Friday, December 03, 2021

New Year, New Books

The books just keep coming. Here's a random selection of a few scheduled for 2022.


Olga Dies Dreaming
Xochitl Gonzalez
Flatiron Books - January 4, 2022

[from the publisher]
It's 2017, and Olga and her brother, Pedro “Prieto” Acevedo, are boldfaced names in their hometown of New York. Prieto is a popular congressman representing their gentrifying Latinx neighborhood in Brooklyn, while Olga is the tony wedding planner for Manhattan’s power brokers.

Despite their alluring public lives, behind closed doors things are far less rosy. Sure, Olga can orchestrate the love stories of the 1 percent but she can’t seem to find her own. . . until she meets Matteo, who forces her to confront the effects of long-held family secrets.

Olga and Prieto’s mother, Blanca, a Young Lord turned radical, abandoned her children to advance a militant political cause, leaving them to be raised by their grandmother. Now, with the winds of hurricane season, Blanca has come barreling back into their lives.

Set against the backdrop of New York City in the months surrounding the most devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico’s history, Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming is a story that examines political corruption, familial strife, and the very notion of the American dream—all while asking what it really means to weather a storm.


Isabel Allende
Ballantine Books - April 25, 2022

[from the publisher]
Violeta comes into the world on a stormy day in 1920, the first girl in a family of five boisterous sons. From the start, her life will be marked by extraordinary events, for the ripples of the Great War are still being felt, even as the Spanish flu arrives on the shores of her South American homeland almost at the moment of her birth.

Through her father’s prescience, the family will come through that crisis unscathed, only to face a new one as the Great Depression transforms the genteel city life she has known. Her family loses all and is forced to retreat to a wild and beautiful but remote part of the country. There, she will come of age, and her first suitor will come calling. . . .

She tells her story in the form of a letter to someone she loves above all others, recounting devastating heartbreak and passionate affairs, times of both poverty and wealth, terrible loss and immense joy. Her life will be shaped by some of the most important events of history: the fight for women’s rights, the rise and fall of tyrants, and ultimately, not one but two pandemics.

Told through the eyes of a woman whose unforgettable passion, determination, and sense of humor will carry her through a lifetime of upheaval, Isabel Allende once more brings us an epic that is both fiercely inspiring and deeply emotional.


Sonia Manzano
Scholastic Press - April, 2022

[from the publisher]
From Pura Belpré Honoree and Emmy-award winning actor Sonia Manzano--best known as "Maria" from Sesame Street--comes the expansive and timeless story of four children who must carve out a path for themselves in the wake of Fidel Castro's rise to power.

Fifteen-time Emmy Award winner and Pura Belpre honoree Sonia Manzano examines the impact of the 1959 Cuban Revolution on four children from very different walks of life. In the wake of a new regime in Cuba, Ana, Miguel, Zulema, and Juan learn to find a place for themselves in a world forever changed. In a tumultuous moment of history, we see the lasting effects of a revolution in Havana, the countryside, Miami, and New York. Through these snapshot stories, we are reminded that regardless of any tumultuous times, we are all forever connected in our humanity.


Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction.  His latest novel is Angels in the Wind.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Chicanonautica: Notes on Extra-Fiction 2021

by Ernest Hogan

My life, writing schedule, and reading routine had all been disrupted for the last couple of months. Not just Latinoid Heritage Month, but I had to do my duty judging the finalists of Somos en escritos’ Extra Fiction Contest. It was a wild ride, and forced me to do some serious thinking about La Raza and writing, and was otherwise worth my precious time, as that monstrous, unfinished novel beckons.

After some serious consideration, I chose the winners:


First place is “Attack of the Quetas” by Toni Margarita Plummer. It combines the appeal of an old-fashioned monster movie with a folklorico feel and feminism in a modern setting and things anyone who has been to a Chicano family wedding will appreciate. It also packs quite a punch.


