Thursday, March 31, 2005

No italics for Quebecoise?

by RudyG

I moved this discussion here for those who wish to continue either: 1. the Quebec separation question (below) or 2. the Spanish-in-italics discussion (please add comments to "Nothing italic about DT", in the column at the right).

RudyG last wrote:

"The Quebecoise are a minority within Canada who've fought battles against what they see as oppression by the dominant Canadian culture."

Martini Republic editor's response:

Rudy, with all due respect--have you ever been to Montreal, or any part of Quebec? Or even to Canada? This statement strikes me as a vast underestimation of French Canada. First off, both French and English titles appear on all national government correspondence. But beyond that, the battles in Quebec have typically been for complete separation, and also over the exclusion of English in Quebec; any sense of Anglophone cultural or linguistic “oppression” is extremely vague in Quebec--indeed, it is the French speakers who have tried to exclude English, to the economic detriment of the city. Quebec is gigantic--it feels like a country, and when you are cinq kilometres outside of Montreal, English language speakers disappear completely.

March 31, 2005, 13:33

Response from RudyG:

"Have (I) ever been to Montreal, even to Canada?" you ask. I doubt that looking across from Niagara Falls counts, so I'll say, Je crois que non. Nor have I set foot on African soil, so my info about the "reputed" apartheid there may have been simply self-delusion. And since I never visited Antarctica, penguins possibly don't, in fact, reside there.

Since I'm something less than a world traveler, I'm forced to depend on your personal observations that "the battles in Quebec have typically been for complete separation, and also over the exclusion of English in Quebec".

Good enough. "Complete separation" sounds like a battle, one against the gov't and dominant culture of Canada, I assume.

I've read--though never seen them all in person--of many others who wanted the same. Do the Northern Irish ring a bell? Chicanos, blacks, Hawaiians and many indigenous peoples from the continental U.S. (which I have seen some of) also come to mind. They had/have good reason (however "extremely vague" they may seem), but were not "given" the power to do so.

Those who say such peoples may have no right to decide their own fate, since they might makes "mistakes" like the Quebecoise, might seem to be aligning themselves with the dominating gov't's and cultures--not a wise, defensible affiliation in front of, say, the World Court. (I think that's in The Hague, which might be in Europe.) But then, maybe they know better because they've seen more of the world, I assume.

Rudy Ch. Garcia

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Thanks, Corky, and have a safe journey.


There’s un montón de gente walking around all abashed right now, having heard Corky Gonzales has gone home to wait for la muerte to come calling. Have a safe journey, vato.

I like Gonzales’ small epic, Yo Soy Joaquin , and always have. But that montón of avergüenzados number among the poem’s detractors. With the man’s decision to die with dignity, I hear people saying they need to rethink their attitude toward the piece, and similar revisionist thoughts. Good for them. The poem merits respect.

I Am Joaquin is one of those poems that has to be read out loud because it sounds so darn good, even when a poor reader gets hold of it. Let an accomplished oral interpreter sink one’s teeth into the poem and audiences will be rising at the end, sharing the poem’s triumphant declaration, "Yo perdudaré! I will endure!"

I’ve heard critics bad mouth the piece for its simplistic imagery. But when the piece first appeared, Gonzales had captured the sound and feel of the times, the burgeoning of popular awareness that "chicano" could mean more than a simple self-referent, the term could be invested with motive power and used to give added urgency to the movimiento.

I love the opening for its echo of another important United States poem of modern landscapes, Ginsberg’s "Howl":
Yo soy Joaquín,
perdido en un mundo de confusión:
I am Joaquín, lost in a world of confusion,
caught up in the whirl of a gringo society,
confused by the rules, scorned by attitudes,
suppressed by manipulation, and destroyed by modern society.

Gonzales’ poem is full of hope and optimism, whereas Ginsberg’s vision looked hopelessly across the chaotic landscape of US culture, with no redemption on the horizon:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,

"Howl" is too damn long, and so is "Joaquin," though not so much. And so, too, grows this blogpistle. Hey folks, think good thoughts for Corky Gonzales. And before he’s gone, go out and buy a copy of "Yo Soy Joaquin" and read it out loud to someone you care for. Then, when you get the inevitable news the poet’s left us, go outside and scream out the final lines, because, sabes, you are Joaquin, too:
La raza!
Or whatever I call myself,
I look the same
I feel the same
I cry
Sing the same.
I am the masses of my people and
I refuse to be absorbed.
I am Joaquín.
The odds are great
But my spirit is strong,
My faith unbreakable,
My blood is pure.
I am Aztec prince and Christian Christ.


Monday, March 28, 2005

Nothing italic about Devil Talk

by RudyG

If you could cross Stephen King with Albert Camus, and the milkman Zeta Acosta snuck a dab of his in, either you'd get an ugly, disturbed boracho or you'd get Daniel A. Olivas, writing stuff like Devil Talk: Stories. (Bilingual Press. 2004)

As I've said before, I don't know how to review lit, Chicano or otherwise. I know what I like. I like Devil Talk.

Unlike Rudy Anaya's Serafina's Stories (Sedano's review Wed. 1/26/05, "Friday End of January"), don't plan on reading many of them to younger kids. At the same time, as Olivas informs me, some could be great material for high schoolers. So after you buy the book, keep it with your stash so young ones don't get their hands on it. It might mentally cripple them, and then they'd turn, not to crime, but to wanting to destroy the world.

The DT stories are creepy. The book's Chicano. It's weird. That's why I like it. Plus, I write this stuff, except mine don't get published; figure it's 'cause I write like I review.

Enough de mí, though. Read what Olivas says about his own book ("Cuento de Fantasmas"- essay, March) if you want a real review. I got otros pescados to fry.

There's 26 chingos of short stories here, running the spectrum from the existential to Chicano adaptation of folklore. They vary in pace, topic, genre and mood--from lightly dark to as much as there is inside your culo.

Para mí, it's refreshing to see a Chicano writing the Unreal, the urban folklore noir, the Absurd of East L.A. I've gotten muy cansado de Chicano characters written by the Non who portray us as Spanish-surnamed, brown-looking tokens and quota-meeters in meager attempts at non-Eurocentric literature. To that type of author, I say, please don't use me/us or my surname if you don't know what you're talking about, anymore than you would when portraying a Frenchman or Hmong.

