Guest Columnist Sarah R. Garcia, Xicana Travelogue
Hannover: A Chicana’s Perception
Hannover, Germany May 12-19, 2013
Note: Sarah R. Garcia is founder of Barrio Writers. She is on a European study program. This is part of her series of dispatches from the European front.
If it weren’t for the cacophony of raspy verbiage and phonation of scrambled street names in the vast diversity in culture that quickly flashes before me, I could have confused the tram ride in Hanover Germany for one in New York or Los Angeles.
Upon passing the Königsworther Platz university exit, the sidewalks were crowded with scarves in one lane and bicycles in the other. The deafening low-high ambulances and the licorice aroma sifting through open-close rail doors redirected my attention at every new stop. My childlike curiosity had been bluntly awoken, forcing my senses to absorb the familiar and unfamiliar.
My first Hanover rail excursion had triggered nostalgia, reminding me of various travel endeavors in the past. Then just as I blinked again, I caught a quick glance of a sidewalk display of literature. A wooden cabinet with a glass door filled with books was sitting on the pavement amongst the pedestrians and cyclists.
At first, I assumed the public bookcase was a form of activism in Germany, maybe a way to trump some sort of book ban, similar to Arizona House Bill 2281 in the states. But without being able to read German, I was left to my own thoughts.
While skimming through a clothed cover with black lettering, I envisioned Tony Diaz with Librotraficante shouting, “scheiße!” and furiously stocking the bookcases with Dagoberto Gilb, Sandra Cisneros, Howard Zinn and Paulo Freire throughout Hannover.
Chuckling out loud, I exchanged books from one shelf to the next, simply scrutinizing strange words and marked pages that made up second-hand books. Contemplation set in, if it’s not an act of revolt, then maybe a visual art piece by a local library? Naively, I hoped to discover the reason within the texts themselves.
Later that evening, after tasting the döner box (lamb, fries, tzaziki and cabbage salad in a to-go box) and sipping on the complimentary Turkish hot tea, I interviewed my German housemate about the bookcase only a short distance away. She casually dismissed my curiosity by stating, “You know, so people can exchange free books.” Later, other German students informed me of other bookcases around town.
During the following days, I waited for the trailing image of the public bookcase while on my way home from Uni. My peering grew into research, research turned into deeper contemplation. The origin of the public bookcase was inspired by the “Bookcrossing” concept, which is the system of leaving a book at a public place to simply be picked up by someone else, with the intent to eventually influence others to do the same.
While riding the Stöcken 5 to Uni and back, my mind raced with ideas and comparisons. There have been many café’s and hostels in which I have picked up and left books because they too encourage building community through literacy. In Australia, I left a copy of Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country in a tree house hostel in Mission Beach and picked up Kafka’s Metamorphosis in The Forest (a communal home) in Brisbane.
One book sharing location I visit regularly is Calacas Café in Santa Ana, California. Their white, wooden crate is creatively marked to promote literacy and community support in the heart of my childhood city. Often, novels in English and Spanish are piled next to old college texts and favorite Chicano/a reads.
Such thoughts immerse daily, the weathered bookcase flashes by as a fragmented moment in time that not only transposes my traveler tales but also emits German history and humanity.
It is not difficult to contemplate the history of Germany when trotting over brick pathways that are embedded with brass plates honoring Holocaust victims. After encountering such reminders in the streets and discussing German history, Kafka and the Guttenberg press, the public bookcase across from the Herrenhäuser Markt train stop, found its way into my course at Leibniz Universität Hannover. Upon re-reading Metamorphosis as a class requirement in Germany, I found new meaning to one of his quotes. Franz Kafka once stated, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.” Basically, books have an impact on our lives and sometimes they allow us to see ourselves from beneath the layers of disconnection.
Considering I am clearly across the Atlantic Ocean and closer to the North Sea at the moment, I find it ironic that I’m digging through foreign history only to realize that the U.S.A. is starting to mirror some of it. Take Arizona for example, by passing laws that alienate people and abolish ethnic studies, they have created the notion of keeping a “pure” race, only acknowledging the ideals of those in power, rather than the general population. It is quite disheartening to know the potential outcome of such governing. Scheiße, indeed.
