Friday, January 30, 2009

Interview with A.E. Roman

La Bloga has always integrated the old with the new when it comes to literature. We honor the classic writers and books with reviews, award announcements, and other news. We pay respect to those who paved the way. And we get damn excited about the new breed. Our goal is simple: We want to find good writing for good readers regardless of when it was published or whether anyone else has noticed.

If you have been a loyal reader of La Bloga over the past four years you know that we highlighted several writers when they were just getting out of the gate -- Mario Acevedo, Reyna Grande, and Michael Jaime-Becerra quickly come to mind. I’m sure my Bloga comrades can name several others.

Today we have an interview with A.E. Roman, the latest in a long and proud line of New York City crime fiction writers and one of a handful of Latino writers who has dipped his or her pen in the inkwell of murder, mystery and private eyes. Roman joins writers such as Steven Torres, Michele Martinez and the late Jerry A. Rodríguez in giving us a taste of the Big Apple with plenty of the spices of criminal activity, cultural flair and inner city zest. See my earlier post about the NYC writers at this page on La Bloga.

A.E. (Alex Echevarria) Roman's novel Chinatown Angel has already been tagged by Publishers Weekly as "a refreshing debut" with a "nice satirical touch." I liked the book and think that Roman might be on to something with his detective Chico Santana. I plan to review the book closer to its publication date (March 17, 2009) but let me say at this point that Chinatown Angel has an abundance of lively characters; a plot complicated just enough to keep the reader guessing without getting lost; and an authenticity that flows from the pages like the Hudson River pours into the Atlantic Ocean. I'm partial to a good detective yarn that does more than solve the mystery. I want to know who the killer is but I also like relevance, cultural significance, characters that matter, crisp dialog, clean writing, and action. Roman scores an A on all points.

Alex kindly agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga. I think you will see where that "satirical touch" mentioned by Publishers Weekly comes from.


Give me some basic background information - the stuff that you want readers to know about you before they pick up your book.

Bro, if I knew you were going to be so nosy I'd never have agreed to this... OK, well: I sleep on the left side of the bed.

Too much information, dude.

You've chosen to make your main character, Chico Santana, a private investigator operating out of the Bronx. Why a P.I. and why the Bronx? Why (to get to it) a mystery?

Maybe this goes back to the idea of writing what you know. I was born and raised in the Bronx. I don't know much, but I know the Bronx. And why mysteries? I love reading. I read mysteries. I love writing. I write mysteries.

I appreciated the feel for the city (and the love/hate relationship with the city) that comes across in Chinatown Angel. You infuse the story with cultural and street life details that put me, as a reader, right on the scene with your characters. You reference the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Central Park, various streets and neighborhoods of the Bronx, music (oldies and the new stuff), movies (many movie references that I thought were cool), so on and so on. Was this a conscious effort as you wrote, or did the verisimilitude just happen? And Mimi's Cuchifrito - can I stop by and pick up a papa rellena?

Yeah, I'm all about the verisimilitude. No, there was no conscious effort in terms of what I referenced. I'm a New Yorker. I've read poetry at the Nuyorican. I'm all over Central Park. I love movies, the old and the new. I love music, the old and the new. Mimi is a make-believe character in Chinatown but I can give you directions to my favorite cuchifrito in the Bronx for six papa rellena, and directions to Lincoln Hospital for an angioplasty.

Also, I used to be a teen rapper. I won't tell you what my M.C. name was, but it rhymes with "blue," because during an M.C. battle, the word "blue" goes a long way: "Your rhymes are wack! My rhymes are true! You say champ! I say Blue!" I still wonder whatever happened to my record deal.

Yeah, well - good that you got this writing thing going on.

How much of Chinatown Angel is based on your real-life experiences? Any of the events based on actual incidents; do any of the characters mirror people you've come across - is there an Albert or Tiffany or even Kirk Atlas who might ring you up late one night and ask how the book is doing?

Are you asking for the ingredients to my secret sauce? Chinatown Angel is a novel--it's all fiction. I don't write memoir or autobiography. I do try to write poetry. And I have my suspicions about the poetry in terms of autobiographical information. But that's between me, my subconscious, and my president. And if any of my characters call me up late one night, that's between me, my credit card company, and phone service provider. I have, however, asked my agent if she would be interested in my memoir: "Confessions of a Mystery Man." She said: "Alex, nobody cares where you buy your Bustelo." So, until they do, I just write fiction.

Your characters come across as very real, down-to-earth, actual people I might bump into any day I find myself in New York City. Any thoughts about your representations in your book of the Puerto Rican/Cuban/ Chinese American characters that populate the story?

If you bump into any of my characters in real life, just swallow the little pink pills and follow the nice lady. Everything is going to be all right. However, I think all my thoughts about my characters are in the book.

The mystery begins when Chico is hired to find a missing girl. That is a classic opening used in many P.I. novels from which flow the plot complications and twists and turns. How much, if any, have you been influenced by other mystery writers, especially the private eye writers? Any particular writers stand out for you as models, influences, or people that you love to read?

I've been influenced by so many writers. The list would be too long and I'd leave someone out and feel bad about it in the morning. I don't want Alice Walker calling and complaining again how I didn't mention her in my list. OK. I'll name three mystery writers: Dashiell Hammett. Chester Himes. Patricia Highsmith.

Hammett, Himes and Highsmith - that's quite a trio of H's. Some of my favorites, too.

You inject a three-part story written by one of your characters into your plot, and the story plays a major role in the detective's deductions. The story sections are separate chapters of the book. Did the story come first, before the novel, and so it led to the overall plot, or the other way around, i.e., the novel's plot morphed into the three-part story? I've done the same thing: used a character to write poetry or a short story, but I wonder what the thinking process was
for you when you decided to include the story in your book?

I'm not sure that I fully understand the question but I'll give it a shot. There are three stories in the novel. The three stories play a part in Chico's deductions. The stories are the novel and the novel is the stories. I can't think of one without the other. (And stop plugging your books during my interview. Heh.)

I hear that you have a story in the upcoming Hit List, the anthology of Latino crime fiction set to be published also in March by Arte Publico. What can you tell us about that story; do you have other stories published or in the wings? You prefer the short form or writing the longer novel?

I do have a story in Hit List. It's called Under the Bridge. I had originally attempted to write a short story for The Thrilling Detective, but it wouldn't finish for me. By the time Hit List came along, I guess that story had been brewing in my subconscious, and I finished it. Under the Bridge is a Chico Santana story. Someone has already called it a revenge story. I think it's also a love story. I also have a short [on the Web site] Thuglit called Let's go talk to Willie. It's also a love story. I'm most comfortable in the longer novel but I'm in awe of poets and short story writers.

What are your plans for promoting Chinatown Angel? La Bloga readers like to meet and greet and party with authors. What is your book signing or public appearance schedule for the book?

