Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Chicano/Latino Literary LA In Words and Photos

Michael Sedano

I haven't yet begun counting the days until I retire from the world of work, but I have dusted off my list of long-delayed projects with serious assessment of priorities. Which will come first? The backtracking of the Aristotlelian tradition from the California Mission libraries back to Spain? Retranslating Aristotle for the modern student? A rhetoric of schemes and tropes drawn from chicana chicano writing as a way to interest our kids in writing?

Two of those for sure--my Greek will never lose its rust, so no new translation. First I'll bring to life a project combining two of my favorite past times, reading chicana chicano literature, and photography. I don't know what I'll call it, but it's to be a book of photos illustrating evocative passages about the Los Angeles region from, principally, novels written for or about chicanos and latinos.

There's a book that inspired my project, Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles, put together by Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward. The collection presents excerpts from novels or stories together with black and white photos of the locale Chandler writes about. A terrific idea, Silver and Ward, and thanks to my wife whose Christmas gift a few years ago planted the seed.

Los Angeles has provided the setting, even been a character, in numerous chicana chicano novels, so there's a montón of material to select from. A retired guy has lots of time on his hands, and the bus runs past so many of the places in our literature, that getting there will be half the fun.

So here's a request: what are your favorite LA-set books and stories? Among these, do you have a memorable image, a flaming metaphor, an indelible memory that you'd suggest as the subject of a photograph? Please, send me a title and a page. I'm still actively pursuing capitalist enterprise through the summer, so you have lots of time to ruminate on this simple request.

Actually, it's not so simple. I've dog-eared many a page in my library over the years. Something for the photo book, something for the rhetoric project. Now I have to go through them all again, from start to finish, to find the context, to find the angle that I can lens. Then, of course, negotiate copyrights and all the legal stuff that authors are entitled, que no?

Here are some titles that I'll begin with.

Guy Garcia. Skin Deep. The drive from Beverly Hills to East LA signals the gulf between the character's natural home and his rarified Harvard/Wall Street career destination. There's the East LA church where he goes to launch his search for the murdered Mexicana housekeeper. How many unmurdered Mexican housekeepers are waiting for the bus to the Westside? There's one hugely memorable scene in Laguna Park on August 29, 1970. Chased by the rioting police, the character leaps the fence, the last one out. He makes eye contact with the guy right behind him who doesn't make it out.

Speaking of August 29, 1970, there's the child's shoe in the gutter as another character flees the raging cops. She turns up the alley to safety where she stumbles across a horribly murdered infant. Eulogy for a Brown Angel, Lucha Corpi.

Hector Tobar. Tattooed Soldier. MacArthur Park, old men playing chess--perhaps I'll join them. The old electric railway tunnel where the homeless guys seek refuge. The pursuit uphill from Alvarado into the Victorians, probably today being yuppified. This is no country for poor people anymore.

That tunnel again, featured in Alex Abella's thriller mixing santería, Cubanos, and murder. Plus the labyrinth of heating pipes under Music Center hill down toward Grand Central Market. King of the Saints, Alex Abella. I may have a couple of titles mixed up here.

Yxta Maya Murray's companion pieces, Locas and What it Takes to Get to Vegas. Boyle Heights street corners. Young women waiting for the bus, dressed to the nines with no particular place to go. Maybe they're slinging hash at the Homegirl Cafe. The boxing gyms are gone now; the one in Boyle Heights near White Memorial Hospital is a tune-up place.

Stella Pope Duarte's Let Their Spirits Dance. She's there at Laguna Park, on the speaker's stand, looking toward Whittier Blvd as the cops begin their attack. It's the movimiento, it's antiwar. The more things change the more they seem to come round again.

Richard Vasquez' Chicano. Old Irwindale. The irrigation zanja, weir boxes. There's still a zanja, the sankee, out in Redlands where I grew up. A long ditch dug by indios and burros to feed the friars' orange groves. I wonder if the padres read Aristotle by the fireside while the indios tossed and turned in fitful sleep in anticipation to tomorrow.

X-Rated Bloodsuckers, one of a pair of chicas patas vampire pieces from Denver's Mario Acevedo. It's the Valley, again, it's Pacoima, community organizers, storefront art galleries something like Ave50 Studio (in Highland Park, until the building is sold out from under Kathy, the owner). The old neighborhoods of the Valley, some of them seem never to change, some, like the strip mall housing Tia Chucha's bookstore, about to feel the bulldozer.

Michael Nava's Henry Rios stories wander all over Echo Park and Silver Lake. Powerful, arresting drama in these. Can I find the right foto and just one passage in so rich a lode?

Salvador Plasencia, The People of Paper. Surreal El Monte, weird-to-normal Arcadia, a hole in the blue skies above the SanGra mountains where the creator dwells. The nearest flower fields are up in Lompoc; well worth a daytrip. I'll wear my en las rosas si se puede button.

The Valley is where Marcos Villatoro's Romilia Chacon lives, but she beds down her lover in Venice near the canals, and escapes into the EUA through a Tijuana tunnel. A Venom Beneath the Skin.

Dagoberto Gilb's short stories from Winners on the Pass Line and The Magic of Blood. Dang, it's been ages since I picked up these wondrous stories. Do I remember LA settings?

For sure LA settings abound in Daniel Olivas' Devil Talk, speaking of short fiction. I haven't seen a letter writer at la placita in years, in fact, it was in Monterrey NL that last I saw an old guy with a Royal and a fruitbox writing letters for gente. Ni modo; the Valley's all over Daniel's stories, and some darn good passages.

Oscar Acosta's Revolt of the Cockroach People and Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo, quintessential chicano L.A. books. LA of the early movimiento, the old new cathedral. Zeta's a dirty old man getting it on with little girls, so we'll skip that part. The age of demonstrations again is on the rise, who knows, maybe someone will interrupt the Cardinal's High Mass at the Rog Majal, and I'll be there to shoot it.

Graciela Limón's The Memories of Ana Calderon takes a photog into the garment district. What a busy spot, lots of color, movement, uncounted set pieces and still lifes. Maybe not so many latina entrepreneurs, but certainly a full host of single aguja and overlock operators to illustrate a sweat shop.

Heck, there's a Luis Montez novel that wends its way to the Coast; he comes to LA and drives to San Diego. Maybe Manuel Ramos has a favorite scene he believes would be worth the double telling, his words, my foto?

And it's not all fiction. There's Justice: A Question of Race. Journalist Roberto Rodriguez harrowing story of being assaulted by Sheriffs for taking their photo attacking a harmless drunk. The Dr. Kildare foto of LA County Hospital would be de rigeur here, que no, since cruising Whittier Blvd was outlawed years ago. The signs are still up, however. Maybe there's one near the Silver Dollar?

Looking at the above, it's painfully obvious, I remember a lot less than I think I do, so I have a lot of re-reading to catch up on. Then there'll be your contributions to my list, yes?

See you next week.


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Monday, January 29, 2007


Jorge Corral, born in Los Angeles, attended Loyola University for both his undergraduate and law degrees. He is an attorney in private practice in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Corral attended the MFA International Program in Creative Writing at UNLV until his son, Gabriel el huracan, was born. He is currently working on a novel about the zapatistas, the 2001 Zapatour, Cuba, and jumping the Tijuana border. Corral participated in the 2001 Zapatour, and provides translation for escuelasparachiapas.org – and of himself, he says: “Soy adherente a la Sexta.” Corral can be reached at ezlnunlv@yahoo.com.

Below is an excerpt from his novel-in-progress, Zapata Vive, Dude!


Martin Saucedo was an instructor in English for a zapatista school in La Realidad, Chiapas. Between classes, he slept on a hammock among ceiba trees. High above on a wet branch, a toucan polished its beak. Ripe mangos lay at his feet and a river murmured nearby. Five Tojolabal women passed him in silence. They balanced baskets on their heads and followed the river downstream. A young girl holding a bar of soap to her nose sauntered behind.

