Tuesday, November 29, 2005

1 Year & Gil's All Fright Diner

by RudyG

Since this week's La Bloga's 1st birthday, I thought I'd add a few thoughts, plus sorta "review" some Spic Spec Fiction.

When I laid out the initial blogger page for La Bloga, it went more like a dutiful exercise--to get M.Ramos off my back--than any labor of literary love. As far as it's gone, to date, it's turned into more than envisioned.

True, it's not the voice of Chicano lit-crit, but, you know--you get four Chicanos together anywhere, and you've got five opinions, four of which are probably driven by inebriation and only one, sober. Tú sabes.

Today, La Bloga is: Manuel Ramos, Michael Sedano, Dan Olivas, Gina Ruiz and, occasionally, this Garcia. Maybe they've each created a wit- and useful, meaningful niche for themselves, even the last guy, when he shows up.

Whatever another year brings, the last one's meant growth, diversity; been informative and entertaining. I know; I've witnessed it and am glad Ramos was on my back.

Now for one of those nonreviews I'm not yet famous for.

I like spec fiction, and I like humor. I think both are genres we Chicanos haven't gone into enough, maybe 'cause we take ourselves too seriously and seem to easily take offense, even with satire. And if you don't believe me, culo, just try making fun of my old lady, again.

I picked up A. Lee Martinez's Gil's All Fright Diner (Tor, 2005, $12.95) hoping to find a good Chicano attempt at humor in the spec fiction realm. The antagonist is an adopted Japanese girl--hot--aka Mistress Lillith, who's about to open the doors to Hell. (If she'd been Chicana, maybe she'd have opened the doors to La Frontera, and really scared the shit out of readers!) I found it worth the read, enjoyable; in some way it might find itself one day a part of Chicano literary lore, depending on who's defining "Chicano."

I couldn't google anything on the author, other than he hails from Terrell, Texas, out east of Dallas, north of the Big Thicket, both damn good places to be from, but not to stay in. Actually, I don't know if Martinez calls himself Chicano, so there I'm assuming he's lucky enough to be one. Anyway, according to M.Ramos, if Martinez calls himself Chicano, then Gil's is a Chicano novel.

From my reading, this is not your generic horror, but rather a comic horror tale, done deadpan-humor style. The only "Chicano thing" about it is on p.83, where middle-aged Wanda Gonzalez, owner of Gonzalez General Repair, replaces some broken glass in the diner; she's got "skin like leather." That, plus Ramos's definition, is all the Chicano there is here.

I prefer a deadpan style of humor; that's just me. I never understood people who try to be funny, like Seinfeld or most WB programs. On the other hand, the deadpan rarely had me ROTF; nomás me hizo reir.

So, if you're into not-so-blatant laughs that include a vampire, werewolf, ghost, ghouls, zombies, and the end of the non-barrio world, pick up a copy. (I liked it enough I decided spoof it in my next unpublished novel, make it less deadpan and more blatantly Chicano.)

Happy Birthday, Fello/a Bloguistas!

Rudy Ch. Garcia

Upscale Chicas Patas Get Upscale Lifestyle Magazine

Michael Sedano

I was struggling to come up with a hook for a review of Lorna Dee Cervantes' wondrous collection Drive: The First Quartet, when the day's mail caught my eye. No, not the guy on the cover illustrated here, but a bright red 8-1/2" x 11" page featuring a slim woman with a come hither smile and not showing a lot of skin. So I'll review Drive: The First Quartet next week. In the meantime, please buy your copy of Drive: The First Quartet and find your favorites. With over 300 pages of work, you're sure to find Cervantes' collection a worthwhile way to spend those quiet moments between tasks, or rewarding yourself with extended periods of personal enjoyment paging through the collection's five distinct sets.

Tu Ciudad's Dec/Jan 2006 issue is the publisher's third. The magazine debuted with its June July number, with plans to appear every other month. Subtitled, "Your Guide to Latino L.A.", it works to live up to its billing. The cover story on television actor Vanessa Marcil, "Unwrapping My Masa Memories", does a gorgeous layout of samples from Mama's Hot Tamales. The article is not for las delicadas, los delicados, by the way--writer Carolynn Carreño is shown making a tamal sans headcovering in the otherwise sanitary-appearing kitchen. I hope Carreño washed her hands!

Lifestyle magazines aren't noted for their crusading work, so I wasn't surprised that Carreño glosses over Mama's Hot Tamales' raison d'etre. To the magazine's credit, it does note the pushcart venture Mama's launched, but doesn't delve. The enterprise, located south of MacArthur Park, manufactures pushcarts that it sells--call it technology transfer--to local immigrants who can then peddle their comida and botanas to the gente who throng to this busy crossroads of Latino L.A.

I am pleased to note the magazine's guest columnist in the striking red covered December/January number is La Bloga's Monday columnist, Daniel Olivas. Dan's insightful piece on literacy bears reprinting; perhaps the publisher will encourage Olivas to share the piece with La Bloga readers.

Tu Ciudad is no home-grown proposition but that of a conglomerate, Emmis Publishing, who puts out Los Angeles Magazine, as well as eponymous monthlies for Texas, Atlanta, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati. Indeed, Tu Ciudad reads exactly like Los Angeles Magazine, but with what I'll call and Eastside focus. The publisher declares circulation at "110,000 total: 70,000 mailed, 35,000 newsstand, 5,000 public distribution."

I approached the magazine with trepidation, fearing the advertising would be a monton of booze ads. A three-pager from Cuervo tequila, in Spanish, a double truck "Advertorial" from Dulseda liqueur, and a full pager from Miller Lite were the prominent alcohol buys. Luxury automobiles take the big play. I chuckled at Mercedes-Benz' ad, misreading !Oh, Cielos! for "Oh Celos", thinking, aha, an advertiser with a finger on the pulse of the community. Wrong. The tiny print and eloquent Spanish clearly shows an advertiser out of touch.

Tu Ciudad is still finding its way. It needs to update the webpage to illustrate the current cover. The humor piece, the golden bean award, recyles Esquire magazine from the 1970s. But that's good. The champurrado article chooses to ignore the hundreds of pushcart and street corner vendors selling champurrado, tejuino, orange juice, and tamales, in favor of naming only licensed concerns. And that's blind. Do Upscale Chicanas Chicanos not care about tasting the best of the best, irrespective of accessibiliity? Then again, I wonder if there's a cost for being listed? The publisher elects a bit of a defensive pose--or assimilationist hard-headedness-- arguing with reader Alfonso Alvarez Carson that "tamale" is the correct singular form for "tamal," based on the publisher's "in-house English dictionary." I think Editor Oscar Garza needs a different dictionary.

You may find Tu Ciudad on a local newstand, or you can inquire at the website linked above. I'm looking forward to the February/March issue. It's cool seeing a magazine that turns its sights on my side of town for once.

Atentamente y sin otro motivo other than read! raza and fellow readers, hay les wachamos next week. (I'm not doing diacritics well this week, sorry).


Monday, November 28, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Reyna Grande was born in Guerrero, Mexico in 1975. When she was five years old her father and mother left for the U.S. and left her and her siblings in care of her grandmother. She entered the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant in 1985. She attended Pasadena City College for two years before transferring to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she obtained her B.A. in Creative Writing and Film & Video in 1999. Her short-stories and poems were published in the student-run publication "Las Girlfriends." She also self-published a collection of short-stories entitled Under the Guamuchil Tree with a grant from the university. In 2003, she was selected as one of the eight fellows in the Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellowship offered by Pen Center USA. She was mentored by María Amparo Escandón, author of Esperanza's Box of Saints and Gonzalez & Daughter Trucking Co. Across a Hundred Mountains is Reyna’s first novel which will be published by Simon & Schuster/Atria Books in spring 2006.

Reyna is working on a second novel, where she explores the world of folklorico, Mexican folk dancing. The novel centers around four folklorico dancers: Elena, Adriana, Yesenia, and Soledad. Reyna believes that "folklorico is an integral part of the Mexican culture, yet it is not often written about." Reyna has also been working on a collection of short-stories set in East Los Angeles about different characters who use shopping carts. Reyna thinks that “the shopping cart is one of the inventions that has greatly benefitted la Raza!” You may read one of her shopping cart stories, Chona Pichona.

THE TOMAS RIVERA AWARD IN CRITICAL WRITING: CRATE seeks essays that explore or examine emerging writers, Latino/a contemporary works, American landscapes, migrant issues that reflect global transformation, power and the arts.