In terms of promoting Chinatown Angel, I will be doing an interview with La Bloga, and by the time you finish reading this sentence you will realize that this is that interview. I may also be reading at the KGB Bar in April. The writer Junot Díaz, who is Dominican, read at the KGB Bar and then he won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. So, if I learned anything from my amateur studies in logic, I know that: A. People think I'm Dominican all the time. B. I'm a writer. C. I'll probably be winning the Pulitzer. And on top of that, I'll be appearing at my mother's house for arroz y abichuelas and at the Supreme Court of the State of New York in February for some kind of JUROR award. I'm not sure what this JUROR award is, but they promise to pick me up if I don't show. Flattered? You betcha.

Other than that, the signing and public-appearance schedule for the book is a work in progress. I am open to suggestions and invitations and also open to being invited by La Bloga readers to a meet and greet and party at their houses. I like to drink, so keep the plastic slipcovers on the furniture...

We never take off the plastic at our house. Makes for a clean, lean scene.

What are you working on now, and what else do you have coming up soon for our readers?

I'm working on more Chico adventures. I also have a young-adult novel called Sweet 15 that I co-wrote with my friend and writing partner Emily Adler coming out soon. There are more projects in the works, but they're a matter of national security. Thanks, Manuel and La Bloga and La Bloga readers, and I'll be waiting for those party directions. Who's got the wine coolers? Call me.

Thank you, Alex. Good luck with the book, and ease up on the wine coolers, man.


Speaking about Hit List, the upcoming book has been reviewed by Publishers Weekly. As far as I know, that's the only review so far. The PW review is a mixed bag: on the one hand the reviewer says that "the volume will disappoint readers looking for fiction examining distinctively Latino themes." Not sure what that means, frankly. On the other hand, the review has some nice things to say about A.E. Roman's story (mentioned in his interview, above), Under The Bridge, and my contribution, The Skull of Pancho Villa. The entire (short) review is here. The reviewer points out that the collection includes stories from established writers in the genre such as Mario Acevedo, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Lucha Corpi and Steven Torres. Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery is edited by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez and is set for a March publication by Arte Público.


I'm going to take a short break from all things other than finishing my current novel. That means that you won't see my byline here on La Bloga for the next several weeks (four at least). My Bloga comrades and pals have agreed to fill in so you the reader won't notice any bumps on this literary road we all love and appreciate, La Bloga. Look for upcoming articles from RudyG and his guests, and a few other surprises. Whatever you do, don't forget La Bloga and your daily dose of the best in reviews, news, and views.

Final Thoughts

So long, John Updike. I'm one of the many who benefited from your great ride. Thanks.

Current best three-word phrase in the English language: Former President Bush.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

International Latino Book Awards 2009

11th Annual International
Latino Book Awards
May 28, 2009

Nominations continue to come in for next year's International Latino Book Awards (ILBA). This is the earliest ILBA has ever received nominations. Judging from these early entries, it looks like there will be strong competition in all categories.

The 2009 ILBA to be held at the Javits Center in New York City on the afternoon of May 28. Each year the awards ceremony is held in conjunction with BookExpo America, the country's largest book publishing industry trade show.

Publishers, authors, publicists and all friends of literacy are invited to nominate their favorite books from 2008. There are 62 categories open for nominations: English and Spanish language categories covering everything from fiction to self-help to children's and young adults. Books must have been published in calendar year 2008 to be eligible.

For the 2009 awards, there are four new categories, including Best Young Adult Sports/Recreation (A11 & A12), (B19 & B20), a general fiction category, Best Popular Fiction (C37 & C38), Best Gift Book (B19 & B20) and Best Graphic Novel (C47 & C48). Please consider all the categories carefully before deciding which ones best fit your submissions.

You will find nominating forms and instructions in both English and Spanish here. The nominating process lasts until March 13, when the books will be sent to a diverse panel of judges.

L. A. Live
New Home of the Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival
August 29-30, 2009
The new home for the Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival starting in 2009 is L.A. Live. Home to the Nokia Theater, Club Nokia, the Grammy Museum, the Conga Room, Lucky Strike Lanes, the AEG Broadcast Studio, the ESPN studios and restaurants such as Trader Vics, Wolfgang Puck's, Lawry's and the ESPN Zone, L.A. Live will also feature two world class hotels, the Ritz-Carlton and the JW Marriott. This entertainment complex is revitalizing the downtown Los Angeles scene and quickly becoming the Times Square of the West. As the new, preferred venue for major events and concerts, including the 2008 & 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards, L. A. Live is perfectly located in downtown Los Angeles, just across the street from the Staples Center and the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The Festival exhibit area will occupy the Nokia Plaza and Chick Hearn Court (the street that runs between the Plaza and Staples Center). A floor plan will be available shortly. This dramatic new Festival venue demands a brand new start for the Los Angeles Festival. Look for more celebrities, more authors and more literacy based initiatives than ever before.

The Los Angeles festival has had its greatest successes when held in late August and positioned as a "back-to-school" event, so we are also very excited about staging the event at this great facility the last weekend of August.

Reserve your space for LBFF L.A. Live today!

Books are the pathway to a better future for our kids. Please support this effort.

Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Interview With Children's Book Author Monica Brown

By René Colato Laínez

Congratulations on your new book Pele King of Soccer, Monica you are truly the queen of Latino children’s book biographies. How did you get the idea for this great book?

How fun to be queen of something! More seriously, I am surrounded by people that inspire me, from the children I meet to the folks in publishing who fight to get these stories told. As a Peruvian-American, I grew up with an appreciation for Pelé's physical genius and an understanding of what he represented for the children of South America. The idea to write about him grew out of conversations with my husband (who has coached each of our girl's soccer teams) and my agents, Stefanie Von Borstel and Lilly Ghahremani. I've was also inspired by my brother Danny, who has played soccer semi-professionally and who now plays for the CAL Men's Club team. Since I have a soccer-crazy family, this was a natural project for me.

Tell us about Monica, the big foot player.

Well, I had a particular coach--Coach Charlie--who called me "big foot" because I had such a big kick! I always played defense. As you can see from the photo, I played AYSO!

Your daughters must be thrilled with this book. What was their first reaction? I know they are fútbol players too.

They were so excited! I dedicated the book to my nine-year-old daughter Juliana who plays for a club, Flagstaff United. We travel with her team and it is truly amazing to watch these rough-and-tumble nine year old girls leave everything on the field!

The illustrations of the book are wonderful. I love how the illustrator captured Pele in action in the cover. How was the process of illustration? Did you have contact with Rudy Gutierrez?

Rudy and I have been in contact over email and I hope to have the pleasure of meeting him in person soon. He is incredibly talented and has a great spirit. Rudy has worked quite a bit in the music industry--he illustrated Santana's Shaman album cover--and his blend of color, movement and rhythm was perfect for a story about Pelé.

We have many writer visitors in La Bloga. Can you tell us about Monica, the researcher? What places do you visit? Books? Media?