In Devil Talk we get Chicanos. Real ones. Imaginary ones. Lots of evil or sick ones. Plots are twisted, sordid, fantastical, gruesome. It's worth the cover price and makes a fine gift for someone who likes horror, "ethnic", literary, or speculative lit in general. With more than a dash of dark, remember? I might not buy it for my priest, if I had one, or my mom, which I do, but a mature reader will enjoy it.

What I don't like about the book has nothing to do with the stories. I wanna bitch about the fact that Spanish & SpangliCH are not in italics. According to Olivas,
"It is Bilingual Press's editorial policy (and mine now) that Spanish should not be in italics. As I understand the policy, it emphasizes the idea that Spanish is as valid a language as English and also de-emphasizes the "otherness" of non-English languages. In my encounters with other fiction writers who come from non-English speaking cultures, this is the trend and prevailing philosophy. In essence, it is a political statement."

I understand the point and can agree with its intent as a political statement. As I see it, it's comparable, in some ways, to using he/she, which also makes a political statement.

Now me, I got no problem. I'm bilingual enough that my SpangliCH brain can make the switch back and forth if Spanish isn't italicized (comprehension level excluded, in either idiom).

Still, I have a different take on the practicality of this trend. We Chicanos are "italicized" in real life. We stick out as different (and are often treated suchly by many non-Chicanos), and I say our "special" status in America should be acknowledged. Yeah, we're a part of here, but not generically like regular typefaces, or people.

Spanish is validated worldwide as language, in part due to Lorca, Garcia Marquez, Neruda and others. Its "otherness" in America is a special problem, mostly a vestige of the U.S. stealing the Southwest. Today's Spanish-speaking Chicanos and mexicanos are the Other reminder of that. I say, that should be remembered; we are the Other. To bring us in from the frio, the U.S. should change everything that keeps us on the fringe of society. Eliminating italics seems like a light swat at a rampaging elephant.

What would be next in such a trend? Should italics be eliminated for all "Muslim languages", Vietnamese, Korean, Aleut and Sioux? Would it even prevent the U.S. people from invading Iran, Korea or Cuba? No, 'cause there's BIGGER problems at the root.

I don't recall seeing Ebonese or Brother-speak ever italicized, but how much better off are they for that?

Plus I got practical problems with the non-italics idea. Readers of Devil Talk and similarly formatted books read this line from DT, for example:

"Yes, hombre. Pinche heavy."

If you're the monolingual gringo (or agabachado Latino who lost his Spanish), do you read "hombre" and sound like John Wayne or definitely assume the character's speaking Spanish? More importantly, what about "Pinche heavy."? Do you read it like "pinch" and think it's maybe a typo and not understand Olivas isn't really talking about using two fingers and that the word has a profane edge?

If "hombre" and "pinche" are italicized, it's a clear sign to that gringo (and agabachado) that it's in Spanish and time to pull out the diccionario. Easier for them to grasp, no? If you want to keep and teach them to become literate readers, that is.

Some might say books like Devil Talk aren't intended for that gringo. Apparently not. But I say, why not? In this part of the country we will outnumber them, eventually, and we need to start now on their bilingual literacy. Otherwise we're gonna wind up with a bunch of monolingual fringe elements of society. We don't need to carry them anymore than we already have and do.

Sure there's a lot of SpangliCH in DT and other books that would need italicizing. So what? How's a gringo gonna learn?

Anyway, check out Olivas's Devil Talk. I did, and I can still sleep at night. But I get these strange dreams I'll tell you about another time.

© Rudy Ch. Garcia

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Pedacitos y Pedazos - Sabado Santo

Manuel Ramos

One Book, One Boulder, One Denver
Curious New Voices
And Yet More Best Books of 2004
Art For Easter Weekend

One Book, One Boulder, One Denver
I've already written about the selection of Sandra Cisneros's book Caramelo for the One Book, One Denver event (Pedacitos y Pedazos). So it's double cool that Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima was selected by Boulder for its One Book, One Boulder festivities, especially in light of the flap created by the high school principal in rural Colorado who banned the book (I'm Not Making Up Any Of This). What a mistake that turned out to be and what a public relations nightmare for that school.

Boulder has an interesting series of events scheduled for Anaya including An Evening With Rudolfo Anaya, April 22, 7:30 PM, St. Julien Hotel Ballroom. Tickets are free (limit 2 per person; personal pick-up only; no reservations) and until they are gone can be picked up at the main entrance desk of the south wing of the Boulder Public Library (11th and Arapahoe) starting April 12.

Rudy Anaya is another treasure of Chicano culture we should support and acknowledge while he is still with us and, apparently, writing wonderful books. I haven't read his latest yet, Jemez Spring, but it is racking up super reviews. For example, the LA Times, the Albuquerque Journal, the San Antonio Express-News.

Meanwhile, Denver moves on with its One Book celebration. I am scheduled to be on a panel that will discuss Caramelo at the University of Colorado at Denver on April 4 from noon to 1:30 PM at the Auraria Campus Student Center. Other panel participants include Angel Vigil, educator and storyteller who specializes in the traditional stories of the Hispanic Southwest and Mexico; John-Michael Rivera, author and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado, Boulder; Cate Wiley, poet and Associate Professor of English, University of Colorado at Denver; and Margarita Barceló, Professor of English and Chicana/o Studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Should be a good time.

Curious New Voices
An announcement from the Curious Theatre Company (Denver) -

"This year, one of our guest instructors for Curious New Voices (the youth playwriting program) will be Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks. If you know folks between the ages of 15-21 who would be a good match for the 3 week intensive workshop, encourage them to talk to Dee here at the theatre for more details. She's at 303-623-2349 or Somehow it's really tough to get kids to apply and it's a phenomenal program.

Plus, tuition is fully underwritten this year- i.e. FREE (thanks to a matching grant from the Olsen-Vander Heyden Foundation and many individuals who have stepped up to help). They'll need to apply by submitting a short play by June 1st.

I also have a great 5 minute DVD that explains the program. If I can send one to you for your consideration to present to a class, drop me a line.

