Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Review: Arias' Wetback. Gluten-free chile. On-line Floricanto.

Vintage Arias Redux

Review: Ron Arias. The Wetback and Other Stories. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2016.
ISBN: 978-1-55885-834-3

Michael Sedano

"Vintage Arias," the Facebook commenter wrote. In a lot of ways, The Wetback and Other Stories is vintage work, but in as many ways it's a breath of fresh Arias.

After a career as a journalist reporting from far-flung war zones and traipsing across Central and South America, the author of the seminal Chicano novel, The Road to Tamazunchale, is back in the fiction fold with this collection of stories written years ago and updated for this 2016 publication.

The rejuvenation of Arias' early work reflects the motto printed on the verso of the title page, "Recovering the past, creating the future."

I imagine Arias somewhat like the character Martin Medina, in the story "Reawakening." It's one of the two new works in this collection, whose earliest piece, "El Mago," dates to 1970.

Martin Medina has reached a career stopping point. Perhaps it's ennui, clinical depression, or handwriting on the wall that people aren't buying his antiquarian books any more. Medina is stuck in a rut, no longer able to scratch a mental itch had motivated his earlier self.

A trip to London suggested by his wife leads the bookseller on a head-scratching cab ride to an estate sale where he stumbles upon an ancient manuscript that changes Martin's life.

Magical people and events carry Martin's fate in their hands. The plots of most of Ron Arias' stories in The Wetback and Other Stories redound with magic, illusion, dream. I can picture Arias digging through his papers, leafing through his own manuscripts, devouring them, and like Martin Medina, developing an intensely pruritic condition that can be relieved only by writing fiction. Again.

Martin Medina loses his precious ancient manuscript but the loss is immaterial, as is his inability to rediscover the magic place where the sale had been.  The itch is back and with it an uncontrollable urge to scratch. The last view we have of Martin he has begun writing his own stories.

In many ways, these stories reflect their times--the 70s and 80s. Events are mostly what they appear, given liberal doses of magic; more innocent than today. Children wander off into the company of strangers. No crime or horrid results happen. The stories bring out the Arias magic that turns humdrum or gentle-scary into heart-warming feelings tinged with a soupçon of sadness for the loss of innocence, or the hard slap of reality. But Arias leaves the reader laughing, or at the very least, smiling.

Ron Arias reads "Canine Cool" at the release party for
The Wetback and Other Stories.
Take "Eddie," for example, the other new story of the fourteen. Eddie's a decent tipo but has a hard go of it. He drops out of high school, gets lost for a while, then signs up for the military. The reader hopes Arias--who's seen a lot of war--isn't going to kill this kid.

Make him a warrior, that's for sure. Eddie shows up on teevee in a Panama-type scenario. But he's in deep shit with the military and the rebels. When the palace is bombed to charred rubble the gente back in Frog Town figure Eddie bought the farm.

But Eddie's grandmother gets a letter one day with a foto of Eddie, the reader gets that big smile of satisfaction. Eddie, the Frog Town loco? He's probably lying in a hamaca on a Mérida beach, sipping a tall cool one, and digging life. Thanks, Ron, for letting Eddie have the best of all possible worlds.

Millions of drivers course along the 5 Freeway on Los Angeles' northeast boundary traveling up to Glendale or into downtown. On one side, Dodger Stadium evokes thoughts of losing teams or the lost neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine. On the other side, nestled along the river, is an anonymous collection of wooden houses dotted with a few industrial buildings. That's Elysian Valley on the map. Frog Town, the gente call it.

Frog Town is the setting of many of these stories, including the title story, "The Wetback." Arias' imagination and compelling writing will call you, lure you onto the narrow streets--if only in your imagination. From now on, every time you take that drive on the 5, Frog Town isn't going to be the same.

Read Manuel Ramos' review of The Road to Tamazunchale here. Download Ron Arias reading "The Interview" at the 1973 Festival de Flor y Canto; "The Interview" is the antepenultimate story in The Wetback and Other Stories. Click here for Michael Sedano's foto essay of Arias' reading at the publication party for this outstanding not-to-be missed collection.

