Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Body With Diabetes: Interview with Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez
November is Diabetes Awareness Month and for today’s La Bloga posting, I’m so happy to introduce you to Diabetes Activist, Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez.  Christina is a Chicago native, and is active with the Diabetes Online Community, has her own blog at, and is on twitter:  @kikisbetes.  Look her up!

Before we get started, I’m adding a few introductory facts regarding diabetes.
First, definitions:  there are four types of diabetes.  Click on each one for more information:  (1) Type I, (2) Type II, (3) gestational diabetes, (4) pre-diabetes.  
Second, technology:  The glucose meter is essential for individuals with any of these four types of diabetes, because it measures blood glucose levels.  With the meter, individuals know exactly what is happening in their body. Guessing glucose levels simply by how one feels can be dangerous, because assuming your glucose number is in no way accurate.  
Testing reveals how much glucose is present in your blood at that moment. The components of the meter are: (1) the meter, (2) glucose strips, (3) lancet.  To test, you take a glucose strip and insert it into the meter.  Then, you pierce one finger with a lancet, placing the drop of blood on the glucose strip. In a few seconds, the glucose number will appear on the meter. There are also continuous glucose monitoring systems and pumps. 
Third, what the meter says:  A normal blood sugar level is considered less that 100 mg/dL when fasting (morning numbers) and less than 140 mg/dL two hours after eating your first bite of a meal. 
Fourth, how to describe us:  We are "individuals with diabetes." We are not "diabetics," because we are not defined by this disease. 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez was diagnosed with diabetes Type I when she was 7 years old.  During her lifetime, she has been a passionate seeker of knowledge, wanting to understand her body in order to assist what is not working.  I found her on twitter and have been continually inspired by her passion, her commitment to understanding diabetes, and, in turn, assisting others in diabetes education.  She is a truth seeker!  I had the opportunity to speak with Christina recently and want to share with you our conversation: 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Thank you so much, Christina, for taking the time to talk with me about a chronic disease that greatly affects the Latina/Latino communities.  First, tell me about your tattoo.

Christina's tattoo
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  It’s a blue circle to represent diabetes.  I took the Chicago flag and instead of two blue lines, I made it into one circle and then added the Chicago stars, the four stars across the middle of that circle.  I feel the empowerment with this tattoo.  People see the tattoo and say, “That’s cool, is that Chicago?”  I say, “Yes, BUT, it’s also representative of diabetes awareness” and then this gives me the opportunity to talk about diabetes with them. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  And you mentioned that you also wear a pump.

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  People see the pump and ask me if it’s a pager or ask if I’m a doctor.  And I think of responding with crazy answers, but then I think, where will that get me?  So I explain what it is, and what it means to me. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  So, in what creative ways do you educate people so they will remember details (because diabetes demands learning so much information)?  For example, how do you educate people about the differences between Type I and Type II Diabetes? 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  I call Type II a “Disorder,” and Type I a “Disease.”  I call Type II a “Disorder” because your body has a malfunction, whereas with Type I, diabetes is an autoimmune disease.

Amelia M.L. Montes:  You’ve had diabetes (Type I) since childhood. Does the disease limit you in any way? 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  I don’t want to let chronic illness limit me from doing anything, but there are days when I can’t physically do something due to exhaustion, hyperglycemia, or hypoglycemia, and it can weigh on me as a psychological issue.  There are many studies that connect Type II diabetes to depression, but this doesn’t mean people with Type I don’t have depression. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Agreed.  It’s definitely false to think that depression only manifests itself in individuals with Type II.  Also, some people feel that Diabetes Type I and Diabetes Type II are two very different diseases.  In some of your articles, you have said there are similarities.  Where are the connections?

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  The cause—the causes are all different but the reasons they’re all called diabetes are because the symptoms and the ultimate effects are the same.  With Type I, I feel all the symptoms twice as fast as those with Type II.  With Type II, their blood sugars are elevated for so long, that they don’t know how normal feels.  With Type I, my moods and symptoms change multiple times [a day] and are so different every day. 

