Sunday, April 20, 2014

Look What the Easter Bunny Dragged: Pedacitos of Literary Greats

Olga Garcia Echeverria

I don't have much to say about Easter. Like Thanksgiving and Santa Claus Day, it's a holiday that makes me feel awkward and rebellious. Pastel colors and Catholic mass make me nauseous. I've never been into wicker. I hate fake grass. I confess I have in my lifetime eaten my good share of chocolate bunnies and yellow marshmallow chicks, but nowadays I mostly feel resurrected by the literary word. Here are a few treats to sink your teeth into on this Easter Sunday. Enjoy!
Marquez On Writing from Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life by Gerald Martin 
(Alfred A. Knopf 2009).
GGM on his 1st Birthday
     I am a writer through timidity. My true vocation is that of magician, but I get so flustered trying to do tricks that I’ve had to take refuge in the solitude of literature. Both activities, in any case, lead to the only thing that has interested me since I was a child: that my friends should love me more.
     In my case, being a writer is an exceptional achievement because I am very bad at writing. I have had to subject myself to an atrocious discipline in order to finish half a page after eight hours of work; I fight physically with every word and it is almost always the word that wins, but I am so stubborn that I have managed to publish four books in twenty years. The fifth, which I am writing now, is going slower than the others, because between my debtors and my headaches I have very little free time.
     I never talk about literature because I don’t know what it is and besides I’m convinced the world would be just the same without it. On the other hand, I’m convinced it would be completely different without the police. I therefore think I’d have been much more useful to humanity if instead of being a writer I’d been a terrorist.
David Sedaris: An Easter Excerpt
One of the funniest stories I have ever read is "Jesus Shaves" by David Sedaris. His entire collection Me Talk Pretty One Day (Little, Brown and Company 2000) is hilarious and highly recommended. In "Jesus Shaves," Sedaris describes his experience as an adult second language learner in a French class in Paris, France. In their limited French, Sedaris and fellow students attempt to explain the meaning of Easter to a Moroccan Muslim classmate.  
    The Italian nanny was attempting to answer the teacher’s latest question when the Moroccan student interrupted, shouting, “Excuse me, but what’s an Easter?”
     It would seem that despite having grown up in a Muslim country, she would have heard it mentioned once or twice, but no. “I mean it,” she said. “I have no idea what you people are talking about.”
     The teacher called upon the rest of us to explain.
     The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is," said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and …oh, shit.” She faltered and her fellow country-man came to her aid.
     “He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two…morsels of …lumber.”
     The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
     “He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father.”
     “He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.”
     “He nice, the Jesus.”
     “He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody make him dead today.”
     Part of the problem had to do with vocabulary. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “to give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.
     “Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One too many eat of the chocolate.”
     “And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
     I knew the word, so I raised my hand, saying, “The rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
     “A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wriggling them as though they were ears. “You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?”
     “Well, sure, “ I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have a basket and foods. “
     The teacher sighed and shook her head. As far as she was concerned, I had just explained everything that was wrong with my country. “No, no, “ she said. “Here in France the chocolate is brought by a big bell that flies in from Rome.” 
     I called for a time-out. “But how do the bell know where you live?”
    “Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?”
     It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That’s a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth-and they can’t even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character. He’s someone you’d like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It’s like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they’ve got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That’s the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there’s no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell’s dog-and even then he’d need papers. It just didn’t add up. 
     Nothing we said was of any help to the Moroccan student. A dead man with long hair supposedly living with her father, a leg of lamb served with palm fronds and chocolate; equally confused and disgusted, she shrugged her massive shoulders and turned her attention back to the comic book she kept hidden beneath her binder.

Adios Querida Doris Pilkington Garimara author of Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence

Doris Pilkington Garimara and her mother Molly

It's midnight, Easter Sunday, and I've just heard that author Doris Pilkington Garimara passed away last week of ovarian cancer. Among the many books she wrote, Pilkington Garimara documented her Australian aborigine mother's escape from a government camp and her amazing 1,500-mile trek home. Her book, Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence, brought to light the systematic racist policies to forcibly assimilate Australian natives by tearing them away from their families. Her book was later made into the highly acclaimed film, Rabbit Proof Fence. Like all great literature and art, Rabbit Proof Fence is a story that touches the heart in powerful and timeless ways. Through the years, I have returned to it numerous times--for its bravery, its mastery, and its poetic resilient spirit.
Last but not least, and in honor of our recently departed Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Doris Pilkington Garimara, I leave you with a few lines from one of my favorite Pablo Neruda poems. What is there not to love about Neruda?
This excerpt is from "Ode to a Few Yellow Flowers," which is translated by Ilan Stavans in All The Odes: Pablo Neruda.   
Polvo somos, seremos.
Ni aire, ni fuego, ni agua
solo tierra
y tal vez
unas flores amarillas.
We are dust, we shall become.
Not air, or fire, or water
we shall be
mere earth
and maybe
a few yellow flowers.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Gabriel García Márquez sigue

"The day shit is worth money, poor people will be born without an asshole."