For information on Suzan-Lori Parks go here. She was the screenwriter of the recent TV adaptation of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her Pulitzer-prize winning play Topdog/Underdog opened on Broadway with Jeffrey Wright and Mos Def in the leading roles. The Shadow Theatre will have the regional premiere of this play in June-July 2005.
Mare Trevathan
Marketing Director
Curious Theatre Company
Playing through April 23rd:PARIS ON THE PLATTE: The Remarkable Reign of Robert Speer"

And Yet More Best Books Of 2004
These books are from Publishers Weekly's list of The Best Books of 2004. There are dozens of books listed by PW; below are the Latino-themed. The comments are from PW

Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories, Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics) Masterful stories about the lovers Maggie, girl mechanic, and Hopey, punk chick troublemaker, in the midst of the 1980s Southern California Chicano-youth and punk rock scene

Traveling with Che Guevara: The Making of a Revolutionary, Alberto Grando, trans. from the Spanish by Luciá Álvarez de Toledo (Newmarket) A moving, perceptive memoir recounting an eight-month-long South American tour that Granado, then a 29-year-old doctor, and Ernesto "Che" Guevara took in 1952

Infinitas Gracias: Contemporary Mexican Votive Painting, Alfred Vilchis Roque; text by Pierre Schwartz (Chronicle) Intensely moving work from Mexico City retablo master Roque and his sons; a deep introduction to a vital art of prayer.

Parenting with Pride——Latino Style: How to Help Your Child Cherish Your Cultural Values and Succeed in Today’s World, Carmen Inoa Vazquez (Rayo) For Latino parents, a primer on how to raise children biculturally, from an expert in the field.

Art For Easter Weekend

The Denver Post highlights Spanish Colonial Art, Santos and Santeros in an article that begins:"New York had the Hudson River School. Illinois spawned the Chicago Imagists. And California was home to Bay Area Figuration. But Colorado and New Mexico can lay claim to something that few other states can match - not just a movement but a distinctive, indigenous style with more than a 300-year history. Known today as contemporary Spanish colonial art, this predominantly religious work traces its roots to Spanish-controlled Mexico but took on its own distinctive look after the country received its independence in 1821."

Santeros y Santeras: Expanding Traditions

THROUGH MAY 8 Show of contemporary Spanish colonial art
Foothills Art Center, 809 15th St., Golden
FREE 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays (303-279-3922) or

Belated feliz cumpleaños a Don Benito.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Four legs, two legs, three legs; is age the answer, or the riddle?


I was reading Cicero's essay on old age, De Senectute, the other day, and it's got me wondering what I will read next. Coincidentally, I'd just read Penelope Lively's The Photograph, a novel populated with folks in their late 50s, like me. But the characters, generally, are shits, and they're all Brits. Sadly, I couldn't find profoundly insightful portraits that resonated in my experience. Sad because the novel's a fine piece of writing, especially the earlier chapters' explorations of time and memory. Characters hold eventful moments in their memory, frozen in time like that still unravished bride on a side of that Grecian urn, or like that incriminating photograph. That Lively’s old folks come to tortured recriminations and dissatisfying outcomes signals something Cicero talks about. Bitter old folks get that way because they live bitter lives, not because they get old.

So right now, I’m acutely aware of how old folks get treated by their authors. I can’t really come up with a “literature of the old”, at least not in chicana chicano literature. There are a number of chicana chicano characters who are old. I enjoyed Ana Castillo's Peel My Love Like an Onion, a coming of age novel for women celebrating their cinquentañera that I strongly recommend to all thirty-ish women. Unfortunately, la Castillo disappeared her essay on the cinquentañera, so I can’t link it, but if you can find it, lucky you.

Carmen La Coja at forty has wised up to worthless men and worthwhile passions. Good for her. That is Castillo’s point about getting older. More typical is the generally unsympathetic treatment of generational change and old relatives in Sandra Cisneros' family saga, Caramelo. Growing old is hard for some people, having some nieta start dragging skeletons out of the closet seems to me elder abuse, but that's Cisneros' choice.

Ultima is old, que no, and magical? Rudolfo Anaya had a couple of oldster sidekicks helping Sonny Baca out of jams–but the old folks had to die. Don’t we all. I haven't seen the fourth Baca mystery, but it won't surprise me if Anaya conjures up the old folks' cucuys to help Sonny foil Raven.

Nor have I read Lucha Corpi's latest, and I'm reckoning Gloria Damasco's getting old, too. Now that I'm thinking of it, Luis Montez is back, in Brown On Brown. And I just got my copy.


Saturday, March 19, 2005

Pedacitos y Pedazos - Guerrero, Hinojosa, Olivas, Myers, Thompson

Again, this is a long post. Click on the title that interests you and you can go right to it.

Lalo Guerrero - Father Of Chicano Music
New Publications From Rolando Hinojosa
Call For Submissions From Daniel Olivas
More Notable 2004 Books - The Gustavus Myers Awards
Hunter Thompson And The Cannon

Lalo Guerrero - Father Of Chicano Music Dies
As reported in The Desert Sun, Eduardo "Lalo" Guerrero, known as the Father of Chicano Music, died on March 17 at the Vista Cove assisted living facility in Rancho Mirage after suffering gradual declining health. He was 88. The Sun article is detailed, respectful and filled with good information about the man who gave us Canción Mexicana, Chicas Patas Boogie, Marihuana Boogie, I Love Tortillas (The Tortilla Song), No Chicanos On TV, and so many more that his complete discography numbers more than 700 songs and millions of records sold in Spanish and English. The Chicago Tribune also has a good article about Lalo. There isn't much I can add except that the man truly was a legend and an icon, and deservedly so. His music covered the spectrum from pachuco boogie to sentimental ballads to spoofs and satire. His fans included Cesar Chavez, Los Lobos, Cheech Marin, Luis Valdez, and a lot of us common folk. The Desert Sun has a site where people can post their memories or tributes - it's here at this link.

New Publications From Rolando Hinojosa
The esteemed Rolando Hinojosa sent me the following great news about reprints, a new book, short stories, so forth, and he says that there is more to come. Órale, Rolando.

Arte Público Press will release Rolando Hinojosa's Dear Rafe/Mi querido Rafa in June 2005. Hinojosa's newest work, We Happy Few, a comic novel with an academic setting, is set for a June 2006 publication. His essay, This Writer's Sense of Place, appears in the University of Texas Press publication Rio Grande (2005), an anthology of Texas writers compiled by Jan Reid. Norton Publications' anthology Texas Literature from the Red River to the Rio Grande, compiled by Don Graham (2005), includes Hinojosa's The Gulf Oil-can Santa Claus. Prótesis, publicación consagrada al crimen (Madrid) published his detective short story, El puñal de Borges, (2005).

Call For Submissions
Daniel Olivas, writer and lawyer from LA, sends a message that he's putting together an anthology that will have as its theme a favorite of many writers, the seathing cauldron of soul and cariño - the City of Angels. Daniel contributed to La Bloga a few days ago with his essay, Cuentos de Fantasma, well worth checking out below.

