Friday, September 30, 2005

¿Qué hay de nuevo, huevo?

Manuel Ramos

I had been working on a novel but writer's block kicked in hard, some would call it a lack of ambition, and anyhow I was getting antsy for my upcoming trip through the Heart of Aztlán, southern Colorado and northern New Mexico, so I found myself at my local independent book store, just browsing as I told the eager-to-be-helpful saleslady.

In the New Hardback Fiction shelves I spied a few books that have some relevance to La Bloga, some have even been reviewed on this site: Isabel Allende's Zorro; Rudolfo Anaya's Serafina's Stories and Jemez Spring; Luis J. Rodriguez's Music of the Mill; Benjamin Alire Sáenz's In Perfect Light; and Luis Urrea's Hummingbird's Daughter. Some of these titles had only one copy remaining - new orders already submitted, I assumed. A good showing but not enough, I thought in my usual "the glass is half-full, but still half-empty" style. Over on the New Paperback Fiction shelves I was pleased to discover ¡Caramba! by Nina Marie Martínez - that book deserves a chance at picking up a much bigger audience. In the New Non-Fiction Paperback section, Urrea's The Devil's Highway stood alone - no other Chicano writers on these shelves.

I meandered over to the Periodicals section and eventually bought the current issue of World Literature Today, Bob Dylan on the cover - the classic photograph used on his Greatest Hits, Volume 1 album - and there was my man, Rudolfo Anaya, on page 88 in an Author Profile. The profile asserted that "Bless Me, Ultima can be specifically credited, along with Tomás Rivera's And the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1971), with initiating the Chicano Renaissance in literature in the 1970s. These two novels broke new ground in their expression of Mexican American culture. Bless Me, Ultima is the novel most credited with establishing a vision of the Chicano world and defining the Mexican American experience in the twentieth century." The piece went on with a capsule review of Jemez Spring. WLT has an online interview with Anaya on this page.

I leafed through the rest of the mag and, surprise, surprise, an essay from Denise Chávez entitled, La Vecindad/The Neighborhood (page 39). One thing I enjoyed about this essay was Chávez's tribute to the almost mythic, all-night, rock-and-roll radio station that blared out of Oklahoma City: KOMA. I grew up on that stuff. In the middle of the night, in the very small town of Florence, Colorado, KOMA introduced at least one coming-of-age mocoso to the magic of teenage music and all that it could mean: slow dancing in the corner of the gym, making out in a back seat, The Stroll and The Twist, and a rhythm to go along with the crazy tempo of the times.
I learned that Chávez is working on The King and Queen of Comezón, a novel set on the U.S. - Mexican border.

So much for my trip to the book store. A few other news items: Norma Elia Cantú has finished her latest book, Champú, or Hair Matters, a collection of short stories combined into one narrative, much like her first novel, Canícula. No word on a publication date. Also new, from the Music department, Freddie Fender and Flaco Jimenez team up again on a new album, Dos Amigos. Have to pick that up. The CD I mentioned previously on La Bloga, Rolas de Aztlán: Songs of the Chicano Movement, es de aquella - a great collection of music from Yo Soy Chicano (Los Alvarados) to No Nos Moverán (La Rondalla Amerindia de Aztlán) to a previously unreleased track from Los Lobos, El Tilingo Lingo, to the ultimate Chicano Park Samba by Chunky Sánchez and Los Alacranes Mojados, and so on for 19 tracks. Very cool.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not mention that October 1 is opening night for El Sol Que Tu Eres, the much-anticipated new play from Anthony Garcia and Daniel Valdez. Garcia is the writer and director of the play and also one of the founders and current head of Denver's Su Teatro theater company. Valdez wrote the music for the play. He, of course, has his roots in El Teatro Campesino and is all over the aforementioned Rolas de Aztlán CD (several selections from El Teatro Campesino as well as his América de los indios.) You can find out more about the venue, tickets, and the play at El Centro Su Teatro's website. There also is a good story in the current Westword. According to the Westword story, the title of the play comes from a duet that Valdez did with Linda Ronstadt on the 1987 album, Canciones de Mi Padre. The play reworks Marcel Camus's 1959 film Black Orpheus, which was an adaptation of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Garcia notes that even though the plot follows the story line of the ancient myth, it is a "very contemporary story. ... It's the story of the role of art and the ability to transcend all the restrictions of the mortal world. ... It's asking, 'Can progress, love and compassion triumph in a world with the encroachment of fascism? Can these ideas last?'" Híjole.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

Becoming Naomi Leon

Becoming Naomi Leon is one of the best children's books that I have read in many years. It is the touching story of a bi-cultural brother and sister abandoned by their mother and living in their Grandmother's trailer named Baby Beluga in Lemon Tree, California.

Naomi is a shy, quiet girl who carves soap into animals and makes lists. Owen is an FLK (Funny Looking Kid) who dreams of bicycles and wears tape on his clothes for comfort. Grandma is a fiesty, postive-thinking and loving woman who tries her best to expose the children to their Mexican culture. They live in relative happiness until the day their mother shows up. She devotes her time and gifts to Naomi, ignoring Owen in spite of his obvious desire to have her love.

As Naomi's mother spends more time in Lemon Tree, her motives for coming to see her children become threatening so Grandma and the wonderful Mexican neighbors band together to protect the children.

Becoming Naomi Leon is an eloquent and moving story of an extended family, a mother that is a danger to her children, a hunt for a missing father that takes the reader on an extended tour of Oaxaca and the beauty to be found there. It is simple and elegant; painful and sweet. This book will touch your heart and show you love in it's purest form.

Pam Munoz Ryan has written an ageless and beautiful story that will stay with me for a very long time.

Next week: Condorito

Hasta pronto,

Gina MarySol Ruiz

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Shooting Peace Protestors

Michael Sedano

 If you depend on your local newspaper for news, you're likely not to know there's a Peace Movement happening in this country. Here are photos and a slide show of one manifestation of public discourse.

Across the country, people massed on Saturday, September 24 to say, Bring the troops home now! In Washington DC, 100,000 souls massed (200,000 according to march organizers), in LA 50,000 massed (15,000 according to police). San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, maybe even your city, had demonstrations. Sadly, my local rag, The LA Times buried its story on page 15 (and requires registration if you'd like to read the coverage).

The NY Times noted,

Rallies held on Saturday in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and other cities drew considerably smaller crowds, but unlike the more varied themes of recent protests against administration policies, antiwar sentiment on Saturday was consistent throughout. In Washington, it was evident from the start, as an organizer screamed over the microphone, "Let Bush and Cheney and the White House hear our message: Bring the troops home now."

 The Washington Post declared,

 Out there, in front of the Washington Monument, it was eerily reminiscent of another place and time, a time when the Old Guard was young and the Young Guard didn't yet exist, and people made a point of not putting their trust in anyone over a certain age.

A friend of mine exclaimed,

jeez, i must be living in a cocoon. didn't hear of it. haven't watched t.v. and i wonder if the l.a. times covered it.

I attended the LA march with a group of school teachers. We formed up behind the United Teachers Los Angeles banner. It was like old times seeing that disarmament icon Peace symbol. Just in front of the teachers, Latinos For Peace, sponsors of the 100,000 by 8/29/06 Campaign. Behind us Communists followed by Unionists followed by Veterans. And filling in the spaces, contingents of GDI who show up for events like these. The LA Times mentioned Mother Nature, but she didn’t have a good sign, so I didn’t shoot her. I hit the jackpot with the hula-hooping Scheherazade who kept her face hidden, the raging mimes, and people along the route.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Abelardo de la Peña, Jr. is the editor and founder of, the Web site dedicated to Southern California’ arts, entertainment, culture and community. De la Peña was born in Long Beach and grew up in Wilmington. His partents came from Jalísco, Mexico. Out of high school, de la Peña enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Viet Nam War era, serving two years before being honorably discharged. In an interview last year with Frankie Firme (the producer and host of the "2nd Time Around Show,” one of the last true Oldies but Goodies radio shows in Los Angeles), he said, "After basic training, there were two buses going in two different to Viet Nam, and one to Germany. I don't know how or why, but I ended up on the one to Germany." De la Peña is married to his high school sweetheart, Linda, and they are the proud parents of two sons who have also served the United States in the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq and in the Army National Guard. De la Peña told Frankie Firme that he doesn’t "advocate war, by any means, and I worry and pray for all our young people in a war zone."

