I have an early memory of spoken word poetry, a clear audible and visual memory – Jay Perez of the Freedom Writers, eyes closed, one hand over his chest, the other stretched toward the sky, “GIVE BACK MY MOTHERLAND!” This was 14 years ago and the spot was Galoka, an Indian-Vegan restaurant and bar that hosted open-mics each Sunday night. Y’all must understand, Galoka is where I learned to love poetry. It’s where I learned to love the poetry community. Galoka is where I watched organic intellectuals turn a microphone into a history book! 

And those Freedom Writers were a group of UCSD students who (did not) fit in at their school as well as I (did not) fit in at mine. Their poetry was honest and articulate. Their performances polished. Each of the members had knowledge well beyond their youth! Jay was the nerdiest, the most unassuming, but carried the passion deep in his poems. “GIVE BACK MY MOTHERLAND!” That poem introduced me to the occupation of the Philippines.

Fast forward to today, Jay is a new tenure-track faculty at CSUSB. Which is to say, Jay is a leader in my community! I’m trying to go back to my 21-year-old self and share this information.”Yo! You and that dude are going to be college professors…back home.” Even if I could, I would not believe me. “Yea right! You’ll be lucky just to graduate.” Crazy how life works. One minute you frequent the poetry spots, next minute you’re raising the consciousness of your own students – that is if your man enough to handle real life situations (Big Boi, “Spottieottiedopalisciois”). 

Tonight, I witnessed his multimedia presentation of “The Passion of El Hulk Hogancito.” Dope reading, a trip down memory lane in the fiction, non-fiction, and audio experience… With sounds by another Freedom Writer (and bkSoul collaborator) Shammy Dee. Proud to see Jay grow in the art. Looking forward to seeing what he brings to the Dino. 

Peace to the rest of the FW crew – especially Joy de la Cruz. Her memory is still fueling the poets in SD.