Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Found Art: Jose Maria de Servin

Michael Sedano

My friend Alfredo Lascano found three paintings signed Jose Ma de Servin, in garage sales. Any readers familiar with this painter's work?

Painted on rough woven straw burlap, their vibrant colors and distinctive style hold the eye. Two paintings are at least 5 feet long; Lascano found these two years ago, at a San Marino CA garage sale. One of these depicts a Mexica speaking indigenous floricanto while holding a catholic priest's staff. The other presents a woman, presumably la virgen, in royal purple.

The framed portrait of the flower seller, about 28 x 32", he found recently at a north Pasadena garage sale.

Interesting finds, at opposite ends of the valley. A Google search on variants of Servin's name comes up with several ebay sales, a Palm Springs gallery, some stuff in German, and an exhibition some years ago in Guadalajara. I found few biographical details; Servin was born in 1917.

It's gratifying to see sale prices under a thousand dollars--although two works sold through Butterfield & Butterfield auctions at undisclosed prices--because Mr. Lascano intends to keep these and hang them in his home. Given the paucity of information on Jose Ma. de Servin, perhaps there's someone out there in La Blogaland who knows Mexican art and can inform Alfredo's curiosity about this artist.


Read any good books lately? Please send your recommendations by posting a comment, or email me with your ideas. As always, La Bloga encourages your submission of reviews of notable work. We love guest columnists!

Can you believe it's already almost December? Tempus fugit, gente. See you next week.


Monday, November 27, 2006


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Désirée Zamorano is Director of Community Literacy Center at Occidental College. She attended St. John's College, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and received her BA from UC Irvine. She obtained her multiple-subject teaching credential from Point Loma Nazarene University, and her MA in Multicultural Education from CSU Dominguez Hills.

Zamorano says that she is delighted to be supporting Occidental's student teachers. With fifteen years of experience in public schools, her main goal is for student teachers to incorporate a variety of strategies in their instruction, strategies which should ensure equity in participation and access to the curriculum for their own students.

A produced playwright and published author, Zamorano brings her passion for engaging elementary students in enriching language arts expression and experiences to Occidental's Community Literacy Center. Zamorano is fascinated by the way cultures connect and collide, within countries, cities, and families.

Fiction Writing Highlights:
• “Souvenirs,” short story, nominated for a Pushcart Prize
• “Reina” Touring Children's Musical produced by The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts
• “Bell Gardens, 90201” Touring Young Adults Musical produced by the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts
• "Mercy," short story, appeared in West Magazine (Los Angeles Times)

Non-Fiction Writing Highlights:
• Commentator on NPR’s Latino USA
• Articles in the Los Angeles Times and San Gabriel Valley News
• Contributor to NFT Los Angeles • Contributor to Free LA (Troy Corley Publications)

◙ NEW LIT: I just got my copy of a new literary journal, PALABRA: A Magazine of Chicano & Latino Literary Art. It is quite beautiful with a clean, easy-to-read design and “incidental” art (I hate that term…there’s nothing incidental about art, right?). It’s edited by elena minor and is designed by randy nakamura. The website is still under construction but is http://www.palabralitmag.com/ for future reference. This first issue includes the work of Wendy Ortiz, Margarita Engle, ir’ene lara silva, Carlos Martinez, Harry Gamboa, Jr., Daniel Martinez, Jose Gonzalez, Carmél Carrillo, Margaret Lopez, Alma Luz Villanueva, Caridad Svich, Toni Margarita Plummer, Rigoberto González and Moisés Zamora. For guidelines, write to PALABRA, P.O. Box 86146, Los Angeles, CA 90086-0146, or for additional INFORMATION ONLY, E-mail: palabralit@earthlink.net.

◙ UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL: Isabel Allende with Gioconda Belli at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A., on Tuesday, November 28, at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, visit http://www.writersblocpresents.com/.

◙ VERMIN ON THE MOUNT: I get word from my friend and journalist, Daniel Hernandez (currently of the L.A. Weekly, formerly of the L.A. Times), that he will be a guest reader at Jim Ruland’s magnificent reading series, Vermin on the Mount, on December 3, 8 p.m., at The Mountain, 473 Gin Ling Way, Chinatown. Other readers will be Stephan Clark, Theresa Duncan and Rolf Potts. I’ve done this reading series before and it is simply one of the best (and booze is sold downstairs so the audience will be well-primed).

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

Friday, November 24, 2006

Happy, Happy

Manuel Ramos

I don't have much for the day after día de gracias, and the rest of La Bloga's gang have posted some excellent stuff this week, so please scroll down or use the links to the left to review what Gina, Daniel, Michael and RudyG have been up to lately.

My lack of preparation does give me the chance to wish La Bloga feliz cumpleaños -- this baby saw light on November 24, 2004, when RudyG penned the immortal phrase La Bloga started today.That's all. Since then the posts are longer, and more informative we hope, and our audience has grown from Rudy's wife to now include mine, who tells me she has read La Bloga at least three times in the past two years. Seriously, we have more readers every week. We like to think that you all appreciate what might appear sometimes as anarchy or chaos -- we do have a plan. Ask Daniel, he knows the plan. (You do, don't you?)

In the spirit of the Terrible Twos, I have to say that I am spoiled. I am no longer surprised, just really pleased, when my fellow bloggers write intelligent and unique reviews about the latest Latino/a author to emerge during the Age of Great Hope for Literature, or very movingly go on about what it means to be a Latino or Latina in the U.S.A during the current Age of Darkness, or insightfully provide clues about the every day drama that connects us all. It's all here, in one form or another.

Man, I'm happy for La Bloga, and thankful I can be a part of this cultural experiment.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Chicano Bilingual Teacher's Thanks-Giving

Working in an American elementary school conditions me to usually be such an ungrateful bastard, it's good there's one American holiday that forces me to think about giving thanks for things in my life.

1. My gut feeling about the indigenous Wampanoag, the "eastern peoples" of Massachusetts, saving the Pilgrims, I'll keep to myself. But without their intervention in 1621, our Thanksgiving Day would be nothing but days of prayer, which was Pilgrim practice. The Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims that a sharing time for family and friends was better than spending the whole day on your knees. Of course, eventually, American colonists reciprocated by stripping the spirituality from all native peoples, but I won't dwell on that.

2. As a teacher of expatriated mexicanitos, I have to give thanks for my daily audience and clientele. I could have it worse, trying to get the attention of fully-Americanized children addicted to making long Xmas lists of material goods that already overwhelm their little minds. I'm grateful most of my students' families don't have the wherewithal to give them $600 PlayStation 3s and $50 a month cell phones. For lack of such, mine are closer to the spirit of the Wampanoag than the knee-locked, land-grabbing Pilgrims.

3. Likewise I'm grateful for the parents de mis estudiantes, parents who work two or three jobs, even, but scrounge the time to get their children to school each day, the time to read with them, the time to tell their kids to do everything their teacher tells them, a lot like the Wampanoag likely once raised their children.

4. I have to be grateful for getting to teach children in a language whose written words are so consistent with the spoken word. The all-English teachers around me bitch so about how low their students' reading levels and writing skills are, while I guiltily relish in my kids' sounding more and more like educated wonders in the land of the illiterate. Much as the Wampanoag must have appeared to the Pilgrims.

5. Getting to read Lalo Delgado or Pablo Neruda's poetry to an audience of bright eyes and receptive minds, and being paid for it, gives me the strength to withstand the American educational bureaucracy's myopia for assessment and standardized tests. The crushed ideals of the Wampanoag re-flow through Abelardo's words, off my sophomoric tongue, to plant nurtured thoughts in my kids' semi-indigenous spirit.

6. Then too, I have to give thanks to all that great spiraling, brown DNA that thrives in my kids. However inept I may feel some days, however academically short at times my attempts at educating them, their synapses somehow make new connections and recombine to make me look good. I accept they learn more than I can teach them, not because of my well-meaning spirit, but because of their innate childish proclivity to wonder.

7. And you can't imagine what I get to see every day, unless your job's like mine. Despite all the manifest-destinied transgressions of the Pilgrims and their cohorts, Cortez and Bishop Landa, Davy Crockett and Gen. Winfield Scott, and no matter the whitebread-visions of America's so-called Border Minutemen, if I look up from my desk at the 23 faces in my classroom, sometimes I don't see impoverished, often malnutrioned, skinny children of immigrants. I look upon descendants of the Olmeca, Maya, Raramuri and Yaqui peoples. The same visages Rivera replicated on his murals, the same features on the faces of Zapata and Commandante Marcos's soldados, follow me around the room, momentarily allowing me into the stream of a spirit much greater than my world.

8. Lastly, thank the Lords of the Near and Far that those who I daily teach will not grow up in the monolingual world Middle America would prefer to keep on this side of a Palestinian-type wall. They will read and love Neruda and T.S.Eliot; they will be able to recite Gabriel Garcia Marquez in two languages, to write an English essay or Spanish sentimiento, and read either to their own children. And when they do that, in a remote corner where my spirit resides, maybe I hope they'll end the reading by telling of a teacher they once had who sometimes made them laugh, but more often made them grateful he could recognize value in their mestizaje-spirit.

Rudy Ch. Garcia

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Something happened at UCLA

Michael Sedano

I am getting darned intolerant of growing older. Almost everything reminds me of some past experience. And I cannot stay awake late hours.

A couple weeks ago, I sat in dread as the Friday evening hour approached for the dramatic interpretations of three Samuel Beckett short pieces, "Enough," "A Piece of Monologue" and selected "Texts for Nothing". Dread that I'd not be able to keep my eyes open to enjoy the work. Sleep won and I trudged out at halftime with Beckett ahead 2-0. Seemed like a wonderful set of performances by Gare St. Lazare Players of Ireland . Unless I dreamed it all, the performers kept to the text, and the "Monologue" totally dazzled me, until the woman sitting next to me receives a phone call. Her phone speaks to her. Loudly. "Call from two one three five five six one two eight one" it repeats it three times before the woman bends into her large handbag, rustles around and finally silences the device. All the while actor Conor Lovett stands stock still and silent--the phone rang during a silence--and his next line breaks the house into wild laughter: "Wait" Lovett pronounces with a straight face.

Saturday afternoon was much better. A matinee performance of Waiting for Godot by Gate Theatre Dublin, the teatro Beckett worked with to present the premiere in English of Godot (pronounced by the actors as God' oh, by the way). How much closer can one come to the master? Put me in mind of a recital by the 98-year old pianist, Mieczyslaw Horszowski, who studied under a student of Beethoven; here was the last direct connection to the master. The Gate Theatre offered just such a connection.

I'd spent the previous weeks reading Godot in French and English, as a means of enhancing my experience with the live performance. There is nothing comparable to a staged performance, no matter how effective a reader one is. To start, individual reading misses the timing two skilled actors possess. The rapid-fire repartee opening the play had the audience laughing in all the right places. When Lucky thinks, folks were almost rolling in the aisles, so superb was his delivery. What was more thrilling was the obvious delight of audience members for whom this was their first exposure to the piece itself. "What is it about?" questions filled the foyer during intermission. Being somewhat of a metiche, I was chatting up some bystanders when one asked about the boy, "did they bring him all the way from Ireland," she wondered, "for such a small role?" The shock on her face made me long for my camera when I told her to think of the boy as a young Lucky. Not so small a role after all, que no?

The afternoon at UCLA passed with no one being tased by campus heat, a good thing, I thought. As we exited I had to stop at Richard Serra's monumental sculpture fashioned from 3" steel plate. I rubbed the oxide surface wondering if I had made that steel. Back in the 60s I spent college summers in the mills at Kaiser Steel. Plates like the Serra sculpture were my metier.

Holiday Art & Craft Sale Time is Here
Self-Help Graphics and all the others' annual sales fast approach. Here's a new one from La Bloga's spoken-word publishing friends at Calaca Press. Visit their website for last dibs on Raza Spoken Here 2 (1 is sold out) and, sadly, you just missed the classic but now sold out When Skin Peels. Publisher Brent Beltrán has several titles in the works, so here's a way to support their sensational publications program. Email the publisher for travel directions or sight-unseen offers.

The Red CalacArts Collective presents our first annual Holiday CalacArts Bazaar

Sunday December 10, 2006
12 noon until 5pm
(Home of Chelo y Brent of Calaca Press) in National City, Califas 91950

Support San Diego's Chican@ arts community by purchasing their art as gifts for the holiday season.

Featuring original art, serigraphs, prints, tshirts, books, artesania and other cultural items from:

Nuvia Crisol Guerra
Teresa Yolanda Lopez
Carmen Kalo Linares
Mario Chacon
Ricardo Islas
Sandra Pocha Peña
Keep on Crossin'/I Love Aztlán
Bob Medina
Berenice Badillo
Irene Castruita
Sal Barajas/Motivational Designs
Mariajulia Urias
Fernando Flores
Calaca Press

Plus entertainment including:
Aztec Gold's: A Very Lucha Christmas
Poetry by Irene Castruita and others

Music, food, socially conscious thought and the Calaca hospitality that you have come to know and enjoy.

This event is organized by the Red CalacArts Collective. For more information contact Brent E. Beltrán at calacapress@cox.net.

This event will be outdoors. In the case of rain, this event will be cancelled.

Oh, before I forget again, the best part of growing old is being able to read Cicero's De Senectute and understand it completely. My favorite idea: bitter old men don't get that way because they are old, it's because they were bitter young men.

Move to joy, raza.

See you next week.


Monday, November 20, 2006


By Daniel Olivas

Under cover of night, with the aid of a high-priced human smuggler, a frightened group of men, women and children attempt a dangerous trek from their homeland to another country -- all in search of a better life.

Who will succeed in entering the foreign land and improving their daily circumstances? And who will be apprehended by the authorities and returned to desperate poverty or other oppression? Such is the premise of Laila Lalami's debut novel, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, now available in paperback from Harvest Books ($13).

But the immigrants Lalami writes about are not Latinos attempting to get into the United States. Her protagonists are four Moroccans who huddle with about 20 others in a small boat to cross the Strait of Gibraltar. Their hope: to avoid the watchful eye of the authorities as they travel 14 kilometers to their haven, Spain.

Lalami notes that this "more recent phenomenon of dangerous sea crossings ... is a result of the rising unemployment in Morocco combined with the tightening of visa regulations in Europe in the 1980s." The story will sound familiar to people in the United States: "Desperate to find jobs, people began to cross the short distance between Morocco and Spain on small boats, which has led to the loss of several thousand lives."

Authors such as Luis Alberto Urrea and Reyna Grande have written books that eloquently recount similar dangers faced by Latinos trying to enter the United States through the unforgiving deserts of northern Mexico and the U.S. Southwest. But hope springs eternal.

When her novel first hit the bookstores in hardcover last year, Lalami not only enjoyed critical acclaim but also had the "very pleasurable experience" of meeting and chatting with readers while on tour. "The only disturbing dialogue was when a woman at a book reading told me, point-blank, that 'Moroccan immigrants refuse to adapt and integrate.' And I, a perfectly 'integrated' immigrant, was standing before her. She couldn't see the irony."

Born and raised in Morocco and now living in Oregon with her family, Lalami earned her bachelor of arts in English from Universite Mohammed V in Rabat; a master's degree from University College, London; and a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Southern California. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Oregonian, the Nation, the Washington Post and elsewhere. She is living the American dream, to be sure.

But Lalami has never forgotten her roots. Before the novel's publication, most readers knew of Lalami through her blog, Moorishgirl.com, which reflects her Moroccan roots by often covering -- and confronting -- literary news relating to the "other" in our society. Latino writers have received a generous share of Lalami's coverage. Not surprisingly, Lalami is "just thrilled" that her novel has also come out in a Spanish edition translated by Monica Rubio under the title Esperanza y Otros Sueños.

Lalami sees "many similarities" with the way undocumented immigrants are viewed in the United States and Europe, "particularly the tendency to periodically blame immigrants for everything that ails society." All the while, "these immigrants are keeping the service industry afloat, they are taking jobs citizens consider too low-paying to take, and they contribute millions to retirement plans and other benefits that they will never get to receive."

But perhaps by humanizing undocumented immigrants through her fiction, Lalami can help the public become more compassionate and less fearful.

One can only hope.

[This profile first appeared in the El Paso Times in slightly different form.]

Friday, November 17, 2006


Manuel Ramos

Lorna Dee Cervantes
Call For Submissions
Mapping Nativity
The Cybills and Gina Marysol Ruiz


Creative writing teachers and critics like to talk about the "sense of place" evoked by an author. Certain names and locations immediately come to mind when that phrase is uttered. William Faulkner, of course, and Yoknapatawpha County; Rolando Hinojosa and Klail City; Rudolfo Anaya and rural New Mexico; Chester Himes and Harlem in the 1950s and 1960s. The great ones bring a reader into a world that exists only in the writer’s mind but for that reader the place is as real as the book in the reader’s hands. There is great satisfaction in recognizing the textures, colors, smells and sounds presented by a writer, even if I have never been to the particular place in the story, even if the place is wholly imaginary. I find comfort when words fix a location in my mind, when I accept that I have been transported from my La-Z-Boy to Faulkner’s deep south, or the trash-strewn alleys and side streets of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles.

A writer sooner or later will be asked about setting: how important is it, how does one go about establishing it, what are the basics?

I think some of the answers can be found in this paragraph from the story Chango, found in the collection entitled Brownsville, written by Oscar Casares (Little, Brown and Company, 2003):

"Most afternoons Bony sat on the tailgate of his dark blue troquita, the sound system cranked up to some Led Zeppelin or Pink Floyd. He’d been listening to the same music since high school and said he would change if another band ever came out with anything better. That afternoon was different, though. He forgot about the music and sat in a lawn chair on the grass. The shade from the fresno tree covered most of the yard. The wind was blowing some, but it was a warm breeze that made him feel like he was sitting in a Laundromat waiting for his pants to dry. He stayed cool in his chanclas, baggy blue jean shorts, and San Antonio Spurs jersey. Across the street, a crow walked in circles in front of Mando Gomez’s house. Bony cracked open his first beer. The palm tree stood between him and the street. He liked being the only one who could see the monkey as people walked by that afternoon. He stared at the monkey and the monkey stared back at him."

And just like that we understand the type of place Brownsville is and, ever so more important, we are provided a few clues about Bony and Bony’s life. I have slipped into the "place" of this paragraph but I also am inside Bony’s head, aware of his anomie, and I await the full disclosure of the conflict subtly hinted at in the paragraph.

Place is nothing without people and Oscar Casares’s characters are complicated and layered and contradictory. Their stories are sometimes amusing, the people pitiful or admirable. These strong tales of human failure and victory pull the reader into the secrets and whispered gossip of Brownsville, enough so that a voyeuristic thrill rubs against the conscience.

Consider the story Charro. Marcelo hates his neighbor's dog, Charro. The damn thing keeps him up at night, craps in his yard, and generally interferes with what Marcelo considers his right to enjoy the peace and privacy of his own home. Marcelo's life is mundane to the point of dull. He works as a livestock inspector for the USDA--not much going on there. He takes his wife to visit her mother's grave and is filled with resentment. The mother-in-law hated Marcelo. He can't get any respect from the oblivious attendant at the self-service gas station. His boss chews him out for being late and Marcelo must meekly accept the lecture. You see what's happening here, right? What Marcelo can do is wage war against the dog. War with no quarter: poison, dognapping, abandonment more than twenty miles from the city. All fruitless. Charro is one tough cur. There is a twist in the plot, of course, and what started out as a peek at one man's ignoble attempts to maintain the vision he has of himself at the expense of an innocent pet becomes an incisive exploration of manhood and vanity. Eventually I felt something more than pity for Marcelo, lost in the shadow of his rough-and-tumble father, beaten by life's constant battles, and I sympathized with this resident of Brownsville who finally sees a truth about himself: "What would his father have done about the dog? Right or wrong, he always seemed sure of what he did. Marcelo tried to live his father's life, but now it felt as if he were standing in the middle of a river trying to stretch his arms and touch both sides. No matter what he did, he'd never reach far enough."

South Texas has a long and proud literary heritage that includes the aforementioned Hinojosa as well as the iconic Tomás Rivera. Casares is treading in deep water and one collection of short stories does not make a master. But the stories in Brownsville hold up well. They illuminate the Texas border lifestyle and culture through the eyes of the people who live there. They flow smoothly and a reader expects to run into the various characters in any of the stories -- they all fit so well together. It is obvious that Casares knows whose path he is following. Rivera's ... y no se lo trago la tierra ends with the young boy contemplating his recent past and the always expanding future from a perch in a tree. It is a beautiful ending to a beautiful book. At the end of Casares's Domingo, an old man sits in a tree:

"When he opened his eyes, he gazed out toward the horizon, farther than he had ever imagined he could. He looked across the river, past the nightclub lights on Obregón, past the shoeshine stands in Plaza Hidalgo, past the bus station where he caught his long ride home, past all the little towns and ranchitos on the way to Ciudad Victoria, past the Sierra Madre and the endless shrines for people who had died along the road, and even farther, past the loneliness of his little room next to the tire shop, past the reality that he would work the rest of his life and still die poor, and finally, past the years of sorrow he had spent remembering his little girl, past all this, until he clearly saw his wife and then his daughter, Sara, who was now a grown woman."

Oscar Casares has made all of us honorary residents of Brownsville.

A tip of La Bloga's sombrero to our hermana Lorna Dee Cervantes who will receive the Louis Reyes Rivera Lifetime Achievement Award on December 2 at Amherst College. The award is part of the 9th Annual Diaspora Poetry Concert. Roberto Marquez and Victor Hernandez Cruz also will be honored at the event. Get all the details over at Lorna Dee's place. And while you are there, read Nothing Lasts, a poem she presented at the opening of an exhibit of her late father's art. Sublime.

This announcement is all I know about the project:

Sunstone Press, an independent publisher in Santa Fe, NM is producing an anthology that will be edited by poet Gabriel Gomez. The anthology will feature Avant-Garde poetry and poetics by contemporary Latino/a writers. The tentative publication date is fall 2007. The anthology will first appear at a conference in Santa Fe, NM, scheduled for October 2007, and will be available nationwide thereafter. The ultimate goal is to encourage both readers and publishers to recognize the breadth of Latino/a writing and thus deepen the public's understanding of the Latino/a experience.

Guidelines: Please submit up to five poems. Manuscripts should not exceed 15 pages. Include a cover page with your name and contact information as well as the titles of your poems. Your name should not appear on the poems themselves. Writers are asked to submit only electronic versions of the poems. Send as MS Word attachments only. Both MAC and PC platforms are acceptable.

Submit work to junta.anthology@yahoo.com. Writers whose work is accepted for the anthology will be asked to write a poetics statement no longer than 750 words.

All manuscripts submitted by January 10, 2007 will be considered. Contributors will receive two copies of the book upon publication.

Meet the Collectors
Learn about the origins, materials, techniques, and inspiration of the collectors, as seen in over 135 miniature nativities, from 18 countries of the Américas in the current Museo de las Américas exhibition: Mapping Nativity.

Meet La Meta Lubchenco, Florence Hernández-Ramos (representing José de Jesús Hernández), and Laura Edmondson. November 18, 11am at the Museo.
Museo de las Américas 861 Santa Fe Drive Denver CO 80204 303.571.4401

My co-conspirator here on La Bloga wants everyone to know, and I am happy to help spread the word, that she is on the nominating committee of the Cybill's for Best Graphic Novel Young Adult. There are two categories, you can find out more here: http://dadtalk.typepad.com/cybils/2006/10/the_nominating_.html


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Veterans Day Elegy

Michael Sedano
Every Veterans Day brings me a few moments of quiet reflection, a scattering of tears, and more than a few hearty laughs remembering the guys I went through the Army with, Basic, AIT, Korea.

When news of Rumsfeld's firing reached me I was bitterly elated. I suppose every veteran feels a kinship with those who serve today. Witnessing their loss of family, health, limbs, and lives, Rumsfeld's lost job is so small a price for so unmeasurable a debt.

The same week, the New York Times published a story about a squad of Marines interviewed on an Iraqi rooftop. When told Rumsfeld had been dumped, one Marine asked, "Who's he?" I understand his lack of interest. As the Marine said, "They point at you and you go where they point." I smiled at the line, remembering CBR-- Chemical, Biological, Radiological warfare–training. The lecturer came to the "R" part. "If you see a mushroom cloud on the horizon," he told us, "put on your waterproof parka and march toward the smoke." Absochingaolutely, Sir!

What made me laugh then, and still today, is the fact I would have done so. As that Marine says, they point at you and away you go.

I'm sure all you ex-GIs have memories of similarly outlandish experiences. Today, in recognition of Veterans Day, I'm sharing one of those nostalgic memories, about the day “The Green Berets” starring John Wayne played at Ft. Ord, Springtime 1969. I was in Advanced Individual Training learning morse code and radio communications. Talk about buzz. All week excitement built toward the weekend premiere. Come Saturday afternoon, guys on their way home from Vietnam, and trainees like me wrapping things up in preparation for overseas movement, we all lined up for the movie; it was about us, don’t you see?

Basic Training puts the hapless trainee through exciting physical exertion combined with wondrous psychological games with big-time dramatic flair. Like the time we learned how to crawl under machine gun fire. Just before dusk over a hundred of us-- the entire training company-- march to an unfamiliar spot where we fill wooden bleachers.

The bleachers face a flat dirt lot about 30 yards long criss-crossed with barbed wire. To our left, where we would begin the exercise, a gentle hillside rises, surrounded by the California Live Oaks that make this part of the Salinas Valley so serenely picturesque. The orientation lecture comes at us over a tinny PA system. A year later, Robert Altman will release MASH and that loudspeaker system will become a familiar icon of military announcing.

The speech climaxes in a loudly spectacular demonstration of an M60 machine gun. To our right, an M60 opens up. Ribbons of red and green tracer rounds track the trajectory of 7.62mm slugs slamming into the hillside on our left at 500 rounds per minute traveling 2800 feet per second. Tut-tut-tut-tut-tut and the hillside disappears in a swirling cloud of light brown Salinas Valley dust.

We're like Xenophon's soldiers racing up the hill at the first scent of the sea after years of marching. Thalatta! Thalatta! As if on command, we rise as one mindlessly screaming entity.The bleachers explode in wild cheers, whistles, catcalls in our eager stupidity. We are raring to get out there and crawl under those ribbons of fire!

A few weeks later comes that night at the Ft. Ord movie house. “The Green Berets” plods along event to event, character to character, breaking its monotony with increasingly lethal confrontations with Charlie Cong.

Finally, our boys are up against it. Holding out on a hilltop redoubt, VC sappers have begun to penetrate the wires. Characters we recognize are getting shot up. It looks bad for our side. Then John Wayne calls in “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, a propeller-driven airplane mounted with three 7.62mm Gatling Guns on one side. The driver tilts the airplane so the gun side points in an appropriate direction. 18,000 rounds per minute pelt the earth when Puff does its stuff.

On screen-- as in real death-- red and green tracers ribbon down onto Viet Cong dropping like flies. The load is four unseen rounds for every tracer. The camera pans actors in throes of screaming agonized run-but-it-don’t-do-you-no-good horrible meat grinding fantasy death.

And we soldiers?

The Ft. Ord movie house explodes in wild cheers, laughter, a bedlam of piercing whistles and catcalls. Guys stand on their seats cheering, others stomp the wooden floor with a fevered intensity that raises a cloud of light brown Salinas Valley dust deposited by the boots of the thousands of souls who have come before me to this theatre. I feel their spirits all around me in that one surreal moment of John Wayne Donald Rumsfeld George Bush Dick Cheney silver screen fantasy heroism.

Ave atque vale, brothers.


Monday, November 13, 2006


Perry Vasquez is an artist and educator living in San Diego, California. He received an A.B. in Political Science and Studio Art from Stanford University in 1982. During the remainder of the 1980s, he studied at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and collaborated with the Italian surrealist provocaterur Lorenzo Galbusera and the Austrian photographer Doris Boris Berman.

Since 2005, Vasquez has been a teacher at Southwestern Community College in the School of Arts and Communications where he teaches courses in painting, life drawing, drawing and printmaking. From 2000–2002 he was graphics specialist at the Interactive Cognition Lab at UC San Diego, where he worked with Dr. David Kirsh who is well known for his research on the cognitive aspects of web design. The outcome of his experiences at the Lab was the launch of Apollo13Art.com, a site devoted to multimedia learning and the research and development of his artistic ideas.

In 2001, he opened ICE Gallery in San Diego as a forum for regional art. ICE has been the scene of community art events, openings, FotoAktions, art exhibitions as well as performances. The gallery is located in a former dry ice factory in San Diego's North Park neighborhood and continues to sponsor events and shows.

Throughout the 1990s, Vasquez worked on developing an array of unique artistic practices including Motography which is the use of recycled motor oil for fine art monoprinting. He also developed a number of interactive artworks using tape loops, motion detectors and sound collages. These works were done in collaboration with Randall Evans and featured in the Off Broadway Show at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in 2000.

From 1993–1995, he served as Assistant Curator at the Centro Cultural de la Raza where he curated Plan 9 from Aztlan and several other exhibits focused on Chicano aesthetics and cultural issues.

Most recently, his focus has been on Fotoaktion performances and promoting the Keep On Crossin movement which he began with the poet/activist Victor Payan in 2002.

Vasquez’s artwork and prose appear in the most recent issue of the literary journal, Hobart. And his art adorns the cover of Sunshine/Noir: Writing from San Diego & Tijuana (San Diego Cityworks Press), a groundbreaking and innovative collection of San Diego/Tijuana writing edited by Jim Miller featuring Jimmy Santiago Baca, Mike Davis, Marilyn Chin, Steve Kowit, Mark Dery, Victor Payan, and many more.

REVIEWING POETRY BY CHICAN@S AND LATIN@S: On poetryfoundation.org, the ever thought-provoking Rigoberto González writes about why he reviews poetry books by Chican@s and Latin@s. He notes, in part:

From the get-go I decided that I would pay closer attention to poetry books, because of all the genres being reviewed today this one is the most neglected. But I had other self-imposed rules, an approach if you will, to the art of reviewing. I chose, for example, not to review a poetry book if I didn’t like it. A better use of space would be to point out a poetry book that had merit and that was worth reading. The truth is that the market for poetry books is so specialized that telling a readership not to bother buying a book they most likely wouldn’t buy seemed oddly superfluous. I wanted to send people to the bookstores or to the Internet since the other sad truth is that most bookstores don’t carry many poetry titles and especially small press titles by Chicano/Latino authors. And let us not forget the library, where many good books collect dust, the spines stiffening because no one comes by to flex the covers.

He also gives a very nice plug to La Bloga…go visit to see what Rigobero has to say.

A NEW YEAR OF PAPER: Salvador Plascencia’s remarkably strange and beautiful novel, The People of Paper (McSweeney’s), is now out in paperback from Harvest Books. When it came out last year, it was named as a Los Angeles Times Favorite Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book. Plascencia was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and now lives in Los Angeles. He is a graduate of Whittier College and holds an MFA from Syracuse University.


Thursday, November 16, 2006
CSRC Library
44 Haines Hall
4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Keynote Speaker Thomas Saenz Counsel to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

Balcony – Eat & drink refreshments from Casablanca Restaurant
Room 144 – Music provided by Los Hermanos Herrera
Room 180 – CSRC books, journals, DVDs, t-shirts and mugs on sale!

This event is dedicated to Professor Guillermo Hernandez, past director of the CSRC, who died in Mexico City this past July. In addition, the event is to honor former Assembly Member Marco A. Firebaugh, staunch supporter of the CSRC, who died in March 2006.

To learn more about the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, visit the Center’s website.

BLOG, BLOG, BLOG: Our friend, the poet and educator Francisco Aragón, tells us that he has been invited to be a regular contributor to the online journal, TERTULIA magazine. His first contribution is an e-interview and conversation with the editors of the Indiana Review who recently released a special issue devoted to Latino and Latina writers. Francisco will be doing other e-interviews periodically. Visit Tertulia Magazine and enjoy.

BORN IN EAST L.A.: Jim Marquez will read from his new book, East L.A. Collage (Lulu Press), which is filled with “true-life stories about his East L.A. and its surrounding communities.”

November 18, 4 p.m.
Under the Bridge Bookstore & Gallery
358 West 6th Street
San Pedro, CA 90731

URREA’S MAGIC TOUCH: Marisa Lagos, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, tells us of Luis Alberto Urrea’s wonderful interaction with students as they talk literature. Then she notes: “It's almost possible to forget that Urrea is teaching a class of female inmates at the San Francisco County Jail -- that is, until you glance up and notice the students' matching orange sweat suits, or realize that a deputy is interrupting class to conduct a head count.” The read the whole article here. I also note that The Hummingbird's Daughter (Little, Brown) has spent some time on the bestsellers' list at number one in the fine City of San Francisco.

GRACIAS: Some folks know that my son has been having health problems and that I haven’t been able to do very extensive posts, of late, here on La Bloga. Of course, my fellow bloggers produce such wonderful posts that I’m sure few have noticed. Anyway, gracias for understanding. A special thanks goes to Michael Nava, who sent an inscribed copy of his novel, Rag and Bone (Penguin), to my son. And a shout out Professor Cesar González of San Diego Mesa College who invited me to give a lecture and reading to his class last week; what a wonderful experience. Also thanks to Rabbi Michele Paskow of Congregation B’Nai Emet who invited me to speak at last Friday’s Shabbat services in honor of Jewish Book Month; it was a beautiful evening filled with love of books as well as spirituality.

¡Lea un libro! –Daniel Olivas

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Review of A Gift From Papá Diego/Un regalo de Papá Diego by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

A Gift From Papá Diego/Un regalo de Papá Diego by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Illustrated by Geronimo Garcia

I’ve been a big fan of Benjamin Alire Sáenz for a long time. I love all his work with my favorite being In Perfect Light. When I found out about this book, I wondered what his writing for children would be like. I was completely entranced with the very first page. This is a lovely story, touchingly told.

A Gift From Papá Diego is the story of young Diego who loves his grandfather Diego who lives far away in Chihuahua, Mexico so much that he thinks of him all the time. Like most boys, he loves his comic books and superheroes. Little Diego misses his abuelito so much that he fantasizes about flying to Chihuahua in his Superman suit and being able to get home in time for dinner. He loves the story of how Papá Diego showed up the day Little Diego was born. The love the boy has for his grandfather just fills the pages with warmth and alma. It made me cry.

The story is very real, very much of true familia. Diego’s sister Gabriela loves to tease her brother but you can see the love she has for him too. The morning of Diego’s birthday, he wakes to find Gabriela and his mother singing Las Mañanitas while his father plays guitar. That is such a beautiful little detail. The love we Mexicanos have for each other, our traditions and love for music. It made me remember my birthday mornings growing up. Those cold December mornings lying tucked in under a mountain of blankets, opening my eyes to see my Tia smiling at me, smelling the favorite lengua de gato cookies I loved with champurrado in the kitchen, hearing my abuela come into my room and singing Las Mañanitas while my Papa rubbed my feet with his sobador’s hands. Ay! This story of Diegito got me remembering all those good times. I loved the part where his mama is in the cocina making chile rellenos. This is such a beautiful little cuentito!

The illustrations were great as well. Not your typical illustrations, these are done in clay and acrylic paint. They add depth to the story and a 3-d feel that makes the characters pop out and seem almost alive. Strangely enough, they don’t detract from the story, they add to it and give it a touch of whimsy. The artist, Geronimo Garcia hopes that the children who read this book will want to work with clay and paint to make their own art. I think that his work in this book will encourage them to create and more importantly, to dream. I think he will inspire many, many children and it is my hope that he will continue to illustrate many stories for them in the years to come.

As George Bush plans to build a 700-mile wall across the Mexican border, I leave you with the most powerful quote of the book, the one from Papá Diego that made my breath catch and my eyes tear up. “Mijito,” he said quietly, “tonight Chihuahua is not so far, and I do not feel so old, and it was very easy to cross the border. A border is nothing for people who love.”
Hasta la proxima,
Gina MarySol Ruiz

Friday, November 10, 2006

Words & Music -- Four Bits

Manuel Ramos

I flew into New Orleans with a small chip on my shoulder. My free plane ticket meant that I had to use Delta, an airline without any direct flights from Denver to New Orleans, and thus I had to make a connection in Atlanta. That made for a long day but that was only the beginning of my issues with Delta (the return trip took me twelve hours because of delays and a missed connection – I could have traveled to Europe in that time). I know -- ingrato.

And then there was the uncertainty of making the trip in the first place. The invitation to the Words and Music literary conference sounded like a great idea when New Orleans’ writer Mary Helen Lagasse first broached the subject with me, and I accepted the official invite from Rosemary James, the event’s tireless and over-worked director (not sure that is her title – she is la patrona of all things literary in New Orleans). But the nearer the event got, the more apprehensive I became. Was this the right thing to do? Katrina and all that – was the city safe? I had heard the disturbing story of the recent death of jazz icon Hilton Ruiz in New Orleans and the need for the National Guard to patrol the streets. Did I really need that? Water? Electricity? And, more troubling, was it okay to enjoy a big book party while most of the city was still devastated and the people were still suffering?

I learned that Luis Rodriguez, Jr., Ana Castillo, Sergio Troncoso, the Iguanas and Dr. José Cuellar (Dr. Loco) had agreed to participate. All good gente, writers and artists I respect and trust to understand the implications of the conference. Plus, Rosemary let me know that this event was part of the rebuilding of New Orleans. It had been canceled last year and now it was back, just like the city. The people and city of New Orleans needed events like this literary soiree – good for the spirit and the city’s pocketbook.

So I found myself in the Hotel Monteleone, itself a New Orleans symbol of a storied and very literary past, for Words and Music: A Literary Feast in New Orleans, November 1 - 6, 2006. Turned out, good thing I went. (Photos at bottom of this post).

Here are some of the sessions and events at the conference that might be of interest to readers of La Bloga.

A New Key to Success: The Art of Blogging With The Masters. This panel featured Luis Rodriguez, Ron Hogan of Beatrice.com and Galleycat, and yours truly. I thought of this session as an appetizer for the feast. Just enough to get the juices flowing and keep the customers in their seats. We talked about blogs - talked them to death. The panelists all thought that blogs are a good idea and everyone should click on our links to be in the know. We also agreed that blogs take a hell of a lot of time.

The Wild Life of the Border and Its Inspiration for Fine Fiction. Now we get to some meat. This was so cool: Luis Rodriguez, Sergio Troncoso, Dr. Loco, and Mary Helen Lagasse dissecting the notion of “the border” and what border violence really means, and Hollywood heavy Anthony Zerbe reading from a violent Cormac McCarthy chapter (is there any other kind?) All the panelists were at the top of their analytical and perceptive game – I hope Sergio’s introduction is preserved somewhere because he spelled it out precisely and directly. In fact, he pointed out one piece of subtle violence in the McCarthy passage: the author named and identified his Anglo protagonist but could only refer to the Mexican antagonist as el cuchillero. Not sure everyone in the audience picked up on Sergio's point but the Chicanos certainly understood the quiet but deadly violence of lost identity and nameless stereotypes.

We Shall Overcome With Poetry: Creating Community in Violent Times. Ana Castillo, Luis Rodriguez (busy guy) and New Orleans performance artist José Torres Tama rapped about their respective responsibilities as poets with social consciences. Of course, it was difficult to avoid the issues whirling right outside the hotel: Katrina and its aftermath was not so much a natural disaster as a man-made one, and its effects reverberated in the words and poetry of Torres Tama. This high energy performance poet has lived in New Orleans for more than twenty years. He observed how New Orleans is not so much a Chocolate City as an Enchilada Village now that construction and rebuilding has begun. I heard estimates for new Spanish-speaking immigrants in New Orleans range from 50,000 to more than 200,000. The city is not ready for such a massive and quick influx of people, more so because so many long-term residents of New Orleans still have not returned. Torres Tama sadly told me that he probably would have to leave New Orleans. Artists cannot afford to live where they have been living. Rents and other costs associated with living in the city have skyrocketed out of control. Meanwhile, tent cities, migra raids, rip-offs of workers, neglect and fear dot the landscape.

The conference celebrated Día de los Muertos with a special exhibit at the Cabildo, the scene of a lively and informative discussion among Dr. Loco, Ana Castillo, Mary Helen Lagasse, and Luis Rodriguez about such things as whether Anglos should be afraid that their culture will be swallowed by cultural imports such as Day of the Dead happenings (hey, I didn’t write the agenda – this is what the panelists had to answer.) The panel eventually morphed into poetry readings and performances: Castillo, Rodriguez and Torres Tama were joined by Liliana Valenzuela (noted translator of several writers) and Andrea Young, small press publisher and professor. We finished the night with Margaritas, chips and dip, and then music in front of the Cabildo. The Iguanas and Dr. Loco rocked. The music was hot but the night was cold. I made my way back to the hotel through the dark and unsettling quiet of a not deserted but not business-as-usual French Quarter.

I spent another day and a bit of a morning at the conference. I talked on a panel about crime fiction and listened to several amusing southern writers and theatrical types go on about Don Quixote. I thoroughly enjoyed a panel on the Role of the Memoir in Contemporary Life: Personal Mirrors of Reality. Again, Luis Rodriguez enlightened. He gave us the nitty-gritty about how writing Always Running changed his life and the lives of his family, and what it meant when he eventually was confronted by some of the people he had included in his descriptions of life on the streets when he was in the gang scene. Marie Arana also was on this panel. Her memoir, American Chica, sounds like something we should check out here on La Bloga.

The other intriguing thing I did in New Orleans was take a taxi over to Tulane, with a driver who did not know where he was going and who eventually told us that he would not charge us for the trip. Tulane was the scene of a Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. They had brought together various media types to talk about the role of the media in relation to the influx of new immigrants. That’s where I became convinced that the city is not ready but at least some of the people who can fix problems were in one room, talking.

I flew out on Saturday with a list of new books to read, a few new friends in my address book, and a renewed appreciation for people who carry on in the face of tragedy. A book event may not be the most urgent task for a city deserted by its own government and a people left for dead by their leaders, but I think it was worth it. Rosemary James and the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society: muchisimas gracias for the chance to observe and participate.


By coincidence I got an announcement about the 21st Annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, set for March 29 - April 1, 2007. Looks like our friend Gregg Barrios is set to do a staged reading of his play Rancho Pancho. More details later, as we get them.

We need to note the passing of Rafael Ramirez Heredia on October 24 in Mexico City. Heredia was one of the founders of the International Crime Writers Association and was serving as the South American Vice-President of that organization when he died. He was a winner of several literary awards including the Hammett, awarded to him during Semana Negra 2005. His novel La Mara is about Mexican immigrants and the criminals who prey on them.

Rolando Hinojosa reports that he has been selected to the seven-member Comite Consultivo for the Alfonso Reyes Chair at El Tecnologico de Monterrey. He also finished a short piece for an upcoming anthology by Texas Christian University Press entitled A Variform Education: '50s Austin, and he’s in the process of writing another piece for TCU Press on Why I Write. Way to go, Rolando.

New First Mystery Prize Honors Tony Hillerman
Wordharvest Writers workshops and Thomas Dunne Books will present a new annual award for mystery fiction, The Tony Hillerman Prize, in 2007.

The first winner will be announced in November, 2007 at the fourth annual Tony Hillerman Writers Conference: Focus on Mystery in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The award will go to a first mystery novel set in the Southwest written by a previously unpublished mystery author. The winning novel will be published by Thomas Dunne Books. For more information and complete contest guidelines, please visit here.

Some photos from Words & Music

Mary Helen Lagasse, Ron Hogan and Teresa Márquez (University of New Mexico)

Rosemary James leads the panel:

Dr. Jose Cuellar, Anthony Zerbe, Luis Rodriguez, Mary Helen Lagasse

Sergio Troncoso, Dr. Loco, Luis Rodriguez

The poets: Andrea Young, José Torres Tama, Ana Castillo, Luis Rodriguez

Día de los Muertos at the Cabildo: altar by Cynthia Ramirez

The Iguanas call it a night


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chicano pensamientos – un poco picante

1. It's six a.m. and the slab bacon's cooking, preparing itself to be laid over cheesy eggs set on raisin toast, sin chile, only because the flavors clash in my mouth. I'll eat it in front of everyone at the teachers' meeting at 7:30, everyone who's too paranoid of their genes, cholesterol, and an early death to enjoy the thought of sin at breakfast time.

2. Tuesday I tried to teach my second grade mexicanitos straight out of the school board's math book; it went over like a sermon done in Swahili extolling the human side of George Dubbya. I noticed several of my bad boys constructing bridges and cars out of the manipulatives and decided to follow their lead. I switched to teaching them about simple machines: "Now take 30 pieces and make a machine that does something." It was like I'd yelled, "Ice cream cones and Christmas candy for everyone!" For the next forty enjoyable minutes they showed me that no matter the shallow vision of any school board or the intermittent ineptitude of their maestro, they could have a chingon time learning, if I just watch for the signs.

3. Some of their moms stay each morning, watching the opening of class, the kids doing their warm-up tasks to get them in the mood to accept my instruction. Usually the moms leave after a bit, but this time I gave them copies of the kids' task and told them I'd be grading them more strictly than I do the kids. Whereas last week the women acted like this graph-plotting was also in Swahili, this time they tackled it like they'd been learning from watching their kids. I didn't grade them; I don't want to disappoint my imagining.

4. My son came over last night because my Internet connection didn't work. After about an hour on the phone with Qwest, he determined the gateway's Airport wasn't working. It fit the stereotype of our progeny knowing more hi-tech than us. What didn't fit was that he finally beat the reluctant Qwest employee, possibly based in New Delhi, who agreed to replace my gateway with a new one, by tomorrow. How'd my son learn such a valuable skill? Made me proud.

5. Wednesday my wife and I spent our 31st anniversary eating overpriced hors d'oeuvres in LoDo, deep in the midst of chingos of gringos piling it onto their credit cards. We finally found Enoteca, one of few bars still allowing smokers, where the jazz was too slow, but the quality of the mixed drinks outshone the uncommonly low price ($5) for the area. (Picture Knob Hill without the culture.) A more delightful surprise was running into Jose Mercado, who'd just returned from taking his North High drama class--mostly Chicano kids--to a Scotland arts fair. Sometimes people have all the luck; that night it was me and the wife.

6. I want to add a bit to Ramos's post about our attending Reyna Grande's Tuesday book signing for Across 100 Mountains. All I can add is that her sharing of her personal history gave me added hope for the better moments I somehow discover when working with my second graders. Who knows?--maybe there's a little bit of her in their future.

6. I gotta get ready for school. This is all I could post for today--not the most literary, nor informative. Just some things that reminded me that every now and then maybe you should just look at the pensamientitos and not worry about the pensamientotes.

Rudy Ch. Garcia

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Reading Waiting for Godot in Translation

Michael Sedano

We founded La Bloga to share our enjoyment of Chicana Chicano Literature and arts. It’s been a rewarding experience. It was most cool to receive Tu Ciudad Magazine’s “Best Blog” award. And recently I learned La Bloga was listed as among the top 10 literary blogs by “Best of Blogs” website.

Such recognition is its own reward and it feels great! But our raison d’etre remains our love of writing and writing about literature. Please note the lack of adjectives there, writing, literature.

Being Chicanos--and one Chicana--our interests reflect the diversity of our culture. Thus La Bloga's reviews and views will always include talk of Mexican and other Spanish-language writers. Just as appropriately, La Bloga's writers explore other Unitedstates and world literatures that pique a reviewer's interest. As a result, La Bloga's visitors have enjoyed reviews of Margaret Atwood, Walter Mosley, David Mamet, Khaled Hosseini, Paco Taibo, Jose Latour, Charles Bukowski. The point being, Chicano critics are not different from any gente. We enjoy quality whatever its origins.

Another theme motivating the founding of La Bloga is the persistent question “What is ‘chicano’?” I admit, I weary of the question. In part, because the question is irrelevant. We are who we are. In part, because the question doesn’t have a satisfying, nor satisfactory response. Here, for example, is a graf attacking the question written by a superb chicano poet, Rigoberto Gonzales, who observes,

Which leads me to my next point: the need to keep that word, Chicano, viable and relevant. When a poet identifies as Latino it is a choice, but it is a choice of convenience, of not turning the label into a lesson in history or politics or specific ethnic identity. It is a safe choice. I make it all the time in order to establish an alliance with other Latino poets and writers. But usually I’m addressing a white audience. It saves me time from explaining to the college educated what they should know about their own country’s history: What is a Chicano? What is Chicano literature? But when I do want to demonstrate my commitment to activism, I announce that I am a Chicano because I don’t want others to forget that I have not forgotten my legacy and my pledge to a movement: to be an activist with ink. Those who claim that I am limiting myself are demonstrating their ignorance of Chicano literature.

All this, I suppose, to account for my topic today. What in the world is a chicano critic doing writing about Samuel Beckett?

Two responses. I like Samuel Beckett. Samuel Beckett is coming to town.

I like Beckett’s work a lot. Back in 1967, my college Senior Year, I had the pleasure of a seminar in the prose fiction. Whoa! Didn’t that open my eyes. I, as most students of literature, enjoyed a familiarity with Godot—I suspect Life magazine, or maybe it was Playhouse 90, or maybe it was Walter Cronkite—had lionized Zero Mostel’s Broadway version. Dang, that is ancient history. I wonder how many readers have recently read anything by Beckett? Or attended a performance?

Later this month, UCLA hosts an Irish teatro company doing oral interpretations from several of the novels, and a staging of Godot. I have tickets. Hence, after Imix Books of Eagle Rock delivered my copy of Grove Press’ centenary edition of Beckett’s prose work, and its bilingual edition of En Attendant Godot / Waiting for Godot, I started re-reading that stuff from my long-ago youth.

And what a surprise. I’d never read Godot in French, and even if I had, I doubt I would have done a cross-cultural reading. What a perplexing bit of fun I’m having. So much, I recommend you do likewise. (Sidebar: I speak and read French as a result of the University of California's absurd rule that Spanish was not an academic language in 1963, so the language of Cervantes, my grandparents, and my parents, was forbidden for graduation credit. Chingao!)

Beckett’s been accused of membership in something called a “theatre of the absurd.” Don’t know that I ever agreed with that. Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies are interesting, complicated novels. Not at all “absurd,” but the term offers a convenient shorthand for critics who prefer not to deal directly with the text at hand. Ditto Godot--it's too good to be forced into a stereotype. What makes Waiting for Godot all the more fun is Beckett’s translation of his own French into his own English. It is not identical; things said in French aren't repeated in English, and vice versa. This isn't absurdity, it's perplexity.

As I started the read, the initial variances struck me as, perhaps, economies by the publisher to provide stage direction in one or the other language, but not both, as a way of economizing on paper. Not an entirely satisfactory analysis, but it fit the bill. Then, as I read on, it becomes evident the the author is doing something quite curious with the text. For example, in English, Lucky is called a pig far more frequently on the right hand page (English) than the left. Check this out, Act 1: (several diacritics absent, apologies; dommage).

Pozzo [a Lucky] – Tu entends?
Estragon – Il ne refuse jamais?
Pozzo – Je vous expliquerai ça tout a l’heure. [a Lucky.] Danse, pouacre!
[Lucky depose valise et panier, avance un peu vers la rampe se tourne vers Pozzo. Estragon se leve pour mieux voir. Lucky danse. Il s’arrete.

Pozzo – Do you hear hog?
Estragon – He never refuses?
Pozzo – He refused once. [Silence.] Dance, misery!
[Lucky puts down bag and basket advances towards front, turns to Pozzo. Lucky dances. He stops.]

On the left, Pozzo asks Lucky, simply, if Lucky understands; in English, Lucky gets called hog. Then the stage direction on the left side has some business for Estragon that is absent on the right, that he tippy-toes for a better view.

Minor stuff, one might think. Join me in Act 2, page 286 / 287:

Left hand side
Estragon – Il est la?
Vladimir – Mais regarde. [Geste.] Pour le moment il est inerte. Mais il peut se déchainer d’un instant a l’autre.
Estragon – Si on lui donnait une bonne correction tous le deux?
Vladimir – Tu veux dire, si on lui tombait dessus pendent qu’il dort?
Estragon – Oui.
Vladimir – C’est une bonne idée. Mais en sommes-nous capables? Dort-il vraiment? [Un temps.] Non, le mieux serait de profiter de ce que Pozzo appelle au secours pour le secourir, en tablant sur sa reconnaissance.
Estragon – Mais il ne…

Right hand side, the Anglophone audience gets four extra speeches:
Estragon – Is he there?
Vladimir – As large as life. [Gestures towards Lucky.] For the moment he is inert. But he might run amuck any minute.
Pozzo – Help!
Estragon – And suppose we gave him a good beating the two of us.
Vladimir – You mean if we fell on him in his sleep?
Estragon – Yes.
Vladimir – That seems a good idea all right. But could we do it? Is he really asleep? [Pause.] No, the best would be to take advantage of Pozzo’s calling for help—
Pozzo – Help!
Vladimir – To help him—
Estragon – We help him?
Vladimir – In anticipation of some tangible return.
Estragon – And suppose he—

Wow. And there's a lot more of this. Is it absurd? Quien sabe, but sabes que, it’s going to be puro fun attending the performance. So I’ve looked at both sides now, I see there’s no illusion to recall (thanks, Joni) and I’ll just have to sit there in Freud Playhouse and take it all in.

Maybe I'll see you there?

La Bloga invites guest columnists to share something close to your heart. We are a Chicana Chicano Literature site, indeed, but so what? If you're a purist, then here's a tip: Beckett is a chicano.

So, that is Tuesday, November 7, 2006, a day like any other day, except you are here, and it is election day all over the United States. Vote, raza! Vote, readers!

Monday, November 06, 2006


A Short Story

By Daniel Olivas


All I want is to remember her smell. That’s all. It’s her smell that I miss most. I can’t forget anything else, though. The labor pains, the nurse wiping my forehead with a damp cloth and calling me sweetie and reminding me to breathe. And then the doctor saying she saw her head peeking out. And then almost like magic, the sight of her wet, squirming, new body. But I can’t remember her smell. That smell from the next day. After her first bath. She had trouble feeding. Didn’t want to take my milk. They’d give it a while before giving up. The nurse said, sweetie, that happens some times. But she knew it didn’t matter. So I tried to coax her. I directed her little mouth to my nipple, cooing to her: drink baby girl. You gotta drink to get strong and meet the world. And I’d put my lips on her hair and breathe in her freshly-washed smell. Baby smell. My baby’s smell. But it’s been too long since that time. And all I want is to remember her smell.


My old man said it was for the best. She’d have a better chance with a family that could feed her, give her a good home, a proper upbringing. My old man said that when he and mom got married, they were out of high school. And he had a good job. That’s the way you’re supposed to do it, said my old man. Finish school. Then get married. To a man with a good job. Why couldn’t you wait, mija? I never could answer my old man. I was in love, though. That’s something. Right? That’s something, all right. No one can tell me different.


Little Green. That’s what Richard called me. Because when he first saw me sitting in Mr. Bruno’s biology class, I was wearing this green T-shirt and a green skirt. All green. And it wasn’t even St. Patrick’s Day. So I was Little Green to Richard from then on.


Carey. That’s what I would have named her. There’s no Careys in my family. One of the reasons I like the name. And it’s a strong name, too. Because a girl needs to be strong. Right? Stronger than a guy. That’s what I think. I wonder what they called her? Wouldn’t it be amazing like a movie if they named her Carey? And I used to think that one day we’d meet and I’d tell her I would’ve called her Carey, too. And she’d know that we always had a connection, like magic, like we always were together. But I don’t think that anymore. No reason to.


Blue is what they call people who get sad. It’s weird, though. Blue makes me happy. And there are all kinds of blue. The sky in the morning. The sky in the afternoon. Richard’s eyes. How he got blue eyes no one ever figured out. Those eyes made me fall for him. A blue so clear they made you blink and wonder if they were contacts or something. But no. They were real. Blue like you’ve never seen. Blue that can’t be described. Blue that isn’t sad at all.


California became home for my family. In San Diego, L.A., Bakersfield, even Sacramento. Up and down the state. Mom’s family came from Mexico and settled in L.A. about forty years ago. But Pop’s family. When they crossed the border, they scattered. They’re the ones in those other cities. Pop jokes that the Moreno blood must be in my veins because I’m not afraid to wander. Nine cities in seven years. But I always call home. They always know where I am. I’m not running away. I’m just seeing California. That’s all.


This flight tonight to Vegas wasn’t too expensive. Mom and Pop helped me with it, anyway. I just couldn’t drive. Too tired. But I had to go. Wouldn’t you? I got the call last week. They had tried my parents first. And then Pop called me where I’m living now. Oakland. He was gentle. With the news. I don’t know why they wanted me to know. Maybe they knew that I’ve been trying to remember what she smelled like. Maybe they knew I always thought of her. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. At least they called.


River? That’s a river? That’s what I said to Pop when he first pointed out the L.A. River to me. I guess I was fourteen. A year before the baby. We were on the freeway driving to tía Rachel’s house in Canoga Park and he pointed and said that’s the L.A. River. But it looked like a big V of cement with bushes and some trees growing in it. Not too much water, too. Nothing like the rivers I’ve seen in my geography books. You know, like the Amazon. River? I said. That’s a river?


A case of you is like a case of the flu. That’s what Mom liked to say. But she hasn’t said it a lot recently. Now she just says how much she wished I’d stay put. Near home. I look down from the plane and see only clouds. Mom is down there someplace. And soon I’ll be near my baby. But she’s not a baby anymore. She’s a girl. Or was. But at least I’ll be able to see her. And her parents. And I’ll thank them for giving her a good home. That’s what I’ll say. Because it’s true. I’m sure.


The last time I saw Richard was at high school graduation. He didn’t come to my house for the party. But he came up to me right after the ceremony while I was trying to find my parents in the crowd. It was so hot and all I wanted to do was get out of the robe and stupid cap and drink something cold. But he came up to me and said, happy graduation, Little Green. And I said, happy graduation. He touched my arm and gave me his blue eyes. Said he was leaving the next day. For Tulsa. I said, there’s no Mexicans in Tulsa. He laughed and his eyes got bluer. But I guess he’s a wanderer, too. Don’t know if he’s still in Tulsa. I wish I could tell him, though. About my trip to Vegas. To see my girl. Our girl. They told Pop about it. About the pool gate opening when it shouldn’t. How it happened during the party and no one noticed until hours later when people were beginning to leave. But it was a night party so it was kind of dark. And they told Pop about how they tried to make her breathe again. But I know she had a good home. With lots of love. Lots of toys. Thank you, I’ll say. Thank you for taking care of my baby.

["Blue" first appeared in, Crate, the literary journal sponsored by UC Riverside's creative writing department, which is currently accepting submissions for its next issue. Author's note: This story was inspired by Joni Michell's album, Blue.]

Thursday, November 02, 2006

El Día de los Muertos 2006

1st Place Amoxcalli-Descansos Contest Winner

A month ago we invited readers to submit works to our first La Bloga Día de los Muertos Amoxcalli-Descansos Contest. The title was a mouthful, but luckily it didn't keep writers from submitting. All the La Bloga contributors want to again thank the writers who contributed their works.

I have the pleasure of announcing that Vanessa Ferrel's untitled poem emerged as the clear winner.

When we requested a short bio, she sent us this:

"Vanessa Ferrel is a Chicana currently residing in Central Califas. Her weapon of choice, used in combating the social chaos of this world, is her pen. She is working on her first book of poetry and finds inspiration daily throughout the beautifully broken barrios in Califaztlan."

I was asked by other Bloguistas whether I would do a critique of her poem for this announcement but decided that the poem didn't need me to interpret, much less embellish it, in any way.

In our eyes, however, a strength of the poem is that it speaks well and deeply to the intent of the contest. We hoped in some small way not only to give recognition to new writing, but also to help La Chicanada strengthen bonds to the indigenous and Mexican past, particularly El Día de los Muertos, while recognizing we no longer live in the past.

This poem does that. And touches much more.
Rudy Ch. Garcia
. . . . . . . .

we remember
over 400 of Juarez’s
half buried women
whose screams
scrape against the night sky
whose cries are captured
in destitute deserts
and shatter into shards of

we honor those who died while on duty
from heat and thirst
while nurturing green fields

the men that live by the sword
in foreign countries
noble or otherwise
who died in the name of freedom

we honor mi hermanito
who didn’t get to see his daughter
represent the brown skinned Cinderellas
on the white man's pagan holiday
we wonder if there are taco trucks in the sky
and if there really is a heaven
for a G

we honor the abuelitas
who hand made each meal
rolled masa with arthritic hands
whose backyards flourished in ancient remedies
for flu’s, colds or infections

we remember Alberto Sepulveda
the 11 year old boy who was shot in the back
obeying an officer's command to lay down
in his Modesto, CA. home on September 13, 2000
we pray for the trigger happy police officer
who was sworn to honor and protect...

we remember el Machetero
Filiberto Ojeda Ríos de Puerto Rico
who was ruthlessly killed
on el día de El Grito de Lares
most will say
it was not a coincidence…

of the sunkissed people
honor our dead
as did
the indigenous before us
similar to the Aborigines of Australia
more than 3000 years ago

we dance with death
and toast the unknown...

Vanessa Ferrel
© Fanesse

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Recommended Chicano Children's Books for Day of the Dead / 2d Place Winner

Gina MarySol Ruiz

Recommended Children's Books for Dia De Los Muertos

Pablo Remembers: The Fiesta of the Day of the Dead by George Ancona

The Spirit of Tío Fernando: A Day of the Dead Story/ El Espíritu de Tío Fernando: Una Historia del Dìa de los Muertos - Janice Levy - Children's Book Press 1995

El Dia De Los Muertos: The Day of the Dead by Mary Dotson Wade

Un Barrilete para el Dia de los Muertos by Elisa Amado

Day of the Dead by Tony Johnson

A Gift For Abuelita: Celebrating The Day of the Dead by Nancy Luenn

The Skeleton at the Feast by Elizabeth Carmichael and Chloe Sayers

El Dia de los muertos by Linda Lowery

Festival of the Bones / El Festival de las Calaveras: The Book for the Day of the Dead by Luis San Vicente and Bobby Byrd

El Dia De Muertos By Ivar Da Coll

Felipa y el Dia del los muertos by Birte Muller

Dia De Los Muertos / All Souls Day (Holidays, Festivals, & Celebrations) by Ann Heinrichs and Mernie Gallagher-Cole (Illustrator)

Celebra El Halloween Y El Dia De Muertos Con Cristina Y Su Conejito Azul/ Celebrate Halloween and the Day of the Dead With Cristina and Her Blue Bunny by Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy

Maria De Flor/ a Day of the Dead Story: Una Historia Del Dia De Los Muertos by Max Benavidez and Maria Elena Castro (Illustrator)

Mi Abuela Ya No Esta: Un Cuento Mexicano Del Dia De Los Muertos by Lori Langer de Ramirez

Ghost Wings by Barbara Joose and Giselle Potter (Illustrator)

Beto and the Bone Dance by Gina Freschet

Maria Molina and the Days of the Dead by Kathleen Krull

El Cucuy by Joe Hayes

Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book by Jeanette Winter

La Llorona, the Weeping Woman: An Hispanic Legend Told in Spanish and English by Joe Hayes

These are all wonderful books for children, some are marvelously illustrated (eventually they will all make my review section) and a fun way to teach your children and grandchildren about our traditions and folklore.

Happy reading!

Gina MarySol Ruiz

Book Tour Announcement...
Author Jeff Biggers will be appearing at the Tattered Cover LoDo Bookstore in Denver, on Friday, Nov. 3rd., 7:30pm, as part of the national tour for his new book, IN THE SIERRA MADRE, which chronicles his sojourn among the Raramuri/Tarahumara in Mexico's Copper Canyon. Biggers is an American Book Award winning author, contributing editor to The Bloomsbury Review, and an NPR contributor. More info can be found at his website: www.jeffbiggers.com

In November, Biggers will also be appearing at:

November 1st: Santa Fe
7pm, College of Santa Fe, Tipton Hall
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Nov. 5th: Tucson
12noon, Loft Theater, Tucson, AZ

Luis Rodriguez recently wrote about Biggers' new book and appearance in LA at the Tia Chucha Cafe Cultural on his blog, http://www.luisjrodriguez.com/blog/:

A close friend of mine, Jeff Biggers, has written a fascinating book, "In the Sierra Madre," published this fall by the University of Illinois Press. The Sierra Madre in Mexico is one of the world's best known mountain ranges; books and movies have been written about it, most famously by B. Traven ("The Treasure of the Sierra Madre").

And topping off Wednesday, November 1, La Bloga's Second Place Writer, Javier Huerta.

First appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Punto de Partida (UNAM).
Javier is a graduate student of English at UC Berkeley who earned his MFA from the Bilingual Creative Writing Program at UTEP. His manuscript, Some Clarifications was the winner of the 2005 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize from UC Irvine.

La conjetura de los sueños: sobre “Lost and Found: Passages through the
Sonora Desert” por Maeve Hickey
The Centennial Museum at the University of Texas at El Paso

Many of those objects—from baby’s shoe to bicycle, from toothbrush to
written prayer—are gathered and re-animated by Hickey as well, in these
boxed pieces that suggest the conjecture of dreams.—Lawrence J. Taylor

Quizás se puede confundir un cinto marrón
con una serpiente, una bicicleta con anteojos.

Tal vez es posible, en el calor de ese desierto,
confundir una cachucha azul con una laguna

o confundir una camisa de mangas largas
tendida en un arbusto con una águila.

No es improbable que al mirar un calcetín
blanco con rayas azules sobre una piedra

uno piense que las nubes besan la tierra.
Sí, es posible en ese desierto ver la puerta

del cielo abrirse y escuchar los ángeles cantar
al solo mirar un zapatito blanco sin cintas.