Friday, September 22, 2023

New in Paperback for September

Here's a rundown of new paperback releases for the month of September. Quite an interesting pair of books. And, as someone recently said, it's okay to buy books you may never read. You're buying art, supporting writers and bookstores, and odds are that you are going to read some of your stash. Happy book hunting art patrons, and the hoarders, too.

Also in paperback for September:

The Hacienda, Isabel Cañas
Our Share of Night, Mariana Enriquez
two books in Cormac McCarthy's The Passenger series --- The Passenger and Stella Maris


Murder and Mamon
Mia Manansala
Berkley - Sept. 19

[from the publisher]
Lila Macapagal’s godmothers April, Mae, and June—AKA the Calendar Crew—are celebrating the opening of their latest joint business venture, a new laundromat, to much fanfare (and controversy). However, what should’ve been a joyous occasion quickly turns into a tragedy when they discover the building has been vandalized—and the body of Ninang April’s niece, recently arrived from the Philippines, next to a chilling message painted on the floor. The question is, was the message aimed at the victim or Lila’s gossipy godmothers, who have not-so-squeaky-clean reputations?

With Ninang April falling apart from grief and little progress from the Shady Palms Police Department in this slippery case, it’s up to Lila and her network to find justice for the young woman.

The Calendar Crew have stuck their noses into everybody’s business for years, but now the tables are turned as Lila must pry into the Calendar Crew’s lives to figure out who has a vendetta against the (extremely opinionated yet loving) aunties and stop them before they strike again.


Never Whistle at Night
Edited by Shane Hawk and Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Vintage - Sept 19

[from the publisher]

Featuring stories by:
Norris Black • Amber Blaeser-Wardzala • Phoenix Boudreau • Cherie Dimaline • Carson Faust • Kelli Jo Ford • Kate Hart • Shane Hawk • Brandon Hobson • Darcie Little Badger • Conley Lyons • Nick Medina • Tiffany Morris • Tommy Orange • Mona Susan Power • Marcie R. Rendon • Waubgeshig Rice • Rebecca Roanhorse • Andrea L. Rogers • Morgan Talty • D.H. Trujillo • Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. • Richard Van Camp • David Heska Wanbli Weiden • Royce Young Wolf • Mathilda Zeller

Many Indigenous people believe that one should never whistle at night. This belief takes many forms: for instance, Native Hawaiians believe it summons the Hukai’po, the spirits of ancient warriors, and Native Mexicans say it calls Lechuza, a witch that can transform into an owl. But what all these legends hold in common is the certainty that whistling at night can cause evil spirits to appear—and even follow you home.

These wholly original and shiver-inducing tales introduce readers to ghosts, curses, hauntings, monstrous creatures, complex family legacies, desperate deeds, and chilling acts of revenge. Introduced and contextualized by bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones, these stories are a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ survival and imagination, and a glorious reveling in all the things an ill-advised whistle might summon.


Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. Read his latest story, Northside Nocturne, in the award-winning anthology Denver Noir, edited by Cynthia Swanson, published by Akashic Books.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Chicanonautica: Bharat, Aztlán, and Other Places, Real and Imaginary

by Ernest Hogan

New words. I keep learning them all the time. With new words come new worlds. They change your perceptions and conceptions. That’s why language is always an issue. 

I learned a new one recently: Bharat. It’s what they call that subcontinent that the Anglos have been making us all call India for the last few centuries. It’s been around for millennia. Somehow, it’s taken me sixty-seven years to learn it. 

Empires die, but their symptoms live on.

In Bharat, it and India are used interchangeably. Right-wing factions want to go back to the Sanskrit original name. Of course, it’s sending out shockwaves.

Changing names changes things. As a Chicano trickster satirical science fiction writer, I mess around with names, it’s fun, and a special sort of magic.

I renamed the Pacific Northwest Sasquatchlandia after visiting it. 

The old name and my old conceptions didn’t fit my newfound knowledge and experience.

