Review: Devil's Tango shakes readers to the core.
Cecile Pineda. Devil's Tango: How I Learned the Fukushima Step by Step. San Antonio: Wings Press for Cecile Pineda, 2012.
Last month as I was enjoying Robert Arellano’s Curse the Names, his doomsday novel informed by outlandishly consequential U.S. nuclear policies, I had simultaneously begun reading Cecile Pineda’s creative nonfiction thriller, Devil’s Tango: How I Learned the Fukushima Step by Step.
Pineda’s doomsday take on global nuclear policies, the deception leading up to and growing out of the failure of GE’s nuclear design at Fukushima, Japan, cast a harsh emotional glare on what should have been a bright, fun read about nuclear disaster.
I had to stop. Not because I can’t dance, but I was terrified to step outside and breathe the air. It’s everywhere.
Pineda scared the living caca out of me. To get around that, I adopt a critical perspective derived from Chapter 104’s title, A Little Bit Goes a Long Way… Fear, like radiation, spreads. The main thing is, don't panic. That's a reading stance to adopt as one reads fact after fact Pineda’s massive research cobbles together to terrify you.
Just as Arellano’s character goes crazy thinking about a nightmare scenario, Pineda’s fact-driven scenarios spur a reader’s imagination to nightmarish personal fears involving one’s grandchildren and loved ones. A little bit of fear goes a long way toward coloring one’s reading. For Devil’s Tango, fear plays continuo behind the driving disharmonies of Pineda’s composition.
There’s the photographer’s story from Chernobyl. From the air, photos showed vast junkyards of radiation contaminated vehicles and other machinery. He couldn’t take a photo at ground level because all that junk, and more, had been swallowed up into the flea market economy. Don’t buy a desk or office chair within the million square miles of Belarus or Ukraine.
There are the soldiers whom Russian leaders sacrificed. Sent them to pick up nuclear waste with their hands, wearing their Army green fatigues and comfortable leather boots. Pineda doesn’t say if they spit-shined those boots.
Three hundred forty thousand soldiers--all of them--died. No record remains of their names, who they were, where they were born or died, or of their cause of death. Pineda denies the unspoken premise, if we don’t know their names, do they matter? QEPD, brothers and sisters. You did your duty. Russian army, U.S. Army, if you see a mushroom cloud on the horizon, you say “yes, sir!” put on your raincoat and march toward the smoke.
If Chernobyl is the boogeyman of nuclear safety, what shall the world consider Fukushima? In the first week after the earthquake, Fukushima has released more radioactive cesium than Chernobyl and all the bombs detonated during the years of atmospheric testing. One hundred tons of fuel…have melted through containment and fallen into the basement of the reactor buildings—something TEPCO admitted only much later. Thousands of tons of radioactive water have been released…contaminating the water and sea life for all eternity or 4.5 billion years, whichever comes first. (84) Scary stuff.
The scariest words Pineda writes are her allusions to all of us being wiped off the face of the earth. Relating a Siberian nuclear accident where years later, the ground still moves, the author observes, You know what this means. You know the fall-out plume will soon blanket the northern hemisphere. You know it will contaminate the food chain, on land, and on the sea. You know it will taint the soil, and the water, and the air you breathe. You know from now on, it will taint everything you drink and everything you eat. (6) The frightened rhetor relaxes, recognizing the fallacy begging the question. That’s a relief.
Not that we can do anything about it now, but the Tokyo Electric Power Company and General Electric company lied about the dangers, damages at Fukushima’s four reactors. TEPCO was releasing volumes of radiation that would sweep the globe and where fallout settled, the land would be quarantined for half a million years. A TEPCO portavoz denied gas releases as they were happening. As a result of the leak that did not occur, region-grown produce is banned from entering gaijin lands. And all those rads went upsofloatingly into the windstream.
But according to TEPCO, matters are under control and the Japanese government plans on restarting the nation’s other reactors in a skosh.
