Monday, April 30, 2007


Monday’s post from Daniel Olivas

Since 1978, Francisco A. Lomelí has been a full professor in the Departments of Chicana/o Studies and Spanish & Portuguese at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico (1978), M.A. from San Diego State University (1974), and B.A. from San Diego State University (1971).

Professor Lomelí has been chair of Chicana/o Studies and Black Studies, in addition to being director of the University of California Education Abroad Program in Costa Rica. He has published extensively in the form of books, articles, reviews, interview videotapes, translations and creative work, aside from serving on various editorial boards, as a member of organizing committees of international conference, and other specialized professional activities. He focuses on Chicano literature (all genres), literary history, Latin American literature (Mexican, Costa Rican, Chilean, Argentine), and the Spanish language. His most recent publication is Defying The Inquisition in Colonial New Mexico: Life And Writings By Miguel De Quintana (University of New Mexico Press, 2006), with Clark A. Colahan.

Professor Lomelí has received many honors including being listed in Who’s Who Among American Teachers (2004), recipient of Outstanding Scholar of the Year, National Association for Chicano/Chicana Studies (2004), and Crítica Nueva Award for Chicano/a Literature, University of New Mexico (2006). He has participated on numerous panels including “Chicano/a and Latino/a Identity in the U.S.,” Rethinking Identity: Perspectives on Identity in Hispanic and Lusophone Cultures, UCSB (2006), “Theoretical Approaches to Minority Literatures,” Zachaikovsky University (Chita, Siberia, Russia) (2006), and “Transnational Mobility: Refiguring Latina/o Literature, Culture, and Identity,” Oakland (2006).

◙ Yesterday, I had a wonderful time at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. I went to panels that included such writers as Helena María Viramontes, Michael Jaime-Becerra, Sam Quiñones and Gustavo Arellano. By the way, if you missed my interview with Arellano yesterday, go here. Start planning for the West Hollywood Book Fair which will take place on September 30. I will be moderating a panel…more on that later. Oh, one more note: my profile of novelist Margo Candela, author of Underneath It All (Kensington Books), appeared yesterday in the El Paso Times.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Gustavo Arellano is a staff writer with OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Orange County, California, and a contributing editor to the Los Angeles Times Op/Ed pages. He is a familiar presence in Southern California radio as a frequent guest on liberal and conservative talk shows, where he discusses local and national issues. Arellano also writes “¡Ask a Mexican!,” a nationally syndicated column and winner of the 2006 Association of Alternative Weeklies award for Best Column in which he answers any and all questions about America's spiciest and largest minority.

¡Ask a Mexican!—which will be published in book form by Scribner Press (a division of Simon & Schuster) on Cinco de Mayo 2007—has been the subject of press coverage in the Los Angeles Times, Detroit Free Press, San Antonio Express-News, Mexico City's El Universal newspaper, The Today Show, The Situation with Tucker Carlson, Nightline, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's The Hour, The Tom Leykis Show, Utne and The Colbert Report.

Arellano 's commentaries on Latino culture appear regularly on National Public Radio's Day to Day and Latino USA program, the Los Angeles Times, The Glenn Beck Show and Pacific News Service. He was a finalist for the 2005 Maggie Award's Best Public Service Series or Article category for his work on the Catholic Diocese of Orange sex-abuse scandal, a topic for which he was the recipient of the Lilly Scholarship in Religion from the Religion Newswriters Association. Arellano was also a finalist for the 2005 PEN USA Literary Awards for Journalism for his profile on a disabled Latino veteran of the Iraq War. He makes his home in Anaheim.

Arellano will appearing today at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA:

Panel 2034 - 2:30 PM
Crossing the Border: Immigrant Lives
Moderator: William Deverell
Panelists: Gustavo Arellano, Sam Quiñones and Gabriel Thompson

Arellano kindly agreed to answer a few questions from La Bloga.

DANIEL OLIVAS: Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that your column would land you a book deal and guest shots on TV and radio?

GUSTAVO ARELLANO: No way. I figured the column would only appeal to those of us in Orange County that find hilarity and a sense of mission in our civic sport of Mexican-bashing. And, really, the column would've remained a naranjero secret if it wasn't for Daniel Hernández, currently of the LA Weekly but a member of the LA Times when he did a profile of me last spring. I can boast about the column's appeal all I want, but I'd be just another hard-working, unremarkable Mexican without the Times—they made me acceptable and brought forth the book that's out on sale May 1st.

OLIVAS: Ever get a question you simply couldn't answer?

