Monday, July 31, 2006

TRINIDAD SÁNCHEZ, JR.

Well, more sad news…I’ve received several emails today about the passing of Trinidad Sánchez, Jr. In particular, Luis Valderas sent me this beautiful tribute that I wanted to share with the readers of La Bloga:

We have lost a warrior. Trinidad Sánchez, Jr. passed away Sunday, July 30th at about 4:30 p.m. from complications due to a stroke that he suffered on July 18th. Trinidad was a legendary San Antonio poet (author of Why am I So Brown?), cultural organizer and community supporter. His local and national poetry readings inspired countless poets and writers throughout to go out and “do something.” He had moved back to San Antonio after living in Denver Colorado for a few years and was a mentor, friend and “camarada” to many both young and old. His voice and sharp barrio wit will be greatly missed. Friends and family are organizing a celebration to honor Trino's life and work. The celebration will take place this Sunday, August 6th from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Ruta Maya coffee shop on Soledad and Martin St. in downtown San Antonio.

Funeral services are to be announced…till then, to remember Trinidad click here.

About Trinidad:

Trinidad Sánchez, a native of Pontiac, Michigan, was ninth of ten children born to poet Trinidad V. Sánchez and Sofia Sánchez.

His poetry bestseller, Why Am I So Brown (March/Abrazo Press) is in its sixth printing. In 1995, Trinidad was the winner of the Albuquerque Poetry Slam Competition andwent on to the National Poetry Slam the same year. His anti-gun, anti-crime poem "Let Us Stop the Madness" was selected as one of the winning poems of the People's Choice Competition.

Trinidad has also been featured at the Austin International Poetry Festival, Austin, Texas; Houston Poetry Festival, Beyond Baroque Literary Center, Venice, Calif.; The First Nezahualcoyotl Poetry Festival at The Mexican Fine Arts Center, Chicago; The Detroit Institute of Arts Line Series, Detroit. and many other venues in the past decade.

He has also performed and lectured at various colleges including Wayne State University, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Cal Poly Tech and Bowling Green University. Trinidad has been recognized for his activism on behalf on prison inmates and his involvement in social issues with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Keep the Dream Alive" Award.

Trinidad was in the Artist in Education Program for the San Antonio School District, part of the ArtsReach Program of the San Antonio Department of Art and Culture and the Texas Literary Touring Program of the Austin Writer's League.

TWICE BITTEN

New Latino vampire novels make engaging reading

By Daniel Olivas

Ah, summer. A time to read novels that entertain but don't make you think too hard. Maybe something funny, with a bit of mystery, smart dialogue mixed in with romance. Oh, and if there's a vampire or two thrown in, so much the better.

Vampires? Yep. By mere coincidence, Mario Acevedo and Marta Acosta bring us their debut novels that are pure, unadulterated romps that include protagonists of the blood-sucking variety, each with its own brand of humor and page-turning excitement.

Acevedo's "The Nymphos of Rocky Flats" (Rayo, $13.95 paperback) is the more serious of the two because of the manner by which private investigator Felix Gomez becomes one of the living dead: "I don't like what Operation Iraqi Freedom has done to me. I went to the war a soldier; I came back a vampire." Back in the states, memories of the war weigh heavily on Gomez while making a living as a private investigator relying upon special contact lenses and plenty of sunblock to venture out in the daylight. Gomez outpaces humans with supernatural powers so that his P.I. prowess becomes almost legendary.

Gomez's successes lead to a lucrative job offered by his old college roommate who now is the assistant manager for environmental restoration at Rocky Flats, which had been a nuclear weapons plant. It seems that the Department of Energy needs to uncover the cause of an outbreak of nymphomania among female personnel at the plant. This setup allows Acevedo to take us on a wild ride delving into everything from lying warmongers and vengeful scientists to Homeland Security cover-ups and alien abduction.

Acosta's "Happy Hour at Casa Dracula" (Pocket Books, $13 paperback) centers on the wickedly snarky Milagro de los Santos, a single, sexy, Ivy League-educated, starving novelist. Milagro stumbles into an underworld of vampires when she attends a book party for a pretentious (and frustratingly successful) ex-boyfriend, Sebastian Beckett-Witherspoon. It turns out that vampires have also been watching Milagro's old flame but for different reasons: He might head an organization that doesn't fully appreciate vampires and their outsider culture. At the book party, Milagro "accidentally" gets bitten by a handsome vampire in attendance. She immediately craves bloody, raw beef and falls into a period of debilitating transformation.

The great fun of Acosta's novel is Milagro's sharp tongue and rather off-kilter turns of phrase: "My emotion hopped around like a frog in a blender, which is not as pleasant as it sounds." Or in describing the handsome vampire who bit her: "He had nice white teeth, but you'd expect that from a vampire, and dimples, which you wouldn't expect. It was probably a genetic trait to throw prey off guard." Milagro also has a penchant for fashion and bemoaning the single woman's plight -- a sort of Chicana Bridget Jones for the vampire set.

"The Nymphos of Rocky Flats" is a witty, fast-paced, detective tale that also manages to update vampire lore in clever and imaginative ways. And "Happy Hour at Casa Dracula" is a droll and highly engaging new addition to the growing "chica lit" bookshelf. Both paperbacks are compact enough so that they'll travel nicely together as you head off to enjoy a fun-filled summer vacation.

Just don't let the vampires bite.

[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]

Friday, July 28, 2006

Coming of Age in a Teenage Wasteland and the Big Easy

Manuel Ramos

SLOTH by Gilbert Hernandez

Continuing a semi-theme initiated by Gina with her great live remote report on the San Diego Comic Con, here's a review of the latest from one of the best in the world of the illustrated novel, Gilbert Hernandez.
_______________________
Miguel Serra has some issues. The teenager, described by his girlfriend as a nerd, willed himself into a year-long coma, then willed himself awake, and now that he is back with the living his general speed is slow, very slow. So slow, in fact, that the local tough guys call him Sloth, which also happens to be the name of his three-person band.

Life in suburbia apparently is not all that it is cracked up to be, especially for kids such as Serra who ostensibly have some Latino roots but who really have no anchors at all. Miguel was raised by angry grandparents who carry a huge cross of guilt because their daughter abandoned Miguel. Also in the mix, just barely, is Miguel’s father, who expounds from prison on the weak character of Miguel’s mother. Miguel’s tutor, the person expected to get Miguel back on track with his education agenda, struts in tight leather pants and too small tube tops, excoriates a vague "them" who are out to get teachers and students, and appears to be on the verge of a breakdown. Cholos harass Miguel, then appear to accept a detente in their relationship, then turn on him again. Meanwhile, Miguel’s girlfriend vacillates in her attraction to Miguel. And his best friend, Romeo, is giving off some weird vibrations. It’s just all so crappy.

Hernandez’s story has plenty of what fans of Love And Rockets, Palomar, and Luba have come to expect: angst-ridden characters adrift in a mundane, acutely boring world where everyday incidents, which in any other universe simply would be normal encounters with life, explode into serial crises. The artwork, as always, is a highlight - stark black and white illustrations capture Miguel’s stilted and claustrophobic existence as well as the dreary and repetitive suburban scenery.

The story also has some twists that are unique, like a jarring switch of characters and storylines half-way through the book. But I guess such a development should not be that surprising in a book where a teenager can lapse into a comatose state at will, or a camera can take a photograph of the invisible Goatman, or alienated and disaffected youth choose to spend time in a lemon tree orchard.

Sloth is Hernandez’s first original graphic novel. He says that it took him two and a half years to write and draw, and at only 120 pages or so a reader might initially wonder what the time was spent on. But, as in any good book, the word and page count do not, uh, count. Hernandez takes on several themes and his characters deal with concepts as benign as recognizing what is essential and important between friends but they also grapple with much more serious questions such as suicide and suicidal tendencies.

The teens are growing up, learning their differences and similarities, accepting some changes, fighting others, and not always adjusting well to the challenges of their young lives. I think it is a book that will speak to the undefined and uneasy restlessness of a generation about which, I admit, I have only a minimal understanding.

There is a reference in the story to La Llorona, and the theme of abandonment of children by adults, if not the outright killing of children by adults, sits immediately beneath the surface of the plot. However, that reference is exchanged quickly for a cloistered neighborhood legend - the haunted lemon tree orchard where women are supposedly killed and buried, and where the mysterious Goatman scampers among the rows of fruit trees. A key part of the Goatman legend is the switching of identities - the Goatman trades his existence with that of his unlucky prey. Miguel and his friends are looking for exactly that kind of trade, even if it has to come from a half-man, half-goat creature. The characters are trying to escape - through comas, loud music, and dreams, or by encountering the Goatman, a singular symbol of fear of the unknown future and its inevitable changes. They just don’t know exactly where to go after the escape is accomplished.

Unfortunately, at least in Hernandez’s book, the answer often appears in the guise of turning inward, sleeping it off in other words. Is that what is going on with this generation?

Two quibbles - how come all the Latinos are so güero ? And, are there absolutely no adults who can be turned to for at least a bit of guidance?

