Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: Anaya/ Randy Lopez; Sor Juana Follow-Up; Portrait of the Reader; On-Line Floricanto

Rudolfo Anaya. Randy Lopez Goes Home. Norman OK: U of Oklahoma Press. 2011. ISBN: 9780806141893

Michael Sedano

At first, Randy Lopez doesn’t get it. Then he seems to ignore what’s happening. What’s happening to Rudolfo Anaya, a reader might ask, reading confusedly into the pages of Anaya’s Randy Lopez Goes Home.

Anaya. A reader thinks of the classic curandera novel Bless Me, Ultima, set in the llano of New Mexico. Or a Sonny Baca detective story. Baca is no Randy Lopez. But then, home, for Randy, is Agua Bendita, a
magical place up in the mountains so weird Baca’s supernatural Raven would be freaked out. But Randy doesn’t notice, albeit a little confusedly, Randy takes it all for granted.

Welcome to Agua Bendita. El Demonio, he’s there. Aphrodite/Venus/Lust/ aka Mabelline, is here, too, and although a little past her prime, she strings out the bait for a disinterested Randy.

La Muerte, she’s hanging out at the fiesta making wisecracks. La Llorona, el coco, an old curandera named, not Ultima but Unica. We are hip deep in allegory, allusion, and being swept along the swift currents of the river of life. Full fathom five! Who can save us? Think “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” or “Steambath” for a frame of reference, unless Purgatory means something.

Some readers may object and close the cover after only a few pages. Impatience is its own petard. Such a reader would get a firmer perspective on the author’s direction by scanning the chapter headings, the story in a nutshell. Chapter eight announces, “Randy meets the librarian and receives the book How to Build a Bridge.” Chapter twelve gives a strange tingle, “The Devil introduces Randy to La Muerte. The old bitch explains the Roots of Life.” Chapter nineteen echoes that book, “The mob rebels against the bridge building. Todospedo the mayor makes Randy an offer he can’t refuse.”

If so inclined, one could quickly look through the author’s afterword, “A Note to the Reader: How Randy Lopez Came to Me.” QEPD Patricia Anaya. The author explains how he put the book together during his wife’s final year with him, the book their final work together.

Don Rudolfo has elected his elder’s prerogative to work out that sense of mortality that comes ineluctably as one ages. In this, Randy Lopez Goes Home may surprise a reader’s expectations. Anaya is not revisiting Ultima, nor resurrecting Sonny. Randy’s home is puro magic, the novel a spiritual treatise that comes at times ponderous, chistoso, irritating, allusive, always engaging, and ultimately hopeful.

The elder statesman of Chicano letters is working it out. But it sounds silly talking about it, making a checklist of the story’s complexities. Randy Lopez Goes Home speaks for itself in deceptively sparse prose laden with notes on identity, assimilation, change, xenophobia; all manner of life issues, as befits a chicano de senectute.

Local boy Randy’s roots go far back in the remote village. He’s written a book, “How to Live Among the Gringos.” Randy fears he has been swallowed up, has become them. His fears find confirmation when, reaching the village, rednecks do their obnoxious thing, and gente who should know him have no idea of his name nor Randy’s familia. He finds no escape from anomie; the usual exclusion from the one world, but lack of recognition from the other.

Shaken, Randy realizes he’s been asking the wrong questions. With that his conception of Home becomes an intermediate destination. Now Randy obsesses on bridging the river, to find his goddess, Sofia, over there, to live a future impossible here, on the other, perhaps wrong, side of Agua Bendita.

Anaya’s Randy asks, “Do things become better as we go through transformations? Do we gain wisdom? Of what use are we if we become fish droppings?” A few chapters later, Randy gets his answer, “Unica scratched her scalp. Her hair had grown thin from scratching when she counseled the young. Her body was bent with the weight of the questions they asked. It was much easier to search for herbs than advise the young. Hijo, she said, the soul goes on transforming itself. This you’ve been told. If Sofia recognizes you is up to you.”

Sofia. That’s “wisdom” in Greek. Randy knows this, he went to night school and sees Scylla and Charybis where La Llorona and La Muerte stand, all sorts of complex intercultural referents. Remember, Randy’s been among ‘em. So even though they took him in, can Randy go Home again?

FU from Sor Juana Conference

La Bloga friend Roberto Cantú happily shares follow up comments from enthusiastic participants in the recently-concluded 2011 Conference on Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Her Work, Colonial Mexico, and Spain's Golden Age.

The conference’s website, singled out below, now features a slide show of participants, and towards the bottom, selected videos of readings and performances.

