Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grains of this and that

I'm an unemployed elementary bilingual teacher in Denver and have gone through three interviews in as many weeks. No hay mucho trabajo. You know--the U.S. economy, cutbacks, educators not highly valued, yet highly criticized.

I've gotten the usual questions in those interviews, some about teaching, some about problematic situations. But I've always wondered why I'm never asked what is it that I like about teaching 6-7 year-olds. Should an interview committee ever ask, I don't know that I'd use the following as the answer.

I miss being a child. My brain misses the environment where it can properly best function--the age of 6. My mind waxes nostalgic for the times when wonderment about the world took priority over possession of material things. Teaching six-year-olds is as close as I can get to re-experiencing that.

Today material needs will hog my time: getting the outside of the house painted, instructing the electrician on details, buying this and that to prevent the house from going in
to some entropic sinkhole.

As I head to those duties, below I share with you a piece I wrote trying to put my head into that of a child's, attempting to understand how he might see our disciplinary attitudes from his imaginary world. The conversations herein, I hear all the time--parents giving their child innocuous instructions that make me wonder what makes the child persist. Hope you enjoy it.

A Grain of Life

As the four-year-old spread two gnarled fingernails to drop bits of gravel, one after another--their release precisely aimed and timed such that each wouldn't hinder the coming to rest of the last grain he'd deposited--in fact, he reenacted what he considered his favorite-est act of creation: conceiving a planet, a single granule at a time. This Creator was content to labor as long as necessary forming his new world, even though it might take several thousand years. At the least.

"Now, what are you doing?"

"Nuttin," he said, using his hand to wipe sweat from his upper lip.

"You should try to appreciate this more, 'specially 'cause I had to ask for the day off."

He'd learned it rarely paid to attempt placating her with an intelligible or even partial explanation of the unfathomable; this wasn't the first time she'd interrupted his constructions. He'd begun other worlds, occasionally some boasting their own moon. All had entailed intricate manipulations in the microcosm, incredibly so. But nothing deterred his creating. After all, it was as deeply rooted in him as was, seemingly, her propensity to impede his work.

"You just put on the expensive Easter outfit Grandma gave you this morning, and you'll just get it dirty. How do you think that's gonna make her feel?"

The Creator couldn't respond because none of her concerns fit his realities. He'd played a minor role in donning the outfit; it had been selected for and put on him, as usual, accompanied by orders to stand there like a mannequin. Plus, clothes got dirty, something out of his control, inevitable, entropic. And, it was beyond even his powers to grasp how someone twenty times his age might feel about anything.

But her remark did remind him of this morning when the idea for a different type of world had occurred to him. It had come to him as he'd played with his cereal.

"Don't play with your cereal. Think of all the starving children who never play with their food."

The non sequitur hadn't disturbed him, as he'd grown inured to them. But his cereal-play had transported his mind to a place he'd never imagined. What about making a really different kind of world?--one where she might remember how the two of them had once melded to one another.

Into this great new world he would inject memories of the passion in her face upon seeing him that first time in the delivery room; of the exhilaration she'd imparted when drawing him to her warming breast; of the wonderment she'd exuded when he'd taken his first step--scenarios and sensations emblazoned onto his heart, even if she hardly remembered them now. All his previous world-building would pale in comparison! He'd become so excited over the possibilities that he used the side of the bowl to catapult milk-cereal heavenward. Somehow, she hadn't shared in his enthusiasm.

Yet, why not make such a world? For her. Him returning her favors. Might she then, again--

"Pay attention! It's almost time." Onlookers like her and passers-by craned their necks or raised infants, anticipating the show about to start.

Meanwhile, his special world's mantle approached a crucial stage; it had completed its period of gestation. Mountain range and deep-canyon formation were the next, natural steps. Inspired, the Creator opted for a new substance--the white crumbs of something someone had serendipitously dropped on the sidewalk, within his reach.

"I've told you time and time again--"

The Creator knew better than to heed anything following the opening phrase he'd heard time and time again. At an early age he'd recognized the statement usually preceded the quashing of his world-building and thus interfered with his responsibilities, threatening the universe's continuation. So, for the sake of all that was glorious, he'd trained his brain to tune out such errata.

"Okay, it's time to stop that. The parade's starting."

As she grabbed his hand, he instinctively responded with the one act that might salvage his endeavors, and dripped droplets of saliva, bequeathing the moisture critical to life's onset.

"That's disgusting! Who taught you that?"

He knew better than to react to her opinion or confusion. No one had taught him; he'd been born like this, and attempts to enlighten her never bore fruit. Nor might her sanity have remained intact knowing the origins of his knowledge.

Despite her dragging him, he dug in his heels, leaned away, peered back, watching for his fluid to take.

When its flow leveled out to a standstill, the world's firmament reconstituted, glistened from genesis, blossomed with organisms furiously replicating themselves, supplanting what had held only sterility and desiccation. And making him smile wide.

"Look, here comes the Easter Bunny's float. We've got to move, or we'll miss it."

Normally she was too quick and strong for him, at least physically. Yet, in a few split seconds he knew he could bless his brave new planet a niche in eternity by gifting it its very own, first festive season. He had to.

An onlooker much girthier than her sidestepped between them, breaking her handhold. The release threw him toward his work struggling to thrive on the concrete; he barely averted a devastating landing. He lay there on his elbows, focusing, hoping.

As she knelt to lift him with one hand while brushing his clothes off with the other, she glanced down, at first, offhandedly. But the clamoring marching band, the oohing aahing crowd, and background, city din faded. On her second glance her brow wrinkled much as it always did when arguing about money.

As if his world knew, its first flashes of greenery shone into her eyes, tiny spurts of eruption drew strength from its core and miniscule tectonic plates heaved against gravity. In its miniature way, it reached for her, promising . . . so much.

Her brow lost its furrows, her breath abated, she shook her head as if attempting to break an enchantment. Her face grew angelic, he thought. Soft again. Like the mother she had first been. Her flicking at his attire forgotten, she freed his wrist, clasped his hands in hers. For one forever moment, her wide eyes gleamed of discovery, then loss. Twice she cleared her throat before managing a whispered, "Please come."

Outwardly, the Creator held his smile as they strolled side by side deeper into the raucous crowd, not worrying whether she understood his mission. After all, his soul thrived from faith that he would always have another opportunity at life, and not merely in his own time.

But inside himself, he chuckled because he understood better now how to reach and teach her. Next time a simple planet wouldn't suffice.

He'd need to advance to the level of a galaxy.

Or, maybe higher.

This story originally appeared on the antiquechildren literary site, 12/07/09.

Win an autographed novel

Next Sat. I'll begin an interview with the most renowned Chicano writer who's almost unknown among Chicano readers. It will appear in two parts and include 2 giveaways of his novels, autographed in his unique artistic style. All you have to do to win is return here and answer one question.

Es todo, hoy

Friday, July 30, 2010

New Books

[publisher blurbs]

The Superman Project
A.E. Roman
Minotaur, August

After a series of low-paying jobs, Chico Santana, PI, is living in his tiny office on 149th Street in the Bronx. He’s in an absolutely foul mood when Pablo Sanchez and his mother drop in, seeking help for one of Chico’s old childhood pals----the handsome and charismatic Joey Ventura. Chico has not seen Joey since Joey disappeared from St. Mary's Home for Boys, headed for Tahiti. He ended up, instead, on the island of TSP---The Superman Project.

The Superman Project peddles German philosophy, Hinduism, and American comic book mythology as a method toward self-improvement, but its members are hiding more than a few secrets. The leader of TSP is a man named Father Ravi. One of his daughters, Gabby, who is also Joey’s wife, is missing. Joey was accused by the TSP leaders of killing Gabby and has fled the police. Pablo and his mother insist he is innocent.

Compelled to believe in his old friend, and by the promised payment of a very valuable Superman comic, Chico investigates the competing interests in the organization, falling for a beautiful suspect and trying to look out for a friend’s troubled niece in the process.

A. E. Roman brings New York City and its eccentric characters to life in this second in the original and energetic Chico Santana series.

[I'm reading this book now and digging it. This is Roman's second novel - when I reviewed his first, Chinatown Angel, here on La Bloga, I said that it had an "authenticity that flows from the pages like the Hudson River pours into the Atlantic." So far there has been no let down in this second book. I will have a review in the next few weeks, maybe even another interview with the lively, and humorous, A.E. Roman. Watch for it.]

The Moses Expedition
Juan Gómez-Jurado
Atria, August

After fifty years in hiding, the war criminal known as the Butcher of Spiegelgrund has finally been tracked to a small town outside Vienna. Father Anthony Fowler, CIA operative and member of the Vatican’s secret service, the Holy Alliance, has been sent to deal with him. But first he wants something – a candle covered in fine filigree gold that was stolen from a Jewish family many years before.

