Sunday, April 30, 2006

May Day, 2006: review, books, memoir, fiction, journal, poem

La Bloga contributors forgo our usual format to contribute short pieces relating to today's immigration protests throughout and beyond Aztlán. We remind U.S. residents, including those whose "papers" are less than four hundred years old, that May Day's roots lie in the U.S. of 1886. If mexicano participation in this American holiday reaches historic proportions today, the reasons may lie in history:

"In 1925, in the town of Matehuala, on the main highway between Monterrey and Mexico City, the trade unions of the area unveiled in the Plaza de Chicago a monument to the Martyrs of Chicago. Each May Day, workers from surrounding towns come here on the Day of the Martyrs of Chicago, what May Day is called in Mexico. . ." -- photo and cite from May Day: Made in the USA by W. J. Adelman..

Not So Alien After All
Timely Novel Gives Human Face to Immigration

by Daniel Olivas
[This book review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]

As the public discourse over undocumented immigration becomes more heated and, at times, outright ugly -- particularly in the blogosphere -- attacks on such immigrants are often made in broad strokes and with gross generalizations.

This should not be a surprise, because it is easier to denigrate and reject a group of people if you dehumanize them and make them faceless.

But that's where talented writers come in: With skillful prose, they can focus on a small group of undocumented immigrants and make their struggles and humanity real to the reader so that it becomes difficult to dismiss their plight with a bumper-sticker slogan or the waving of a flag.

Two years ago, Luis Alberto Urrea did exactly that with The Devil's Highway (Little, Brown), in which he brilliantly chronicled the plight of 26 Mexican men who, in 2001, crossed the border into an area of the Arizona desert known as the Devil's Highway. Only 12 made it safely across. The book received wide acclaim and was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction.

Now comes a fictionalized story of undocumented immigration in Reyna Grande's debut novel, Across a Hundred Mountains (Atria Books, $23). Grande tells her story in evocative language that never falls into pathos.

In the nonlinear narrative, chapters alternate between her two female protagonists, Juana Garcia and Adelina Vasquez. First, we have Juana, a young girl who lives in a small Mexican village in extreme poverty. When a flood leads to yet another death in her family -- a death that Juana feels responsible for -- Juana's father believes that he must earn more money to house his family in safer quarters. He believes that there are abundant opportunities "en el otro lado," based on a letter from a friend: "Apá's friend wrote about riches unheard of, streets that never end, and buildings that nearly reach the sky. He wrote that there's so much money to be made, and so much food to eat, that people there don't know what hunger is."

With such dreams, Juana's father decides to leave his family and enter the United States by relying on a fast-talking coyote. He makes numerous promises to send money once he's found employment. But Juana and her mother hear nothing for years, leading to further poverty. Worse yet, Juana's father had to borrow money from Don Elias to pay the coyote's exorbitant fee. Once Juana's father embarks on his journey, Don Elias swoops down on Juana's beautiful mother with ideas as to how repayment can be made.

A few years later -- after no word from her father, and after her abused mother has fallen into alcoholism -- Juana decides to leave home to find her father.

Juana eventually crosses paths with a young prostitute, Adelina, in Tijuana. They make plans to join forces and sneak into the United States together. For Juana, there's a chance to find her long-lost father. For Adelina, there's hope to cast off the shackles of her abusive boyfriend-pimp. This friendship is perhaps one of the most affecting elements of Grande's narrative. And, after a twist reminiscent of Dickens, these brave young women end up insinuating themselves into each other's life more than one could imagine.

The publisher tells us that Grande was born in Guerrero, Mexico, in 1975, and that she entered the United States as an undocumented immigrant at age 9. Despite such obstacles, Grande earned her bachelors of art degree in creative writing from the University of California at Santa Cruz and was a 2003 PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellow. In other words, Grande is living the American dream and has offered a striking and moving story about people who have traveled the same dangerous journey that she did.

Across a Hundred Mountains is a beautifully rendered novel that maintains its power throughout because Reyna Grande keeps control over her language and does not feel a need to trumpet emotionally volatile scenes of alcohol and drug abuse, rape, poverty and infant mortality. This is a breathtaking debut.

by Manuel Ramos

In honor of this day of pride and political action, I present a short list of Latino Immigrant Literature. The written word has the power to change minds, lives, history. Here are a few books (in no particular order) filled with that power. [Note - I list the original publishers and publication dates - most of these books can be found in newer editions, often with different publishers.]

Rain of Gold, Victor Villaseñor (Arte Publico, 1991): Alex Haley said that this book "both enhances and enriches the American experience." Villaseñor passionately tells the story of three generations of his family from Mexico to California, from revolution to bootlegging to "the dream of hope, the dream of joy... ."

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1989): The lyrical language in this Pulitzer Prize novel was described by Publishers Weekly as "wonderfully restrained, conveying with equal facility ribald comedy and heartfelt pathos." It's 1949 and two young musicians from Havana have made their way to New York where they soon become stars of the pulsing music scene that ruled the barrio.

Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation, John Phillip Santos (Viking, 1999): This book was universally praised when it was first published and it has continued to gather respect and readers. John Rechy, in a review in the Los Angeles Times, said, "What a wonderful story he has told here, in a memoir that is a brave and beautiful attempt to redeem a people out of a limbo of forgetting." Just this month San Antonio announced the selection of Places left Unfinished at the Time of Creation as the book for the first 1 San Antonio, 1 Book celebration (see the April 29 La Bloga).

How The García Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez (Algonquin, 1991): The New York Times praised this book, saying that Alvarez "has beautifully captured the threshold experience of the new immigrant." And the Library Journal said: "This rollicking, highly original first novel tells the story (in reverse chronological order) of four sisters and their family, as they become Americanized after fleeing the Dominican Republic in the 1960s. ... Alvarez is a gifted, evocative storyteller... ."

When I Was Puerto Rican, Esmeralda Santiago (Addison-Wesley, 1993): "A beguiling record of a tremendous journey, epic in its own way, from childhood in a vibrant Puerto Rican barrio to triumph at Harvard, with a defining pause in a drab Brooklyn along the way." Kirkus. "At once heart-wrenching and remarkably inspirational, this lyrical account depicts rural life in Puerto Rico amid the hardships and tensions of everyday life and Santiago's awakening as a young woman, who, although startled by culture shock, valiantly confronted New York head-on." Booklist. Now in English and Spanish editions.

The Devil's Highway, Luis Alberto Urrea (Little, Brown, 2004): La Bloga has consistently joined in the praise and admiration of Urrea's books. The Hummingbird's Daughter is a favorite of ours. (See the review at this archive). However, I admit that The Devil's Highway is my personal choice if I have to pick only one of this author's books. With grace and vivid detail, Urrea tells the true, heart-wrenching tale of lost immigrants doomed in the Sonoran Desert. The book has received many honors; I recommend it to all politicians and others who think they have an opinion about immigrants and the border. One of the most important books published in the last ten years.

The Silver Cloud Café, Alfredo Véa, Jr. (Dutton, 1996): Described as a blend of García Marquez and Raymond Chandler, this amazing book is dedicated by the author "to the immigrants, whose vision of America is always the truest ... and to all migrant farmworkers past and present; above all, the manong and the braceros, protectors and messengers of my brown youth." Two short excerpts:

"You must seek out remembrance, for ours is a land of amnesiacs who pretend that there is no past; that America is a multicultural land when, in truth, it is an anticultural place that has ever been blessed with persistent and enduring cultures that have survived never-ending efforts to drag them out of sight; push them out of mind; to imprison them in the past."

And from another chapter:
"The entire bench roared with laughter. No one of color had ever been left alone for long in America. Color was all important in a country that was trying so hard to rid itself of its cultures. Without culture, color is all that is left."

That's my short list - now give us yours.
¡Que vivan los trabajadores!

May Day Memories de Mis Abuelos
by Rudy Ch. Garcia

My parents and I were born here. My grandparents on both sides were not; I don't know they ever got their papers. In bits and longer pieces I've gotten "the story" of how we wound up here, how I came to be deprived of a full Mexican heritage. Although Chicano family histories are often about economic plight and crossing the border in search of livelihood; mine's maybe not so.

My maternal grandfather, Juan Sauceda investigated, wrote, typeset, printed, and distributed his own newspaper at the turn of the 20th Century in northern Mexico, making him the pueblo intellectual.