Those aren't my words; they're from Gabriel García Márquez, who's given us some of the greatest in any language.

QEPD = Que en Paz Descanse is the Spanish equivalent to "rest in peace." After I posted notes about Marquez passing, an Anglo friend sent me condolences: "Lo siento," he said, "sorry."

I'll say the sentiment was good, but the intended audience was too narrow. Latinos don't need condolences from Anglos, about Márquez's death. He belongs to the world's peoples and in that sense, is relevant and part of us all.

Márquez, a political creature
There's the tendency to mention magical realism whenever Márquez's name comes up. That bothers me as an indirect slotting of his work, like it was "only" an example of latinoamericano speculative literature. Anymore than Crime and Punishment should be called genre horror or thriller. Some works and writers defy delimiting, like Márquez and his works. However much he defined magical realism, he also shred that envelope, passing into the realm of Classic.

Here's more of his words, not usually quoted:
The world must be all fucked up when men travel first class and literature goes as freight.
I don’t think you can write a book that’s worth anything without extraordinary discipline.
With The Thousand and One Nights, I learned and never forgot that we should read only those books that force us to reread them.
Literature was the best plaything that had ever been invented to make fun of people.
If men gave birth, they'd be less inconsiderate.
The secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.

Whatever type of reader you are, you haven't lived unless you've experienced at least one of Márquez's epics. Below are the openings to two novels. Go outside somewhere by yourself, read them once for meaning, sentido, then read them aloud for the music. This might make you wonder if you should read the entire book. You should.

from Love in the Time of Cholera:

(translation): It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr. Juvenal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before. The Antillean refugee Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, disabled war veteran, photographer of children, and his most sympathetic opponent in chess, had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide.

from One Hundred Years of Solitude:
Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo. Macondo era entonces una aldea de veinte casas de barro y cañabrava construidas a la orilla de un río de aguas diáfanas que se precipitaban por un lecho de piedras pulidas, blancas y enormes como huevos prehistóricos. El mundo era tan reciente, que muchas cosas carecían de nombre, y para mencionarlas había que señalarlas con el dedo.

a children's book on Márquez
(translation): Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, General Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

Esquire re-posted a Márquez short story, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother that you can read in full.

I'm not sad Márquez died. He was mortal and reached a logical end. I don't know how his last weeks, months, years were, given a cancer he suffered; perhaps he was grateful to end his time, even. But before that, he left his people, his species, with enough to prove that he'd been here and done good. Great. Phenomenal. So, while his energy has left his body, some remains locked in his prose, to be shared by those to come.

Salud al maestro Marquez!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Tony Garcia Interview

Anthony J. "Tony" Garcia
Today we hear from Anthony "Tony" Garcia, long-time Artistic Director at the world-famous El Centro Su Teatro. Tony is the driving force behind many of Denver's cultural highlights, recognized and honored by the local, national, and international cultural elite, as well as respected and loved by the community he so ably represents with his hard-work and intense commitment. Tony recently managed to squeeze in a few minutes for La Bloga -  and we are grateful;  he's a busy guy. Tony offers his opinion about a wide range of subjects including the current state of Chicano theater, Su Teatro's plans for the immediate future, what Su Teatro offers in the way of opportunities for writers, and key lessons taught to all of us by César Chávez.

[from Su Teatro's website]
Tony Garcia, Executive Artistic Director: Tony has been the Executive Artistic Director of El Centro Su Teatro since 1989 and has been a member of Su Teatro since 1972. He received his BA in Theater from the University of Colorado at Denver. Tony has received numerous awards and accolades for his artistic vision, including the 1989 University of California, Irvine Chicano Literary Award, a 2006 United States Artists Fellowship, an artist residency at the Island Institute in Sitka, Alaska, and was named the Denver Post 2010 Theater Person of the Year. Most recently, he received the prestigious Livingston Fellowship from the Bonfils Stanton Foundation. Tony is a past faculty member for the National Association of Latino Art and Culture (NALAC) Leadership Institute as well as a past board member, he is a peer trainer for the Colorado Creative Industries’ Peer Assistance Network, and a member of the Western State Arts Federation’s (WESTAF) Board of Trustees. Tony also is an adjunct professor at Metro State University in Denver.