Trees leaked drops from yesterday's rain. The toucan flapped noisely and rustled moist leaves. Raindrops fell on Martin. Mayan students entered the schoolhouse for afternoon classes and made loud bird whistles at the familiar sight of the Mexican from Vegas asleep, floating among ceiba trees. He jumped to his feet at the sound of bird-children.

The rebel zone occupied the southeast corner of Chiapas, bordering Guatemala. Life in the zapatista municipalities was, at times, as Mayan gods might have intended -- autonomous rule and armed insurgents hiding in the mist of the Lacandon jungle.

La Selva

"Mayan girls don't dig dreads, dude. You fucked up," said Martin, teasing Boz, the newest instructor.

"Boz, this morning you wake with beautiful golden curls and now look at you," Toru tagged in.

"All week you give me shit about the curls, from the moment I walked in here." Boz lifted his clean baby dreadlocks in the air and shouted, "I used green rubberbands to go with my eyes."

The trio of volunteer instructors were cleaning the stables under the heaviest cloud in the sky. They'd been advised that a zapatista captain would be arriving that day to evaluate instructors for a special assignment. Martin had the only true shovel; wide and flat, perfect for shoveling horse shit. Boz handled a rake and Toru was useless with an old hoe. The mud complicated the removal of manure and the rain brought out the essence of the horse urine.

"Boz, chicks don't dig that shit, man," said Toru, pleased with his wiseguy impersonation.

Boz, leaning on the rake, could not be persuaded. He chewed gum, twisted his braids, and asked questions. "Have you ever been married, Martin?"

"Engaged, I was engaged to a girl in Zinacantan. Lupita."

"Lupita," repeated Boz, gentle with the enunciation. "And?"

"And now she lives in San Cristobal with her husband."

Those words swept into Martin's head often, like the artificial waves of the man-made beach at the Mandalay Bay resort, rising and falling lazily and uninspired, never really amounting to much. He was, however, not accustomed to hearing the words aloud. He tried hiding the hurt -- a poker face without a pair of cards in his hand.

Boz positioned himself in front of an imaginary golf ball on a tee that wasn't there and took short measured half-swings with the rake. He was Julian Bosworth, old money from Boston, private prep school, one semester at an ivy league institution -- and last week he'd suddenly detoured into the highlands of Chiapas.

Toru Adachi danced a three-step jig in the mud, finishing with an old-fashioned showgirl kick, using the farm tool for balance and style. He had quit dental school in Tokyo, abandoned his fiance in Osaka, fled Japan, and found refuge in the Mexican jungle.

Martin ceased hauling shit mixed with mud, hay and piss, and reached into his back pocket for a clear plastic bottle with green liquid. He sipped from it.

"I was engaged, too," said Toru, excited about the appearance of the herbal drink. "Harumi, a very pretty girl, she was in dental school like me, and rich. We were expected to marry, be great dentists, and have a big family."

"And?" inquired Boz.

"Well, I want to be a pastry chef and I love men."

Boz paused in the middle of his golf swing with the idle rake and smiled at Toru.

"I love the smell of horse shit, it reminds me of when my dad used to take me to horse races outside of Vegas. Wish we had beer, and music." Martin took a slow pull from the plastic bottle and noticed the edges of dark clouds hiding behind mountains. "Hey Boz, what are you doing here?"

“Five-hundred and nine years of indigenous resistance, dude! The first post-modern revolution! The war against neo-liberalism! Hey can I ask you another personal question?"


"Well I know you've been here a long time...but you don't seem very much into this."

"You mean the teaching? I'm bored with it already, I need to do something else." Martin placed the shovel in the involuntary hands of Toru, then picked up a brush, soap, and a bucket and began washing Bonita, a young white mare.

"Were you really a poker player in Vegas? Were you any good? Was it really your job or did you work elsewhere? Maybe you could teach me how to play, think so?"

“You just have to learn to lie and be willing to die, I mean lose. Then believe that there's always tomorrow."

"That doesn't sound like poker," said Boz.

The dense jungle hid the stables. Water splashed against Bonita's back and she kicked at the red mud, warning Martin. He brushed her with long strong strokes. Bonita was tied to a tree branch and tugged at the rope, testing the knot. Toru and Boz stored the tools in a wooden shed, then waited up the road. Martin was deliberate and thoughtful in returning the five shiny horses to their stables. He thought about his father who taught him the beauty of hard work, which Martin had always found a way to avoid.

A storm rolled down from the mountains and into La Realidad. Boz was first to react, pulling his t-shirt over his head, high-stepping uphill, hoping to avoid premature damage to his Eddie Bauer hiking boots. Toru turned to Martin, who was carrying hay and feed into the stables, then back to Boz, who was making little progress along the dirt trail, now erased and muddy.

Thick raindrops bounced against the creek as Osaka, Boston, and Vegas skidded to a halt, then stepped in, holding hands, fearful of the harmless current. Although completely soaked, they ran around puddles as they made their way home, searching for traction and shelter.

Their bungalow had room for two single beds and a hammock swinging near the entrance. Toru lay in the hammock and watched the preparations for the dance. A large blue tent went up and was soon filled with bamboo torches and the sounds of flutes and laughter. Martin paced five steps to the hammock, then back to the beds. Some nights he paced as if he were waiting for a ride. He sipped from the plastic bottle with green juice.

"What are you drinking?" asked Boz.

Martin handed the bottle to Boz, who sniffed and wet his lips. Toru snatched it from Boz, returned to the hammock, and sipped delicately, but often.

"Smells strong, like medicine," said Boz.

"It is medicine, I get it from a Zapotec doctor in San Blas Atempa. It has weeds and natural stuff, good for colds and opens the appetite."

"Do you miss Vegas?" asked Boz.

"I miss my apartment, you know, cable TV, hot showers, air conditioning, and mornings I miss lattes. Sometimes, late at night, I think about the pizza at the Venetian, In-n-Out burgers, the seafood buffet at the Bellagio...and yeah, I miss the action."

Boz sat on the floor, surrounded by his cell phone, laptop, and CD player, and unpacked his extra pair of hiking boots and wool blankets. "Hey Martin, I heard you came to the rebel zone because the zapatistas prohibit alcohol, gambling, and prostitution and that you're here to recover from all three."

"You forgot weed," said Martin.

"Weed is not a drug, man." Boz stood to look at a group of girls walking by, giggling, and shouting in Tzeltzal. "Is there anything I should know about these dances? You know, Mayan customs or rules or anything like that?"

"Just be yourself. Martin is not the right person to ask in this matter. He is..." Toru paused for effect. "One who likes to milk cows for free. Understand? He does not like to buy the cow."

"Boz, listen to me." Martin leaned out a window to watch indigenous children skip and dance in the rain. "The foreign women -- instructors and observers -- they're a collection of mixed nuts from a hundred nations and they come and go, so play at your own risk. And the Mayan girls, forget about it. The best you can hope for is to catch them bathing in the river. Oh, and if you think you're going to need privacy tonight --"


"Yeah, if you think you might close a deal, if you get lucky, if..."

"I get it."

"Don't go out in the woods or behind a bush or do anything you've seen in the movies. You know, snakes and nasty shit like that. Use your hammock, not my bed," said Martin.

Young Boz messed with his electronic gadgets while Martin paced.

Toru took a final sip from the plastic bottle while gaining momentum in the hammock, then launched himself toward the entrance of the bungalow. "Let's go, party time! Boz, leave your toys, let's boogie baby, come shake that moneymaker, whiteboy!"

