Friday, June 23, 2017

Boys of Summer

It’s summer in Denver, and not just because the calendar says so. We’ve going through a stretch of several days of 90 degrees-plus, interrupted by the occasional thunder storm. We don’t usually get this kind of weather until July but since climate change is fake science, I’m at a loss to explain what is going on.

Summer also means baseball and this year is a good year to be a fan of the Colorado Rockies, which I have been since they played their first game back in 1993. (Before the Rockies I cheered for the Denver Zephyrs; before that, the Denver Bears.) The weather is perfect for ball games, the home team is as hot as the weather, and the Rox just might weather the endurance test of a major league baseball season.

So I feel like talking (writing) some baseball.

The Rox are in first place (as I write this) in the Western Division of the National League, but only by a game over the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Whether they can hang tough and be a contender the entire season is the number one question among many sports fans in the Mile High City. Those of us who have watched the team from the beginning are acutely aware of the history of rare (three) playoff appearances (one World Series visit – where they were swept in four games by the hated Boston Red Sox), and the not-so-rare June swoon of a team that is most famous for breaking fans’ hearts. We’re also nervous about the fact that a primary reason the team has won several games this year is the unlikely success of a squad of rookie pitchers who have defied the odds. How long can that last? When will the wear-and-tear of a major league season catch up to the young arms of the baby pitchers who are way over-achieving? It’s a long season filled with injury, stress, bad luck, and bad umpire calls. Can the Rox survive? (Los Lobos play in the background.)

Another train of thought about baseball – Latino (Latin Americans and U.S. born) ball players excel. Forget the NFL, NBA, NHL, MSL, whatever.  Major League Baseball (MLB) is where it's at for fame and fortune for international athletes.  Every team has several players from different countries such as Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Mexico, Cuba. A list of current superstars has names like Arenado, González, Altuve, Molina. According to MLB, 29.8% of players were born outside the 50 states, and the majority of them are Latinos. The Dominican Republic has more players in MLB than any other country, leading with 93 players. Venezuela is second with 77 players and Cuba is third with 23 players.

The Rockies have a bevy of talented Latino players including Nolan Arenado, Carlos González, Gerardo Parra, German Marquez, Antonio Senzatela, Alexi Amarista, and Raimel Tapia. In this year’s World Baseball Classic (WBC), Arenado played for the eventual winner of the tournament, the United States (Arenado is from California), while Carlos González (the popular “Cargo”) played for his home country Venezuela. The WBC is watched around the world and the games in the tournament take place on ball fields thousands of miles apart. For example, this year’s first round was played in Seoul, Tokyo, Miami and Zapopan. The championship game’s venue was Los Angeles. The WBC truly is a world series. The U.S. victory in 2017 marked the first time that a U.S. team won the title. 

Arenado is having a stellar year. He recently hit for the cycle and concluded his historic day with a walk-off home run. I think only six players in the entire existence of major league baseball have done that. He’s one of the stat leaders in RBIs as well as for home runs. And his hot-corner fielding is beautiful, sometimes downright poetic. He ought to be the starting third baseman in this year’s All Star game but, most likely, he won’t start, although he will be voted on the team. The Rox historically get no respect from sports writers, other teams, even fans. Blame it on the altitude.

González has been mired in a slump since he played in the WBC, although he shows signs of breaking out. I believe the Rockies need Cargo at full speed to stay in the pennant race, especially when the pitching falters, as it surely will sometime during the season.

The game of baseball reminds me of many things.

I played on a team when I was a kid, and just like any other American kid who loved the sport (whether that America was in Florence, Colorado or Mexico City, or Santo Domingo), I imagined that I could be a star. It was easy to see myself as a slick-fielding skinny shortstop who hit above average but who banged the big one when the game was on the line. Truth be told: my coach couldn't be convinced that I was an infielder -- more like a catcher with a weak arm but enough smarts about the game to help our pitcher, a freckle-faced white kid who relied on a fast ball that bruised my hand when I caught it, and a curve that could easily hit the umpire in the mask as well as my catcher’s mitt. I wasn’t much of a player but I thoroughly enjoyed myself in those late afternoon and early evening games when the crowds were restless and noisy, the field was dusty and hard, and the opposing team looked like college drop-outs.