Second place went to “Beast of Cabo Roto” by Arnaldo Lopez Jr., and once again the monster movie sensibility rears its suitably ugly head, and it’s a good thing. Set in hurricane-ravished, contemporary Puerto Rico, it could make a good movie, or comic book--I’m thinking of a traditional, tiny Mexican one printed in that brown ink that had that pungent, uric acid smell when fresh


In third place we have “Sacred Evolution” by Carmen Baca, which is very original and unusual, especially with the viewpoints, getting into a new take on Native spirituality and environmentalism.

In both runners up, the folklorico meets the modern world--are we seeing a  trend, folkoricopunk, emerging? I ended up ranking them all in order of how much pizazz they had. Overall, I was impressed by the professionalism of the writing of all of the stories. They all deserve to be published and read.

Again, I advise the writers to keep sending them out and searching for markets.

Ernest Hogan’s latest story, “Those Rumors of Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice Have Been Greatly Exaggerated” is in Speculative Fiction for Dreamers: A Latinx Anthology. He is also helping out with the Kickstarter campaign for El Porvenir, ¡Ya! Citlalzazanilli Mexicatl, a Chicano Science Fiction Anthology that will also have a preface and new story by him.

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Interview With Author Alejandra Domenzain

Alejandra thanks for this interview for La Bloga. Congratulations on your first children’s book, For all/ Para Todos. How would you present your books to readers? Tell us about it. 


The general description is:

A young girl named Flor and her father are driven to leave their country for the promise of a land called For All. When Flor comes to understand the deep impact of their immigration papers, she picks up her green pen and writes from the heart, telling the story of immigrants who have been excluded from “justice for all.” She inspires others to speak up and take action in the hope that their new country will live up to its ideals. A timely bilingual story, written in musical rhyme, beautifully illustrated, calling children to compassion and courage. You can find a lot more information on the book’s website.

The heart of the story for me is following the journey of an undocumented young girl finding her voice, discovering the power of storytelling, and becoming an advocate for immigrant and worker rights. There are other themes though, such as push factors for migration, the difficulties of adjusting to a new country and language, the stark situation faced by undocumented workers who risk deportation if they try to exercise their rights, the potentially life-changing role of teachers, the limits faced by undocumented youth in accessing higher education, the power of a father’s love, the hypocrisy of a country with immigrant roots rejecting the latest wave of newcomers, lack of representation in the media, the myth of the promise of “justice for all” versus the reality, and the need for collective action and policy change. 

I know it sounds like a lot for a children’s book, but somehow I managed to put a lot of on-ramps in there for discussion, connections, and exploration. It’s written in rhyme and kind of floats along at a kid-friendly level, but the seeds for all of these issues are in there. My hope is that educators, librarians, advocates and families can use the book as a tool to start conversations and learning journeys. I put in a section with more background on the issues and also suggested discussion questions. Proceeds of the book are going to RAICES, a national immigrant rights organization.


 Why did you write this book?

I was hoping to make several contributions. First, as a former elementary school teacher, I wanted to fill two gaps that I saw in the children’s book world: there are not many picture books that center current struggles for immigrant and worker rights. While there are more and more great books about the immigrant and refugee experience, not many focus on the issue of immigration rights or policy, so this book makes it explicit. Flor, the protagonist, comes to understand the effect of her status when she tries to go to school: “The guard said ‘I know your test score was great/ But the orders I have say ‘Don’t open the gate.’/ If you were born here, then you belong,/If you were not, you’ll always be wrong./ Our grandparents weren’t born here, yes that is true,/But we must draw the line, and we draw it!” This matters because a policy is something that can be changed, and in fact, the movement for immigration reform, led largely by immigrant youth, is trying to do just that as we speak. In particular, I wanted to show a young undocumented immigrant not as a victim, but as an agent for social change. 