Toru's English flowed under the spell of the Zapotec potion. He was the Mayan's favorite. They called him "white brother" because he looked like them and because he'd given up wealth in Japan to share pozol and tortillas with them. Boz, freakishly thin, was an odd thing to the indigenous since he came from the land of excess. Martin was also an enigma, with his reverse immigration, an American disguised as a Mexican, a professional gambler betting on the most improbable of victories -- Zapatismo over evil.

The indigenous of Chiapas kept most outsiders at an arm's length. Some mestizos, like Martin, won their way in. Despite a light brown complexion, like a plain donut or a White Russian in a shot glass, depending on the mood of the Aztlan sun, Martin claimed Zapotec blood.

Toru, Boz, and Martin joined the crowd gathered under the large blue tent. A short gray horse that resembled a mule was tied to a post and a Tojolabal insurgent, a captain in the Zapatista Army, sat on a dry log, held a cup of coffee and bit into a tamal. His name was Hilario. He'd been with EZLN since the first armed insurrection, when he was fourteen. Captain Hilario, at twenty-one, was a veteran. His rifle lay at his feet, against the log. Mula, his horse, carried an old green pack and a faded black flag with a red five-point star.

Word reached Martin that a zapatista captain requested his presence. He hurried across the soft dirt covered by the tent, sorting Tzeltales, Tzotziles, Choles, Mames, Tojolabales, Mayas Lacandones, Kanjobales and tourists. Hilario was being served rounds of garnachas, tamales, and strong coffee by a committee of women huddled around fire and pans. Martin approached, hesitant, considered a salute but thought better of it.

"Captain Hilario, Martin Saucedo at your service."

"Relax Martin, sit down and have a garnacha."

Martin lifted a garnacha from Hilario's tin plate and joined him on the dry log, away from the rifle. A woman in a red dress with a yellow apron brought Martin a cup of coffee. He wasn't hungry but worked on the garnacha anyway.

"A group of Irish insurgents have asked Subcomandante Marcos for a favor and Sup needs a volunteer."

"Yes, sir, I'm ready."

“Where are you from, Martin?"

"My father was born in Durango and my mother in Oaxaca."

"And you?"

"Las Vegas."

I asked to speak with you because Lieutenant Maclovio said you were interested in work as a translator."

"Yes, sir."

"Associates from Ireland are meeting with the Union of Young Communists in La Habana next week. Your assignment will include interpreting, guide, errands, whatever. I was informed that you have been to Cuba." Hilario, holding an empty plate, waved off women with more food and coffee.

"Yes, sir, I've been to Cuba several times. Thank you sir, I will do my best."

They stood, shook hands, and agreed to meet at first light. Hilario walked away, untied Mula, and both disappeared into the darkness.

The assignment from Captain Hilario seemed soft and unlikely to help his campaign for promotion into the ranks of EZLN. La Habana, Guanabo, Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus, Santa Clara and Trinidad had treated him well in the past but he wasn't looking for a vacation, he needed a career change. Martin returned to the party.

The Afterparty

Hours later a drizzle dropped the temperature to below 40 degrees and sent many into the bungalows. Young men, observers from the University of Chihuahua, sang Revolutionary songs. They'd violated the alcohol ban. An overflow of visitors and indigenous constructed a campfire near the bungalows. Martin and the students sat on the steps of the bungalow, sang and watched the fire dance behind cigarette smoke.

"Do you know any songs about Emiliano Zapata?" Yin Dyachenko, a Chinese-Russian semi-retired model and TV soap actress from Venezuela was ready to immerse herself in Mexican folkore.

"Why is it always about Zapata? What about my general? General Francisco Villa!" said Ignacio Pantera, more indignant than drunk. He wore a red villista flag across his back like a sarape. He'd gone to Chiapas against his parents' wishes, was orginally from Coahuila, and pursued a degree in computer engineering.

"Nachito, Zapata and Villa were in the same fight on each end of the country, both were equal in greatness, no?" Stefano Alberti was an Italian journalist and Marxist, traveling off the record with Yin, and filming a documentary of the rebellion with Ms. Dyachenko as host.

"That's a good one." Martin lit a cigarette. "Zapata or Villa...you can't go wrong with either, but if you had to pick one...I guess I'd have to put my money on General Villa, he was the big boss of the north, he controlled the railways, commerce between states, international trade, politics and publicity with the United States, he did business with Hollyood, married fifty times --"

"Zapata just appeared in the mountains, he was not born. He is Ik'al and Votan, the first gods who made the world. They walked the earth, one by day and the other by night. They came here and became one and gave themselves the name of Zapata," said Chinita, a stout Tzeltzal woman sitting with three other female insurgents on Toru's bed, their backs against the wall.

Chinita smiled at Martin, who appeared satisfied. The Tzeltzals spoke in glances and were economic with words.

"I vote for Che!" shouted Osvaldo Milagros, a poet and anthropologist from Buenos Aires, who'd been standing near the entrance to the bungalow, listening.
Osvaldo entered and shook hands with everyone, then stood in front of Yin and said, "My dear, you look so familiar."

"Hey Osvaldo, you're right, Che was a monster but he missed the indigenous issue, don't you think?" Ignacio leaned against the doorway, banging mud from his boots. He lit a cigarette and said, "Nobody has ever united all indigenous peoples before, not Zapata, not Villa, only Sup Marcos."

Martin put his arm around Ignacio and took away the cigarette and passed it to Chinita, who passed it to Toru.

"But Marcos does not want power, he wants to revolutionize the world's conscience," said Toru.

"Villa and Zapata did not want power, they were victorious then handed the reins to politicians. Fidel never made that mistake," said Stefano.

"Fidel is brilliant, he has police on every corner and the best doctors in the world. He will live until he is one-hundred and fifty," said Osvaldo.

"Imagine Marcos -- with his conditioning, climbing up and down these mountains for twenty years - with a few of Fidel's doctors he'd live for another hundred years." Martin took a long hit from his cigarette and passed it to Osvaldo.

"Capitalism would not survive another hundred years of Marcos." Chinita nudged her companions toward the doorway and kissed Martin good-night.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Guest columnist René Colato, Speaking On Authenticity, Can An Author Write Books Outside His/Her Culture?

René Colato Lainez

I asked two children’s book authors about authenticity in books about Latinos. Then I searched through some editor’s guidelines. These are my findings.

Can An Author Write Books Outside His/Her Culture?

Amada Irma Pérez says:

I do believe someone outside the culture can write an immigrant story--they always do by doing research, etc. I don't believe it can be authentic because they are looking from the outside in. It would be impossible to include all the delicate and delicious little details that sprout from actual lived experiences. I don't like someone outside our culture writing "about us" but realize that this has been going on forever in order to learn about people of the past and from other cultures. Look at the "American Girl" series and other diary books.

An authentic story has specific details that are known only to the teller and the readers that come from the same culture. In our culture these include specific sensory images like the smell of menudo cooking, or the texture of the slime from nopalitos, the angst of culture clash, or machismo, the importance of family, the awareness of "mexican time..." It becomes even more authentic when dichos are quoted in the native language and lose too much in translation. Sometimes they cannot and should not be translated!

love and peace,

amada irma

Amada Irma Perez is the author of MY DIARY FROM HERE TO THERE and MY VERY OWN ROOM.

Blogmeister's note: Amada Perez' "My Diary from Here to There" was
reviewed by La Bloga Bloguera Gina MarySol Ruiz in November 2005.

* * *

Jane Medina says on authencity in immigrant stories:

An immigration story needs to be three dimensional in order to be authentic. To say that to immigrate to another country is easy and wonderful is a lie. To say that to immigrate to another country is the worst thing that could ever happen to you is a lie too. To be genuine, an author must show the good things, the bad things, and also the ambivalent. The author needs to write a real story.