As my thoughts continued to form later in the week, I returned to the public bookcase to capture its existence on camera, my German housemate joined me. I recounted that the public bookcases are maintained by volunteers, and mentioned their derivation, “Yeah, so the public bookcase actually originated in Hannover and Darmstadt in the 1990s as ‘free open air libraries.’ Since then, many other places around the world also started using them too. Cool huh?”
She had no knowledge of it until now. And that’s when it all hit me at once. Of course Germany was first to disseminate the public bookcase concept! Just like it was Gutenberg who invented the first printing press around 1450. It led to the printing revolution, eventually providing access to the bible, poetry and other types of literature to vast audiences in various languages.
It all seemed to resonate through a high-speed lens - from the tram window, to past travel memories and now onto my camera in front of my eye. All the images from the last week collected in shutter speed and stopped within a blink. Made me think of Kafka once again, who would’ve thought that the Hannover public bookcase that some just see as a blur from the rail, would be my axe to till through German history and rediscover my own life? Huh, in a way, these words are also a public display of exchangeable literature.
Academics: Afrofuturism Lensed Through Chicanafuturism
It seems ancient history, because it is. My friend and research partner, Sidney, was excited his friend Molefi Asante would be at the speech association conference in San Antonio. Molefi was bringing Sidney a copy of Molefi’s new book. Sidney’s excitement was contagious and I, too, wanted a look at a book called Afrocentricity. This struck me as serious stuff, a theoretical parallel to literature’s role in developing liberation epistemology.
Molefi was tardy. He missed the first day of the conference. The second day, he shows up with the promised book. Having spent the day prior partying in Laredo, he’s driven directly to the conference from la frontera. Covered in a garish sarape and wearing a fiesta sombrero, Molefi Asante hands over the promised copy of Afrocentricity.
That incongruous meeting with Asante was in the back of my mind the other day when a “Call for chapters for an anthology on Afrofuturism 2.0” arrived. Asante's landmark work stands among the progenitors of this line of scholarly inquiry.
Here are a few datos, from Reynaldo Anderson:
Afrofuturism, is a transnational, diasporic, and cultural aesthetic that interrogates the past, present and future in literature, technology, art, or music, and challenges Eurocentric motifs of identity, time and space. While this approach has grown in the past decade, there has been limited engagement with Afrofuturism’s relationship to the discipline of Africana studies, or Africology.
Anderson and his research partner are soliciting scholarly research, theoretical essays, and applied studies that explore how the concept of Afrofuturism is related to other futurisms such as Rastafuturism, Chicanafuturism, Occidental futurism or Techno-Orientalism.
Contact Reynaldo Anderson at the Department of Arts and Sciences, Harris-Stowe State University, Saint Louis, MO, via Email.
Memorial Day 2013: Face-to-Face With the Enemy in Panmunjom 1970
For the US Army soldier serving on the world’s highest anti-aircraft missile site, Mae Bong mountain, thoughts of North Korea lurked just at the edge of awareness.
From the mile high mountain peak, North Korea lay somewhere out there, past one of those repetitious ranges of barren mountains stretching off to the horizon.
Our mission mirrored the name of our weapon: Homing All the Way Killer. The HAWK system is a big computer connected via a series of radars and umbilical cords to guided missile launchers. Mae Bong--Site 7/5 in signals lingo, Bravo Battery 7/5 its formal designation--perched at the mouth of MiG Alley.
An invading MiG could maneuver through valleys, around peaks, go high or fly low, finding easy targets on the ground or driving hell-bent to bomb Seoul a few minutes downrange. That’s why we’re up here on the mountain. Air defense artillery will be the first line of defense.
|Sp/4 Sedano standing with microphone.|
A pair of radars work in triangulation with the big radar. The Identification Friend-or-Foe radar makes sure that’s a bad guy, the Illuminator radar locks on to the hostile planes and sics missiles.
As supersonic jets dodge behind mountains, the BCC predicts emergence and points the Illuminator. The microsecond the target reappears, the Illuminator reacquires it as expected, all the while guiding the in-flight HAWK to the lethal interception point.
