Sculpture in Toledo of Miguel de Cervantes by Oscar Alvariño.
Photographer: Francisco Javier Martín
La Bloga recently reviewed Tom Miller's Revenge of the Saguaro: Offbeat Travels Through America’s Southwest. This is Tom's first guest spot at La Bloga.
All together now: “En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.” If you don’t recognize those forty-one words, go to the back of the class. The rest of you can identify the opening line from Don Quixote de la Mancha, the world’s best-loved and most translated novel. Since its initial publication in the early seventeenth century (in two parts; 1605 and 1615) the Quixote has been considered the first modern novel and its author Miguel de Cervantes has come to symbolized the Spanish language. If you grew up in a Spanish-speaking country you likely can recite those forty-one words in your sleep.
Ground zero for Cervantes, of course, is Madrid, where he lived off and on, and died April 23, 1616. William Shakespeare, who symbolized another language, died April 23, 1616 as well. In those days Spain followed one calendar while England used another, so although Miguel de Cervantes’ and William Shakespeare died the same date, they did not die the same day. (Or, as I explain to friends in Tucson, one followed the calendar from El Charro, and the other, from Mi Nidito.)
April 23 has evolved into El Día del Libro in Spain, a very literary day on which the King awards the annual Cervantes Prize for outstanding work in the Spanish language, and kiosks and big displays of books line the streets of Madrid, Barcelona, and elsewhere. (In Barcelona, it’s Sant Jordi day, which, in addition to celebrating books, includes giving a rose to a lover or someone you’d like to be a lover. Books and lovers; I ask you, could there be a more fertile combination?)
Madrid’s main activity takes place in the Circulo be Bellas Artes (CBA), a huge building on a broad mid-town boulevard with galleries, rooms for workshops, theater, meetings, and exhibits, as well as a nicely stocked bookstore named for the poet Antonio Machado. And it’s here every year that the Lectura Continuada, the marathon reading, of the thousand-page Don Quixote takes place. The first reader, always, is the winner of the Cervantes Prize, in this case, the Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco. He’s followed by politicos, actors, high-ranking cultural bureaucrats, and the like. Each reader gets a paragraph or two at most. The CBA has a high-tech approach to the Quixote, and arranged for teleconferencing from readers in cities throughout Africa, the Americas, and Asia. And, it was web-streamed, so from whatever distance, if you cranked up your computer during the marathon, you could have heard more than a thousand readers, including…me.
A month earlier I made an international call to the phone number listed on the CBA web site, but the nine-hour time difference made that window of opportunity difficult to jump through. So shortly after I arrived in Spain I went to the CBA building and found the registration table. “When would like to read?” a woman asked ingenuously. “We have a lot of openings at this point.” I chose six p.m. the first day simply out of convenience. Because of the ebb and flow, you never knew your precise passage until thirty seconds before you read. For those of us for whom os and vuestra are not part of our normal Spanish, this could be a bit intimidating.
Except for the stage, the main room was always dark so the whole process could be video’d. A big screen showed clips from the many film versions of Don Quixote. Great stuff! And you deaf readers, imagine Don Quixote in sign language! These signers were as much actors as translators, taking on the roles of el Quixote and Sancho Panza and the whole cast of characters. To add to the literary carnival a few excerpts were acted out by local theater groups.
The process ran smoothly. Like every other reader, I checked in at a table outside the main room at my appointed time and got a ticket. I was then directed to a line on the side of the auditorium, where, when I reached the front, someone verified my name with a list. While the person three ahead of me was reading out loud from the podium, the fellow two ahead of me was sitting with the ringmistress, as I called her, following the passage on stage so he’d know where his own segment began, while the chica directly in front of me was at the front table on stage signing paperwork. At one point I got the nod and proceeded to the front table where I signed my name and gave my employment (¿A que te dedicas?” the fellow whispered.) A minute later I moved up to the second-to-top rung, sitting next to the ringmistress following along with the reader before me.