* * *
This is what editors are looking for:

(Children’s Book Press) Multicultural stories reflect the diversity and experiences of minority and/or new immigrant communities in the United States today. We publish picture books about contemporary life in the Latino/Chicano, African American, Asian American, Native American, multi-racial and other minority and new immigrant communities. Folktales are not the focus of our current publishing program.

(Lee & Low Books) Our goal is to meet the need for books that address children of color by providing fictional stories and informational books that all children can enjoy and which promote a greater understanding of one another. We are not considering folktales and animal stories.

(Luna Rising) Our multicultural mission is to create books that work to preserve Latin American culture in the United States; books that value the strong language heritage brought to our country by children from Latin America, and books that promote bilingualism and will expand a child's cultural knowledge and perspective. We are especially interested in themes that deal with the contemporary bicultural experience of living in the United States, and stories that feature contemporary Latin American role models.

I will be attending Border Book Festival on April. This is a great festival, everyone is welcome. Here’s the Press Release …

Press Release

The Border Book Festival

P.O. Drawer T

Mesilla, NM 88046


The 13th annual Border Book Festival will take place April 20-22, 2007 in Mesilla, New Mexico. New Mexico’s oldest book festival offers a time of reflection and celebration as we remember our roles as global citizens, members of the universal family

Featuring a Trade Show, readings, panels and workshops, as well as its 2nd annual Children’s and Pet parade, the festival highlights include a reading. Poets Against War, on Friday, April 21 that features the work of some of the U.S.’s top poets including Martín Espada, who also serves as Master of Ceremonies, Sherwin Bitsui, Richard Shelton, Connie Voisine, David Romo and Mexican writers Selfa Chew and Osvaldo Ogaz. Music from Son Colombiano, a Juárez cumbia group will accompany the evening.

Saturday night’s Premio Fronterizo Gala features recognized writer Sandra Cisneros, author of Caramelo, and Espada, who has been called the “Pablo Neruda of North America.” Perla Batalla from Los Angeles will offer a concert following the reading. Batalla’s powerful and distinctive voice has graced albums with Leonard Cohen and K.D. Lang. She now performs with her group who will accompany her blend of world music.

The Premio Fronterizo will be awarded to Espada. This prestigious award honors a writer for their literary body of work that transcends borders, real and imagined. The Premio celebrates the best of our contemporary writers who have done much to transform inner and outer worlds and bridge the many borders between people, real and imagined. Past recipients have included: Rudolfo Anaya, Sandra Cisneros, N. Scott Momaday, Barbara Kingsolver, Keith Wilson, Luis Rodríguez, Gary Soto, Sabine Ulibarrí, Luis Urrea and Joy Harjo among others.

Winners of the Sunshine Community Service award are Roberto Estrada from Roberto’s Restaurant and Jesús and Elsa Rodríguez from Ranchway BBQ and Mexican Restaurant. This award is given to local businesses that support the arts through their commitment to all people.

The 2nd annual children’s parade invites pets to join the festivities on Saturday morning. All children who participate in the parade receive a free book. Children’s activities include The Tent of Wonders, a family and children’s storytelling tent and activity area.

Invited children’s authors include Malín Alegria, author of Estrella’s Quinceañera, René Colato Laínez, author of Loteria and Rene, the Boy, Monica Brown, winner of the 2004 Americas Award for children’s literature, author of My Name is Celia, about Celia Cruz.

Other featured writers include Reyna Grande, author of the haunting immigrant tale, Across A Hundred Miles, Sherwin Bistui, Navajo poet and recent winner of the Whiting Poetry award, Richard Shelton, University of Arizona professor and director of the longest running prison writing workshops in the U.S.

Mexican poet Osvaldo Ogaz is Arts Director of La Escuelo de Mejoramiento para Menores in Juárez, a Juevenile prison, and Chinese Mexican poet Selfa Chew is currently a resident of El Paso working on a degree at The University of Texas at El Paso. David Dorado Romo, a true fronterizo/border citizen is the author of Ringside Seat to a Revolution: The Cultural History of Juárez and El Paso, winner of various awards. Romo the son of Mexican immigrants, is an essayist, historian, translator, and musician. Connie Voisine is a an assistant professor of creative writing at New Mexico State University and author of Cathedral of the North, winner of the 2001 AWP Prize in Poetry.

The 2007 festival will include musicians New Mexico treasure Cipriano Vigil, Johnny Flores, Johnny Whelan, Nancy Green, Afro-Mexican musician and an Irish group comprised of various members of the Deming Fusiliers including fiddler Rus Bradburd, author of Paddy on the Hardwood.

Poet, translator and historian Estevan Arellano will give a plática/talk on Ancient Agriculture accompanied by the music of Cipriano Vigil, who is composing a corrido for the festival.

Each aspect of the 2007 festival will include its accompaniment in the musical realm.

On Sunday, April 22, the festival finale will be a Música de La Gente, a musical celebration of world music. Dr. Enrique Lamadrid, musical historian and writer will be the MC. Other artists include Micaela Seidel, puppeteer, Michelle Otero, who will offer a Writing and Yoga Workshop, and Melinda Palacios and Steve Beisner, directors of Ink Byte, a Santa Barbara zine that will feature the work of creative writing workshop participants.

The BBF will be bringing various authors in to visit local schools, community centers and special audiences. If you are interested in sponsoring an author visit, please contact the BBF. Trade show applications are also available. Volunteers are needed and welcome.

For more information contact the BBF at its home base at the Cultural Center de Mesilla, PO Drawer T, Mesilla, NM 88046. 505-523-3988. www.borderbookfestival.org

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Open letter to Luis Rodriguez and Pat Mora

Dear Luis y Pat ---

In many ways this letter has been a long time coming. I've sent small thank you notes, sung your praises, although I suspect I am one voice among many. You've both cast a long shadow in my life, but as I sit here writing, una sombra is not really an accurate description. Light, you have been light, incandescent in your own right, shining with the fire of your own words, and with the generosity you've shown to me and others time and time again. And because I'm a poet, and a romantic, I think I'll run with the metaphor.

You’ve both lit my way back home to myself, to who I am as a writer. For better or worse, gave me your support without hesitation, without expectation, and now I finally have some way to let others know how life changing it was. Luis, it's been over 15 years now, but I will never forget sitting in a coffee shop/bookstore on Milwaukee Avenue here in holding my breath as you read my first poetry chapbook. Amazing thing is that I'd been a few times to the Guild Complex while you were still based out of there. I didn't know you, or more importantly, you didn't know me. You met with me after I looked you up in the phone book, basically stalked you, leaving phone message after phone message with Trini. (God bless her for putting up with that!)

As I sat there, palms sweaty, heart rattling in my chest, you read through the manuscript, telling me what you liked and why, what phrases captured you, what could be sharpened. When it was all over, I told you that I wanted to be a writer. "You already are," was what you said. We never met again like that face to face, although I came to see you read several times after that. It didn't matter to me, in my mind and heart, I called you friend.

In the intervening years, we stayed in touch by e-mail, you leaving for Califas, writing more books, me continuing to establish myself. You never hesitated to produce letters of recommendation for me, for projects I hoped to fund, to offer generous quotes for chapbooks, even one recently for Sister Chicas. What is amazing is that a couple of weeks ago, before general public knew about losing the Tía Chucha space, I asked you to be a reference for me for a job I really wanted. What you wrote back was that things were a little hectic, but that you'd do what you could, not that the bookstore had to move, nor that you were incredibly stressed, busy, or hassled. Typical. And an object lesson for me.

And Doña Pat, you too, have been the victim of my stalking, responding with kindness to a stranger. Several years back, I stumbled across your masterful poem, 'Coatlicue's Rules,' was entranced by its layers, the way it blended domestic work with Aztec myth. I was struggling to find something to excerpt for a performance piece I was working on, this seemed perfect. Through a barrage of e-mails to your publisher, with sample of the work-in-progress-attached, no less, I finally secured a way to contact you.

