Friday, April 21, 2017

Don't You Love Good News!

Melinda Palacio

Patricia Spears Jones and Melinda Palacio at AWP 2016
Earlier this week, Poets & Writers announced the winner of the Jackson Poetry Prize of $50, 000. It went to Patricia Spears Jones. If you don't know her work, consult some past La Bloga issues. Linda Rodriguez did a thorough review of her most recent book A Lucent Fire: New & Selected Poems. I've also featured her poetry as she is a fellow Tia Chucha Poet and someone whose work I admire. I'm super pleased to hear the news of her award. Patricia Spears Jones is the 11th winner of this award, Elizabeth Alexander was the first. The panel of judges describe her poetry as 'made of fever, bone, and breath' and as a poet who 'has steadily and quietly enriched the American poetic tradition with sophisticated and moving poems. More of us should know who she is, and even more should read her.' The full citation is on the Poets&Writers website. This announcement comes on the heels of La Bloga's Amelia Montes receiving a Fulbright for next year in Serbia. Read the interview with La Bloga's Amelia and Xanath on Monday.
A Lucent Fire by Patricia Spears Jones

The next day, Dr. Cristina Herrera, professor of Chicano and Latin American Studies at CSU Fresno and author of (Re)Mapping the Latina/o Literary Landscape New Works and New Directions, (Re)Writing the Maternal Script, and Reading/Speaking/Writing The Mother Text, received the Provost Award for Research, Scholarship and Creative Accomplishment. Her reward consists of a stipend, a reception, honors during the next graduation, and she will be invited to participate in the following year's Provost's Lecture Series. Dr. Cristina says: "It's a huge deal for me because I'm the first Chicana to win in this category, an award usually given to faculty members in math, science, or engineering. It's such an honor."

Dr. Cristina Herrera

That famous Honda Element with CA Plates NOLA.
There's more good news for me and Steve. Our stolen car was recovered and this means more ease to travel to the next literary event. April may be National Poetry Month, but the poetry continues into the rest of the year. Next month, I will be reading at Core Family Winery in Santa Maria May 13 and as part of Tia Chucha's new Anthology: Wandering Song at Beyond Baroque May 27.

My Wonder Woman Button 

Although the thieves cleaned out the car and took everything inside that could be hawked or given away, including my yoga mat and eye pillow, there was one small item they missed, a Wonder Woman button that I made when the All Wonder Woman Walking Krewe welcomed me into the group last Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The thieves missed this button. They did some damage to the car, slashing the ceiling fabric and steering wheel, leaving a bullet hole scuff on the hood and leaving a bullet shell in the car, along with food trash, random keys, and a strong ashtray stench. Steve and I are glad to be reunited with the green Honda Element. The car was taken to a tow yard by Midas Touch Towing. According the NOPD reports, it is unclear whether the thieves abandoned the car or simply parked it in a spot that allowed the towing company to identify it as stolen and thus haul it away. The Wonder Woman pin and a voodoo doll, made by my friend Karen Kersting, proved to be powerful car charms.

Karen Voodoo Doll
Since much news happens on Facebook, Karen wrote an open post to the thieves back in February when we didn't think we'd see the car again:

"To those heartless thieves: my voodoo dolls have a good track record in recovering stolen cars. This doll is made from a scrap of fabric that was used as part of a prison work program. The Mardi Gras beads are specifically positioned to give you the greatest discomfort and the feathers are from a bird that was attacked by a cat. Save yourself, and return that car -- or at least call-in an anonymous tip. Bad Karma is floating your way."
New Orleans Poetry Festival 2017

Good news about the Honda's recovery in April meant that I am in New Orleans this week and able to attend the 2nd Annual New Orleans Poetry Festival, something I hadn't planned on earlier in the year. It turns out many friends from California are in town for the festival, including Xochitl-Julissa Bermejo, Michelle Detorie, and Lee Herrick. Thanks to having the trusty, ten year old Honda Element back, I was able to pick up Xochitl-Julissa Bermejo and Soraya Membreno at the airport. Xochitl-Julissa and Soraya are presenting a panel, SGV Food Club, on building community, Saturday at 10 am at the 2nd annual New Orleans Poetry Festival, hosted by Bill Lavender and Megan Burns. Festivities began yesterday with an opening party and event featuring poets who play in bands. The readings and panels continue throughout the weekend and culminate in a reading at the Maple Leaf Bar on Sunday at 3pm. For a complete list of events see the NOLA Poetry Festival Website.