The previous weekend I spent in Argamasilla de Alba, a small village in La Mancha that Cervantes was known to have visited and said to have been imprisoned for a spell. Unbeknownst to me A de A was having its own Lectura Continuada, and invited me to take part. The town was so small they only had enough people to read the novel’s first part, and for that students from local public schools took turns. Unlike in Madrid, these people could show me my section ahead of time. I found it in the English translation always by my side, and eventually was called to the stage (it really wasn’t a stage, more like a table covered by a big cloth in the front of a big room). I said, “Para mostrar el alcance internacional de Cervantes y el Quixote, voy a leer mi fragmento en otro idioma.” (One should never be too far from one’s own copy of el Quixote.) And with that, I read the occasionally testy conversation in Part One, chapter twelve, between Don Quixote the shepherd Pedro about the late student–shepherd Grisótomo.
The ringmistress in Madrid nodded me over to the chair next to hers as the previous participant stood at the lectern. We followed the passage being read on a large-type edition – the exact same edition on the lectern. After just a few sentences from the reader right before me, the ringmistress said “Gracias,” and motioned me up. Her “Gracias” was sort of like the hook of an exceptionally bad performance, except in this case it was simply used to hurry the reading along. Move along little doagies.
I was temporarily disoriented and the ringmistress had to walk over to point out where I should start. The sign language translator, with whom I’d been chatting in the lobby, gave me a supportive smile. We were in Part One, chapter twenty-one, when the good don and Sancho are having one of their near quarrels. In all I read seventy-seven word. As I left the stage there was the obligatory smattering of applause that followed every reader.
I stood by myself in the back listening to the readers who followed me. One of them came up, and in a low voice, said: “Your accent. Are you from Germany?”
* * *
Tom Miller’s most recent book is Revenge of the Saguaro: Offbeat Travels Through America’s Southwest. He is working on Don Quixote’s Trail– Through the Wilds and the Windmills of the World’s Best Loved Novel. His web site is www.tommillerbooks.com .
View from Toledo. Foto: msedano.
Octavio Paz and Chicana & Chicano Students in the 21st Century
I first read Octavio Paz’s El laberinto de la soledad as a teenager living in Tijuana. I remember being overwhelmed and awestruck: Paz’s analysis of Mexican “masks,” the word Chingar, and our alleged hermeticism were an unknown (to me) conceptual core, an invisible rug that was pulled right off my feet. Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, I had moved to the U.S.-Mexico border assuming I embodied the “real” Mexico. Paz taught me that it was not enough to be born in any part of Mexico to be Mexican: knowledge of one’s national history and its unresolved contradictions were paramount conditions. By logical inference this prerequisite applied to peoples of other nations, including the United States. After joining the Chicano Studies faculty at Cal State L.A. in 1974, I began requiring El laberinto in a course on Mexican literature in translation. My memories of an early confusion and fascination with Octavio Paz’s poetry and essays allowed me to understand my students’ own bewilderment and enthusiasm when reading Paz’s work.
I tell my students that what appears at first to be the result of ethnographic research on Mexican fiestas, the Day of the Dead, the way Mexicans use language, and a national historical reconstruction from ancient to modern times, soon discloses its true purpose: it is a critical method of analyzing one’s national culture with the intent to “decolonize” and thus modernize a nation. Paz’s writing style and process have their own challenging steps: first of all, the polished manner in which he organizes his argument; second, his critique of official histories and the work of University professors who over-specialize in a field with no clear knowledge of historical synchronous contexts, much less with the willingness to think on a world scale; third, his call to return to one’s national history in order to make sense of it as a history of unresolved conflicts; lastly, to propose an internal critique of an authoritarian and patriarchal triple legacy in Mexico that stems, according to Octavio Paz, from Mesoamerica, Spain, and Islam. The reader of The Labyrinth (and of all of Paz’s work) is thus expected to possess a substantial historical background, to have knowledge of different fields (politics. art, religion, philosophy, ancient civilizations, and so forth), and—more important—to be critical of received sources and opinions. This is of course what we are expected to do in a University setting, unfortunately (but don’t tell anybody) we often forget. To a field that held the banner of interdisciplinarity (as Chicano Studies has done all along), Paz’s first major book was our cognitive entry into an ancient past, the modern present, and our global future envisioned as one in which a first world power or corporate interests obstructed or repressed plural traditions and horizons. To my students who read Paz, I confess my conviction that one must read books which reveal to us how much we ignore about ourselves and our relations with the world. Indeed, the best books are those that perplex and amaze us, thus generating in us a willingness to learn more on our own.