Likewise, there are not many books that depict current struggles for immigrant rights, and in particular the challenges faced by those who are undocumented. I’ve had the honor of working as an immigrant worker rights advocate for about 20 years, so I’ve seen up close not only rampant abuses and whole industries built on exploitation, but also the incredible leadership and courage of workers themselves in standing up for their rights and often even winning against all odds. I wanted to lift up this inspiring movement as well. I feel like it’s been normalized that millions of undocumented workers are denied their full labor and human rights because the moment they speak up, they can be ripped apart from their family, lose their home, community, and career, and be sent to a place where they may not have opportunities for livelihood or where they may be in danger. It’s an outrage and yet we’ve come to accept it as part of what makes our economy run, regardless of the human cost. Flor’s father explains what he has been told:  “You can’t get more money or work without pain/You’ll get into trouble if you dare to complain/ If you do, guards will come, in no time at all./We can have you locked up and removed with one call.” So I wanted to highlight that this is something that can also be changed, is being challenged, and is indefensible.

Second, I see this book as a love letter to writing and storytelling. Flor is given a green pen by a teacher who sees that she is struggling to adapt and find her voice: “When I was your age and was stuck, I would write/And worlds would reach into the dark like a light.” Flor goes on to capture her story, which connects her to others facing similar challenges. They then use this to get media attention as part of their organizing for change: “I’ll  go on TV to get out the word/ Tell voters the truths that haven’t been heard.” Flor has faith that: “If they know what it’s like, I trust that they’ll care,/Vote for schools for all kids, and jobs that are fair.”

Lastly, I hope that this book will motivate people to take action. It asks the reader directly to consider what they believe in: “What do you think is fair?” “What will you vote for?” “What will you do with your green pen?” For any social problem, we all have a collective responsibility to be informed, examine our part in the system, and decide what kind of a future we want to build. I don’t think children are too young for this-- in fact, most young people have a very acute sense of fairness and a sense of urgency about making things better. Also, I believe schools are the places where we start training people to be civically engaged, and that means modelling the process of questioning systems, having an informed opinion based on facts and others’ lived experience, being able to communicate your recommendations clearly, taking collective action, and proposing a better vision. In Flor’s words: “Immigrants should not be abused and left out/ Justice must be what this country’s about.”



You’ve also been writing articles and doing webinars about the role of children’s books in teaching social justice. What’s the difference between diversity/inclusion and social justice? 

The call for multiculturalism and diversity in children’s books and education is crucial to address the reality that there is very little representation of “minoritized” groups; in fact, in recent years there have been more books about non-humans than books about all non-white characters combined. For this reason, narratives that disrupt the norm and push against systems of oppression can help advance the fight for social justice.

However, I do think there is a difference between addressing diversity/inclusion and educating for social justice. Diversity is more about presenting different stories to reflect a range of realities and enrich or affirm the readers’ worldview. Social justice is about choosing stories that help young people analyze, question, look critically, and act consciously. Books chosen to address diversity may present a problem that is interpersonal or due to uncontrollable circumstances or bad luck. If a broader system is at work, changing it may not be presented as an option.  Usually, the implied solution is individual action-- maybe what’s needed is more compassion, open-mindedness, conflict resolution skills or self-responsibility.  In contrast, social justice books point at structures, policies, laws, and institutions which usually require collective efforts to change. Social justice books make it clear that some systems benefit some people while harming/exclude others.

Social justice books invite the reader to see and question power structures and commit to changing them so they work for everyone. It is possible to be kind, tolerant, or respectful of someone who is different than you without trying to change the systems that hurt or marginalize them. It is possible to address a surface level problem while leaving intact the social, economic, political, and cultural root causes that will keep recreating that situation for others.

I would invite all of us to find books that have on-ramps for learning about social justice. Many people use the metaphor about children’s books serving as mirrors (to see your own reality reflected), windows (to see others’), and sliding glass doors (to enter new worlds). I would add that books can also be magnifying glasses to help us read our world, look closer, think deeper,  and identify the root causes of what needs to be changed.



What was the process from manuscript to publication for your book?


I wrote the book without any idea of what it takes to get something published and I’m still on a learning curve about this industry! I was lucky that it found a home in Hard Ball Press/ Little Heroes Press, a small publisher that is mission driven and centers stories of working class people. It was wonderful to work with them because it was a labor of love for all involved, and I was a part of each step in the process.  The downside is that the big publishers have a direct pipeline to the mainstream review sites, blogs, etc. and also access to schools, libraries, fairs, bookstores, etc. and the smaller independent publishers do not. There is no marketing or promotion team or budget, and so it takes a lot more work to get the word out about these books, even though often they are really important books with a lot to offer. 