I put a great deal of time and effort into research and I think my biographies are stronger for it. The internet is a great initial source, but I always end up with real books from a real library! In addition to writing children's books, I'm a professor and a scholar and ever since I was a college student I've found libraries restful, meditative places. The more thoroughly I research, the more inspiration I have to draw on. In some cases, I'm able to glean information directly from the source.

Now that you have all the data, what is the process of writing the books? You must collect tons of great information and we know that children’s books are very limited with words. How do decide what to include?

Well, first I think about the shape and structure of the book. Will I begin in the present and then look backwards to the subject's childhood? Will there be a recurring image, rhythm or theme? I begin with these questions and then I begin drafting. It's hard to fully describe the process of writing because honestly, I can't pinpoint the source of a particular line or turn of phrase except to say that if feels like a gift when it's flowing. When I have a complete draft, I ask myself more questions: Have I captured the spirit of my subject in all its brilliance and joy? Will children and their parent's be moved and inspired by this story? Will they have fun reading it?

A little bird told me that your next book is about Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez. Can you tell us about it?

I cannot begin to express how excited I am about this book! The book, illustrated by the incredible Joe Cepeda, is called Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez/Lado a Lado, La Historia de Dolores Huerta y Cesar Chavez and is forthcoming from HarperCollins Rayo this Fall. Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez were partners in leadership and my book places this side by side in history. Dolores Huerta reviewed the manuscript and she and her family were incredibly helpful in terms of writing a historically accurate book. It was an honor to write this book, inspired by two people who are my personal heroes.

There are many children full of dreams and in your books they can see that dreams can become a reality. What is your message for your readers?

My message is one of inspiration and pride in our beautiful and diverse Latinidad. So many of my subjects came from challenging beginnings, but they believed in themselves and achieved greatness. As a boy, Pelé and his friends were so poor that they couldn't afford an actual soccer ball and would play with a sock stuffed with newspapers. I want all children to feel that their only limitation is their own imagination. As teachers, writers, artists, and activists, it is our job to make sure that this is true.

Thanks Monica, where can our readers catch you and say hi! When and where are your future presentations?

I will be speaking at several events this spring, including the International Reading Association in Phoenix and The Texas Library Association Annual Meeting in Houston. I'm always interested in visiting schools, conferences, and book festivals. Speaking to students and their teachers, as well as other creative writers through children's writing workshops, is particularly rewarding. The best way to find out about my upcoming appearances or to contact me about speaking to your group is to check out my website at

Monica Brown is the award-winning author of My Name is Celia: The Life of Celia Cruz/Me Llamo Celia: La Vida de Celia Cruz(Luna Rising), My Name is Gabito: The life of Gabriel Garcia Marquez/Me Llamo Gabito: La Vida de Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Luna Rising); Butterflies on Carmen Street (Piñata); Pelé, King of Soccer/ Pelé, El Rey de Futbol (HarperCollins Rayo); and the forthcoming Side by Side: The Story of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez (HarperCollins Rayo).

Monday, January 26, 2009

Walkout in Crystal City

When students take action, they create change that extends far beyond the classroom. A former teacher from Crystal City, Tex., remembers the student walkout that helped launch the Latino civil rights movement 40 years ago.

by Gregg Barrios

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mexican Americans/Chicanos across the state of Texas made their voices heard in a civil rights movement that would change the state forever. Few people know that the movement began when students in a small farming community took action in a dispute over who could and couldn't be a high school cheerleader.

I witnessed that movement from a front-row seat, as a teacher in Crystal City, Texas.

In 1969, Mexican Americans were prohibited from speaking Spanish in school. There were no classes or lessons about Mexican history, culture or literature. The contributions of Mexican Americans were not included in textbooks.

Mexican Americans were — and remain — the overwhelming majority in Crystal City.

At the time, nearly half of these were migrant farmworkers. In spring, migrant parents took their children out of school, often before the semester had ended, and sometimes didn't return from the migrant circuit until after the fall semester had started.

During that summer interim, local government and school officials — all representing the Anglo minority — would select candidates for fall elections and pass measures, rules and regulations to maintain control of the absentee majority.

The city council wasn't the only place where the Anglo minority was overrepresented. If you looked at the local high school's cheerleading squad, you would never know that most people in Crystal City were Mexican American. While school cheerleaders had been elected in the past by the student body, once Mexican American youth became the majority in the schools, the rules were changed. A faculty committee now decided the selection. Only one Mexican American cheerleader was allowed, while the other three positions were only for Anglos.

In 1969, when two cheerleader positions were vacant, Chicano students were told they could not fill the vacancies since their quota of one had been met. The school board also imposed a requirement that any candidate for cheerleader had to have at least one parent who graduated from the high school.

Mexican American students cried foul. School administrators did not help, so students met with the superintendent, who decided on what he considered a more equitable quota system: the selection of three Anglos and three Mexican American cheerleaders.

Anglo parents protested against the superintendent's "caving in" to Chicano student activists. The school board nullified the superintendent's concessions and added an incendiary resolution that any future student unrest would be met with expulsion.

Student leaders took their concerns to the school board.

"Boy, you're out of order!" shouted one board member, as one student began to address the board.

The board then refused to hear the students' demands, which included recruitment of more Hispanic teachers and counselors; more classes to challenge students and fewer shop and home economics electives; bilingual-bicultural education at the elementary and secondary levels; Mexican American studies classes to reflect the contributions made by Latinos; and the addition of a student representative to the school board.

Frustrated and intent on making their case known, high school students staged a walkout on Dec. 9, 1969. More students joined each day, until more than 2,000 students were walking the picket line.

Once junior high and elementary students joined their brothers and sisters in solidarity, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) sent negotiators to end the walkout and get the students back in school. The board, however, continued to play hardball and nixed the TEA proposal to close the schools early for the Christmas holidays.

By then, the media had descended on the town. Mexican Americans in neighboring South Texas towns beset with similar issues of discrimination identified with the student walkout in Crystal City.

Texas Sen. Ralph Yarborough invited three student leaders to Washington, D.C., to discuss the discrimination in their schools. They also met with Sen. Edward Kennedy and Sen. George McGovern, who in turn alerted officials in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare of the serious situation in Texas.

Back home, Texans for the Educational Advancement of Mexican Americans (TEAM) mobilized educators to Crystal City to teach the striking students during the holidays. Since the schools were closed, they met in a community dance hall.

I was one of the teachers who answered the call to tutor the striking students. I was immediately taken by the poise and confidence of the striking students, but more impressed by their eagerness to learn. I was humbled when the students asked if I would return to teach once the walkout was over. I told them I would seriously consider it.

Overwhelmed by the pressure, the board finally held a hearing. On Jan. 9, 1970, student demands were reluctantly approved. The hard-fought student victory energized and educated the community. In the spring, Mexican American candidates swept the school board and the city council elections.

And in September, keeping my promise, I joined the Crystal City schools as an elementary bilingual teacher. The following year I moved to the high school as the Senior English teacher.

