A Stitch in Casa Blanca's Tapestry

by Walter Cabal

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A large part of the tapestry of this project with Casa Blanca began its weavings in the Community Action Group meetings that the neighborhood holdsWe (the artists) used to greet residents with a wave and a “hello”After attending a few more meetings we started to greet each other with handshakes. After thatartists and neighborhood residents called each other by name. Now I see Drew greet Bob Garcia, with a joke. I talk with Morris about his war stories. I'm close enough to Peggy Haro’s heart to write a song about it.

It’s these interactions and this weaving that I think each artist wants to sew deep into their art. During the Día de las Artes celebration I’ll be sharing the two songs I wrote for Casa Blanca. I’ll be surrounded by poets, theater performers, visual artists, muralists and other songwriters, who’ve really spent time knitting their songs with the fabric that holds Casa Blanca together: Community. Really that’s the fabric that’s holding everyone together – the artists, the residents, and the city officials. We’re learning that in community there can be found that spirit which has really moved us toward each other, and we hope that Casa Blanca sees how much they’ve taught us – especially me.

What’s really wiped the fog from my lenses is seeing the neighborhood, the neighborhood’s leaders, city dignitaries, and our arts collaborative try to match each other’s footsteps. I see the communities surrounding this Casa Blanca project as the different moving bodies learning a kind of timeless dance that we’re looking for in the world at large. It has something to do with bridging gaps, and with looking to understand rather than looking to be understood. I see the tapestry grow as more and more people and their dreams are being woven together. What the Lord has joined together, let no man put asunder.


The Tree at Casa Blanca Library

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"The everyday and sacred stroll the streets of Casa Blanca."

 

 

 

Thoughts from musician
Walter Cabal

Not sure where things began to click for the other singer songwriters, but it really began with a tree for me. There is a tree  at the center of the bustle at the Casa Blanca library. Fruits hang from the branches, and mijitos, and abuelos, and madres and everyone in between have sat beneath it. Branches reach outward like many children stacked on each others' shoulders - brown arms outstretched and wrists dangling. Each hand holding an orange fruit.

Of course, the tree is painted on a wall of the Casa Blanca Library.  There are adages written on the fruits. There is something about brotherhood, something about age. I can’t remember the words, but I internalized those fruits in this paradigm shift: That the everyday and sacred stroll the streets of Casa Blanca. You’ve got to have the eyes to see. 

Casa Blanca asks that one not be fooled by worn down, repainted walls, crow’s feet, yellow grass, wire fences or the legato Hispanic accent of the people who ask me what I’m doing playing outside of the Library. If Casa Blanca were a teenage kid who I already categorized by his slouched swagger and stone face as at ‘tough guy’ – well that kid might look at me in the eyes, and whisper “You don’t know me” - then walk away leaving me in the wake of his sad whisper. But if one really looked, if one really heard he could hear the small hanging note that asks for resolution. It sounds something like, "Can you see me?"

I’m supposed to be an artist, and I’d like to think I can see meaning in mundane things, but if I'm honest - sometimes I'm blind, and if I am led by other's impressions of these place I am being led by the blind.

Casa Blanca and it's families are a riddle, a secret with no immediate answer, but only because Casa Blanca is a secret too rich to be babbled about mindlessly. It's a hint of something familiar. The bleeding of gold light into the dark hallway from a closed bedroom door. The orange ghosts of sunlight outside of closed eyelids.

The everyday and sacred stroll the streets of Casa Blanca.

That became a lyric in a song I wrote called “Oh, Casa Blanca”. 

You see the painted tree in the library got me thinking about how much rich nectar goes un-noticed in Casa Blanca. The place is quite literally a haven, especially in the library during the summer - four words: Shade and air conditioning. When I think of a tree and a haven I scratch my head, and I think about why that sounds familiar to me, and then I recall a Scripture:

"To what shall we liken the kingdom of God?  Or what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade" Mark 4:30-32

The everyday and sacred stroll the streets of Casa Blanca. Can you see it? He with an eye let him to look and see.

Casa Blanca | More Than an Idea

The first poem to come out of spending time in Casa Blanca, getting to know some of the people and walking the neighborhood.


Casa Blanca

You are more than your streets

And your people

More than your one square mile of roads

More than any map

in any file drawer


You are

an

idea

 

A tangled rabbit hole of fear

A violent

brown

thought

Clenched and caught in the tulgey hearts and minds

Of people who do not know you

And cannot see you

Whose frumious eyes are blinded by headlines

And history and other nonsense

Who jabber on with only the manxome words they’ve read or heard

Devouring your crimes for breakfast

Chewing on newsprint till they choke on it

Whose uffish ears imagine only gunfire

And the vorpal blades

Of police helicopters

snicker-snacking low above cornfields

 

They do not hear the old stories your abuelas tell at night

Or the prayers your children whisper before bedtime

An incense of innocence rising above your rooftops

Into the night

They cannot smell the tortillas cooking in the morning

With their car windows rolled up

and doors locked

At thirty-five miles an hour

Or hear the mourning doves cooing

In the early hours

High above Madison St.

From St. Anthony’s bell tower

Or notice the daily procession of your Sacred Order of Guatemalans

In their dusty denim vestments

Your mendicant day laborers

Hidden neighbors

Emerging from their garage door hermitage

Making holy pilgrimage to the Home Depot parking lot

The sacramental spot

To offer their sunbaked and embodied “Our Fathers”

In secondhand work boots

Raising calloused hands

Above their heads

In petition for their daily bread—

 

But I’m beginning to see who you really are

I’ve dared to step out of my car and wander through your streets

And look into your yards

I’ve placed my hand in yours

and you have smiled

I’ve seen the way the late-afternoon sun

Burnishes the passing train cars

pink and gold

And the shadows of your children chasing

Through Villegas Park

Like earthbound angels

And in the quiet all around

I have heard the rustling sounds of turning pages

Wiffling through the library

And the clacking keys of keyboards tickled by curiosity

I have smelled mother’s milk rising from the warm heads of your niños

And tasted your menudo on Sunday morning

I have seen the lilywhite Converse

Peeking their purity from beneath the frothy folds

of your quinceneara’s gown

I have wept with your mothers over their murdered sons and brothers,

Whose shadows no longer pass earthbound across the grass.

I want to hear their stories

Their fleeting glories

To learn all their names

And whatever became of their rooms

Until my heart breaks

At the high stakes they’ve paid

by playing on your streets.

 

Who needs a mirror when you’ve got these headlines

To show you who you are?

The evening news

meant to amuse others at your expense

Distorts your image like a fun house mirror

And magnifies your shame

In the name of telling folks the latest

They’re after the greatest gains in

Viewership and readership

For an ever increasing sponsorship

In short,

Your sins pay their bills

It doesn’t pay as well to say

or tell

the other things you are

 

You are so much more than this printed history

Much more than an idea,

You are generations old in one place

Found in the stories told on porches

And over chorizo and beans and beer

Found on Saturdays

On your driveways

Where you display the other lives you’ve lived.

You are flesh and blood and bones and soul

With names and hopes and smells and gifts.

You have wrapped your arm around my shoulders

I have held your hand in mine.

We’ve begun to cast one shadow.

We have prayed together over meals

Making appeals for your children

And your aging Madres

Asking Jesus to bless us all 

 

Casa Blanca

You are not one thing

You are ten-thousand things

And more

unfolding your mystery

every moment.

Let no one tell you who you are

Before they’ve stepped out of their car

And witnessed all the things I’ve witnessed

 

They’ll see ,

Then,

What I see . . .


That you

are beautiful.