On the one hand, I’ve been able to collaborate with organizations I respect greatly: the National Association of Bilingual Education did a webinar on the book, the Cesar Chavez Foundation included it in its curated list of resources, the University of New Mexico’s Latin American and Iberian Institute designed a lesson plan for the book, RAICES is using it as part of their initiative for Immigration in the Arts, and I collaborated with UNIDOS US on a webinar about teaching about immigrant and worker rights. It was featured in the 2021 Miami Book Fair and will be part of the Bay Area Social Justice Children’s Book Fair this year. The book has also gotten great reviews from policymakers, labor and immigration leaders, authors, and educators, sites such as Social Justice Books and Children’s Book Review, and it won an Honorable Mention for the 2021 International Latino Book Award. 

On the other hand, you won’t see it on any of the mainstream lists for books out there about immigration or workers’ rights or social justice, or in school curricula or libraries because it’s just not on the mainstream radar. My dream would be that all educators had access to the books they need to address timely issues and advance important conversations, regardless of whether the books come from a big publisher or not. 

Also, I had a lot of privilege to be able to persevere for the four years that it took to shepherd this book from manuscript to publishing because I have another full time job and the energy to take on a side project. Not everyone has that-- and especially those that are under-represented as authors, including  immigrants in low wage jobs.  I’m a believer of the #ownvoices movement and the power of stories told by those living them. My hope is that by using my privilege to nudge the conversation about bringing immigrant rights to children’s books, it will help widen the path a bit for those that come after. My dream is also that authors with a new story to tell would face less obstacles to connecting with mentors, finding funding to have time to write, getting an agent, and having the opportunity to be published. 


Why was it important to make the book bilingual?


Spanish is my first language--  I learned English when we moved to the U.S. when I was 7, so I know the value of bilingual materials when you learn a new language or maintain your home language. I’m a huge fan of multilingualism: it’s a resource, a richness, a window to a history and worldview, a gift to be able to connect with people, arts, and culture. My kids are being brought up trilingual since my husband is a Brazilian immigrant.

In most countries, families often speak a home language or two and schools introduce additional ones. The U.S. is pretty unique in having a mainstream education system that says, “all you need is English” and missing the opportunity to expand kids’ horizons and build those skills from the very beginning when they pick it up more naturally. Often, “foreign”  languages are not offered until high school, when it may be harder to learn it fluently. In fact, with a lack of multi-lingual education, we not only deprive kids of the crucial opportunity to learn other languages but often manage to strip them of the ones they came in with.

The United States doesn’t have an official language, even though some states do. Historically, we have eradicated hundreds of languages-- indigenous languages, languages of enslaved Africans, and all the ones we don’t recognize in our communities today. Over 20% of Americans speak a language other than English at home; and in the five largest cities, that number is closer to 50%. We should turn the question around and ask those who publish monolingually, why did you choose to limit your book to just one language? 


Proceeds of your book are going to RAICES. Can you tell us about this organization?

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Services, or RAICES, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit agency that promotes justice by providing free and low-cost legal services to underserved immigrant children, families, and refugees. With legal services, social programs, bond assistance, and an advocacy team focused on changing the narrative around immigration in this country, RAICES is operating on the national frontlines of the fight for immigration rights. One thing I love about their approach is that in addition to providing direct services and doing strategic advocacy, they also recognize the need for cultural shift and the role of the arts in that process. I’m really beyond honored to partner with them as part of their Immigration in the Arts program.


What are you working on now?

I still have my very meaningful day job, which keeps me learning and engaged and inspired. I would love to capture real, current cases of immigrant workers organizing and winning historic victories, because  those stories often don’t make it to the headlines, let alone the classroom or family storytime. I think it’s so empowering to realize there are active movements out there making the impossible possible, calling us to live up to our ideals, showing us how to make our society more just, modelling what it means to recognize the full dignity, worth, and contribution of all the members of our communities. For me, it’s been an honor to work alongside these incredible leaders and campaigns and I want desperately to capture the excitement and possibility so that young people feel invited to take part and find their own call to social justice. 


