Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Review: Multidimensional Tripping. Armando Baeza, Sculptor. Gluten-free Chicano Cooks. Ellis Island Film. Veterans Day.

Review: Jesús Salvador Treviño. Return to Arroyo Grande. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1-55885-819-0

Michael Sedano

Not only can you, you should go home again. But it will never be the same. That’s part of the take-away from Jésus Salvador Treviño’s stories about raza kids who leave their extraordinary hometown to make careers elsewhere. As many others do, the kids of Arroyo Grande scatter after high school, off to the town next door, sluggard jobs, Hollywood studios, big time New York art world. Then, when disaster looms for Arroyo Grande, there’s a hometown power that pulls the kids together, old flames rekindle, old memories live, old magic is new. And they save the day.

But what if, in a parallel universe, the old barrio is razed, a casino sucks out all the decency the kids once showed each other?

Then again, what if, in an alternate dimension you wake up and your dead wife is alive, as if almost everything has been a bad dream and you struggle when people around you think you mad?

Then you’d have Jesus Salvador Treviño’s latest collection of short stories, Return to Arroyo Grande, hot off the presses from Arte Publico Press. Return to Arroyo Grande is an intricate segue from Treviño’s two earlier collections, The Fabulous Sinkhole and The Skyscraper That Flew. Not that a reading of the earlier works is required. Still, Return to Arroyo Grande will have readers rushing to Arte Publico's website, or their local indie bookseller, to order the predecessors.

Treviño takes that “save the hometown from the developers” plot and sets it in a world where time shifting multidimensionality sends characters and events spinning in wildly divergent realities before folding time back on itself to beat the bad guys.

In the process, Treviño lets his imagination run freely, and delightfully, through the mind-bending conundrum of time-shifting and alternate dimensions. Yoli, Choo Choo, and Jeannie pass in and out of the same-but-different worlds, joined by a host of characters named Max Martinez, Rolando Hinojosa, Gary Keller (what, no Nick Kanellos?) whose resemblance to actual people is a coincidence, Treviño claims with a sly grin.

The Library of Congress calls Return to Arroyo Grande a short story collection, but Treviño weaves the collection into an eight chapter novel with chapters ending with a “no, he didn’t” cliffhanger. Will Yoli get to Parsons in NY, or is she destined to be a grocery bagger the rest of her life? Will Choo Choo make his movie, Attack of the Lowrider Zombies, or will he be stuck as a trash picker at Universal Studios? Will pragmatic Jeannie stay in the closet and go about a life of quiet desperation? And Bobby, will those critters turn him into floating protoplasm? Will Junior help Charlie get over killing Choo Choo?

You have to read Return to Arroyo Grande to get all the nuances and funny, funny stuff that happens on every page. Choo Choo, for example, wants to go to USC film school. He does, but he’s killed when, eyes in the viewfinder, backs into the street while filming his senior thesis. Or, the thesis film gets him financing from Paramount and Choo Choo becomes a big time movie-maker.

In Arroyo Grande, anything can happen. Magic is real. Imagine a world, your world, cruising along the time-space continuum, and it’s not alone. Looping along next to yours are infinite versions of the world you’re in right now. You’re always you as you slip through parallel dimensions and the other world hits the pause button.

Return to Arroyo Grande isn’t all fun and games. As with all top-notch speculative fiction, important perspectives lurk just beneath the surface, like the stuff that floated out of Mrs. Romero’s front yard in Trevino’s 1995 first book, The Fabulous Sinkhole.

Yoli does go to New York and becomes a fabulous painter. Her best work, a mind-bogglingly great portrait of Mrs. Romero, owes its appeal not to Yoli’s ability but the tube of light-defying Xenosium paint Yoli pulled out of Mrs. Romero’s sinkhole. You have a choice, Junior, a shrink, tells the unfortunate Charlie, who didn’t. Treviño sets up the choice option in the person of a street painter whose canvases hang in museums and major galleries, purchased by rich guys for millions. Disgusted by that, he reproduces his work and sells it on the sidewalk to ordinary gente for ten bucks or whatever you can afford.

