The Mexican dicho “You raise the blackbirds, and they pluck out your eyes” prompted the title of my adult literary novel, Raising the Blackbirds.
Sixto Torres is a Mexican national who comes to the U.S. at the age of twenty four in search of greater opportunity for himself and his family.
The story begins with Sixto’s life as a child in San Ciro; his “coming-of-age” experiences as a student attending a Catholic seminary and his struggle to lay aside that vocation. It follows Sixto’s efforts, after the tragic death of his father, to care for his mother and siblings; and describes his marriage to Elida and his decision to come north and to cross the border. Later chapters are set in the early Seventies. Sixto and his family are among thousands of migrant workers who find themselves in squalid temporary labor camps in the San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys with little hope for improving their daily lives.
As Salinas Valley farmworkers begin to organize for better wages and greater power over their living conditions, Sixto seizes a rare opportunity to purchase and rehabilitate an abandon labor camp. His fight to gain the knowledge and skills needed to overcome daunting cultural, political, and social obstacles—and to bring his fellow farmworkers along in the process—is indicative of the farmworkers’ broader struggles in California and the nation. Sixto is an iconic figure who achieves lasting and positive change for others, but finds that he is less able to overcome distrust, jealousy, and opposition among some of his peers.
Although the general outline of Raising the Blackbirds is based on actual events, the book is a fictional account of these events and of the people described as seen through Sixto’s eyes.
Born in Los Angeles in 1942, Edward Moncrief grew up in the rural town of Redlands, California. He awoke in the mornings, listening to bracero laborers, singing their alabados among the orange trees. He spent ten years studying to be a Franciscan priest, receiving a solid grounding in the Liberal Arts. During those years, he developed a love for literature and the English language. After seminary, during 1967’s Summer of Love, he married his wife, Judi. He entered graduate school, where he earned a Master’s degree in Social Work; after which, he moved first to the San Joaquin and then to the Salinas Valley. He spent his forty-one-year career directing non-profit housing organizations, developing new housing for farmworker families and other economically disadvantaged people. In 1980, he founded Community Housing Improvement Systems and Planning Association (CHISPA). After his retirement in 2011, he began a new career as an author and free-lance writer.