Few words come as welcome to an event organizer as unsolicited evaluations. That such messages usually express an enthusiastic appreciation makes the message all the more welcome. Such are the messages Profe Cantú shares upon request with La Bloga.

Gerald, for one, writes how serendipity and electric signage brought him to the conference.

I just have to commend you on The Sor Juana Conference that took place last weekend. I was absolutely enthralled by the guest speakers and I couldn't have imagined anything less. I was fortunate to see the digital billboard state the date and time as I was leaving work. I teach 8th grade English at Belvedere Middle School so it was very much of a convenience to stop by right after work.

I came across Sor Juana in my literature classes and she has always been an inspiration to me, but the conference was just as much as an inspiration too. I hope to attend, and look forward to, similar conferences on the behalf the university and the Chicano Studies Department. I did purchase my shirt, got my poster, and still have my program schedule as a reminder of the muse who still transcends space and time as she still speaks to us till this very day. Hopefully, I can meet you one day due to the fact that I still have some burning questions to ask you about Sor Juana.

Once again, thanks, and I am glad the conference was open to the public. It beats any movie out there. A real inspiration.

Margaret’s attendance comes with great deliberation, an itinerary mapped from the bayou state to El Sereno. Clearly, Roberto and staff’s attention to detail, including that website, made the conference a value added experience:

Thanks for the shout-out from one Louisianan to another and your warm and eloquent greeting to the conference participants. It was an amazing experience in every way. Roberto Cantu’s conceptualization of the conference was brilliant, and he and his colleagues executed it with admirable adeptness. When I responded to his invitation I said that my head was spinning with ideas because of the very creative list of possible paper topics he suggested. Now it is spinning with the ideas presented and generated at what was truly an interdisciplinary conference that inspired and energized us all.

And it goes on and on with the additions to the gorgeous blog.

I very much enjoyed being on your campus and am impressed with everyone I met and everything I saw.

With warm regards,

Portrait of the Novelist, Reading His Stuff

Among the most distinctive pleasures of my recent invitation to workshop oracy at the National Latino Writer’s Conference is the opportunity to photograph poets and fiction writers engaging an audience. I plan to distribute the speaker notes for that workshop this month.

Among numerous consejos on planning and delivering an effective reading, I advocate a reader play to the camera. Locate the lenses in the house and make it a point to look up from the text and make eye contact with the camera. When you gesture, hold it just a beat, and enjoy a heisman moment.

If you’re a photographer, taking an effective foto of a reader involves a good trigger finger and two eyes. Get the feel for your camera’s responsiveness, the delay between press and click. If you can disable flash, do so. Hold the camera close to your body. Keep both eyes open. One eye scopes the actual scene, the other eye glances toward the screen--or looks through the viewfinder—to ensure the speaker is framed.

Listen to the reading, get a feel for the reader’s style and pauses. Take lots of exposures. Anticipate when the reader is going to look up. If you see the speaker’s eyes then press the trigger, it’s probably too late. The well-framed portrait is in focus on the speaker, the speaker has eyes and mouth open, the body is animated.

Other elements contribute to useful fotos. Dan Olivas, for example, sets up an easel that props up his novel. This is the “silent salesperson” technique. Every time the audience looks at Dan reading, or a photograph of Dan reading, the scene is likely to include the cover of Dan’s novel.

I held the camera low and pointed in the approximate direction. I like the feel of this portrait.

This is the best reader portrait in the lot. Eyes and mouth open, a gesture with the hands, the silent salesperson up front.

Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin and Estela Gonzalez are in the house, asking questions during the Q&A and livening up the event.

La Bloga On-Line Floricanto May Thirty-first Twenty Eleven

1."Homeland Security" by Raúl Sánchez

2. "Homelanded" by Israel Francisco Haros Lopez

3. "Who Am I? " by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

4. "If Time Wears A Bracelet" by Abel Salas

5. "Orale" and “Here to Stay” by Maritza Rivera

Homeland Security
by Raúl Sánchez

“O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain,
for purple mountain majesties
above the fruited plain”

Where pilgrim, immigrant and slaves
make their home, the land of the free
instant suspect, brown skin criminal
could be an illegal who can’t speak English

No security in the homeland

Airport cameras follow
watched by trained observers
sweat, frantic run to the gate
a suspect with a camera

No security in the homeland

Fear in everyone’s mind
liberty obliterated, freedom hampered,
racism, marginalization and hate
there are no laws that protect us

No security in the homeland

Federal lawyers convict and deport
via satellite a criminal unwanted
wrong accusations based on prejudice
we are not secure, we are not safe