I call the region where I live Aztlán. No, I am not part of a separatista movement to secede from the United States of Norteamerica (Would it even be possible? I should ask a lawyer sometime . . .), I just don’t see my homeland as afar-flung southwestern quadrant of an empire that rotates on a Nueva York/Washington D.C. axis, and I recognize and respect our ancient civilizations and their modern manifestations.

My life, and writing, is richer for it.

Now, India is in a position to become its own Aztlán. Decolonization happens, cabrones.

This will not just change perceptions and conceptions in Bharat, but all over the planet.

Take the controversial word Indian . . .


It’s universally used and catch-all term for brown-skinned peoples who are not considered civilized. Similar to the way Martian is used for people from other planets.


What if, through the magic of bureaucracy (we all know how powerful that is) India ceases to exist with the right sequence of keyboard strokes—what we used to call “paperwork.” Poof! No more India, only Bharat.

What about all the brown-skinned who have had the label Indian inflicted on them all these centuries? Without an India, can there be such a thing as Indians?

Can we imagine a world where there is no such thing as an Indian?

All around the planet, people will have to be redefined. A lot of us will have to redefine ourselves. Come on over, baby, there’s a whole lot of transmogrification going on!

New words. New worlds. Probably chaos. Bureaucrats, keepers of political correctness, and those who worry about cultural appropriation will be horrified. The electronic paperwork will take generations.

And someday, for good or ill, whether anybody likes it or not, will people be born on Mars. Wonder what they will call themselves?

The ancient trickster, deep inside me, smiles, with sharp teeth.

Ernest Hogan, the Father of Chicano Science Fiction, has been an Indian, a Negro, and “stupid fucking white person” from time to time. Watch for his new story collection: Pancho Villa’s Flying Circus & Other Fictions.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Farewell Cuba, Mi Isla

By Alexandra Diaz 


Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books 

Language: English

Hardcover: 336 pages

ISBN-10: 1534495401

ISBN-13: 978-1534495401


Alan Gratz’s Refugee meets Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Esperanza Rising in this middle grade novel about two girls fleeing 1960 Cuba with their family inspired by award-winning author Alexandra Diaz’s family’s history.


Victoria loves everything about her home in Cuba. The beautiful land, the delicious food, her best friend and cousin, Jackie, and her big, loving family.


But it’s 1960 in Cuba, and as the political situation grows more and more dangerous, Victoria, her parents, and her two younger siblings are forced to seek refuge in America with nothing more than two changes of clothes and five dollars. Worse, they’re forced to leave the rest of their family, including Jackie, behind.


In Miami, everything is different. And it’s up to Victoria to step up and help her family settle into this new world—even though she hopes they won’t be there for long. Back in Cuba, everything feels different, too. Jackie watches as friends and family flee, or worse, disappear. So, when she’s given a chance to escape to America, she takes it—even though she has to go alone. Reunited in Miami, can Victoria and Jackie find a way to bring the rest of their family to safety?


Based on Alexandra Diaz’s mother’s real experiences as a Cuban refugee in America, this is a moving and timely story about family, friendship, and fighting for your future.




"This is a moving, poignant read." -- Booklist


"Readers will be able to relate to the coming-of-age elements while learning about an important and difficult part of Cuba’s history. An evocative and transportive read." -- Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW


Alexandra Diaz is the author of The Only Road, The Crossroads, Santiago’s Road Home, and Farewell Cuba, Mi Isla. The Only Road was a Pura Belpré Honor Book and won the Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature, as well as numerous other accolades. Santiago’s Road Home was an International Latino Book Award gold medalist and an ALA Notable Children’s Book. Alexandra is the daughter of Cuban refugees and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but got her master’s in writing for young people at Bath Spa University in England. A native Spanish speaker, Alexandra now teaches creative writing to adults and teens. Visit her at



Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Stepping Into the Stream Twice: LéaLA, Poesía En Nuestras Tres Idiomas

Reading Dialectal Material: Raza Eloquence and Poise
Michael Sedano

It didn't take long for the Spanish-language bookfair, LéaLA, to mezclar its Castellano-centric bent with its eye on the local market, only, it's about time. That long. Sunday afternoon, at Los Angeles' La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, three local poets read casí exclusively in Spanish at a highly professional, ambitious, and grand book fair. Dozens of publisher booths provided extensive choices of nonfiction, fiction, poesía, children's literature.