Here's Daniel's call:"I am editing an anthology of short fiction by Latinos/as in which the City of Los Angeles plays an integral role. I am interested in provocative stories on virtually any subject by both established and new writers. Stories may range from social realism to cuentos de fantasma and anything in between. Los Angeles may be a major 'character' or merely lurking in the background. I'd like to see characters who represent diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, profession, age, sexual orientation, etc. Preferred length: 500 to 5,000 words. Stories may be previously published (please indicate where). Chapters from novels will be considered if they can stand alone. Award-winning publisher is interested but wants to see final manuscript. Please e-mail your story, using standard submission formatting, as a Word document to In the e-mail, include your contact information, list of previous publications (if any), and the ethnicity(ies) with which you identify. Feel free to visit my Web page at DEADLINE: September 1, 2005."

More 2004 Books - Gustavus Myers Award Winners
Continuing a thread I started a few days ago, here are more outstanding 2004 books. My earlier list focused on fiction - these are non-fiction books that deserve attention. This information is three months old but I guess it does not hurt to reinforce worthwhile reads.

A major purpose of the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights is "the review and identification of outstanding books written each year about discrimination and bigotry, and ways to develop equitable future communities and societies." On Human Rights Day (December 10, 2004) the Center announced its 20th annual list of Outstanding Book Award Winners Advancing Human Rights. The award is co-sponsored by groups such as the American Friends Service Committee, NAACP, Poverty & Race Research Action Council, etc. There are some excellent reading choices in the list of winners and the honorable mentions and I recommend the lists for help with your next reading selection.

I expect that readers of this blog will be interested particularly in the Latino books that made the Honorable Mention list. I could be wrong but I do not think any of the winning books deal specifically with Latino issues (although you might want to look at It's Test Day, Tiger Turcotte, by Pansie Hart Flood, a children's book about a stressed-out seven year old who has to signify his racial identity on a standardized test form - his parents are Indian and Latina). In any event, here are some of the 2004 books that the Myers Center selected for commendation (the comments are from the Center):

Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration, Lalo Alcaraz - Refreshing look at the inconsistencies and contradictions in public perceptions of immigration, the border and mucho mucho mas. [Alcaraz is the LA cartoonist well-known for his La Cucaracha comic strip and as the illustrator for Ilan Stavans' Latino USA: A Cartoon History. Lalo's website is here].

Greasers and Gringos: Latinos, Law and the American Immigration, Steven W. Bender - The intersection between stereotypes and the law, with close attention to the role of mass media in perpetuating stereotypes.

American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons, Mark Dow - Exposes the "Catch-22" of immigration law practice and policy implementation.

"Is This English?": Race, Language, and Culture in the Classroom, Bob Fecho - About learning through process, and the inquiry-based process of learning.

The New Americans, Ruben Martinez - Stand-along companion to PBS documentary on seven families.

We Took The Streets: Fighting For Latino Rights With The Young Lords, Miguel "Mickey" Melendez - Part memoir, part polemic about the powerful voice in the 1960s of Puerto Rican self-determination.

Finally, one other honorable mention (and I swear I was not looking for this), On The Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections On The Consequences Of U.S. Imperial Arrogance And Criminality, Ward Churchill - Challenges with historical detail the myth of the U.S. as a "peace-loving nation."

Well, Not Really A Cannon, Dude
Turns out that Hunter Thompson, Oscar "Zeta" Acosta's protegé, didn't actually say that he wanted his remains shot from a cannon. As reported in the Rocky Mountain News, he wanted his cremated remains to be shot out of an upside-down, sculpted mushroom perched on a 150-foot-high, double-thumbed fist. Much better. Some folks are trying to get this done. Ralph Steadman said, "Why not do that if you can?" I know I'd drive up to Aspen to see it.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Food in Chicana Chicano Literature?

Best Cocido in the World


The high green fence glowed in the diffused sunlight. Rain pelted me as
I stood on the sidewalk to shoot a picture. Worse, traffic suddenly appeared,
a car and two pickups slowly passing with curious stares at the vato standing in the
rain taking a picture.

Hunger growled in my stomach. I was near Millan's Ranchito, a restaurant
I'd passed many times driving to Tommy's, or El Gallo Giro, or Yoshinoya, or
a host of places. I squeezed into the tight parking lot, landing the last spot
as if I’d called ahead. Millan’s bowl of cocido came rich and hot to
the table with all the right garnishes: sopita de arroz, lime, chopped onion,
cilantro leaves no stems. Tasty flexible tortillas de harina. Maybe it was the cold
day but that was a darn good bowl of cocido.

So today, a beautifully sunny day, I find myself aimlessly cruising. Ended
up at 5803 Soto Street, a bowl of Millan's cocido de res on the table. The
hueso had the callo in it, the abundant meat had been cooked to fork tenderness.
A large papa sat on top. Unlike so many other’s cocido, Millan's Ranchito
doesn't substitute chayote for papas. The main difference between Millan's
cocido and the best homemade is that tiny chunk of corn. At home, you toss
in whole elotes. The best cocido in the world is the one my grandmother made. Neither
you nor I will ever taste its equal. However, you can taste the second best
cocido in the world, if you come to Huntington Park.

My grandmother lived on Lawton Street, close to the packing house at the edge of the orange groves that stretched from Redlands to Bryn Mawr to the wash. In those days she kept a wood-burning stove running and a pot of soup going.

Was I four? Three? I remember taking my seat at the table, my grandmother places
a bowl of cocido in front of me. Ignoring my protests about the chile japones
pods, she pinches a few seeds into my caldo, shushing my protests. She squeezes
a lemon half into the soup, places a hot tortilla de harina in my hand.

Speaking of food, the Multi Ethnic Literature in the United States group solicits papers on the role or use of food in chicana chicano literature. What the? I’m challenged to think of novels that play on food. Laura Esquivel's Como Agua Para Chocolate is the only one that stands out. There's a menudo party in the same author's Swift As Desire, and I remember a falso writer whose ruse was uncovered when he has a Mexican lad sit down to a steaming bowl of Mondongo. Now in poetry, food abounds; from Alurista’s “Tortilla Host” in his collection Nationchild Plumaroja c.1968-69 to Elba Rosario Sanchez’ “Lover’s Ode” in Calaca Press’ When Skin Peels CD.

What am I missing here? Who, where, have chicana chicano writers made food
something notable?