One day Juan went to the village store for milk, carting along his three little kids barely of school age. He ran into the sheriff who pulled out a six-shooter to blow Juan away for a political piece he'd written. Only the quick thinking Sauceda males are infamous for saved Juan's newspaper career. Faced with the prospect of his paper going to press with his obituary as lead story, Juan asked the sheriff not to scar his children with the memory of watching their father die. It worked, or I wouldn't be here to tell.

Juan was given little time to pack his personal opinions, children and bags, and head north. Effectively political refugees, they wound up on the Texas border, often a haven for Mexico's political undesirables. It's probably there that Juan became our family's ancestral alcoholic, maybe searching the bottom of a bottle for answers to his estranged, crippled machismo. Over the next decades, Juan would often abandon his family, leaving it to my abuela Blasa to raise the nine to thirteen children, depending on whether you count kids like Uncle Alfonso who was left on the doorstep with the note "Aquí estoy" by parents who wanted him raised where it was "better" during the Depression.

More stories have been forgotten about our migration than can be remembered. About how Uncle Alfonso never missed a day of work in a Corpus Christi rubberstamp company because he thought mexicanos got fired for doing so. The Anglo owner did fire him when his daughter fell in love with Alfonso, a romance rarely allowed in those times. Or how Blasa washed and cut restaurants' discarded fruits and vegetables to feed and raise the family, when she wasn't midwifing.

Or how Juan became Latino petti-bourgeois when he hooked up with Longoria of San Antonio's La Prensa newspaper (at one time the largest in Texas with 300 employees that Juan helped keep from unionizing). The San Anto library archives have a front page photo of my Uncle Mario's birthday taken with the staff in downtown's Plaza Zacate, more in deference to Juan's position than Mario's newsworthiness.

Juan periodically returned to my abuela Blasa, and she kept taking him back; who knows why. The last time, it was to end his days, a victim of cirrhosis, no doubt. I remember his thin body framed in the casket; a fifth of bourbon should have been buried with him. I wonder now where he went all those times he wandered. Family lore assumes he ran off with different women, on drunken binges.

Some Chicano and Mexican authors, as noted above by Olivas and Ramos, have written wonderful accounts of the social, emotional gauntlet mexicanos endured in entering the U.S. Of course, it's never been only about money, anymore than it's ever been about wanting to become the scapegoats of American's own insecurities.

I like to think that maybe during Juan's disappearances, he returned to Mexico to reconnect with his motherland, where life in some ways had been easier than becoming an immigrant. Maybe he even went home to pay the sheriff a visit. I don't know if he would have taken a six-shooter or simply gone to thank the culo. But if Juan were alive today, I do like to think he might have joined those of us marching to protest the dehumanizing of so many peoples' very human stories.

A Day Without An Immigrant: Does The Cost Exceed the Price?
by Michael Sedano

Maria Martinez studied the talón. It was payday. Gross salary at $8.00 an hour for the previous 80 hours came to $640.00. The company took out taxes, leaving her with $499.20 take home. $11,681.28 a year for the three of them. Maria thought long and hard about next week’s “Day without an immigrant” manifestación. All week, the women on the line had argued back and forth about staying out that day. Maria had long ago used up all her sick days and vacation. If she stayed away from el jale on Monday, there would be no pay for those 8 hours. A day without an immigrant would be a day without a paycheck. Maria Martinez calculated her next check would take home $449.28. It would cost her fifty bolas to join la marcha.

Bob Smith heard the rumors. His Vice President of Manufacturing had predicted half the factory wouldn’t show up on Monday. One of the warehouse managers had said the same, maybe half the workers would be absent, and the HR guy was telling workers to request the day off. Bob looked at the HR guy and spat angrily, “I hear you’re telling people to ask for the day off. What the fuck are you trying to do?”

Ben Dejo had planned to take Monday as a vacation day to join the demonstrators. Ben, the HR guy and third generation Chicano, stared across at the company president. “No, Bob, I didn’t tell them anything of the sort. When Eliseo asked me if we should do something, I told him to advise his staff they’d better request the day off, or come back on Tuesday with a doctor’s note.” Ben thought for a moment, then added, “I don’t know why you’re always distorting the shit you hear about me.” Ben had already cancelled his vacation day and would be putting in at least ten hours Monday, May 1, training the ten new employees he’d just hired. All of them immigrants.

Manuelita Ponce felt her heart beating with excitement. She knew she would pass the drug test and would be asked to start her new job on Monday, May 1. The HR guy had pointedly advised her that he expected new employees to report every day, on time. One day late would be OK, but there could not be a second time; if she missed a single day of training, that would be her last day. Losing the job would be that quick. Manuelita had graduated high school almost a year ago and hadn’t found buen trabajo, as her father complained. And now she would be earning $9.00 an hour—a dollar more than her father—and would be able to start paying her share.

Maria Martinez picked at the dry spot on her arm. Doctora Saenz said it was “equis ima” and was made worse by worrying. But what could Maria do, but worry? Fifty dollars would buy four bags of groceries at la Super A. And Marta la Chola said the company couldn’t fire everyone for missing work Monday. But Marta was a citizen and didn’t have to worry about the annual memo from the payroll office asking Maria to verify her Social Security Number. The Chicano in charge of recursos humanos always smiled and told her in his awkward Spanish to make una cita con la Social para averiguar la situación. Same thing he said to everyone who asked about the memo.

“So, Bob, we can’t fire everyone for skipping Monday, can we.” Ben spoke declaratively, hoping the company owner wouldn’t contradict the logic. Ben kept his smile to himself when an exasperated Bob Smith agreed. But Bob kept the door open by saying, “But I’ll remember. We haven’t done anything to these people. Why do they want to harm us?”

“They don’t mean us any harm, Bob, but you know the kind of crap they have to put up with.” Bob grimaced disgustedly at this liberal claptrap. He paid almost a dollar over the minimum wage. And the state didn’t require the company to provide health insurance. But Bob Smith not only provided health insurance, he provided it at no cost to the employees. And he self-insured up to a million dollars. A million dollars a year off the bottom line to pay the health and dental bills his employees accrued. The bitterness welled up. He stared at the Chicano HR guy and shouted, “Do you know we have 253 questionable Social Security numbers? If any of these people don’t show up Monday, they’re fired!”

“Bob, we’ll refer them for clarification, we can’t just fire them.” Ben hoped he didn’t sound desperate. “It's the same thing!” Bob Smith replied.

Monday, May 1, 2006, Manuelita Ponce woke with eager anticipation of her new job. Then she remembered the hurt look on her father’s face when Manuelita informed him she would earn $9.00 an hour and have a raise in 30 days, and paid benefits in 90 days, and another raise. “Maybe,” Manuelita thought, “I should just go to the demonstration and forget about that pinche job?”

Maria Martinez heard El Cucuy de la Mañana remind his listeners that el Cardenal was asking gente to go to work today and come to the parque for the evening demonstration. Tuesday, la Chola would ride everyone who’d come to work Monday. “¡Nacas! Chúntaras!,” Marta the Merciless would rub their faces in it. “Maybe,” Maria thought, “I should take the bus and keep going into downtown. They can’t fire all of us, they wouldn’t. Sabes que, I’ll take along a big bag to collect cans. We’ll survive without the cinquenta bolas.”

Bob Smith stared into the mirror and said aloud, “If they disrupt traffic I’m going to fire all of them.”

Ben Dejo stared into his mirror and repeated the thought that had been recurring with unnerving regularity lately, “Maybe today’s the day I’ll decide to retire.”

I wrote in my journal yesterday
by Gina Ruiz

I woke up this morning at 4:30 a.m. wondering what was different and then my senses woke up a second later and I realized that my man was home from Iraq and I had (for once) slept the night through. I watch him sleeping and snoring as I'm ironing my traje de gala for tomorrow's protest and I almost start to cry.

I'm overwhelmed that he's home safe and sound once more after so long in Iraq. He's a Desert Storm veteran too, been in the Army since he was 17. He limps now, more lines on his face, more gray in his short cropped hair that he dreams of letting grow long one day. He may take another deployment. We don't know.

I cry as I carefully press the turquoise blue velvet, making sure I don't burn the gold appliqued symbols. My feathers are soaking in the tub so that they will be perfect for tomorrow morning. They were a little wilted from the last protest. My man is the son of immigrants as I am the granddaughter of brave people that came on foot during the Mexican revolution.

