Punk legend Alice Bag is back in book form and is as explosive as ever. The author follows up Violence Girl, her Chicana coming-of-age tale fronting The Bags, with Pipe Bomb For The Soul. Based on travel diaries, Bag's new book looks back at her time in Nicaragua during the Sandinista revolution. She traveled there in 1986 as a Paulo Freire-lovin' teacher ready to learn about education reform but soon discovered her lessons lied within. Through journal entries, she recounts her experience living a month in Esteli, a northern stronghold of the ruling FSLN party.
It's there that Bag encounters Comandante Gladys Baez, who challenged what she thought she knew about revolutionary women. Other conversations lead to more conversions along the way ensuring that when Bag returned back to Los Angeles, she'd never be the same. Pipe Bomb For The Soul excels in rekindling that revolutionary fervor existing in Nicaragua as it attempted a more pluralistic socialist democracy while mired in a bloody U.S.-backed Contra war.
The Weekly devoured Alice Bag's new book hot off the presses and spoke with the author ahead of her appearance at the OC Anarchist Bookfair this weekend in Santa Ana.
OC Weekly (Gabriel San Román): Alice Bag the teacher and 'proletarian internationalist' was something hinted at in Violence Girl but gets fully fleshed out in Pipe Bomb For The Soul. What motivated you to write your second book?
Alice Bag: I had the book written because I had the journal. When people would ask me about that portion of Violence Girl, I looked through my journal and gave them more answers. I realized I had more stories to tell. I think Pipe Bomb For The Soul has a little different message then Violence Girl. It's more a universal story.
When you edited the journal after more than 20 years, did you have the realization at the time that your trip to Nicaragua was itself a Freirean consciousness raising experience? I think I realized it at the time that it was happening. I remember going home and thinking I'd never feel the same about living in the United States, I would never feel like I could ever complain about anything because I had seen real strength, I had seen people make do with so much less than I ever had at my poorest. Beyond that, I learned a lot from the process of living with the all-female family that I was lucky enough to stay with led by an amazing, strong matriarch. Where I really learned was in just opening myself up to other people's experiences.
If there was one person whose experience shaped you most, who would it be?
It would have to be Francie, the mother of the family. She challenged my idea of what a good mother could be. When she came home, she rarely cooked, cleaned or helped kids with their homework. Instead, she was out meeting other women, building committees for them so they could be politically active. She was having mature conversations with her kids about how they could be involved in their own activism in the community. She also ran a tight household. Everybody had a job and if they didn't, the house wasn't going to function successfully and she wasn't going to be able to do all the things that she needed to do for the revolution.
You give space to criticism in the book for dissenting thoughts about the revolutionary project. Why did you feel that was important and what were your observations were about the Sandinista government?
I went in pro-Sandinista and I came out pro-Sandinista. That's not to say that I didn't see that things could easily get in trouble. You can never just trust your leaders. You always have to make sure they are responsive to the needs of the people they're representing and caring for. I did notice that in Sandinista Nicaragua, there were times when people felt like they couldn't criticize the government, like they could get in trouble for having a dissenting view. That was scary to me. No matter who you give the reigns to, they're going to fuck up if you're not looking.
When you're about to leave Nicaragua, you write in your journal, "We all want to take some of what we learned here and share it with the people in the U.S." How did you do that?
When I got back, I had culture shock. One thing I noticed is that when I got packages and letters from Nicaragua, they'd come to me open. I never would've believed something like that could happen in the United States. My notions of what my country was about were still being challenged even after I had left. I remember going to a huge demonstration in downtown LA where there were thousands of people marching and there was no coverage of it. I read in the newspaper that one-hundred people had marched. It's not just students at schools that are subjected to the banking method. The whole Nicaraguan experience taught me is that we have to be involved in learning about what's happening in the world and knowing how to effect. We're way stronger than we realize.
What similarities do you see between the punk community that you were a part of in the '70s and the revolutionary community in Nicaragua a decade later?
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Both punks and the Sandinistas were embracing drastic changes. We wanted to be in a completely different world and we were willing to take steps to change things. Some people probably thought we were all crazy. How could a little group of peasants throw out a government that was being supported by the United States, a huge military power, and yet they did it. How could these young kids that could hardly play and looked weird; how could they impact music? And not just music, because I really feel punk made social change. It opened doors to anybody who was an outsider and made it okay to be a weirdo. Punk really overcame the status quo.
Alice Bag reads and performs as part of the OC Anarchist Bookfair at El Centro Cultural de Mexico, 313 N. Birch St. Santa Ana, Sat. 7 p.m. stage time. Free. All ages