Order The Wetback and Other Stories from your local bookseller, or publisher-direct here.


The Gluten-free Chicano
Salsa de Molcahete - Real Chile

Michael Sedano


It was genuine treasure, the molcahetes I found when I cleaned out my mother’s kitchen cabinets. I discovered not only mom’s but also her mother’s molcahetes. My mom hadn't cooked for years as diabetes, arthritis, and age stole her vigor.

As I scrubbed and washed the accumulated webs and dust off them I thought back to my earliest days, the sound of a sizzling tomato popping on the hot comal, gramma turning the chiles with her fingers, the ingredients growing black spots all around, cough-inducing aromatic smoke filling the kitchen.

The little boy cupped his chin in his hands and watched his grandmother’s and mother’s efficiency. Their hands holding la piedra just so, pushing it into the bowl giving off the klok-klok sound of grinding chiles, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Klok-klok. The vegetables quickly converted into a thick salsa to be poured generously across blanquillos, served with a guisado, licked off a finger.

Our word for it was just "chile," or "chili," though restaurants and dozens of bottled sauces call it "salsa." Fancy restaurants serve run-of-the-mill concoctions but for a price they'll serve you salsa de molcahete, and sometimes it really is.



If you’ve never made salsa de molcahete be prepared for a surprise. Grinding those vegetables takes a lot of power to pulverize and liquefy the cooked ingredients, and dexterous skill to keep it all within the confines of the lava receptacle. Make it daily, like gramma, or regularly, like mom; you'll get good at it.

Modern cooks eschew the indian approach of my gente, dumping stuff into a blender for instant gratification. Much of that restaurant stuff is from a blender. If the texture is uniform with no big chunks nor stringy fibers, someone has used a blender or cuisinart. Which is OK, just don't call it salsa de molcahete, or real chile.

Once you’ve mastered the strength and skill of chile de molcahete, and defined your own ideal proportions, no chile salsa from a jar or a blender can match the taste and chiloso of hand-made salsa de molcahete.

And, as most comida Mexicana is, salsa de molcahete is naturally gluten-free.



Ingredients - Be experimental with proportions. Be mindful of the volume of your molcahete.
•Fresh whole tomato
•Chiles to taste - Whatever the garden or grocer provides. My garden has black chile de arbol that have turned red.
•Tomatillo - my garden has the large sized ones. I prefer the tiny-size globes for their intense flavor, but those plants died a couple years ago and now I can't get seed.
•Onion
•Garlic
•Cilantro (optional)
•Comino seed (optional)
•Salt
•Non-stick spray
•Molcahete and piedra / mano / tejolote

Spray a comal or sartén with a light film of non-stick coating, or coat with olive oil.
Turn the heat up medium.

Use four to six chile pods, or more, depending on their hotness. Experiment.

If using brown or white onion, cut them into quarters. You can use the white part of scallions/ green onions.

Peel a couple of dientes of ajo, or more.

Add vegetables to the comal or pan, and let them brown or blacken. Turn so all sides get color.

Start with the chiles. Pull off the stems and, using a rolling motion, smash them into the stone. Inhale the rich aroma of those chiles.

Add the garlic, smash. The onions require the most force. The chile-garlic paste lubricates the onion and makes the work go smoothly.

Add comino seed if you wish, and work it into the paste.

The skin slips right off  the tomato, remove it, then mash the tomato into the bowl. Now the salsa begins to achieve the consistency you look for. Add the tomatillos and work everything into a relatively homogeneous mix.

A sprinkle of salt, a few leaves of cilantro, stir with the piedra.