My son who is still in the Middle East on an aircraft carrier is Mexicano and proud - but a proud American too. My boy has missed his son's first birthday, he will miss his daughter's birth - he sacrifices as we all do for duty and for country. I stand against the war and he fights because he believes in a dream, an American dream. How many son's of immigrants and naturalized immigrants fight for this country? I wonder.

I know that this country was built on the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants. Did those people on the Mayflower have a green card, ask permission? What of Manifest Destiny?

I fight my battles my own way, dancing barefoot in the street with my danza group, bringing attention to protests - keeping our culture alive. I think about tomorrow - the "day without an immigrant" May 1st and how Latino businesses are closing. Hispanics aren't going to work but what about the rest? Shouldn't the whole country not go to work tomorrow? Isn't pretty much everyone here an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants?

I wrote this poem awhile back and it seems to fit my mood today, fits tomorrow:

Children of Tenochtitlan

Listening to Mana – Sabanas Frias
While thinking you so far way
In that land of sand, heat and war
Fear and death
That leaves my own sheets cold
With your absence from me
Because you are there
In Iraq.

Is there a word that strikes more fear
These days in a mother's heart, a lovers, a wife's?
My beautiful Chicano man
With the big brown eyes and a peacock tattoo
And the work worn hands of a mechanic
Gone since February. No idea when he'll be back.
He loves his motorcycles, good food and import beer
And me.

My son tells me now he is going too
"In January Mom. I ship out in January
and all I want is a family Thanksgiving
here in San Diego before I leave my wife, my son."
And so I go, packing my bags, my boxes, my books
Quit the job, leave my beloved East L.A.
For a border town full of grieving mothers, wives and lovers.

My handsome Chicano son
Child of the sun and water,
Pale skin like the moon when it's fullest
His close cropped black hair that I love
To touch. Broad back my arm barely fits around
His proud Azteca stance, my warrior.
Will he come back? Will you?

I didn't carry my son in my womb for this
I didn't watch him grow for this
I didn't love him for this.
I didn't dream of this for him.
I don't dream it for you.

This is not my war, not ours.
We're Chicanos proud and strong.
Mexicanos al grito de guerra…
We're good enough to fight your wars, Cabron Bush
And clean your houses
Raise your neglected pale children
And prune your hedges.
We're good enough to die for oil.
Good enough to cry for our lost sons
The ones who feel forced into your war
Their only way to home ownership, college, a halfway decent life.

When they come back, if they come back
Will you see them for the men they are?
Will you pull the Minutemen from the borders?
Will you see them without thought for their brown skin?
And last names like Flores, Ruiz, Gonzalez, Camarillo?
Will you love them, the brown eyed children of Tenochtitlan?


(Daniel Olivas's regular post will resume next Monday.)

Friday, April 28, 2006

North Dakota to San Antonio: Sugar Beets to Unfinished Places

Manuel Ramos

I'm saving some stuff for the special May Day edition of La Bloga - we have something different in mind, hope we can pull it off. In any event, a few news items and announcements for now.

The 1 Book 1 San Antonio initiative was launched on April 11 with the announcement that John Phillip Santos' 1999 family memoir, Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation, had been selected as the featured book. The program, designed to encourage everyone in San Antonio to read the same book and discuss it, selected the book because it "highlights San Antonio and has the power to draw the community together."

A review of the book in the San Antonio Express-News said: "Some of Santos' best writing is about the landscapes of Mexico and San Antonio, vivid and moving literary snapshots that give life to streets, mountains and the weather. 'There are mysteries held within a family and there are mysteries held within the deeper soul of a nation,' he writes. Santos doesn't totally unravel the mysteries of his colorful and adventurous family, but with this haunting memoir he's made a fascinating, magnificent exploration."

I see more and more Latino books selected for these city- and statewide book celebrations. That says a lot about the high quality of the literature, its accessibility, and the clear thinking of the people who organize these events.

From The Spectrum, newsletter of North Dakota State University:
"Mexican-American women have at times felt stifled and silenced since migrating to the Red River Valley (North Dakota) to find work. Carol Pearson, associate professor of modern languages has begun to give those women a voice through her presentation, Barefoot Hearts: Mexican-American Women’s Voices in the Northern Plains. Her discussion illuminated Mexican-American women’s influence in the novels and autobiographies of Rolando Hinojosa, Tomás Rivera and Elva Trevino Hart. One of the most important aspects of her presentation focused on the oral histories she obtained from women in Fargo-Moorhead. Many of the women in the Spanish-speaking communities originally settled in the region to work the sugar beet fields. Pearson began accumulating the women’s stories last summer and had acquired about 10 narratives by the fall. Since then, she has added another 8-9 to her collection. The project got off to slow start, but once Pearson began talking with women, everything 'snowballed from there.'" Read the rest of the article here.

Preservation and discovery - two very important missions of academics and writers. Chicano history should be told by the people who lived that history. All success to people like Professor Pearson.

The Membership Chair of the Colorado Authors League is looking for help with a young adult novel she is working on. Donna Hickey wants to talk with anyone who has stories, first-hand or from relatives, about Pancho Villa or Emiliano Zapata, or stories in general that pertain to living during that revolutionary time in Mexico. She will get more specific with anyone who responds. Donna can be contacted at

I got this message from a young man I know quite well:
Need writers to help finish a treatment for a reality T.V. show already in progress. Writers need to be skilled in television technical writing. Interview cast and write a selling biography on their lives and profession. Writers will be paid by the hour with a quick turn around. If interested contact Diego (720) 934-8876, (720) 840-7390 or e-mail:

Event: Chic Chicana Scholarship Comedy Show
Date: April 28, 2006
Come and enjoy an evening of comedy by HBO's Kenny King, Bo Galvan, Ernie Ruiz and special guest 7-11. Dancing music after the show will be provided by Denver's own Maxine & Company. $10.00 per person/$15.00 per couple. Door prizes and raffles. Tickets will be available at the door. You must be 21 and proper dress required.All proceeds benefit the Chic Chicana Leadership and Development Program. Call 303-891-2442 for an application to the Chic Chicana Program.

Chic Chicana is a summer leadership development program that prepares high school students for the future by increasing their self-confidence. The program offers modeling, public speaking, dance, music, career exploration, leadership development, health education, tennis and golf. Both males and females are encouraged to apply for the program. Classes begin May 6, and graduation ceremonies are held at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts on July 9, 2006.

Make a note to visit La Bloga on May 1, maybe during a break from marching. ¡Que vivan los trabajadores!


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bilingual Pathos & Mono Myth 2

The first installment of this began last Wed. with my learning four of my ex-first graders had won northwest Denver literary competitions, in Spanish: (

I spent last Sat. morning at the festival where the stories were exhibited with their prize ribbons. I saw the four kids who proudly showed me their certificates, not realizing I was maybe more overjoyed than they were at their accomplishment. We spoke briefly, but I could hear their improved conversational English as they talked amongst themselves.

A distinction vital to all kids communication skills is that between social / conversational language and concepts, on the one hand, and academic concepts and language, on the other. In a strict pedagogical sense, Chicano kids fail in school, not because they can't write or say, "Did you see my prize?", but because they can't write or say, "The square of (1/2 + 1/4) is 9/16," or "Gisa was constructed by the Egyptian slaves, not the pharaohs."

Linguistics says mexicanitos will, do, and have to learn conversational English; it's a necessary step in acquiring English fluency, something they need to order a sandwich and fries, or maneuver an American playground. They learn it from their older brother, cousins, neighborhood friends, and parents who can speak it well. Those who learn it from someone with a heavy Spanish accent in their English, learn it that way.

Last Wed. was the middle of DPS administering a new state English test. For 14 days (16 now), kids were pulled out of my class for ten, thirty, sixty minute spurts to accommodate the testing. For over 2 weeks class would be disrupted so state legislators can be reassured these kids are learning English. Mine failed.

How? Which concepts and language did that English standardized test use to gauge my mexicanitos? The conversational--not the academic, which is what English language-learners need to succeed.

After my yelling at one of the testers about the repeated disruption of my class, I was informed said tester had found I was not teaching my kids conversational English.