Total prizes in $1000.00:

1st prize - $500 and publication in CRATE Journal and CRATE website

2nd prize - $250 and publication in CRATE Journal and CRATE website

Honorable Mentions - $125 and possible publication on CRATE website

Please limit your submissions to 3,000 words. All submissions must be postmarked by Dec. 15, 2005 to be considered.

CRATE only reads between Sept. 15 through Dec. 15. Winners to be announced Winter 2005. Visit CRATE’s guidelines for complete details and mailing address.

The deadline for submissions considered for this special issue of IR will be the postmark date of December 31, 2005.

Submission Guidelines: Indiana Review is proud to announce a call for work by Latino & Latina writers. We are seeking Poetry, Fiction, and Non-Fiction by Latino & Latina writers that that is well-crafted and lively, has an intelligent sense of form and language, assumes a degree of risk, and has consequence beyond the world of its speakers or narrators. We also welcome interviews with established writers. Content that addresses political, social, and cultural aspects of the Latino and Latina identity and community are welcome but not a pre-requisite for consideration. Our intent with this issue is to showcase the vibrant and diverse voices of new and established Latino and Latina Writers.

Stories: Send only one story per submission, up to 40 double-spaced pages. Translations are welcome.

Poems: Send up to four poems, no more than ten pages, per submission. Do not fold poems individually or staple poems together. Translations are welcome.

Nonfiction: Send only one essay per submission, up to 30 double-spaced pages.

Book Reviews: Reviews should be of recent fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and literary criticism (publication date within two years). Small press titles are preferred. Reviews must be 1,000 to 1,500 words, double-spaced, and include complete publication information (press, ISBN, price). Send a maximum of two reviews per submission.

Graphic Arts: Paintings, photographs, comics, and drawings are welcome. In lieu of originals, please send digital images of work. Slides cannot be accepted. DO NOT send only copy of work. Indiana artists are preferred. Send up to five pieces that are up to 6" x 9" in dimensions or may be later reduced to this size. Visual works must also be publishable in black and white, but, when funding allows, may be published in full color.

How to submit: There is no need to query editors about submitting work. Submission status may be queried by mail or email, but please allow 4 months before querying.

All submissions and correspondence MUST include a self-addressed stamped envelope. We cannot respond to submissions otherwise. Include additional postage if work is to be returned.

Simultaneous submissions are okay, but we must be promptly notified of acceptance elsewhere.

Clearly mark envelope to the appropriate genre editor's attention (e.g. "Fiction Editor").

Include cover letter listing work titles, previous publications and awards, and a brief bio. For receipt confirmation, please include email address. Explanations of manuscript's meaning, theme, or technique are not necessary.

No handwritten, faxed, emailed, or poorly copied/printed manuscripts will be considered. Further, IR cannot consider work (other than book reviews) from anyone currently or recently affiliated with Indiana University.

Contact Info: Send all correspondence to address below. Again, please note that we cannot accept email submissions.

Send manuscripts to:
Latino/Latina Writers Issue
Indiana Review
Ballantine Hall 465
1020 E. Kirkwood Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405-7103

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Forging a New Path: Contemporary Latino Authors

WHAT: The Queens Library New Americans Program presents a screening of Writing a Life, a one-hour documentary about Esmeralda Santiago and the power of words to transform lives. Esmeralda's family life, work ethic, and creative process are revealed in this intimate film portrait. After the screening there will be a Q&A with Esmeralda moderated by Marcela Landres.

WHEN: Tuesday, November 29, 6:00 p.m.

WHERE: Queens Library, Jackson Heights branch, 35-51 81 Street, Queens, NY

WHO: Esmeralda Santiago is the author of The Turkish Lover, When I was Puerto Rican, America's Dream, and Almost a Woman, which was made into a Peabody Award-winning film for Masterpiece Theatre. She is married to the filmmaker Frank Cantor and is the mother of two adult children, jazz guitarists Lucas and Ila.

Marcela Landres is an Editorial Consultant and was formerly an editor at Simon & Schuster where she published the bestselling authors Karen Rauch Carter and Dora Levy Mossanen. She speaks frequently for organizations such as the Learning Annex and is often quoted by the media as a publishing expert.

REGISTER: No registration is required. Admission is free. For more information, call 718-990-0891.


Applying to Graduate School: A CSRC Workshop

An in-depth guide for undergraduate students thinking of applying to graduate programs. Led by Professors Ray Rocco, Political Science, and Daniel Solorzano, Education; and Graduate Student Dolores Calderon, Education.

Wednesday, November 30
6:00 - 8:00 PM
Haines Hall Room 179
Refreshments will be served. Please RSVP by e-mailing event cosponsor Hispanic Scholarship Fund or the CSRC.

THE QUETZAL QUILL: Last Monday, I had the pleasure of being one of several writers who read at Imix Bookstore hosted The Quetzal Quill, a national collective of poets and writers on a mission to promote and share their literary works. Many thanks to Imix and to the host for the evening, Rigoberto González. The other guest authors were:

Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of "The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart," is a former Jones Lecturer at Stanford. She has received the Rona Jaffe Women Writers' Award and the Bernard F. Cooper Prize from The Paris Review.

Reyna Grande (profiled above) is the author of the forthcoming novel, "Across A Hundred Mountains." She was born in Mexico, educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and currently lives in LA, working on her second novel.

Miguel Murphy, author of "A Book Called Rats," winner of the Blue Lynx Prize, is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he received the Swarthout Award and the University Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

And many thanks to friends who showed up including La Bloga’s very own Michael Sedano.

TU CIUDAD: The new issue of Tu Ciudad is out (Dec./Jan.) and it includes yours truly as a guest columnist. There's also an excellent profile of L.A. Times writer, Al Martinez, not to mention a fine overview of Latino L.A. arts, politics, and comida, comida, comida. Check it out.

35TH ANNIVERSARY: Sylvia Vasquez discusses the 35th anniversary edition of her late father Richard Vasquez's landmark novel, Chicano (HarperCollins/Rayo), at Vroman's Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, Friday, December 2, 7:00 p.m.

HONORING HIZZONER: This Thursday, December 1, the Mexican Cultural Institute Los Angeles will honor Honorable Antonio Villaraigosa, mayor of Los Angeles, the musical group Los Lobos and artist Patssi Valdez at their 9th Annual Dinner Gala at the Omni Hotel. It begins at 6 p.m. Tickets for the gala dinner are $250. For sponsorship opportunities, topurchase tickets or for information about the 9th Annual Gala Dinner, call Cozette Munatones, at (213) 624-3660. For information about the Mexican Cultural Institute's free programs and community events, contact Lawrence Garcia, Executive Director or visit www.mexicanculturalinstitute.com.

FINALMENTE: I had the amazing luck of having my collection, Devil Talk (Bilingual Press), reviewed on KQED's California Report last Friday. The book critic is Jordan Rosenfeld. The review appears about halfway through the half-hour program so get jiggy with the the playback gizmo if you want to find it pronto. If you liked Ms. Rosenfeld's work, send an e-mail to KQED and tell them! That's the only way KQED will know that their listeners appreciate coverage of Chicano arts and literature!

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

Friday, November 25, 2005

Cocono Of The Year And Feliz Cumpleaños to La Bloga

Manuel Ramos


Of the Year award goes to:

Not one Chicana/o, Latina/o, or Hispanic novel on the Time Magazine list. Such an inexcusable oversight ranks as the biggest gobbler of 2005, in my opinion. (I know, the year's not over yet, but this one's a no-brainer.) Here's your stuffed bird, Time - hope it doesn't stick in your collective throats.

And Happy Birthday to La Bloga. The first post on nuestra cosita literaria appeared November 28, 2004. We've scooted and crawled through these early months, perhaps soon we will start walking. Muchisimas gracias to our readers, lurkers and those who occasionally comment - you are the reason we do this. My own personal thanks and appreciation to Gina MarySol Ruiz, Daniel Olivas, Michael Sedano and RudyG for their wonderful contributions, pithy posts, and insightful observations about that beautiful mixed-bag we know as Chicana/o Literature. You all have made this first year something special.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

Napí by Antonio Ramírez, Domi (illustrator)

Title: Napí
Author: Antonio Ramírez
Illustrator: Domi
Publisher: Groundwood Books

Napí is the story of a young Mazateca girl who lives in a small village near the bank of a river in Mexico. The story is ethereal and dreamlike as is the artwork. Napí likes to dream, she dreams of colors, of feelings, of herons flying through the wind. She talks of her village, of her Naa (mother in Mazateca) making tortillas and of the ancient pachota tree that is the center of her village.

