Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Review: Ocotillo Dreams. USC Salazar Archives. Literary Tourism. On-Line Floricanto.

Review: Melinda Palacio. Ocotillo Dreams. Tempe AZ: Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe, 2011.
ISBN: 978-1-931010-75-7(cloth) 978-1-931010-76-4

Michael Sedano

In Ocotillo Dreams, Melinda Palacio manages to perplex, amuse,
engage her readers, and finally leave them wanting more. Not that Ocotillo Dreams is too short at 198 pages. The author jumps into the scene, lets characters emerge, builds her story, and gets out. I would have been happy for more. Still, the result comes as a superbly elegant coming-of-age fiction culminating with a woman's deliciously private revenge on a clueless asshole of a man.

Palacio’s central character, a crusty professor, is blindsided by failed relationships; with a long-time lover, with her mother who dies as the novel opens.

Instantly, Isola’s uprooted in every way. Moving to Arizona to dispose of a home, she lays eyes on the hunky Cruz and, out of horniness and rebound desperation, romance (her), sex (him) blooms.

Isola’s an agonizer. She takes nothing in stride so her problems magnify themselves. Isola’s nearly witless discovering her mother’s activist involvement with coyotes and sanctuary gente. Isola needs to pack this stuff, another crisis, and has to fly back to Frisco for a rich helping of crisis! Irately, Isola starts a relationship with immigrants wanting to get their hands on her dead father’s ID. More worry and odd decisions.

With Isola's trials magnified to the edge of tolerance, the limit comes when Isola realizes she’s in a ménage-à-trois with Cruz and her dead mother. She goes numb and absorbs blow after blow. Then she plans her revenge. Palacio's climactic twist on seduction will shake up many a conventional moralist witnessing Isola’s choice of strategies to get a leg up on Cruz.

Palacio nicks the flesh of the immigration monster just enough to get it slouching toward Chandler to gorge itself in a frenzied breathing-while-brown crackdown that snags Isola but opens her eyes to her decisive acts.

Love in the time of choleric racism is blind, just like regular love. That’s Isola’s problem, love-is-blindness. In this, Ocotillo Dreams echoes Demetria Martinez’ Mother Tongue. In both stories, an inexperienced woman falls into lust for a good-looking immigrant. Lust becomes love, but in only her eyes. Mother Tongue’s Maria remains helplessly in love with her good-for-nothing lover. That Palacio’s Isola figures out--albeit tardily--that this man is a shit, is the liberating muse Isola and Chicana literature deserve. Here’s trusting there’s more Carmen La Coja in Isola, than Maria.

Cruz is a masterstroke literary creation. I grew impatient at Palacio’s refusal to condemn the pendejo. In fact, she opens and closes the novel with Cruz’ recurring nightmare of crossing the desert. There’s a second novel in Cruz, if Palacio wants to go that route, the undocumented stud’s career. What a treacherous tipo. As the saying goes, tipos like him give the other 1% of us a bad name.

Cruz deserves all the crap Palacio unloads on him. The vato acts like a lot of pendejos I’ve known. Not that he’s complex, but Palacio gives him a mother-centric morality, plays him as not entirely worthless to elicit a share of empathy. It’s a mark of honor--maybe--Cruz doesn’t brag to his pals about his two conquests. Or, he's protecting his gold mine.

That Cruz is a shameless opportunist and a deceptive pig earns this man a lot more misery than Palacio dumps on him. Until the end, when he understands how Isola gets him back. It’s a private little joke just between the two of them. And the reader.

Does Cruz deserve to die for being a typical man? Palacio pointedly raises the possibility then leaves it in the air, like a rag flapping against the espinas of a lonely saguaro.

USC Boekmann Collection acquires Ruben Salazar’s Personal Papers

Last week, the University of Southern California announced the family of Rubén Salazar has donated his archives to the University of Southern California Libraries. The collection—a gift from Salazar’s children Lisa Salazar Johnson, Stephanie Salazar Cook, and John Salazar—includes personal and professional artifacts that document the late journalist’s life from his birth in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in 1928, to his 1970 death in Los Angeles.

The USC story runs several fotos, shown here. The L.A. Times picked up the collage at top, La Opinion sent out its own fotog, other local rags picked up the story sans art. Lástima, as the fotos were mine.