My memories of baseball include various Mexican stars who have made a good living in the major leagues. Fernando Valenzuela. Vinny Castilla. Ruben Amaro. Armando Reynoso. Jorge De La Rosa.  To name only a few.

Adrián González is a Mexican American from San Diego, currently playing for the Dodgers and putting up Hall of Fame numbers. I really like to watch this guy play. Smooth, all business.  Although born in the States, he has played for the Mexican team in several WBC tournaments. González and his wife created The Adrian and Betsy Gonzalez Foundation, which is focused on empowering underprivileged youth in areas of athletics, education and health. As one of his charitable endeavors, González paid for the refurbishing of the baseball field in the Tijuana sports complex where he played as a youth.

Martín Dihigo was a Cuban player in baseball's Negro leagues and Latin American leagues (1922-1950) who excelled at several positions, primarily as a pitcher and second baseman. Although he was famous world-wide and was often listed among the best two-way players, he never got the chance to play in the North American Major Leagues. Combining his Dominican, American, Cuban and Mexican statistics results in a lifetime .302 career batting average with 130 home runs (eleven seasons worth of home run totals are missing) and a 252-132 pitching record. After retiring, Dihigo became a radio announcer for the Cuban Winter League. He fled Cuba in 1952 to protest the rise of Fulgencio Batista. Dihigo returned to Cuba when Fidel Castro took power, and was appointed the minister of sports. He taught programs for amateur baseball players that the new government organized. Dihigo is one of two players to be inducted to the American, Cuban and Mexican Baseball Halls of Fame, and is also in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela Halls of Fame.

I also think of Roberto Clemente. A few basics: Clemente was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973, the first Latin American and Caribbean player to be enshrined. Clemente was an All-Star for twelve seasons and fifteen All-Star Games. He was the NL Most Valuable Player in 1966, the NL batting leader in 1961, 1964, 1965, and 1967, and a Gold Glove winner for twelve consecutive seasons from 1961 through 1972. His batting average was over .300 for thirteen seasons and he had 3,000 major league hits during his career. He also played in two World Series championships. Clemente is the first Latin American and Caribbean player to help win a World Series as a starter (1960), to receive an NL MVP Award (1966), and to receive a World Series MVP Award (1971).  His awesome throws from right field to home plate were famous.  He cut down one foolish runner after another. They learned the hard way not to challenge his arm and accuracy. 

The most important fact about Roberto Clemente? He fully participated in charity work in Latin American and Caribbean countries during the off-seasons, often delivering baseball equipment and food to those in need. On December 31, 1972, he died in a plane crash while en route to deliver aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.  He was 38.

Some of the boys of summer turn out to be men for all seasons.

See you at the ballpark.


Manuel Ramos is the author of several novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction books and articles. His collection of short stories, The Skull of Pancho Villa and Other Stories, was a finalist for the 2016 Colorado Book Award. My Bad: A Mile High Noir was published by Arte Público Press in 2016 and is a finalist for the Shamus Award in the Original Paperback category sponsored by the Private Eye Writers of America.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Chicanonautica: Who Culturally Appropriated the Taco?

Folks are taking offense to people making and selling food that’s not of their ethnicity. White hipsters are reported to have stolen secret tortilla recipes. Lists of restaurants accused of cultural appropriation are being published with McCarthyistic suggestions to avoid them.

Personally, I don’t care about the ethnicity of the people making or serving my food, or taking my money for it. What matters here is the quality of said food. And not wanting to do business with people because of their skin color and/or accent seems a bit racist, doesn’t it?

Besides, here in my little corner of Aztlán, the overwhelming number of cooks in all kinds of restaurants are brown people who speak Spanish. I’m talking Asian, Italian, “American” . . . You gonna boycott them, too? Just who is culturally appropriating whom here? 

