Friday, May 26, 2017

Events - New Books

Spring is here and cultura is busting out all over.  Quite a variety this week, making for good exercise -- aerobic stimulation for the brain and heart.
Tierra Tinta Conference

Desierto Screens at the Roxy Theater in San Francisco

DESIERTO by Jonás Cuarón screens May 28 at Roxy Theater in San Francisco

The film will be followed by a Q&A with director Jonás Cuarón co-sponsored by the General Consulate of Mexico in San Francisco. Co-presented by Cine+Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival, PODER SF, and CARECEN.

From Jonás Cuarón and Alfonso Cuarón, the acclaimed filmmakers of Gravity, comes a unique, modern vision of terror. Desierto is a visceral, heart-pounding thriller packed with tension and suspense from start to finish, starring Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries and Y Tu Mamá También) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead, Watchmen).
What begins as a hopeful journey to seek a better life becomes a harrowing and primal fight for survival when a deranged, rifle-toting vigilante chases a group of unarmed men and women through the treacherous U.S.-Mexican border. In the harsh, unforgiving desert terrain, the odds are stacked firmly against them as they continuously discover there’s nowhere to hide from the unrelenting, merciless killer

Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alondra Hidalgo.
Mexico, France. 2015. 94 min. DCP.

Showtime: May 28 6:00 PM Big Roxie SF

Finalists Announced for Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing
Restless Books believes passionately in the rich contributions immigrants have always made to our culture and literature. Now in its second year, we're delighted to announce the finalists for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, to be awarded this year for a debut work of nonfiction by a first-generation immigrant. We've been bowled over by the keen insight and wide diversity of experience that these writers have boldly brought to the page. After careful deliberation, judges Anjali Singh and Ilan Stavans have selected four finalists: 
  • King Leopold's Daughter, by Mona de Vestel
  • Far from the Rooftop of the World, by Amy Yee 
  • The Body Papers, by Grace Talusan
  • The Fifth Season, by Nikita Nelin
The winning writer will receive $10,000 and publication by Restless Books. Read more about these brilliant up-and-coming authors on our blog, and stay tuned for the announcement of the winner! 
Anjali Singh, Ilan Stavans, and the Restless Books team

And A Few New Books

First, modern stories from La Bloga's own Daniel Olivas -- congrats Daniel!

University of Arizona Press - September
[from the publisher]

A literary illumination of the City of Angels

Wanderers and writers, gangbangers and lawyers, dreamers and devils. The King of Lighting Fixtures paints an idiosyncratic but honest portrait of Los Angeles, depicting how the city both entrances and confounds. Each story serves as a reflection of Daniel A. Olivas’s grand City of Angels, a “magical metropolis where dreams come true.” The characters here represent all walks of L.A. life—from Satan’s reluctant Craigslist roommate to a young girl coping with trauma at her brother’s wake—and their tales ebb and flow among various styles, including magical realism, social realism, and speculative fiction. Like a jazz album, they glide and bop, tease and illuminate, sadden and hearten as they navigate effortlessly from meta to fabulist, from flash fiction to longer, more complex narratives.

These are literary sketches of a Los Angeles that will surprise, connect, and 
disrupt readers wherever they may live.

Daniel A. Olivas is the author of seven books, including The Book of Want: A Novel and Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews. He earned his degree in English literature from Stanford University, and law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. Since 1990, Olivas has practiced law with the California Department of Justice. A second-generation Angeleno, he makes his home in Los Angeles with his wife.

The Champions' Game
Saul Ramirez as told to John Seidlitz
Canter Press - May, 2017

[from the publisher]

In April of 2015, a team of 12 middle schoolers—border kids—from South-Central El Paso surprised the country by taking first place in the national chess championships.

The 11, 12 and 13-year-old chess players at El Paso ISD’s Henderson Middle School largely credit their success to one man: Saul Ramirez, a 30-year-old dad and husband who teaches art at Henderson during the day and coaches the chess team after school. The story of Ramirez and his students is chronicled in The Champions’ Game, a testament to the resilience and spirit of children who dare to dream.

Many of the 700-plus students at Henderson Middle School come and go from across the border in Juárez, where they live. A third of the students are English Language Learners, and over 96 percent are from low-income families, with all of the students at the school qualifying for the free lunch program.