This book, excuse the pun, is a sleeper. It should resonate with readers on many levels. I appreciate Hernandez’s finely-tuned talent and I especially like the fact that he uses his art to probe and expose some of the complex dynamics swirling around those groups of kids all of us see in the malls, lethargic and seemingly without ambition or motivation, almost as though they were sleep-walking. Maybe they just woke up from a coma?


A NOTE FROM NEW ORLEANS
Mary Helen Lagasse (The Fifth Sun) reports that an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, Navel of the Moon/Ombligo de la Luna, appears as an essay in the anthology My New Orleans: Ballads to the Big Easy by Her Sons, Daughters & Lovers, edited by Rosemary James (Simon & Schuster). The essay is a coming-of-age story about a girl of Mexican heritage growing up in New Orleans' Irish Channel. Although not a memoir, Mary Helen says that it is based "like all fiction ... on the author's observations, experiences and imagination." On July 27 from 6 to 8 PM, Mary Helen joins author Jed Horne and newspaper columnist Lolis Eric Elie in a presentation sponsored by the Faulkner Society for the ongoing series My New Orleans Is Her Precious Neighborhoods at The Cabildo at Jackson Square.

10TH ANNUAL CHICANO MUSIC FESTIVAL & AUCTION
Three days of roots music under the Colorado summer sky. Silent and live auctions nightly featuring some of the best raza artists. Past auctions have featured several donated pieces from Self-Help Graphics & Art. Noche Tradicional - August 4; Summer Pachanga - August 5; Mariachi Tardeada - August 6. El Centro Su Teatro's North Playground. Announced bands include Orgullo, Next In Line, Southwest Musicians, El Trio Los Gallos, Grupo Aztlan, Sangre Chicana, Mariachi El Rey, Mariachi San Juan de Colorado, and Mariachi Vasquez. More detail at El Centro Su Teatro.

Later.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Caramba!! La Sol in San Diego Otra Vez!!

I spent this weekend en un Comic Con locura. First I worked late, hauled butt home to pack on Friday night, caught the late business class car on Amtrak down to San Diego. I got to my least favorite city in the world at 1:00 a.m. and had to grab a taxi to San Ysidro because my oldest boy had fallen asleep and couldn't pick up his mom. This is the boy just home from his Westpac and exhausted from dealing with a year and half old wild boy named Maximus (I call him Maximus Cuticuss because he's so damned cute) and a very pregnant wife with a new little girl to be named Zoey due July 31 st so he had good reason not to drive into SD to pick up La Loca Mama Sol at the train. I go to this convention every year and every year I say I'm not doing it again. I hate the crowds, I'm an L.A. girl that gets wigged out about pretty much everything San Diego. It's a mad house este Comic Con but it's my industry (animation/entertainment/publishing) so go I must.

I met up with my comadre Sarah Baisley, the very fabulosa Editor in Chief of AWN.com which is a pretty terrific site if you're into animation. They have EVERYTHING you ever wanted or needed to know about animation and tons of stuff you didn't even know to ask about. Check them out. They are padrissimo. Of course, since I no longer work for them, they are missing the Sol factor. Still, it's the best place to go to check out animation whether you're a fan or in the biz or just a regular person. Once you check it out, you'll be addicted. They keep 11 years of content all online, all accessible and all free! Chingao estan pero locos! Must be why I love them. So Sarah and I went to panels and had a great time finding out about all the new shows. One show in particular, I thought was great and of definite interest to readers of La Bloga.

The Show is called El Tigre - Created in Flash animation. It is Nickelodeon's first Flash production. According to the creators, they are really pushing the technology. The show is exciting and very well done. It has a heavy Mexican influence, using earth tones and bright "Mexican" colors like deep reds and rich purples. It has a very surreal version of Mexico with Day of the Dead characters, music, parties and dancing. The bit that was screened was very funny. It has a 2D look – very cartoony. There are some characters with heavy Mexican accents. The creators are from Mexico and pay homage to the culture as well as a tribute to Mexican surrealists. The gags and timing were very good. The co-creators, Sandra Equiha and Jorge Gutierrez are a married couple who have been together 14 years. The two main characters in the show are modeled after their childhood selves. Both Sandra and Jorge grew up in Mexico and are movie lovers. They love movies, especially "movies about Mexico but a crazy version of Mexico " and wanted the show to have that over the top feel.

News about production and artists/creators websites listed below:

http://www.fulanita.com/ - Co-creator of El Tigre

http://super-macho.com/ - Co –creator of El Tigre

In the assorted panels and on the floor, I found lots of interesting little tidbits, like Guillermo Del Toro interviewing director Alfonso Cuaron, on his new film Children of Men. Check out the trailer at http://www.comingsoon.net/films.php?id=10035. Oyes, Del Toro and Cuaron are funny - I loved when they turned to the crowd at the panel and said "We both have our green cards"!

Robert Rodriguez was there with his compa Quentin Tarantino to talk about Grindhouse which looks intense. Jesus, Maria y Jose! Rose McGowan wears a machine gun for a leg in that movie!! I can't wait to see it.

I missed the Fantagraphics 30th Anniversary Panel and was pissed because Gilbert Hernandez was there reminiscing about the good old days of Love and Rockets. He and his brother Jaime started the alternative comic back in the 1980's. Fantagraphics started publishing the Hernandez Brothers work in 1982. It continues to be published every four months.

After all the panels and the madness of walking the floor and spending lots of money on Alan Moore's Lost Girls (it's research people! Research), I went with Sarita to the Writers Guild Party and got attacked by mosquitos who were after my wine. Cabrones! Other than that, it was fine and the wine was good. Met some nice people. Edward James Olmos from Galactica was at the DC big bash at Tesoro but I didn't go so, poor Sol. (Note to DC: Invite La Sol to all your cool parties so I can write nice things about you). I didn't get to go to the Rogue Pictures party at Stingaree either and I really wanted to because Guillermo Del Toro was there. I did however, go for drinks to the most amazing restaurant Dussini in their loft bar. Que padre! I had a champagne raspberry mojito and Sarah had the pomegranate margarita. We hung out in the beautiful bar and had fantastic appetizers and drinks till 1:30 a.m. and then headed back on the shuttle to the hotel. Check it out at Dussini.com


Sunday - more locura estilo it could only happen to Sol.

I woke up early and it was already hot as hell and muggy to boot. I showered and got dressed (not in a storm trooper uniform) and headed out to the Con. I was supposed to meet my son, daughter in law and grandson at Tin Fish at 10:00 a.m. but of course, nothing went right and I sat in the sun waiting for over an hour. I finally got disgusted and went over to the convention, stood in line for a half hour at Starbucks and got a latte. I ventured back out into the sticky sunshine to wait some more. We finally got together and my grandson loved the Lego Batman. He kept saying "Oh Wow!" Like I said before, the kid is cute. It was hard on the first time Con going parents though and they quickly had had enough. We headed back on the trolley to San Ysidro and that was one crazy adventure in discomfort. It was hot and sticky, we had loud drunken people sitting behind us and it was hot and sticky. Did I mention hot and sticky?

It's good to be home and done with Comic Con.


On another note, Xilonen is this weekend. For information on what Xilonen is and where - see below.

This festival will be held at: Wittier Narrows Park, California. From 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on Saturday Jul. 29, 06. Exit from the 60 Fwy. at Santa Anita-South and follow the signs

We will start with a ceremonial run to recognize historical sites around the park;
Followed by a ceremonial Aztec dance and babies welcomed into the tradition.
We welcome flowers as an offering to the altar
Info: (626) 862-7276 or (213) 481 8265
Visit: http://www.danzacuauhtemocbp.org/ E-mail: Cuauhtemocbp@aol.com

-- Gina

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Update: El Corrido de Boyle Heights

A photographer's eye on . . . El Corrido de Boyle Heights

Michael Sedano

Los Angeles' corner of Soto Street and Cesar E. Chavez Avenue features one of the city's most treasured murals, "El Corrido de Boyle Heights." The faces dominate the corner in the moments of song and joy captured by painter Wayne Healey and the crew. But there's an ongoing struggle between beauty and the beasts of the hood armed with spray cans.

In my most recent visit to the area, I was overjoyed to see the city has recovered the mural and it sings there, free of defacement.



Here's the mural at the lowest point of 2005. If there are small children in the room, cover their eyes:

Dang, that surface is ugly. Still, the power of that underlying mural bursts out. One might also express gratitude for short taggers.

That's it for the week. See you next time.

mvs

Monday, July 24, 2006

GUILLERMO HERNÁNDEZ

As noted last week, I’d received several e-mails with some very sad news: Professor Guillermo Hernández had died suddenly in Mexico City while serving as the program director/instructor for UCLA’s travel study program based in Puebla. I was planning on putting together a remembrance of Prof. Hernández but this Saturday, the Los Angeles Times published a well-written obituary by Valerie J. Nelson that was better than anything I could have composed. Accordingly, I decided that I’d simply reprint the piece in its entirety. Please note the last paragraph regarding the family’s suggested donations to the Guillermo E. Hernández Memorial Scholarship Fund. -- DAO

Guillermo Hernandez, 66; Expert on the Corrido, a Mexican Ballad Tradition

By Valerie J. Nelson

Times Staff Writer

July 22, 2006

Guillermo Hernandez, a leading authority on the corrido — a Mexican ballad tradition that dates back more than two centuries — and an expert on Chicano literature who helped establish an expansive collection of Mexican and Mexican American music recordings at UCLA, has died. He was 66.

