Friday, August 31, 2007

Working Class Heroes

Manuel Ramos

To commemorate Labor Day and the beginning of a long weekend for many of us, here's a review I posted a couple of years ago about an excellent example of working-class literature.

Music of the Mill
Luis J. Rodriguez

Rayo, 2005

What could be more natural than a Chicano working class novel? In fact, saying "Chicano working class" is almost redundant. Work (hard, sweaty, mind-numbing work) and Chicanos go hand-in-hand. It’s a little surprising that there haven’t been more novels that directly deal with the labor aspects of Chicano life or that at least have the working class atmosphere. Dagoberto Gilb’s fiction comes to mind, as do the stories in Michael Jaime-Becerra’s Every Night Is Ladies’ Night. And, without a doubt, the classic farm worker literature of Tomás Rivera and Helena María Viramontes would qualify.

In any event, Music of the Mill by Luis J. Rodriguez is working class to the core. The book tells the story of the Salcido family over three generations, beginning in 1943 in northern Mexico and finishing almost in the present in an L.A. barrio. The family patriarch, Procopio, finds work in the massive Nazareth steel mill, and thus begins the hate-love relationship between the Salcidos and the mill. When at last the mill shuts down, the family has sent almost every male in the family to work in the mill. And without the mill the family flounders.

The book is rich with descriptions of working in the mill, especially from the millwright’s perspective. Rodriguez places the reader in the day-to-day toil of the workers. Rodriguez knows the heat, noise, danger and intensity of the mill (he was a steelworker in the Bethlehem Steel Plant of Maywood, California), and he conveys his knowledge in clear, crisp prose, almost as hard as the steel produced by the mill.

The story eventually centers on Johnny, Procopio’s son. A former gang member and ex-con, Johnny finally straightens out with the help of a good woman, of course, and much of the book is taken up with his struggle for necessary reforms in the working conditions inside the mill, and with his fight against corruption in the union. Rodriguez presents a varied and intriguing cast of secondary characters: Communist organizers, Ku Klux Klan thugs, the first women steelworkers, union bureaucrats, corporate criminals, Mexika activists, pintos, workers of all races and ethnicities, and many more. They all come together in a story that rings as true as the pounding of a forge from the 32-inch mill onto red-orange steel ingots.

The final section of the book departs from the previous story line; in fact, to accent the departure, it is presented in the first person point-of-view of Johnny’s daughter, Azucena. For me, this was the weakest part of the book. I understand that the story had to go into the long-lasting effect of the closing of the mill on the community and families who had worked in it for years. But once the story leaves the mill, it meanders through drug abuse, domestic abuse, criminal life on the streets, and children who fall by the wayside (though they have what appear to be the greatest parents and supportive family) before a semblance of balance is restored in the Salcido family.

Even so, Rodriguez has crafted a book that should sit on anyone’s list of required reading if for no other reason than that he has given a strong and valid voice to the working men and women of an industrial era that has vanished. Rodriguez’s book ensures that their lives and struggles will not be forgotten.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Where Is Ana Mendieta?

Ana Mendieta was a Cuban performance artist who lived in New York in the 1970’s. The title Where Is Ana Mendieta, not only refers to the suspicious circumstances of her death, but to the nonexistent presence of the work of women artists in mainstream exhibitions, to the absence of work that portrays the aesthetic rooted in Latino cultural identity.

Mendieta boldly explored women’s identity, sexuality, and spirituality in pieces that were deceptively simple. Her work was constructed from the elements themselves, dirt, water, and light in their most basic forms; her themes revolved around the ideas of burial, rebirth, submersion in the natural world. From a perspective beyond the dominant culture's construct of nation, a construct of governments, the hegemony of conquerors, Mendieta's work reverberates with a older, indigenous idea of nation. It challenges the viewer to envision an idea of nation and identity based on a direct relation to the Earth itself.

In a series entitled Tree of Life, Mendieta flattened herself against a large oak tree. She is naked, covered with gesso and paint to simulate tree bark. Where does the tree stop and Medieta begin? Where do we stop and our connection with nature begin? Simply done and deeply resonant. I immediately saw a connection between this piece and a Mexican/Chicano idea of rootedness to place that is not hemmed by borders, but by history and ancestral links to land, to nature itself.

In another, untitled series, Mendieta is shown in a series of photos. Again, she is naked, this time in an isolated field. Next to her is a skeleton. The photos show her climbing onto the skeleton, embracing it. She creates a powerful image of the life/death cycle, as well as a quintessential Latino commentary on mortality. At the heart of existence, life and death are united in an eternal embrace. In the midst of life, its fullness, its lushness, its sensuality, Death is constant companion. While modern, European-based culture constantly seeks to avoid aging and mortality, there are traditions that accept its centrality. Mendieta brilliantly illustrates that death is both the beginning and endpoint of all things.

Mendieta worked closely with a variety of feminist artists, but did not label herself as feminist, and I understand the reticence in using the label. The women's artistic community did not offer a truly supportive relationship, and while she had meaningful connections with individual artists, her work was not be adequately appreciated by feminist and post-feminist critics. In a nutshell, Mendieta did not invent a new relationship to body and Earth, she reclaimed an ancient one, but was never embraced by the 'larger' artistic community.

I was profoundly moved by her work. The work is poetry, visual poetry, poetry made flesh. These are clear, visceral, and direct images that I hope to use as a touchstone in my writing and performing, particularly in performing. I want to tell a personal and universal story with my body, and Mendieta has created a standard for me, as well as strengthening and deepening a physical lexicon.

Blocker’s writing is dry and extremely formal, making this difficult going as a reader, but don't be dissuaded by that. I wonder if some of the density of language was more an expression of Blocker's own inability to grasp and express the power and simplicity of Mendieta. However, the book sings when Blocker allows the work to speak for itself.

ISBN-10: 0822323249
ISBN-13: 978-0822323242


Jane Blocker is a specialist in contemporary art and critical theory. She offers courses such as Art Since 1945, Contemporary Art, Alternative Media: Video, Performance, and Digital Art, as well as courses on gender and sexuality, and 20th century theory and criticism.

Her research has focused primarily on performance art as it developed concurrently with postmodern, feminist, and constructionist theories. Her first book, Where is Ana Mendieta? Identity, Performativity and Exile (Duke University Press, 1999), considers the artist's work in relation to the performative production of identity. What the Body Cost: Desire, History, and Performance. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), her second book, critically examines the historiography of mid-twentieth century performance. Her current book, called Seeing Witness: Essays on Contemporary Art and Testimony, examines the witness as a privileged subject position by analyzing installations, performances, photographs, and films by such artists as Alfredo Jaar, James Luna, Eduardo Kac, Christine Borland, Felix Gonzales-Torres, and Ann Hamilton.

In addition, she has published the following essays: "This Being You Must Create: Transgenic Art and Seeing the Invisible," Cultural Studies 17, no. 2 (2003): 192-209; "A Cemetery of Images: Meditations on the Burial of Photographs," Visual Resources XX, no. 2 (May 2004) ; "Binding to Another s Wound: Of Weddings and Witness," in After Criticism: New Responses to Contemporary Art, edited by Gavin Butt. (London: Blackwell, 2005); "Failures of Self-Seeing: James Luna Remembers Dino," Performing Arts Journal XXIII, #1 (January 2001):18-32; "The Art of Renters," in From Your House to Our House, exhibition catalogue (Atlanta: Nexus Contemporary Art Center, 1999); "Woman-House: Architecture, Gender and Hybridity in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?," in Camera Obscura 39 (November 1998):126-150; "Ana Mendieta and the Politics of the Venus Negra," in Farquhar, et al, eds. (Un)fixing Representation, special issue of Cultural Studies 12, #1 (January 1998):31-50; "The Bed Took Up Most of the Room," in Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane, eds., The End(s) of Performance (New York: N.Y.U. Press, 1997); and Nancy Spero/Leon Golub: Contemporaries, exhibition catalogue (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University, Elaine L. Jacob Gallery, 1997).

Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Macondo 2007 Highlights

René Colato Laínez

These pictures are courtesy of many Macondistas. ¡Gracias!

*The Macondo Writing Workhop was celebrated from July 29 to August 5 in San Antonio, Texas.

*Most of the Macondistas stayed at the Our Lady of the Lake University dorms.

*Our famosas workshop teachers were Joy Harjo and Dorothy Allison.

*Our Macondistas teachers were Levi Romero, Liliana Valenzuela,
Alex Espinoza and Jackie Cuevas.

*We had great seminars throught the week. Just check the titles and presenters.
-Borderlands With in Us by Dr. Marga Speicher.
-Creating Real Life Characters- Yourself and Others by Gregg Barrios.
-Making Peace in Time of War by Baldemar Velasquez and Amelia Mesa-Baines
-The Political Essay by Norma Alarcon and Macarena Hernandez.

*Our invited literary agent was the talented Stefanie Von Borstel from Full Circle Literary.

*Natalia Treviño organized the Bexar County Juvenile Detention Center visit.

*Noche de Macondo at Esperanza Peace and Justice Center was a blast. Joy Harjo gave us a great concert.

*Jump-Start Theatre featured Dorothy Allison. Two or Three Things I know For Sure are that Dorothy is great, great and great.

*Lucha Corpi and Dr. Amalia Mesa-Bains received the Gloria Anzaldua’s Milagro Award.

*The yoga teacher was our Macondista Michelle Otero.

*The readings at Macondo BBQ were amazing and unpredictable.

*The talented children's Book Author Amada Irma Pérez read at the San Antonio Public Library.

*And as always Sandra Cisneros was our angel, amiga, consejera and la mera mera. Sandra all the Macondistas love you!

About the Macondo Workshop

The Macondo Writing Workshop is a unique summer gathering for writers working on geographic, cultural, social and spiritual borders.

Founded in 1995 by writer Sandra Cisneros and named after the sleepy town in Gabriel García Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, the week-long workshop transforms San Antonio, Texas — and more broadly, La Frontera — into a space of intense artistic and cultural creativity.

Macondo is a master's-level workshop, meaning that participants are expected to take their writing seriously and to have fulfilled at least one of the following:

1. published a book or several stories in journals or magazines,
2. enrolled in or completed an MFA program, or
3. studied under at least three professional writers.

An essential aspect of the Macondo ethic is a global sense of community; workshop members should, in addition to being already established and capable of participating in a master's-level class, recognize their place as writers in our society and the world.

A second element of the Macondo ethic is a spirit of generosity. In the spirit of Sandra Cisneros, who volunteers valuable writing time for the nourishment of other writers.

Monetary contributions are accepted from those with better means to assist workshop participants who cannot fund their own airfare and lodging.

In addition, workshop members are expected to review each other's work with rigor and vision. Time is viewed as a gift equal to that of money, so time given is as valuable as cash!

The workshop is divided into three mixed-genre groups, each of them headed by an accomplished writer or team of writers. After attending one year, participants are allowed to enroll in Sandra Cisneros' class.

Mornings are spent individually reading each other's work, afternoons consist of "workshopping" by groups, and evenings are spent discussing various artistic, political and spiritual issues related to writing.

For more information visit

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Review: Telling Tongues. A Latinarroba Anthology on Language Experience.

Edited by Louis G. Mendoza & Toni Nelson Herrera. Cover art by Nuvia Crisol Guerra. ISBN 0-9717035-8-2 / 2007. Perfectbound / 224 pages / $15

A powerful feeling of deja vu sweeps over me while leafing through the pages of Telling Tongues, a poetry/prose anthology about English Spanish speech, published in 2007 by Calaca Press and Red Salmon Press.

The editors take pains to collect accessible material on issues that swirl around the role a triad of languages--Spanish, English, Code-switching-- play in the Chicana Chicano community. The present volume may indeed be the first published "vulgate," i.e. not academic, collection on Chicano linguistics. It's a worthwhile assemblage that should go onto the resource shelf of any school teacher.

If you want a single reason to own the collection, it's the first poem, Olga A. Garcia Echeverria's absochingaolutely perfect "Lengualistic Algo: Spoken-Broken Word." (Search around Calaca's site for an MP3 file of the poet reading her work.)

The deja vu comes in eerie (to me) coincidences between Telling Tongues and the first published collection of literature with the "Chicano" subtitle, Quinto Sol's El Espejo: The Mirror in 1972. Romano and Rios include Ernie Padilla's "Ohming Instick," a farmworker child's monologue about the horrors of being a monolingual in a monolingual classroom. It ends with the child estimating the amount of cotton he could pick tomorrow instead of sitting in classroom torment. Joe Sainz' "The First Day of School" echoes Padilla's lament of 35 years ago. A monolingual child thinks, "The sidewalk is my only friend." He goes through the day bouncing from confusion to dependence. "there is no language in eating" he thinks, "I can eat; I've done that before." First he must learn what "caf" means. Even music is foreign, "I can hum, I've done that before. / The music is stranger than the words; / I open my mouth and pretend." As at the end of "Ohming Instick" tomorrow promises worse. The boy imagines, "I think about tomorrow,/and I tremble."

Among the classic actos of Chicana Chicano teatro is Luis Valdez' "Los Vendidos." A gem of absurdity, the play is set at Honest Sancho's Used Mexicans sales lot, where a glib salesman offers a variety of stereotypes, each offering a complement of hilarious features, advantages, benefits. Paying a poet's hommage to il miglior fabbro comes Paul Martinez Pompa's "Commercial Break," covering much the same ground as Valdez.

"Are your images inefficient?
Does your diction feel bland?
Are you tired of writing poetry
that simply does not work?

If you answered yes to any of these questions,
consider what a Mexican can do for you.
Strategically placed, a Mexican will stimulate
and fire up your drab, white poem."

In place of Honest Sancho, Pompa posits "Pretty White Poetry", adding a backhand to an uninformed reader, "Don't worry about mixing Mexican / and Puerto Rican imagery--/ most of your readers won't know the difference!"

Closing the poetry section, a scant 55 pages, is raulrsalinas, who also appears in El Espejo, where "A Trip Through the Mindjail" was among the poet's masterpieces of tecato poetry. The poet now speaks with the voice of an elder in "Loud and Proud." The title evokes a popular 1968 James Brown song, more of the El Espejo era, que no? Salinas also evokes Omar Salinas' "Robstown," a WWII poem, that alluded to a soldier's being refused service in a local cafe, the town's refusal to bury a local medal winner in the anglo cemetery. Salinas remembers, and updates the story, "Flying of the flags/used to disguise body bags/ that carried medal of honor winners/ back to hick towns of/ coffe-serving refusals/ & cemetery of heroes burial denials."

Telling Tongues is a book about language, bilingualism, code-switching. The poet Pompa raises a provocative issue that occupies the prose essayists of the book's bottom half. Who's Pompa skewering? The monolingual latina latino who "ought to be" bicultural but isn't? the non-latin fad-follower, the comfortable white liberals who buy books?