But it isn’t the gold Fowler is after. As Fowler holds a flame to the wax a metallic object is revealed – the missing fragment of an ancient map. Soon Fowler is involved in an expedition to Jordan set up by the enigmatic head of Kayn industries, a reclusive billionaire who has links to the highest levels of the Catholic Church. But there is a traitor in the group who has links to terrorist organizations back in the US, and who is patiently awaiting the moment to strike.

From wartime Vienna to terrorist cells in New York and a lost valley in Jordan, The Moses Expedition is a thrilling read about a quest for power and the secrets of an ancient world.

The Moses Expedition by Juan Gómez-Jurado takes readers on a riveting journey to the deserts of Jordan to recover the Ark of the Covenant, the vessel that houses the Ten Commandment tablets. This intricate quest proves fatal when members of the Moses Expedition are systematically murdered by an infiltrator whose twisted soul is bent on revenge.

Juan Gómez-Jurado is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. The Moses Expedition and his prize-winning first novel, God’s Spy, have been published in more than forty countries and have become international bestsellers. In 2010, Juan celebrated reaching 3 million readers worldwide. He is a recipient of the prestigious Premio de Novela Ciudad de Torrevieja. Gómez-Jurado lives with his family in Madrid, Spain.

The Wolves of Fairmont Park
Dennis Tafoya
Minotaur, June

In The Wolves of Fairmount Park, Dennis Tafoya’s lyrical, intense, sometimes tragic and sometimes hopeful second novel, the details of a drive-by shooting of two teenagers in a rough Philadelphia neighborhood are filled in from four perspectives: Brendan Donovan, a cop and the father of the boy shot and left comatose; George Parkman Sr., another father, this one of the boy who was killed; Danny Martinez, a cop whose job it is to investigate the killing; and Orlando Donovan, the junkie uncle of the cop’s kid, who happens to live nearby.

No one knows what the two boys were doing in front of a dope house on Roxborough Avenue in the middle of the night, what business they might have had with gangs like Green Lane or the Tres Nortes. Even though they had a thousand dollars with them, they were good boys. Everyone says, “They were good boys.”

Through the fast-paced interweaving of these four distinct voices, Dennis Tafoya, author of the acclaimed Dope Thief, tells the moving story of two kids in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the lengths that the people around them will go to find the truth.

Dennis Tafoya was born in Philadelphia and now lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. The Wolves of Fairmount Park is his second novel.

Georges Simenon
Random House, July

Pedigree is Georges Simenon’s longest, most unlikely, and most adventurous novel, the book that is increasingly seen to lie at the heart of his outsize achievement as a chronicler of modern self and society. In the early 1940s, Simenon began work on a memoir of his Belgian childhood. He showed the initial pages to André Gide, who urged him to turn them into a novel. The result was, Simenon later quipped, a book in which everything is true but nothing is accurate. Spanning the years from the beginning of the century, with its political instability and terrorist threats, to the end of the First World War in 1918, Pedigree is an epic of everyday existence in all its messy unfinished intensity and density, a story about the coming-of-age of a precocious and curious boy and the coming to be of the modern world.

[I am amazed by Simenon for the obvious reasons - his prodigious output, his consistent excellence, and the quirky, dark, foreboding and cynical Twentieth Century perspective that he mastered. ]


The Biennial of the Americas ends this coming weekend - overall, a successful effort for first-time Denver. Lydia Gil reviewed the exhibit The Nature of Things for La Bloga here - everyone should have checked out the art just because it was such an intriguing collection. As the program said, "The Nature of Things brings together the artworks and energies of twenty-four contemporary artists from North, South, and Central America. These artists and their works participate in exploring the four themes of the 2010 Biennial of the Americas: innovation, sustainability, community, and the arts. "

Not only did we see the stimulating and contradictory art but we also listened to a few music groups including the extreme Nortec Collective -- Flo and I managed to dance without looking too out of place among the young hipsters and aficionados - at least I think we managed that. The event ends with a slew of speakers, performances, roundtables, and exhibits. This discussion sounds timely:

Between the Lines: Exploration in Borderlands Culture -- This panel seeks to illuminate the cultures past or present that have been born from the US borderlands as well as how the physical boundary and perceptual mind-state of the border play a role in the identity, expressions, and the rich culture of these areas. Panel: Luis León (Moderator), Arturo Aldama (Mexico), René Fajardo (USA), Enrique "Ejival" Jiménez (Mexico), Maruca Salazar (Mexico and Director of the Museo de las Americas). Saturday, July 31 3:00 PM.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Books from Cinco Puntos Press

By Tim Tingle
Illustrated by Karen Clarkson

Product Details
10-digit ISBN 1-933693-67-3
13-digit ISBN 9781933693675
Format Hardback
Language English
Page Count 40
Product Dimensions 8.5" x 11" x .25"
Publication Date June 1, 2010

A Choctaw Journey from Darkness into Light

Bee stings on the backside! And that was just the beginning. Tim was about to enter a world of the past, with bullying boys and stones and Indian spirits of long ago. But they were real spirits, real stones, and very real memories…

In this powerful family saga, Choctaw author Tim Tingle tells the story of his family’s move from Oklahoma Choctaw country to Pasadena, Texas. Spanning fifty years, Saltypie describes the problems encountered by his Choctaw grandmother—from her orphan days at an Indian boarding school to hardships encountered in her new home on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Tingle says, “Stories of modern Indian families rarely grace the printed page. Long before I began writing, I knew this story must be told.” Seen through the innocent eyes of a young boy, Saltypie is the story of one family’s efforts to honor the past while struggling to gain a foothold in modern America. More than an Indian story, Saltypie is an American story, of hardships shared and the joy of overcoming.

Tim Tingle, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, is a sought-after storyteller for folklore festivals, library conferences, and schools across America. At the request of Choctaw Chief Pyle, Tim tells a story to the tribe every year before Pyle’s State of the Nation Address at the Choctaw Labor Day Gathering. Tim’s previous and often reprinted books from Cinco Puntos Press—Walking the Choctaw Road and Crossing Bok Chitto—received numerous awards nationally, but what makes Tim the proudest is the recognition he receives from the American Indian communities around the country.

Karen Clarkson, a Choctaw tribal member, is a self-taught artist who specializes in portraits of Native Americans. She did not start painting until after her children had left home; she has since been widely acclaimed as a Native American painter. She lives in San Leandro, California.

by Luis Alberto Urrea
illustrated by Christopher Cardinale

Product Details
10-digit ISBN 1-933693-23-1
13-digit ISBN 9781933693231
Format Paperback
Language English
Page Count 64
Product Dimensions 7" x 10" x .5"
Publication Date June 1, 2010

A popular short story from Urrea's Six Kinds of Sky
is now a stunning graphic novel.

Be careful growing up in the green, wet, mango-sweet Mexican village of Rosario, where dead corpses rise up out of the cathedral walls during July when it always floods; where vast silver mines beneath the town occasionally collapse causing a whole section of the village to drop out of sight; where a man with a paintbrush, to wit Mr. Mendoza, is the town’s self-appointed conscience.

Magic realism, you say to yourself. Luis Urrea affirms to the contrary, “Not magical realism. It’s how kids grow up in Mexico. Especially if you’re a boy.” And the part about Mr. Mendoza is really really true: he brandishes his magical paintbrush everywhere, providing commentary to singe the hearts and souls of boys who are looking to get into trouble. If he catches you peeping at the girls bathing in the river, he’ll steal your pants and paint PERVERT on your naked buttocks. And one day, he performs a painterly act which no one in Rosario ever forgets!

Luis Alberto Urrea is the author of the widely acclaimed novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter and a 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction for The Devil’s Highway. Inducted into the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, Luis was born in Tijuana, Mexico to a Mexican father and an American mother. This is his first graphic novel and a riveting book, like Vatos, which young adults will love. Check out Luis' commentary on the upcoming Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush graphic novel.

Christopher Cardinale is a muralist and artist with a social message. His large-scale murals against globalization and war can be seen in New York, Italy, Greece and Mexico. He lives in Brooklyn. He is a regular contributor to the zine World War Three. Check out our blog for an article about Christopher's trip down to the city of Rosario, Sinaloa in Mexico. This is the town where Mr. Mendoza's Paintbrush takes place.

A Lao Story of Home
by Youme Landowne
illustrated by Youme Landowne

Product Details
10-digit ISBN 1-933693-68-1
13-digit ISBN 9781933693682
Format Hardback
Language English
Page Count 40
Product Dimensions 9" x 9" x .25"
Publication Date November 1, 2010

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

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.