As for “secret tortilla recipes,” there ain’t no such animal. The ingredients for tortillas are simple and easy to find in the age of the Internet. What makes for good tortillas is the way the ingredients are put together and how they're cooked, which takes skill and practice. As far as I’m concerned, the more people who know how to make tortillas, the better! It should be taught in schools.

Put something in a tortilla, and it becomes a taco. There many ways to do this, and a lot of room to get creative.

I know this gets some people all: “That’s not the way my nana made them! That’s cultural appropriation, man!”

I actually enjoy that there are so many different kinds tacos, from different regions and ethnicities . It’s called diversity. Get used to it.

Here in the West side of the Phoenix Metro Area you can find exotic tacos in styles from all over Méjico and beyond. I haven’t had time to try them all. It’s a Mexican food utopia where a mannequin in a lucha libre mask advertises one-pound burritos.

You also find Navajo tacos--or Indian tacos, as many prefer to call them. They’re more like tostadas than tacos to me, served on Navajo--er, excuse me, Indian fry bread instead of a tortilla. Do I have to say that they’re delicious?
I ordered some on the Big Rez once:

"Two Navajo tacos, please."

"Two tacos!"

They don’t talk about those things from Mexico there.

And who invented the taco? The Aztec gods were said to have eaten human hearts sacrificed to them in tacos. They are traditional food all over Aztlán, which overlaps with “Navajo” taco territory.

It isn't clear what language it’s from. In Spanish it means “wad” or “plug”--and tampons are referred to as “tacos.” There’s also the Nahuatl word tlahco meaning “half” or “in the middle” where you put the meat in the tortilla. Who knows what lurks in other Uto-Aztecan languages.

We’ll probably never know for sure without a time machine or a serendipitous archeological discovery.

Besides, my fellow Latonoids, cultural appropriation is part of our heritage. The Aztecs were masters of the art. They did it all over Mexico. Burning the temples of the cities they conquered, they grabbed the things that they liked. Like the ingenious Mayan calendar that caused a ruckus a few years ago. The image that used of it was actually the Aztec Sun Stone. The Aztecs stole the calendar from the Maya, and the Maya probably stole it from the Olmecs. And have you heard the controversial theory that the Olmecs came from Africa?

Meanwhile, most people in this misinformation age can’t tell Aztec from Mayan, from Olmec, and never heard of the Mixtec, Zapotec, Tarascans, Otomí and other important cultures. Yet they think they know about who owns the taco.

All this bitching about cultural appropriation gets in the way of our creative recombocultural rasquache. We need to be free to create cultures that everyone else wants to steal. That’s when you know you’re really onto something.

ErnestHogan is busy culturally appropriating science fiction and taking it in bold new directions.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Owl in a Straw Hat: El Tecolote del sombrero de paja

Written by Rudolfo Anaya
Illustrated by El Moisés
Translated by Enrique R. Lamadrid

  • Age Range: 6 - 8 years
  • Hardcover: 44 pages
  • Publisher: Museum of New Mexico Press (September 15, 2017)
  • Language: English, Spanish
  • ISBN-10: 0890136300

This masterfully written children’s book by New Mexico’s favorite storyteller is a delightful tale about a young owl named Ollie who lives in an orchard with his parents in northern New Mexico. Ollie is supposed to attend school but prefers to hang out with his friends Raven and Crow instead. Ollie’s parents discover he cannot read and they send Ollie off to see his grandmother, Nana, a teacher and farmer in Chimayó. Along the way, Ollie’s illiteracy causes mischief as he meets up with some shady characters on the path including Gloria La Zorra (a fox), Trickster Coyote, and a hungry wolf named Luis Lobo who has sold some bad house plans to the Three Little Pigs. When Ollie finally arrives at Nana’s, his cousin Randy Roadrunner drives up in his lowrider and asks Ollie why he’s so blue. “I’m starting school, and there’s too much to learn, and I can’t read,” Ollie says. “I can’t do it.” Randy explains that he didn’t think he could learn to read either, but he persevered, earned a business degree, and now owns the best lowrider shop in Española! Ollie finally decides he is ready to learn to read. The characters and the northern New Mexico landscape in Owl in a Straw Hat come to life wonderfully in original illustrations by New Mexico artist El Moisés.

