Thursday, June 30, 2005

Pedazos y Pedacitos

Manuel Ramos

New Lorna Dee
La Raza Documentary
Live Free and Soar
A Jazzy 4th of July
Chávez Ravine
The Smell of Onions

New Lorna Dee
Wings Press announces the upcoming publication of Drive: The First Quartet, by Lorna Dee Cervantes. This is Lorna Dee's first new book of poetry in 14 years. Trade Edition available October 14, 2005 - ISBN:0-930324-54-4 - Approx. 270 pages - Hardback $24.95
A SPECIAL LIMITED EDITION AVAILABLE IN APRIL 2006 - ISBN: 0-916727-14-9 $250 Limited to 100 numbered and signed, specially bound, in a hand-made wooden box. Visit the Wings Press website for much more information.

La Raza Documentary
La Raza de Colorado (La Historia), broadcast June 27 on Rocky Mountain PBS was excellent. Made me proud to listen to the various, articulate and knowledgeable folks talk about the history of Mexicanos and Chicanos in Colorado. Please get yourself a copy of this when you get the chance. A tip of La Bloga's sombrero to Lisa Olken, the producer and driving force behind the film.

Live Free and Soar
Patty Limerick's article (Live Free and Soar) in the June 29 New York Times deals with the apparent contradiction of Native American patriotism. Patty is a gem, as anyone who knows her will verify. Another one of the fine professors from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She's doing a short stint with the Times as a sub for Maureen Dowd. Here's a paragraph from her article. To read the entire essay on the web you have to log in to the Times' website, which requires registration (free).

"Much of what we have taken to calling 'the lessons of Vietnam' - perhaps especially the difficulty of sequestering noncombatants from violence, as well as the complex moral choices raised by confronting guerrilla war - could just as easily have been learned as 'the lessons of the Indian wars.' If Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ever hints at even the slightest interest in exploring the historical meanings of the Indian wars, I will be on the next plane to D.C."

A Jazzy 4th of July
A Jazzy 4th of July is an outdoor block party on 24th & Washington in the historic Five Points neighborhood (Denver). There are about 9 nonprofits selling tickets, such as the African-American Leadership Institute, who share in the proceeds from this event. For adults 21 and over. Great music, a good time, and a meaningful way to celebrate the 4th.

Monday, July 4, 2005, Washington St. Business District, East 24th Avenue and Washington St. A ¼ Mile North of Downtown Denver

Hugh Masekela
Manuel Molina's Latin Jazz Combo
The Sheryl Renee Band

Gates open at 1 PM -- Entertainment from 2 to 7 PM -- General Admission Tickets: $20 For tickets or to make a reservation, call 303.299.9035

Chávez Ravine
More music: A for effort to Ry Cooder for his latest CD, Chávez Ravine. Not a perfect album but the concept was noble, his heart was in the right place and most of the songs are right on.

UFOs to the Red Scare to Cool Cats and Cool Chicks, all against the backdrop of the demolition of the barrio in the name of progress (which turned out to be the Dodgers). It's a tragedy so many of us know, from Barrio Viejo in Tucson to Auraria in Denver. The CD features Chicano music legends Little Willie G., Lalo Guerrero, and Ersi Arvizu, vocalist on El Chicano's classic Sabor A Mi. If the last track doesn't tear you up, you have no soul, brother.

And now, a blast from the past.

Manuel Ramos
All rights reserved, published originally in Rocky Mountain Arsenal of the Arts, July, 1989

Armando Salazar stumbled from the Rainbow Inn.

Genevieve will give me hell again. She has little patience for her father these days. ¡Madre de Dios! Where's that damn car?

His legs were tight, they wouldn't respond to his brain. Arthritis in his knees had him gnarled like a limb from a piñon tree.

Foolish old man; too old to drink all night with these punks; what do they know about playing pool? Back in '54, that was when they played pool on the West Side. Snipe, Porfy Tafoya, Dutch Borman--man he was tough! Had to be to even walk in the same bar with the pachucos, the wetbacks from Juárez, the locos from L.A. And then to kick their ass playing pool!

He wiped his nose with the back of his skinny, gray-haired wrist, the wrist that once had the touch that could win hundreds in one night. No one believed him now but he remembered when his stroke was clean and quick.

What a life! A crip, a wino, a bum begging for a few bucks for some T-Bird, betting on a couple of rounds of pool to help Genny with the rent, the pain in my legs keeping me up half the night and only the reefer to help, when I can get it. One of these days I'll pack it in, back to the Valley, to San Luis where I can die in the sun stretched out in a field with the smell of onions in the air, chicharras buzzing in the hot midday.

A hand grabbed him by the neck and twisted him down to the sidewalk.

"Hey, 'Mando. You forgot that yesterday was payday, viejo? You like to string Humberto along? That's stupid, viejo. I don't like stupid people."

He kicked Armando in the stomach, then again.

The kicks knocked the old man's breath out of his wheezing lungs and he couldn't talk. He couldn't explain to Hummy Gonzalez that he needed a little more time to pay his juice and the bill for the drogas. He couldn't say that his check was late, bud, the pendejo mailman hadn't delivered it.

"Your time is up, old man. I have a business to protect. If I let weasels like you get away without paying I'll have every junkie and puta on the West Side into me for a lot more than you're worth. I got my own bills to pay."

A silver gleam reflected the street light. Hummy's arm moved clean and quick.

Hey, man, you don't know! I'm supposed to be in the Valley, in a field, smelling the onions. Pinche! This ain't the goddamned Valley! This ain't the Valley.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Nancy & Rudy's Barrio Newsletter

La Bloga happily brings you news from a couple of friends. I won't do a long bio here; I'll let Nancy's piece introduce her and her old man, Rudy, to you. A few years back, the Chicano Moratorium Committee recognized Rudy as one of the key supporters of the younger organizers in the movimiento. The link above is a video of that, and you'll catch a glimpse of Nancy as the titles roll. Nancy also put together an art show that dislayed their collection of movimiento memorabilia. You can see this at

Enjoy reading about Lincoln Heights, LA. It's Your Town, USA, que no? A ver...