Several writers confess--that's the right word--to having once been monolingual in English and came late to their bilingualism. It's a fiercely political identity issue, as several essayists examine. For example, Aureliano Maria DeSoto in "A Querencia of One's Own" explains, "so often it seems as if some essential quality of latinidad is grounded in language. For Anglos and Latinos alike, lingistic ability in Spanish appears as the basis from which identity springs." Ana M. Lara in "A Change of Manta, Santo Domingo, 2004", takes a similar stance, noting, "The legacy of nationalism is alive and well in our use of language: it fosters insecurity around identity that leads to the creation of a strict, narrow definition of belonging. That is the legacy that I resist". Typical of the confessional approach is the sad remembrance by Stephanie Li, "The Secret American" who's Chinese Mexican ancestry added an extra dimension to assimilationist pressures on the child. She remembers in fifth grade, "A group of girls named themselves after their cleaning ladies. Tosa, Elena, and Dolores. I giggled along with them even though my family didn't have a cleaning lady, and one of my favorite tias is named Rosa. But no one knew that, and no one would."

I am not complaining about the deja vu. Yes, I am--that here's a 2007 copyright covering the same territory-- because not much seems to have changed for gente who live within the cultural mainstream. Language prejudice persists, as in the story of the Ivy League "Professor X" who accuses a woman of having no culture because she has no Spanish. Ethnic divisions continue to plague raza of all stripes, and from within and outside las colonias, barrios, and tony neighborhoods we populate. Such persistent exigencies make a collection like Telling Tongues so necessary. A teacher will inevitably confront the issues dealt with in the poems and stories. It's one thing for an old veterana veterano to tell the class, "back when I was your age...", it's another to open a book and have a kid read out loud personal experiences that have telling reverberations across their culture.

A final word about the inflection of Spanish and the lack thereof in English. I wish to high Hell folks would drop the unpronounceable @ to substitute for the gender markers. There's an irony in the book's subtitle; to me, the @ represents a kind of linguistic nationalism that forces another language's rules upon the lingua franca of most Chicana Chicano readers. Then there's the subvocalic violence the @ does. In Spanish, the character is called "arroba", in English web addressess pronounce "at". Hence, "chican@" [sic] would be pronounced either, "chicanarroba" or "chicanat", unless one calls @ ideographic in which case it might be said "chicana-ow". Sheesh, gente, just type both words, Chicana Chicano, Latina Latino, Pendeja Pendejo.

Con cariño, un abrazo,

Bottom Line: Calaca Press is a small, Chicana Chicano owned business. Distribution through commercial channels doesn't extend to fine resources like Calaca, so readers need to buy direct, or contact the publisher to learn a local bookseller who can order Calaca's catalog for you. Their web is linked in the title above or here.

Until next week, looking forward to your comments on the above or any related subject, ate,

Monday, August 27, 2007

Misfits with Moxie

Book Review by Daniel Olivas

Manic D Press
Paperback, $14.95

Myriam Gurba populates her debut story collection, Dahlia Season (Manic D Press, paperback $14.95), with young people who are often marginalized by a society too afraid or too exhausted to respond otherwise.

But because she creates characters who are complex and, in their own way, courageous, one does not pity them. Indeed, in honest prose peppered with sardonic humor, Gurba transforms her misfits into people who, under their goth makeup and facial tics, are not much different from the rest of the world.

Gurba's protagonists attempt to make meaning out of their lives under the sunny skies of California. In "Cruising," a teenage girl dresses in male clothing to cruise the pier and public restrooms in Long Beach along side gay men looking for anonymous sex. She eventually hooks up with a young man: "His face slowly came at mine and he kissed me. His mouth tasted good, dirty and boyish, and his cheeks scratched my face." The tryst, of course, cannot be consummated, and the girl runs home when the boy discovers that he's been fooled. Her heartbreaking explanation: "I had spoiled everything. I ruined it by being myself, by being a girl."

In "Just Drift," Roberto is stuck in a "ghetto" high school where keeping a lid on violence trumps true education to such an extent that quirky teachers are highly valued for their police skills: "I've figured out that the way things work around here is that as long as a teacher can control us and there aren't total race riots happening everyday, administrators look the other way when it comes to eccentricity."

As he struggles with hopelessness both at home and school, Roberto daydreams about "drifting," a form of Japanese street racing where the driver allows his car to lose traction and "drift" out of control for a few seconds -- a perfect metaphor for Roberto's life.

Gurba's young Chicanas often rebel against family expectations as they don goth attire and makeup and fall in love with other girls. In "White Girl," the narrator develops a crush on an "exotic" girl named Gabriella: "She came from another world. Pale skin, green eyes, and casseroles for dinner. She spoke nothing but English." And in the story "Primera Comunión," Esperanza seems marked from birth to be different and defy her traditional family. As a teen, she starts to dress like a boy and eventually joins a male street gang. But in both stories, the girls simply want one thing: to be loved and accepted unconditionally.

Gurba's skill at creating believable characters is at its strongest in the longest piece, the 125-page novella "Dahlia Season," from which the book derives its title. In it, we are privy to a decade in the life of Desiree Garcia from her teen years, through college and finally her first real job as an English as a second language teacher.

Desiree tells us in the first lines: "I used to pride myself on being a freak magnet. Yes, los weirdos de este mundo had a sweet tooth for me."

But she eventually learns that others consider her a "weirdo." We watch as Desiree's mordant humor keeps her afloat while she attempts to understand why she harbors violent thoughts and has trouble keeping obscene and otherwise inappropriate comments from leaving her lips.

Though Gurba's young men and women might seem unconventional, their hopes and desires are really no different from others. Her characters are simply trying to make their way on a treacherous odyssey in search of love and self-understanding.

Gurba's debut collection brings us a strong, sincere literary voice that seems to say: "Look at me -- I'm really just like you."

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

Luis Alberto Urrea, author of many wonderful books including The Hummingbird’s Daughter (Little, Brown/Back Bay Books), is blogging his heart out on immigration. “Immigration Monday” is back, he announces, so drop on by, read and post a comment.

◙ Dagoberto Gilb is interviewed on Paper Cuts, the New York Times’ blog about books. He says, in part:

“The novel I am now on will be an epic in poetic prose, a bestseller, and deep, although it will maintain a romantic and accessible biculturalism. Unless this is already what I have achieved with the novel ‘The Flowers’ my publisher is releasing soon. (Yes, I am making a small joke/chistecito in the first sentence - you know, like saying I’ve decided to write my very greatest book next. The second sentence, however, is absolutely true, probably.)”

I’m delighted a new Gilb book is coming. You can read the entire interview (and post a comment if you wish) by going here.

◙ On August 16th, Helena María Miramontes appeared on Michael Silverblatt’s radio show, Bookworm. She discusses Their Dogs Came with Them (Atria). Take a listen. It really is a revealing and interesting interview.

◙ You are invited to a special planetarium screening of Gronk’s BrainFlame, the West Coast premiere of an extraordinary animated short in 180-degree projection. It is presented by UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and Glendale Community College.

WHEN: Saturday, September 8, 2007
WHERE: Glendale Community College, Planetarium and Science Center, 1500 North Verdugo Road, Glendale 91208

BrainFlame Screenings: 2:00 pm, 2:30 pm, 3:00 pm, 3:30 pm

Art exhibit on BrainFlame and signing of the new book Gronk (UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press) reception: 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm.

Screening ticket reservations required. Please reserve early, limited seating. Please RSVP for a specific screening by Sept. 4th: Bryan Robinson (310) 825-7716 or

◙ Speaking of Gronk, he and Ricardo Garcia will have a joint show entitled Momento at the Metro Gallery: Contemporary Fine Art, 1835 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027, (323) 663-2787. The opening reception will be Saturday, September 8, 6:00 to 9:00 pm, with an artists lecture beginning at 7:30 pm. For more information, visit here.