Thanks Alejandra, what are your final words for our readers at La Bloga?

Thank you for the work you do at La Bloga! For your readers, please be in touch if you are interested in connecting or collaborating in any way-- I’m really passionate about these subjects and hope to keep writing and supporting others on this path:

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Giving Tuesday: Make A List, Check It Twice

Michael Sedano 

Master Spy Nicholas T. Saint shakes his head at the silliness of UnitedStatesian rituals. Imagine that, a "Giving Tuesday," when people in need have that need every day. 

The Head Elf cocks her head and says, "December 25th?" 

Santa says, "Three Kings Day!" 

The Assistant Head Elf declares it a draw. "Everyone has special giving days. Giving Tuesday is what it is, and that's it. Who we gonna give to this year?" 

Santa checks the Naughty and Nice list, twice. 

Who Got Something Last Year, but...Naughty. 
Solicitors know the best prospect for a gift this year is last year's Donor. Don't count on it. I sent a check to a literary magazine that took the money and ran. They did not acknowledge receipt other than cash the check. Worse, I never got the promised print copy of the journal. Shame on me, giving with an expectation of return. Shame on me, too, if I give to them again. They are asking again this year. Because of their negligent neediness, they are X'd off my list. 

Who Doesn't Need This Year? The GOP Plague shut us down, bad, gente. Everyone's suffering, including the giving pie, que no?

Help Local, help Regional. In my Los Angeles region, two organizations among so many, stand out: a bookstore and an art museum. 


Margaret Garcia conversing with the Executive Director of Ventura museum, Elena Brokaw, relates Joseph Campbell's taxonomy of arte, while Garcia paints the director's portrait. Surrounded by paintings and fused glass work, the visual luxuriousness of this video reminds eye and soul that few institutions extend open-armed welcome to Chicanarte, and Brokaw's Museum of Ventura County is among the few.

There's Always One More

Monday, November 29, 2021

On #GivingTuesday, consider supporting Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore

Tomorrow is GivingTuesday. What is GivingTuesday? It is a global generosity movement that unleashes the power of radical generosity around the world. GivingTuesday was created in 2012 as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good. Over the past nine years, this idea has grown into a global movement that inspires hundreds of millions of people to give, collaborate, and celebrate generosity. GivingTuesday strives to build a world in which the catalytic power of generosity is at the heart of the society we build together, unlocking dignity, opportunity, and equity around the globe. GivingTuesday’s global network collaborates year-round to inspire generosity around the world, with a common mission to build a world where generosity is part of everyday life.

On GivingTuesday, consider giving to Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore through donations, purchasing books and other items, or in any other form of support. 

Why Tía Chucha’s?

The Northeast San Fernando Valley has a population of about 500,000 – the size of the city of Oakland – yet it had no bookstores, art galleries, or full-fledged cultural spaces until Tía Chucha's opened its doors in 2001. Thankfully, various local organizations have for decades provided services to address the many survival needs of a large number of economically insecure families and individuals in this area. Believing that it is also everyone’s right to explore and develop their innate creative gifts, Tia Chucha’s founders set out to correct the historic absence of life-enhancing artistic and literary options for this sector of the population. Melding vision with conviction, Tia Chucha’s was created as a space to embrace the equally important artistic development of our lives as human beings.

Tia Chucha’s began as a café, bookstore and cultural space owned and run by Los Angeles Poet Laureate Luis J. Rodriguez, his wife Trini, and their brother-in-law Enrique Sanchez. In 2003 Luis, along with singer/musicologist Angelica Loa Perez and Xicano Rap artist Victor Mendoza established a next-door sister nonprofit to incorporate a full range of arts workshops. When in 2007 the cultural café and bookstore disbanded as an LLC, it donated its assets, including inventory, shelves, equipment, and more to the nonprofit to carry its mission forward. 