To reload, crewmen drive a tractor from a nearby stack of aluminum cans where missiles wait to be extracted, prepped, loaded, installed, and fired.
Once the hill runs out of missiles, our job atop Mae Bong was done. We’d either pick up our rifles and head toward the smoke, or hold on to that mountain.
That was the theory. What we laughed about during those hours huddled against the elements came from thoughts of tanks and screaming hordes of North Korean infantry filling the valley below us, waiting for us to come on down. The day we found a withered boot with an Australian soldier’s bones, it wasn’t so funny.
|The DMZ on left, South Korea on right.|
North Koreans remained an abstraction until the day I read a Special Services offer of a trip to Panmunjom and the Joint Security Area. The sign-up sheet filled early. Since everything about our year in Korea originates from this place, a year’s duty in this country wouldn’t be complete without a visit to where it all began.
The JSA is a tourist destination, neutral territory straddling the line between North Korea and South. But as GIs we weren’t tourists and were ordered to dress the part. Khaki was our summer uniform, but unlike duty days, today we were required to wear all our brass, medals, ribbons. Someone in charge somewhere decided we needed to look like strac troopers.
Briefly I recall Xenophon's soldiers sneaking up on the Persians for their first sight of the fearsome warriors. When the spies witness their baby-eating foe lounging around the campfire, combing their hair and preening in front of mirrors, the fear goes out of the Greeks. How will our first face-to-face meeting with North Koreans shape our perceptions?
The busload of GIs single filed into the central building, the room where negotiators brought hostilities to a close back in 1953. In the middle, a rectangular table holds the blue UN flag and the red star of North Korea. A cable laid across the table is the demarcation line, the MP explains. The line runs around the world, the 38th parallel, and from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan it marks the dividing line between the two Koreas.
|Sedano with "Bridge of No Return" and North Korea in background.|
“They” is two North Korean soldiers, an officer and an enlisted man. The soldiers walk around our group. The MPs position themselves between us and the two North Korean soldiers, herding us toward the bus, then onto it and into our seats. It’s time to leave.
The two soldiers walk around the bus to stand below our open bus windows. In unaccented speech, well modulated and unrushed, the EM says to his officer, “How about that. We scared the shit out of a whole busload of GIs.”
Six years later, not far from this foto, North Korean soldiers will axe murder two U.S. soldiers, Arthur Bonifas and Mark Barrett. I always wonder if these two guys were part of that attack.
On-Line Floricanto Sees May End
Gail Bornfield, Iris De Anda, Rose Valencia Sanchez, Nancy Lechuga, Andrea Mauk
"The Journey" by Gail Bornfield
"Red Leather Heart (for my mama)" by Iris De Anda
"Long Ago and Every After" by Rose Valencia Sanchez,
"Segundo Memories" by Nancy Lechuga
"Potato Salad Epiphanies" by Andrea Mauk
by Gail Bornfield
They survived the coyotes
The Mexican drug cartels
They climbed the border fence
Walked across the Sonoran desert
To have a chance
To begin a new life
To make a home
In the land of opportunity
Now, dressed in their best
Oaxacan embroidered white
With a whisper of hope
He takes her hand
Exchanging a glance
They dart across the roadway
Hoping to go unnoticed
Their journey nearly over
Red Leather Heart (for my mama)
by Iris De Anda
My fondest memory is her standing
in red leather knee length boots
they came to represent
her heart on fire
for each one of us
she had a certain look
and we were 5
the fiercest mujer
I've ever known
who loved him
like no one ever could
not even himself
when things changed fast
she held even faster to prayer
she had known this pain before
when leaving her country
plagued by war
she left a piece of her corazón
in the river of her mother &
her fathers' mountain
she followed her destiny north
like many have done before
she stands here still
weaving our lives with love
& warming our bellies with masa
her tears transformed into agua ardiente
that runs in my veins
I get all my goodness from her
my strong roots &
the dreaming of better days to come
Long Ago and Every After
by Rose Valencia Sanchez
Opening up my heart,
but closing my eyes
I am a child again
You are gentle & patient,
trying in vain
to work a brush
through my wild
copper curly hair.
A hazy, but still sweet memory
We are there,
Sitting on the front porch steps.