Poets Xochitl-Julissa Bermejo, Melinda Palacio, and Soraya Membreno in New Orleans

And more good news comes from poet Jenn Givhan whose third poetry collection, Girl with Death Mask won the Blue Light Book Prize from Indiana Review. Indiana University Press will publish her book next year. 

What's your good news?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Remembering: The Last Days in Vietnam

Remembering: The Last Days in Vietnam
Daniel Cano

As another April 30th nears, I recall, a couple of years ago, a colleague asked if I’d say a few words to introduce Rory Kennedy’s film “The Last Days in Vietnam,” which had received excellent movie reviews and was being screened at Santa Monica College where I was teaching at the time.

At first, I declined. I’d had enough of war. Then, after thinking about it more, I reconsidered.

Since the publication of my book Shifting Loyalties in 1993 (click link in title), I’d received letters from Chicano veterans and their families, expressing their gratitude for the stories I’d written about my time in Vietnam. At my readings, many Chicano veterans thanked me for using my voice to give their voices life.

Of all the mainstream books and movies about Vietnam, one would think that Chicanos had no place in the war. I remember teaching a Chicano literature class. We’d been reading Charley Trujillo’s book Soldados and Jorge Mariscal’s Aztlan in Vietnam. A Vietnamese-American student raised her hand to admit she’d never known Chicanos had fought in Vietnam. Her statement perplexed me. It reminded me of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: no matter how many sacrifices and contributions Americans of color make to this country, we remain invisible.

A letter I’ll always remember was from a Chicana who told me her father had died in Vietnam when she was a child. After reading my book, she said she felt closer to him, understanding what he might have experienced. So, how could I not say a few words to introduce Ms. Kennedy’s film about the Vietnam War’s last days?

For 42 years, I’ve sought a justification for the Vietnam War—or, at least, my role in it.

In 1969, when the Army discharged me, the country was in turmoil over the war, so I pretended that I’d never worn a uniform. I just wanted to hide. But no matter how much I tried to hide, I couldn’t.
Over the years, the reminders were everywhere: Tet, Kent State, The Chicano Moratorium, My Lai, Hearts and Minds, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq, and ISIS.

Since I couldn’t escape, I immersed myself in the study of Vietnam, the land, the people, the history, and politics --always searching, I suppose, for the war’s elusive justification.

April 30, 1975, along with millions of Americans, I watched on television as Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese communists, or looking at it from our so-called enemy’s perspective, Vietnam’s liberation, the images flickering across the television screen, the last helicopters flying off the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. I felt ill--then angry, bitter, and finally betrayed. “What a waste it had all been,” I’d thought.

How ironic that the Vietnamese student told me she didn’t know Chicanos had fought in Vietnam, when we now know the first American to be captured by North Vietnam was a pilot, Chicano Everett Alvarez, and the last American out of Vietnam was Chicano Marine Sgt. Juan Vasquez. Then there were the thousands of Chicanos who gave life and limb in those sweltering jungles.

After I watched Saigon fall, I refused to vote, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or to hold my hand over my heart during the National Anthem. I hid the Army in a cardboard box: the photos, medals, and citations. I didn’t want my son or any of my nephews seeing them and glamorizing war.

As the years passed, I asked myself, if communism was the justification for war, why then did Nixon open relations with communist China? Why did the Soviet Union and East Germany collapse under their own weight? Why do we trade with Vietnam and open relations with Cuba (finally)? Why did we kill two-million Vietnamese and sacrifice nearly 60,000 Americans and bring so much pain and suffering to so many families? (And that’s not counting the terror wrought on Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador under the auspices of salvation from communism.)

