Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Story Behind the Story: The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez

By René Colato Laínez

When I lost my first tooth in El Salvador, a fantastic ratón (mouse) took it. He was the same ratón that took my mamá’s, papá’s and abuelito’s teeth. Every child knew him. He was El Ratón Pérez and in exchange for a healthy tooth, I always received a surprise. Sometimes, I received money and other times toys and even tickets to the circus! I always eagerly awaited the next visit from El Ratón Pérez.

When I moved to the US as a boy, I wrote an essay about El Ratón Pérez. My teacher called me to her desk and asked me what I was trying to write. I told her all about El Ratón Pérez and she said, “Oh, you are writing about the Tooth Fairy.” She crossed all the Ratones Pérez and asked me to change then to Tooth Fairies. I could not envision El Ratón Pérez with wings and carrying a magic wand. Where was El Ratón Pérez?

I became a teacher at Fernangeles Elementary School in Los Angeles. One afternoon, I heard the teacher next-door running and screaming through the hallway, “Ah, one of my students has a mouse in his room! I need to go to the office and call social services.”

The teacher was ready to faint from the impression. I asked her what was happening and she told me that one of her students lost his first tooth and that a mouse came to his room last night and took it. But this was not the worst part. All the other students said they knew the mouse, too.

“The boy said he wants the mouse to visit his house every night!” the teacher said.

“I knew that mouse and as a child, I also waited for his visits.” I told the other teacher. “ He is El Ratón Pérez, the Hispanic tooth collector. Last night this famous and adventurous mouse visited your student because he lost his first tooth.” The teacher started to laugh and did not go to the office. Instead, she went to celebrate with her student.

After this incident, I wondered what would happen if the Tooth Fairy met El Ratón Pérez for the first time? What would they say to each other? Would they get along? Read and find out. My new book, The Tooth Fairy Meets El Ratón Pérez, was released by Tricycle Press/Random House on March 23, 2010.

For more info, visit:

Early praise for the book:

“A marvelous story merging cultures seamlessly and with great humor. Adults will enjoy this read-aloud just as much as kids.” --- Sandra Cisneros, award-winning author of The House on Mango Street

“When Mexican-American Miguelito loses a tooth, a twinkly Tooth Fairy and her Latin American counterpart, El Ratón Pérez (an intrepid, Spanish-speaking rat) both show up. Laínez's creative story approaches the topic of cultural identity with humor and grace, while newcomer Lintern's colored pencil illustrations give it a sense of nocturnal whimsy."--- Publishers Weekly

“Young readers may not consciously recognize this tale as a metaphor for growing up in two cultures, but the story does model how to successfully negotiate a bicultural life by celebrating both aspects of Miguelito's Mexican-American heritage. An excellent selection for libraries serving bicultural families."— School Library Journal

“Colato Lainez keeps the storytelling lively with bilingual exclamations seamlessly embedded in the dialogue between the two tooth-seekers…readers are treated to a clever introduction to two charming folk customs.”---Kirkus Reviews

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

NHCC Literary Prizes; Tomás Rivera Conference; Melinda Palacio at Tia Chucha

Michael Sedano

National Hispanic Cultural Center Awards Two Literary Prizes

The National Hispanic Cultural Center and the National Latino Writers Conference is pleased to announce the winners of the NHCC’s two literary awards. The first is the Premio Aztlán awarded to an emerging author who shows promise as a writer. The second is the bi-annual NHCC Literary Award given to an established writer with an impressive body of work and who has impacted the productivity and success of other writers.

Luis Alberto Urrea has won the NHCC Literary Award for the breadth of his work in non-fiction, poetry, novel, short fiction, essay and memoir. Mr. Urrea has published fourteen books and several titles are forthcoming. He has been a past faculty member of the National Latino Writers Conference. From his presence at the NLWC we know him to be generous with his attention and knowledge in a workshop setting.

Urrea has been the recipient of the Kiriyama Pacific Rim Prize for fiction, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for non-fiction, winner of the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for non-fiction, the Premio Fronterizo Award/Border Book Festival, the Latino Literary Hall of Fame award and the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award, among others. Luis Urrea is presently a Professor of English/Creative Writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The selection committee for 2010 included: Francisco Aragón, director of Letras Latinas, the Institute for Latino Studies literary program at Notre Dame University; Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Chair and professor of the UCLA César E. Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies; Rigoberto González, Associate Professor of English at Rutgers University; E.A. Tony Mares, Professor Emeritus of English, University of New Mexico; and Demetria Martínez, author, activist, lecturer and columnist.

Other nominees included: Francisco X. Alarcón, Alurista, Gloria Anzaldúa, Norma Cantú, Ana Castillo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Ray Gonzalez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Graciela Limón, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, John Phillip Santos, Sabine Ullibarrí, and Helena María Viramontes.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award has been given since 2002. Past award recipients include: Rudolfo Anaya, Denise Chávez, Pat Mora and Martín Espada. The award will be presented to Luis Alberto Urrea on Friday evening May 21st during the National Latino Writers Conference banquet. The NHCC Literary Prize is $2,500.00 and Mr. Urrea will be in attendance to accept the award and make remarks to the National Latino Writers Conference.

Gloria Zamora, a native New Mexican has been awarded the Premio Aztlan for her book, Sweet Nata: Growing Up in Rural New Mexico. Her book was one of the most successful titles published by the University of New Mexico press in 2009.

The Premio Aztlán was established in 1993 by famous local author Rudolfo Anaya and his wife Patricia, who passed away several months ago. Established at the University of New Mexico, the Premio Aztlán was moved to the National Hispanic Cultural Center in 2008 as part of the Center’s annual National Latino Writer’s conference. The conference will be held May 19-22, 2010 for the eighth consecutive year and draws writers from throughout the country.

Ms. Zamora will offer a short lecture at this year’s conference, where she will receive a prize of $1,000.

The selection Committee for 2010 included: Rudolfo Anaya, Professor Emeritus (creative writing), University of New Mexico; Orlando Romero, Angélico Chávez Library (retired); María Teresa Márquez, UNM Zimmerman Library (retired); Rafaela Castro, UC Davis, Shields Library (retired) and Greta Pullen, NHCC Senior Librarian.

Tomás Rivera Conference at UCR Focus on Latino Health

Click image for a magnified view. Click title, above, for additional conference details.

The University of California, Riverside is generating intense interest for Latino medical issues among Inland Empire cities including Redlands, San Bernardino, Riverside, Yucaipa, and Cucamonga; Bryn Mawr, Loma Linda, Hemet, Fontana, Banning, Beaumont, and Palm Desert, home to thousands of medical professionals and millions of patients.

Tomás Rivera is a pioneering Chicano writer and educator. Rivera became the UC system's first Chicano Chancellor in 1979, eight years following publication of Rivera's magical novel, ...y no se lo tragó la tierra with Octavio Romano and Herminio Rios' celebrated Quinto Sol Press, later re-published by Arte Publico Press. Rivera died in May 1984.

The University of California, Riverside reflects Rivera's polymathic interests with its annual Tomás Rivera Conference. Conference themes have ranged across the full spectrum of knowledge and art, from literature to law, film to medicine, activism to business. The 2010 conference, the twenty-third in the series, includes lectures, discussions, poetry readings, and an art exhibit.

The Tomás Rivera Conference is funded and coordinated by UCR Tomás Rivera Endowment/Department of Creative Writing and co-sponsored by UCR Chicano Student Programs, the Tomás Rivera Library – and Special Collections, College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences F1rst, Department of Theatre, Palm Desert Graduate Center, Riverside City College-Academic Support Program and the Inlandia Institute of Riverside. Added generous support comes from Mrs. Concha Rivera, Chancellor Tim White and Dean Stephen Cullenberg.

Melinda Palacio Reads from Folsom Lockdown

Melinda Palacio's recently released chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, from Glen Ellen CA's Kulupi Press, presents 22 superbly compact poems that won Palacio the publisher's Sense of Place Chapbook Contest.