Napí is poor, at least she says so. However, her story is of a girl who feels safe and secure, who loves her village, her huilpilli's in bright colors and her family. She loves the pachota tree under which her belly button cord is buried, the herons who live and nest in it and the colors of nature and her village. Color is important in this book, each page is dedicated to it and the lovely wash of watercolors in brilliant and vibrant colors enhance and compliment Napí's dreams of colors and the river.

Domi illustrated Subcommandante Marcos' The Story of Colors and I love her use of color and the way her paintings have not only a dreamlike quality but also of their indigenous look and feel. This is especially true in this book of an indigenous girl living in her Mazateca village. Domi is Mazateca herself and this book reflects her love of her people and their customs. My favorite illustration is the one where the pachota tree becomes alive at night with as the herons fill the branches like blossoms. It's simply beautiful.

Antonio Ramírez is an artist who has worked in many media, including books and murals. Thisis his first book. He lives in Mexico with his wife, Domi and they are both very active working for the rights of Native people in Mexico, especially in connection with the Zapatista movement in Chiapas through the Colectivo Callejero, of which they were founding members.

I hope you will find this book as beautiful as I did and enjoy it. Happy Thanksgiving!

Hasta pronto,

Gina MarySol Ruiz

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Review: Richard Vasquez. Chicano.

Michael Sedano

Review: Richard Vasquez. Chicano. NY: Harper Collins Rayo. 2005. ISBN 9780060821043; ISBN: 0060821043


I made two mistakes* about Richard Vasquez’ novel, Chicano. The second is reading the back cover blurb and Daniel Olivas’ review. The first is waiting thirty years to read the novel.

Menso me. Uau, Richard Vasquez’ Chicano is a stunningly fine page-turner of a novel that everyone interested in Unitedstatesian literature deserves to read. If the novel must take an ethnic label, call it one of those sui generis “great American novels.” Which, of course, makes it also chicano literature.

The back cover blurb says something about “the tradition of Upton Sinclair touched with authentic color and understandable bitterness.” Which is a mistake. Chicano has nothing to do with The Jungle, and certainly none of the droning political proselytizing of that novel’s failed final pages. And Daniel Olivas notes “the novel stumbles … when Vasquez attempts to ‘explain’ Chicanismo to his non-Chicano audience.” Which is reading too much into the title. Chicano is not about chicanismo nor racism. It’s a love story that revolves around human stupidity and betrayal, and how those impact people who happen to be Mexicans and Chicanos.

This is not to deny the vital importance of the characters’ Mexican heritage. Vasquez has crafted a family saga rooted in the Mexican desert, California rural farmworker colonias, and late 1950s East Los Angeles.

The first 120 pages offer a sweeping telescopic history of happenstance leading to a family’s migration into the agricultural United States. Not until the 125th page does the term "chicano" enter the book's vocabulary, at the point Julio, one of the two main characters, arrives in Los Angeles.

The story follows the tragic history of two people who lose moral compass. Vasquez doesn’t make a case that Mexican Chicanos inherently tend to alcoholism, prostitution, drug addiction and unprotected sex with pendejos. But Julio and Mariana, in varying degrees, elect those behaviors. Those who do not taste these forbidden pleasures don’t interest the writer. Raza with kindness in their hearts, or who speak good English, attain “mainstream” solidity like business managers or migra, pop up as plot foils, then are forgotten as the writer pursues his moralistic version of family values: Julio in all his rottenness, gets only jail time in a token of revenge by the whore who helped rescue him from endless toil as a fruit picker. Poor Mariana, who represents the best of her generation—smart, articulate, insightful—has to die from a back alley abortion as the consequence of her pridefulness in seducing a cowardly man, who happens to be a rich Anglo college boy cad.

Political conservatives like to whine that raza politics is all about victimhood. These tipos surely need to read Chicano. If there’s a theme Vasquez absolutely denies, it’s that these characters are victims of anything. Greedy, ugly, anglo racists may be ubiquitous, but are little different from the exploitative hacendado, the rapacious bandidos, or imperious soldiers three generations back in Trainwreck. Julio's fall comes as result of his own evil nature. Mariana's case is more complicated, perhaps a consequence of her isolation from both cultures. Happiness comes in being self-possessed, like the illiterate grandfather back in Irwindale, or the mother who runs off with her girlhood boyfriend from el rancho, who appears in rags upon the death of her drunken husband. Now there’s a love story begging to be told.

I hope you have already read your copy of Chicano and I haven’t disclosed anything you might consider a “spoiler.” Ni modo. Richard Vasquez, qepd, has given us a novel so rich in detail and cultural awareness, that readers and critics will enjoy years of discussion. I wish I’d read it years ago. I hope you'll read it and join La Bloga's discussion.

*The mistake reflects my preference to react to a work on its own terms, uninfluenced by a third party.

Hasta, raza, and fellow readers.


Monday, November 21, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Luis J. Rodriguez has emerged as one of the leading Chicano writers in the country with ten nationally published books in memoir, fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, and poetry. Luis’ poetry has won a Poetry Center Book Award, a PEN Josephine Miles Literary Award, and “Foreword” magazine’s Silver Book Award, among others. His two children’s books have won a Patterson Young Adult Book Award, two “Skipping Stones” Honor Award, and a Parent’s Choice Book Award, among others. A novel, Music of the Mill, was published in the spring of 2005 by Rayo/HarperCollins; a poetry collection, My Nature is Hunger: New & Selected Poems, 1989-2004, came out in the fall of 2005 from Curbstone Press/Rattle Edition.

Luis is best known for the 1993 memoir of gang life, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. An international best seller—with more than 20 printings, around 250,000 copies sold—the memoir also garnered a Carl Sandburg Literary Award, a Chicago Sun-Times Book Award, and was designated a New York Times Notable Book. Written as a cautionary tale for Luis’ then 15-year-old son Ramiro—who had joined a Chicago gang—the memoir is popular among youth and teachers. Despite this, the American Library Association in 1999 called Always Running one of the 100 most censored books in the United States. Efforts to remove his books from public school libraries and reading lists have occurred in Illinois, Michigan, Texas, and more recently in California, where the battles were quite heated.

Luis has received many other awards including a Sundance Institute Art Writers Fellowship, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, a Lannan Fellowship for Poetry, an Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature, a National Association for Poetry Therapy Public Service Award, a California Arts Council Fellowship, an Illinois Author of the Year Award, several Illinois Arts Council fellowships, the 2001Premio Fronterizo, and “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” Award, presented by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

NUEVO LIBRO: Rigoberto González reviews Demetria Martínez’s new book of essays, Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana (University of Oklahoma Press). He says that “as a pacifist, environmentalist, feminist and cultural activist in an increasingly hostile world, she has much ground to cover, balancing ‘official stories’ with her charged collection of communiqués…” and that this book “shows a concerned and proactive citizen of the world….” González is an award-winning writer and associate professor of English and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (If you're in L.A. tonight, you can see González in the flesh...see immediately below).

THE QUETZAL QUILL: Monday, November 21, 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Imix Bookstore will sponsor an evening of entertainment and literature by hosting The Quetzal Quill, a national collective of poets and writers on a mission to promote and share their literary works.

The guest writers are:

Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of "The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart," is a former Jones Lecturer at Stanford. She has received the Rona Jaffe Women Writers' Award and the Bernard F. Cooper Prize from The Paris Review.

Reyna Grande is the author of the forthcoming novel, "Across A Hundred Mountains." She was born in Mexico, educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and currently lives in LA, working on her second novel.

Miguel Murphy, author of "A Book Called Rats," winner of the Blue Lynx Prize, is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he received the Swarthout Award and the University Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Daniel A. Olivas is the author of four books, most recently the story collection "Devil Talk" and the children's book "Benjamin and the Word." He is a Los Angeles based attorney with the California Department of Justice.

Your Host: Rigoberto González. González, founder and curator of The Quetzal Quill, is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and professor of English and Latina/o Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of four books, most recently the bilingual children's book, "Antonio's Card."

The authors' books will be available for sale.

Venue: Imix Bookstore
Address: 5052 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles, 90041
Ages: All ages
Admission: Free!
For more information call: 323-257-2512
Or visit: http://www.imixbooks.com/

ARTE: Year End Art Sale! Saturday, November 26, 11/26 - 6:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Join La Mano Press as it says goodbye to another year and to L.A. for the month of December with an event that features the work of local artists as well as the published works that have been produced at the studio.