Rudolfo Anaya, considered the father of Chicano literature, is the author of the beloved classic Bless Me, Ultima, which was adapted into a major feature film in 2013. In 2016, Anaya received the National Medal of Arts presented by President Barack Obama. His children’s books include Rudolfo Anaya's The Farolitos of Christmas, The First Tortilla, Roadrunner’s Dance, The Santero’s Miracle, and Serafina’s Stories. Anaya is professor emeritus of English at the University of New Mexico where he taught for thirty years. He lives in Albuquerque.

El Moisés is leaving his mark as a modern-day artist who brings the essence of urban culture and barrio flavor to mainstream fine art. His work is influenced by the Chicano, American, Native American, and Mexican cultures that are reflected in his arte, which has been exhibited or featured around the world.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Literary and Arts Pachangas News. Contraband Libros. World's Most Beauteous Blossom.

Tia Chucha Literary Pachanga Showcases Chicano artists

Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore hosts a montón of artists next month, to celebrate Mexican American Literature. The free Literary Pachanga invites all to attend on Saturday, July 8.

Michael Sedano, co-founder of La Bloga serves as master of ceremonies to a stellar assemblage of Chicana Chicano writers, including Jesús Treviño, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Andrea Gutierrez, Christine Granados, and Northern California singer/songwriter Alyssa Granados.

The authors will perform from their collective works at Tia Chucha's Centro Cultural and Bookstore at 4 p.m., Saturday, July 8, 13197 Gladstone Ave.,  Sylmar, CA 91342.

The event is free and open to the public.

• Jesús Salvador Treviño is writer/director whose television directing credits include Criminal Minds, Law & Order Criminal Intent and many others. He has written, directed and produced several PBS documentaries about Latinos. Trevino’s latest effort is a video website showcasing Latino history, art, music, theater, literature, cinema and food: He will read from his most recent collection of short stories Return to Arroyo Grande which was published in 2015 and won the 2016 American Book Award.

• Alicia Gaspar de Alba, a native of the El Paso/Juárez border has published 11 books, among them award-winning novels and collections of poetry and short fiction. Since 1994, she has been a professor of Chicana/o Studies, English, and Gender Studies at UCLA, and is currently Chair of the LGBTQ Studies program. She will read from Calligraphy of the Witch published by St. Martin’s Press in 2007, released in paperback by Arte Público Press in 2012.

• Andrea Gutierrez is a writer, editor, and educator in Los Angeles. Her work has been published or produced in make/shift, Mujeres de Maiz, Bitch, Huizache, and the Chicanas, Cholas, y Chisme theater festival in Los Angeles. She is on the editorial staff at make/shift magazine, previously brandished her red pen at Drunken Boat and Los Angeles Review of Books, and has served as a judge for the International Latino Book Awards. Andrea is a VONA/Voices writer and received her MFA in creative writing at the University of California, Riverside. She will read from her works published in Huizache Magazine.

• Christine Granados has been a Spur Award finalist and received Sandra Cisneros’ literary prize the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Foundation Award in 2006 for her first book of fiction Brides and Sinners in El Chuco, published by the University of Arizona Press and her stories have been in many anthologies. She will read from and discuss her second book, a novella and short stories about strong Mexican American women who live along the border, titled Fight Like a Man and Other Stories We Tell Our Children.

• Alyssa Granados’ diverse catalog of guitar styles come from a range of influences spanning from folk to dub. She is half of the Electronic Funk duo Dreamers Paradise out of Boise, ID.

Author Links:
Jesus Treviño:
Alicia Gaspar de Alba:
Andrea Gutierrez:
Christine Granados:

Book Reviews:
NBC Latino:
La Bloga:

 Chicago Arte Chicano Fest

You're Invited to NMMA's Birthday Pachanga!