June 21, 2005

Dear Family and Friends,

Happy Summer!! From El Chicano and La Gringa

Here we are again. No politics this time, just plain ole Barrio living. It took us a little time to recover mentally and physically from the mayoral election, we didn't leave the house for days. So let us share a quieter, calmer side of our life.
Well, we didn't quite make the record of being the wettest season on record in LA. It wasn't because the weather newscasters weren't hoping for it. They were all practically doing the rain dance so they could report about being the wettest season on record. Now, so quickly, we are in the dry, dangerous fire season.
The rains this winter have done amazing things to our tiny garden. The fig tree is heavy with early growth fruit. We just picked our first fig of the season. It was huge. As big as an avocado. Dark, purple brown and so sweet.
The oranges on our tree are larger and sweeter than I can ever remember in my 23 years of living in this house. The Austrian wine grapes vines are loaded with tiny bunches of green grapes. The cactus -- ayee, the cactus -- our nopales are alive and healthy, and giving a good crop of tender, crisp pencas to eat. Lacking a bell pepper or green beans, it is so convenient to go out in the backyard, cut off a cactus pad, scrape off the stickers, and sauté the cut up cactus with eggs, or throw a handful in the salad, or chili sauce -- what ever --it makes a very handy, nutritious vegetable and gives a unique, tart flavor.
Our Swiss chard plants grew to be over 6' tall. We couldn't eat it all, and the neighbors weren't interested in it. EAT YOUR GREENS!! We hope you didn't poison the dandelions in your yard this spring, and instead picked a big bunch to eat. Ours have pretty much gone to seed so now we are waiting for the amaranth (quelites) and purslane (verdolagas) to get big enough to harvest. So many good things to eat -- all coming up wild! I love to prowl around the garden looking for the freshest greens or vegetables to pick and cook each day. (And Rudy follows after me to make sure I don't pick something prematurely.)
A few weeks ago the snails came slithering out of the bushes. They are the largest in memory. They are worthy of a fine French restaurant serving escargot. It's very disappointing though, to come out in the morning and find the tender new plants that were just planted the day before gone -- disappeared --simply vanished. Sometimes there was a silvery, telltale trail leading from the garden back into the bushes where the snails live.
Rudy has developed so many natural ways to fight the bugs, insects. The garden is littered with orange peels. If the artist Cristo can hang orange fabric gates in Central Park, Rudy can decorate his garden with the little, bright orange cups of orange peels. He carefully arranges them around each tiny plant.
We also put tea leaves around the base of the plants. Urine is used to keep the cats away. Whatever works. If the sowbugs are chewing up a squash plant Rudy gives them a corn cob to chew on instead.
And eggs!? Rudy dries our left over egg shells then crushes them for the garden. They add lime to the earth. In fact, Rudy even has our neighbor, Luz, cooperating and saving her egg shells for our garden. She has a unique way of breaking them. She opens one end just large enough to pour out the egg. Then she lines the shells up on top of the chain link fence between our two yards for Rudy to find. Everybody's an artist!! Around here.
The wildflowers coming up everywhere in the garden have been so bright and beautiful and colorful -- pretty weeds! And it's amazing, Mother Nature seems to actually have her own color palette. First the intense yellow and orange poppies and calendulas covered the front and back yard among the cactus. They have gone to seed and there is now a bloom of shades of pink, purple, lavender, blue larkspur, sage, etc. They are all so beautiful but Rudy gets very exasperated and impatient with them. All those pretty flowers growing wild take up space in the garden where he thinks vegetables should be planted. Soon, Rudy. Soon. They will go to seed soon, then I can pull them out. The rain has made amazing things grow. Flower seeds that have lain dormant in the soil for years are sprouting. In fact, in the newspaper there was an article about a flower found growing in one of our California National Forests that had been thought extinct for over 60 years.
It is becoming more and more difficult each year for Rudy to dig up the garden for planting. He says he is now a ruco. He can do a couple of feet of digging a day - slowly, slowly -- but that is enough. Our vegetable garden is more random each year. We let the seeds grow more or less where they sprout by themselves. For instance, four zucchini squash plants crown the compost pile. And there is another unrecognizable plant growing in the compost. Hopefully it is a potato plant. We shall see. The Mystery of the Missing Chili Peppers??? It's funny how the mind works. Our neighbor is following our example and has been preparing a plot in their back yard to plant chili pepper plants. They brought in a big 5-gallon container filled with many chili pepper plants to transplant and left it in their backyard by the fence between our two yards. In the meantime I had started pepper plants (ours are bell peppers) from seed in little pots which we had just transplanted in Rudy's newly dug garden plot. So far so good. But then the neighbor's chili plants disappeared! The neighbors asked us if we had seen anyone come into their yard and take their plants, as they looked over the fence at our 14 newly planted pepper plants.
Oh my, we hope they didn't suspect US! Then we began to feel so guilty, even though we know we didn't take them. Strange how the mind works. Sure hope they solve the mystery soon and let us know.
(Much later we learned that one of the neighbor's daughters took the chili plants. She even said that Rudy saw her do it. Really? But Rudy doesn't remember.) Our Thompson seedless grape vines are luxurious with big green leaves and long tendrils stretching out covering the fence on one side of the yard -- but no grapes. Too much water, do you think? Ah well -- the grape vine makes a great leafy screen between us and the neighbors.
And speaking of leafy -- we have discovered a new, leafy green vegetable growing right here in our backyard. This year we have several brussel sprouts and broccoli plants. The brussel sprouts are a little slow on producing those little round "cabbages" but they have plenty of big dark green leaves and stems. Rudy insisted we try some of the leaves. Now that's not exactly a vegetable you will find in your local supermarket. And few city folks probably grow them. I searched through my cookbooks and garden books but couldn't find anything about cooking and eating the leaves and stems. But they do come from the cabbage family and look a bit like kale. So I cooked up a batch, sort of using ingredients like some old fashioned southern soul food: garlic, onions, sausage, vinegar. Wow -- were they good! And they don't melt down like spinach or chard. They stay sort of crisp (though that's not the right word). And since they are so dark green they are probably loaded with good vitamins. Next we are going to cook up the broccoli leaves.
We don't have many vegetable or fruit plants growing but never the less we feel so wealthy having what we have. We don't need much. Meals are planned around what is currently ready to harvest. Sometimes I get impatient waiting for them to slowly develop but Rudy gets very upset when they are picked prematurely. Sometimes the bugs get there first.
Our garden is so full of life -- maybe too much so. Rudy has been stung several times by the many bees that live in our yard. He seems to be becoming immune to the sting bites.
The tiny green hummingbird flits all around. We have lots of birds coming into the yard this year. For the last several years here haven't been many and we were beginning to think that the birds couldn't survive in our modern day urban setting anymore. Rudy has a bird feeding station and a bath all set up for them which they use.
I was just asked about chayotes. Our vine is producing again. It is such a prolific plant. They are such a unique and healthy vegetable (they are a fruit really) and so versatile to use.
Chayotes are a good source of vitamin C, low in sodium, high in potassium and low in calories.
They can be used dozens of ways but I usually just steam them. Cut one chayote in half with the skin on, steam until soft, - then Rudy and I each have a little boat to eat out of. Just add a little butter, salt and pepper and scoop out the flesh. Very good.
Roxie tells me she puts whole chayotes in the microwave to cook part way (sort of like par-boiling) because chayotes take a while to cook. If you try it be sure to poke some steam holes in the chayote before you microwave it.
Chayotes go great in soup, or sautéed with eggs. Or stuffed. The flavor is subtle but very fresh tasting. Recipes usually all call for throwing away the pit or seed, but really that's the cook's treat. The cooked seed has a nice nutty flavor.
The other day I was talking over the fence to our neighbor's visiting daughter who lives up north in a small farming town. She was commenting on how noisy LA was to her. Yes ' our city, our Barrio, has a vibrating pulse. Here in Lincoln Heights, on Altura Street, there is a rhythm to the pulsing sound.
On Monday mornings we are awakened by the noise of the big, lumbering city dump trucks as they slowly work their way up and down the street emptying each of our trash barrels into their trucks. They come by 3 times on each side of the street ? one time for each of our trash cans. Each household has 3 trash buckets; blue for paper, green for yard/plant stuff, and black for the rest of the trash. Then, every other week, the gardener comes by early to trim the grass all up and down the street. You know when he arrives by the loud roar of his grass cutter. During the middle of the day there is a lull in the noise -- a quiet time -- the occasional car driving by, maybe the noise of an electric saw as someone does some carpentry. Music may be softly playing. Then in the afternoon when the kids get out of school the old Barrio comes alive for a few hours. The kids across the street play ball in the street dodging between the cars. The Chinese kids play their Chinese language videos. And the little ones run and scream, squeal and cry when the older kids knock them down. The fire engines go screeching by. The helicopter drones as it circles overhead.
There is a rhythm to life.
Then as evening nears the Mexican/Chinese music begins across the Barrio.
Nighttime is quiet as everyone sleeps -- this is a neighborhood of people who are early to bed and early to rise.
The lonely quiet of the night is broken by the thunder of the freight trains as they bring cargo into LA. The sound echoes for blocks across the sleeping barrio. Occasionally there is the sound of gunfire in the wee hours of the night, then the helicopter wakes us up as it goes round and round endlessly looking for the source of the gunfire.
The constant hum of the nearby freeway flows behind all the other sounds, but then, very early in the morning before the sun rises, the hum grows louder and louder as people begin to drive to work. A new day dawns and the cycle repeats.
Layer upon layer of sound -- vibrations. Chirping twitterpated birds, howling cats, barking dogs, children calling, people talking, cars rushing by, sirens blaring, trains wailing, drills drilling, phones ringing (who's phone is that ? is our phone ringing?), helicopters droning, Pop goes the Weasel over and over (from the ice cream truck), the tinkling bell of the corn vendor when he walks by, the Lincoln High school band practicing (boom, boom, boom), city maintenance trucks rumbling, the sound of a window opening or closing (our neighbor has come home), the neighbor's toilet being flushed, the refrigerator humming, the freeway ?.. We are alive! The sounds escalate until they are all blended into their own melody -- a rhythm, a pulse of our daily lives.
So is it noisy? Gee, I don't know -- I would have to stop and listen.
All that background of sound can be comforting. I do know that it is eerie when a fog blankets the LA basin and deadens all the sounds. Now that is spooky.
So close your eyes and listen. What is the pulse of your life?
We went to another Clanton Social Club dance recently. That is the affair held 3 or 4 times a year for the 80+ year old group who all grew up together in South Central LA. Rudy and I have missed the last couple of dances because he wasn't feeling well. But for this dance all the rucos were calling each other to see who was going.
Rudy wanted to go but was just not feeling up to the effort. Finally he pushed himself to get ready and off we went. Rudy had to go see the Homies. I drove.
The dances have been held in the social hall of St. Hilary Catholic Church in Pico Rivera for the last several years. The music for the tardeada dance (2 p.m. to 6 p.m. so no one has to drive in the dark) has been provided by Bob Bergara and his band all these years. Bob, his long, grey hair in a pony tail, has aged along with the dancers. All the folks, Rudy and I among them, all come limping slowly up to the hall, arthritis/pacemakers/stints/hip-knee replacement -whatever. But when the band starts playing those old tunes from the 40's and 50's the old bodies of the rucos and rucas begin to vibrate, swaying to the music. Soon the juices are up and flowing, the dance floor is filled with elegant old couples doing the Swing, spinning the ladies around like tops. True, they move a bit slower than they used to, but the rhythm is still there.
The years literally slide away.. Then there is the romantic music, dancing cheek to cheek. The saxophone wailing. "Unforgettable". (That's a song, you young folks.) During breaks in the music everyone reconnects, testing each other's memories about people and places from their youth. But sadly conversations about the old neighborhood are becoming more limited as time passes and memories fade away.
Rudy came alive and wanted to energetically dance almost every dance. The adrenaline was flowing throughout the room.
But, oh those aching bones the next day!!! The committee of original Clanton members who organize the dances has dwindled -- there are only about 20 some folks left and they are mostly women. Remember, they are all over 80 years old. In fact, we noticed that attendance at this dance was down. Usually the hall is so crowded that it is difficult to find a table to sit at. As the years have gone by the Clanton dances have been attended by folks from all the barrios of Los Angeles and by the younger generations. There is no “Clanton” area of LA anymore, or the “Hooper Ave.” boys that Rudy was part of, or the “7th Street” or “Mateo” barrios. Those old neighborhoods are long gone and many of the homeboys have gone to meet their maker. They are only a shadow of a memory fast fading. The neighborhoods are now industrial areas.
The dances lift the spirits of the rucos and rucas. They talk, reminisce, and listen and dance to the music of their era. They go back in time and relive their past and temporarily forget their aches and pains.
Here it is still June but the neighborhood is already gearing up for the chaos of 4th of July here in the Barrio. Fire works go off sporadically here and there. One of my neighbors has contacted our local City Councilman's office about the fire danger to this old neighborhood so we shall see what happens. We will be here with our garden hose ready. HAPPY, SAFE & SANE 4TH OF JULY to you all.