Next year when LéaLA hits town, LéaLA will be a must-attend event. If you find the LA Times bookfair a diverting few hours, LéaLA will prove itself a diverting three days, it's that good.

Olga García, Angelina Sáenz, GusTavo Guerra Vásquez

Maybe with the GOPlague shutting down public gatherings, LéaLA was making its come-back in a big, splashy way, taking over the grounds of the Olvera Street museum. Or, it's me; I. I've been out of circulation the past five years and I'm rediscovering the outside world after Alzheimer's. 

The poets spoke highly and pleased as ponche to be reading in Spanish only. The reading, organized by Angelina Sáenz, featured extraordinary Chicana writer Olga Garcia and, new to my ears,  GusTavo Adolfo Guerra Vásquez. Guerra's debut in my ears showed Sáenz' genius in pairing the two voices whose comic antics don't conceal incisive understanding of identity, language, indomitability.

Garcia opens the reading with her wondrous war correspondent reporting from the war against the cucarachas infesting her kitchen, Ana Leticia Armendáriz: Matando cucarachas. The story is a highlight of Olga Garcia's rare gem, Falling Angels, Cuentos y Poemas. 

Garcia's account of a lone hero battling hordes of clever insidious roaches keeps the audience laughing with familiarity and recollecting their own battles versus relentless living condition.

Olga Garcia's a tough act to follow and GusTavo Adolfo Guerra Vásquez is up to the task. Órale to Angelina Sáenz for the pairing.

GusTavo Guerra shares the Chapino view on living in the U.S.A., something's Guerra's been at since age of nine and has a couple of college degrees under his mortarboards to show for it. 

Guerra has a hilarious takeoff on the names we call ourselves: "Chicano" "Chapino", how about, "Chapinchicano" "Guatemalcano"? Guerra's permutations on things we can call our gente once we've gotten over here makes a witty observation on the witlessness of ethnic divisiveness.

You ain't heard nada yet. The long-time Californ' writer delivers a syntax lesson in verse inspired by how raza locals gave him shit for saying "Vos" when he was first here.

Angelina Sáenz speaks with sonorous authority in fluid Spanish in a formal style. A poet of short lines and short poems, Sáenz confesses she worked really hard to translate her English-language work into today's Spanish translations. I couldn't discern the sound of work-in-translation, while another listener told me she heard word-for-word translation, English poems in Spanish.

Ni modo. This is good work in English and effective meaning in translation. Angelina Sáenz work comes unadorned with complicated word play against fancy comfortable settings. Hers is the poetry of the single mother, home from working the graveyard shift, tired but dedicated to making lunch for the kids. She will rest, grateful her duty is done, uncomplaining and fulfilled.

The Q&A in Spanish draws an emotional response from a woman who exults at hearing poetry in Español right here en mero el Lay. Enthusiastic give-and-take among the panelists share experiences and concern that Spanish is getting systematically erased in schools and society. Yet, the poetry and conversation illustrate how universally communicative Spanish is among people separated by dialect, geography, and politics.

The final questioner, a noted academic, asks about the sources of poetry, expressing interest into inspirations and motives these poets find writing in Spanish, and the motives and sources for writing in English. The question has seven clauses, each more intricate than the antecedent and would be wondrous in the linguistics seminar.

Sáenz smiles at the questioner, thinks about the question's complexities, how her panelists will compose complex answers and, and...and issues a simple succinct pura Chicana response, "¿Y que chingado Te importa?"

Everyone's Talking About the Chicano Spaceman 

La Bloga's Ernest Hogan was talking about not one, but two, Chicano spacemen, way back in 2009. (link). Then, in September 2013 (link), La Bloga-Tuesday covered a Keynote Address at University of LaVerne by one of those spacemen, José M. Hernández.