For these kids, dreams of beating highly privileged students from “fancy” schools in upper-crust neighborhoods aren’t on the radar. They have bigger issues to deal with in life. Which is why it borders on the miraculous that they choose to voluntarily—even enthusiastically—commit countless hours every week to the practice of a game that they had known virtually nothing about until two years ago when Ramirez started a chess club at Henderson.

Ramirez’s genius is not so much the chess that he teaches (even though he’s a former Texas state chess champion), but in his ability to intertwine life principles with chess rules to expand the minds, the insight and even the future possibilities of the students he teaches. The book’s 14 chapters lay out Ramirez’s rules for life—and chess, introducing concepts like guard your queen, control your center and protect your king.

Ramirez grew up in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio, a neighborhood that might bring to mind Compton, or South Central, or 8 Mile, often noted as the poorest zip code in the United States. Ramirez seems to possess a singular ability to draw out the talents of his students, perhaps because chess is much more than just a game to him. In The Champions’ Game, he writes,

“I want to start a revolution. A revolution of the mind. I want to do what was done for me by [the people] who were always there for me when I was a child, guiding me, teaching me, showing me how to be a man, an artist, a teacher. I want to build children anew, from the mind up. That does not take genius. It takes love.” 

Saul Ramirez is the chess coach and art teacher at Henderson Middle School in El Paso, Texas, where he coached his students to win the national chess championships in 2015 and 2016.  When he discovered chess as a child, it created a pathway out of misfortune. Ramirez, like his current students, competed and became a champion in various tournaments. Ramirez graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in May 2010 and started teaching at Henderson Middle School in August of that same year, where he continues to create new paths for the dreams of his students. He was recently named 2017 Secondary Teacher of the Year by the El Paso Independent School District. He lives in El Paso with his wife, Edna, and two children, Saul Jr. and Frida.

Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics
Frederick Luis Aldama

University of Arizona Press - October

[from the Publisher]

Toward a history and theory of Latinx heroes and their stories

Whether good or evil, beautiful or ugly, smart or downright silly, able-bodied or differently abled, gay or straight, male or female, young or old, Latinx superheroes in mainstream comic book stories are few and far between. It is as if finding the Latinx presence in the DC and Marvel worlds requires activation of superheroic powers.

Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics blasts open barriers with a swift kick. It explores deeply and systematically the storyworld spaces inhabited by brown superheroes in mainstream comic book storyworlds: print comic books, animation, TV, and film. It makes visible and lets loose the otherwise occluded and shackled. Leaving nothing to chance, it sheds light on how creators (authors, artists, animators, and directors) make storyworlds that feature Latinos/as, distinguishing between those that we can and should evaluate as well done and those we can and should evaluate as not well done.

The foremost expert on Latinx comics, Frederick Luis Aldama guides us through the full archive of all the Latinx superheros in comics since the 1940s. Aldama takes us where the superheroes live—the barrios, the hospitals, the school rooms, the farm fields—and he not only shows us a view to the Latinx content, sometimes deeply embedded, but also provokes critical inquiry into the way storytelling formats distill and reconstruct real Latinos/as.
Thoroughly entertaining but seriously undertaken, Latinx Superheroes in Mainstream Comics allows us to truly see how superhero comic book storyworlds are willfully created in ways that make new our perception, thoughts, and feelings.

 Frederick Luis Aldama is the Arts and Humanities Distinguished Professor of English and University Distinguished Scholar at the Ohio State University. An expert on Latinx popular culture, Aldama is the author, co-author, and editor of twenty-nine books, including Long Stories Cut Short: Fictions from the Borderlands, Your Brain on Latino Comics: From Gus Arriola to Los Bros Hernandez, and The Cinema of Robert Rodriguez.

Chicano Popular Culture, Second Edition: Que Hable el Pueblo
Charles M. Tatum 

University of Arizona Press - September

Updated and expanded to offer critical understandings relevant to today’s students

Since 2001, Charles M. Tatum’s Chicano Popular Culture has offered a window into popular culture among Americans of Mexican descent. Chicano Popular Culture, Second Edition provides a fascinating, timely, and accessible introduction to Chicano cultural expression and representation.

New sections discuss music, with an emphasis on hip-hop and rap; cinema and filmmakers; media, including the contributions of Jorge Ramos and María Hinojosa; and celebrations and other popular traditions, including quinceañeras, cincuentañeras, and César Chávez Day.