Hearing Palacio read adds to her distinctive work depth that can be enjoyed only via the spoken word. Melinda reads with precise articulation at a comfortable pace that gives every word its own space in one's ear. She reads from individual sheets rather than the book. Her distinctive vocalics and aural smile imbue the reading with the poet's joy in creativity, adding dimensions that challenge her poetry's intense emotion and often violent events.

Buy the chapbook in advance and read along for a truly involving experience with text. If Melinda Palacio reads in your neighborhood, consider attendance de rigueur for you and your friends.

You can buy Folsom Lockdown at Tia Chucha's, or directly from Kulupi Press for gente outside San Fernando. Help your friends discover Melinda Palacio with a gift of the $12 title. Perhaps your local brick and mortar bookseller would be open to stocking copies, if you place your order locally. A ver.

That's the view from this final Martes of March, a Martes like any other Martes, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. See you next week as we test one poet's insight that April is the cruelest month. Shall we see lilacs blooming?

les wachamos.


Gente, La Bloga welcomes your comments and observations. We welcome, encourage, guest columnists. When someone posts a column you'd like to extend or respond to, leave a comment. If you've written something that you think fits La Bloga's emphasis on literature, arts and cultura chicana / latina, click here to let us know what you'd like to share.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Writers Write. Period.

By Daniel Olivas

[Author’s note: I just received a markup of my forthcoming novel, The Book of Want, from my editor. The book will come out next spring from the University of Arizona Press and I am getting excited about it. But this also means that I must make time to focus on these edits. So, I thought it’d be appropriate to republish a little essay I wrote for La Bloga a few years ago that offers tough love to those who wish to become “writers.”]

When I hear would-be authors proclaim that they could write the Great American Novel if only they had time, I simply want to laugh. It reminds me of the story (perhaps apocryphal) about a dentist who blithely informed Isabel Allende that he planned to become a novelist when he retired. She quipped: “Oh really? And when I retire I’ll become an oral surgeon!”

What I’m about to say will sound like tough love or even cruel, but here goes: A writer finds time to write regardless of hectic schedules, energetic children, and needy lovers. No excuses.

Rather than leave it at that, let me describe how I’ve written five books (four published, one making the rounds awaiting judgment), edited a 115,000-word anthology of short fiction set for publication next year, in addition to posting each Monday on La Bloga, and writing book reviews and essays for numerous print and online publications. I do this while juggling the time demands of marriage, parenthood and holding down a stressful, full-time day job as an attorney with the California Department of Justice.

First, I note that as a lawyer, I essentially write for a living. Though some time is spent in court, most of the “heavy lifting” occurs in my office at my computer as I write legal memoranda, motions and briefs. I work under tight, court-determined deadlines. There is no room for writers’ block. My goal with legal writing is simply to tell a coherent, compelling story. So, if you have a “day job” where you must write, you have an advantage that other budding authors don’t because you are constantly honing your writing skills. True, writing a memo to your boss on how to improve sales might not resemble that detective thriller brewing in your brain, but I truly believe that being required, on a daily basis, to craft sentences and paragraphs in a non-literary forum will benefit your creative writing.

Second, I specialize in short stories. Even the novel I’m working on is made up of interconnecting short stories. In other words, I write self-contained pieces that I can complete within a relatively short period. This works for me. But if you want to write a novel and you feel as though you can barely get an hour alone at the computer, let me suggest that you break it up into baby steps so that the mountain you’re about to scale doesn’t seem so daunting. Promise yourself to write 500 words a day. That’s two, double-spaced pages. Not so scary, right? I write in the evening, usually when my son is asleep and my wife is relaxing. I find that I can squeeze in one or two hours of writing each night. On weekends, I’ll sneak in another one or two hours in the morning. Those hours add up as do the pages.

Third, I don’t waste my time talking about what I want to write. Don’t get me wrong. I love discussing the craft itself when I’m in the company of other writers or on a book panel. But there is nothing more boring than someone telling me what he plans to write when that person hasn’t produced a word. It sounds like this to me: Blah, blah, blah. I’m sounding cranky now, right? Oh well.

Fourth, when I’m not writing, I’m thinking about plots, characters, dialogue, the perfect description of a book I’m going to review. This often happens during my long commute from the West San Fernando Valley to my office in downtown. In other words, much of my writing happens before I actually sit before the computer.

Finally, there is an element of writing that I have trouble explaining but I’ll give it a try. Words want to come out of me and take shape in the form of a story, poem, essay or book review. I am incapable of subduing these words. If I don’t get them out of my head and onto paper, I will explode. I’m lucky that some folks have wanted to publish my words, sometimes even paying me. But I suspect that I’d write no matter what. That’s why God created blogs. Now go forth and write. You have no excuses!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Arte Today!

Olga García Echeverría

It's a beautiful Sunday and if you're wondering what's going on in the City of Angels today in relation to arte, here are a few things you won't want to miss.

Oedipus El Rey by Luis Alfaro
Extended Showings!

Boston Court Performing Arts Center
70 North Mentor Avenue
Pasadena, CA

If you're feeling art-deprived because you still haven't checked out Luis Alfaro's modern adaptation of Sophocle's classic play Oedipus Rex, don't despair. Originally, the play's last LA showing was scheduled for today, but due to sold out box offices, the production has been extended until Sunday April 11th. Yay! My roommate and I had the opportunity to see the play last night and both of us gave it a solid thumbs up. Among other things, I loved the way Alfaro takes the classic Greek myth and barrioizes it. When asked why he chose to delve into and re-envision the Greek myth, Alfaro shares "I wanted to do something about the prison system. I read this horrible statistic that the recidivism rate in California is something like 65%. It’s shocking, and 47% of those returning to prison are Latino. 22% of those released from prison also go back within hours. So, I started thinking about where the new kingdoms are and how there’s an alternate society where some people grow up. I was exploring why the California prison system is an industry and the whole bit and that got me writing and thinking about Oedipus, a young king, who gets out of prison and is looking for his new territory, some place to conquer. I took all the beats of Oepidus, who kills his father, marries his mother, etc. and it all kind of came together and made sense." Aside from Alfaro's unique adaptation, I also found the performance by Marlene Forte (who plays Jocasta, Oedipus' mother) superb. To read more about Alfaro's play, check out Michael Sedano's earlier bloga on Oedipus El Rey

Also happening in the city today...

La Palabra Poetry Reading Series features Liz Gonzalez

Co-hosted by Laura L. Longoria and Don Newton
Sunday March 28th

Avenue 50 Studio
131 Avenue 50
Highland Park, CA

Liz Gonzalez' work recently appeared in Bordersense and Cooweescoowee, and her fiction recently appeared in Women on the Edge: Writing from Los Angeles. Her awards include the Arts Council for Long Beach's 2005 Professional Artist Fellowship and a wrting grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation. She is a member of the Macondo Foundation, founded by Sandra Cisneros. Currently Liz is the 2009/2010 Puente English instructor at Long Beach City College, and a creative writing instructor through the UCLA Writer's Extension Program. For more info:

Two Great Openings Today at ChimMaya Gallery

The Art of Healing...Mind, Body, and Soul

Steven Acevedo, Creative Director at ChimMaya Gallery, states about The Art of Healing, "The show's premise is not confined to healing in the traditional sense. It is more about healing from the inside out. Sometimes that healing comes from a release of our earthly bodies, a release of old attitudes and anger, a release from addictions and prejudices. Those releases can come from listening to music, walks along the beach, dancing, laughing, the smile from your loved ones, extending a hand to those in need...etc."

Also opening today at ChimMaya...

Stamp Project/Creating Cultural Currency curated by Margaret Garcia

From ChimMaya website: "During a recent conversation with Margaret, she outlined the concept for bringing together artists, poets, musicians, print-makers and individuals with little to no artistic background to create a stamp image that would be in support of health, love, creativity, generosity, forgiveness, etc. Her goal was, and is, to bring together individuals of varying backgrounds, in a grass roots effort to support the Arts and the 'Positive' aspects of life. ChimMaya invites you to the debut of this momentous exhibition of like-minded individuals in sync with the affirmative view of life."