Tia Chucha’s cultural center now provides year-round on-site and off-site free or low-cost arts and literacy bilingual intergenerational programming in mural painting, music, dance, writing, visual arts, healing arts sessions (such as reiki healing) and healing/talking circles. Workshops and activities also include Mexica ("Aztec") dance, indigenous cosmology/philosophy, and two weekly open mic nights (one in Spanish, the other in English). It also hosts author readings, film screenings, and art exhibits as well.

So, if you want to “do good” on GivingTuesday, consider Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore as the recipient of your good acts.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

What's in a Name, an Enigma?

"En esta casa nacio Tomas Alva Edison, el 18 de Febrero, 1848"
    What is the definition of a Latino or Latina, anyway? I know a direct translation of Latino from Spanish to English is Latin, which to me indicates a descendent of the Romans, as in Italians. That doesn’t really fit the Spanish-speaking people of Latin America. So, is the concept fact or fiction? If it’s fact, I suppose the definition can be found in a dictionary or a history book. If it’s fiction, you can say it’s a “state of being,” open to interpretation. 
      Dictionary: “Latin—Of or relating to Latium, its people or its culture, or relating to ancient Rome, or relating to places and peoples using Romance languages.” 
     Hmm, French is a romance language. I don’t recall anyone calling a French person a Latin or Latino. Most Italians don't even see themselves a Latin or Latino. 
     Let’s look at “Latino” in the dictionary-- “A person of Latin American origin, male.” 
     That’s different from, say, “Hispanic”: “of or relating to the language, culture, and people of Spain, or Spanish speaking countries, especially Latin America.” 
     Now, that sounds a bit rhetorical. 
     Some in-the-know, like ethnic studies professors, might argue a Latino is a person of Spanish descent, including Latin American mestizos, but Hispanic, means of Spanish descent, as in Iberian Spanish, no hint of Indian blood, which can get confusing because I’m sure you can come across non-indigenous Latinos in Latin America, or as some Chicano New Mexicans claim, “puro hispanico.” 
     So, is Spanish actor Antonio Banderas, who has spent much of his career in the U.S. among Mexican-American actors and playing Mexican roles, like in Zorro and Desperado, Latino or Hispanic? Except in the Disney creation, Zorro was a Spaniard living in 1800s Los Angeles before the arrival of the Anglos. But by 1800, Spain had been in Mexico 280 years, a long time, and probably few pure-blooded Spaniards remained, so Zorro could have been Mexican. 
     What about Julio Iglesias or his American-bred son Enrique? And Rocio Durcal, Fidel Castro, Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Luis Borges, Selma Hayek, Javier Bardem, or his wife Penelope Cruz, Latinos or Hispanics, or, let’s play it safe, maybe they are all both? 
     My guess is if you probably asked, they’d identify with their country of origin, like Fuentes and Hayek proud of their Mexican-ness, but Fuentes didn’t like being pigeon-holed and saw himself as a citizen of the world. So, then, is ethnic labeling limiting? 
     If Latinos are descendants of Latin America wouldn’t that exclude anyone from Spain? They’d be straight-up Hispanics. What about Brazil, Belize, and Guyana? Are their folks Latinos, or do they get nixed because Spanish isn’t their country’s official language? Take Guyana, which started off Spanish but became Dutch in the 1700s. Their language is English. In Belize, which shares Mexico’s southern border, people speak English, Spanish, Creole, and different dialects of Maya? Are they Latinos? Their official language is English, going back to when it was British Honduras. See what I mean? 
     Do they all qualify as Latinos, or token Hispanics, less Roman and more Spanish? After all, Spain does owe them something for all the precious metals it extracted as well as the cost of human labor. Then, what about the vast numbers of indigenous people throughout north, central, and south America-- Latino or Hispanic? 
     I met some Chicano activists back in the 1980s, enthusiastic to bring famous Latinos into the fold. They viewed anyone with a Spanish surname "Chicana” or “Chicano.” 
     Take George Lopez, in one of his routines, he claims that thousands of Anglos run around the country following the Grateful Dead. “Jerry Garcia? Duh, Garcia!” Lopez stresses, suggesting Deadheads are crossing the country in caravans following a Mexican Mariachi?” 
     Lopez was just trying to show, humorously, how ubiquitous Mexicans are in the U.S. like Garcia’s fanatics who don’t make the connection that Garcia is Latino; except, is Jerry Garcia Latino or Hispanic? Like Joan Baez, Garcia (RIP) always claimed Spanish heritage not Mexican or Latino, and Spain, as everybody knows, is a completely different continent. 
     So, Garcia’s adoring fans were never following a “mariachi” but more like a flamenco musician, at the very least a leader of a Tuna, college student musicians, dating back to the 1700s, who traveled through university towns, followed by adoring students singing along, botas of vino raised high and not bottles of tequila, mezcal, or pulque. Do Garcia and Baez qualify as Latinos. My guess is both never considered it. They probably saw themselves as Americans. 
Tomas Alva Edison or Thomas Alva Edison?