I remember the first time I was on a twitter chat and we were asked how we feel when we do everything right, and then you check your blood sugar, and it’s still high.  I saw answers like:  “I want to throw it [the glucose meter] out the window,” and “I get angry, and then my blood sugar goes higher.” Just reading that helped me feel I was not alone. 

Checking your blood sugar.  Placing a drop of blood on the glucose strip that has been inserted into the meter.  
Amelia M.L. Montes:  I get that—reading diabetes online community comments and feeling less isolated.  You’ve made sure to reach out, educate yourself, be involved with diabetes communities.  How can readers who have diabetes break through the stigma, the shame connected to this disease, which sometimes makes them hide?  How can we talk to each other? 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  You have to talk about it, and let them know just what they’re doing to their bodies if they don’t take care of themselves.  I always said that if we taught Latino families together [those with and without diabetes] about the treatment of diabetes, the person that actually developed it would be better off.  It really takes a village to cure individuals.  If you get everyone to understand, make healthier choices, and even change their lifestyle, the entire family (or community) will be better off.

Amelia M.L. Montes: How do we do this with our various communities.  Also--do you belong to other communities and how do you navigate diabetes in all of these communities? 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  Sometimes I feel I’m in three different communities.  The first community is the general every day.  I go to work, and I mingle with people who are not Latino and don’t have diabetes.  Total market experience.  You don’t care what color anyone is—you are just “being.”  The second community is the Latino community who has less resources.  I am very tied to that culture, from the art I have in my house, to the way that I say my name.  The third community is the Diabetes community.  Not only am I usually the only Latina with diabetes, but I also have Type I which is not as common as Type II among the Latino community.  And then I say, how are we going to get these different communities together?  What are we going to do to upkeep your health?  Diabetes isn’t racist, sexist, gender neutral.  When you have diabetes, you can get comments like, “pero no estas gorda” [“but you’re not fat”].  And there is where diabetes education is most needed. So I try to speak from a general diabetes perspective.  I may not know what medication you’re taking, but I know exactly how you feel.

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Was there a time where you were able to educate “on the street.”

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  I was on the bus, and there was an older woman with a woman who seemed to me to be in her 40s.  I heard them talking, about the older woman’s husband who was going blind and how her eyesight was going as well because of diabetes.  And the younger woman also had diabetes and was talking about her A1C (a test that measures the amount of blood in one’s sugar over the period of three months), and I thought, “Holy cow—there really is someone who understands diabetes.”  The younger woman got off the bus and I was trying to figure out how to start a conversation with the older woman without seeming like I had been eavesdropping on their conversation.  So I ended up taking out my glucose meter on the bus, and she said, “Ahhh—tu tambien!  Pero tan jovencita!” [“Ahhh—you too!  But you’re so young!”] And we started talking.  I asked her about her family, and if they talked to their family about diabetes.  I said, “Talk to your kids about it, they may be able to help you.”  It was the most memorable diabetes experience I’ve had.  I ended up overshooting my bus stop by 20 blocks so I could keep talking to her. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  That is such an important story that, again, speaks to the need for education.  What kind of diabetes education do you feel should be in place for Latinas/Latinos? 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  The one thing that we have realized is that fear does not educate anyone.  We’ve seen HIV campaigns in Mexico gone wrong, and now Ebola is another perfect example.  We need to put a positive spin on education.  What I’ve found completely useful is that I learned how the body is supposed to work and then I learned why my body is not working the way it’s supposed to. A health class shouldn’t be about just medication or carbohydrate counting.  It should be about how your body is supposed to function and how to get it back there.  I’ve always been interested in the science portion of diabetes. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  So what are some ways to talk to the public that may be helpful? 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  Don’t say:  “If you don’t check your blood sugar, you’re going to lose your leg.”  That doesn’t educate.  In order to manage diabetes, it’s important to not let it take you over.  You have to be the one who is leading diabetes, and that’s where education comes in—not scaring people.  There has to be more positivity and empowerment. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Agreed!

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  For example, I was at Northwestern, and a doctor explained that if you check your blood sugar only three or four times a day, that’s like taking a thousand piece puzzle, and only having three pieces of it.  The more you know, the more you own the situation.  It’s in your power to do it. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Yes—so important.  And regarding checking one’s blood, I’ve become used to testing more often on days when I’m not feeling well.  So, Christina, where do you feel we are now with diabetes education?