Love and peace, Rudy and Nancy Tovar

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Invitation To Houellebecq:

by RudyG

Al vato El Houlle,

I know you get more invitations from Americans than you want, but this ain't another offer to get you laid nor pay you mucho dinero to make us look sophisticated, so read on.

Having read the article B. Bernhard did on your trip aux E.U., I thought to make amends for any faux pas done to you while you were in L.A.

We're not all as urbanely provincial, myopically cute, and vapid as whatever you suffered en Califas; some are worse. But some suffer only peripherally from well-polled, endemic American syndromes.

Actually, this letter is to invite you to join us Chicanos--a colonized variant--on our blog, dubbed La Bloga. (Chicanos are a different breed of americano, which we could discuss over a bottle of agavero or grappa--Mirtillo's all we get here--or both.) I thought, since you're a boozer and smoker, you might be a European worth consorting with, like Camus before he offed out or D.H. Lawrence before he strayed into novels. I also hear you write good books, so you'd be more credentialed than half of us presently contributing to La Bloga.

Mais oui, language problems exist between us, however I blame your people for that. If Napoleon and Carlotta had been better at conquering, like Cortez, my linguistic background would make me better at frenching. If the French girls you sent us were better at teaching tongues than exchanging them, again, we'd be able to communicate. So, how's your calo, ese?

At worst, we'd resort to English, but you can see my abilities there are no worse than yours. With enough Presidente in me, and assuming you smuggled in sufficient absinthe, we might get by. Moroccan opiates could substitute.

After an initial reparté, we wouldn't have to see much of each other, except perhaps with annual gestures of internationalism. We could schedule such to coincide with Bush's lip service to the worldwide bourgeois trough-sharing of their shrinking pie. (Why don't French people settle for dynasties of burro-cratic leaders like we do here?)

Why would any Chicano illiterati want your kind on our blog, particularly if we already have characters like you? Because we could use more, especially a famous one with a thick accent, and another drinker. Plus, we have similar views, just appositive applications. You want to get offed like Rushdie does, by trashing the Muslim world--that's your wake. I got problems with the Catholic Church, which I contend is the stupider religion. Okay, so we have differences, too.

But face it: your ancestors fell for that stupid religion when mine were still building cool pyramids. Who roasted Jean d'Arc? Is there not yet a tad of Inquisitive guilt wafting from your part of the Continent? However, with Vietnam we have much in common, too, having had both our governments' asses kicked on history's stage.

Why would I try to recruit you if you've been called Nazi, racist and Stalinist? Join the club. I've been called racist, communist, and terrorist sympathizer (I never thought the Irish were all bad). My 3 to your 3. Good enough. Of course, if you're really a Nazi, deal's off. There are some types even Chicanos won't consort with.

If you accept this offer, we could give you a weekend spot. You'd need to translate it into something readable (ninth-grade level American), but you'd have to do it from your end. As weird as you sound, I wouldn't want to mess up your literary nuances.

One last thing: I like this depression thing you're into, since that's the healthy attitude for our times, given the planet-wide cultural and political insanities. Over here, a joke of a Yale graduate leads us into the unforgiveable ignominy of Iraq; over there, you guys still like Jerry Lewis. 1 for 1. The irreal, the absurd, the darkest view seem more appropriate than turning cheeks or seeking pacifist closure. Plus, I've heard you practice well at drunkenness and rude behavior.

So, I extend you this invite to join us on La Bloga. If you accept, I suggest an article on your impression of L.A., but you probably already got paid lots of money for that. So instead, we'd welcome a piece about California bars, strippers, and toke, s'il vous plaît. I'll talk with the other Bloguistas about our adopting you as guest Chicanoesque French guy. I imagine something like El Houlle (which means nothing sensical in Spanish) for a byline, or make up your own. If you don't accept, you needn't bother not answering.

Building international camaraderie,
un traguito a la vez

Rudy Ch. Garcia

Monday, June 27, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Michael Jaime-Becerra (aka Michael Jayme) is a native of El Monte, California. A graduate of UC Irvine's Creative Writing department, his early work was first collected in 1996 as Look Back and Laugh for the Chicano Chapbook Series, edited by Gary Soto. The following year he began publishing under the surname “Jaime-Becerra” and shortly thereafter, a limited-edition collection of prose poems, entitled The Estrellistas Off Peck Road , was released locally by Temporary Vandalism. He studied in the University of California, Irvine 's Master of Fine Arts in Fiction program, completing work toward his degree in 2001. Last year, HarperCollins/Rayo published his debut collection of inter-related short stories, Every Night Is Ladies' Night: Stories, released in paperback this March. Susan Straight, author of The Gettin Place and I've Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots, said of his collection: "If you think southern California is a landscape you already know, think again, and then read Michael Jaime-Becerra. His stories are the ones people need to know, and his craftsmanship is impeccable."

PALABRAS: Every Friday at 7:30 p.m., Tía Chucha’s hosts an open mic/spoken word night of current and aspiring writers, singers, poets, rappers & musicians perform their art for the public. Hosted by Victor E. of Xicano Records and films, and Aztlan Underground. Bring your best verses. Free to the public. Tía Chucha's Café Cultural, 12737 Glenoaks Blvd., Sylmar, (818) 362-7060.

BRINGING LIBROS TO LIFE: Calaca Press is a Chicano family-owned small publishing house dedicated to publishing and producing unknown, emerging, and established progressive Chicano and Latino voices. With a commitment to social justice and human rights Calaca Press strives to bring about change through the literary arts. From poetry and the spoken word to fiction and creative non-fiction Calaca Press is determined to showcase authors from a community that has been marginalized and pushed to the side in literary circles, and in the real world, for far too long. Recognizing the need for more publishers of Chicano and Latino literature Calaca Press also actively encourages and assists individuals to self publish and/or start their own presses. Understanding the need for historical continuation Calaca Press is committed to continuing the tradition of the Chicano and Latino presses and publishing houses of the 1960's and 1970's that flourished due to community support and the need to have our stories told. Calaca Press, P.O. Box 2309, National City, CA 91951.

REVIEW: In the El Paso Times, Rigoberto González gives a wonderful review Virgil Suárez’s new book, 90 Miles: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press).

FINALMENTE: I had a wonderful time signing my first children’s book, Benjamin and the Word / Benjamin y La Palabra (Arte Público Press), this Saturday at B. Dalton's Booksellers in the Topanga Plaza. The hardest part about publishing books is getting out there and selling (at least for me). But the dividends are great when I meet wonderful gente who appreciate that Chicanos are out there writing books.