Maybe because in my class, I've attempted to aim directly for academic English. I didn't teach my kids the Spanish word for the Sphinx; I only taught them Sphinx in English. Metamorphosis?--the English word. Those that learned what the KT-meteor did, where Madagascar and New York are, or what Christopher Columbus believed, did so without learning those nouns in Spanish.

That's what I thought I was supposed to do! Apparently, my heavy-handed approach toward more erudite concepts and terms won't satisfy the test takers, the legislators, and maybe not the monolinguists.

So, I fell that Wed., not down to where I got depressed, just to where I realized I'm really lacking in the ability to teach these kids higher concepts and scholarly terminology, in English. I've set a new goal for myself: to learn a whole lot more, not so they just win literary prizes down-the-line; but so they'll get scholarships to MIT. What else is a maestro to do?

Rudy Ch. Garcia

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

Though I usually post on Mondays, I wanted to remind readers of La Bloga that the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books will be held at UCLA this Saturday and Sunday. Visit the above link for details as to author events, obtaining free tickets to panels, parking, etc. Many of La Bloga's favorite writers will be there such as Mario Acevedo, Luis Rodriguez, Yxta Maya Murray, Al Martinez, and many more. Just visit the list of authors to see who will be reading and signing books. I'll be hanging out at the Swink literatry magazine booth on Sunday, 11:00 to noon. The Swink booth will be co-hosted by that remarkable reading series, Vermin on the Mount. I will be handing out some information on the book I'm editing, Latinos in Lotus Land: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature, which will be published by Bilingual Press in 2007. The Swink/Vermin booth is number 147. See the campus map for directions or ask any of the kind volunteers when you get there. Note that Saturday night, Swink/Vermin will host a spectacular literary tag team event including such literary stars as Salvador Plascencia, author of The People of Paper (McSweeney's). -- Daniel Olivas

Vine Deloria, Jr. Memorial Reading

Forgive the intrusion, but I wanted to help distribute notice of an event in honor of Vine Deloria that is scheduled for this week. The following is taken from the the Tattered Cover Book Store's newsletter.

Thursday, April 27, 2006 7:30 PM
Location: Tattered Cover, Cherry Creek, Denver
Title of Event: Vine Deloria, Jr. Memorial Reading
Acclaimed author Vine Deloria, Jr., one of the most outspoken figures in Indian affairs, whose works promoted Native American cultural nationalism and a greater understanding of Native American history and philosophy, passed away in November 2005. Our special guest readers will offer a memorial reading from Deloria’s last book The World We Used to Live In ($16.95 Fulcrum). Our guests include Patty Limerick, professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who currently serves as chair of the board of the Center for the American West; George "Tink" Tinker, Professor at Iliff School of Theology, past president of the Native American Theological Association, member of the Osage Nation; Walter Echo-Hawk, Jr., lawyer, tribal judge, scholar and activist, senior Staff Attorney Native American Rights Fund, member of the Pawnee Nation; Norbert S. Hill Jr., of the Oneida Tribe, past executive director of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society; and moderator Daniel Wildcat, Professor at Haskell Indian Nations University and a Euchee member of the Muskogee Nation.

Monday, April 24, 2006


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

A Phi Beta Kappa from The Colorado College, Michael Nava went on to earn his law degree from Stanford University in 1981. From there, he worked with the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, a prestigious private appellate law firm, and then as a research attorney first with the California Court of Appeal and now with the California Supreme Court as a judicial staff attorney for Associate Justice Carlos Moreno. Nava also happens to be the author of nine books.

While studying for the California Bar right out of law school, Nava started writing his first book which began his seven-volume mystery series featuring his openly gay protagonist, Henry Rios. His novels were published to great critical acclaim and include The Little Death, Goldenboy, How Town, The Hidden Law, The Death of Friends, The Burning Plain and Rag and Bone. The novels are discussed in a number of critical and scholarly works including Contemporary Gay Novelists, Emmanuel Nelson, ed. (Greenwood Press, 1993), and Brown Gumshoes: Detective Fiction and the Search for Chicano/a Identity, Ralph Rodriguez, ed. (University of Texas Press, 2005). Nava’s papers and manuscripts are housed at the UCLA Graduate Library Department of Special Collections.

Nava is featured in Frederick Luis Aldama’s Spilling the Beans in Chicanolandia: Conversations with Writers and Artists (University of Texas Press, 2006). In the interview with Aldama, Nava notes that his first book “was rejected by fifteen publishers before it was picked up by this small gay publishing house, Alyson.” With the critical success of his book as well as changing attitudes toward gay-themed literature, Nava was eventually published by Penguin Putnam, HarperCollins and Ballantine. He also notes that “it’s wonderful that Latinos became the largest segment of the population in California; that betokens a demographic shift that will have very interesting consequences for the people living here.” Nava’s Wikipedia listing is here.

Nava’s books:

The Little Death (1986)

Goldenboy (1988)

How Town (1990)

The Hidden Law (1992)

Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America (co-author) (1994)

The Death of Friends (1996)

Finale: Short Stories of Mystery and Suspense (editor) (1997)

The Burning Plain (1997)

Rag and Bone (2001)

BRING ME YOUR TIRED AND YOUR POOR: Kathleen Alcalá writes of the marches that occurred in Seattle on April 10. She says:

Thousands of marchers – I heard people telling each other ten thousand – filled the streets of Seattle on Monday, April 10, from St. Mary’s church in the Central District to downtown Seattle, a distance of about three miles. Estimates the following morning put the number at twenty-five thousand people.

Banners ranged from “Columbus was illegal – and he has a holiday!” to “Refugees are not illegal” and “Latino Liberation Movement.” People sang, danced, and tried to chant slogans, but there were so many of us spread out across the city, that it was impossible to coordinate any chants. A woman dressed as the statue of liberty carried a placard that read “Bring me your tired and your poor….” Both the mayor of Seattle, Greg Nickels, and King County Executive Ron Sims addressed the crowd.

To read Kathleen's entire report, go to her website.

OPORTUNIDAD: The Getty Foundation has awarded a grant to fund the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Summer Internship.

Responsibilities include a number of related duties for two CSRC projects: a new book series on Latina/o artists; and a forthcoming museum exhibition on Chicana/o artists. For both projects, the intern will assist in compiling artist biographies and selected bibliographies, corresponding with artists about checklists, collecting images for each artist, and researching the credit information for images. The intern will receive training in book and catalogue production and will acquire hands-on experience in working with curators, artists, editors, and printers. The intern will work among an established CSRC arts team that includes two curators and four graduate student researchers; and he or she will have dedicated assigned space and equipment.

Deadline: April 28, 2006.

Please address inquiries to Carlos Manuel Haro, Assistant Director at

HUMMING ALONG: Sunday, the El Paso Times ran a nice article on Luis Alberto Urrea regarding the paperback release of his magnificent novel, The Hummingbird’s Daughter (Little, Brown).

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Mario Acevedo, author of The Nymphos of Rocky Flats (HarperCollins/Rayo), will be reading and signing his book at Borders Books on Thursday, April 27, 7:00 p.m., 8852 Washington Blvd., Pico Rivera, CA 90660. Phone: 562-942-9919.

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

Friday, April 21, 2006


Manuel Ramos


The Premio Aztlán (for a work published in 2005) has been awarded to Denver writer Gene Guerin for his novel, Cottonwood Saints. A press release from the University of New Mexico Libraries said that this is Guerin's first book although he has written documentary film scripts.

Cottonwood Saints "chronicles the lives of a New Mexico woman, Margarita Juana Galvan, and her son Michael. The story, told through Michael's eyes, explores the challenges faced by an intelligent, independent-minded girl maturing in a man's world. Margarita's family is affected by the prominent events of the century -- the influenza pandemic of 1918, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, the Great Depression, and World War II."

UNM Libraries carries on this award, first established by Rudolfo and Patricia Anaya, to encourage writers who are just beginning their writing careers. The premio has a $1000 cash award.

Camila Alire, dean of Univesity Libraries, commented: "We are excited to award Premio Aztlán to this interesting new voice. We join Rudy and Patricia in seeking out the best emerging Chicana/Chicano writers in the nation."

There appears to be a lot going on with this organization, which says this about itself:
"Chica Luna Productions is a non-profit organization that seeks to develop and support women of color who use popular media to engage social justice themes and are accountable to their communities. Founded in September 2001 by three working artists who gathered to produce progressive multi-media projects, Chica Luna has since grown to include members in both New York and Los Angeles, and has established a track record of partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations toward promoting socially conscious media by, about and for people of color."