The Incredible and (Sometimes) Sad Story of Ramon and Cornelio
by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite
translated by John Byrd

Product Details
10-digit ISBN 1-933693-55-X
13-digit ISBN 9781933693552
Format Paperback
Language English
Page Count 184
Product Dimensions 6" x 9"
Publication Date November 1, 2010

"Hey, what's up, come a little closer, I have something to tell you," God said to Cornelio. The deal was simple: God would be the silent partner in the norteño band that Cornelio had started with his best friend Ramon. Cornelio would sing and play the bajo sexto, Ramon the accordion, and God would write the songs. Cornelio agreed; he would sell his soul to God.

Success and disaster followed. The band went from playing bars in Tijuana to playing the biggest stadiums in Mexico. Women started fan clubs and motorcycle gangs dedicated to their heroes Ramon and Cornelio. It seemed to Cornelio and Ramon that they had everything, but fame was a cruel mistress.

Luis Humberto Crosthwaite lives and works in the Tijuana/San Diego metroplex. He is the author of five novels, and his fiction has garnered critical attention for his ability to express the complexities of living on the US/Mexico border. He writes a weekly column for The San Diego Union Tribune.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

And now they are reunited! Foto help needed. On-Line Floricanto.

And Now They Are Reunited!
Michael Sedano

Over the last three years I've been searching for videotapes documenting the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto held at the University of Southern California.

Across the three days of that 1973 event, dozens of poets, novelists, critics, and community activists had addressed enthusiastic audiences, SRO in many events.

As Chief Photographer for the Daily Trojan, I assigned myself the pleasure of photographing the event. I wasn't the sole documentarian. A two-camera television production crew worked the floor. I poked my head into the production trailer and noted the state-of-art Ampex 2" recorders spinning away. The way it worked, first generation stuff went to 2" tape. This was transferred to 3/4" U-matic reels and the 2" original was blacked and re-used. Those second generation 3/4" tapes would preserve the historical record and were infinitely copyable. Hold that thought.

As I noted in an earlier La Bloga, I thought that videotaped record had been lost after I discovered neither El Centro Chicano--who hosted the event--nor Doheny Memorial Library, had copies, much less the 2d generation "original" U-matic dupes. Then, using UC's Melvyl system and Worldcat, I located a set of tapes at University of California Riverside, and Texas A&M Kingsville. Of all the artists who read in 1973, only thirty-nine performances (35 writers, 1 pianist, 3 teatros) made it to the UCR/Texas A&M holdings.

With that list of 35 writers in hand, I set out to contact the surviving videotaped performers, thinking to hold a "then and now" reunion of the readers on videotape, as a way to connect historical artifacts to the living, ever-developing body of Chicana Chicano Latina Latino literature, and hold a 2010 Festival de Flor y Canto.

In conjunction with this dream, I set out to digitize the analog material to allow access to these wondrous performances by today's students, scholars and readers. Even if there could not be a 2010 floricanto, the record of that earlier event deserved an audience.

After a protracted series of phone calls, emails, and visits, I received copyright clearance from USC. I contacted Juan Felipe Herrera, a 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto videotaped poet and professor at UCR. Juan Felipe located the last functioning U-matic cassette player at UCR and smoothed the way through channels at UCR's Tomás Rivera Memorial Library. Thanks to Juan Felipe and the incredibly helpful Jim Glenn, head of UCR's Media Center, I was able to accomplish most of that goal.

Ironically, both UCR and Texas A&M Kingsville had lost the videos of José Montoya and Roberto Vargas.

Several institutions, in California and Arizona principally, listed audio cassette holdings of the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto, including California State University Long Beach.

Last week, Barbara Robinson, the librarian managing Doheny Library's growing Chicano and Latino Studies collection--and who secured the copyright clearance from USC's legal department--arranged an Inter-Library Loan of the Montoya and Vargas tapes from CSULB.

Sadly, the aural quality of these informally duplicated tapes is dismal. Someone had placed a microphone next to a loudspeaker and pushed the Record button. The source is likely those same U-matic tapes. The "originals"? A couple hours work dubbing into my Macbook, then processing through Bias Soundsoap 2 software, and the once was lost but now are found voices of José Montoya and Roberto Vargas are retrieved.

At last the 35 voices have been reunited! At the September 15-17, 2010 Festival de Flor y Canto. Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow, USC will announce the availability of those 1973 historic literary performances--33 on video, 2 on audio--via the USC Digital Library.

Flor y canto graphic by Magú. Prismacolor on artboard. ©2009 by Magú.

Almost 50 poets and fiction writers will read at September's Festival de Flor y Canto. Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow, including 13 veteranos from the 1973 videorecordings: Alurista, Alejandro Murguia, Enrique Lamadrid, Ernest Mares , Estevan Arellano, Jose Montoya Juan A. Contreras, Juan Felipe Herrera, R. Rolando Hinojosa, Roberto Vargas, Ron Arias, Veronica Cunningham, Vibiana Chamberlin. USC will provide live video streaming and the event will be videographed by documentarian Jesus Treviño.

Details of the schedule and other important information regarding Festival de Flor y Canto. Yesterday • Today • Tomorrow shall be available in the very near future. Click here to be added to the P.R. e-mail list for the festival.

Floricanto Foto ID Help Needed

Two weeks ago, La Bloga posted images of poets with no names, along with links to two web pages of unidentified work-in-process fotos.

If you know any of the gente in these fotos, or suspect you know, or have an inkling they look familiar but they're all old now, please send what you know to Michael Sedano.

On-Line Floricanto: Poets Respond to Arizona Hate Legislation

Regardless of a court enjoining Arizona from enforcing SB1070--a decision very much up in the air--the legislature and governor of that state have sent a loud and clear message to the world: the United States of America legislates hate.

And what are the targets of hatred and murderous intent to do? In his circa 1969-1972 poem "Dawn Eye Cosmos," Alurista gives one answer that poets in 2010 are reaffirming. Alurista writes:

do we want to go
and blow up a building
or can we change
the place of many pueblos heart
through the calles
cantando about nuestra
ofreciendo la vida
a cambio de armonía

Singing about our nation, working constructively to share a community's heart and soul, are among things poets do best. Working for harmonious change is something I wish Unitedstatesians, like the pendejos in charge of Arizona, understood. If they had ears to hear and eyes to see, the haters of Arizona could see themselves as the rest of the world sees them.

Each week, La Bloga proudly shares space with moderators of Facebook's Poets Responding to SB 1070 who send a selection of current poetry que canta about nuestra nación expressing visions of cambio de armonía.

late corazón
late y canta
tu canción

1."First Joy" by Alma Luz Villanueva
2."Dragoon Mountain Dreams" by Abel Salas
3. "The Feminine Principle" by Devreaux Baker
4. “if you want them to listen/how to write a successful poem part 2” written by Unanonymous Pookie De La Cruz Haros Lopez
5."Tell Them You Don’t Know Who Those People Are" by Edith Morris-Vasquez
6. “Poem With a Phrase of Isherwood" by Francisco Aragón
7. "OCCUPIED TERRITORIES: A diptych" by Gregg Barrios
8."POEMA-TATOO SB1070" por Adrián Arias

"First Joy" by Alma Luz Villanueva

It's in my nature, if
there's flowers I
will pick them, put
them in water, a

bright spot on the
table- if there's
food I will cook it
with basil, garlic, onions,

salsa, curries, good
wine- if there's music
I will dance in circles,
hands up in the air, simple

joy- if there's beach
I will walk it, ears
tuned to her undying
song, my feet happy with

salt- if there's water,
ocean, creek, river, lake
I will swim, expand myself
into dolphin leap, beauty

into air- if there's
air I become the oldest
tree on Earth, my newborn
leaves sipping sunlight,

my ancient roots sipping
darkness, wisdom, secrets,
first leaf, first breath,
first flesh, first joy.
* * *
If I laugh too loud,
forgive me-
if I sing too much,
forgive me-
if I dance without warning,
forgive me-
if I love this journey,
this path, this time,
this moment, this fresh
yellow lemon rose scent,
for give give give give me,
now for get get get get
simple so simple rose
petal first flesh. Joy.
* * *
For give us, Mother,
our Earth, our human
desecrations, violations
of your spirit home

spirit, I worry, will
you survive us, then
I see you turning turning,
raising your hands, first

A mi hijo, Jules, who loves la Madre Mar, dances with her, surfing...