Like the sinvergüenza I am about these things, I mailed you the whole kitchen sink. What I got in return was a lovely letter supporting what I was trying to do and rights to use the piece I wanted. When Sister Chicas was in its final stages, I wrote you again, asking you to read it, and if you could, give a book cover quote. My co-authors and I got one that moved us to tears, as well as e-mails from you that made our hearts sing about the characters, about the recipes in the book, about who which 'girl' you identified with the most. And one of my singular blessings has been your offer of friendship, inviting me to your home when I visited New Mexico.

Over lunch you provided me with sage advice about publishing, marketing, academia, as well notes when I got back to Chicago about taking care of myself as my marriage ended. That you made time for me, when you're still deep in your own work, in securing a place in the public's mind for Día de los Niños. Unbelievable. I could end this here, just saying I send my love and respect, but it seems necessary to say what I've learned.

That what we do is more than our body of work, however beautiful and deeply moving. That we stand on the shoulders of all those who've come before, that we give back because they still live in us. More importantly perhaps, that the seeds with which they live again are within us, that they can only burst forth and blossom in what we offer others. With your example before me, I can only hope to be of use.

Blogmeister's Note: La Bloga happily recognizes our expansion to six regular columnists occupying the five weekdays. Rudy Garcia has taken a sabbatical owing to requirements of his professional responsibilities as a public school educator. Lisa Alvarado now appears on Thursday, in Lisa's spot.

As La Bloga regularly reminds readers, we welcome guest columnists. Lisa joined us first as the subject of a book review, next as a guest columnist, and today as a regular La Bloga Bloguera. If you're interested in sharing an idea, a review, an experience, an event or happening, please click here and send your material along with a bio and a mugshot.

And comments! We welcome and encourage your comments! Please, share your responses to stuff you read here at La Bloga. We love the sight of comments in the morning, it reminds us of... community!

Hasta, les wachamos, and Read! Gente.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Unfolding Lives

By guest essayist Désirée Zamorano

There's a Middle Eastern grocery store that I often visit, for its ingredients and excellent produce prices. One afternoon, not too long ago, guilt forced me to shop without my young daughter.

That afternoon I stood lifting my plastic sacks of beans, rice, chiles, fava beans out of the cart and onto the counter while my daughter exhibited her usual irrepressibility, causing the cashier, to smile at her, offer her a candy, and then say in mildly accented English, "She reminds me of my own daughter."

Ah, and what is your daughter up to now, I asked.

"She was going to be a doctor. She was an excellent student. And a happy girl. Up until the day she died. Car accident."

The cashier rang up my purchases, glanced at my daughter, then turned away and began wiping her tears. I stammered something about being so sorry. I didn't bring my daughter shopping with me again. I couldn’t bear the longing in the woman’s look.

Awhile ago we were house hunting in the Pasadena area. We finally settled on a home in Altadena, but occasionally I drove through a charming neighborhood to keep tabs on a home we didn't make an offer on, one that seemed so inviting, so full of the promise of family life, with its two storeys, its gables, a child's nursery in the attic, that it seemed destined for a happy family. As time passed I noticed baby accessories then toddler toys sprouting on the front yard; I caught a glimpse of the parents playing with their children. A sense of pleasure filled me, that of a mother of toddlers watching others like herself.

More time passed and as I drove by I noticed that the father appeared ill.

Now as he pushed a stroller up the tree-lined street he was bald. This home began to hold a morbid fascination for me, and I purposefully drove up that street more frequently. I caught a glimpse of him in a wheelchair, then he disappeared from sight completely.

Oh no, I thought to myself.

A "For Sale" sign appeared. Then that family was gone.

Twenty years ago I took a train from Boston to New Haven, during a time in my life someone I loved fiercely was dying, and my life was spinning into dizzying, sickening, circles. The young lady sitting next to me reluctantly struck up a conversation, but somehow it turned to her plans, once she graduated from Brown in month.

"I am going to California. One day I'll run a major film studio," she announced matter-of-factly. "And I know exactly how I'm going to do it."

In the midst of my own grief, being sideswiped by life seemed more probable, but I was fascinated by someone whose life's plan was so clear to her.

The cashier of my produce store stopped showing up. When I asked about her, another woman said, in a pitiless voice, "She was a teacher in her own country. What was she doing here?"

Through a friend in the neighborhood I found out that that young father did indeed die, and his widow moved back east, to her family.

As I think about them now, I prefer to imagine that the cashier is a teaching assistant somewhere, if not a teacher; that the survivors of that father have found something wonderful, if not to replace him, but to enrich their lives. And that driven young woman? I like to believe that her name flashes on the screen at the beginning of the TV shows I watch, or at the end of the films I see.

So many stories if we merely open our eyes and ears to perceive them. Then fill in the blanks to suit our own needs.

Désirée Zamorano’s story “Mercy” was recently published in the Los Angeles Times’ West Magazine. She is currently at work on her novel, The Amado Women, and is delighted to be a contributor to La Bloga.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Francisco Aragón Selected for Award and Residency

Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

I received the following press release (by Kyle Chamberlin) regarding a friend of La Bloga, the poet Francisco Aragón. ¡Felicidades!

PRESS RELEASE: The Alliance of Artists Communities recently named poet Francisco Aragón a recipient of the Midwestern Voices and Visions award. A faculty member in the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, he was one of seven award recipients from a pool of 115 nominated artists and writers.

Funded by the Joyce Foundation, the Midwestern Voices and Visions award acts as a patron for highly talented minority artists in the Great Lakes region. Aragón will spend September 2007 focusing exclusively on his writing at the residential artist community of the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Red Wing, Minn.

“My work at the Institute for Latino Studies consists, in large part, of being a champion and advocate of other Latino and Latina writers,” Aragón said. “The demands of the job … have made it very difficult to devote sustained, quality time to my own work. The timing of this award could not have been better. It’s very gratifying to know that there are foundations and initiatives that support artists from under-represented communities.”

Aragón directs the Letras Latinas literary program at Notre Dame and founded the Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize, the first contest in the United States to encourage emerging Latino poets. In addition to his own books, including the Puerta del Sol collection, Aragón has published in several anthologies. He currently is editing a compilation of Latino poetry scheduled to be published later this year.

◙ Paul Martínez Pompa was a recent featured poet on Shark Forum. Martínez Pompa received his B.A. from the University of Chicago and his M.F.A. from Indiana University. Last year, Momotombo Press released Martínez Pompa’s poetry chapbook, Pepper Spray. In the introduction, Luis J. Rodríguez says that his poems “sizzle like Chicago on a sticky August night—as gunfire, a woman’s moans, a child’s cry, glass breaking, a drunken man falling, and a lonely saxophone drenches notes through blast-opened windows in leaning three-story brick buildings.”

◙ In March, the University of Texas Press will release, What Wildness Is This: Women Write about the Southwest. I see that there are many favorites included in this anthology such as Denise Chávez, Pat Mora and Sandra Ramos O'Briant. The editors describe the anthology as a “collection [that] is a celebration both of the natural world and of personal story. It gathers together women's writing about their experiences in the natural world of the Southwest, from the Gulf coast of Texas to the Pacific coast of California, from the southern borderlands into the southern Great Plains and southern Rockies. Taken as a whole, these pieces demonstrate and illuminate not only the rich diversity of landscapes of the Southwest, but the extraordinary range of women's voices and women's experiences of the land as well.” Read an excerpt.

◙ Lucha Corpi tells us of a new blog dedicated to Latin American writers, El Boomeran(g).