The National Museum of Mexican Art is celebrating its 30th Birthday and we're throwing a Pachanga (that means BIG party) at the museum! We want to share this momentous occasion with YOU: our visitors, friends and community who help make our museum so vibrant.

Join us for a fun filled evening of snacks, drinks and much more as we look back on 30 years of highlights and milestones. Don't forget your dancing shoes because a live DJ will be providing the tunes for the evening.

De Pachanga en el Museo
Friday, July 7th, 6-8pm
1852 W. 19 St.

This event is family-friendly! Free art activities will be provided.

Book Smugglers Announce Recidivism Intent

Back in 2012, Latinopia's Jesus Treviño and La Bloga's Michael Sedano met up with the Houston-origin Librotraficante bus in El Paso. We traveled from there to Mesilla to meet with Denise Chavez, up to Albuquerque to meet with Rudolfo Anaya, then on to Tucson to deliver the contraband.

They're back. The book smugglers. The book ban is going on trial before Arizona's Supreme Court and the Librotraficantes intend to support the freedom to read by returning to Arizona loaded with banned books.

The 2017 Librotraficante Caravan to Tucson Launches from Houston - click link.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017, 10 am
Casa Ramirez Folk Art Gallery
241 W 19th St, Houston, TX 77008.

2012 Librotraficante bus on the road early
The 2017 Librotraficante Caravan to Tucson Launches from Houston
Wednesday, June 21, 2017, 10 am
Casa Ramirez Folk Art Gallery
241 W 19th St, Houston, TX 77008.

We make stops in: 
* San Antonio, Texas
* El Paso, Texas
* Las Cruces, New Mexico
* Albuquerque, New Mexico
* Tucson, Arizona
2012 Librotraficante contraband
Arizona Hit List - from Librotraficantes

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years B. Bigelow & B. Peterson
The Latino Condition: A critical Reader R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction R. Delgado & J. Stefancic
Pedagogy of the Oppressed P. Freire
United States Government: Democracy in Action R.C. Remy
Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History F.A Rosales
Declarations of Independene: Cross-Examining American Ideology H. Zinn
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos R. Acuna
The Anaya Reader R. Anaya
The American Vision J. Appleby et el.
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
Drink Cultura: Chicanismo by J. A. Burciaga
Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings C. Jiminez
De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views Multi-Colored Century E. S. Martinez
500 Anos Del Pueblo Chicano/500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures E. S. Martinez
Codex Tamuanchan: On Becoming Human R. Rodriguez
The X in La Raza II R. Rodriguez
Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History F. A. Rosales
A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present H. Zinn
Ten Little Indians S. Alexie
The Fire Next Time J. Baldwin
Loverboys A. Castillo
Women Hollering Creek S. Cisneros
Mexican WhiteBoy M. De La Pena
Drown J. Diaz
Woodcuts of Women D. Gilb
At the Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria E. Guevara
Color Lines: "Does Anti-War Have to Be Anti-Racist Too?" E. Martinez
Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy R. Montoya et al.
Let Their Spirits Dance S. Pope Durate
Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz M. Ruiz
The Tempest W Shakespeare
A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America R. Takaki
The Devil's Highway L.A. Urrea
Puro Teatro: A Latino Anthology A. Sandoval-Sanchez & N. Saporta Sternbach
Twelve Impossible Things before Breakfast: Stories J Yolen
Voices of a People's History of the United States H. Zinn
Live from Death Row J. Abu-Jamal
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven S. Alexie
Zorro I. Allende
Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza G. Anzaldua
A Place to Stand J. S. Baca
C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans J. S. Baca
Healing Earthquakes: Poems J. S. Baca
Immigrants in Our Own Land and Selected Early Poems J. S. Baca
Black Mesa Poems J. S. Baca
Martin & Mediations on the South Valley J. S. Baca
The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools D. C. Berliner and B. J. Biddle
Drink Cultura: Chicanismo J. A Burciaga
Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States L. Carlson & O. Hijuielos
Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States L. Carlson & O. Hijuielos
So Far From God A Castillo
Address to the Commonwealth Club of California C. E. Chavez
Women Hollering Creek S. Cisneros
House on Mango Street S. Cisneros
Drown J. Diaz
Suffer Smoke E. Diaz Bjorkquist
Zapata's Discipline: Essays Martin Espada
Like Water for Chocolate L. Esquievel
When Living was a Labor Camp D. Garcia
La Llorona: Our Lady of Deformities R. Garcia
Cantos Al Sexto Sol: Anthology of Aztlanahuac Writing C. Garcia-Camarilo, et al
The Magic of Blood D. Gilb
Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings Rudulfo "Corky" Gonzales
Saving Our Schools: The Case for Public Education, Saying No to "No Child Left Behind" Goodman, et al.
Feminism is for Everbody B. Hooks
The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child R. Jimenez
Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools J. Kozol
Zigzagger M. Munoz
Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature T. D. Rebolledo & E. S. Rivero
…y no se lo trago la tierra/And the Earth Did Not Devour Him T. Rivera
Always Running - La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. L. Rodriguez
Justice: A Question of Race R. Rodriguez
The X in La Raza II R. Rodriguez
Crisis in American Institutions S. H. Skolnick & E. Currie
Los Tuconenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941 T. Sheridan
Curandera Carmen Tafallo
Mexican American Literature C. M. Tatum
New Chicana/Chicano Writing C. M. Tatum
Civil Disobedience H. D. Thoreau
By the Lake of Sleeping Children L. A. Urrea
Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life L. A. Urrea
Zoot Suit and Other Plays L. Valdez
Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert O. Zepeda
Bless Me Ultima Rudolfo Anaya
Yo Soy Joaquin/ I Am Joaquin Rodolfo Gonzales
Into the Beautiful North Luis Alberto Urrea
The Devil's Highway Luis Alberto Urrea