Recent projects include a short film festival, the F-Word Project (described as a multi-media justice project), and launch parties for the publication of screenplays, novels, etc. Chica Luna has issued calls for submissions for one-act plays and an anthology on the theme of the celebration of women. Get the details from the website.

One of the founders of the organization, Sofía Quintero, recently published Divas Don't Yield (One World/Random House), "based on the award-winning screenplay Interstates, four friends drive from New York to San Francisco, each packing a little more baggage than she thought."


The last week in April will see the publication of the ninth collection of 100 Bullets stories (issues 59 - 67), entitled Strychnine Lives. These stories, written by Brian Azzarello with art work by Eduardo Risso, have been favorites of mine for years and it was way cool when I was asked to write an introduction to the most recent collection. I'm a fan and that's the way I wrote the intro. Try these violent tales of revenge and power - they can grow on you.

Also coming up soon (around Cinco de Mayo) is the publication of my short story No Hablo Inglés in the next issue of the online magazine Hardluck Stories. The theme for this issue is Borderland Noir - seemed like a natural for a story. Hope you like my piece - it's dark, gritty, and .. well, noir.

I was interviewed for the April issue of The Docket, the monthly magazine of the Denver Bar Association.The interview can be found here.

Finally, I wrote a foreword for the re-issue of Robert Greer's crime fiction novel, The Devil's Backbone, to be published by North Atlantic Books later this year. Robert is an interesting guy, as they say - doctor, researcher, rancher, publisher, writer, and so on. His books feature a black bail bondsman from Denver, C.J. Floyd and, in my opinion, they represent a new kind of Western Literature. I don't think you can go wrong with any of Robert's books - he's written at least six so far.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bilingual Pathos & Mono Myth

by RudyG

Wednesday started out with a super-high and ended with one of those lows that reminds you you're still in the United States of monolingualism.

I spent a few years prior to becoming an ELA-S teacher as what Colo. calls a Paraprofessional, an underpaid teacher's assistant. One thing that made it tolerable was the responsibilities I was given by my boss (both entendres) teacher to go creative and try to teach Spanish-speaking first graders how to write. That had its own ups and downs, one up being the year Alexandra won 3rd place in the Northwest Denver regional writing competition, in Spanish.

This morning I learned that in this year's competition--yes, after I left--two of my (sic) ex-students took 1st and 2nd place in the 2nd-grade category, and two others took 1st and 3rd place in the 3rd-grade category. I was high! Apparently, they really got inspired and more talented after I moved on. Maybe after I leave my present school, the same will happen.

I don't know the extent of my influence on the four students who won. Obviously, I can't take major credit since they blossomed only after my exit; but I'll take minor credit. It's something to grasp onto in a pedagogical world where you're continually under the shadow of standardized tests being the only true measure of success worth considering.

The direction Denver schools follow under the current Superintendent is to "exit" mexicanitos ASAP, the thinking being that the reason they might fail one day will be because their English isn't good enough and doesn't come fast enough.

Downtown administration, as well as state legislators, can't hold their breath long enough for English instruction to take dominance. Literacy in Spanish?--only as long as necessary and because the fed courts made us (Denver schools).

The admitted linguistic reality is that Spanish literacy greatly helps Spanish speakers learn English better, in the long run. (Monolingualists just can't wait long.) Not half-assed lip service to Spanish literacy--real instruction that increases their fluency and literacy.

In an unscientific attempt to ignore that reality, Denver mexicanitos are currently subjected to two different series of English tests to grasp at the barest opportunity to liquidate a child's Spanish instruction, long before they reached much more than a level of elementary-grade literacy. If the same standard was used with Anglo children learning English, they'd get their diplomas right after they turned 12.

The Denver superintendent's myopic hopes also ignore Denver history. There's been more than a hundred years of tens of thousands of brown kids who did speak and learn in practically nothing but English. They were, and are, called Chicanos, Chicanos whose parents spoke little Spanish in the home. Disproportionate numbers of those kids dropped out, or even if they graduated, they did so with scores and abilities inferior to Anglo kids. The Denver superintendent can't blame the educational system's past and present failures with these Chicano kids on their not learning English.

Anyway, in the short span Denver schools allowed my four ex-students, they at least enjoyed some fruits of learning in their first language, apparently well enough that their writings merited the highest awards presented in this area.

I've decided to break this post in two installments to spare you my usual lengthy piece, so you won't find out about my super-low until next time.

But at least Wed. started out with a bit of confirmation that I might have helped four mexicanitos onto the road of literary authorship at the ages of 6, 7, and 8. They didn't have to wait until they mastered English to discover that about themselves. I almost wish I could have ended the day there, instead of experiencing what came next.

Rudy Ch. Garcia

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Review: The Scorpion's Tail by Sylvia Torti

Willimantic CT: Curbstone Press, 2005. ISBN 1-931896-17-8

Michael Sedano

"After we told our stories we huddled over a map of the world and we saw that Chiapas was like a scorpion's tail at the bottom of Mexico. We understood that we had the power to whip around and sting those who had been stepping on us for so long." (88)

This is Chan Nah K'in's adolescent fantasy as she grows into a Zapatista warrior woman, ready to take on the Mexican Army and win back her forest home.

"Listen," she told them. "I saw a bunch of super-poor people go up against the Mexican military and essentially, they got stomped on. You call that a great movement?" "But the symolism and energy of it must have been immense from that perspective!" This is Amy, railing at the philosophy circle who have taken on study of Chiapas after Amy's eyes are ripped open by the Mexican Army's brutal treatment of all who fall into the army's cross-hairs.

Sylvia Torti has created a fascinating glimpse into shifting perspectives revolving around the cultural flux that surrounds Mexico's Zapatista movement. There is Chan Nah K'in, a Hach Winik child telling her story in the first person; Amy, the entomologist; Pablo, the rich kid ornithologist; Mario, the soldier.

Torti's unsettling story cannot have a happy ending, though she attempts to fashion one out of Amy's emotional dregs. The indigena teenager returns to her forest where she seems able to fashion some sort of personal and cultural survival. Pablo seems to think his closeted gayness will find freedom in Utah. Mario, spineless soldado, seems headed for el norte. And as the novel concludes, Amy is packing for a trip to Guatemala, following a reassuring conversation with Parker, the guy who got her into all that caca in Mexico:

"Probability of civil war?"
"Remote like Mexico or remote like Canada?"
He laughed. "Not as remote as Canada."
"And is there a clean toilet?"
"I'll clean it myself."
"Then I'll come."

La Bloga readers might recall The Tattooed Soldier to gain a fuller appreciation of the irony underlying Amy's banter with Parker. And yes, the two share an unrelieved romantic tension sure to pop up in Guatemala.

Readers who want guerilla action would do well to read B. Traven's jungle series from seventy years past. Torti's focus is emotion and cultural shock. Much as Amy resents the "intellectualizing" of the Zapatista rebellion, her book can be only that, given herself and her reader. With that noted, The Scorpion's Tail makes a valiant attempt to get under the skin of interesting characters and a story that has faded from the headlines, and shouldn't. Finally, the novel won the publisher's 2005 Marmol Prize for Latina Latino First Fiction, it's likely many readers will not recognize Sylvia Torti's name. But that's easily corrected.

That's this week for me. Les huarache next week.


Monday, April 17, 2006


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Michelle Otero is a former Fulbright Fellow who lives and works in Oaxaca, México where she conducts creative writing workshops for women survivors of sexual assault. Malinche's Daughter, an essay collection based on her life and work in Oaxaca, was published by Momotombo Press in April 2006. Her work has appeared in Puerto del Sol, BorderSenses, and other journals in the U.S. and México, and she is the recipient of a fellowship from Hedgebrook. She is a committed anti-violence activist, she volunteers with Amigos de las Mujeres de Juarez and is a founding member of The Women Writers’ Collective, an El Paso-based group that showcases the talents of women writers and artists while raising awareness of women’s issues. A graduate of Harvard University, she is currently a student in the low-resident MFA program at Vermont College and is working on Vessels, a memoir of borders based on her grandfather’s service in World War II and her southern New Mexico upbringing. Visit Momotombo Press to order Otero’s chapbook, Malinche’s Daughter.