La Carpa de los Rasquachis, written by Luis Valdez, directed by Anthony J. Garcia

And a little bit about Su Teatro, also from Su Teatro's website:
Su Teatro began in 1971 as a student-organized theater group at the University of Colorado at Denver. In 1989, Su Teatro purchased the old Elyria School in Northeast Denver and became El Centro Su Teatro, a multidisciplinary cultural arts center. 

Twenty-one years later in September, 2010 Su Teatro purchased The Denver Civic Theater at 721 Santa Fe Dr.

Over 40 years, Su Teatro has established a national reputation for homegrown productions that speak to the history and experience of Chicanos. Su Teatro has created more than 15 original full length productions that have toured widely to venues such as New York’s Public Theater, The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, San Antonio, TX and Plaza de la Raza, Los Angeles, CA. 

The artistic excellence of our programs and our relevance to the field has been recognized nationally through funding from The Shubert Foundation, Theatre Communications Group, the National Performance Network, The National Endowment for the Arts, the Kresge Foundation, and the American Composers Forum.


Manuel Ramos:     At one time there were Chicano teatros all over the place. What's the state of this type of theater today?  How big is this club?

Tony Garcia:  In the mid-70s there were as many as ten teatros in Colorado alone. In 1976 we brought them together in a festival. There were probably 50-70 and many would participate in national and international festivals, often hosted by a group called TENAZ ( Teatros Nacionales de Aztlan. ) Just recently there was a call for entries for a national gathering of Latino theater ensembles and more than 70 groups responded. This does not include the individual artists and spoken word performers. The Latino Commons was a gathering of individual Latino theater artists in Boston and an invited list of 67 showed up. The variety is great, we created a circle of our experience as teatristas, and we ran from Luis Valdez of El Teatro Campesino, whose company was formed in 1965, to college performers with less than two years in the field. I would say we are as healthy as we can be for artists. The work is less politically and socially driven then it was when we began. It is, though, no less important. We are still working our way through identity issues as our identities evolve. We are no longer just telling stories about Chicanos, because we are no longer just Mexican-Americans. We are Mexican-African-Americans, Mexican-Japanese-Pilipino-Americans. We are Puerto Rican-Cuban-Irish-Americans, so all of those elements are getting mixed into the stew. What we have in common is a real claim to the Americas. We see ourselves as in our native country, although we preserve the memory of another country. Of course the twist is that we are connected to a subculture of hybridity, which is second nature to us. Because that is what being a Chicano was all about.

MR:  Why has Su Teatro survived?  How would you describe the evolution of Su Teatro?

TG:  Su Teatro has survived because we know what we are, and there is a need for what we are. If our community did not need us then we would be gone very shortly. Very few artists and artistic organizations have been embraced as firmly as has Su Teatro and yours truly. Our community has watched us grow and our growth and successes are successes of our community. We are the conveyors of our community’s history, but not just in a sense that we regurgitate what the community wants to hear, we are fortunate to be in a position to challenge and inspire. So people don’t always hear what they want, but we work hard to engage them, to provoke them and to reflect well on them. We have been at this for a long time, and we have gotten better at telling stories. We have more tools than we had in the past. Our new space rivals many facilities in larger cities. People can come here and see a show that has solid acting, good production values and yet has an environment that feels like you are visiting family. The facility is very welcoming, we serve among other things tamales that people can take into the theater with them. It adds to the comfort level. We really want to challenge the idea that art is something that is out of the reach of most people. We call ourselves community theater, and some people in the arts community look down upon this, as somehow that means a diminished quality. But what we mean is that it is a community space, it is a space that is about giving access to our community. It is not easy to get on our main stage, only one or two new actors make it in those shows each year. That speaks to the quality of the actors in our shows. We do, though, offer a number of other opportunities in smaller and touring shows to help get you to the level of our main stage.