Hernandez, a UCLA Spanish professor, was found dead of a heart attack Sunday in his Mexico City hotel room, his family said. He was on a field trip while leading a UCLA summer program in Puebla, Mexico.

"He was one of the main motivators of current research in Mexican American popular culture, especially the corridos," said James Nicolopulos, a corrido expert and Spanish professor at the University of Texas at Austin. "He's irreplaceable, and I don't know what we are going to do without him."

While director of UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center, Hernandez played a pivotal role in establishing the Arhoolie Foundation's Strachwitz Frontera Collection. The digital archive of more than 30,000 recordings is one of the most diverse collections of Mexican and Mexican American music at any university. (The archive can be accessed at digital.library.ucla.edu/frontera.)

The project is funded primarily by the Los Tigres del Norte Fund at UCLA, named for the band from San Jose that corrido scholars consider the Rolling Stones of norteño music. Los Tigres, along with its record label, Fonovisa, established the fund in 2000 to promote the study of corridos — working-class music often dismissed on both sides of the border.

"Certainly no one else could have talked a group like Los Tigres — the biggest thing there is in Mexican regional music — into granting a half-million dollars to a project like this," Nicolopulos said.

When he was a student at UC Berkeley, Hernandez's passion for the corrido was ignited while he was consulting on "Chulas Fronteras," a 1976 documentary about music on the Texas-Mexico border. One of the filmmakers was Chris Strachwitz, owner of the folk-music label Arhoolie Records and keeper of an immense collection of commercially recorded Mexican and Tex-Mex music.

The record producer invited Hernandez into his archives, which hold more than 100,000 individual performances spanning almost 100 years. The collection covers many styles, including the corrido, which began as an oral tradition that continues today in Mexican villages. Frequently in waltz time, the songs often chronicle events with pathos and satire, accompanied by accordions and 12-string bass guitars.

Hernandez "became totally fascinated that this material was being recorded so long ago," Strachwitz said. "And he became a champion for the literature of the poor people who are generally not represented in academia, because they don't write books or dissertations; they just make up these incredible songs."

To document the corrido, Hernandez went where his colleagues often would not, into cantinas and dance halls in rough neighborhoods in Mexico. With his natural warmth, he would convince wary balladeers puzzled by an academic's interest that he was just a regular guy, colleagues said.

Recently, Hernandez published an article in the Chicano studies journal Aztlan that documented his decades-long search for the author of a classic and widely imitated 1928 recording, "El Contrabando de El Paso" (The El Paso Contraband). The prisoner's lament is important to the history of the corrido, because so many artists learned the form from it.

Relying on old prison records, Hernandez was able to solve "one of the great mysteries of the corrido," Nicolopulos said, and identify the accidental lyricist: Gabriel Jara, a smuggler caught with 90 gallons of homemade liquor who shared his tale via U.S. mail with a singer on the outside.

Among Hernandez's written works was a 180-page pamphlet that accompanied "The Mexican Revolution: Corridos," a four-record set put out by Arhoolie Records. His translations and transcriptions of the songs were "magnificent," Nicolopulos said.

Hernandez's 1991 book, "Chicano Satire: A Study in Literary Culture," also was important because it traced the genre back hundreds of years, said Chon Noriega, who followed Hernandez as director of the Chicano Studies Research Center. Hernandez ran the center from 1992 to 2003.

In the early 1990s, Hernandez began holding international conferences on the corrido and often conducted seminars. One in Monterrey, Mexico, had a lasting impact after Hernandez taught his audience, primarily amateur enthusiasts, how to do fieldwork on the lyrical narrative.

"These people went back to their hometowns … and produced an immense body of information. It's just been a gold mine, and once again, Guillermo was the sparkplug for that," Nicolopulos said.

In 1998, Hernandez curated one of the first museum exhibits on the corrido, and the Smithsonian Institution sent it on a 10-city national tour.

Born Feb. 28, 1940, in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, Hernandez was one of six children. He grew up with "a love of the whole country," because the family moved around Mexico for his father's job as an educator, said Yolanda Zepeda, whom Hernandez married nearly three decades ago.

Hernandez earned three degrees in comparative literature at UC Berkeley, including a doctorate in 1982 with an emphasis in Spanish medieval literature, and joined the UCLA faculty.

He had a reputation as a caring mentor who liked to joke, cite proverbs and speak in metaphors.

"He was always bringing comedy into the conversation," said Felicitas Ibarra, a graduate student. "We all thought that his classes were full of joy and excitement, and the three hours flew by."

In addition to his wife, Yolanda, of Santa Monica, Hernandez is survived by Arturo, his son from his first marriage, which ended in divorce; three other sons, Luciano, Guillermo and Gabriel; two sisters; two brothers; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 9:30 a.m. today at Holy Cross Mortuary, 5835 W. Slauson Ave., Culver City.

Instead of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Guillermo E. Hernandez Memorial Scholarship Fund, UCLA, 1309 Murphy Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095.

* * *

Here are several news items that I’d like to pass along. Also, the new issue of Tu Ciudad is now out and I hope to do a separate post on that very soon.

◙ Helena Maria Viramontes will be the recipient of the fourth annual Luis Leal Literary Award this September 30, at the Santa Barbara Public Library, at 4:00 p.m. More on this wonderful news later.

◙ In the El Paso Times, Rigoberto González reviews Call Me Henri (Curbstone Press) by Lorraine López. He says that it “is a well-constructed novel that speaks eloquently about youth and the immigrant experience. It beautifully captures the struggles of an adolescent male plagued with multiple crises brought on by family and community.” Also in the EPT, book review editor Ramón Rentería profiles author Rubén Sálaz Márquez.

◙ Marta Acosta, author of the hilarious new novel, Happy Hour at Casa Dracula (Pocket Books), offers her views regarding Chica Lit in a letter to The Boston Globe. Her letter begins: “I read with interest your column on teaching ``Like Water for Chocolate" by Laura Esquivel to students (``Like water for the soul," Globe NorthWest, June 18). I think your concern about a ``pandemic" of chica lit may be unwarranted. There are only a few contemporary fiction writers who happen to be Latinas. You could count them on your hands, or your feet -- I don't want to be appendage-ist.”

◙ There is a nice profile of Cordelia Chávez Candelaria in the online version of the Arizona Republic, azcentral.com. She recently assumed the position of vice provost for academic affairs at Arizona State University’s new Downtown Phoenix campus.

-- Daniel Olivas

Friday, July 21, 2006

Why Good Crime Fiction Can Be Excellent Literature

Manuel Ramos

A REVIEW: ADIÓS HEMINGWAY BY LEONARDO PADURA FUENTES
Translated from the Spanish by John King

Occasionally I am asked about the validity of crime fiction. The question comes up in various forms, sometimes as "Why do you write genre?" Or, "Is there any long-lasting importance to a mystery or detective story?" And other variations of that theme.

Once in a while the question is about Chicano or Latino Crime Fiction and whether such writing can be included in the broad definition of Chicano/a or Latino/a Literature.

Upon reflection, such questions do not offend me. Good, critical analysis of any aspect of the culture is healthy and such analysis might begin with questions, skepticism. I have said that what Chicano/a Literature really needs is a handful of provocative, objective, and maybe acerbic critics - folks who will ask the hard questions and then provide legitimate, if not always popular, answers. Of course, the writers will continue to write and define the literature any way they want, no importa what the critics say.

An easy way to answer some of the questions is by pointing the questioner to a particular book with the brief instruction to "Read that."

Read Adiós Hemingway by Leonardo Padura Fuentes.

Padura is a Cuban writer, but that is like saying José Alfredo Jiménez was a Mexican songwriter. Placing a mundane label on a virtuoso's talent and art will not suffice for the actual experience of that art and talent.

Padura has achieved a certain amount of fame and notoriety for his writing. He is well established in Europe and won the 1998 Premio Hammett of the Asociación Internacional de Escritores Policiacos (International Association of Crime Writers). He is known not only for moving the Cuban detective novel from the paralysis of established format and structure into a revitalized and energetic art form, but also for using his novels to authentically observe and describe the state of Cuban life and society. In an interview last year for politicalaffairs.net, Padura said: "[R]eaders will ask how it is possible that an author who lives, writes and publishes in Cuba can talk so freely about the reality of life in Cuba and even criticise decisions of the authorities. But this is the truth. I live in Cuba, I write in Cuba and my books have never been censored." He also said, "I have no interest to live outside Cuba for many reasons and the first is that I am Cuban and it is my country, despite its problems, limitations and shortages." Of particular relevance to my point are his comments about how he viewed his writing: "I simply had the intention to write a novel that would have a detective character. I wanted to write about Cuban reality, with an incisive vision, from within Cuban reality. I have always understood literature as having a social function. The result was that my novel contrasted sharply with what had been done before and that set a standard for others to follow."