With respect to LatinoLA, de la Peña explained to Firme: "I've always had an interest in journalism. I spent some years working in advertising and marketing, so I know people have a need and a want to be informed about things happening in their community. About ten years ago, I was hit with an urge to get re-acquainted with cultural happenings in the Latino community, and found informative sources lacking centralization. I did what a lot of Gente did, read different newspapers and magazines, watched TV and listened to radio, then gleaned the information I wanted. About six years ago, I started playing with the Internet, and started e-mailing friends about the happenings I was finding out about in the scattered L.A. community regarding art, music and entertainment. Gradually, I began getting e-mail responses back, asking to 'be kept on the mailing list.'"

This list eventually evolved in LatinoLA which, no doubt, is the best resource for all things Latino in L.A. As he explained to Firme, de la Peña chose the term “Latino” because “[t]here are such large numbers of Latinos in Los Angeles from so many different countries that it makes L.A. the center of the Latino universe, simply by sheer numbers. Rather than exclude any group, LatinoLA says it all. We are all Latinos, we are all proud, beautiful people, and our points of view need no defining. We know where we're coming from...and now we're letting the world in on that!"

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Next Sunday, October 2, 10:00 a.m. to noon, I will be signing Benjamin and the Word (Piñata Books) at the Storyopolis booth at the 4th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair. Many wonderful writers will be participating this year including María Amparo Escandón, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, David Hernandez and Luis J. Rodriguez. Click here for a complete list of participating authors.

CHICANO LIT IN DENVER: Our friend, Richard Yañez (author of El Paso del Norte: Stories on the Border), sends an article from the Denver Post entitled, “Common grounds: The next generation of Chicanos keep the movement alive at a North Denver coffee shop's poetry and arts gatherings,” written by Vanessa Delgado. Read the whole article here.

NUEVOS LIBROS: Richard Blanco’s second book of poetry, Directions to the Beach of the Dead (Camino del Sol), has just been published by The University of Arizona Press. And this October, Pantheon Books will publish H.G. Carrillo’s first novel, Loosing My Espanish. More on these new books later.

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

Friday, September 23, 2005

La Malinche to Curbstone

Manuel Ramos

In this post: Lucha Corpi, Infinite Divisions, Chicano Detective Fiction, Curbstone Press.

Lucha Corpi
Gina's splendid review yesterday of Prietita and The Ghost Woman and her observation that "[m]aybe La Llorona is just another aspect of Tonantzin the Earth Mother, La Virgen de Guadalupe. Maybe the sound of her wailing is because we don’t listen, we’re forgetting our lore, our heirbas, our recetas, our language. Quien sabe?" got me to thinking of other books (notice how often my brain kicks in after reading a post by one of my compas here on La Bloga?) where such themes occur, where the traditional tales are applied to current situations. That train of thought took me to Lucha Corpi and her novel Black Widow's Wardrobe. Lucha has published five novels, four of which usually are classified as Chicano detective fiction. Black Widow's Wardrobe appeared in 1999 (Arte Público Press). Here's an excerpt from a review I did of this book back then:

"Black Widow's Wardrobe is nothing less than a re-telling of the legend and myth of La Malinche, Cortez's mistress branded forever as a traitor. The use of La Malinche signals a deepening of the trend of the past several years to rewrite Malinche's story in order to overcome the inherent sexism and racism of that history. In Corpi's book, Malinche is the target of betrayal, not its purveyor, and she definitely is not her husband's victim. Corpi also flips the myth of La Llorona on its head. The ancient tale of the woman who murdered her children and was thus forced to cry forever along riverbanks, which has been used for centuries by mothers and grandmothers to instill good behavior in unruly children, gets a complete overhaul in Corpi's mystery novel. Under Corpi's pen, the children are the possible murderers of their mother and it is they who must suffer the consequences. ... This is a Chicana tale of discovery and reaffirmation, and a cultural reclamation project that just happens to have a detective as a protagonist."

Infinite Divisions
If you are interested in reading more about what Chicana writers have done with the old myths, such as La Llorona or Malinche, I suggest a good starting point is the excellent Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature, edited by Tey Diana Rebolledo and Eliana S. Rivero (University of Arizona Press, 1993). An entire section of this book is devoted to Myths and Archetypes, and it includes selections from authors such as Pat Mora, Carmen Tafolla, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Sandra Cisneros, and Corpi.

Here's a taste of the poem La Malinche by Carmen Tafolla:

But Chingada I was not.
Not tricked, not screwed, not traitor.
For I was not traitor to myself ---
I saw a dream
and I reached it.
Another world .....
la raza.
la raaaaa-zaaaaa...

Chicano Detective Fiction
Speaking of Chicano detective fiction - the critical study of five novelists in this genre (including Lucha Corpi), Chicano Detective Fiction by Susan Baker Sotelo (McFarland & C0., 2005) received a very positive review in the most recent issue (#8) of Crime Spree Magazine, the best of the mystery magazines, in my opinion. The review said, "While this book is obviously set up to be used as a text book, it is a wonderful introduction to a group of writers who are becoming more and more influential. Sotelo's love for the work shows through out the book. It is extremely well researched and informative, and while it could easily become dry reading, it doesn't. It made me want to go back and reread some of these books with different eyes."

Curbstone Press
Congratulations to Curbstone Press, which celebrates its 30th anniversary on September 25 at Eastern Connecticut State University from noon to 5 p.m. The party will include a gala poetry reading, some very special honored guests, a Latin American buffet meal, and more, alfresco under festive tents. Find out more about the party at this web page. Curbstone is dedicated to "creative literature that invites readers to examine social issues, encourages a deeper understanding between cultures, and reflects a commitment to promoting human rights." This press has published several Latino/a writers over the years (Ana Castillo's latest, Watercolor Women / Opaque Men is from Curbstone), and many of them will be at the party. Not to be a name-dropper, but the Curbstone website says that they expect at least the following Latino/a writers to attend: Claribel Alegría, Arturo Arias, Naomi Ayala, Martín Espada, Lorraine López, Nicholasa Mohr, and Luis J. Rodríguez. That's an impressive guest list for any party.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Prietita and The Ghost Woman

Title: Prietita & The Ghost Woman/Prietita y la Llorona
Author: Gloria E. Anzaldúa
Illustrator: Maya Christina Gonzalez
Publisher: Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 0892391367

Which of us Chicanos didn’t grow up afraid of La Llorono y el Cucui? I for one stayed up at night worrying that La Llorona was coming for me and remain slightly obsessed with her story. If I had had this lovely folktale by the late Gloria Anzaldúa, Xicana feminist poet, writer, teacher and activist I might have wanted to meet La Llorona instead of terrified she’d come and get me.

This is the story of Prietita, whose mother is gravely ill. The curandera has told Prietita that only ruda will cure her mother and so brave Prietita sets off in search of it to the dangerous King Ranch where they shoot trespassers. She encounters various creatures on her way and asks each, the salamander, the dove and the deer if they know where the plant grows but none know. La Llorona appears and guides Prietita to the plant and to safety.

The story is lovely. Prietita and the other women in the story are strong and brave Chicanas. The Aztec lore, our herbal healing traditions and love of family are depicted throughout the tale. There’s history here and culture. I loved it when the dove answered “cucurrucucu”. It immediately brought to mind the song Cucurrucucu Paloma and Lola Beltran’s voice singing it. Just one perfect word brings up a surge of memory, of Xicanidad, of casa y comal, of love and family. Each page, each paragraph does this, touches the heart, the very core of being Chicano. It’s astounding. The book would stand alone without the illustrations – Gloria Anzaldúa’s writing is so poetic, so evocative that you can see the people, the animals, La Llorona, feel the emotions, smell the night air, the ruda, the very earth.