Artists include: Artemio Rodriguez, Dolores Carlos, Silvia Capistran, Jose Lozano, Emilia Garcia, Robert Palacios, Marianne Sadowski, John Miner, Zeroxed, Imix Books and others.

Venue: La Mano Press
Address: 1749 N. Main St., Los Angeles, 90031
Ages: All
Admission: Free
For more information call: 323 227-0650
Or visit: http://www.lamanopress.com/
Email: lamano-press@sbcglobal.net

IT’S MAGIC: The new issue of Margin is out. Margin is an online journal dedicated to exploring magical realism. The fall issue includes works by:

Kathleen Alcalá • Sherman Alexie • Naomi Ayala • Joe Benevento • Jorge Luis Borges • Kamau Brathwaite • Joseph Bruchac • Michelle Cliff • Paola Corso • Maureen Tolman Flannery • Gabriel García Márquez • Édouard Glissant • Joy Harjo • Adrianne Harun • Linda Hogan • Steve Martin • Gina Ochsner • Nnedimma Okorafor • Daniel Olivas • Simon Ortiz • Gregory Rabassa • Dee Rimbaud • Garrett Rowlan • Bruce Taylor • Mark Twain and others

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

Friday, November 18, 2005

Pedazos y Pedacitos

Manuel Ramos

In this post, Rodriguez, Fante and Bukowski; Jewish Latin America; Cultural Studies; Vine Deloria, Jr.; Interviews.

The Cholo, the Bricklayer and El Loco.
A nice piece about Luis J. Rodriguez has been making the rounds of various newspapers and online journals. The AP article has headlines such as Once a street-gang thug, Luis Rodriguez now settled into literary celebrity.

Here's a sample from the article: "Always a voracious reader, Rodriguez devoured the works of cult literary heroes such as John Fante and Charles Bukowski, whom he cites as major influences. As they had decades before, he set out to illuminate Los Angeles' gritty, working-class neighbourhoods in short stories such as the ones he later published in 2002's Republic of East L.A. Rodriguez's 10 books run a literary gamut from poetry to short story collections to two children's books, a memoir and a novel."

Rodriguez's success is well-deserved. He definitely is rearranging the furniture in the small room in the boarding house of American Literature that has been reserved for Chicana/o writers. (Too much, huh?) And maintaining his Chicanismo while he's doing it. For more about Rodriguez, you can look up my review of Music of the Mill, posted September 2 here on La Bloga.

How about those influences? Fante's Wait Until Spring, Bandini or Bukowski's The Most Beautiful Woman in Town should be on any writer's list of "must-read" books, for entirely different reasons, of course.

John Fante (a Colorado native) published working-class, Depression-era fiction that is clear and crisp as a frozen mountain spring, and just as harsh and unrelenting as an avalanche (I got a bad case of simile- itis.) In a review of Wait Until Spring, Bandini, I commented, "The narrative about the bricklayer, his wife and sons, stirred my own memories of growing up in a small Colorado town where the whims of the weather victimized my father's ability to earn money and my mother optimistically faced up to each set-back in order to preserve childhood for her children. ... [The eldest son] Arturo reminded me of so many young men from my youth that I read the book with a sense of watching my own upbringing. I had to acknowledge the similar experiences between the poor Italian kids of Fante's book and the poor Mexican kids of my hometown. Fante captured that essense of aggressive, vulnerable youth that, although reduced to a stereotype over the years, still remains legitimate for those living through such experiences."

What can I say about Bukowski? Only this - you gotta love a collection that includes stories with names such as Life in a Texas Whorehouse, Twelve Flying Monkeys Who Won't Copulate Properly and Politics is like Trying to Screw A Cat in the Ass. For more on Bukowksi, rent the 2003 flick, Bukowski: Born Into This.

Publishing News
Ilan Stavans announced the end of the Jewish Latin America series begun in 1997 and published by the University of New Mexico Press. As noted by Stavans, "The series has published 20 titles, from Moacyr Scliar's humorous Collected Stories to Mauricio Rosencof's prison memoir, The Letters That Never Came. There have been anthologies of Yiddish stories, folktales and autobiographical essays. One volume offered a rich compendium of Crypto-Jewish life; another scrutinized the legacy of martyr Luis de Carvajal the Younger, who was burned at the stake by the Inquisition in 1596. There are contributions from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. ...The fact that a university press (and in the Southwest, for that matter) and not a New York house has orchestrated the feat seems astonishing to me. ... Time is the great calibrator: A decade after its inception, it is time to draw a curtain on the series. ... It makes me proud that several classics included in the series have been retranslated, a fact that emphasizes their durability. And other commercial and academic publishers have jumped on the wagon. ... [M]y original expectations have been more than satisfied. Readers now have access to turbulence that defines Jewish existence south of the Rio Grande."

Hot Off The Press:
The Chicana/o Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Angie Chabram-Dernersesian (Routledge, 2005). The editor is a Professor in the Chicana/o Studies Program at the Univesity of California, Davis. The selected articles cover the broad spectrum of Chicano culture: literature, movies, music, art, dance, theatre, TV. Among the essay writers are Norma Alarcón, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Jorge Mariscal. Another addition to the growing list of Chicano textbooks scrutinizing la cultura.

In the same scholarly vein, Brown Gumshoes: Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicana/o Identity by Ralph E. Rodriguez (University of Texas Press, 2005) hits the shelves this month. The publisher's website says this: "Popular fiction, with its capacity for diversion, can mask important cultural observations within a framework that is often overlooked in the academic world. Works thought to be merely 'escapist' can often be more seriously mined for revelations regarding the worlds they portray, especially those of the disenfranchised. As detective fiction has slowly earned critical respect, more authors from minority groups have chosen it as their medium. Chicana/o authors, previously reluctant to write in an underestimated genre that might further marginalize them, have only entered the world of detective fiction in the past two decades." The five authors profiled in Susan Baker Sotelo's Chicano Detective Fiction (McFarland & Co., Inc., 2005) are deconstructed in Brown Gumshoes.

Passing Over
Vine Deloria, Jr. died on November 13 in Golden, Colorado. The N.Y. Times said, "Mr. Deloria, who was trained as both a seminarian and a lawyer, steadfastly worked to demythologize how white Americans thought of American Indians. The myths, he often said - whether as romantic symbols of life in harmony with nature or as political bludgeons in fostering guilt - were both shallow. The truth, he said, was a mix, and only in understanding that mix, he argued, could either side ever fully heal." Maybe a good way to honor his memory is to read or re-read one of his books: Custer Died For Your Sins; God Is Red; We Talk,You Listen; Red Earth, White Lies; many more. QEPD.

I want to do interviews of Chicana/o authors here on La Bloga - get a little into the heads of the people who create the books we love to talk about. I've lined up a couple, one who has a long and distinguished publishing history and another who is eagerly anticipating the publication of his first book next year. I'm thinking that the interviews have to be short and it might be interesting if the same five or six questions are asked of each author. If you like the idea, any suggestions for the core questions? What do you really want to know?


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Where Fireflies Dance / Ahí, donde bailan las luciérnagas

Title: Where Fireflies Dance / Ahí, donde bailan las luciérnagas
Author: Lucha Corpi
Illustrator: Mira Reisberg
Publisher: Children's Book Press

Lucha Corpi's first book for children is a warm trip back to her own childhood memories of the tropical town of Jaltipán, Mexico. Where the Fireflies Dance is the story of young Lucha and her brother Victor told in the style of a Mexican grandmother telling stories by the fire. The story begins with Lucha and Victor braving a haunted house where the ghost of Juan Sebastián, once a soldier in Emiliano Zapata's army, is said to roam. The story tells of the children's love for music, of standing outside a cantina and saving their quarters just to be able to hear the music coming from the marvelous jukebox. They listen to their father sing corridos, boleros and other music every night, listen to their grandmother's stories and learn of destiny.

The story is charming and very family oriented. These are happy children secure and warm in the love of their family. It made me smile because while Lucha and Victor were very obedient, they also seemed to be just the tiniest bit traviesos. I've always had a special soft spot in my heart for traviesos. The illustrations are colorful and bright, complimenting the story beautifully. They have a texture to them that makes me think of a collage or a brightly colored piñata.

I love books like this one, where the writing and the illustrations enhance each other so much so that you can hear the music, smell the air and feel the ghost of Juan Sebastián riding by on his horse to follow his destiny. It is evocative and heady - more of an experience than a read. ¿Qué padre, no? Read it in the warmth of the cocina with something delicious on the stove and your family all around you. Read it out loud and savor each word of the story, each color of the paintings as you would good chocolate y pan dulce.