A Joy Forever, Or Eleven Hours, Whichever Comes First
Michael Sedano

The rat-tail cactus used to be low in my esteem. The espinas were mean, and dispersed along the penca the thorn was sure to reward even the most gingerly touch with a sharp stab of pain. It grew long pencas several feet long, and more or less a uniform inch in diameter.

Then one year it bloomed and zoomed to the top of my cactus blossom esteem. This year, the oldest plant in the collection sprouted a dozen fuzzy buds. All of them set and began to elongate. A few came in a week beyond the main crop, one bloomed last week.

I should get over a dozen flowers this season from the one plant.

It's a reluctant bloomer requiring decades to produce a bud. When the flower opens it's in the dark of night. There's not much light in the waning moon, so a few porch lights illuminated what they did. A windless location, a long exposure, "iffy" forcus in the darkness factor into whatever image the camera will produce of the fully open flower in all its glory.

It's a miraculous sight, glowing faintly white, emerging quietly but insistently out of the shadowed background. The entire process from full bloom to collapsing requires eleven hours, all of them in dark of night.

The first tightly-wrapped bud started opening around 5 p.m. It was fully open at 9 p.m. and completely faded and collapsed onto itself by 8 a.m. the next morning. Eleven magic hours is all she gives.

Click image for enlargement
Nine P.M. Faint light to both sides. 30 sec f/29 ISO 100

5 a.m. 1 second f/4.5 ISO 100

The bud on the lower left is the flower above. This is the plant in early June, the flower buds a few days old.

Monday, June 19, 2017

LACMA’s Innovative and Powerful “HOME” Exhibit Breaks Boundaries and Hearts

“The House America Built”
By Daniel Joseph Martinez

I recently had the opportunity as a member of the press (on behalf of La Bloga) to attend a preview of a truly innovative and powerful new art exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) titled, “HOME — So Different, So Appealing.”

This exhibition was organized by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, LACMA, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It is part of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, which is certainly, to use the words of LACMA, “a far reaching and ambitious exploration of Latin America and Latino art in dialogue with Los Angeles.”