In addition, Tatum has updated and expanded each chapter, with significant revisions in the following areas:

• “Suggested Readings” for each chapter
• Chicanas in the Chicano Movement and Chicanos since the Chicano Movement
• Popular literature, including new material on Denise Chávez, Luis J. Rodríguez, Alfredo Vea, Luis Alberto Urrea, Richard Rodríguez, and Juan Felipe Herrera
• Theoretical approaches to popular culture, including the perspectives of Norma Cantú, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Pancho McFarland, Michelle Habell-Pallán, and Víctor Sorell

Featuring clear examples, an engaging writing style, and helpful discussion questions, Chicano Popular Culture, Second Edition invites readers to discover and enjoy Mexican American popular culture. 

Charles m. Tatum is a dean emeritus of the College of Humanities at the University of Arizona. He is the author or editor of many books, including Lowriders in Chicano Culture: From Low to Slow to Show and Chicano and Chicana Literature: Otra voz del pueblo.


Manuel Ramos
is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in 2016.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Chicanonautica: My Unfinished Novels

What do I do when I'm not blogging, farting around online, or doing grunt work for the Phoenix Public library? Why I write, of course. And yes, I have been doing it lately. I do it all the time, actually. I can't stop. I'm a writer. Tezcatlipoca help me.

Right now, I'm taking a break from what will eventually be a novel called Paco Cohen is Alive and Well and Living on Mars. I just finished a Paco story that is being considered by a science fiction magazine. Another such story is in the anthology Latin@ Rising. I promised Ben Bova that I'd write the novel. I'd charge into the next story, but Paco takes his toll on me—writing about him dredges up some heavy stuff out of my battered psyche.

I'd work on a short story, but lately I've been haunted by my other unfinished novels. I keep them in my iTouch, for on-the-run/workplace breakroom writing, and use Google Drive to work on them on my iMac at home. Somehow, I get a lot of writing done.

Right now I'm working on Bring Me the Brain of Victor Theremin, a deranged romp deconstructing current realities with the character that has become an alter ego—a science fiction who's lost track of where the sci-fi ends and his life begins. My own personal Raoul Duke. I didn't mean for it to happen; he took on a life of his own and went amok, like good characters do. I intend for it to seem totally chaotic and out of control, but it will come together in a synapse-searing ending. Right now it's more chaotic than I like, but most of my manuscripts are that way at first. I plan on putting together a coherent sample chapters/outline package, then it's back to Mars with Paco.

If that doesn't keep me busy, there's always my other unfinished novels. If you're a real writer, you've got a few . . .

I would really like to finish my bullfighting novel. It's connected to a couple of stories that Scott Edelman published in ScienceFiction Age, “Tauromaquia,” and “Frank's Tricer Run.” There's a female protagonist, who goes through a futuristic, spiritual quest that's tied up with genetic engineering and space exploration. It will explore bizarre religious practices. Damn! It'll be such a great novel!

Too bad bullfighting is such a taboo subject. You should see the nasty reactions I've gotten when I post stuff about it on Facebook. It's a place where you know you've left the querencia of Anglo culture, and are leaning past to burladero into a wild, bloody, shit-smeared spectacle that sends long spit-streams flying.

Then there's my six-shooters&sorcery novel. It's developed from my story “Lupita's Hand,” that can be found in the anthology LostTrails 2. Maybe it's more commercial that the others, but I've done a lot of research into the real Wild West, the weird fringes of the western genre, and real witchcraft as practiced in Aztlán. What I have is rather rambunctious, which may or may not be a good thing.

I also have ideas for sequels to High Aztech, Cortez on Jupiter, and Smoking Mirror Blues . . .

Every time I try to sell out, it goes horribly wrong. I've spent the best decades of my life trying to figure out what's “commercial” and still don't have a clue. Isn't this enough sex and violence for you cabrones?

And I'm getting old—62, if anyone's counting. I'm in pretty good health, but you never know how long you've got. Maybe I should just write what I feel like writing, finish as much as I can, and raise hell while I'm at it.

Ernest Hogan is one of the most successful Chicano writers of his generation. His definition of success has changed over the years.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Written by Xelena Gonzalez
Illustrated by Adriana Garcia

  • Age Range: 3 - 7 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 2
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press (September 12, 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1941026761
  • ISBN-13: 978-1941026762

Circles are all around us. We just have to look for them. Sometimes they exist in the most unusual places, even places we cannot see.

Grandpa says circles are all around us. He points to the rainbow that rises high in the sky after a thundercloud has come. "Can you see? That's only half of the circle. That rest of it is down below, in the earth."