Hernández is the subject of a streaming--not in the theatres--biopic you may have heard about, A Million Miles Away. There's high excitement about the movie so La Bloga shares its 2013 column today, including a live video of the real Hernández.

The keynote speaker offers a genuinely heroic role model, astronaut José M. Hernández. A migrant farmworker born on this side, Hernández describes his fruitpicker upbringing crawling through mud so that the siblings enjoy taking off their Levi's so stiff from mud they stand on their own. Born here, during picking season, the future astronaut's siblings were born in Mexico, during the winter.

Hernandez' speech is puro chicano mezcla. Wacha:

You can take the boy out of the fields but you can't take la cultura out of the boy. Hernández' speech is a classic example of mezcla, or code-switching expression. His polished presentation identifies José M. Hernández as a perfect candidate for any school looking for bilingual role models for kids with their own ad astra per aspera dreams. Hernández' biography sells out in English from La Verne's bookstore, only a few Spanish-language copies remain.

Hernández' father approves the ten-year old's dream to be an astronaut. Set a goal, know what's expected, where you fall short, work to achieve. Otherwise your future is here in the fields picking strawberries con la familia. He applies eleven times and is denied. On the twelfth application, he wins appointment.

Monday, September 18, 2023


By guest essayist Jennifer Silva Redmond

My mom was born in 1940, to a Mexican mother and an Anglo father, in that far-flung part of Mexico now known as East LA. Her parents divorced when she was young, and my mom split from my own Anglo dad in 1968, when I was seven. We all spent a few years in the hippie beach town of Venice, which I still consider my hometown, then Mom took us kids traveling around Europe, since my dad worked for Pan Am. That sojourn was followed by two years in Northern California and Oregon. We moved to San Diego when I was eleven and soon settled in the barrio of East San Diego.

I got into reading and writing very early, which lead me to reading scripts and doing theater as a preteen. At 14, I did the first of two plays at the Old Globe Theater, then went to a local performing arts college on scholarship, after testing out of high school at 16. I enjoyed studying acting, especially the summer school quarter at a campus just outside of London, but was sick of school by then, so I moved back to LA at 19 and started auditioning. I lived in Venice, waited tables in Santa Monica, and got (very) small parts in Hollywood.

My dream was to be a Broadway actress so I accepted a nanny job that took me to New York City. Once there, I became a “Californian,” which of course I’d never thought of myself as before. Once they heard where I was from, people would ask, “Then why are you here?” I could see their point—the extreme hot/cold that is NY’s weather, the indifferent concrete jungle of Manhattan, the cold, crowded beaches and lakes of the rest of the state. I got cast in an eight-month touring show in Florida, which felt more like home, with its acres of orange orchards and long white-sand beaches.

By 1989, I was a 28-year-old aspiring actress, back waiting tables and doing way-off Broadway shows. On a short trip home to San Diego for the holidays I met my old boyfriend Russel Redmond. The timing was right and he proposed and, even more important to me, he followed me to NYC with his grandmother’s ring. But one snowy day in March, we came up with the idea of kicking off our marriage with a three-month honeymoon sailing to and around Baja California’s Sea of Cortez. We got married in San Diego and soon set sail on his 26-foot sailboat across the ocean border, bound for Cabo.

My experience in Baja to that point was limited to day trips to Tijuana and weekends in Ensenada. Sailing was a new world, too; I had spent only a few weeks on the boat in a marina when we set off on that first 1000 mile journey south. The life-changing voyage was full of firsts, like my first time on solo watch enroute to the Islas San Benito during which my mindset went from wary paranoia to a kind of cosmic acceptance in four hours; my inner and outer awareness grew with every nautical mile.

We stopped in Cabo, beat our way up to La Paz, then continued north into the Sea of Cortez. I traded auditions and lunch shifts for wandering empty beaches, exploring cactus-covered canyons, and snorkeling with curious dolphins and colorful reef fish. After three months, we had not begun to see all Baja had to offer, so we cinched our belts, ate lots of rice and beans and fresh-caught seafood, and spent nine more months sailing turquoise waters and making friends in the plazas, markets, marinas and fish camps of that desert peninsula.

