Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reflecting on NHCC. Bless Me, Ultima Opera Sets Date. Get Lit in LA. March On-line Floricanto

Time for NHCC to Bring Back the NLWC

Michael Sedano

A foto on Facebook brought back warm memories. There were Greta Pullen and Carlos Vazquez smiling out at the lens. I last saw Greta and Carlos at the 2014 Rudolfo Anaya academic conference Roberto Cantu organized at Cal State Los Angeles. It was a joyous reunion.

Pullen and Vazquez, along with Katie Trujillo, organized a decade of National Latino Writers Conferences, cementing a reputation for the National Hispanic Cultural Center (link) as a pre-eminent cultural incubator.

Seeing Greta and Carlos on the screen was a remembrance of good things gone too soon. The National Latino Writers Conference brought important raza writers, literary agents, and emerging writers into a paradise for writers. The event sparkled with spirit and sense of purpose, enhanced by the physical plant of the National Hispanic Cultural Center.



Times are tough in the land of enchantment, forcing NHCC's shift from identifying itself as an important cultural institution to a role as a regional entertainment venue. That should work in a high-culture deprived market, but I hope the director and staff get more out of the effort than they put in. It's a courageous undertaking. I hope also the gente on top open their hearts and squeeze a few thousand dollars out of the Off-Broadway road shows to resume hosting latina latino writers. A cultural center, especially one named for a gente, should be a place to nurture cultura, as well as display it.

I am following the evolution of the National Hispanic Cultural Center with concern. Recently reorganized in a changing of the guardians, the center took on the ethos of an entertainment center that keeps itself funded selling tickets and subscriptions to a mix of local productions and a steady diet of traveling acts, often those who rent the auditorium and put on their own show, a "four wall" production.

Entertainment programming takes a high risk for a middling return. But hit big with an audience and count the revenue as income rolls in from donations, subscriptions, individual seats, collateral spending, and customer loyalty. That’s how it works. Make a product, sell the product, satisfy customers. Then do it again.

NHCC survives facing off against an arts-hating governor who atavistically watches all the state’s cultural institutions twist slowly in the wind. They're going to have to make it on their own. Hijole, there’s no wonder major art acquisitions are a rarity at NHCC. Curators mount exhibitions from the art museum's stunning collection. This rich resource lets the museum fashion new themes out of familiar canvases and work rescued from the vault. Another strategy is long-running exhibitions.

An exhibition on the patron saint of farmers, Outstanding in His Field: San Ysidro—Patron Saint of Farmers, runs now, through the harvest. Curating on a shrinking subsistence budget must be daunting to people who care about art. They send out resumes.

Renting out the hall pays bills but it’s doubtful even the governor would want to see NHCC rent out one of its multiple performance spaces to cualquier tipo just to fill the calendar.

The impresario promoting NHCC’s season pursues bright lights, big city entertainment lineups. In March, for instance, the center drew a sold-out audience the night Pussy Riot performed the world premiere warm-up for its upcoming world premiere in Seattle. An Elvis impersonator rented the venue for a one-night stand in April. The Philharmonic—they rent the hall as their home auditorium—satisfies with a steady diet of sweeps week music featuring up-and-coming virtuosi soloists.

NLWC writers in el Torréon with muralist Frederico Vigil
NLWC policy forbids fotos of the mural.

There are food events, readings, crafts sales, workshops, gallery walks, and the myriad experiences that draw people to a place; couples for a big night out, families for an afternoon’s low-cost and educational recreation. A visit to the woefuly underplayed el Torreón is reason enough to detour off Interstate 25 at Ave. César Chavez and visit the arts center when in Alburquerque.

The National Hispanic Cultural Center is a gem of a cultural destination but it’s also the nation’s best-kept secret. United Statesians are hungry for affirmation, raza are starved for inclusion. The National Hispanic Cultural Center has a lot of what it takes to satisfy.

Interior, el Torreon. Link below opens interactive view of the Vigil mural.
http://mundos.nationalhispaniccenter.org/torreon_interactive/

Pero, sabes que? There’s a major emptiness in Alburquerque. What is missing from NHCC’s cornucopia of cultural delights is a writers conference. For ten years, NHCC’s National Latino Writers Conference admitted a small number of emerging writers to workshop various genres and issues with professional writers, meet with publishers and literary agents, hone their art. For three years, I workshopped “Reading Your Own Stuff,” with the goal of helping writers become more effective oral presenters of their own work.

The National Latino Writers Conference went by the wayside with a staff change-over a couple years ago. Chisme probably fills books over that but I don’t know anything I didn’t read in the board minutes. I lost track of the NHCC when NLWC went away and after a year, didn't renew my membership.

Over the years I saw a musical chairs game of new guys in charge. I met three of them, I couldn’t really figure them out, organization men, not arts people. The new leader is a woman, Rebecca L. Avitia. It’s her vision that drives the programming and audience strategy. She has to answer to the Board. Above all, she has to turn her cultural centro into an active, busy, modern theater. Tbe rest is gravy, or goes away.

2010 NLWC Writers 

Avitia and her NHCC board need to reignite the center’s commitment to literacy and training writers, as a way of investing in their raison d'etre as a cultural centro or an entertainment destination. For sure, nothing gets on stage until someone writes it down. A libretto doesn’t write itself. A nonverbal dance performance follows a written score. Every movie and film started with words on paper and after every day’s filming someone sat down and revised tomorrow’s lines. It’s ironic in a sad way that a cultural center riding the coattails of talented writers isn’t proactive about nurturing writing.