In 1995, the ex-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara published his memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. “The lessons,” I considered the phrase, as if the slaughter in Vietnam had been some sort of scholarly exercise. McNamara concluded his memoir by telling us how to do it better next time. I took his thesis to be, “Sorry. Looking back on it, we made a terrible mistake.”

As early as 1967, McNamara realized the war was wrong, even immoral. He pressured President Johnson to end it. By speaking out, McNamara found himself booted from his job as Secretary of Defense and reassigned to head of the World Bank.

We now know that many politicians and generals knew early on that the war was unwinnable. But they, too, remained silent and allowed the massacre to continue.

So, who was benefiting from this war? How many millions went into the pockets of Colt and other weapons’ manufacturers and the corporations that supplied the uniforms, vehicles, food, and supplies? In the Golden Triangle, the sale of opium and heroin flourished (but that’s a whole different story).

A few years ago, as I walked through a local bookstore, I noticed a title glaring at me from the stack-- The Tiger Force: A True Story of Men at War.

My artillery battery supported a recon outfit called the Tiger Force, guys we admired, wild, insanely brave men (mostly kids, really), who’d go into the jungle in small groups and sometimes initiate contact with much larger forces.

I thumbed through the pages. Sure enough, it was the same Tigers that we had supported. Maybe I’d find a justification for the war in these pages.

Instead, I read that from June through October 1967, in the pastoral Song Ve River Valley, after communist forces had killed the most experienced Tigers, the remaining Tigers, many inexperienced recruits, took their revenge by executing, in the most heinous ways, hundreds of Vietnamese farmers, and civilians. The Tigers who had self-destructed, turned rice paddies and farms into blood-soaked fields. And it hadn’t been a secret. The brass knew but didn’t stop them, in fact, in some cases, they ordered it.

“June through October 1967,” I remember thinking. That’s when I was there.

My artillery battery supported the Tigers. So, when they called in artillery strikes, was it for fun, to just to watch the villages burn? It was my job to remove those shells from the canisters and hand them to the gun crews who loaded them into the Howitzers and send them crashing into those villages.

What sin had those villagers committed to deserve such a fate? They refused forced removal from their farms and hamlets into filthy, unsanitary compounds the military called Relocation Camps.
How much blood is on my hands? Can I be like Robert McNamara and say, “Well, in retrospect….”? Can I pass it off as a lesson learned?

A reporter who saw McNamara years later said he looked like a “haunted man.”

For me, like many veterans, the Vietnam War is not abstract or theoretical. It isn’t an academic problem. It’s as visceral as a fist in the gut. That’s why it is difficult for many of us to talk about it. I can’t think about Vietnam without thinking of myself in it.

As I watched, Rory Kennedy’s film, “The Last Days in Vietnam,” I had hoped I might find the justification for that war.

But no, though it is a beautiful, uplifting movie, when I exited the theater, I found no justification, not even in the faces of those Vietnamese desperately seeking escape at the American Embassy, or, surprisingly, on the faces of the South Vietnamese throngs waving communist flags to welcome the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese into Saigon.

As another April 30th crawls closer, I wonder if has anything changed? We see the same desperation on the faces of Syrians, Afghanis, Yeminis, and Iraqis. Maybe, in the end, we should heed Lennon’s words and “give peace a chance.”

Editor's note: La Bloga implored Bloguero Daniel Cano to share his decorations and badges from his service in the United States Army because these are important parts of his, and the nation's, histories.  Lest we forget: only 7% of the population ever wore the uniform.

La Bloga salutes the men and women who served and shed blood in foreign wars. 

Daniel observes, "Vietnam vets still suffer from society's mixed messages of pride and humiliation."

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Little Doctor / El doctorcito

by Juan J. Guerra
Illustrations by Victoria Castillo

Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura

Publisher: Arte Público Press/ Piñata Books 
ISBN: 978-1-55885-846-6
Publication Date: May 31, 2017
Bind: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Ages: 4-8

In this bilingual picture book, a young Salvadoran boy
dreams of helping his family and community by becoming a doctor.

Salvador raced home from school to share his exciting news with his abuela: he made an A+ on his science test! But at home, he learns that his grandmother needs his help. She is going to the doctor and wants her grandson to interpret for her. Abuela is nervous because she has never been to a doctor in the United States.

