Friday, April 30, 2010

Murals, poets, books, honors, new theater - and SB1070

Mural Unveiling
Stevon Lucero
has a new mural that will be unveiled on May 1 up in Laramie, Wyo. Stevon's mural is a "depiction of Latinos in Wyoming." He calls it Paredes Hablando: Walls that Speak. Stevon's work is full of energy, color and spirit, so this mural should be something. Plus, there's also a film, 2501 Migrants by Yolanda Cruz. An excellent trailer for the film can be found here. All of this is in support of Laramie's Radio Montañesa: Voz de la Gente, 93.5 FM.

A poetry reading by Juan Manuel Patraca at 2:00 p.m., May 8, at the Boulder Public Library at Broadway Street and Arapahoe Avenue in Boulder. At the free public event, Mr. Patraca will read in English and Spanish from his new book of poems titled 32 Biographies of Humble People. The Mexican-born Patraca mops and vacuums Denver area offices by night and jots down ideas for his poems while riding the bus to and from work. His poetry tells the stories of those who have contributed to the struggle for social and immigrant justice as well as his own reflections on his experiences with injustice.


Breathing, In Dust
Tim Z. Hernandez

Texas Tech University Press
[publisher's text]

Deep within California’s golden agricultural heartland lies a rotten core: the fictional farming community of Catela, where the desperate realities of poverty, drug abuse, violence, and bigotry play out in the lives of cucarachas and coyotes, tweekers and strippers, wetbacks and white trash. Seventeen-year-old Tlaloc, namesake of the Aztec god of fertility and destruction, has grown up among the migrant-worker communities that follow the seasons from Wyoming’s beet fields to the vineyards and packinghouses of the Central Valley. Bearing witness to a gritty landscape of wrenching contrasts, Loc narrates the bitter desires and crushed hopes of his friends and family: his father’s absence and his grandparents’ deaths, Zeta’s reckless abandon, Arturín’s path to prison, Norma’s tragic alienation, the farmworkers’ final tributes to Cesar Chavez, Talina’s choices and compromises. Even so he dares to dream, sensing that somewhere within the cruel beauty that surrounds him may lie his own redemption. Tim Z. Hernandez’s land of pain and plenty, his Catela, evokes the essence of the migrant underclass experience. But more, his stories take us there, into the streets and into the groves, into the back rooms of the carnicerias and the panaderias, onto the tracks, onto the thirsty highways, in scenes that unfold with graphic, breathtaking honesty.

Tim Z. Hernandez is a writer and performer originally from Central California’s San Joaquin Valley. His performances have been featured at Los Angeles’ Getty Center Museum, the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, San Francisco’s Intersection for the Arts, Stanford University, and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. He is the recipient of several notable awards, including the American Book Award for his debut collection of poetry, Skin Tax, the Zora Neale Hurston Award, and the James Duval Phelan Award from the San Francisco Foundation.


634 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90014 Office: 213-629-2512



April 29, 2010


Laura Rodriguez: 310-956-2425

Estuardo Rodriguez: 202-631-2892

Maria Archuleta, ACLU: 212-519-7808 or 549-2666;

Lindsay Nordstrom, ACLU of Arizona, 602-773-6005

Adela de la Torre, NILC: 213-674-2832


Civil rights leaders Dolores Huerta and Richard Chavez joined by famed musician and Arizona native, Linda Ronstadt, to condemn new law

PHOENIX, AZ – Today, MALDEF, ACLU, ACLU of Arizona, and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) held a news conference on the House of Representatives Lawn of the Arizona State Capitol Building in Phoenix, Arizona to announce their upcoming legal challenge to Governor Jan Brewer’s recently signed SB1070. In addition, the organizations sought to address misinformation and fears that have been spreading throughout the Latino community across Arizona. Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, ACLU, ACLU of Arizona and NILC leaders were joined by civil rights leaders Dolores Huerta, Richard Chavez and multi-Grammy winning artist and human rights advocate, Linda Ronstadt.

“Today, the three most experienced immigrants' and civil rights legal organizations nationwide -- MALDEF, ACLU, and NILC -- announce their partnership, together with local Arizona-based counsel, to challenge SB 1070 in court,” stated MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz. “The Arizona community can be assured that a vigorous and sophisticated legal challenge will be mounted, in advance of SB 1070's implementation, seeking to prevent this unconstitutional and discriminatory law from ever taking effect."

"This law will only make the rampant racial profiling of Latinos that is already going on in Arizona much worse," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. "If this law were implemented, citizens would effectively have to carry ‘their papers’ at all times to avoid arrest. It is a low point in modern America when a state law requires police to demand documents from people on the street."

Linton Joaquin, General Counsel of NILC, added, “This unconstitutional law sends a strong message to all immigrants to have no contact with any law enforcement officer. The inevitable result is not only to make immigrants more vulnerable to crime and exploitation, but also to make the entire community less safe, by aggressively discouraging witnesses and victims from reporting crimes.”

There are a number of serious constitutional problems with the law, the groups say. It violates the supremacy clause by interfering with federal immigration power and authority. The law also unlawfully invites racial profiling against Latinos and other people of color.

“What we are witnessing today is the blatant targeting of an entire American population, Latinos,” stated civil rights leader, Dolores Huerta. “We must not give in one inch to Arizona’s effort to blame our community for all the ills of the state or their efforts to run us out. We have worked this land, built and maintain these buildings, and sacrificed as much as any other. We must put an end to SB1070.”

"My family, of both German and Mexican heritage, has a long history in Arizona. It has been our diverse and shared history in this state that unites us and makes us stronger," stated Linda Ronstadt. "What Governor Brewer signed into law last week is a piece of legislation that threatens the very heart of this great state. We must come together and stop SB1070 from pitting neighbor against neighbor to the detriment of us all."

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:


RIVERSIDE — Two faculty members at the University of California, Riverside — Norman Ellstrand and Juan Felipe Herrera — have been awarded 2010 Guggenheim Fellowships by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Guggenheim Fellows are appointed on the basis of achievement and exceptional promise. Ellstrand, a professor of genetics, received the fellowship for genetics, genomics, and the many faces of hybridization. Herrera, a professor of creative writing, received the fellowship for poetry.


“The Guggenheim Fellowship is a supreme honor for me,” Herrera said. “Most of all, it is for my wife, Margarita Robles, my familia, my students, my department, UCR, our Inlandia communities, our schools, teachers, librarians and libraries, my mentors, my dear friends who wrote letters in my behalf, my editors and publishers, and it is for all those whose voice has been cut short and those whose voice is beginning to blossom.

“I am here to tell you that you have a beautiful voice. Live the promise that you are, cross the borders of silence into your hard-earned freedom. I also dedicate this award to my father, Felipe, who arrived in Colorado in the late 1800s in search of new horizons, and my mother, Lucha, a natural poet, who migrated to El Norte during the Mexican Revolution.”

Herrera, who holds the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair in the Department of Creative Writing, has won numerous awards for his poetry, novels and children’s stories. Among those awards are the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award for his poetry collection Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, which also was one of the New York Times Book Review’s “100 Notable Books of 2008.”

Tom Lutz, chair of the Department of Creative Writing, noted that Herrera is the third creative writing faculty member in four years to receive a Guggenheim fellowship. Last year’s National Book Critics Circle Award and now the Guggenheim “are simply the latest honors in an incredibly productive and significant life as writer.”

“I always say that Juan Felipe is a 24-hour poet, that I have rarely heard him speak in prose, something he does only under duress,” Lutz said. “But the fact is that he writes not just poetry but fiction, children’s books, musicals, plays and other performance pieces, and unclassifiable things as well. He is a very important teacher for us, too, one who epitomizes the best of what makes UCR what it is, an energetic and empathetic educator in this home of incredible diversity and challenge.”