Exhibiting artist: Margaret Garcia, Frank Romero, Gilbert (Magu) Lujan, Yolanda Gonzalez, Raoul De La Sota, Jose Lozano, Ofelia Esparza, Dolores Guerrero-Torres, Kristy Lovich, Gabriela Martinez, Rosie Garcia, Paul Martinez, Sonya Fe, Grace Barraza-Vega, Sandra Gonzalez, Bonnie Lambert, Mary Lucille Nunez, EmSedano, Bruno Andrade, Kathy Kennedy, Gloria Vasquez-Warner, Lizette Veneziano, Rosanna Esparza Ahrens, Armando Baeza, Estela Hyde, Dolores Guererro-Torres, Michael Rascon, and Carol Newborg

Both shows are opening today March 28th
3:00 - 7:00 PM
315 South Hillview Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90022-2122
(323) 869-8881‎

Have a great Sunday and I hope it's filled with lots of teatro, poesia, and colorful arte.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ganas - Chicano national treasure hit by cancer

In 1982 a Bolivian immigrant named Jaime Escalante made national news because 18 of his high school students passed the Advanced Placement exam in calculus. Actually, the sensational news was that they were all inner-city L.A. Chicano kids. The corporate testers, Educational Testing Service, threw out their scores, since it's common knowledge, even to this day, that poor brown kids can't do, or in this case, outdo what preppy, rich Anglo kids do, at least academically.

If you never heard about this, then you've never seen the film Stand and Deliver, starring Ed Olmos as Escalante. You can remedy this gap in your education by at least watching the movie, directed by Ramón Menéndez. Briefly though, here's what rolls past before the credits at the end:
  • Twelve of those students that year retook the exam and their original scores were reinstated.
  • In 1983, 30 students passed the Advanced Placement test.
  • In 1987: 73 passed.
To learn more about Escalante's work, his students and their accomplishments, there's books on the subject. I found the Mathews' book much more informative:

Escalante: The Best Teacher in America by Jay Mathews (Owl Book - 1989)
Jaime Escalante: Sensational Teacher by Ann Byers (Library Binding - 1996)

Of course, every teacher should know about Escalante, and especially about ganas, which is so often heard in the movie. Ganas de aprender translates as being willing to learn, have the yearning to succeed. What's obvious in the film though is more; it's the eagerness, the thirst, the passion for knowledge, and that must have been more like what happened in Esclante's classroom.

Those of us lucky enough to teach primary grades witness this each day in our classes. It's a marvel, a challenging one because no matter how good a teacher you are, you can't feed those with ganas enough to satisfy their eagerness, fast enough to slake their thirst, nor deep enough to meet their passion. It comes pre-packaged within children's genes, unless society removes it from them.

That American media is filled with non-ganas examples--every day broadcasting how society fails its children--is tragic, at the least. Standardized testing, closing neighborhood schools, replacing them with charter schools and blaming society's failures on the few bad teachers is what many Americans believe will cure our educational ills.

Jaime Escalante wasn't about any of these things when he soared. He taught knowledge, high expectations and
ganas. That's all he and his students needed. Their results attest to how well that has and could work.

In history's record of him, you'll find anecdotal info that he could be an asshole, stubborn, egotistical, gruff and myopic. Allegedly, he discouraged his kids from other school activities--cultural, extracurricular--because that would have interfered with the calculus goals. That would seem to be more society's fault than simply Escalante's weaknesses. It was the price--and is still one teachers are forced to accede to--in order to succeed.

I call Escalante a Chicano, not a Latino, because his works determined that. He attained his level of success by becoming one of us.

I call Escalante a national treasure because like all treasures he has already entered the realm of the legendary, as unbelievable as his accomplishments were.

He's now 79, battling cancer and his family is battles the fact that despite healthcare "reform" passed this week, the onerous medical bills surrounding his illness are typical of how well American society cares for its true heroes.

Edward James Olmos devotes a wonderfully informative section of his
website to Escalante, the movie, etc., if you have the ganas to learn more or contribute to his medical battle.

Even if you don't or can't, think at least about carrying on a piece of his teachings. Whether you're a teacher, parent, brother, aunt, neighbor or family friend, somewhere in your world is a child that could have done well in Escalante's class. He or she might have the ganas or might need to be encouraged to re-find the ganas within themselves.

We can't all be Escalantes, but there's no harm in adopting a little of his legacy for ourselves.

Es todo, hoy,

Friday, March 26, 2010


La Carpa de los Rasquachis, written by Luis Valdez, directed by Anthony J. Garcia

Su Teatro
stars in the regional premiere of Luis Valdez's classic farm worker tale of an everyman immigrant told in rollicking corridos and performed in the classic Mexican tent-show style.

Written 45 years ago, La Carpa de los Rasquachis toured the world and gave birth to the Teatro Chicano movement.

If you ever liked anything Su Teatro has performed, come see the play that started it all.

March 19 - April 17 - Thursday, Friday and Saturday - 7:30 p.m.

The Denver Civic Theater -721 Santa Fe Dr.
Tickets - $18 general - $15 students and seniors
Groups of 12 or more people $12 each
Special promotional rates available upon request.

John Moore in the Denver Post gave the play three stars:
" Best of all, Su Teatro has come home to the westside neighborhood from where it was long ago displaced, along with much of its community, for the Auraria campus. A historic move calls for a historic production, and Luis Valdez's La Carpa de los Rasquachis, considered by many the masterpiece of the Chicano theater, qualifies."

La Voz Femenina 7 - an east end live art production
March 28th, 5 pm Café Flores 6606 Lawndale Street, Houston, TX 77023 $ Free

Voices Breaking Boundaries (VBB) is pleased to announce the second installment of its spring 2010 East End Live Art series, La Voz Femenina 7. Each year VBB collaborates with Arte Público Press to celebrate International Women’s Month. This year’s show includes films, art exhibits, open mic, and discussion, featuring Erica Fletcher, Liana Lopez, Delilah Montoya and Brian Parras. VBB’s Founding Director, Sehba Sarwar, will host the evening. “La Voz Femenina, now in its seventh year, is a powerful tradition of collaboration with Arte Público. VBB was founded by women, and to celebrate and recognize women’s struggle is an integral part of what we do,” says Sarwar.

La Voz Femenina 7 is cosponsored by Arte Público Press, Houston Institute for Culture, KPFT Pacifica Radio 90.1 FM, and Café Flores. The program is curated by Samina Mahmood, Gunjen Mittal, Selina Pishori, and Jacsun Shah.

Bits and Pieces

Renee Fajardo writes, at

"The César Chávez Peace & Justice Committee of Denver
commemorates César Chávez with its annual event on March 27. The Chávez commemoration will begin with a 10am Mass at St. Joseph's Church (6th Ave. & Galapago). Immediately following the mass, a march will proceed to El Centro Su Teatro (7th Avenue & Santa Fe Dr.), honoring the spirit of César Chávez and recognizing his peaceful and nonviolent ideals.

"Awards presentation, poetry, art, music and food will add to the spiritual gathering, to remember one of the world's greatest leaders of peace. This year's Leadership Awards recipients include: Raymond Ayon, Ara Cruz, María López and Nick Vigil."

I'll add my own note: this year's winner in the Organization category is the Migrant Farm Worker Division of Colorado Legal Services. I work for CLS and can say that the attorneys, paralegals, and interns in the Migrant Farm Worker Division are some of the most dedicated legal workers in the state - they take seriously the notion of affirmative advocacy on behalf of their clients, who are farm workers, sheepherders, the unemployed, and the discarded. I've seen it all firsthand and know that this award is well-deserved. Congratulations.