For Adiós Hemingway, Padura resurrected his ironic and bedeviled detective, Mario Conde, now a former cop who appeared to have investigated his final case in 1989 in the novel Autumn Landscape, the last of Padura's Four Seasons cycle. But eight years later, Conde is drawn back into police work, albeit unofficially, by his former colleague, Manuel Palacios, now head of Conde's old squad, with the enticing news that a skeleton had been found on the grounds of Ernest Hemingway's Havana home, Finca Vigía, and that the body must have been buried forty years before, when the Nobel Prize winner still lived in the house.

How could Conde resist? The aging investigator has attempted to become a writer but he suffers from incredible writer's block and has, in fact, produced very little. Although a great admirer of Hemingway's fiction, he has soured on the myth and reality of Hemingway's life - too many jilted wives and lovers, betrayed friends, and dead animals on display.

Conde takes on the case for the most basic of reasons. "Know something, Manolo? I would love to find out that it was Hemingway who killed that guy. That bastard has been getting up my nose for years. But it pisses me off to think they might land him with a murder he didn't commit. That's why I'm going to look into it."

Conde's search for the truth is, as one might expect, a trip of self-realization by Conde as well as a nostalgic look back to 1958 Cuba, on the edge of the revolution's triumph, and a time when the great man, Hemingway, started to understand and accept his mortality and humanity and, thus, his fraility. The story is direct and on target with no wasted words or author tangents. And yet, the book is full and satisfying.

Among many other themes, Adios Hemingway examines the aging process and the sense of loss that two men, who never knew each other, share across the decades, linked by a decomposed body hidden under earth, myth, and legend. For example, Conde has his close friends and his set rituals, but he lacks romance and passion. His vitality has waned and he triggers sexual release with thoughts of the beautiful and sensuous Ava Gardner parading naked around the grounds of Finca Vigía, just as Hemingway was reduced to using a pair of Gardner's black knickers as a wrap for one of his handguns - a weird thrill that combined two of his obsessions.

One gauge of a good book, for me, is whether it makes me want to read other books. A few pages into Adios Hemingway and I was digging out The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, The Finca Vigía Edition, because Big Two-Hearted River is essential to understanding the character of Mario Conde. Another chapter and I had to pull up Hemingway: A Biography, by Jeffrey Meyers, just to check on Padura's numerous references to Hemingway details - the ugly split with John Dos Passos, the flaking skin from patches of melanoma, the paranoia (justified, as it turned out) about FBI surveillance, etc. And now that I have finished Padura's novel I want to again read Hemingway, and another book by Padura.

Later.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Guest Review: Julia Alvarez. Saving the World.

By Andrea Sáenz


I have a confession to make: I have an unhealthy obsession with Yolanda Garcia.

Yo isn't even a real person. She's the character that stands in for Dominican-American super-writer Julia Alvarez in her books How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and Yo! At least, it seems that way: Yo is the writer, the one who ends up teaching at a small New England college and marrying a nice, do-gooder white guy. (Alvarez teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont, and is married to a white doctor.) Yo! in particular was a book that I couldn't let go of: each chapter is spoken by one of an army of distinct characters explaining this fragile, fiery talent, Yolanda Garcia. I imagined I'd teach the book during my stint in Teach for America; fate conspired to give me beginning ESL students, so I went to Plan B and gave them small bits of The House on Mango Street, which is hardly a consolation prize. But Yo! remains one of my favorite books of all time, and Miss Garcia one of my favorite characters.

Which is why I approached the first chapter of Alvarez's current book, Saving the World, with more than a little suspicion. Who was this character, Alma Huebner? Another Dominican-American writer with big insecurities married to a do-gooder white guy in New England? How could she recycle my beloved Yolanda Garcia like that? Was this going to be a more depressing, single-voiced Yo!?

And in some ways, the similarities are too close: the husband feels awfully close to Yo's third husband, and Alma's worries and inner musings about her path as a writer aren't as fresh as I would have liked. But Saving the World has something the Garcia books never did: a brand new, sweeping storyline out of Spanish history that bounces off the Alma storyline in wonderful ways, and ends up giving us two good tales for the price of one.

Alma is behind on the novel that's due to her publisher, but is researching a story that attracts her much more: the story of the smallpox vaccination expeditions the Spanish led in the New World, where young boys were used as live carriers to move the vaccine across the ocean and from one town to another. Providing the strength at the center of the journey is Isabel, a smallpox-scarred orphanage director who is loving and shrewd. She's a wonderful, original character, and the entire story-within-the-novel storyline is fully realized and compelling -- for me, even more compelling than the actual Alma storyline. I couldn't wait to get back to it.

Eventually, Alma finds herself in the middle of some difficult situations: the sickness of a friend, and the eventual peril of her husband's humanitarian project in the Dominican Republic. But Isabel, across the centuries, provides Alma with needed direction and support. Alvarez suggests much about the power of story and creativity to strengthen and heal, and the responsibility we all have as "carriers" of powerful stories.

In the end, Saving the World is anything but a Yolanda Garcia retread, and gracias a Dios for that. It showcases Alvarez's trademark lyricism and rich commentary on the space between cultures, but it also shows a striking ability to handle historical fiction, using a topic much farther from her own experience than the revolutionary women in In the Time of the Butterflies. Alvarez doesn't need to write about any more women whose personal profile is the same as her own-- she's got talents that reach across countries and eras.


Andrea Sáenz is a 4th-generation Chicana and Los Angeles native in exile in Boston. She is a Harvard Law School student by day and a fiction writer by night, and has appeared in magazines including Crazyhorse, The Mississippi Review, and the current issue of BorderSenses. She makes great chilaquiles, and blogs at Peanut Butter Burrito.



La Bloga's Bloguera and Blogueros express our appreciation for Andrea Sáenz' first guest review at La Bloga. Wonderful!

Please share your ideas about Andrea's review of Saving the World by leaving a comment.

We welcome your own guest review of titles or events.

Memorial Service: Guillermo Hernández

As I noted on Monday, I’d received several e-mails with some very sad news: Professor Guillermo Hernández died in Mexico City yesterday. He was serving as the program director/instructor for UCLA’s travel study program based in Puebla. Prof. Hernández was the past director of the Chicano Studies Research Center, and one of the longest serving in the center's 37 year history (1992-2003). UCLA News has posted an obituary which is well-worth reading. It notes, in part, that:

"Hernández, a leading scholar on corridos, or Mexican ballads, and Chicano literature, was best known for his leadership efforts on the Arhoolie Foundation's Strachwitz Frontera Collection of Mexican and Mexican American Recordings at UCLA. With more than 30,000 digitized recordings, the Frontera Collection is the largest and most diverse collection of Mexican and Mexican American music. The archive, housed in the UCLA Music Library, includes the earliest recordings of corridos and many other popular genres. "

I've also received the following notice of a memorial service set for this Friday. I reprint it in its entirety:

It is with great sadness that the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center announces that Guillermo E. Hernández, professor in the UCLA Department of Spanish and Portuguese and former CSRC Director, passed away on July 16, 2006, in Mexico City.

A viewing will be held on Friday, July 21, from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Holy Cross Mortuary, 5835 W. Slauson Ave., Culver City. Mass and burial services are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Saturday at the mortuary.In lieu of flowers, the Hernández family has requested that donations be made to the Guillermo E. Hernández Memorial Scholarship Fund at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center. Checks should be made out to the UCLA Foundation/The Guillermo E. Hernández Memorial Scholarship and mailed to UCLA, 1309 Murphy Hall, Los Angeles, California 90095.

To read more about his life, please see http://www.chicano.ucla.edu/center/events/Hernandezobituary.htm

Wendy Belcher
Press Manager
UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center
193 Haines Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1544


--DAO

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

THE LEGEND OF THE VOLCANOS

THE LEGEND OF THE VOLCANOS
An Ancient Mexica Tale

Retold by Gina Ruiz to her granddaughter Jasmine as it was told to her by her abuelito (Papa, Salvador Medina Camarillo)



Once upon a time in the land of the Mexica, lived a beautiful young princess named Iztacihuatl. This gentle princess, Izta as everyone called her, was good, kind and giving. All the little animals loved her as well. Izta had a pet deer that she loved very much. It followed her everywhere. Everyday Izta and her deer would go for long walks picking flowers along the mountainside. One day as they were walking, the deer led Izta to a small hidden grove where they were nice flat rocks to sit upon, a lovely mountain spring and the most beautiful, sweet smelling flowers. Izta thought to herself, “the gods must live here because it is so beautiful. It is the most beautiful place in all of Mexico. From that day on, Izta and the deer would go the mountain hidden grove and play in the spring and pick flowers. Izta always left a small offering to Tonantzin (Mother Earth) and one for Chalichilquitlue (the female spirit of the calm waters). She also made sure to leave fruit and flowers to all the protectors of the hidden grove. Unknown to Izta these spirits watched over her with approval. They loved her too.

One warm spring day when the flowers perfume was heaviest in the secret valley, Izta and Mazatl her deer were surprised to walk into their valley and see a warrior. He was tall, brown and handsome and to Izta, he looked like a god. His name was Popocatepetl (The Smoking Mountain) but everyone called him Popo. He seemed just as startled to see Izta. “So you are the one who leaves the offerings”, he said.