Daniel Hernandez, writing for the LA Weekly, recounts Tía Chucha’s Cafe Cultural's sad news which we've reported here on La Bloga. Pictured below are the three founders of this vibrant bookstore, cafe and community center, Enrique Sanchez, Maria Trinidad Rodriquez and Luis J. Rodriquez. Hernandez's article begins:

"In a perfect world, there would be a Tia Chucha’s Cafe Cultural on every other street corner in L.A. You’d walk in, get a coffee and a couple tamales, browse through the deep selection of novels, histories and children’s books, and maybe catch a young person working on an art project, learning son jarocho or reading their poetry. You’d get the feeling that most people who walk into Tia Chucha’s say they get when they’re there: that it’s genuinely welcoming, a place where people come to express themselves, share and be nourished. You wouldn’t want to leave.... The café is facing an eviction in February after five years of operating at an undistinguished strip mall on Glenoaks Boulevard. The owners want to bring in a laundry...."

To learn more about how to help, visit Tía Chucha’s website.

◙ If you tend to skip La Bloga on the weekends (nursing that hangover with a hot bowl of menudo, no doubt), well, shame, shame, shame. We might send Rudy (the enforcer) to your home to spank some sense into you. If you're one of those unfortunate folks, you missed Saturday's special guest bloguero, René Colato, the award-winning children’s book author. Here is the post where he reviews two new books. You should also visit his website for more information on his work. Now, send Rudy your address so he can pay a visit and impose a little discipline.

◙ My review of Inlandia: A Literary Journey through California's Inland Empire (Heyday Books / Santa Clara University), edited by Wattawa, appeared in the El Paso Times yesterday. I note, part: “No review can fully capture the breadth and spirit of this remarkable anthology. Suffice it to say that each author surprises, informs and entertains. 'Inlandia' paints a complex and compelling portrait of a region that is simultaneously beautiful and harsh, multicultural and alienating, vibrant and destructive. Without question, it is a portrait that commands our respect.”

◙ That’s all for now. Until next Monday, ¡Lea un libro!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Guest columnist: René Colato Reviews Two Children's Books.


René Colato

Large-scale immigration is one of the most important social developments of our time. It is a transformational process affecting families and their children. The children of immigrants make up 20 percent of all youth in the United States. When immigrant children come to the United States, they experience a variety of emotional and cognitive adjustments in the new country. They have left behind a language, a culture and a community. From one moment to another, their familiar world changes into an unknown world of uncertainties. There is only one thing that they can hold on to, their names. No matter where they go, their name will always be the same. Unfortunately, many immigrant children are forced to change their names. They go through mixed emotions of identity and in one way or another they have to cope or fight this change.

There are a number of pictures books and young adult novels that deal with this topic. In order to write about identity in immigrant children, authors need to write an acculturation story, a story where the protagonist becomes part of the mainstream culture without discarding past meaningful traditions, values, and language. Authors have to validate the children’s names, language, roots and culture. They have to make immigrant children and any other reader feel proud and happy of whom they really are.

My Name is Jorge On Both Sides of the River is a collection of 27 poems about Jorge’s immigrant experience. Jorge loves his name. He doesn’t want to be called George. Jane Medina writes,

“My name is Jorge.
I know that my name is Jorge.
But everyone calls me
What an ugly sound!
Like a sneeze!”

In this poem Jane Medina is validating Jorge’s name. Jorge is not a sneeze; he is a child. Even though George is the literal translation for Jorge, for the child it is another different word not related at all to his name.

In the poems Jorge goes through mixed emotions. He does not understand the new language; he is not as smart as he was in Mexico any more; he becomes the invisible child.

In one of the last poems, Jane presents a proud Jorge that even gives his teacher a lesson.

George, please call me “Mrs. Roberts.”
Yes, Teacher.
George, please don’t call me “teacher!”
Yes, T- I mean, Mrs. Roberts.
You see, George, it’s a sign of respect to call me by my last name.
Yes…Mrs. Roberts.
Besides, when you say it, it sounds like “t-shirt.”
I don’t want to be turn into a t-shirt!
Mrs. Roberts?
Yes, George?
Please, call me Jorge.“

At the end of the book Jane Medina has an acculturation story. Jorge will not lose his roots. He lives and studies in the United States, but he will always be Jorge on both sides of the river.

The chapter book novel
My Name is María Isabel by Alma Flor Ada, tells the story of María Isabel Salazar López. In her new classroom, there are two other María’s. The teacher decides to call her Mary López. Maria Isabel, like Jorge, finds it hard to respond to a name that does not seem like hers.

Since she does not readily recognize this new name, María Isabel is continually scolded for being inattentive; worse, her pride in being named after her grandmothers is dishonored.
María Isabel is very confused. She is getting in trouble and missing out on things because she does not know who Mary López is. She does not get a part in a winter play because she does not recognize her name when the teacher is assigning roles.

How can she find a way to make her teacher see that if she loses her name, she loses the most important part of herself? Alma Flor answers this question at the end of the story. The teacher asks the student to write an essay about their greatest wish.

“When I started to write I thought my greatest wish was to make a snowman. Then I thought my greatest wish was to have a part in the Winter Pageant. But I think my greatest wish is to be called María Isabel Salazar López. When that was my name, I felt proud of being named María like papá’s mother, and Isabel like my grandmother Chabela. If I was called María Isabel Salazar López, I could listen better in class because it is easier to hear than Mary López.”

Alma Flor Ada writes a powerful story of self-identity. She is affirming María Isabel’s heritage. This is another acculturation story. María Isabel will gain another culture but she will not lose her name and native culture.

I also had mixed emotions when I came here to the United States. I also was an immigrant child. I feel very related to Jorge, and María Isabel. I was not only confused with the new language but also with my name. In Latin American countries René is a name for boys. But not here, when I came to my new classroom there was a girl named Renee. I could not understand how a girl could be named Renee. René was me, a boy. Thanks to these experiences, I wrote the picture book I am René, the Boy.

When a writer writes a story of self-identity about immigrant children or about any other child, she or he needs to take into consideration the child’s background. For immigrant children their names, culture and language are very important. These are things that they can hold on to while learning a new language and a new culture. If they lose these things, they become invisible. That is why it is very important for the writer to write an acculturation story. El que habla dos lenguas vale por dos.

Ada, Alma Flor. My Name is María Isabel. Illustrated by K. Dyble Thompson. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1993.

Medina, Jane. My Name Is Jorge On Both Sides of the River. Illustrated by Fabricio Vanden Broeck. Honesdale: Boyds Mills Press, Inc., 1999.

Guest Columnist Bio

Known by his students as "the teacher full of stories,” René Colato Laínez is the Salvadoran author of several bilingual picture books including I Am René, the Boy/ Soy René, el niño (Piñata Books), Waiting for Papá/Esperando a papá (Piñata Books), and Playing Lotería/ El juego de la lotería (Luna Rising). His picture book I Am René, the Boy recently received the Latino Book Award for Best Bilingual Children’s Book of 2006 and a Special Recognition in the 2006 Paterson Prize for Books for Young People. Playing Lotería was named a Best Children’s Book of 2005 by Criticas Magazine and won an International Book Award for Best Cover Illustrations. His latest book, My Shoes and I is forthcoming from Boyd Mills Press. He also writes poems and short stories for the Spanish-language children’s magazine, Revista Iguana.

René Colato Laínez is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. He is a teacher at Fernangeles Elementary School in Sun Valley, California. www.renecolatolainez.com

Blogmeister's Note: What a great week it's been. Thursday, we introduced guest columnist Lisa Alvarado. Lisa joins us again next Thursday, January 25. Saturday we greet René Colato, and look forward to his next column the following Saturday. Next Tuesday, in Michael Sedano's regular spot, look for guest columnist Desirée Zamorano. Several other writers have been in touch with promises of upcoming guest columns! Welcome, all our guests and may we have many happy returns. If you, too, would like to become a La Bloga guest, it's an easy process. Come up with something to say and send it here with a click!