Within two years, the schools' faculty, administrators and superintendent reflected the Mexican American majority of the community. More students were finishing school; a majority of the graduates were attending some form of higher education. Crystal City graduates were receiving acceptances from Harvard, Stanford and the University of Texas, as well as local area junior colleges. Some of those student leaders have gone on to hold key positions at the school and in state government.

The Crystal City student walkout remains a high point in the history of student activism in the Southwest. Crystal City provided both template and inspiration for any community faced with economic or civil discrimination.

Above all, it gave us participants a sense of individual and communal destiny in the knowledge that a common cause can bring about justice, unity and change.

In the rallying cry of the United Farm Workers and the more recent U.S. immigration reform protests: "Sí, se puede."

Yes, we can.

NOTE: Gregg Barrios taught in the Crystal City schools for 10 years. Since then he has been a successful journalist for the Los Angeles Times and more recently was book editor of the San Antonio Express-News. He is now a full-time playwright. The San Antonio Express-News recently selected Barrios as one of nine artists who are on the verge of breaking through in 2009.

Discussion Questions:

1. Barrios notes that many of the students involved in the walkout went on to attend Harvard, or attained prominent positions in government. Why does he point this out? Why would Harvard be interested in students who participated in the walkout? Why would these students be more likely to achieve success later in life?

2. Crystal City students wanted to see Mexican American subjects addressed in the classroom. How well do the lessons in your classroom reflect the world you see every day?

3. How did the Anglo minority manage to control a town that was mostly Mexican American? Do you think similar things are going on today?

[This essay first appeared in the Southern Poverty Law Center's magazine, Teaching Tolerance, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.]

◙ Rigoberto González, an award-winning writer and author most recently of Men Without Bliss (Chicana and Chicano Visions of the Americas) (University of Oklahoma Press), reviews Ruins by Achy Obejas (Akashic Books) for the El Paso Times where he notes, in part:

On the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, Achy Obejas pays homage to those who persevere on the island -- despite a lifetime of political and economic turmoil -- with the celebrated release of her stunning new novel, "Ruins" (Akashic Books, $15.95 paperback).

The year is 1994, and Usnavy Martín Leyva, notwithstanding his Yankee-inspired name, is a staunch nationalist and fiercely loyal to Castro's ideologies. But because of food shortages, the rise of a black-market economy, and obnoxious camera-wielding tourists invading even his leisurely game of dominoes, it's difficult to deny his disillusioned neighbors' assessment that reclaiming Cuba for the people "didn't turn out exactly like we thought."


"Ruins" is a beautifully written novel, a moving testament to the human spirit of an unlikely hero who remains unbroken even as the world collapses around him. A fine literary achievement by the graceful author of "Days of Awe" and "Memory Mambo," it's Achy Obejas at her very best.

To read the entire review, click here.

◙ Álvaro Huerta (author and contributor to La Bloga) alerts us to an article entitled "Gardeners reap the pain of recession" by Anna Gorman of the Los Angeles Times. The subtitle is: "As the economy worsens, those who provide the extras -- housework, lawn care, pool service -- feel the pinch first." The piece begins:

Every time a client calls, Martin Alamillo gets nervous. Since last summer, more than 10 of his clients have discontinued their weekly gardening service. Several are behind on their payments, including one woman who owes him nearly $1,000.

Alamillo and his two crews are still out mowing lawns, blowing leaves and picking weeds, but he estimates that business is down as much as 20%.

While the economic crash has affected businesses from real estate to retail, gardeners like Alamillo have been among the hardest hit as homeowners looking to save money dust off their lawn mowers and take care of their own yards.

Gardeners, like housekeepers and pool cleaners, are seen as extras when people's houses go upside down or when they lose their jobs, said John Husing, an economic consultant based in Redlands.

"You can cut your lawn. You can clean your house," Husing said. "These are those little extra goodies when you are feeling flush. They are also some of the first to go away when you are not."

The complete article may be read here.

◙ Finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced on Saturday, January 24, at a packed event at the Housing Works Bookstore Café in Manhattan. The finalists for NBCC's forthcoming awards for books published in 2008 included the late Roberto Bolaño for his novel, 2666 (Farrar, Straus), and Juan Felipe Herrera for his poetry collection, Half the World in Light (University of Arizona Press). You may read the entire list here.

Daniel Alarcón, acclaimed author of Lost City Radio and War by Candlelight, sends this news to La Bloga:

The third and last installment of my essay on the inauguration of Barack Obama is up on Granta today. The complete text (all 3 parts) will be published in Spanish in the next issues of El Malpensante and Etiqueta Negra:

◙ That’s all for this week. So, in the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yellow Medicine Review's spring 2009 issue guest edited by Jimmy Santiago Baca looking for submissions

Submission Deadline: FEBRUARY 15, 2009

For the Spring 2009 issue of Yellow Medicine Review, guest editor Jimmy Santiago Baca is interested in submissions from Indigenous writers and scholars that speak to one of two themes:

1) Explorations of Learning & Teaching Experiences

Entries in all genres considered (poetry, prose, journal, letters, etc.), especially in regards to the experiences we've had in learning how to live; learning from elders and kids and nature and books and the Creator.

2) Endangerment of Civil Liberties

Works giving voice to infringement upon or violation of our civil liberties; experiences where we've had our civil liberties cut from our lives--cameras everywhere, law enforcement officers conducting themselves like paramilitary goons, our emails and telephone calls being intercepted by Homeland Security, etc. A huge change took place under the Bush watch and we poets and writers have suffered the worst of its assault. We'd like to see what's going on out there, especially since so many poets and writers of color have remained silent because of fear of having their cultural and governmental acceptance-card recalled....

For more information on the writings, works, and interests of guest editor Jimmy Santiago Baca, click here or visit Cedar Tree, Inc.

How to submit:Send submissions as email attachments, either in Word (.doc) or Rich-Text File (.rtf) format. Work should be doublespaced in Times New Roman 12 pt. font.

Include in the subject line of the email: YMR submission: Last Name, First NameAlso, please include, either as a separate attachment or in the body of the email, a short bio. Within your bio, please include mention of the Indigenous group with which you self-identify if such is the case. Send to:

Direct questions to:

Upcoming Events

Latina Authors Panel & Book Signing
3:00pm Sunday
January 25, 2009

Los Alamitos/Rossmoor Library
12700 Montecito
Seal Beach, CA

Latina Authors Panel & Book Signing
6:00-9:00pm Thursday
February 5, 2009

Join us in celebrating Libreria Martinez's Grand Re-Opening with Great Literature, Food & Wine Tasting!

Featuring: Sarah Rafael Garcia, Jamie Martinez Wood & Mary Castillo
Guest Moderator: Marcos Najera, Latino Affairs Journalist

Libreria Martinez
1110 N. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA
(714) 973-7900

Texas Book Tour, Again!
March 4-12th, 2009
Dates & Locations to be announced

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good News and New Books


More American Adults Read Literature According to New NEA Study

Literary reading on the rise for first time in history of Arts Endowment survey

Washington, D.C. -- For the first time in more than 25 years, American adults are reading more literature, according to a new study by the National Endowment for the Arts. Reading on the Rise documents a definitive increase in rates and numbers of American adults who read literature, with the biggest increases among young adults, ages 18-24. This new growth reverses two decades of downward trends cited previously in NEA reports such as Reading at Risk and To Read or Not To Read.