 I recall, years ago, listening to a Chicano artist try convincing a group of students that Thomas Edison was Chicano--because of his middle name, Alva. I laughed at that one. Preposterous. I don’t remember the good professor’s evidence, but he did lay down some facts, which, later, got me to thinking, how did Edison get the name Alva, a name none of his siblings carried?
      American historians have Edison’s kin hailing from Amsterdam to Nova Scotia to Canada and into the U.S., first New Jersey, where Edison was born in 1847, and finally Ohio, where he started his career as the great American inventor we came to love as children. Interestingly, though, there isn’t a lot of U.S. documentation related to Edison’s middle name, Alva, but in Mexico, it’s a different story. 
     Mexican historian Luis Rocha, in his book, 100 Years of Light in Fresnillo, based on surveys, interviews, letters, and other documents, claimed Thomas Alva Edison was born in Sombrete, Zacatecas in 1848, his father a mining engineer, Samuel Alva Ixtlixochitl, from Pachuca. You still with me and haven’t fallen out of your chair, laughing? 
     Rocha is a serious historian. According to his version, John Edison, Thomas’s grandfather did, in fact, migrate from Amsterdam to Canada then to Mexico, not New Jersey. John Edison married Margarita de Alva Ixtlixochitl who sired Samuel Alva Ixtlixochitl Edison, Tomas Alva’s father, hence the name. 
Fact or Fiction?
     Rocha’s sources identify two other Alva families in Sombrete, Zacatecas, back in the day, who verified their relationship to Alva Edison. And, so it goes, Tomas migrated to the U.S. at an early age and became the great American inventor. The problem, I guess, is that nobody can find a birth certificate, not the American Thomas Alva Edison of Ohio and not the Mexican Tomas Edison of Zacatecas, who wouldn’t have had a birth certificate, anyway, but a baptismal certificate, and during the revolution of 1910, when revolutionaries swept through Sombrete, they destroyed all personal church records, a common rebel practice. 
      Still, today, in Sombrete, on the house at 19 Hidalgo Street, is a plaque that reads, “En esta casa nacio Tomas Alva Edison, el 18 de Febrero, 1848.” 
     Rocha has done his homework. He has produced documentation, both written and oral, for his book, based on another text by Fray de los Dolores Tiscareno, who published, Nuestra Senora del Refugio, and documents Tomas Alva Edison's roots in Mexico. 
     Of course, the American version is disdainful of anything Mexican, kind of like the battle of Alamo, which doesn’t merit but a blip in Mexican history, mainly because it was a rout, and the Mexican military viewed it with little importance at the time. 
     Mexican officers did write in their journals and made no mention of a "last stand.” The battle, in the early morning darkness, lasted all of thirty-minutes. Mexican casualties came mostly from friendly fire. Most American casualties occurred outside the Alamo’s walls, as the fleeing frontiersmen ran into the lances of the Mexican caballeros. The heroic defense of the old mission was a story fictionalized by American newspapermen writing thousands of miles away from San Antonio, in the safety of the offices in Chicago, Pittsburg, and New York. 
     Of course, U.S. historians never read Mexican accounts of the Alamo, distrusting anything Mexican, even if the Mexicans were the only witnesses. 
      So, what of Thomas, or Tomas? One website says of his birth, “It remains an enigma.” 
     True, much of the narrative surrounding Edison’s early life in the U.S. is inconclusive. Some historians even suggesting he came to the U.S. from Mexico alone, as Tomas Alva Ixtlixochilt, and was adopted by the Edison clan. 
     Now, a lot of people huff and puff--so what? How much does any of this matter. You think Joan Baez, Antonio Banderas, or the late Jerry Garcia gave it a second thought? Well, I suppose, they don’t need to, so well entrenched are they in their personal stories, their successful lives. But, what about ethnic American kids who are told to go back to from where “you” came, and “you aren’t American, or they go to where they came from, only to hear, “You aren’t Mexican”? 
      When I was a kid, I identified as American, until someone, usually a parent of an Anglo friend, asked, “What are you?” 
     The question always shook me. If I said Mexican, an image of my Spanish-speaking, Mexican-born grandparents, uncles, and aunts emerged. I wasn’t like them. I could barely speak Spanish, and I’d never been to Mexico. If I said American, an image of my Anglo or Italian friends appeared. I wasn’t like them either. Their families had migrated west from Oklahoma, Texas, some from New York and Chicago. So, I’d just say, “Mexican,” which, in my twelve-year-old bicultural mind, meant, I identified with the land south of the border, a land of, “I don’t need to show you no stinking badges.” 
     I guess it’s a person’s choice how he or she chooses to identify, and it can get complicated in 2021, especially as issues of White Supremacy arise. An American, with Latino-American roots, can possibly carry Mexican, Spanish, French, Indian, German, and Arabic blood. All of those cultures, and more, passed through the land Bolivar tried to unite as one Latin America. That’s a lot of identities. 
     Then there are the many indigenous people who never mixed, like Oaxacans, Mixtecas and Zopotecas, who walk the streets of Los Angeles, Queens, and Lansing Are they Latino or Hispanic? Then, does it really have nothing to do with bloodlines or geography. Is it a state of mind? 
     Luis Valdez thought so. In his classic play Zoot Suit, a blonde Anglo kid locked up in jail with his Chicano partners was confronted by a guard who asked him, “What’s a nice Anglo kid like you doing hanging out with guys like these?” His response, “I’m Chicano too, see,” and he meant it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