Yoli makes a similar choice. She destroys all her work because she’d rather be known for her skill than her magic. She doesn’t want to become a fabulous artist with a gimmick, she prefers to make it big on her own.

Arroyo Grande isn’t a man’s world, either. Choo Choo aside, Yoli and Jeannie are the key characters as the novel-short stories reach their climactic end. Along with Mayor Nancy Cervantes and the ghost of Mrs. Romero, women take the lead in getting the kids back home to organize against developers Rebber and Barrón. And when the pueblo achieves what they assume is their victory, the archbishop wants to throw a big party, ¡Ajua!

The party’s the thing whereby to catch the conscience of el pueblo unguarded. Rebber, Barrón, and their corrupt pals on the city council approve the razing of the barrio. It looks like a bitter ending after all.

Arroyo Grande is a magic place. Magic takes over, saves la causa. Yoli and Choo Choo settle down in the old home town but it’s a completely different Arroyo Grande than the home they returned to save. In the final analysis, el pueblo loses by winning. Nonetheless, there's lots of joy in change.

Is this yet another time-shifted dimension? Ay, yi yi; there’s the rub. And the fun.

Arte Publico makes it easy to order copies of Return to Arroyo Grande, for you and all your reading friends--in fact, all three of Trevino's fantasies--by phone, 1-800-633-ARTE, or via the publisher's website. The trilogy makes an outstanding holiday gift, or hostess present if you're doing turkey day with friends.

Studio Visit: Armando Baeza, Sculptor

Two years speed by when you're in and out of a sickbed not having fun. A couple years ago, Mario Trillo and I planned to have lunch honoring sculptor Armando Baeza's birthday, as we'd done in years past. 

Then Mando was hospitalized and endured an extended recovery time. Around the same time, I was felled by illness that required too darn long to recover. I got back as much as I'll ever have only this Spring. 

Finally our health and plans coalesced to allow some friends and me to pay Alice and Armando a visit in their fabulously artful home. Collectors for years--before there was "Chicano art"--the house is a treasure trove of important artists and in many cases, early and highly distinguished work. And as one would expect, a breath-taking array of sculpture by the Maestro.

Alice Baeza, a retired bilingual teacher, is also an artist, a weaver. A founder of the California Association of Bilingual Educators, Alice persuaded Armando to sculpt CABE's annual award for the year's top bilingual educator. Such a wondrous piece, I regretted not becoming a bilingual educator just to be in consideration for the trophy. 

Alice and Armando offered gracious hospitality and warm conversation about their art collection, Alice's looms and weavings, and Armando's studio. The weaving behind Armando in the foto above is one of Alice's works.

Alice shows Angel Guerrero and Barbara Sedano one of the three looms in the living room.

Just as Alice was explaining the loom, two more friends arrived, Mario Trillo and Naiche Lujan. After abrazos, it was a perfect opportunity for Armando to show Naiche an early sculpture by his dad, Magu. In the mirror, Mario Guerrero and Naiche admire the Magu, a piece Naiche did not know existed.

Typical of Magu, qepd, the sculpture was a gift from artist to artist.

After lunch, dessert was Armando's tour of the studio.

Armando is a whirlwind of sculpting frenzy these days. The 92-year old Armando explains he's had so many ideas building up, projects in process, and long-delayed reworks, that he spends hour upon hour in the studio. Baeza has been working so intensely that he's injured himself and has to wear a protective glove to ensure a firm grip on his tools. 

The studio is amazing, so completely gratifying to see finished work, various stages of work-in-process, but not without its heartbreaks.

Above, Armando shows a piece he's finishing. Red wax figures are one step from the final mold that goes to the foundry. But not all of them. The horses in the foreground, for example, are slated for destruction owing to flaws or likely problems in the casting process. Such wondrous work, but imperfections don't make it out of the studio.

Armando Baeza explains the position of the figure's hand will likely not cast effectively. He's holding a piece that he altered the position of the hand and that will be cast in bronze.

Slated to be destroyed, not to Armando's standards.
If the horses look familiar, you probably know the My Little Pony toys Mattel sells by the millions. Armando Baeza's career as a Mattel toy-maker included sculpting numerous My Little Ponies.