All done. Until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Mexico's Jaguares

Manuel Ramos
Here's an add-on to follow up on Michael's review of Desert Blood -

This from the San Francisco Chronicle:
One of Mexico's most popular rock bands, Jaguares plays before crowds of 100,000 people there. With a following that spills into the United States (reflected by its appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O'Brien), Jaguares has reached a point where every new song is eagerly awaited (and scrutinized) by fans and critics.The group's latest album, Cronicas de un Laberinto (Chronicles of a Labyrinth), is a statement about how Mexico is still searching for the right mix of social justice and economic prosperity. On the bittersweet tune Madera (Wood), lead singer Saul Hernández envisions a wood that "is resistant to all weeping" and "resurrects in Ciudad Juarez" -- a reference to the unsolved killings of hundreds of women in the cities of Juarez and Chihuahua. To bring attention to the tragedy, Jaguares released its new record in Juarez. When the group begins its U.S. tour in San Francisco, it will spotlight the work of Amnesty International, which is pressuring the Mexican government to solve the murders. Jaguares has worked previously with Amnesty to raise money and gather signatures.

Read the complete article by jumping here.

And over on LatinoHeat Online and on the Jaguares website you can get the complete tour schedule. Locally: Aug. 3- Denver, CO / Gothic Theater

The Road To Tamazunchale

Manuel Ramos

Here's a book review (slightly edited and revised) I did as part of a regular gig on one of Denver's public radio stations, KUVO, 89.3 FM. This review aired July 24, 1992. The book is still available from Bilingual Review Press and, yes, it is still a classic.

Bilingual Review Press has put together a series of books called Clásicos Chicanos - Chicano Classics. Because of this series, readers are provided the opportunity to discover or re-read books published in the late '60s and early '70s that gave credibility to the nascent Chicano literary movement. Included are creative and masterful works such as The Plum Plum Pickers by Raymond Barrio, The Devil in Texas by Aristeo Brito, and Klail City by Rolando Hinojosa.

Any series of Chicano Classics must include The Road to Tamazunchale by Ron Arias. Originally published in 1975, this book has achieved international acclaim and honors [it was nominated for the National Book Award.] Some reviewers have compared it to the best of Latin American literature, while others, such as Eliud Martínez in an introduction to the Third Edition, hailed the book as a harbinger of a great and grand era in Chicano writing.

Almost twenty [now thirty] years after it first appeared, in a limited number of copies printed by the West Coast Poetry Review, the book delights, mystifies, amuses and moves its readers across broad emotional plains. I read it in the past few weeks and it seemed as fresh as anything published this year [1992.]

Please do not deprive yourself of a unique reading experience by jumping to conclusions about this book or the author. It is complex but it tells a fascinating fable that will entertain even the most jaded reader.

The Road to Tamazunchale is the story of Don Fausto, a very old man on the verge of death. From his sickbed in a Los Angeles barrio, Don Fausto embarks on magnificent journey through space and time, across continents and dimensions, a reviewer of his own existence, for sure, but, more than that, he certifies the principles of his life in ways that made me regret that I never met Don Fausto in the flesh.

He travels to Peru and Mexico with a lowriding car thief, a Peruvian shepherd, his teenaged niece, and so many more that it soon becomes clear that at least one theme is that life is nothing more than a series of trips, even if only to the bus stop, but what is important about the trips are not necessarily the destinations but the way one travels, and who one travels with, who are the guides and the guided, and what lessons are learned along the way.

Don Fausto knows he is dying. Yet, he is more concerned about his friends - the lost shepherd, a long way from Peru, trying to herd his flock of sheep along a Los Angeles freeway; or the thousands of undocumented workers who will do anything to come into the United States, even if it means they must act as though they are dead; or his jive-talking wizard apprentice, Mario, the small-time thief.

In the end, when he finally joins his dead wife, whose ghost has been with him through most of the novel anyway, his friends and family celebrate and rejoice, just as he wants. At the wake, people turn into flowers, animals, books, TV sets, in a scene highly reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez, and I make that comparison with the utmost respect for Arias and García Márquez.

What is Tamazunchale? Where does the road lead? Why is there only one way to get there or leave? And why do some people fear it and others embrace it? I leave those questions for you to answer in your own way. Perhaps Don Fausto will help.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders. Alicia Gaspar de Alba.


Given the subject matter and the writer, I wanted Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s second novel, Desert blood: The Juarez Murders to be as good as it is, still, I wanted a better novel. Desert Blood is successful in so many ways that anyone who enjoys detective stories, Chicana Literature, or novels of la frontera, will find many worthwhile minutes in the pages of this ambitious, though in the end, flawed adventure.

Detective fiction readers will be happy to add a new character to the roster of Rios, Buenrostro, Baca, Montez, Damasco: Ivon Villa. Smart, tough—make that incredibly tough—relentless, dedicated. I’m looking forward to Gaspar de Alba leading her character to new adventures.

Ivon’s a slacker, when you think about it. As the novel opens, she’s on her way to El Paso with two goals in mind: adopt a baby in Juarez and do some research on bathroom graffitti. So impetuous, Ivon hasn’t thought through all the ramifications of an old girl network adoption. In fact, she hasn’t included her partner in the adoption process at all. If the adoption goes according to plan, Brigit will meet her child when Ivon brings it home. Odd approach to parentage. Just as odd is Ivon’s lack of focus. An ABD (All But Dissertation) Visiting Prof, she’ll lose the job if she doesn’t complete her Ph.D. Ivon has a proposal: Marx Meets the Women’s Room: The Representation of Class and Gender in Bathroom Graffitti (Three Case Studies). But she hasn’t yet begun to research the third case, so Ivon decides to use the visit home to do the toilets of her home town. It sounds silly but it provides the most vital clue to the entire story: Poor Juarez, so far from the Truth, so close to Jesus.

Gaspar de Alba’s first novel, Sor Juana’s Second Dream, stands as a tour de force of Chicana Literature—it is a superb piece of imaginative work. Unfortunately, Sor Juana’s lesbian lovemaking draws the ire of critics less intent on sexual politics than beatifying the Mexicana genius. Desert Blood will likely draw similar complaints for its numerous instances of lesbian sex.

Such critics will miss the point. In her sexual practices, Ivon is more like Luis Montez or Henry Rios, men who think with their dicks rather than their brains. Impetuous Ivon’s the same tipa. Even as the novel begins to approach its climax, with Ivon desperately pursuing every hunch and clue, she gets distracted by a former lover’s allure, and spends the night—despite Ivon’s anger that the woman had a lot to do with her little sister’s disappearance! Not since Alma Luz Villanueva’s 1994 Naked Ladies, have I met such an impetuous yet fully competent female character as Ivon. Then again, Desert Blood’s lesbian sex has the virtue of sincerity, tenderness, and love. It contrasts with the mind-numbing sexual violence that fills page after page in Gaspar de Alba’s absorbing story set against the background of unsolved mass murder of hundreds of women.

Herein lies the problem with the novel. The murders of Juarez, for all their horror, are only the setting. Even as the reader despairs in the story's web-based sexual tourism and street-level corruption of brothels and crack houses where Ivon’s search for her kidnapped teenaged sister draws the detective, the novelist must give shape and faces to the unknown monsters perpetrating and perpetuating the actual crimes. In the process, the plot loses touch with reality. Perhaps it is too big a story and so imaginatively ugly that Gaspar de Alba elects to fashion a personal story of one woman’s struggle to recover the love of her estranged homophobic mother while shouldering guilt at her responsibility in the disappearance of her kid sister.

There is so much horror, that readers will be grateful for moments of comic relief. The writer must have enjoyed writing scenes like one, early in her investigation, when Ivon has an almost productive interview with a bartender that is aborted when a group of “American boys” demand drinks, one of them pounding the bar:
“Hey, puta, we need drinks,” shouted out one of the boys.
Ivon walked up to him and slapped his face.
“What the fuck!” said the kid, holding his cheek.
“Didn’t your mother teach you to respect women?” she said.
“Bitch, I’ll teach you…”
“What can I get you boys?” said Magda, smiling behind the bar. “First round on the house.” She winked at Ivon. (204)

Not that the novel is necessarily anti-male; given a world of sexual exploitation of women, one would expect men to occupy the loci of contempt. Almost every male character is puro shit-- but other than the central evil man, the second-most evil character is the woman kidnapper who mouths the irony early in the story about the teenaged sister probably nursing a popped cherry if she still had one. Gaspar de Alba is making a telling point here. Earlier in the novel, she feels the stares of machos and a thought runs through her mind: "Asshole macho piece of shit, she thought, don’t you fucking lear [sic] at me. . . . Lesbians, although every macho’s wet dream—to voyerize or to conquer—of course, betrayed not just their culture, but their gender, their families, and their religion." (134) Betrayal abounds in the lives of these characters, but lesbianism has nothing to do with the betrayals of fathers of women, husbands of wives, employees of their supervisors. In all the interwoven betrayals. Ivon remains true to her familia.