The Dylan Thomas Prize is for writers under the age of 30 who publish in English. Check out the submission requirements and rules of eligibility at this website. The prize is £30,000.00 (about $45,000, I think) and the deadline is April 30. That prize money could do a lot for tuition.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Puro Diaz

My wife heckles me quite a bit about my subscription to The New Yorker. "You pay all this money for one reason, Junot Diaz," she says each time the magazine arrives in our mailbox. "Nah," I respond but I know this to be true as by second-nature I flip to the table of contents and finger-stroll halfway down the page to the fiction icon hoping to see, Junot Diaz. Hell, been doing this routine for fifteen years now.

The New Yorker's recent publication of Diaz's short story, The Pura Principal, returns to the neighborhood or as Diaz puts it the nabe of Drown with his alter ego, Yunior, brother Rafa, and Mami. We encounter Diaz at his best as narrator, Yunior, remains the linguist of lingo, spitting out phrases that validate the Pulitzer Prize winner.

It's a story about sickness, both mental and physical; Mami cures her locura through the bible, Yunior copes with marijuana, and cancer ridden Rafa takes to parrying and exchanging blows with the aftermath of his chemo. "He prided himself on being the neighborhood lunatic, wasn't going to let a little thing like cancer get in the way of his official duties," writes Diaz. "Not a week out of the hospital, he cracked this illegal Peruvian kid in the face with a hammer..."

In vintage Diaz fashion, the characters survive with tragic honesty. At first Rafa has little trouble holding his own with the cancer. He thinks himself some superhero gato loco with nine lives until his eventual demise arrives not in death, but with Pura Adama or as Mami called her, Pura Mierda. Mami knew the fresh-off-the-boat-didn't-have-no-papers Dominicana was out to fit a ring around her finger to become legit. As Yunior put it, "Something about Pura's face, her timing, her personality, just drove Mami batshit." True to Mami's prophecy, Rafa pulled a reverse Houdini and found himself shackled to la Pura.

And although it came as a surprise to Yunior, Mami wasn't having it, wasn't going to take her querido Rafa in with his new wifey. With their vices in tote the story moves on; Mami con la biblia, Yunior la mota, y Rafa la Pura Mierda. Mami knew Rafa would (eventually) find his way home. By the time Pura called, she had wrung Rafa dry. He was near death when Yunior found him and the fever had scrambled his mind into mad delusion. There would be no tomorrow for Pura; it was as if she'd never existed; it was as if Rafa had never left home.

The Pura Principle. Diaz, Junot, The New Yorker: March 22, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

New Books from Cinco Puntos Press

Essay and photographs re-embody Cesar Chavez, not as icon, but as a man struggling for workers' rights.

10-digit ISBN
13-digit ISBN
Page Count
96 pages, 50 B&W photographs
Product Dimensions
8.25" x 8.25" x .30"
Publication Date
March 1, 2010

Who was Cesar Chavez? Essay and photographs restore this man to his place in American history.

Chavez has become a hero, an icon, so it’s difficult for people, especially young people, to understand him simply as a man. Esteemed Latin American scholar and writer Ilan Stavans, supported by 40-plus photographs from archival collections at the Cesar Chavez Foundation, restores this man’s humanity so that readers can understand his struggles as a labor organizer and civil rights activist for farm workers.

The book discusses his growing up and his family; his comadre Dolores Huerta, who stood with him from the beginning; his relationship with Dr. King and other activists in the broader struggles for civil rights for all peoples of color; and his insistence on being an activist for the rights of farm workers when so much media attention was given to the civil rights activists in the cities.

Ilan Stavans is a nationally respected Jewish-Latino writer and scholar. His story “Morirse está en hebreo” was made into the award-winning movie My Mexican Shivah produced by John Sayles. His books include Cesar Chavez: An Organizer’s Tale (Penguin, 2008), Dictionary Days (Graywolf), The Disappearance (TriQuarterly) and Resurrecting Hebrew (Random House). Stavans has received numerous awards, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Jewish Book Award, the Latino Book Award and Chile’s Presidential Medal. He is a Professor in Latin American Culture at Amherst College.


A Lao Story of Home
by Youme Landowne
illustrated by Youme Landowne
Publication Date: July 2010

How to begin again? Fleeing war, a child finds strength in memories of home and family.

Product Details
10-digit ISBN
13-digit ISBN
Page Count
Product Dimensions
9" x 9" x .25"
Publication Date
July 1, 2010

Youme tells the true story of artist Mali Jai Dee, whose family was forced by civil war to flee Laos when she was five. Mali’s story reveals the strength of family and culture to carry a child through unthinkable hardship.

Mali Under the Night Sky is the true story of Laotian-American artist Malichansouk Kouanchao, whose family was forced by civil war to flee Laos when she was five. Before the war began, Mali lived an idyllic life in a community where she felt safe and was much loved. She loved to sit in front of her house and ask everyone who passed by, “Where are you going?” She herself went everywhere too—climbing on the flowering trees, catching tiny fish in a rice field, looking for pale bamboo shoots in the dark forest. She loved the time she spent with her family, napping in the hot afternoons, making feasts and coming together on special days to celebrate. But the coming war caused her family to flee to another country and a life that was less than ideal. What did she carry with her? She carried her memories. And they in turn carried her across the world, sharing where she is from and all that she loves with the people she meets.

Youme Landowne is an energetic and joyful painter, book artist and activist who thrives in the context of public art. Youme has lived in and learned from the U.S., Kenya, Japan, Laos, Haiti and Cuba. In all of these places, she has worked with communities and individuals to make art that honors personal and cultural wisdom, creating community murals, illustrating tiny books, and teaching poetry in the schools.

Product Details
10-digit ISBN
13-digit ISBN
Page Count
Product Dimensions
5.63 x 8.755 x .80
Publication Date
January 1, 2010

"Nothing happens all the time in the Sierra del Pinacate. This region of extinct volcanoes, lava flows, and sand dunes, covering more than 600 square miles just beyond the Arizona border in Sonora, Mexico, supports little life and less industry. Through history hunters, smugglers, and missionaries have walked the Pinacate floor; writers, artists, and soothsayers have sung its praises. Traces of Indian life from the first millennium have been found just beneath its surface. Astronauts destined for lunar voyages have trained in its craters. Earth must have looked like the Pinacate before man evolved, and I imagine Earth will again resemble this haunting and seemingly infinite land when no one remains to appreciate it."

Who killed that saguaro outside Phoenix?
What is the sound of one billboard falling?
Cochise who?

Tom Miller's Southwest is a vortex of cockfights and cantinas, of black-velvet paintings and tacky bolo ties, of eco-militants, border-crossers, and eccentric characters whose outlook is as spare and elemental as the desert that surrounds them. This is Miller's turf. With wit and insight, he reveals how the clich's of romanticism and capitalism have run amuck in his homeland. When a saguaro cactus outside Phoenix kills its own assassin, it becomes clear that no other guide to the southwest manifests such a clear moral vision while reveling in the joy of this magnificent land and its people. Originally published by National Geographic as Jack Ruby's Kitchen Sink, it received the Gold Award for Best Travel Book in 2000 given by the Society of American Travel Writers.

Tom Miller has been writing about the American Southwest and Latin America for more than three decades. His ten books include The Panama Hat Trail which follows the making and marketing of one Panama hat and Trading with the Enemy which Lonely Planet says 'may be the best travel book about Cuba ever written.' Miller began his journalism career in the underground press of the late 60s and early '70s, and has written articles for the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Yorker, Smithsonian, Natural History, and Rolling Stone. He lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife, Regla Albarr'n.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Review: Revenge of the Saguaro; Bits 'n pieces.

Tom Miller. Revenge of the Saguaro. Offbeat Travels Through America's Southwest. El Paso: Cinco Puntos Press, 2010.
ISBN: 1-933693-60-6 and 9781933693606

Michael Sedano

Back in 2000 and again in 2002, the National Geographic Society published Tom Miller's Jack Ruby's Kitchen Sink. Now, in 2010, EPT's Cinco Puntos Press republishes the volume, retitled with the more southwesty title, Revenge of the Saguaro. Offbeat Travels Through America's Southwest

Under its former title, 368 libraries from California to Australia according to WorldCat, shelve the seven-essay Jack Ruby. Cinco Puntos’ addition of two essays not in the earlier volume, the title piece, “Revenge of the Saguaro” and “The Occidental Tsuris,” should find welcome space in those libraries, and your own.