However, the illustrations by Maya Chrisina Gonzalez are equally astounding. They’re gorgeous. The green of the nopal, the strong Chicana faces, the long black hair flowing, the colors, the light, the warmth! Looking at these illustrations makes me feel I’m in the Southwest, I can almost touch the life in them. What struck me most was the eyes of the women and Prietita. Ojitos Mexicanos que bonitos!

I love the idea too, of La Llorona being a helping spirit. It got me thinking. Maybe La Llorona is just another aspect of Tonantzin the Earth Mother, La Virgen de Guadalupe. Maybe the sound of her wailing is because we don’t listen, we’re forgetting our lore, our heirbas, our recetas, our language. Quien sabe? What I do know is this book made me think and think hard. It made me re-think. Children will love it and adults will too. I can see this book being great in a classroom. It invites discussion and I think everyone will love it as much as my granddaughter and I do.

Until next week.

Gina Marysol Ruiz

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Ed Maya's Primer for Peace Movement

Michael Sedano

Ed Maya. Memories 1971-1986. Pasadena CA: MS.

Experienced activists know activism is often its only reward. They likely remember the highs that come during early organizing efforts, and the lows and bitterness that can follow. For these leaders, and newer organizers of today's fast-growing but nascent peace movement, Ed Maya has written an oral history of the early Pasadena movimiento that offers encouragement along with a cautionary tale.

In 1971, Maya was hired to teach high school Chicano Literature in a Pasadena school system roiled by forced busing, ethnic politics, internal strife, and sour community relations. He was the MECHA adviser during student walkouts and several other confrontations. Later, he was a board member of a razacentric community services agency, El Centro, during a period of rapid budget growth that enhanced community services.

Punctilious tipos might question Ed's historiography on grounds that participant observers have axes to grind. Ed's not sharpening any edges, that I can see. His agenda fully reflects the title: Memories 1971-1986. Maya let a few years pass, then talked to leaders he worked with. He let a few more years pass before compiling those conversations into this self-published manuscript in 2005. To call the manuscript a nostalgic memoir is to miss Ed's critically important agenda: to identify the motives, memories, and pitfalls of a movement that rose to key peaks, attained success, then consumed itself and people's careers.

El Centro, a political backwater in Pasadena's black-white agon, rose to influence through dedication, labor, and a stroke of luck. El Centro had been housed in a small building that city fathers announced they would raze. Centro researchers discovered the structure was a cultural landmark designed by the revered Craftsman architects Greene and Greene. The City was forced to refurbish the structure, giving El Centro a secure organizing base.

After a series of successful efforts to reverse city attempts to urban renew people out of their homes, El Centro was gaining influence and had begun to attract "establishment" grant money. For instance, El Centro's leadership reached out to the United Way, then saw the budget grow from tiny to six figures. Then, internal problems led to the dismissal of several staffers. The staffers launched a bitter campaign against El Centro, writing letters to funding sources accusing El Centro's leadership of all manner of unethical and illegal behaviors. The matter was resolved only after El Centro filed a successful libel suit against the embittered former staffers. Although emerging the winner in the pedo, the activist director was burned out and, disheartened, abandoned her post. The cautionary tale for today's activists: El Centro's internal strife originated from diverging personal interests and loose organizational control that allowed competing strategic approaches to reach an egregious critical mass.

Three of Ed's interviewees were middle school kids who spoke of how the high school MECHistas didn't treat them like kids but as Chicanos who needed information. It's an important lesson because organizers of such key groups as Latinos for Peace and Latinos Contra La Guerra en Irak are senior citizen veteranos of the 60s movimiento who cannot carry the load without support from school age youth. If today's movement is to grow, it needs consistent and unrelenting commitment from youth. That, Maya's book illustrates, is nothing to count on.

In Pasadena schools, MECHA teachers found to their disappointment that succeeding generations of students valued the student organization less for its political activism than as a social outlet. Intially, the social aspect has a political payoff. Ed recounts the history of the 5 de Mayo celebrations. School administrators sought to dilute the event by creating a pan-ethnic celebration. As a counter, MECHA kids and teachers organized a 5 de Mayo dance and celebration. It was during this time that an administrator told Ed his Chicano Studies classes would have to go on without textbooks. The 400 plus kids who went to the dance told an important story to the blustering adminstrator, whom MECHA invited to the dance. The next week, the administrator called Ed and asked what titles he needed. Money had miraculously appeared to buy the texts. Ed notes wryly the adminstrator didn't want to see those 400 kids and parents crowding his office to demand the books. The walkouts and confrontations had given them leverage.

Not that extreme tactics always work out. Ed interviews three middle school students who used confrontation disadvantageously. Confronting the Spanish-surname school Superintendent, the kids ask him if he's Chicano like them. The Superintendent denies the identity, offering "Mexican American". One of the kids calls the Superintendent a "tio taco," permanently alienating the man. Not that the Superintendent was anti-Chicano. Ed recounts how the conservative, anglo-dominated School Board had tied the adminstrator's hands and describes how the Superintendent used nonverbal communication to urge Ed and a group of protestors to ramp up their pressure tactics.

Unfortunately, extremism is often in the eyes of the beholder. The woman who would become El Centro's founding executive was invited by MECHA to speak to a school assembly about ethnicity. Describing what she saw as facts about brown-white relations upset the son of a school board member who thought she was race baiting. A Vice Principal shared the boy's perception. During the woman's speech, the VP sounded the evacuation alarm, stopping the assembly by emptyinig the hall. This was the same administrator who demanded students use a bullfighter on a 5 de Mayo poster. Raza packed a series of school board meetings that illustrated the vast space between administrative fiat and what Chicanas Chicanos wanted from their schools. Some positive change came about, but the woman was permanently banned from stepping foot on Pasadena school grounds.

Resources for organizers include the theories of Freire and Alinsky, but no primer on the nuts and bolts of doing movements. This is one reason why I look for Maya to fine tune and update these recollections, or at least, give it a life on the world wide web for others to share. If there's a major flaw to be found in Maya's manuscript, it will be akin to the critic's complaint "show me don't tell me." Ed allows his oral informants to tell a reader that events occurred, not how. Contemporaneously, a high school teacher at LA's Roosevelt High is organizing an Opt-Out movement initiated by MECHA. Memories 1971-1986 will be inspiring for them. It could be more. I'm sure I'm not alone in hearing rumbles about a "chicano renaissance" afoot. I don't know about that, but for sure, raza and others face the beginnings of a peace movement growing from the grass roots. For hangers-on from the 60s, a reminder of the errors of the past may be preventive action. For people stepping into the limelight, a nuts and bolts movimiento memoir may be just what the movement needs.

Monday, September 19, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Born in 1928, Richard Vasquez worked for several newspapers, including Santa Monica Independent, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times. In addition to Chicano, he published two other novels, The Giant Killer and Another Land. He died in 1990.

In time for the 35th anniversary of the novel's initial publication, HarperCollins/Rayo has just reissued Vasquez's Chicano which has been out of print despite being a bestseller when it was published. It revolves around the Sandoval family who flee the chaos and poverty of the Mexican Revolution and begin life anew in the United States. Award-winning author Rubén Martínez offers a foreward where he puts Vasquez’s novel into historical, political and cultural perspective.

Chicano was groundbreaking when it was first issued. Luis J. Rodriguez, author of Always Running (Touchstone Books) and Music of the Mill (HarperCollins/Rayo), notes: "In my hunger for works that spoke to my realities, my traumas -- and perhaps my hopes -- as a drug addict and gang youth, I came across Richard Vasquez's novel in a bookstore. The title stopped me cold. Chicano. That's what I was!” Rodriguez adds: “I never met Richard Vasquez. But I know inside his words sang and his stories flowed. His writer's blood filled my pen. Thank you [Rayo] for the reissue of a classic in Chicano literature. It feeds me still."