 As for our own evolution, we have really grown with our community. We have also been fortunate enough to have interacted on an international and national level with other groups; we have been exposed to models that work and models that may not work as well. This has helped a lot. We have also been exposed to the work on these levels and been able to gauge ourselves, get inspired by the others and be challenged as well. This has helped us to grow as artists, which is really important in being able to carry out your work. I get inspired from above, artists I feel are doing great work, and I also get inspired from below, people who are just starting out and growing. Bobby LeFebre and Jose Guerrero inspire me, two young spoken word artists in the company. Rudy Anaya inspires me as does Luis Valdez.  And Debra Gallegos and Yolanda Ortega ( two veteranas from our company) caused me to rewrite their characters based on the great elements they brought to the parts. 

MR:  How many plays have you written or co-written?  Where can our audience find these plays to read them? Anyone more special than the others?

Daniel Valdez
TG:  I have probably written around 20-25, I have tried to count them a number of times but I always end up getting distracted and don’t finish. The problem is that I am in a highly productive period, a lot because of my collaboration with Daniel Valdez (composer/musician director/actor) and it seems like every conversation becomes a new play that we begin building.  Danny has pushed me to write more music as well. I always wrote songs but I never really felt I had the skills or talent to polish them. So I left them to others to do that. But I know now that if it is good Danny will use it in the play. If it isn’t, meaning if I haven’t polished it, he won’t. If he uses the music, it usually sounds very good. That is motivation. So that output has grown. I am used to walking around with characters and dialogue occupying my brain; now I have melodies, harmonies, bridges and segues that run together and sound like every song I have ever heard. It is really torturous to have that much activity going on in your brain. I have to be careful when I drive.

I have published a first Anthology, it has four plays and a short film script. One of the projects I was supposed to do when I received the United States Artist Felllowship was to publish the completed collections. But I ended up writing much since that time.  We have talked about making them available on line. But in the meantime I have a full length script due by May 1st, a four part telenovela by the end of June, and the second story in a children’s trilogy called El Espiritu Natural. The first story, El Rio: Las Lagrimas de la Llorona, we ran in February and will tour in the fall. The second story is La Tierra. Artists, like parents, love all their children equally. There is something that we find endearing in all of them. I like Ludlow: El Grito de las Minas, because I like the story and the lead character reminds me of my mother. I like When Pigs Fly and Men Have Babies because it is so obnoxious. I like El Sol Que Tu Eres because it really was a beautiful production.  And of course we are always in love with the next one. And if people have an interest I will be glad to send someone a script

MR:  I heard you speak at the recent César Chávez celebration here in Denver. You made some excellent points about what Chávez should mean to us. And I know that working with youth is one focus of the work that Su Teatro undertakes. Is Chávez someone that today's Chicano or Mexicano youth cares about, or even knows? I worry about our lost history and am curious about what you see happening today with Latino youth in terms of cultural and political history, as well as changing the future.

 TG:  I wrote Papi, Me and Cesar Chavez because I was concerned that young people knew the latest reality show stars more than they knew César. I wanted people to understand the story. Being asked to speak put me in a position to think about the values and lessons that I learned from César Chávez. For the first time in my life I placed them in categories. Sacrifice:  César taught that we should be willing to sacrifice everything to achieve our goals. It is pretty hard to hear this when you have nothing. But the idea of sacrifice forces you to think about what has value. And we learn it is not the monetary things that make or change us. Discipline:  The discipline that was necessary to resist violence. As strange as it sounds, it is much more difficult to refrain from harming someone who harmed you. We learned that discipline is the value that will make the change needed in our lives. Discipline is what makes us better artists. If it was so easy everyone would do it. Memory:  César taught us to preserve memory. History is memory preserved. Memory is what connects us to our ancestors and our descendants. That connection is what allows us to outlive our lifetimes. Teach: César taught us to teach. The moment we learn something, we are responsible to teach it. This is how we move the next generation forward. I had an actor tell me,  "I don’t want to be a mentor." My response was that perhaps this was not the place for him. Someone who can not teach is probably someone who will never know. The last is to Honor: Although I really have built my career on sarcasm, we need to always remember to honor the gifts that we have been given. Whether it is an art, a skill, or an emotion, some people have a tremendous capacity to care, to be empathetic. Some people can love deeply or are eternally hopeful. Those are gifts that we may have received genetically, but they were given to us. We also must honor the sacrifices, the lessons, the discipline, and the history that brought us to this place. In our work with young people in addition to telling them about César Chávez, we teach them that the sacrifice was for them to have opportunity, and that their payback was to take advantage of those opportunities. Telling our stories is one of the greatest ways of preserving memory. I was fortunate that my mother was such a great story teller. But now more than ever we have so many great storytellers out there. We also need to teach our children to tell their stories, because in the end their stories will connect with ours.

MR:  What does Su Teatro have planned for this year?