Slated to be destroyed because of the problematic right hand.

The elongated mother and child wax will go to the foundry. When it returns, Armando will clean up the various manchas and pits that invariably accompany the casting process. Raul Baeza, Alice and Armando's son, will add patina and fashion a base. In the foto below, Armando shows a finished sculpture from the red wax model in the foto above.

Angel Guerrero fell in love with un angelito negro. Mario asked Armando if he could buy it for his wife. Armando looks at it lovingly, and agrees to part with it.

"Is it signed?" Mario asked. Armando wasn't sure. He searched the surfaces for the inscribed signature.

Armando is pretty sure he signed it but wasn't sure. Above, Baeza examines the piece with magnifying lenses and sure enough, he signed her. Behind Angel's angelita is the figure with the problematic hand that Armando has now corrected by flattening the palm.

For the visitors, Armando's tour of his workshop offered puro excitement. For Armando, excitement grows from a promise Mario Guerrero made. Mario, a Cerritos College Distinguished Faculty Awardee in Machine Tool Technology, is setting up a 3D scanner and printing lab and has promised Armando a hands-on visit in the near future. Mario jokes he can take one of Armando's hand-wrought pieces, scan it, and run off a thousand copies on his 3D printer. La Bloga hopes to cover that meeting.

Below, our extended familia. Seated, Armando Baeza, Barbara Sedano, Alice Baeza, Angel Guerrero. Standing, Mario Trillo, Michael Sedano, Naiche Lujan, Mario Guerrero. The Baeza garden features wonderful epiphyllum cacti and is shaded by several gorgeous colors of Plumeria, along with fruits and other well-established ornamentals.

The Gluten-free Chicano Cooks
Pork Chop Bake on Quinoa

A hallowe'en fest at Casa Sedano came to an exciting conclusion when The Gluten-free Chicano discovered Concepción Valadez' delicious quinoa salad left-over in the icebox. Quinoa not only is naturally gluten-free, the seed's complex carbohydrates are healthful alternatives to rice and potatoes. 

That aside, anytime one cooks quinoa, there's likely to be abundant left-overs. Así es. So it's likely there'll be opportunities to use the quinoa in several ways.

Concepción's salad recipe mixed almonds and fruit, much like some gente prepare couscous, which is wheat. With an abundance of cooked quinoa on hand, el GF chicas patas went with the flow--Concepción's dressing featured lemon juice--and amended Dra.Valadez' dish with some whole raisins, chopped dried figs, and the juice of a Bearss lime.

Here is an easy and simple preparation for any cook, company eating or everyday chop.

Squeeze the juice over the quinoa and combine ingredients. The piquancy of limón blends perfectly with the sweet fruit and almonds to bring out the flavors to plate-licking goodness.

Prepare a baking dish with non-stick coating then pack the quinoa into the bottom. Preheat the oven to 350º.

Season both sides of the chuletas with coarse ground black pepper, sea salt, and paprika.  ¿Is it still a chuleta if it's boneless?

Place the chuletas on top of the quinoa. Cover with aluminum foil and bake 45 minutes then uncover and bake ten or fifteen more minutes to brown the surface.

Test doneness by slicing halfway into a chop. If the pork is barely pink, or already white all the way through, it's done. The meat continues to cook while you let it rest for a few minutes outside the oven as you prepare the plates.

The Gluten-free Chicano likes a simple meal, so he prepared frozen mixed vegetables. A scoop of veggies, a scoop of quinoa, the chuleta, complete the serving. If gente at your table have a sweet tooth, serve chilled applesauce as an extra side and skip dessert.

If you don't find left-over quinoa salad in your refrigerator, you'll find recipes for quinoa salad in cookbooks and the computer. As noted, you'll often have generous servings of left-over quinoa, so this bake is an excellent way to repurpose an already delicious, gluten-free product.


Ghosts of Ellis Island Screens at CSULA

Although I'm not a movie-goer, I could not pass up the opportunity to appear on the same stage with Robert DeNiro, whose comic turn as a conflicted mob boss in Analyze This, tickled my funny bone.