◙ All kinds of literary news from Rigoberto González. First, he reviewed for the El Paso Times a new book entitled, Conversations With Chicana/o Writers (University of New Mexico Press), edited by Hector Torres. You can read the full review here. Also, check out his poetry reviews focusing on writers of all colors here. Finally, González offers his "fun summer reading" list at the National Book Critics Circle: (scroll down to his big picture).

◙ Daniel Hernandez blogs on the untimely passing of writer Aura Estrada, wife of the novelist Francisco Goldman, in a surfing accident while on vacation in Mexico in late July. Estrada was a second-year MFA student at Hunter College which posts this tribute page that includes samples of Estrada’s writing as well as tributes.

◙ Agustin Gurza of the Los Angeles Times tells us of our nation’s art museums’ failure to understand and attract Latinos. It’s a fascinating piece that also touches on Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Latino Art Initiative which is headed by Chon A. Noriega, director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. On a personal note: even with very little money, my parents made certain to take their five children to art museums, a habit my wife and I continue to this day with our son. We are members of LACMA and strongly urge you to join and support and enjoy your local art museum. By the way, Gurza welcomes e-mails with comments, events and ideas for his weekly feature on Latino music, arts and culture. Write to him at

◙ My review of Julia Alvarez’s wonderful new book, Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA (Viking), appeared yesterday in the El Paso Times. In note, in part: “…Alvarez's book is a captivating and fascinating ‘behind the scenes’ peek at quinceañeras. We are honored to be invited into the lives of these young women for a brief moment as they stand -- eager and hopeful -- at the cusp of adulthood.”

◙ Time magazine raves about Junot Díaz’s long-awaited second book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead). Lev Grossman writes that Díaz has written “a book so astoundingly great that in a fall crowded with heavyweights -- Richard Russo, Philip Roth -- Díaz is a good bet to run away with the field.”

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

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Adios, Gina Marysol Ruiz. Bloguera, Farewell.

Blogmeister's Note: La Bloga's Wednesday face changed on 8/22 with the departure of Bloguera Gina Marysol "Sol" Ruiz. La Bloguera and Los Blogueros already miss her contribution and suffer the loss of her history with resignation. On Monday, 8/27, all of Gina Marysol Ruiz' La Bloga posts will be removed from the archive at her request.

michael sedano
gina marysol ruiz contributed her esfuerzos through thick and thin. gente probably understand that la bloga is puro labor of love for all the blogueras and blogueros. and, although limitless love is its own reward, labor has its limits and gente get to choose their rewards. sol, adelante and best wishes.


lisa alvarado....
Gina Sol Ruiz has her finger on the pulse of what makes a special book special. She is a voracious reader, someone who thought globally about what will intrigue and lift up children, what will open their hearts and minds. Her passion, her hard work and her humor will be sorely missed. And a special thank you for making me laugh, for welcoming me to Bloga
and starting all those killer haikus.


manuel ramos....
Gina Marysol Ruiz rolled into La Bloga like a coal train -- strong, loud, and proud. She lit up the blog with her humor, perseverance, endless lists of books, recipes, photos, and intimate knowledge of all things related to la cultura. Now the train heads down the line. I'm sorry you had to move on, Sol, but I wish you only the best. Muchísimas gracias por todo.


rudy garcia....
Sol's contributions were pivotal to the building of La Bloga's rep and helped in so many ways to create the unique identity of this site. Her scholarship will be missed by all of us, especially our readers.
Que le vaya bien,


daniel olivas....
La Bloga is an effort of love and dedication and Gina brought to the table both of these elements in large measure. We and our readers will miss her presence.


rene colato....
Gina, thank you for that incredible 15 de Septiembre fiesta. Mary Wynton from the Eagle Rock Public Library invited me to the fiesta. I was a colado, but you welcomed me as one of your friends. I had a great time. Gracias for presenting me to the rest of the blogueros and La Bloga.

Great writer and friend
Inspiration for literature
Nurture for children’s books
Amazing bloguera.

Gina, Gina, ra ra ra…

René Colato Laínez.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

New Children's Books From Piñata Books/ Arte Público Press

René Colato Laínez

Thank you for your comments about my posts. Now I have a new day, los miércoles. Keep reading and look for my posts every Wednesday.

And following Manuel Ramos' post, these are the new bilingual children's books from Piñata Books, an imprint of Arte Público Press.

Butterflies on Carmen Street / Mariposas en la calle Carmen
by Monica Brown, April Ward (Illustrator), Gabriela Baeza Ventura (Spanish Translator)

This engaging bilingual picture book about migration combines the wonder of nature with the places we carry in our hearts

“Today is Butterfly Day!” Julianita excitedly tells her grandfather as they make their way down Carmen Street to school one morning. Today is the day Julianita and her friends have been waiting for—they’re going to learn about monarch butterflies. But what’s even more thrilling is they’re each going to receive their very own caterpillar to raise! When Julianita gets hers, she names him Tiger because of his striking yellow and black stripes.

Ms. Rodríguez teaches her students all about the monarch. But Julianita already knows that they fly south thousands of miles every winter because her grandfather remembers seeing the beautiful monarchs in his village in the highlands of Mexico. As the children feed and care for their caterpillars, they anxiously anticipate the transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly.

When Tiger finally emerges from his chrysalis, Julianita doesn’t want to let him go. She worries that he will get lost on his way to Mexico. “Tiger knows the way to Mexico because it’s in his heart,” her Abuelito reassures her. She feels sad to see Tiger fly away, but Julianita knows that someday, she will follow him to her grandfather’s magical Mexico.

Paired with April Ward’s charming illustrations that depict Julianita’s neighborhood—her home on Carmen Street, the bench where Abuelito rests in Palo Verde Park, her parents’ store that sells everything in the whole wide world—this book by award-winning author Monica Brown is sure to entertain and educate kids ages 3-9. This is a perfect choice for children learning about insects and the forces of nature.

Ricardo’s Race / La carrera de Ricardo
by Diane Gonzales Bertrand, Anthony Accardo (Illustrator), Rocío Viegas-Barros (Spanish Translator)

This inspiring bilingual biography for children recounts the story of an All-American athlete and scholar

Ricardo Romo never dreamed that running to catch the school bus would lead to a college education, and ultimately, to a long and respected career as a teacher, administrator, and university president.

He grew up in San Antonio, Texas, the son of Mexican immigrants, and worked in his family’s small grocery store, where he learned to work hard and respect his family and neighbors. In school he learned that, as a Latino, he was expected to go to the technical high school rather than the one that prepared students for college, yet his teachers and coaches encouraged him to pursue his studies. They also fostered his natural athletic abilities as a runner.

In high school, Ricardo set numerous records in track and cross country, including the country’s second fastest recorded mile at that time. While still a sophomore, he began to receive invitations from colleges and universities urging him to consider running for their schools. Ultimately, he went on to run for the University of Texas at Austin, where he graduated with an undergraduate degree in history.

While injuries ended Ricardo’s hopes of competing in the 1968 Olympics, his educational dreams were achieved when he obtained a master’s degree from California State University, Northridge and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Los Angeles, both in history. Currently, he is the president of the University of Texas at San Antonio, and a time line detailing Dr. Romo’s accomplishments as an athlete and a scholar is included.

Award-winning author Diane Gonzales Bertrand presents an inspirational biography of this All American’s quest to accomplish his goals. With vivid, realistic illustrations by Anthony Accardo, emerging readers will be inspired to discover their own talents and chase their dreams.

We Are Cousins / Somos primos
by Diane Gonzales Bertrand, Christina Rodriguez (Illustrator)

A simple bilingual text paired with colorful illustrations tells a loving, humorous story about playmates who are more than just friends

Cousins are friends and rivals. Cousins are funny and frustrating. But the most important thing is that cousins are family. We are Cousins / Somos primos celebrates the joy of this special family bond.