Ugly as the story grows, Gaspar de Alba won’t allow it to devolve to puro tragedy. In the final analysis, this is a family story, not a murder story, not a mystery per se. Strangers suffer—the poignant story of the 14-year old who doesn’t want to “go to Dallas” breaks my heart (dar las nalgas)—but in the end, the reader is both disappointed and relieved to get a fairy-tale ending with only a few surprises and twists.

But in all this, there is a deadly serious point to make—why haven’t authorities on either side of the border acted to find the killers and stop the murders?

“That’s what this was, she realized. A huge malignant tumor of silence, meant to protect not the perpetrators, themselves, but the profit reaped by the handiwork of the perpetrators. A bilateral assembly line of perpetrators, from the actual agents of the crime to the law enforcement agents on both sides of the border to the agents that made binational immigration policy and trade agreements.
The cards fell so perfectly into place; it was almost nauseating.
This thing implicated everyone. No wonder the crimes had not been solved, nor would they ever be solved until someone brought this conspiracy out into the open." (335)

Desert Blood brings this into the open, a little. I hope Desert Blood becomes like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. There’s a story that Theodore Roosevelt was sitting at breakfast reading Upton Sinclair’s passage about rotted sausages packed with filth and rat meat. The US president gets so disgusted, the same day he demands Congress pass a pure food and drug act. Let’s hope one day, soon, another US president will read Desert Blood while looking at portraits of a wife and daughters, and grow equally disgusted.

michael sedano

Click the link above to visit Alicia Gaspar de Alba's blog on this novel.
Houston: Arte Publico Press, 2005. Isbn-10: 1-55885-446-0

Monday, June 20, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Marcos M. Villatoro is the author of the Romilia Chacón crime novels. The Los Angeles Times Book Review listed his Home Killings as a Best Book of 2001. It won the Silver Medal from Foreword Magazine and First Prize in the Latino Literary Hall of Fame. The other Romilia novels include Minos and Venom Beneath Skin. Cypress Productions of Los Angeles has bought the film rights for Minos. Villatoro's autobiographical novel The Holy Spirit of My Uncle’s Cojones was an Independent Publishers Book Award Finalist and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His other books include They Say that I am Two (poems), On Tuesday, When the Homeless Disappeared (poems), A Fire in the Earth (novel), and the memoir Walking to La Milpa: Living in Guatemala with Armies, Demons, Abrazos, and Death. In the 80’s and early 90’s, Villatoro lived in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Alabama, doing grassroots community work in Central America and with migrant farm workers. After graduating from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1998, he and his family moved to California, where he holds the Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair in Writing at Mount St. Mary’s College. He's also a regular commentator for NPR. Villatoro lives with his wife and four children in Los Angeles.

SPECIAL EDITIONS: Saturday, June 25, at 3 p.m., come by Tía Chucha's to check out three limited edition books containing unpublished poems by Luis J. Rodriguez, and designed and hand-bound in an edition of fifty copies each by Matt Cohen and Sher Zabaszkiewicz, C & C Press, at UC Santa Barbara. Imagery was inspired by Aztec Codices, and printed using polymer plates and linoleum cuts. The hand-made paper end sheets are from the poet's t-shirts, and the printed cover panels showcase the poet's handwriting. Tía Chucha's Café Cultural, 12737 Glenoaks Blvd., Sylmar, (818) 362-7060. And don’t forget to check out Luis’ new novel, Music of the Mill (HarperCollins/Rayo).

BLOGGING ELSEWHERE: The Elegant Variation (run by one of the hardest working writers in the blog-o-sphere, Mark Sarvas) republished my review of Sheryl Luna’s debut poetry collection, Pity the Drowned Horses (University of Notre Dame Press). Luna was recently featured on Poetry Daily.

REVIEWS: The San Francisco Chronicle published Joe Loya’s review of Salvador Plascencia’s debut novel, The People of Paper (McSweeney’s). I’ve just started this remarkable book; more later.

FINALMENTE: Though I don’t want to plug my own books, I do want to meet the gente who read La Bloga if they’re in the San Fernando Valley this Saturday. I will be signing my first children’s book, Benjamin and the Word / Benjamin y La Palabra (Arte Público Press), on June 25, at B. Dalton's Booksellers, Topanga Plaza, 6600 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Canoga Park, noon to 4:00 p.m., (818) 883-8095. You do not have to buy a copy! Just come by, give me a big abrazo and say hi.

All done. Until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Friday, June 17, 2005

A Shark, A Hummingbird, A Little Jesús, And So Many Books

Manuel Ramos

Hinojosa on Writing
Luis Urrea in Denver
La Raza de Colorado
Pluma Fronteriza and Libros, Libros

Hinojosa on Writing
Words of wisdom from El Maestro, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith, taken from his interview in Chicano Detective Fiction by Susan Baker Sotelo:

"Without reading, no writer gets anywhere. Imagination is helpful but it will flag without reading .... At present I go to bed with Cervantes, whom I've read a great number of times, and with Montaigne. If one plans to write, one must be like a shark, which, by the way is what defines a writer: you read everything, and like a shark, you have no natural enemies. When Mexican American students tell me they do not relate to Shakespeare, I tell them they're in trouble, and that their language will be deficient as will be their thinking. Someone may think I'm being hard nosed, but that's what writing is ... tough. It's not for people whose feelings are hurt easily.

Living, observing, listening, undergoing a varied number of experiences, knowing the language, and the language used by the different social classes of this country and any other where one's characters appear and so on is not only important, it is also essential. ... One does not need to take classes in creative writing to be a writer [but one does need models and] Graham Greene would be someone who would be a model for any writer of any type of fiction."

Luis Urrea in Denver
From The Tattered Cover Newsletter -Luis Alberto Urrea, the multiple-award winning author of Devil's Highway, Across the Wire and By the Lake of Sleeping Children, will read from and sign his new novel The Hummingbird's Daughter. A spectacular novel as grand as a western sunset and full of cowboys and outlaws, Indian warriors and cantina beauties, silly men who drink too much and desert women who in their dreams travel to the seashore, The Hummingbird's Daughter is Urrea's majestic masterpiece, the story of one girl's life and the swollen heart of all Mexico.

The Tattered Cover (Cherry Creek), June 23, 2005, 7:30 PM
Request a signed copy:

La Raza de Colorado
This info from Raymundo Eli Rojas, Editor of Pluma Fronteriza - gracias, Ray.

Special sneak previews of Rocky Mountain PBS’ newest production – an original documentary about the history of Latinos in Colorado titled La Raza de Colorado – have been scheduled for June 18 at 3 p.m., ahead of when the first episode airs on Rocky Mountain PBS. The sneak previews offer a shortened version of the two-hour, two-part documentary.

June 18 – Boulder. Sponsored by Boulder Public Library, Sun Microsystems and the Society of Latinos@Sun, El Centro Amistad and Boulder County Latina Women's League. 3 p.m., Boulder Public Library, 1000 Canyon Blvd.

La Raza de Colorado consists of two episodes. The first is La Historia and the second half of the series is El Movimiento. La Historia covers the period from the 1500s to 1940, while El Movimiento covers the 1960s and ‘70s. Rocky Mountain PBS will air La Historia on Monday, June 27, at 9 p.m. El Movimiento is under production, scheduled for a winter, 2005, release.

In creating the documentary, Rocky Mountain PBS producer Lisa Olken conducted more than 30 hours of interviews with 20 different subjects, filling up 54 videotapes. Olken and the Rocky Mountain PBS production staff also traveled throughout the state to shoot video – from the San Luis Valley to Greeley to La Junta.

The little guy in the photo up above is José de Jesús Hernández, mi suegro, and his parents.

Pluma Fronteriza and Libros, Libros
Eli Raymundo Rojas provided the info above on the Colorado raza documentary and yesterday La Bloga posted one of his reviews, Mexicans in the Midwest by Juan R. Garcia. This guy is busy. Just finished law school, writes books reviews for major newspapers, travels the country, knows chingos of writers. One of his major projects is Pluma Fronteriza and the sister publication, Libros, Libros, from which we here at La Bloga occasionally have borrowed. Anyone serious about literature needs to get on his mailing list. I just downloaded the Summer 2005 issue of Libros, Libros and it is loaded. Forty-two (42!) pages of new book after new book written by or about Latinos/as and Chicanos/as. He has categories such as Chican(a)o Letters; Chisme and Trends; Mexico and Mexican Letters; Cuban American, Cuban & Cuba; Crypto; Latino(a) Letters and Latin America, and so on. In other words, very thorough. Reading this amazing newsletter I discovered that this fall will see the publication of a book entitled Brown Gumshoes: Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity, by Ralph E. Rodríguez (Univ. of Texas Press). A new one on me but one I'll have to get - a couple of my favorite things to talk about over a cold Modelo Especial are Chicano detectives and the ever elusive Chicano identity. Two academic books on Chicano crime fiction in one year (the other is Chicano Detective Fiction by Susan Baker Sotelo, see the post above about Rolando Hinojosa) - my head is spinning.