In the soft summer twilight you hear me,
(YOU ARE REALLY LISTENING!)
As I jabber and make no sense.
Even through approaching darkness
I see the love you feel for me
shining bright in your brown eyes.
Joy & Pride.
When I close my eyes
The taste of my favorite breakfast
On a dismal winter morning
Teases my taste buds
Scrambled, fluffy eggs
flanked by golden white bread
One slice with butter & Welches grape jelly,
One slice with butter only.
Hot, steamy cocoa
Sometimes with mini marshmallows.
Best of all,
savoring one last moment with you.
Before you had to send me off
to books, learning & school
Did I ever tell you?
All those day I just waited,
hurrying back home as soon as I could to you
away from all those strangers
Back to safe and secure
the way you helped me to feel
whenever I was with you.
My memories build
funny and sad times
that only my momma comprehends.
Even after we are both gone,
our bond will never end.
do you remember the cat falling out the window,
Spaghetti dinners in box?
Or you sitting patiently on a bird pooped bench in the park
While daddy & I rode bikes or jogged?
I think I can even remember as far back
to the summer I learned to walk.
We ran barefoot just you and I,
Didn't we squish our toes in a teeny patch of green grass?
Watching hazy clouds drape themselves across a summer sky?
When I open my eyes
Your heart still beats for me.
When you close yours, do you remember when
You laid your hand upon your swollen belly
Wishing I would kick.
I responded to your voice
and your touch
inside you felt
the budding promise of your baby girl
and nothing but my love.
Dedicated to my momma Claudia Valencia
When anyone wants to know what kind of childhood I had,
please read this poem.
I love you momma.
I love you.
by Nancy Lechuga
Fondly, I remember,
McDonald’s figurines lined up uniformly on windowsills,
a bright pink porch pointing out the boldest of Mexicans
a cholo on a bike balancing a pot of hot menudo on the handlebars,
blue coconut slushies after church on Sunday,
freshly made Mata’sProduce tortillas,
and over- the- hill Chicanos playing wallball
(I carry the hollow sound of their little blue balls
hitting the concrete walls in the wallet I carry
in my back pocket).
I remember locuras.
Playing hair salon and picking off the toritos from the neighbor’s bushes,
thin walls, and Cata la Loca’s moans penetrating my pillow head muffs,
aluminum can collections Friday morning with Grandma Antonia
and Blueford, the neighborhood bum, asking for a peseta.
(I gave him several of my domingos).
Yo recuerdo cucarachas.
A mural of the Virgen outside my door, and matachines
killing the roaches I sprayed with Raid, immortals that hid
behind the rings of my three ring binder and surprising
three seventh graders.
(Memories stick to me like roaches
behind the microwave timer screens,
they stick like a wad of bubblegum tape
on a seven year old’s hair,
just so daddy would cut it.)
I remember Cri Cri’s Caminito a la Escuela.
Anglo principals in Mexican schools,
summer programs from hell,
scary stories told in an Alamo Elementary’s school basement,
everyone’s personal encounter with La Llorona
and the less popular sister no one talks about.
(And in 1995, Lourdes the lunch lady announced Selena’s death,
screaming at the top of her lungs, startling
the third graders doing arm circles during P.E.).
I remember a time before Facebook.
Photographs of unknown family members forgotten
in shoe boxes, and my favorite picture of Tio Gordo’s
old baby blue Plymouth, windows rolled down,
and my dad and him smoking a joint.
(I placed that picture behind the clear plastic of my three ring binder.)
I remember teenagers entertaining
little cousins of various ages at Armijo Park,
Limon con sal for car sickness,
and Planned Parenthood Durex condoms
for backseat initiation.
(I still have a drawer full of old apartment keys
and old camera rolls my mom forgot to take to Walgreen’s,
I still have the agua bendita in a glass Coca Cola bottle
that my mom kept underneath the kitchen sink
to ward of bad spirits and to sprinkle on rebellious
teenage girls with hickie necklaces).
I remember the time before the neighbor ran off with my dad.
A line around Bowie Bakery for francesitos,
the place where my parents met,
and even though I wasn’t conceived
on the bread making table,
I’m a real panecito.