Throughout his long productive life, Paz connected Mexicans to world civilizations, from Ancient Mexico and Spain, to China, India, Japan, France and the U.S., among others. As Paz taught me long ago while I lived in Tijuana, having knowledge of one’s national history is only the beginning: one must also know how one is bound by a network of historical relations on a global scale that shape who we are, or how we are kept from being the Other we desire to be. Mexico is no longer the country which Paz examined in his first book, nonetheless his method of presenting a problem, the interdisciplinary rigor of his synthesis, and his critical attitude and personal commitment to a comprehensive reflection on nations and the world, have led me to propose an international conference on Octavio Paz, to be held at Cal State L.A. on May 14-15. We have speakers flying from Canada, France, Japan, Mexico, and most of the United States to discuss and debate the poetic, literary, and political significance of Paz’s work. We will be meeting at Cal State L.A., only five steps away from the East L.A. barrio and four years from the first centenary of Paz’s birth. This conference is free and open to the public. For a full and updated conference program, visit: http://conferenceonoctaviopaz.blogspot.com/
**Roberto Cantú is Professor of Chicana Chicano Studies at California State University Los Angeles. This is Roberto's first Guest Column for La Bloga.
Poets Respond to Arizona
"Breathing While Brown" by Alma Luz Villanueva"Synergy of Hate" by Antoinette Nora Claypoole
"Borderlines" by Meg Withers
"Insist and Resist" by Manuel Lozano
"Border Ghost of Sonora" by Carmen Calatayud
"Poemas-SB_1070" by Francisco Alarcón
BREATHING WHILE BROWN
by Alma Luz Villanueva
To the beautiful, brave
young who have always
sat at lunch counters,
racists spitting on them, pulling
their hair, calling them 'nigger,'
killing the brave, young, white
students who joined them-
the insane dogs taking bites of their
tender skin, the insane police who
hose them down, killing pressure,
to their knees, take them to
hot, filthy jails, the ones meant
for Colored- the beautiful,
young Black Panthers, Brown Berets,
hunted into extinction, AIM at
Wounded Knee, Leonard Peltier in
jail over 20 years, a wise man,
a shaman, after all these years,
knowing the spirit is always, yes,
always, free- Malcom X,
Mandela, knew this, every pregnant
woman knows this, Ghandi
knew this, Aung San Suu Kyi
knows this, the spirit is always, yes,
always, free. I remember my
youngest son followed home
daily in Santa Cruz, Califas, Breathing
While Brown, I went to the cop
station and had a fucking fit-
what do we do when an entire
state makes it perfectly legal
to punish humans for Breathing
While Brown- nine young, beautiful,
brown warriors chained themselves
to the Capitol's entrance, that's what
we do, the beautiful, brave
young. Cesar Chavez would be
proud. Martin Luther King would be
proud. Ghandi would be
proud. Dolores Huerta is
proud, of the beautiful,
brave young. And my son
continues to breathe while brown,
synergy of hate
by antoinette nora claypoole
(April 24,2010: in response to Arizona SB 1070/ racial profiling)
slums in the back of a police car ripped
sliced fragments, chunks of a heart diced
into cubes like a fresco in Pompeii after
the deluge was on the back seat. no heat
12 degrees winter no coat handcuffs twisting
wrists shoulders mind patterns “your people are
bum dumb idiots you and your family useless
over and over and she laughing freezing clear as
skating over ice on freshly sharpened blades
we are beautiful we are a family we are love
and you are sad confused my people are meteors
you are a fool lost in a GPS techno land with “profile”
tatooed on your time sheet. repeat. love. peace.
spits on the asphalt. twists the cuffs tighter. turns
on the police. reports. her last name. spells it over and over
like a flapjack on a hot gridle she imagines breakfast
on a plate of organic maple syrup. but not for cops
like this. he must be hungry before he knows gorgeous
taste of beauty. the best of budhha’s fast in the desert.
crying for a dream. she is seamless in her clear heart.
it will take direct actions of resistance from all of us
it will take direct actions of clarity resisting all of us
it will take nights in the back of a cop car profile sheets
printed on computer screens for any of us to know that
sleet. has hit every street in every america. arizona flies
her freak flag high while others in northwest towns whisper
shoot to kill taser pregnant women break the fingers of dread
locked men. there is a disease in america. there is a disease
in the streets of our hearts. one person hungry, entire world dead.
by Meg Withers
skin/birth creates lines makes us/them visible/invisible a man in a booth
crosses lines makes big decisions pause who belongs/who does not matters of copper or pallor iris rings blue as water charcoal eyes campfires
paperwork of ringlets dense with smoke dark umber bound from them
scalp dry white on which side of words do we belong? loathing live? which side of lines are the dreams/broken/dreams? life/death the difference between émigré / immigrant / illegal / alien
INSIST AND RESIST
by Manuel Lozano
The old tradition knows the way,
its rebellious nature
will not lay down in the dust.