The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera has written 24 books ranging from children’s literature to poetry, produced plays and promoted the literature of other Chicano writers. He has more than 100 articles, poems, reviews and essays in print. Among his award-winning books are 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border, Downtown Boy, Calling the Doves, Crashboomlove and Featherless/Desplumado.

More about the fellowships

This year the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation awarded 180 fellowships to artists, scientists, and scholars. The successful candidates were chosen from a group of some 3,000 applicants. In all, 59 disciplines and 65 different academic institutions are represented by this year’s fellows. Since its establishment in 1925 the foundation has granted more than $281 million in fellowships to more than 16,900 individuals.


This just in - Luis Alberto Urrea wins the Edgar Award for best mystery short story. The Mystery Writers of America announced the Edgar winners at the annual MWA banquet on April 29 in New York City. Urrea's story, Amapola, appeared in the anthology Phoenix Noir (Akashic). Congratulations to Luis!

Su Teatro at The Denver Civic Theater
DATE: Friday, April 30 and Saturday, May 1
TIME: 7:30 p.m.
LOCATION: 721 Santa Fe Dr. - Denver, CO 80204

TWO NIGHTS ONLY! An incendiary performance by Bay Area theater troupe headRush. Raw-Dios: Behind the Pigpen in the Morning is an insightful and scathing commentary on the impact of US foreign policy and corporate greed on the vitality of public life. The play examines what happens to a Bay Area DJ when he begins to speak out against the war in Iraq. The chain of events that occurs affects many people and reveals a complicated web of relationships that crossover between the public and the personal. Based on a true story.

2 for 1 discount for both performances ($9) - Must purchase in advance and must ask for discount. 303-296-0219 - Regular pricing: $18 gen. - $15 stu/seniors


Thursday, April 29, 2010

INTERVIEW WITH FRANCISCO ARAGÓN: Latino Poetry and National Poetry Month

Francisco Aragón interviewed by Lydia Gil

LG: Could you comment on the representation of Latino poets during National Poetry Month? Were there any major events that highlighted Latino poets?

FA: Two events come to mind with regard to events featuring Latino and Latina poets this month. One took place this past April 17th in the Bronx: "ACENTOS Festival of Latino and Latina Poets." Fish Vargas and Rich Villar were, I believe, the principal organizers and among the poets that took part were Martin Espada and Willie Perdomo among more established voices and Diana Marie Delgado, Rachel McKibbens, and Paul Martinez Pompa, among more emerging ones. But there were many more. The other signature event this past month took place at an AWP off-site event in Denver, CO on April 9th: it was a "One Poem Festival" sponsored by Momotombo Press and PALABRA and whose organizers included the poets John Michael Rivera, J. Michael Martínez and elena minor, the editor of PALABRA. This event featured nearly 30 poets from all over the country, including Richard Blanco, Diana Garcia, Tim Z. Hernandez, Kristin Naca, Gloria Vando and so many others. One special feature of the evening was that at its conclusion, Silvia Curbelo, the judge of the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, officially announced Emma Trelles as the winner of the 4th edition of this prize, which supports the publication of a first book by a Latino or Latina poet. I would also point to the Latino Writers Collective in Kansas City, MO, particularly the efforts of Linda Rodriguez in organizing both readings and workshops there.

LG: Have you seen any major developments in the visibility and production of Latino poets in the US in the past decade? If so, to what do you attribute them?

FA: I mentioned earlier the group ACENTOS, certainly the vital work they do in the Bronx with their workshops and their readings has gone a long way towards providing a haven where Latino and Latina poets can shine. In Chicago, the Guild Complex, a community based literary organization, has spearheaded the PALABRA PURA reading series to great success in partnership with Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame. University of Arizona Press, with its Camino del Sol series, and Bilingual Press with its new Canto Cosas series has created publishing opportunities for Latino poets. Scapegoat Press, headed by Ben Furnish, is a new small press, whose inaugural volume was an anthology of Latino poets from the Midwest. I'd also single out Poetry Daily: among the more mainstream online venues for poetry, this one has been especially diligent, in my view, in showcasing poems by Latinos and Latinas. Just off the top of my head, I know they've featured work by Rigoberto Gonzalez, Brenda Cárdenas, William Archila, Orlando Ricardo Menes, Carmen Gimenez Smith, Eduardo C. Corral, David Dominguez and others. Poetry Daily has set a benchmark of sorts in terms of inclusivity and taking an more accurate and complete pulse of American poetry. As far as what I attribute this to, I think it’s a result of a growing awareness of our numbers, but also the result of particular efforts at advocacy among certain groups and people. I’ve mentioned some above. I’d add, for example, the efforts of CON TINTA, a group of Chicano/Latino activist writers, and I’d also single out the efforts of Chicano writer Rigoberto González, whose work as a book reviewer for the El Paso Times and other venues has helped shift the conversation where Chicano/Latino writers is concerned.

LG: What about Latino poets who write in Spanish, can they find a market in the US today? Is this likely to change?

FA: This is an area in Latino poetry that I think continues to be undervalued and under appreciated. But there are entities out there doing vital work like the monthly in Chicago called Contratiempo, who has been organizing an annual festival in Chicago showcasing poetry written in Spanish and which publishes a fine literary supplement to their monthly called Deshoras. In Washington DC there is a group called “ParaEsoLaPalabra who hold events at an annex of the Folger Library to feature poets writing in Spanish. Among the poets that come to mind are the Argentine, but long-time DC-based poet Luis Alberto Ambroggio, who has been tireless in promoting poetry written in Spanish in the US. In CA, I think of Francisco X. Alarcón. And I think of Lourdes Vásquez and Cecilia Vicuña and Marjorie Agosín, to name a few. But I’m sure there are many others.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Books from BrickHouse Education

BrickHouse Education is an educational publisher designed to meet the needs of teachers seeking high-quality, creative, and affordable materials. BrickHouse Education titles are available in English and Spanish and each is specifically designed to meet multiple curriculum standards. Students deserve the best education, and BrickHouse Education can help you provide it.

For more information visit

When Times Are Tough (En tiempos difíciles)
Grades K-4
32 pages; 11.5" x 9"
ISBN: 9781598351033

Why can't I buy new toys? Why do we eat at home more often? Why aren't we going on vacation this year?

When times are tough, it is difficult for children to understand why things change. This book follows a fictional family that faces very real economic challenges, and shows how they are able to overcome each one together. A timeless and reassuring tale with an optimistic ending.

Main Subject: Language Arts
Additional Subject: Social Studies

Key Concepts
    •    Express emotions
    •    Build self-esteem
    •    Family and teamwork
    •    Responsibility and generosity
    •    Identify problems and solutions

ABeCedario salvaje
Grades K-4
40 pages; 10.25" x 9"
ISBN: 9781598351170

From “ardilla” to “zorro,” this book is an adventurous way to learn the letters and their sounds as well as fascinating facts about animals. With rhyming text and captivating photographs, this is the wildest alphabet you’ve ever read! Includes a glossary and four pages of fun facts about the animals mentioned in the text.
Collection: ABeCedarios

Main subject: Language Arts
Additional subject: Science

Key Concepts
    •    The alphabet
    •    Letter sounds
    •    Animal habitats
    •    Scientific vocabulary
    •    Climates in geographical regions
    •    Uppercase and lowercase letters
    •    Animal traits and behavior
    •    Describing words
    •    Rhyming words

I Can Be President, Too! (Yo también puedo ser presidente)

Grades K-2
32 pages; 11.5" x 9"
ISBN: 9781598351019

What do Chris Mendoza, Jessica Woo, and Becky Cohen have in common? They all want to be President of the United States! The 14 children in this book have the characteristics it takes to be worthy candidates... Do you?