He and his granddaughter meditate on gardens and seeds, on circles seen and unseen, inside and outside us, on where our bodies come from and where they return to. They share and create family traditions in this stunning exploration of the cycles of life and nature.

This is a debut picture book for Xelena Gonzalez and Adriana Garcia.

Xelena González has roots in San Antonio, Texas, but has stretched her wings to fly all the way to Guangzhou, China, where she works as a librarian in an international school. She studied journalism at Northwestern University and library science at Texas Woman’s University, but her true training as a storyteller has come from getting to know other living beings—including plants, animals, and people who happen to speak different languages or see the world in unusual ways. She tells these stories through picture books, essays, song, and dance. All Around Us is her first book.

Adriana M. Garcia creates as a way to document lives and to honor the human existence, aiming to extract the inherent liminality of a moment before action as a way to articulate our stories. She is proficient both in traditional painting as well as web-based new-media applications. For this particular project, Adriana and her collaborator have challenged each other to answer complex questions about culture, humanity, and unique worldviews in a way that is simple, universal, and appealing enough to reach the youngest members of our society. All Around Us is her first book illustration project.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Juan Felipe Herrera Delivers Sayers Lecture at his Alma Mater. News 'n Notes.

Michael Sedano

Good things come in all sizes and shapes, and in the greater Los Angeles basin, distance. Variety spices life but confounds desire and planning when they--the Good things--all come at once. Given eastside westside all around the town, faced with choices last Sunday, I choose the road less traveled.

In Highland Park, a La Palabra reading convened at Avenue 50 Studio. My hometown Pasadena Arts Fest had a Huizache panel that meant cutting it too close on the other end. Concepción Valadez had secured tickets to hear Juan Felipe Herrera deliver the 2017 Frances Clarke Sayers Lecture at UCLA. No playing CPT at a major university fete, so the best bet was playing it safe. I opted for an early start on the drive to the West side.

Juan Felipe Herrera's first publication from his undergrad days at UCLA
200 copies were printed, then lost, now located in storage. Pristine and beautifully printed.

Parking was free, an incredibly humane policy for the non-academic public. Parking Lot SV served Sunset Village, an astonishingly upscale residence complex served by coffee shops, book stores, and a spacious auditorium. The sponsor, UCLA Ed & IS and the UCLA Department of Information Studies, pulled out all the stops. The entry foyer glistened with champagne flutes and a sea of bottle necks protruding from cases of wine.

Afterwards, the foyer had been set up to dispense beverages and elegant sweets. Outside in the patio, crudités, exquisite cheeses, fruits, hummus, olives, and eggplant filled plates while attendants circulated with hot appetizers. Gluten-free guests loved the warm dried fig slathered with gorgonzola cheese and topped with walnut.

The Sayers Lecture honors former Department Of Information Studies faculty member Dr. Frances Clarke Sayers (1897-1989), who, the school's website informs, "was a noted American children’s librarian, author, and lecturer. She was an outspoken advocate for excellence in children’s literature, making her one of the most influential children’s librarians of her generation."

For Juan Felipe Herrera the lecture has the look and feel of an unofficial stop on the Poet Laureate’s unofficial farewell tour. After two years of traveling about the schools and poetry stages of the nation, Herrera has wrapped up his two terms in D.C. and comes home.

The stage has been set up with an imposing lectern on the left, a table decorated with perfect Peonies separates two chairs center stage.  He is introduced from the lectern by academics comfortable behind a pulpit. Offered the lecturer's spot, Herrera elects to stand. He sits for a Q&A following his talk.

The sound system amplifies every thump of the poet's hand brushing across his lavaliere mic. The thumping was worse from the lectern and the audience quickly grows accustomed to the thumps.

Herrera was in a mood to reminisce and he devotes the hour in a synoptic memoir delivered with an understated straightforwardness, the voice of a man who’s been at the center of such amazing events as Poet Laureate of California, two terms as Poet Laureate of the United States, traveling all around the country doing poetry, harvesting the fields as a kid.

Juan Felipe has been incredibly productive in publishing poetry collections, hasta children’s picture books. During the reading portion of the lecture, Herrera brings out two books. One is his first publication, from his UCLA undergrad days. Another comes from a trove of recently recovered copies of a once-lost book.