From left to right:
Mari Carmen Ramírez (Latin American Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston);
Chon A. Noriega (UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center);
Pilar Tompkins Rivas (Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College)

This is LACMA’s official description of this new installation:

“Organized in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, HOME — So Different, So Appealing features U.S. Latino and Latin American artists from the late 1950s to the present who have used the deceptively simple idea of 'home' as a powerful lens through which to view the profound socioeconomic and political transformations in the hemisphere. Spanning seven decades and covering art styles from Pop Art and Conceptualism to ‘anarchitecture’ and ‘autoconstrucción,’ the artists featured in this show explore one of the most basic social concepts by which individuals, families, nations, and regions understand themselves in relation to others. In the process, their work also offers an alternative narrative of postwar and contemporary art.”

The exhibit includes over 100 works by well-established artists such as Salomón Huerta, Doris Salcedo, and Guillermo Kuitca. It also includes younger emerging artists such as Carmen Argote and Camilo Ontiveros.

I am not an art critic and I certainly do not have the appropriate vocabulary and experience to adequately review this exhibit in the manner that Carolina A. Miranda of the Los Angeles Times did in this recent review. All I can offer are a few thoughts as someone who grew up in a household that appreciated and honored Latinx art.

As I walked from room to room and spent time with the various works, I found myself feeling quite moved. One of the aspects I found so compelling was the artists’ use of everyday images and structures to express an ambivalent connection to what we call “home.” This ambivalence arises from the often heartbreaking and perhaps irreconcilable circumstances created by the crucibles of poverty, bigotry and/or the Latinx diaspora. Here are some of the works that I saw:

“Untitled” (North)
By Felix Gonzalez-Torres

“Temporary Storage: The Belongings of Juan Manuel Montes”
By Camilo Ontiveros

“Untitled House”
By Salomón Huerta

Photograph of one of the exhibit rooms.

Buenos Aires Polyptych
By Juliana Laffitte and Manuel Mendanha

Juanito Goes to the City
By Anonio Berni

I had the opportunity to speak with one of the artists, Carmen Argote (pictured immediately below), whose work is titled “720 Sq. Ft. Household Mutations” and consists of the actual carpet torn from her childhood home. It contains every mark and stain that is part of her family’s story and history. Of course, her family’s collective lives amount to more than this bit of carpet, but it was the stage for her family’s struggles as well as joyous occasions. She marveled at how small it looked as displayed in the gallery space.

In any event, I strongly commend this innovative and powerful exhibit to you. The few photographs I share here cannot fully capture the depth, intelligence, and heart that you will experience in person. The exhibit started its run on June 11 and will continue to October 15, 2017.

For further information on this and other LACMA exhibits, please visit LACMA's website. LACMA is located at 5905 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Songs After Memory Fractures: An Interview with Poet Allyson Jeffredo

Olga García Echeverría

What is memory? Is it made of smoke, water, fire, or flesh? Can it be broken or fractured like a bone?

In Allyson Jeffredo's debut poetry chapbook, Songs After Memory Fractures, there is a father's ghost that both lingers and fades. The realm is Loss. Longing. Love. The daughter/speaker in this collection grasps repeatedly at the elusive, at the No Longer Here, and there seems to be an urgency to weave.

Not unlike Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights who weaves stories to keep herself alive, Jeffredo weaves to keep memory alive. Throughout, Jeffredo proves herself an expert weaver who makes of her verses webs, nets full of hanging threads and gaps. This is one of Jeffredo's fortes—the unique brokenness in her poetic stitch. A poem may suddenly stop, like a heartbeat, and collapse in the middle of the page. Like memory, it may resurrect. It may be winged and iridescent one second, ashes with tiny piece of bone the next. And if and when a poem cannot breathe, it will ask to be water, so that it will not drown.

Songs After Memory Fractures is a beautiful collection that stretches to touch the untouchable and to flesh out that which is fading. Poet Juan Delgado describes Jeffredo's work as invoking "scattered memories among 'wet footprints' that vanish..." And writer Bolin Jue, calls it “a song with chase of loss as chorus, with disintegrating moments of beauty as backbeat..."