Main Subject: Social Studies
Additional Subject: Language Arts

Key Concepts
    •    The role of citizens
    •    Family and community
    •    Fairness and tolerance
    •    Hobbies and self esteem
    •    Leadership and responsibility

About the author: Yanitzia Canetti is an author, writer, editor, and translator with a Bachelor's in Journalism, a Master's in Linguistics, and a Ph.D. in Literature. She has published over 30 books in various genres, including novels, poetry, short stories, theatre and children's literature. She has written fiction and nonfiction series, teachers' guides, student editions, ancillaries and other educational materials for the bilingual educational system. She has also written over 2,000 specialized articles, catalogues, and literary reviews for newspapers and magazines in the United States, Cuba, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and other countries. Fluent in Spanish, Italian and English, she has translated over 100 books, principally for young readers. Her translations include several English literature classics.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review: Indian Country Noir. Call for Poets Arizona. Unapologetic Mexican.

Michael Sedano

Sarah Cortez and Liz Martínez, eds. Indian Country Noir. NY: Akashic Books, 2010.
ISBN: 9781936070053 (pbk.) & 1936070057 (pbk.)

Isn't that a marvelous cover? It shouts out loud, "Indian Country!" New Mexico's magnificent Ship Rock outlined against towering thunderclouds. I looked at the cover and thought, Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn, House Made of Dawn. Ira Hayes, maybe.

As the adage goes, do not judge a book by its cover. Because anyone looking at the cover art of Akashic's Indian Country Noir and thinking Southwestern United States has misled themselves. Indeed, in what comes as a pleasant surprise, most of the tales selected by editors Sarah Cortez and Liz Martinez take place in a broader conception of America as indian country--the entire northern continent, in fact.

Tony Hillerman isn't even an afterthought, nor are N. Scott Momaday nor Sherman Alexie. True to the noir series convention, the current iteration of Akashic's run of outstanding titles features fourteen writers--seven women, seven men--you may not yet have come across, and a few you have, but in other contexts. The pleasure, mostly, is all yours, in this case.

The most-published, and perhaps best known, writer in the collection is Lawrence Block. He's no Indian, attesting to the editors' decision to include stories featuring North American Indians in one way or another, rather than adding a stricture that the writer also must be an Indian.

That's a tough break for some India Indio writer looking for some ink by breaking into an "Indian" anthology. But then, some writers' or stories' conecta to Indiohood are tenuous. There's Mistina Bates, who declares herself the "great-great-grand-daughter of a full-blooded" Cherokee who served as a Texas Ranger. I bet family reunions were interesting in that familia. Then there's Block's story, "Getting Lucky," the oddest, most inappropriate selection in the anthology. It's a sex story featuring a con woman posing as a Yupper Indian who suckers a lucky gambler into an orgiastic tryst before scalping him alive. Plenty noir, but not at all "Indian." Tough break for that hungry writer whose place Block takes. Maybe it's a deliberate irony, the phony India and the usurping Anglo writer.

One of the more touching stories introduces Ira Hayes, as the old song goes, fighting drunken Ira Hayes. The Mt. Suribachi flag-raiser is on a war bonds tour in Chicago, in Liz Martínez' account near the close of the book. Hayes feels comfortable only when he hits the bar. The military has assigned a minder to ensure Hayes gets his drinks and stays out of too much trouble. And that's what goes down, until Hayes, in a drunken stupor has a flashback to hand-to-hand combat back on Iwo Jima. Unfortunately, his enemy is a Chicago cop, who ends up shot dead, along with an innocent bystander. It's a perfect crime.

A couple of other stories stand out for tension or noirish wit. There's David Cole's "" set in Tucson, Arizona. A narcotraficante on the lam from the latest crack down on smuggler murderers kidnaps a woman whose specialty is creating phony identities. The narca, a lusty woman, gets hers in the end with a faked identity that would pass muster from even the most racist Arizona cop's "reasonable suspicion" that the narca is in the country illegally. The noir twist in the ending, where the victim gets the one-up on the villain, is the fun part. Not all is ideal with Cole, however. In a gaffe, his bio at the back of the collection claims he writes about "illegal immigrants." That's not noirspeak, thats puro offensive talk, no matter Cole wrote it well in advance of the current fascist pedo in Arizona.

Reed Farrel Coleman's "Another Role" has its roman à clef moments and a delicious comeuppance for the bad guys. Harry Garson looks muy Indio but he doesn't have a clue what kind. Ni modo, he's made a grand living playing chiefs and warriors in a string of western movies, in roles Iron Eyes Cody doesn't land. Garson's big break came years ago as Chief Smells Like Bearstein, in the teevee farce "Crazy Cavalry." Now Garson's down on his luck hitting the bottle too hard.

Readers will enjoy how Coleman has lots of fun playing against Hollywood stereotypy. Coleman gives down-on-his luck Garson one final Indio role, one that brings a hit man after him. In a heart-warming twist, the Indio gets to discover his tribal identity, using it to turn the table on the crooks who hired him. When the hit man stares down at Garson's body, he has a flash of celebrity recognition, a "cute meet" in reverse. "Bearstein!" the hit man whispers, "Sorry, chief."

One of my dad's favorite family stories is about his two uncles, footloose boys in Redlands, an orange-picking town east of Berdoo. The local cop didn't care for Mexicans nor Indians, and made it his business to kidnap the boys for transport to Riverside's Sherman Institute, a boarding school for Indians. Every time the cop took my great uncles to Riverside they'd show up back in Redlands in a day or two. Finally the cop gave up and the family remained together.

Few Unitedstatesians realize that Indians invented forced busing when the government kidnaped Indio kids and shipped them off to Indian Schools like Sherman Institute or the well-known Carlisle school where Pop Warner coached football and where Charley Bear, AKA Indian Charley, was housed until he ran off. Charley is Joseph Bruchac's character in "Helper," the anthology's opening story. It's a good choice for Indian Country Noir, replete with humor, depravity, revenge, and justice.

Carlisle may be familiar to sports fans and movie goers as the place where Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe begins his fabled athletic career. The school for Charley Bear is an ugly place that sends kids into slavery and sexual exploitation on local farms. Charley Bear gets a small measure of revenge on a family of monsters, an act that comes back to threaten him decades later. Bruchac loads his story with the Indian obbligato of war heroism, exploitation, a friendly white man, closeness to mother earth. Despite these commonplaces, from the opening lines readers will recognize a masterful writer who'll keep you reading despite the stereotypy: "The one with the missing front teeth. He's the one who shot me. Before his teeth were missing."

Akashic Books has not failed me yet with its noir series. While I haven't read every title in the series--I wish I could--each one that I've read has been a genuine pleasure that fulfills expectations for mystery, detection, suspense, humor, in a word, noir. The occasional gaffe borne of thoughtless bio shorthand, or the persistent image of drunken Indios, are a couple of those irritations one unwillingly suspends in pursuit of story and fun, and, in this case, enlarging one's acknowledgment of America as Indian country.

Arizona Institutionalizes Hate. Call for Poets.

Recent legislation by Arizona law-passers has the country in furor. Breathing while brown and walking while brown join the de facto crime of driving while brown, under Arizona legislation requiring law enforcement to demand papieren from anyone who looks like they are in the state without proper immigration documentation. I'm sure refugees from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano are quaking in their boots, along with the state's Indians and Mexican origin gente, and habitués of tanning salons.