The children explain that they are cousins because their mothers are sisters, and from the moment they get together, the fun begins. They march in a make-believe parade, gobble up a pizza, and share a cozy story on Abuelo’s lap. But they also blame each other if something goes wrong, don’t want to share their toys, and wiggle against each other to nab a spot on Abuela’s lap.

Written in simple language for children ages 3-5, the brief English and Spanish text will become a valuable tool to encourage children to think and talk about their own families. It will also become a favorite book for children and grandchildren to share with their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and of course, cousins.

Vivid illustrations by Christina Rodriguez in bright, primary colors complement this story that will be as much fun to read at story hour as it will be to read on the family sofa.

The Woodcutter’s Gift / El regalo del leñador
by Lupe Ruiz-Flores, Elaine Jerome (Illustrator)

This appealing bilingual picture book for children celebrates community and folk art

One day, a terrible thunderstorm knocked down the giant mesquite tree that grew in the town square. After the storm, the townspeople gathered to gawk at the large obstruction blocking the street. They weren’t sure what to do with it, but they all agreed that the wood was good for nothing except a fire.

But the woodcutter Tomás sees something in the huge tree that the rest of the townsfolk don’t. “The beauty of this tree is not on the outside but on the inside,” Tomás tells them. In the following days, everyone watches curiously as the woodcutter carves and chips and whittles the wood into blocks. At one point, he moves the chunks into his shed, increasing everyone’s curiosity. What could the woodcutter be doing with all that lumber?

Finally, Tomás calls the townsfolk together to see his creations: a wonderful collection of life-sized animals for the children to enjoy. Children and adults alike are thrilled with their private zoo! But a few weeks later the woodcutter is visited by strangers from a folk art museum who want to buy the pieces for their collection. Will Tomás sell the town’s new zoo animals so that others can enjoy them too?

Benito’s Sopaipillas / Las sopaipillas de Benito
by Ana Baca, Anthony Accardo (Illustrator), Carolina Villarroel (Spanish Translator)

This tantalizing bilingual picture book for children shares the magical history of a favorite treat

Everyone loves the taste of the puffed pillows of fried bread known as sopaipillas, whether they’re drizzled with honey or sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. But most people, young Cristina included, don’t know about this Southwestern treat’s magical origins, or how it got its name.

One hot summer morning, Cristina’s abuelita promises to teach her how to make the tasty fried bread and explain how she knows that making sopaipillas will bring rain! Long ago, Cristina’s great-grandfather Benito was desperate. His crops were dying because it hadn’t rained for months. One day, exhausted and weak from working the fields, Benito watched in amazement as a scarecrow came to life and begged him to help bring rain. The worried scarecrow claimed to know how. But could a scarecrow—and pieces of dough—really bring rain to the dry and dusty fields? Could Benito really save everyone’s crops?

And so Benito—and many years later his great-granddaughter Cristina—learned about the pillows of bread known as “soup catchers” that, like clouds, catch rain drops and bring them down to earth.

Benito’s Sopaipillas / Las sopaipillas de Benito is a magical bilingual picture book for children aged 3-7 that celebrates a delicious staple of Southwestern cuisine. And for those children who want to test the magic of the sopaipillas, a recipe is included in English and Spanish.

Mimí’s Parranda / La parranda de Mimí
by Lydia M. Gil, Hernán Sosa (Illustrator)

A Puerto Rican holiday tradition comes to life on the pages of this colorful bilingual picture book

Like most young children, Mimí loves Christmas time, so much so that she doesn’t even mind the bitter cold. But while her friends plan to ask for skates, sleds, coats and boots for Christmas, Mimí wants a straw hat, new sandals, a polka-dot bathing suit, and maybe even a beach ball. She’ll need toys and clothing for warm weather because she goes to Puerto Rico every Christmas, and she can’t wait to go again this year!

Mimí especially looks forward to her annual parranda, the Puerto Rican version of Christmas caroling. She loves it when everyone arrives late at night and wakes her up by playing their instruments—güiros, palitos, maracas, guitars, tambourines. And the food … she dreams about a table brimming with all her favorites: roasted pork, pasteles, and arroz con leche.

But when she learns that her family won’t be able to go to Puerto Rico this year, Mimí is crushed. She is so sad that she loses interest in her class’s holiday party, and on the day of the party, she decides to stay home in bed. Just as Mimí is falling asleep, though, she hears the unmistakable sounds of musical instruments. Could it be that she’ll get her parranda after all?

Rich with Puerto Rican cultural traditions and complemented by vibrant illustrations, Mimí’s Parranda / La parranda de Mimí will have children ages 3-7 eagerly anticipating their own holiday traditions.

Goodnight, Papito Dios / Buenas noches, Papito Dios
by Victor Villaseñor, José Ramírez (Illustrator)

Popular Chicano author shares his family’s bedtime story with children in English and Spanish

“Papá, I don’t want to go to sleep. I’m scared.”

Everyone knows that the trick to putting children to bed is creating a bedtime routine, and in this new children’s story from Victor Villaseñor, he recreates his own family’s bedtime tradition.

Papá tells his son that every night when he was a boy, his mother would sing him to sleep with the turtledove song. “Coo-coo-roo-coo-coooo,” he sings, and tells the little boy about his very own Guardian Angel who will take him through the night sky to be reunited with God, or Papito Dios. “Then in the morning, you’ll come back refreshed, rested, and powerful as the wind.”

As Papá sings the turtledove song to his son, he reminds the child that Mamá loves him, the dog and the cat love him, and his brothers and sisters love him too. Even the trees and grass and the flowers that dance in the wind love him. Gradually, the boy drifts off to sleep, feeling safe and warm in God’s love and dreaming of the day when he will sing the turtledove song to his own children.

Friday, August 24, 2007

New From Arte Público and Su Teatro at 35

Manuel Ramos

This week I present new books from a well-established publisher and the upcoming season lineup for a well-established community theater group. The idea is to keep reading, go to a play, enjoy life with a bit of cultura.

I'd like to think that La Bloga is getting to be well-established, too, but even if we are, there is always something new happening with the blogueras and blogueros here at La Blogita Casita. Stay tuned.

Arte Público recently released its latest catalog, where I found these forthcoming titles. Plenty of good reading. Everything from the earliest work of an acknowledged literary legend to the poignant non-fiction account of a young, immigrant girl adjusting to life in the U.S.

Dante's Ballad by Eduardo González Viaña, translated by Susan Giersbach-Rascón (September)
On a journey filled with the joy of music and the pain of flashbacks from his small-town life and marital bliss in Mexico, Dante encounters a series of eccentric characters: Josefino and Mariana, known to radio listeners as the Noble Couple, who change their listeners’ luck in an instant; Juan Pablo, a young man who uses his computer genius to rob a Las Vegas casino so he can pay for his college education; and the Pilgrim, a famous balladeer who has crossed the border via underground tunnels so many times that even years later he smells faintly of dirt and death. In this bittersweet tour de force originally published in Spanish as El Corrido de Dante, the First and Third Worlds join hands, and Mexican pueblo life and Internet post-modernity dance together in one of the most memorable fables to shed light on issues such as immigration, cultural assimilation, and the future of the United States with its ever-increasing Latino population.