DeNiro won't be in the audience when Ghosts of Ellis Island debuts in Salazar Hall on the El Sereno campus of California State University Los Angeles, but Michael Sedano and several panelists will be there to share the viewing and discuss issues related to the film.

The art film by fotograffitist JR, Ghosts of Ellis Island, isn't funny. It's deadly serious. And a must-watch film that will show at community venues in coming months. Look for announcements in local papers, and La Bloga.

View the trailer and abstracts of the panelists' talks at the Chicano Studies sponsored webpage:


The premiere screening of the film Ghosts of Ellis Island, Salazar Hall C162, 4:30-6:00 p.m.
November 12, 2015.

Veterans Day 2015

Armando Baeza is a Veteran of WWII and Korea. Among the gente who visited with Alice and Armando, three are Veterans.

Mario Trillo did a Vietnam tour at the same time I was in Korea. I came home with wild stories. Mario came home with a couple of Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts. A few weeks ago, Trillo got a new knee, free, to replace the one that took the hit nearly fifty years ago. He'll never get back that chunk of finger.

Mario Guerrero was a United States Marine. Once a Marine, always a Marine.

Naiche Lujan's dad, Magu, qepd, was a Veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

They also serve who stand and wait. My wife, Barbara, is an Army Veteran, too. We were married at the end of August 1968. A month later, I got my draft notice to report in time for Thanksgiving. I managed to delay induction until January 1969. The day I left, Barbara held it together until the bus pulled away. Like a silent movie, I watched through the window as her anguished figure grew smaller as the bus gathered speed. A few months later, Barbara left the comforts of Isla Vista for a tiny shack at the edge of Ft. Ord while I attended Radio School.

I went AWOL every night. When I got busted on the last day of training, I told the Captain all my wife would have of me would be this memory if I bit the dust in Vietnam. He nodded agreement and took half my pay and my rank.

The night before I was to report for Orders--I was told the Orders would be sending me to Vietnam--Barbara desperately pleaded with me to desert. "Let's go to Canada," was her first idea. No dice, I said, "too cold."

Irony. The Army sent me to spend a winter atop the world's highest HAWK anti-aircraft missile site. Dang, it was cold on top of that mountain.

"Mexico," she said. "Mexico extradites," I argued, and she doesn't speak Spanish.

"I'll take my chances." I had decided.

"You might get killed!" Those nightly news clips of flag-draped coffins coming in daily burned into her consciousness. When she went to the PX there were soldiers at Ft. Old whose fatigues didn't hide the scars of their wounds. And seeing other soldiers on post, hapless blank-eyed trainees without a clue in the world, was like watching the walking dead. I didn't want one of them to take my place. I was drafted out of an M.A. program and figured I'd be OK. Always a survivor, that's me.

"If I'm killed, I won't know it." That was my final answer. It's a desolate thought, but she was young and would be able to start over, live a long life with an increasingly distant memory of that stupid dead GI she was once married to, who thought it was his Duty and to accept the luck of the draw. It is what it is, no alternate realities.

Plus, she would have gotten my military insurance, ten thousand dollars.

Specialist 4th Class Michael Sedano, Mae Bong (Site 7/5), winter 1969.


Francisco Juarez Santa Monica said...

"If I'm killed, I won't know it".

Thanks for this most fitting quote on this most fitting day, the Marine Corps' 240th, because, for me, it does hold water.


Me thinks, carnal, that, apart from the cold, your native "corazon" ruled and it did not allowed that young brother in the photo, with an automatic weapon and cold weather cap, to relate to the "peace brother labyrinth" point of view that the late, great, Jose Montoya has shared with us.

In the end, the existentialist observations and philosophies form the foundations that the "bean" chooses to build upon, be it Raza or the "what eva's".

I loved all of the photos of la buena gente, "La Gente Bronze". Ahorale Trillo!

When is the next "Mental Menudo"?

Anonymous said...

Hello Michael, it was great to meet you! I tried to send you an email, but the blog email option requires Outlook. Not sure how else to find you. Thanks for coming and for telling me about the blog! Linda

msedano said...

Hi, Linda. The Outlook requirement is a setting in your machine. Just use your email account to msedano@readraza.com

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the address! Will do!