Native Son and Poet returns to Livingston
Monolin Moreno talks about growing up in the city in a different time . . .
Interview with ‘Manny’ Moreno by Kathy Hibma,
Livingston Chronicle correspondent, Livingston, California; October 15, 2008
Native Californian and poet Monolin “Manny” Moreno, at his Modesto reading in July ’08
Manny signs a copy of his debut collection at Modesto reading in July ’08
A Modesto poetry reading and celebration by native drummers introduced this authentic voice of the Valley in July ’08
“Manny Moreno returns to Livingston as a published author, a dream realized through the effort of area educators, his sobriety and his commitment to walking in the ways of his Native American roots.”
Sobriety and Native American roots have given Monolin “Manny” Moreno the opportunity to realize his dream.
Moreno recalls announcing his dream numerous times to those who would listen, those who would not and those who were too drunk to hear. Being true to his word, he did write a book and is now working on a second. His first being poetry and his second, now in process, a compilation of short stories.
The journey has been a long one for Moreno, his body and soul marked with scars and images of the twists and turns that 53 years have brought him. Livingston has changed a lot too, according to Moreno, not just in commercial and residential areas, but the people as well.
Moreno’s ethnicity and racial imbalance played a huge role in his tumultuous teen years and early twenties, along with the fact that his parents, Manuel Bustillos Moreno and Connie Saavedra Moreno died young. Moreno was only ten when his father died.
The 1973 Livingston High School alumnus recalls almost suffering a similar fate, crashing his car on the canal bank only a few feet from where his father died. His grandfather also died on the banks of one of the area canals. Moreno points to the irony of the life-blood that the canals have brought to the Valley and the lives lost to his family along their banks.
With a bar on almost every corner, alcohol became an easy out for Moreno. In and out of trouble with authorities--some warranted, some not--Moreno began to sink into a destructive lifestyle that had him waking up behind bars more than once.
“Not in the drunk tank, again . . . . ” The realization of a wasted life began to gnaw at Moreno.
He shared what led him to sobriety, just completing eleven years.
“I was sick and tired of being sick and tired,” he said. “Through the ‘fireplaces’ as we say in the Indian world, I began to see myself in a different light, I continued walking on the Good Red Road, and through the Native American Church, the sweatlodge and through the Sundance Ceremony in South Dakota, I found strength to live a sober life.”
“I returned to these ways I had learned about 30 plus years ago, and with the help of some elders I learned to live life in a more balanced way.” Moreno is part of the Yaqui/Tarascan tribe of American Indians.
As a third generation immigrant of Livingston, Manny remembers his early years in the town with fondness, sharing where landmarks, family and friends, most now gone, influenced his life. The most notable landmark, the Cressey Bridge, gives the title to his first published book of poetry.
According to Moreno, in the 1900s, attempted genocide of Yaquis in Sonora, Mexico, led a scout team to scope out California’s Central Valley. His grandparents came to Livingston in 1917 via a caravan through Texas and Arizona, fleeing both the wrath of Pancho Villa, (who reportedly stole Mexican children to take care of his horses), and the Mexican Government.
Moreno’s memories of stealing ice cream bars from Carlos Market with a cousin caused a flood of other memories to flow, such as the rope swing over the Merced River at the Cressey Bridge, the deafening sound of motorists crossing the bridge while he and his friends played underneath, and putting sweet potato boxes together for 25 cents a day. He also recalled spending his weekly paycheck on penny candy, and the Court Theater, “Where you could watch two movies and a cartoon for 25 cents.”
“One day, Mr. Carlos caught us with ice cream tucked underneath our belts,” Moreno recounted. “He took us aside and talked to us as the ice cream began to melt . . . he was a great man. Rather than turning us in for stealing, he told us to just ask for the ice cream. We never stole from him again.”
A friend and Livingston resident Ernie Carrera, corroborated Moreno’s stories, saying Livingston held different experiences and privileges, depending on the color of a man’s skin.
Now in his early 50s, Moreno has come to realize that skin color is not a true sign of character. “I now realize that it doesn’t matter if a person is purple or green, there are persons of true character in every race; those are the ones I call friends,” he said.
Moreno credits several teachers with nourishing his desire to write: Mrs. Craft, Mrs. Ritchie and Rosemary Eismann.
Moreno credits Eismann with fostering his writing talents, “She set me straight, encouraging my creative writing. I remember saying to her, ‘You mean I can write anything I want without getting in trouble?’ There was so much freedom in that. I began to write everything.”
Of her former student Moreno, Eismann wrote, “Manuel Moreno was a member of the Upward Bound program sponsored at the time by Stanislaus State. He was recommended by Livingston High School principal John Lenker and counselor Vince Yaeger. He always was a poet, even as a young man. I know his teachers are very proud of his accomplishments and applaud the release of his book of poetry celebrating his life as well as the community of Livingston.”
At the conclusion of our interview, a red tail hawk began flying above the treetops. “That’s a good sign,” proclaimed Moreno. “The hawk is good medicine.”
The hawk may also symbolize the full circle Manny’s life has made, the peace that he has found back where he began.
Copies of Moreno’s collection of poetry, The Bridge is Gone, can be purchased online from back40publishing.com. Manny can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Moreno has also been published in Song of the San Joaquin [a quarterly regional poetry journal] and has been featured on Native American Radio KKUP: Indian Time, and on Native Voice TV. He was a featured speaker at Modesto Junior College on October 27th as part of a feature on Native American Literature.
Reporter Kathy Hibma can be reached at email@example.com.
Manny at Livingston interview, Oct ’08 by Kathy Hibma