Potato Salad Epiphanies
by Andrea Mauk
There is no one left in the house
except for me and the potatoes,
their skins cracked just enough
to let the steam rise from the pot
and hit my face.
Who ever thought of boiling potatoes in Arizona
The potatoes are like a sentence to me,
not a phrase of words, but jail time
where all I can do is remember things
I don't want to think about,
so I think about this:
If you boil the potatoes first,
their skins slip right off.
There are many such epiphanies to be had
making potato salad.
My family likes to use the red potatoes
maybe because my mom is an artist and
red skins are more aesthetically pleasing
than the paper bag brown.
I like them when you leave the skins on.
The steam curls around my face,
opening my nostrils,
beads of sweat form on my upper lip.
I touch the skins gently,
coaxing them off without digging.
I know that wasting food is bad since
somewhere there is a child with a bloated belly
who only gets one bowl of rice all day.
I prefer potatoes.
I like the feel of the warm crumbly bulbs
under my fingertips.
I am touching food,
something my mother can't do anymore.
Last year she stopped cooking.
She writhes in the bed
and moans in pain
and she screams bloody murder
when the only thing that is killing her is her mind.
It is so damned hard to not have a mother
when I can see her body right there
breathing in and out, when I can talk to her.
I want to ask her, Mommy, am I pretty? Am I good?
Will anyone ever love me
or will I always feel invisible?
She just says, I love you, honey,
but you don't come home anymore
and I worry about you. Where are you?
I want to ask her the same question.
She's right, I don't go home much anymore.
Instead I stay here at my second mom's house
alone with the naked potatoes,
and the hard boiled eggs in the sauce pan
that I've soaked with cold water
so I can touch them.
My second mom taught me that.
My second mom is no relation.
Isn't that funny?
I live with this family
that I consider my family
and I don't know how it happened,
how it came to me being a part of them,
but I think it was God who sent them to me
or me to them, not sure which,
probably me to them
like I was a lost puppy in need of a home.
But I am taller than all of them,
and I don't look like them much,
except for maybe the youngest son.
Is that why God picked them?
My second mom and them,
they went to the park for a picnic.
I'll go once I'm done cooking.
Before they left, I asked my second mom
what she wanted in the potato salad.
So many people put weird stuff in it
like mustard and pickle relish,
each family is different.
You can tell a lot about a family
from their potato salad.
That's why I had to ask her out of respect,
I couldn't assume anything.
She gave me my real mom's potato salad recipe,
Maybe that's why God picked her
to take care of me
until my real mom
Copyright 2013 Andrea Mauk
All rights reserved
"The Journey" by Gail Bornfield
"Red Leather Heart (for my mama)" by Iris De Anda
"Long Ago and Every After" by Rose Valencia Sanchez,
"Segundo Memories" by Nancy Lechuga
"Potato Salad Epiphanies" by Andrea Mauk
Gail Bornfield grew up on a small family farm in the rural Midwest. She is an educator in the public schools and a community volunteer. Her degrees are from the University of Iowa and the University of Arizona. She has also published short stories, essay, and poetry in The Tucson Weekly, The Oracle, The Hummingbird Review and La Bloga. Gail also has written a children’s chapter book.
Rose currently resides Arizona, and is fighting against racial intolerance and injustice aimed at the people she was always taught to be so proud of. The first thing you see when you walk up to Rose's front door is a sign on her front window that states "NO SB1070." She carries this statement inside her heart, and it fills up her every waking moment. She is fighting this war her words, her weapons is drawn, she is ready to battle.
Nancy Lechuga is an El Paso poet and educator. She conducts writing workshops in her community and is currently at work on her first book of poems.
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 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 a regular contributor to Poets responding to SB 1070. Her poems have been chosen for publication on La Bloga’s Tuesday Floricanto numerous times. She is also a moderator of Diving Deeper, an online workshop for writers, and has written extensively about music, especially jazz, while working in the entertainment industry. Her production company, Dancing Horse Media Group, is currently in pre-production of her independent film, “Beautiful Dreamer,” based on her original screenplay and manuscript, and along with her partners, is producing a unique cookbook that blends healthful recipes with poetry and prose from the community.