Alma Luz Villanueva
Santa Cruz, Califa, July 2010

"Dragoon Mountain Dreams" by Abel Salas

I am running, breathing
Fast and climbing, the
Pebbles underfoot scattering
in echo of genetic memories
carried in the wishful capillaries
That sting with child sweat
And desert dust in the Texas
Canyon not far from the
Dragoon Mountains along the
Interstate that flings us,
Me, my father, sometimes
A carload with three or four
Spirited girls who take turns
Reading or drawing horses
for me, always, on every ride
a quiet, beautiful brother seven
years ahead like a prince walking
alongside my father in a Stetson

This is Arizona and they are
Here with dinosaur-sized rocks
Scampering across the rest stop
So familiar from countless Texas-Cali
Criss-crossings it has become a ritual
for them, a glittering reward for him
He knows already of Goyaalé, the
The true human name of the one
Known by the whites as Geronimo,
Has spoken Crazy Horse in one
Dizzy exhale alongside the names
Cochise and even Mangas Coloradas,
Spoon-fed Black Elk's prayers, he has
Watched in quiet awe while his brother
Carves V-I-L-L-A and Z-A-P-A-T-A
and C-H-E onto planks of wood with
a soldering iron that glows and smokes,
Has played at Apache and Nez Perce
Even longer now than cowboy or cops
He is the child who shapes a pyramid
Of clay in fifth grade for a teacher
Who marvels at the boy who reads
the sad story of Chief Joseph and writes
A bi-centennial essay scolding the U.S.
For its broken treaties and the wars
inflicted on its noble and native people

The teachers are openly proud
And honor him with a task as tutor
To children in the special room
Or the library where he tells
Them stories of wakantanka and
The trickster coyote when they
Cry and beat the floor with their
closed fists because the words, letters,
Pages dance and move in backward
somersaults before their sad, tender
eyes and the 10-year-old storyteller
Does not yet know the real name
For what hinders them or even how
to tear the gift from inside himself
and lodge it gently in their souls,
these smaller boys he reads to in
The afternoon when his classmates
Are sent on crossing guard duty
Or recess in an oak tree playground

Always, he remembers Arizona
Thinks he will find a vision there
If he walks through the night
Toward the desert strongholds
That once sheltered the stoic
Warriors who make him proud
He is able to say Azteca and Maya
And Comanche in the same phrase
He builds a lodge and a small travois
Because there is not enough earth
For a hogan or poles for a tipi
He looks for flint and obsidian
Collecting feathers from the
Chickens and the turkeys his
Mother is grooming for meals
Inside the small trailer home
where the seven in his family
live until it is time to leave
the empty patch of land where
a pony named Billboy has died
and been burned and buried
until the move to a crowded city
named for the dark-skinned angels
who led his horse and his great uncle
to a peaceful field far beyond the stars

The sweat lodge at seventeen
Takes him back to every moment
Leads him on the road to four
Directions as the sage steams on
Blistering, white-hot volcanic rocks
Rocks unlike the canyon boulders
Left behind outside of Tucson
Near the ancient saguaros and
Their phantom sign language
To his cousin Anthony and the
Accidental elbow fracture,
a mere seven years before, to the
Shame on his father's face when
He confessed he was responsible
Even if Anthony smiled with pride
After the gesso was set and painted
No one knew the backyard scuffle
Had been over who would be chief
Because Anthony was Arizona and
Could claim a connection to the
Cotton and the hard Yuma sun while
He could only dream of disappearing
With the Dineh or the Yaqui for good

The ceremony and an uncle poet like a
Granite stone come to life with fire
Bring me to myself just as the dance
And the circle and the drum remind
Me of a bond from birth and creation
To Relatives reclaiming the traditions
A strong medicine woman much later
who knew the poet and has forsaken
the dance that was not hers because
it came not from the ice mountains of the
Raramuri where her mother was born
Has spoken new dreams and opened
Doors to the spirit world like tendrils
I could not have foreseen or known
And still a part of me resides there in
each palm that came to shape the song
and the healing with notes and melody
as if wind in flutes made from bone or
Earth or reed in the throats of these
Teachers and honored aunties, uncles, or
The soul sisters and wise grandmothers
And also the lost lovers who guide me still
Even in their echoing gray absence after they
Have made the move to other places on the
Water path that glows like a red silk ribbon
Leading us to places of peace and joy like
Amber or turquoise stones fused tightly,
Bound with silver and leather clasps for
Hearts seeking, beating together always
Over and again. Again. Heya, heya-ho

"The Feminine Principle" by Devreaux Baker

It began with a dream of the moon-goddess
Belly filled with rain
Arms and legs stretching far across man-made borders

It began with night and the wind moving
Like drum beats
Against the face of the land

It began in youth
With a deity the color of the rainbow
Ix Chel calling her children home

It began with a song and gourds
Rattling seeds
Feet stamping out heartbeats

It began in love and moved into war
Entwined serpent as headdress
Skirt of crossed bones
Claws for hands and feet

This is what it means to embrace
The female warrior
Cihuacoatl Yaocihuatl

War Woman

It began in night
Filled with stars
And fire

Chichen Itza calling us home
Ixchel, Ixchebeliax, Ixhunie, Ixhunieta
It began with blessings and the
small tightening
in the back
of the throat

It began with that song rising out of the
dreaming place
flying across man-made borders
welcoming us home.

“if you want them to listen/how to write a successful poem part 2” written by Unanonymous Pookie De La Cruz Haros Lopez

don't use the word border
don't use the word scapegoat
don't use the words nation of immigrants
possibly don't use the words minute men
maybe don't use the word pilgrim
don't mention N.A.F.T.A.
or the Mexican Gulf water war
don't mention Treaty of Guadalupe
don't talk about native america,aztlan or turtle island
don't speak about one nation,mitakuye oyasin,eagles,condors
madre tierra, no borders, no papers
don't scream about dolphins,whales,turtles burning
don't mention the genocide of so many water breathing nations
don't use the word excuse or lie or maybe or truth
don't mention 2013
don't use the word poem
don't think evolution
don't scribble revolution
don't speak your real name
forget the words oppression, false histories or herstories
don't speak of ancestories, ancestrees, ancestor homes
don't ask them to re-member
don't say the words always or never
because it never happened
don't tell them you know they are lying
don't mention forgiveness or seven generations
don't sing about water or fire
don't use the word 1992
delete the words 500 years from your vocabulary
don't mention their great great great grandfather or abuelas
don't say connection,corazon, alma
and never ever ever use the word love
use deeply coded synonyms for fear and hate
acknowledge them without using the word you
don't say the word us or u.s.
don't use more than one language without a multilingual translation
don't mention ghandi, budda, martin, malcolm, dolores, rigoberta, chavez,ramona or maria
dont use the word god, dog, spirit, ometeo, yemaya,serpent
don't speak in tongues
please again let me remind you
don't ever ever never ever ever use the word amor

unwritten por Learsi Saroh Francisca Xotchil De La Donia Lopez

"Tell Them You Don’t Know Who Those People Are" by Edith Morris-Vasquez


I am eight. Us kids sit
according to age…the older ones
get the windows. I am in the middle.

My eyes have swallowed whole
a picture of what Mama’s doing
all dressed up for some fun

Though this is not that cuz we're at la linea.
I remember what I'm supposed to do.
Even though we don’t believe it,

we all say “American.” Except for Mama.
She has to explain that she's not.
She gets her picture to prove it.

Its on a shiny plastic card she keeps
it hidden so I rarely see it. I remember
another thing I need to remember cuz

I might never see it again. I look at it.
She hates it when they take her picture.
She says she’s dark, short, and ugly.

I think it’s because she’s
beautiful, wise, and dominant
that she was turned into a document.

It is green to say she’s different,
not deserving of white, the color of
barbies and brides. She’s driving us from Juarez

and back to California. The trick
is that all the people we love have to
stay here and we have to leave them

until they come see us only when its dark night
they rush in, clean up, and leave before the sun
comes up. They say, “We’ve just come to say goodbye.”

And Mama says, "Quick take your lunch...
I'm not kicking you out but you better get
going." NO, I think but don't say it.

I run fast and go hide my face so nobody knows
in a towel that hangs in the bathroom.
It's still wet from my tio’s shower.

We crossed okay but then got pulled over by
one of those green trucks. Nobody told me this
would happen which was a good idea

cuz I was so happy when I noticed my tio
--what was he doing out on the highway?
So happy he’s coming too and he got across

---But, no, oh! Mama's scared now
she looks back at us and says, “if they ask tell
them you don’t know who those people are”

"but there's my tio," I wanna say and Mama looks
into my eyes to say shut it up. And when the man wearing
green comes over to talk to her

Mama says she doesn't know nothing.
He don't believe her so he turns asks David my brother.
“Who’s that man? Do you know him?

Is he traveling with you?" David’s mad
but he don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone.
I look out at my tio and I look in at Mama. Then I hear

my brother speaks back “Why are you asking?”
And he remembers, like a good boy what he needs to say,
"I don't know who those people are."

“Poem With a Phrase of Isherwood" by Francisco Aragón

to Jan Brewer

by Francisco Aragón

Cruelty is sensual and stirs you
Governor, your name channeling the sludge
beneath your cities’ streets. It’s what

spurs the pleasure you take whenever
your mouth’s anywhere near
a mic, defending your law…your wall.