It’s a bitter realization that when our cultural institutions don’t support our own writers, pues, peor. Writers and critics struggle to foster a culture of written expression, banging at the doors at AWP, starting their own presses, managing their own blogs. The noble struggle will go on, only without the national cultural centro. And that’s a lástima.

Years from now, historians will look back and wonder why New Mexico and the Nationial Hispanic Cultural Center abandoned writing, how NHCC didn’t find its way back to the NLWC. They shot our cultura in the foot. Rhetoricians will ask after the ethos of the place, how the institution made profits on spectacles and reinvested in more of the same without diverting a sum to support a renewed NLWC. How the institution recruited donors for highbrow endeavors but couldn’t scrape up the funding equivalent of a penny for the old guy.

Eliot’s vision of “Shape without form, shade without colour,/ Paralysed force, gesture without motion” is what glittery stage happenings are, without writing. They don’t happen. Taking care to nurture and advance writers guarantees the possibility of having new spectacles to lure ticket-buying audiences. Avitia’s got her work cut out for her. I wish her energy and staff to accomplish all that, and one more goal next year: renacimiento of the National Latino Writers Conference.

NLWC writers 2012

Sponsoring the rebirth of NLWC defines a distinctiveness and importance for NHCC, an important step for NHCC recovering its national stature no matter how the political winds twist. I have a vision of talented raza writers walking across the broad plaza rushing to a seminar, smiling at the sound of the acequia's agua gushing into the pool. There's also a vision of those artists today, standing at the gates of the NHCC, shaking the bars and angrily kicking at the gates wanting to be included, wondering why they got kicked out in the first place?




Bless Me, Ultima Opera Premiere Scheduled for February 2018

La Bloga has followed with interest developing news of an opera based on Rudolfo Anaya’s novel Bless Me, Ultima. In January 2017, La Bloga-Tuesday (link) featured an interview with the opera's creator Héctor Armienta. Performance dates were still pending as Armienta was still finishing the music.


Recently La Bloga friend Teresa Márquez shared the good news Armienta, Opera Southwest, and the NHCC have set a date for a workshop performance in February 2018. The company has hosted tryouts and workshops in San Jose, CA and is taking the show on the road for the first time.

This premiere creates the ideal opportunity to visit New Mexico in Winter, both to enjoy the state’s spectacular landscapes and to see the work in progress for Héctor Armienta’s opera, Bless Me, Ultima.

Ticket-buyers don’t have to wear tuxedoes or evening dress to opera productions, but it’s likely some tipas and tipos like to show for the opera all dressed up in their Thursday best, especially February 18 for the first night. Others will be equally well turned-out through the Sunday matinee on the 25th. I wear my Pendleton or a sweatshirt when I go to an LA Opera spectacular. Placido and crew don’t care, as long as I enjoy the show.

Opera is a genuine visual and aural treat, with a few conventions about when to applaud and stuff, that someone inevitably miscues and gets dirty looks from the cognoscenti. Raza can be cognoscenti, too. Just be there and dig it. And dig it you will.

A night at the opera is fun so long as one remembers it's the “u” in fun that counts. Wrap yourself in the music—the power of the human body to produce sound will be a punch in the gut to some. Ultima’s cast features a 14-year old boy singer. This could be the launch of a major career.

In opera, the story, humor, melodies, and visual riches like sets, costumes, lighting and staging can be enchanting. I don’t know if the Producers plan on supertitles so listeners can read the words in Armienta’s English-language libretto. Subscriptions are open now. Individual seats go on sale in July.

I would not wait. Click here for ticket information: http://www.operasouthwest.org/operas/bless-me-ultima


Mail Bag
Arte Público Press' Kanellos Honored




GetLit Poetry Slam Hosted by LATC
Michael Sedano


Los Angeles Theater Center is a theater multiplex of five performance spaces joined to a luxurious marble-walled grand hall and lobby. The descent to the basement rest rooms takes visitors along a massive bank vault. Remodeled stairs to the balcony feature half inch thick glass and stainless steel rails. the balustrade overlooking the lobby gives unobstructed vistas of the huge and luxurious space.

The LATC is a great place for theater and a fabulous place for a poetry slam competition among teams from local high schools. That's what drew me to Spring Street early Thursday and Friday morning. Lend a hand with administrative chores and share the energy of dozens of Get Lit staffers and a thousand or more kids gathering to perform or cheer on their spoken word artists.

GetLit Classic Slam follows a wondrous format. The contestant chooses a poem by a well-known poet and writes a response poem. The contestant knits the two with narrative, working from memory to meet a time limit. It's a beautiful way to link generations by remembering in one's own voice good work from another time.


Rachel Kilroy put me to work at the merchandise table where I would sell "Poet" merchandise. A jumble of colors, sizes, styles, teeshirts, tank tops, sweatshirts, beanies, filled plastic storage bins. Git Lit's first book is hot off the presses, and several boxes wait under the table skirts. Rachel's mother is there. Later I meet her dad. The family that supports literacy and oracy together make up just three of the dozens of volunteers and paid staff bustling through the lobby, theatres, and outside foyer, getting the crowd set to make a beeline for their seat.