TG:  Actually our season is winding down, but we will finish strong and then start off with a lot of momentum. In June we will stage Cuarenta y Ocho, a fictional telling of the 48 hours between the two explosions in Boulder in 1974 that left six people dead. It begins with an explosion and ends with an explosion that we all know is coming. We will remount Enrique’s Journey, my adaptation of the Sonia Nazario Pulitzer Prize winning story of a young boy who rides the top of the trains from Honduras to the United States to reunite with his mother. We are anticipating that the show will run in Denver for three weeks and then move on to Los Angeles for another three weeks, with a possibility of continuing into Seattle and then returning through Albuquerque. We will remount The Westside Oratorio, the musical retelling of the seven generations that inhabited Denver’s Westside neighborhood, before they were forced to move in order to build the Auraria Campus. We have a great opportunity to stage Real Women Have Curves by Josefina López, and then we will finish off the season with a gift to our audiences and we will once again present Chicanos Sing the Blues. It is a season of revivals, but every one of the shows will have a very different look than previously presented.

MR:  Many writers, hundreds actually, established and upcoming, read La Bloga. Are there opportunities for writers with your company? Any advice for aspiring playwrights?

TG:   We accept submissions all the time, but frankly many are not ready for production. And we don’t always have the resources to invest in the development. We receive a lot of plays that have significantly large casts ( six to eight is a good size. ) We are interested in plays about Latinos; we often get plays by non-Latinos that are really about how non-Latinos see us. I am not big on Latino adaptations of a Shakespeare, Chekov or that sort. We have done adaptations of the Greeks which we like, going back to the root. We have done bilingual versions of Spanish and Latin American writers.  Mostly though we are a company that develops its own work, that is primarily what we do. But we are into relationships as it is through relationships that we find out if there is a fit. These interactions take time. So I would say send me a script, keep in contact, keep me up to date on your activities. Come to a show if you are in town. See what it is we do. And most of all don’t take it personally. I also would suggest that you get your script read aloud, do this before you send it in. Get some friends - they don’t have to be actors. Plays are meant to be heard (not just in your head),  it will really affect the dynamic of what you write.

Tony Garcia Brings Theater to the People

MR:  Thank you, Tony. It's been a pleasure and all of us here at La Bloga appreciate your willingness to speak to our readers. People in Denver know that a night at Su Teatro is guaranteed to be an evening well-spent. Your work is always enlightening, entertaining, and passionate. And often belly-shaking funny. I encourage anyone who has a chance to watch a Su Teatro production to seize the opportunity. You won't regret it.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Chicanonautica: Brainpan Fallout Adventures of a Young Chicanonaut

La Bloga readers may find my Mondo Ernesto serialization of Brainpan Fallout -- a Nineties experiment that went from the Phoenix area coffee house giveaway Red Dog Journal to the infant internet and gained me fans in strange places -- of interest.  The main character/narrator/hero is a young Chicano.

And I think I’ve finally gotten rid of all those pesky typos and mistakes that often ruined the jokes. Not that anybody’s complained, or even noticed them all these years.

I didn’t really think much about sneaking in a Chicano -- I had done it in Cortez on Jupiter. I had also researched The Red Dog Journal’s audience, going to the coffee shops, poetry slams, marijuana-choked parties, listening to their conversations. I was trying to create pulp fiction for them. They were predominately white, but considered themselves to be anti-racist, so why not?

I believe that audiences need to be challenged. Since then, as a bookstore clerk I’ve seen how genre readers get bored with the same old routine. They have their habits, but need things stirred up now and then. Maybe the adventures of Flash Gomez in the 20th century would do the trick.

With 20/20 hindsight, Flash was the prototype for the Chicanonaut: A Chicano going out of bounds, crossing the borders of his barrio into strange new worlds.

He wasn’t based on anybody in particular, but after it was going for a while, I saw a Univision news story about young Nueva York bike messengers. One of them said, “Llámame Flash.”

Brainpan Fallout is also an example of my groping for Afrofuturism, or at least an alternative to the all-white future that was still the default setting for most sci-fi. There are black characters involved in cyberpunkish activities, but with their own agendas. This was long before the current postcolonial trends.

I’m glad I had the chance to go mad scientist after things crashed for me, and like Henry Miller in Tropic of Cancer, that “Everything that was literature has fallen from me.” I recreated myself in my own image, and took the chance to offer some advice to the younger generation as a vato who’d been around on the countercultural merry-go-round a few times on what to watch out for when they finally get flung into the gaping jaws of their future.

