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Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in…
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Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America

by Lisa Gray-Garcia

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Lisa "Tiny" Grey-Garcia graced our bookstore in Philadelphia with her presence and incredible thoughts. She came off as incredibly intelligent, very creative, and a very likable person. She is the founder of POOR magazine, dedicated to the poor when all the other magazines seem dedicated to people who don't need anymore dedication (rockstars, politicians, actors, etc.). When at the Shoe, she talked about strength through organization and treating people in that organization like family, even when you want to butt heads with them. She talked about strength through art and how even in a life of constant struggle, you never give up, especially when the entire culture is set against you (peppering her speech with phrases like DWP, or "driving while poor", underlining her crystal clear thoughts on our society). She had a beautiful picture of her mother, Mama Dee, who she was close was with her entire life.

I had to read her book after listening to her speak. In Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America, Garcia lays out her origins through telling the story of her grandmother who immigrated from Ireland and had to make hard choices, her mother Dee, her wealthy father who left them to fend for themselves, and finally herself. Her mother could not work a job because of disability, so the two eked a living on their own wits. The story traces Tiny and Mama Dee growing as legends in Venice Beach, California, telling their stories and making it by through art and selling t-shirts, and eventually taking their "po' art" up to San Francisco. It's a story of constantly being evicted, messed with by police, driving from one place to the next trying to find a place to stay, and of all else, never leaving each other behind no matter what. The "art of homelessness" is the only way they can truly get by in an insane world where everything that can go wrong, does.

Garcia helps found POOR magazine, and through the grit of her teeth and really amazing talent, she is able to get POOR magazine afloat. It becomes a project that empowers people to be great organizers and activists in fights for survival, housing, jobs, expression, and dignity. Her mother and many others are at her side the entire time, and it really attests to what one can do when your back is up against the wall. It illustrates plainly how if you are poor in America, you basically have no rights in practice and how you are treated like an animal by society. Tiny doesn't seek to "rise above this," she seeks to rise everyone up and fight for real tangible gains for real people who need them. That's what's really great about this book. You can really tell that the author and people in POOR magazine have ability above nothing else to fight and fight well for what's right.

I probably didn't mention that Tiny is a really gifted writer, too. You can tell by her writing that she's been doing art for a long time. She chooses her words really well and the book reads like stuff that happened decades ago happened minutes before. You really won't be disappointed if you pick this one up. Just awesome.
2 vote jgeneric | Nov 23, 2007 |
In this moving memoir, Tiny traces her history of homelessness through her family’s matriarchs, her mother’s disabilities, and her own struggles and triumphs as she becomes an adult in the midst of a constant fight for the most basic necessities: shelter, food, warmth, health, education, and safety. Tiny emerges as a powerful activist and poverty scholar, and her story is a call to action, a tribute to the mother who whose life was itself a lesson, and a vivid chronicle of a young woman’s journey to homefullness. Readers of any age will want to become Tiny’s allies, will finally understand the incredible, almost impossible feat of surviving in a society that both ignores and aggressively hates the poor. Ultimately, for Tiny, art, education, and love are the forces that keep her alive, and help to raise the voices of others in her local and global community. ( )
1 vote welkinscheek | Nov 7, 2007 |
From the internet:

A daughter’s struggle to keep her family alive, through poverty, homelessness and incarceration

Eleven-year-old Lisa becomes her mother’s primary support when they face the prospect of homelessness. As Dee, a single mother, struggles with the demons of her own childhood of neglect and abuse, Lisa has to quickly assume the roles of an adult in an attempt to keep some stability in their lives. “Dee and Tiny” ultimately become underground celebrities in San Francisco, squatting in storefronts and performing the “art of homelessness.” Their story, filled with black humor and incisive analysis, illuminates the roots of poverty, the criminalization of poor families and their struggle for survival.

"Something inside all of us will awaken when we read this book and bear witness to the excruciating plight of our generation's poor. With unflinching courage Lisa Gray-Garcia brings the raw events of her childhood to the page. She de-centers us with her searing images of destitution and blows us away with her resolve to beat it. We are not the same after reading this hellish tale of a young girl's struggle to survive." -- Yannick Murphy, author of Here They Come

"Criminal of Poverty lays bare the devastating effects of inheriting a life of poverty, as well the real redemption and power in finding your voice." – Michelle Tea, author of Rose of No Man's Land and Valencia

"Tiny’s indomitable spirit comes to life in her amazing story of poverty and homelessness, reaching into and teaching our hearts and minds. With her flawless descriptions of the pain of living in the margins of the richest country in the world, she opens up an important window onto a reality looked upon by many but truly seen by few, augmenting our capacity for empathy and action in an area so in need of social change. Bravo Tiny, for your gift to us all! Punto!!!" – Piri Thomas, author of Down These Mean Streets

"Most books on poverty or the poor are written by people who have never been really poor, or are individualistic tales of a bootstrap pull that separates the (once) poor person from society as a whole. Tiny, a.k.a Lisa Gray-Garcia, has written an eloquent, graceful and refreshingly humor-filled book that tells a story which places poverty in a larger social, spiritual and political context. It challenges the reader to let go of clichés and catch phrases about the poor and homeless and see a population of struggling, hard working survivors who can work miracles when given proper support. It also is a compelling love story of a mother and daughter who surmount hurdles and climb out of pits that would defeat many, while building ladders and twining rope so that others can join them in their ongoing efforts to bring more and more people out of the quagmire of relentless poverty, hunger and hopelessness." – devorah major, author of where river meets ocean and Brown Glass Windows

"In America we prefer not to see our poor. Only if we turn determinedly away can we maintain the illusion that we are not all responsible, not all culpable. Lisa Gray-Garcia won't let us avert our eyes. With style and verve she hauls our unwilling attention to what matters. If your heart is unmoved when you finish this memoir, then it's made of stone." – Ayelet Waldman author of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits

Lisa Gray-Garcia is a journalist, poet and community activist. She is the founder of POOR magazine and the PoorNewsNetwork (PNN), a monthly radio broadcast and an online news service focused on issues of poverty and racism. ( )
  NativeRoses | Apr 12, 2007 |
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