A visual explanation of diabetes Type I
Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  I feel like there’s a cure for this issue already.  World wide, diabetes costs over 240 billion dollars a year.  I volunteer with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and sit on the committee for the ADA EXPO that happens every year.  The Chicago ADA chapter is the biggest one in the country.  Everyone who sits on the committee wants to do something to further community education, but it seems that the funding is always for something big:  “The Walk,” or the EXPO that happens once a year draws about 14,000 people.  What I’ve noticed is that the most congested area of the EXPO is the screening section where they will check your feet, your eyes.  It’s a free screening, but without any education. But if you look at it that way, what does it tell you?  You learn that people clearly aren’t getting the attention they need outside of that EXPO.  That means that there needs to be more education, health services, and guidance and that’s just not happening.  There’s nothing in regards to community building.  Community building is about having the time, energy, and efficiency to do it. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Are hospital clinics different? 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  I didn’t have insurance for about a year, and I used this state-funded healthcare situation as a learning experience.  Throughout the experience, I had to ask the right questions and demand proper health care.  I had a nurse once who told me I didn’t have to check myself so often.  Why?  Because the state only gives you enough strips to test once a day.  They will not insure you for more than one strip a day.  How are people supposed to take care of themselves?  So if you can afford it, it comes out of your pocket.  But what happens when you can’t? 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  When you say that you “had to ask the right questions and demand proper health care,” I think about the average patient who will not at all think about asking questions, but instead, simply follows "doctors orders” without bringing a healthy dose of skepticism into the doctor’s office.  But that comes with empowerment.  Because you are active with the ADA and are familiar with medical corporations, what do you say to them? 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  I’ve been approached by pharmaceutical companies.  I tell them: “You have to teach people about themselves, and how they can manage this on their own.”  This is why, if I ever won the lottery, I would give donations to clinics – not to foundations.  You can donate and donate to foundations, but you don’t know where that money is going.  If there were more funding for community clinics where the underserved go for medical attention, they would have more resources for education and servicing the people who really need it. 

A visual explanation of diabetes Type II
Amelia M.L. Montes:  Your openness and forthright discussions are vital for the rest of us, Christina.  For example, here’s an excerpt from the “Discuss Diabetes” posting introducing you:  “Growing up with diabetes has given Christina a unique perspective.  ‘Ever since the beginning, I’ve always had this perception that I didn’t do anything to get Diabetes,’ she said.  ‘I didn’t choose to have this condition, and if people don’t like me because of it, it’s not my problem.  It’s theirs.  People often say, they’re sorry when they hear I have diabetes.  But I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I didn’t have it.  I likely wouldn’t be such a good multi-tasker or as ambitious.  I want people to know that I believe I can still do everything I want to do.’”  Comments?

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  I’ve grown extremely honest.  When I go to the endocrinologist, there are times when residents who are working with the doctors come in to see me first.  The last time I went, I gave her [the resident] a run for her money.  She asked how I was doing, and I told her I’m tired.  I’m exhausted from having to be my pancreas.  There’s this thing called a burnout, where having diabetes literally gets you down and you’re doing things just to get by.  So I gave her this scenario.  For me, a burnout happens about every six months.  When I told her how I felt, she didn’t know how to deal with it, which is fine.  She was just learning.  But sometimes doctors are also shocked at how open I can be.  I figure, the more they know, the more they can help me.  Being vocal and open and talking about it as much as possible is going to eventually make diabetes less of a stigma and more something that can be managed:  Talking about it and making it a lifestyle change. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Are there other challenges for you that are linked to diabetes? 

Christina Elizabeth Rodriguez:  I developed vitiligo, which is skin discoloration.  There are no health repercussions.  It starts off as white patches.  This is another autoimmune disease, and when you have one, you can get more.  There are worse things than having your skin color go away—like diabetes. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Christina—thank you so much for your passionate and important words.  La Bloga honors November Diabetes Awareness with your interview today. Gracias! 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Letras. Letters. Palabras. Words.