I was invited by Barbara Robinson to document the initial inspection at USC of materials from the archives. In my imagining, Barbara would blow a cloud of dust off mysterious file boxes, opening them to discover treasures unseen by any eye since that LA Sheriff Deputy killed Salazar on August 29,1970.

Salazar was one of three Chicanos killed by police that day. Lyn Ward, a 15-year old, and Angel Diaz, did not leave archives, only their names joined forever to journalist Salazar’s. QEPD.

The archive material had been assembled by the family so nothing was an obvious lost treasure, not to my uncritical eye. The archive is the detritus and artifacts of an active professional life--correspondence, photos, a couple of string books of Salazar's bylines or work about him, Army paperwork. There's also a trove of mementoes from Salazar's parents, like their Mexican passports and a head tax receipt. Researchers will have a grand time sifting through to extract the narrative of what Salazar considered important, unfinished manuscripts, a life of ideas and value.

Here is my favorite frame of the session, it "tells the story." The label on the box and the two figures inspecting paperwork are page one stuff. The Times doesn't run it. Felix Gutiérrez, a journalism profe at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, a Salazar family friend, initiated the discussion bringing the archive to USC’s Boeckmann Center. Barbara Robinson, the librarian responsible for the USC Boeckmann Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies collection, joins Gutiérrez to receive the documents.

In this photograph of a photograph, Gutiérrez shows Robinson the last photograph of Rubén Salazar, taken by a police surveillance photographer and used during the Coroner’s inquest.

Carpe diem, indeed. Salazar is walking from Laguna Park, where the police rioted, to the Silver Dollar Café, where Salazar would quaff a last bironga before being killed by a blind shot by a supposedly reckless deputy. The current Sheriff of LA County, Lee Baca, continues to stonewall requests to release the entire documentation on Salazar. Why did the deputy fire? Why did police mount an intelligence gathering operation on the journalist? Why did the cops riot at Laguna Park? Why does Baca hate truth?

I took dozens of frames of Robinson and Gutiérrez and the materials. Visit this Read! Raza link for a selected set of high resolution images.

New Work at Latinopia

Over at Latinopia, I enjoyed viewing Rudolfo Anaya’s conversation about writing Bless Me, Ultima, especially the landscape he pictures in the passages he reads.

Every Sunday, Jesus Treviño posts new video material. In addition to Anaya, there’s also a new interview with artist Barbara Carrasco, discussing mural art practiced by chicana painters.

Breakfast in Salinas, Noir in Havana

I am listening to Rudolfo Anaya describe a landscape when I get a wanderlust for literary landscapes and places. I should see Anaya’s New Mexico, photograph those sere hills and rivers seen by Sonny Baca, Ultima, and Randy Lopez, but also Chee and Leaphorn. For chow, one of those upscale eateries of The Husband Habit…when sui generis, my thoughts pivot to Salinas and Havana. The one holds warm memories of near-past literary tourism, the other looms large as forbidden fruit.

A number of years back, my wife and I used the occasion of the annual Steinbeck Festival in Salinas CA not only to enjoy the ritual of literary tourism but also conduct a sentimental journey. Back in 1969, I was completing radio school at Ft. Ord. On weekends, we would drive out to Castroville and a café frequented by artichoke and broccoli pickers. A couple of cold Tecates arrive dripping from the tina. Served to noisy laughter, cigarette-tinged aroma of hard labor, Lifebuoy soap and home cooking, this is the best Mexican food in califas. Staring across the hazy room, looking for my uncle John’s face among them, it always occurred to me these men would be bunkmates with Lenny and George.

Just the other side of Reservation Road, the boundary of Ft. Ord, begins the Salinas Valley. This western approach to Salinas remains much as it was in memory. The land slopes away from the fort. Vast broccoli lettuce artichoke fields surround the two lane road that beelines toward Salinas. That’s unchanged. Except now Salinas itself begins much nearer the old fort. Agriculture yields to tract housing well in advance of the old edge of town.

That year’s literary tour confines itself to a relaxed stroll looping from the Steinbeck Library past a school to a packing house to a railroad track, passing old houses and stopping to talk of farm hand bars and former houses of ill repute. For all I know, I’m traipsing along my uncle John’s old stomping grounds. I chat up a wrinkled resident of an unrestored Victorian ruin. He is growing a small-berried tomatillo, the one that packs intense flavor. I haven’t found seed in years. I ask permission to take a few fruit. Go ahead he smiles, but they’re tiernos and won’t grow. My hard luck. Him, he’s enjoying the passing parade of English-talking tourists chattering Steinbeckiana and wondering if Tom Joad ever saw these parts, and if maybe Lennie and George still wander those rolling hills and the river bottom over there. The compañero asks why we’re doing this and when he learns it’s about the writer named Steinbeck the old man takes his chin in hand and goes, “mmmh.”