It’s also good for some laughs.

Ernest Hogan is busy drawing and writing about luchadores, and preparing to talk about Chicano sci-fi at the University of California Riverside for their Science Fiction and Technoculture Studies program.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Me And My Cat?

Review by Ariadna Sánchez

While waiting for the train at 7th Street/Metro Center station in Downtown Los Angeles, a young lady approached me for help. She was confused and worried at the same time; she needed to catch the train toward Long Beach. She was visiting Los Angeles for the first time to meet her nephew. Her words were filled with great expectation and excitement, but her spirit seemed intimidated by the speedy trains that passed by. Finally, we looked at the screen showing the Metro Blue Line schedule. The next departing train to Long Beach opened its doors welcoming all passengers aboard. When she got inside the train, it took only a few minutes before the train began moving. The young lady waved at me as the train vanished into the dark tunnel. I sat down for a moment in the waiting area for my train to arrive thinking about this experience. I put myself in this lady’s shoes and realized that life is a unique adventure full of amazing trips.

Me And My Cat? written and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura is a story that narrates the abruptly transformation of Nicholas and his cat Leonardo. Late one night, an old lady in a pointed hat climbs through the window into Nicholas’s bedroom. She brandishes her broom, fires out some weird words, and leaves. The following morning Nicholas is living “inside” his cat Leonardo and Leonardo is living “inside” Nicholas. Nicholas is shocked to look at himself in the mirror with long whiskers, sharp claws, and purring like a sweet little kitten, MEOW! Outside the house, Nicholas, who is inside Leonardo’s body, realizes that life is tough and complicated for a cat when he is chased by three mean cats and Mr. Stone’s furious dog. Hours later, Nicholas sees himself coming back from school and acting like Leonardo, the cat.  This behavior makes his mother very upset, so she decides to call the doctor. The doctor recommends sending Nicholas to bed early. That night, the old lady in the pointed hat pays Nicholas a second visit. She apologizes for throwing a spell at the wrong person. The old lady brandishes her broom and blurts out some mysterious words disappearing as quickly as a thunder. The next day everything is back to normal, Nicholas is ready for school and Leonardo is actively climbing over the shelf. At school Mr. Gough, Nicholas’ teacher sits on the table, scratches his back, licks his cheeks, and falls asleep.

Can you guess who the old lady in the pointed hat visited last night? Be careful, you might be next!

The story Me and my Cat? stimulates deep perceptions to the young readers. Thinking about others’ needs creates mature and responsible children. Teaching values like respect, tolerance, and acceptance are some ways to show sympathy to new generations for a better community and for a better world. Visit the local library today. Reading gives you wings! Purr

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Should Antonio Banderas Play Cesar Chávez?

Review: Cesar Chávez, the Movie.

Michael Sedano

Imagine the hushed auditorium, ticket buyers lean forward as one, dreading the unseen menace of the growers. Antonio Banderas shouts fluently to the grape pickers, “¡en las uvas si se puede!” and switches to English, “join us, they don’t pay you enough!” 

Lots of sky shots, close ups of a burning sun, sweaty faces, a wrinkled grandmother, a teenage schoolgirl, bunches of green grapes. Mandy Pantinkin as the evil major domo advances on Banderas Chavez, seen in profile flirting with the smudged-face beauty. Chavez tenderly touches her cheek, cut to Dolores Huerta bristling, America Ferrera wiping her brow. The abuela gives her chifle and the girl steps back, lips mouthing “tonight.” CU of a hopeful Banderas Cesar Chávez. John Malkovich, face all restrained vehemence, nods imperceptibly into the camera. Pantinkin leaps with murderous eyes.

CU of the schoolgirl calling warning, “on your six, jefe!” Chavez wheels on Pantinkin, catches a fist on the shoulder. Cesar Chávez grins, says “You get one free, vato, and that was it.” Banderas leg-sweeps Pantinkin who thuds onto his back. Banderas Chavez pivots on the back leg to straddle the stunned major domo. The hero raises a boot above Pantinkin’s terrified face. CU of Banderas Chavez’ agonized face, the temptation to violence heightened by tense music. Banderas does a heel stomp but arrests a millimeter from Pantinkin’s face. The villain imagines the boot pulping his face, in slo-mo, before he focuses on the Cat’s Paw heel. 