My author name, Rudy Ch. Garcia, contains the middle initial Ch., as if it were an abbreviation. It's not. I adopted it to focus Internet searches around me, instead of on the millions of latinos on the planet who also have my given name. Besides to "market" myself, the Ch. emphasizes both my bilingual elementary teacher career and my bilingualism. The Ch. Draws questions and remarks, but hasn't propelled my fame. People can imagine it stands for the famous Che--an association I don't mind--or Chicano, which is also bien.

not the prisoner's, but similar
I recently received three handwritten letters and one story, in the mail, from a man who's in prison for a non-violent crime. So few people write lettrs anymore. His intimidated me, which surprised me. Theoretically, I now had the obligation to answer, not necessarily with a pencil, but with a letter I'd have to send through the mail. I haven't gotten over that and neither have I responded. The story that the incarcerated Chicano wrote is at the bottom of this post. I think it's surprisingly good, detailing his last day before beginning his sentence.

His letters reminded me of some of mine, my half of an exchange of correspondence that went on for about a decade, between me and an English teacher from my junior and high school. In the mid-70s she presented me with a velo-bound, Xeroxed copy, what's called a self-published book, today, containing almost two hundred pages of our letters. To some extent, seeing my words in print influenced my writing mania.
what my teacher gave me
I still have the book but am leery of reading it again. Hearing your teenaged-to-20s self can be unnerving. What immaturity! What self-centeredness! What impassioned introspection about one little life. I intended to give excerpts from the introduction, but I can't do it. If I did, I'd be blushing, nearly shamefully, from what I feel was an over-kind assessment of my "vision, drive, sensitivities, and intellect," among other things. I haven't heard from my co-author teacher in decades. She may no longer be alive. But she left something--there's other copies!?--of herself, and me. The handwriting is gone, but the words between us are here.

Make up our own genres?

I'm going to borrow an artists' word and invent a new, genre term for my written works--fabulist mextasy. There, it's done. I might have to stop using it if the originator(s) feel it's counter to the intended meaning.
Hammond's new book, not fabulist mextasy
Why invent a new genre? At the end of this piece, are Warren Hammond's thoughts that initiated this. I've heard the same idea from Chicano authors. Would Mario Acevedo's books do better as Chicano thriller or paranormal vampire stories? Are Manuel Ramos's books crime or detective or Chicano or all of that or other combinations? Genre is what literary agents, publishers, and readers want. It can make or break.

From this point on, I consider much ofmy writing to be fabulist mextasy. The original definitions are below. I do write somewhat in a fable tradition. I believe the term mextasy applies to much of contemporary, Chicano stories, whether they are speculative or not. And its play on fantasy seems descriptive of some works.

where mextasy began?
From weekly posts, news and diatribes that I read, I've had it up to here (5'7.5") with exclusionary attitudes in the "American" publishing and writing world. It's a mostly white, mostly male, mostly oldsters dominated business. Getting our patas in the door, getting their conventions and organizations to include and welcome us is somebody else's lifetime task. Not mine.

So, I'd rather my unpublished works be true to themselves and my art--I call it--rather than be pigeonholed for the sake of marketability. If an agent or publisher insists on different, established genres, okay, I'll concede. Until then, welcome to the first author of fabulist mextasy. You have my unneeded permission to borrow, use, alter or propogate it, if you want.
my 1st fabulist mextasy, in Revista Iguana
Definition of fabulist: “For two decades, a small group of innovative writers rooted in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, and horror have been simultaneously exploring and erasing the boundaries of those genres by creating fiction of remarkable depth and power”, thus extending the definition of “Fabulist,” which generally does not include fantasy, science fiction or horror. Fabulist, is generally taken to mean magic realism without geographical boundaries, in other words, not necessarily Latin American. New wave fabulist simply stretches that definition to include other more non-realistic forms."
Why mextasy: "Mextasy is more than a representation of ecstasy about or for Mexico; it is about the sensuous tracings Mexican culture leaves both sides of the border. More existential state than archive, Mextasy speaks to the living organism of Mexicanicity as it moves between the bodies of Mexico and the United States--an overt and covert delicious miasma that arouses as it excites, excites as it provokes. ¡Que viva Mexico!, within and without its borders . . . the image of Mexico in the United States."