The Sayers Lecture was mostly narrative,  the poet responding to his introduction. He brought no guitar did hat tricks. The speaker’s natural animated delivery held his audience's focus. They are willing to recite along with the poet. Like the lecture, the poems are multilingual, engaging, affirmational. The audience is a little slow to get into the call-response flow, but after two or three lines the house was with the poet, word for word. Everyone was doing poetry.

The Sayers Lecture draws a book-buying audience. Events like this allow readers and collectors to own books autographed by the author. Such volumes have value well beyond their contents.

Concepción Valadez was the last person in line, casí

Concepción Valadez is the kind of audience poets love. She buys multiple titles and multiple copies for friends and familia.

It’s a good thing the A-list food was served, it keeps people out of the book-signing line that stretches out the door. People eat, then get in line. The friendly laureate signs and adds a line drawing to the page while engaging each book buyer in repartee. The wait allows plenty of time for people to write a name on a post-it note. The Laureate then copies the slip to his title page, personalizing the book while giving the reader a memorable moment of conversation and camaraderie among the people in line.

National Hispanic Cultural Center Plans Reading

San Jose, CA
Bless Me, Ultima Opera in Try-out Performance

The event organizers plan this as a gala event. Per their invitation:

Following the presentation, there will be a private post-reception. Join us for refreshments to celebrate the performance and meet the artists! Attendance will be limited to 25 guests for this special event.

June 17th, 2017 @ MACLA in San Jose
2:00pm Bless Me Ultima Presentation ($15.00)
3:00pm Private Post-Reception ($30.00)

**PLEASE NOTE: You must purchase an "Adult-General" ticket AND a "Private Post-Reception" ticket if you plan to attend both the performance and the reception.

For information on tickets, contact 1-800-838-3006 or click here.

Monday, May 22, 2017

President Trump: The Hustler 2.0

Guest essay by Alvaro Huerta, Ph.D.

On September 15, 2016, in an essay titled “The Hustler: Trump and the Mean Streets of East Los Angeles,” I argued that then-presidential candidate Donald J. Trump was hustling the American public. Now, thanks to the support of the FBI’s James Comey, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, Trump—as President of the United States—has continued to hustle the American public. Given his mastery, his next book should be titled “The Art of the American Hustle.”

In a nutshell, a hustler represents an individual who will say and do anything—without remorse or guilt—to serve his or her self-interest. While critics have labeled Trump many applicable terms, such as liar, erratic, narcissistic and thin-skinned, etc., I find that “hustler” best describes his twisted rhetoric and immoral actions.

When they speak or act, hustlers can’t be believed or trusted. I should know, since I grew up on the mean streets of East Los Angeles, where I encountered many of them. Also, as a long time political activist and analyst, I’ve observed and studied hustlers at the local, state and national level. This includes politicians (Republicans and Democrats alike), government officials, private developers, cops and other powerful individuals who hustle the American public to serve themselves.

Apart from Trump, Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is an excellent example of a hustler. While Ryan portrays himself as a “sensible” policy wonk who “cares” about the American people, his sinister obsession to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare represents an atrocious and inhumane political agenda. For example, as House Speaker, Ryan led the GOP’s successful efforts to rush a so-called health plan that will wreak havoc on millions of Americans.

While Ryan’s previously failed “health plan” would have left 24 million Americans without healthcare, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the negative impacts of his recently passed “health plan,” named the American Health Care Act (AHCA), appears to have similar catastrophic results for millions of Americans.

If this is such a “great plan,” as Trump claims, why not allow for the CBO to conduct a thorough analysis and provide a score?

Speaking of the orange elephant in the room, as “The Hustler 2.0,” Trump has argued that pre-existing conditions will be covered in the GOP’s efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. However, according to many analysts and reporters, like Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times (05/04/17), AHCA “allows states to opt out of ACA rules prohibiting insurers from charging sick people higher premiums.” This is like the GOP passing a law that allows states to opt out of federal minimum wage standards, child labor protections and anti-racist measures in public and private spheres (e.g., no white-only lunch counters in the South). That is, according to the GOP, the federal government shouldn’t interfere if states want to deprive their residents from basic services and protections that all people deserve as rights, not privileges.

Also, let’s not forget about the border wall. First, Trump told us that Mexico was going to pay for it. Now, as the leader of the most powerful country in the world, he wants American taxpayers to pay for it, where Mexico will magically reimburse us in the future.