Cuentos de Fantasma (essay)

by Daniel A. Olivas

A few years ago, I read the following call for submissions for short stories by Mexican American writers:

“Written in the spirit of the cuento de fantasma, the stories should include some element of folklore, superstition, religion, myth, or history. This supernatural element may be subtle or it may be prominent in the story. I am not looking for simple retellings of folktales or ghost stories, but I am interested in reinterpretations of such tales, particularly if they are placed in a contemporary setting.”

The “I” in the call for submissions was (and still is) Rob Johnson, associate professor of English at the University of Texas-Pan American University. It seems that Johnson got the idea for the anthology when he was teaching a creative writing class in 1996 and asked the students to take a folktale and retell it as a contemporary short story. What he got back from his students, many of whom were Mexican American, surprised and confused him. He read wonderfully strange stories based on traditional Mexican legends spun with modern-day jargon and sensibilities. Were these simply ghost stories and urban legends or was he being exposed to a “specific kind of typical writing?”

I’ll return to Johnson’s query shortly…back to that call for submissions. I had been writing short fiction for about two years when I saw Johnson’s ad. At that point, I had produced about twenty or so short stories most of which were based on my experiences as a Chicano growing up in a working class neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles. But I had also produced a few oddballs. These stories sometimes mixed ancient Aztec gods with modern Christian entities, or simply offered a bizarre other-reality as a given. I blended contemporary slang and sentiment recklessly with traditional Mexican concepts of good and evil. A couple of print and online journals published these strange, hybrid tales including one entitled, “Don de la Cruz and the Devil of Malibu” which Andre Codrescu published in Exquisite Corpse.

Well, I had a little story, “The Plumed Serpent of Los Angeles,” that I figured fit Johnson’s call for submissions. I sent it in and, happily, Johnson accepted it. The final result was Fantasmas: Supernatural Stories by Mexican American Writers, published in 2000 by Arizona State University’s Bilingual Press. The anthology includes stories by twenty writers including Alcalá, David Rice, Stephen D. Gutiérrez and Elva Treviño Hart. Now back to Johnson’s musings. In his foreward to the anthology, Johnson observes that the fantasma has its roots with the magical realists such as Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Máquez and Julio Cortázar. But there was something else happening with the modern stories included in his anthology: a belief that the supernatural is a part of reality, not separate from it. Further, he saw issues of race and class addressed under cover of spirits, el Diablo and ancient gods.

In the anthology’s introduction, novelist/short story writer Kathleen Alcalá asserts that cuentos de fantasma serve “as a bridge between traditional storytelling and pulp fiction, incorporating elements of both.” Alcalá identifies four elements common to these stories: (1) basis in oral tradition; (2) influence of folk religions; (3) use of vernacular forms; and (4) influence of life and culture from the United States side of the border. She also notes that the fantasma “has been used as a vehicle for conveying political and social truths that could be fatal if presented more baldly.” Thus, dictators “have been transformed into packing shed bosses, abusive husbands, and the turbulent desires of the heart.”

Though my contribution to the Fantasma anthology could have been written without any fear of governmental retribution, the “roots” of the story are clearly embedded with the tradition Alcalá and Johnson have identified. “The Plumed Serpent of Los Angeles” (which first appeared in the online journal Southern Cross Review before ending up in the anthology) does address issues of European conquests and the imposition of foreign belief systems on indigenous people. But it does so with humor, allowing ancient Aztec gods to wrangle with the Christian god of evil, the Devil (here la Diabla, the female version of that entity). Thus, if I lived in a totalitarian regime where the government feared the expression of contrary political sentiments (no knowing chuckling, folks), my use of the fantasma form would likely protect my message from being used against me in a kangaroo court.

But not all fantasmas need to be political. For example, in my story “Monk” (which was accepted and edited by the remarkable writer James Sallis for the online journal In Posse Review), I tell the tale of one man’s midlife crisis as he confronts the expectations of his parents and his assumed expectations of his much younger girlfriend. A recurring element in the story is the protagonist’s dream life. Sallis introduces the story with this observation:

“We live our lives ever divided: tangible reality of the world outside us, our perception of the world. It’s at the juncture—at the collision of that world and our inmost attempts to explain it to ourselves, i.e., our fantasies—that our personalities are formed and our destinies defined.”

Heady stuff! But Sallis correctly describes the essence of the story which is in line with the commentary of both Johnson and Alcalá. “Monk” is included in my most recent collection, Devil Talk (Bilingual Press, 2004). In a review published by the El Paso Times, poet and novelist Rigoberto González says: “In a stunning departure from the social realism of his previous collection...Olivas takes readers into a disarming otherworld of the surreal and the supernatural....The quick succession of 26 narratives covers a wide territory of moods, from the strangely elliptical to the whimsical.”

Though the review certainly delighted me, I was startled by the description. I considered the stories to be fun, a little different, sometimes a bit dark. But I think that the fantasma form lends itself such a response. When you mix the supernatural with reality as freely as you mix a martini, the results could be just as intoxicating.

[This essay first appeared in The Elegant Variation. Feel free to visit Daniel’s Web page at]

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Why Europeans love Chicano Lit

To answer Manuel Ramos's question (Pedacitos y Pedazos II): there's reasons Europeans think Chicano literature is suave. Maybe it's 'cause we're chingos alike.

It starts with the fact we talk a lot the same, and I'm not even counting the gachupine types. Por ejemplo, we Chicanos say "hijo de SU" a lot, and the French use the word SOU, a whole lot too. We say "crepa", they say "crêpe". See what I mean, ese? Sure they say "café" and make it sound so-fisticated, and we say "café", more like a macho, but that's probably only 'cause they live too close to the English wimps. At least we spell it the same.

Even words like mierda and merde, Bush and Bush, and mexicano, sound alot alike from a Frenchie or a Chicanoie mouth.

Now, as for a German (do I hear a Chicano name there?), what's he always eating? Sausages. How come they look a whole lot like chorizo? And I bet if you put a German together with a Chicano, the two of them could solve the world peace problem while they drank their favorite beverage--beer. Just a coincidence?

Then there's the Italians. We both share the mafioso problem, and we both like garlic and tomatoes--un chingos. Is it strange that noodles and fideo look so much alike? I don't think so.

I don't have to count the English, right? Just the Irish, okay? They like their música, like to pachanga, drinking beer and fighting--real machos, no? And we can't forget they're the only ones who joined the good side in the Mexican-American war, right? Plus, they've been fighting Anglo oppressors longer than we have.