Hasta pronto,

Gina MarySol Ruiz

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Review: The People of Paper. Salvador Plascencia.

The People of Paper. Salvador Plascencia. McSweeney's Books ISBN 1932416218

Michael Sedano

I have always wondered why Graciela Limón is so hard on her women characters. The mother who goes in search of her lost son, Bernabé, suffers incredible hardship, one thing after another, in a wonderful novel. Hard-driving, immensely successful but lovelorn, Ana Calderón, finally finds a passionate true love who fulfills her immensely, only to become a Chicana Jocasta, in another superb novel.

These women have done nothing wrong, no monstrous sin nor hubris, certainly nothing to deserve the anger of whatever gods there be. “Why is the author so hard on her characters?” I asked on the wonderful old CHICLE discussion board. Limón wrote back, “My characters tell me how to write them.”

Despite having other writers tell me the same thing--the characters control the story, not the writer—I’ve found that a perplexing perspective. Now comes Salvador Plascencia’s impressive experimental novel, The People of Paper, once and for all to lay the question to rest.

Plascencia peoples his book with characters revolting against a writer’s omnipotence. At first, this isn’t obvious. The book opens with an impressively imaginative story, a tour de force revolving around an origami-based genesis. A renegade group of monks fold paper into various shapes. Form of a cat, breathe life into it, paper becomes cat. A disciple folds heart, lungs, liver, places inside the folded body in the shape of a woman. Puff! She becomes a flesh-and-blood woman. Magical. The plot begins to unfold when the Pope, threatened by the competition, expels the monks, who go wandering in search of safe refuge to fold more people of paper and pass along the knowledge of their sacred book.

One monk falls off the line of march, and it is his creations who people the book. Migrating from Mexico to El Monte, California, the characters find community among the flower picking cholos of EMF. Their relatively idyllic existence begins to crumple when an agitator convinces EMF to take up arms against an all-seeing being whom they call Saturn.

Saturn reads El Monte’s every thought, eavesdrops every conversation, looks down on every private act. Saturn has a name: Salvador Plascencia. The patient reader learns this just as the book turns back on itself. In fact, Plascencia re-starts the tome after chapter fourteen, posting anew the dedication pages and title page.

Obviously, “experimental” is a fit term to describe the work, not “novel”. To read it from start to finish demands patience—to get to some funny stuff here and there—and tolerance. The latter because the writer abandons any effort to create a literary work in pursuit of self-indulgent vengeance against a former lover. At one point, an obviously overwrought writer turns the story from a character's infidelity to his ex, bitterly posting one word repeatedly, "cunt". It is an unpleasant twist in the book's numerous clever tricks.

Plascencia was the subject of a lively discussion at La Bloga in response to a Los Angeles Times interview quoting the writer’s pleasure at being published outside what he views as a chicano literary barrio.

His point is well taken. Despite the book’s peopling with Mexican and Chicana Chicano gente, its Mexico and El Monte settings, and its use of conventional Chicano literary property, The People of Paper is not Chicano Literature. Self-indulgent name-calling to settle old romantic scores makes it roman a clef with an audience of one. Literatura Chicana, Chicano, tends to thematic content intent on community-building stuff, formation of an ethos, an exhibition of intercultural writing skills bridging the divide between the Mexican and the Unitedstatesian. Give Plascencia one out of three.

Self-indulgence isn’t foreign to Chicana Chicano work—take Rain of Gold, for example—but a work of such authorial selfishness as The People of Paper might better have been put aside until the author’s writer’s block had dissipated enough, or his broken heart mended, to complete the novel promised by the stunning opening pages.

Speaking of self indulgence, did you hear about the vaquero who walked into the bar dressed in cellophane? He had cellophane boots, cellophane trousers, cellophane chaps, cellophane camisa? He was arrested for rustling. ¡pa-pum!

Note. Did you check out the NY Times' Children's books special in the 11/13 NYTimes book review? Gives more credence to the stereotype of an east coast bias in literary criticism. La Bloga's Gina MarySol Ruiz' column highlights one outstanding title after another, but from the grey lady, not a peep about Chicana Chicano kidlit. OK, Gary Soto gets a nod in the best illustration category. I suppose this goes with the graphic novels Time magazine recently recognized. I will get that Norton Anthology, and the dozens collection looks like a winner, too.

Hasta, raza, and fellow readers. Read on!


Monday, November 14, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Nina Marie Martínez was born in San José, California to a first generation Mexican-American father, and an American mother of Germanic descent. A high school dropout, she possesses a Bachelors degree in literature from the University of California at Santa Cruz. She is the author of the widely-acclaimed novel, Caramba!: A Tale Told in Turns of the Card (Knopf, 2004).

An avid baseball fan, her first great ambition was to be the play-by-play announcer for the San Francisco Giants. Since she hasn’t completely lost hope in the possibility of, at the very least, being a baseball commentator, she intends to attend scout school in the Dominican Republic as soon as is humanely possible (which probably won’t be for a few years). Her favorite ballplayer is the Dominican sensation Vladimir Guerrero whom she considers the only bona fide five tool player in the game.

In addition to writing novels, she is also a vintage clothes enthusiast and dealer. For shoes, her favorite eras are the 1940s and the 1980s, which saw the rise of pinup girl platform shoes and electric color pumps, respectively. Cashmere cardigans from the 1950s are also part of her everyday wardrobe, and while she believes it is fine to wear fur as long as it is vintage, she is strictly against new fur on the basis of cruelty. She currently resides in Northern California where she is at work on her second novel.

NUEVOS LIBROS: Rigoberto González reviews Angie Cruz’s new novel, Let It Rain Coffee (Simon & Schuster). He says: “In a mature follow-up to her debut novel Soledad, Angie Cruz continues to explore Dominicans with one foot firmly planted in New York, the other reaching for her beloved Caribbean nation.” González is an award-winning writer and associate professor of English and Latino studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Sergio Troncoso reviews Ringside Seat to a Revolution: An Underground Cultural History of El Paso and Juarez: 1893-1923 (Cinco Puntos Press) by David Dorado Romo. Says Troncoso: “Romo's meticulously researched and well-written book gives us the past we knew was there, the past we experienced, in our neighborhoods and in our families, and yet a past that is rarely the subject of history books, until today.” Troncoso, a native of Ysleta, is an award-winning author. You may visit his Web site at http://www.sergiotroncoso.com/, or send him an e-mail at STroncoso@aol.com.

THE QUETZAL QUILL: Monday, November 21, 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Imix Bookstore will sponsor an evening of entertainment and literature by hosting The Quetzal Quill, a national collective of poets and writers on a mission to promote and share their literary works.

The guest writers are:

Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of "The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart," is a former Jones Lecturer at Stanford. She has received the Rona Jaffe Women Writers' Award and the Bernard F. Cooper Prize from The Paris Review.

Reyna Grande is the author of the forthcoming novel, "Across A Hundred Mountains." She was born in Mexico, educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and currently lives in LA, working on her second novel.

Miguel Murphy, author of "A Book Called Rats," winner of the Blue Lynx Prize, is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he received the Swarthout Award and the University Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Daniel A. Olivas is the author of four books, most recently the story collection "Devil Talk" and the children's book "Benjamin and the Word." He is a Los Angeles based attorney with the California Department of Justice.

Your Host: Rigoberto González. González, founder and curator of The Quetzal Quill, is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and professor of English and Latina/o Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He is the author of four books, most recently the bilingual children's book, "Antonio's Card."

The authors' books will be available for sale.

Venue: Imix Bookstore
Address: 5052 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles,90041
Ages: All ages
Admission: Free!
For more information call: 323-257-2512
Or visit: http://www.imixbooks.com/

NEW ISSUE: In the new issue of Tertulia Magazine, there are many items of interest. There’s a discussion with María Amparo Escandón, a review of Escandón’s novel, Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking Co. (Three Rivers Press), by Bernardo Salinas, and fiction by Juan Carlos Reyes.

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

Friday, November 11, 2005

Arte, Familia y Juerga de Crimen

Manuel Ramos

In this post, Chicana/o Art, Five Families, and a little BSP.

