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Jim Santiago Larriva, activist, poet and educator

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Latino Role Models Success

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Currently working on different projects dealing with immigration, specially the deportation and dividing of families. 

Born in 1947 in “El Barrio,” in Arizona in an aunt’s house next to the railroad tracks.  Born to one Leonila Larriva, 32, a one-armed Mexican national from Chihuahua (who had run away from PanchoVilla’s revolution), and one Young Jim Fong, 25, Chinese national from Canton, China.  “Parents” never married due to ban on Chinamen marrying white women, even though Mexican women were not considered to be “very white” then.  I learned early, swimming in the womb, that justice and law could often be opposing forces.

 At age three was given a quarter by the “father” and taken to the movies by a half-sister and never returned.  I was never to eat rice and poke at fisheyes with my chopsticks with the “father” again.  “Father” was lost forever. 

In coming years they wondered the border towns of Mexicali, Nogales, and Tijuana with a one-armed mother.  Slept on cardboard boxes, ate from dumps.  Stole whatever was not tied down.  The “mother” sold her body at times because she was never very good at making tortillas to sell because of her one-arm situation.  Please read poem “Awake in a Mexicali Dream” included for a view of a small child’s life on the border.  “Mother” joined the “father” to be lost forever.

In 1951 he went to live in USA projects with half-sister and her husband. Started first grade at the age of eight.  Met “Dick and Jane.”  Was put in closet for speaking sing-song Spanish to them.

Graduated from Arizona State University.  Became a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines.  Received his MFA, Ceramics degree from University of Hawaii. 

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