Saturday, June 23, 2018

Rebote-The Game of Handball in Barrios by Antonio SolisGomez

At Noon on November 22 of 1963 my class on American Drama ended and I walked out into the hallway, busy with other students going to and from classes. A young woman coming from the opposite direction weaved her way through the throng of students, openly crying. I wondered why but continued to the gym where I was to play a game of handball. It was only after my game that I came to know that President Kennedy had been killed.

Killian Carrol about to return a ball against Sean Lenning at the Tucson Raqueball Club

I played the type of handball played inside an enclosed room using all four walls and the high ceiling to return a small hard rubber ball to the front wall by striking it with a gloved hand. The rules are similar to the game of racquetball whose popularity has practically done away with handball because it is easier to learn to play.

Handball is an old game and its origins debated. Its simplicity, a person striking a ball against a wall and an opponent trying to return it, lends itself to the notion that it developed in many places around the world.

Play on a two wall court in Hazard Park

Today handball is played on courts with one wall, two walls, three walls, four walls and with four walls and a ceiling. Mostly the four wall game is played with gloved hands, the ball so hard that even using gloves can cause painful bone bruises especially on fingers or the bony part of the palm. The ball used on outdoor courts is generally a bigger softer ball like the one used in racquetball and is often played with bare hands.

Play on a two wall court showing the long side wall

Good handball players must be ambidextrous in order to strike the ball equally hard with either hand and be in great physical condition to move around the court, chasing balls travelling at high speeds. It is also a game where a player’s physical size is a negligible factor, quickness, great hand eye coordination and stamina are the attributes that gain success on the court.

An old one wall court in Zacatecas Mexico that is still in use

In the 1960’s when I first learned the game, many of the professional athletes played handball to keep in condition during their off season and to enhance their flexibility and reflexes. A good game will leave a person drained and exhausted. One doesn’t often see good players who are not in top notch physical condition.

Play at the Folson Prison handball court

On the west coast Chicanos have been playing on outdoor courts for many years. Many of these courts are found at local parks and for a variety of reasons vatos in particular have found the sport to their liking. One of the principal reasons is that outdoor courts are found in most of the prisons and their popularity there has transferred to the barrios. It may not be cool to play other sports but playing rebote is.

In actuality there have been handball courts in East los Angeles for many years that seem to have their origins in the Basque people of Spain. In the 1950’s there was a court on Main Street In Lincoln Heights, near where the brewery is located. It had a long sidewall and they used a ball called a bola basca that was bone hard made of some unknown material. A similar court was also found in East Los Angeles proper on Hammel near Floral, home to the men's-only Maravilla Handball Club from 1928 to 2007. It was built brick-by-brick by East L.A. residents and is the oldest remaining handball court in Los Angeles.

Youngster palying at the old Maravilla Men's Handball Club court

In Tucson where I live handball continues to have some popularity due in some part to the fact that the National Handball Association relocated from Chicago in the 1980’s. Then the now defunct Tucson Athletic Club was a draw for many of the top handball players. One of those hall of fame players, Fred Lewis, runs a non-profit foundation to teach young boys and girls the sport. And there are many outdoor tournaments taking place in New York and in Los Angeles.

Young woman diving for a ball travelling low to the ground

I no longer play, my knees not able to handle the stress of going up and down the court and from side wall to side wall but I do have a recurring dream where I find myself on the court, sweating profusely, swinging my arm and my gloved hand hitting the ball and then waiting axiously for my opponents return. Ah to have a youthful body again!

Friday, June 22, 2018

New From Arte Público

The official starting date for summer occurred this week, although some of us feel like we've been in the sun's season for at least the past month.  Something's screwed up about the climate, not sure what, but I blame the Democrats.  

So summer begins and I decide to preview books planned for a fall publication.  Blame the Democrats.

Here are a few titles from Arte Público Press out of the University of Houston.  All text is from the Press's Fall 2018 catalog or the Press's website.  No cover art yet for some of these books.

October 31, 2018

Sixteen-year-old Martha and her mother move constantly, never staying anywhere for long. So she knows better than to ask if they’ve been evicted again when her mom says they’re going on a “vacation” to meet the grandmother Martha didn’t know existed.

Laredo, Texas, is like no other city she has seen. Driving past businesses with Spanish names and colorfully painted houses with burnt lawns, Martha can’t imagine her mother living somewhere so … Mexican. At her grandmother’s pink house, Martha’s shocked and hurt when her mom abandons her, even though a part of her had been expecting it.