“Yes”, stammered Izta who had fallen in love the handsome warrior in that instant.

“I have been coming to this valley for many years and have wondered who it was. It is a wonder that we have never met before.” Her beauty and her obvious goodness dazzled Popo. He had fallen in love with her too.

“Deer and I found this place when I was a small child. We thought it was just our secret place and that no one knew of it.”

“I too, have been coming here since I was a small child. I followed a bird and it led me here. I will leave if you like but I would like it if we shared this special place.”

“Yes I would like that too”.

Over the days and months to come Izta and Popo fell more in love. They made plans to marry and one day Popo went to Izta’s father to ask for her hand in marriage. Izta’s father wanted the best for her and Popo was just a poor warrior. He told Popo that if he could become an Eagle Warrior the highest honor for a warrior the mexica had to offer, that he could marry Izta. Popo agreed knowing that it was a long, arduous process and that many warriors died trying to become the coveted Eagle Warrior.

Izta and Popo met one last time in their secret valley. Izta begged Popo to run away with her, not to begin the dangerous process of becoming an Eagle Warrior. Popo was disagreed. Izta, we cannot run away in shame! No! I will triumph and return to you my love and we will live openly as man and wife with much honor. I will not allow ourselves to live in shame away from our families and friends.” Izta saw that he was right and sadly agreed. She promised to come to their secret valley every day and pray for his safe return.

Unknown to Izta and Popo there was an evil man close to Iztas father who had wanted Izta for his own, not for love of her but for the desire to possess something beautiful and for the power her father held. It had been he who had counseled Izta’s father to make the demand that Popo become an Eagle Warrior. He, because he was a coward, had thought that Popo would refuse and go away in shame, leaving Izta to him. He had no concept of what a strong honest heart full of love could be capable of. He had no concept of courage and honor. He sent out spies to track Popo’s actions and if possible, to deter him from his mission.

During the long months that Popo was away, this evil man who remains nameless thorough all time would whisper to Izta that it had been so long, that Popo would not return, that he was probably dead. To all his whispers and lies, Izta turned a deaf ear. She kept her promise and went every day to the secret valley and she and Popo shared. Everyday she left offerings and prayed for his safety. She sat for many hours among the flowers, listening to the birds and the gurgle of the spring thinking of Popo and keeping a strong heart. The spirits of the valley watched over her with love.

One evening, as the evil man sat at dinner, one of his spies hurried in. The spy told the evil man that Popo had triumphed, that he had become an Eagle Warrior with many honors and was even now on his way home in triumph. The evil man was furious and killed the spy so that there would be no one to tell Izta. He cut a long lock of the spy’s hair, which looked so much like Popo’s and dipped it in the blood left on the floor. The he ran to Izta’s father with the news that Popo had died. Izta’s father was distressed because he had seen over time, how much Izta did love Popo and he had been impressed with the young man’s honor and courage. He knew it would break Izta’s heart. Still, with a heavy heart, he knew that he needed to tell her. He took the lock of hair and went into her room just as the dawn was breaking. He gently woke her and his look told her everything. With a cry she sprang out of bed and ran with the deer following after. She ran and she ran crying not even knowing where she was going. Her feet led her to the secret valley where she and Popo had shared so many wonderful days. She sat on the rock with the deer at her feet and cried till her heart burst and she died. The deer reused to believe she had died and it kept nudging her to try and wake her. But Izta lay silent and still.

Meanwhile, as Izta’s father stood on his balcony wondering and worrying for his daughter and waiting for the search party to return with her, he heard the conch shells blowing. He saw a tired procession of warriors and as they got closer he saw that Popo led them tall and proud, wearing the coveted eagle helmet and regalia. The old man was in shock as Popo came and knelt at his feet for his blessing. He shook himself and told Popo what had happened, how he had been lied to and showed Popo the lock of hair. He told Popo that even now a search party was looking for Izta. Popo jumped to his feet shouting that he knew where she was and that he would return with her and they would be married and that the evil man should pay for his lies. Popo ran to the mountain valley as fast as he could go with his warriors trailing far behind.

As he came into the valley, he saw her asleep on the rock with the deer in her arms. He knelt at her side and kissed her but she would not wake. He cried and pleaded but she would not wake. Then Popo knew she had died of a broken heart and he raged. He raged to the spirits of the mountain, he raged to the sun, he shot arrows at the sky demanded that the gods bring his Izta back to life. He shouted, he screamed, he raged and the Earth began to tremble under his anger. The spirits of the mountain loved Izta but they knew they could not bring her back to life. They turned her into a beautiful white mountain to watch over the Mexica people and bring joy to their sight with her beauty. Popo in his rage they turned into a smoking volcano that stands over the White Mountain and watches over her forever. It is said that every once in awhile he remembers the treachery of the evil man and his anger bubbles and the whole of Mexico trembles under his anger. Smoke rises from his mountaintop and sometimes, his anger is so deep that Popo erupts.

And the evil man? Izta’s father had him tried for his crimes and he died a terrible death.

And Popo and Izta live today still. Their mountain selves still stand. They have been immortalized by the great Mexican artist Jesus Helguera. You can see them together forever in the beautiful land of the Mexica.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Reyna Grande At IMIX Books in NELA

A photographer attends a novelist's reading.

Michael Sedano



Sadly, I learned only a day before, that IMIX Books scheduled a signing with Reyna Grande for Saturday, July 15. A signing is an ideal social event to plan a big pachanga around. Of the usual suspects, only Manuel was able to join me. Not Manuel Ramos, another Manuel.

Manuel was on his way to the Hollywood Bowl that evening, and brought his two teenage daughters. The girls had never attended a reading, so the IMIX event was extra special because of this. The girls were happy to attend, and as an extra treat, shake the author's hand. I wish I'd taken their picture then; what a great souvenir.

Grande keeps her audience spellbound. She's a wonderfully expressive speaker who weaves personal details into her narrative of writing the novel. For instance, she read the first chapter of Across a Hundred Mountains, and told how she got the chapter during a trip to Mexico where a friend told her the story of an immigrant relative, bitten by a snake, who was left in the desert by the coyote. "The Migra will find him" was the smuggler's theory. When the Migra did not arrive, the man died. In Grande's novel, the man's daughter comes upon the grave and madly begins removing rocks in an effort to see her father's face, even as the Migra is heading their way. Reyna does a masterful reading that captures the character's fervid intensity.

La Bloga Bloguero Daniel Olivas recently shared his view and others' of Across a Hundred Mountains. That was prior to the novel's release. Now that the novel has become widely available, you can get a copy and understand why so many readers speak highly of the novel.

I was so totally engrossed in the writer's presentation that I didn't shoot many images. But here's a plea from a photographer to all authors. Hide those beverages! True, it's my fault for getting to my seat in the front row too late to move the bottle myself, but not every photog occupies a front row seat. Also, authors, make it a point to hold up the book every now and again for a photo of your cover. Finally, bookstore owners and authors, set up the signing in a side-by-side seating, or move the author's chair to the end of the table, to avoid the type of shot on the right of the tryptych, a reader's back an author's face.

Images ASA 800, 1/8 f 5.0.

CONTINUED FROM 7/11
Thanks for your suggestions. I put Saving the World atop my stack and am enjoying the heck out of Julia Alvarez' novel. I invite you who've read the novel to share your own views here at La Bloga. Anyone for a guest column? How about sending in your review of Saving the World, or Across a Hundred Mountains, or another notable work? You can email me directly with the piece, or leave a comment of interest, and I'll contact you.

A ver who wants to be our guest.

Pending that, see you next week.

mvs

Monday, July 17, 2006

Guillermo E. Hernández

I’ve just received several e-mails with some very sad news: Professor Guillermo Hernández died in Mexico City yesterday. He was serving as the program director/instructor for UCLA’s travel study program based in Puebla.

Prof. Hernández was the past director of the Chicano Studies Research Center, and one of the longest serving in the center's 37 year history (1992-2003). The current director, Prof. Chon Noriega, notes that he “was a good friend, a thoughtful and compassionate colleague, and someone with whom one could always argue the fine points of Chicano studies, Mexican music, and survival strategies in the academy.” Prof. Gary Keller (ASU/Bilingual Press) offered this: “Guillermo’s book on Chicano satire was a unique contribution to scholarship and his work on corridos and popular songs, including with Los Tigres del Norte was grounbreaking. All of us in Chicano studies will miss him and those of us who interacted with him for decades feel the loss of his presence profoundly.” And Dr. Raymund Paredes (Higher Education Commissioner, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board) said this of Prof. Hernández: “He was a true intellectual and dedicated scholar.” I hope to have more information later. -- DAO

raúlrsalinas

raúlrsalinas is a literary luminary who has shared podiums and microphones with giants such as Miguel Piñero, Pedro Pietri, Oscar Zeta Acosta, John Trudell, Jose Montoya, Ernesto Cardenal and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, among many others, raúlrsalinas has also been a tireless crusader for human rights and social justice, as reflected in his work with the Amerian Indian Movement and the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee and his writing clinics for at-risk youth in countless juvenile detention facilities and community centers nationwide.