Now I know there's more Europeans, like the Swiss (we both love queso and vienna(!) sausage, eh?), the Portuguese (ever notice how their language is usually taught in the same dept. as Spanish?) and yeah, even I can't hide the Spanish connection.

Come to think of it, maybe we're related more than we know, way back when--you know before Cortez, even. Maybe some Aztecas or Yucatecas or Cholos got lost cruisin' one night in their (14)57 lowriders and wound up being the first mojaus, landing right on a Riviera beach.

Maybe the Irish can thank those ancient mojaus for a love of poetry, or maybe a tamalada inspired the French to learn to cook like they can now, or--who knows-- maybe the blood of a Bonampak muralista ran in the veins of Miguelangelo--eh, Miguel? Coulda happened, and it could explain a lot.

W. Ronaldo

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Pedacitos y Pedazos - Promoting Literacy, Part II

In this column:
2004 Premio Atzlán
Other Books Published In 2004 That Deserved More Attention
Taking Stock
Do the Europeans Know Something We Don't?

Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya 2004 Premio Atzlán Literary Prize
The Premio Atzlán is a national literary prize established to encourage and reward emerging Chicana and Chicano authors. Noted author Rudolfo Anaya and his wife, Patricia, established the Premio Atzlán in 1993. After a brief hiatus the program has been revived by the University of New Mexico Libraries in their honor.

The Premio is awarded to a Chicana or Chicano writer who has published no more than two books. The prize includes $1,000 and the winner is expected to give a reading at the University of New Mexico Libraries.

Many of the recipients are now nationally recognized authors of Chicana/o literature. Past award recipients include:
Sergio Troncoso (1999)(The Last Tortilla and Other Stories)
Ronald Ruiz (1998) (Giuseppe Rocco)
Pat Mora (1997) (House of Houses)
Wendell Mayo (1996) (Centaur of the North)
Norma Cantu (1995) (Canicula: Snapshots of a Girlhood en la Frontera)
Denise Chavez (1994) (Face of an Angel)
Alicia Gaspar de Alba (1993) (The Mystery of Survival and Other Stories)

Mary Helen Lagasse receives the 2004 Premio Atzlán Literary Award for her novel The Fifth Sun. The award ceremony is scheduled for March 24, 2005 in the Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM. For more information call (505) 277-5057.

Mary Helen Lagasse is a Chicana from New Orleans. Her novel tells the story of Mercedes Vasconcelos (among others), a young Mexican woman who migrates to the US in the 1920s and ends up in New Orleans. The book is unique in that it provides a look at the Mexican-American experience in a place other than the Southwest and during decades that many other Chicano/a novelists have ignored or dealt with only in passing. This novel also won the 2004 Mármol Prize (for best First Book of Fiction by a Latina/o Writer). Judith Ortiz Cofer, a judge for the Mármol Prize, said that "Mercedes is a trooper, a proto-feminist. Her journey is the hero's journey -- the path to enlightenment, with each hurdle she encounters increasing her self-knowledge and strength of character." The book is well-written and creative, one of those novels that sneaks up on a reader until the characters are firmly etched in the mind's eye.

Other Books Published In 2004 That Deserved More Attention
I'd like to recommend Every Night Is Ladies' Night by Michael Jaime-Becerra. This collection of interrelated short stories drew me in almost immediately. I found myself regretting, more than once, when a story ended because I wanted to stay involved with the characters and their day-to-day struggles. Although not a novel in the strictest sense, the stories are connected and the writing conveys a real feel for the continuity of the community and setting. The collection is filled with working-class fiction -- intense glimpses into the lives of hard-working, hard-loving folks who slap back when life lands one below the belt. The author is from El Monte, CA, and this guy can flat-out write. He has a wonderful ability to express a full range of emotions without appearing to work at it. In other words he makes it look easy, which in my view is the sign of a first-class writer. One thing some readers initially might find irritating but will soon disregard: most of the stories are told in the present tense. This is Jaime-Becerra's debut book.

A few other Chicano/a notables from 2004:
Crimson Moon, Lucha Corpi
The Horse In The Kitchen, Ralph M. Flores
Brother Bill's Bait Bites Back, Ricardo L. García
Devil Talk: Stories, Daniel Olivas (there's a great article about Daniel in the most recent Stanford Magazine -- he has his own compelling story)

The next two received plenty of attention but I think are worth noting anyway:
The Devil's Highway, Luis Alberto Urrea
The Queen of the South, Arturo Pérez-Reverte (note, this is a Spanish author writing about a Mexican narca and for that alone it is worth reading. Of course, there's more to it than that).

Taking Stock
As we appreciate the current crop of Chicano/a authors, we get news that Octavio Romano passed away. Luis J. Rodriguez (Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. and several other books) pays tribute to one of the founders of Chicano Literature at this link. Rodriguez says, "Dr. Romano will forever stand as the leading light of Chicano letters. He had the vision and fortitude to go far beyond whatever existed before. He helped launch the careers of so many Chicano writers and artists in the literary publication El Grito, and later through his Tonatiuh Publishing."

And then, more negative news. Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez, Chicana activist, author and educator, has fallen seriously ill and needs the support of the rest of us. Martinez has published several books and many articles on social justice movements in the Americas. Best known is her bilingual volume 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, which became the basis for a video she co-directed. Other books include De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century, Letters from Mississippi and The Youngest Revolution: A Personal Report on Cuba.

There's a good bio of her at this link. This woman has led an incredible life. Check this out: a United Nations researcher on colonialism in Africa; an editor at Simon & Schuster; Books and Art Editor of The Nation. During the 1960s she worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the South and as its New York office coordinator. In 1968 she joined the Chicano movement in New Mexico, where she edited the movement newspaper El Grito del Norte and co-founded the Chicano Communications Center, a barrio-based organization. She has organized on Latino community issues, taught Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies in the California State University system, conducted anti-racist training workshops, and mentored youth groups. She ran for Governor of California on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket in 1982.

I know that a call was made for support for Ms. Martinez but I don't have any contact information about that. If someone can get that to me or La Bloga we will do what we can to help.