In terms of NAFTA (or the North American North American Free Trade Agreement), originally, Trump called it “the worst trade deal in the history of this country” (speech in Pennsylvania, 06/28/17) and vowed to reverse it. Now, after phone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, Trump will negotiate NAFTA with his trading partners. If that’s not a huuuge hustle, I don’t know what is?

I can go on and on about China, Russia, NATO and North Korea, but what’s the point?

Trying to keep up with “The Hustler 2.0” will only make “your head spin,” as Trump says when he’s boasting about something that he’s clearly clueless about!

Actually, apart from “The Hustler 2.0,” there’s a term that Mexicans—on both sides of the border—use for shameless individuals (or those who lack shame) that applies to Trump: sinvergüenza.

Sinvergüenza also applies to Ryan and the Republicans who publicly rejoiced about taking away healthcare from millions of Americans, if successful in the Senate.

Dr. Huerta is an assistant professor of urban & regional planning and ethnic & women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm (San Diego State University Press, 2013) and other publications.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Interview with a Mestizo. Are You Home? Are you Awake?

Melinda Palacio

Mestizos Come Home!

Mestizos Come Home! is a book you'll want to read and then reread. You'll also be compelled to buy more books, copies of the book for your friends and copies of all the literature and references cited in the book. Mestizos Come Home! shares what Mexican Americans have accomplished since the 1960s, but also addresses important issues regarding community and its future in the United States. Rudolf Anaya says this book is a "must-read" for those who wish to understand the future of the United States. The research for this book reaches back to the eighteenth-century. La Bloga sits down with the author, Robert Con Davis-Undiano, Neustadt Professor and Presidential Professor at the University of Oklahoma and executive director or World Literature Today.

This interview is much more thorough and longer than a contemporary internet format, but I trust La Bloga readers will appreciate it. Before you listen to Maria Hinojosa's upcoming Latino USA show featuring Robert Con Davis-Undiano, you can read the complete La Bloga interview below.

Melinda Ann Palacio:
Where did the idea for this book spring from? How did you decide to combine the body, low rider culture, literature, and the sense of place Atzlan?

Robert Con Davis-Undiano:
My initial thought was to write a much simpler book than what I ended up with.  A few years ago, I was struck constantly that people said things in the media about Latinos and Mexican Americans that were patently untrue—just inaccurate.  For example, people casually talk about Latinos not wanting to assimilate into mainstream U.S. culture.  Every Latino knows that this isn’t true. Assimilation is at least a three-part process of acculturation and involvement with the new culture, and it does not happen overnight. Sociologists have studied this question specifically in regard to Latinos, and Latinos are not taking longer than any other group to assimilate.  So I wanted to correct some of these misunderstandings and put on display some of the great accomplishments of Mexican American and Latino culture.

I chose topics like the body, land, and the Chicano cultural “voice” because these issues are not always discussed in the culture, and I knew that they would be enlightening to non-Latinos.  Especially the issue of the body is a far-reaching issue that encompasses much about Latino culture and Latino history in the Americas and helps to contrast Latinos in so many ways to mainstream culture.  That topic is so important that it threatened to take over the whole book.  In a word, I chose the topics that I thought would be most enlightening to mainstream culture.

This book is such a thorough text on the call home for Mestizos and Chicanos who claim Mexican American identity. Were your intentions always so all encompassing? Did some of the chapters start off as something else?

This is an excellent question.  I started out with the specific aim of bridging non-Latinos and Latinos, to bring the two cultures closer together.  What I soon discovered, however, was that the backlog of misunderstood history and culture was greater than I had thought, enormous, and it really cut across all of Latin America.  That’s when I read Eduardo Galeano and others who had already identified the pattern of cultural “amnesia,” the way in which mestizos have been systematically excluded and marginalized from so much about life and community in the Americas.  Basically, the Spanish in the colonial period created the pattern of marginalizing everybody who was not blanco, especialy blacks and those with complex racial identities.  That pattern is still part of the historical legacy of culture and community in the Americas.  I was able to see that so much of what needed to be exposed, put in the open, and discussed was covered over and made invisible, like a body hidden after a crime.  I further saw that, owing in part to the Chicano Movement and the Chicano Renaissance, much that blocked these issues and kept them hidden was no longer relevant or a barrier.