I quickly fell in love with Baja and its people, in small towns and fish camps, and in the capital city of La Paz. Along the way, I discovered, or rediscovered, my own Mexican-ness. My Spanish improved in the supermercados of Loreto and La Paz, at stops at the tiny tiendas of scattered fish camps, and the frequent trips to immigration offices. My daily journal writing evolved into stories, poems, and essays. To my amazement, I found that doing theater was not the only way for me to be creative and share my emotional inner life with the world. By the end of 1990, I’d chosen a pen name that included my grandmother’s maiden name, Silva, and started to become the Latina writer I am now.

I began editing for other writers in 1996, and in 2000, started working for Sunbelt Publications, a San Diego publisher that specializes in Baja and Mexico. In 2011, knowing editing was my calling, I gave up my days in an office cubicle writing budgets and grant proposals, and went back to working directly with authors. Me going freelance also allowed us—since Russel was teaching at San Diego City College by then—to continue exploring the West Coast on our sailboat during summers. By 2017, we both were working 100% online. I’m still Sunbelt’s Editor at Large, so I have the best of both worlds.

Over the years, I sold some short nonfiction pieces to magazines like Science of Mind, Sail, and Cruising World, plus anthologies that included A Year in Ink, and Dime Stories, which kept me believing that I had a future as a writer. I was especially thrilled to place a piece of short fiction in the anthology Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature. There I met Daniel Olivas and Melinda Palacio, who both wrote for La Bloga. My husband and I wrote three screenplays together, set in Arizona, Mexico, and California, which kept us traveling to locations to get the feeling of the places just right. We rewrote one of them, El Camino Real, as a short film which got made and even played at a couple of film festivals.

These seemingly random events all led me to start rewriting many of the pieces that began as journal entries so long ago. Soon, I had a rough draft of a memoir of my first year at sea. Being an editor, I kept revising and rearranging the manuscript as we sailed north to San Francisco in 2020, and on to Washington’s Puget Sound in 2022. Luckily, I found the perfect publisher who found me the perfect editor; eventually they said it was time to stop rewriting and publish the book. That memoir, Honeymoon at Sea: How I Found Myself Living on a Small Boat, is published by Re:books of Toronto, Canada. I couldn’t be happier that circumstance made me an “international author,” since I have led such an international life.

If you want to follow us on our ongoing sailing adventures—yes, the honeymoon continues!—here is the link to my Substack, Honeymoon at Sea. To buy/pick up my book at an indie bookstore, or order online and support an indie bookstore, click the link on You can also order the book at Sunbelt, and see their other cool books and maps and everything else under the sun, at Sunbelt Publications which is a great way to support a small publisher and a regional book distributor.

*         *         *

Jennifer Silva Redmond is a writer and freelance editor from California, whose memoir Honeymoon at Sea is coming out from re:books of Toronto. Her essays, articles, and fiction have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, and on sites such as Brevity. She is on the staff of the Southern California Writers Conference and San Diego Writers, Ink, was prose editor for A Year in Ink volume 3, and co-founder of the critically acclaimed Sea of Cortez Review. Formerly editor-in-chief of Sunbelt Publications, Jennifer is now its editor-at-large. She lives with her husband Russel, an artist and teacher, aboard their sailboat Watchfire, somewhere on the West Coast of North America.

Friday, September 15, 2023

How to Answer an Age-Old Question on Poetry

 Melinda Palacio

Previously published in the Santa Barbara Independent 

happy customers

typewriter poets

freshly typed poem lover

a love poem for her

One question that I’m often asked is Why Poetry or What Does Poetry Contribute? Last week’s typewriter poetry event helped me offer an answer. Simply put poetry is the best friend you didn’t know you needed or have had all your life. Poetry allows you to look at the same road, flower, person or thing with new eyes in a unique way that’s all your own. Poetry offers a celebration of the everyday world, sometimes comfort for situations that seem difficult, such as a bittersweet final send off for a loved one or ways to heal from an injustice. 