No security in the homeland

Patriot act is not patriotic
paranoia of fear, political madness
the government and its agents will not protect us
but plastic sheets and duct tape will

No security in the homeland

“America, America
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea”

No security in the homeland

by Israel Francisco Haros Lopez

they want me to do something about homeland security
not me me and not they they. but yes. there is something
to dismantle in the insecurity. through broken y re-membered

they want me to do something about border fronteras.
beyond the understanding that gloria anzaldua put in
red and black ink. they want me to . well not they them.
and not me me. but it must be undone. through re-
membering. un-broken. trails before the tears. of sb1070.
187. 209. 1992. 1491. and the trail of aztlan y picket signs
with quetzalcoatls y chicano power fists. still stuck on the concrete.

there is something done in the words. when i let them go.
passed this screen. passed that policy. passed that facebook
page. passed four corners. of the womb. or water. y luz
infinita. con la cancion. pintamos visiones en el corazon
de la tierra y el corazon del cielo. where hummingbirds
can dance this ehecatl pintura.

Who Am I?
Elena Díaz Bjorkquist ©2011

Like others, I’ve asked
the question – Who am I?
In the mirror, I see
my mother, grandmother,
and all other women who came
before them – mujeres
from the ancient tribes of Mexico;
Aztecas, Chichimecas, Toltecas
Mixed with the blood
of the Spaniards
who conquered them.

My face reflects
the history of my people.
People ask me
what tribe I’m from
and appear disappointed
when I say I’m Chicana.
Somehow, that doesn’t have
the same mystique for them
as being Native American.
I used to answer, “I’m Meso-Amerind.”
A frequent response was “I knew it!
You look Indian.”

Confusion over my ethnic identity
Is not limited to white people.
Navajos ask me if I’m Hopi,
Hopis are convinced I’m Apache.
Mexicans and Mexican Americans
don’t mistake me for Native American.
They sense the historical significance
of my appearance.
Mexicans ask, “Where did you learn
to speak Spanish so well?”
As if they know
I’m like them, but not really.
Mexican Americans ask, “What part
of Mexico did your grandparents
come from?”

I call myself Chicana
rather than Mexican American
or Latina or Hispanic.
Chicana aptly describes
my heritage, my ethnic identity.
I am a mestiza, a mixture
of cultures that made
the Mexican people of today.
That mescla, or mixture,
is infused with the culture
my great-grandmother
and my grandmother acquired
as they adapted to life in the U.S.
and my mother and I got
by being born and educated here.

In Morenci, where I was born
and where I grew up,
most people of Mexican descent
called themselves Chicanos
long before political activists
of the 60’s and 70’s claimed it
for their ethnic identity.
Although I was active
in the Chicano movement,
I have always called myself

for all my relations
by Abel Salas

If time wears a bracelet
of teeth and marrow
fused in the ether
of a distant ash
If sighs unraveled
with spasms of glee
or the burnished amber
recoiling with iron doubt
If your pain pocked face
did not define elegance
and the placenta magic
of your unborn child
drew dragonfly paths
on moon crusted clouds
If my father recalled
his tears and anger
like a spigot of days
while love was laid
in a vault of desire
If I were no longer here
amidst paper and ink
threading love again
into braids of resolve
or whippoorwill notes
If years were stations
between polar stops
and the conveyor belt
shifted axis and speed
with eyelid precision
I would need you
want you love you
free you bless you
forgive you me us
them him her
even more

El Sereno, 2008

"Orale" by Maritza Rivera
By Maritza Rivera

Mexicans were here
before there was a border
before La Migra.

Here to Stay
By Maritza Rivera

I am the brown face
of immigration reform
that is here to stay.

Raúl Sánchez, Israel Francisco Haros Lopez, Elena Díaz Bjorkquist, Abel Salas, Maritza Rivera

1."Homeland Security" by Raúl Sánchez

2. "Homelanded" by Israel Francisco Haros Lopez

3. "Who Am I? " by Elena Díaz Bjorkquist

4. "If Time Wears A Bracelet" by Abel Salas

5. "Orale" and “Here to Stay” by Maritza Rivera

Raúl SánchezRaúl Sánchez is a Seattle Bio-Tech technician, translator, DJ, and cook 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 with La Bloga being the latest. In print his work 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).