Author of three poetry collections Viaje/Trip (chapbook), East of the Freeway, and Un Trip Through The Mind Jail, plus the forthcoming Indio Trails: A Xicano Odyssey through Indian Country (Wings Press) as well as two spoken word CDs Los Many Mundos of raúlrsalinas: Un Poetic Jazz Viaje con Friends (Calaca Press/Red Salmon Press) and Beyond the BEATen Path (Red Salmon Press). His literary work has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals. He is also an adjunct professor at St. Edwards University, Austin, Texas. In 2002, raúlrsalinas was the recipient of the Louis Reyes Rivera Lifetime Achievement Award presented on behalf of La Causa student group at Amherst College, Mass. and The Dark Souls Collective. In March of 2003, he was honored with the Martin Luther, Jr., César Chavez, Rosa Parks Visiting Professorship Award given by the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

Born in Texas on March 17th, 1934, raúlrsalinas is one of the few remaining poetic voices from a special circle of writers that includes Jose Antonio Burciaga, Ricardo Sanchez, Piñero and the recently passed Pietri. A people's poet who has dubbed himself, effacingly, the "cockroach poet," Salinas has traveled the globe as a representative of indigenous philosophies and revolutionary-humanist ideologies. Through it all he has remained faithful to the word as a curative, a restorative magic to be used for healing and redemption.

For the last several decades he has mentored aspiring writers, both in and out of his humble shop in Austin, Texas, Resistence Bookstore.

(Edited from an article by Alejo Sierra) -- DAO

Friday, July 14, 2006

Pedazos y Pedacitos

Manuel Ramos

NORTHWEST DENVER LITERARY CHALLENGE
Here's a writing contest that offers almost $2000 in prizes and gift certificates to North Denver merchants, publication in the North Denver News, and judging by the well-respected Lighthouse Writers Workshop (Mario Acevedo is on the faculty.) The theme of the contest is A Denver Story, meaning that the piece should be set in Denver but the actual topic apparently can be just about anything, as long as it qualifies as nonfiction. Length limit is 750 - 1000 words, deadline is August 21, and submissions should be emailed to jayspatiocafe@comcast.net, or delivered to Jay's Patio Café, 2563 15th Street, Denver.

SPECIAL SCREENING OF ...AND THE EARTH DID NOT SWALLOW HIM
...and the earth did not swallow him is scheduled as part of Texas Public Radio's Cinema Tuesdays series for July 25 at the Bijou at Crossroads Theatre in San Antonio (7:30 PM). Director, writer and producer Severo Pérez will attend and answer questions and Dr. Antonia Castañeda will introduce the film and moderate the Q & A after the screening. TPR's website says this about the movie: "Brilliantly adapted from Tomás Rivera's acclaimed novel ...y no se lo tragó la tierra, this is a haunting and powerful film about a young Mexican-American boy's coming of age amid the poverty and adversity he and his family face as migrant farm workers in the 1950s." Go to this link for more information.

CAN I BRING UP KEROUAC?
Presenting a piece that I did not use, "written" by a character from one of my novels. A love poem, of sorts. Or maybe it's about the weather. As usual, all rights reserved.

Jack & Letting Go
One more storm due
this winter,
The day I,
the heart-breaking Chicano,
listened to the White Voice
of the Beat Generation
offer supplication to
Black Jazz
Neal
and the Three Stooges.

(He found their antics
symbolic
of the America
he tried to find
out there,
while I grinned
boyishly
watching three
cool guys,
almost pachucos,
do their Moe, Larry, and Curly
act
in littered alleys
of Southern
Colorado -
you think that’s cosmic,
Jack,
karma, maybe?)

She did nothing
to bring this on
other than carry out
the temptation
of the fantasies
in the skin book letters,
and promise never to insist.

The Voice died
a paunchy drunk
and they claim
he voted for Nixon.

At least he did not
have to say
I think it’s better
if we don’t see
each other
for a while.

She read about Jack,
never read him, though.
Did not go for that ride
on the road -
never heard him sing
about
essential Americas,
never sensed
that smile beneath his words,
held back but straining
from good shit
and cheap wine.

I could see it, man,
in my working class kitchen,
not subterranean,
as the tape clicked dead
the winter storm exhaled
and the cool breath
iced my heart
for her.

Later.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

To cure American bellyaching

When some people get exasperated, they tend to use a favorite stock phrase, rather than engaging their brains. When nothing changes from uttering that phrase, they seem to become even more exasperated, as if the truth from a so-called truism should be enough to change reality. In an effort to alleviate some of America's stress and resulting ulcers, I've come up with some remedies for users of the following phrases:

1. "We shouldn't cut and run" (out of Iraq). If you're tired of repeating this accusation to those who believe we have no business in Iraq, just tell them to hold their breath and protests until we reach that magic number 50,000 (as in Vietnam War fatalities).

2. "Go back to Mexico." If you're tired because no one packs their bags when you state this, you have 2 options. First, stay out of places where you find yourself using it, like your restaurants' kitchens, your hotel room when the maid's cleaning up, or your new condo, at least until after the sheetrock's put up.

Your other option is to tell Congress to re-channel Iraq War money into helping Mexico develop its own, independent economy. That way, instead of destroying a country, we could help build one and get at the root of why mexicanos come north.

3. "Illegals are taking jobs from American citizens." If you're starting to sound like a scratched CD harping on the above words, demand that George Dubbya institute a new draft and force young, white Americans to take those menial jobs at minimum wage or less.

Or, you could get Congress and George Dubbya to raise the minimum wage--especially for farm workers--to something decent and appealing to young Anglo Americans, like at least $10/hour (with benefits), and they wouldn't have to be drafted. Then we could watch America's youth lining up by the tens of thousands to fill out applications.

4. "I'm sick of paying $3 for gas." You have several options. You could write Condaleeza a letter, explaining how you can't support the rest of the economy since your money's going into obscene oil company profits. She's got pull with Exxon (they even named a tanker after her) and would no doubt understand your plight.

Or, since Congress and your President don't look like they're going to implement a windfall-profits tax on oil companies, you could just wait a year or two until the price rises to four or five dollars. That way you could at least change the number in your phrase.

Another tactic would be to vote next time for candidates who promise to re-channel a lot of that Pentagon money into non-fossil fuel technology. That way your pocketbook never has to suffer from unreliable sources of energy again.

5. "There is no global warming." If, like George Dubbya, you find that when you say this your friends and colleagues laugh instead of taking you seriously--show, don't tell them. Invest in some beachfront property, especially in a place like Florida where global-warming believers say even more hurricanes will hit. Trade your car in for one of those huge, diesel SUVs. Vote for every candidate who promises to let industry put even more industrial progress into our atmosphere. Then go out on your little piece of beach and breath deeply and without any worry or remorse.

6. "I'm tired of our jobs being outsourced overseas." If you're starting to sound like a broken record--as many times as you say this--you could write to your President and Congress asking that they eliminate the tax breaks U.S. corporations get for outsourcing. Instead, suggest it should be replaced with a surtax on any company that does such outsourcing. While you're at it, you might as well ask that a tariff be put on such services and products and that the funds be put into something useful, like more federal grant money for college.

7. "These medical bills are gonna kill me!" If you're getting chronic laryngitis from uttering this over and over, you could sell that valuable, Florida beach property and move to almost any other industrialized country in the world (and some non-industrial) that has universal healthcare. Or, if you just hate to have to give up that monster SUV and learn a new language, consider upping your life insurance coverage, since your present elected officials don't think it's "good for the economy" to regulate any industry, not even one that profits from your aging body.

There are more, other typically American phrases--like, "Why do I keep getting more and more into debt?"--but I'm stopping here.

Lastly, if you're a chronic user of these phrases, consider this: you're not the only one. If all of you would get together and do as I suggest, then I could just sit back and enjoy my own bellyaching.

RudyG

Quetzalli and the Star of the Sea (part 2) - by Gina MarySol Ruiz


Quetzalli found a quiet place to sleep that night and for the first time since setting out, she did not bathe in the moonlight nor sing and play her harp. At dawn, when the rosy red rays of the sun touched below the surface of the ocean turning it pink, she rose and began to swim east. She felt a strange pull within her and the golden ball spun faster than it ever had before.

She stopped to catch a few fish a few hours later and found a place where she could rest and eat. She consulted the ball and wished that it would talk to her again, for she had grown so lonely and fearful since the attack of the strange man. She sighed heavily and once again began her journey. At the end of the day, the ball once again opened to its flower shape and this time, instead of a pearl the image of an island showed itself in the center. Quetzalli realized that the Star of the Sea was on that island and that she would have to swim to the surface to find the precious gem. This terrified her and she wondered aloud how she would do so. She feared the strange men and whatever dangers this island held.

Quetzalli decided to rest and think. As she contemplated what she should do, she remembered the ball and her remaining wish.

“I wish that I could find a way to find the Star of the Sea,” she said firmly.