The following is an excerpt from Chicano [from Rayo’s Web page]:

The locomotive roared out of the narrow stone canyon and for a few moments quickly gathered speed as the tracks dropped sharply to meet the level terrain of the valley of desert stretching ahead. The men in the cab strained their eyes and briefly, just before the tracks leveled to the valley floor, they caught a glimpse of the engine and two flatcars carrying the protective troop detachment far ahead. Then, in the valley, the shimmering heatwaves cut vision to a few miles, although the tracks stretched out in an arrow-straight path for many miles.

The men glanced at one another, nodding faintly, a little of their anxiety abated at the reassuring sight of the train with soldiers ahead.

The noise of the locomotive steadied to a monotonous pounding as they settled down for the long stretch of unbroken ground before they would climb into the next low range of stone mountains.

The wheels of the fifty boxcars and cattle cars, all full of cattle, were among the first to christen this one-hundred-mile stretch of track through nothing but desert and mountains.

This was northern Mexico, where the sun rose with hideous vengefulness each day, allowing only the martyred cactus and low brush to survive on the sandy plains. One of the men pulled his head from the window into the cab, wiped away the tears caused by the torrid wind and shouted above the roar of the firebox, steam, wheels, and rushing air, "They should stay closer to us."

His companion wiped his grimy face with the sweat-soaked kerchief around his neck. "No, amigo," he hollered back, "they must have time to warn us if they run into a blockade . . . or something." It was the "or something" that made the two men's eyes hold an instant.

A third man, through shoveling coal for the moment, joined them. He was fat, wore greasy overalls, as did his companions, had an enormous mustache and his hair almost covered his ears. All wore shirts with sleeves torn off at the shoulder.

"It was a mistake, making this railway here. If the Yaquis don't get us, the bandidos will. No law, no city for two hundred kilometros, no nothing. I think I quit and go to the Estados Unidos," he said.

"Don't kid me," said an engineer, "they don't let Mexicans drive locomotives in the United States. And besides, they have bandidos there, too."

"Not like here. Here we have fifty little generals each with his own little army, claiming to want to free Mexico, when really they just kill and steal and rob," the fireman said.

With squinted eyes, watering from the sweat and hot wind, the men passed a cloth water bag and each drank deeply, splashing some on the face and hair. Then the vigil at the windows was resumed, and the fat fireman went back to shoveling coal, and the train sprinted on into the heat waves.

More than an hour later they were stirred from their near lethargy by the slight slowing of the rhythm of the engine and tracks, and they knew the sloping climb out of the valley had begun. The engineer pushed the throttle forward a little, and the engine steadied for a while, then again started to slow its rhythm. Again the throttle was pushed forward, and soon the fireman was shoveling rapidly and the train was moving slowly, smoke trailing, as it lumbered up the incline into the mountains. They wound through a wide, low canyon, climbing, then abruptly picked up speed as they neared the summit. Over the top, the engineer put reverse steam to the driving wheels to check the train's speed, and the descent was almost as slow as the climb. For a moment coming around a curve the floor of the vast valley ahead was visible, and the tiny train carrying the troops could again be seen.

The train had almost reached the next valley floor when the engineer, looking out the window, shouted and applied the brakes. The others looked. There ahead, dust still rising, was a rockslide piled high on the tracks, small stones continuing to fall from the cliff alongside the tracks. Shouting, the men threw open the door on the cliff side and jumped, rolling over and over in the dirt by the ties, and the next moment the engine was tearing into the slide, leaving the tracks, and pulling the fifty cars behind as, miraculously, it remained upright and churned into the shallow ravine away from the cliff. The steel wheels and undercarriage bit deep into the earth as the fifty cars, like a giant hand, pushed it relentlessly along, until the wheels of all the cars, too, sank deep into softer footing, and the entire train came to a jolting stop against the far bank of the ravine.

Only the sound of the desperately bellowing cattle, some injured and dying, all frightened, could be heard. Smoke poured from the locomotive, which was tilted at a crazy angle against an earthen bank, as though it were injured also. Two of the trainmen were on their feet, looking up in fear at the crags and bluffs overhead. The third, the fat man, lay on the ground cradling his foot, moaning.

The others approached him. "Hurry! Get up. We better get out of here."

The injured man groaned. "My foot. It's broken. Don't leave me. Stay here."

"We can't stay here. Whoever caused the rockslide will be coming now. We have to start after the troop train."

"They're gone," the injured man said, gesturing. "They won't be back."

"Yes, they will. As soon as they realize we 're not behind them, they'll come back to help us."

The man on the ground gave a laugh of pained irony. "As soon as they realize the bandidos wrecked this train they will go to the garrison where it is safe."

The third man spoke. "Maybe it wasn't the bandidos. Maybe the indios."

The man with the broken foot thought a moment. His voice was surprisingly calm. "You two better go. Maybe the train will wait for you. If so, maybe you can talk them into coming back for me. I can't walk. I'll have to take my chances with whoever is up there." He indicated the reaching cliffs and mountains. All three looked about, but there was no sign of life.

One of the men who was unhurt looked at the other. "We would be foolish to go on. At least here in the canyon we might find food and water."

"We might also find Indians."

"But we could only live several hours crossing that desert. The troops might have kept going."

Finally it was decided the two would walk after the train carrying the troops and see if the latter would return for the fireman.

And Hector Sandoval gently rubbed his swelling ankle as he watched his companions, each carrying a waterbag and a shovel for protection, climb the mound of rocks and start toward the shimmering valley below.

Hector Sandoval realized he was lying in the blazing sun. The cattle, still trapped in the wrecked cars, were beginning to quiet down. He crawled on his hands and knees to the ravine. He made his way down the slope to a clump of hardwood brush. Carefully, crawling along, he selected the right bough and took a pocket knife from his pocket and began cutting it. Soon he had it free. He trimmed the small branches from it, leaving the top in a large fork. He fitted the fork under his arm, whittled a little more on it, and soon had an operable crutch. He found that his injured foot could support none of his weight.

He made his way painstakingly to the locomotive. With a great deal of trouble he climbed in. The fire still burned, the steam still hissed and the cattle still bawled. But the sound diminished as he waited. The long afternoon progressed slowly, the pain of his leg increased as the hours dragged by.

HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH (SEPTEMBER 15 – OCTOBER 15): LatinoLA lists many fine ways to help us celebrate this special month. The events include everything from literary festivals, jazz concerts to art shows. As LatinoLA notes, just following Hispanic Heritage Month, on October 23 and 24, the Los Angeles Latino Book & Family Festival will take at the Pomona Fairplex. This is the original and largest Latino book fest in the country, and 20,000 visitors are expected to explore the book sellers, storytellers, artists, craftspeople, food vendors, and entertainers. Co-founder Edward James Olmos will be there to welcome the audience.

NUEVO LIBRO: Rigoberto González offers us a thoughtful review of noted critic and scholar Ilan Stavans’ new book, Dictionary Days (Graywolf Press). He notes that by “[m]ixing personal anecdote with comparative analysis with tidbits culled from his encyclopedic frame of reference, Stavans keeps his ideas accessible and at times playful, proving his own dictum that a word can stretch side by side with the imagination.”

EDITORIAL INTERNSHIP: Tu Ciudad Los Angeles magazine is seeking motivated and talented interns to assist with editorial duties including but not limited to research and fact-checking for its print magazine and online outlets. Ideal candidates possess excellent written and verbal communication skills in English and Spanish, as well as a passion for providing the hippest and most relevant cultural and lifestyle news to L.A.’s English-speaking Latinos. Interns must be available to work in the magazines Wilshire Boulevard office between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. for a minimum of three consecutive months. Candidates must be college students. Internship positions are unpaid. Interested persons should send a cover letter, resume, and writing samples to

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

Friday, September 16, 2005

Pedazos y Pedacitos

Manuel Ramos

Happy Independence Day!

A new book from Benjamin Alire Sáenz, classics from Gabriel García Márquez and Richard Vasquez, the Smithsonian and PBS Honor Hispanic Heritage Month, including a new CD Songs of the Chicano Movement, and more Katrina Relief, this time a request for books.