"At a time of immense cultural pessimism, the NEA is pleased to announce some important good news. Literary reading has risen in the U.S. for the first time in a quarter century," said NEA Chairman Dana Gioia. "This dramatic turnaround shows that the many programs now focused on reading, including our own Big Read, are working. Cultural decline is not inevitable."

Among the key findings:

Literary reading increases

  • For the first time in the history of the survey - conducted five times since 1982 - the overall rate at which adults read literature (novels and short stories, plays, or poems) rose by seven percent.
  • The absolute number of literary readers has grown significantly. There were 16.6 million more adult readers of literature in 2008. The growth in new readers reflects higher adult reading rates combined with overall population growth.
  • The 2008 increases followed significant declines in reading rates for the two most recent ten-year survey periods (1982-1992 and 1992-2002).

Demographics of literature readers

  • Young adults show the most rapid increases in literary reading. Since 2002, 18-24 year olds have seen the biggest increase (nine percent) in literary reading, and the most rapid rate of increase (21 percent). This jump reversed a 20 percent rate of decline in the 2002 survey, the steepest rate of decline since the NEA survey began.
  • Since 2002, reading has increased at the sharpest rate (+20 percent) among Hispanic Americans, Reading rates have increased among African Americans by 15 percent, and among Whites at an eight percent rate of increase.
  • For the first time in the survey's history, literary reading has increased among both men and women. Literary reading rates have grown or held steady for adults of all education levels.

Trends in media and literary preferences

  • Fiction (novels and short stories) accounts for the new growth in adult literary readers.
  • Reading poetry and drama continues to decline, especially poetry-reading among women.
  • Online readers also report reading books. Eighty-four percent of adults who read literature (fiction, poetry, or drama) on or downloaded from the Internet also read books, whether print or online.
  • Nearly 15 percent of all U.S. adults read literature online in 2008.

A tale of two Americas

  • The U.S. population now breaks into two almost equally sized groups – readers and non-readers.
  • A slight majority of American adults now read literature (113 million) or books (119 million) in any format.
  • Reading is an important indicator of positive individual and social behavior patterns. Previous NEA research has shown that literary readers volunteer, attend arts and sports events, do outdoor activities, and exercise at higher rates than non-readers.

The NEA research brochure Reading on the Rise is based on early results from the 2008 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA). SPPA is a periodic survey that has been conducted five times since 1982 using data obtained in partnership with the United States Census Bureau. Detailed results from the 2008 survey will be available in 2009. The 2008 SPPA survey has a sample size of more than 18,000 adults. The 2008 survey's literary reading questions - which form the focus of Reading on the Rise - were the same as in previous years: "During the last 12 months, did you read any a) novels or short stories; b) poetry; or c) plays?" Since 1992, the survey also has asked about book-reading. In 2008, the survey introduced new questions about reading preferences and reading on the Internet.

Reading on the Rise, along with other NEA research, is available for download at



Free community reception February 18

(DENVER) Mayor John Hickenlooper, the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs are pleased to announce the 2008 recipients of the Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts. The 2008 honorees are Charles Burrell, Denver Young Artists Orchestra, Su Teatro and The Bloomsbury Review. In addition, the Mayor’s Cultural Legacy Award will be presented to Noël Congdon.

The 2008 Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts reception will be held on Wednesday, February 18, 2009 from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.) at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th St. & Curtis St. Mayor Hickenlooper will present the awards to the honorees at the event. The public is invited to attend this free community celebration. Seating will be first-come, first-served; no RSVP necessary. Performances for the evening will include: Rocky Mountain Children’s Choir, Sweet Edge Dance Company and Purnell Steen & Le Jazz Machine.

Since 1986, the Mayor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts annually recognize individuals and organizations that have made significant and lasting contributions to the arts in the City and County of Denver.

Here's what the announcement says about Su Teatro -

Su Teatro was formed in 1972 in a University of Colorado classroom and quickly became an important artistic arm of the Chicano self-identity and civil rights movement of the time. Su Teatro is the third oldest Chicano theater company still in existence—after Teatro Campesino and Teatro Esperanza—and has been recognized as a significant force in both the Chicano arts aesthetic and American Theater. Su Teatro’s mission is to create, produce and promote theater and other art that celebrates the experiences, history, language and heritage of Latinos in the U.S.and the Americas.

In 1989, Su Teatro emerged as the larger cultural arts center, El Centro Su Teatro. They expanded their offerings to include annual projects such as the XicanIndie FilmFest: Latino World Cinema, Neruda Poetry Festival, which includes the Barrio Slam competition, St. Cajetan’s Reunification Project, Chicano Music Festival and Auction and a multi-tiered arts education program called the Cultural Arts Institute.

The organization is poised to expand once again with the purchase of a new space on Santa Fe Drive in Denver’s historic Westside neighborhood. Though the organization continuously experiments with form and content, Su Teatro remains committed to education, social justice and community enrichment.

You can read more about the award and the recipients at this link to a Denver Post story.


The recent series of short stories about Denver collectively known as A Dozen on Denver and printed in the Rocky Mountain News has been picked up by Fulcrum Publishing. The twelve stories will be published in book form in Fall, 2009, "positioned and priced for the Holiday season" as the announcement says. A Dozen on Denver has been a great project that brought together a varied and terrific group of writers who produced some outstanding stories about Denver through the decades. The project helped celebrate the 150th birthday of Denver and the News in a unique and literary way. I have a story in the collection so I am not completely objective, but I heartily recommend the stories (and the book, of course). Until the book is available, you can read my contribution, Fence Busters, here; and you can get to all twelve stories at this link.


Living The Vida Lola
Misa Ramirez
St. Martin's Minotaur, February 7, 2009

Dolores “Lola” Cruz loves shoes, kung fu, and her job as an underling at Camacho and Associates, a private investigation firm in Sacramento. After a year and a half on the job, her sexy and mysterious boss, Manny Camacho, finally assigns Lola her first big case—a woman’s disappearance. If Lola gets it right, it could mean a big bump up the career ladder. But this is no grocery store stakeout. The woman turns up dead and the same thing could happen to Lola if she doesn’t watch her back.

The Sweet Smell of Home
Leonard F. Chana, Susan Lobo, Barbara Chana
University of Arizona Press, July, 2009

A self-taught artist in several mediums who became known for stippling, Leonard Chana captured the essence of the Tohono O'odham people. He incorporated subtle details of O'odham life into his art, and his images evoke the smells, sounds, textures, and tastes of the Sonoran desert -- all the while depicting the values of his people.

He began his career by creating cards and soon was lending his art to posters and logos for many community-based Native organizations. Winning recognition from these groups, his work was soon actively sought by them. Chana's work also appears on the covers and as interior art in a number of books on southwestern and American Indian topics.