NUEVO LIBRO: Though I’m often making note of book reviews by Rigoberto González and Sergio Troncoso in the El Paso Times, thanks to the efforts of Sergio and the kind offer from editor Ramón Renteria, I am now a book reviewer for EPT. My first review is of Reyna Grande’s debut novel, Across a Hundred Mountains (Atria Books) which will be released this June. You may read the review here.

NOTICIAS FROM CSRC: The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center sends us the following important news regarding opportunities and events:

◘ CSRC will host Magdalena Beltran-del Olmo and Frank Sotomayor, editors of Frank del Olmo: Commentaries on His Times, for a reading and book signing on Thursday, April 27, 2006, 4:00 - 7:00 p.m., in the CSRC Library, 144 Haines Hall. Otto Santa Ana will serve as moderator, and additional guests will make presentations. A reception will follow. Frank del Olmo, an associate editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, was a role model and an inspiration to many Chicana/os. His columns and editorials were often the loudest, clearest, and most articulate voice for the Chicana/o community. He died February 19, 2004. The book is a collection of his columns.

◘ HSF/Pfizer, Inc. Fellowship: A stipend of $10,000 for the first and second year of graduate school is available to ten full-time Hispanic students (one parent must be fully Hispanic or both parents must be half Hispanic). Applicants must be enrolled during the next academic year in a master’s or PhD program and have a minimum GPA of 3.0 at one of the following universities: Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, NYU, Northwestern, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, UT Austin, or University of Virginia. Deadline: Monday, May 15, 2006. For more information, click here.

BORDER BOOK FESTIVAL: Melinda Palacio offers us a dispatch on the Border Book Festival. Luis Urrea will be a guest author at the festival (see below).

URREA INTERVIEW: Kacey Kowars interviews Luis Urrea. Here are a couple of events Luis has planned:

April 21-23, 2006
Border Book Festival
Mesilla, NM

April 25, 2006
7 p.m.
Reading and Signing
Book Works
Albuquerque, NM

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

Friday, April 14, 2006

Este y Eso

Manuel Ramos

The University of California, Santa Cruz, reports: "Acclaimed Chicana author Sandra Cisneros, whose book The House on Mango Street is required reading in classrooms across the country, will give a public reading at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 30, at the Mello Center for the Performing Arts in Watsonville.

Cisneros will be accepting the first annual Gloria E. Anzaldúa Distinguished Lecture Award, presented by the Chicana/o Latina/o Research Center (CLRC) at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Tickets are available through the UCSC Ticket Office at (831) 459-2159 General admission ranges from $20-$45 per ticket; admission for students and seniors ranges from $15-$35. In addition, premium seats will be available for $100 per ticket. The event is a fundraiser that benefits UCSC's Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program, which pairs students with faculty mentors who provide input, guidance, and encouragement as they open the 'pipeline' to higher education for young Latinos.
The Gloria E. Anzaldúa Distinguished Lecture Award honors the work of one of the first openly lesbian Chicana writers. A Santa Cruz resident, Anzaldúa published essays, poetry, short stories, interviews, anthologies and children's books and was considered a bold feminist thinker and social activist before her death in 2004. She wrote the landmark Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, which was named one of the 100 Best Books of the Century by Hungry Mind Review and Utne Reader. Anzaldúa was awarded a posthumous Ph.D. in literature from UCSC."

Dark Discoveries seeks stories to 5000 words in the dark mystery or horror vein. Original ideas, new twists on old conventions are welcome. The stories should "examine the darker side of the human condition." Twenty-five dollars per new story plus two copies, or $15 for reprints that have not been seen widely plus two copies. Submit by regular mail or electronically. More info on the website.

Getting Even: Women's Tales of Revenge, an anthology edited by Mitzi Szereto, will be published by Serpent's Tail, London. Deadline is August 1. Submit stories in hard copy, include author bio and email address. Contact info on the publisher's website.

Another oldie from my ragged poetry folder - not sure of the year.

ZAPATA POSTER by Manuel Ramos

Zapata watched.
Through years of motion and energy
fused together in a hazy clump of time
remembered as the movement by shaggy comrades.

Zapata watched.
Sad-eyed peón prophet
frozen by Casasola at the instant of fame
unspoken threats from the sword at his side
dressed to the nines in his charro outfit
proudly clutched the carbine
his answer to those who failed to respond
his answer, finally, to all questions.

Zapata watched.
Rips and tack holes, fading brown tone
taped, repaired
from dormitory to duplex to apartment
then hidden in the attic of the new house
among the buttons, signs
unfinished petitions
not yet discarded
hard to do looking
Zapata in the eye.

Zapata watched.
The evening news, a night like any other
stories of corporate plunder
another struggle crushed
children gunned down by an automatic rifle
in their schoolyard
or crack bought with the dreams of their mothers.

Zapata watched.
Under a swinging bulb, shadows flew across
pink insulation packed tightly along the floor
disturbed by middle-class sneakers
the poster rolled across the junk
cobwebs and dust witnesses
tears fell in the attic of the new house.

Gracias to Ted Schmidt, Library Director of the Loveland Public Library, for the nice review of Brown-on-Brown.


Monday, April 10, 2006

Chicana Studies Issue

The editorial board of Feminist Studies is interested in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction for a special issue in Chicana Studies. Go to for guidelines on how to send work electronically or by mail. Deadline: May 15, 2006. Thanks to our friend, Rigoberto González for the noticia.


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Jesús Salvador Treviño is writer/director whose television directing credits include Prison Break, ER, Third Watch, NYPD Blue, Crossing Jordan, The Practice, The O.C., Dawson’s Creek, Chicago Hope, New York Undercover, The Pretender, Nash Bridges, Martial Law, Star Trek: Voyager, Babylon Five, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Sweet Justice, and many others.

Treviño began his career in film and television as a student activist documenting the 1960s Chicano civil rights struggle with a super-8 camera. Throughout the late sixties and early nineteen seventies, he was both a participant and a chronicler of the events and issues of the day. His national PBS documentaries about Latinos and the Chicano struggle include America Tropical, Yo Soy Chicano, La Raza Unida, Chicano Moratorium, The Salazar Inquest and Birthwrite. He was Co-Executive Producer of the four-part PBS documentary series, Chicano! History Of The Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. He wrote and directed the Mexican feature film Raices de Sangre (Roots of Blood) and Seguin, an American Playhouse drama of the Alamo saga told from a Mexican American point of view. More recently, he served as Co-Executive Producer of the SHOWTIME drama series, Resurrection Blvd.

Treviño has won dozens of national and international awards and recognitions including (twice) the prestigious Directors Guild of America award and an Alma Award for Outstanding Director of a Prime-time Television Drama and an Alma Award as Co-Executive Producer of Resurrection Blvd, Best Prime Time Drama series. In 1991, his film, Raices De Sangre (Roots of Blood), was included in an anthology of the 25 Most Significant Films of Latin American Cinema at the 36th Annual International Film Festival of Valladolid, Spain. In 1993 he was honored with an homage at the Montevideo International Film Festival in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Treviño is also a writer. His collection of short stories, The Fabulous Sinkhole and Other Stories was published in 1995 by Arte Público Press. He is also the author of a memoir, Eyewitness: A Filmmaker's Memoir of the Chicano Movement (Arte Público Press, 2001), which chronicles his experiences as an activist filmmaker during the turbulent 1960s and also addresses the status of United States Latinos in the next millennium. Treviño’s second collection of short stories, The Skyscraper That Flew And Other Stories, was published in 2005.

RHYME TIME: Our friends at Tu Ciudad magazine tell us that Boricua Films will be presenting the Los Feliz Poetry Slam, where the nation’s top slam poets compete and perform original spoken word poems in an attempt to secure a spot on the Los Feliz Poetry Slam team. Enjoy dinner and drinks as you watch well-known poets who have been featured on HBO’s Def Poetry, The Fly Poet Showcase, Da Poetry Lounge and Urban Graffiti TV show. Guest performers include comedy by Third Floor and sound mixes by DJ Autreyu. Hosted by Dufflyn Lammers. Sunday, April 9. At 8:00 p.m. Free admission. 21 and older. Formosa Cafe, 7156 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, 323-850-9050.