Thursday’s typewriter poetry presented five poets typing up free poems with music provided by the local duo, The Gruntled, Mark Zolezzi and Jesse Felix. Poets included two poets laureate, myself and Emma Trelles, as well as Steve Beisner, Diana Raab, and Simon Keiffer of the Typewriter Lending Library. We wrote love poems, tribute pomes, haikus, and several poems for grandchildren. I had the pleasure of writing a poem for recently born granddaughter. The young grandma was so proud about her daughter’s daughter that I have no doubt the folklore of the child’s first poem will be a story the girl will hear for the rest of her youthful life. 


All of the poets agreed that the event exuded a therapeutic aspect. In fact, when I proposed the idea to the downtown organization in charge of First Thursday, I almost titled the event: Poetry Therapy. I changed the titled because I didn’t want to scare anyone away or have them feel as if they needed to lie on a therapist’s couch. Yet, many people received a nurturing, poetic hug that helped reveal what was, at the moment, most important to them. 


Sharing space with a fellow human and offering them a free typed poem was a magical experience. I’m still in search of a good title for this event as there was much demand for a repeat of the evening. 


A true connection happens when you have the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation about the birth of a poem. The poets found the spontaneous demand for a poem, an intellectual exercise. Also, I can say I’ve been spoiled by the composing on a computer. The keys are butter to the touch and while they don’t make the special clack of a typewriter, a keyboard is much easier on the wrists and mistakes are easy to fix. However, there’s something thrilling in knowing that you need to think ahead of your fingers when you press down on a typewriter. 


Although I brought a reem of scratch paper, due to time constraints, I didn’t write a rough draft by hand. In my everyday writing life, I write a draft by hand and then go to computer to rewrite the handwritten draft and this process is repeated after I print out what I have. At the same time, the time constraints meant there was more of a freedom to the writing than I would allow myself had I more time, a typewriter conundrum and mystery. With typewritten poems on demand, you must accept your mistakes and typos and offer yourself a bit of kindness. 


While it’s not every day you can find a poet on State Street to write you a poem, the marvelous thing is you can perform a similar act of kindness by typing yourself a letter or writing down your feelings or observations on pen and paper. If you think you need a bit more guidance, I have a free workshop coming up at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. You’ll have a chance to respond to the Inside/Outside exhibit. No previous writing experience is needed, but you need to sign up as space is limited. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The FBI, Chicanos, and the Band Redbone



The Dream Catcher

      I was recently thinking about the time a kid named David bellowed, “No way, man! An FBI agent can’t be a Chicano.”

     I was in my 30s, working at UCLA, coordinating an early outreach program for “minority” students throughout L.A. high schools. I’d trained a team of UCLA undergrads, interns, mostly Chicanos and African American juniors and seniors who offered workshops to high school kids during a weekend program we called, Saturday Scholars. In 1980, the interns had a keen sense of ethnic awareness and were proponents of affirmative action programs, which led to many engaging discussions.

     It had been in one training session when I told them I was reading a book, a memoir, by a Chicano FBI agent. That was what led to David’s outburst, that an FBI agent couldn’t be Chicano. I countered that Chicano/Chicana was not only an ethnicity but a state of mind. David said it was so much more than that. It meant, to him, a Chicano or Chicana had to be politically aware and act against injustices done to the Mexican community.

     David was born and raised Mexican American in Chicago, He was a senior and had travelled west to attend UCLA. A political science major, and astute, as were most of the interns, unless his emotions got the better of him, he argued the FBI was antithetical to everything Chicano. “Man, J. Edgar Hoover was a racist. He was out to destroy the Chicano and black movements. The FBI’s job was to stop civil rights, like sabotaging striking farmworkers or infiltrating student clubs. A cop can’t be a Chicano.”

     I got David’s point, but I’d never heard identifying as a Chicano or Chicana meant one had to hold a certain political position. David and many university activists were arguing Chicanismo was more than ethnicity and culture. It was a movement whose members ascribed to a particular socio-political belief, but the specifics of the belief, no one could answer, unless he meant the Plan de Santa Barbara, which was somewhat out of date by this time. Many Mexican university students knew nothing about it and had moved on, except for the more politically minded student, like David.