Shared in common are seven essays, including “The Great Stinking Desert,” “What Is the Sound of One Billboard Falling?”, “Jack Ruby's Kitchen Sink,” “Searching for the Heart of ‘La Bamba’,” “Hollywood Goes Southwest,” “Death by Misadventure,” and “The Free State of Cochise.”

Miller’s style bears repeating, he must feel, because every essay assumes the same voice and similar structure. The title conveys the major theme, but Miller’s way is theme and variations. His “La Bamba” essay, for example, begins with a consideration of a travel music mix for a Southwest jaunt, selected for location. Depending upon where your wheels are rolling, sounds would include Indian flute by R. Carlos Nakai, country folk by Latie Lee, chicken scratch music by Joe Miguel and the Blood Brothers, Alice Cooper because you're in his hometown, cantina rolas from Los Blues Ventures, and broadly regional work from Los Lobos and Los Tigres del Norte. One song, Miller suggests, fits the entire region, “La Bamba.”

The essay looks at the Ritchie Valens oldie rock version then explores further south into Veracruz and jarocho music, then back into history with Cortés and the European invasion’s syncretic influences on Mexican sounds. Miller’s musical journey U-turns from Xalapa to McCarthysim, noting folksinger Travis Edmonson was hauled before “a congressional hearing because he performed a foreign folk tune assumed to be about the bomb.”

Enriching the essay, Miller doesn’t drop "La Bamba" and stop there. Instead, he circles around the rim of the Morenci mine, delving into its ballad, “Open Pit Mine,” then heads east to the west Texas town of El Paso and Marty Robbins' hit about wicked Felina and a wild young cowboy’s misplaced passion. True to his travel genre, Miller takes you not only through the song but also to the “real” Rosa’s Cantina and associated ironies.

The title essay,"Revenge of the Saguaro," offers a gem of storytelling and righteous retribution. In a well-refined narrative, Miller tells of the death of a loser named David Grundman. Having told the story numerous times, Miller observes, not a single listener expressed any remorse over Grundman’s death. I am not the first to feel it, nor will you. You, as I, will side with Ha:san, a Saguaro cactus.

The essay links Ha:san's growing years to historical benchmarks. Saguaros themselves have populated the earth for 10,000 years. Ha:san germinated as a microscopic seedling during the hegemony of James Buchanan. In this period, the Supremes hand down their mistaken Dred Scott decision, some invader discovers gold along the Gila River, and Mexicanos are being swindled out of their lands and culture supposedly guaranteed by the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.

In 1912, Ha:san’s tierra becomes the State of Arizona. Now 55 years old and standing 8 feet tall, Ha:san blooms.

Miller builds a loving biography of the magnificent cactus, contrasting it to the meaningless life of an easterner who moves to Arizona at age 21, the Attica parolee, Grundman.

One happy sad day, Grundman and his pal load up on ammo and birongas and drive out to the wilderness where Grundman and pal kill a half-dozen Saguaros of varying sizes and histories. When Grundman drops the hammer on Ha:san, the hundred twenty-five year old 3000 pound magnificence refuses to fall. The drunken pendejo attacks Ha:san with the dried rib of a long-dead Saguaro. Too close, menso. Whump! Grundman is felled by Ha:san’s 500 pound arm. Then Whu-ump! Ha:san herself, devastated by the frenzied attack and unbalanced from her lost arm, succumbs to gravity and comes crashing down on the exact spot where Grundman lies under the fallen arm. “The joke was on David Grundman, and so was Ha:san. . . . Grundman lay face-up, dead beneath a ton and a half and 125 years of cactus…Natural selection had played its hand.”

The title story alone is well worth the time spent with Tom Miller’s ambling, oft intricate story-telling. You’ll likely enjoy the history of velvet painting, backstage stuff on the films “Milagro Beanfield War” and “Salt of the Earth,” ride-alongs with eco-terrorists, and ample helpings of social irony and salutes to lost causes and Miller's personal heroes.

I hope you’ll read and enjoy Revenge of the Saguaro. If so, you’ll also enjoy William Least Heat Moon’s Blue highways : a journey into America for much the same reasons. They're the same book, only different. Per WorldCat, the latter is available in only 68 libraries worldwide, a real lastima because these two titles are kissin’ cousins of the curious byways of United States culture.

News from the heartland

You'll have to be a local, or traveling through Kansas City Missouri, to enjoy La Bloga guest bloguera Xánath Caraza and friends reading at The Writers Place. (Click image for a larger view):

Readers everywhere will appreciate the news from the Eric Hoffer Award for Short Prose & Independent Books. The Latino Writers Collective's prose collection, Cuentos del Centro, reviewed at La Bloga last July, is shortlisted for the Hoffer's Montaigne Medal. From the Hoffer website:

The Eric Hoffer Award for short prose and books was established at the start of the 21st century as a means of opening a door to writing of significant merit. It honors the memory of the great American philosopher Eric Hoffer by highlighting salient writing, as well as the independent spirit of small publishers. The winning stories and essays are published in Best New Writing, and the book awards are covered in the US Review of Books.

¡Felicidades to Latino Writers Collective of Kansas City MO, and publisher Scapegoat Press!

Prayers for the Women of Juarez

This is the final week of the 40 day vigil around the world dedicated to the femicide victims in Juarez. In Los Angeles, Casa 0101 annex, 2102 E. 1st St. Los Angeles, CA 90033, closes an art exhibit curated by Victoria Delgadillo. Click here for details.

The image below comes from poet Don Newton of La Palabra, one of five artists whose joint effort created the image based roughly on a poem by Judith Terzi. The five artists are: Poli Marichal, Marianne Sadowski, Kay Brown, Victor Rosas and Don Newton.

That's March's penultimate Tuesday, a Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. See you next Tuesday.


La Bloga welcomes your comments on this and all columns. Click the comments counter below to add your observations. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists. If you have a book review, an extended commentary on something you've read here at La Bloga, a literary, arts or cultural event to report, or something from your writer's notebook, click here to discuss being our guest.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Con Tinta at AWP in Denver

Con Tinta believes in affirming a pro-active presence in American literature. We come together in the spirit of intellectual/artistic dialogue and of recognizing our literary/social histories. Con Tinta's mission is to create awareness through cultivating emerging talent, through promoting creative expression, and through establishing alliances with other cultural/political organizations.

· Increase awareness of the Chicano/Latino literary community
· Celebrate the voices of our elders
· Cultivate emerging talent
· Promote presentations of artistic expression
· Support the current work & efforts of our members

ADVISORY CIRCLE MEMBERS: Lisa Alvarado, Blas Falconer, Rigoberto González, Maria Melendez, Juan J. Morales, Daniel A. Olivas, Michelle Otero, Richard Yañez

EX-OFICIO CIRCLE MEMBERS: Kathleen Alcalá, Brenda Cárdenas, Lisa D. Chávez, Lorraine M. López

2006 (Austin) – raúlrsalinas and Rolando Hinjosa-Smith
2007 (Atlanta) – Judith Ortiz Cofer
2008 (New York City) – Sandra María Esteves and Tato Laviera
2009 (Chicago) – Carlos Cortez
2010 (Denver) – Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado and Dr. Alicia Gaspar de Alba


Date/Time: Thursday, April 8, 2010, 5:30 - 8:00 p.m.
Location: Laguna's Mexican Bar & Grill
Address: 1543 Champa St., Denver, CO 80202 / Phone: (303) 623-5321
Cost: Free Buffet / Cash Bar

Please join us at the 5th Annual Pachanga for the Chicano/Latino Literary community and its allies at AWP. The event will feature special recognition of our literary antepasados, presentation of Achievement Awards, and short readings/tributes by members of our communities. The recipients of this year's Achievement Awards are Abelardo "Lalo" Delgado AND Dr. Alicia Gaspar de Alba.