Is ability to pronounce Eyjafjallajokull reasonable suspicion for arrest?

Francisco Alarcón, joined by Alma Luz Villanueva and Antoinette Nora Claypoole, have issued a Call for Poets to write about Arizona's current status. La Bloga Tuesday will publish selected submissions beginning next Tuesday, May 4 and continuing. Alarcón, Villanueva, and Claypoole are investigating turning the submissions into a hard copy anthology.

Submit work by posting a Note to Facebook at Poets Responding to SB 1070.

The Unapologetic Mexican

When I was a kid, the cultural praxis related to ethnicity enforced a fantasy history that called Chicanas Chicanos "Spanish" or "American of Mexican Descent," or plain old "American." Among courteous people, it was impolite to accuse someone of being "Mexican." Among the pigs and haters, "Mexican" was, at best, a slur, akin to such counterparts as "White asshole", "Okie", "Arkie", "white trash." Among la palomilla, we called ourselves Mexicans or Chicanos, and the anglos were Americans, or Anglos. Lurking silently in the background was that etiquette of self-denial. Not even el movimiento erases all of that.

Meet The Unapologetic Mexican. It's a web presence as well as the persona of its author, Nezua. Make that personae. Nezua has taken his persona through at least two iterations. The earliest presence offered puro confrontational art; intellectual, reasoned, informed, distinctly nationalistic Xicanismo. A few years later, the site morphed into a self-consciously higher tech version. Since that opening of Act II, the UMX has become El Machete that sees its responsibility to provide information with a "Latino-Centric" perspective. As such, the site merits your attention and recognition as, if not an antidote to "mainstream" media's blowhard portavozes for hate, at least a worthwhile counterstatement to all that crap.

I find interesting the four year history of the site as a time-compressed mirror of the movimiento. Chest-pounding, fire-breathing indictments of every racist xenophobe exact a price in personal exhaustion. Xicanismo is not free. And after a while that stuff grows old. I'm reminded of Cicero's insight in De Senectute, that bitter old men are not bitter because they are old but because they were bitter young men. I'm not sure some veteranos of el movimiento ever learned that. But it seems something of this dawned, if obliquely, on the Unapologetic Mexican. I see this in the quiet, controlled delivery of Nezua's most recent video. I like this approach--though as an old public speaking teacher I'd like to see more engagement from the speaker--and will look with interest to see how the Unapologetic Mexican handles the pedo from Arizona. Click the various links in the above and take your own tour of Nezua's endeavor, and please leave a comment on what you think.

Book Give-Away Winners, News & Notes Reminder

Last Tuesday La Bloga posted a quiz that produced two 100% correct answers to 100% of the questions. In return for their perfection, Hachette Book Group mailed a free copy of Iris Gomez' Try to Remember to:

1. Linda Rodriguez of Kansas City MO
2. Mariana Marin of Carmichael CA

Here's the quiz and the correct answers:
1. The Los Angeles Theatre Center current season is called _East of Broadway_.
2. Dan Olivas' reading technique is notable because _he stands away from the lectern.
3. The La Bloga columnist who is an oral communication teacher and "read your own stuff" coach is named _Michael Sedano_.
4. Juanita Salazar Lamb writes mystery stories featuring a character named __Sara Garcia_.
5. The title and author of the book you'll receive if you're among the first three to answer all these questions correctly are _Try to Remember_ by __Iris Gomez_.
Congratulations to winners Linda and Mariana. I'm crossing my fingers one or both of you winning La Bloga readers will contribute a guest review. A ver.

La Bloga friend Roberto Cantú invites scholars, students, and people interested in the Mexican nobel laureate to the 2010 edition of the school's annual celebration of the writer's career. The 2010 meeting, titled, World Civilizations, Modernity, and Octavio Paz: A Plurality of Pasts and Futures opens in the Golden Eagle Ballroom on the El Sereno campus near East LA. The event is free, although conference organizers warn that campus cops enforce parking regulations 24/7.

For information on the conference, visit the Paz blog or contact Dr. Roberto Cantú at the Department of Chicano Studies, California State University, Los Angeles, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90032. (323) 343-2195.

That's the final Tuesday of April, a Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here. Thank you for visiting La Bloga. Over half a million people have visited La Bloga since we started counting. That was a year or more after RudyG, Manuel Ramos and I launched La Bloga.

Thank you for reading. Nos wachamos next week in the month of May.


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, April 26, 2010


Octavio González recently published his first poetry collection, The Book of Ours, with Momotombo Press (Letras Latinas, Notre Dame University), which may be purchased through Tianguis. His essays and poems appear or are forthcoming in Puerto del Sol, OCHO, MiPoesias, The Richmond Review, Cultural Critique, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, and other journals. González teaches literature and composition at Rutgers University, where he is a doctoral student in English.

González kindly agreed to sit down with La Bloga and answer a few questions about his book and other literary matters.

DANIEL OLIVAS: In his introduction to your book, Rigoberto González (no relation) recounts meeting you about five years ago at a “gathering of the queer literati at a Chelsea penthouse, where seasoned poets and novices converged to dialogue about craft and poetics as seen through the distinct lens of sexual orientation.” Do you have any particular memories of that night that have stayed with you? Was this a turning point or milestone for you as a poet?

OCTAVIO GONZÁLEZ: I do remember that night! It was an intimidating and invigorating experience to be in a room with so many talented and witty poets. I had been taking poetry workshops and working at the collection just released as The Book of Ours, which has been a labor of love for many years.

DO: When did you decide that you would become a poet? What kind of journey has it been?

OG: I began writing fiction, actually, and only saw myself as a poet much later. This is all relative, of course, since my writing life started when I was in middle school and I began writing poetry in high school. My first poem was awful! But, even though I never felt that poetry came “naturally” to me—I think it comes more naturally to some than it does to others—I worked on it, revising my poems obsessively. One poem in my collection, “American Sign Language,” an unrhymed villanelle, has gone through more iterations than I can keep track of. Let’s just say it began as two separate poems and the refrains existed before then, as mantras in my mind, which wrote themselves, as it were.

DO: Could you talk a bit about editing your book with María Meléndez?

OG: María Meléndez is an incredible poet and a warm, gentle, and visionary editor. She has helped me really chip away at the marble and let the forms and gestures and movements inherent in the poems come forth. We had conversations over the phone and went back and forth with ideas and suggestions. María was perfect in the way that she allowed me to edit the pieces while also guiding the wheel at important turns—I will always remember when she made a line editing suggestion and then said, Well, it depends on whether ultimately you want to end the manuscript on a hopeful note—it depends on your own vision of the whole. Her experience as a poet really helped me see the horizon or the “arc” of the collection.

DO: Who do you read? What authors have been your biggest influences?

OG: I’m working on twentieth-century fiction right now, for my dissertation research, so I’m really interested in Junot Díaz, a fellow Dominican-American author. I’m also intrigued by the modernists at the beginning of the twentieth century—the lyrical modernists such as Woolf and the Joyce of the “Penelope” chapter of Ulysses. Two novels that really inspire me are Story of an African Farm (by Olive Schreiner), and Cast the First Stone (Chester Himes). I like my fiction poetic and my poetry prose-like—never prosaic!—and so I enjoy mixed genres and authors, like Woolf, who worked in various forms throughout their careers. In my life as a whole, poets such as Rhina Espaillat, and T S Eliot, Walt Whitman, Sylvia Plath, and other lyrical modernist and confessional poets have had the most influence on me.

DO: One of my favorite poems in your collection is “Fairy Tale in New York” which begins: “God squeezes but he doesn’t strangle.” Can you talk a bit about that poem and how it developed?