The Sweet Smell of Home is an autobiographical work, written in Chana's own voice that unfolds through oral history interviews with anthropologist Susan Lobo. Chana imparts the story of his upbringing and starting down the path toward a career as an artist. Balancing humor with a keen eye for cultural detail, he tells us about life both on and off the reservation.

Eighty pieces of art -- 26 in color -- grace the text, and Chana explains both the impetus for and the evolution of each piece. Leonard Chana was a people's artist who celebrated the extraordinary heroism of common people's lives. The Sweet Smell of Home now celebrates this unique artist whose words and art illuminate not only his own remarkable life, but also the land and lives of the Tohono O'odham people.

what i'm on
Luis Humberto Valadez
University of Arizona Press, March, 2009

Luis Valadez is a performance poet and his poems shout to be read aloud. It's then that their language dazzles most brightly. It's then that the emotions bottled up on the page explode beyond words. And there is plenty of emotion in these poems. Frankly autobiographical, they recount the experiences of a Mexican American boy growing up in a tough town near Chicago. Just as in life, the feelings in these poems are often jumbled, sometimes spilling out in a tumble, sometimes coolly recollected. Sometimes the words jump and twitch as if they'd been threatened or attacked. Sometimes they just sit there knowingly on the page, weighted down by the stark reality of it all.

José García
put a thirty-five to me
my mother was in the other room
He would have done us both
if not for the lust of my fear

This new Mexican American/Chicano voice is all at once arresting, bracing, shocking, and refreshing. This is not the poetry you learned in school. It owes as much to hip hop as it does to the canon. But Valadez has paid his academic dues, and he certainly knows how to craft a poem. It's just that he does it his way.

i anagram and look and subject to deformation and reconfiguring . . .
it ain't events or blocks that ahm jettisoning through this process
it be layers of meaning, identity, narrative, and ego that gets peeled off
i can only increase my own understanding

Dark Thirty
Santee Frazier
University of Arizona Press, February, 2009

Writing sometimes in dialect, sometimes in gunshot bursts, sometimes in sinuous lines that snake across the page, Santee Frazier crafts poems that are edgy and restless. The poems in Dark Thirty, Frazier's debut collection, address subjects that are not often thought of as "poetic," like poverty, alcoholism, cruelty, and homelessness. Frazier's poems emerge from the darkest corners of experience: "I search the cabinet and icebox -- drink the pickle juice / from the jar. Bologna, / hard at the edges, / browning on the kitchen / table since yesterday. / I search the cabinet and icebox -- the curdling / milk almost smells drinkable."

Dark Thirty takes us on a loosely autobiographical trip through Cherokee country, the backwoods towns and the big cities, giving us clear-eyed portraits of Native people surviving contemporary America. In Frazier's world, there is no romanticizing of Native American life. Here cops knock on the door of a low-rent apartment after a neighbor has been stabbed. Here a poem's narrator recalls firing a .38 pistol -- barrel glowing like oil in a gutter-puddle" --for the first time. Here a young man catches a Greyhound bus to Flagstaff after his ex-girlfriend tells him he has fathered a child. Yet even in the midst of violence and despair there is time for the beauty of the world to shine through: "The Cutlass rattling out / the last fumes of gas, engine stops, / the night dimly lit by the moon / hung over the treetops; / owls calling each other from / hilltop to valley bend."

Like viewing photographs that repel us even as they draw us in, we are pulled into these poems. We're compelled to turn the page and read the next poem. And the next. And each poem rewards us with a world freshly seen and remade for us of sound and image and voice.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Martín Espada on Barack Obama

Litany at the Tomb of Frederick Douglass
Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, New York
November 7, 2008

This is the longitude and latitude of the impossible;
this is the epicenter of the unthinkable;
this is the crossroads of the unimaginable:
the tomb of Frederick Douglass, three days after the election.

This is a world spinning away from the gravity of centuries,
where the grave of a fugitive slave has become an altar.
This is the tomb of a man born as chattel, who taught himself 
to read in secret,scraping the letters in his name with chalk on wood;
 now on the anvil-flat stone a campaign button fills the O in Douglass. 
The button says: Obama. This is the tomb of a man in chains, 
who left his fingerprints on the slavebreaker’s throat so the whip 
would never carve his back again;  now a labor union T-shirt drapes itself 
across the stone, offered up by a nurse, a janitor, a bus driver. 
A sticker on the sleeve says: I Voted Today. 
This is the tomb of a man who rolled his call to arms off the press,
peering through spectacles at the abolitionist headline; now a newspaper
spreads above his dates of birth and death. The headline says: Obama Wins.