Con Tinta's celebration is held in conjunction with The Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference. Click here for full schedule of events. For more information, e-mail Richard Yañez.

Donations for cost of the Con Tinta celebration may be sent to the following address:

Richard Yañez
El Paso Community College
P. O. BOX 20500
El Paso, TX 79998-0500

Follow “Con Tinta” on Facebook

◙ POETRY READING WITH MELINDA PALACIO: Come join poet Melinda Palacio at Tía Chucha's, 13197-A Gladstone Ave., Sylmar, as she reads from her new collection, Folsom Lockdown (Kulupi Press), on Saturday, March 27th, 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

"Folsom Lockdown is that rare literary song that jars the heart, the memories, the pains, as well as what's good in all of us." --Luis J. Rodriguez, award-winning author and founder/editor of Tía Chucha Press

◙ ONWARD, TUCSON: Tucson Poetry Festival is just around the corner: April 2 and 3. The festival celebrates its 28th year with the theme "Poetry Where You Are." The featured poets include Manuel Paul Lopez, author of the collection, Death of a Mexican and other Poems (Bear Star Press). For a full schedule of events, visit here.

◙ GOING DOWN MEMORY LANE: I majored in English lit at Stanford University, class of 1981. That's a long time ago. Well, I recently did a book reading at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park near the campus and got to visit the old stomping grounds the next day (my poor wife had to listen to such profound exclamations as: "I used to buy coffee right here and read!"). A few weeks after the visit, I went through a very pleasant and interesting interview with Anneke Nelson (pictured), a senior at Stanford University and a contributor to the English Department’s blog, Cellar Door. We discussed many things including multiculturalism in literature, my old days back at the Farm, La Bloga, among other things. Check it out here.

◙ 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!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rediscovering John Rechy's City of Night

I screwed up last week and posted this when it wasn't my turn so I am re-posting.

March 10th marked the birthday of one of the pioneers of LGBT literature, John Rechy.   To celebrate and festejar John Rechy I invite you to read two reviews.  One is a review of his last book, About My Life and the Kept Woman, by fellow bloguero Daniel Olivas: .   The second one is of his first work, City of Night.  It is my honor to introduce you to a new guest columinist, Andrew J. Peters.   Al rato!

Rediscovering John Rechy's City of Night

by Andrew J. Peters

Among his many accomplishments, John Rechy has a special place in the history of gay American literature. His début novel City of Night, released in 1963, was one of the few overtly gay-themed works to achieve commercial success in the pre-Stonewall era. While earlier authors contributed critically-acclaimed portrayals of same-sex love, usually of the tortured, unactualized variety—Thomas Mann's Death in Venice and James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room for example, Rechy broke ground with his insight into the homosexual underground where men created identities such as "hustler," "fairy," and "daddy" beneath a society that criminalized their desires. Rechy's dispassionate depiction of urban subculture was carried forward by such great authors as William Burroughs and Paul T. Rogers.

Rechy also happens to be the only writer of Latino descent among the gay novelists of his time. But while City of Night takes inspiration quite literally from Rechy's personal search for identity, his story sheds sparingly little light on issues of culture. Besides the autobiographical narrator, there's only one Latino character in the entire novel: a ferocious drag queen rendered in two gripping pages. The narrator's interaction with her is brief but central to the novel's theme of the triumph of self-expression over social sanction.

That Rechy chose not to address race is to some degree a matter of his narrator's make-up and his particular journey. He's on a mission to bury his childhood innocence which was indelibly scarred by his father's abuse, thus his relationship to other characters is sexualized, brief and transactional. Still, it is through the narrator's "scores" and sexually-compulsive encounters that he gradually comes to learn about himself: the hustler Pete who swaggers with heterosexual bravado but reaches out with growing desperation for emotional connection to the narrator; a score named The Professor who chronicles his hustler "angels" in a scrap book but breaks off with the man he loves at the insinuation of reciprocal affection; the thirty-something Skipper who touched fame for a moment while he was kept by a Hollywood director but was tossed aside for the next young thing and spends his days and nights in a skid row bar.

Rechy's omission of culture reflects the real life choices of many gay men of color in the 1960's (and beyond). His literary canon exemplifies the challenge to integrate racial and sexual identities prior to the relatively recent possibility of gay men of color organizing socially and politically for themselves; Rechy's novels about gay life include few references to people of color while his stories about Hispanic life are populated almost entirely by non-gay men and women—a trend we also see in the work of James Baldwin who oscillated between the African American and gay literary worlds. What can be said about Rechy's cultural point of view is that the few Latino men in City of Night surpass caricature or objectification, an insidious pitfall of many of his gay literary counterparts.

The question of what makes a novel "gay" is infinitely debatable, and it would be a disservice to City of Night to limit its relevance to gay readers. The story captures the universal human experience of alienation and shattered innocence and foreshadowed cross-over novels such as Scott Heim's Mysterious Skin. But to the extent that City of Night deals quite candidly with gay sex, love and acceptance, it holds a place in the cornerstone of gay American literature. Like all classic works, City of Night imparts enduring wisdom, especially in its final pages. My favorite line comes from a conversation between the narrator and a score named Jeremy who confronts the narrator about his inability to integrate sex and love. To the narrator's complaint that relationships between men are inherently and inevitably exploitative, Jeremy responds: "We say we hate the world, but we imitate it constantly."

Andrew J. Peters is a writer and a social worker for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in New York City. His blog and a description of his projects can be found at

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cuarta Página Reading Series – Latino Writers Collective

guest column by Xánath Caraza

The Latino Writers Collective (LWC), Kansas City, MO, has been very active at the end of winter this year. As part of the Cuarta Página Reading Series, and in an attempt to contrast the long winter in Kansas City, the LWC has brought color, empowerment, poetry, fiction, and exquisite discussions through the presentations and words of Fred Arroyo and Demetria Martínez.

In chronological order, first, the LWC, in partnership with Kansas City’s Riverfront Reading Series, invited Fred Arroyo for the evening of February 26, 2010 at the Writers Place. Fred Arroyo is a professor at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. His novel, The Region of Lost Names (University of Arizona Press, 2008) was a finalist for the 2008 Premio Aztlán and a finalist for the 2008 One Brown Book, One Nation Reading Program. Arroyo read exerpts of his novel and his new short story A Case of Consolation.

The Writers Place had a full house the evening of the event. An exquisite Q&A session followed Arroyo’s reading to finalize the night with a book signing session. The next day, February 27, the LWC met with Arroyo again at the Writers Place for a friendly potluck and discussion session. LWC members were enthusiastic with their questions about habits needed to develop as a writer. Arroyo, a renaissance man himself, very graciously shared his own experiences in becoming a writer with LWC members.

“Inspiration is always welcome but developing your own rituals as a writer is an important part of becoming one” in Arroyo’s words. Miguel Morales, a LWC member, asked Arroyo about telling stories that have already been told many times in the past by others. What Arroyo shared with the LWC was that even while some of the experiences of Latinos are similar and may have been written before, Latino authors have to keep telling these stories because each author adds freshness and insight out of the unique experience and perspective of the author.
LWC members always enrich and grow as writers from the opportunity to exchange experiences with and listen to established authors such as Fred Arroyo and Demetria Martínez.

LWC’s next Cuarta Página event was the evening of March 3rd in collaboration with the wonderful Kansas City Library Team. LWC thanks Henry Fortunato, Director of Public Affairs, Kansas City Public Library, and Margaret Clark, a member of the Public Affairs Department, for their valued support and participation with the LWC to bring Kansas City the opportunity to listen to Demetria Martínez.