According to GE, its reactor design—the same one used in numerous U.S. sites--is safe. Chapter 66, Why every GE Mark I Boiling Water Reactor the World Over needs To Be Shut Down, counts 12 reactors with GE Mark II designs and 23 GE Mark I in the United States. But the problem goes beyond this one manufacturer to the paradigm of cooling systems.
In nuclear energy generation, cooling system is an oxymoron. In California, Diablo Canyon bought Westinghouse and San Onofre, Combustion Engineering, Pressurized Water Reactors. And installed both on earthquake faults. San Onofre remains closed because officials have no idea how the dang thing works.
A visit to Southern California Edison’s San Onofre online plant tour doesn’t inspire confidence. Clicking the worker safety drop-down menu brings up a page about trimming trees, reading meters, digging ditches, ordinary Cal-OSHA stuff. Nothing about nuclear safety here that SCE wants the public to know.
By the way, don’t blame the tsunami for the Fukushima meltdown. The GE reactor failed with the first earthquake. Aftershocks set matters up for everyone to blame mother nature. Bad management, bad engineering, bad timing, all went into the disaster. The tsunami wasn’t bad luck or an act of the goddess some want you to believe. Citing an activist report gleaned from Freedom of Information Act-garnered documents, Pineda makes this clear, There’s a reason why every nuclear expert on the planet wanted the world to hear this and that’s because there is also the claim that Japan is only place such a massive tsunami could take place!
Fear. Radiation. Nuclear riches in exchange for a dance with the devil. It can happen here. Devil’s Tango draws in its readers with engaging writing and fascinating scenarios, but Pineda’s leaving it to readers to draw their own conclusions, then buy in.
Reading Devil’s Tango benefits from keeping mindful of that chapter title about a little bit of fear going a long, long way. You probably can relax. After all, at book’s (except for the notes and references) end, Pineda takes a step back from the brink and leaves a message for the future. If we didn’t kill ourselves in our time, in your time, pull the plug on nuclear power.
Wings Press, who publishes Manuel Ramos’ must-read King of the Chicanos, publishes ebooks, too. Readers can order Cecile Pineda's Devil's Tango e-edition via Independent Publishers Group distribution in North America, and in Europe via Gazelle Book Services. Local booksellers can get the softcover volume, or sell you the ebook and you won't have to pay your pal a cut.
At 223 pages, Devil’s Tango makes a portable beach companion when Jaws gets too passé and you want a good jolt.
Lacking an index, you’ll find yourself dog-earing pages and leafing back and forth through its chapters looking for that reference to San Onofre, or that sit-in campaign by mothers in Tokyo, or any of the alarming facts Pineda weaves into her fearsome tale.
¿Sabes qué? I bet you can use your ebook reader and do word searches, access the internet and find those links to all those references Cecile Pineda’s assembled on her seventeen page bibliography that sits there mutely on the printed page. Did I say the book needs an index?
Next year, en Havana
Rummaging through a deteriorating memory for noteworthy creative nonfiction titles to compare with Devil’s Tango, the first title coming to mind is La Bloga friend Tom Miller’s, Death of the Saguaro.
It’s nothing like Pineda’s volume, and I navigated over to Miller’s website in search of a quotation to exemplify Miller’s version of “creative nonfiction” as a worthy contrast to Cecile Pineda’s style. I struck out since Saguaro’s publisher, Arte Publico, shares a flash program instead of cut-and-pasteable text.
While there, I noted Miller’s renewed his offer to tour Cuba with gente genuinely interested in literary arts as practiced in Cuba. The trip encompasses a diachronic approach from pre-independence to writers whom travelers will meet during the tour.
A past trip attracted Arizona Republic journalist Terry Cornelius, who heaps praise on the tour and Obama’s progressive move that allows cultural tourism like this to the once embargoed island.