OG: This is an old Dominican saying that my Mom always used as a refrain. I found it to be the inspiration for this piece, which, funny enough, is the most recent to go into the collection. I wrote it in 2008. I wrote it in one sitting, in a Starbucks in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, and I was fighting back tears as I was writing it at some points. Mainly toward the end. My work is deeply personal, and I sometimes worry that it is too self-oriented. But that is the lyrical mode that attracted me to poetry to begin with.

Ironically, this piece is the least “lyrical” in a strict sense, as it contains many voices.

DO: Do you have a favorite poem in the collection?

OG: The title implies a book that is “ours,” which speaks to the multiple selves (as the Anzaldua epigraph also suggests) that any one person contains. You can also hear the Whitmanesque echo in this theme—“I am large, I contain multitudes”—and the very Americanness of this lineage that I feel embraced by.

And so my favorite poem is the one (really two) called “My Sister’s Book.” Like the title to the collection as a whole, this series of poems alludes to the many voices one hears and is haunted by, the famous negative capability of the poet that Keats formulated. I feel like even those poems that are the most “me”—for example, the love poems in the middle section—are other “me”s, and I hope readers can enjoy this echolalia not as cacophony but as chords that touch the heart.

DO: You are a first-generation Dominican American. How do you think your culture affects your approach to poetry? Did you see a difference between you and your fellow students at Swarthmore and Pennsylvania State University?

OG: My culture is part of who I am, and my personal history and sense of destiny and politics are deeply informed by my heritage and experiences, both as a child, and as a college student, and now as an adult. I see being an American as an incredible gift, perhaps because I do not take it for granted—to paraphrase a famous feminist, one is not born an American. Being an American, in the largest, hemispheric, Whitmanesque sense of the word, is a promise, a process of becoming that is never completed.

DO: You are currently a PhD candidate at Rutgers where you teach literature and composition. Has teaching affected your poetics?

OG: I have had my students write a sonnet and now a semi-sestina—the former for a poetry-analysis course I assisted-taught, and the latter in an expository writing class! Part of my pedagogy is having students try their hand at creative forms, to invigorate their appreciation for writing as a mode of expression that is more personal than the college essay. I also deeply love poetry and poetic form and am a fan of sparking that love in others, if I can. I try to use my bully pulpit as an instructor to encourage the love of writing and reading poetry—cultivating the slow sense of wonder that poetry forces one to adopt.

DO: What are you working on now?

OG: I am working on a series of prose vignettes that are autobiographical. You could say my current works in progress begin where the collection ends—the beginning of my journey when I set foot in the United States.

DO: Mil gracias for spending time with La Bloga.

◙ AN EL MONTE KIND OF FEELING: Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Reed Johnson discusses the work of Salvador Plascencia and Michael Jaime-Becerra, who both weave the sights, smells, and sounds of El Monte into their fiction. Johnson observes:

That landscape is El Monte, once a dusty Spanish colonial crossroads and now a bustling bedroom community about a dozen miles east of downtown Los Angeles. It already boasts at least one famous literary stepson, crime-thriller author James Ellroy, who briefly lived there with his mother in the post- World War II era. Cheech Marin also is a former denizen. Yet another onetime resident, Frank Zappa, immortalized El Monte in a song.

But the El Monte that haunts and graces the fiction of Jaime-Becerra and Plascencia, who both grew up there, is no Hollywood film noir backdrop or comic punch line. It's a mutating, multilayered city of 120,000 that in certain moods and times of day can feel like a patch of rural Jalisco or Guerrero grafted onto the L.A. megalopolis.

For both novelists, it's a place with an identity no less incisive than that of trendier SoCal precincts, imbued with what Plascencia calls its own "strange, weird" mythology. How many cities can boast of being the home turf of both an equine '60s TV star and the MGM lion? A city that, as Plascencia writes in "People of Paper," is surrealistically named "for the hills it does not have?"

Read the entire piece here.

◙ WE ARE THE WORLD: The new issue of Somos Primos is live. Check out their literature and book coverage.

◙ NAVA FOR JUDGE: The June election is just around the corner and, if you’re a loyal La Bloga reader, you know that award-winning novelist, Michael Nava, is also a brilliant lawyer who is running for a seat on the Superior Court in San Francisco. If you want to learn more (and help him win), visit his website.

◙ COUNTERPUNCHING OVER IMMIGRATION: Over at Counterpunch (“America’s Best Political Newsletter”), Álvaro Huerta discusses Arizona’s new draconian immigration law (known as SB 1070 before the governor signed it). He says, in part:

This pernicious bill not only targets undocumented immigrants in this desert state, but also punishes Latinos in general, both legal residents and citizens. Apart from criminalizing undocumented immigrants with misdemeanor and felony charges, not to mention imposing monetary fines and imprisonment for deportation purposes, the bill allows for the police and other authorities to stop and interrogate individuals “suspected” of lacking legal documents in this country.

Read the entire piece here.

◙ ON THE RADIO: Don’t miss Andrew Tonkovich’s interview with me on KPFK 90.7 FM this Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. on Andrew’s wonderful show, Bibliocracy, an oasis of literary treats. We discuss (and I read from) my new collection, Anywhere But L.A. (Bilingual Press), as well as Sudden Fiction Latino (W. W. Norton), and other bookish things (such as La Bloga). You may listen to it streaming live online if you happen to be out of radio range. And don’t forget to support public radio and programs such as Bibliocracy!

◙ THAT’S ALL FOR THIS MONDAY. DON'T FORGET MY CALL FOR META-FICTION AUTHORS FOR A PROPOSED AWP PANEL...THE DEADLINE IS FAST APPROACHING. In the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Myriam Gurba's Gender Bending Dahlia Season

By tatiana de la tierra

Freud could end up twitching in his grave if he got his hands on Myriam Gurba’s Dahlia Season. A series of stories and a novella that feature Chicano/a teenage characters, this book goes beyond Mexican American clichés and gets into the heads of a series of unlikely protagonists. Among them are best friends who turn Goth together; a girl who cross dresses and cruises for anonymous sex on the beach at night; a boy who bribes his plus size English teacher with homemade flan and then deals with the news of his girlfriend’s pregnancy at home; and Angel Malo, the tattooed queer who has a deep encounter with La Dreamer. Then there’s Desiree Garcia, the central character in the novella. Enrolled in Catholic high school and shipped off to her aunt’s house in Guadalajara in the midst of teen angst, Desiree negotiates her bicultural identity within her family and friendship framework as she deals with her peculiar brand of neurological madness. Desiree and the rest of the crew are fleshed out, believable people, each of them imperfect and beautiful in some way. These gender-bending stories are gritty and edgy, packed with tender and humorous moments throughout.

A California native of Mexican descent, Myriam Gurba has a Bachelor of Arts in History from University of California at Berkeley and currently teaches high school in Long Beach, California. Gurba hosts the Guayaba Salon, a latina writer’s collective in Long Beach and will be touring with the traveling queer writers’ and performance troupe Sister Spit next spring. Dahlia Season (San Francisco: Manic D Press, 2007) is her first published book. (See for touring information and other interviews.)

de la tierra: You have an amazing mix of characters. Where do you get your inspiration for them?

Gurba: I derive inspiration for my characters from varied places. For most of the short stories in my collection, there were anecdotes that I heard told in contexts that would bury them. However, I didn't want these stories to be lost. To me, they're part of a larger queer folklore, this tradition of oral storytelling that we have that overlaps with chisme. For example, the story about the trans person cruising Long Beach for men was inspired by a tale I was told in a bar. . .