Israel Francisco Haros LopezIsrael Francisco Haros Lopez 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. Currently the visual motifs are drawn from both a pre-columbian america that had far far less physical, mental or spiritual borders . Recent works are exploring Xenophobia in laws such as "SB 1070" both in written and visual format. Israel considers himself an environmentalist poet seeking to awakening those harming our first mother Tonantzin.He also draws inspriation from the contemporary styles of inner city youth who use public space by any means necessary as their method of artistic expression. Israel also draws much of his inspiration from his peers and contemporaries who constantly show him innovative ways to approach cultural and political dilemnas. The written words cannot be without the painted image. The painted image cannot be without words. Neither the written work or visual work can be without sound without vibration, as all things on this earth carry vibration. As such his written and oral work is constantly shifting as it is performed or recording. The same poem,story,monologue or abstract diatribe shifts within the space it is performed taking into consideration audience and the theatrics and vibration of the moment.

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 Sowing the Seeds, una cosecha de recuerdos, an anthology written by her writers group. The project was funded by AHC. She is nearing completion of another collection of Morenci stories entitled Albóndiga Soup and has co-edited a new anthology entitled Our Spirit, Our Reality; celebrating our stories by the Comadres of Sowing the Seeds.

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.

Abel SalasAbel Salas is the Publisher and Editor at Brooklyn & Boyle, an Eastside arts, literture and community journal based in the historic Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles where he is also part of the Corazon del Pueblo: Arts, Action & Education Collective. 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 Times Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Latina, The Austin Chronicle, The Brownsville Herald Oye Magazine, Tus Ciudad Los Angeles Magazine and Artillery Magazine among many others. Salas has been invited to share his poetry on stages in San Francisco and Monterey Bay, Havana, Cuba, Toluca, Mexico and Mexico D.F. and most recently as part of Poets Responding to Arizona HB1070 in Washington DC and at the National Latino Congress held earlier this year in Austin.

Maritza Rivera CohenMaritza Rivera Cohen is a Puerto Rican poet who has lived in Rockville, MD since 1994. Maritza has been writing poetry for over 30 years; has been published in literary magazines and anthologies and founded the weekly Mariposa Poetry Series, which ran from September 1999 to October 2002 in College Park, MD. She has been an associate poetry editor for WordWrights Magazine in Washington, DC, a judge for poetry competitions and slams and is the author of “About You”, a collection of poetry “for women and the men they love”. Her latest book of poetry, A Mother’s War, was written during her son’s two tours in Iraq to help make the intensity of war a reality for everyone. She is a regular contributor to Poets Responding to SB 1070

Monday, May 30, 2011

A wonderful time at Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore

Since the release early this year of my new novel, The Book of Want (University of Arizona Press), I’ve had readings at about a half dozen independent bookstores up and down the state. On Saturday, I did my last scheduled book reading at Tía Chucha's Centro Cultural & Bookstore.

What a wonderful time I had. I want to thank all those who attended (including Michael Sedano who took the above photo) as well as the wonderful folks at Tía Chucha's (Stacy and Luz, in particular) who made the event go so well.

If you missed the book signing, there are a few signed copies at Tía Chucha's that you can pick up. Please support your local independent bookstore! I note that a nice profile of the bookstore by Los Angeles Times writer Reed Johnson appeared on Saturday which you may read here.


◙ A call to action from Juan Ramon Biedma:

I don't know if all of you are up to date about the difficult situation the Semana Negra de Gijon is passing through at this time; between the recent elections (when much of Spain swung to the right), the Rector of the University of Gijon's lawsuit to get an injunction on the festival aspects of the Semana (which is now slated to take place on University grounds), and grave budgetary problems, the Semana now finds itself in one of its toughest spots ever.

I know a lot of us are more than ready to lend a hand in this crisis. The best thing we can do to help right now is to show our concern about the Semana's future to the powers it depends on. To do this we can use all the social media at our command, including our personal blogs, websites, Facebook pages, letters to the editor, etc...any media we can that will show that we are watching developments, and that the event has massive support. I've created a facebook page called “Continiuidad de la Semana Negra" where you can log in to post your comments and opinions, and leave a record of any movement to save the Semana. I'm sure that between all of us we can save the Semana Negra, not only for this year but for the future.

◙ The June issue of Somos Primos is now live online.

◙ Check out the Achy Obejas essay, WCF, E-readers & me, over at WBEZ 91.5 FM out of Chicago.

◙ Over at the Huffington Post, Max Benvidez tells us about East Los Angeles College's new Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM), which opened on May 21, 2011. He notes, in part:

For generations, the Eastside was usually seen as an add-on to L.A.'s cultural world, "that" place over there where the Mexicans lived. But, now, due to VPAM's opening, there is a sleek space in East L.A. that can show the art that has its aesthetic roots and inspirations on the Eastside. VPAM's very existence tips the cultural balance in the City of Angels. No longer is every important visual art venue on the Westside, midtown or downtown.

◙ Check out Anacani Serrato’s new blog here.