Suddenly, Martha must deal with a lifestyle that is completely foreign. Her grandmother doesn’t speak English, so communication is difficult, and she’s not particularly kind like most grandmothers. Even weirder, it turns out that her grandmother is revered as a healer, or curandera. And there are tons of cousins, aunts, and uncles all ready to embrace her!

Meanwhile, at Martha’s new school, she can’t be anonymous because everyone knows she’s Doña González’s granddaughter, and a girl named Marcella has it out for her. Why does she hate Martha so much?!? As Martha struggles to adjust to her new life, she can’t help but wonder why her mother left Laredo. No one is willing to discuss it, so she’ll have to unravel the secrets herself.

Alex Temblador, a freelance travel writer, is a graduate of the University of Louisiana at Monroe and received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. Born and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas, she lives and works in Dallas. This is her debut novel.

Vincent Ventura and the Mystery of the Chupacabra
Xavier Garza
October 31, 2018

When stray dogs start disappearing from the neighborhood, Vincent’s dad thinks that maybe the Animal Control Department is finally doing its job. But then, Mrs. Rangel’s celebrity chihuahua Chato, who appeared in television commercials promoting tacos, disappears. And Mrs. García’s wiener dog and Mrs. West’s poodle go missing. Everyone in the neighborhood is puzzled, but Vincent Ventura has a theory.
The disappearances started when Mr. Calaveras moved into the house at 666 Duende Street, which is rumored to be haunted. Vincent knows he’s not the harmless but grumpy guy that everyone else sees. He’s convinced the old man is behind the rash of missing dogs. In fact, Vincent is sure he’s a monster, a blood-sucking beast known as el chupacabras!
Vincent enlists the aid of his cousin Michelle, the smartest student at their school, and her twin brother Bobby to spy on the suspected killer. Vincent Ventura, monster fighter extraordinaire, is determined to catch him in the act, even if it puts them all in danger! Accompanied by the author’s dramatic black and white illustrations, this exciting short novel for ages 8 – 12 will introduce Latino creepy  creatures to a new generation of readers.

Born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, Xavier Garza is a prolific author, artist and storyteller whose work focuses primarily on his experiences growing up in the small border town of Rio Grande City. He graduated from the University of Texas – Pan American in 1994 with a BFA.
Arte Público also plans to publish Garza's Just One Itsy Bitsy Little Bite in October.  This title is for children ages 4 - 8 and is illustrated by Flor de Vita of Jalisco, Mexico.

James Luna
Illustrations by Monica Barela-Di Bisceglie
October 31, 2018

“On Ana’s first day of kindergarten, the slide stood like a mountain.” The other kids in her class encourage her to glide “down, down, down, to the bottom and her new friends.”
Young readers will relate to these elementary school children playing outside. In first grade, Ana meets Karina, who becomes her best friend. Together, they swing higher and higher as they try to kick the sky! In second grade, Ana and her friends dangle like monkeys, eat pretend bananas and call out, “Ooo, ooo, ooo! Can you do what we do?” As they grow, the kids learn to play new games on the playground: basketball, soccer and even handball.
Acclaimed children’s book author James Luna uses short, simple text and active words to depict children at play. They swing and hang, dribble and shoot, pass and kick, laugh and learn. And when they get to sixth grade, they have to say good-bye to their school’s playground. But someday they will return!

James Luna is an elementary school teacher in Riverside, California. He is the author of a short, bilingual novel for intermediate readers, A Mummy in Her Backpack / Una momia en su mochila (Piñata Books, 2012), and two picture books, The Place Where You Live / El lugar donde vives (Piñata Books, 2015) and The Runaway Piggy / El cochinito fugitivo (Piñata Books, 2010), which was selected by Texas schoolchildren as their favorite book on the Tejas Star Reading List.

Monica Barela-Di Bisceglie, an elementary school art teacher, earned her BFA in Studio Painting and Printmaking at the University of Texas at Austin. She is a part-time film production technician in the Albuquerque film industry. She lives in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. This is her first book.