Desiree Garcia, the novella's main character, is in large part me. In her, I wanted to include all these parts of myself that often marginalize me and illustrate that, hey, this person is relatable, this person is human. I wanted to also create a character that defied easy categorization. To say Desiree is a lesbian character doesn't work because her later love interest is trans. To focus solely on her ethnic identity as a Chicana does her injustice, too, because she is such a bratty American. To focus on her neurological disorders is to ignore the fact that she is quite sane. Desiree is a total freak but in a way that I honor, respect, and find splendid as a peacock.

de la tierra: There are loaded issues that come up in your stories—such as abortion, transgender identity, sexuality, cutting, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Tourettes. Did you ever hesitate to go there in your writing with these topics?

Gurba: I write about loaded topics without hesitation because I find it hard to write about anything else. Topics like queerness and sex and neurological disorders spur me because they are my reality and I like to write about my reality. OCD and Tourette's found their way into my novella because I was grappling with my dual diagnoses at the time and absolutely had to write about these things. . . I often turn to fiction for comfort and to find stories that I can identify with. I sought reflections of my obsessions, compulsions, and tics in literature for the longest time but couldn't find them, so I decided to use my writing as a mirror to reflect my own unique experiences with these phenomena. Maybe if some other person reads that I have OCD and TS and reads my novella it will bring them some measure of comfort.

de la tierra: Your stories have such a strong sense of place. . .

Gurba: I am really, really, really into place. I am in love with places, locale, region. When I was growing up, I would wander through the vineyards by my parents' house and sit on the dirt and smell the eucalyptus trees and think about how much I loved California and would never leave it. To me, it is paradise in both an infernal and heavenly way. I want to be buried here. Because I love this state so much, I want it to live as a character in my stories. I'm super into learning local histories and love immersing myself in them and try to infuse my writing what I have learned. In my stories I wanted to elevate Long Beach to the position of a character and 99 percent of what I write about it is geographically and historically spot on. 1 percent is poetic license. The town in which the novella and one story, “White Girl,” take place are based on my hometown, Santa Maria.

de la tierra: Did you have a specific audience in mind when you wrote the stories in Dahlia Season?

Gurba: I had different types of people in mind when I wrote this piece. Like I thought about people with narrow minds and opening them up through some of my narratives. I thought about suffering people and bringing them comfort.

de la tierra: Where’s your writing muse taking you these days?

Gurba: I’m working on a new book involving lots of characters named Lupe! And I’m having a splendid time hosting the Guava Salon every month and excited that I’ll be traveling with a van full of queer artists for the Sister Spit tour next spring.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jean Blum: Finger in Goliath’s Eye - Part II

© Cecile Pineda 11 22 09

Cecile Pineda traveled to the East Coast to interview Jean Blum. Blum is a Holocaust survivor whose memories of being hidden from the Nazis and living her early years as a traumatically displaced person motivated her to start ALAFFA, an organization devoted to helping immigrants incarcerated in the immigrant detention centers of Passaic and Monmouth Counties in New Jersey, who are held in “administrative detention” a provision of a 1996 law which deprives them of the right to legal representation. For the first installment of this series, click here.

"I asked officer if I can make phone call to let my family know where I am. He said ‘No….’ I show him the Book for Rule [the Inmate Handbook]. He said ‘fuck the book. We here don’t use that.’” When Metwalvy appeals to the ombudsman, “he told me ‘fuck you, you mother fucker.’ I get so, so upset. He told me, “I will call the sergeant.’ [Later] the same ombudsman [jumped] on me and two [officers surrounded] me on the floor and start beating and punishing me…Another C.O. came and spray me with O.C. [pepper spray] in my eyes…5 or 6 officer was beating me. After that they…put me in the box for 30 days. They told me, ‘next time we will kill you!’”

Archive of the Detained

Over the many months Jean Blum worked directly with the immigrant detainees, she kept files of their letters and their complaints, as well as background materials as news of detainee abuse began to make headlines. Her archive, which she made available to me over the course of our ten-day interview, includes documents from the Department of Homeland Security, official “incident” reports, complaint forms filed with the Passaic County Jail administration, and letters written to her and to others by detainees, some attesting to conditions still now unimagined and unknown to most Americans. The sampling below only begins to describe the kind of conditions the detainees were enduring then and that more than 400,000 of them are still now forced to endure.

Infrastructure at Passaic County Jail during the time Jean Blum was intervening on behalf of immigrant detainees being held there is described in a 12 December 2005 affidavit filed by Shayana Kadidal, esq., of the Center for Constitutional Rights who refers to it as “an aging, decrepit facility with very poor conditions…. The roof in the main immigration detention ward was leaking, causing a greenish growth and black mold to cover the entire ceiling, which would then drip and fall into detainees’ beds [and] food.”

Diet is inappropriate and inadequate not only at Passaic, but elsewhere within the detention system. In a summary of grievances dated January, 16, 2006, detainees at New Jersey’s Monmouth County Correctional Institution (M.C.C.I.) state: “The portion of the food is barely enough for an adult. The portion is very small and the quality is very bad. (Every day all three meals, ‘potatoes’, and a lot of cold cuts a week). The food also is cold most of the time, which is not the quality of standards in the DHS/ICE rulebook stating: ‘one cold meal and two hot meals a day.’ Most of the time, all three meals are very cold. We believe that the jail is “racketeering…” to force us to purchase their food from commissary, so the jail would be able to collect their 10% profit….” A specific dinner menu is described “ 8 to 10 oz. of rice with 20 to 30 red beans added and 4 tablespoons of wilted [lettuce.]”

In the early months of 2006, during the period when immigrant detainees were being exchanged for U.S. Marshall prisoners, extreme overcrowding was the order of the day. A February 28, 2006 letter to Blum from newly arrived detainee Luis del Orbe, states: “[When I arrived at] the Passaic County Jail… I was held in two separate holding cells at different [times] until I was issued a sleeping mat and placed in a dormitory at 9:35pm….At all times these cells are at nearly [three] times over their maximum capacity…. I was escorted to a basement dormitory….This dormitory has forty-eight sleeping bunks, yet eighty-nine individuals are expected to sleep there. Through the four days and three nights I was there, the number of individuals increased as more of the recently arrested [were] brought in. Those who are unable to sleep in a bed are given plastic mat containers, which are placed at any available space on the floor. Those who did not get these plastic mat containers must place their mats in any available floor space…; anyone needing to use the toilet facilities must…hurdle over those individuals sleeping on the floor.

"While sleeping on the floor… one of the individuals going through his drug … withdrawals vomited on me. Since there was no hot water available, I had to take a cold shower and be given new jail clothing.…Due to the poor ventilation…there was at all [times] a temperature above 90 degrees…. [C]onditions…were not made any better when the K-9 unit being handled by Corporal Mercado defecated on the floor of the dormitory, a space [it] just so [happened] is at face level where I was sleeping on the floor.” Blum describes how detainees were so overcrowded they could not all sit down at meals, and how some were forced to sleep on tables. She identifies leakage problems from bathrooms and in walls as causing further crowding of detainees.

Inappropriate mingling of inmates was frequent. On August 26, 2005 Xiomara Guity in a report asking “If you feel that you have been physically or sexually abused or your conditions of confinement have been abusive, please explain below” responds, “I had to go to court. To go and come back from court they put me in the back with the guys. It was about 6 guys to just myself. A guy that was getting sent to Barbados said: ‘Damn, I haven’t been this close to a girl in over 5 years.’ For the strip search, they do it [in] front of everybody, in front of inmates, officers. Couple weeks ago, a male sergeant saw the girl half-naked.” In an undated letter, Ruth Jean Baptiste writes: “Strip search is very [humiliating]. The fact is that we are from a different background, the strip search in public hurts a great deal.” And an anonymous 11/13/05 SOS scrawled on a napkin reads: “Transportation to court (men and women together) very frightening.”