◙ All done. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadres at La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

3rd-grade latinos critique My Shoes & I

René Colato Laínez's latest book My Shoes & I was just published by Boyds Mills Press. La Bloga has reviewed quién-sabe-cuántos libros in our seven years as a Chicano lit site. But we've never/nunca done a review like this.

This spring, 26 native-Spanish-speaking third-graders from inner-city Denver assisted me in analyzing and critiquing René's book. These students are not just
English Language Learners, or ELLs, as many school systems narrowly define them. I prefer the term EBEs, or Emerging Biliterate Entities,* to describe them.

Yes, they are learning English, but they're also learning more Spanish, along with science, math, history
y muchísimo más. And, they are learning the countless aspects of America's multicultural society to function each day and succeed in the future. The critique you read below is one example of the contributions EBEs make to the literary discourse each day for their adopted country.

First, here's the publisher's description of the book:
"A timely and inspiring story. Mario is leaving his home in El Salvador. With his father by his side, he is going north to join his mother, who lives in the United States. She has sent Mario a new pair of shoes. He will need good shoes because the journey north will be long and hard.

"He and his father will cross the borders of three countries. They will walk for miles, ride buses, climb mountains, and cross a river. Mario has faith in his shoes. He believes they will take him anywhere. On this day, they will take him to the United States, where his family will be reunited.

As the teacher of these lessons and author of this post, I edited some of what follows. The ideas, insights, opinions y todo lo de más are of the students' making.

The Students' Critique:

It's not possible to share all the ideas of all the kids because there's more than 26 pages' worth. The comments below were often posed by several of them, and other questions were sent to René Colato Laínez (RCL) that he will answer on his or the Los Bloguitos website in June. You can also go there to see great critiques of the book by adult and latino reviewers. Below you will exclusively find what children think of it.

Analysis of My Shoes & I.

Like most of the class, third-grader Edgar and Alan comment on what they learned about literary personification from the book: RCL wrote a good book because he explained it really well and wrote some wonderful details. Like when he personifies his shoes and says "uno, dos, tres and that they are ready to keep going and cross the finish line."

Sarahy had a personification question: Did this happen to you, that you treated a thing like a person?

BryanG said: The illustrations help the story because there are some tricky words and sometimes the illustrations have the meaning of the word.

BrianC wonders how an adult could know so much about latino kids' experiences: I enjoyed the themes and personifications like a personal connection I made to when he personified his shoes, saying "sana, sana, colita de rana." That's what I say to my favorite toy dinosaur. Also I wanted to know if someone helped him write the book.

Did students feel My Shoes & I was a believable story?

Unlike children's books written by many non-latinos and translated into Spanish that may not connect to the world of bilingual students, René's did pass the kids' standardized test of authenticity. BrianC's last sentence above was often repeated by others, and I was uncertain whether they were questioning RCL's authorship or the fact that his publicity photo makes him look like their older brother. I finally answered this, at least for myself: the kids couldn't get over how real the story was for them, how much they connected with it, how much of their short lives was featured in the story.

RubenM: I think Rene did write a WOW! believable story because he wrote spicy words instead of dead words. And I like the pictures.

Xitlaly: René wrote a good story because it has personifications.

NancyR: I believe that RCL did a believable story because it teaches people many things, like not giving up or that you have to believe in yourself.

Brisa: Yes I do think this is a good and believable story because it is a little funny and sad.

Jaider: Yes I think this is a good book because it made me sad and happy and it had new words.

To some students, like BryanG, the question about believability was simpler: I think he wrote a believable story because he says that a boy and father moved from El Salvador to Guatemala to Mexico and the U.S. and people move like that to other places.

Jaclyn: I think yes, because Mario had to cross from El Salvador to Guatemala, Mexico and to the U.S.

One student summarized well everyone's amazement over seeing parcels of their lives in print, as if René might have followed them around with a video camera. Adal: Where did you get the information?

How students identify or personally connect with the story.

Because a book is written in or translated into Spanish doesn't make it culturally relevant. It requires something more true to life, like what it's like to have to wear worn-out shoes or what it's like walking a path most Americans never had to experience. Xitlaly: The book made me think of when I went to Utah. I walked all the way until we found some houses and got in a taxi. This book also made me remember when my dad crossed from Mexico to the U.S.

Lesley wanted to know: Did René really need to cross the border when he was younger?

Marianay: How did you come up with the story? Did you have to walk all the way from where you were born to come here?

Rafael: I made a connection to the story. When I like something I take care of it and play with it.

RubenM: A personal connection I made is when I was in Mexico and everyone's shoes had holes in the bottom of the soles.