Visit Tom Miller’s website for details on his work, and links to a PDF about the trip. Maybe Tom will meet government gente who want to lead that nation to host the International Latina Latino Writers Conference there in Havana. Ojalá.
Banned Books Update
On this date in June 2012, Arizona schooling remains the same: rotten at the top. The books the city's elected school board banned, stay banned. So it goes.
Small changes after elections across the nation, but the status quo preserves itself in Tucson’s classrooms and administrative offices.
Bunker mentality, meet moral victory. In the end, if the bunker’s well-protected, the occupants believe they can hold out until siege mentality wanes, an inevitability.
When the barricades come down, the victors ascend the balcony, thump their chests, and say “See? You didn’t want it badly enough!”
One vato who has the ganas, puro ganas no lana, is Gabriel Carmona. On the Librotraficantes bus, Houston to Tucson with stops in San Antonio, El Paso, Mesilla, Alburquerque, Carmona mounted his camera on tripod or shoulder and captured footage that he’s now edited to a final product.
His Librotraficante handle was Comandante Poeta Carmona. He’s in the film as that performer, reading tribute pieces of banned literature as well as his own compositions inspired by events on the bus and visiting with Rudolfo Anaya at the author’s House that Ultima Built.
The Texas premiere was June 9 in San Antonio. The filmmaker is putting funding together for a tour to Arizona then California. Like an independent writer on book tour, Gabriel arranges showings in any variety of location where an audience shows up. Spread the word, share your art. Adelante, brother.
|Rudolfo Anaya welcomes Gabriel Carmona to Anaya's home.|
Foto of the Month
|Eye of the earth|
Pt. Lobos State Reserve near Carmel, California. I've been watching this sandstone formation for as long as I can remember, probably the 1950s. Wind and sea erosion eventually releases the stone from the hold of mud that flowed and hardened around stone 10,000 years ago.
The far edge of the continental landmass meets the Pacific Ocean at Pt. Lobos. Some slabs of earth date back 70 million years. There's a cool vibe out here where the Pacific Plate slips under the North American Plate and that leads to mountains and valleys and fabulous vistas and that vibe. Climb out here, sit, listen, feel it. More fotos at Read! Raza.
|Low tide, calm seas at Pt. Lobos.|
On-Line Floricanto Mid-June 2012
Pocho Luna, Avotcja, Pedro L. Ramírez, Mari Herrerras, Andrea Mauk
"For our tíos Manuel" by Pocho Luna
"Diaspora negra / Black Diaspora" by Avotcja
"Card Catalogue" by Pedro L. Ramírez
"En nuestra ciudad" by Mari Herrerras
"Passion and Economy: A Postmodern Tale" by Andrea Mauk
For Our Tio Manuels
by Pocho Luna
Tio Manuel like animated red adobe moved
Slowly about Abuelo's ranch where once we played
Hide and seek. Hip high weeds veiling memories
Shrouding decades-old laughing ghostly shadows
Of tias tios nietas nietos y bisabuelos rustling
In the wind whispering heaven’s
Past dawns sinewy Tio arose like five
Gnarled branches creaking in the autumn breeze
Frosty breath exhaled in the frigid fifth wheel
Mixed with screeching steam of a lime green
Percolator sputtered thick black coffee grounds ominous
Divination. El Rey the Rooster crowed atop a rusted 55 Chevy moored
Into dried mud long ago rooted into the earth
Resting tired bent chassis. Rosary beads dangled on
Raised arms to the clandestine sun
Croaking with harsh voice Tio praised for life renewed
For spirits of ancestors gone
Touched right index finger to corazon
Sign of the cross
He prayed for the soul
Of little Margarita muneca
Who drowned in the ditch
In 1973 his favorite doll-faced sobrina
Often heard giggling under haunting eves moonlit
Autumnal Fresno fog poured over like thick leche
The adobe home Manuel’s Papa built in 1953
Singing… “V I V A
J A L I S C O!”