Friday, January 19, 2007

New Stuff

Manuel Ramos

This post is a short roundup of recently released and upcoming books that sound as though they belong on my TBR list. The information is from the publishers -- I haven't read any of these yet; if you do and you want to share your review, give us a buzz.


Lengua Fresca: Latinos Writing on the Edge
Ilan Stavans and Harold Augenbraum, editors
Mariner Books - Publication Date: November, 2006
From the Houghton Mifflin website:

"Brazen, bold, edgy, and fresh: an unexpected take on Latino life, spotlighting some of the culture's most exciting innovative and emerging voices.

An entertaining, provocative and often exhilarating collection, Lengua Fresca celebrates some of the most original and cutting-edge work to emerge from the cultural collide that is Latino life in the United States. Featuring an eclectic mix of Latino writing including fiction, journalism, essays, comics, and even cultural ephemera, this unique anthology showcases literature found in unexpected places. Selections include stories from Salvador Plascencia, Christina Henriquez, and Ana Menendez; graphic pieces from the Hernandez brothers (creators of the groundbreaking comix Love and Rockets) and Lalo Alcaraz (creator of La Cucaracha); and essays by Stephanie Elizondo Griest and Dagoberto Gilb on pop culture topics such as The George Lopez Show and Taco Bell. The growth of Spanglish, the lingua franca of Hispanic communities, is highlighted as well. Compiled by the editors of the classroom favorite Growing Up Latino, Lengua Fresca offers an unconventional window on a vibrant, quickly expanding culture."

Latina Mistress by R.F. Sanchez
Floricanto Press - Publication Date: Fall, 2006
From the Floricanto website:

"This novel follows the long tradition of historical fiction in the sense that all the anecdotes told here are actually true, although the names have been changed to protect the guilty. The author gathered these very human stories through years of observation as well as personal experience and much research. The author and his wife, Helen, actually knew personally Berta, one of the tragic heroines of this novel. He also interviewed scores of males and females of both cultures attesting to the accuracy of the story. What is a young and beautiful [immigrant] to do to survive two alien worlds, the Hispanic and Anglo worlds, with their own good and evil characters? The answer is shivering in its clarity: whatever is required. This novel depicts the dramatic lives of two beautiful sisters, both [immigrants], and how some people take advantage of their weakness and their sex. In this sense this novel is a classic tale of what has always occurred with the disadvantaged all along; the powerful taking advantage of the weaker and more disadvantaged members of society."


So Far from Allah, So Close to Mexico: Middle Eastern Immigrants in Modern Mexico
Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp
From the University of Texas Press website:

"Middle Eastern immigration to Mexico is one of the intriguing, untold stories in the history of both regions. In So Far from Allah, So Close to Mexico, Theresa Alfaro-Velcamp presents the fascinating findings of her extensive fieldwork in Mexico as well as in Lebanon and Syria, which included comprehensive data collection from more than 8,000 original immigration cards as well as studies of decades of legal publications and the collection of historiographies from descendents of Middle Eastern immigrants living in Mexico today.

Adding an important chapter to studies of the Arab diaspora, Alfaro-Velcamp's study shows that political instability in both Mexico and the Middle East kept many from fulfilling their dreams of returning to their countries of origin after realizing wealth in Mexico, in a few cases drawing on an imagined Phoenician past to create a class of economically powerful Lebanese Mexicans. She also explores the repercussions of xenophobia in Mexico, the effect of religious differences, and the impact of key events such as the Mexican Revolution.

Challenging the post-revolutionary definitions of mexicanidad and exposing new aspects of the often contradictory attitudes of Mexicans toward foreigners, So Far from Allah, So Close to Mexico should spark timely dialogues regarding race and ethnicity, and the essence of Mexican citizenship."

The Desert Remembers My Name: On Family and Writing
Kathleen Alcalá
From the University of Arizona Press website:

"We were here when the white people came, the Spaniards, then the Americans. And we will be here when they go away, [my father] would say, and it will be part of Mexico again. Thus begins a lyrical and entirely absorbing collection of personal essays by esteemed Chicana writer and gifted storyteller Kathleen Alcalá. Loosely linked by an exploration of the many meanings of family, these essays move in a broad arc from the stories and experiences of those close to her to those whom she wonders about, like Andrea Yates, a mother who drowned her children. In the process of digging and sifting, she is frequently surprised by what she unearths. Her family, she discovers, were Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition who took on the trappings of Catholicism in order to survive. Although the essays are in many ways personal, they are also universal. When she examines her family history, she is encouraging us to inspect our own families, too. When she investigates a family secret, she is supporting our own search for meaning. And when she writes that being separated from our indigenous culture is a form of illiteracy, we know exactly what she means. After reading these essays, we find that we have discovered not only why Kathleen Alcalá is a writer but also why we appreciate her so much. She helps us to find ourselves."

Hurricanes and Carnivals: Essays by Chicanos, Pochos, Pachucos, Mexicanos, and Expatriates

Edited by Lee Gutkind
From University of Arizona website:

"In Hurricanes and Carnivals, Lee Gutkind, a pioneer in the teaching of creative nonfiction, brings together fifteen essays by Mexican, Mexican American, and Latin American writers that push the boundaries of style and form, showing that navigating truth is anything but clear-cut. Although creative nonfiction is widely thought to be an American art form, this collection proves otherwise. By blending fact and fiction, story and fantasy, history and mythology, these writers and others push the bounds of the essay to present a vision of Mexico rarely seen from this side of the border. Addressing topics that include immigration, politics, ecology, violence, family, and sexuality, they take literary license on a whirlwind adventure. C. M. Mayo shows us Mexico City as seen through the eyes of her pug, Picadou; Juan Villoro examines modern Mexico through the lens of demography; Homero Aridjis uses the plight of nesting sea turtles to document a slowly changing Mexican attitude toward natural resources; and Sam Quinones documents the decline of beauty-queen addiction in Mazatlán and tells us about the flower festivals where, according to lore, only two things matter: hurricanes and carnivals. For readers interested in a literary view of contemporary Mexico, as well as students of the creative nonfiction genre, this volume is essential."

The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry
Edited by Francisco Aragón
From the University of Arizona website:

"The Wind Shifts gathers, for the first time, works by emerging Latino and Latina poets in the twenty-first century. Here readers will discover 25 new and vital voices including Naomi Ayala, Richard Blanco, David Dominguez, Gina Franco, Sheryl Luna, and Urayoán Noel. All of the writers included in this volume have published poetry in well-regarded literary magazines. Some have published chapbooks or first collections, but none had published more than one book at the time of selection. This results in a freshness that energizes the enterprise."

A Question of Gravity and Light
Blas Falconer
From the University of Arizona website:

"As a gay man who embraces his Puerto Rican heritage, Falconer stands at an edge of American society, and there is the tension of borders in his work: borders between peoples and nations as well as the less visible, more porous and deceptive borders between family members and lovers. There is not one point of view in these poems but many. It is the quality of their observational power that binds them together. Whether the setting is the hospital room of his dying grandfather or his own backyard teeming with garrulous tree frogs, Falconer transports us to the scene. It is easy for us to imagine what he sees. And we care, deeply, just as he does."

Raven Eye
Margo Tamez
From the University of Arizona website:

"Written from thirteen years of journals, psychic and earthly, this poetry maps an uprising of a borderland indigenous woman battling forces of racism and sexual violence against Native women and children. This lyric collection breaks new ground, skillfully revealing an unseen narrative of resistance on the Mexico-U.S. border. A powerful blend of the oral and long poem, and speaking into the realm of global movements, these poems explore environmental injustice, sexualized violence, and indigenous women's lives."