Chicana/o Art
A review of a few (very few) books on Chicana/o Art:

Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge by Cheech Marin (Little, Brown and Company, 2002), published in connection with the traveling art exhibit of the same name, this classy book has 96 full-color illustrations of art by Chicana/o artists such as Carlos Almaraz, Diane Gamboa, Carmen Lomas Garza, Gronk, Jesse Treviño, John Valadez, and twenty others. Three exhaustive essays that trace the history and development of Chicano art are included in the book, written by Max Benvidez, Tere Romo and Constance Cortez. Cheech, called "the country's foremost collector of Chicano art" adds his own observations. This book is attractive and, unlike most art books, not too pricey ($19.95), especially considering the overall excellent quality of the represented art.

Contemporary Chicana and Chicano Art (Various authors and contributors, Bilingual Press, 2002) sets the standard for all Chicano art books. The publisher says: "The result of years of careful preparation, this two-volume work of art covers the artistic production and biographies of nearly 200 individual artists from across the United States as well as Chicano/a artists residing in Mexico and elsewhere. This unique work was published both as a full-color, coffee-table-quality set of books, produced to exacting standards, and electronically, with its own separate Web site provides bibliography, indexing, artists’ statements, new works by the included artists, and other information that is continually updated." This is about as complete as one can get - up to the time of publication, of course. The two volumes in paper don't come cheap - $130 - but if you are lucky enough to get your hands on these books you will know that you have something special.

Something unique is The Road to Aztlan: Art From A Mythic Homeland , by Virginia M. Fields and Victor Zamudio-Taylor, (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2001). This is a truly impressive book produced to accompany an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It contains nineteen essays by scholars who "investigate the concept of Aztlan as a metaphoric center and allegorical place of origin for the various peoples of the Southwest and Mexico." In addition to the essays, 314 illustrations grace the pages; everything from an overhead shot of the Chaco Canyon ruins to the photographic essay by James Luna entitled Half Indian, Half Mexican. Not bad at $39.95.

Five Families
My cuñado sent a quick, off-the-cuff message to several in the family about a book he recently read and I liked his message so much that I asked him to let me reprint it on La Bloga. Here it is, Pepe Hernandez's take on a classic piece of Anthropology.

I read Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty by Oscar Lewis (HarperCollins, 1975) I highly recommend it to everyone. It was first published in 1959 and reprinted in 1975 but the various economic levels and the lifestyles they allow remain reality today.

I personally recall the visits to la colonia in Lamar and our families in Juarez, Mexico DF, Penas Blancas in Chihuahua and my 'tourist' visits while in the Navy and can say that some things are the same today as written 50 years ago. I recall visits to family and friends in Ordway, Crowley and Sugar City, Colorado.

Did I mention that the five families presented are real...this is not a novel and their experiences and actions are documented.

I noticed that the Spanish is translated literally and truly loses some of its flavor. When a couple address/refer to each other as old man/woman, that is not the same as the use of viejo/vieja in Spanish. Children addressed as mihita/mihito/papacito/mamcita is translated as my little son/daughter.

Overall the book is a window into the past of our ancestors - a path many walked that has ultimately led to where we are today. A path that daily leads us further into a better future but that originated with their coping and struggling with the hardships on their path. Our sons and daughters would find it hard to believe that their great grandparents and perhaps grandparents lived as described in the book.

Again, I highly recommend this read.
Hernandez, Jose L.

CrimeSpree Magazine has rapidly become one of the best sources available for reviews, interviews, short fiction, news - everything you want to know about the state of crime fiction. I'm pleased to note that I am all over the current issue, #9. First, my latest short story, Bad Haircut Day, is premiered in this issue. Second, Steven Torres, author of the very cool Precinct Puerto Rico series, interviewed me for the magazine. He asked some unique and unexpected questions. Finally, I interviewed one of my favorites, Brian Azzarello, the prolific graphic novel writer: 100 Bullets, Batman, Sgt. Rock, Hellblazer, many more, and now his latest, a western, Loveless. This guy is quite an interesting cat. The editors and publishers of CrimeSpree, Jon and Ruth Jordan, produce a quality publication - hope you have a subscription or can get a copy at your favorite book store.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Chicano Lit - My Diary from Here to There

My Diary from Here to There/Mi Diario De Aqui Hasta Alla (Pura Belpre Honor Book Narrative (Awards)) (Hardcover)

by Amada Irma Perez, Maya Christina Gonzalez (Illustrator)

I was wandering the stacks today at the Chula Vista South Library, which has a lovely collection and came across this book. I picked it up, noticed that Children's Book Press was the publisher and thought to myself, "This is going to be good." It was better than good, it's a great book and I fell in love with it.

The book tells the story of Amada, a young girl living in Juarez, Mexico who has just found out that her family is going to be making a big move to the United States. Her diary chronicles her feelings and fears, her hopes and dreams. She is worried to be leaving to a strange new land and leaving behind all that she loves in Mexico. The author is a third grade teacher and the book is based on her own move as a youngster. There is some mighty fine and poetic writing in this little book. As Amada writes about the tortilla shop in her Juarez neighborhood, the line "hands blurring like hummingbirds wings" describing the women making tortillas by hand struck me to the core with it's simple beauty. This is poetry. The diary is bilingual and the language in Spanish is just, if not more poetic and lovely.

My Diary From Here to There is a thoughtful and moving account of a family making a big transition. So many of us either remember such a crossing or have family members that have done the same, taking risks to make a new life here. Amada writes of the challenges and of painful separation from her father who has gone ahead to the fields of Delano, California. He writes a brief letter home mentioning a young Cesar Chavez beginning his lifelong fight for the migrant workers. There are observations in this book that make you stop and think. Take, for example, "two countries looking exactly the same on both sides of the border with giant saguaros pointing up at the pink-orange sky and enormous clouds." Makes you think, no? How different are we really and why is this border even an issue?

The illustrations by Maya Christina Gonzalez are gorgeous. The more I see of her artwork, the more I am struck by it's power and beauty. She has this way of capturing the very essence of the beauty that is the Mexican women - grace, strength, determination, warmth and most of all the love for familia that shines out of their eyes. Each illustration has a mural like quality and with each look, you find more and more to amaze at.

I would encourage anyone to buy this book - adults and children both will be enchanted and moved.

Until next week,

Gina MarySol Ruiz

Monday, November 07, 2005


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Xochiqueztal Candelaria was raised in San Juan Bautista and earned her BA at UC Berkeley and her MA at New York University. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Seattle Review, Solo: A Journal of Poetry, GSU Review, Gulf Coast Magazine, Indiana Review, Massachusetts Review, Louisiana Literature, and the Homestead Review. She has also written articles for the online journal: Solo Ella and has been anthologized in June Jordan's Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint, published by Routledge Press and in the 2002 Women in Literature and Letters Anthology: Mamibaile. Candelaria has received a number of fellowships and awards including a Vermont Studio Center Writing Fellowship, a Hall Farm Center for the Arts Award, a National Hispanic for the Arts Fellowship, a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant, a Bread Loaf Work-study Scholarship, a LEF Foundation Fellowship, the Fifteenth Annual Louisiana Literature Prize for Poetry, and the 2001 Gulf Coast Poetry Prize. She loves to dance Salsa and is currently learning magic. She is an instructor at Gavilan College in Gilroy, California. Here is some poetry by Candelaria that first appeared in the Homestead Review:


Take this leaf and debrief me.
I rarely remember names.
I don't know how to knit sweaters.
The letters I haven't written are long.
I know you learned how to walk,
and say apple and yes and yellow
at some point in your career and
clearly I have learned the alphabet. I have
hair that smells like orchids on purpose
and four sisters and one brother
and a mother who is five feet tall.
You have at some point inspected
the parts of a doll or consciously killed
an ant. I can't tell you the color of your
first bike or lover but I know Vermont
in the summer is green. I want to lean
back in the grass by the rippling stream,
and watch fireflies confess. In my language
leaf might mean hand, neck, silver water, nipple.

Confessions of a Female

No is not a word that we are conditioned to use.
Instead we might laugh or say maybe or thank you or yes.
We also see parts of the crenelated whole
and the whole part as beautiful.
We might start to like your choice
of words and for a while that is enough.
We might think you look a bit rough and want
to teach you the difference between soap and style.
The words I love you but do not amount to a contradiction.
For light has always been both particle and a wave.
We are likely to save small things-bead by bead
fascinated by the intricate daring of the infinitesimal.
Saddled with sharing, we unconsciously lament the loss
of the cliff dwelling where you can lift up the bone ladder.

Love Poem for Mexican Men, 2001

I didn't cut the sign of the cross in the air
swear on my mother's
cracked copy of the new testament
that I wouldn't love you.

The February wind didn't
enter my chest
making it painful
to open arms.