New Books (or New Covers)
The prolific Benjamin Alire Sáenz - poetry, children's literature, fiction - has published a new book, In Perfect Light (Rayo).

The publisher says: "From award-winning poet Benjamin Alire Sáenz comes In Perfect Light, a haunting novel depicting the cruelties of cultural displacement and the resilience of those who are left in its aftermath.

In Perfect Light is the story of two strong-willed people who are forever altered by a single tragedy. After Andrés Segovia's parents are killed in a car accident when he is still a young boy, his older brother decides to steal the family away to Juárez, Mexico. That decision, made with the best intentions, sets into motion the unraveling of an American family."

From reading the jacket blurb, I get the sense that this book's themes are reminiscent of Sáenz's previous outstanding novel, The House of Forgetting - the effect of an abrupt, violent upheaval on a child's life, and salvation through confrontation with the truth.

Rayo also is reprinting Saenz's first novel, Carry Me Like Water, in a trade paperback edition.

In passing I note that Rayo also recently published new trade paperbacks of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez and Chicano by Richard Vasquez. The publicity blurb for Chicano says: “A bestseller when it was published in 1970 at the height of the Mexican-American civil rights movement, Chicano unfolds the fates and fortunes of the Sandoval family, who flee the chaos and poverty of the Mexican Revolution and begin life anew in the United States.”

PBS to Offer Special Programming for Latino Heritage Month September 15 - October 15, 2005
Chicano Literature appears in various PBS programs during this month - some of it has started already. Go to this link for details; some of the programming features Luis Valdez, the Taco Shop Poets, Chicano music icons Lydia Mendoza and Lalo Guerrero, and a great little movie, Come And Take It Day, which tells the story of the century-old legend of the lost treasure of Tejano folk hero Gregorio Cortez and how it changes the lives of four present-day Texans, each working in a tourist trap restaurant on the San Antonio Riverwalk. I saw this flick at the XicanIndie Film Festival, last year I think, and recommend it highly.

Rolas de Aztlán: Songs of the Chicano Movement
California singer-composer Daniel Valdez and Texas accordion-driven Conjunto Aztlán will be performing Chicano musical milestones from the 1960s to 1990s at a concert marking a new Smithsonian Folkways Recordings release, Rolas de Aztlán: Songs of the Chicano Movement. The concert also kicks off the Smithsonian’s commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the Delano Grape Strike, which includes a panel discussion on September 27. The live concert will be held Friday, September 16, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Carmichael Auditorium at the National Museum of American History on Constitution Avenue at 14th Street, NW in Washington, D.C. It is free to the public, and no reservations are required.

This event is sponsored by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings along with the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies and the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives. Daniel Valdez and Conjunto Aztlán both are among the artists on the compilation album, Rolas de Aztlán. The CD’s release date is September 13, and it will be available at all major music outlets as well as on the Folkways website at For more information about Hispanic Heritage Month and the many events throughout the Smithsonian Institution including the panel discussion, please go to .

From the Mystery Bookstore (Los Angeles) Newsletter:
"The victims of Katrina need many things, including books. If you can make a donation, we suggest First Book, which seeks to put books into the hands of disadvantaged children. They currently have a special drive for HURRICANE RELIEF: Every $5 donated to First Book will be matched with 1 book that will go to children in the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. For more information, visit their website, , or contact them at:
First Book
1319 F. Street NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20004-1155
Phone: 202/393-1222 Fax: 202/628-1258."


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Two Books With a Strong Message

Title: Antonio’s Card/La Tarjeta de Antonio
Author: Rigoberto González; Illustrator: Cecilia Concepción Alvarez
Publisher: Children’s Book Press
ISBN: 0-89239-204-5
Grades: Recommended for Grades 1-3 (My recommendation is EVERYONE)

Antonio loves words and recognizes their power. He loves learning new words and cherishes his routine and time spent with his mother’s partner Leslie. He plays spelling games with his mother and enjoys sitting under a big tree with Leslie after school or spending time in her studio. One day when Leslie comes to pick him up, other children make fun of her because she is tall and dressed in paint-splattered overalls. Antonio is a little embarrassed and is worried about what the other children will think if they see him with her.

When it is near Mother’s Day, Antonio makes a beautiful card for both his mothers but is worried about the other children seeing it and making fun of him. He learns through his mother, Leslie and on his own that there is no shame in his family only love, devotion and caring. Antonio loves his mothers and learns that words can also hurt.

This is such a lovely and touching bilingual story told gently by award-winning Rigoberto González and lavishly illustrated by Cecilia Concepción Alvarez. It is a timely and sensitive piece about everyday choices, today’s “different” family units and intolerance. It teaches, as does Daniel Olivas’ Benjamin and the Word, about the power of words to hurt, about having pride in who you are and that the people you love are important no matter what other people think. It is a book about a difficult choice, about holding your head up with pride, about not being ashamed just because someone is different. It teaches tolerance and love with a light and deft touch.

The illustrations are warm and convey much emotion, so much love. In particular, I loved the illustration of Leslie’s studio and her paintings. The faces and eyes have so much character and life that they sing.

About Children’s Book Press:
Children's Book Press (CBP) is a nonprofit publisher of multicultural and bilingual children's picture books.

Since I mentioned Benjamin and the Word, I thought I'd post the review I did a couple of months ago on that most excellent libro.

Title: Benjamin And The Word/ Benjamin Y La Palabra
Author: Daniel A. Olivas, Don Dyen (Illustrator)
Publisher: Arte Publico Press; Bilingual edition (April 30, 2005)
ISBN: 1558854134
Price: $14.95

Benjamin and the Word is a beautiful grade 1-3 picture book which delivers a powerful message about the issues of bigotry, race and difference.

Benjamin is on the playground playing when suddenly he hears “the word”. The book doesn’t tell you which word it was that hurt him so and bothered him so much and this absence just makes it that much more powerful. We don’t need to know the word to know that words hurt and that children can be cruel to each other.

In the story Benjamin is hurt and it shows. The word is eating at him and his father sees that something is bothering his child. He waits for Benjamin to tell him what transpired and once hearing the word, he skillfully teaches his son his own worth.

Mr. Olivas, who scared us with his Devil Talk, now takes us on a journey through childhood and the playground. He skillfully shows us how we learn racism and bigotry and how it can be unlearned; how children can be educated to be accepting and aware of the impact of their words.

Don Dyen, the illustrator has masterfully captured the essence of this simple, yet powerful punch of a story with soft watercolors that bring the quality of a dream to this rich and colorful book.

I encourage all parents to buy this book for your children and to be honest, maybe we all need to read it. It brought home some simple truths to me and made me reconsider some things I would have said without thought. Be careful of your words.

- Gina Marysol Ruiz

Monday, September 12, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Robert Vasquez was born in Madera, CA, and raised in nearby Fresno. Educated at California State University, Fresno (B.A. in English), the University of California, Irvine (M.F.A. in English), and Stanford University (Wallace Stegner Fellow in Creative Writing), Vasquez has received three Academy of American Poets prizes, three National Society of Arts & Letters awards, a National Writers' Union award, and—for his book At the Rainbow (University of New Mexico Press)—the San Francisco Foundation’s James D. Phelan Award.

His work has appeared in various anthologies, including, After Aztlan: Latino Poets of the Nineties (David R. Godine Press), The Geography of Home (Heyday Books), How Much Earth (Heyday Books), Under the Fifth Sun: Latino Literature from California (Heyday Books), and is forthcoming in The Literature of California, Vol. II (University of California Press).

Vasquez's poems have appeared in various periodicals, including The Los Angeles Times’ Book Review, The Missouri Review, The New England Review, Parnassas: Poetry in Review, Ploughshares, and The Village Voice, and are forthcoming in Notre Dame Review.
He has taught creative writing at the UC campuses in Irvine and Santa Cruz; he was the King/Chavez/Parks Visiting Professor in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Western Michigan University, and he was a Visiting Professor and Distinguished Visiting Writer in Residence in the Graduate Creative Writing Program at the University of California in Davis. Since 1991, he has been on the permanent faculty at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, CA. The Myth of the Happy Family, a new collection of poems, is near completion.