This is the stillness at the heart of the storm that began in the body
of the first slave, dragged aboard the first ship to America. Yellow leaves
descend in waves, and the newspaper flutters on the tomb, like the sails
Douglass saw in the bay, like the eyes of a slave closing to watch himself
escape with the tide. Believers in spirits would see the pages trembling
on the stone and say: look how the slave boy teaches himself to read.
I say a prayer, the first in years: that here we bury what we call
the impossible, the unthinkable, the unimaginable, now and forever. Amen.

~~~ Martín Espada


Tips for Better Life

1. Take a 10-30 minutes walk every day. And while you walk, smile.
2. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
3. Sleep for 7 hours.
4. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm, and Empathy.
5. Play more games.
6. Read more books than you did the previous year.
7. Make time to practice meditation, yoga, and prayer. They provide us with daily fuel for our busy lives.
8. Spend time with people over the age of 70 & under the age of 6.
9. Dream more while you are awake.
10. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.
11. Drink plenty of water.
12. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
13. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip.
14. Forget issues of the past. Don't remind your partner with his/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.
15. Don't have negative thoughts or things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
16. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
17. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar.
18. Smile and laugh more.
19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don't hate others.
20. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
21. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
22. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present.
23. Don't compare your life to others'. You have no idea what their journey is all about. Don't compare your partner with others.
24. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
25. Forgive everyone for everything.
26. What other people think of you is none of your business.
27. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
28. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
29. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
30. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
31. The best is yet to come.
32. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
33. Do the right thing!
34. Call your family often.
35. Your inner most is always happy. So be happy.
36. Each day give something good to others.
37. Don't over do. Keep your limits.
38. Share this with someone you care about

Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


A Message from Adriana Dominguez


Dear Friends:

Happy New Year! As some of you may already know, I've launched a bilingual blog to promote Latino authors and books called VOCES (see web address below). The idea started with an invitation to a local Univision news show to recommend Spanish language books as Christmas gifts, and grew from there. (I've posted the video on the blog.)

The following is my first post and "Welcome" message on the site:

I've created this blog with one goal in mind: To provide you with a place to read about Latino authors, their books, and news related to the Latino book market (with a special emphasis on the Latino children's market). We write and speak in two languages, often seamlessly switching between the two, hence, this blog will sometimes switch from English to Spanish, depending on the source of the content. Latino authors, publishers, agents, booksellers, journalists, this is your blog too; I encourage you to participate by sending me your news, events, releases, anything you'd like to let others know about. The name of this blog does not only refer to Latino authors, but to our collective effort in using our "voices" to promote the work of Latino authors and books. This is a work in progress, and I look forward to your feedback to help me make this the place where Latino authors and books are the #1 priority. I hope that you will join me on this wonderful new journey. Saludos!

"Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar..."—Antonio Machado

Although the blog is still a little "green," the initial response has been wonderful, in both languages! Univision viewers wrote me to thank me for guiding them through the sometimes complex process of finding and learning about Spanish language books in the U.S., and for promoting reading on television, something not often done. Colleagues have offered to help in any way they can, and a few have already linked up to to the blog from their websites. I have a couple of author interviews lined up as well, and plans to develop a series to guide aspiring Latino authors through the process of getting published, and beyond. And I am of course open to any ideas that you may have!


This is a great way to call Lotería

Yesterday, I was checking Lotería's videos on You Tube and I found this hilarious video. I had heard many ways to call Lotería and the guy on the video is the king! If you have a loteria's card grab it. Find some frijoles and play the game. Be ready to laugh!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Review: The Accidental Santera

"Irete Lazo." NY: Thomas Dunne Books, 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-312-38188-2

Michael Sedano

That's not this author's real name, according to the inside flap of the dust jacket of this interesting novel. The photo of a smiling brown-skinned woman may be Lazo or quién sabe who. "Lazo" in her not pseudonym worked as a scientist, print journalist, announcer  for NPR, and santera. 
And there's the rub. The Accidental Santera describes an agnostic experimental scientist's religious conversion from lapsed Texas Catholic to priestess of the Cuban-Afro religion called Santeria. 

Santeria informs many a novel. From cultural allusions in such work as Leonardo Padura's Havana colors series, to the more typical scary elements of such novels as Alex Abella's scary The Killing of the Saints.

Perhaps owing to the horror-story character of the religion, "Lazo" elects to cloak her actual identity behind that pseudonym. Just as her character, a San Francisco State University professor does.

La Profesora works happily with her third-world students out of an obligation to bring people of color into the racist, sexist, deeply biased world of the hard sciences.

But other than that happiness, the first person narrator is dismal. She and her scientist husband have grown estranged, partially as a result of three miscarriages and their failure to conceive. But he's become an insensitive clod, and she drinks too much. Her BFF, another Latina scientist, offers a comforting shoulder to cry on, as well as a solid point of reference for Gabi's--our narrator--sense of estrangement from her own Latinidad.

Gabriella's crises of culture, relationship, faith, and faithfulness, come to a head at a New Orleans scientific conference. Drinking too much, she picks up a good-looking scientist at the conference party and allows herself to be pulled to the brink of adultery, until too many margaritas drive her to a toilet bowl to puke out her guts.

Having come to this head-spinningly low point in her life, Gabi sits for a santero's reading of the bones at Marie Laveau's voodoo shop, setting Gabi off on a search for identity that eventuates in her initiation as a santera of The Religion.

Stripped to these outlines, The Accidental Santera offers a fulfilling story of academic political bullshit, marriage, fertility, family, and friendship. Less arresting is the author's drive to explain her conversion to Santeria, which requires the novel to assume a pedagogical voice explaining the various terms and personages of The Religion--as Santeria is referred by adherents. Also less involving is the author's--or her editor's--insistence on appositional translation. Say something in Spanish and have it in English in the next clause. Worse, the translation is almost always literal, none of the fun with expression seen in such work as Houston, We Have a Problema. Fortunately, the "Lazo" resists the temptation to use a lot of Spanish but instead tells us a character speaks in Spanish.

Despite these flaws, or perhaps because of them, the novel is an enjoyable reading experience. And, given the allusions to Santeria in so many other novels, The Accidental Santera--including its glossary--will fill several gaps in many a reader's knowledge.

Free Houston, We Have A Problema

After I reviewed Gwendolyn Zepeda's chiclit title, Houston, We Have a Problema, the publisher offered a free copy to the first five La Bloga readers who requested a copy. And that's exactly what La Bloga was happy to do for these friends:

Randy Zuniga
Stanton, Ca

Lauren Bogenberger
Odenton MD

Arnoldo Mata
Pharr TX

Amy Mascareñas
Watsonville, ca

George Luna-Peña
Washington DC 20036

Congratulations to our five friends! I hope they'll read and enjoy the title and send in their own review of the novel, or pass along their copy to other readers to share in the experience.

Know that La Bloga welcomes your reviews of books reviewed here, or other titles that merit La Bloga's attention. Be La Bloga's guest by leaving a comment, or click here to get more information about your invitation to be a La Bloga guest columnist.

Arroba, arroba, arroba.

Last week, La Bloga's Thursday columnist, Lisa Alvarado, introduced Damian Baca's [Mestiza Mestizo] Scripts, Digital Migrations, and the Territories of Writing. Rather than spelling out the feminine and masculine noun forms of the title, Baca elected using the nonsense @ marker to designate both genders. I complained and a commenter with the handle Quetzal, presumably Baca himself, blamed some gente at UC Berkely for the orthography, averring the unpronounceable spelling offers some version of gender inclusivity. 

I disagree. Vehemently. For me, this arroba represents someone's cute idea gone wild. I see the usage as laziness, at best. As I complained, how does a reader pronounce that perversion? Chicanat? Chicanarroba? In any event, the spelling doesn't say what the writer intends, so it's simply an error.

Chicana Chicano writers express inclusivity by writing inclusively. Only slightly less huevón is the -a -o abbreviation, as in "Latina/o", which Quetzal acknowledges as similarly unpronounceable, and characterizes as a "landmine." Sheesh, gente. When approaching a landmine, the only sensible strategy is go around. I'd say that's a safe rule, ¿que no?

Hay les wachamos, folks. Happy inauguration.

Believe It.