This year’s festival arrives August 4. Join us as the Steinbeck Festival takes on friends, foes and accomplices of all stripes, in literature, arts and ideas, and in Steinbeck. This four-day festival of books, talks, food, tours and visual and performing arts will be based in Salinas, with Steinbeck Festival International Fringe Fest events taking place in cities of letters throughout the world.

I wonder if that tomatillo still grows east of Eden, or if that old rooming house is now a seven eleven or maybe part of the National Steinbeck Center?

Ni modo, really, if urban renewal has razed some of those old houses along the route. The satisfaction derives of imposing the author upon the scene. “Steinbeck would have stood here…” and take a snapshot. Or “Steinbeck probably…” click. Such speculations are fun ways to engage one’s literary consciousness.

Things change fast, que plus ça change the more things disappear. Cannery Row is a beautiful aquarium nowadays, and who knows what remains of all those places informing Steinbeck’s narratives? One way to find out for oneself: make the trip.

At what price? A reservation on Cannery Row costs a bundle. The bayside rooms at Spindrift Inn look down at the lapping tide and across the bay where Ft. Ord became Cal State University Monterey Bay. My basic training barrack today an empty cinder block ruin--“the best damn company on The Hill, Sir!”--and the radio school site holds a gaudily painted dorm.

A trip to Salinas might cost an arm and a leg but you can get there from here, and find your way about. Save a dime and sleep in Salinas at the Motel 6 and pretend you just got here from Oklahoma.

Less certain is Cuba. A trip costs a leg and an arm. The cost is less than possible, given our nation’s limitations on the amount of money a tourist can spend, over there.

Salinas is worth the trip, no doubt about it, even if the cultural ambience of the novels has disappeared.

I’m thinking the years old embargo starved the island for funds to raze and redevelop. Indeed, Cuba’s literary allure revolves around keenly developed appreciation for space and place. One Havana, many Havanas, given the ambience of Jose Latour, Leonardo Padura, Achy Obejas.

Increasingly, the United States is relaxing the strictures on writers and cultural researchers visiting Cuba. La Bloga contributor Tom Miller advised recently plans to conduct a Literary Havana trip for Professional Researchers, as defined by the Treasury Dep't Office of Foreign Assets Control, January 15 - 22, 2012. To inquire further, contact Miller via email.

What a tempting pair of ideas. Salinas in August, Havana in January. I’m not sure I want to see what they’ve done to old Salinas, though I’d like a final turn on the horizontal ladder at my old barrack.

I know I’d enjoy the vast caña fields of Jésus Díaz’ Initials of the Earth. No, I don’t want to meet the jineteras of the Malecón, and also I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to see the floaters of José Latour or Martin Cruz Smith, but certainly would take the drive along the seacoast of Adíos Hemingway, and shop Conde’s used books and antique dealers of Achy Obejas’ Ruins.

I’m not after souvenir trinkets or mementi mori to fill my archive, though such have value for themselves. What tempts me urgently enough to consider the hassle of a long trip is the thought of getting a taste and a foto of the literary and cultural ambience of places so richly accounted in an excellent body of literature. That Cuban literary tourism has a taste of forbidden fruit adds to the prospect. A ver.

12July2011 On-Line Floricanto

1. "Now Is The Time" by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

2. "Defining Moments" by Tara Evonne Trudell

3. "Border Song 11" by Israel F. Azul Haros Lopez

4. "Praise to All the Contributors to Poets Responding to SB 1070" by Raúl Sánchez

5. "Un Día de Estos / One of These Days" by Jabez W. Churchill

Now Is The Time
dedicated to my grandchildren

by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

Now is the time for all Chicanos
To come to the aid of their raza.
Protest the racist laws being passed
In Arizona and other states.

Now is the time to let Brewer
And other racist politicians
Know that Chicanos/Mexicanos/Latinos
Won’t accept being treated
Like second class citizens.

Now is the time to stand firm, Raza,
Aquí estámos y no nos vamos.
We’ve been here for centuries,
This is where we came from,
Where we’ll stay.