Malkovich turns and runs to the canal where he is carried away screaming by the powerful current. In an homage to 50’s horror films, a giant centipede gnaws at Malkovich’s legs and pulls him under. The scene ends with workers dumping their bushels of grapes on the unconscious Pantinkin. They walk out of the vineyard, arms linked singing, “yo ‘stoy con Chavez, y si señor, yo ‘stoy con Chavez, y la union….” In a slow dissolve to “tonight” we catch Banderas and the ingénue in steaming embrace, the movie’s scene of forbidden love and obligatory female nudity….

Cesar Chávez, the movie, didn’t have Banderas, Pantinkin, kung-fu scenes, torrid one-night stands, gore, and monsters. That had been my fear when I read some time back that some knuckleheaded Hollywood producer wanted to do the Cesar Chávez movie but with Antonio Banderas as Cesar Chávez. Who knows where a big box office actor would have taken a script. Ni modo because Michael Peña capably captures Chavez’ intensity and earnestness with quiet dignity. Which is expected. Sadly, I couldn’t understand the final conversation between Malkovich and Peña when Cesar pridefully says something about kicking the grower’s ass.

©michael v. sedano
The script is the problem with Cesar Chávez,  the movie Diego Luna directs and produced with a thundering herd. The movie begins with eight title animations. When the movie actually begins I’m not prepared and the first scenes whirl past in disorientation.

Fabulous casting makes this the best movie I’ve seen this year. Malkovich does his best to steal the movie from Michael Peña as Mr. Chávez, America Ferrera and Rosario Dawson as Mrs. Chávez and Ms. Huerta.

Rounding out the cast are a bunch of pretty decent actors whose characters are so eclipsed by Cesar’s leadership that I miss their names. There’s a tall, thin guy with a good smile. There’s a doubting Thomas vato who always fails to see the good instead badmouths Chavez’ speeches, but finally comes over to the union. The loyal brother nurses his fasting leader, otherwise comes into focus quietly on hand to offer sensible consejos.

The script follows along chronologically. Chavez moves to California discovers injustice. He works in an office, decides to take CSO philosophies into the fields. The movement struggles to be born. Pinoy workers organize. El Malcriado scares the heck out of prescient white growers. Pinoys with Larry Itliong strike, Chavez wins the Mexicans to solidarity with them. Bobby Kennedy comes to town to embarrass the local establishment, giving the farmworker movement a moral victory that impels the cause. Chavez goes on a hunger strike.

The big facts of el movimiento form the outline of modern history textbooks. And that outline is the problem with the script by Keir Pearson. The story strings together incredibly important and moving episodes in the historical Cesar Chávez career centering around the table grape and Gallo Wine boycotts. But, like bullet points unelaborated, the episodes come and go, one momentous event to the next.

Absent are the thought process, the philosophies, behind the decisions. Momentous events simply happen because information arrives in shorthand. Cesar’s decision to Fast evolves in four scenes. An asshole driver runs down a picketer. Aroused farmworkers drag the driver out and pummel him with fists and feet. Chavez loses his cool and leaves. Devastated, he confesses he’s failed as a leader for nonviolence, and by the way, that he’s not eaten now for two days.

This Fast goes on for 25 days, draws national sympathy for the UFW but more importantly solidifies campesino support. The gruff doubting Tomás shows up to sign the nonviolence pledge in an underexploited scene that cries out for melodramatic pathos. Instead, the actor gives us a head nod and a bit of eye contact.

The connective tissue doesn’t make it into the film. It’s an equivalent of telling instead of showing. With the big facts of the grape campaign and Chavez’ career already so well known, I wanted writer Pearson to challenge his writer’s chops, show what only film audiences can see and learn about the character of the men and women embroiled in tumultuous times. Not that something happened, why, how did these people move?

 The scenes between Chavez and his increasingly alienated first born, a son, yield some of that ethos-building here’s how insight; an apple here, an apple there, a below-par eighteen holes. This script sets up the distance between them but without close examination. The viewer gets outlines of a relationship nicely strung together like pearls on a string, an element of the whole yet each knotted separately from the others.

What was between Cesar and Dolores? goes a certain chisme thread entre la gente. Pearson’s script doesn’t get into that, but Director Luna does. Employing shot triangulation Luna implants a mild inference of an unscripted relationship. Cesar does something, the crowd reacts; quick medium shot of attractive Dolores with a smolder in her eye; cut to motherly America; back to Cesar and the event. Luna’s not subtle about it.