Se sacude las plumas
y levanta la cara
mientras estira sus alas
Se rinde sólo al sueño
que comete el delito
of maintaining its pulse,
el de aquella infancia
en que toda inocencia
just refuses to tremble
before the ongoing nightmare.
This modern rendition
es la misma tormenta
Que estremecio la tierra
Hace más de quinientos-
mechanized and updated.
Sus espinas de acero
culpables de tanto llanto.
I stand beside my carnalas.
I stand beside my carnales.
Beside all those soaring eagles
que son perseguid@s,
told its their own fault
for being born in the shackles
of their beautiful brown skin.
Celebramos en canto.
Our song beats its drums
and shakes its serpentine rattles.
Insiste y resiste,
Y así aprendimos a sobrevivir.
Vamos y venimos,
El cielo y la tierra
nos lo ha permitido.
© Manuel Lozano 2010
BORDER GHOST OF SONORA
by Carmen Calatayud
In this corner of the desert,
she has already died.
I pick up her broken mask,
promise to glue it together again.
My mother roams the border
she floats between the countries
she thought would share her heart.
My pillow saves the dreams
the dead have weaved,
banking on milagros.
I have a monsoon wish:
Let the rains wash away
the boots of the border patrol
so they step in flooded sand
because I am tired of la migra
who walk with feet of rock,
who clothe me in a cape of fear
who make me think
that God is a wolf in the night.
I string silver beads,
still believe in resurrections.
I get phantom pains where the barbed wire
cut my mother’s arms.
My hair has grown into a broom
it sweeps away the blisters,
drags along my washgun hope.
Café con leche keeps me awake
in case of visions de mi mamá.
She dreamed of dinnertime,
but I’m not hungry anymore.
I count moonbeam strips
& pray for shooting stars.
Listen for her whisper:
it sounds like purple silk.
© Carmen Calatayud 2010
FOR THE “CAPITOL NINE”
to the nine students by who were arrested on April 19, 2010 at the Arizona State Capitol for protesting SB 1070
we can hear
your heart beats
of the Earth
you take on
to the doors
of the State Capitol
so that terror
will not leak out
to our streets
can’t be taken
way from us
and put in jail
you are nine
like nine sky stars
you are the hope
the best dreams
of our nation
as the Sun
they will break
this dark night
for a new day
all our sisters
all our brothers
need no papers
to prove once
and for all
“we are humans
just like you are–
we are not criminals”
our plea comes to
“No to criminalization!
Yes to legalization!”
by Francisco X. Alarcón © 2010
LAS FLORES SON NUESTRAS ARMAS
(FLOWER ARE OUR WEAPONS)
of our homes
to greet them
they came in
and evicted us
we showed them
the open green
of our valleys
of the sky
they cut down
for their furnaces
we gave them
all the fruits
of this land
yet we survived
of our days
we face them
in this final battle
the lives of all
desierto / desert
viento / wind
blow into us
madre agua /
guide us in
your tender ways
don’t be afaid
are on our side!
by Francisco X. Alarcón © 2010
PARA LOS NUEVE DEL CAPITOLIO
para los nueve estudiantes arrestados
el 20 de abril de 2010 en el Capitolio Estatal
de Arizona por protestar la ley SB 1070
sus corazones latir
de la Tierra
les sigue de cerca
de la justicia
y la paz
de la policía
a las puertas del
para que el terror
no se escape hacia
no nos las pueden
ustedes son nueve
como nueve luceros
son la esperanza
los mejores sueños
de nuestra nación
como el Sol
esta negra noche
para un nuevo día
hermanas y hermanos
no necesitan papeles
de una vez
como ustedes son–
no somos criminales
nuestra petición es:
“¡NO a la criminalización!