JaclynI: I made a personal connection that when I went to Nebraska my shoes got dirty.

Nancy: The personal connection that I made is that when I want something I never give up because I really like it. I also believe that I can do it, like when I did CSAP (Colo.'s standardized test) I believed in myself.

Jaider: My connection to this story is that when the dogs were chasing Mario he was scared and when dogs chase me I'm scared.

Christopher: It reminded me when I had my new shoes and I got them dirty and my shoes got a hole in the sole. My personal connection is when he was talking to his shoes and says "sana, sana, colita de rana," saying everything would be all right. Mario kept going and he never gave up.

BryanG: A connection I made is when my mom and my dad went to the U.S. from El Salvador to L.A.

Daniela: A personal connection I made was when I bought new shoes I really loved they became dirty and didn't fit me anymore.

NancyR: What inspired you to do this book and how did you think of so many good ideas?

Leslie: I did a connection with My Shoes because I had some shoes I liked a lot and one day I saw them ripped because my puppy bit them. Rene, how did you do this wonderful book? Have you gone through these things in your life?

Kids gauge if the book is correctly aimed at 5-8 year olds.

AlexN: Yes it is kind of hard but I think they can.

LesleyE: I do agree that this book should be intended for kids 5-8 because it is not so easy and it's not so hard. I think this book would be good for my neighbor who is five years old.

Adal: I agree because they can read it if they practice.

Marianay: I agree this is for 5-8 year olds because the words are too easy for 9-16.

Edwin: I think yes because everybody can read the book and 5-8 year olds can read.

Brisa: I agree this book is for 5-8 because it could be funny to someone or sad to someone. For me, it was sad.

But not everyone agreed on this, like Jaider: I disagree because there are hard words for 5-8 years olds like package. [Which he can now read.]

Christopher: I think this book is for 3rd grade because it is a little bit hard to read and the letters are too little.

It was a lot simpler for Leslie: I agree because it is not our decision; it's RCL's decision.

And then there's Daniela: I disagree the book is for kids 5-8 because it is a very wonderful book that everyone would like to read. Even adults should read it.

The kids decide whether they'd recommend the book.

Daniela: It is a very fabulous book and almost everyone would like it.

Lizbeth called it: a cool book. My comment to RCL is I love your book, because we could take it along on a trip.

Rogelio: I think RCL did a really good job of writing the book.

But for various reasons not everyone agreed, like Alan: I think I disagree because the 5-year-old wouldn't read it. I think it needs to be 7-9.

Edgar: I disagree because this book is too easy to read and I think it is higher level.

RubenM: I say no because it is a good story and I think it should be for 4 to 10 year olds.

NancyR: I disagree. The story is so wonderful I think everybody should hear it because it teaches us a lesson and talks about how they don't give up.

Last points.

Marianay asked René: How does it feel being an author? This and other kids' questions made me realize that many identified with him in a way that would not have happened by reading a Junie B. Jones book. Some now have an inkling that they could possibly become writers like him. He's Spanish-surnamed, so are they. He wrote about the unique, immigrant experience, like theirs. His book encompassed the sadness, fears and hopes of crossing into a new country--theirs.

I also thought that the kids' frequent usage of the author's first name, René, significant. How many times have you heard a kid refer to Junie, instead of Junie B. Jones? I think it represents an internalized personal connection that he is a human being-turned-friend because they feel he is so much like them. At least, that's my take.

What I've tried to present for teachers, parents, kids, or anyone who wants a culturally relevant gift for a latino child is a summary of the effect that My Shoes & I had on 26 Denver biliterate students of Mexican, Guatemalan and Salvadoran heritage. They were engaged in reading, discussing, analyzing and writing about the book for so many hours, I continually worried they'd become bored or tired of it. That didn't happen. Much of that was due to the rigor imparted from their regular teacher Estherrose, as well as to the students' own yearning for knowledge and love of lit.

Or maybe the reason lies in Adal's answer to if and why he thought My Shoes was a good book:

"Yes, because we are learning about worlds."

Maestro Rudy Garcia

* EBEs = Emerging Bicultural
/Bicultivados Entidades* [entities] This is a take-off on the thinking of bilingual researchers and educators N. Commins and K. Escamilla concerning how native Spanish-speakers have been labeled.

The old term of ELLs, or English language-learners, dehumanized children by delimiting the focus of their learning to English, as if that were the most important, or even only, description of them and their learning.
Learning English is not the key to academic success; it is just one important, cultural aspect of a much wider spectrum of knowledge they could and should acquire.