When he learns that none of the physicians speak Spanish, the boy realizes that he is completely responsible for making sure the doctor understands his grandmother—and that she understands his instructions! But in spite of his help, the visit does not go well. The doctor rushes in and out. He doesn’t listen to Abuela. And he tells Salvador that she should not eat so much Mexican food! Abuela is so upset that she threatens not to take the medication the doctor prescribes! What can Salvador do to help her?

In this engaging bilingual picture book for children ages 4-8, a young Salvadoran boy dreams of becoming a doctor who speaks both English and Spanish so that patients like his beloved grandmother aren’t afraid to visit the doctor. Paired with lively, colorful illustrations by Victoria Castillo, this book will encourage children to think about their own futures as well as the role their culture can play in helping the community.


“Castillo’s background as a comic artist is successfully expressed in the characters’ exaggerated expressions and in her predominantly red and orange color scheme.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Inspired by his own experiences as a young boy helping his El Salvadorian grandmother navigate the US health-care system, Juan J. Guerra’s insightful, bilingual account highlights the need for culturally sensitive medical practitioners, in The Little Doctor: El doctorcito. Notes of despair and hope shine through in the strikingly animated artwork from Victoria Castillo.”—Foreword Reviews

JUAN J. GUERRA, a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, is a graduate of Pomona College and the University of Illinois School of Medicine. This is his first picture book.

VICTORIA CASTILLO, an illustrator and comic artist, loves vibrant, expressive shapes and colors. She lives in Texas with her family and numerous dogs. This is her first published book.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: C/S Magazine, History In Their Own Voices. New Books.

Review: Maxine Borowsky Junge and Con Safos (staff). Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio”. San Bernardino, California: [publisher not identified], 2016. Available via print on demand.
ISBN 153463200X

Michael Sedano

“El movimiento” is the foundation myth that satisfies a hungry need for inclusion and identity. Say the words “el movimiento,” or one of myriad terms for that period in the late 1960s and beginnings of the seventies, and evoke rich tapestries of ideas, events, and personal recollection. These memories are punctuated here and there with honored luminaries and passing personalities, triumphs and desmadres, a sense of one’s own place as part of something major.

There’s a sense of doneness about the movement, as in it is over. But the notion of the movement is an idea that especially today, can motivate people to come together in a deliberate search for new knowledge and shared experience. Movimiento is the idea that coalesces publics and holds communities together.

That perception of movimiento as finite, and ended, is one of the reasons Maxine Borowsky Junge and Con Safos’, Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio, belongs on every researcher’s reading list, every library history shelf, in the hands of anyone who wants to remember the movement because they were in it, woulda liked to be pero, tu sabes, or a reader of cultural history who enjoys compelling narratives of history-making events told by the makers.

Distribution being a bugaboo of independent publishers, World Cat lists two west coast libraries with copies, Cal State Channel Islands and Portland State. Amazon publishes the book on demand and ships upon payment, about thirty-two bucks.

Recounting the history of a legendary magazine during its existence between 1968 and 1970, Voices From the Barrio presents itself in a hybrid of academic analysis heavily interspersed with intimate looks and the personal voices of the magazine’s various staff configurations. It is a book on paper, not an ephemeral web presence. It’s an artifact that people can pass from hand to hand, store in physical permanence, incapable of erasure without unimaginable horror. Then again, it would probably be banned in Arizona.

Today’s information economy can create social and literary channels with a few keystrokes, a few dollars for a website, and messages become accessible by a potentially global audience. Facile experience and fragile knowledge could come of scrolling glances at hundreds of webpages a day. A book creates a different form of knowing.

The history of “old-fashioned” print media offers instructive examples for modern publishers, print or web. For raza, this history of Con Safos Magazine offers particularly useful and interesting insights into the times, the gente, the ganas, the writing, that makes C/S an important resource, a template for resistance and resisters today. Do it the right way.