For All/ Para Todos


By Alejandra Domenzain 

Illustrated by Katherine Loh 

Translated by Irene Prieto de Coogan



Publisher  :  Hard Ball Press 

Language  :  English/ Spanish

Paperback  :  53 pages

ISBN-10  :  1734493879

ISBN-13  :  978-1734493870




A young girl named Flor and her father are driven to leave their beloved country for the promise of a land called For All. As Dad works long hours for little pay, Flor struggles to find her place and her voice in a new school. With time, she realizes that despite their best efforts, not having the proper immigration papers means her father has to put up with unfairness, and doors will be closed for her. Flor picks up her green pen and writes from the heart about her journey and hopes, then tells the story of other immigrants who have been excluded from "justice for all." She inspires others to speak up and take action out of love for those that have built the country with their labor and dreams, and out of hope that their country can live up to its ideals.



Alejandra Domenzain grew up in Mexico and the United States. She has been an advocate for immigrant workers for over 25 years, and also worked as an elementary school teacher. Currently, she is dedicated to improving workplace health and safety for low wage workers. Alejandra is using her green pen to write books that invite kids to question, dream, and stand up for justice. 


Alejandra Domenzain se crió en México y los Estados Unidos. Ha abogado por los trabajadores inmigrantes por más de 20 años y también fue maestra de primaria. Actualmente, se dedica a mejorar la salud y seguridad laboral para los trabajadores de bajos ingresos. Alejandra está usando su pluma verde para escribir libros que invitan a los niños a cuestionar, soñar y defender la justicia.