Yes, they are special, special entities, I term them. Entity: for me the word conjures visions of sci-fi or fantasy, beings with special powers and abilities, sometimes from far-off worlds. The EBEs' world is
indeed far off from what most Anglo American children experience. As Laínez's book describes, it's a world that can begin in places that others can read about, but only imagine.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Spotlight on Rolando Ortiz

Rolando Ortiz

Poet Rolando Ortiz exposes details of his life on Facebook, reveals the top items on his Cholo Bucket List, and posts photos of his food creations and the silly antics of his kids. La Bloga recently sat down with the ex-gangster who was put behind bars at the tender age of nine.

The poet and writing teacher has moved away from a bounce-back system of incarceration. His last arrest was over ten years ago. In his neighborhood, police know him as someone they can talk to. This doesn’t make him exempt from the occasional stops and pullovers for driving while looking like a gangster. However, public speaking is an asset for the charismatic poet who laughs easily and always looks happy.

“I learned in life whatever vibe that you give out is what you get back. Being friendly and being able to be approached by others is important. I learned that from the Dalai Lama. Part of my happiness comes from my family, my kids, and poetry. I try to let other people feed off my vibes.”

When he’s not writing poetry, he enjoys cooking the Mexican dishes that his mother taught him. He was the youngest of seven kids and credits his mother for his love of cooking. Rolando says he was a chef in a past life and jokes that his cooking is the real reason his fiancé loves him. His Facebook updates are filled with photos of his latest mouth-watering creation. The 36-year-old says his kids love it when he cooks breakfast.

In January 2010, he was approached by a gang unit officer and asked to give writing workshops to troubled youth. “It was something I always wanted to do,” says Ortiz, “it’s important to give back to the community.”

Rolando has been writing poetry since he was a 12-year-old youth at East Lake Juvenile Hall. While inside, he started his Cholo Bucket List to express all the things he wanted to do when released. He shares his Cholo Bucket List with his students and talks about all the things he’s been able to cross off, including hearing the Dalai Lama speak. One of his biggest accomplishments is working with Luis J. Rodriguez who has encouraged his mentorship of troubled youth and his poetry. His poetry influences include Luis Rodriguez, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda and Federico G. Lorca, Luivette Resto, and Diego Robles.

Acceptance among local poets has also been important to Ortiz who also names the meeting of Rafael Alvarado as an important step in his career as poet. “I’ve never met another poet who I’ve hit it off so well,” said Ortiz. “I met Rafael at a literary festival and now I’m part of the Hollywood Institute of Poetics (H.I.P.).

Part of his role in H.I.P. is hosting a regular poetry reading at the Paloma Room in Montebello. The barroom setting offers mixed drinks and food. The next event on June 5 from 5:30 to 9:00pm features Liz Gonzalez, Richard Modiano, Luis J. Rodriguez, A K Toney and Diego Robles at 624 Whittier Blvd.

Tonight: Friday, May 27 at Beyond Baroque, Muejerismo and Latina Poets. Join La Bloga’s Melinda Palacio, the editor and publisher of Pilgrimage Magazine, Maria Melendez, local poets, Luivette Resto and Frankie Hernandez, and a one-day art gallery presentation by Gabriella Azul Parra at Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd, Venice, CA 90291, 7:30 pm. Host is Rafael Alvarado.

Saturday, May 28, is the 6th Annual Small Press Book Fair, 235 Hill Street, Santa Monica. Melinda Palacio reads with Teresa Dowell and poets from New Poets of the American West: An Anthology of Eleven Western States. Look for the booth, starting at 10:00 am.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Chicanonautica: The Long Road To Mars with Mariachis

I’m going to be in ridiculously good mood for a while. I have a story in the July/August 2011 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and for a chamuco who dreamed of growing up to sell stories to science fiction magazines, it's quite a high.

It’s called “Death And Dancing in New Las Vegas,” continuing the saga started in “The Rise and Fall of Paco Cohen and the Mariachis of Mars” that was in Analog back in April of 2001. Yeah, I know, it’s been a while -- it was a rough decade . . . And I wrote the latest story to be read on its own, but for those who are interested it’s available free online through the music-themed speculative fiction podcast anthology Theme and Variations.

It deals with the colonization, though I use the term “development,” of Mars by ruthless corporations. Terraforming (making Mars Earth-like) is being done through nanohudu that acts like a virus, transforming the planet and people. And I deal with the problem of who gets brought in to do the dirty work . . . a metaphor for immigration.

This idea goes way back with me -- back when I first moved to Arizona to live with Emily. We were taking walks in a nearby mountain preserve and working with some people who were trying to make movies.