Building the product, the magazine itself, models a microcosm of how movimientos come together. Structurally, the editorial hierarchy of WWII-generation editors kept a firm and flexible hold on policy. They have clear goals and standards, they hold a steady course toward goal. Both core and changing staff share a talented drive to produce worthwhile messages. Content reflected current events, indelible opposition to the war in Vietnam, multilingualism. Literature included consciousness-raising poetry and fiction, writing grew out of a rhetoric of identification. Style aimed for the sublime, for exactitude in language and a writer's sense of cultural inclusion. The C/S family figured it out as they went along but always motivated for quality. The combination of good illustration, good writing, clear logic, funny when it’s supposed to be, made Con Safos Magazine a sought-after buy in a restricted distribution network. Complete sets of the magazine are rare, and the FBI seized the final issue.

There was leadership by example—“I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunk” realism sealed the deal for the new literary editor; leadership by dint of qualification—the final art director, Magu, was an MFA candidate at UC Irvine; leadership by qualification—Ralph Lopez can write the pants off an essay or a memoir. C/S quoted Camus. The originators share a clear sense of vision even as the vision created itself from the raw materials of everyday life and politics. Being-in-becoming is one definition of movimiento sensibility.

Frank Sifuentes, Alurista, Oscar Acosta in 1973
C/S published rrsalinas, Oscar Zeta Acosta, and of 131 prose pieces, 8 by women. Other studies will address such gender disparities which weren’t unique to the magazine but typical of movimiento institutions that kept women in the background. Que gacho that at least one C/S staff woman's foto is identified only by first name. None of the interviewed remembered the woman’s last name.

Borowsky Junge doesn’t pull punches to guard against remembered hurts and newly injured pride.  She calls out that gender imbalance. She relates how Frank Sifuentes’ folky story-telling couldn’t get past the editor and Pancho didn't get published in C/S. He found an audience with technology; a short time before he died, Frank began podcasting his stories. He beamed with pride when the organizers of the 2010 reunion floricanto at USC included him to read on the first, Veteranas Veteranos day of readings.

There’s a profundity about this history and what Con Safos Magazine stands for and comes out of. Some of the writers and editors crossed over, qepd, but there’s a healthy lot of them still breathing. Borowsky Junge’s interviews bring their voices before today's audience.

Voices From the Barrio includes a generous set of excerpts from Lopez’ memoir, “Running With The Brown Buffalo. Roaming The Heights Of Lincoln Heights With Oscar Acosta, AKA ‘Zeta’ Circa 1968-1975.” On other pages, readers find sterling exemplars of Chicana Chicano arte, fiction and essays, poetry from rrsalinas’ “A Trip Through the Mind Jail,” some gems from Sergio Hernandez’Arnie and Porfi cartoon.

The set of oral histories that form the heart of the volume inform a conclusion that C/S Magazine owed its popularity not simply to C/S being the first independent Chicano literary magazine—anyone can publish a magazine--but more because the persona of the magazine and the distinctiveness of its voices resonated with readers. Its creators were, as the book title says, from the barrio.

The people who put together the magazine weren’t in publishing for the money but their mutually created and nurtured message. In McLuhanesque language popular during the era, C/S was cool media, C/S involved multiple senses simultaneously engaged—touch, vision, graphics, and identification. This characterizes physical media. But for Con Safos Magazine there is an enhanced dimension: raza sought out and remember C/S because it pierced deep into the corazones of their cultural being.

Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio” is a magnum opus. Three hundred eighty-seven pages accompanied with vii pages of Forward by Jesus Treviño, five pages of useful Preface by Borowski Junge, some footnotes, no indexing. Sadly the printed copy I received from Sergio Hernandez reflects compromises between heft and paper quality. Illustrations work fine as line art but photographaphs, fine work by Oscar Castillo for example, remain flat on the coarse grain looking like box camera snapshots without snap. Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio”is available via print on demand. Maybe a buyer can upgrade to coated stock and hope the image files are equal to the images.

I know several of the people interviewed here and they are cool people. I would love to have been part of the phenomenon of writing and publishing Con Safos Magazine when I was growing up. But I was in Isla Vista or the Army then. Ni modo. Fans of the sixties will get a kick out this insider's view of the popular magazine.