Thursday, I worked with one other volunteer. Friday three knowledgeable women took over. Two, who were mothers of contestants, and a retired high school English teacher, organized the garments, folding and laying them out across twenty feet of table space. I hope the clean-up crew labeled those stacks before moving them to the bins and transport to the finals on Sunday.

Thursday and Friday, school teams competed in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. The winners move to the final competition, this year taking place in the opulence of the Orpheum movie house.



Registration keeps the kids outside as the coaches sign in and take a bag of credentials outside to waiting and cheering teams. A signal from Get Lit executives Diane Luby Lane or Amanda Pittman and the lobby doors fill with excited kids thronging toward their stage. There, an MC whips up enthusiasm before introducing the first contestant.

A panel of judges scores the panel of competitors. A few get selected to compete in the day's second round of competition, the afternoon's semi-finals.

The Get Lit experience cannot be matched by any other competitive activity. Reciting and performing spoken words to audiences of hundreds of peers produces pure exhilaration. At the end, the kid walks off stage into the waiting arms of the team.

For finalists, the experience of taking the Orpheum stage to a screaming full house will make all the work of honing the performance into a winner worth it. And it is.

Teams and individuals pose in front of a Get Lit seamless. An official photographer is there to document every team. 
When the formal pose is done, the cell phones come out for exuberant selfies.

Get Lit published its first collection of work by Get Lit participants. A single copy sells for fifteen dollars at the venue. For details, click here. I sold one person the show special, 10 books for a hundred dollars. In addition, Get Lit would donate ten books to a participating high school, or a school of the customer's naming.

My heart went out to the schools who prepared for the competition but didn't make it to LA on time. On Friday morning, two forlorn registration bags lay tossed behind a sign. Maybe those teams can find a donor to pay for an overnight stay in DTLA. These kids and their coaches deserve a night in the big city.



On-line Floricanto On the Verge of Spring
Chuck Cuyjet, Devi S. Laskar, Jolaoso PrettyThunder, Jenuine Poetess, Get Christie Love


“Untitled” by Chuck Cuyjet
“Alive, Burning” by Devi S. Laskar
“winds of the West murmurs” by Jolaoso PrettyThunder
"mother of all bombs" by Jenuine Poetess
“Dear Pepsi” by Get Christie Love

“Untitled”
by Chuck Cuyjet

We woke up 49 years ago and the world was on fire. Today we wake to gassed children and wonder...
Someone asked the question
Who raised these crazed men
who gas children
who poison our air
who pour filth into our water
who fill our schools
with ignorance called knowledge
and who pontificate on their
own greatness?
We did.
No, of course not.
We shield
our loved offspring
with our own bodies
and love.
We teach them to respect
themselves, our values,
to work hard, to look
out for the other fella,
to protect our tribe,
And honor our god.
But as we look across
oceans, into the
hearts of darkness,
as we rattle our self righteous
swords, do we seek justice
or vengeance, or glory?
The riches the few gather
befoul their souls yet
in our secret selves
we envy them their ease
and never question
the cost.
So we replicate it
in our screams and calls
to our god to punish
them and reward us,
the good fathers and mothers
who have no sin, no stain
for we gas no children
in our warm houses
in winter and cool our frosty
asses on patios in the summer
sipping tea with ice cubes
rum drinks mixed with faux
concern of deaths so far away.
We don't gas children
We starve their souls
with the contempt for those
we arm.



Alive, Burning
by Devi S. Laskar

Burn everything to the bone.
Start clean and again will rise
hibiscus, diesel, dung, mango
mingling with night skin in this taxi.
Start clean and again will rise
a rw odor of green—
mingling with night skin in this taxi.
Money, envy, hunger filling the air.
A raw odor of green—
cauliflower patches and cabbage replace the landfill.
Money, envy, hunger filling the air.
From garbage grows food, from thieves spring farmers.
Cauliflower patches and cabbage replace the landfill.
The road hooks like shoelaces around shantytowns.
From garbage grows food, from thieves spring farmers.
All you see are red clay roofs and jaded faces.
The road hooks like shoelaces around shantytowns.
On his dashboard the driver keeps a statue of Durga.
All you see are red clay roofs and jaded faces.
The bronzed feet of this goddess of war will never touch the ground.
On his dashboard the driver keeps a statue of Durga.
But for my American dollar I would be you.
The bronzed feet of this goddess of war will never touch the ground,
pounding a rich man’s laundry on stones by a man-made lake.
But for my American dollar I would be you
eating food off the sooty plate of the street,
pounding a rich man’s laundry on stones by a man-made lake
alive and filled with resentment and wonder.
Eating food off the sooty plate of the street --
hibiscus, diesel, dung, mango,
alive and filled with resentment and wonder.
Burning everything to the bone.



winds of the West murmurs
by Jolaoso PrettyThunder

we summon you winds
of the West,
mother sister Jaguar,
come protect our medicine space
hunt down and devour those energies that do not belong to us,
teach us your ways beyond fear beyond anger beyond death,
beyond guilt,
beyond shame,
beyond all the mythologies and beliefs that no longer serve us.

teach us to be impeccable luminous beings who have no need
to engage in battle,
internally or eternally,
unless we choose to.

help us to be able to support ourselves and
have the ability to ask for and receive what we desire
so that we may step into who we are becoming.



