I hope you all had a peaceful and meaningful holiday. For the day after Thanksgiving, I present brief notices skimmed from the headlines that feature a few books and many people deserving our gratitude.
Junot Díaz says that Martín Solares' grim noir novel, Los minutos negros (Debosillo), translated as The Black Minutes, (Grove Press), is one of the best of 2008. Díaz is quoted in the London Times Online: "A breathless, marvelous first novel that begins with the murder of a journalist in a mid-sized Mexican city but that quickly propels the investigator-protagonist, Maceton, into a darker mystery: the savage unsolved murders of a series of young girls. This is Latin American fiction at its pulpy phantasmagorical finest, this is a literary masterpiece masquerading as a police procedural and nothing else I’ve read this year comes close."
Sounds like I should read this book. Anyone out there already done that?
Bless Me, Ultima has again been blacklisted by a school district. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Newman-Crows Landing Unified School District (California) Superintendent Rick Fauss decided the book is not suitable for teenagers and banned it for the rest of the school year. The American Library Association says that Rudolfo Anaya's book is one of the most challenged in the country. "I think there's room for exposing students to other experiences, but do we have to sacrifice the values of our families and our community to do that?" asked Fauss, a former high school English teacher. He hasn't read the entire book but said he's "read enough." Despite widespread community knowledge of his decision, Fauss said he hasn't received any complaints except from four teachers. Fauss said that proves he made the right decision, one that "reflects the values of the community." The article in the Mercury News quotes one of the complaining teachers: "This is Hispanic literature. Sixty-five percent of our enrollment consists of the Hispanic population. They can identify with this book culturally. ... The book talks about things these kids are growing up hearing. And for the non-Hispanic kids, this is something different."
Mr. Fauss should finish the book. Then he ought to check out what Dana Gioia, Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts says about Bless Me, Ultima, one of the books in the NEA's Big Read program:
"there was something magical about Anaya's coming-of-age story in post-World War II New Mexico. Full of dreams, legends, prayers, and folkways, it presents a world where everyday life is still enchanted. ... A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us." Have no fear, Mr. Strauss, and read on.
Paco Ignacio Taibo I died in Mexico City on November 13. He was 84. Taibo was exiled from Spain in 1950 for his socialist activism. He began his writing career as a cycling reporter and eventually wrote more than 50 novels. He won numerous awards during his lifetime including the Great Cross of the Order of Civil Merit presented by the Spanish government, one for his contribution to cultural journalism at the 2004 Guadalajara International Book Fair, and Mexico's National Journalism Prize last May. One of his sons, Paco Ignacio Taibo II, is well-known in the U.S. for his crime and political fiction, and his sponsorship of the annual literary festival in Gijón, Spain, Semana Negra ( featured here on La Bloga last summer with reporting from Thania Muñoz.) Our condolences to the Taibo family.
The Rocky Mountain News continues its celebration of 150 years of Denver history with a list of 150 unsung heroes. Of course, such a list will never include everyone who should be included, but I think it's worth acknowledging the Latinos and Latinas who are listed. I won't name them all, but on the list you will find people such as: Rosalinda Aguirre (co-owner of Rosalinda's Mexican Café, in Northwest Denver for more than 25 years; co-chair of Padres Unidos a parent organization serving Northwest Denver); Stella Cordova (owner and creator of world-famous Chubby's); Ray Espinoza (teacher, artist and one of the original founders of the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council [CHAC]); Nita Gonzales (a lifelong activist who oversees Escuela Tlatelolco, a school founded in 1969 by her late father, Corky Gonzales); Stevon Lucero (noted artist and another CHAC founder); José Mercado (actor and teacher, founder of the Labyrinth Arts Academy, a nonprofit that offers education in theater and media arts for public schools and at-risk youth) and several other very worthy "unsung heroes." You can find the entire list here.
Meanwhile, over at The Latest Word, a blog from Westword, a weekly news and arts magazine, Susan Froyd posted her own list of "Denver treasures" in the arts. Froyd says her list is of " a few folks – everyday people who’ve carved out their thriving niches – whom I’ve been lucky enough to find along the way."
Under the heading of The Denver Chicano Arts Community, Froyd says, "I thought I could name just one person, Carlos Fresquez (a personal favorite as an artist) [pictured at right]. But I soon realized that Carlos is a community member who shares with his artist compadres and comadres a certain number of traits: a 500-year-old regional history, a recognition for the bedrock importance of la familia, a politicized sensibility rooted in the populist rise of La Raza in the ´60s and ´70s, and a kind of identifiable humbleness (and the easy sense of humor that goes along with it), to name a few. And they are many, both living and departed. Along with Carlos, there are Daniel and Maruca Salazar, Tony Ortega and Sylvia Montero, santeros Carlos Santistevan and Jerry Vigil, Su Teatro director Tony Garcia, muralist Emanuel Martinez, the poets Lalo Delgado and Corky Gonzales, author Manuel Ramos and broadcaster Flo Hernandez Ramos, actor and filmmaker Gwylym Cano, literally everyone at the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council and so many more -- some elder statesmen and others on the rise. The word rich doesn’t even begin to describe this league." That's quite a list; thanks for the mention, Susan.
One of the people on Westword's list, Florence Hernandez-Ramos, published an article entitled The Revolution May Not Be Televised, But It Will Be On Radio, a think piece for Grow The Audience, a segment of Station Resource Group Online. The article was written on behalf of the Latino Public Radio Consortium and explores the future and challenges of Latino involvement and influence in public radio. Check it out.
Al fin, Happy Birthday to Daniel, Michael, René, Lisa, Ann, Rudy, and yours truly - today La Bloga is four years old- finally learning how to walk. Thanks to our contributors, all the writers who continue to write, and all of you readers who insist on reading books that matter, that entertain, that teach, that make you cry in the night or laugh in the morning; books that leave you wanting more. Here's to another year of La Bloga.