Carolyn Dee Flores
Spanish translation by Carmen Tafolla

A lonely pet fish longs to know what exists in the world beyond her bowl. “I wish I could see over there / Behind the wall, / Behind the chair.” She imagines a giant tree, a wooly goat, and a purple sea.
She wonders if there could be someone out there who looks like her. So, she leans close to the glass and hears some fish-like cries! “Hello? Is someone there?” she hears. “Are you a bird? / Are you a bee? Or are you a fish with fins like me?” She realizes there’s another fish close by and his name is Mike!
When Mike asks what her world is like, the amazing watercolor fish has a great idea. “I’ll show Mike what I think could be!” Using watercolors, she paints a picture of a world with trees and swirling rainbows. Every day she paints more, “birds that swim, / ships with wings, / and books that do all sorts of things!” Then Mike uses his paint to illustrate more “than just the water and the door.”
In this fun bilingual picture book, with a wonderful rhyming Spanish translation by former Texas Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla, two pet fish imagine a beautiful, mysterious world beyond their bowls. Children ages 4-8 will love following the progression of Carolyn Dee Flores’ gorgeous illustrations from black and white to full color as the fish become friends. Kids will be inspired to imagine—and maybe even paint or write about—a world beyond the one they know.

Carolyn Dee Flores is the illustrator of several books, including A Surprise for Teresita / Una sorpresa para Teresita (Piñata Books, 2016); Dale, dale, dale: Una fiesta de números / Hit It, Hit It, Hit It: A Fiesta of Numbers (Piñata Books, 2014) and Canta, Rana, canta / Sing, Froggie, Sing (Piñata Books, 2013). A member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, she lives in San Antonio, Texas.



Manuel Ramos has three noir short stories in the literary pipeline: Night in Tunisia (Blood Business, Mario Acevedo and Joshua Viola, eds., Hex Publishing, 2017), Snake Farm (Culprits: The Heist Was Only the Beginning, Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips, eds., Polis Books, 2018), and Sitting Ducks (Blood and Gasoline, Mario Acevedo, ed., Hex Publishing, 2018). His next novel is scheduled for publication in September, 2018

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Chicanonautica: J. J. Benítez and His Cuadernos de Campo

J.J.Benítez is one of the most popular and prolific authors writing in Spanish. That makes him one of the most popular writers on the planet. Still, English translations of his books seem to only exist as rumors.

Benítez has been a journalist for over fifty years, and is mostly known as a UFO (en español: OVNI--Objecto Volador No Idenificado) researcher, and in recent decades has branched out into the paranormal--ghosts, angels, afterlife manifestations, other dimensions, apocalyptic visions, etc.

I first encountered him about thirty years ago. I was reading UFO literature in Spanish from the Phoenix Public Library. OVNI lit tends to be sexier, with pulp-fictiony violence, and more bizarre than Anglophone UFO lit. Benítez stood out in this genre; he can actually write.

I checked out a thick volume, the title of which escapes me. (Looking over Benítez’s massive catalog is no help.) It read like a novel, X-Files-ish, with a touch of gonzo journalism. Benítez traveled around the world (having particular trouble getting in and out of the United States) investigating UFOs.  Something seemed to be going on . . . 

Then at the end, he came to an abrupt halt, apologizing for not tying it all together, but promising that maybe he would be able to do it in the next book . . .

If it hadn't been a library book, I would have thrown it at the nearest wall, breaking its spine.

Fans of UFO/paranormal lit are a helluvalot more patient than I am.

Like the X-Files, Benítez tended to be vague. A photo that stuck in my mind was a typical tourist shot of his bikini-clad girlfriend at a Mediterranean beach. The caption said that there was a UFO in the sky. To me it looked like speck of dust on the negative.

I had to admire him for pulling off such a scam, but how long could it last? Surely, his readers would catch on and stop buying his books.


For decades, I kept seeing new books by Benítez. He’s a regular fixture in libraries here in Aztlán. When I went to work for Borders, I found myself shelving shiny new copies his latest, fat volumes.

He dropped the first person narrative, and took to reporting incidents, sometimes interviewing the witnesses, other times retelling accounts reported elsewhere--like Fidel Castro’s UFO sighting in Sólo Para Tus Ojos: Cuarenta y Cuatro Años de Investigación Ovni.

He has an easy-to-read style (I recommend his books for those who need to practice their Spanish). He keeps the reports short, and often doesn’t bother to put them in chronological order. They are also illustrated with photos, maps, and diagram-like drawings from Benítez’s “cuadernos de campo” which give the impression that he’s running all over the planet doing research rather than answering email from people who’ve seen or experienced strange things. 

He provides lots of data, but no real proof.

His audience doesn’t seem to care. When people want to believe, they don’t need to be convinced.

People used to say, “No one will believe that, this is the twentieth century.” In the twenty-first century, the Information Age, people will believe anything.

Is it just me, or is that scary?

Ernest Hogan once saw a UFO over the Superstition Mountains, but remains a skeptical science fiction writer. His novel Smoking Mirror Blues is available in a new edition.