"mother of all bombs"
by Jenuine Poetess

you cannot call a bomb
"mother"
mother is one
of any gender
who protects life
who gives life
who cherishes life
who nurtures life
who sustains life
who fosters life
who celebrates life
who empowers life
who cultivates life
who nourishes life
who heals life
you cannot call that
which destroys
which kills
which carves scars into the flesh
of people
of villages
of Earth
"mother"
do not poison such a word
with your filthy
greedy
murderous
treachery
no bomb is a mother




Dear Pepsi
by get christie love

Dear Pepsi
If you want to be a product of the revolution
Then send yourself into the fray,
Get gassed and pepper sprayed get trampled
Become marginalized and scary
Become irrelevant then made into a fetish.

There are steps involved and you haven't followed even the first rule of a revolt.
Say
Something.

Are you for all lives matter, against women who receive lower wages and
Yes you hired the tatted up gurl with the weave to deliver soda but,
Wait,
Nevermind
That was coke.

Pepsi,
If you wanted a March you should have
Sponsored one.
If you wanted product placement you should have sent
The Million men to the March on
Pepsi buses.
Given away pink pussy hats with every
Case of pop sold or
Maybe pink cans with cat ears.

You could have sent backpacks to underfunded schools or
Put Pepsi swirls on the drum kits at HBCU'S

Pepsi if you want  to be a product of the revolution
Why send the most generic  culturally ambiguous person alive-
No ass
That flat
Ever created a civilization

Dear Pepsi
 if you want to
Be a product of the revolution,
Write your manifesto on a spool of aluminum
Then send it to factory for cutting into cans.
Then tell the people to talk to each other, ask each person to post
Hashtag-
'What part did you get'?

Pepsi,
No jenner, no Kardashian,  no trump
Will ever be culturally relevant to any group who ever needed a spokesmodel.
Madonna at least
Would drink  the Pepsi then lift her leg to pee it out on the boot of a stormtrooper.

Dear Pepsi
To be a product of the revolution,
You will need more than stolen recycled images from Vietnam protests

You will need a legacy of
Conscious thinking,
And permission from water protectors
There is water in Pepsi, right?

Fly Pepsi to  Syria for
A photo op-
And see if I don't
Drive it all back in my chevy.

Dare me
Be daring

Corporate redundancy
Lack of imagination
Lazy marketing

Zero empathy
Zero taste
Zero filling
Zero flavor

You managed to anti revolt.
And you spent a lot of money on
Air.




La Bloga On-line Floricanto April 25
“Untitled” by Chuck Cuyjet
“Alive, Burning” by Devi S. Laskar
“winds of the West murmurs” by Jolaoso PrettyThunder
"mother of all bombs" by Jenuine Poetess
“Dear Pepsi” by Get Christie Love



Chuck Cuyjet. I'm a sixty-nine year old leadership and executive coach. I grew up in Philadelphia, went to college at The University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Over the last decade or so I've featured at Busboys and Poets here in the DC area, but my primary focus with my writing is essay and memoir. The opening lines of the poem reference what it was like waking up the morning after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Currently living in the DC Metro area and raising two children. .




get_christie_love (YPK) performs poetry in Detroit, Michigan and Windsor Ontario. She began writing on the Def Jam Poetry message board in 2002, where she connected with a Detroit poet, Legacy Leonard (may peace be with her),  and was invited to read poetry at her first open mic reading.. She taught herself how to use MIcrosoft Publisher and began creating Chapbooks to sell and trade. She founded OpenAir Publishing in 2004 which has produced 7 chapbooks to date. In October 2014 she hand painted chapbook cover art covers using oil paint on card stock which maintained the $5.00 price for her books and included small original works of abstract art.  Her  goal for 2015 is to publish a collection of poems from her Def Jam Poetry Posts.
She maintains her first poetry board OpenAir to this day, and enjoys writing and sharing poems.
She wrote this,
and left out a bunch of
stuff to save time.
 It’s not a poem.
She thinks she will save it and call it “Not a Poem”
fge

Friday, April 21, 2017

Don't You Love Good News!

Melinda Palacio




Patricia Spears Jones and Melinda Palacio at AWP 2016
Earlier this week, Poets & Writers announced the winner of the Jackson Poetry Prize of $50, 000. It went to Patricia Spears Jones. If you don't know her work, consult some past La Bloga issues. Linda Rodriguez did a thorough review of her most recent book A Lucent Fire: New & Selected Poems. I've also featured her poetry as she is a fellow Tia Chucha Poet and someone whose work I admire. I'm super pleased to hear the news of her award. Patricia Spears Jones is the 11th winner of this award, Elizabeth Alexander was the first. The panel of judges describe her poetry as 'made of fever, bone, and breath' and as a poet who 'has steadily and quietly enriched the American poetic tradition with sophisticated and moving poems. More of us should know who she is, and even more should read her.' The full citation is on the Poets&Writers website. This announcement comes on the heels of La Bloga's Amelia Montes receiving a Fulbright for next year in Serbia. Read the interview with La Bloga's Amelia and Xanath on Monday.
A Lucent Fire by Patricia Spears Jones

The next day, Dr. Cristina Herrera, professor of Chicano and Latin American Studies at CSU Fresno and author of (Re)Mapping the Latina/o Literary Landscape New Works and New Directions, (Re)Writing the Maternal Script, and Reading/Speaking/Writing The Mother Text, received the Provost Award for Research, Scholarship and Creative Accomplishment. Her reward consists of a stipend, a reception, honors during the next graduation, and she will be invited to participate in the following year's Provost's Lecture Series. Dr. Cristina says: "It's a huge deal for me because I'm the first Chicana to win in this category, an award usually given to faculty members in math, science, or engineering. It's such an honor."