"The human mind wants to categorize. When people go shopping, they want to be able to find things that they know they like. Categorization can be a double-edged sword. If you say, 'I am this,' and there's a whole audience out there that likes this, then it's good. But I think we as genre writers sometimes run the risk of categorizing ourselves too much.

"For instance, as I was writing my KOP books, I was thinking, this is great. Mystery readers will read them and science-fiction readers will read them. I'll appeal to two audiences.' What tend[ed] to happen instead, as I learned, was that mystery readers say, 'I don't read science fiction,' and science-fiction readers say, 'I don't read mystery.' So sometimes you actually end up marginalizing yourself. We geek ourselves out too much, and we become a little insular." I was excited that I won [the Colorado Book Award], and I do think KOP Killer is noir mystery first and science fiction second. I was pleased the science-fiction elements weren't held against me."

The letter from the prisoner
I left this story largely unedited. What I found intriguing was how it reveals the thoughts of a man on his way to prison. The minutiae somehow seem appropriate, however mundanely trivial the content might usually be. It's no literary masterpiece, but it made me wonder what I would write if I were on the bus. Or, what about if it was the day before my execution?

The Bus to Nowhere
On this particular morning I woke up early. I knew I would be taking the Metro to my court appointment. My intention was to meet a reporter outside the courthouse. Today I would turn myself in to do a ten-moth stretch in the state jail. 
     I showered and dressed in clothes I had preselected the evening before. I proceeded to prepare breakfast for my wife, as I normally did. By 6:00am she was in the shower. Her radiance made up for the sun yet to rise. I finished my morning tasks, then entered the bathroom. I handed her my wedding ring and asked her to hold it for me until my return. We kissed goodbye. I exited the back door. I drew the gate open and walked down the alley, six blocks to the bus stop.
     Almost immediately, the bus approached. I sat my able body in a handicapped seat. Four older women occupied the seats behind and across from me. They were either on their way to work or returning. Either direction didn't matter. The years of domestic labor was recorded by the callous texture of their motherly hands. Housekeepers, maids, janitors, that mattered, neither. Their American dreams long ago swept away and disposed of. 
     A stop forward, another woman entered and took a seat. It must have been here that the importance of me and my day exited. 
     As one of the four departed, another waved gently, saying goodbye. "Until tomorrow." The exiter replied, "Si Diós quiere," meaning, "If God wills it." 
     The newest rider thumbed through her purse. She withdrew a few dollars--fifteen would be my estimate. Unnoticed, she passed it to the woman behind her. Obscured by the roar of the moving bus, she thanked the other woman. In response, the loaner said it wasn't necessary that she pay her all of it. The borrower looked up, commenting, "No, no, money only brings trouble." In her purse were a couple of other bundles with paper notes attached, as she had sorted these out the night before, her pending debts
     Onward rode these women with lives as routine as the bus they rode. So, too, of the other six or eight passengers. A bunch of nobodies? For, after all, everyone knows--on these seats, unreserved, no one rides the bus.  --fin--

Es todo, hoy,
RudyG., man of letters, and cartas, and spec stories, and author with the Spanish ch in his name

Friday, November 21, 2014

Interview with L.A. Poet Laureate: Luis J. Rodriguez

Melinda Palacio

Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez

Bringing poetry to an entire city is a tough job. Mayor Garcetti chose the right man. Welcome Los Angeles Poet Laureate, Luis J. Rodriguez. His generous interview answers show a man who can take on tremendous responsibilities, especially those of elder and poet to the city of angels. As a Tia Chucha Press Poet, I'm a little biased but very humble and grateful for this interview with the 2014-2016 Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, Luis J. Rodriguez. Luis offers his personal website and email as venues to receive suggestions for bringing poetry to the center of our culture. 

Melinda Palacio: What are some of your expectations as poet laureate?