I know for sure I would have been overjoyed to get copies of Con Safos Magazine while I was on duty on a Korean mountaintop at the heyday of the magazine. It is the stuff dreams are made on. Come to think on it, there are lots of gente around who need some of those dreams right now. If you can’t go home again to re-assemble a Con Safos Magazine renaissance, reading its history is satisfying and edifying. “We” did this once and we can do it again.

Visit Jesus Treviño's Latinopia for video of various C/S tipos and Hernandez' revivified Arnie & Porfi cartoons. Jimmy Velarde, Diane Hernandez' brother, nears completion of his film of this vital history. La Bloga will share details when available.


Related Reading: Notable New Books

Mestizos Come Home! Making and Claiming Mexican American Identity. By Robert Con Davis-Undiano. Norman: U of Oklahoma Press, 2017.

Independent presses and academic presses are becoming the last, and first, refuge of razacentric books. Case in point is the Chicana & Chicano Visions of the Américas series published by the University of Okahoma Press.

The newest title in the series is Mestizos Come Home! Making and Claiming Mexican American Identity by Robert Con Davis-Undiano.

California born and schooled, Davis is a graduate of Cal State East Bay (Hayward State) and UC Davis.

Per the publisher, the book "focuses on defining, confronting, and contesting [the terms] 'Mexican American and mestizo.'"

Examining six areas of cultural and social change since the 1960s, including the rise of chicanismo in literature and academic fields of study, Mestizos Come Home! sounds like an ideal companion to a reading of the history of Con Safos Magazine.

Aztlán : essays on the Chicano homeland. Eds. Rudolfo A Anaya; Francisco A Lomelí; Enrique R Lamadrid.

This is a newly revised and expanded  edition of the classic 1989 collection of essays about Aztlán. Another academic accompaniment to understanding movimiento and useful adjunct to a reading of Voices From the Barrio.

The publisher, University of New Mexico Press, shares a book blurb from La Bloga friend, Roberto Cantu, who observes, "As a symbol for political action, a place of spiritual plentitude, or as a challenge to transcend ethnic borders, Aztlán emerges throughout these essays as one of the Chicano Movement's fundamental ideological constructs. This volume will be of interest to students and critics concerned with the understanding and comprehensive reconstruction of one of the Chicano cultural emblems of the late 1960s. Given the present emphasis in Chicano studies on discourse analysis and critique of ideologies, this volume is a contribution to Chicano cultural criticism."

Monday, April 17, 2017

Interview With Newly Awarded Fulbright Scholar, Amelia M.L. Montes

Amelia M. L. Montes

Es un gran placer poder compartir con los lectores de La Bloga la siguiente entrevista a Amelia M. L. Montes quien merecidamente ha recibido la beca Fulbright para la Universidad Novi Sad en Serbia.  Amelia, además de ser una gran académica en la Universidad de Nebraska-Lincoln, es parte del equipo de escritores de La Bloga y un gran orgullo para la comunidad chicana.  Enhorabuena, Amelia.

 Xánath Caraza:  Tell us a little bit about the Fulbright. 

Amelia M.L. Montes:  First, gracias Xánath, for contacting me.  Usually I'm doing the interviews for La Bloga, so it is an honor this time to be the interviewee!  Gracias.  It was Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright who established the Fulbright Scholar Program in 1946 via Senate legislation. His main objective was to establish positive and productive international relations furthering peace among nations. Today, 160 countries have Fulbright collaborations. Before applying to the Fulbright, I read Senator Fulbright’s writings and speeches about the program. Here’s one: 1986 marked the fortieth anniversary of the Fulbright, and Senator Fulbright spoke at the ceremony.  His words resonate today, especially this excerpt:

“Perhaps the greatest power of such intellectual exchange is to convert nations into peoples and to translate ideologies into human aspirations.  To continue to build more weapons, especially more exotic and unpredictable machines of war, will not build trust and confidence.  The most sensible way to do that is to engage the parties in joint ventures for mutually constructive and beneficial purposes . . . To formulate and negotiate agreements of this kind requires well-educated people leading or advising our government. To this purpose, the Fulbright program is dedicated.”

Xánath Caraza:  Where will you be?