Cruelty is sensual and stirs you
Governor; we’ve noticed your face
its contortions and delicate sneer

times you’re asked to cut
certain ribbons—visit a dusty place
you’d rather avoid, out of the heat.

Cruelty is sensual and stirs you
Governor, the vision of your state
a dream you treasure in secret

though we’ve caught a glimpse
in the jowls of your sheriff:
bulldog who doubles as your heart.

July 2010

"OCCUPIED TERRITORIES: A diptych" by Gregg Barrios


Blackbirds fly
across the desert
dark clouds dip
then vanish into
Chiricahua Peak
and Cochise Head
where an 11-year
war converted
the patient Apache
red-sleeved renegade
avenging a nephew's
death as vultures still tear
at carrion flesh red rock
stained glass monument.

Ft. Bowie, Arizona

* * * * * * * * * * *


clouds hang over
ashen mountain
mesquite tumbleweed
spotted arid landscape
here the great chieftain
Cochise once moved free

caliche caked soil
dry lake bed filled
impervious to rainwater
residue glazed perfect
moment for a mirage

he walks on water
tender footprints
marked forever.

Cochise, Arizona

"POEMA-TATOO SB1070" por Adrián Arias

Adolorido el cuerpo se levanta
y descubre que el cielo no es firme
que las estrellas se mueven y no se caen
que los espejos son difíciles de atravesar
pero eventualmente los atraviesas y llegas
a ese lugar donde las estrellas
son agujeros en la piel de la noche
a ese lugar de fuegos artificiales
de alambre de púas y rayos de sol
que marcan tu cuerpo con el nuevo tatuaje

La noche con la que viajas de regreso a casa
es la más oscura y cierras los ojos
y descubres el cuerpo que se esconde en el cuerpo
en el borde invisible del tiempo
el ojo del cielo está vivo y dentro tuyo
el vestido de luz que es la piel del sueño
se transforma en tu propia carne
que lleva escrita la inscripción

Y te sacas la piel y la piel de tus hijos
y la piel de tu familia
y coses todas las pieles juntas
con la máquina de luz que es el miedo
quieres esconderlos en el vestido que es
la piel imposible de la libertad
y atrapada en las costuras
guardas mensajes de alivio, cartas de amor
fotos recortadas en forma de corazón
sobrecitos de azúcar
souvenirs de una pesadilla en technicolor
que llevan impresa la marca

oh cuerpo atrapado en la fabricación de sueños
cuando abras los ojos sólo vas a querer un
pero sólo obtendrás
y una voz maquinal que a lo lejos te canta

© Adrián Arias 2010


Alma Luz VillanuevaAuthor of eight books of poetry, most recently, 'Soft Chaos' (2009). A few poetry anthologies: 'The Best American Poetry, 1996,' 'Unsettling America,' 'A Century of Women's Poetry,' 'Prayers For A Thousand Years, Inspiration from Leaders & Visionaries Around The World.' Three novels: 'The Ultraviolet Sky,' 'Naked Ladies,' 'Luna's California Poppies,' and the short story collection, 'Weeping Woman, La Llorona and Other Stories.' Some fiction anthologies: '500 Great Books by Women, From The Thirteenth Century,' 'Caliente, The Best Erotic Writing From Latin America,' 'Coming of Age in The 21st Century,' 'Sudden Fiction Latino.' The poetry and fiction has been published in textbooks from grammar to university, and is used in the US and abroad as textbooks. Has taught in the MFA in creative writing program at Antioch University, Los Angeles, for the past eleven years. And is the mother of four, wonderful, grown human beings.
Alma Luz Villanueva
Now living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, for the past five years, traveling the ancient trade routes to return to teach, and visit family and friends, QUE VIVA

Abel SalasAbel Salas is the Publisher and Editor at Brooklyn & Boyle, an Eastside arts, lit. and community journal based in the historic Boyle Heights neighborhood. He has taught creative writing in LA County juvenile halls and his work as a journalist has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Magazine, Latina, The Austin Chronicle and The Brownsville Herald among many others. Salas has been invited to share his poetry on stages in Havana, Cuba, Toluca, Mexico and Mexico D.F. "Dragoon Mountain Dreams" is dedicated, he says, "To all our relations."

Devreaux BakerDevreaux Baker's new book of poems is "Red Willow People", published by Wild Ocean Press, San Francisco.

Pookie De La Cruz Haros LopezIsrael is a graduate of U.C. Berkeley with a degree in English and Xicano Studies and an M.F.A. from California College of the Arts. He is both a visual artist and performance artist. His work is an attempt to search for personal truths and personal histories inside of american cosmology. The american cosmology and symbolism that he is drawing from is one that involves both northern and southern america that was here before columbus. The work both written and that which is painted is attempting to mark and remark historical points in the americas and the world.The mark making attempts to speak to the undeniable presence of a native america that will continue to flourish for generations to come.The understanding which he is drawing from is not conceptual but fact and points to the importance of honoring and remembering ancestral ways of living as a means of maintaining healthy relations with all humans,the winged, all those that crawl on this Earth, all Life, the Water, the Sacred Fire, Tonanztin, Tonatiuh,the Sacred Cardinal Points,everything inbetween, above and below and at the center of self and all things in the universe.
His Poetry can be heard at
He can be found creating poetry and arte on Facebook

Edith Morris-VasquezEdith Vasquez, PhD is a teacher, scholar, and DREAMTEAM member. She hopes that everyone will do everything possible to urge the Senate and the House of Representatives, to immediately deliver the votes necessary to Pass the Dream Act as a Stand-Alone Bill.

Francisco AragónA native of San Francisco and a former long-term resident of Spain, Francisco Aragón is the author of Puerta del Sol (Bilingual Press) and Glow of Our Sweat (Scapegoat Press). He is also the editor of the award-winning The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (University of Arizona Press). His work has appeared in a range of anthologies, including Inventions of Farewell: A Book of Elegies (W.W. Norton & Company), Evensong: Contemporary American Poets on Spirituality (Bottom Dog Press), Deep Travel: Contemporary American Poets Abroad (Ninebark Press) and, more recently, Full Moon Over K Street (Plan B Press) and Helen Burns Poetry Anthology: New Voices from the Academy of American Poets’ University & College Prizes, 1999–2008 (Academy of American Poets). His poems and translations (from the Spanish) have appeared in various print and web publications, including, Chain, Crab Orchard Review, Chelsea, The Journal, the online venues, Jacket, Electronic Poetry Review, and Poetry Daily. He directs Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is also the editor of Canto Cosas, a book series from Bilingual Press featuring new Latino and Latina poets. He is a CantoMundo fellow and a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop in San Antonio. He serves as a VP on the board of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). For more information, visit:

Gregg BarriosGregg Barrios is a playwright, a poet, and an independent journalist. He received a Ford Foundation grant to write his award-winning play Rancho Pancho (2008). It will have its regional premiere at Teatro Bravo in Phoenix in late September. His forthcoming play, I-DJ (2010) was awarded a grant from the Macondo Foundation. His book of poetry, La Causa, with an introduction by Carmen Tafolla is due this fall from Hansen Poetry Series.

Adrián AriasAdrián Arias, poeta y artista visual peruano residente en California desde el 2000. ha publicado ocho libros y obtenido importantes premios literarios en Latinoamerica y Europa. "La poesía de Adrián Arias florece en un lenguaje sencillo y eficaz, sus poemas evocan lo concreto y al mismo tiempo trazan un giro conceptual que echa una nueva luz sobre lo cotidiano", Peisa Editores, Lima, Perú.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Very Bitter Man

A children’s story by Daniel Olivas

Long ago, at the far end of the town, there lived a very bitter man. Some said he was born bitter. Others said he became bitter slowly, year by year, because his parents were not nice people.

Regardless of the reason, the bitter man was not very pleasant to be around. The people of the town left him alone and they tried not to tread on the road that ran by his dilapidated house.

Being left alone was the only thing that made this bitter man happy.

How bitter was this man?

Well, he was so bitter that he did not even want to share his broken down old house with his own shadow. So, most days and nights, he kept his windows shut tight with the dusty old curtains closed so that the light of the sun or moon would not shine in and cast his shadow within the house.

But the bitter man could not hide in his house all day. Even he had to eat. Thus, each morning, he would creep out of his dark and musty house to pick mangoes that hung from the big trees that shaded his house.

One such morning, as he reached for a mango, he heard his front door shut with a loud crack. In a panic, the man ran to the house.

"Who is in there?" the man bellowed as he pounded the heavy wooden door with his fist.

"Your shadow," came the response.

The bitter man's eyes widened in disbelief and fear. Was this a trick? he thought. He had to discover the truth.

"Prove it!" yelled the bitter man.

And what happened next was most remarkable.