Now is the time to pass a Dream Act.
Children raised here, educated here,
Deserve to continue their education here,
To become productive citizens,
Contribute to our country.

Now is the time to continue Chicano Studies,
To let our children know our history,
Let them be proud of what Raza
Has contributed to our country,
What we will continue to contribute.

Now is the time to regain our rights.
If we don’t fight for them, who will?

Defining Moments

by Tara Evonne Trudell

All my life
I was lighter
than her
and him
yet always darker
than them.

My friend of African descent
said I should tan
get a little darker
let my hair go
a little curlier
so that perhaps
I would look more
the white kid said
"no offense, but Tara, you look white."
Offense taken.

"You don't look Hispanic"
they would say,
"Nope, not Spanish or Mexican,
and not quite White..."
"What are you?"

In that moment
I would wonder
what did they see?
To fullfil their needs
to catagorize me?
I don't know enough Spanish
yes, I know
I don't understand Lakota
(unless I have my dictionary)
I get lost in English
way to easy
forgotten languages
only my soul can speak

Then I discovered
I had a language
all my own
the language of Her
my Earth talk
as I listened in silence
of heavy breaths
gasping for a place
to exhale
I heard her
for the first time
I truly listened
as she chanted and sang
bringing me
parts of me
I left behind
in some one else's definition

Her song
vibrating along chakras
a ladder leading up
in my soul
of what was expected of me
only then
I could see
staring back in reflections
of calm waters
in constellations of stars
woven in dark sky

My hair is brown and wild
like long ago ancestors
my light olive skin
warms to cinnamon
in summer Sun
my eyes
the color of salmon
my kundalini
all serpent energy
I can exist in wind
finding calmness
as it passes
through me
I touch roots
when I rest
on trees
I sit still
so hummingbirds and butterflies
will land on me
in constant search
of nectar
Red tail hawks screech
in open skies
reminding me
to find me

I am water
that flows
down river beds
bending and shaping
to fit into places
between earth and sky

Heart rocks
line my path
I am a woman
that recognizes
I may not belong
to a defined race
I am a woman
who redefines
her place

Tara Evonne Trudell

Border Song 11

by Israel F. Azul Haros Lopez

there is no frontera
there is no senate bill 1070

there are no aliens
there are no papeles

solo fantasmas

there are only

while the sun
is still burning

while tonantzin
is still healing

while the waters
en las cuatro direcciones

necesitan cantos
while we still need

memory. of data fire.
random access memory.

de quetzalcoatl. no .
more ghost songs.

cántale a los que vienen.
para cantarle a la tierra.

dansar. con la tierra.
danzantes. de coyoxauhqui.

danzantes de tonatiuh.

con la memoria sin u.s.b.

Praise to All the Contributors to Poets Responding to SB 1070

by Raul Sanchez

Behind the great wooden gate
screeching past the threshold
our memories blossom into the open air
under the blue star spangled sky
our cultures united
tapestry of colors, accents
flavors Café con Leche
black and white
Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia
Borinquen bella escuchen mi llanto
la patria aquella que se ve de lejos
y se siente cerca
Argentina, Chile, Paraguay
far away yet near
our thoughts y pensamientos connect
the place of being with the state of mind
our cultures bring together
family lasting friendships
our cultural bond strengthen
our voices connected
with dignity and respect
aligned in culture and pride
poets, writers, artists
love for la Raza
united in this land
to the north
we are all Americans
we are just another shade of brown
living en el norte, north of Aztlan.

Un Día de Éstos / One of These Days

by Jabez W. Churchill

y que sea pronto
and I hope it´s soon,
no nos llamaremos adversarios,
invasores de Aztlán,
ni forasteros indocumentados
We won't call one another adversaries,
usurpers of Aztlán
or illegal aliens.

Un día de éstos,
one of these days,
y que sea pronto,
and I hope it´s soon,
no habrá que nos divida,
paredes ni orillas,
sino compartiremos ambos lados
we won´t be divided
by walls or shores
but we will share both sides.

Un día de éstos,
one of these days,
y que fuera pronto,
and it should be soon,
no andaremos extraviados,
rojos contra azules,
gabachos y mojados
we won´t be estranged,
red against blue,
white trash and wet backs
sino nos revelaremos el camino
y nos trataremos como hermanos.
But we will show one another the way
and treat each other like brothers.