     My father, born in 1923 and raised in Los Angeles, was a registered Democrat, voted in elections, and belonged to a labor union, but he wasn’t politically active in any way. He’d refer to his friends, sometimes, as Chicanos, even some who claimed to be Spanish or Indian. "Ah, Pete's a Chicano like the rest of us," he'd say. My mother didn't call herself Chicana but, as part of the WWII zoot suit generation, identified with the term. Like my dad, she wasn't active in Chicano politically issues; though, she supported the farmworkers movement and was sympathetic to new immigrants. 

     Were my parents wrong? Whose job was it to tell them, that according to David, they were "Chicanos and Chicanas falsas” (writer Michele Serros’ term). They couldn’t pass as Chicanos and Chicanas?

     By early 1980s, because of immigration from Mexico and Central America, the U.S. media, especially in Los Angeles, began limiting its use of the words "Mexican American" or "Chicano" and began pelting readers with the terms "Hispanic" and "Latino," which added confusion to the debate. No one knew, exactly, what those words meant, except, maybe, a fancy word for "Mexican." 

     So, what were we? Some Chicanos began mining their roots for a better understanding, even turning to their indigenous roots, which were, mostly, south of the border, and vague. We couldn't all be Aztecs.

     The direct English translation of “Latino” is Latin, which to me indicates a descendent of the Romans, as in Italians. That doesn’t really fit the Spanish-speaking people of America Latina. Still, it’s a term some Latinos use, maybe for linguistic convenience, like Colombian American John Leguizamo, who seems to prefer “Latin” to other ethnic terms. He uses it quite often.

     So, is the concept of "identity" fact, fiction, or myth? If it’s fact, I suppose the definition can be found in a dictionary or a history book. If it’s fiction or myth, you can say it’s a “state of being,” open to interpretation. Can we be whatever we choose? In the dictionary, “Latin means: of or relating to Latium, its people or its culture, or relating to ancient Rome, or relating to places and peoples using Romance languages.” Are we wayward Romans?

     Hmm, French is a romance language. I don’t recall anyone calling a French person Latin or Latino. In the dictionary, “Latino” is defined as, “A person of Latin American origin, male.” I have heard rumors my paternal grandfather had some French in him, probably going back to Napoleon's invasion of Mexico. Or figure it this way, if a Chicano has green or hazel eyes, he's got to have French in him, another illusion.

     "Latin" is different from, say, “Hispanic,” which means, according to Webster's: “of or relating to the language, culture, and people of Spain, or Spanish speaking countries, especially Latin America.” Some argue the word “Hispanic,” is a literary term, which refers to a language and not to a people. Wasn’t Cuba once called Hispanola, and it was settled by the Taino people, first, then by Africans and Spaniards? I think "Hispanic" was adopted by the media for no other reason than it was easier on the monolingual Yankee tongue.

     Ethnic studies professors might argue a Latino is a person of Spanish descent, a Latin American mestizo, both Spanish and Indian, but what if one is from Mexico or Latin America and has no hint of indigenous blood, like Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Fidel Castro, or even Che. Are they Latinos? Afterall, some New Mexican Chicanos still claim themselves to be, “puro hispano.”

     All this got me to thinking about music and my favorite bands, who used their ethnicity to take on various identities to advance their careers. Take Texan Domingo Zamudio, with his turban and trademark Egyptian wear, the lead Pharaoh in Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, or Rudy Martinez, the "Question Mark" for the band out of Saginaw, Michigan Question Mark and the Mysterians, who created an illusion of themselves on stage. Nobody knew Vickie Carr was Mexican until she began cutting records in Spanish. Freddie Fender couldn't hide behind that last name. He was pretty upfront about his Tex-Mex identity.

     Recently, there has been a lot of posting about Candido Abelardo Vasquez and his brother Patrick Vasquez, two Chicanos from farmworker families in Fresno and Salinas, California. The brothers, superb musicians in high school, left the cotton fields and peach orchards of the San Joaquin Valley and hit the Sunset Strip in the early 1960s. 