The voice on the other side of the door proceeded to recite many secret things that only the bitter man could know – such as when the man ate each day, which side he slept on, how many naps he took, and other little details that made this usually unflappable man blush a dark brown-red.

The bitter man simply could not believe his ears. But the voice had indeed proved that it was the bitter man's shadow.

"May I come in?" asked the bitter man in the meekest voice he could manage.

There was a long silence. Finally, the small voice answered: "Only if you agree to share your life with me."

The bitter man thought for a moment. How could this be a bad thing? he thought.

After all, my shadow has been with me since I was but a baby. Maybe it is time to share this old house.

"Yes," said the bitter man. "You may share my home with me."

The door creaked opened. The bitter man looked down and saw his long shadow stretch across the floor of his old house.

After the man entered, he opened all the curtains to let in as much sunshine as possible. At that moment, the man's bitterness melted away.

When the people of the town learned of this amazing transformation, they did not mind walking past the once dark house.

Indeed, if they happened to see the man sitting on his porch, they would say hello. The man would wave and offer a loud and happy greeting. And, if the people looked carefully, they would have seen the man's shadow waving a hearty hello, too.

[“A Very Bitter Man” first appeared in the Children’s Reading Room section of the Los Angeles Times. Special thanks to Andrew Huerta for his illustration. To see more of his work, visit his website.]

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dreaming of Mosaic Mariposas en El Monte

Olga García Echeverría

All mosaic art in this blog by David Corral

I originally wanted to call this blog Tres Mujeres: Un Parque because it's a story about three community women who have been dreaming and fighting for the creation of a park in El Monte. Las tres mujeres, Estela Beltrán, María de JesúsValdéz, and María de Rosario Valdéz, form the Gibson-Mariposa Park Steering Committee and they've been en la lucha for a community park for the past decade.

In these past ten years, there have been, of course, other individuals involved in el esfuerzo (too many to name here), politicians who came and went, organizations, the City, trails of red tape, endless meetings, promises kept and promises broken, and a few false starts. Through it all, las tres mujeres (AKA Las Tres Tercas) have held on steadfast, steering their dream through the ups and downs, refusing to lose hope or vision.

Today, they are closer to realizing their dream than they have ever been. They have 4.3 acres of land reserved for the park (acquired by El City of El Monte in 2005). Thanks to Prop. 40, the Rivers and Mountain Conservancy, SGV Conservation Corps and LA County Prop A, they've been able to secure 3,110,000 thus far. Building and maintaining a park ain't cheap, y'all! Y todavía faltan fondos. In October, they'll find out if they've been awarded a community grant of 2.4 million (made available through Proposition 84). If all goes well, the construction of Gibson-Mariposa Park may begin in October of this year.

The park will include a splash pad, native plants, an outdoor classroom, a tot lot, youth playground, walking trails, basketball courts and other recreational amenities. In addition, the theme throughout the park is butterflies and will be represented in the playground equipment, signage, shade structures and mosaic tiles.

Enter artist David Corral, El Mosaic Mariposa Master who was invited to assist neighborhood residents to create mosaic pieces that will eventually be placed at the park. This weekend I visited Estela Beltrán at her home to learn more about the Gibson-Mariposa Park project. Aside from getting to kick it with Estela and María de Jesus of the Steering Committee, I ate the BEST sardine salad ever, and among the highlights I got to meet David Corral and see some of his colorful and captivating tile work.

Somewhat shy and unassuming, David doesn't really like photos of himself, but he said that if I took one when he wasn't looking, I could use it. Good enough. Had Estela's ensalada and salsa not been so delicious, I could have probably tried to steal more pictures of David over lunch, but it's hard to take pictures when you're fixating on a tender sardine and rabanos that have been cut into flowers. Here's my best and only shot of David. Finally, I can appropriately use the tile-picture effect on my Iphone in a blog!

Ay, to eat sardine after sardine and listen to an artist and women of the barrio talk about dreams and activism and mariposas and art. That's my idea of a wonderful and inspiring afternoon.

David Corral is one of those people who has art pumping through his veins. His father, Raymundo Corral, is a self-taught professional portrait artist who's known for his depictions of the Southwest. David recalls waking up in the mornings and seeing his father painting. "He used to put paintbrushes in our hands as children. He was a really really tough guy. I'm not sure I was able to do things as he wanted, but definitely I learned to value details through him. My grandfather was always taking me to the hardward stores in East Los Angeles as well. He was always fixing and building things and that also had an influence on me."

A union brick layer for 25 years, David's been laying down tiles and creating beautiful floors and tile pieces for businesses, churches, and individuals. However, tile is not just about business, there's passion and art in the cracked pieces and the patterns. In the last few years, David's branched out and begun doing his own artistic mosaics. He started making these in 2008, right around the time he was approached by the Gibson Mariposa Park Steering Committee. "I remember my first attempt at my own mosaic. I started off with a rooster. I was struggling with the piece when Maria called me about the mosaic tiles project at the park. I saw it as an opportunity to really express my artistry in the tile field. Also, it's an opportunity to work with kids. I know there's a lot of kids out there who need to learn skills and express their own talents."

About the mosaic art project David says, "We've just started to lay down the groundwork. We've had about 8 workshops. I've had my ups and downs in this project too. Right now we're waiting for insurance to start up the workshops again. But I'm still here. It’s an opportunity for me to grow as an artist, express myself, expose it and help others realize their talents as well. I grew up in East LA and I’ve always wanted to say to the world that there’s a lot more that comes from East LA than gang banging."

Like these mosaic flowers that David has been working on for the park. The goal of the workshops is to get children and adults in the community involved and teach them how to make these mosaics as well, so that they can eventually be displayed at the park.

To contact David about his tile and art work: or via phone (323) 385-1651.

I can't end this blog without saying a little bit about the women I've met from the Gibson-Mariposa Steering Committee. I first met Estela Beltrán earlier this year at a StoryCorps event where I read poetry. She came up to me after my reading and we hit it off immediately. At 86, Estela is full of chispas, a real firecracker. Aside from being passionate, she's charismatic, bien chistosa, and full of charm.

Originally from Zacatecas, Zacatecas, México, Estela came to the U.S. in 1928. "I was a little girl in the time of the depression. There were many things we didn't have, but we were creative. We didn’t have a ball to play with, but we stuffed a paper bag and played volleyball. In many ways, we didn’t know we were poor because everyone was poor. But when I found out that other people had radios and other stuff, I thought ¿Y por qué nosotros, no? So, I’d go out to the churches and learn to sing En la luz que te da Jesus and I'd bring back milk and bread for my younger siblings. I’d go out to the railroads too. Back then they’d throw carrots, papas, cebollas from the trains and I’d take whatever I could get my hands on. The adults got the bigger vegetables, but as a child I was able to get pieces/scraps and carry them back in a mochila that my mother had made me just for this specific purpose. Even though we were very poor, I remember that near the railroad, under a bridge there was always a pot boiling and you had to put something in the pot. A vegetable or two, whatever you could. This was for the homeless. It made an impression on me. There are always those who need and even when we don't have a lot, we can give and help one another."

Estela worked as a community liaison at Shirpser Elementary for over 30 years, where she met with parents, organized trips, held garage sales, and generally looked out for the needs of the local children. "I originally wanted a boys & girls club, where the kids in the area could play chess, take classes, explore, do things that children are supposed to do in order to grow and feel confident in the world. Some of our kids had never been to the beach, never been to the music center, never been camping, so we organized, got parents involved and we made all of these things happen." Ten years ago, the desire for a boys & girls club eventually led to a community effort for a local park.

Enter María Jesús Valdéz and María de Rosario Valdéz, two of the parents who began working with Estela and eventually got involved with the park effort. Unfortunately, María de Rosario couldn't make it to our small gathering, so I had to eat her share of the sardines, but I did get to chat a bit with la otra María. María Jesús Valdéz was born in Jerez, Zacatecas. In 1962, when María was 5 years old, her parents migrated to the U.S.

Although María grew up during the Civil Rights Movement, she recalls her parents were very protective. "Mostly we stayed at home. I didn't really get involved during that time. I never imagined myself as a community activist of any kind. I got married very young, at 17. I have six children, ranging from 34 to 14. My husband was a bit old fashioned and he didn't really like me going out. When I first met Estela at Shirpser Elementary school she was always pushing me, Ándale María. Muévete. She'd ask me What are you doing at home? She wanted me to get out of the house and do other things. I would answer I have housework and kids. She didn't accept my answer. She'd tell me to do the housework early, so I'd have time to do other things, like get involved with the community at the school."

Eventually María de Jesús did just that. When Estela invited her to be part of the steering committee for the park, María's first reactions was "I don’t want to be a metiche. We laugh about it now," she shares. "Estela said, Is that what you think of me? It’s been an a great experience. I never would have imagined I’d be doing this work and for so long. Sometimes my sisters are surprised to see me active and in the newspaper. We didn't grow up like that and they ask me, What are you doing?! I laugh. I don’t know, I tell them. I’m involved!"