NUEVO LIBRO: Rigoberto González reviews Kool Logic/La logica kool (Bilingual Press) by Urayoán Noel. He says of this new book of poems: “The energy that pulses through the poems of Kool Logic / Lógica Kool is an anti-establishment battle cry (á la Allen Ginsberg) that comes from the depths of intellect and discontent to turn conformity, convention and tradition upon its post-colonial head. Urayoán Noel does so with audacity and panache—Boricua style.”

EL PASO TIMES PROFILE: Ramón Renteria offers a moving profile of writer Toni Beatriz Fuentes. He says in part: “Fuentes has no academic credentials and has published just a handful of poems and stories of the dozens she has written. She once hung out with more-notable writers, such as the late Chicano poet Ricardo Sanchez, who said her writing was too mushy, too flowery. The criticism does not bother Fuentes, who often gets standing ovations and sometimes makes people cry at her performances. Her poem ‘La Socrates del Barrio’ is considered a border classic.”

NOTICIAS FROM CSRC: The UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center sends us the following important news regarding opportunities and events:

◘ For the second year in a row, CSRC has been awarded a grant by the Getty Foundation that will enable the center to offer a summer internship. During the ten-week period from June to August, the intern will provide support to various arts projects at CSRC, working under the supervision of CSRC Director Chon Noriega. The intern will have the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the work done by Chicano artists and to receive hands-on curatorial and publishing experience. To apply or for more information, contact Carlos M. Haro.

◘ Concepción Valadez, a CSRC faculty associate and professor in the UCLA School of Education, has received the prestigious Rosenfield Community Partnership Prize for her work with the community organization Centro Latino de Educación Popular. For the past nine years, Valadez has assisted this group with its mission: enhancing Latino immigrants’ quality of life and their children’s success in school. She works directly with Centro Latino's programs on basic literacy, vocational English, parent education, student education, and the use of computers for acquiring literacy. For more information, see the award web page.

◘ CSRC will host Magdalena Beltran-del Olmo and Frank Sotomayor, editors of Frank del Olmo: Commentaries on His Times, for a reading and book signing on Thursday, April 27, 2006, 4:00 - 7:00 p.m., in the CSRC Library, 144 Haines Hall. Otto Santa Ana will serve as moderator, and additional guests will make presentations. A reception will follow. Frank del Olmo, an associate editor and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, was a role model and an inspiration to many Chicana/os. His columns and editorials were often the loudest, clearest, and most articulate voice for the Chicana/o community. He died February 19, 2004. The book is a collection of his columns.

◘ HSF/Pfizer, Inc. Fellowship: A stipend of $10,000 for the first and second year of graduate school is available to ten full-time Hispanic students (one parent must be fully Hispanic or both parents must be half Hispanic). Applicants must be enrolled during the next academic year in a master’s or PhD program and have a minimum GPA of 3.0 at one of the following universities: Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, MIT, NYU, Northwestern, Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvania, UT Austin, or University of Virginia. Deadline: Monday, May 15, 2006. For more information, click here.

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

Friday, April 07, 2006

Turning Pepe into Peter

by RudyG

I've slaved for the last week completing a Denver Public Schools teacher's course on how to teach mexicanitos English. The course had little to do with how that is done and more to do with how to fill out the chingos of bureaucratic forms required to change Pepe into Peter.

There's only one officially sanctioned school of thought in Colorado about English Language Acquisition, as they call it. Legislatively, politically, financially, curricula-wise, it all amounts to the same thing: use the children's knowledge of their first language, Spanish, to get them learning English as soon as possible, and then dump the Spanish instruction, which involved the least amount of time anyway, with the smallest amount of money, staff, books and materials dedicated to the Spanish language.

I sometimes feel I'm deceiving Pepita as I help her learn to write stories in Spanish. At the same time I know I'm helping her acquire storytelling tools, I also know that much of the literary constructs associated with Spanish do not transfer into English prose. I want to warn her about how the system will soon drown her in English learning, not to get her dreams up too high about one day writing fantasies in Spanish. But I don't.

To boot, the school I work at includes in its mission statement the phrase "a bilingual community", which is more humane and civilized than other schools where the Spanish language is treated much like a child's bedwetting problem: Pepe'll get over it as he grows up, but, the sooner, the better.

If I sound bitter, it's because I've become more intolerant of liberal window-dressing the older I've gotten. For any specific Spanish-speaking child, ideally DPS "allows" bilingualism for a period of 3 to 5 years. After that, the child is directed to learn everything only in English. Then monolingualism prevails.

When Pepita bring her homework story to me in the morning and proudly says, "Mira Maestro, lo que escribí anoche," I'm sometimes tempted to tell her to enjoy it while it lasts, because once her English immersion begins, for a long time her English prose will frustrate her maybe enough to question whether she ever even was a writer.

The farcical theme behind such an educational structure means not only that bilingualism is abandoned, but also biculturalism and all its advantages. The diversity that liberals so revere cannot exist in an English-only environment. When Pepe enters the first grade speaking nearly only Spanish, he also comes in with his Third World innocence, respect for learning, and simple desire to explore. By the time Pepe's turned into Peter, his mind's been sullied with all the best of gringo society--from Nintendo war games to McDooDoo's fat food, from Bush's colonial-war mentality to American standards of gas guzzling and paving parking lots.

Of course, I'm not decrying Pepita's learning of English; I'm ruing her loss of Spanish. Nor do I think I'm looking at the world through a pair of rose-colored, Latino-only glasses. Spanish is not part of some sacred way of living. But it is not just a lingo; it is an integral part of Pepita's way of looking at the world.

When Pepe stands in front of the class to read his recuento of how his father wound up in the hospital and might loose his foot from an injury received from jumping trains to get back across the border to be with his son, the entire class tends to quiet down, sharing in the experience all of them are a part of. One day he might be able to write just as powerful a story in English on the same topic. But after his English-only education begins, he will probably never return to revise his original, much less attempt to publish it. After all, it's just in Spanish.

Last week over 50,000 Denver people protested Bush's new assault on immigrants; maybe a half million did so in Los Angeles. I doubt any of their signs read "Spanish only." In fact, most mexicano parents worry that their kids aren't learning English fast enough! They too are under the delusion that learning English will fix their kids' problems. They find out soon enough what us Baby Boomer Chicanos learned from growing up here: the problems brown people face are not rooted in how well we speak and write English. In fact, we're not the problem at all.

What is the problem is an intolerant, guilt-ridden society that tends to blame those who don't yet speak English well, those who have values that don't correspond to those great middle class values all true Americans hold, the same values that elected Bush, permitted him to invade Iraq, and allow their fellow Americans to continue global-warming the entire planet.

In a couple of hours I will again begin class and have to decide which of the many raised hands I call upon to share their latest literary creations, done in Spanish. I can't let them know that each time I do so, I help bring them closer to the day when no teacher will permit anything to be read in Spanish. For nearly all of the Pepes and Pepitas, that day comes sooner than middle school. But I try not to think about how suave a real bilingual society would be like, at least not too much.

Rudy Ch. Garcia

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Immigrant Novels: The Tattooed Soldier Redux

Michael Sedano

Last week in La Bloga, I struck out in an endeavor to recall very many Chicana or Chicano novels that tell the story of the immigrant's journey from home to their new home. La Bloga's Bloguera Gina MarySol Ruiz shared a children's book about a young girl's journey, a child who finds that strength comes from who she is, wherever she is. And I remember hearing Reyna Grande read a chapter from her upcoming novel that seems to be about the journey--enticing, so I'll have to wait 'til next month. And I recall looking at, then putting away, a novel about a group of immigrants who die in a sealed boxcar. I didn't want to read that story.

Perhaps the point is not the journey but the settling, what matters is the new world, the new life. The point came to me last week, when I journeyed to IMIX bookstore to order a copy of Hector Tobar's 1998 novel of Guatemalan immigrants. My niece wanted to read it and couldn't find it in her local library. I'd reviewed the work when it first appeared, and figured it would not be an active seller. IMIX has a highly efficient special order service, so there I was. What a pleasant surprise to find several copies of the title--now in paperback--readily available.

As most novels about immigrants, The Tattooed Soldier spends a few pages "back home", gets the immigrants to the US, then develops the plot around events that happen here, post migration. Tobar's written such a powerful novel that I have friends who read it at my behest keep reminding me--as recently as last week--how much they enjoyed the novel. If you're among those who have not yet picked up a copy, I hope the following re-run will spur you to find it. Maybe, just possibly maybe, some soulless anti-immigrant could find a modicum of understanding by reading this outstanding novel.