¡SÍ a la legalización!
por Francisco X. Alarcón © 2010
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
LAS FLORES SON NUESTRAS ARMAS
FLOWERS ARE OUR WEAPONS
de nuestra casa
y nos despojaron
el verde sin fin
de nuestros valles
y limpio azul
para sus hornos
le dimos todos
de esta tierra
de nuestros días
en esta batalla final
y las vidas de todos
de tu valentía
no tengan temor
ESTÁN a nuestro favor
por Francisco X. Alarcón © 2010
About today's Guest Poets
Alma Luz Villanueva. Author of eight books of poetry, most recently, 'Soft Chaos' (2009). A few poetry anthologies: 'The Best American Poetry, 1996,' 'Unsettling America,' 'A Century of Women's Poetry,' 'Prayers For A Thousand Years, Inspiration from Leaders & Visionaries Around The World.' Three novels: 'The Ultraviolet Sky,' 'Naked Ladies,' 'Luna's California Poppies,' and the short story collection, 'Weeping Woman, La Llorona and Other Stories.' Some fiction anthologies: '500 Great Books by Women, From The Thirteenth Century,' 'Caliente, The Best Erotic Writing From Latin America,' 'Coming of Age in The 21st Century,' 'Sudden Fiction Latino.' The poetry and fiction has been published in textbooks from grammar to university, and is used in the US and abroad as textbooks. Has taught in the MFA in creative writing program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, for the past eleven years. And is the mother of four, wonderful, grown human beings.
Now living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for the past five years, traveling the ancient trade routes to return to teach, and visit family and friends, QUE VIVA
antoinette nora claypoole is a published author, poet currently living in Taos, New Mexico. Her first book Who Would Unbraid her Hair: the legend of annie mae is an underground classic about the American Indian Movement/tribute to Anna Mae Aquash M'ik M'aq, a title recently acquired by the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C. in their Library collection. A recipient of a Literary Non-Fiction fellowship Award from Oregon Literary Arts (2006) she is currently completing a trilogy of poetic exposes and previously unpublished work by/about the life and lost works of Louise Bryant (1885-1936), for which antoinette received the Oregon Award. Recently a collected work of Taos, New Mexico artists and writers—la Puerta, Taos the art of fetching Sky-- was published by her small literary press, Wild Embers.
Meg Withers is a writer, teacher, and community activist. She writes when she can – usually in between correcting homework and encouraging the community where she lives to take action on civil rights issues. She currently conducts labors of love+discipline at Merced Community College District, Los Baños campus. She pets her lovely cat, Fred-O the Fuzzerman, all the time. She has books of poetry: Must Be Present to Win (Ghost Road Press, 2006), and A Communion of Saints (TinFish Press, 2008). She has been published in major journals, and national anthologies. She earned both her MA (2005), and MFA (2008), from San Francisco State University. She is currently editing an anthology, Shadowed: Unheard Voices, in partnership with videographer, Joell Hallowell, honoring women with prose poems by women poets. Her other current projects include the adaptation of The Communion of Saints as a play, a book of etymological feminist poems utilizing Chaucer’s English, The Etymology of Desire, and two other works in progress, The Boy Chronicles, and Weatherworn.
Francisco X. Alarcón, poeta y educador chicano, nació en 1954 y pasó los primeros seis años de su vida en Wilmington, California. De niño vivió en Guadalajara, México, pero desde los dieciocho años ha residido en el estado de California en EE.UU. Es el autor de once volúmenes de poesía que incluye From the Other Side of Night / Del otro lado de la noche: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002). Su libro más reciente de poesía bilingüe para niños, Animalario del Iguazú / Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008), ha sido seleccionado como un “Notable Book for a Global Society” por la International Reading Association, y como un “Américas Awards Commended Title” por el Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs. Actualmente enseña en el Departamento de Español de la Universidad de California en Davis donde es Director del Programa de Español para Hispanohablantes.
Francisco X. Alarcón, award winning Chicano poet and educator, born in Los Angeles, in 1954, is author of eleven volumes of poetry, including, From the Other Side of Night: Selected and New Poems (University of Arizona Press 2002), and Snake Poems: An Aztec Invocation (Chronicle Books 1992). His most recent book of bilingual poetry for children is Animal Poems of the Iguazú / Animalario del Iguazú (Children’s Book Press 2008). He has been a finalist nominated for Poet Laureate of California in two occasions. He teaches at the University of California, Davis.