Silent grito lest La Migra
Cold War Ears heard his sonorous grito echo
With strong arms like steel brick by brick
Created Mexico in the midst of Anglo Fresno
A Window to sweet smelling Zapopan
Markets flowing with honeyed pulque dripping
From porous Spanish walls. Tequila like streams
floating repentent Sunday menudo-stained priests
Baptized one black-haired son screaming
"Yo Soy Mexicano" in murky baptismal font
Mexicano tambien sin papeles
Named Manuel Guadalupe Luna
so called Alien from another world
The rest, five sons two girls, Chicanos
Twilight rose-colored skies last month spied Tio
Third foot cane walking along overgrown dirt paths
Cut off khakis differed knotted legs from staff
Wandering in and out of then and now murmurs
Flitting in the wind past a half-buried Niño de Atocha
Blessing him as he strolled with October chills
Tio stopped leaning against a pomegranate tree
Half-century-old twisted unkempt
Like hundreds of brown arms to sky outstretched
He braced shirtless back to a wizened wooden friend
Wiping his cataract eyes closing lids
1965 hot Fresno July sweat dripping from the sky
Beat down 110 degrees on his Mama’s brow
Crying for her Mijo’s lottery number
For putrid jungles limbs strewn about
Like mama’s fideo in a soupy tomato sauce
Vowing to La Virgencita for protection
Glorious Stars and Stripes waved along
A patriotic young Manuel to Vietnam
Tio Manuel our family’s last tie to the old days
One foot in America one foot in Mexican ways
A blurry forearm blotch once spelled Marines
Now spreading into leathered flesh unreadable
Looks like a shriveled nopale leaf sliced off
thrown to trash like napalmed Charlie scarred.
Barefoot on a whicker chair Tijuana statue-like santo
Manuel sat daily sun up sun down waiting
Digging twisted toes into the earth melding skin and dirt
Becoming one melting
Anxious to join whispering spirits in the weeds
Now the old camper shell door with one hinge
Creaks open slams shut over and again
Serenading rat’s nests inside Tio’s bed enjoy peace
From ICE. Unlike Tio who sleeps
Lonely nights away from Margarita’s sweet giggles
Away from memories’ spirits whispering
Waiting in the garden for Manuel’s soul
To play underneath full-mooned nights
Never to come. His rosary trampled
Among violent foot prints heavy stamped
Into the earth where once we played hide and seek.
Tonight in Tijuana Tio breathes his last days
Surrounded by unfamiliar gardens silent
Clutching a photo of mama tattered tear-stained
and a handful of Vietnam Medals
Copyright 2012 Pocho Luna
Escuchando al aviso en los vientos Africanos
Lo mas viejo de los Viejos
De mis Bisabuelos tiró nuestro idoma en las aguas
Mejor una comida pá los tiburónes en el mar
Que un juguete trivializado pá los estafadores
Marionetas en el juego de la esclavitud
En estos días
Hablo con los espíritus de mis antepasados
Y me dicen, silencio hija
Escucha el ritmo con el alma entera
Y me dicen, en este océano de la existencia
El ritmo es un salvavidas
Vivo escuchando a los ritmos africanos en todo
Y me encuentro, un espíritu sempiterno
Un espíritu nacido de recuerdos en los huesos
Mi herencia renacida
En cualquier País de mi Diaspora Negra
Todavia presente … este espíritu irrompible
El latido de la cultura … Siempre cuchicheo
Compartiendo regalos de secretos ancestrales
Y hablando por los pies y bailando por mi canto
Copyright © Avotcja
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Listening to the warning in the African winds
The oldest of the oldest
Of my Great-Grandparents threw our language in the waters
Better a meal for the Sharks in the Sea
Than a trivialized game for the Sharks that walk the land
Pawns in the ugly game of Slavery
I speak with the Spirits of those that went before me
And they tell me, be quiet child
Listen to the rhythm with your entire Soul
And they tell me, in the ocean of existence
Rhythm is a Lifejacket
And I listen
I live listening to the rhythms of Africa in everything
And I find myself, an everlasting Spirit
A Spirit born of memories hidden deep in my bones
My heritage reborn
My Black Diaspora is wherever I am
Always present … this unbreakable Spirit is
The heartbeat of my culture … always whispering
Sharing secret ancestral gifts
And dancing through my Songs & speaking through my feet!