Demetria Martínez, a Chicana de mucho corazón, activist, writer, journalist, and poeta is a living example of the statement that words are power. Martínez is the author of Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana (University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), (Ballentine, 1994), Mother Tongue (Ballentine, 1994), Breathing between the Lines: Poems (University of Arizona Press, 1997), and The Devil’s Workshop (University of Arizona Press, 2002). She also writes a biweekly column for the National Catholic Reporter, Kansas City, Mo.

Through her writing, Demetria Martínez has explored feminism, identity, and the creative process in and of itself. For example, in her essay “Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana”, she explores language and cultural awareness of the diverse experiences of Latinas with Spanish and English.

I love how she starts her essay, “We’re everywhere, and it’s time to come out of the closet: I speak of the tongue-tied generation, buyers of books with titles like Master Spanish in Ten Minutes a Day while You Nap. We’re the Chicanas with cassettes in our glove compartments; commuting to work, we lip phrases for directing an Argentine cabbie to a hotel or ordering tapas at a bar in Spain.” (2005)

During the Q&A session, Martínez explored questions of witnessing life’s events and translating these events into creative words. Demonstrating the importance of selecting words, Martínez has said that “As witnesses of events, many times words are all that we have left”. As adults, our minds are full of childhood songs, family recipes, colors, feelings, and fragrances which we translate into words. These words have an impact in our listeners, whether we are aware of it or not. Finally, I want to add that I personally call Martínez la sacerdotisa de las palabras, the priestess of words.

The LWC is motivated to continue writing after these two incredible events. On behalf of the Latino Writers Collective, I cannot thank both Arroyo and Martínez enough for their seasoned experiences and willingness to share with the LWC y con esto me despido.
Keep on writing; words are power!
Ciao, chao.


Fred Arroyo y Demetria Martínez:
En la serie de lecturas Cuarta Página del Latino Writers Collective, Kansas City, Mo.
por Xánath Caraza

El Latino Writers Collective (LWC), Kansas City, MO, ha estado muy activo al final del invierno de este año. Como parte de la serie de lecturas Cuarta Página y en un intento para contrastar el largo invierno en la Ciudad de Kansas, el LWC ha traído color, fuerza, poesía, ficción y discusiones exquisitas a través de las presentaciones y palabras de Fred Arroyo y Demetria Martínez.

En orden cronológico, primero, el LWC, en colaboración con Kansas City’s Riverfront Reading Series, invitó a Fred Arroyo la noche del 26 de febrero de 2010 al Writer’s Place. Fred Arroyo es profesor en Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. Su novela, The Region of Lost Names (University of Arizona Press, 2008) fue finalista para el Premio Aztlán 2008 y finalista para el 2008 One Brown Book, One Nation Reading Program. Arroyo leyó partes de su novela, y su reciente cuento A Case of Consolation.

El Writers Place tuvo casa llena en la noche del evento. Una sesión exquisita de preguntas y respuestas siguió a la lectura de Arroyo para finalizar la noche con una sesión para firmar sus libros. Al día siguiente, el 27 de febrero, el LWC se reunió con Arroyo una vez más para una amistosa comida informal y una sesión para discusión. Los miembros del LWC estuvieron entusiasmados con sus preguntas acerca de los hábitos que un escritor necesita desarrollar. Arroyo, un hombre por sí mismo renacentista, amablemente compartió su propia experiencia al convertirse en escritor con los miembros de LWC.

“La inspiración siempre es bienvenida pero desarrollar tus propios rituales como escritor es un parte importante para convertirse en uno” en las palabras de Arroyo. Miguel Morales, un miembro del LWC, preguntó a Arroyo acerca del hecho de contar historias que han sido contadas muchas veces antes en el pasado por otros. Lo que Arroyo compartió con el LWC fue que aunque algunas de las historias de latinos son similares y hayan sido escritas antes, los autores latinos tienen que seguir contando estas historias porque cada autor agrega frescura y reflexión a su experiencia y perspectiva única.

Los miembros del LWC siempre se han enriquecido y crecido como escritores por las oportunidades de intercambio de experiencias y las posibilidades para escuchar a escritores establecidos como Fred Arroyo y Demetria Martínez.

El siguiente evento del LWC para Cuarta Página fue la noche del 3 de marzo de 2010, en colaboración con el maravilloso equipo de la biblioteca de la Ciudad de Kansas. El LWC agradece a Henry Fortunato, el director de asuntos públicos de la biblioteca pública de la Ciudad de Kansas, y a Margaret Clark, un miembro del departamento de asuntos públicos, por su valioso apoyo y participación con el LWC por brindar a la Ciudad de Kansas la oportunidad de escuchar a Demetria Martínez.

Demetria Martínez, una chicana de mucho corazón, activista, escritora, periodista y poeta es un ejemplo vivo de que las palabras son poder. Martínez es la autora de (University of Oklahoma Press, 2005), Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape ChicanaMother Tongue (Ballentine, 1994), Breathing between the Lines: Poems (University of Arizona Press, 1997) y The Devil’s Workshop (University of Arizona Press, 2002). También escribe una columna quincenal para el National Catholic Reporter, Kansas City, Mo.

A través de su escritura, Demetria Martínez ha explorado el feminismo, la identidad y el proceso creativo en sí mismo. Por ejemplo, en su ensayo “Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana”, explora el lenguaje y la adquisición de conciencia cultural provocadas por las experiencias diversas de las latinas con el español e inglés.

Me encanta cómo empieza su ensayo, “We’re everywhere, and it’s time to come out of the closet: I speak of the tongue-tied generation, buyers of books with titles like Master Spanish in Ten Minutes a Day while You Nap. We’re the Chicanas with cassettes in our glove compartments; commuting to work, we lip phrases for directing an Argentine cabbie to a hotel or ordering tapas at a bar in Spain.” (2005)

Durante la sesión de preguntas y respuestas, Martínez exploró el hecho de ser testigos de eventos de la vida y traducirlos a palabras creativas. Para demostrar la importancia de la selección de palabras, Martínez ha dicho que “como testigos de eventos, muchas veces las palabras son todo lo que queda”. Como adultos, nuestras mentes están llenas de canciones de niñez, recetas familiares, colores, sentimientos y fragancias que traducimos a palabras. Estas palabras tienen un impacto en nuestro público, estemos o no conscientes de ello. Finalmente, quiero agregar que personalmente llamo a Martínez la sacerdotisa de las palabras, the priestess of words.

El LWC está motivado para continuar escribiendo después de estos dos eventos increíbles. De parte del Latino Writers Collective, no puedo acabar de agradecer tanto a Arroyo como a Martínez por sus experiencias sazonadas y deseos de compartirlas con el LWC y con esto me despido.
Sigan escribiendo.
¡Las palabras son poder!
Ciao, chao.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Guest Tribute to Bobby Espinosa - Book Events and News

This week I have a bit of news about new books and book events and a guest column from Pocho Joe, the Denver DJ who produces La Raza Rocks for radio station KUVO (89.3 FM, every Sunday, 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm (Denver time) along with his co-host, Gabe. Pocho Joe pays tribute to Bobby Espinosa, the guiding light and one of the original members of El Chicano, who recently passed away. By the way, a memorial service for Bobby will be held Saturday, March 20, 2010 at 1:00 p.m. at Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church, 532 S. Atlantic Blvd., East Los Angeles, 90022. Reception after service at Steven's Steak House, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm 5332 E. Stevens Place, Commerce, Ca. 90040

Bobby Espinosa Tribute – Aired on KUVO March 14, 2010
Pocho Joe

In the 1960’s a group of San Gabriel High School students led by bassist Freddy Sanchez formed a Chicano band called the VIP’s. The VIP’s included guitarist Micky Lespron. Their Mexican-American rhythm and blues style of music was missing a key component. Freddy met a keyboardist from a Chicano surf band (Micky & the Invaders) and invited him to join the VIP’s. His name was Bobby Espinosa. This began a life-long professional and personal friendship and brotherhood.

With an expanded line-up, the VIP’s were invited to Eddie Davis’ recording studio in Hollywood to record a rendition of Gerald Wilson’s song Viva Tirado. Gerald had written this jazz piece to honor the great Mexican bullfighter, Jose Ramon Tirado, who refused to kill the bull he was fighting. The recording session was magic and Eddie saw so much talent in this group of young Chicanos.