To contact Raymundo Eli Rojas, send him a message at: Send books for review to Pluma Fronteriza, 1510 J Greenway Dr., Eudora, KS 66025. No website yet.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Guest Review from Pluma Fronteriza

Los La Bloga Blogueros enjoy receiving the always useful and informative Pluma Fronteriza emails, likewise, a pleasure sharing the following....

Book Review: Mexicans in the Midwest (1900 - 1932)
by Raymundo Eli Rojas

United States history had never really given the history of Mexicans in the Midwest. Even Chicano historians have left the Midwest out of the books.

This is no more, because in Juan R. García’s Mexicans in the Midwest, 1900-1932 (University of Arizona Press), the author gives us a history that has been missing.

Giving an intricate analysis of the history of migration to the Midwest, García shows why and how Mexican immigrants came to the Midwest. Some came as railroad workers and other came to pick sugar beets. Others got jobs in the motor plants of Detroit, the meatpacking plants in Chicago, and others were elite Mexicans fleeing Pancho Villa’s war on Mexico’s rich.

This book covers Mexicans in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin. García focuses on the “Mexican Generation,” in which the Mexicans in the Midwest still had a distinctive Mexicano identity as opposed to “Chicano,” “Mexican American,” or “Hispanic.” The authors give pictures of a highly mobile people, going back and forth across the Midwest for work.

One of the things García describes is the organizing efforts, both coming from the poor and the elites of the immigrant groups. García gives a good description of assimilation. In addition, he shows how Mexican immigrant elites hypocritically looked down on the assimilation of many lower-class Mexicans into US society.

It is important to look at the Midwest in context of Mexican immigration. Unlike the Southwestern United States and California, the Midwest was never part of Mexico. Therefore, instead of being invaded and occupied by people from the United States, as in the Southwest, Mexican experience in the Midwest paralleled that of other immigrant groups. Furthermore, unlike the Southwest, Mexicans encountered African Americans and a host of other immigrant groups in the Midwest.

Like many times in the United States’ history, war created an economic boom, but the workforce was in short supply. During World War I, a workforce was needed and García explains why these particular Mexicans chose to come and stay in the Midwest. He shows the inadequate housing, high rents, unemployment, and discrimination that proliferated throughout the Mexican population during these years.

This book also focuses on women’s role in immigration to the Midwest. Women’s role is a topic that historians often ignored. Here, Garcia shows how women influence the economic and social life of the communities in which they lived.García also touches on Mexican consulates and their role. He shows how during the 1920’s, efforts were made by the Mexican government to protect its citizens in the US. However, elitist consuls stymied many of these efforts due to a lack of funding and the Mexican government not wanting to get on the bad side of the US government.

One of the most important aspects of this book is that García shows how Midwest Mexicans were not passive to the discrimination they experienced. Many made efforts to organize themselves to fight discrimination and resist political, economic, and legal exploitation. Another importance aspect is how García shows the discrimination based on color, in which tenement or boarding house owners would not rent to “dark” Mexicans but only to the “white” colored Mexicans.

The social lives of the immigrants are explained as well as the
anti-immigrant sentiment coming out of the Great Depression. This resulted in the repatriation of many Mexicans, as well as many Mexicans who were already US citizens.

García also analyzes where in Mexico the Midwest immigrants came from, showing how in 1920’s- and pre-1920-immigration 60-70 percent of Mexican in Topeka, Kansas came from Guanajuato, 20 percent of Chicago Mexicans came from Jalisco, 21 percent from Guanajuato, and 26 percent from Michoacán. 34 percent of Mexicans in Kansas City came from Michoacán.

García describes many barrios in the Midwest such as Hull House in Chicago, East Chicago, Indiana Harbor, the rail car communities of Kansas City, the “Tangas” (from Tanganciuaro, Michoacán) of Argentine in Kansas City, and many more. García shows after 1926 “a large number of pro-Cristero (a Mexican Catholic uprising in the 1920s) came to the Midwest… forming a powergroup that classed with the less ardent Catholics.”

Mexicans in the Midwest is a pleasurable read, especially for those who are interested in learning about their roots in the Midwest.

* * *

From El Paso's Eastside, Raymundo Eli Rojas is the editor of Pluma
Fronteriza, a publication focusing on Chicano/Latino writers of the El Paso/Cd. Juarez border region. A labor and immigrant rights activists, Rojas is a graduate of UTEP and the University of Kansas School of Law. He currently lives near Kansas City.

Raymundo Eli Rojas, Editor


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Kill Human vs. Killdeer


It's been a week of discovery. Friday the Boettcher Foundation informed me that despite a very high score on an entrance exam (99 percentile), an almost equally high score in teacher competency (98) and an adequate GPA (3.04--I drank, smoked, radicalized, and generally philandered in my early years), I am not Fellowship material. They didn't tell me why.

Sunday the one fiction piece I was
certain would be accepted for publication, was rejected. I don't know why, yet.

Today's Tuesday, the week's not up, and there's time for something else from my life to not meet someone else's standards. I assume my lotto picks and the selling price for my old truck fall in there somewhere.

Writers are used to rejection; comes with the barren territory. Yes, I have moments of dejection that accompany an editor's rejection, but after the initial flush of "Should I take up painting instead of prose?" I move on despite lingering cold-flashes of depression.

Next to the elementary school where I work sits a parking lot and a
monte, as we call them, a huge vacant lot of weeds, dirt and gravel that exemplifies the financial importance schools hold for our legislature. I regularly take walks through it during lunch, to clear my mind.

A week earlier I'd passed through a couple of times and noticed this bird rapidly walking across it. Turned out to be some Colorado killdeer. It reminded me of a Texas coastal bird, but I couldn't remember seeing one here before. No biggie.

This week as I ruminated on the legal consequences of assassinating Boettcher interviewers, I saw the bird, again scamper across the
monte. Three times had to be more than coincidence.

I realized each time I'd seen it, it had squawked or chirped strangely. I figured it might be nesting in the area, possibly even on the ground--though the parking lot of a school filled with Americanized children seemed a dangerous nesting choice--so I tried to backtrack its path.

I went only five feet when the sucker screeched like he'd cut himself or something, tilted on his side, and stretched one wing out to expose white and orange underlying feathers. He appeared injured.

I wondered if I could do anything to rescue him, but then I remembered injured animals don't call attention to themselves, they quietly lurk somewhere--like my cat hides under the bed when she's wounded from a cat-fight. The light bulb went on over me, so I told the bird, "I'm not falling for that!" I searched the area but couldn't find a nest.

Next day I roamed the
monte, ruminating the legal consequences of also assassinating picky editors, and sure enough, the bird shadowed me. This time I noted where I first saw movement.

The closer I got to the spot, the more dramatic the bird got. After another fifteen feet, his performance could have got him elected to that legislature whose neglect had created the
monte. He kept making me laugh, and I kept taunting him, "I've already seen your act, dude; it's not gonna work."

I found the nest. Two gray-brown, splotchy eggs about the size of Easter eggs, lying in a depression, no grass or twigs, just exposed to the sun and vulnerable to anybody walking across the lot, especially children raised to believe in the fun of pulling wings off butterflies and tormenting birds with injured wings.

Over the next couple of days, whenever I walked toward the nest, Killdeer (I named him) went into his routine, became more vocal the nearer I got to the nest, even to the point of flying close in front of me to the opposite side of the nest to draw me away. But when I followed him as if I believed he was injured, he just walked faster, waited until I caught up and then scampered another five feet or so.

I finally decided my attention might be stressing her (I now assumed Killdeer was Mother) and stopped inciting her into her performance. "You know me now. You don't need to act. I won't bother them, okay?" She never answered in any way I understood, but she tended to give me more leeway.

Killdeer isn't impressive by human standards, despite her theatrics. This wasn't like the time a falcon swooped five feet off the ground through my campsite in the mountains, clasping a chipmunk in talons and making it scream its swan song. Killdeer's chortles don't even compare to Puma's roar I once heard from only fifty feet away.