Dr. Cristina Herrera


That famous Honda Element with CA Plates NOLA.
There's more good news for me and Steve. Our stolen car was recovered and this means more ease to travel to the next literary event. April may be National Poetry Month, but the poetry continues into the rest of the year. Next month, I will be reading at Core Family Winery in Santa Maria May 13 and as part of Tia Chucha's new Anthology: Wandering Song at Beyond Baroque May 27.

My Wonder Woman Button 


Although the thieves cleaned out the car and took everything inside that could be hawked or given away, including my yoga mat and eye pillow, there was one small item they missed, a Wonder Woman button that I made when the All Wonder Woman Walking Krewe welcomed me into the group last Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The thieves missed this button. They did some damage to the car, slashing the ceiling fabric and steering wheel, leaving a bullet hole scuff on the hood and leaving a bullet shell in the car, along with food trash, random keys, and a strong ashtray stench. Steve and I are glad to be reunited with the green Honda Element. The car was taken to a tow yard by Midas Touch Towing. According the NOPD reports, it is unclear whether the thieves abandoned the car or simply parked it in a spot that allowed the towing company to identify it as stolen and thus haul it away. The Wonder Woman pin and a voodoo doll, made by my friend Karen Kersting, proved to be powerful car charms.

Karen Voodoo Doll
Since much news happens on Facebook, Karen wrote an open post to the thieves back in February when we didn't think we'd see the car again:

"To those heartless thieves: my voodoo dolls have a good track record in recovering stolen cars. This doll is made from a scrap of fabric that was used as part of a prison work program. The Mardi Gras beads are specifically positioned to give you the greatest discomfort and the feathers are from a bird that was attacked by a cat. Save yourself, and return that car -- or at least call-in an anonymous tip. Bad Karma is floating your way."
New Orleans Poetry Festival 2017


Good news about the Honda's recovery in April meant that I am in New Orleans this week and able to attend the 2nd Annual New Orleans Poetry Festival, something I hadn't planned on earlier in the year. It turns out many friends from California are in town for the festival, including Xochitl-Julissa Bermejo, Michelle Detorie, and Lee Herrick. Thanks to having the trusty, ten year old Honda Element back, I was able to pick up Xochitl-Julissa Bermejo and Soraya Membreno at the airport. Xochitl-Julissa and Soraya are presenting a panel, SGV Food Club, on building community, Saturday at 10 am at the 2nd annual New Orleans Poetry Festival, hosted by Bill Lavender and Megan Burns. Festivities began yesterday with an opening party and event featuring poets who play in bands. The readings and panels continue throughout the weekend and culminate in a reading at the Maple Leaf Bar on Sunday at 3pm. For a complete list of events see the NOLA Poetry Festival Website.

Poets Xochitl-Julissa Bermejo, Melinda Palacio, and Soraya Membreno in New Orleans


And more good news comes from poet Jenn Givhan whose third poetry collection, Girl with Death Mask won the Blue Light Book Prize from Indiana Review. Indiana University Press will publish her book next year. 


What's your good news?



Thursday, April 20, 2017

Remembering: The Last Days in Vietnam

Remembering: The Last Days in Vietnam
Daniel Cano

As another April 30th nears, I recall, a couple of years ago, a colleague asked if I’d say a few words to introduce Rory Kennedy’s film “The Last Days in Vietnam,” which had received excellent movie reviews and was being screened at Santa Monica College where I was teaching at the time.

At first, I declined. I’d had enough of war. Then, after thinking about it more, I reconsidered.

Since the publication of my book Shifting Loyalties in 1993 (click link in title), I’d received letters from Chicano veterans and their families, expressing their gratitude for the stories I’d written about my time in Vietnam. At my readings, many Chicano veterans thanked me for using my voice to give their voices life.

Of all the mainstream books and movies about Vietnam, one would think that Chicanos had no place in the war. I remember teaching a Chicano literature class. We’d been reading Charley Trujillo’s book Soldados and Jorge Mariscal’s Aztlan in Vietnam. A Vietnamese-American student raised her hand to admit she’d never known Chicanos had fought in Vietnam. Her statement perplexed me. It reminded me of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: no matter how many sacrifices and contributions Americans of color make to this country, we remain invisible.

A letter I’ll always remember was from a Chicana who told me her father had died in Vietnam when she was a child. After reading my book, she said she felt closer to him, understanding what he might have experienced. So, how could I not say a few words to introduce Ms. Kennedy’s film about the Vietnam War’s last days?

For 42 years, I’ve sought a justification for the Vietnam War—or, at least, my role in it.

In 1969, when the Army discharged me, the country was in turmoil over the war, so I pretended that I’d never worn a uniform. I just wanted to hide. But no matter how much I tried to hide, I couldn’t.
Over the years, the reminders were everywhere: Tet, Kent State, The Chicano Moratorium, My Lai, Hearts and Minds, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Desert Storm, Afghanistan, Iraq, and ISIS.

Since I couldn’t escape, I immersed myself in the study of Vietnam, the land, the people, the history, and politics --always searching, I suppose, for the war’s elusive justification.

