Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Fair, Fundraiser, Floricanto

Writing American Identity at LA Times Book Fair

Michael Sedano

The Los Angeles Times Book Festival has taken root on the grounds of the University of Southern California. I took the train the whole way. The Gold Line to the Red Line to the Green Line, and exit across the street from the main gate and nearby Green Room.

The campus' level landscape encourages browsers to leisurely promenades from east to west then south to north. Tented booths line every walkway and pack into the campus' numerous shady pocket parks. The gorgeous southern California Spring weather made such strolls de rigueur, especially with so many booths to see.

For the most part booth staff sit and watch the crowds pass. The most aggressive marketing effort I saw was a  sandwich board exhibitor trudging through mildly interested pedestrians. I doubt there's a rule prohibiting exhibitors employ the greet and meet strategy of commercial trade shows.

A trade show costs a lot of money whose pay-back is tough to calculate. In addition to the price of booths, the enterprise has to foot the bills for staff, transportation, meals and other expenses. Much of this becomes unrecovered overhead, the price of "showing the flag" at a prestigious event.

The "greet and meet" approach assigns staff to stand and catch the eye of passersby, offer a friendly greeting, then invite the person into the booth for a conversation, or stop at the table long enough to answer a question and take a bookmark. This method offers a better bang for the buck compared to mutely watching crowds approach, slow, pause, move along. Over the course of an hour observer-operators seeking to sell books at the fair let hundreds of opportunities swerve off down the line.


I hadn't been inside Town & Gown since 1973, when the Festival de Flor y Canto filled the room with Chicana Chicano literature and free lunches. Today, the Times and USC use the space as the Green Room for the writers and we affiliated tipas tipos.

My host for the afternoon is Melinda Palacio. She's to be on the afternoon's stellar panel, Writing American Identity moderated by Hèctor Tobar. The panel joins Reyna Grande, Melinda Palacio, Luis J. Rodriguez, and David Treuer together to relate their current book to the critic's probes.

Luis Rodriguez, Hector Tobar, Melinda Palacio, Alex Espinoza share the excitement of the hour before the panel.

Time passes quickly in the air-conditioned bustle of Town & Gown. The Gluten-free Chicano finds some hummus and celery to go with the Starbuck's coffee. It's a spectacular vista of Doheny Library, Tommy Trojan, and the downtown skyline on the walk to Mark Taper Hall. Back when I was a TA here at USC, my office was in the basement, but then it was called Founder's Hall.

There's a good-sized line outside, folks waiting for the doors to open. I get into the lecture hall early enough to choose a good location and test the ambient light for held held photography. Before the house fills, Daniel Olivas wishes Melinda Palacio a rewarding panel.

The panel draws a full house and excited chatter. Artist José Lozano and poet Gloria Alvarez find seats behind me. I nod to a fellow I met at Alurista's UCLA signing of Floricanto en Aztlán. 

Moderator Hèctor Tobar is a book critic for the Times and a powerful novelist. He's also an accomplished oral reader, a skill he displays by reading a passage he's selected in each writer's book, then tossing them an invitation to talk about their work.


David Treuer recounts his interview methodology for his nonfiction book, "Rez Life: An Indian's Journey Through Reservation Life."

Reyna Grande's detailed and engaging remarks reflect rigors and benefits of touring her memoir "The Distance Between Us".

Luis Rodriguez blends roles of writer, consejero, elder with practiced spontaneity. He weaves in and out of his boostore enterprise, Tia Chucha's, as well as his current book, It Calls You Back.

Melinda Palacio practices effective use of speaking aids, holding up her poetry collection, How Fire is a Story Waiting, When the audience gets outside to signing area 5, they'll spot the familiar cover.

Melinda, who grew up in HP--Huntington Park--pointed out that she, Reyna, and Luis were South Central gente.

After the panel, individual audience members chatted up the writers.

Fundraiser for Rarámuri Tarahumara

Cultural Arts Tours & Workshops put together one of the best organized fundraisers in memory. That was the consensus among those I overhead, among the hundred-plus guests who turned out for a night of plática, ceremony, poetry, song, and boleros by Xavier Montes and Trio de Colores,  

La Bloga friend, and principal in Cultural Arts Tours & Workshops, Vanessa Acosta, identifies Dennis Garcia, Chumash Elder singing birds songs and sharing a Red Tail Hawk story with our guests with Rudy Ortega, Tomair (Capatian) of the Tataviam - San Fernadeno Mission Band Indian, sageing and blessing our event and food.


Manuel and Lupe Morales landscaped their ample backyard into an ideal setting for a maze of chairs and tables. Guests found available seating, introduced one another, then discovered their dinner served in an instant! This element of the amazing organization had people smiling all around. A buffet line would have been a killer on the extensive program.

Olivia Chumacero offers an emigrant's lament on conditions in her Rarámuri tierra. She sings a grandmother song then reads one of her own poems.


Javier Avila speaks at length about his work with the gente of Cañon de Cobre. A Jesuit Priest and Human Rights warrior, Avila's animated information-packed discourse offered some lighter moments when artist writer J. Michael Walker endeavored a translation.

