Latino Writers Collective. Cuentos Del Centro. Stories From The Latino Heartland. Scapegoat Press, Kansas City MO, 2009.
ISBN 13: 978-0-9791291-2-4
Among the diverse pleasures of writing regular book reviews is the chance to discover the work of small press enterprises such as Scapegoat Press out of Kansas City, Missouri. My usual fare comes from big publishing concerns out of New York or other metropolises, and what serendipity brings me off the New Books shelves of the Pasadena Public Library. There's a lot to be said for the output from well-funded ventures, editors, and agents. Quality, however, is not exclusive to the big bucks process. Case in point, Kansas City's Latino Writers Collective and its recent anthology of local writers, Cuentos Del Centro.
Cuentros Del Centro features twenty-four stories from fifteen writers. Three of the stories, by Xánath Caraza, come in Spanish, the others más o menos puro Inglés. Caraza translates hers into English--or is it the other way around? The English language versions come to you smoothly, absent the cultural lacunae found in some translated work, as if the writer works in English then converts to Castellano. Language students will enjoy the simultaneously translated work as a way to challenge their eye and ear for the one or the other idioma. More interesting, especially in the writer's first two pairs of stories, is her surrealist bent. "Scofield 207"--same title in both languages--sees a schoolteacher lose her identity to the glyphs on a page when her ink pen takes over from her hand. "I was the character of the story; that was my hand. I did not exist there, outside. I now only existed on paper. I had been born with that story and now it was time to go back home." In this ultimate of pathetic fallacy, the story ends with the beautiful metaphor of being swallowed by one's work, "the arrival of the white night."
Latino writing, from wherever it emanates, will share experiences, such as the child farmworkers of Miguel M. Morales' "Hijo con Filo", or the lovely irony fashioned around a rural quinceañera in Juanita Salazar Lamb's "El Vestido Colora'o." The hot sun, chorizo and egg tacos, getting cropdusted by asshole farmers could happen in a peach orchard in Bakersfield Califas as in Under the Feet of Jesus, or the soybean field of the boy with a hoe. Natalie Castro Olmsted's "The Farmhouse," on the other hand, captures the relentless fear that grips a picnicking familia unwisely trying to outrun weather unique to the heartland--a threatened tornado and killer hail. Nor is the racism of an anglo farmer something unique to Kingman County, Kansas, but when it drives the gente back into the maw of the storm, Olmsted gives the commonplace its uniquely local color.
It is the heartland also that helps these writers avoid a pet peeve of mine, appositional translation. Writing a Spanish phrase, immediately translating it into English. The technique, perhaps an editor's pique, conveys an artificiality to a story that is tough to overcome. Cuentos Del Centro's characters, and titles, use Spanish sparingly, avoid translation, or do so skilfully. A masterful instance comes in "El Regreso." The whole of José Faus' story translates that. A worker on este lado reminisces in a sentimental funk about the day he left, about his children calling him papá and expressing their love, despite their being too young to remember him at all. The man has been a success en el Norte because he is an honorable person, not "a thief, a ladron" (no italics). Plus, "His English gives him an edge over the others that refuse to learn it or choose not to speak, fearing how they sound." He's earning good money cooking his mother's recipes, but toned down to the local tastebuds. So back home he regresars. He kisses the wife who makes him promise never to leave again. "'I won't,' he whispers back and whispers it again and again throughout the day and night and the many years that follow." And that is what "El Regreso" means in English.
It is a pleasure for this Bloguero to connect with an old blogfriend, Juanita Salazar Lamb, who back in 2008 was a La Bloga guest Bloguera. Juanita is one of those Spanish-language sans translation writers who trusts her readers, so she lets the speeches stand on their own, or skilfully does the English in effective context:
"'Entonces, conoces nuevas amigas, y ¿cómo sabes? En tu vestido nuevo te vas a ver tan bonita, que todos van a querer bailar contigo.'
I gave her the look that spoke what I didn't dare say to my mom, 'What planet are you from? Girls like me don't get asked to dance.'
'Alístate antes que le diga a tu papá.'
The threat that always brought me back to my sense--my mom would tell my dad."
Lamb's story of the red dress will bring a smile to your face, even though the ironic finis is predictable. It's a happy ending that a decent child deserves.
Speaking of happy endings, I wish the Latino Writers Collective had wrapped up its outstanding set with Gloria Martinez Adams' "The Wager." Here is a brilliantly romantic story--genuine love growing old together--that offers sweet contrast to the crappy treatment women receive from worthless men in the anthology's closing offering, Linda Rodriguez' "Why I Can't Draw." Rodriguez' capstone, at least, closes with a note of hopefulness borne of self-reliance, and that's a good thing, exactly as the self-reliance of this writers collective from the Unitedstatesian heartland proves valuable to readers of Chicana Chicano Latina Latino writing.
You can read these stories only if you can get your hands on a copy of the book. Your independent bookseller can order it, or you can email the collective at email@example.com. Unfortunately, the URL for the collective either is broken or lapsed, another hazard of the indie press, I suppose. Ni modo. You owe yourself and friends the opportunity to enjoy these stories and writers. Click, buy, read. You are welcome de antemano.
PALABRA @ The REDCAT Lounge presents
(Press release text follows)
William Archila reading from his debut book of poetry THE ART OF EXILE Sunday, July 26 at 3:00 pm
In a powerful collection of poetry, poet William Archila takes the reader on a poignant emigrant's journey from the war-ravaged El Salvador of the 1980s to Los Angeles. The poet's grief is unapologetically set before us in clear yet lyrical terms. The art of his voice compels the reader to acknowledge the brutality of war and the struggle of the disenfranchised. The sense of loss is palpable, but so are tenderness, humor and love.
". . . William Archila is the reigning master of some breathtaking imagery that encompasses a practiced, lyrical certainty. There's a deep singing at the center of Archila's world, a calling to everything that says home is where the heart is." —Yusef Komunyakaa, Pulitzer Prize winner
"[Archila's] voice is not only an important addition to the chorus of Latino/a poetry, but a necessary one in the vast landscape of belles lettres in the United States. To say he sings like an angel is an understatement. He is possessed of brilliance and what Lorca called `duende.' The Art of Exile joins the ranks of the best poetry published this year." —Virgil Suárez, author of 90 Miles: Selected and New(2005)
William Archila holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Oregon. His poems have appeared in The Georgia Review, AGNl, Poetry International, The Los Angeles Review, North American Review, Obsidian III, Notre Dame Review, Puerto del Sol, Rattle andBlue Mesa Review, among others.
The REDCAT Lounge
631 W. 2nd Street (@ Hope)
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex)
Contact: elena minor • firstname.lastname@example.org • 1 800 282 5608
PALABRA @ The REDCAT Lounge is a new series of occasional readings presented by PALABRA A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art. Website: www.palabralitmag.com
And that's the first Tuesday of the seventh month of the year 2009. A Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga.
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Here's hoping we all feel independent. The answer to last week's query, "How many other nations have a fourth of July?" is All of them.
hay les wachamos.