Some Clarifications y otros poemas, Javier O. Huerta (September)
Fluent in English and Spanish, Huerta writes poems in both languages, and occasionally combines the two in the same poem. In this, his first full-length collection of poetry, he explores themes of dislocation, loss, love, and art. Whether mourning the tragic suffocating deaths of immigrants in a tractor trailer, lamenting the loss of a lover, or writing about childhood fears, Huerta sketches haunting pieces about a bilingual, bicultural experience. Winner of the University of California-Irvine’s 2005 Chicano / Latino Literary Prize, this debut collection marks the arrival of a vibrant new voice in Mexican American literature.

Cantos de adolescencia/Songs of Youth (1932-1937), Américo Paredes (September)
Originally published in 1937 by Librería Española in San Antonio, Texas, this new edition contains the first-ever English translations of the original Spanish poems and an introduction by the translators, scholars and poets in their own right, B.V. Olguín and Omar Vásquez Barbosa. Paredes, who died in 1999 at the age of 84, is widely considered to have been at the forefront of the movement that saw the birth of Chicana/o literary and cultural studies as an academic discipline in the 1970s and 1980s. This collection of poetry written during his teenage years lays the groundwork for themes he explored in later writings: culture conflict, race relations, gender relations, materialism, hybridity, and transnationalism. In his youthful, first-person voice, Paredes explores intimate, angst-filled issues relevant to all young people, such as love, memory, and rebellion.

The Truth About Las Mariposas, Ofelia Dumas Lachtman (October)
Sixteen-year-old Carolina “Caro” Torres is excited about spending six weeks of her summer vacation working for her Tía Matilde. But her excitement turns to bewilderment when she finds her aunt hobbling around on a broken foot and, much to her surprise, the owner of a bed and breakfast called Las Mariposas. For reasons no one understands, the mayor is trying to put her Tía Matilde out of business. His efforts have forced many of the townsfolk to stop doing business with her. A broken foot and a relentless antagonist are too much for Matilde. She is ready to give up her home and her livelihood. Busy with cleaning rooms, buying groceries, and cooking meals for their guests, Caro and her new friends still find time to wonder why the mayor is so determined to run her aunt out of business. When Caro finds a piece of a mysterious, old letter that makes reference to a fortune left to an unknown individual, the young people are sure there’s a connection to the mayor’s attempts to gain ownership of Las Mariposas. Who could have written the letter? What “bequest” is it talking about? Popular young adult author Ofelia Dumas Lachtman has once again crafted an entertaining and intriguing mystery novel for teen readers.

Mi sueno de America/My American Dream,Yuliana Gallegos, translated by Georgina Baeza (October)
Yuliana Gallegos recalls her move from Monterrey, Mexico, to Houston, Texas. Initially excited about moving to Houston, where the huge freeways make her feel like she’s on a roller coaster, her excitement quickly wanes when she starts school. Everything is different at Yuli’s new school, and her discomfort is magnified by her classmates’ stares. And to make matters worse, she learns that in spite of studying English in Mexico, she can’t understand anything that’s being said. All she wants to do is go back to her school in Monterrey.Yuli poignantly records the fear and anguish experienced by all immigrant children as they strive to adjust to a new language and culture. With the help of a compassionate teacher, a Japanese girl who becomes her friend, and her own determination to excel at her studies, Yuli gradually learns to speak English and feel comfortable in her new environment. Accompanied by black-and-white line drawings, this bilingual story will encourage other kids—whether immigrants or not—to write their own stories. Gallegos is a native of Mexico and has lived in Houston, Texas, since she was nine years old. She is currently a sophomore at Bellaire High School. Baeza is a teacher at the San Jacinto Intermediate School.

The catalog also features several bilingual, illustrated children's books scheduled for release in October and November. Go here to look at the listings.

Su Teatro is a rock-solid cultural institution. The dedicated people of Su Teatro are a proud bunch and they have good reason. This is genuine community theater with national ties and a formidable international reputation. In honor of their longevity, here's their latest press release.

In 1972, a group of student activists from the University of Colorado at Denver, inspired by the agitprop work of groups like El Teatro Campesino and Teatro de la Esperanza, started a theater company aimed at articulating the concerns of Denver’s marginalized Chicano community. 35 years later, Su Teatro is, more than ever, a relevant and revolutionary voice in the Denver arts community.

In celebration of this landmark year, Su Teatro proudly announces its 2007 – 2008 35th Anniversary Season. This season offers all the best of what Denver has come to expect from Su Teatro—groundbreaking new works, world premier performances, divine comedies, delectable dramas, and tantalizing satires, as well as national and international visiting artists.

This season Su Teatro brings you musical pioneer Daniel Valdez, national recording artist Tish Hinojosa, and screen star Jesse Borrego, as well as the regional premiere of a cutting edge performance straight from Mexico City. A Denver institution for almost four decades, Su Teatro throws everything into the ring this year. Don’t miss Su Teatro 35—Colorado theater at its finest.

Sept 20 – Oct 27: A Bowl of Beings written by Culture Clash, directed by Hugo E. Carbajal. El Centro Su Teatro, 4725 High Street, Thur, Fri, and Sat nights at 8:05 pm. The irreverent comedy that takes Chicano icons, stereotypes, and history, stirs them up and serves them like a hot bowl of frijoles. Featuring comic takeoffs of Christopher Columbus, Ché Guevara, Carlos Santana, Edward James Olmos, and more.

Dec 14 – 23: Á Colorado en una Noche de Navidad Written by Tish Hinojosa and Anthony J. Garcia, Directed by Anthony J. Garcia, and featuring Tish Hinojosa and the Su Teatro coro. The King Center at Auraria, 855 Lawrence Way. A special theatrical interpretation of renowned recording artist Tish Hinojosa’s Christmas album Aquella Noche.

Feb 14 – March 22: Ollin written and directed by Daniel Valdez. El Centro Su Teatro, 4725 High Street, Thur, Fri, and Sat nights at 8:05 pm. World-renowned composer Daniel Valdez returns to Denver to direct his original play. Ollin is a poetic interpretation of the fateful meeting of Hernan Cortez and Moctezuma—“a musical performance bordering between performance art and theater…a creation story, the birth of the Mestizo…in 80 days.”

April 24 – May 3: Little Hands Hold the Wind written by Anthony J. Garcia, directed by Laura Cuetara. El Centro Su Teatro, 4725 High Street, Thur, Fri, and Sat nights at 8:05 pm. In the small Texas town of Alma, El Viento arrives amid a gust of hope and excitement, unraveling the complicated lives of the locals, including 7-year-old Amalia whose one wish to San Antonio (patron saint of lost things) is that he return what she has lost and must find—her papi.

Visiting Artists Series

November 1 – 3: Drive My Coche written by Roy Conboy, directed by Anthony J. Garcia, and featuring film and television star Jesse Borrego. El Centro Su Teatro, 4725 High Street, Thur, Fri, and Sat nights at 8:05 pm. Jesse Borrego and Valeria Hernandez return to perform the engaging tale of a young Chicano on the eve of his induction into the army as the Vietnam war rages.

Feb 7 – 9: Las Chicas de 3.5” Floppies by DramaFest from Mexico City. El Centro Su Teatro, 4725 High Street, Thur, Fri, and Sat nights at 8:05 pm A funny and edgy theatrical production where traditional mores meet the modern age. Dangerously skirting the boundaries between existential comedy, Mexican telenovela, and social documentary, this play exposes the human repercussions of globalization and poverty with incisive humor and relentless honesty. Performed in Spanish with English subtitles.

Special and Annual Events

Oct 7: Catástrofe written by Samuel Beckett, translated by José Luís Suarez-Garcia, directed by Eric Prince and José Luís Suarez-Garcia, presented by CSU. El Centro Su Teatro, 4725 High Street. From Nobel Prize winner and master of the absurd, Samuel Beckett, comes a short play about authoritarianism and the degradation of the human spirit. Back to back performances—one in Spanish, one in English.