I just grew to imagine that you might
stay out all night, drink the week's pay,
lay some girl who smelled sweet
then treat yourself to a movie.

I didn't want to wedge myself
between stove and counter top,
smile while you called out
for more tortillas. Pray for you.

How could I not have noticed
the smell of almond soap in your hair,
face as smooth as wet ice cube,
the voice at the bottom

or your voice, the impossible
run away, idling R. I didn't imagine you
up close. Didn't see the seam
our bodies could make.

Was it you at the corner of Monterey
and Church who played kickball
in the dirt, yelling
for chubby Miguel to take third?

It's absurd to wonder about it now.
The man I'd never marry looks
like a cross between my uncle and your father
my grandfather and you.

Am I no longer then the lost
wife, found in the river, the one
who woke each day to grind the corn?
Am I now free to be
the ant who hid in the rice
and crawled away?
The other day I dreamed you
out for a walk. You carried nothing.

You must have been ten, a dark wing
of hair across one eye.
Then from way up high,
you too were a tiny black embrace
panting your way up this hill.


◘ UCLA Library Celebrates Women Faculty: Explore “Visionaries in the Academy: Women of Color at UCLA,” an exhibition at Young Research Library that focuses on women of color in tenure-track positions. The exhibition runs through December. In conjunction with the exhibition, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, professor in Chicana/o studies, will discuss her book, Desert Blood: The Juarez Murders, at the library on Monday, November 7 at 12:00 noon. Please call Norma Corral, 310-825-4945, if you have questions.

◘ CRSC Library Welcomes Diaz-Cotto: Juanita (Ramos) Diaz-Cotto, a longtime advocate of progressive causes and the editor of Compañeras:Latina Lesbians, will read from her ground-breaking book, accompanied by a slide presentation on Latina and Latin American lesbian activism. Diaz-Cotto, an associate professor at SUNY Binghamton, is also the author of a book on Chicanas in the legal system. The event will be held on Thursday, November 10, from 5:00 to 7:00 pm, in the Chicano Studies Library, Haines 144. Admission is free. Refreshments will be served. The presentation is co-sponsored by CSRC, MALCS, and Center for the Study of Women. For more information, call Yolanda Retter at 310-206-6052 or email her.

◘ Hot off the press, Self-Help Graphics & Art: Art in the Heart of East Los Angeles documents the history of this important Latino visual arts center. The book includes a list of most of the artwork produced at the community center. Along with full information for each work is the artist’s description of the motivation for creating it as well the meaning behind it. These microhistories are a particularly valuable part of the volume. To read more about the book, click here.

◘ If you are a subscriber, the fall issue of Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies should have arrived. If you are not an Aztlán subscriber and want to be one, e-mail your postal address to the CSRC Press in order to receive a subscription package!

◘ I Am Aztlán: The Personal Essay in Chicano Studies, has received a solid review in the September issue of Choice, a compendium of reviews for academic librarians. The reviewer, R. Acuña, notes that the collection “shows that the term Aztlán is much more complex than right-wing critics dare to acknowledge. ... All of the pieces are quick ... leaving readers wanting more. ... Highly recommended. All levels/libraries." I Am Aztlán features intimate writing about the challenges of being a Chicana/o intellectual, academic, and activist. In its pages well-known scholars wrestle with childhood experiences of family and adult experiences of research in order to come to a better understanding of both. If you are teaching a class about research methods or the Chicana/o experience and are interested in a desk copy, please contact CRSC Press. To read more about the book, click here.

◘ Write it Right!, a program aimed at assisting high school seniors in the San Fernando Valley write their personal statements for college entry, is looking for volunteers to work with high school seniors. During the first three weeks in November they will work with students at San Fernando High, Polytechnic High, Sylmar High, Van Nuys High, Kennedy High, and Monroe High. For more volunteer information, phone Jose Atilio Hernandez in Senator Alarcon’s 20th District office at (916) 445-7928 or email.

◘ The CSRC welcomes undergraduate and graduate students with an interest in Chicano Studies to work as interns and volunteers in various areas of the Center. If interested, send an inquiry to Carlos M. Haro.


(ChUSMA is: Gustavo Chavez, Alberto Ibarra, & Marisol Torres)
Directed by Olivia Chumacero
with live original music by Quetzal Flores

Playing at San Fernando's historic Azteca Theater
214 N. Maclay
San Fernando, CA

November 5, 6, 12, & 13
Saturdays @ 8 p.m.
Sundays @ 4 p.m.
Pre-sale tickets are available online here or at the following locations:

Tia Chucha's Cafe Cultural
12737 Glenoaks #22
Sylmar, CA


Imix Bookstore
5052 Eagle Rock Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90041

General admission pre-sale tickets: $15
Student/senior pre-sale tickets: $11
Admission: $20
General admission & $15 Student/Seniors

The L.A. Weekly says: "Mixing Aztec mythology with Mexican carpa, Chicano teatro and Hollywood's version of the L. Frank Baum classic 'The Wizard of Oz,' the theater troupe ChUSMA has crafted a provocative yet whimsical sociopolitical fable."

NUEVO CUENTO: Judith Ortiz Cofer’s new story, “Sofia and the Magic Fish,” appears in the premier issue of Staccato Magazine, which publishes only “micro-fiction pieces” of 500 words or fewer. Check it out.

MAKING APPEARANCES: I am a featured author in the new issue of poeticdiversity; the feature is here. And I was recently inteviewed in Ink Byte.

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

Friday, November 04, 2005

Bits and Pieces

Manuel Ramos

In this post: David Rice and Cristina Henríquez; P&W Lists Writing Prizes; Ward Churchill

David Rice and Cristina Henríquez

From David Rice's website I pulled the following bit of news:

The Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation recently announced the winners of the 2005 Awards. Texas writers Cristina Henríquez and David Rice were each awarded a grant for $5,156.

Cristina Henríquez is awaiting the publication of her first book, Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories, forthcoming from Riverhead Books. Her short story Ashes was recently featured in The New Yorker, July 4, 2005 issue. She is writer-in-residence at the Writer's Garret Writers in the Schools Program in Dallas.

David Rice currently resides in Austin, but the landscape of his stories are set in the Rio Grande Valley where he was born. His books include Crazy Loco, which won the Best Books for Young Readers 2001 Award and Give the Pig A Chance and Other Stories (Bilingual Press, 1996).

The Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation was created in 2000 to honor the memory of Sandra Cisneros' father, an upholsterer. "My father lived his life as an example of generosity and honest labor," Cisneros has written, "Even as he warned us to save our centavitos, he was always giving away his own. A meticulous craftsman, he would sooner rip the seams of a cushion apart and do it over, than put his name on an item that wasn't up to his high standards. I especially wanted to honor his memory by an award showcasing writers who are equally proud of their own craft."

The Alfredo Cisneros Del Moral Foundation invites a panel of nominators to recommend writers from across the writing disciplines. For the past five years the awards have focused only on writers from Béxar County (Texas). This year the award expanded to include writers throughout the state. The 2005 judges were poet/musician Joy Harjo, essayist/humorist Marion Winik, and bookseller/literacy-activist Ruebén Martínez. [The Foundation does not accept individual solicitations.]

Sandra Cisneros has written: "In my own experience, grants not only allowed me time to write, but, more importantly, confirmed I was indeed a writer at precarious moments when my own faith in my art wobbled." It is her hope this award will strengthen the resolve of the award winners and further them along in their careers.

Poets & Writers Lists Writing Prizes

Speaking of Writing Awards - Poets & Writers lists several writing awards in its most recent issue. The mag says, "Poets & Writers Magazine announces state and national prizes in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. Because of space limitations, we list only prizes of $1,000 or more, prizes of $500 or more that charge no entry fee, and prestigious nonmonetary awards." Many of these have upcoming deadlines, so get on it if you have something to enter.

Ward Churchill

Everyone's favorite professor, Ward Churchill, speaks at the Tattered Cover (Denver, Lodo) on November 11, 7:30 PM about his latest book. The bookstore announced this event with these words: "Ward Churchill is a Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder who has achieved an unparalleled reputation as a scholar-activist and analyst of indigenous issues in North America. Churchill will discuss and sign his recent book, Kill the Indian, Save the Man: The Genocidal Impact of American Indian Residential Schools." (City Lights, 2005).