We're honored today to have Allyson Jeffredo at La Bloga answering a few questions about her work.

Bienvenida, Allyson! How did Songs After Memory Fractures begin to manifest for you on the page?

I started writing these poems to try to help me reconfigure some of the memories I have. Mainly, the good memories that are growing dimmer and dimmer. I set out to write this chapbook as an ode to our dependency on something so loose and ethereal as memory. I feel as if I am always at its whim and I wanted to capture this. A big part of this effort was for my father, but it’s also for my grandpa and tío. I just want to hold onto their laughs.

You write about your father, "you're the nopal molded from the summer sun / writing our history no one knew would be lost..." Since we are honoring fathers today, can you expand on who your father was?

My father was a hardworking man. There are very few days I remember him not working. His skin was burnt by the sun and his face was made scrunched by it—giving his face a permanent scowl, which made everyone think he was mad all the time. That may not have been far from the truth, but when he laughed, it was real: a full-mouth laugh from the chest. He was never very affectionate, I think his love language was “acts of service,” which may also be why people mistook him for being angry all the time. They didn’t realize that when he did things for them—fix their cars, repair their home, cook meals…etc.—this was the way he showed he cared. In regards to the nopal, he was, and still is, one of the most reliable people I know, and someone who could withstand the hard desert heat. In my head, the nopal is always this sturdy image. This image of a scarred toughness that is willing to give itself if you’re willing to risk being poked. In this way, that solitary image can really sum up my dad as a person.

You mentioned that these poems are also a tribute to your grandfather and tío. 

I was trying to think about loss and all the ways I’ve been hurt by it. So, naturally, my grandpa and tío came in. In many ways, a lot of the male figures in my life remind me of the nopal. They all had this attitude toward hard work and just doing what must be done, which is in complete opposition of the entitled generation I am a part of. So, when I’m writing about these men who are so different from me in so many ways, I’m trying to understand them. My dad worked in the ranches for like 25 years until he finally got a job doing irrigation work for the school district—which is how he ended up dying…. It was a similar story for my grandpa, but he ended up doing sprinkler work at a country club. My tío was a mechanic. My life is nothing like theirs. I imagine my dad making fun of how prissy my life is all the time haha, which also helps me stay humble.

I couldn't help but think of Martin Espada's poem "Haunt Me" several times when reading your poems. I think this is because I feel a deep haunting in your pieces. In his poem, Espada gathers all the remains of his father--fragments--and ends with an invitation, a plea to his deceased father to sit down, to tell him everything, to haunt him. It's this hunger that I see in your collection as well. 

Oh man, that Martín Espada poem is so perfect.,,there’s this almost perverse notion of wanting to be haunted, by memories, by dreams, that transcend into waking life, which also reminds me of Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the ghost of the baby. It speaks to the desperation I feel to hang onto the past that nothing physical does justice to. Maybe, for me, it’s the inadequate discussion we have about death and cycles. We repress this ending of ourselves and those around us so much that it felt refreshing to read that ending, “Haunt me,” because there’s been so many times I’ve wished as hard as I can for that same imperative.

The title of your chapbook really captures the structure and theme of your poems. The collection reads as one long poem in broken pieces, or "memory fragments." Did you write this as one poem and then divide? Or did it come to you in fragments that you then linked?

I moved between breaking up longer poems into fragments and linking fragments. I was thinking about gaps and breathing, like that pause between taking another breath after an exhale or breathing out after an inhale. Somehow this seemed like memory to me: we try to hang on to the let-go and try to postpone the new.

Allyson Jeffredo has published in Badlands, Tin Cannon, and Zocalo Public Square. She is a fellow of The Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship, which allows her to teach creative writing and the arts to Elementary School students of San Bernardino. Her chapbook, Songs After Memory Fractures, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2016. When she’s not writing, one might find her out in the woods playing airsoft.

To purchase Songs After Fractured Memory: