Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Review: Fortunate Son. Walter Mosley.

Hachette, 2006 ISBN: 0316114715

Michael Sedano

Walter Mosley writes some of literature's best characters in his "colored" series novels featuring Easy Rawlins. Easy, his lethal sidekick Mouse, and a host of others, people almost a dozen novels spanning a period from the end of WWII to the 1965 Watts riots. Ostensibly a detective writer, Mosley spins a crime yarn against the backdrop of Los Angeles black / white race relations, and the neighborhoods of Central and, now and then East Los.

Every now and then, Mosley tosses in something different. Socrates Fortlow finds a warm welcome among some readers. A sci-fi novel here and there mystifies some readers. A new lead character shows up and perhaps dissatisfies long-time “colored” readers. Now Mosley brings forth Thomas Beerman and Eric Nolan in what is likely to be their only novel. This is a novel you do not want to miss.

There’s no crime, per se, in Fortunate Son. Instead, Mosley tracks the lifespan of brothers Thomas and Eric from birth to young adulthood today, paralleling black and white L.A., poverty and privilege, class and color. Which is far too simplistic. As with the boys in this novel—and Richard Montoya’s Water & Power—the surface fails to account for the person behind the persona. As Thomas will say, people look at his brother and they see themselves as in a mirror.

Eric’s mother dies with his birth, leaving his heart surgeon father and Vietnamese nurse, Ahn, to care for the boy’s upbringing. The child is beautiful, blonde, large, and squally. Child of privilege, but off to a rough start. As Eric grows, Ahn begins to fear his unnatural charm, as if everything Eric wins comes at serious, even lethal, cost to loved ones. Thus, when Thomas calls "home" Ahn answers the phone and tells the little boy not to call again.

Thomas’ father leaves Branwyn for his other woman, May, a month after learning of the pregnancy. When Thomas is born, he has a hole in his lung and delicate health. To prevent infection, Tommy lives in a plastic box. His mother visits and talks to the baby through the bubble. Child of color, off to a rough start, but this is only the beginning of a truly ugly and tragic career.

Branwyn explains life to the neonate. Sitting by the bubble, she relates her love for Elton but not enough to abort in order to keep him. The father has the choice to go or stay, but Branwyn couldn’t ask Thomas “if you minded if I didn’t have you and if you didn’t have a life to live.” These literally are words to live by, and Thomas understands their truth no matter what is happening to him.

Minas Nolan has an office across the hall from Intensive Care. He sees and falls in love with Branwyn. In a heartbeat they start a relationship that escalates from friendship to a kiss, to bed, to constant companionship. Branwyn and Tommy move out of a tiny rental in the Crenshaw district to a four story Beverly Hills mansion. Branwyn becomes the mother Eric never had, the boys live as brothers, cared for by Ahn, nurtured in the top private kindergarten. Their natures ideally complement one another. Thomas is cerebral and insightful like his mother. Eric is bold, smart, and charismatic like no one has seen before. Then Branwyn dies. The doctor cannot keep the first grader when Elton and Branwyn’s mother demand custody.

Now the story grows ugly. Within a few weeks of moving from white LA to black LA, first grader Thomas is homeless, dealing drugs, moving in and out the everyday violence that characterizes his new part of the city. At the age of ten years, Thomas is surrogate husband and father to Monique and her baby, working for a vicious drug dealer to pay the rent, keep them fed.

Why? This story goes beyond Mosley's standard agenda. In his colored stories (e.g., Devil in a Blue Dress, Black Betty, Little Scarlett), race always crops its ugly head to complicate Easy's existence. Despite the hardships, Easy invariably finds a way to win, to affirm the dignity of black people, to give white people lessons in morality, humility, or comeuppance. Easy's world is simple: black versus white.

Not so simple, however, is the world of Fortunate Son. Consider the relationship between Thomas and his father Elton. Elton is a big, powerful, sad man. Elton wants his boy to grow up knowing he's black. To prove the point, Elton refuses to walk the first grader to school, despite the day before's assault by a group of punks who slapped and kicked Thomas to the ground.

“I’m scared,” the first grader tells his dad. This is page 94 of a 300+ page work. “I’m scared too,” his dad admits. Thomas, who has seen his father sexually assault May, take two headshots from LAPD batons before being subdued, asks, “You?”

“You know, a black man out here in these streets got a thousand enemies. Men want his money, his woman, his life, and he don’t even know who they are. That’s why I took you, Tommy. I want you to learn what I know. Do you understand what I’m sayin’ to you?”

Tommy understands relativity. He tells Elton it’s like a rabbit, a lion, and an elephant. The rabbit fears the lion. The lion fears the elephant. Feeling an elemental truth challenged, the father spouts back, “The lion is the king of the jungle”. The boy acknowledges the father’s myth but confounds him, “I know. But he’s still afraid of the elephant.” Mosley makes the point: “Father and son stared into each other’s eyes for a moment. Elton had the feeling that he’d missed something, but he had no idea what that something was. 'Go on to school now, boy,' he said at last."

Eric grows into the most popular boy on campus. As a ninth grader at the best private school in LA, he challenges the biggest man on campus to a tennis match and wins. The loser's girlfriend, a gorgeous and pampered senior, finds Eric so irresistible she invites him for a ride and gives herself completely over to Eric. This is not love but obsessive compulsion. Eric exerts a powerful pull on the woman's feelings. She abandons plans for an Ivy League college to take a factotum job and provide Eric with whatever pleasures he cares to give her. She finds him cold and distant. They have a daughter when Eric is in ninth grade.

Looking at Eric's power, Ahn's fear that Eric is bad luck to anyone close to him seems prescient. Thomas, meanwhile, free from Eric's influence, has been shot by police. The youngster is sentenced to juvenile prison by a heartless system, where Tommy, who now carries the nickname "Lucky", is regularly beaten and raped by his tormenters, which seem to be anyone Lucky comes into contact with. Released to a group home, the teenaged Lucky walks away to become a street person who wanders the streets holding conversations with his mother and a dead girl.

Is Fortunate Son a fairy tale? Will Thomas find a life? Will Eric find love? Will all live happily ever after? Simple as these questions appear, they take on vital importance as Mosley unfolds his story. Eric’s is not a likeable portrait, but he doesn't do anything deliberately to hurt others. There certainly exists pain all around him. Pobrecito Tommy. Lucky fills the pages an object of complete empathy for the senselessness of what has befallen him. Yet, Thomas considers himself truly lucky, repeating Branwyn’s words confessed to the baby in the bubble.

Mosley fills the pages with anxiety. Lucky's precarious teetering on the edge of reality and freedom, Eric bringing misery into the world. What can next go wrong? Then matters grow worse.

Ultimately, Fortunate Son is a mystery. It's a mystery why Walter Mosley has put this story out there. This is not a typical Mosley world. Never the twain meet. Being black means leading a wretched outsider existence. Being white means privilege and comfort, whatever may lurk beneath the outward vestiges. In the end, well, that would be telling.

Mosley telegraphs a lot of his moves giving the plot of Fortunate Son a lot of predictability. Which adds to the fun when Mosley twists up a surprise ending that will leave a reader laughing that Walter Mosley can write such melodrama. And he not only gets away with it, he makes it work.

Reading a Walter Mosley novel is never just about character, plot, and affectionate local color. Read the writing. The writer introduces the evil Beverly Hills power broker in only a few paragraphs, but from the first words the character’s sleaziness oozes off the page. Dialect writing doesn’t capture the oracy of speech and shouldn’t try to. Marking dialect with generous use of the apostrophe character and subject verb agreement can be tiring and misleading. Mosley uses dialect to signal Thomas’ increasing distance from the kid who “talks funny” in the first grade because he speaks Beverly Hills English in the Crenshaw district. The only jarring element in this powerful story was a typo at a climactic moment. All that work putting the reader on edge as the awful moments arrive, only to misspell the name of a pistol. He compounds it by naming the gun again, a few pages on, corrected.

Ni modo. Walter Mosely stands alone as a Los Angeles writer. And a crime writer. That he’s determined to ‘splain what it’s like to be black in the anglo United States is his misery. For readers, it produces an excellent story, and the case of Fortunate Son, a true gem.

Before I sign off for the week, here's something for your weekend calendars if you're in my favorite city in Texas, SanAnto. From La Bloga reader Gregg Barrios:

OPEN HOUSE: 6:30 p.m., First Friday, Sept. 1, 2006 Join us for light refreshments and a reading of short scenes from works by San Antonio playwright Gregg Barrios

Dark Horse, Pale Rider Katherine Anne Porter and her would be Chicano biographer “Barrios brings the loves of Porter to life. A classic cultural embrace.” - San Antonio Current

Rancho Pancho Tennessee Williams and his Mexican muse. “An intriguing notion. Barrios’ ambitious play asserts that Williams stormy relationship with Rodriguez was the inspiration of the fireworks between Stanley and Blanche.” – San Antonio Express-News

Plus a special preview of a new work-in-progress Candythe life and times of legendary Texas Bad Girl Candy Barr.

Sounds like an interesting evening. Maybe Gregg will tell La Bloga readers how the reading went.

Maybe you have a good book you've just read and have a burning energy to tell people about it. Write it out! Send your guest reviews to La Bloga or click there. Sabes que, we're always happy to invite gente to share their critical views on important arts and literature issues.

So it goes for the last week of August, 2006. See you next time,

Monday, August 28, 2006

Memoir travels maze of sex, family and self-acceptance

Book review by Daniel Olivas

What makes a writer?

This seemingly simple question can elicit many complex answers and even more questions. Case in point: Rigoberto González's poetic and heartbreaking memoir, Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa (The University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95 hardcover).

González is an award-winning author of poetry, fiction and children's books. He is also a book critic contributing regularly to the El Paso Times.

How did González, the son of migrant farmworkers whose first language was Spanish, become González the writer? Answers begin to emerge from his painful assertion of himself as a gay man in a culture steeped in machismo.

González tells of his journey into adulthood and a life of literature in a nonlinear fashion, moving back and forth from childhood to adulthood, Mexico to the United States, self-loathing to self-revelatory empowerment.

The book begins in Riverside, Calif., in 1990. González, as a college student at the Riverside campus of the University of California, has fallen in love with an older man who, as symbolized by painful yet beautiful "butterfly" marks he places upon González, brings both tenderness and brutality to the relationship. The unnamed lover cheats on González and doesn't hesitate to beat him up to establish his superiority over his young man. At times, González believes he deserves such brutality.

Other times, he is grateful to have escaped the oppressiveness of his family and its legacy of dropping out of high school to work in the fields. The escape comes in the form of literature. A sometimes-callous, sometimes-tender teacher named Dolly lends the young González a poetry book and works with him to subjugate his accent. And the fire is lit: "I became a closet reader at first, taking my book with me to the back of the landlord's house or into my parents' room, where I would mouth the syllables softly, creating my own muted music."

González then suffers the death of his mother when he is only 12. Compounding this loss, he is shipped off to live with his tyrannical grandfather. His own father -- who abuses alcohol and carouses with women --eventually starts another family, further alienating González. Again, books prove to be González's salvation, eventually leading to his surreptitious and successful application to college.

González remains closeted in both his sexuality and intellect, realizing that neither facet of his identity would be understood or appreciated by his family.

In the midst of scenes from his college life in Riverside and his adolescent exploration of sex and literature, González recounts a long and agonizing bus trip with his father. He leaves Riverside and travels to Indio, where his father lives, so they can begin their journey "into México, into the state of Michoacán, into the town of Zacapu, where my father was born, where my mother was raised, and where I grew up." This passage home takes on a special aura because González will turn 20 while there. Throughout the trip, González longs for his lover while seething with an almost uncontrollable anger toward his father. Throughout, he wonders if this trip was a mistake or a necessary part of becoming an adult.

What makes a writer? Obviously, talent is a necessary ingredient. And in the case of González, add to the mix hard work and a burning desire to be heard. Ultimately, it is a mysterious alchemy.

In any case, Butterfly Boy is a potent and poetic coming-of-age story about one man's acceptance of himself. There's no mystery in that.

[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]

◙ The Premio Aztlán Literary Award 2006: Call for Submissions!The Premio Aztlán Literary Prize is a national literary Prize, established to encourage and reward emerging Chicana and Chicano authors. Renowned author, Rudolfo Anaya and his wife, Patricia, founded Premio Aztlán in 1993, and the prize was reestablished in their honor in 2004 by the University of New Mexico Libraries.

A prize of $1000 will be given to a Chicana or Chicano writer for a work of fiction published in the 2006 calendar year. Authors who have published no more than two books are eligible for the prize. The winner will be expected to give a reading at the University of New Mexico Libraries in April 2007.

Publishers should submit a letter of nomination and authors should submit a letter of interest and resume. Letters should include appropriate contact information and be sent with five copies of the book by December 31, 2006 to:

Premio Aztlán Literary Prize
University Libraries, Dean's Office
MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

For questions, contact:

Teresa Marquez, Curator
Chicano/Hispano/Latino Library Program
(505) 277-0582

Before submitting, please visit the Library’s website and click “Premio Aztlán.”

Francisco Aragón informs us that Brenda Cárdenas' poem, "Empty Spaces," from her chapbook, FROM THE TONGUES OF BRICK AND STONE (Momotombo Press, 2005), was be featured at Poetry Daily (http://www.poems.com/) on August 26, 2006. This will be the first time that a Momotombo Press poet will be featured here. And speaking of Francisco, Jack Foley, the host of Cover to Cover on KPFA 94.1 FM, Berkeley, CA, will broadcast on September 6 at 3:00 to 3:30 p.m. part one of his interview with the poet/translator whose new book, Puerta del Sol (Bilingual Press), moves between the cities of San Francisco and Madrid and between the languages of English and Spanish. Part two will air September 13. The show is available in podcast, as well. Go to KPFA’s website for more information.


SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Aug. 14 -- The University of California at Santa Barbara issued the following press release:

Helena Maria Viramontes, a writer and professor of English at Cornell University, is the recipient of this year's Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino Literature, given annually by the University of California, Santa Barbara, the Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival and Santa Barbara City College.

Considered one of the country's premier Latina writers, Viramontes is the author of "The Moths and Other Stories" and "Under the Feet of Jesus," a novel about a migrant farming family, which is now in its fourteenth printing. Her new novel, "Their Dogs Came With Them," will be published in 2007.

She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the John Dos Passos Award for Literature. Her short stories and essays have been widely anthologized and her writings have been adopted for classroom use and university study.

With Maria Herrera Sobek, associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity, and academic policy at UC Santa Barbara, Viramontes is co editor of two collections: "Chicana (W)rites: On Word and Film" and "Chicana Creativity and Criticism."

"Viramontes is one of the most innovative and poetic of contemporary Latino writers in the United States, and one whose work deserves even greater recognition," says Mario Garcia, professor of Chicano studies and history at UCSB, who is the organizer of the annual Leal Award.

The award is named after Luis Leal, professor of Chicana/Chicano Studies at UCSB, who is internationally recognized as one of the leading scholars of Chicano and Latino literature. He will celebrate his 99th birthday this year....

Previous recipients of the Leal Award include Oscar Hijuelos, Rudolfo Anaya, and Denise Chavez.

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

Friday, August 25, 2006

¿Ya Nadie Lee?

Manuel Ramos

In this post:

Does Anyone Read Anymore?
Taibo and Marcos
Alexander Street Press
Lucha Corpi
I Guess I Sort Of Brought Some Mexican-American Culture Into My Soul
Ask A Mexican

The question(s) of the day, debated in classrooms, bookstores, libraries, and blogs.

How many people do you know who actually read books on a regular basis? When was the last time you or someone close to you read a book just to read it, not because it was a bestseller, not because you are a book reviewer or a literary blogger, or a writer? And speaking of writers, how many writers do serious reading these days? How many young people do you know who read because they want to, not because they have a class assignment or are taking a test? Are we a nation of illiterates?

I just ask the questions.

The amazing collaboration between Paco Ignacio Taibo and Subcomandante Marcos that we reported on when we were just a baby blog, along with just about every other Latino media outlet in the world, produced a novel that will soon (October) be available in English from Akashic Books. Here is the publisher's propaganda about a book that I am sure is a must read for many.

The Uncomfortable Dead
(What's Missing is Missing)
A Novel of Four Hands by
Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos
In alternating chapters, Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos and the consistently excellent Paco Ignacio Taibo II create an uproarious murder mystery with two intersecting storylines. The chapters written by the famously masked Marcos originate in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. There, the fictional "Subcomandante Marcos" assigns Elias Contreras--an odd but charming mountain man--to travel to Mexico City in search of an elusive and hideous murderer named "Morales." The second story line, penned by Taibo, stars his famous series detective Hector Belascoaran Shayne. Hector guzzles Coca-Cola and smokes cigarettes furiously amidst his philosophical and always charming approach to investigating crimes--in this case, the search for his own "Morales."

The two stories collide absurdly and dramatically in the urban sprawl of Mexico City. The ugly history of the city's political violence rears its head, and both detectives find themselves in an unpredictable dance of death with forces at once criminal, historical, and political. Readers expecting political heavy-handedness will be disarmed by the humility and playful self-mocking that runs throughout the book.

Subcomandante Marcos is a spokesperson and strategist for the Zapatistas, an indigenous insurgency movement based in Mexico. He first joined the guerrilla group which was to become the Zapatistas in the early 1980s. Marcos is author of several books translated into English, including the award-winning children's book Story of the Colors (Cinco Puntos) and Our Word Is Our Weapon (Seven Stories Press).

Paco Ignacio Taibo II was born in Gijon, Spain and has lived in Mexico since 1958. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, which have been published in many languages around the world, including a mystery series starring Mexican Private Investigator Hector Belascoaran Shayne (a protagonist in this book as well). He is a professor of history at the Metropolitan University of Mexico City. He has won various literary prizes, including the National History Award from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History.

This announcement came across La Bloga's desk:

Alexander Street’s Latino Literature a “Top Five” resource -- Emerald Reference Reviews

Emerald’s Reference Reviews has just announced the Top Five Electronic Reference Sources of 2005. Latino Literature from Alexander Street Press was on the Top Five list. The awards were announced by Tony Chalcraft, Editor of Reference Reviews.

“We have worked hard to bring librarians a great deal of content that cannot be found anywhere else on the Web,” said Isabel Lacerda, editor of Latino Literature. “Most of the content is in copyright, and the remainder is unique, rare, or out of print for a long time. It’s been a great honor to work with these authors and archives, and the award is going to mean a lot to all of them—as well as to Alexander Street Press and all our customers who use Latino Literature.”

Latino Literature is part of Alexander Street’s cluster of products in Latino and Latin American history and literature. It’s also part of Alexander Street’s drama cluster, because it includes hundreds of plays along with the poetry and prose of the Latino writers.

The authors are Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central American, and South American and includes names such as Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton, Maria Cristina Mena, Josefina Niggli, Daniel Venegas, Rudolfo Anaya, Edwidge Danticat, Oscar Hijuelos, Lynne Alvarez, Lucha Corpi, Luis Valdez, Cherrie Moraga, Carlos Morton, Alurista, Virgil Suarez, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Ivan Acosta, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Rolando Hinojosa, Tato Laviera, and hundreds of others. As of September 2006, the database will include more than 120,000 pages.

Alexander Street Press, L.L.C., is an academic publisher of online databases, including collections in, history, literature, streaming music, music reference, women’s studies, black studies, sociology, psychology, ethnic and diversity studies, religion, social theory, popular culture, film studies, theatre videos, the arts, and other areas. Alexander Street databases have won numerous awards, and the company is known for its unique and powerful organizing and indexing methods. Alexander Street Press is located in Alexandria, Virginia.


Editors: For additional information on Alexander Street Press and its products, please contact Eileen Lawrence, vice president of sales and marketing, 800-889-5937 ext. 211 or lawrence@alexanderstreet.com. Or visit http://alexanderstreet.com/.

Lucha's situation has improved but she and her family are going through dark times. So much at once - including a death in the immediate family, the life-threatening illness of her husband, and a fire that destroyed her computer and manuscripts and required a move to another house. But Lucha is one strong spirit. Here's part of a message she sent: "I have no idea when I'll get back to my writing. I have probably no more than four chapters to finish the new novel. Thank goodness I made a hard copy of the ms ... . I still have it. Perhaps now that we're moving to a house I'll be able to finish the first draft. I need to write. Only then will the world make sense again."

Those of you who pray, give blessings, or otherwise care for people in your hearts, remember Lucha and her family.

There is a very hip interview with Irwin Tang online at the San Antonio Current -- Skip The Fortune Cookies, Please, written by Elaine Woolf. Tang makes an appearance 4:00 PM, August 26 at the Borders Alamo Quarry, 255 E. Basse in San Anto. So what, you may ask. Tang is the guy who wrote a commentary about Shaquille O’Neal’s racist taunting of the Houston Rockets’ Chinese center Yao Ming. He also has published a book entitled How I Became a Black Man and Other Metamorphoses, a short-story collection based on growing up in College Station, TX. Blogger readers may find Tang interesting because of comments like the following, which I lifted from the interview:

How do you answer that question: How can Shaq be racist if he’s African-American? Well, it’s kind of like asking, if I get spat in the face, does that mean I’m unable to spit on someone else’s face? Of course I’m able to. The title of my opinion piece was “Tell Shaq to Come Down to Chinatown,” and it’s like, yeah, me walking through Texas A&M University, the Corps might run by chanting something about dropping napalm on little Vietnamese kids or something like that — which they’ve done before — but if one of those Corps guys comes down to Chinatown in Oakland and starts mouthing off, he might end up with a knife in the back. It just depends on the situation, who’s got the power. So that’s the way I see it: Everyone has power. To say that some people can’t be racist is almost like saying that some people can’t have power, and that I think is kind of dehumanizing.

Tangentially related to that, let’s talk about your time working for Cesar Chavez. What were some of the lessons you learned? I guess the main lesson I learned being an activist on the Left wasn’t all about holding hands and singing “Kum By Ya” and “We Shall Overcome.” There was just some really hardball work that was done and there were a lot of people in the union movement that were really hardnosed activists. They weren’t gonna take any crap and there was a lot of hardnosed bargaining and negotiating with growers and boycotts and just trying to threaten as much economic damage as possible against those who wouldn’t respect the unions. So basically what I learned was a more hardnosed form of progressive activism from working with Chavez. And the main other thing was I really grew close to the Latino community. In a lot of ways my racial affinities growing up were affected by who picked on me, who defended me, who was half-and-half. Well, it tended to be like this: White kids tended to pick on me, although a few of them would stand up for me. Black kids tended to stand up for me, and Hispanic kids were sort of half-and-half. And in College Station there was either black or white; there was no sort of racial identity for [Hispanic kids] in my mind until I joined as an activist for the union and I felt like I was one of the Mexican-American activists. I guess I sort of brought some Mexican-American culture into my soul.

Visit Tang's website.

Okay, I won't try to explain this. Read it for yourself. I will quote this tagline: "The Mexican can answer any and every question on his race, from why Mexicans stick the Virgin of Guadalupe everywhere to our obsession with dwarves and transvestites." A couple of places where you can find Gustavo Arellano's column are OC Weekly and Alibi.com.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

From Barbershop to Prime Time (Is Morning Prime?)

Manuel Ramos
Here's a special flash --

The Newsletter from one of the best-known bookstores in the Southern Cal area has this bit of news that may make you want to flip on the TV early Thursday morning:

"Set your TiVo, DVR or VCR for Thursday, August 24th between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM because Dave Price - The Early Show weatherman and feature reporter - will profile Rueben Martinez and the genesis of Libreria Martinez. The Early Show airs nationwide on CBS (Channel 2, in Southern California). Producer, Erika Josephson and Mr. Price were in town from New York last week to film the piece. As you can imagine, Mr. Martinez gave the talented CBS News crew plenty to work with for the upcoming segment. His passion and enthusiasm had them jumping out of their seats, energized and looking for more. You do not want to miss this exciting and important segment, which allows Mr. Martinez to share his story and mission of the Libreria Martinez bookstores with the rest of the nation.

What: Rueben Martinez profile by Dave Price
Where: CBS (Channel 2) The Early Show
When: Thursday, August 24, 2006: Between 7:00 AM and 9:00 AM
Special thanks to CBS News, Dave Price, Erika Josephson, Max Stacy and crew. For more information about The Early Show click on the following link.
CBS The Early Show"

It's worth pointing out that Martínez started as a barber who sold books in his shop, often giving them away, and recently was honored as a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship because of his passionate and productive community service. He usually has cool art on hand. I picked up a nicely framed print of Mike's Pool Hall by Emigdio Vasquez in Rueben's shop a few years ago and those pool-hustling, sharp-dressed vatos are peering over my shoulder as I write this.

Later (Friday, actually).

Monday, August 21, 2006


Book Review by Daniel Olivas

In the very first sentence of her new memoir, A Taco Testimony: Meditations on Family, Food and Culture (Rio Nuevo, paperback $16.95), Denise Chávez warns readers:

"This is not a sweet little book about tacos; it remembers the fights that began at the kitchen table, spilled into the dining room, then moved quickly into the living room and continued into the bedroom with the sudden slam of a door that led to the hushed sound of someone crying behind that door."

But the title of this moving and engrossing "memoir of food" also gives a clue to the story Chávez is about to tell. Chávez does, indeed, offer testimony about growing up in a family dealing with alcoholism as well as her own battles with depression and drugs. But this is far from being a gloomy book. In the end, Chávez inspires and cajoles the reader into learning how to appreciate family, friends, literature and good food.

Of course, the recurring theme of Chávez's memoir is the taco. Reappearing throughout this engaging book are fond memories, recipes, poems and interesting facts related to the taco. For Chávez, it goes beyond delicious nourishment. It symbolizes order and comfort in a household that suffered from the alcoholic abuses of her father, Epifanio, a "brilliant lawyer" who "had no practical living skill" and drank the family into financial jeopardy.

In their neat Las Cruces home, Chávez's mother, Delfina, tried mightily to maintain appearances in her marriage to this handsome and seemingly upright man. But they "lived a family lie." To the outside world, her father was a "successful small-town lawyer" married to an "untroubled beautiful mother from an even smaller town called El Povo, The Dust."

Delfina met Epifanio as a widow with a child. He was supposed to be her salvation, her way of making a home that was torn apart by the untimely death of her first husband. Sadly, Epifanio failed in that regard. They eventually divorced, though Epifanio would sometimes stay overnight during important holidays, his birthday being the most important of all.

In the same way her mother's tacos helped bring some warmth and stability to their home, Chávez admits that this special food came to her rescue while she attended graduate school. Far from home, she suffered from depression, smoked marijuana constantly, skipped meals and began to unravel. Chávez recounts one night when she forced herself to make tacos, all by herself with her family many miles away, to pull herself out of a downward spiral. She would not sleep until she finished cooking. Chávez succeeded in this curative act and unabashedly asserts: "Tacos can save your life."

She has forgiven her father and grown stronger in the process. Now she can look back with great fondness on the good things her family offered: love (though imperfect), a rich culture, education and wonderful, healing food.

Chávez is an engaging writer who has a well-honed talent for describing in intimate detail everything from human foibles to mouthwatering Mexican delicacies. She also confronts life in all its beautiful and painful permutations. This is a testimony well-worth reading. And it wouldn't hurt to have a taco or two nearby once your mouth starts to water.

[This review first appeared in the El Paso Times.]

Friday, August 18, 2006


Manuel Ramos

The Arte Público Fall Trade Catalog has several titles worth picking up. One that caught my eye is Enriqueta Vasquez and the Chicano Movement: Writings from El Grito del Norte, edited by Lorena Oropeza and Dionne Espinoza, with a Foreword by John Nichols. The catalog says: "Highlighting the involvement of women in the Chicano Movement, this anthology combines for the first time in one volume the columns written by Enriqueta Vasquez from 1968-1972 for the path-breaking Chicano newspaper, El Grito del Norte.
Enriqueta Vasquez’s columns written during the peak of the civil rights movement provided a platform for her fierce but hopeful voice of protest. In her column, entitled ¡Despierten Hermanos! [Awaken, Brothers and Sisters!], she used both anger and humor in her efforts to stir her fellow Chicanos to action. Drawing upon her own experiences as a Chicana, she wrote about such issues as racism, sexism, imperialism, and poverty, issues that remain pressing today." Look for this book in November.

In October, Arte Público will release Tyrone's Betrayal, the seventh novel in Gloria Velásquez's Roosevelt High School series, an "engaging novel for young adults [that] tackles the problem of absentee fathers in the African-American community."

This festival, postponed last year because of Katrina, has published its schedule, which you can find here. The festival takes place November 1 - 6 and it has a definite Chicano thing going on. Announced participants include Rolando Hinojosa, Luis Rodríguez, Ana Castillo, Mary Helen Lagasse, José Cuellar (Dr. Loco), the Iguanas, and yours truly talking about, of all things, La Bloga. There also will be a Día de los Muertos exhibit. You will hear more about this in the coming months but those of you into the literature (and music) and with some accrued annual leave might start thinking about the Crescent City in November.

Looking for some good summer reading that includes a couple of authors we have mentioned recently?

presents its second noir issue--Tempers and Temperatures Rise (August). You can find this nifty mag here. The latest issue has this intro:

In the murderous summer heat—when, to quote Raymond Chandler, "Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks"—we invite you to chill with the icy killers, con men, and cops of our second noir issue. Giampiero Rigosi's hustlers board the "Night Bus" in Bologna, and Leonardo Padura's burned-out Cuban policeman confronts Hurricane Felix and his own tropical depression in "Havana Black." Tonino Benacquista's Parisian gallery worker wrestles modern art and a modern art thief in "Framed," Gianrico Carofiglio's weary Italan lawyer tries to stop smoking and go straight in "A Walk in the Dark," and Marek Krajewski's laconic inspector finds corpses in walls and ghosts everywhere in "End of the World in Breslau." Jakob Arjouni's disgraced gangster plots his heroic redemption in the antic "Black Story," while Santiago Paez's Ecuadorian cops investigate a suicide who's literally gone to pieces. Let tempers and temperatures rise: As Chandler noted, "Anything can happen."

August 26, 2006
11:00am – 6:00pm The flyer says:

The César Chávez Peace and Justice Committee of Denver (CCPJC) will kick off the first annual César Chávez Peace Jam 2006, at César Chávez Park (41st and Tennyson) on Saturday, August 26, 2006, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Peace Jam 2006 is a fundraiser concert to support CCPJC’s annual César Chávez Day Celebration. There is a minimum $5 suggested donation.

Join us for a day in the park filled with the unique sounds of several of Colorado’s own local up and coming bands. Peace Jam 2006 will feature the talents of Brown Obsidian, Johnny Rodriguez y Los Diamantes, Jon Romero and the Cuervo Nation, Los Hermanos, RUMBA, The Denver Slam Team, DJ Aztlan, and many more! Community members will also be able to enjoy great food and drinks from local restaurants, goods from featured vendors and information provided by non-profit organizations throughout Colorado.

The author of Eulogy For A Brown Angel, Crimson Moon, Black Widow's Wardrobe and several other novels and works of poetry is going through a very rough time. Those of us who know Lucha are sending her positive thoughts, lighting candles, doing whatever we can. We may have more about her situation in upcoming posts on La Bloga.

Sorry about the lack of graphics (book covers, photos, logos) - something I think a blog should have, in addition to good content, of course. But the anti-image demonio that has plagued me for months is still at it - I was lucky to get one graphic inserted in this post.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Chicano viaje: San Anto to Denver, 2006

(final installment)

"Don't worry about the thunder; it never turns into anything," my family had assured me, "we're in a drought." Soon enough, flashes of lightning turned into a thunderstorm dumping a torrent of rain on us marooned out in the tool shed. In the next 45 min. my dog Manchas got over his fear of 4th of July firecrackers; it was replaced by a deathly fear of storms. Plus, Manchas had been homesick for two days, and I'd stopped drinking beer yesterday. That's how I knew it was time to head home.

Loaded up with gas, ice and Gatorade, after San Angelo I take a more westerly route past the mesas with the wind turbines and this time only see them in the distance. I regret that 'cause me and the other hunter-gatherer wanted to find a way to get up close to them. Next time.

It seems hotter than on our way down, though I think that's an illusion since I at least should be more acclimated after almost a week of San Anto's heat. Of course, I had a cold beer in my hand most of my time there to cool me off, but still--.

Everywhere in central, and on up into the panhandle of Texas, church signs stand roadside, indicating this part of the country helped give the world the Iraq war so more of the world could hate us even more. As if we needed that.

One of the old style Jesus-radio stations is on and for some stupid reason I don't turn the dial. A caller explains to the DJ how she's worried about her friend's soul 'cause he doesn't believe in Jesus and has all these terminal illnesses. I can't write down his exact words 'cause I'm driving, but basically the DJ explains the way religion works is that as long as the caller believes, that will be enough to save her friend. I'm not believing the shit she's swallowing. The DJ's giving away Get-Out-of-Hell-Free cards. In this Texas, just make sure you've got at least one ultra-religious friend, and your soul and cancers will be taken care of.

It reminds me of the title of Lalo Delgado's poem, Stupid America. It's one thing to belong to a church, it's a whole 'nother thing to believe DJs like this and elect Presidents like George Dubbya. But I know they've been doing things like that in this part of the country for over 150 years. Some Americans are so pinche ignorant. The Texas tourist slogan brags, "It's like a whole other country." Planet, more like.

Somewhere after Big Spring I pass a road sign with the Greek letter lambda on it. I instantly recognize it, being educated and not from this part of the country, but I can't understand its meaning. Is it some local county lore, a secret society of Jesus-believers and Bush-electors? It gives me the creeps, I start sweating even more and take it up to 65. Maybe the heat's getting to me.

As we near Lubbock there's another sign: "Lubbock police now hiring." I didn't see a sign on my down, though it may have been there. And I don't understand it. In a town of over 200,000 there aren't enough people to fill the vacancies? Buddy Holly's birthplace ain't good enough to attract out-of-state wannabe sheriffs? Why? And does the town think that sign's gonna attract me or that qualified applicants regularly travel this route?

I see yellow ribbons attached to fences and remember I saw them earlier. I assumed they were for soldiers in Iraq, but that color's also for suicides. I find out later at least one Iraqi veteran from here committed suicide and that here in Farmland, suicide's "a growing response to the pressures of mounting debt, shrinking markets, and diminishing futures." Maybe Lubbock police can't take the stress of dealing with all that, who knows?

I pull into a motley gas station for fuel and drinks. A small American flag hangs neglectfully on the side, so faded and tattered that only a light blue background and white stars and the once-red stripes remain; the white stripes are gone, rotted away, like the country no longer stands for peace but can't totally bleach away the blood being shed in Iraq, on both sides.

By sunset I've found the perfect place to camp, at least according to the map: Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge. I have visions of Manchas throwing himself in the water after he's chased and been chased by buffalo; and thousands of birds and maybe more of the butterflies that drowned San Anto with their bodies. I imagine me and the dog waking up in a wondrous semi-wilderness meant just for hunter/gatherer types.

The map indicates the Refuge is on a bypass that goes to Amarillo, but it doesn't show the fifty miles of county road to get there. Lucky us, it's not regular road. Yes, there's fence all through these grasslands. What's different is the grass isn't cut; it's the tallest prairie grass I've ever been in. We stop to watch it sway in the cooling wind under the headlights. It feels not like thousands of plants, but rather like a single, gigantic creature, biding its dormancy, content to wait for us to move on. Only one car passes us that night.

The map also doesn't tell us it's almost impossible to see signs directing you to the Refuge. I see the first turn only because I have the brights on and just barely make out a right-turn arrow. The second turn-sign is even more off the road, and I'm lucky to notice it.

The road winds down into a fifty-foot canyon. It's lush here, not like above; several mule deer cross our path or romp over the ineffective fences. Maybe a large owl swoops past, but I'm not certain. I want to stop here where it's quiet, totally dark, sunk below the anti-hunter/gather society above, but it's so dark, it's almost another place, not Texas.

At last--the Refuge info booth, displaying a map, brochures, and a sign indicating the gate won't open until 8am. There's a streetlamp a quarter mile away, not close enough to outshine the thousand stars above us.

Manchas and I sit on the truck gate. The wind's wonderful, the solitude might have made Abbey weep, even though Amarillo's only about thirty miles away; may as well be a thousand, its lights are so dim. After I fail to spot even one falling meteor and Manchas has failed to discover even what one sound he's heard means, we climb into the cab to sleep 'cause the back's too full of rock and agave.

He wakes me at 3:30 in the morning by plopping all 75 lbs. of himself on my lap, concentrating his attention in such a way that I think a mule deer or serial killer must have climbed on the hood. I wait for his decision about which it is as he stares intensely westward. I try to shift his weight off, but he won't budge.

It's a storm, another electrical one, and it's too late to drive anywhere, what with this super-frightened Lard-Butt-Dog on me, plus the storm's so huge, we can't outrun it, anyway.

The first flash of lightning covers half the sky and clouds and as its rumble dies out, every fox, coyote, and feral canine on the Refuge lets out one great howl, almost in harmony. Just one each. Not those lingering, stretched out howls, just a one-word howl. I don't know what the word is, but it doesn't matter; it's fokkin' great! Makes me shudder and twangs at the vestigial hunter in me.

I don't even mind the next 30 min. of rain pelting the roof, of hugging to comfort a squirming dog or his sitting on me, depending on how you look at it. The storm passes, and I fall asleep.

We get up at 7:30, and I'm the one who's tired. A couple of Park Rangers pass us on their way to work, looking and wondering what we're up to. We smile.

The informational booth explains: "The buffalo have vanished. The lake has dried." (Turns out the country that spends $4.5 billion a month to turn Iraq into Death Valley couldn't afford to fix the Buffalo Lake dam, no doubt bankrupting plenty of farmers.) So, two-fifths of the Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge's name sounds like false advertising, intended to lure map-reading hunter-gatherers. Fortunately, I know there is at least wildlife, from last night.

The already hot sun rises higher, and we're on an overlook from which I can see the winding canyon road that brought us here. There's marshy land to the south, no doubt filled with birds that haven't reached their final destination, just like us.

I decide that without buffalo for Manchas to chase or maybe enough water for him to dunk, we'd best move on. A quarter of a mile later we pass a dozen buffalo penned in an acre of fence. I don't have the heart to point them out to Manchas, nor to disturb their sad incarceration.

Before noon we've only got memories of the cooled Refugee, are sweating like George Dubbya and need a break, so we pull off on some exit with a state park 2 miles off. A small faded camper's parked alongside the entrance booth, and a hawk or buzzard circles overhead. I wonder if he's waiting for the emaciated, old, uniformed woman who comes to the truck.

"I'm just looking for a spot for my dog to run around for a bit; we're headed to Denver. We weren't going to camp or anything."

She points. "You can let him run around there, and I won't charge you."

It's a vacant lot with plenty of anthills (are they everywhere?). I break down and pay her the $2 fee. "You got a river here where the dog can get himself wet?"

She points. "There is a river over there," emphasizing as if I might be blind. "Follow the road along the trees. If you let the dog loose, watch out for rattlers."

I head off, but no matter where I drive, I can't find a spot close to the river. We give up, park, and trek across landscape harsher than any Western you ever saw. There's prickly pear--big, little, dried, dead, barely green, wide, broken and spread--everywhere. The nopal growing in my front yard looks healthier.

Manchas wants to run loose to chase a scrawny coyote running through the scrawnier bush, but he's staying leashed 'cause I don’t relish pulling cactus needles from his paws nor sucking rattler venom from his rump, either.

I'm betting the water will be hot when we reach it, but better than nothing. That's about what we find: I've seen Denver chuckholes with more water in 'em than what's within these banks. This "river" is not moving 'cause there's not enough of it to work up the energy to seek its own level, much less a lower one. I can't let Manchas go in 'cause I'm sure he'll catch something malignant just from the stagnancy.

We make it back through the nopal maze to the truck to eat supper after our hearty swim. I saved the potted meat for an emergency, but the scenery seems a perfect match for such a meal. We kill off the cheddar and crackers, along with Manchas gorging on his primo packaged food, mixed with some dry. I can't manage more than half my can. The rest I leave for the coyote, hoping it won't do him as much harm as it probably does me.

On our way out we see more birds circling--probably hawks--and an anorexic, elongated jackrabbit dashes across the road. Where does he get the strength in this heat? I'm amazed the water from the "river" can keep so much alive. I feel like stopping to ask the woman for my money back, but I don't.

As we head toward New Mexico, we pass three monstrous trucks heading the opposite way, hauling three huge drainage pipes, 12, maybe 15 ft. in diameter. I know where they're not going, but where out here can they be used? They seem like a delusional optimist's last, hopeless gesture.

I see another road sign, almost like the lambda sign, and realize it was no secret society; it just indicates the shape of the road we're approaching. Must have been the heat.

Road construction is now in full swing wherever the fines-doubled signs are out, like they do work on Wednesdays, even if not on Mondays, like when we came down. It makes for a longer exit from Texas. Five vintage corvettes pass us, nostalgia on wheels, shining and only doing 50. Seems like years since we've been gone. I let out a sigh, maybe of relief, as we cross the border.

It's not as hot when we drive through Pueblo, Colo. and Colorado Springs, but it feels hotter because of the hour and downtown highway construction similar to Denver trying to make room for too many cars of too many people, only on a smaller scale. This future's not bright here either.

As we cross the last rise before I-25 descends into Castle Rock and Denver, a small thunderstorm engulfs the late afternoon traffic. This time the dog doesn't get upset 'cause he's almost home, and the gatherer's managed to bring me, the hunter, back safely.

© Rudy Ch. Garcia 2006

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Macondo Workshop

Gregg Barrios of San Antonio sent us a heads up about Sandra Cisneros's annual Macondo Workshop and an article in the San Antonio Express-News about the week-long event. Gregg is mentioned in the article - congratulations on the play and its selection for the Tennessee Williams Festival - and assures us that it is okay with the author of the article, Susan Yerkes, and the Express-News if we reproduce the article here on La Bloga. Gregg is a former Book Editor for the Express-News, so we are trusting his opinion and posting most of the article for La Bloga readers. The piece is loaded with news about literary stars such as raúlrsalinas and Helena María Viramontes, recipients of the first Gloria Anzaldúa Milagro Award; John Phillip Santos; Frances Treviño; and others.

You can find the original article here. And you can check out the Macondo website here.

'La Sandra's' writing workshop creates sense of family, service
Web Posted: 08/13/2006 10:37 PM CDT
Susan Yerkes, San Antonio Express-News

As the fifth annual Macondo writer's workshop winds down here today, Sandra Cisneros is seeing one of her dearest dreams come true. This year, led by "La Sandra," the Macondistas (workshop participants) honored two groundbreaking Mexican American writers, raulsalinas and Helen Maria Viramontes, with its first Gloria Anzaldúa Milagro Award.
Anzaldúa, born poor in East L.A., worked her way through college to become a leading voice in Chicana literature before diabetes led to her early death at 61.

raulsalinas, (and that's his own poetic version of his name), a poet and founder of La Resistencia bookstore in Austin, has been struggling with cancer for several years. Viramontes, Cisneros said last Sunday night, has been spending most of her time with a sister in hospice care who is close to death.

The Anzaldúa awards give writers involved in their communities, who often lack insurance and funds for health care, financial help to come to S.A. for a week of pampering — home-cooked dinners, massages and other creature comforts — during the weeklong, annual Macondo workshop. In Cisneros' words, the awards "recognize the role of community in taking care of our own and of the importance of taking time out to heal ourselves."

"Writing is like learning to cut your own hair," she told the old and new workshop members and their S.A. supporters at an opening night dinner. "There's only so much you can do alone. Somebody has to help you with the back. We're all here to help each other with the back."

Family values
Strong family ties are a crucial source of support in Mexican American and Latino communities, and Cisneros is creating not just a week of sharing, but a year-round support system, based in San Antonio, for writers from many cultures. Henry Cisneros (no relation to La Sandra, by the way) has often called S.A. the "city of the future" because of our multicultural community.
The Macondo workshops bring a river of multicultural literacy to San Antonio, and give other creative communities a model for supporting their own. Participants also get involved in service to the city while they're here. Last Wednesday, visiting writers worked with young folks in trouble at the Bexar County Youth Detention Center. And their schedule for this weekend included sharing their work with San Antonio at a Friday night reading at Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and a Saturday night "Suavecito" show at Jump-Start Performance Company, which was to include a tribute to the late, beloved S.A. poet Trinidad Sanchez.

Writers among us
Father Virgilio Elizondo, Notre Dame scholar, former pastor of San Fernando Cathedral and author of "The Future is Mestizo," was on hand to help welcome new Macondo participants at the opening night dinner for the workshop, catered by El Mirador at the King William Gardens, next door to the popular St. Mary's Street café.

"1 Book 1 San Antonio" novelist John Phillip Santos was there, too, with poet and teacher Frances Treviño. Playwright (and former Express-News Book Editor) Gregg Barrios was also on hand, accepting congratulations on his new play about Tennessee Williams, "Rancho Pancho," which will be presented at the international Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans next spring.

And OLLU Prez Teresa Pollock got a big hand of thanks in absentia for opening the doors of the university dorms and meeting rooms to visiting Macondistas during the workshop.
"Tessa Pollock," Cisneros said, "is the only president I've ever met of anything who immediately said 'What can I do for you?' when I called." High praise indeed.

Susan Yerkes' column appears on Mondays, Wednesdays and Sundays. Call her at (210) 250-3542, or e-mail syerkes@express-news.net.=

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Culture Clash has done it again. No they haven't. Yes they have.

Michael Sedano

The Mark Taper Forum's production of Richard Montoya's play, Water and Power, marks an important departure for Culture Clash. The performance–through September 17 at Los Angeles' most important stage-- is not a collective-writen satiric comedy revue, but a fully realized drama written by Richard Montoya. In fact, the Taper bills the production as "Water and Power by Richard Montoya for Culture Clash." And, although generously peppered with moments of satiric hilarity, Water and Power is a deadly serious tragedy. No, this is not your "usual" Culture Clash event. Still, Culture Clash has once again brought a powerfully entertaining experience to its Los Angeles audience.

Gibby and Gabby Garcia, AKA the twins, AKA thunder and lightning, AKA Water and Power, find themselves in a profoundly dangerous predicament. Power has shot a man and is holed up in at the Paradise Motel. Water has big time political connections that can get his brother off the hook. "Don't make the call," Power tells Water. Water makes the call. As he must, since this is a play about choices.

What's in a name? Everything. Water fits into any container, takes on whatever shape surrounds him, goes with the flow when not contained. This is Gilbert, an influential California State Senator. Gabriel is an LAPD Lieutenant--Power. But Power has long since blown his fuses, acknowledging he has become a monster because his career has been fighting monsters.

Richard Montoya wears the politician role like a glove. The actor's crystal clear voice lacks any distinctive ethnic or regional color. The Senator has a deal in the works to create a public green space from an important parcel of prime landnear the Los Angeles River. LA locals who follow news will recognize the geography from ongoing land use controversies.

Herbert Siguenza is a big guy and fills the LAPD uniform as Power convincingly. Unfortunately, Siguenza's Power character hits the stage with less urgency and presence than needed to keep the play rolling at full speed.

Culture Clash's third member, Ric Salinas, plays Norte/Sur, whose curious character creates an amalgam that ranges from guardian angel to moral guru, to the shoeshine stand informant in the old Baretta television series, or a Leslie Nielsen Police Squad farce.

An outstanding cast complements the Culture Clash core. Moises Arias is endearing playing the child Gibby and Gabby, and a scene stealer. Speaking of scene stealers, Dakin Mattews as The Fixer, makes his audience squirm with distaste. Winston J. Rocha, as Gibby and Gabby's father embodies sentimentality and controversial parenting. Emilio Rivera as El Musico/Vendor, fills out the cast.

Water and Power take their names from their father's job with the Department of Water and Power. There is no mother; this is the story of a father raising his two sons to be men. Dad's technique: fit the boys with boxing gloves and let them knock the daylights out of each other, then give each slightly divergent counsel. In one scene, Asuncion counsels Gilbert always to look out for his younger, dumber, brother. In the complementary scene, dad tells Gabriel that he isn’t necessarily the dumber one, sending the boy off with the advice to punch his brother in the face when he’s not looking.

When the Senator, Water, heads out to make the political conecta to save his brother the audience collapses in laughter at The Fixer. Dressed in an ice cream suit, his head topped with a shock of white hair, Dakin Mathews plays the Brentwood power broker with an ominous viciousness. To an LA audience, the man in white clearly could be identified as power broker Eli Broad, who is often photographed dressed in white. To avoid a libel charge, however, Mathews plays The Fixer with sleaze and accent that contrasts to the actual Brentwood power broker's public persona.

To this point, Gibby has more than held his own with the morally bereft brother, he is every ounce the powerful politician and older brother. In the white man's presence, however, Water sits totally subdued, and, although he expresses his political convictions, in the end he chooses the wrong path.

Montoya is not one to allow his audience easy comfort. The choices his characters make have turned the one into a monster, the other into a "Hispanic". The former falls as low as a cop can--a premeditated murderer, even though he has a noble cause. The latter may be a misperception, but not necessarily. When the Senator takes The Fixer's offer, the choices are to save his brother or betray the community. To hammer home the point, the man in white forces Gibby into a stomach-turning humiliation that leaves the audience stunned.

I heard one theatre goer say "Montoya has some great plays in him." He's totally correct on that, but the future tense isn't necessary. I exited the theatre in a stunned, subdued enthusiasm. Water and Power is already a great play. Not that it doesn't lag in the last third here and there, and Montoya's insistence on explaining Norte/Sur's character more than needed earlier. The play at first seems puro El Lay--thus not amenable to hitting the road--owing to Montoya's hilarious use of L.A. neighborhoods. The allusions are easily changed. Where Los Angeles has Maravilla, Hazard, White Fence, Ramona Gardens, Estrada Courts, Atwater Village (where real men come from), the "in-jokes" are readily transferred to Segundo Barrio, the Third Ward, or whatever local place name fits a theatre near you.

Here's to Richard Montoya's debut as a playwrite! Writing as part of the Culture Clash collective, Montoya's work has taken on the lustre of the collective. Now, emerging from his own shadow, Montoya's and the group's career should take some interesting arcs to ever higher accolades from an ever broader audience. Don't wait for Water and Power to come to your neighborhood. LA's a great place to visit and, until September 17, you can buy a ticket to Water and Power. There is so much to enjoy and talk about in this performance, that once you've enjoyed it you'll want your friends to see the play, too. When they do, you'll have hours of conversations about a hugely rich theatrical experience.

That's the third week of August, 2006. Tempus fugit, gente, carpe a book and read! See you next week.


Monday, August 14, 2006



Monday's post from Daniel Olivas...

The editors of Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature (Longman, 2005) and LatinoStories.com are accepting previously published scholarly essays, books, book reviews, and interviews that focus on U.S. Latino literature, to which contributors hold rights. The purpose of the project is to revive and keep alive scholarly and analytical works that were published in the past but may not be so easily accessible (e.g., the work is out of print or it may have been originally published for a limited audience). The editors will publish these works in LatinoStories.com and thus make these resources available to an international audience that includes faculty, students, and individuals from disadvantaged educational or financial backgrounds who cannot so easily access other sources. The ultimate goal is to promote and provide a free credible web source for the study of Latino Literature. An example of the type of work is John S. Christie's Latino Fiction and the Modernist Imagination, which was originally published by Garland Press but is now fully available on LatinoStories.com.

Guidelines: Only electronic files. Please make note of the original publication date and the name of the periodical in which the work previously appeared and/or the name of the publisher. Most journals hold only first-time publication rights, but be sure to confirm that you now hold the rights to the work. Upon publication of the work in LatinoStories.com, contributors will continue to hold the copyright. No payment but we can guarantee that this will be a rewarding and a unique way to give back and to keep previously published work from fading into unfortunate oblivion.

Submit to:
José B. González, Ph.D.
John S. Christie, Ph.D.
Or visit here

IGNORING BROWN FOLK: Ilan Stavans offers sharp observations in a recent San Francisco Chronicle essay entitled “What's civil rights history without Latinos?” This is the opening paragraph:

The other day, while browsing through the excellent two-volume set on the civil rights movement "Reporting Civil Rights," published by the Library of America, I was flabbergasted by a glaring absence. In that almost 1,000-page-long fiesta of journalism about a crucial period in the country's past, the presence of Latinos is nil. Not a single mention is made of César Chávez and the farmworkers. The index includes nothing about Chicanos.

It’s a pretty disturbing analysis by Stavans. Stavans, a prolific and provocative writer, is the Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His latest book, The Disappearance: A Novella and Stories, is coming out this month from Triquarterly.

TACO TESTIMONY: My review of Denise Chávez’s new memoir, A Taco Testimony (Rio Nuevo) appeared in yesterday’s El Paso Times. I note, in part:

Chávez is an engaging writer who has a well-honed talent for describing in intimate detail everything from human foibles to mouthwatering Mexican delicacies. She also confronts life in all its beautiful and painful permutations. This is a testimony well-worth reading.

All done. Sorry about the brevity of my post but I’ve just gotten back from vacation and I’m under the weather as well. Such is life. So, until next Monday, enjoy the intervening posts from my compadres y comadre at La Bloga. ¡Lea un libro!

Friday, August 11, 2006


Manuel Ramos

These books are blurbed here without me having read them yet. I got the titles from the August Booknews newsletter of the Poisoned Pen. They are recently released and on the shelves now. Am I taking too much liberty with the term "Latino fiction" in referring to these books? Why don't you read one and send us your opinion? You can submit reviews, articles, etc., to me at labloga at aol dot com. Any of the other La Bloga hosts also will consider material. No promises, but we do love contributors, commentators, even critics.

Wanted, by T.I. Alvarado (Alyson): A debut novel featuring bounty hunter Ladybird Blacker. Her latest capture turns out to be the son of a poweruful crime boss who hires an assassin to take out Bird and rescue his son. Lo and behold, the hired gun turns out to be Bird's ex-girlfriend. As they say, then things get interesting.

Tomorrow They Will Kiss, by Eduardo Santiago (Back Bay): Book Sense Pick says "Santiago has created a kaleidoscope of female characters in a novel that is as irresistible and addictive as a telenovela. His Cuban women in exile will wrap you up in their stories, as they illuminate the immigrant experience in a tapestry of memory, dreams, friendship, nostalgia, and humor."

The Art of Murder, by José Carlos Somoza (Abacus): "Madrid novelist Somoza's latest thriller to appear in the U.S. (it was originally published in Spain in 2001) concerns a young girl who is found murdered and two police detectives who must find the killer before he strikes again. But it's the world of the novel that captures our interest, not the whodunit aspect. The action takes place in the bizarre subculture of hyperdramatic art, in which the works of art are actual, living people, painted and posed like living mannequins." Booklist, © American Library Association.

Raymundo Elí Rojas
sent us the Summer Issue of Libros, Libros, 54 pages. Ray's compilation of all that is new in Chicano/a and Latino/a literature is the absolute ultimate source. I expect that in the next few weeks we here at La Bloga will use it to help us select what we will be reading for the next several months. If you have any interest in this kind of stuff - and you must, you're reading La Bloga, right? - you have to get your hands on this publication. I think one of my fellow blogueros is going to host Libros on his website - until that becomes official, here is contact information for Ray:
BLOG - www.plumafront.blogspot.com
Pluma Fronteriza
P.O. Box 6216
Kansas City, KS 66106
plumafronteriza AT msn DOT com

In the Sierra Madre
by Jeff Biggers (University of Illinois Press, 2006) comes highly recommended: "Jeff Biggers has the keenest eye in the business, and he has a fine, luminous voice to tell you what he has seen. Biggers manages to write like a poet, a historian, a naturalist and an adventurer. His pages are burnished and alive, and I admire his work. This is a welcome addition to western and Mexican letters. You need to read this one soon."-- Luis Urrea

The publicity for this book says: "The Sierra Madre--no other mountain range in the world possesses such a ring of intrigue. In the Sierra Madre is a groundbreaking and extraordinary memoir that chronicles the astonishing history of one of the most famous, yet unknown, regions in the world. Based on his one-year sojourn among the Raramuri/Tarahumara, award-winning journalist Jeff Biggers offers a rare look into the ways of the most resilient indigenous culture in the Americas, the exploits of Mexican mountaineers, and the fascinating parade of argonauts and accidental travelers that has journeyed into the Sierra Madre over centuries. From African explorers, Bohemian friars, Confederate and Irish war deserters, French poets, Boer and Russian commandos, Apache and Mennonite communities, bewildered archaeologists, addled writers, and legendary characters including Antonin Artaud, B. Traven, Sergei Eisenstein, George Patton, Geronimo, and Pancho Villa, Biggers uncovers the remarkable treasures of the Sierra Madre."

RudyG - this sounds like something right up your callejón, how about a review?

There's a nice story (PDF) about Denver artist Stevon Lucero in the online journal Five, written by Renne Fajardo. Lucero's work is vibrant, dynamic, and loaded with cultural references, you know - Chicano art. Here are a couple of paragraphs from Fajardo's article to give you a taste of the artist and the story:

"Admittedly, Lucero seems eccentric. But his profound sense of spirituality has enabled him to create a prolific body of work that goes beyond addressing only Chicano issues. It speaks to all races and cultures.

It was at the University of Wyoming that he started painting what he calls Metaphysical Fantastic Realism. His work later evolved into Metarealism, where the conscious and subconscious merge together. 'In essence, what we think is manifested physically,' Lucero says of his style, which combines bold colors and lively organic forms."

Lucero's website has several images of his art to give you a great idea of what it is that he does.

The mission of Latinitas Magazine is to "empower Latina youth through media and technology." Hey, we can get behind that, no? I recently found the following message in the overflowing La Bloga mailbox:

"Do you know a young Latina who is active in community service and is making a difference? Latinitas is currently accepting nominations for Latinita Superstars. On a quarterly basis, Latinitas recognizes outstanding young Latinas by featuring girls on our website along with their photo. Candidates must be Hispanic girls between the ages of 11-18. To nominate a girl, please submit an online nomination at: http://www.latinitasmagazine.org/girls/superstar.php

Latinitas is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Latina youth through media. We publish a bilingual webzine by, for, and about Hispanic girls as well as host media empowerment programs through Central Texas. Latinitas presents enrichment after-school clubs, mentor programs, college internships, Saturday camps, youth media conferences, and community workshops dedicated to encouraging girls to express themselves. For more information, visit www.latinitasmagazine.org."

Alma Luz Villanueva
forwarded us a plea for help for the Casa Hogar Santa Julia don Bosco - the "Little Girls Orphanage in San Miguel de Allende". The message says in part that "school begins August 21. In the meantime, the Madres are catching up on paperwork, doing deep cleaning, and taking care of maintenance that is difficult to take care of with girls there. For instance, there is no running water to the girls’ bathroom or shower room at present. In addition, the Madres are getting ready to send the girls to school, which means they need funds for school uniforms, shoes, workbooks, book covers, school supplies, school registration fees, etc. ... Donations may be dropped off at the box at Border Crossings, Mesones 57 at the corner of Relox, Box 121A, or mailed to the US box at 9902 Crystal Court, Suite 107 BC 2323 121A, Laredo, Texas 78045." Much more information about the orphanages and the ongoing projects and needs on the website.


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Around San Anto 2006

(A continuation of http://labloga.blogspot.com/2006/08/denver-to-san-anto-2006.html)

The dog Manchas and I make it to San Anto, but we're going nowhere in afternoon rush hour, so we pull off downtown. It's $5 to park by the Mercado Market Square, a tourist trap in front of Santa Rosa Hospital, but it's worth it just for the shade and sounds from the fountain where a bunch of brown kids are cooling off. After a thousand heated miles, I'm wasted and Manchas doesn't even want to chase pigeons, or maybe it's 'cause his instincts are to herd the four-legged--cows and horses.

I sit on an old park bench, remembering decades ago when one of the nuns from the hospital fired me, for insubordination, I recall. I'm also sitting on the site of the cemetery where, after storming the Alamo, Santa Ana had his slain soldiers buried (fewer than 500, which means the Alamo Texians, as they're now called, killed only 2.5 to 1, not the seemingly 50 to 1 dramatized in those movies). Over a hundred years later, the good citizens of San Anto had those bodies removed and redistributed to other sites, denying us a memorial. Anglo civilization can't seem to leave us alone, even after death.

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas site claims the Alamo was "founded by" Franciscan priests. They fail to mention the labor came from local and imported Indian slaves, some of whom were maybe my ancestors--selective Texas history trying to erase even the indigenes' mark on the land.

The whole family thing is good, as always, although brother Ralph never shows, but that's Ralph. They know I love cabrito, which is difficult to get in Denver, so we have it at least four times. Turns out not all the cabrito is baby goat; some is cabra, chivo, old and tougher. Something to ask about next time you're at H.E.B. or a San Anto restaurant; it's the difference between juicy-tender and dry-tough.

My family lives off Hwy. 281 So., out in the sticks south of town. Hundreds of swallows, an occasional coyote howling, bats, lots of trees--mesquite, pecan, some palmas. I brought the truck to take back some mesquite planks, for making furniture. Here I see huge piles of dead oak along the roadside, victims of the current, extended drought. After some research, it seems I'll also return with no mesquite.

In Texas and into Mexico, the mesquite tree grows like a weed, and ranchers and farmers treat it as such. The best and biggest mesquites grow in the Uvalde area, but that's too far to drive. Good thing, because mesquite has shot up to over $7 a board foot, something outside my budget. The mostly Anglo furniture makers in San Angelo and Uvalde don't understand the increase.