October Finale: On-line Floricanto
Martina R. Gallegos, Amara T. Smith, Joe Navarro, MarySue Foster, Pina Piccolo


ODA AL INMIGRANTE Por Martina R. Gallegos
Untitled By Amara T. Smith
In the Name of Patriotism By Joe Navarro
Untethered:  A Collage, By MarySue Foster
October 12 1992 at Yaxchilanm By Pina Piccolo


ODA AL INMIGRANTE
Por Martina R. Gallegos

Oda al inmigrante porque emprende
sueños dejando todo sin mirar hacia atrás.

Oda al inmigrante porque su valor trasciende
el coraje de los guerreros en campo de batalla.

Oda al inmigrante porque carga su fe
como alimento diario.

Oda al inmigrante porque solo él sabe
lo que su alma oculta.

Oda al inmigrante porque sigue caminos
sin pensar en el obvio peligro.

Oda al inmigrante porque
por su familia amada arriesga todo.

Oda al inmigrante porque sus propios sueños
ahora los hereda a sus hijos.

Oda al inmigrante porque se desvela a diario
para mejor futuro de los suyos.

Oda al inmigrante porque el trabajo no es sacrificio
si no la mayor prueba de amor a sus hijos.



Untitled
By Amara T. Smith

I have to run. I have to dance. Even when my body aches. Because I am trying to get to the joy of blackness, the freedom of blackness, the love and breath of blackness. I cannot let the grief that is inflicted on me/us daily in America/everywhere that is ruled by white supremacy drop me to my knees
leave me wordless
leave me hopeless
leave me numb
like the last few days
have left me
I/we have to re/member my/our ashe
the power to make things happen
I/we have to keep moving
moving it through
moving it out
I/we don't have to know how
but I/we have to keep going
the spirits lost are depending on me/us
the spirits to come are depending on me/us
patriarchy is in the death throes
and I will use what I/we have
to help lay it to rest
then we will plant a mother tree upon it
whose roots run deep
her strong trunk will sing"never again"and our black
brown
bodies
will breathe
as they were meant to
so hold each other, family
this centuries old cycle
must come to an end


In the Name of Patriotism
By Joe Navarro

For Colin Kaepernick

Stand up!
They say
Or we will
Shame you
Intimidate you
Threaten you
Harrass you
Call you names
Burn your uniform
Incite others
Against you
Unleash bigotry
Demand that
You give up
On equality
Constitutional rights
And justice
They say
In the name
Of patriotism



Untethered:  A Collage
By MarySue Foster

The boundaries are dissolving

Be porous.
Words lead deeper across time.
Exploring thin places.
Re-membering – calling back pieces of ourselves
to our deconstructed self.

Now to get home.
My body dissolves into re-membering
I follow the red thread.
Re-membering.

We are here for you when you’re ready
Not knowing knows

What offering can we leave to the world
that won’t make the hole we leave any larger?

Untethered.

I surrender and, shifting shape,
I fly free.



October 12 1992 at Yaxchilan
By Pina Piccolo

Yaxchilan was an ancient Mayan city, now an archaeological site, in the Lacandon forest, in the state of Chiapas (Mexico), near the border with Guatemala. The site is known for its well preserved stelae and lintels, some of which depict rituals connected with the seers’ initiation ceremonies.


five hundred years after Columbus’  landing on the “New” continent

Swallowed by vine, the labyrinth,
Deep in the forest
Swallowed by vine,
Surrounded by a river
Surrounded by indios
- On market days, the women
Cross the Usumacinta on frail boats
Trading vibrant plumage colors
For tin coins,
Camouflage cloth,
Deep in the forest,
Swallowed by vine
Chameleons against foliage and rock.

Tonight on the temple steps
The moon will draw
A serpent
Offering the red fruit
Of knowledge
To those who live
With the taste of fear.

Tonight the monkeys will scream
From top branches and scorpions
Will hide under rocks.

Tonight Mauro, the Christian
Lacandon, guardian of the Mayan temple
Will erect a small shrine
To a nameless god
And cry for drunken forgiveness
To a wife he’s betrayed.