Suddenly she found herself gazing into a silver pool that appeared on the ocean floor. In the silver pool she saw a cave shaped vaguely like a star. Within that cave she saw strange purple crystals along its walls and roof. Farther still, and deep into the cave she saw until at last, at the end of the cave she saw a small black pool and within that pool she saw a golden chest. As the golden chest shimmered in the water, the pool disappeared and with it, her vision. She knew where lay the Star of the Sea.

The only problem that Quetzalli could think of was how to get to the cave. It was a pretty big problem. She was a sirena and sirenas didn’t have legs. She couldn’t swim on the land and she had used up her two wishes. As she pondered her dilemma, she noticed the bright pink shell in her bag. She picked it up and, laughing at herself for believing, she gently rubbed it. Quetzalli heard a loud bang and looking to the noise she saw that old Citlalmina had appeared before her.

“Hola Quetzalli,” said the old woman. “What can I do for you?”

Quetzalli was astounded. “How did you get here?” she asked the old sirena.

“I am a powerful bruja,” said the old woman. “I was about to conjure myself some food when you came along and I pretended to cry to see what you would do. You did far more than most and certainly more than I ever expected. You are a good girl Quetzalli and I will help you in whatever you wish.”

“Well,” said Quetzalli. “I am in a bit of trouble. I have this quest you see to find the Star of the Sea and bring it back to Ixchel. I have found the Star but it is on land and I cannot get there, as there is no stream to swim in. Can you help me with that?”

“A small thing Quetzalli, a small thing indeed. A very small thing that would be an honor for me to do for such a grand quest. I had no idea you were on such a quest and from our beloved goddess! Listen well my child, you must swim close to the island and wait for night to fall. In the darkness, for there is no moon tonight you must chant the words that I shall tell you. Chant them nine times and your form will change. You will have legs for a very short time. On these legs you must run to find the Star. Once you have it, you must run back to the ocean. If you do not make it back to the sea by dawn, you will fail in your quest and will die.” The old sirena whispered the secret words to Quetzalli and then clapped her hands and disappeared.

Quetzalli swam as close to the island as she dared and patiently waited for night to fall. As the old sirena said, there was no moon. Quetzalli chanted the secret words nine times and lo and behold she had legs! Not stopping to examine the wonder that were her legs, she ran lightly upon the sand following her vision to the cavern at the very end of the island. She found it after hours of running and found too, the pool with the golden chest. She lifted the heavy chest and began her run back to the ocean. Halfway to the sea, she saw a man running towards her. It was the strange man from the rock! Quetzalli ran but the man had seen her running naked with a golden chest. He ran after her and soon over took her and tumbled her to the ground. Quetzalli dropped the chest and she and the man both grabbed for it. She reached it first and swept it off the ground. She began to get up but the man pulled her back down. Quetzalli was desperate; the sun soon would be announcing the coming of the dawn. She couldn’t fail in her quest, she couldn’t. She struggled mightily and in her struggles the dagger her father gave her fell to the ground. The man saw the dagger and his eyes glowed with greed for the beautiful weapon.

As Quetzalli reached for the knife, she felt the love of her father and the power of Tlaloc. A voice she never knew she had rose from the depths of her soul and poured out of her mouth in a tremendous battle cry. Her long fingers grasped the dagger and with a tremendous effort she pulled back and hurled it to the sky. The dagger glowed green with anger and spiraled up, up, up swirling and slicing a huge hole in the sky. Quetzalli and the evil man stared in wonder as the torn sky parted to reveal polished jade steps and Tlaloc himself stomping down them accompanied by thousands of croaking frogs. He yelled and the world trembled with the loudest thunder heard ever before or since. Tlaloc hurled a lightening bolt at the evil man and struck his heart cleanly, splitting the man in two. Another lightening bolt hit the man’s ship and destroyed it completely burning all on it with his wrath.



“Go Quetzalli!” He roared, “You have but a few moments to dawn.”

Quetzalli jumped up, blew a bold and grateful kiss to Tlaloc and ran the remaining distance to the sea. Just as dawn began to break, her body hit the sea except for one little tail fin and changed back into a sirena – a strange sirena with one tiny human toe attached to her tail like a jewel. She sank to the bottom with her treasure and breathed a sigh of relief.


Just as she settled onto a seat of sea kelp, the water began to shimmer and soon Ixchel stood before her smiling.

“You’ve done it Quetzalli. You have brought me the Star of the Sea.”

Quetzalli handed the goddess the little golden chest. Ixchel took it from her and opened it. From the chest she took a small ordinary looking black stone. Quetzalli looked at the stone and thought she had failed. She had found the wrong stone. This wasn’t a precious gem. This was a rock. Her heart sank and her head bowed in shame.

“What is wrong Quetzalli,” the goddess asked.

Quetzalli was about to say that she was sorry for failing when she noticed that the plain black stone was changing in the goddess’ hand. It shaped itself into a star and the black began to fade until the stone was opalescent and bright. Ixchel stroked the stone lovingly and spoke to it in the secret and terrible language of the gods.

Quetzalli watched in wonder as Ixchel pulled from the water images of temples and trees, islands and streams, sirenas and human people, animals and fish. Ixchel pulled images of the moon, sun, stars and rainbows from the water and pushed them all into the stone. From where Quetzalli sat she could see the inside of the star shaped opal changing and becoming a world much like her own. Soon inside the stone was a tiny miniature replica of the world with the entire Mexica and Sirena safe inside. She gazed at Ixchel in awe as the goddess sealed the stone with her kiss and tucked it into her robe.

“Bless you Quetzalli. Because of you the Mexica will have a second chance. The world will have a second chance. When the time comes, many centuries from now, I will walk down the stairs of heaven and open the Star of the Sea. The world will be new again and just as it is now, unspoiled and perfect. I honor you Quetzalli. Your name and your descendants will always be blessed and honored. Ixchel touched Quetzalli’s strange human toe and it became one of solid gold.

The goddess kissed Quetzalli on her cheek and touched her hair. Quetzalli saw the water shimmer and the goddess disappeared. Quetzalli blinked and she was once again home in her village at the beginning of her road. Her parents swam swiftly to her and the people of the village were filled with joy. Celebrations were held and life began as before. Quetzalli lived to be an old woman with many children, each born with a golden human toe – the family badge of honor. Every year on the anniversary of her bringing the stone to Ixchel, the goddess came down to bestow her blessing on them all. On the last year of Quetzalli’s life, the goddess came down to bring all the sirenas to safety within the stone. It was now too dangerous for even a sirena to live in the world.

It is said that someday soon the goddess will step down from the heavens and renew the world. In that perfect world Quetzalli will live forever young and beautiful playing her coral harp to the moon and both Sirena and Mexica live in peace in harmony with nature.


Fin












Tuesday, July 11, 2006

So many titles, so fast flies time.

Michael Sedano

Darn it. I've spent the past month intensely distracted and doing only desultory reading for pleasure. For a couple weeks there I was doing a daily videoconference with people in Australia. When it's 2:30 in Califas, it's 7:30 a.m. tomorrow in Sydney. I think you get the picture of how time flies when you're having fun being in two places at the same time. Beats gathering flies, que no?

Sigh of relief, that intensity has waned for a couple weeks, so now, thanks to tips from my La Bloga blogmates, I've picked up several titles for upcoming reviews. And I need your suggestions. I feel like a Beagle Boy with a key to Uncle Scrooge's moneyvault. Where to dive in first?

There's Cubano writer Leonardo Padura Fuentes' (translated by John King) Adios Hemingway. Should be an interesting complement to Jose Latour's Cuba.

The oddball in the pile--neither Dan nor Manuel has mentioned it-- is Brian Freemantle's To Save a Son. I picked it up on the strength of Freemantle's Charlie Muffin series, of which this isn't. Espionage readers who do not yet know Freemantle owe themselves at least one Charlie Muffin tale. These are addictive.

Leaving Albion's shores to the far northern part of the Dominican Republic--upstate New York, to be precise--comes Julia Alvarez' Saving the World. This opens with a bit of vexation, but that's 'cause I haven't dug in yet to figure out what I've started. Sounds like the same voice as Yo!, but troubled. Because she's turned 50 and didn't have a cinquentañera? I'm looking forward to finding out.

I also started reading Laura Esquivel's novel, Malinche, and so far it's moving along just fine, though, on first impression, a bit floridly. But that may be translator Ernesto Mestre-Reed's choices, quien sabe. Sadly, the novel's gotten a lot of bad word of mouth. Ni modo; I'm an Esquivel fan. I thoroughly enjoyed her Sci-Fi piece The Law of Love, despite taking dirty looks from folks who didn't. And after that one, I enjoyed Esquivel's As Swift as Desire so much I read it in Spanish, too, Tan Veloz Como El Deseo. Not only do I enjoy her work, I'm an old telegrapher, the occupation of a central character in Tan Swift. Plus there were a couple of questions I had about the English and needed to see how certain things turned in the writer's original words. It was the same book, but in Spanish, more nuanced because the words sit there and allow the reader to enjoy their depth. Translation, in choosing one word or expression, reduces semantic depth to a shallower dimension.