Incoming and outgoing mail privileges, and telephone access are critical to insuring the civil rights of immigrant detainees. Blum shares a letter of June 17, 2005 from Lee Ngai addressed to her regarding his “mail which I haven’t received in two weeks. My family is in the process of backchecking my mail to see if it arrived at the jail. My problem [concerns] my legal case. My lawyer mailed in documents [stopping] my INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] appeal on 12/2/04. My family called to see if the documents arrived and they did.

My INS appeal was [stopped] and I have a receipt for it [but] I didn’t receive my 90 day review. My [family] was told that something was wrong with my file. My D.P.O. [Deporation Proceedings Officer] wasn’t notified of my immigration appeal [stoppage] and date….My lawyer called the court that he mailed the documents. They told [him] they forgot to date the documents….Two weeks later I found out the date they put on my documents was for May 26, 2005. After six months [are over] if the INS do not deport you, they are [supposed] to let you go. But they started my 6 months [all] over [again], and took [away] the six months I already did….Do you think it’s possible for me to get my six months back?”

In a report dated January 16, 2006 from the Monmouth County Detainees,
“Our mail is coming in late a lot of times, or being returned for no reasons at all. It does not state why it was returned. There were several detainees, that when their families sent them a money order, but was returned to the sender because it had M.C.C.I. [Monmouth County Correctional Insitution] on the envelope….Also the prison is violating our rights by opening all our legal mail. The envelope states, “Legal Mail”, they would just ignore it and open it without our consent. All legal mail, by law, is to be opened in the presence of the addressed person...Most of the time the mail is either ripped or sliced in half before we even receive it.”

Detainees were unable to make outgoing phone calls either to families or to their lawyers—those few able to afford lawyers—for extended periods of time because the phones were frequently blocked, or the access numbers changed. But when the phones worked, detainees were obliged to purchase phone cards from the prison administration costing $10 for the first five minutes, and 89 cents for each minute thereafter. A Request to ICE dated August 15, 2005 signed by 28 detainees reads: “We would like to know why? Our phone service [is] blocked. We have to get in touch with our families, lawyers, business associates, etc…. Can you please get this block removed?”

A Guyanese detainee complains, “On August 1, 2005 the jail have changed their telephone company to a company called (Global Tel Link). Since the phone company has changed, all my attorneys’ phone numbers have been collect-call blocked by the jail contracted telephone company. Which is (illegal) to block legal phone calls to attorneys and legal representatives. The jail-contracted telephone company requires each individual [attorney] to set up an account before the detainee would be able to place a collect call to their legal representative.”

A press release from the Washington Chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild dated January 25, 2007 quotes detainee Rafiu Abimbola: “I was detained for six years. The telephones frequently did not work and legal materials were unavailable or out of date. Because I was managing my case on my own, this was extremely hard for me. DHS did not attempt to fix these problems. When I complained to the jail, I never received a response and sometimes was punished for complaining. There are no consequences to the government for failing to obey its own standards.” Despite his on-going appeals, Mr. Abimbola was deported to Nigeria.

In a letter dated October 27, 2005, Heung Wah Wong, who was eventually transferred to Oakdale, Louisiana, asks Blum to address a letter on his behalf to the Fifth Circuit Court subject lined “Petition for Review of his detention that commenced in 1997 at F.D.C. Oakdale, Louisiana….His proposed draft reads, ‘Mr. Wong has on several occasions written and [requested] that ICE transfer him back to Louisiana, but was constantly rejected…. Mr. Wong’s detention at Passaic County Jail is very repressive. He’s confined 23 hours a day [in] lock-down and is unable at all to research his case in the law library because it is insufficient [time] and only allowed 1 1/2 hours twice a week to use the law library….Transferring Mr. Wong back to Oakdale, then he can be able to exhaust his administrative remedies….P.S. The only reason Mr. Wong is held at Passaic County Jail is because ICE has a contract lease with the jail [although] his case was in the southern district….’”

In web blog “The Business of Detention: cracking down on immigration and locking up profits,” Renne Feltz and Stokely Baksh describe conducting on site visits to twenty-three detention facilities. They write, “at 12 of the 23 facilities visited, the number of the OIG [Office of the Inspector General] was blocked. When [detainees] called the complaint line, they would get a voice prompt that “this is an invalid number,” or “a call to this number has been blocked by the telephone service provider….At Corrections Corporation of America’s Elizabeth Detention Facility, a privately owned and run jail in New Jersey, the list of consulate numbers was six years old. When auditors called 30 of the consulate numbers on the posted listing, they found that 9 were incorrect.”

Frequently inmates’ legitimate phone requests are met with punitive consequences. Egyptian detainee, Osama Metwalvy’s letter of December 14, 2005, states: “I just come to Passaic County Jail. I asked officer if I can make phone call to let my family know where I am. He said ‘No….’ I show him the Book for Rule [The Inmate Handbook]. He said ‘fuck the book. We here don’t use that.’” When Metwalvy appeals to the ombudsman, “he told me ‘fuck you, you mother fucker.’ I get so, so upset. He told me… “I will call the sergeant.’ [Later] the same ombudsman [jumped] on me and two [officers surrounded] me on the floor and he start beating and punishing me…Another C.O. came and spray me with O.C. [pepper spray] in my eyes…5 or 6 officer was beating me. After that they…put me in the box for 30 days. They told me ‘next time we will kill you!’”

A memorandum of December 14, 2005, and signed by 13 detainee witnesses corroborates Metwalvy’s account: “We…saw five officers pinning down and holding a detainee. They were punching and kicking him while he was handcuffed. We heard the inmate screaming that he was not resisting the officers and the officers still continued to hold him down and hit him. Sergeant Washington used pepper spray. After… they carried him away to another unit.” Luis Ortiz in a July 3, 2005 memo addressed to Deputy Warden Bendl states: “Please respect our human rights. All we ask from you is to be treated like human beings. Verbal abuse is not part of the ombudsman job. We are not creating any trouble for you. DHS placed us here, and they may want you to meet federal guidelines. Happy 4th of July!”

The NJCRDC Voices of the Disappeared states that, as a result of neglect during the several months of his detention, Fagge has become blind in one eye.

Civil rights of detainees were repeatedly violated. Often as a punitive measure, detainees were placed with the general jail population. Their right to special food, Halal, or Kosher, was repeatedly ignored. Often their dietary complaints resulted in their being placed in the hole. Two complaints by Sami Al-Shahin of August of 2005 allege profound disrespect for the Holy Quran. “In the past week we have had two shakedowns and in both…the officers have thrown the Holy Quran on the floor…. Officers have to understand the Rules of the Quran. They or anyone can’t touch [it]…. Maybe this is strange to them but this is our religion…. If this happens again we will have a complaint in the court. Some of us don’t have any criminal records so we don’t deserve this treatment. If we don’t get an answer we will hunger strike for death.” In a letter to Blum dated July 17, 2005, Raed Alanbuke writes: “I got my [prayer] beads back, but the rug I didn’t get. The Deputy Warden, Mr. Bendl said, ‘they are not allowing prayer rugs at this time.’”

Raed Alanbuke’s is an interesting case. Together with his brother he was held for over seven months although neither was guilty of any infraction. But they were sons of the UN Deputy Permanent Representative of Iraq. The U.S. government detained them in an effort to put pressure on their father to defect. He refused. In the same letter, Alanbuke writes, “my case is not only about an innocent person in jail, no, it’s so much more than that, it’s about Iraq, about WMD, about the Bush administration intent to invade Iraq before 9/11/2001; it’s about forcing a high ranking [UN] Iraqi diplomat to defect, and when he said ‘no,’ they waged a war against him.”

