Monday, March 08, 2010

Spotlight on Maceo Montoya

Maceo Montoya grew up in the small town of Elmira, California. He comes from a family of artists, including his father Malaquias Montoya, a renowned artist, activist, and educator, and his late brother, Andrés Montoya, whose poetry collection The Iceworker Sings won the American Book Award in 2000.

Montoya graduated from Yale University in 2002 where he majored in History and Ethnicity Race & Migration. He also received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Visual Arts from Columbia University in 2006. He has completed several public art commissions, including murals with the Eastside Arts Alliance in Oakland and Taller Arte Del Nuevo Amenecer (TANA) in Woodland, California, where he has worked as an instructor.

In addition to several solo exhibitions, Montoya’s work has been included in numerous group exhibitions, including Caras Vemos, Corazones No Sabemos: The Human Landscape of Mexican Migration to the United States, which has traveled to museums throughout the country, and Inter-viewing Paintings, a survey of contemporary Eastern and Western painters at the SOMA Museum of Art in Seoul, Korea.

He lives in Woodland, California where he paints and writes. His first novel, The Scoundrel and the Optimist, is available now from Bilingual Review Press. The following is an excerpt from Montoya’s novel.

Chapter 1 from The Scoundrel and the Optimist

Of Filastro Agustín's seven children, the only one he couldn't bear to beat was his youngest son, Edmund. There were, to be exact, three reasons for this. First of all, Edmund was a very fragile boy. His head seemed much too large for his puny body, his limbs merely an assortment of sticks. Filastro firmly believed in good solid beatings, not just for his own children, but also for his nephews and the neighborhood riffraff, not to mention his wife (and when drunk, just about anyone). But Filastro also firmly believed in one's right to live, and he had reason to worry that his sickly-looking child might very well die if dealt too serious a blow.

The second reason follows the first. Filastro, worrying about his son's fragility, took him to the doctor and asked point-blank: "Doctor, I'm worried that if I beat him I might kill him! What is your opinion? Is it safe?" The doctor examined the boy from head to toe, checked his pulse, peered into his tonsils, and hit his knee with a small mallet. "I think this boy would be perfectly fine with a good beating from time to time," said the doctor in his final analysis. "Well, that's fantastic!" Filastro exclaimed, his face radiant. "But," continued the doctor, "there's something you should be careful about."

"And what is that?" Filastro asked.

"His psychological state," replied the doctor.

"His what? Just what in the hell are you talking about?"

"It means that bones and flesh heal, but feelings do not."

"What do you take me for, a sissy, doctor? Don't give me that schoolgirl shit. What do I care about feelings?"

"You must care," the doctor implored. "If his psychological state is damaged, you never know what might happen. Dreadful consequences! Remember, Filastro, you won't always be a young man; in fact, you'll soon be an old man. And what will happen when you're half-blind and feeble, dependent on your children to feed you, to house you, to fiddle with the antenna when the television gets fuzzy? You'll be all alone if you damage your children's psychological state! Who knows, maybe you'll damage it too much, and you won't even make it to old age. I've heard stories of patricide that you wouldn't believe!" The doctor discreetly winked at Edmund. "Just the other day I read in the paper that three sons killed their father over a lousy ten pesos!"

On their walk home, Filastro asked Edmund if he believed his siblings' psychological states had been damaged.

"Yes, I think so."

"What about yours?"

"I'm fine, Papá, " Edmund responded, smiling. "But I'd feel better, maybe, if I had a guitar."

So Filastro resolved that although his son was strong enough to be dealt a few swift kicks from time to time, he needed at least one of his children to possess a sound psychological state. "You will tell me if your brothers are plotting against me, right?" he asked Edmund frequently.

"Yes, Papá," Edmund would say, strumming a chord on his new guitar.

* * *

The third reason doesn't closely follow the first or second, as often Filastro forgot about his son's fragile body and psychological state. He forgot because he was drunk, which was more often than not. He'd come home from the bar, reeking of liquor, stumbling across the cobblestones, talking to imaginary friends, and he'd slam on the front door. "Open up! Open up!" he'd scream, until usually the neighbor would open the window and say, "Next door, damn it!" Filastro would find his way to his own house, where his wife would be waiting for him, water, aspirin, and midnight snack in hand.

If he was up to it, he'd slap her across the cheek. On a good night, he'd merely call her names. On a bad night, he'd wake up all his children—five boys and two girls—and have them stand at attention while he ate his meal. If they didn't wake up, he'd take out his belt and whip them. If they nodded off while standing at attention, he'd rise from the table and pinch their ears. If they stood at attention perfectly, he'd pick one who stood all too perfectly and beat him for thinking he was better than everyone else. The only one exempt from this late-night roll call was Edmund. He was required to play the guitar while his father sang.

Filastro would request a song and Edmund would strum the chords, the same combination over and over—C, F, G7, C, F, G7—but his father didn't know the difference. He would belt out the lyrics in between bites, meat and tortilla flying from his mouth, I am just a man, a rock on the road, living out my sad destiny, and Edmund would stand there, guitar in hand, smiling blissfully at the sleepy-eyed roomful gathered to watch his performance.

"I can't bear to beat my little guitarrista!" Filastro would say before collapsing on the table.

His other brothers and sisters, understandably, despised Edmund. So whereas he was safe from his father's blows, he received his fair share from Abel, Ezekiel, Tomy, Gandolfo, and his twin sisters, Agnes and Alfonsa.

[Excerpt from the novel, The Scoundrel and the Optimist, by Maceo Montoya. Copyright © 2010 by Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. Reprinted with permission.]

◙ As noted earlier on La Bloga, Minnesota Puerto Rican graphic artist Ricardo Levins Morales has created a poster to benefit Nuyorican poet Tato Laviera who is facing major health and housing challenges. The poster is available here for $15.00 (we had the wrong price on it earlier). Half the proceeds go to Tato's support fund. They are also available for discounted bulk purchase to sell at events. You can also click this link to The Point, to donate directly.

Rigoberto González, an award-winning writer living in New York City, reviews for the El Paso Times the scholarly text, Women of Color and Feminism (Seal Press, $14.95 paperback), by women's, gender and sexuality studies professor Maythee Rojas. He observes, in part:

Rojas writes in an even-tempered tone to communicate sensitive and sometimes shocking material. She presents a multilayered but comprehensible portrait of the lives of women of color in the United States. She highlights these complexities with profiles (both troubling and inspiring) of feminists like Leslie Marmon Silko, Alma López, and Tracy Chapman, who exemplify the hard-won successes of women who refuse to succumb to the invisibility and defeat that's expected because of their disenfranchised identities.

As an informative introduction to the field of women's studies,
Women of Color and Feminism will undoubtedly become the go-to text. Rojas dispenses with academic jargon and illustrates every key idea with clear and contemporary examples. She confides in the reader by giving her own testimony as a woman of color.

You may read the entire review here.

◙ Over at Latino Books Examiner, René Colato Laínez talks about his immigrant experience. Check it out.

◙ PALABRA @ The REDCAT Lounge:


DATE: Sunday, March 14th
TIME: 2:00 p.m.
WHERE: The REDCAT Lounge, 631 W. 2nd Street (at Hope St.), Los Angeles, CA 90012 (in the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex)
CONTACT: elena minor at, or call 1-800-282-5608
MORE INFO: Click here

PALABRA @ The REDCAT Lounge is a series of occasional readings presented by PALABRA Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art

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

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