So you are exactly right when you ask if these chapters started out more simply and then got more complicated.  That’s what happened.  Once I realized that I could break some of these barriers and enable honest and revealing discussion about life and culture in the Americas, and that no one else was waiting in line to do this work of cultural recovery, I doubled down and committed to the more thorough task of recovering cultural and historical material that had been covered over for centuries.  From that moment forward, I saw recovering the body as an especially important act of cultural recovery that I had the responsibility of doing to try to make some good things happen in the culture.  I felt very committed to this project once I began to think of this project in these terms.

Are you disappointed with policies imposed on Chicanos and do you feel that some of us may have dropped the ball in the journey to making those advances?

Yes, of course.  I’m disappointed that the country has not connected more with the Latino community and is committed (for the time being) to seeing us as the enemy.  This is lazy thinking and does not begin to present America at its best.  This approach also betrays the “American Idea” that the country is built on.  For example, the Founders were not very astute about race or gender—in fact, they were notoriously negligent and a product of their time in both areas.  But on the issue of class and community, they imagined a multicultural democracy, and this was a crazy high goal to achieve.  They left out indigenous people, for sure, but the idea in the abstract was amazing. No nation had ever done it, and there was no reason to think that the U.S. could pull it off either.  In fact, the country has never gotten nearly as close to the goal of being an accepting multicultural democracy as most of us would like.

By creating the “American Idea” and putting us on this path, the country, in effect, reenacts its own founding every time a new community comes here to assimilate.  When we as a country fail at assimilation, the spirit of the Founders fades a little and begins to die.  When we as a country can assimilate new communities, we are rediscovering liberty as we form new bonds with people who are different from us.  We are rediscovering democracy when we allow our communities and how they work to evolve and change in response to the new people who are becoming a part of us.  When we succeed even a little at these tasks, it does not take very much, the spirit of the Founders brightens in us and comes alive again.  In other words, the American Idea only continues to live as long as we stay true to the idea of a multicultural democracy that the Founders had in mind.  We don’t have to be that country that they dreamed about, but it is a great and noble goal, and we shouldn’t take a pass on what we can still achieve of it.

How these goals relate to the indigenous community and mestizos in general is clearly complicated, and much of that history is shameful, and I’m not suggesting that it isn’t.  But those goals are still real and incredibly valuable, and I would like for Mestizos Come Home! to be one powerful reminder of what the American Idea is and the part that Mexican Americans and Latinos can play to keep that vision alive.  If the country as a whole were more cognizant that it has a stake in how well Mexican Americans fare in becoming a part of this country, they would be more generous and accepting in regard to the Dreamers and on issues of immigration and acculturation.  I am saying that the country as a whole DOES have a stake in the fortunes of communities who come here to assimilate, but the country these days does not generally remember this fact.  That situation needs to change.

You show how ideals of beauty for the Mestizo body have traditionally favored white European standards. What would help change this idea and celebrate the brown, Mestizo body?

I think that we have a great deal of cultural recovery to do.  I’m ultimately less of a romantic and more of a rationalist in that I believe that people can’t care about something that they don’t know about.  There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit about the history of the Americas that needs to come out and become a part of what Americans know about their country.  Once there is some general understanding that the creation of the “brown body” was a social and political act and not a natural development, an outgrowth of nature, we all will be able to see that people are not color coded and not destined to live out the script that is part of their racial nature.  Yes, we all look different, and some of us are brownish, black, or whatever, but the categories that the Spanish created were artificially constructed and designed to inhibit and limit people in a colonial setting.  Those categories had nothing to do with who we are. 

The human genome project has been very helpful in this regard by exploding the notion that ethnic communities differ greatly from each other.  They don’t, and we need to retire the notion of a variety of human species that can be ranked according to their excellence as human beings.  I hope that my discussion in the book of the origin of race theory in the eighteenth century will help people to focus on the bad science and destructive aspects of all racial approaches to explaining human behavior.  The underlying assumptions of racial categories were never science, and it is time to dislodge the Reign of Race as we have known it in the Americas.  It is time for the eighteenth-century-inspired Reign of Race to be over.

You mention in the prefacing pages, "Everyone should have a stake in the success of the Mexican American community's journey and the quest for social justice?"

Is this how we would have avoided a Trump presidency?