April 5 – 8: XicanIndie FilmFest 10. Starz FilmCenter, 900 Auraria Parkway. One word says it all. It’s Chicano Independent film; it’s Mexican Cine de Oro; it’s Latino World Cinema—it’s the XicanIndie.

April 17 – 19: Neruda Poetry Festival. El Centro Su Teatro, 4725 High Street. Nationally recognized spoken word artists join the hottest local word slingers for this annual rhythm and rhyme feast.

August 7 – 10: 12th Annual Chicano Music Festival and Auction. Location to be announced. The best party of the year returns with son, huapango, mariachi, and rock n roll.

For more information about Su Teatro’s 35th Anniversary Season, give us a call at (303) 296-0219, or email us at Please also visit


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Women and Dance: sylphs and sirens

Christy Adair is a freelance writer and cultural critic, contributing to such dance journals as Spare Rib and Everywoman. Women and Dance: sylphs and sirens (Macmillan, 1992), is a text used on dance and performance courses in Britain, America and Asia. Adair contributes reviews and articles to journals, magazines, radio and television both nationally and internationally. She also facilitates a range of performance and education events. Adair is a Reader in Dance Studies at York St John University and is committed to radical performance which communicates an exhilaration of moving and challenges social contexts. Christy has significant links with the dance performance industry both locally in the UK and internationally. Her current research interests focus on gender and ethnicity in relation to dance studies and performance. Her forthcoming book is entitled Dancing the Black Question: The Phoenix Dance Company Phenomenon.

In Women and Dance, Adair introduces the reader to an analysis of Western dance from the point of view of gender and post-feminist analysis. Despite the traditionally high profile of women as principal dancers, Adair asserts that modern Western dance is far from a woman-centered medium. Due to the lack of women choreographers and directors, the genre’s vision of women continues to be rooted in patriarchal notions of the female. It is a representation of the female body that is seriously limited, still unable to reflect the depth of women’s reality.

Adair sees the most synchronous images of women having their origins in dance/performance companies that evolved as in the period post 1970. According to Adair, these groups reflected the fluid, politically progressive images of women following the last wave of the feminist movement. Their major contribution was the development of a type of performance that pushed the boundaries of gender and sex-role expectations. In a piece entitled She Is Giving Birth to Herself, Adair describes how the group Bush Mama explores the primacy of woman relating to other women, not woman-as-male-love-object.

The most useful portion of the book was: “The subversives...women’s dance practices.” It underscores Adair's central tenet that images of women will only be expanded with women themselves taking control of developing, directing, and mounting their own work. This, according to Adair, must occur despite the social and economic barriers involved.

This is particularly potent for me as I try to work more on dance and spoken word pieces. I came to the same realization over the last ten years that I needed to do whatever was necessary to control my own work, how it was showcased, etc. It's also an opinion I've shared with other writer/performers, such as Tara Betts and Sharmili Majmudar, as well as initial discussions with dramaturg and performer Coya Paz, founding member of Teatro Luna here in Chicago.

My only two hesitations in recommending Women and Dance are these: it's an extremely dense read, which made for laborious, although worthwhile reading, and that the book is expensive and better gotten through library sources. But simply put, Women and Dance a vital sourcebook for women performers across the board.

  • ISBN-10: 0814706215
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814706213

Speaking up about immigration ---

Sam Quinones's new book ANTONIO'S GUN AND DELFINO'S DREAM,
a book of vignettes on immigration that has been lauded in the San Francisco
Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal,
as well as having been featured by La Bloga's Daniel Olivas.

Quinones has spoken about immigration--indeed a hot topic again as
Homeland Security begins cracking down on companies that hire
"illegals"--on NewsHour, NPR, and CSPAN.

The newest feature of Sam's website, is a link
where the public can tell their "True Tale," the name of which taken
from Sam's first book, TRUE TALES FROM ANOTHER MEXICO.
Here's the link, which has five or six stories from people on it.
Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

An interview with Christianne Meneses Jacobs, editor of Revista Iguana.

René Colato Laínez

IGUANA is a Spanish-language magazine for children ages 7-12 who grow up learning and speaking Spanish. IGUANA features fictional stories with characters, experiences, and settings that are familiar to the targeted readership. Additionally, IGUANA presents biographies / interviews with personalities that have influenced the lives of Latinos in America; historical articles; stories about children around the world; science articles, with related experiments to be tried at home; nature articles; interesting facts; recipes that kids can make at home; craft projects; artwork; reader-submitted works; puzzles; games; humor; poetry; and contests.

This interview was also published by Multilingual Living Magazine September/October 2007.

What is the story behind your publication, Iguana magazine?

My husband and I created Iguana because we are raising our daughters in a bilingual environment. We searched, but could not find quality literature originally written in Spanish. Our desire to read in Spanish to our oldest daughter, who was three years old at the time, inspired us to start Iguana. We researched the idea for about a year and discovered that there is no other Spanish language magazine for children published in the United Sates. We were encouraged by the positive responses to the idea by librarians and teachers.

What’s your magazine’s mission? Who is your audience?

The mission of Iguana is to serve as a tool for Spanish language retention and Latino cultural preservation. Our primary audience is Latino families with children who are growing up learning Spanish. Additionally, schools with dual language programs, bilingual families, libraries and Anglo families who want their children to learn Spanish, as recommended by their teachers.

Why the name “Iguana”? Is the iguana on some of the covers a real one?

Many of the children magazines in English have names of animals. We thought it was a good idea to use a word that can be spelled the same way both in English and Spanish. Besides, I grew up in a tropical country, Nicaragua, where every day at noon all the iguanas living in our backyard would come out to take sun baths. The iguana that appears on some of the covers is T-Bo and he is a real iguana. T-Bo is a 16 year old rhinoceros iguana owned by Reptiles Adventures here in the Phoenix area. T-Bo is very professional and is always a joy to work with.

Tell us more about yourself, your background and how do you handle bilingualism at home.

I grew up in Nicaragua and came to the United States when I was 17 years old. I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut and earned a degree in Government. I returned to California after graduation and then began my career as an elementary school teacher. I was a bilingual teacher for several years in Los Angeles before the program was eliminated by a state wide proposition. I moved with my family to Arizona five years ago. I have a Masters’ Degree in Education and a Reading Specialist Certification. I am currently a first grade teacher in one of the lowest socio-economic areas of Phoenix. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to grow up bilingual. I did, however, study English from the time I was nine years old. Now I am married to an Anglo and have two daughters, Isabelle Selene, 5 and Katherine Celeste, 21 months. My husband and I decided before Isabelle was born that he would speak English and I would speak Spanish. Both of our girls understand everything we tell them in either language. Katherine is not talking yet, but Isabelle needs to be reminded to switch languages. She feels more comfortable speaking in English. It can be a challenge to get her to speak in Spanish. We are considering spending next summer vacationing in Nicaragua to immersed the girls and my husband in the Spanish language and Latino culture.

Your magazine is wonderfully creative and very attractive with its high variety of content – you present not only factual, historical and even scientific tidbits of information, but also cartoons, short stories and poems. Where do you get your ideas? Who inspires you?

Iguana wants to introduce children to a wide variety of topics that schools either glance over or do not cover due to lack of time. As an educator I am knowledgeable of school curriculum. Our students are only taught the basics in schools while general culture is neglected. An educated person has knowledge about a variety of topics and can sustain an intelligent conversation with anyone. We try to encourage our readers to know more. Therefore, Iguana contains various sections such as Inventions that Changed the World, Mythology, Children Around the World (with history and geography) and a feature on exotic animals, recipes, arts and crafts and comic strips. One of my favorite features is the interview section in which I select a successful Latino/a who can be a role model for Latino children. I highlight their beginnings and their accomplishments. The goal is to show Latino children that Latinos can be successful and contribute their talents to society.