April 30, 1975, along with millions of Americans, I watched on television as Vietnam fell to the North Vietnamese communists, or looking at it from our so-called enemy’s perspective, Vietnam’s liberation, the images flickering across the television screen, the last helicopters flying off the rooftop of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. I felt ill--then angry, bitter, and finally betrayed. “What a waste it had all been,” I’d thought.

How ironic that the Vietnamese student told me she didn’t know Chicanos had fought in Vietnam, when we now know the first American to be captured by North Vietnam was a pilot, Chicano Everett Alvarez, and the last American out of Vietnam was Chicano Marine Sgt. Juan Vasquez. Then there were the thousands of Chicanos who gave life and limb in those sweltering jungles.

After I watched Saigon fall, I refused to vote, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or to hold my hand over my heart during the National Anthem. I hid the Army in a cardboard box: the photos, medals, and citations. I didn’t want my son or any of my nephews seeing them and glamorizing war.

As the years passed, I asked myself, if communism was the justification for war, why then did Nixon open relations with communist China? Why did the Soviet Union and East Germany collapse under their own weight? Why do we trade with Vietnam and open relations with Cuba (finally)? Why did we kill two-million Vietnamese and sacrifice nearly 60,000 Americans and bring so much pain and suffering to so many families? (And that’s not counting the terror wrought on Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador under the auspices of salvation from communism.)

In 1995, the ex-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara published his memoir, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam. “The lessons,” I considered the phrase, as if the slaughter in Vietnam had been some sort of scholarly exercise. McNamara concluded his memoir by telling us how to do it better next time. I took his thesis to be, “Sorry. Looking back on it, we made a terrible mistake.”

As early as 1967, McNamara realized the war was wrong, even immoral. He pressured President Johnson to end it. By speaking out, McNamara found himself booted from his job as Secretary of Defense and reassigned to head of the World Bank.

We now know that many politicians and generals knew early on that the war was unwinnable. But they, too, remained silent and allowed the massacre to continue.

So, who was benefiting from this war? How many millions went into the pockets of Colt and other weapons’ manufacturers and the corporations that supplied the uniforms, vehicles, food, and supplies? In the Golden Triangle, the sale of opium and heroin flourished (but that’s a whole different story).

A few years ago, as I walked through a local bookstore, I noticed a title glaring at me from the stack-- The Tiger Force: A True Story of Men at War.

My artillery battery supported a recon outfit called the Tiger Force, guys we admired, wild, insanely brave men (mostly kids, really), who’d go into the jungle in small groups and sometimes initiate contact with much larger forces.

I thumbed through the pages. Sure enough, it was the same Tigers that we had supported. Maybe I’d find a justification for the war in these pages.

Instead, I read that from June through October 1967, in the pastoral Song Ve River Valley, after communist forces had killed the most experienced Tigers, the remaining Tigers, many inexperienced recruits, took their revenge by executing, in the most heinous ways, hundreds of Vietnamese farmers, and civilians. The Tigers who had self-destructed, turned rice paddies and farms into blood-soaked fields. And it hadn’t been a secret. The brass knew but didn’t stop them, in fact, in some cases, they ordered it.

“June through October 1967,” I remember thinking. That’s when I was there.

My artillery battery supported the Tigers. So, when they called in artillery strikes, was it for fun, to just to watch the villages burn? It was my job to remove those shells from the canisters and hand them to the gun crews who loaded them into the Howitzers and send them crashing into those villages.

What sin had those villagers committed to deserve such a fate? They refused forced removal from their farms and hamlets into filthy, unsanitary compounds the military called Relocation Camps.
How much blood is on my hands? Can I be like Robert McNamara and say, “Well, in retrospect….”? Can I pass it off as a lesson learned?

A reporter who saw McNamara years later said he looked like a “haunted man.”

For me, like many veterans, the Vietnam War is not abstract or theoretical. It isn’t an academic problem. It’s as visceral as a fist in the gut. That’s why it is difficult for many of us to talk about it. I can’t think about Vietnam without thinking of myself in it.

As I watched, Rory Kennedy’s film, “The Last Days in Vietnam,” I had hoped I might find the justification for that war.

But no, though it is a beautiful, uplifting movie, when I exited the theater, I found no justification, not even in the faces of those Vietnamese desperately seeking escape at the American Embassy, or, surprisingly, on the faces of the South Vietnamese throngs waving communist flags to welcome the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese into Saigon.

As another April 30th crawls closer, I wonder if has anything changed? We see the same desperation on the faces of Syrians, Afghanis, Yeminis, and Iraqis. Maybe, in the end, we should heed Lennon’s words and “give peace a chance.”

Editor's note: La Bloga implored Bloguero Daniel Cano to share his decorations and badges from his service in the United States Army because these are important parts of his, and the nation's, histories.  Lest we forget: only 7% of the population ever wore the uniform.

La Bloga salutes the men and women who served and shed blood in foreign wars. 

Daniel observes, "Vietnam vets still suffer from society's mixed messages of pride and humiliation."



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Little Doctor / El doctorcito



by Juan J. Guerra
Illustrations by Victoria Castillo

Spanish translation by Gabriela Baeza Ventura


Publisher: Arte Público Press/ Piñata Books 
ISBN: 978-1-55885-846-6
Publication Date: May 31, 2017
Bind: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Ages: 4-8


In this bilingual picture book, a young Salvadoran boy
dreams of helping his family and community by becoming a doctor.