Literature in translation has always intrigued me. Whose art does the reader consume, the translator's, or the writer's? Think Ezra Pound's "translations" of Chinese poems, for example. Perhaps among European languages, translations don't impact the art and culture as dramatically as when the original writing is a non-Western tongue. For some reason, that reminds me of my last month in the Army. I did 13 months in Korea and as a way of bridging the cultural gap from Korea and Army to the US and real life, I read my complete Shakespeare from cover to cover. I suspect it tamed me. For a thoroughly involving exploration of issues surrounding intercultural literary translation, check out Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi's edition of essays on the subject, Postcolonial Translation Theory from Routledge 1999.

In the "Interesting how well bad things turn out" department, is my just-arrived copy of Beckett's facing page edition of Waiting for Godot / En Attendant Godot that I picked up at Eagle Rock's Imix Books. Back in 1963, when I started college, the University of California's foreign language requirement specifically excluded Spanish. It was "not an academic language" the professors (who it turns out, liked my looks) told me. So I continued my French and thus I can look forward to several enjoyable days working through Godot on both sides of the page. Tan cool, que no? (French came in most usefully a couple years ago when I was able to buy a migraine pill from the only non-English speaking pharmacy in Paris).

Imix, at the same time, supplied me with the Grove Centenary Edition of Samuel Beckett's work, a boxed set of four volumes including nearly all the prose, which I savor particularly. Several of the novels are translated by Beckett from his original French, as with Godot, but unlike that, come to me English only.

Decisions, decisions. Among such riches, what to read all the way through first? next? That Beckett collection beckons. It's been years that I read the novels, and there are some short prose pieces I've never seen but only read about, and one title I shoulda heeded Polonius' advice, I lent and never got back, More Pricks Than Kicks, the one with the Spanish ditty.

I forgot Michele Serros! Imix got me several copies of Chicana Falsa. I give this one away to young people at work, on condition that they tell me their favorite parts, and give the book to someone.

Sabes que, that's what I'm gonna do. I want to laugh out loud, and if there's a book that will make anyone--chicana chicano or not--laugh out loud, it's Chicana Falsa.

So that's what I'm reading tomorrow. And after that, you've seen the list. What do you suggest?

te watcho next week,
mvs

Monday, July 10, 2006

SPOTLIGHT ON MARY CASTILLO

Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Mary Castillo is one of the hottest members of the Chica Lit club. She’s one of the authors of the anthology Friday Night Chicas: Sexy Stories from La Noche (St. Martin's Griffin), and is the author of Hot Tamara and In Between Men both published by Avon Trade.

Castillo says that when she was ten, her grandmother all but predicted the future. In the backyard of her parents’ home in National City, California, Castillo imagined she would grow up to be Wonder Woman, or the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Castillo says that when she didn’t grow up to look like Linda Carter and then realized she really didn’t like working with people (as a director, one must unfortunately, work with lots and lots of them), she looked back on what her Grandma Margie had said to her: “The best job in the world has to be an author. You can live wherever you want, while wearing what you want, and write stories.”

Ah, the wisdom of abuelitas.

Two screenplays, four manuscripts, 21 rejection letters, and nine years later she sold her first book, Hot Tamara to Avon Trade. A lifelong professional writer, including a stint as a reporter for the LA Times Community News (The “second best job in the world” she notes), Castillo says that she is now “living [my] dream writing sassy comedies for Avon Trade and Latina lit for St. Martins.” She is also writing young adult fiction as well as a mystery series about a cub reporter in a small town. One day, Castillo swears that she will write a great American epic. Castillo lives in Orange County with her husband and The Pugs. She can be reached via her website.

MOUTH WATERING: Denise Chávez’s new book, A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family, Food and Culture, is now available from Rio Nuevo. It’s listed on Amazon or you can order through Rio Nuevo or any bookstore. "Tacos are sacred to me," says Chávez, who has set many a fictional scene in a Southwestern restaurant or around a dinner table. And here are her special recipes, including her mother's Tacos a la Delfina ("I swear these tacos are really good cold!") and Granma Lupe's Pasta (not macaroni but a savory mincemeat-like taco filling). Here, too, are tips on shopping, cooking, and serving: "Offer up the meal with gratitude and remember: Tacos are one of life's greatest things!" "Time and love are the essence of all Mexican cooking," Chávez says. Can we disagree? I think not.

IN HONOR OF THE ICEWORKER: Francisco Aragón gives us the history of The Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize named after the late author of the powerful Iceworker Sings and Other Poems (Bilingual Press, 1999). Montoya died at the age of 31, succumbing to leukemia before production of his book was completed. The prize announces the most recent winner, The Outer Bands by Gabriel Gomez. Gomez was born and raised in El Paso, spending much of his childhood in Chihuahua with family during summers and holidays. He received his BA in Creative Writing from the College of Santa Fe and an MFA from Saint Mary's College of California. Among his honors are a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2005 after he evacuated Hurricane Katrina. Most of the poems in The Outer Bands were composed and edited during his time at SFAI. He has taught English at Tulane University and currently teaches at the University of New Orleans. Valerie Martínez was the final judge.

NOTICIAS: I get all kinds of wonderful literary news from readers of La Bloga. Here are some:

◙ Jennifer Silva Redmond says that much of her “action” lately seems to be in the form of speaking, not writing: Southern California Writers Conference, San Diego, March 2006, and Palm Springs, October 2006; a one-week seminar on Latino Short Stories, Rancho La Puerta/Tecate, July 2006; featured speaker, San Diego Writers & Publishers meeting July, 2006. And she’s edited two books: Follow the Sun and California’s Cornerstone.

◙ Melinda Palacio has a poem, “How Fire Is a Story, Waiting,” in the Spring 2006 issue of Border Senses and there is also an interview with Denise Chávez, discussing her new book, A Taco Testimony (see above).

◙ Alejandro Morales, Professor of Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of California (Irvine) and author of many books including the classic, The Brick People (Arte Público Press), says that his new novel, The Captain of All These Men of Death, will be coming out this year from Bilingual Press. The following is the catalogue description of the novel: “When Roberto Contreras attempts to enlist to fight in World War II, his medical examination reveals he has tuberculosis, and he is committed to a frightful sanatorium. Amid his relapses and recoveries he meets a series of women who have profound effect on his life: a mysterious French doctor, a captivating patient, and a sinister acquaintance from a Los Angeles barrio. Meanwhile, a hospital newsletter delivers articles describing the various ways in which tuberculosis patients have been treated throughout history- cared for humanely or ostracized, alienated, and administered shockingly barbaric medical experimentation and superstitious pagan practices of witchcraft and Satanism in California barrios.”

Morales also sent me copies of his new collection of short stories, Pequeña Nación (Orbis Press). Adam Spires of St. Mary’s University says of this book: “Este volumen corresponde a la edad madura de un hombre que sigue consagrando su vida al examen, al estudio y al ejercicio de plasmar la realidad cotidiana, por más austera que sea, de su tierra natal, Aztlán. En sus páginas, Morales reúne tres cuentos con una intensa coherencia que deriva de la incoherencia radical acarreada por la discriminación y por sus violentos corolarios.”

And more news from Alejandro Morales: UC Irvine's Chicano/Latino Studies Program has just received Departmental status. The newly established Department has an undergraduate major with extensive course offerings and a fast developing graduate program. Visit the program’s website for more information.

SUMMER SEASON OF SHORT PLAYS: Every Friday in July at 8 p.m. ($10 admission) - Sabor Y Cultura along with COFAC (Border Council of Arts and Culture) and Cruazarte (Mexico-USA Bi-National Arts Project) will present a series of short plays by writers and performers from both sides of the border. First play on July 7th: "Sirenas del Corazon,” in Spanish, by Edward Coward, directed by Emmanuel Marquez.

Sabor Y Cultura Café
5625 Hollywood Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90028
(cross streets Wilton Ave. and Western Ave.)
(323) 466-0481

NUEVO CUENTO: Daniel Alarcón, author of War by Candlelight: Stories (HarperCollins), has a new story out in Issue #8 of the literary journal, 580 Split. It’s called “The Prisoner” and is as poetic as it is powerful. The editors describe their journal, which is produced out of Mills College in Oakland, as “a place of risk and possibility” because they “publish innovative and risk-taking fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, and art.” My experience so far with this handsomely-produced journal supports the editors’ description. Check out their submissions guidelines and the poetry/fiction contest, too. 580 Split can be found at many Barnes & Noble, Borders, and independent bookstores across the country. Or inquire about subscriptions.

THE HUMMINGBIRD’S MOTHER: The new issue of Literal: Latin American Voices includes an interview with Graciela Limón, Los Angeles native, professor and author of a half dozen books including Song of the Hummingbird and In Search of Bernabé (both from Arte Público Press). She’s interviewed by Gabriela Baeza Ventura. Literal is a handsome, bilingual magazine on arts and literature that also publishes poetry and fiction. Produced out of Houston, you can find out about subscriptions (four issues per year) by writing to info@literalmagazine.com.

AY, WHAT A PRETTY NECK: On July 7, Marta Acosta celebrated the publication of her first novel, the hilarious and snarky Happy Hour at Casa Dracula (Pocket Books). Along with Mario Acevedo and his debut novel, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats (Rayo), Acosta has no qualms about updating the vampire genre with a bit of Chicanismo. More news on both of these books later…

All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadre at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!