Amelia M.L. Montes:  I will be at The University of Novi Sad, Serbia. There, Professor Aleksandra Izgarjan, is collaborating with other scholars in building a transnational literary critical cluster.  Serbia, as well as other countries in Central and South Eastern Europe, is very interested in Chicana and Chicano literature.  To have literary studies in this area alongside Serbian border studies literatures is quite exciting.  Another good example of intellectual transnational collaborations is this year’s Fulbright Scholar, Professor Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez, who has been teaching Chicana/Chicano literature in Ankara, Turkey.  

The University of Novi Sad in Serbia

 Xánath Caraza:  Why specifically Serbia and The University of Novi Sad?

Amelia M.L. Montes:  Now that’s a long story, but I’ll try and make this brief.  About four years ago, I received an e-mail from a graduate student at The University of Novi Sad. She told me she had just read my article on Gloria Anzaldúa and would I answer her questions.  I was floored.  It’s always amazing to find out where your published work ends up.  And here was a student in Serbia reading my work!  So we had a few e-mail exchanges.  Then a few months later, she e-mailed me again to let me know that she was just about to graduate with her M.A., and she was looking at doctoral programs in the United States.  She was writing as well to say that she was very interested in working with me.  I encouraged her to apply.  She is now in her third year of the PhD program and doing splendidly.  Her dissertation promises to be groundbreaking.  She will be analyzing Chicana literature alongside Serbian works.  So important to make these connections!  But the story does not end there.  Last year, her professor at Novi Sad, Dr. Aleksandra Izgarjan encouraged me to apply for a Fulbright to help build her transnational research area.  At the same time, my university (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) was encouraging faculty to attend a campus-wide workshop on The Fulbright—so I considered that both requests were a “sign.” At the Fulbright workshop, one of my colleagues (Professor Dawne Curry) who is a History and Ethnic Studies professor, was also there. She was interested in applying to South Africa for her work.  So we teamed up to help each other through the very long and complex application process.  I’m happy to say that Dr. Dawne Curry also is the recipient of a Fulbright this year.  Two Ethnic Studies professors!  Very exciting.  

Novi Sad, Serbia (Panorama)

Xánath Caraza:  What will you be doing?   

Amelia M.L. Montes:  I will be teaching “Chicana and Latina Literature and Theory” (one course) which begins in October.  I will also be giving lectures and helping establish ChicanX and LatinX curriculum.  As well, I’ll be writing.  I’m in touch with Stephanie Elizondo Griest (Chicana author of a number of travel memoirs which include, Around theBloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana) who is giving me excellent writing advice on shaping a travel narrative that I currently call, La Llorona on the Danube:  A Chicana in Serbia.  I call it La Llorona because in my research studying Serbia’s history, the Danube, although quite stunning and beautiful, also is a symbol of much strife and suffering.  The Danube crosses 18 countries and buried within its depths are an untold number of individuals who were violently murdered, their bodies thrown in the river -- from various wars and pogroms.  La Llorona in my Chicana culture is the story of the weeping woman who haunts the rivers looking for her lost children. When I see the beautiful Danube in photographs, I’m amazed by its beauty while also reminded of what it holds, and it encourages me to immediately think of the legend of La Llorona. 

Xánath Caraza:  Is there anything else you wish to accomplish?

Amelia M.L. Montes:  I hope that my presence in Serbia will also encourage more international students to study ChicanX/LatinX literatures.  I would love to help create a transnational classroom with students from The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and students from The University of Novi Sad—perhaps an exchange program.  Also, because I was a part of the Faculty Success Program this year and am an Alumni now, I have renewed skills to accomplish my research/writing goals.  I’m excited for what the future holds to further Senator Fulbright’s Mission.  I want to leave you with one more quote from Senator Fulbright—and thank you so much for this opportunity to talk with you Xánath! 

Senator J. William Fullbright

Senator J.William Fulbright: “…Man’s struggle to be rational about himself, about his relationship to his own society and to other peoples and nations involves a constant search for understanding among all peoples and all cultures—a search that can only be effective when learning is pursued on a worldwide basis.”  [From the Forward of The Fulbright Program:  A History]