Salvador raced home from school to share his exciting news with his abuela: he made an A+ on his science test! But at home, he learns that his grandmother needs his help. She is going to the doctor and wants her grandson to interpret for her. Abuela is nervous because she has never been to a doctor in the United States.

When he learns that none of the physicians speak Spanish, the boy realizes that he is completely responsible for making sure the doctor understands his grandmother—and that she understands his instructions! But in spite of his help, the visit does not go well. The doctor rushes in and out. He doesn’t listen to Abuela. And he tells Salvador that she should not eat so much Mexican food! Abuela is so upset that she threatens not to take the medication the doctor prescribes! What can Salvador do to help her?

In this engaging bilingual picture book for children ages 4-8, a young Salvadoran boy dreams of becoming a doctor who speaks both English and Spanish so that patients like his beloved grandmother aren’t afraid to visit the doctor. Paired with lively, colorful illustrations by Victoria Castillo, this book will encourage children to think about their own futures as well as the role their culture can play in helping the community.


Reviews

“Castillo’s background as a comic artist is successfully expressed in the characters’ exaggerated expressions and in her predominantly red and orange color scheme.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Inspired by his own experiences as a young boy helping his El Salvadorian grandmother navigate the US health-care system, Juan J. Guerra’s insightful, bilingual account highlights the need for culturally sensitive medical practitioners, in The Little Doctor: El doctorcito. Notes of despair and hope shine through in the strikingly animated artwork from Victoria Castillo.”—Foreword Reviews


JUAN J. GUERRA, a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, is a graduate of Pomona College and the University of Illinois School of Medicine. This is his first picture book.

VICTORIA CASTILLO, an illustrator and comic artist, loves vibrant, expressive shapes and colors. She lives in Texas with her family and numerous dogs. This is her first published book.




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: C/S Magazine, History In Their Own Voices. New Books.


Review: Maxine Borowsky Junge and Con Safos (staff). Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio”. San Bernardino, California: [publisher not identified], 2016. Available via print on demand.
ISBN 153463200X

Michael Sedano

“El movimiento” is the foundation myth that satisfies a hungry need for inclusion and identity. Say the words “el movimiento,” or one of myriad terms for that period in the late 1960s and beginnings of the seventies, and evoke rich tapestries of ideas, events, and personal recollection. These memories are punctuated here and there with honored luminaries and passing personalities, triumphs and desmadres, a sense of one’s own place as part of something major.

There’s a sense of doneness about the movement, as in it is over. But the notion of the movement is an idea that especially today, can motivate people to come together in a deliberate search for new knowledge and shared experience. Movimiento is the idea that coalesces publics and holds communities together.

That perception of movimiento as finite, and ended, is one of the reasons Maxine Borowsky Junge and Con Safos’, Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio, belongs on every researcher’s reading list, every library history shelf, in the hands of anyone who wants to remember the movement because they were in it, woulda liked to be pero, tu sabes, or a reader of cultural history who enjoys compelling narratives of history-making events told by the makers.

Distribution being a bugaboo of independent publishers, World Cat lists two west coast libraries with copies, Cal State Channel Islands and Portland State. Amazon publishes the book on demand and ships upon payment, about thirty-two bucks.

Recounting the history of a legendary magazine during its existence between 1968 and 1970, Voices From the Barrio presents itself in a hybrid of academic analysis heavily interspersed with intimate looks and the personal voices of the magazine’s various staff configurations. It is a book on paper, not an ephemeral web presence. It’s an artifact that people can pass from hand to hand, store in physical permanence, incapable of erasure without unimaginable horror. Then again, it would probably be banned in Arizona.

Today’s information economy can create social and literary channels with a few keystrokes, a few dollars for a website, and messages become accessible by a potentially global audience. Facile experience and fragile knowledge could come of scrolling glances at hundreds of webpages a day. A book creates a different form of knowing.

The history of “old-fashioned” print media offers instructive examples for modern publishers, print or web. For raza, this history of Con Safos Magazine offers particularly useful and interesting insights into the times, the gente, the ganas, the writing, that makes C/S an important resource, a template for resistance and resisters today. Do it the right way.

Building the product, the magazine itself, models a microcosm of how movimientos come together. Structurally, the editorial hierarchy of WWII-generation editors kept a firm and flexible hold on policy. They have clear goals and standards, they hold a steady course toward goal. Both core and changing staff share a talented drive to produce worthwhile messages. Content reflected current events, indelible opposition to the war in Vietnam, multilingualism. Literature included consciousness-raising poetry and fiction, writing grew out of a rhetoric of identification. Style aimed for the sublime, for exactitude in language and a writer's sense of cultural inclusion. The C/S family figured it out as they went along but always motivated for quality. The combination of good illustration, good writing, clear logic, funny when it’s supposed to be, made Con Safos Magazine a sought-after buy in a restricted distribution network. Complete sets of the magazine are rare, and the FBI seized the final issue.

There was leadership by example—“I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunk” realism sealed the deal for the new literary editor; leadership by dint of qualification—the final art director, Magu, was an MFA candidate at UC Irvine; leadership by qualification—Ralph Lopez can write the pants off an essay or a memoir. C/S quoted Camus. The originators share a clear sense of vision even as the vision created itself from the raw materials of everyday life and politics. Being-in-becoming is one definition of movimiento sensibility.