Here is a poem from Vasquez’s collection, At the Rainbow (University of New Mexico Press):

Pismo, 1959

The day ends with the blur
you wanted, full of watery hours,
the light weathered like aluminum,
gulls twining the air—summer’s
floating script in the sky
refusing to pull together. The sun

breaks down each body
to silver, each bar of flesh
waist-deep in foam and brine.
The day flares out: wreckage

of orange on blue. Sea stars
wheel into place; like you,
they witness the tide, the whitecaps
tipped with distance, the distance
large with blown sails and spray.
And the whole beachway goes cold
while strands of ocean light
sink like heavy netting.

So this is the sun’s passage
through dark doors of water....
So this is the scrolled shell
on fire, magnified. There is no one—
no lifeguard—to call out all
the bathers from calling water,

though you sense the dark
roll in, grain by toe-felt grain,
its curl slick and seamless
like a wing or a wave. Home’s
still a hundred miles inland. You say
the globe is three-fifths blue
and rocks forever toward us, you say
we will never die, and I believe.
I’ll sleep the whole drive back
beside you, leaning close and small
like a shadow reeled in, your face
precise with fine sand and shining.

HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH (SEPTEMBER 15 – OCTOBER 15): LatinoLA lists many fine ways to help us celebrate this special month. The events include everything from literary festivals, jazz concerts to art shows. LatinoLA continues to be the best source for all things Latino in Los Angeles.

EDITORIAL INTERNSHIP: Tu Ciudad Los Angeles magazine is seeking motivated and talented interns to assist with editorial duties including but not limited to research and fact-checking for its print magazine and online outlets. Ideal candidates possess excellent written and verbal communication skills in English and Spanish, as well as a passion for providing the hippest and most relevant cultural and lifestyle news to L.A.’s English-speaking Latinos. Interns must be available to work in the magazines Wilshire Boulevard office between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. for a minimum of three consecutive months. Candidates must be college students. Internship positions are unpaid. Interested persons should send a cover letter, resume, and writing samples to

NUEVO LIBRO: The inexhaustible and omnipresent Rigoberto González reviews Ana Castillo’s new book, Watercolor Women / Opaque Men: A Novel in Verse (Curbstone Press). He says that the book “is a story of a lifelong quest for self-acceptance and redemption from the deceptions of love. Castillo has fashioned an engaging cautionary tale through the eponymous and endearing ancestor of those who are ruled by the heart.”

All done. As I noted, I came back from Kaua’i a couple of weeks ago and I had promised to tell you more about those colorful roosters and chickens that run wild on the island. When we were on the island back in 1987, my wife and I didn’t see such amazing birds wandering around. What had happened between the visits was Hurricane 'Iniki (September 1992) that tore down many coops where the birds had been kept (some illegally for cock fighting). Well, they’re wandering all about the island, even in parking lots near Safeway, etc. That’s the story. Until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Pluma Fronteriza in Late Summer 2005 Edition

Note from Michael Sedano
Librarians, book collectors, voluminous readers, and all sorts of people interested in US Literature may already have received their copy of Libros, Libros, subtitled New In Chicano(a) and Latino(a) Literature. Editor Raymundo Eli Rojas packs the 33 .pdf pages of books news and reviews in this Late Summer 2005 edition of his Pluma Fronteriza endeavor. And don't omit a visit to Ray's blog.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Buffalos And Poets

Manuel Ramos

Oscar Zeta Acosta

Letter to Playboy, October 15, 1973

Your November issue ... on Mr. Hunter S. Thompson as the creator of Gonzo Journalism, which you say he both created and named ... Well sir, I beg to take issue with you. ... [I]n point of fact and methodology of reporting crucial events under fire and drugs, which are of course essential to any good writing in this age of confusion - all this I say came from out of the mouth of our teacher who is known by the name of Owl. These matters I point out not as a threat of legalities or etcetera but simply to inform you and to invite serious discussion on this subject.

Yours very truly,
Oscar Zeta Acosta
Chicano Lawyer
P.S. The guacamole and XX he got from me.”

We mentioned Acosta last week. Following up on that mention, here is a list of books by and about the mysterious and still controversial “first Chicano attorney.”

Acosta published two novels : The Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo (Straight Arrow Books) and The Revolt of the Cockroach People (Straight Arrow Books). Brown Buffalo was published in 1972, the same year as Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima and Rodolfo Acuña’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. Cockroach People appeared in 1973. Since then, Acosta's books have been reprinted by Vintage (1989). These are staggering works of imagination, reflections of the times, and rude and sometimes embarrassing insights about the author. Among students and other readers I have encountered only two reactions to these books - admiration or aversion.

Ilan Stavans went on a Brown Buffalo tear for a while. His academic and somewhat subjective scrutiny of a man he described as “the king of rascuachismo, el rey of low taste” produced two books: Bandido: Oscar “Zeta” Acosta and the Chicano Experience (HarperCollins, 1995), reprinted as Bandido: The Death and Resurrection of Oscar "Zeta" Acosta (Northwestern University Press, 2003), and Oscar “Zeta” Acosta: The Uncollected Works (Arte Público Press, 1996). Stavans also included a few pages on Acosta in Latino USA: A Cartoon History (Basic Books, 2000), a book on which he collaborated with Lalo Alcaraz. The Uncollected Works includes Perla Is A Pig, the only story published during Acosta’s lifetime (Con Safos, 1970), as well as three previously unpublished short stories.

In 2003, Floricanto Press published Love & Riot: Oscar Zeta Acosta and the Great Mexican American Revolt by Burton Moore. (We should provide more information here on La Bloga about Floricanto Press one day - it is publishing some interesting works). Moore knew Acosta and witnessed many of the events of the late 1960's and early 1970's and his short book (126 pages) is an homage to a “folk hero.” This is a good, quick read with a lot of background color, personal details and unique references. This was Moore’s last book before he died. Mil gracias to Jesse Tijerina for turning me on to this book and for the first edition of The Revolt of the Cockroach People.

Poets in Town - Updated Website
From the Tattered Cover website-

Sheryl Luna reads from Pity The Drowned Horses, winner of the Andres Montoya Poetry Prize, on Monday, September 12, 7:30 PM, at the LoDo Tattered Cover (Denver). This collection is about "place and family and home, and many of the poems in it are set in the desert southwest border town of El Paso, Texas." Scroll down this page on La Bloga for Daniel Olivas's review of Luna's collection.

Lucia Blinn also will read from her first collection of poems and stories, Lucia, Passing For Normal. Blinn's poems are described as "wry, truth-telling, hilarious and, occasionally, rueful, and her stories are a rich stew of characters and images that stir the reader's own reminiscences."

Por fin, I've updated my website a bit - some news, a couple of events. Find it here.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Un Canto Azteca

Title: Mi Hija, Mi Hijo, El Aguila, La Paloma: Un Canto Azteca
Author: Ana Castillo, Susan Guevara (Illustrator)
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile; (March 1, 2000)
ISBN: 0525458670
Price: 12.99

Ana Castillo, the reknowned Xicana poet, novelist and essayist has written one of the loveliest little children’s book I’ve ever seen. It is a blessing and a prayer based on an old Aztec flor y canto beautifully illustrated by Susan Guevara.

The book is small and looks something like the facsimiles of the old Aztec codices. It is written Spanish. It begins with Mi Hija, La Paloma, or My Daughter, the Dove; a canto designed to teach little girls of their preciousness, beauty and how to live their lives. It has a charming lilt to it. The first stanza begins:
“Mi hija, preciosa,
como un collar de oro

como una pluma de quetzal,
tu eres mi sangre,
mi imagen - ”

“My daughter, precious
like a golden necklace

like the feather of a quetzal,
you are my blood

my image - ”

It continues to extol the virtues of the daughter as well as giving some life lessons, reminding the daughter not to be lazy, to study, to work. It tells that a girl must learn to live her life on the right path.