But Killdeer made me laugh, she was so good at her portrayal. Three times she made me instinctively move to inspect her injury, and away from her nest. Despite my 99 percentile exam score, I automatically reverted to dumb human when it came to a test on the

We talked more, me about assassinations, she about I don't know what, except maybe the lines she'd memorized to go along with her melodrama. I think she came to tolerate me, mostly because I didn't eat her eggs; an apparently vegetarian competitor is not much of a challenge, no matter my monologues on topics like assassination.

Last I checked, she was still there, eggs intact; she feinted when I showed up, just not as much. During the hottest time of the day, she covered the eggs with her wings, though she did so without exposing those bright feathers she lured me with earlier.

So, in a week of no great discovery, Killdeer discovered me, teased me, and tricked me into believing a primordial routine her ancestors perfected hundreds of thousands of years before mine were reproducing to one day perfect me. Despite my exam scores, I think Killdeer's better. Hell, she even convinced me to give up the assassination idea.

Besides, whatever thrills my Boettcher interviewers and that fiction editor might have gotten out of culling me from the list of species-worth-surviving, I got something more from Killdeer in the
monte. There's a word or, better, a phrase for it, but the experience still thrills me too much to care to come up with one. Maybe I'll ask her, when she's done with her run.

NB: The day after I finished this piece I got another rejection letter, from a lit agent. So I returned to the
monte this morning. Got to see Mom and Dad together, and now there's three eggs! That's enough for me; I'm not going back.

© Rudy Ch. Garcia

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Take this . . . It’s gone . . . ring . . . forever . . .


"Kum pangi," she answers.

"Kum pangi. Gold ring," I echo, happy to be understood. Taking the paper and china marker from me, the mess hall woman tells me twenty-five dollar too much-ee, you pay five dollar. Deeply appreciating her kindness and good advice, I explain, Me know. Taksan. Too muchee. It’s OK, I pay twenty-five. I want to pay the outrageous reward. I know the annual per capita income for the average Korean is just around twenty-five dollars. The offer is my strategy for what should be a vain hope. In this isolated third-world outpost, things of value leak into "the ville" and never return.

My fingers pull at the devil grass, digging deep into the soft dirt to worry out all the pernicious roots. Foxtails are easier. Grab a handful and yank. The roots hold copious soil that needs to be shaken andpounded back into the garden. My mind wanders to thoughts of my lost and found kum pangi as I work the new vegetable bed. Yank. Dig. Shake. Toss. Kum pangi. Yank. The offer had worked like a charm. Shake, toss. The Head Houseboy had brought my ring to me privately, claimed the reward and skulked away. Slicky boy honcho.

My left thumbcurls under to touch a finger, reaching expectantly to feel the familiar edge of the ring and see its details as always in my mind. The naked finger stuns me. At the instant, I stare vacantly, comprehending not just that I’ve lost my wedding ring, but that I will never see it again. And the bitter irony. In the summer of 1969, thousands of miles from home, the miraculous recovery of what should have been gone forever. Today, with sumner 2005 arriving, I lose my ring in my own backyard. I will never see my ring again.
Kum pangi.

Years from now, a child, grumbling as I once did having to pull weeds and cultivate a parent’s garden, reaches for a clump of foxtail grass, grown dry in early summer’s heat. The clump struggles only a little before tearing loose from the loamy bed. The child thumps the clod onto the dirt to free the soil clinging to the matted roots. The kid recognizes the glint of gold in the clump, threads nimble fingers into the rootball. A ring! Lustrous gold surrounds silver black with age. The child, whose family has lived in this house and worked its earth for generations, runs yelling happily to the house, I found the ring!

Monday, June 13, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

C. M. Mayo was born in El Paso, Texas in 1961, raised in California and educated as an economist at the University of Chicago. A long-time resident of Mexico City, she now divides her time between Mexico City and Washington DC. Catherine’s list of literary accomplishments are too long to list here but I note that her books include Miraculous Air: Journey of a Thousand Miles through Baja California, the other Mexico (University of Utah Press, 2002), which the Los Angeles Times lauds as "luminous" and the Interamerican Studies Institute calls "the best new book about Mexico in many years." She is editing an anthology of Mexican fiction and literary prose in translation, Mexico: A Traveler’s Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press), which is due out October 1, 2005. Catherine is the founding editor of Tameme, the bilingual (Spanish/English) literary journal now operating as a chapbook publisher. Her most recent translations of Mexican poetry appear in the anthology edited by Michael Wiegers and Mónica de la Torre, Reversable Monuments (Copper Canyon). Though of Irish descent, Catherine has the soul of a Mexican!

IN THE FLESH: We’ve got some great book appearances here in Southern California coming up this week. Here are a few:

◘ Francisco Aragón will read and sign his new poetry collection, Puerta del Sol (Bilingual Press), Thursday, June 16th, at 7:30 p.m., Village Books, 1049 Swarthmore Ave., Pacific Palisades, CA. Phone: (310) 454-4063. I recently reviewed his collection. You may read Francsico’s profile on Poetry Daily.

Luis Alberto Urrea has appearances for his much-praised new novel, Hummingbird’s Daughter (Little, Brown):

Tuesday, June 14, 7 p.m., Dutton’s Brentwood, 11975 San Vicente Blvd.. Los Angeles. Phone: (310) 476-6263.

Wednesday, June 15, 7 p.m., Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Phone: (626) 449-5320.

◘ Salvador Plascencia will read and sign his debut novel, The People of Paper (McSweeney’s Books), Saturday, June 18, 7:30 p.m., Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027. Phone: (323) 660-1175. Salvador is an author to watch…I had a chance to read a portion of his novel for the anthology I’m editing (see below) and I now have a copy of the novel itself. He is a remarkable talent.

◘ Rene Colato Laínez will read and sign his children’s book, I am Rene the Boy (Arte Público Press), on Thursday, June 16, 6 p.m., Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural, 12737 Glenoaks Blvd., Sylmar. Phone: (818) 362-7060. Enjoy this bilingual picture book which follows Colato Laínez's own experiences as a child. This witty story about a young boy's odyssey to find out the meaning of his name will challenge readers aged 3 to 7 to chart cross-cultural differences by gaining an understanding about themselves and the people around them.

Release party for Ariel Robello’s My Sweet Unconditional: Poems (Tía Chucha Press, 2005), on Saturday, June 18, 7:30 p.m., 8:00 to 10:00 p.m., at Imix Bookstore, 5052 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles. Phone: (323) 257-2512. Ariel received a PEN West Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellowship in 2002. She teaches poetry in Los Angeles public high schools and English in the garment district.

BLOGGING ELSEWHERE: ◘ The Elegant Variation (run by the incomparable Mark Sarvas) republished my review of the late Mario Suárez’s Chicano Sketches (University of Arizona Press) which first appeared in Southwest BookViews. ◘ Laila Lalami’s literary blog, Moorishgirl, ran my essay, Latino Books Month: Una Bendicíon Mezclada. Keep an eye out for Laila’s first book of fiction, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits (Algonquin Books, October 2005).

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: As some of you may know, I am editing an anthology of short fiction by Latinos/as in which the City of Los Angeles plays an integral role. I am interested in provocative stories on virtually any subject by both established and new writers. Stories may range from social realism to cuentos de fantasma and anything in between. Los Angeles may be a major "character" or merely lurking in the background. I'd like to see characters who represent diverse backgrounds in terms of ethnicity, profession, age, sexual orientation, etc. Preferred length: 500 to 5,000 words. Stories may be previously published (please indicate where). Chapters from novels will be considered if they can stand alone. Award-winning publisher is interested but wants to see final manuscript. Please e-mail your story, using standard submission formatting, as a Word document to In the e-mail, include your contact information, list of previous publications (if any), and the ethnicity(ies) with which you identify. DEADLINE: September 1, 2005. I’ve already received some wonderful responses…don’t be left out!

REVIEWS: AmoxCalli reviews Luis Alberto Urrea’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter (Little, Brown).

All done. Until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Friday, June 10, 2005

Latinas, Sun, and Spain

Manuel Ramos

Tenth Anniversary of Latina Letters
The Fifth Sun
International Conference on Chicano Literature

Tenth Anniversary of Latina Letters
A schedule for the 10-Year Anniversary of Latina Letters has been posted on the Campus News site of St. Mary's University. Here it is:

PLACE: All events in San Antonio at St. Mary's University Center, Conference Room A, except a Saturday evening event which is at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center.

COST: Professional educators, $60; students and public, $20.

SCHEDULE:* Thursday, July 14, 1 to 6 p.m. Conference registration and housing check-in.* Thursday, 7 p.m., Opening banquet. Reading by Sandra Cisneros. $25, Tickets: Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center Book Store at (210) 351-7787. (Must be purchased by Friday, July 8).* Friday, July 15, 7 p.m. Readings by Pat Mora and Ana Menéndez (Loving Che).* Saturday, July 16, 7 p.m. Readings by Lorna Dee Cervantes and Alicia Gaspar de Alba. Screening of Lourdes Portillo's documentary film about the murders of young women in Juárez, Señoritas Extraviada / Missing Young Women, at the Guadalupe Theater, 1300 Guadalupe Street. Free and open to the public.