Hector Tobar. The Tattooed Soldier. ISBN 0140288619

Readers who enjoy reading war literature have probably read The Red Badge of Courage, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Naked and the Dead, The Iliad. Readers of Chicano literature find notable Vietnam war fiction to add to such a list: Alfredo Vea's Gods Go Begging, Charley Trujillo's Dogs of Illusion, Daniel Cano's Shifting Loyalties. Hector Tobar's The Tattooed Soldier offers a worthy companion to reading shelves of war literature readers, with the added dimension of being an immigrant's story with a close kinship to Chicano Literature.

Tobar plants Guatemala's filthy US-sponsored war against its native Americans in the middle of Los Angeles. The writer's focus is the humanity of war in telling a story that ends with a street murder during the Rodney King riots and begins with a political assassination of a mother and child in a Guatemalan village and a kidnapping of an indian teenager some years before.

Antonio and Jose Juan get evicted into homelessness as the 300 page book opens. For Antonio, homelessness is yet another downward spiral that started when he steps into the puddles of blood flowing from his wife's partially clad corpse and son Carlitos' machine- gunned body sprawled amid childish toys, building blocks. Ever industrious as well as lucky, the Mexicano Jose Juan works his way back to a home and respectability. This loyal friend brings Antonio back into reality as the book closes.

A teenager's mother warns him to come right back from town. Instead he's kidnapped into the Guatemalan army and never returns to his mother's corn patch or hears her voice again. The soldier murders Elena and Carlitos and eyes Antonio who is fleeing to the United States in mortal fear. That they meet up again in Los Angeles is a convincing coincidence, so fully does Tobar fill his world with believable details.

The tragedy of war goes without saying. Its ironies likewise. The humanity of war favors the victor. Except Tobar has chosen to make both sides, Antonio and the soldier, decent humans. Except Longoria was once a vicious murderer trained at School of the Americas. Except Longoria is a small indian who speaks in a peasant's voice serving an Army contemptuous of indians and their voices.

Longoria plays chess, he never wins. The butt of the locals' jokes at the MacArthur Park senior citizens tables (Longoria could be another Mickey Acuña, but a vicious one), the soldier stays aloof from the tawdry swindlers he works for in a crooked paqueteria. Offended small business tipos might object to the stereotype but it serves the perfect backdrop for the life Longoria has found in the United States. Longoria is customer relations; when a customer complains that money never got to its addressee, Longoria intimidates them into accepting their being cheated.

Antonio finds friendship among the homeless camped on a hillside overlooking downtown Los Angeles' skyscrapers until the police and bulldozers scrape the hillside clean of all traces of the habitation. A small band comes together retreating to the PG&E tunnel and safe haven.

Tobar's homeless men offer a tribute to sentimental image-making and useful ways to advance his story. The Mayor has sage advice, Frank helps Antonio buy a gun from a Chicana in the projects.

Tobar makes it clear that looting and disorder are aberrant behaviors. Antonio gives a strong speech against theft and looting; bystanders give dirty looks to people suspect of carrying looted goods. Even the homeless, Frank and the Mayor, steal only small quantities, of necessities. The reader understands that Frank somehow deserves to hear the news once again on his portable radio.

The Tattooed Soldier will leave the reader curiously uncentered, in part because Longoria, damaged as a boy, is not wholly evil, in part because Tobar is particularly adept at reversing victim and attacker. The story of the wounded Longoria crawling three blocks pursued by his attacker retraces Antonio's journey from home to tunnel. Antonio never forgot the face of a man first seen in a Guatemala Park, only to see that face again, across a chessboard in a park, in Los Angeles, (but Antonio forgets the date his wife and son were butchered by that man), where Antonio disables the sergeant, accelerating the tattooed sergeant's own inevitable finish as his past catches up with him.

In today's dispiriting anti-immigrant milieu, Hector Tobar's moving exploration of these two immigrants' lives might help us for a moment set aside the hatred and instead go searching out our mutual humanity.

And if pigs could fly, they'd be my uncle.

See you next week. Read! Raza.


Monday, April 03, 2006


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano is an Austin-based poet, activist and dreamer. He is the author of the Lambda Literary Award nominated Santo de la Pata Alzada: Poems from the Queer/Xicano/Positive Pen (Evelyn Street Press, 2005). Lorenzo is the Editor of Queer Codex, a radical queer people of color cultural arts anthology series published in collaboration by Evelyn Street Press, a progressive feminist publishing house, and ALLGO, a Statewide Queer People of Color Organization in Texas. Born in San José, California, transplanted to Estación Adela, Chihuahua, only to be shipped back to California 6 years later. He has been in Austin for nearly 5 years, where his work primarily focuses on social justice activism in queer communities of color. Lorenzo is the Director of Arts and Community Building of ALLGO; he is the Co-Chair of Unid@s, the National Latina/o LGBT Human Rights Organization; and sits on the Steering Committe for the National Latina/o Coalition for Justice. Lorenzo is a member of the Sandra Cisnero’s Macondo Writer’s Union and is working on completing two new poetry collections, Amorcito Maricón and God Don’t Live Here Anymore.

SHE’S BAAAAACK: This week sees the release of the paperback edition of Luis Alberto Urrea’s magnificent novel of last year, The Hummingbird's Daughter. If the price of hardcover has kept you from buying Urrea’s novelization of his ancestor, the miraculous Teresita, this is your day! AND the Kiriyama Prize in the fiction category has gone to Urrea for his novel. The prize is given to authors whose works contribute to a better understanding of the peoples and nations of the Pacific Rim and South Asia. I joyfully gave Urrea’s master work one of its earliest raves in The Elegant Variation (TEV), a review that's excerpted in the newly released paperback version. I also interviewed Urrea for TEV. Check out the follow-up interview of Urrea in the April 3rd edition of TEV.

CHICA LUNA: Chica Luna Productions is a non-profit organization that seeks to develop and support women of color who use popular media to engage social justice themes and are accountable to their communities. Founded in September 2001 by three working artists who gathered to produce progressive multi-media projects, Chica Luna has since grown to include members in both New York and Los Angeles, and has established a track record of partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations toward promoting socially conscious media by, about and for people of color. In October 2005, Chica Luna opened a community-based studio in El Barrio New York that will serve them to further produce popular media and expand their multi-media organizing. For more information, visit Chica Luna’s website.

NUEVO LIBRO: Lissette Norman’s children’s picture book, My Feet Are Laughing (FSG), has just been released. What Kirkus Reviews says: "Sadie is a Dominican-American girl who lives in Harlem with her mom and sister in her grandma's house. She's eight years old and full of spirit; Norman's poetry brings her vividly to life. In 16 poems, she chats about her feelings toward her dad and mom's separation, her grandma, and her six-year-old sister. The free verse typifies her age, as in ‘Love is Crystal telling / Rolando from down the street / that she likes his blue-and-orange jersey / and Rolando wearing it almost every day.’ Each poem is accompanied by a double-page spread of illustrations as energeticas Sadie. Long curving lines exaggerate space and make the interiors cozy, as do the mellow and delicious shades of chocolate, purple and yellow. Sure to make readers' feet laugh."

ESSAY: Melinda Palacio’s new essay demonstrates that sometimes fiction interferes with life.

TRONCOSO’S WORD: Sergio Troncoso reviews Rudolfo Anaya’s new book, The Man Who Could Fly and Other Stories (University of Oklahoma Press). Visit Troncoso's website for more on his own books and other reviews.

AND GONZÁLEZ’S WORD: Rigoberto González reviews Christine Granados' debut collection of short stories, Brides And Sinners in El Chuco (University of Arizona Press).

BLOGGING IN THE U.S.A.: C. M. Mayo has entered the addictive world of blogging. And I note that last Sunday, the Los Angeles Times gave a rave review to her new anthology, Mexico: A Traveler's Literary Companion (Whereabouts Press).

L.A. WEEKLY: Daniel Hernandez has a new gig at the L.A. Weekly. His most recent article is entitled “Stirring the Other L.A.: How the media and immigrant advocates got 500,000 people to protest” and can be read here.

CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: This announcement from one of my all-time favorite online literary journals: Each issue of Outsider Ink is read by over 80,000 people worldwide. We are currently seeking alternative fiction that dares to cross the line. Read our Submission Guidelines and a current issue before submitting.

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