim that Alex ever even looked at them!
  • According to the bottom of page two, no 911 call or radio dispatch claims Alex Nieto is doing anything that is erratic or violent. We now have confirmed evidence that Alex never threatened anyone, yet the SFPD rushed up to Bernal Hill in an aggressive military manner to kill someone.
  • On page three, according to Officer Sawyer, as Alex walked down the hill, he continued eating from his bag of chips. Consider Alex’s intent and mindset: he had no clue that anyone had called the police on him because he had done nothing wrong. He was minding his own business eating his chips. He did not imagine that the police were there for him. Any reasonable police officer seeing someone eating a bag of chips should have known that this person is not a violent threat. Yet they approach him in a daunting, life threatening manner with their guns drawn on him.
  • On page three of the report it states that when officers see Alex they believe he is the suspect. Officer Sawyer believes he sees a bulge under his jacket that may be a gun. Officer Schiff certainly sees what he believes is a holstered weapon.
  • Officers exit their patrol car with guns drawn on Alex.
    • They state that then Alex lifted his arms and exposed what appeared to them to be a holstered weapon.
  • Let’s review: They both now know that Alex Nieto has a pistol and they have their own guns aimed right at him; their weapons are drawn.
    • They then claim that Alex takes his weapon out of his holster and points it at both of the ready and trained officers, and the officers allow him to do this.
    • For argument’s sake, let us accept this narrative yet question it. If Alex had drawn his weapon, and the veteran police officers have their own pistols aimed right at him, and they justifiably believe he has a gun, why did they not immediately shoot when Alex even attempted to reach for his weapon? Why would trained police officers allow themselves to be tracked by someone with a gun?
    • This narrative is completely unbelievable. Once Alex would have reached for his weapon, officers would have immediately fired, especially since they already had their weapons drawn and pointed at him.
    • Why would Alex Nieto even point a taser at police officers when he has done nothing wrong? He is ready for work as a security guard (he’s scheduled in less than two hours). He has no criminal history and has never been arrested in his life.
    • On page three, why does the report reference the first shots fired by Officers Sawyer and Schiff as “a number of shots?” Why can’t they say exactly how many shots they fired at that moment and who fired first?
    • This D.A report’s summary of the shooting is completely inconsistent with the audio. There were first two shots and then there was a seven second pause. Then there was more firing, what we now know was a total of 59 shots!
  • On page four, why did Officer Morse “kick” the taser out of Alex’s hands? Why not take a picture at that moment?
  • According to page five, the police started shooting Alex at 7:18:40, and they claim that according to a memory device inside of the taser, that it was discharged at 7:18:45, 7:18:52, and 7:19:02. If this is accurate, and they claim that Alex is standing (from page three) during at least the 7:18:45 taser discharge, why didn’t police officers Sawyer and Schiff see that Alex would have discharged a taser that shot out a wire and darts, not bullets? Did Alex Nieto ever point a taser at officers if they could not see that he would have discharged an electric taser? Can it be possible that once the police began shooting, Alex then attempted to defend himself but did not even point the taser at the officers? Perhaps a bullet struck the taser?
  • Is lack of fire discipline by these police officers the real problem that occurred? Throughout this entire shooting, they did not have fire discipline and thought they were at the Wild West and could not tell they were in absolutely no danger from Alex.
  • On page four, Officer Morse states he thought “Mr. Nieto was firing at them when he heard popping sounds and saw what he thought were muzzle flashes.” Officer Morse cannot tell that it is only officers who are shooting because no one is taking responsibility for fire control or calling for a cease fire. Officer Morse completely imagines that there are muzzle flashes coming from Alex, but that is impossible because Alex Nieto does not have a firearm.
  • The San Francisco Police Officers were reckless in the way they fired their weapons, not taking into account possible civilian victims. They could not even find all of their bullet casings or other evidence from the taser.
  • Now we move onto the SFPD’s cover up and illegal investigation:
  • After the killing of Alex Nieto, why did SFPD tell the media that Alex had a gun when they knew that he only had a taser? They knew then that that was a lie, but it was a way to buy time for their cover up, which began in earnest after the unlawful killing.
  • There were only two officers who supposedly saw Alex draw his taser. We know of at least one witness who states certainly that Alex Nieto never pointed a taser. Why didn’t the district attorney interview this witness?
  • On page six of the report, the police claim that Alex should have known not to point a taser at officers because he owned a CD version of the taser’s operating manual “that was located in Mr. Nieto’s car.” How did police obtain that CD? The day after the unlawful killing SFPD stole Alex Nieto’s car and performed a warrantless search of it. THE D.A. IS USING AN ILLEGALLY OBTAINED CD FROM ALEX’S CAR AS EVIDENCE FOR WHY THEY WILL NOT PROSECUTE OFFICERS AND TO FURTHER DEFAME ALEX NIETO! Why isn’t the police department’s stealing of Alex’s car seen as suspicious?
  • The day after the killing, SFPD investigators are sent to intimidate the Nieto family. They attempt a warrantless search of the residence and extract information that they use to slander and smear Alex Nieto. Through their intimidating investigation of the Nietos, the SFPD found that Alex had medical records at San Francisco General Hospital.
  • How did confidential medical records get released in less than three days (for Chief of Police Greg Suhr’s town hall meeting on Tuesday, March 25, 2014) without authorization? Who authorized this release of confidential medical records? Releasing confidential medical information is a crime.
  • We were guaranteed that the D.A. would investigate the totality of the crimes involved, yet he focused on the singular shooting AND Alex’s irrelevant past. The officers knew nothing about Alex when they approached him on March 21. Now it is confirmed: No broadcast to police or 911 call gives any negative description about Alex Nieto.

I have had less than 20 hours to prepare this statement. The San Francisco District Attorney had 10 months to investigate and to write a flawed eight page report.

This is the real news.

Amor for Alex,

Benjamin Bac Sierra, M.A., J.D.

Alex Nieto at Accion Latina

Posted by: benbacsierra | December 6, 2014

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


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.


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 :)

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


Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.