Un día de éstos,
one of these days,
y demasiado pronto,
and way too soon,
no habrá ricos gringolandeses
y pobres latino, afro y nativo americanos
there won't be rich Gringos
and poor Latin, Afro, and Native

sino puros sobrevivientes
only survivors
y serán pocos
and just a few.

Un día de éstos,
one of these days,
y ojalá que sea pronto
and hopefully soon,
enfrentaremos lo que nos separa,
we will confront that which divides us,
la avaricia y el miedo,
avarice and fear,
y repartiremos lo que queda
and we will share what's left.

One of these days,
un día de éstos,
y debe ser muy pronto
and it better be soon,
dejémonos de ser mayoría y minorías,
homofóbicos y machistas
we should cease being a majority
and minorities,
homophobes and sexists
y démonos paso a la solidaridad
and we should give solidarity a chance
antes de que se nos venza el paso,
before our chance is gone.


1. "Now Is The Time" by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

2. "Defining Moments" by Tara Evonne Trudell

3. "Border Song 11" by Israel F. Azul Haros Lopez

4. "Praise to All the Contributors to Poets Responding to SB 1070" by Raúl Sánchez

5. "Un Día de Estos / One of These Days" by Jabez W. Churchill

Elena Díaz BjörkquistElena Díaz Björkquist, a writer, historian, and artist from Tucson, writes about Morenci, Arizona where she was born. She is the author of two books, Suffer Smoke and Water from the Moon. Elena has been on the Arizona Humanities Council (AHC) Speakers Bureau for ten years performing as Teresa Urrea in a Chautauqua living history presentation, and doing presentations about Morenci, Arizona and also the 1880’s Schoolhouse in Tubac.

Elena is co-editor of two anthology collections by her writers group, Las Comadres of Sowing the Seeds: Sowing the Seeds, una cosecha de recuerdos and Our Spirit, Our Reality; celebrating our stories. She is nearing completion of another collection of Morenci stories entitled Albóndiga Soup

A SIROW Scholar at the University of Arizona, Elena conducted an oral history project funded by AHC; “In the Shadow of the Smokestack.” A website that she created contains the oral history interviews and photographs of Chicano elders living in Morenci during the Depression and World War II. Another project funded by AHC and the Stocker Foundation is “Tubac 1880’s Schoolhouse Living History Program.” Her website is www.elenadiazbjorkquist.net/.

Elena is one of the poet moderators for the Facebook page “Poets Responding to SB1070.

Tara TrudellTara Trudell lives in Northern New Mexico. She is raising her four children, rebuilding her life as a single mother and has returned to college to seek her BFA in Media Arts with an emphasis in Film/Audio combined with Visual Communications. She feels she can learn the tools necessary to document life and capture the stories and awareness that is vital in creating art on a social awareness level.

She has replenished her well after a long pause and in writing poetry she has allowed the courage of self-expression to flow and heal the inner parts of pain, that many times exist forgotten, in a world that cares only to divide and conquer. Tara is proud of her Mexican Indigenous roots and ancestry and the more society dictates it’s wrong to be ‘here’ or a crime to be brown, the louder her voice shall rise and that of her children.

No longer will there be shame to claim the Mexican part of her /our history and our connection to the land. It is of vital importance that Tara passes this on to her own children and future generations.

Raúl SánchezRaúl Sánchez is a Seattle Bio-Tech technician, prosody enthusiast, translator, and DJ, who conducts workshops on The Day of the Dead. Featured in the program for the 2011 Burning Word Poetry Festival in Leavenworth WA. His work appeared on-line in The Sylvan Echo, Flurry, Gazoobitales, Pirene’s Fountain and in La Bloga for the fifth time. His most recent work is the translation of John Burgess "Graffitto" which will be released on July 16th by Ravenna Press WA. Also, he appears in the second Anthology by The Miracle Theatre Viva la Word!, Latino Cultural Magazine, on Bookmarks by the Seattle Public Library 2007 Poetic Art Project, and in the Anthology Speaking Desde las Heridas (Publisher: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). Lastly, soon to be announced his first Chapbook! stay tuned.

Jabez W. ChurchillBorn in California, educated in Argentina and California. Activist since 1969. Mariner since 1971:Eastern Med., Atlantic, Caribbean, and Pacific Northwest. Single dad, currently teaching modern languages at Santa Rosa and Mendocino Colleges. California Poet in the Schools since 1998.

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