translation & Copyright © Avotcja
("Diaspora Negra / Black Diaspora" first published in La Lunada a publication by Galeria de La Raza San Francisco, CA 2010)
by Pedro L. Ramírez
Buried and flanked
Slips of dewy decimal library of congress codes,
Upright like park dominoes,
And stored in polished
Oak swirled boxes
Like contours that map theCentral, north, south, east and west
First nation’s continent.
They stood in library reception halls
Empty of Raza,
Alone and utterly stagnant but
Full of cosmic information for the ages.
Chicanos searched thru the A-Z slip stacks,
And could not find books like stacked dolls
Written by exiled chili pickers, pallet builders,
Rail layers, meat packers, and city sweepers.
They said you people have
An oral tradition passed along by your ancients
Who left empty hieroglyphic rooms.
So go find it in song,
And you won't find your vernacular
in the stacks standing like fort sentinels,
but I found Dagoberto.
And you have no poems, political treatises, literary manifestos,
theatrical presentations, scientific nor biological discoveries, nor
Historical records and social science studies, military methodologies,technological inventions, gourmet recipes, horticulture,
urban planning schematics, Psychological studies, films,
nor immigration regulations,
that are viable and bonafide
You may find something in Spanish Studies or
You can read life and times of Zorro,
a delightful study of your rebellious kind.
My fingers trounced the slips searching for something
I found The Crazy Gypsy in a local Fresno State Publication.
Cracking poems like eggs about his Chicano state of mind
But saying we are Aztec Angles.
So the Gypsy
Conspired to hold the card catalogue hostage,
Behind a barricade of abuelas’ chocolate, cazuelas de cobre,
Mague pencas, Aztec earth stones, abuelos hands
holding hieroglyphic pyramids stone blocks.
Masked he fired chile pellets to fend them off,
And made demands of opening universities to
Dreamers, scientists, spiritualists, scribers, mathematicians
He demanded they publish books with stone bindings,
and that all the published books be catalogued under
The Gypsy let loose the muse and
Entrenched and resistant the books emerged
Like brown buffaloes and
We devoured the pages
like pumpkin empanadas.
And a river of thought rolled like a wave of honey panal
Into the corked minds that would transcend futures
like the clock of Popocatepetl and Ixtacihuatl
spewing white gas tufts
into ultraviolet prisms of father sky.
The collection became Arizona's most wanted
With mug shots in curricular administrative texts,
Slapped on post offices walls and
Legislative all-points bulletin aimed at the books.
Certain capture was inevitable.
Program curriculum were shackled,
ankle bracelets were placed on each book as
Their subversiveness was a threat to Arizona schools.
Banned and exorcised from the shelves by
Cross wielding black, red and white patriots.
like midnight coyotes delivered texts traversing
the Saguaro landscape,
Ankle bracelets set off
like independencia blasts.
The Traficante semillas planted
Like buried pencils
in red dirt,
And the landscape
sprouted Chicano books
Like corazoned nopales,
heart catalogue without end.
© Pedro L. Ramírez
En nuestra ciudad
by Mari Herreras
You, clove and cardamom
herba buena en leche con azúcar moreno
eyes, sweet dark almonds
lips, large torn grapefruit
bitten, sucked, quenched
You, clove and cardamom
star and moon-kissed skin
smooth with thorn-worn grasps
every 500 years,
Passion and Economy - A Postmodern Tale
by Andrea Mauk
I look up at the 10 freeway, cars parade
like ants on a mission after a good
The sun slides its poignant fingers through the L.A. haze
but the people once connected by wires
instead of Apples
can't wake up even with the help of Starbucks.