Avila devotes the larger portion of his talk introducing Tarahumara culture, delving briefly into ugliness alluded by Chumacero.

As with any evening fête, the ceremonial elements drew out their moments. By the time poet Naomi Quiñonez was welcomed to the stage, the restless audience induced her to read only briefly.

With poetry completed, it was dance time. Being I get up with la chickenada, I said my farewells and missed the rest of tonight's festivities. Just before I left, artist Mario Trillo handed me a traguito of sotol, so I have a good idea what I was going to miss. Así es.

Penultimate La Bloga On-line Floricanto in March 2013
Viva Flores, Mario Angel Escobar, Em Jollie, Jesus Cortez/Stay True, Tony Díaz

"El Paso Lover" by Viva Flores
"Tribute to Sal Castro (1933-2013) / Tributo a Sal Castro (1933-2013)" by Mario Angel Escobar
“Three P.M., April 15, 2013: Pipestone, MN/Boston, MA” by Em Jollie
“The Promised Land” by Jesus Cortez/Stay True
“Work” by Tony Díaz

El Paso Lover
by Viva Flores

“La Frontera” he says aloud with tilted chin
cigarette dangling out of his upturned mouth.

I lay languidly in dampened sheets as he searches the cityscape downtown,
rasps a match and begins to smoke frantically.
“This place is crazy” he says with uninhibited wonder,
“I can’t wait to leave.”
Then turns his head
expecting me

There are dogs barking faintly somewhere down the street.

I think back to when you mentioned
your childhood and the
westerns you’d watch on TV,
there were saloons , right?
gunslingers who never gave up
women with long hair and
bit parts that looked,
that looked
just like me?

I want to say this and so many things.

When you return to your University and write about
the desolate border,
describe the harrowing conditions you were forced to live under
I doubt you’ll detail
how your desolate
existed years before
that night we exchanged
badly scribbled phone numbers.
How it burned
anxiously in the mind of a little boy
lonely who watched too many westerns
on TV , grown into
a man
desperately grasping for
lost identities
like hoping to find a pair of leatherette shoes
that match from a discard pile.

You come to the border,
stay awhile,
only to
later regale friends and memoirs with your
rugged phase.

You forget my face,
melding me into just another seamless memory
of the naked Mexican women once strewn
on your bed.

Do your lovers in Chicago or New York fuck less
hungrily than I do,
to you?

He writes about heads chopped in Juarez and sometimes the nobility of the
Mexican milieu,
dropped head in reverence for the countless women buried,
blind to how he buries
burrows and uses this place
to hide secrets in its women,

Every city has its saloons.

All of this I want to say.

Downtown apartments lead to
drunken rooms
in Anywhere, USA,
and lonely little boys can move anyplace
only to remain

We don’t need another gunslingin’ hero to
come and save the day,
“La Frontera”.

Viva Flores 2013

by Mario Angel Escobar

A body is dead
but the spirit of a teacher
still lives in the gentle
landscape of dreams.

The cry of his activism,
vibrant red in the horizon,
is an encouraging hug
that pushes us to continue
to demand justice in
the educational system.

His legacy today,
tomorrow and forever
will be a battle cry:

Sal Castro!
Sal Castro!
Sal Castro!


por Mario Angel Escobar

Ha muerto un cuerpo
pero sigue vivo un maestro
en el tierno paisaje de los sueños.

El grito de su activismo
que el horizonte guarda,
es un alentador abrazo
que nos empuja a seguir
exigiendo justicia.

Ahora él es, una leve mirada
llena de gritos que entra
por el alma y se convierte
en grito de lucha:

¡Sal Castro!
¡Sal Castro!
¡Sal Castro!


by Mario A. Escobar
Edited by Francisco X. Alarcón

Three P.M., April 15, 2013: Pipestone, MN / Boston, MA
by Em Jollie

Here we kneel, for a few hallowed moments,
on the small island of dry rock
showing from beneath Minnesota snow.
Red Pipestone seems to glow and sing
with the waterfall. Ancestors crowd
along the stream as our foreheads touch
down on frigid Earth just long enough
for us to Bless and be Blessed.

There they kneel, for long frightening moments,
and fall and tear and run -- some towards the blast,
others away. Several never to run again. Red
shines on the sidewalks, say the news channels,
repeating, recreating the carnage. Amidst stories
of those who rushed in to assist, donate blood,
help in any way possible.

What can I say from this Sacred place of Ancient
Ceremony? That it has been mined for centuries
in order to carve holy Chanupas, Talmaqns,
making grace from something hard? That our human
history is full of senseless killing, that it still happens
all over the world today, but that there always have been
and always will be those who are called to Pray?

No words that can undo the damage, make sense
of the grief, just that those Prayers
come alive, and grow, and grow,
carried in hopeful hearts until
the healing is done,
and Peace is all we know.

The Promised Land
by Jesus Cortez

Yes, America, as we left
Our small town with hunger pangs,
All we could think of were food stamps
All we could think of was welfare.