Do The Europeans Know Something We Don't?
Well, yes, of course. They seem to be hip about everything from how to enjoy big meals at 11 at night to why sex and nudity are more civilized than sex and violence to why not to go to war in Iraq. But what I'm asking about now is Chicano Literature. I hear repeatedly how Chicano Literature is so respected and, yes, even read in Europe. There apparently are several European conferences and academic events that focus on Chicana and Chicano writers and writing. A few friends have made repeated visits to such happenings over the years (María Teresa Márquez and Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, to name a couple). I recently received a message from Dr. Ann-Catherine Geuder in Berlin. She tells me that she has published her dissertation, Chicana/o Literary Scene: Roads to the Public Since 1965 or Chicana/o Literaturbetrieb: Wege in die Öffentlichkeit seit 1965. Dr. Geuder spent months in the US interviewing several Chicana/o writers. Of course she also read chingos of Chicano Lit. She put all that together in her dissertation and now has published it in German (she's looking for an English publisher). I've seen the table of contents and an English abstract. Hmmm.. some deep stuff going on with the literary homies and rucas. I hope to read the entire book one day. Dr. Geuder is the editor of Bloomsbury Berlin, a new imprint of Berlin Verlag, owned by Bloomsbury London.

So, what's the deal? (By the way, I'm open to invitations to travel to Sevilla or Paris or Naples, even Prague or Berlin, to talk about a hangdog Chicano lawyer who's appeared in a few novels set in the Southwest US. My passport is up-to-date.) Is it because of the "in the belly of the shark" thing? The "voice of the indigenous" thing? Maybe because the Chicano/a motif resonates with the European multicultural, multilingual reality? Any thoughts?

Manuel Ramos

Friday, March 11, 2005

Meeting Up With An Old Friend

Friday, Middlemarch
by mvs

I v.i.sited with an old friend this week, and it’s good to see she’s feeling much better and has shaken off some of that depressing crap that made Hard Times an unsatisfying novel featuring the V.I. Warshawsky character created by Sara Paretsky. In my malaise, seems I missed two novels, 2001's Total Recall, and Blacklist. So last week, I serendipitously came across 2003's Blacklist.

Happy accident indeed. It’s not that I avoided the writer, but she was taking the character into increasingly senseless behaviors. V.I.’s antics and excesses stopped being very much fun. And for me, reading Paretsky has always been a case of "tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight".

As usual, the character finds herself in a world of hurt. A sore distraction and source of anguish, her lover is missing in Afghanistan. Her best client hires the dick to resolve a minor problem in an exclusive suburb that blows up in V.I.’s face. By the middle of the novel, the client not only dismisses her but is threatening pulling his $1000 a month retainer; she’s under police suspicion in several jurisdictions; she’s pulled several illegal stunts; a new client enters the picture; the investigation takes her into the black community, leading the detective to face up to yet another professional limitation, her white face; a sex, money, and politics link emerges between the blacklisted blacks and the very riche enclave. And, of course, there’s a dead guy.

Blacklist is a 911 novel. There’s a muslim kid mixed up with a rich white kid, and the USA Patriot Act holding the action together. Paretsky adopts a distinct political point of view that no reader will fail to see. The author gives a reader credit, or perhaps leeway, to draw parallels between red-baiting pendejos and terrorist-behind-every-Koran pendejos in the current Administration.

Paretsky cannot evade Mr. Contreras, not since the writer gave him a more endearing role, but V.I.’s old doctor buddies play minor roles. Instead, Paretsky uses Blacklist to flesh out (and how) the character of her rich benefactor, Darraugh Graham. I’ll look for Total Recall, but more, I look forward to the next V.I. Warshawsky novel. Sara Paretsky is creating so richly defined a cast of characters that her possibilities appear boundless.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Pedacitos y Pedazos - Promoting Literacy

One Book, One Denver
More about Sandra Cisneros, following co-blogger Michael's review of the play based on The House on Mango Street.

Denver Mayor Hickenlooper announced on February 24th that the One Book, One Denver selection for 2005 is Caramelo, by Sandra Cisneros. Cisneros will visit Denver in April and will kick-off her stay with a reading and booksigning at the Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek on Monday, April 4 at 12:00 noon. As part of the build-up for the event, on Sunday, March 6 at 2 PM at the Mercury Cafe, 2199 California St., Denver, Brianna McLean of The Denver School of the Arts reads an excerpt from Caramelo. This is A Stories on Stage for Students production.

What some critics said about Caramelo:
"[A] multigenerational story of a Mexican-American family whose voices create a dazzling weave of humor, passion and poignancy."
''[E]nchanting. Soulful, sophisticated and skeptical, full of great one-liners ('I haven't cried so much since I got that $5 haircut at the beauty college'), it is one of those novels that blithely leap across the border between literary and popular fiction." The New York Times.
"The language of Caramelo is not difficult or abstruse, but it's thickly textured, and that's part of the appeal. That said, the novel is not some self-conscious writerly exercise. It's rich in character and action, people and passions. " The Houston Chronicle.

I thought about doing my own review of Caramelo but it's been a couple of years since I read it and used it as one of the selections in a Chicano Literature course I taught. To be fair I'd have to at least skim the book again and review my notes from my class, now buried in the so-called storage room in my basement. Guess that's more than I can muster this weekend. I do recommend the book - Cisneros knows how to write, she can twist a phrase and craft dialog as well as anyone in the writing racket today. The story did not appeal to all of my students, although others loved it. But then, very few books in my class were universally loved by my students.

The choice of Caramelo is not without some controversy. Last year's selection for One Book, One Denver, Peace Like A River, by Leif Enger, didn't sit well with many in the Colorado "literary community" because of it's and the author's Minnesota roots. What, no Colorado story can attract and hold the attention of Denver readers? So, this year's selection is set in Chicago and Mexico, the author has lived in just about every state in the Southwest except Colorado, and she's a Chicana. Oh, that last thing is good. Actually, this type of "issue" doesn't bug me. Books and authors already are way over-categorized. Publishers have made marketing of books more like displaying rock collections - the green one goes there, the blue one over there, the red one here. And not one out of its designated place. My attitude is: A good book is a good book, I don't care where the author lives.

More Colorado Honors for Sandra Cisneros
The Evil Companions Literary Award is presented annually to a poet or writer who embodies the literary spirit of the West. The award pays homage to a group of Denver writers who met in the '50s and '60s to drink and discuss writing and the world, and dubbed themselves the Evil Companions. In 2005, Sandra Cisneros (Vintage Cisneros, Loose Woman, The House on Mango Street, Caramelo, Woman Hollering Creek) becomes the twelfth recipient of the Evil Companions Literary Award. The award presentation is scheduled for the Oxford Hotel in Denver on Wednesday, April 6, 2005. Cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and a jazz ensemble kick off at 6 PM, followed by a presentation and book signing by Cisneros. Standard tickets are $50.00 (patron tickets and sponsorships are also available) and all proceeds benefit the Denver Public Library. Call 720-865-2051 or visit the website for tickets and more information.