One of them was a guy who knew a lot stuntmen who rode horses. He needed work because they weren’t making a lot of Westerns anymore. I flashed on an idea for a Road Warrior/spaghetti Western on a terraformed Mars with horses instead of cars. The production company never got off the ground. I stashed the idea in the back of my brain.

There it fermented and mutated. I thought about the technical considerations of such a world, came up with the nanohudu idea. Soon it was a Flash Gordon/Edgar Rice Burroughs adventure with lots of bizarre creatures and plants.

Unfortunately, publishing was getting weird. Nobody in Nueva York wanted to talk to me. I started to listen to all kinds of advice. Instead of writing the simple story, I generated a bloated proposal for a sprawling epic -- the kind everybody told me was the only thing that was selling.

And of course, it didn’t sell.

I locked the monstrosity up in my files in disgust, but in a few years, a strange thing happened. While working as a grade school custodian, the character of Paco Cohen came to me. Yeah, I usually don’t create them, they suddenly appear in my brain . . . He took my nanohuduized Mars and turned it on its head, made it more real than I ever imagined.

I’ve published two stories about him so far, and have ideas for more. Maybe they’ll become a Martian Chronicles-type book someday.

I also have been getting the urge to go back to the original idea of a straight-forward NeoMartian adventure story. Today’s young adult market may be ready for such a thing.

Ernest Hogan will be doing Chicanonautica here every other Thursday, alternating with Lydia Gil. Expect wild stuff!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

2011 Américas Book Award

For more information visit

The Américas Award is given in recognition of U.S. works of fiction, poetry, folklore, or selected non-fiction (from picture books to works for young adults) published in the previous year in English or Spanish that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. By combining both and linking the Americas, the award reaches beyond geographic borders, as well as multicultural-international boundaries, focusing instead upon cultural heritages within the hemisphere. The award is sponsored by the national Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP).

The award winners and commended titles are selected for their 1) distinctive literary quality; 2) cultural contextualization; 3) exceptional integration of text, illustration and design; and 4) potential for classroom use. The winning book will be honored at a ceremony on October 23, 2010. at the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 

2011 Américas Award Winners

Clemente! by Willie Perdomo. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. Holt, 2010 32 pgs. ISBN 978-0-8050-8224-1.

The Dreamer by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Illustrated by Peter Sis. Scholastic, 2010. 372 pgs. 978-0-439-26970-4. 

Américas Award Honorable Mention

The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle. Holt, 2010. 151 pgs. ISBN 978-0-8050-9082-6.

Américas Award Commended Titles

Arroz con Leche / Rice Pudding: Un poema para cocinar / A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta. Illustrated by Fernando Vilela. Groundwood, 2010. 32 pgs. ISBN 978-0-88899-981-8.

Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winter. Beach Lane, 2010. 32 pgs.
ISBN 978-1-4169-9778-8.

César Chávez: A Photographic Essay by Ilan Stavans. Cinco Puntos, 2010. 90 pgs. ISBN 978-1-933693-22-4

Dear Primo by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams, 2010. 32 pgs. ISBN 978-0-8109-3872-4.

Dizzy in your Eyes: Poems about Love by Pat Mora. Knopf, 2010. 168 pgs. ISBN 978-0- 375-84375-4.

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge Danticat. Illustrated by Alix Delinois. Orchard, 2010. 28 pgs. ISBN 978-0-545-27849-2.

Fiesta Babies by Carmen Tafolla. Illustrated by Amy Córdova. Tricycle, 2010. 20 pgs. ISBN 978-1-58246-319-3.

From North to South / Del norte al Sur by René Colato Laínez. Illustrated by Joe Cepeda. Children’s Book Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-89239-231-5.

Grandma's Gift by Eric Velasquez. Bloomsbury, 2010. 32 pgs. ISBN 978-0-8027-2082-5.

How Tia Lola Learned to Teach by Julia Alvarez. Knopf, 2010. 135 pgs. ISBN 978-0-375- 86460-5.

The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork. Scholastic, 2010. 344 pgs.
ISBN 978-0-545-15133-7.

Me, Frida by Amy Novesky. Illustrated by David Diaz. Abrams, 2010. 32 pgs. ISBN 978-0-8109-8969-6.

Napi funda un pueblo / Napi Makes a Village by Antonio Ramirez. Illustrated by Domi. Groundwood, 2010. 48 pgs. ISBN 978-0-88899-965-8.

Ole! Flamenco by George Ancona. Lee & Low, 2010. 48 pgs. ISBN 9778-1-60060-361-7

Star in the Forest by Laura Resau. Delacorte, 2010. 149 pgs. ISBN 978-0-385-73792-0.