Luis J. Rodriguez: First to magnify what I do already—speak to students; conduct workshops in as many schools, libraries and communities as possible; to attend and help establish poetry events and festivals in our vast terrain of a city; to represent with dignity the city’s myriad voices, flavors and tongues, including reaching out to the forgotten or pushed out—such as those behind bars, undocumented, LGBT, or homeless. And, of course, I’ll write poems.

MAP: How do you plan on making Los Angeles a more creative space and what can the city expect during your tenure?

LJR: My plan is to help poetry, and all the arts, explode.  Poetry should be an everyday and every occasion thing.  I want to help bring poetry to the center of our culture, where it needs to be.  Presently, poetry in our city, state and country is highly marginalized, concentrated in a few hands, un-promoted and mostly unused.  People are much more engaged in popular culture, sports teams, video games, reality shows, celebrity gossip—which is all entertaining, but very much pushed on the rest of us.  There’s big money in this.  Poetry is not that easily appropriated.  You don’t need an industry to do poetry.  Anyone is capable.  Poetry like most art is internal.  Provide skills, mentoring, cultural spaces, and poetry can come alive for anyone.  Poetry is deep soul talk, truth derived, and therefore immanently scary.  It’s a prophetic act, not in the sense that poetry or art “predicts” the future, but that it pulls from the threads of the past, the dynamics of the present, to imagine and point to a possible future free of the limitations, uncertainties, inequalities, and angsts we face.  I plan during my two-year assignment as Poet Laureate to bring out the healing and revolutionary qualities of poetry to a city hungry for this energy and power.

MAP: This position is sponsored by the LA Public Library, will there be some coordination between the LA Public Library and Tia Chucha's?

LJR: The cultural space and bookstore I helped establish in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, will continue doing what it does during my time as poet laureate.  This includes reaching out to libraries and schools.  I want Tia Chucha’s to be key to my position—it’s a positive example of how art, including poetry, transforms lives.  As for literature, we have writing circles, an outdoor annual literacy festival, weekly open mics, and a renowned poetry press.  I will definitely work with the vast L.A. Public Library system to reach out and broaden our reach.  Tia Chucha’s will be honored to assist and collaborate in any way possible.

MAP: Is there also a role that Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural and/or Tia Chucha Press will play in the near future?

LJR: Most Angelinos do not know about Tia Chucha’s and its small press, Tia Chucha Press. In fact, L.A. has amazing small presses, including Kaya Press, Writ Large, the well-known Red Hen Press, and others.  The area also has amazing independent bookstores like Eso Won, Book Soup, Skylights, Vroman’s, Seite Books, Libros Smibros, and Tia Chucha’s.  We plan to cooperate in a number of events within the next two years, including in 2016 when the largest writers (and teachers of writing) conference in the U.S. is held here—the Associated Writing Programs conference that has had up to 12,000 participants from all over the country.  We may have an anthology of youth work.  Many ideas have already come my way. Yes, definitely, Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and its press will play a big role.  Anyone can go to to find out more.

MAP: Can you share any immediate activities slated in the near future in either your roles as LA Poet Laureate or Tia Chucha Publisher and Founder of the Centro? Any dates or events you'd like La Bloga to list?

LJR: Presently, the L.A. Public Library and the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs have not sat down with me to work on all the plans I have.  But I’ll make sure they will be publicized.  I do have a “Love Poem to Los Angeles” that I wrote just before the Poet Laureate position was announced by Mayor Eric Garcetti in early October.  I’d like to get this published soon—in a major publication first, and then elsewhere.  We plan another “Celebrating Words” festival in Pacoima next spring.  I will make sure to inform La Bloga and its readers about our final decisions.

MAP: What can the public do to assist in your vision for the city and what can Tia Chucha Press Poets do for you?

LJR: I’d like to hear from local libraries, schools, or community organizations about possible readings, workshops, and events in which children, youth, and families can be invited and engaged.  In more than just English as well.  I’d like to see more Open Mics—where people feel free to express themselves in words, songs, performances, and such.  I will accept proposals at my website at  People can also reach me at  Obviously, not all ideas can be done.  But what I’m thinking can happen with inspiration, a seed planted, a flower of creativity watered.  It can happen with or without me.  My job is to help push or create social energy toward healing and authority through poetry and the arts.