And gas is still over $4.00 a gallon.
Standing on Gingerbread Platforms, they
wait for the Gold Line to pull in,
devour tamales de queso
and each other's souls with
because nothing is real and
face-to-face doesn't matter anymore
since all my best friends are on Facebook.
Except the job, need the job
to pay the bills, at least some of them this month.
The company had a good quarter
but Wal-Mart's still nipping at the heels,
so there's talk, and there's doubt
in theunion local and the back of the mind
taking up the space reserved for hope and compassion.
War in some far-off land is financed by us,
but the school custodian gave up his push broom
in honor of the balanced budget,
and the news reporter repeats the headlines
every five minutes as if we hear it often enough,
it will become the truth. But truth is just
a concept, as empty as the urban myths
that tell us that the traffickers are the bad guys,
as if we don't understand supply and demand.
The smiling college grads ride their
basketed Schwinn cruisers across campus,
throw their battered couches out front
on Ellendale Street, and fly off to the
crunchy apple to work for the firm that
can still put a spin on why the mortgage crisis
was not the banks' fault. The young
and the faithful haven't dug far enough to
unearth the hollow center,
and the bells at San Vicente de Paul still chime.
Deep in the evening, when the fog rolls in
and the seagulls abandon the fast food
dumpsters on Fig., when the carpool lane is empty
and no one needs to hear traffic on the fives,
when inky indigo and streetlamp halos mask the
graffiti murals and
peeling paint on rows of quaint California bungalows,
you crack a beer or three and unlock
the heart that's gone numb from it all.
And I'm on my side, a bag of
carne y huesos on a sagging mattress,
waiting for your poignant fingers
to touch my soul. Together,
we remember why we came here.
We are truth
adrift in a world of decay, hoping to hold
each other for a few hours before
we start another cookie-cutter day.
Copyright 2012 Andrea Mauk
"For our tíos Manuel" by Pocho Luna
"Diaspora negra / Black Diaspora" by Avotcja
"Card Catalogue" by Pedro L. Ramírez
"En nuestra ciudad" by Mari Herrerras
"Passion and Economy: A Postmodern Tale" by Andrea Mauk
During the Mexican revolution my great grandfather, Jesus Luna, crossed the border from Chihuahua into El Paso, then on to Fresno. In 1920 Jesus built an adobe house on the outskirts of the city, it is still our family’s home and the center of our Mexican identity today. I desire to give voice to the experiences of my Chicano family who have gone before, whose spirits walk with me, who whisper in my ear and guide me.
Currently I am a PhD candidate in history at Stanford University. My research involves border issues, Latin American religion, the Cult of Saints in the Hispanic World, Immigration into the Southwest, and the Criminalization of Chicano culture.
Mari Herreras is a fifth-generation Tucsonan, mom, and staff writer for the Tucson Weekly. She loves exploring Tucson and the Southwest with her son, who gives her soul plenty of love to keep writing poetry.
Andrea García Mauk grew up in Arizona, where both the immense beauty and harsh realities of living in the desert shaped her artistic soul. She currently calls Los Angeles home, but has also lived in Chicago, New York and Boston. She has worked in the music industry, and on various film and television productions. She writes short fiction,poetry, original screenplays and adaptations, and is currently finishing two novels. Her writing and artwork has been published and viewed in a variety of places such as on The Late, Late Show with Tom Snyder; The Journal of School Psychologists and Victorian Homes Magazine. Both her poetry and artwork have won awards. Several of her poems and a memoir are included in the 2011 anthology, Our Spirit, Our Reality, and her poetry is featured in the 2012 Mujeres de Maiz “‘Zine.” She is also a moderator of Diving Deeper, an online workshop for writers, and has extensively about music, especially jazz, while working in the entertainment industry.