But some mexicanos here explain there's no more mesquite in Mexico; it's all been cut down for firewood, to burn coals for homes or for the tacos everyone loves to buy from street vendors. There's too many people of all colors, there, here, in Denver; so many people, even the weeds are disappearing. Maybe this heat's the planet's way of showing it's tired of them, as Abbey too might have said.

We do most of the usual things that go with my Texas visits:
º Frequent stops for aguas de sandía, blended watermelon with water and sugar, some of it so thick I could have used a fork. $1.50 for a big ole glass, much better than the $1.50 small glass you get in Denver made of powdered product, like a Kool-Aid.
º Beer, every day, goes well with this heat--Negra Modelo, Grolsch, St. Pauli, whatever. I got an East German brother-in-law who's never lost his accent. It gets better with beer as we sit out on the porch or under the tent letting Manchas mangle their new dog.

One change: I usually make a point to stop by the Alamo and piss on the Alamo Cenotaph, the memorial to the Texans that sits out front of the Alamo. (It's not typical hunter or gatherer behavior, but it's something I do.) This time I've got a better idea, but it's not fit for posting.

Six movies were made about the Alamo, the first one in 1911. I remember when I was a kid proudly putting on a Davey Crockett coonskin cap and play-killing all those mescans, just like John Wayne in the second movie. It took decades, and some peeing, to get myself out of that thinking.

My mom, the dog and I go looking for a river where he can get himself all wet, but the banks are low, the drought's been here too long. At spots in the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers he only manages to get his feet wet. But there's herons, egrets, pelicans, cardinals everywhere--migration's in cycle. A fantastic refuge is being completed nearby at Mitchell Lake (named Laguna de los Patos when this was still Mexico), but it's not open yet, won't allow pets, and no swimming, so it doesn't matter to Manchas. It's hot, even the river water.

There's also a billion, billions of tiny brown butterflies everywhere in south Texas, mixed in with small, fewer monarchs--something about great breeding conditions; I guess global warming isn't bad for everyone. People complain about the American snouts, as they're called, that cover their windshields. They forget who was here first, and will probably be here last, and they can't see that their windshields moving at 60mph into droves of these migrating insects are to blame.

Each morning we sit outside watching the billions awaken in the trees and on the ground from the heating, morning Texas sun. I amble through them like Gulliver walking through flying Lilliputians. They're Life(!) I want to grab and embrace, but even my approaching steps mean death for ones I don't see. It's an uncomfortable helplessness for a wannabe hunter-type. (Since my camera didn't turn out useable video, go here for an idea of what a billion snouts look like: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14172350/

The dog is having a great time. He gets lots of needed socialization, meeting strangers, licking them a lot, has learned a few new commands that he sometimes doesn't ignore. My sister Barb's Basset hound's ears make for a great chew. Her dog's female, he's male, but they lack the equipment anymore to do anything but pretend--sort of like homo sapiens' once-heated obsession with Earth.

Plus the dog's let me sleep all night, a new experience for us both. Coming in out of the sweltering heat to doze in front of an AC vent will do that, even to the best of primitive gatherers--spoils him; when it's time, he may not want to leave.

The day comes--the hunter's got job obligations. Last two days the dog's been questioning me with his eyes: "Are we going home now?" So he's ready. We load the truck with white limestone, other rock, and agave cactus for my desert-garden, but no mesquite. Except for my liver and the butterflies, we've caused less harm than good. Time to go while we're ahead.

I didn't have a chance to do all I wanted, but there'll be another time. San Anto will be here, maybe even the snouts, again. We catch US-10, take it up to 65, splattering dozens of the billions with each mile.

(final installment, next week...)

© Rudy Ch. Garcia 2006

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Review: Bent to the Earth

I recently came across an old review I did on one of the most astounding books of poetry I've ever had the privilege to read. Every now and then, I pick it up to re-read and each time, I get blown away again. Check it out. Buy it. The poetry is amazing.

Title: Bent to the Earth
Author: Blas Manuel De Luna
Publisher: Carnegie Mellon University Press

I just finished reading the most astounding collection of poetry from a Tijuana born poet and writer, Blas Manuel De Luna. It is incredible!

The title poem Bent to the Earth speaks of the violence against migrant farm workers, the beating, the fear, the loss. Separation of husband from wife, mother from son, neighbors and friends gone. It brought tears to my eyes as did my favorite from the collection, My Father, Reading Neruda. The beauty of this final stanza moved me so deeply that I found myself crying in the early morning rush to get ready for work.

“But now, Neruda. Now, poetry. Now, poems.
I go near him. He is near
the end of the book; his finger marks
his place in a poem, in the poetry
that we have in common,
and that carries us both.”

The slim volume is packed with heart wrenching and sadly, true accounts of the life of the immigrant farmworker. Blas Manuel De Luna writes poignantly and beautifully of despair and loss, death and violence.

In his poem Into America, one can feel the anxious waiting for the darkness that will possibly give a few brave souls access into a new life on the other side or maybe just waiting another day with their desire to cross.

Mr. De Luna is one of the most eloquent and insightful poets it’s ever been my pleasure to encounter. His writing is crisp and conveys a depth of feeling so profound and haunting that it stays long after the book is closed. Read this portion of his elegiac poem to his little brother, The Sky Above Your Grave.

“If you could see through satin and wood and earth
and bits of grass,
if you could see through the trees in winter
when their leaves are gone.
if, little brother, there were a way for the dead to see,
you would see all the ways the sky has to be beautiful."

I feel that this is such an important little book for so many reasons. It is a slim volume and packed with such powerful messages. It is a lesson in humanity. It is the voice of protest. It is a call for action.

(This review first appeared on AmoxCalli)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Review: Malinche. A novel. By Laura Esquivel.

Michael Sedano

bookLaura Esquivel and translator Ernesto Mestre-Reed hold their own against a worthy challenge, bringing to life on the pages of a short novel a character at the heart of Mexico’s foundation myth, Malinche.

When Hernan Cortes invades Amerindia, he needs a translator who speaks the Mexica tongue used in the Aztec empire. An India slave named Malinalli comes into Cortes’ possession. A gifted linguist, Malinalli speaks Nahuatl and rapidly learns Español. Adopting Catholicism, she is baptized Marina and comes to be known as Doña Marina, la Malinche, la chingada, the traitor. But her character is not cut and dried. After all, in bearing Cortes’ child, the woman gives birth to the first Mexicano.

Can a child hate its mother? More to Esquivel’s point, can Mexicans hate la Malinche, their mother? Malinche hates her mother. With the child’s father dying suddenly, her mother gives her away to the grandmother to raise. The confused child grows into adulthood, increasingly tormented counting the numerous times she has been discarded, given to a new master.

But Marina leaves her son behind as she accompanies Cortes on his expeditions of conquest. When, after years, she finally returns, her estrangement from her son turns into a nightmare of just rewards for abandonment. The son runs in fear, the mother screams at the son and drags the kicking and screaming boy from arms of the cuidaniño he calls “Mother.”

Much as Esquivel gives to make Malinche both human and sympathetic, she wastes little spite giving Cortes his due. He is a short, distempered beast whose charisma both draws and repels her. Ultimately, she gives in to her long controlled emotions and sees Cortes only with contempt.

How must the older adult Malinalli Marina have felt about her career? As the invader’s tongue, she looks Montezuma in the eye and gives her version of Cortes’ raison d’etre. She can spin it to get herself killed by outraged nobles, or she can convince the king the invader is the god Quetzalcoatl. Straddle the cultural divide and live, Malinalli tells herself in campaign after campaign. She has no other way than to live as a slave, Marina comforts herself.

Was it worth it? At the end of her career, Malinche has been given away yet again, this time to be wife slave to one of Cortes’ lieutenants. It turns into a good marriage, they are an ideal couple. They have children, deluxe housing, land, power. She has her grandmother’s jewelry, corn seed, and religion.

Writing an historical novel brings its own set of unique grammatical challenges. Sadly, Esquivel, or the translator, has given Malinche’s characters an awkward speech that interferes with the advancing of story. For instance, in the crucial confrontation between Malinalli and her mother, even the narrative takes on the floridity of the speeches:

Her dry lips pronounced words whose sound could move stones, and the most hardened hearts. “My daughter, Malinalli, by the great expanse of the seas, by the power of the stars, by the rain that washes and renews all, forgive me. I was guided by desire, blinded by life, attracted to what breathed. I could no longer be married to death. Your father had died, was inert, no word came out of his mouth nor light from his eyes. I could not stay bound to his immobility. I was still a young woman and wanted to live. 150

Despite the floricanto Esquivel’s characters speak, scenes like this one with Malinche’s mother resonate with understanding for the choices some women face in their drive up their own career ladder. Provocative ideas like these make the novel’s 186 pages pass too quickly.

Which is as it should be. And that's Tuesday, August 8, 2006. A day, like any other day, except... quick! Where does that line come from?

see you next week.