The second section is written for a boy, Mi Hijo, El Aguila, El Tigre or My Son, The Eagle, The Tiger begins:

“Mi hijo,
aguila y tigre,

ala y cola

Hijo mio,

Tan querido, tan amado –

“My son,

eagle and tiger,

wing and tail,

My son,

So dear, so loved –

It goes on to speak of ancestors, of pride, or what our ancestors have left for us in lessons, in our culture, our heritage. It tells of doing good works, becoming a good man, of living life with care and dignity. It asks that the son listen with his heart and go on to become a good man.

The book is illustrated with Aztec symbols from the old codices as well as delicate and powerful paintings on amatl paper or tree bark in the indigenous tradition. The paintings, while done in the style of the ancient people are of contemporary children and their parents and surprisingly, fit in perfectly with the Aztec symbols and images.

It is an astounding message, a lovely and loving book and a testament to Ms. Castillo’s love of our culture. She and Ms. Guevara have created a lasting and honorific tribute to our ancestors as well as a beautiful and contemporary moral poem for children and parents to enjoy for years to come. - Gina MarySol Ruiz

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

San Anto Chiclit bit, and a small piece

Michael Sedano

I was interested to learn that “Punta de Partida,” a seminar on Chicana Chicano literature, is coming this month to San Antonio’s University of Texas campus. Co-sponsored by UNAM, Mexico’s National University, the seminar brings writers John Phillip Santos and Helena Maria Viramontes together with academics Norma Cantu, Axel Ramirez, and Gerardo Kleinberg. UNAM’s Mario Melgar Adalid moderates. Conferences like this make me long to be a denizen of a university campus somewhere. La partida de que, I'm wondering. At any rate, I'll be looking for the proceedings, and will get back to you on anything interesting.

I was surprised to learn that UNAM has a San Antonio campus. An intellectual outpost? A retreat for exiled scholars? Had I paid attention to the news blurb I would have noted that Melgar Adalid is director of UNAM-SA,USA. When I phoned for more information and got a UNAM recorded message, the realization sank in.

UNAM's a favorite spot of mine. A few years back, after reading Alejandro Morales' Death of an Anglo and finding some curious stuff, I visited the central biblioteca to find the novel in its original Spanish. There were dozens copies of Verdad Sin Voz, its Mexican title, some one reserve for a class. Moreover, UNAM's collection of Chicana Chicano titles was extensive. Glad to see Mexico's interest in chiclit still alive and well.

Speaking of alive and well, the news from Hurricane Katrina gets worse by the day. Will heads roll? Just as in Iraq, where the US failed to plan or think matters all the way through, the Gulf Coast looks like another quagmire. If there's a "law of unintended consequences," it will come to full fruition in the aftermath of relocating all the victims. Here's one vision of same.

The Man in the Spare Bedroom

The eviction riots of 2008 marked the turning point. Thousands of Katrina refugees massed in the streets of Las Vegas, barricaded the sports stadia of Houston and San Anto, took over private homes. Chanting “Hell No, We Won’t Go!” even as riot police and National Guard troops knocked bloodied protestors to the ground, some walked, others were dragged onto buses for transport out of town and out to the permanent refugee camps set up on remote indian reservation land.

Seven years had passed and one man remained in our spare bedroom. Mike was the last of the nine souls whom we’d welcomed into our home in September 2005. The rest of us survived the cholera that killed three guests shortly after arriving. One by one, the others drifted off until, by Dia de los Muertos 2012, only Mike remained. Mike never gave us his surname. “Mike is enough,” he’d always answer.

Mike was quiet and industrious. Most nights, the only sign of his presence was hearing his shopping cart wheeling up and down the driveway on his forays to scavenge aluminum and plastic from recycling barrels. During the day he either kept to his room or reported to the jornaleros centro to pick up odd jobs.

Mike never joined us for meals. Even during those months when we and the survivors gathered for mealtime, Mike’s chair sat empty. We would leave a plate for him at night. In the morning we would find his plate washed and put away. "Everyone recovers in their own time," my wife would remind me, when I grew impatient at Mike's lingering occupation of the upstairs bedroom.

That Sunday, Mike came downstairs as I was cooking. “Coffee?” I asked. To my surprise, Mike poured himself a mug and sat.

I mounded chorizo and egg, sliced tomatoes, and frijolitos chinitos on his plate. “My favorite,” Mike exclaimed with delight.

Seizing the moment, I warned him about my chile pequin salsa, then taught him how to taquear his chow. “I never ate greaser
style before,” Mike said, stuffing a tort-wrapped morsel into his mouth. I smiled but ignored Mike's offhand remark. He was, after all, a guest.

I asked Mike about the boom town New Orleans had become. Could he find work there?

Mike shook his head. “I don’t think the government would have me back.”

My ears perked up. “Back?” I asked.

“Yeah, back." Mike pushed a piece of tortilla into the beans, looked up and spoke, "Before Bush converted the nation to the Monarchy, I worked for him in DC.”

I stared into his eyes. “Mike,” I asked, "what did you do, before Katrina?

“Before...K...Ka..." it was either the salsa or the word he choked on. Mike swallowed some toronja juice then spoke. "Me, I was the director of FEMA. Is there more chorizo?”

Katrina Relief Resources

Manuel Ramos

Until a new literary post here on La Bloga, here is a good source of information for victims of Katrina, especially those needing legal help.

Click on this page for links to general relief and legal resources as well as information on nonprofit legal services providers in states affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Also, recognizing that many of the victims of Hurricane Katrina have lost documents establishing their identity and employment authorization, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced that it will not sanction employers for hiring victims of Hurricane Katrina who are otherwise eligible for employment but are unable to provide the necessary documentation. Employers still need to complete the Employment Eligibility Verification Form (I-9) to the extent possible, but should note at this time that the documentation normally required is not available due to the events involving Hurricane Katrina. This policy will be in place for 45 days. At the end of 45 days, DHS will review the policy and make further recommendations. DHS has issued a press release.

Monday, September 05, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Gary D. Keller is Regents' Professor and Director of the Hispanic Research Center at Arizona State University. He is the author of numerous books and articles of scholarship and creative literature that treat Mexican-American and Latino art, film, literature, linguistics, and language policy. Keller is also the General Editor and Director of Bilingual Review/Press (“BRP”) which publishes literary works, scholarship, and art books by or about U.S. Hispanics under the name Bilingual Press/Editorial Bilingüe. BRP also produces the literary/scholarly journal Bilingual Review, distributes more than 1,000 titles by other presses, and is the exclusive distributor of books by Latin American Literary Review Press.

Most recently, Keller co-authored Chicano Art for Our Millennium: Collected Works from the Arizona State University Community (Bilingual Press), which showcases more than 120 works of Chicana and Chicano art and provides a good representation of the art movement for general readers as well as students. Created in part as a catalog for the 2004 exhibition of the same name, the book is also designed to serve as a useful tool for teaching Chicana/o art from the elementary grades through graduate school. Art aficionados will relish the striking full-color images in this coffee-table-quality volume. Themes include community values, borders and biculturalism, spirituality, and cultural icons. This is the third volume in the series.

