Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Secrets Are All Out Now

Juliana at Red Canyon Falling On Churches, Colorado

February 3, 2016

The Secrets Are All Out Now by Juliana Aragón Fatula

I promised my students that I would tell their story. The secrets are all out now. In 2009 I taught teatro at Cesar Chavez Academy in Pueblo, CO. My teatro students had been studying Los Vendidos by Luis Valdez and learning protest songs about the Delano Grape Strike, like No Nos Moveran.  They were told by the principal that their performance at Cesar Chavez Day was cancelled. The administration was afraid my students political performance piece might offend some guests.

My students wrote a formal complaint and walked into the principal’s office and told her, “Why did you hire Mama Fatula to teach us Chicano History, if you’re not going to allow us to perform teatro?” I taught my students what I had learned from El Centro Su Teatro Chicano Cultural Center in Denver, CO in the 90s. I taught them how to make picket signs and protest injustice with civil disobedience. Thank you, students, for being in my corner when my administration tossed me under the bus. I was so proud, I cried.

The next year, I taught Language Arts in my hometown, Klanyon City. I had come full circle. I taught in the same building I had attended in the seventies. I gave my students a writing assignment: a biography on our President of the United States, Barack Obama. I had no idea the chaos that would ensue.

The class divided in half right down the second row. One side of the room of students walked out of my classroom. Needless to say, the parents were called, the complaint was filed and administration changed my assignment to a biography on any famous person of the students’ choice. The tragedy is that the students who didn’t walk out; the ones who had my back and said it was an interesting assignment were going to write the bio on President Obama and their parents praised me for giving the assignment, but the students caved under peer pressure and instead wrote a biography on Dr. Seuss. I love Dr. Seuss. Who doesn’t. But come on.

The principal told me, “You grew up here. You should know better.” I answered, “I thought all of the Klan was dead.” But now I know.  The first black President in the U.S. is history, but in my hometown, when he was elected, the students did not get to watch his inauguration on TV because a gun toting maniac decided to storm the building and remove his children from school that day. The police were called. No one was harmed. Well, not physically. Those students witnessed racism in person and up close. I wrote a poem about it called “An Educated Chicana.” I’d like to share it with you, but the profanity prevents me from publishing it here.

It’s true that in my hometown, I’m known as a trouble maker.  I stick out because I’m a feminist Chicana badass that tells the truth; we’re rare here in Klanyon City, oops, I meant Cañon City. Por ejemplo: in 1972, I led the first walk-out at my junior high. We were protesting for the right to wear jeans to school. (Hard to believe, but true.) The students won the privilege to wear jeans from that day on. We made history.  I was a leader when I didn’t even know what a leader was. I was only fourteen.

My students are now in their first year of college. And I know my life lessons taught them more than what they could have learned from a textbook because I taught Chicano History. I pulled a Louise. That’s what my family calls it. My mom’s name was Louise and she was a badass, too. One of my favorite quotes, “Well-behaved women rarely make history.”

I’ve learned so much from other writers. Much more than I learned in the university. The master writers I’ve had the opportunity to work with have taught me that as a writer I have a voice, something to say, and an opportunity to speak my mind on issues that I care about. So, I offer my readers a bit of my history, culture, language, wisdom.  I am an educated Chicana and teach my students about social justice, to be proud, stand tall, continue on to higher education. I taught those at-risk-youth how to think globally.

I was born and raised near the Chicana neighborhood known as Tortilla Flats. It’s where the braceros lived when they migrated here from New Mexico to work the orchards, fields, mines, farms, and ranches in what is infamous as Klanyon City, CO, the KKK headquarters in the 1800s.

I come from a long line of storytellers.  I’ll never forget the story my father told me about my hometown. As a child, my father and grandfather witnessed a black man being hung in Chandler, Colorado, from an old cottonwood. The Klan was there in their cheap sheets.  Dad wanted to help him, but my grandfather said, “There’s nothing we can do to help him, if we go down there, they’ll hang us too.”  It was 1927. My father was then ten years old.

That was my first glimpse into the racism in my hometown. I knew we were different because we were dark skinned with dark hair, dark eyes. Mexican Indians. My father was bullied in school for not speaking English. His name was Julian Aragón, pronounced with the Spanish j like Juan, Juanita, Julio, Juliana.  So they changed his name to Jack.

I was told by my kindergarten teacher, “we speak English only, therefore you cannot be called:  Juliana Aragón, you are now Julie Ann Aragon, Jew Lee Air a Gone. They anglicized my name.  My identity, my culture and language wiped away like dust on an old piano. It is a common story among my Chicano friends from all over the country.

Well, all the secrets are out now.  I’m teaching social justice and using my gift of writing to tell my father’s stories, to tell the real history of my community, not just the white history but also the history of people of color. I haven’t forgotten them. I write their stories. I share the truth, not the facts, but the truth. My students learned from me to write poems and stories that they care about, and they have made me extremely proud. You can read some of their work in the anthology I edited and published by Conundrum Press, This Is How We Poet.

I’m indigenous. I’m Chicana. I’m proud of my heritage both the Mexican and the Indian. If you don’t know the difference between Latina, Chicana, Mestiza, Mexica, Mexican Indian, ask me some time and I’ll spell it out for you. I’m an Educated Chicana and I’m a teacher.


  1. Brave soul. I grew up in Los Angeles, now live near Delano and understand what you're saying, everything but the distinction between the Names. Do spell it out. In our family, we have embraced many from Mexico--son-in-law is from Mexico, we have beautiful grandkids and greats from that union, son married a beautiful woman whose dad is an Indian, mom white, her daughter, my grand married a Mexican--that's what he says he is--and they have darling children. I could go on--but I won't, you get the idea.

    1. Thanks, I'll email you more details if you'd like. or I can explain some of it here.

    2. Basically Hispanic is a government label. Most Chicanos consider themselves Mexican and Indian. Mixed blood Mestizo. Mexica Mexican. I am Chicana because I was born in the U.S. from parents who were Mexican American. American Indian, Dine, Apache. So when someone says Hispanic, I cringe. To me that label says all dark skinned people who are from the Americas are from Spain or have Spanish blood. I am neither. The Indians were sold to families in Colorado for food and a horse, like my grandfather was in Alamosa, CO. They gave us their last names. Gomez, Medina, Cruz, Mondragon.
      But some people like being lumped with everyone: Latino, Cubano, South American, Mexican, Chilean, you get the idea. Hispanic covers every nationality and lumps us all in a neat pile. I love identifying as Chicana because so many great writers are Chicana. Sandra Cisneros, Gloria Anzaldua, Denise Chavez...

      My son is sixth generation Chicano from New Mexico and Southern Colorado families. Ironically, his name is Daniel McDaniel. I'll tell you that story some other time. Ciao

  2. Welcome to The Stiletto Gang, Juliana! You should fit in well with this feisty group of women writers. Fortunately for us, our readers are as feisty as we are.

    Marilyn, I know what you're saying. I always think it's a huge shame that our real estate developers have segregated us in ethnic-group neighborhoods with no contact with others outside our groups. (And for those who say it's natural--it wasn't. Read Tanner Colby's Some of My Best Friends Are Black: The Strange Story of Integration in America. He researched the way commercial real estate developers artificially created the all-white suburbs through fear tactics for profit.) If folks had a chance to really get to know people from these groups that are so often demonized--African American, Latino, Muslim, etc.-- I think they would have little fear of them.

    1. Thank you Linda, I love this blog. It's new to me, but I'm learning. Thanks for your patience.

      I wanted to say something about who I am and where I come from. Because how can we know where we're going until we know where we've been? Que no?