In a word, yes.  Right after the election, the New York Times published a list of six books that could help explain the leadup to the Trump presidency.  J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy was one of them—you get the idea.  I got all six books and read them quickly.  Easily the most impressive of the six books was Thomas Frank’s Listen, Liberal (2016).  He basically argued that we as a culture ignored the millions of people in the working class who were suffering with high unemployment and the general destruction of their way of life over the last thirty years.  The democratic party and most of the country thought that “white people” in that class could get retrained, would find new jobs, and they would be alright.  They weren’t. The democratic party also abandoned the working class over the last thirty years and began focusing on the upper professional class.  Add to this fact the disappearance of the traditional trade unions, who used to educate their members and keep them on track in voting and cultural participation, and we start to see that the country made a horrible mistake in abandoning a whole social class and pretending that there was no real problem.  Trump played to that class, which Hillary (who I supported) seemed not to acknowledge, and the rest is history.  There needs to be some very sober rethinking of how we all played a role in electing Trump.  Even if there had been no actual Trump, this problem was waiting to happen for historical and economic reasons.  Historically, revolutions are fought over smaller issues!

I see this book as a forum for sorting through topics that need our attention. Do you foresee a part II and part III of this book in which you might document future problem solving to acculturation?

A part II and a part III are interesting ideas that I had not considered.  If I can see that this book has been genuinely useful in its critique of the country, and if it seems that there would be an audience for more, I would certainly be open to extending this book’s analysis far more broadly.  I just want this book to do some good, and if more is needed in a kind of sequel, I would be up for that.

A continuation of the first question. What gave you the idea to present a continuum of antepasados (dead testimony) and the historic record with recent texts made up of the current creators of literature?

Problems like racism always have a history, and to get to the bottom of the problem you must always take ownership of that history.  I was actually more surprised that others had not done much of this work before I did.  Why, for example, has there been virtually no general discussion in the culture of el Sistema de casta in the U.S.?  That’s weird.  In the casta tradition is a fully articulated record of the roots of racism in the Americas, and no one wants to understand that history and discuss it?  That can’t be.  When I saw such instances of flagrant oversight and dismissal of important and relevant material, I realized that something bigger was going on.  The cultural amnesia that has become habitual in the Americas is still dominating our thinking and perceptions long after the casta system ended.  This and many other instances of cultural amnesia are now not so much intended by anyone as simply left in place and serving some people while leaving many others out.  In this book, I was hoping to put in play some of those missing pieces to connect the past and present so that others would be motivated to continue this work in adjacent areas.  I’m still hoping that I have done that.

Can you talk about how the impact of this book would make a statement like, "Go back where you came from," obsolete?

Mexican Americans and Latinos long ago became a part of the fabric of the U.S.  The time to object or to reject their influence passed sometime in the nineteenth century, and the Chicano Renaissance signaled the passing of a threshold when the evidence of Mexican American and Latino influence in the U.S. was made too clear to be refuted at any level.  As the heirs to the Chicano Movement and Chicano Renaissance, we cannot pretend that Latinos are not woven into what this country is about.  Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton is signaling the crossing of that threshold, too.  I think that he and other Latinos also have the appreciation of the Founders that I mentioned earlier and also recognize the wonderful goal of a multicultural democracy—now, of course, a goal that includes gender and racial equity.  Latinos “get” the Founders, and now we just need to help the rest of the country once again to recognize and value living the American Idea—that amazing goal that we can realize and achieve far better than the Founders ever could in their own time.

What book projects are you looking to next?

Right at this moment I am working on starting a Latinx Studies program at the University of Oklahoma, and that has taken up some time.  I like your idea of a sequel to Mestizos Come Home!, and if there seems to be a demand for more discussion along the lines of what that book is saying, it would be fun to track some of the same themes through the publication of really current fiction, like the amazing work that you are doing in your books.

Thank you for taking the time to speak to La Bloga. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I want Latinos to talk to each other more.  If we are going to pull together the pieces of our souls and “own” the Americas once again, as Galeano referenced, we need that time together to talk and think.  We need to become dedicated resolaneros who are not content to mimic mainstream culture and mirror accepted notions of who we are.  We can recapture some of the energy of the founding of this country and the inauguration of the Chicano Movement when we connect with each other, with our indigenous brothers and sisters, and with all people across the Americas who are disenfranchised, people who don’t feel that they belong to the place that they are from.  In the past, there were strict prohibitions to having those discussions.  Now we must be willing to break through the barriers of amnesia that are still keeping us from what we need to accomplish for ourselves.  When we work together, we see that in a democracy nobody wins unless everyone does.  Once we get past this period of economic unrest (it is very hard on people when their livelihood is threatened; they are not at their best), I believe that we will see a better side of America come forward.