FROM THE DIRECTOR: In 2005 we celebrate 10 years of what critics have called "one of the nation's most important gatherings about literature by Hispanic women." This year, we will discuss and celebrate three decades of Latina Literature in the U.S. The "crossing over" of U.S. Latino/a literature into the awareness of the general American reader began in the 1980s with the publication of Sandra Cisneros' "The House on Mango Street" by Arte Público. The widespread popularity of "The House on Mango Street," led to its eventual publication by Random House, to the awarding of a MacArthur "Genius" fellowship to a Latina writer, and eventually to the acceptance of the significant Latina literary market by the mainstream publishing houses of New York.On its 10-year anniversary, Latina Letters applauds Sandra Cisneros for helping to open the gates of the mainstream for many Latina writers to follow. Also participating in Latina Letters is a voice of the '80s, poet Lorna Dee Cervantes who will read from her new work. For the decade of the '90s we celebrate Pat Mora, Chicana poet extraordinaire, who opened the mainstream doors to Latina children's literature. Representing the first decade of the 21st century are Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Cuban-American Ana Menéndez, two writers whose works explore both political and social issues in the form of fiction.Latina Letters will be a forum for issues of literature, art, identity, ethnicity and gender, continuing as it has from the beginning to focus awareness on these important issues.
Gwendolyn Díaz, Ph.D. Director, Latina Letters

The Fifth Sun - Mary Helen Lagasse
I mentioned a few months ago (March 11) that The Fifth Sun by Mary Helen Lagasse won the 2004 Patricia and Rudolfo Anaya Premio Atzlán. I had included her novel in a post about some of the best books of 2004. She recently sent a message and I wanted to make sure that her information got heard. Mary Helen says that the subject of her lecture when she received the Premio Atzlán was Breaking Barrio Images: A Voice From The Deep South. She commented that "Señor Anaya thought this a very good topic since, as he said, there are no other prize-winning Chicana writers from the Deep South--certainly not from New Orleans!" Her publisher, Curbstone Press, is a small house, publicity is scarce and Mary Helen worries that her book will fall between the cracks. To date The Fifth Sun has won three literary awards: The Miguel Marmol Latina First Fiction Award; the Rudolfo & Patricia Anaya Premio Atzlán for Best Debut Novel Written in English by a Latina, and most recently at the Book Expo, the Independent Publishers 2005 IPPY Award for Best Multicultural Fiction. Moreover, the book was cited as a Best Debut Novel of 2004 by the New Orleans Times Picayune (12/04), and has garnered a number of excellent reviews. The Fifth Sun appears destined to become a classic Chicano novel and Mary Helen Lagasse definitely a writer to watch. Now, if we can just help out the sales.

The Fifth Sun is the story of Mercedes, a young Mexican woman who leaves her village to work as a housemaid in New Orleans. This novel takes her through her adventures in New Orleans, her marriage, her struggle to raise her children, her deportation, and her attempt to re-cross the river and be reunited with her children. And the novel takes place during the Roaring Twenties and the Depression, unique time periods for stories about Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.

International Conference on Chicano Literature
Here's something to plan for: The Research Institute for North American Studies (IUIEN) of the University of Alcala has announced that the Fifth International Conference on Chicano Literature is scheduled for April 19, 20 and 21, 2006, in Madrid. At least those are the dates on the Institute's website. Teresa Márquez of the University of New Mexico, a regular attendee at the conference, tells me that the conference will take place on May 22-25, 2006. If you are interested in receiving information about this conference or the previous conferences (Granada 1998, Vitoria 2000, Malaga 2002, Seville 2004), you can ask for it at the following address:

I think the boys from La Bloga should be special guests at this hoedown. Send us an invitation, air fare, and we will take care of the rest. A panel on Chicano Lit-Blogs? Simón, León.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Those dear hearts and gentle people...


The day I moved out of my parents' home and into a college dorm--the old "Las Casitas" at UCSB--I met a bunch of guys whom I still love. It was September 1963. This weeked, June 2005, my wife & I drove up to Santa Clara to celebrate the 60th birthdays of two of those guys. What a reunion of we five! We were roomies for several years in Isla Vista, but after we took our BAs, we went into the world. Two of us did time in the Army, another expatriated himself for 11 years, the other two followed relatively normal careers into medicine and law.

But this isn't old home week. I'm wondering where, in Chicano Literature, we have dear hearts and gentle people books? I remember in high school enjoying the heck out of Mary McCarthy's The Group, and feeling instant nostalgia for what I hoped would be my own group of life-long friendships. I enjoyed Alisa Valez-Rodriguez'The Dirty Girls' Social Club, another story of longtime friendships that echos McCarthy's novel in my mind. Then there is Penelope Lively's The Photograph, that I enjoyed less. It's the same kind of story--but not warm and fuzzy-- involving people around my age, and that was cool.

So, where are our novels of friendship and growing older?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Spotlight on María Amparo Escandón

Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

María Amparo Escandón is the author of the best-selling novel, Esperanza's Box of Saints (Simon & Schuster, 1999), and its Spanish version, Santitos (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 2002). Both Newsweek and the Los Angeles Times named her the “Writer to Watch” in 1999 and 2000, respectively. María also wrote the screenplay Santitos, which was produced by John Sayles and directed by Alejandro Springall in Mexico. Her new book, Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking Co.: A Road Novel with Literary License, was released by Three Rivers Press in April. She is an advisor at the Sundance Screenwriters Labs, the Fundación Contenidos de Creación Creative Writing Workshops and the Latino Screenwriters Lab. María also teaches fiction writing at UCLA Extension.

NOTICIAS: HarperCollins/Rayo recently released the paperback edition of Michael Jaime-Becerra’s Every Night Is Ladies' Night: Stories. I reviewed this wonderful, evocative collection for Southwest BookViews last year. ◘ A must read is Chicano Sketches by the late Mario Suárez, edited by Francisco A. Lomelí, Cecilia Cota-Robles Suárez and Juan José Casillas-Núñez (University of Arizona Press, 2004). This short-story collection is an invaluable contribution to the study of Chicano fiction; read my review in Southwest BookViews. ◘ Gina MarySol Ruiz’s literary blog, AmoxCalli, posts insightful book reviews on a regular basis. ◘ Check out the June issue of Somos Primos, the site dedicated to “Hispanic heritage and diversity issues” edited by Mimi Lozano.

GLOSSY FOR US: The editors of the new Tu Ciudad Magazine Los Angeles describe their creation as follows: “This magazine will look at Los Angeles through a Latino prism, exploring the duality of bicultural life in a city that morphs into something different on a daily basis.”

AUTHOR’S QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I think the magic of fiction is that in many ways it's more true than non-fiction. By that I mean that fiction can take you into truths of feeling and it lends itself better to the kind of trance that allows a reader to smell and taste the world I'm trying to evoke.” —Luis Alberto Urrea discussing his new book, The Hummingbird's Daughter (Little, Brown), and his decision to render the life of his aunt Teresita as a novel rather than biography. Read the entire Urrea interview on The Elegant Variation here. MÁS NOTICIAS SOBRE URREA: Felicidades to Luis because The Hummingbird’s Daughter just made the Los Angeles Times’ bestsellers list for hardcover books sold in Southern California (number 10 out of 15 books listed).

LIBRERÍAS: Splashes of Color is a non-profit bookstore in Sylmar specializing in multicultural and bilingual books for children ages 4-18 years of age. They also carry some parenting literature to help with certain issues that might arise within the families. ◘ Flor y Canto is a not-for-profit community center and radical bookstore run entirely by volunteers and which is intended to create a social space that promotes the self-development and self-sufficiency of the diverse, multi-ethnic community of North East L.A.

OVER THE TRANSOM: I’m so lucky! Because I review, I get beautiful FREE books in the mail. I just received two poetry collections: Furia (Milkweed Editions) by Orlando Ricardo Menes, and Pity the Drowned Horses (University of Notre Dame Press) by Sheryl Luna. My review of Luna's collection just went live on LatinoLA. More to come on the Menes collection.

THE PLAY’S THE THING: The Latino Theatre Company, located in downtown Los Angeles, is committed to creating and producing passionate, truthful and professional world-class theater by developing and producing new Latino plays and playwrights that examine in bold contemporary terms, the Latino/a experience in the United States. Visit the theatre online for upcoming productions and opportunities.

All done. Until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!