It's a beautiful thing to be involved. Felicidades a estas mujeres who have not given up on their dream. I'll say goodbye with a story that Estela shared about a little boy in the community who came up to her many years ago when they had just begun the struggle for the park. The young boy was riding his bike and said, "Ms. Beltrán, when we get the park, le voy a dar un ride en mi bika." Gotta love the Spanglish. 10 years later, she ran into the same boy, now a young man. "Are you still going to give me a ride in your bika when we get the park?" She asked. He laughed. "Ah noooo. Now it will have to be a ride en mi motorcycle!" I can't wait to see Estela riding circles around the park on the back of a motorcycle. I can see her wearing one of her fancy hats, brindando gritos y ajuas a El Monte. "I'm gonna be so happy," she adds. "I may even do a blackflip, so have the ambulance ready, okay?"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Preamble to 100 & 11

My participation in formal ceremonies has varied as much as the results. Decades ago as best-man at Jose's wedding, I had to intervene in the parking lot brawl where the bride's kin wanted to knife the "communist" groom. (They were a little conservative and he, the opposite.) That marriage eventually dissolved.

Giving a testimonial to the audience at my brother David's wedding from the pulpit of the San Anto Cathedral pretty much left most gente's mouths open and led to my never being reinvited to that church. Said marriage, dissolved.

I was elated to do the eulogy at my brother-in-law Rick's funeral, not only because it could never be undone like previous events, but also because of the difficulty of the task, given the sometimes opposing assessments of his character. I made him shine. That performance was so well received, I was allowed to do the Xmas "prayer" that year at the in-laws' celebration. But not the following year.

This year, performing the wedding ceremony for teacher friends Josh and Darcy amounted to a higher calling. An outdoor March service in Colorado is always a gamble and of course it snowed the day before, threatening to put a damper on festivities.

Loving Neil Gaiman's 100-word Xmas story and inspired to attempt the same, I decided to create a micro-story for the occasion. If you've never attempted one, you may not know how difficult a task it can be. In truth, I failed. Not only couldn't I contain my fiction within the word limit; mine pales in comparison to Gaiman's.

I chose to call upon the ancients gods and incorporate the discordant weather for a wedding audience presumably unaccustomed to either. The image above is of Ichpuchtli, the Aztec goddess of Sacred Prostitutes, invoked, among other things, for beauty, sensuality, sexual pleasure and a fruitful marriage. The ancient Indians embraced irony like that into their world, something our own would do well to realize the value of.

Below is my piece. The title refers to the fact that I couldn't do it in less than 111 words. 4 represents the word "for." The remainder is the date of the ceremony. I share it with the thought that this one will not suffer dissolution.

High above the blue planet, gazing into the park where Darcy and Josh vowed eternity, Ichpuchtli's scintillating curls outshone even the sun. Her voluptuousness normally drove mortal men insane.

But the goddess fumed, as Josh's glistening whiskers reminded her of another, before Heaven's time.

"He'll be easy," she snickered.
"All mine!" Her bellowing turned into snowfall, threatening the park and families.

Parting her amber tresses, Darcy whispered, "Looks like a little weather."

Then, turning heavenward, she declared, "I. Love. Him."--words that slapped, pulverized the screaming goddess into pink powder.

Chuckling, Josh said, "Darcy, my love--looks like Heaven's met her match."

Darcy glowed with smiles. "No, dear Josh,
but you have . . ."
Rudy Ch. Garcia ©2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Fence Busters

"who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back
to Denver & waited in vain, who watched over Denver &
brooded & loned in Denver and finally went away to find
out the Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes"

Allen Ginsberg, Howl

Kiko tugged on the short brim of his cap, a cachucha to his mother, and adjusted the strap of his shoeshine box. Thick black hair clumped around the edges of the cap. An October gust streaked up Larimer Street. He squinted to block dust stirred from the curb.

Kiko heard the announcer before he saw the radio. He felt the speaker's excitement, but the boy didn't care much about the game. The Dodgers weren't in it, again.

Covington's sac fly to Mantle scores Mathews and ties the score at three in the eighth inning. These pesky Milwaukee Braves won't give up.

He slipped the card out of his shirt pocket and looked at it for the hundredth time that day. Rival Fence Busters. Willie Mays wore a magnificent smile as he admired Duke Snider's muscular right arm. His father said it wasn't much of a tip. Kiko disagreed. It might have been his best tip ever.

Kiko nodded at the man sprawled in the entrance to El Charrito. A torn and stained overcoat partially covered the wino's dusty pants and shirt. Kiko's mother called the bums desgraciados, but his father said that word was mighty fancy for men who lived on skid row.

Hank won't be there long, Kiko thought. He peered into the cafe and breathed the familiar smells of roasted chile, fried beans and warm tortillas, but it was a mistake to allow the smells to linger. He had at least three hours before he returned to his home, and supper.

"Hey, Shiner," Hank murmured. "Spare a dime? I could use a cup a coffee."

"No hablo ingles," Kiko lied.

"Come on. You know me. I helped your old man move all that junk into your house. Don't give me that no in-gless stuff. You speak English good as me. For a Mex."

"I need lunch money. Why do you think I'm out here on Wednesday? You better move. Here comes Wanda."

The waitress gripped a broom as she marched to the doorway. The men listening to the game cheered her on.

"Get 'em, Wanda! ¡Ándale! Throw 'em out!"

"Avay from 'yer! Ya' stinkin' up da place!" Her jowls jiggled and sweat dotted the white skin above her bright red lips.

Kiko smiled. Her words sounded funnier than a regular gabacha, another word from his mother. When Kiko mentioned her, his sister Elena said that the waitress was Polish and Kiko had to ask his teacher what that meant.

He tipped his cap, as his father had taught him. Wanda winked. She slammed the broom across Hank's legs and a cloud of dried mud and stale wine exploded.

Kiko headed for the new restaurant, just opened by the Silvas fresh from Chihuahua. The place might have men who needed clean shoes for the weekend, who had 25 cents for the brightest shine in Denver and who wouldn't joke about Mexicans.

He waited for traffic to thin out and then crossed 21st, in the direction of the downtown skyscrapers and construction projects. Mariachi music seeped through the walls of the American Inn. Kiko recognized the tune, something his mother listened to. He thought about going inside, but reconsidered. Too early for dance hall men.

He sauntered past the glass panes of Johnnie's Market and avoided the wide-eyed stare of the hairless goat head perched next to jars of pickled pigs' feet, bags of ojas for tamales, ristras of dark chiles, sacks of beans.

Kiko stopped at the Monterey House. He smelled fresh paint. A sign in the window said Open but something was wrong. A few adults and several children gathered in the middle of the large room, but there was no food and no one looked like a customer.

He inched into the doorway. The oldest man shook his head as he rocked on his boot heels and his chair's back legs. "No lights," he said. "Maybe next week." The man turned to a woman standing behind him. "I didn't know about no deposit for Public Service. How was I to know?" he asked in Spanish.

Kiko trekked on. He hadn't made any money all afternoon. His father often teased him about the lack of income from his shoe-shining job. "You spend hours en las calles, and you come back with maybe cincuenta centavos? Less than a dollar? ¿Como? How does that happen? There are hundreds of men in this city who need clean shoes. Businessmen, bankers, abogados. All you got to do is ask, mi'jo. Just ask. That's how it is in this country. Do something for them, and they have the money to pay. A eso le dicen la oportunidad."

Opportunity. Kiko had his doubts. He switched the strap again and rubbed his shoulder. His mother would want to massage him with osha. His arms were tired, his feet hot and grimy, and his cap too tight. He walked for several minutes without realizing where he was going. He ambled to a stop, like a car out of gas. The sign over his head announced Cantina.

Bar. Cafe. El Chapultepec. He walked in.

Baseball played in the background.

What a finish! Adcock scores on Bruton's single in the 10th and the Braves win Game One of the 1958 World Series. Another outstanding performance by Spahn - he went the distance."

Stools rested against the bar and booths hugged the wall. Kiko only glanced at the large mirror behind the bar but he had an impression of decorated boats, flowers floating on water and men in large straw hats.

Two men sat in a booth, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. They stared at the boy. Kiko thought he saw one of the men spit on the floor under their table. Another man leaned on the bar, half-on and half-off a stool.

"The Braves? Give me a break," the man on the stool said.

The bartender poured whisky into the man's glass. "Where's your Red Sox, Jack? When's the last time they were in the Series?"

Jack groaned.

Kiko took a deep breath.

"Shoeshine? Only a quarter for the best shine in Denver."