The Wedding of Margarita Lopez and Silverio Pelayo at Tia Chucha's
Officiated by Trini and Luis Rodriguez

MAP: Recently, you and Trini officiated a wedding at Tia Chucha's. This must say so much about how Tia Chucha's is truly a cultural center. Was this the first wedding at the center? Your energy seems boundless. How do you find time to fit in all of your roles? Do you have plans to seek public office in the near future?

LJR: In the thirteen years we’ve been in the Northeast Valley, we’ve seen young people grow up.  Some get married, have babies, continue to develop into wonderful and whole human beings.  Many learned guitar, Son Jarocho musical traditions, Mexican Danza (so-called Aztec dance), photography, mural painting, keyboards, drumming, puppetry, theater, and more at Tia Chucha’s.  Many read books, often for the first time, there.  We’ve had two weddings at our space where Trini and I were asked to officiate—and I have officiated three other weddings outside the space.  We’re honored to do this.  This is recognition of our eldership, our connection to new generations.  Trini and I are both in our early 60s; this is one way we can give back in a meaningful and respectful way.  How do I make time?  Community, including the poor, the exploited and oppressed, energizes me.  I’m energized by the possibilities of full justice and equity for all.  Ideas and actions together; learning, teaching and realizing—where there are no unreachable gulfs between these.  I’ve also been sober for 21 years—this helps tremendously.  I no longer live hidden lives, drinking, carousing, squandering time and relationships.  I’m more integral than I’ve ever been, and what an ordeal it has been to get here.  I’m revolutionary to the core, and this helps.  I won’t get “settled in,” complacent or satisfied with achievements.  But I also know—this is not about me.  It’s class, community, a new world. I may seek public office in the future—I don’t think we can turn over any political or cultural ground to the one percent, the wealthy or powerful that aim to control all this.  But for now, for the next two years, I’m concentrating on being Poet Laureate—to extend the important conversation about deep, systemic and healthy change, and how poetry can help.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Book: Letters from Heaven / Cartas del cielo

Celeste is heartbroken when her grandmother dies. But everything changes when a letter mysteriously comes in the mail—from Grandma! As letters continue to arrive from the beyond, each with a recipe of a favorite food her grandmother used to prepare, Celeste consoles herself by learning how to cook the dishes.

Meanwhile, without Grandma’s Social Security check Mami needs to get a second job to make ends meet. Celeste has to quit dance lessons, and a bully at school gloats that she will replace Celeste as the star in the upcoming recital. To top things off, her friends think that she has gone crazy . . . dead people can’t send letters!

Soon Celeste realizes that all the recipes combined make an entire meal: café con leche, guava and cheese croissants, congrí, plantain chips, ropa vieja and flan. Can she really make a Cuban feast to celebrate her cherished grandmother’s life?

Published in bilingual "flip" format by Arte Público Press, this middle-grade novel celebrates the cultural traditions of the Spanish Caribbean while tackling challenging subjects, such as trouble with friends and the death of a grandparent. The book includes six traditional Cuban recipes with easy-to-follow instructions.

 “A tender depiction of a child’s acceptance of the death of a beloved grandmother and the cultural importance of traditional foods.”
—Kirkus Reviews

 “This delightful novel is a Like Water for Chocolate for young readers. Celeste rises out of her grief by replacing her sadness with el sabor of life, by living as her grandmother did, with love and flavor."
— Judith Ortiz Cofer, author of Call Me María

 “Add one girl who misses her abuelita to a handful of coveted Cuban recipes, stir in a pinch of magic and you get a heartening tale of love, loss and the healing power of family and friendship.” 
—Laura Lacámara, author of Dalia’s Wondrous Hair / El cabello maravilloso de Dalia

 “A poignant and uplifting story about the special bond only a grandmother and a granddaughter can share. Delicious and magical!” 
—Reyna Grande, author of The Distance Between Us

Letters from Heaven / Cartas del cielo
by Lydia Gil
ISBN-13: 978-1-55885-798-8 
For children ages 8-12 
Available now from Piñata Books, Arte Público Press