Eddie Davis recognized how racist our American society was towards Mexican-Americans. He knew that previous Latin groups had to hide their cultural identity just to get airplay in regional markets. He convinced the VIP’s to change their name to El Chicano in a daring move in order to confront the music industry and help American listeners come to grips with America’s second largest minority at that time.

El Chicano was born in a burst of cultural pride in 1970. Keep in mind that until the Chicano civil rights movement in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, the term Chicano had a negative connotation. Mexicanos used Chicano as a put down for Mexican Americans and Anglo society viewed Chicano as a radical and anti-American term. This group of six musicians helped us to understand ‘somos Chicanos’.

KAPP Records released the album Viva Tirado by El Chicano. The group’s original line-up included: Ersi Arvisu on tambourine and maracas and vocals on later productions; Andre Baeza on congas; John DeLuna on drums; Little Micky Lespron on guitar; Freddy Sanchez on electric bass; and Bobby Espinosa on the organ.

The year 1970 shared the birth of the band El Chicano as well as the Chicano Moratorium, an action to voice opposition to American aggression and in particular in opposition to the occupation of Vietnam. 1970 was also a year when the United Farmworker Movement educated America about the illegal slave wage practices and pesticide usage throughout our farmlands. 1970 marked the infancy of Chicano student and community organizations throughout the Southwest. Why do I mention these historical facts? If music is culture, and culture is a reflection of society, then the music of El Chicano was both a reflection and a reminder of what America was in 1970. As El Chicano toured the United States in the early 1970’s, they knew they had chosen the perfect band name.

Because of Viva Tirado’s national distribution and billboard success, El Chicano was invited to the prestigious Ohio Jazz Festival held at the old Crosley Field in Cincinnati in 1970. The promoters were shocked when a Chicano rock band showed up. Two minutes into their first song, they won over both the promoters and the crowd to their style of Chicano fusion. That scene was repeated that summer when they played the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. New Yorkers weren’t sure what the word Chicano meant but assumed they were a black group. Bobby recalled that audience members shouted “who are these Indians?”

By year’s end, El Chicano was named Jazz Group of the Year by music industry’s trade magazines Billboard and Record World. Bobby Espinosa tells us in the liner notes of the CD titled Chicano Chant that I was in my early teens when I first heard someone say, music is the universal language. A decade later, I found music to be a universal bond. Bobby was mature beyond his years. The music industry promotes musicians for many of the wrong reasons. Likewise, many musicians get into the industry for unprincipled reasons. Bobby held to a sound philosophical premise, which is the love of humanity and the love of La Raza through his love of music. As a child, he was raised in a home filled with many styles of music, from mariachi to jazz. Bobby believed that his “feel” for the material enabled both he and his band to take an audience through different musical dimensions and that all people could express themselves through that music.

In 1995, Bobby’s re-tooled El Chicano band played in Japan as a part of a Latin All-Stars Tour. He remembered the Japanese youth having a fervent passion for Chicano culture including low-riding and baggy clothes. At the end of a set, at the Blue Note in Tokyo, the Japanese youth sought Bobby’s autograph, but requested he sign his name graffiti-style. While in the United States, El Chicano had a wide range of acceptance and fan’s expectations. During some tours, fans wanted Bobby to play Mexican and Tex-Mex music. Some crowds wanted to hear cumbias and rancheras. Bobby had to explain that they were Americans of Mexican descent and that El Chicano’s music in the main, reflected the urban Chicano experience. The band El Chicano knew what it was to be ….a Chicano.

Although El Chicano could aptly cover songs from Gerald Wilson and Horace Silver, from Van Morrison to Tito Puente, their renditions were puro Chicano. Bobby Espinosa was also a talented composer. Bobby and company performed for four decades and produced a number of albums including: Viva Tirado (1970); Revolucion (1971); Celebracion (1972); El Chicano (1973); Cinco (1974); Best of Everything (1975); Pyramid (of Love and Friends) (1976); This is…El Chicano (1977); Viva El Chicano (1989); and Painting the Moment (1998). In my humble opinion, Painting the Moment is Bobby’s crowning jewel. It showcases his passion and love of this music. This I consider to be his masterpiece. If Micky Lespron’s Wes Montgomery-esque guitar playing was the heart of the original El Chicano Band, Bobby Espinosa’s Hammond B-3 organ was their soul.

Bobby Espinosa is not a well-recognized name in the American music lexicon. He devoted his life to the joy of music, but in the main he was forgotten, ignored or just plain dis-invited to the table of American music. I’ve given a few facts and anecdotes of Bobby’s musical career, but one hour can not do justice to explain who he was.

Bobby died February 27, 2010 at the age of 60. Richard “Thee Mr.” Duran, a long time friend of Bobby’s recalls in Latino L.A., published on March 1st, that Bobby was just a guy with a pet turtle, who had partied with Janice Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and had Poncho Sanchez join the band while performing a fundraising event. But more importantly, there was no stage too small for Bobby. He was just plain good gente. I saw Bobby perform in 2009 at the Palladium in Denver when he joined a super-group of musicians. Once again, Bobby’s keyboard was ‘la alma’ of the night. Let’s not forget this man who never forgot us!


Blackout in Precinct Puerto Rico
Steven Torres
Minotaur, March 30, 2010

The publisher gives us this much about Steven Torres' latest novel: It’s Friday night when sixteen-year old Luisa Ferré stumbles into Sheriff Luis Gonzales’ path—naked, battered, and so traum

atized she won’t say a word. Between partygoers and out of towners, it isn’t long before the list of suspects begins to grow. This is the fifth in this series.

Pretty skimpy, no? There's a lot more to this book, take it from me, and I haven't even read it yet. Steven's Luis Gonzalo (not Gonzales - the publisher got the main character's name wrong - man, where is Maxwell Perkins when you need him?) series is one of the best ongoing fiction series out there, in any genre. I expect a good yarn, great action, and very human ups-and-downs for the Sheriff. At least one other reviewer (who has read the book) agrees. Check out Bill Crider's review of Blackout in Precinct Puerto Rico at this link. One unusual bit - Steven says that he wrote this book first, but here it is being published as number 5 in the series.

Werewolf Smackdown
Mario Acevedo
Eos, March, 2010

Meanwhile, Mario Acevedo continues to make huge waves with his Felix Gomez series, now at book number five. His latest is revving up for an even more impressive run. Example: Plenty of cliffhangers keep the story moving in this horror fan's perfect vacation read - Publishers Weekly. Or, Acevedo delivers a howling good time - Scott Nicholson writing for the International Thriller Writers. Latest news is that the Felix Gomez series is under development for a graphic novel - can't wait for that. Mario will be at the Tattered Cover, Colfax, Denver, on March 22 at 7:30 pm. As the man said, you can expect a howling good time at one of Mario's events. And go to Mario's website for a special offer involving other Urban Fantasy authors - here's the link.

I'll add a short note about my own book -- I'm scheduled for the Tattered Cover, Colfax, Denver, for May 20 at 7:30 pm. I plan to read and discuss my latest, King of the Chicanos. You can find out more about the King at the Wings Press website, here. Here's some of what the publisher says about the book:

Both heroic and tragic, King of the Chicanos, captures the spirit, energy, and imagination of the 1960s' Chicano movement -- a massive and intense struggle across a broad spectrum of political and cultural issues -- through the passionate story of the "King of the Chicanos," Ramón Hidalgo. From his very humble beginnings through the tumultuous decades of being a migrant farm worker, door-to-door salesman,prison inmate, political hack, and radical activist, the novel relates Hidalgo's personal failures and self-destructive personality amid the political turmoil of the times. With a gradual acceptance of his destiny as a leader and hero of the people, this impassioned novel relates the maturation of one man while encapsulating the fever of the Chicano movement.

Read even if your eyes bleed.