     Quickly becoming a hot musical commodity, they were in demand at all the major clubs on the Strip, as well as studio musicians working with some of the biggest names in music, but to advance their careers, it was recommended they lose the name Vasquez. So, like Ritchie Valens who dropped his real name Valenzuela, the Vasquez brothers became Pat and Lolly Vegas, a suave rock infused blues-jazz band, their ethnicity ambiguous. 

     That's why I was confused in 1970, when they resurrected as Redbone, a long-hair, bare-chested native American rock band, complete with loin clothes, head dresses, feathers and skins, no sign of Mexican, Hispanic or Latino. Yet, it was interesting they chose Redbone as a name. In U.S. lore, especially in Cajun country, "redbone" means "a multi-racial individual or culture."

     It turned out the Vasquez brother carried hints of Shoshone and Yaqui blood on their father’s side. How much, nobody knew for sure. One woman, Beatrice Bonilla and her son, in a Youtube video, who appeared to have known the Pat and Lolly back in Fresno, proudly pointed at the interior of a Redbone album, an 1800s photo of plains Indians on horseback, and her son said, "Those are real Indians," laughter, then Beatrice answered, "No, they weren't....  Well, the dad had a little Indian."  

     Years later, in an interview, Redbone drummer, Cheyenne, Peter Depoe, cousin of Leonard Peltier, who is still in jail, and unjustly convicted, for killing two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation, said he was the only Indian in the band, the other three were Mexican American, with traces of Yaqui blood. From what I knew, only plains Indians wore war bonnets and colorfully beaded chest decorations, not Yaqui. 

     Depoe also said Redbone brought much needed pride to native American people, who accepted them as Indians, especially during the turbulent 1970s, when the government used the FBI to infiltrate reservations and cause havoc within Indian groups, as documented in Peter Matthiessen's book, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse. It was dangerous time to be Indian, even if only a rock and roll band.

     However, back in the day, when they were still Pat and Lolly Vegas, East L.A. claimed them as Mexican American musicians. I had two older friends who played at Gazzarri's and other clubs on the Sunset Strip in the 1960s. They told me they only knew of one other Mexican act playing the Strip, Pat and Lolly Vegas. So, I always considered the Vasquez-Vegas brothers Chicanos. They always claimed their Mexican-ness, but it was their indigenous side, no matter how slight, they embraced. Redbone blew up the music world with their monster hit, “Come and Get Your Love,” which young people are still singing today.

     Does this mean that ethnic identity is more complex than wrapping up one’s identity in a single word? Can we decide who or whom we want to be? My guess is that, even though they were raised Mexican, among many other Mexicans in San Joaquin’s central valley where the picked cotton and peaches, Pat and Abelardo Vasquez decided to explore a part of their indigenous heritage through their music, giving rise to a more complex identity.

    As I researched their lives, I found little evidence that they ever lived on a reservation or among indigenous people. Lolly graduated from Salinas High School, where he and his brother were already gathering fame for their music and their musicianship, performing with other Mexican kids in the region. It seems they were more intent on honing their musical skills than on worrying about their identity, as it should be. Had it not been for their superb musicianship and advice from the great Jimi Hendrix, who, it is rumored, told them to embrace their indigenous roots, they might not have succeeded in the cut-throat world of entertainment. Tapping their native American roots, at just the time when many of us were tapping into our own roots, gave them the vehicle necessary to carry them to stardom. To my ear, Redbone always sounded more like the traditional rhythm and blues band of Pat and Lolly Vegas than, say, the deeply spiritually inspired indigenous music of John Trudell.

     Ironically, it was this same identification, which some say, was Redbone's downfall. Their song about Wounded Knee was banned in the U.S. It was during the time two FBI agents had been killed on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation, and neither the U.S. nor law enforcement, including the FBI, took kindly to an Indian rock band influencing millions of fans around the world. Ethnic pride might just have caused them their musical careers. 

     So, maybe David had a point and an FBI agent identifying as Chicano, was "suspect."