When I was a kid, the legal voting age was 21. So I was already in grad school my first presidential election. 1968. Gene McCarthy was my man.

I remember. Bobby and Hubert. Riots in Chicago and Miami. Law and ordure Nixon’s Southern Strategy plays on racial divisions to solidify the still-solid GOP South. Thanx, Dick. In ‘68, Nixon drafts my ass out of grad school. Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton stay home.

You go. Yes you can.

I remember my parents' bitter disappointment when a real estate agent phones us the evening we’d bought a new house. The offer rescinded because Mexicans not allowed to live in that neighborhood.

No you can't.

I remember 4th grade, playing violin for the Superintendent of Schools who pats my head with his greatest compliment, “You are a credit to your race.”

No you can't.

I remember 5th grade, we buy a house and I enroll in a new school. The first week an invitation to a girl's birthday party. Wow, I am amazed that some people rent the entire roller rink—I’d never been inside--to hold private parties. Then the girl phones me and tells me I’m disinvited--Mexicans not allowed in the roller rink on Saturday mornings.

No you can't.

I remember photos and television images, cops using fire hoses to knock people down, attack them with dogs, club them to the ground, because they want to vote.

No you can’t.

I remember bombs. Schwerner. Chaney. Goodman. Evers. QEPD. Troops to open schoolhouse doors.

No you can't.

I remember incredulous men and women peppering me with questions, "What are you?" "Where is your father from?” “What language do you speak at home?" then denying I could possibly be, because I win speech contests.

No you can't.

I remember, all gussied up for fraternity rush, the curious stares from the guys. Why was I bothering? Not welcome.

No you can't.

I remember a voice on television telling me Barack Obama surpasses 270 Electoral Votes and is the 44th President of the United States of America.

Yes we can.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Meaning of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

By Coretta Scott King

[from The King Center 's website]

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday celebrates the life and legacy of a man who brought hope and healing to America. We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example -- the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership. On this holiday, we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.

We commemorate Dr. King’s inspiring words, because his voice and his vision filled a great void in our nation, and answered our collective longing to become a country that truly lived by its noblest principles. Yet, Dr. King knew that it wasn’t enough just to talk the talk, that he had to walk the walk for his words to be credible. And so we commemorate on this holiday the man of action, who put his life on the line for freedom and justice every day, the man who braved threats and jail and beatings and who ultimately paid the highest price to make democracy a reality for all Americans.

The King Holiday honors the life and contributions of America’s greatest champion of racial justice and equality, the leader who not only dreamed of a color-blind society, but who also lead a movement that achieved historic reforms to help make it a reality.

On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.

It is a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation and sharing. No other day of the year brings so many peoples from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood. Whether you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, whether you are Caucasian or Asian-American, you are part of the great dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America. This is not a black holiday; it is a peoples' holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.

We commemorate on this holiday the ecumenical leader and visionary who embraced the unity of all faiths in love and truth. And though we take patriotic pride that Dr. King was an American, on this holiday we must also commemorate the global leader who inspired nonviolent liberation movements around the world. Indeed, on this day, programs commemorating my husband’s birthday are being observed in more than 100 nations.

The King Holiday celebrates Dr. King’s global vision of the world house, a world whose people and nations had triumphed over poverty, racism, war and violence. The holiday celebrates his vision of ecumenical solidarity, his insistence that all faiths had something meaningful to contribute to building the beloved community.

The Holiday commemorates America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence --- the man who taught by his example that nonviolent action is the most powerful, revolutionary force for social change available to oppressed people in their struggles for liberation.

This holiday honors the courage of a man who endured harassment, threats and beatings, and even bombings. We commemorate the man who went to jail 29 times to achieve freedom for others, and who knew he would pay the ultimate price for his leadership, but kept on marching and protesting and organizing anyway.

Every King holiday has been a national "teach-in" on the values of nonviolence, including unconditional love, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation, which are so desperately-needed to unify America. It is a day of intensive education and training in Martin’s philosophy and methods of nonviolent social change and conflict-reconciliation. The Holiday provides a unique opportunity to teach young people to fight evil, not people, to get in the habit of asking themselves, "what is the most loving way I can resolve this conflict?"

On the King holiday, young people learn about the power of unconditional love even for one's adversaries as a way to fight injustice and defuse violent disputes. It is a time to show them the power of forgiveness in the healing process at the interpersonal as well as international levels.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not only for celebration and remembrance, education and tribute, but above all a day of service. All across America on the Holiday, his followers perform service in hospitals and shelters and prisons and wherever people need some help. It is a day of volunteering to feed the hungry, rehabilitate housing, tutoring those who can't read, mentoring at-risk youngsters, consoling the broken-hearted and a thousand other projects for building the beloved community of his dream.

Dr. King once said that we all have to decide whether we "will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life's most persistent and nagging question, he said, is `what are you doing for others?'" he would quote Mark 9:35, the scripture in which Jesus of Nazareth tells James and John "...whosoever will be great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever among you will be the first shall be the servant of all." And when Martin talked about the end of his mortal life in one of his last sermons, on February 4, 1968 in the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church, even then he lifted up the value of service as the hallmark of a full life. "I'd like somebody to mention on that day Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others," he said. "I want you to say on that day, that I did try in my love and serve humanity.

We call you to commemorate this Holiday by making your personal commitment to serve humanity with the vibrant spirit of unconditional love that was his greatest strength, and which empowered all of the great victories of his leadership. And with our hearts open to this spirit of unconditional love, we can indeed achieve the Beloved Community of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream.

May we who follow Martin now pledge to serve humanity, promote his teachings and carry forward his legacy into the 21st Century.

◙ Many good people have been fighting for Dr. King's dream in different ways. One such group of people created Community Lawyers, Inc., a nonprofit organization that was incorporated in May 2005 by R. Vanessa Alvarado and Luz E. Herrera. As explained in its website:

Community Lawyers, Inc. was formed to formalize mentoring opportunities for first-generation pre-law and college students to expose them to opportunities in, and challenges of, the legal profession and the needs of low- and moderate-income clients. The precursor to Community Lawyers was an informal internship program facilitated by Luz E. Herrera in her law office for young lawyers, law students and college students interested in going to law school. Between May 2002 to May 2005, approximately a dozen new and future attorneys sought Ms. Herrera's assistance for work and practical experience. Although still in its infancy, the organization seeks to create a pipeline for quality, ethical and affordable attorneys who are responsive to the needs of the communities they serve.

Community Lawyers is proud to announce the upcoming opening of the COMMUNITY LEGAL ACCESS CENTER located at 1216 E. Compton Blvd., Compton, California 90221.

DATE: January 30, 2009

TIME: 5:00p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Stop by for a cup of coffee sponsored by Antigua Coffee House and a tasty dessert sponsored by Narver Insurance and prepared by Chef Luz. For more information and to contribute please contact us at (310) 635-8181.

[Pictured: Community Lawyers, Inc.'s 2008 Summer Interns.]

◙ Over at the El Paso Times, Sheryl Luna reviews Suzanne Frischkorn's Lit Windowpane (Main Street Rag) which she calls a "tight collection of poems that speaks to the beauty of the natural world, as well as the relationships between individuals." Luna continues:

Suzanne Frischkorn's poems are often compact, well controlled, yet playful linguistically and thematically. This collection is engaging on multiple levels with its multilayered meanings and careful attention to language.


These poems are often syntactically innovative. They also are lyrically attentive to the ear, short and well-controlled, yet playful and imaginative. Themes of love, sorrow, nature and awareness run throughout.

To read the entire review, go here. Sheryl Luna, an El Paso native and award-winning poet, is the author of Pity the Drowned Horses (University of Notre Dame Press).

◙ Al Martinez's last column appears in today's Los Angeles Times. I'll let Al speak for the column here.

◙ That’s all for this week. Tomorrow will be a wonderful day as our new President is sworn in; I hope you will have a chance to watch the ceremonies and, perhaps, join in with the festivities (even from afar). Remember: ¡Lea un libro!