Police force launches 'novel' reading effort
Thanks to the Sarah Weinman blog for the link to this story. The following is taken from El Universal Online.

NEZAHUALCÓYOTL, State of Mexico For more than 1,200 municipal police officers in the city of Nezahualcóyotl, the phrase "book him" has taken on a new meaning.

Authorities in this sprawling suburb of Mexico City have launched an innovative new program that encourages city cops to participate in a read-a-book-a-month club. And according to Mayor Luis Sánchez Jiménez, the program has awakened a passionate interest in literature within the force.

"A police officer is not just a person who knows how to arrest criminals," explains Sánchez Jiménez, "but he or she is also a person who knows how to express themselves, how to behave respectably, and how to treat the public with respect."

He calls the reading program "a tool for creating better men and women" on the force. "Reading makes us better people and it gives us resources to lead more fulfilling everyday lives," he says.

The reading initiative in Nezahualcóyotl has attracted world-wide attention for its effort to promote literacy among police officers. News radio programs in Argentina, Colombia and Spain have run features on the project, and The Washington Post has also expressed an interest in the story.

And as word of the program spreads, other cities are considering launching their own version of the program. "Radio Caracol (of Colombia) said in their broadcast that there is an interest in doing the same sort of thing in Colombia," says Roberto Pérez, director of the literacy project.

Mayor Sánchez Jiménez says that the city is planning a new angle to the reading program, in which citizens will be encouraged to donate books at their local police stations.

He also made it clear that officers have strict instructions to limit their reading to their leisure hours reading while on the job is strictly prohibited, he says.

Sánchez Jiménez says that local officers have been especially taken by popular contemporary writers like Paco Ignacio Taibo II, whom he calls "our greatest figure in the 'black novel' genre."

As a result, the mayor has invited Taibo II to come to Nezahualcóyotl and address the police force.

Taibo II is the author of a number of mystery/detective novels, including "No Happy Ending," "An Easy Thing," and "Just Passing Through." He is currently collaborating on a detective novel with Chiapan Zapatista rebel leader Subcommandante Marcos.

Winter 2005 Issue of Pluma Fronteriza
"The Winter 2005 issue of Pluma Fronteriza is out. In it we honor the late El Paso writers Abelardo Delgado and Ricardo Aguilar. Also, we put out a Libros, Libros supplement. In the Libros, Libros we have the most comprehensive lis of "what's new" in Chicano and Latino Literature. We invite all writers, librarians, professors, etc who are not on our subscription list to join. We are paperless publication and subscription is free. If anyone is interested in receiving these two issues, please email
Please also make sure you have Adobe Acrobat Reader on your system.
Raymundo Eli Rojas "

Manuel Ramos

Friday, March 04, 2005

House on Mango Street; A Novel Hits the Hustings

Michael Sedano, Pasadena Califas

Not quite sure if I've ever seen a husting, but that's where dramatized novels go when theater companies bring the printed page to a live audience. Sandra Cisnero's The House on Mango Street has been adapted by Amy Ludwig and is currently performed by The East Los Angeles Repertory Theater Company.

The playwright gives Cisneros' first person narrator two characters, Esperanza the young adult, and teenaged Esperanza. They alternate the role. The older Esperanza, wearing a rebozo as nonverbal hommage to Cisnero's opus major, Caramello, introduces the play as the cast pantomimes the action center stage. When young Esperanza narrates, she steps into the action.

Ludwig has honored the narrative structure of Cisneros' novel, creating dialog sparingly. Unless one has memorized the novel, it's difficult to hear if Ludwig has changed or added to the novelist's words; I think not. I was driven to attend wondering about the mechanics of converting the novel's world to that of a stage performance. Ludwig's mechanics are excellent, plus, the East LA Rep's performance was a wonderful theatrical experience.

Happy hustings! I've heard that Ludwig's script has been performed in San Jose CA, and as a one-woman show in Los Angeles. Hopefully, The House on Mango Street will reach a stage near you, soon. If not, come out to California. Here's my review of the performance.

The House on Mango Street, now running at La Casa del Mexicano Theater in Los Angeles is not a "must see" but a "why haven't you seen
it yet?"

Produced by East Los Angeles Repertory Theatre Company, Amy Ludwig's adaptation captures the essence of Sandra Cisneros' beloved novel. Jesus A. Reyes' direction gives the narrative script vivid liveliness, filling the large stage with activity and some inspired staging in the acto tradition of teatro chicano. Most rewardingly, the performance sizzles. These actors know their craft and practice their art sublimely. Particularly superb is newcomer Mariella Saba's Esperanza, the perfect casting for the role.

This production should be on the Mark Taper Forum's main stage, with Saba playing lead. But the Taper needs to hurry; the seventeen-year old will quickly outgrow the part. Reyes' director's chair must have been a pleasure. The Company's outlandishly talented actors Cristela Saravia, Juan Enrique Carrillo, Richard Andrade, Marina E. Gonzales, Raquel Sanchez, and Blanca M. Melchor, move comfortably from character to character, the minimalist set demanding they fill each role with voice, facial expression, and movement. With the right tools, you can do anything, and these actors have great tools, well worth the drive to this out-of-the-way auditorium.

The East Los Angeles theatre experience has a few drawbacks that a million dollar grant from an arts organization could fix with a snap of the checkbook. I hope the East LA Rep finds a funding source. Audiences familiar with the early days of Ivy Substation on the Westside, or the house at the Actor's Gang in Hollywood, will recognize the same potential in the Eastside's La Casa del Mexicano Theater. For its part right away, the company could improve playbill information. For instance, the actor playing Sally, the Saturday I attended, deserves recognition for her presence and skill, but the roles aren't named other than as "Woman #1" "Woman #2" and "Woman #3."

This company merits wider support. Area theatre-goers will be encouraged to learn several of Los Angeles' better Mexican restaurants and taco stands are nearby--La Serenata de Garibaldi or Siete Mares, for more complex cuisine; King Taco or Cinco Puntos for hand-held fast food; Manuel's or El Gallo for sit-down home style cooking. The local ambience--but especially the excellence of the theatre-- make a drive out to Pedro Infante Street an event to invite friends along. The East LA Rep's 6-play season continues through November.

The House on Mango Street runs weekends through March 13. La Casa del Mexicano Theater, 2900 Calle Pedro Infante, Los Angeles, CA 90063