EDITORIAL INTERNSHIP: Tu Ciudad Los Angeles magazine is seeking motivated and talented interns to assist with editorial duties including but not limited to research and fact-checking for its print magazine and online outlets. Ideal candidates possess excellent written and verbal communication skills in English and Spanish, as well as a passion for providing the hippest and most relevant cultural and lifestyle news to L.A.’s English-speaking Latinos. Interns must be available to work in the magazines Wilshire Boulevard office between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. for a minimum of three consecutive months. Candidates must be college students. Internship positions are unpaid. Interested persons should send a cover letter, resume, and writing samples to

A LITTLE POETRY: Here is a poem by Leticia Hernández-Linares:

Cars That Go Boom

cars that go
scrape the ground
you feel every groove

the pulse of the bass
carries you through the streets
that you are so excited to ride down
in that black lowered mini-truck
that goes

but these are the poor boy rods
not the ones
with glossy lettered rear windows
in hot pink and turquoise
like the Aqua Net can
that she carries in her backpack
spray spray in the morning
groggy shufflin' of slippers
the father swears
she's killing herself with that poison air
and taking them all down too

how to know you're a red neck
if you think bond-o is a color paint
never been to my neighborhood
where bond-o flags
that the wind can't move
lay crumpled in driveways
where Mexicans eat rednecks for breakfast
in their Menudo soup hangover broth
that the mother pops
out of the can
in the Sunday aftermath

so glamorous those cars that vida
like the Sheila E. song
sparkly and forbidden to ride

but once you're in
its not all that special really
it's actually kind of uncomfortable
feels kind of wrong

like the bottom shouldn't be
so close to the ground
and what if he doesn't really like her
she can hear the metal
but the bass is too high
and all you feel is the throbbing
and picture
the windows bubbling out from the sound
like in a cartoon of a spaceship

te buscan
they are calling you the father says
when the familiar vibrations
shake the house
it's like
a mating call

pointy shoed dj wannabe
too much gel in the hair vato
wants you and he asks hey
you like the cars that go

when the ride is over once you
get out
you feel just like that old school jam says
like Expose revealing
what the Cover Girls are hiding
with the female
always heart broken
always hard spoken
feels like she's been dragging
more than cruising
more than loving

later you find out
all there is to like
about the cars that go
is the memory

[From the chapbook Razor Edges of My Tongue (Calaca Press).]

BUSH AND LITERATURE: The online literary journal, Outsider Ink (which was named one of the top five markets for new writers by Writer's Digest in the June 2003) has just released a special edition of art and literature concerning the Bush administration. I have a little story included in the issue. Here’s the contents:

Fiction: The Destruction of the World Trade Center Considered as an Aerial Relay Race by Dan McNeil; Hit by Daniel A. Olivas; Looting In Irak by Robyn Singer Rose; The Day The World Ended by Devan Sagliani; Fugue by Ted Sappington; Spit by Joseph P. Thayer

Poetry:Corey Habbas

Artwork:Bill Pierce

Story-Photo Collage:Alice Wittenberg

All done. I’m back from Kaua’i and I had promised to tell you more about those colorful roosters and chickens that run wild on the island. But I leave that for another day. Until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres at La Bloga. Also, do what you can for those suffering from Hurricane Katrina. My compa listed several fine organizations on La Bloga last week...good resources there. ¡Lea un libro!

Friday, September 02, 2005

Music of the Mill, A Few New Books and A Plea

Manuel Ramos

In this post: Luis J. Rodriguez, Ana Castillo, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Martin Limón, and Katrina Relief.

Music of the Mill
Luis J. Rodriguez

What could be more natural than a Chicano working class novel? In fact, saying "Chicano working class" is almost redundant. Work (hard, sweaty, mind-numbing work) and Chicanos go hand-in-hand. It’s a little surprising that there haven’t been more novels that directly deal with the labor aspects of Chicano life or that at least have the working class atmosphere. Dagoberto Gilb’s fiction comes to mind, as do the stories in Michael Jaime-Becerra’s Every Night Is Ladies’ Night. And, for sure, the classic farm worker literature of Tomás Rivera and Helena María Viramontes would qualify.

In any event, Music of the Mill by Luis J. Rodriguez is working class to the core. The book tells the story of the Salcido family over three generations, beginning in 1943 in northern Mexico and finishing almost in the present in an L.A. barrio. The family patriarch, Procopio, finds work in the massive Nazareth steel mill, and thus begins the hate-love relationship between the Salcidos and the mill. When at last the mill shuts down, the family has sent almost every male in the family to work in the mill. And without the mill the family flounders.

The book is rich with descriptions of working in the mill, especially from the millwright’s perspective. Rodriguez places the reader in the day-to-day toil of the workers. Rodriguez knows the heat, noise, danger and intensity of the mill (he was a steelworker in the Bethlehem Steel Plant of Maywood, California), and he conveys his knowledge in clear, crisp prose, almost as hard as the steel produced by the mill.

The story eventually centers on Johnny, Procopio’s son. A former gang member and ex-con, Johnny finally straightens out, with the help of a good woman, of course, and much of the book is taken up with his struggle for necessary reforms in the working conditions inside the mill, and with his fight against corruption in the workers’s union. Rodriguez presents a varied and intriguing cast of secondary characters: Communist organizers, Ku Klux Klan thugs, the first women steelworkers, union bureaucrats, corporate criminals, Mexika activists, pintos, workers of all races and ethnicities, and many more. They all come together in a story that rings as true as the pounding of a forge from the 32-inch mill onto red-orange steel ingots.

The final section of the book departs from the previous story line; in fact, to accent the departure, it is presented in the first person point-of-view of Johnny’s daughter, Azucena. For me, this was the weakest part of the book. I understand that the story had to go into the long-lasting effect of the closing of the mill on the community and families who had worked in it for years. But once the story leaves the mill, it meanders through drug abuse, domestic abuse, criminal life on the streets, and children who fall by the wayside (even though they have what appear to be the greatest parents and supportive family) before a semblance of balance is restored in the Salcido family.

Even so, Rodriguez has crafted a book that should sit on anyone’s list of required reading if for no other reason than that he has given a strong and valid voice to the working men and women of an industrial era that has vanished for good. Rodriguez’s book ensures that their lives and struggles will not be forgotten.

New Titles For The Fall

Almost time for the fall books - it's good news when the books start rolling from the presses. Here are a few, many more to come:

Ana Castillo has two new works, both published by small presses.

Here’s what the Wings Press website says about the play, Psst...I Have Something to Tell You, Mi Amor: "Sister Dianna Ortiz traveled as a missionary in the early 1980s to the highlands of Guatemala, where she taught Mayan children to read and write. On November 2, 1989, Sister Dianna was sitting in the garden of her convent when she heard a man behind her say, in Spanish, Hello, my love. We have some things to discuss. She was abducted by this man, who together with others transported her to a jail where she was brutally tortured. One of her torturers ––their boss, in fact –– was a North American, probably associated with the US government in some capacity. Miraculously, Sister Dianna escaped by leaping from a car in which she was being transported." Castillo has paid homage to Sister Dianna with two versions of this new play.

Her second book comes from Curbstone Press. The book is a verse novel, Watercolor Women, Opaque Men. The press blurb for this book says, "With a remarkable combination of tenderness, lyricism, wicked humor, and biting satire, Ana Castillo dramatizes her heroine’s struggle through poverty. Urged on by the gods of the ancients, the heroine, known only as Ella or She, narrates stories that illustrate what it means to be a marginalized brown woman or man at the threshold of the 21st Century."

As we've noted previously here on La Bloga, Wings Press also is publishing a book of new poetry (after fourteen years) from Lorna Dee Cervantes, Drive: The First Quartet. The book is set for shipping in October, 2005.

Martin Limón returns after several years’ with a new book about his Chicano military cops in Korea, George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, entitled The Door to Bitterness. Limón has created a unique and exciting series (this is the fourth book about George and Ernie) although the books are few and far between. So it’s encouraging to hear about this new one. "What lingers longest in George and Ernie’s odyssey is the grinding poverty, pride and moral compromise they find in1974 Korea ... [and] acrid insights on the dehumanizing force of the lasting American presence in Korea." (Kirkus)

Katrina Relief
Finally - please do what you can for the victims of Katrina: donate to a relief agency, give blood, support events like the blog for relief day (go to this site or Lorna Dee's blog for more information ). Here are some numbers and links:

Red Cross – 1-800-HELP NOW or online at
Salvation Army – 1-800-Sal-Army or online at
Bonfils – 303-363-2300 or online at
America’s Second Harvest – 800-771-2303
AmeriCares – 800-486-4357
Catholic Charities USA – 303-742-0828
Feed the Children – 800-627-4556
Humane Society of the United States – 202-452-1100 or 303-781-4418
United Jewish Communities – 303-322-8328
United Methodist Committee on Relief – 800-554-8583