It is not uncommon to observe that Muslims receive exceptional treatment at the hands of jail personnel. In his affidavit of December 12, 2005, Shayana Kadidal, esq. states: “Muslim male immigration detainees of South Asian or Arab descent were… systematically denied access to attorneys, phone calls, and bond. The…detainees were frequently detained for months after their final deportation orders for the purposes of criminal investigation. They were also repeatedly and unnecessarily strip-searched; one of our clients…despite being held in solitary confinement was strip- and cavity-searched before entering an immigration judge’s courtroom, and, absurdly, also strip- and cavity-searched upon leaving that same courtroom. Dogs were systematically used to intimidate Muslim detainees, especially at the Passaic…facility where many were held. Both the use of dogs and the systematic use of nudity as a humiliation tactic…mirrored…tactics used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo….”

Blum’s archive of Passaic County Jail abuses includes documentation of the use of dogs to terrorize detainees dating back to even before her active involvement there, including a case involving Mexican detainee Rosendo Lewis-Oropeza, in the words of the abusing officer himself. In an Incident Report by the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department dated May 10, 2004, Capt. J. De Franco, states: “I grabbed the front of the inmate’s shirt with both hands and pulled him to the ground. The inmate started kicking and swinging his arms. At this point the inmate attempted to get up when K-9 Officer Tangorra stepped in with his K-9. The K-9 bit the inmate on his left forearm.” However in the same report, the examining nurse, a Jocelyn Cruz, describes both a wound in the left arm, and another open wound on Mr. Lewis-Oropeza’s left thigh.

There are countless witness reports of inadequate or non-existent medical attention. Held since February 2, 2005, Abdelkareem Kawas of Jordan states in a letter dated August 7, 2005, addressed to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Assistant Attorney General: “In the Lutheran Medical Center I was [scheduled] to see a heart specialist…every two months; since I have been under ICE detention, I have not been able to see a heart doctor for the last six months.” He reports that the jail not only refused the heart medication his wife tried to send by mail, but when she tried delivering it to him in person, jail authorities would not accept it. Repeatedly he reports not being referred for a CAT scan despite on-going chest pain; and when in July a prison doctor finally took a chest X-ray which revealed a suspicious boil in his lungs, he still had been refused a CAT scan. He reports that he is the sole breadwinner of his family of five, and that being held without bail results in great economic hardship for a family that receives no other assistance.

In a Passaic County Jail Inmate Grievance Form dated September 27, 2005 and signed by multiple witnesses, Sami Al-Shahin makes the following complaint: “Last week Lucero Carino Rafael was having heart problems. He was...taken to the hospital [where] he stayed…four days…After coming back, every morning he was having heart pain and when he complained to the officers they would say he has to hold on and take about an hour before they take him down to the medical clinic. On 9/26/05 [he] was having heart pain again and we told the officer…[After] about a half hour he was taken down to the medical clinic and the nurse told him he was stressing, to jog around, that the pain would go away.

"On the same day me and another inmate spoke to deportation officer Diaz about the incident and Diaz replied that he should just go back to his country. On 9/27/05 around 9:30 A.M. Rafael Carino [collapsed] to the floor…. At first the main problem was getting the [officer’s] attention inside the booth. We kept calling him and he didn’t respond to us until a lot of inmates came to the bars and started to scream at the officer so he can listen. Then the officer called for the EMT, which came about 30 minutes after Rafael Carino had [collapsed]. Rafael Carino could of died in the time period it took to get the officer’s attention and to get the medical help. When inmates surrounded Rafael they thought he had died….This matter…is very important to us because our lives are involved.”

Another Inmate Grievance Form dated 9/23/05 by Hassan Fagge who was a diabetic and in 23 hour lock down reads: “Yesterday I don’t get insulin at night. I want to know why. I take 42 units of insulin every night at 6:30pm. I was suffering from last night 6:30pm to 7:27am this morning, 9/23/05. I am insulin dependent patient. My blood sugar level this morning at 7:42am was 465g., very high, and my breakfast is 4 slices of bread, juice and oatmeal which is 100% carbohydrate.” In a subsequent complaint, dated 10/10/05, Mr. Fagge includes a chart covering a 20-day period, showing morning, afternoon and night blood sugar readings. Normal readings range from 70–109, but from 9/21 through 10/10, his readings average 249. He writes: “If you look at this diagram my blood sugar level is very high all the time. The jail [is] unable to treat me. No control, no diet, no observation. Anywhere I wrote ‘NO,’ it means I don’t get treatment at [that] time of day.” Over the 20-day period the chart reads ‘NO’ 14 times. The NJCRDC Voices of the Disappeared states that, as a result of neglect during the several months of his detention, Fagge has become blind in one eye.

A detainee who goes by the name Amin states in a letter to Blum of December 5, 2005: “These people lock me…in the isolation since 10/2/05…23 hours [a day]….I still don’t get treatment. I’m frozen and I’m sick…sometime my blood pressure goes up to 200….I’m not a criminal…I’m going to stop taking any medication, insulin, and I will start hunger strike. Because nobody cares about my situation, starving me by giving me very small food….”

Detainee Ruth Jean Baptiste was seriously injured prior to her arrival at Passaic County Jail when she sustained a fall while washing floors where she was temporarily being held at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Says Blum, “She may have misaligned her spine and injured her coccyx, an injury that can be extremely painful. However there was evidently also an injury causing infection.” During her first 5 months in Passaic County Jail Jean Baptiste writes, “they had me in a punishment cage with no water, no bathroom.”

In an undated official complaint, she states: “I arrived in Passaic [County Jail] on July 28, 2004. Since I came I had more than enough reason to beg for deportation.” After fourteen months in detention she reports: “My foot bust all by itself. Swollen leg for over 14 months (right leg). The right hip cannot respond to hold my body. The good left hip is acting up now. The right foot is black, dripping water.” In another complaint she writes: “Every time I fill out a [grievance] INS refuses all treatments for me. And I get Tylenol for 2 weeks.” Still there after 14 months she writes, “the nurse in charge said there is nothing wrong with me. The only thing I have to do is get up and walk….How can I trust someone while my pain is unbearable.”

On November 1, 2005, sixteen months after her arrival at PCJ, at Blum’s instigation, a Dr. Waba agrees to see her. Her report continues: “Dr. Waba yell and scream at me. Very angry. He told me that he is going to take the crutches away from me, and I don’t need them because the X-Rays come out negative.” Blum adds that “upon release she had an operation where they told her they would have had to amputate had she waited much longer.”

Blum describes visiting a woman who was suffering from AIDS. “Her medications were never administered in a regular and timely manner—even though her condition required it. Despite official neglect, the other detainees had been so supportive of her that her spirits remained high. As her condition continued to deteriorate however, the jail administration scheduled her for release. But once released, she succumbed to a depression so severe—with no supportive community around her—that she retreated completely and communicated neither with her sister detainees nor with her lawyer who remained unable to reach her.”

According to The New York Times, the Organization of American States actually had to intervene asking the United States not to deport Andrea Mortlock, a terminally ill AIDS patient, to Jamaica because it claimed that deportation would violate her basic right to life. In the August 27, 2005 article, the Jamaican government is reported to have refused to issue travel documents on the ground that there was no medical care available to treat AIDS in Jamaica.

Part III of this series appears next Sat.

Jean Blum is the subject of a documentary by Janice Weber entitled
"Janina's Letters," which will appear soon.