Yes, America, as we travelled
Through unknown lands,
Within our own country,
We dreamed of the Projects.

Yes, America, as we attempted
To cross your border,
All we could dream of
Was never leaving again.

Yes, America, as your border patrol
Shot at us at the border,
All we could dream of was
Being Patriotic and dying for you.

Yes, America, as they tried
To kill our soul in your schools,
All I could think of was going to
College for free.

Yes, America, as your police
Kicked our legs open,
Violated our bodies,
We wished to be accepted.

We dreamed of this Promised Land
Where we could die.

We dreamed of this Promised Land
Where we are judged.

We dreamed of this Promised Land
Where freedom is a farce.

This promise…
This land…
This dream…

This land for the few,
This hate for the many

Who were never promised anything.

By: Jesus Cortez

by Tony Díaz, El Librotraficante

My parents picked crops.
I pick my destiny.

My mother and father worked jobs no one else wanted.
I create works no one else imagined.

Mis padres believed in the American Dream.
I am blessed to shape it.

Copyright 2013 Tony Diaz
All rights reserved
Previously published at www.thehuffingtonpost.com, 4/12/2013

"El Paso Lover" by Viva Flores
"Tribute to Sal Castro (1933-2013) / Tributo a Sal Castro (1933-2013)" by Mario Angel Escobar
“Three P.M., April 15, 2013: Pipestone, MN/Boston, MA” by Em Jollie
“The Promised Land” by Jesus Cortez/Stay True
“Work” by Tony Díaz

Viva Flores is a poet and performer living and working out of El Paso, TX. has written and produced a one-woman show, “Mujer Corazon” in 2007, as well as a play, “Moños de Batalla, a Revolutionary Fairy Tale” in 2009. Performance highlights include reciting poetry at the Border Book Festival in 2008 at the NALAC Conference 2008, The Chicano Moratorium March in Los Angeles 2010, alongside Jimmy Santiago Baca at NMSU in 2010, and being invited as a special guest for Lalo Delgado’s Annual Birthday Celebration by the Metro College in Denver 2010. Viva was also featured at Café Cultura in Denver, 2010, Barbed Wire Open Mic, El Paso 2011 and Flowers of Fire, 2011 in Los Angeles, and most recently at Resistencia Bookstore 2012, Austin, TX. She was also a featured performer at “El Mundo Zurdo, An International Conference on the Life and Work of Gloria Anzaldua, UTSA 2010, and performed for Tony Diaz’s famed “Librotraficantes” movement, 2012. Published poetry includes Mujeres de Maiz Anthology Editions Cantando al Amanecer 2007 and La Sagrada 2009, the upcoming Anthologies Mussa 2013 and From Turtle Island to Abya Yala, Malinalli Press, 2012, and the Rio Grande Review online edition 2013. Her first book of poetry, Capitana is due out in 2013, edited by Juan Pablo Plata.
Viva spent several years performing as the dubious Chicana poet “La RaNa”.

Mario A. Escobar (January 19, 1978-) is a US-Salvadoran writer and poet born in 1978. Although he considers himself first and foremost a poet, he is known as the founder and editor of Izote Press, the first Central American publisher in the United States. Escobar was born in La Union (El Salvador) on January 19, 1978. Escobar has stated that his exposure to “poetic sounds” began during his childhood and that his foundation in poetry stemmed from what he witness during the Salvadoran Civil War. Escobar began his writing career by the age of 13 as a poet. He cites Roque Dalton, Tato Laviera and Jaime Sabines as some of his early poetic influences. Escobar’s work has been feature in UCLA’s publication Underground Undergrads which recognizes the poet as an activist for the undocumented Student Movement. In 2004, Escobar was placed under arrest and was scheduled to be deported. In 2006, Escobar won his case for political asylum making him one of the last Salvadorans to win a political case fourteen years after the Salvadoran Peace Accords were signed in 1992. Escobar currently lives in Alhambra. Escobar has been featured in documentaries like Mimoun en Mario, studenten met een missie and in The healing Club. Some of Escobar’s works include Al corre de la horas (Editorial Patria Perdida, 1999) Gritos Interiores (Cuzcatlan Press, 2005), La Nueva Tendencia (Cuzcatlan Press, 2005), Paciente 1980 (Orbis Press, 2012).

em jollie currently resides in the woodland hills of western mass on the vermont border. she loves the natural world & all our relations. she plays wooden flutes, and is learning ukelele. visual art is another medium she enjoys. em identifies as a full blood breed (mi'kmaq anishinaabe acadian-french german). questions, comments, greetings welcome: emjollie@gmail.com

Jesus Cortez grew up in Anaheim as an undocumented immigrant to a single mother. His love for poetry comes from the love for stories his mother told him growing up. He hopes that his poetry creates a sense of awareness about the struggles, the pain, but also the resistance that exists in the undocumented community.


Steve Beisner said...


Wow... excellent article.
Thanks for such a great review
of the book fair.

Houston Skyline said...

Nice post. Book trade shows are always a good time.