Thursday, November 03, 2005

Primer Grado Buzzing Escritores

It's two months into my first year as a public school teacher. Two months as a Chicano teaching mexicano kids how to write, read, and prepare to deal with the U.S. education-melting pot. I never took an education course and never adequately attended the one college Spanish course I signed up for. My Spanish comes from the streets of San Antonio, and I always want to say pata, panza, and ese instead of pied, estomago and usted. What I know about curriculum might fill one comic book. But in the state of Colorado and much of the Southwest, the U.S.'s sad system of education considers me adequate to help acculturate mexicano kids.

That's their plan. Here's mine: teach them, not to become just literate in Spanish, but to aspire to become Nobel Prize winners. Teach them, not to read Spanish just good enough to be moved "up" into English, but to love reading Spanish so much they need a dictionary to absorb Cien Años de Soledad, one day. Teach them, not just the math basics so they might one day pass the CSAP (Colorado's standardized test), but to understand math and one day enter an engineering school. Teach them about America, not so they'll robotically put their hand over their heart for the Pledge, but so they'll patriotically question authority, unjust wars, and anything in print. That's my plan every day when I sit at my computer at home.

When I get to work, I get tsunamied by reality. This kid's got roach bites and scratches too much to hear his maestro's great words. Another is all sugared up from a junk cereal, donut, and McDonald's diet. And little Pepita aspires to be a Barbi-Shakira-June Cleaver clone. Half the parents wonder how long before I'll stop doing Spanish in class so their kids can become All-American English speakers. And don't get me started about the bureaucratic responsibilities of teachers--it's a wonder even Anglo kids know how to read and write.

Two months. Two months that pass so quickly--one quick day at a time--I wonder if I'm helping these kids more than adding to the agabachado drowning of their joy of life, bursting creativity, and hunger for knowledge.

Last Wednesday 'bout 10:00, they're doing their usual--writing. Some teachers don't make theirs write or do homework every day, or take a book home at all. Mine write twice a day; I give them homework six times a week and let them pick out a book five times a week. Why not? They should be as capable as Japanese kids, is my thinking.

Anyway, Wednesday's usually an especially good day; they're in the mode. Learning and creating machines. Society hasn't yet handed them any invoices for the first or told them it can't afford to let them do the second for long--the War in Iraq and Exxon's profits take priority over more nonfiction books in Spanish or more than one excursion trip per year.

I'm getting off the track, but I often do now that I'm a teacher--so much non-education stuff fills my date planner and covers the top of my desk. That Wednesday I hadn't prepared well enough. My writing prompt is "Algo de otoño." I wait for the expected confused looks, loss of bearings, and lack of inspiration. They go to their desks.

I'm watching them all, but paying more attention to my "bad" boys and girls, the sugar-addicted screw-ups, the Nintendo-addicted wanderers, the June Cleaver look-at-me-how-American-I-ams. But they didn't come today. We've got perfect attendance, but the kids at these tables are writing. All of them. My imaginary, latent ADDs, sociopaths, and desperate housewives-to-be have disappeared. In their place is a bunch of mexicanitos creating pensamientos about family picnics and kid-essays on a leaf turning orange. I've been saved. My lack of prep is erased by their youthful inventiveness. They don't need a teacher; they just need me to not screw them up too much.

I listen to them sounding out their words as they write en Voz Uno (whispering). It's a goddamn factory. No, it's more like a beehive buzzing--not with drones--but with writers, Spanish writers, Mexican kids creating the seeds of literature. Not all of which will win Nobel Prizes, but all of which at this moment fills the room with the the native music of Spanish phrasing.

I rush to the phone, hoping I'm not fooling myself, that this will last longer than five minutes, that it means something. I call the principal: "You gotta come and listen to them." A couple of minutes later she enters, checks what some are working on, and compliments me on their work. "It's not what they writing; listen to the sounds," I respond.

To me it's music. Not a concerto, not a ranchera, but the music of how they, all together, this day, passed a qualitative threshold --they're one great bunch of writers, doing what they like, what they believe they can do despite not being fluently English in a xenophobically monolingual country. A bunch of writers able to make up for their maestro's lack of preparation, well enough to make him look good in front of his boss.

Maybe fifteen minutes later, Pepita checks her hair, another starts scratching too much to let him write at length. A couple are wandering, staring at the walls, asking how soon's lunch.

I gather them and tell them they have to applaud themselves, literally. I try to tell them how they sounded, how great it made me feel, how they impressed the principal, how they reached a new plateau. Maybe my Spanish isn't good enough or the age difference is too great for me to impart even half what I feel. But I think my eyes do a bit. They smile. And laugh at some joke I throw in; one great part of teaching is the captive audience.

These mexicanitos are part of the new wave of "Chicano"; they'll help redefine the term (maybe to no one's satisfaction). Nevertheless, they'll be part of the literary audience and possibly create some of that literaure. For those who stay on this side of La Frontera, it's inevitable they'll become Americans. Perhaps they'll truly be bilingually fluent in part because of what I and others do.

Every day is like that Wednesday, just not necessarily such a wholesale buzzing of literary bees, so it'll happen again. Not because I'm an optimist or a great teacher in disguise, but because I expect each of them to succeed; I'm just a witness. No, they'll more than succeed--they'll surpass: their assimilation-minded parents, the bureaucratically burned-out teachers, the gabacho system's limitations.

I just gotta give them the room. Just gotta give them time to lose the itching, get over the Nintendo-mesmer, and reach that nice place where they patiently wait for their maestro to catch up.

© Rudy Ch. Garcia

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Gift of Gracias

Title: A Gift of Gracias : The Legend of Altagracia (Hardcover)
Author: Julia Alvarez, Beatriz Vidal (Illustrator)
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (October 11, 2005)
ISBN: 0375824251

Dominicana Julia Alvarez is the author of many wonderful books including, Before We Were Free, winner of the Pura Belpre Award. In A Gift of Gracias Ms. Alvarez pulls from the legends of her Native Dominican Republic to weave a magical, meaningful and completely charming story.

A Gift of Gracias is the story of María who loves on a finca where her family are trying unsuccessfully to grow olives. One day María’s father and Quisqueya, the Taino Indian that is part of the family bring home a basket of oranges as payment for work they had done in the city. As María’s father talks of moving his family to the city where there is work, María begins to cry into her bowl of orange pits. That night, she dreams of planting oranges on the barren land and of a beautiful woman wearing a robe of stars who says that her name is Nuestra Senora de la Altagracia.

The next morning, María tells her family of the dream and they all gather the orange seeds and begin planting them, saying gracias after each individual seed is placed into the waiting earth. In just a few short months, the trees are fully grown and give a bounteous harvest of oranges. As María’s father and Quisqueya prepare to take the oranges into the city to sell them, María asks her father to bring her an image of the Señora de la Altagracia. Her father searches but no one has such an image and he and Quisqueya head back to the finca. As Quisqueya sits in the night, he sees la Señora in the sky smiling at him. Stars fall and Quisqueya catches them with his blanket.

When they arrive home, it is far too dark to pick the oranges and Quisqueya opens his blanket where miraculously an image of the Altagracia appears glowing with light enough to illuminate the orchard.

This story reminded me so much of the stories I grew up hearing from my grandmother about Juan Diego, his tilma santa and the Virgencita de Guadalupe or Tonantzin as the Mexica called her. Ms. Alvarez writes that the Taino Indians of the Dominican Republic’s name for their land was Quisqueya which means Mother Earth and that they saw their Madre Tierra in the image of Altagracia the same way we find our Tonantzin in the brown face of our Virgen de Guadalupe.

The illustrations are gorgeous and bright. Beatriz Vidal also illustrated A Library for Juana by Pat Mora as well as several others. Her greens and oranges capture the feeling of the orange orchard and she brings that color into every page bringing the oranges and nature to the forefront even in her illustrations of the interior of the house. You can almost smell and taste the fruit. My favorite illustration in the book is the one where María is crying and her tears look just like the orange seeds in the bowl.

My grandmother would have loved this story. She grew up in the orange orchards of Piru, California and she loved sitting on her patio telling me stories of saints as she pared orange peels into long curls that fell into her apron. She has a special love for the Virgen in all her many facets and I’m sure she would have found the Altagracia very special.

This story is beautiful and moving. It reminds us to give thanks. It teaches of another face of our powerful and generous Madre Tierra and of how much we rely on her for our sustenance. It seems to me it is also a loving tribute by the author to her native land and shows also her love of nature and the earth. Gracias Julia Alvarez and gracias to Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia for reminding me to be grateful, for bringing to mind yet another beautiful memory of my much missed and beloved grandmother Lupe.

Until next week,

Gina Ruiz desde Chula Vista, California and missing East L.A.