The campaign against Gallo is widely known. The producers make sure to stray from historical accuracy on that, creating a phony winemaker with an Italian name. It’s the only element in the story that weakens its credibility. There’s a second big gripe, the closing music. It’s a beauteous song, yearning and thoughtful, sadly not the uplifting energy born from “No nos moveran” used earlier in the film.

Grower villains are numerous. Grape, lettuce, strawberries, roses, carrots, who can remember all the names? Thus, the film creates a mash-up character that Malkovich devours, a Croatian immigrant whose defense of “foreigners” illustrates the subtext of grower resistance, less economic more misanthropy against Mexicans. The silent brown maidservant takes in all the crud, not that the assembled growers have compunctions about insulting the invisible Mexicana.

Audiences don’t know anything of this when they buy the ticket and won't miss it. Those who buy a ticket. By sales standards, Cesar Chávez is flopping. Even in limited distribution, the film isn’t filling bank accounts nor minds. Nonetheless it’s a satisfying film to go see. Cesar Chavez has all the right stuff, action, daunting fears, crises, victory, nobility.

Cesar Chávez’ story comes with urgency for its civil rights content. The film doesn’t overplay racism while laying it in full view, nor does it milk victimhood even a little. Like Bobby Kennedy tells the sheriff and district attorney, during lunch you pendejos read the Constitution. That’s what Cesar Chávez is about, puro United States values. Kids should see Cesar Chávez, all of them.

Cesar Chávez is a major success at summarizing the story of the twentieth century’s most dynamic Mexican Chicano personality, the kind of biography that people leave the auditorium elated, wiping joyous tears. It’ll take a few more months before word of mouth spreads and just as you wouldn’t be caught eating grapes during the boycott, you won’t want to admit you haven’t seen Cesar Chávez.

Click here to view Latinopia's historic footage of la peregrinación.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coming soon: "Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature through Essays and Interviews"

Publication date: June 1 from San Diego State University Press
by Daniel A. Olivas

[If you'd like a PDF advance review copy, please write to me at and put "ARC" in the subject line.]

In this candid and wide-ranging collection of personal essays and interviews, award-winning author Daniel A. Olivas explores Latino/a literature at the dawn of the 21st century.

While his essays address a broad spectrum of topics from the Mexican-American experience to the Holocaust, Olivas always returns to and wrestles with queries that have no easy answers: How does his identity as a Chicano reflect itself through his writing?  What issues and subjects are worth exploring?  How do readers react to the final results?  Can literature affect political discourse and our daily lives?

Olivas has explored similar questions through almost a decade’s worth of interviews with Latino/a authors that have appeared in various online literary publications.  While professors and students alike have already relied upon many of the interviews as source material for scholarly examination, twenty-eight of these incisive and frank dialogues are now collected in one volume for the first time.  Olivas dives deep to discover how these authors create prose and poetry while juggling families, facing bigotry, struggling with writer’s block, and deciphering a fickle publishing industry.  This roster of interview subjects is a who’s who of contemporary Latino/a literature:

Aaron A. Abeyta • Daniel Alarcón • Francisco Aragón • Gustavo Arellano
Gregg Barrios • Richard Blanco • Margo Candela • Susana Chávez-Silverman
Sandra Cisneros • Carlos E. Cortés • Carmen Giménez Smith • Ray González
Rigoberto González • Octavio González • Reyna Grande • Myriam Gurba
Rubén Martínez • Michael Luis Medrano • Aaron Michael Morales • Manuel Muñoz
Salvador Plascencia • Sam Quinones • Ilan Stavans • Héctor Tobar
Justin Torres • Sergio Troncoso • Luis Alberto Urrea • Helena María Viramontes

Things We Do Not Talk About will undoubtedly become a natural companion to the study and enjoyment of contemporary Latino/a literature.  Cover artwork is by Perry Vasquez.

DANIEL A. OLIVAS is the author of six books including the award-winning novel, The Book of Want (University of Arizona Press).  He is the editor of the landmark anthology, Latinos in Lotusland (Bilingual Press), which brings together sixty years of Los Angeles fiction by Latino/a writers.  Widely anthologized, Olivas fiction, poetry and essays have appeared, or are forthcoming, in many literary journals including Exquisite Corpse, PANK, The MacGuffin, PALABRA, New Madrid, Fairy Tale Review, Bilingual Review, and Pilgrimage.  He has also written for The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Jewish Journal, La Bloga, El Paso Times, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.  Olivas earned his degree in English literature from Stanford University, and law degree from UCLA.  By day, he is an attorney in the Public Rights Division of the California Department of  Justice in Los Angeles.