Who writes and illustrates for you? How do you collaborate?

Iguana has a core group of approximately 30 writers and 35 illustrators who live throughout the United States and around the world. Our writers must be native Spanish speakers who can write in Spanish and are familiar with all the intricacies of the language. I have writers who only write fiction pieces, and writers who contribute both fiction and non-fiction. Our illustrators do not have to be native speakers. There is more flexibility in that respect. We are very fortunate to live in the Internet era since a large portion of our job is done through email and the Internet.
As the Editor of Iguana I plan the editorial calendar for our six issues and brainstorm topics of interest to children. I assign articles to the writers and give feedback. I discuss illustrations with my husband, who is Iguana’s Art Director. I then communicate with the artists and assign illustrations. I maintain the deadlines and make sure everyone turns their articles in on time. I assist my husband reviewing the illustrations and requesting changes. I then communicate the changes to the artists. I also write several pieces for each issue.
I handle other work involve in running the magazine. I take care of subscriptions and renewals. I send out press releases several times during the year. I constantly meet with businesses and individuals, and attend meetings related to the Latino community. I also travel to book festivals and conferences.
As the publisher I keep a tight grip on the budget. I pay all of our contributors. I attend business meetings seeking financial support and sponsorship for Iguana. Additionally, I give interviews. I read newspapers and magazines to keep informed. My husband and I have more than 25 subscriptions to magazines, not including our daughters’ subscriptions. We are magazine junkies!
My husband deserves credit as well. I am able to work full time as a teacher and run the magazine thanks to his unconditional love and support. He does an amazing job taking care of our daughters, designing the magazine, keeping the accounting and supporting me.

What particular advice or message would you have for bilingual kids? Parents and educators?

My advice to bilingual children is to continue learning more about their chosen language. Learning to speak the language is not enough, children must learn to read and write like native speakers. We are living in a global economy and parents need to help their children understand that being bilingual, or multilingual, is an asset to them. They will be able to communicate with more people around the world as well as opening the possibilities to obtain great jobs because of their language skills.
I would advise parents of bilingual kids to keep trying hard everyday and do not give up on the journey toward raising bilingual children. It is difficult at times, but be persistent. Traveling with your kids to countries were the language is spoken can be a great experience. Try to expose your children to the beauty of your language and culture.
I would advise educators to show respect for and support the minority language that their students speak at home. Educators need to teach other children about tolerance and acceptance of differences. The Unites States is a diverse nation and children need to start getting along with all kinds of people from they time they are small.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Review: Their Dogs Came With Them

Helena María Viramontes. Their dogs came with them : a novel. New York : Atria, 2007. ISBN 0743287665 9780743287661

Read Daniel Olivas' interview with Helen Viramontes

Michael Sedano
An arresting title is all it takes to intrigue a book browser’s interest, which poses a happy future for Their Dogs Came With Them. Author Helena María Viramontes temporarily satisfies the browser’s question in an epigram quoting an eyewitness that when the Spanish invaded, leading the invading columns came the dogs, “their saliva dripping from their jaws.”

So, who are the dogs of the title?

Viramontes begins her story in 1960. The new freeway is invading an East Los Angeles neighborhood. One side of First Street remains. Across the street, the homes have been condemned. One day the home is filled with neighbors, the next day empty shells signal the coming of the Pomona Freeway that will connect the inland valleys to the sea.

The turmoil and destruction take years to wend their way through the land, in the meantime, four neighbors take the novel’s center stage, their stories alternating and combining ultimately to arrive at the same time and place.

There’s the abused orphan Ermila whose distance from her grandparents is all the more ironic because she is going nowhere. Ben Brady, the half Mexican boy with the Anglo father, like Ermila, is badly damaged, even before he survives being hit by a truck. Turtle née Antonia, goes about head shaved striving to fit in with her little brother who himself strives to fit in with gangbangers. Finally, Tranquilina’s family, itinerant missionaries who manage to do good.

Viramontes guides us through the four lives as they intersect. We see Ermila transferred by social services from a foster home to her grandparents’ house. The child becomes a burden that neither grandparent allows the child to forget. Ermila finds solace across the street until the day the old woman has to leave. We learn about Turtle’s family, the tattooed uncle who comes and goes from prison, her indoctrination into fist fighting watching her father punch out her mother, her uncle taking revenge against the father, the mother jumping in to protect her husband, in the process trampling Ermila’s nopales. Ben’s decline is the saddest. He sinks from a brightly alert boy to a totally dissociated victim of mindless violence. Viramontes’ treatment of Ben’s mental illness is sickeningly accurate and so deeply disturbing that readers with friends or family suffering mental illness will find a few pages almost unbearable.

The author doesn’t always tread deadly serious, even about deadly serious subjects. As Turtle’s little brother is practicing to be a tough guy cholo, his veterano uncle and aunt will have none of it. Readers who may have watched a primo sink into gangs will recognize the point, the uncle and aunt don’t go far enough.

…and he gestured to Tio Angel with a slight lift of his chin, barely acknowledging his question. Hanging with the McBride Boys, Luis was learning how not to talk and it was all about learning the unspoken for him now…the confident badass walk protecting a nation of city blocks claimed by McBride... And Tio Angel understood. He read the missing words and he slapped Luis upside his crew-cut head to get a word out of him. Speak up, he ordered, one combat ass-kicking boot coming out of the door…. I don’t take shit from nobody, sabes mi’jo? And Tio bent a little more to rub the spiky section where he had Three Stooges-slapped Luis, regretting his outburst…. You been hanging out too much with men, ése, Aunt Mercy said, a tumbler with flat beer in front of her. She wore a striped halter top, and her breasts cushioned her crossed arms…Luis walked past her still holding the clothespins…Wash my clothes too, would you, tuff homeboy? Aunt Mercy continued, because she thought humiliation captivating. 158

Reality remains on tenterhooks throughout the second part of the novel. Not only are the neighborhoods disrupted by the heavy construction, there’s a rabies quarantine surrounding the east LA neighborhood. Barricades across the sidewalks control resident travel, identity card checks pose their own dangers aside from being denies access to one’s own street. Helicopters buzz the sky, armed patrols track down strays, gunshots fill the night sounds as authorities dispatch the sources of disease. And we have met the dogs. Uniformed guys with Spanish surnames.

Yet, there's a more vital question: Who are the they who brought these dogs? It’s not stretching the metaphor too far to inquire, but it’s bootless. To me, this remains the most serious question that begs to be answered if the book is to realize it's fuller possibilities. Helena María Viramontes has produced a work of enduring quality. The 1960s are a watershed period in history that Chicano fiction has traversed before. Viramontes avoids the movement perspective of the mass to focus on the intensely personal issues of survival, or the futility thereof. And this is one issue that bothers me.

Does a writer have an obligation to build and support her culture by crafting affirming characters and stories, or should a writer allow herself to craft depressingly dismal dioramas of doomed lives? Should I alliterate? In this novel, one character runs off into the night, another is a murderer, another is murdered, another stands in a spotlight at the brink of death as the book closes. Did these characters will these outcomes, or did these outcomes have a lot to do with powers that invade neighborhoods with earth-moving machinery that bulldozes through people's lives with impunity? And really, who are "they"?

End of August 2007 fast approaches. Milestone events for me, as shall be seen. In the meantime, please post comments and responses to this, or any, La Bloga review. And if you've a mind to share with La Bloga, click here or send email to a Bloguera Bloguero.

See you next week.