Jack looked down at Kiko. The bartender said, "Leave my customers alone . . . ," but Jack raised his hand and the bartender shrugged. Jack wore a wrinkled blue shirt, a cap that looked like Kiko's, except more ragged, and cracked brown loafers. Not the signs of a man who cared about the luster of his shoes. Kiko turned to leave.

"Why not?"

"You sure, Jack?" the bartender asked.

"Yeah, Jimmy. It's all right. The last time I got a shine was in Denver. Seems like a karmic thing to do." He sat on the edge of a booth.

Kiko knelt on the floor and opened his box, exposing rags, brushes and a foot rest carved by his father. He took out a tin of shoe wax. Jack lifted his right shoe to the foot rest.

Kiko concentrated on his work. "What's your name, kid?" Jack asked.

"Francisco, but everyone calls me Kiko. Some are calling me Shiner."

"Shiner? I like that. It could mean different things. Words are like that. Different meanings depending on the talker so in the end they don't mean anything at all."

Jack took off his cap and his hair lay smashed against his forehead. His eyes were ringed with dark, puffy skin.

"If you say so, mister."

"Yeah. If I say so. You from here, Shiner?"

"Curtis Street. Over a few blocks."

"I know where Curtis is. We watched baseball near there, on Welton. Years ago. Good crowds back then. Those kids were serious about their ball playing. Whites and Negroes; Mexicans, Indians. All kinds. In team uniforms. That was cool."

Kiko wasn't sure if he should respond. "I guess," he said.

"I used to live here. My best friend is from here. We had good and bad times in this town, but they were all good when you think of it." He paused. "What I meant was, you born here? In the States?"

Kiko flinched. He had heard this kind of talk before. His parents spoke to him about being a citizen of the United States, no matter what anyone said. He had every damn right to be here. That's how his father put it.


"That's good. Something to be proud of. Born into the mystery of this country, and the dream. Just don't let them get you down."

Kiko's customers had said many strange things while he popped his rags over their shoes. His father had told him to ignore the strangeness: "I don't understand these people. That's up to you to figure out, mi'jo. Until then, do the job and get paid."

Kiko bent closer to the shoe to rub extra hard on the thin leather. The baseball card slid out of his pocket.

"What's that?" Jack asked.

Kiko picked up the card by the tip of a corner and handed it to Jack. He hoped he hadn't smudged it.

"This is great. I saw these two play when they were in New York."

"You did? In person? Playing baseball?"

Jack laughed. "Sure, kid. I watched Mays and Snider go head-to-head, a couple of times. Mays was like an antelope in the outfield, maybe a jaguar, but I never saw a jaguar, so I can't say for sure. And Snider? Flatbush royalty. But I was at Yankee Stadium when the Red Sox were in town."

Kiko finished the shoe. He stretched. Jack returned the card.

"You ever talk with them?" Kiko asked.

"Shiner, you wouldn't believe. I've been at parties with guys like this. I signed a book for the Duke. And he autographed a ball for me."

"The kid don't know what you're talkin' about," Jimmy said. "Jack's a writer. Kind of famous these days because of his book from last year. There's no livin' with him now. I remember when he was just another barfly, him and his crazy pals. Bunch of goofs and drunks and so-called poets. Jack put them in his stories and now he's the toast of the upper crust. Goes to show."

"Come on, Jimmy. Don't you give me a hard time, too."

Jimmy turned off the small television set. He walked around the bar to the jukebox. He pressed a switch and the box came to life with running streams of light and a soft hum. A tube of blue light surrounded the gold and red machine like a halo. Jimmy punched a few buttons and music played.

"Blakey and Monk," Jack mumbled. "Johnnie Griffin. Nice." His head bounced to saxophone and piano riffs.

Kiko decided he liked the music. He was almost done with Jack's shoes.

"Whatever happened to that friend of yours?" Jimmy asked. "That car-thievin' wild kid? I ain't seen him for years."

Jack lit a cigarette. "Let me get my drink, Shiner." He stood up, walked over to the bar and lifted his glass. He finished what was left of the whisky and coughed.

"Neal's in California."

"That right?" Jimmy responded. "What's he gonna do there he can't do here? Too many people on the Coast already. Denver's just right for me."

"He wants to leave. Always on the move, running from something. But he's stuck now."

"Why's that?"

"He checked into the Hotel San Quentin. Got a lease for something like 10 years."

"Who'd he kill? The pope?"

"Just tried to be free in the land of the free, but now he knows that freedom is a crime, and it's sure not free. Or something like that." His words cracked with a half-laugh, half-sigh. He sat back down.

"He should'a never left Denver," Jimmy said.

"We all leave some day. Neal can't stop leaving. I worry that he's anchored for years. It could kill him." He inhaled smoke and then tapped his cigarette in an ash tray that looked like a Mexican sombrero. "I made the book people pay for a trip to Denver. They got me everywhere else selling books that haven't been written. I thought I owed it to Neal, but now I don't know why I'm here. It's not the same."

Kiko replaced the cap on the tin and tossed it into the box. He folded his buffing rag, placed it in the box, wiped his hands on another rag and shut his box.

Jack admired his shoes. The cracks were still visible and the worn heels would never be replaced but the leather gleamed like clean rain on a new highway.

"That should impress the Hollywood wolves waiting to tear me apart." He pulled a crunched dollar bill from his pants pocket. "Keep the change."

Kiko touched his cap with his fingertips. "Thanks, mister. Much appreciated."

"Send that greaser over here. I could use a shine, but I ain't payin' no buck. Maybe a dime, if he's any good."

One of the men sitting at the booth pointed at his shoes. His drinking partner grunted a laugh.

"Sorry, mister. It's a quarter for a shine," Kiko said.

"Just get your brown ass over here."

"It's a quarter, mister."

"Shine my shoes and you'll get what you get, which might be a whippin' if I don't like the job you do."

The friend grunted again. A toothy grin creased his face and his eyes lit up in expectation. "You tell him, Leonard."

"Hey, knock it off," Jimmy said. "No call for that."

"Mind your business. I don't like dirty Mexicans hanging around when I drink my beer. And I really don't like the ones who talk back." Leonard chugged his drink. "I had my doubts about this place, just from the spic name. I told you that, didn't I, Tom?" Tom nodded eagerly. "You don't run a respectable joint," Leonard continued. "You let in those kind."

"Get out!" Jimmy shouted.

The two men stood up. Leonard grabbed Kiko's shoulder and squeezed. The boy tripped over his box and fell. His cap rolled down his back.

Jack jumped to his feet. "You're tough with a kid. Try someone your own size." Leonard threw a punch that missed. Jack grabbed Leonard's shirt collar with his left hand and swung his right fist into Leonard's jaw. Kiko heard a loud crack. Leonard dropped to his knees. Tom moved to jump on Jack but Jimmy had rushed from behind the bar. He held a baseball bat.

"Scram! Take this piece of crap with you," Jimmy said.

Tom picked up Leonard by the armpits and pushed him through the door. Leonard cupped his jaw. Tom hollered ugly curses but the two men did not look back.

A man in a suit walked in. "What's going on here? That man looked hurt. Another fight? You drunk again?"

Jack's laugh drowned the jukebox. "Not yet, Perry. But very soon, that's a promise."

Perry grabbed Jack by the elbow and started to guide him out. "We're almost late for the college. I can't leave you for a half-hour without some disaster happening. Come on, let's go."

Jack twisted free. He stacked dollar bills on the bar. "Thanks, Jimmy. Next time."

Jimmy shook Jack's hand. "Any time."

"Take care of yourself, Shiner. Like I said, don't let the sons of bitches get you down."

Jack and Perry left. They climbed into the back of a black automobile and drove away.

Kiko waited on the sidewalk. The skyline stretched against the powder blue sky. He thought he could touch the buildings from where he stood. Cars and buses roared through the streets. Construction crews climbed steel skeletons; cement mixers, trucks and cranes shrieked into the pure air. Hobos stood in line for hours, dancing to sirens and cop whistles. Stray dogs barked at baseball players in the park on Welton; a color television set turned on for the first time in a large house on the edge of the city; the newsman talked about the upcoming Sputnik first anniversary. Irish songs and Italian mandolins mixed with the smells of fresh tamales and boiled chitlins. Church bells, synagogue chants and Arapaho drums echoed along the Valley Highway.

Sometimes words don't mean anything at all.

Kiko hung the strap on his shoulder, lifted his box and walked into Denver's heart.

"I'll have to read Jack's book," he said to Duke and Willie.


Fence Busters, © 2008 Manuel Ramos, first appeared in the Rocky Mountain News as part of the A Dozen on Denver short story series published in 2008. The twelve stories in the series have been collected in A Dozen on Denver: Stories (Fulcrum, 2009), the winner of the 2010 Colorado Book Award in the Anthology/Collection category. Fence Busters also was a finalist for the 2009 Top Hand Award (Colorado Authors' League).