Plenty of good reading.

Remember that La Bloga is open seven days a week. Come back this weekend and enjoy lively posts by guest contributors. We are excited about all the new voices here at La Bloga. It's a fresh year with fresh blood. And it's all good.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Guest Columnist: Lisa Alvarado

[Note: Lisa Alvarado's (with two co-writers) novel, Sister Chicas, was reviewed by La Bloga in May 2006. It's a pleasure to welcome Lisa as our Thursday guest.]


It's a specific and singular description, it is a political distinction, un sabor especíal.

My story has its roots in Mexíco, transgressing the border, morphing into a passion play in America. But I'm not American in the quintessential sense, certainly not Anglo. This story is about hunger, longing for a mythological homeland, in both Mexíco y la tierra Azteca, hidden en un libro de papel picado. This article is about an identity split at the roots, straddling the border, an identity that is fed by Aztlán--southwest desert, standing under an open sky on at a crossroad in rural Oaxaca, and finally by urban asphalt in Chicago.

Like so many second generation children of immigrants, I was raised to be 'successful'—to speak English---English first, English only. I lived in a world of hot dogs and carnitas, cerveza and yard parties, comic books and prime time TV, but there was always something missing. My parents spoke English only in our house, English with a vengeance. And they clucked their tongues at me when I tried to talk in Spanish con unos de mis abuelitos.

And for all the effort to be upright and middle American, we couldn't pull it off---we loved our music too loud, shimmied too much when we danced, cooked with epazote and savored chorizo and nopales. We never fit, we never meshed, and somehow I knew there was an answer somewhere in the geography of my grandparents' faces, las caras ancianas, las caras índias. But I needed words as the key, I needed what Spanish I could find, wherever I could find it.

When I was a teenager, I snuck off and learned what snatches of phrases and sentences I could from my grandfather, glimpsed into a family history rarely talked about in a mix of English and Spanish. My parents chided me, teased me. After all, we were an American family living in our Chicago northwest-side two-flat. What mattered was that we were here and we were making the good life happen. I never argued with my parents about their choices, they worked too hard to pay the mortgage on that red brick with the driveway, worked too hard to feed us, clothe us, send us to Catholic school. Instead, I developed a secret life, I thought that my guilty pleasure, these talks on the sly would satisfy me. Little did I know that the opposite would be true.

I said before that this was a story about mythology, and it was, it is. I romanced mis raices Mejícanas y Chicanas, drew strength from them. Before I became a writer, I spent years as a campus activist, agitator, union organizer. As a writer, however, I began to find flesh for the bones, the juicy, lush curves of language, of history. But somehow, it was a step removed, real and unreal like the state between dreaming and wakefulness.

Years passed and I found that the verdant landscape of language had seduced me. I became a writer, hoping to touch the hem of the skirt of history and ancestry. Mexíco gave me birth, in blood and pain, in ecstatic and arcane knowledge, in joy and sorrow, but I live some where else, beyond Mexíco, somewhere even beyond Aztlán, although I feel its tethers, too. As an adult I lived in D.F., traveled in Oaxaca, visited New Mexico and Colorado, but there was always something missing, something I now know I had to find in myself, in Chicago, something about heritage and identity that is both seeded in the bones and something I choose to create every day.

Now, at mid-life, I am more at peace with the way these worlds have collided, perished and continue to be reborn in me. I speak what Spanish I can without shame or guilt, I dig deep for the things that nurture and fill me, here in Chicago, and in the real and imagined sojourns to a place called home.


In this dream,
I am whole.
I am no longer
saving other people's stories,
scavenging their words,
sifting through their remains.
In this dream,
My fingers run
through Frida's hair.
In her hair I plait dark flowers
the color of blood.

She tells me
the jaguar comes to bring me power,
the medicine to end this pain,
the food for this hunger.
In this dream,
I have made magic from the mud of the Rio Grande.
Wrapped in corridas and ranchero music
are spells and incantations
to undo the age of forgetfulness and indoctrination.
In this dream,
I have a lover whose face is stone,
ancient as a temple marker.
His mouth is full,
his eyes half-closed.
He whispers:
Come to me, mi índia,
mi pequeña perdida.
Remember who you are,
Remember who you are.

Mexico: ninety days and counting or You really can't go home again

iridescent electric pink
line the boulevard
next to where
someone's pissing
right in the middle of the day
yesterday's pozole
slick and greenish
stains the street
around the corner
from the Monument to the Revolution
there a golden angel
looks down on prostitutes
with imitation Chanel bags
and taxis are
green and yellow beetles
carrying sour businessmen
who ask the teenage pimps
how much
the cross-eyed
boy in the Lucha Libre mask
stares at me
and runs past barefoot beggar children
in clown makeup
but the clowns never smile
and they're on every corner
they block the path
of women gong to work
wearing not quite
put together
cheap copies
of clothes they saw
in Vogue or Cosmo
but nothing really matches
they always wear
white heels
or a belt with a giant buckle
and the requisite miniskirt that makes
their ass stand out
to that the pesero driver
with one gold tooth
always holds their change for just that extra second
I don't get the shits
but baby-faced doctors run IV's in both arms
for migraines and food poisoning
the fat man who served me
chiles rellenos
laughed at my buzz cut
and winked
when he slid me the plate
outside the ER
stand private guards
with tight lips and clenched pistols
working their job
they scowl at the howling sushi delivery boys
on motorbikes
who rush to the bar for a quick one
in between deliveries
inside the Museo Bellas Artes
I see the outstretched arms of Rivera's peasants
and refuse the outstretched arms
of the Indian sitting at the bus stop
I clutch my postcards
with Frida's self-portraits
the one with red dress
the one with the hammer and sickle body brace
down the street from my favorite helado stand
the one with flavors like guayaba, mango, cajeta
a man grabs my crotch to see
if I have any balls
I almost knock over
a tianguis stand of charro Barbies
the seller's daughter
a girl with an olive oval face
blinks her long lashes in disbelief
What is this American doing here?

Lisa Alvarado is a poet, performer, and installation artist, focusing on identity, spirit, and the body. She is the founder of La Onda Negra Press, and is author of Reclamo and The Housekeeper’s Diary, originally a book of poetry and now a one-woman performance, and is the recipient of grants from the Department of Cultural Affairs, The NEA, and the Ragdale Foundation.

The Housekeeper’s Diary, which dealt with her experiences as a domestic for one of Chicago’s wealthiest families, premiered nationally in Washington, D.C. in 2001, as a co-production with Sol y Soul and Gala Hispanic Theater. She has performed through out the U.S. and in Ajijic, Jalisco in Mexico. Lisa and her work have been featured in the Reader, The Chicago Tribune, Latino USA/National Public Radio, and Public Radio International. Her writing also received critical acclaim from such authors as Luis J. Rodriguez, who wrote..."...she is a fine poet, able to addresses deep concerns in crisp, trenchant language...The Housekeeper’s Diary...casts its spell on you...You will never see domestic work with the same eyes....”

Lisa has also completed an ambitious trilogy of performance pieces, REM/Memory, Bury The Bones and Resurgam, whose themes are the culture of violence, popular culture and personal redemption.

Her first novel, Sister Chicas (written with Ann Hagman Cardinal and Jane Alberdeston) has been bought by Penguin/NAL, and was released in April 2006. Sister Chicas is a coming of age story concerning the lives of three young Latinas living in Chicago.

Lisa: Welcome to La Bloga. La Bloguera and Los Blogueros look forward to your second column, next Thursday (January 25).

Please join us on Saturday, January 20, for a guest columnist. It will feature children's literature.

Don't hold back, gente. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists. Share your ideas, literary pieces, cultural observations, reviews and critiques. Don't hold back, hace clik