Frank Sifuentes, Alurista, Oscar Acosta in 1973
C/S published rrsalinas, Oscar Zeta Acosta, and of 131 prose pieces, 8 by women. Other studies will address such gender disparities which weren’t unique to the magazine but typical of movimiento institutions that kept women in the background. Que gacho that at least one C/S staff woman's foto is identified only by first name. None of the interviewed remembered the woman’s last name.

Borowsky Junge doesn’t pull punches to guard against remembered hurts and newly injured pride.  She calls out that gender imbalance. She relates how Frank Sifuentes’ folky story-telling couldn’t get past the editor and Pancho didn't get published in C/S. He found an audience with technology; a short time before he died, Frank began podcasting his stories. He beamed with pride when the organizers of the 2010 reunion floricanto at USC included him to read on the first, Veteranas Veteranos day of readings.

There’s a profundity about this history and what Con Safos Magazine stands for and comes out of. Some of the writers and editors crossed over, qepd, but there’s a healthy lot of them still breathing. Borowsky Junge’s interviews bring their voices before today's audience.

Voices From the Barrio includes a generous set of excerpts from Lopez’ memoir, “Running With The Brown Buffalo. Roaming The Heights Of Lincoln Heights With Oscar Acosta, AKA ‘Zeta’ Circa 1968-1975.” On other pages, readers find sterling exemplars of Chicana Chicano arte, fiction and essays, poetry from rrsalinas’ “A Trip Through the Mind Jail,” some gems from Sergio Hernandez’Arnie and Porfi cartoon.

The set of oral histories that form the heart of the volume inform a conclusion that C/S Magazine owed its popularity not simply to C/S being the first independent Chicano literary magazine—anyone can publish a magazine--but more because the persona of the magazine and the distinctiveness of its voices resonated with readers. Its creators were, as the book title says, from the barrio.

The people who put together the magazine weren’t in publishing for the money but their mutually created and nurtured message. In McLuhanesque language popular during the era, C/S was cool media, C/S involved multiple senses simultaneously engaged—touch, vision, graphics, and identification. This characterizes physical media. But for Con Safos Magazine there is an enhanced dimension: raza sought out and remember C/S because it pierced deep into the corazones of their cultural being.

Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio” is a magnum opus. Three hundred eighty-seven pages accompanied with vii pages of Forward by Jesus Treviño, five pages of useful Preface by Borowski Junge, some footnotes, no indexing. Sadly the printed copy I received from Sergio Hernandez reflects compromises between heft and paper quality. Illustrations work fine as line art but photographaphs, fine work by Oscar Castillo for example, remain flat on the coarse grain looking like box camera snapshots without snap. Voices From The Barrio, “Con Safos: Reflections of Life in the Barrio”is available via print on demand. Maybe a buyer can upgrade to coated stock and hope the image files are equal to the images.

I know several of the people interviewed here and they are cool people. I would love to have been part of the phenomenon of writing and publishing Con Safos Magazine when I was growing up. But I was in Isla Vista or the Army then. Ni modo. Fans of the sixties will get a kick out this insider's view of the popular magazine.

I know for sure I would have been overjoyed to get copies of Con Safos Magazine while I was on duty on a Korean mountaintop at the heyday of the magazine. It is the stuff dreams are made on. Come to think on it, there are lots of gente around who need some of those dreams right now. If you can’t go home again to re-assemble a Con Safos Magazine renaissance, reading its history is satisfying and edifying. “We” did this once and we can do it again.




Visit Jesus Treviño's Latinopia for video of various C/S tipos and Hernandez' revivified Arnie & Porfi cartoons. Jimmy Velarde, Diane Hernandez' brother, nears completion of his film of this vital history. La Bloga will share details when available.

MVS
C/S


Related Reading: Notable New Books

Mestizos Come Home! Making and Claiming Mexican American Identity. By Robert Con Davis-Undiano. Norman: U of Oklahoma Press, 2017.


Independent presses and academic presses are becoming the last, and first, refuge of razacentric books. Case in point is the Chicana & Chicano Visions of the Américas series published by the University of Okahoma Press.

The newest title in the series is Mestizos Come Home! Making and Claiming Mexican American Identity by Robert Con Davis-Undiano.

California born and schooled, Davis is a graduate of Cal State East Bay (Hayward State) and UC Davis.

Per the publisher, the book "focuses on defining, confronting, and contesting [the terms] 'Mexican American and mestizo.'"

Examining six areas of cultural and social change since the 1960s, including the rise of chicanismo in literature and academic fields of study, Mestizos Come Home! sounds like an ideal companion to a reading of the history of Con Safos Magazine.



Aztlán : essays on the Chicano homeland. Eds. Rudolfo A Anaya; Francisco A Lomelí; Enrique R Lamadrid.

This is a newly revised and expanded  edition of the classic 1989 collection of essays about Aztlán. Another academic accompaniment to understanding movimiento and useful adjunct to a reading of Voices From the Barrio.

The publisher, University of New Mexico Press, shares a book blurb from La Bloga friend, Roberto Cantu, who observes, "As a symbol for political action, a place of spiritual plentitude, or as a challenge to transcend ethnic borders, Aztlán emerges throughout these essays as one of the Chicano Movement's fundamental ideological constructs. This volume will be of interest to students and critics concerned with the understanding and comprehensive reconstruction of one of the Chicano cultural emblems of the late 1960s. Given the present emphasis in Chicano studies on discourse analysis and critique of ideologies, this volume is a contribution to Chicano cultural criticism."