Then, machete in hand
Brandishing revenge
He will howl with the forest
A curse,
Lingering echo
Of a festering wound.



A grain of time
In the hourglass of history
Runs the gauntlet
Of memory
Today.
(1992)
                                                                 

   
October 13 1992 at Yaxchilan
the day after the five hundred years of Columbus landing
The Morning After glow
Of the forest
Who survives
The foolishness
Of civilizations,
Regenerates herself
From disturbances
At ground level

Witnesses species
Aglitter and extinguish
Proud organisms shrivel up
In a combustion of arrogance.

Yes, she was affected,
Her tears of mourning
Mistaken for dew,
Her sighs of disapproval
Thought to be wind.
Yet her deep roots
Still gripped the earth,
Temple stones
Corroded by moss
Became sand
Transported by ants.
Even the poisons
Floating on the water
Were purified
Beating
Mile after mile
On rocks
Nature trying to
Wash off a stain.

Forest, now, we pull
Limbs
Off your spreading body,
A demented weather
Dries your wells,
Nasty kids
Playing god,
Tug at your
Apron strings.


No longer waiting
For discoverers or messiahs
You stand attached to the soil
And bend,
Bowing to the wind,
Breathe life
Into an uncertain planet.
(!992)

These two poems were first published in 1993  in Poetry USA, a poetry tabloid edited in the San Francisco Bay Area by Jack Foley.



Meet Today's On-line Floricanto Poets
ODA AL INMIGRANTE Por Martina R. Gallegos
Untitled By Amara T. Smith
In the Name of Patriotism By Joe Navarro
Untethered:  A Collage By MarySue Foster
October 12 1992 at Yaxchilanm By Pina Piccolo



Ms. Gallegos came from Mexico as a teenager and lived in Altadena and Pasadena through high
school. She then moved to Oxnard and attended community college. She transferred to
California State University, Northridge and got her teaching credential. She taught for almost 18
years in Hueneme Elementary School District until a work injury followed by a stroke kept her
home. She paused her Master’s but resumed after hospitalization. She graduated with her M.A.
June 2015. Works have appeared in Altadena Review, Hometown Pasadena, Silver Birch Press,
and Basta! She published her first book called Grab the Bull by the Horns, Outskirts Press, 2016.
Her latest book, Stepping Stones: Journal to Recovery from Stroke and Brain Injury is now also
available on Amazon.
facebook.com/martina.gallegos.188
https://poetry309.wordpress.com



Amara Tabor-Smith is an Oakland based performer/sometimes poet/dance maker who describes her work as Afro Futurist Conjure Art. Her dance making practice, utilizes Yoruba spiritual ritual to address issues of social and environmental justice, community, identity and belonging. She is the artistic director of Deep Waters Dance Theater whose work has been performed nationally and internationally, and she is a 2016 recipient of the Creative Capital Grant.

Amara teaches dance in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley. www.deepwatersdance.com



Joe Navarro is a Literary Vato Loco, creative writer and poet.  He integrates his poetic voice with life's experiences, and blends culture with politics.  His poetic influences include the Beat Poets, The Last Poets, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Alurista, Gloria Anzaldua, Lalo Delgado, Wardell Montgomery, Jr., Margie Domingo, Avotcja, and numerous others.



MarySue Foster is a graduate of Starr King School for the Ministry with a Master of Arts in Religious Leadership for Social Change. She is endlessly curious and committed to justice. She is a collage/mixed media artist and sometime poet and writer and the matriarch of her family.



Pina Piccolo is an Italian-American translator and writer currently living in Italy. Over a 30 year span she has published both online and in print journals and anthologies, both in the US and in Italy. Most of her poems deal with migration, history, social justice and ecology. Forthcoming in 2017 from Sparrow Press, selections from her unpublished poetry in Italian and English collected under the title “Songs from the Interregnum/Canti dall’Interregno”.

1 comment:

Sharon Elliott said...

Em, that recipe is gorgeous. I'm going to try it for sure. My mouth is watering already!