ARELLANO: My boast is I can answer any and all questions about Mexicans, and I can—anyone can. The column format allows me to research answers more fully and also grants me the luxury of holding off on more difficult questions—it took me months to find enough material to properly answer why Mexicans use such seemingly ridiculous nicknames (Chuy for Jesús, for instance). But I'll answer a question off the top of my head if I'm on the radio—might not be the best one, but it'll be an answer. That said, why some Mexicans have such an affinity for Thalia will always remain a mystery to me.

OLIVAS: Are there any answers you've given that you now regret?

ARELLANO: Nope. Journalists aren't allowed to regret what they've written—if you do, it's called a retraction, and a good yelling is in store for said scribbler. Though perhaps I shouldn't have uttered the term "butt slut" when I addressed the girls at Smith College last spring...

OLIVAS: Were you sent to the principal a lot when you were a kid?

ARELLANO: Come now! Just because I'm a mocoso now doesn't mean I've always been one. My only sin during los school days was talking too much during class—oh, and one time I threw up in the quad after drinking a gallon of Tampico too fast.

OLIVAS: You've gotten flak from some gente basically accusing you of being a trained monkey for the entertainment of Mexican-hating gabachos. Response?

ARELLANO: People who hate ¡Ask a Mexican! would love to think that only racist gabachos read the column. But those PC pendejos ain't reading me. I probably get as many questions from wabs (the Orange County term for wetback) as I do from gabachos, and a surprisingly large number of queries from Asians and African-Americans. The questions span all topics—rude, intellectual, sexist, ridiculous, perfect. But even if I was a mestizo Bonzo, my trainer (himself a quarter-Mexican) did a bad job—there's a reason why most of my hate mail come from folks who call me an apologist for the Reconquista, and it ain't for my heroic use of pinche.

I want to elaborate on your question a bit further. There's an unfortunate virus in the minds of many educated Chicanos that tells them to call any Latino who doesn't adhere to a blindly leftist, loyalist ideology a vendido—and few Latinos get more grief than journalists. Daniel Hernández received a lot of flak for his coverage of the South Central Farm fiasco even though his reporting was spot-on. Agustin Gurza of the LA Times—himself a critic of my column—once told me that people called for his job after his stories on the financial troubles of the Ricardo Montalban Theater. Apparently, they were offended that Agustin dared expose their problems. Those Chicanos/Latinos/mexicanos/whatever-the-hell-they-want-to-call-themselves who whine at the slightest hint of a different public take on a Latino issues come off as the moronic nationalists that the Right portrays all of us as. Criticize us for the wrong facts, not for seeking a truth that sometimes may be ugly.

OLIVAS: Which questions do you prefer: those from Mexican-hating gabachos, or those from smart-ass pochos?

ARELLANO: Both and neither. The best questions are those where I can debunk long-held misconceptions about Mexican culture, from whether George Bush's grandfather really paid a bounty for the skull of Pancho Villa to what part of illegal don't Mexicans understand. That said, it's rather fun to put racists in their place. The smart-ass pochos are merely trying to "catch" me; the Barbara Coes of the world really, truly believe their bigoted drivel and wither away upon facing the light of truth.

OLIVAS: Have you met any of your questioners? Were they sober at the time?

ARELLANO: They were; I wasn't.

OLIVAS: Have you thought about franchising your column to cover other ethnic groups?

ARELLANO: There are already some "Ask a..." columns that cite me as inspiration, namely Ask a Korean and Ask a Cuban-American, while others like Radar Online's "The Ethnicist" and "Ask a Chola" seem like rip-offs to me. Good for them. But contrary to popular belief, ¡Ask a Mexican! isn't my career. Sure, it's garnered me the most fame, but I'm perfectly content telling OC Weekly readers where to eat for the rest of my life in my guise as the paper's food editor.

OLIVAS: Are you secretly writing a Mexican version of The Great Gatsby in your spare time?

ARELLANO: Actually, it's the Zacatecan Grapes of Wrath mixed with Me Talk Pretty One Day and City of Quartz. I'm currently working on a project tentatively titled Orange County: A Memoir. It'll tell the history of Orange County and its significance to America in various regions—political, cultural, etc.—through the saga of my family's four generations in la naranja.

OLIVAS: What question do you want to be asked?

ARELLANO: I get them asked all the time. If I requested a particular question, it would never match the mad, disturbing genius of the Mexican-obsessed American mind.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Living To Tell the Story: The Authentic Latino Immigrant Experience in Picture Books (Part 4)

René Colato Laínez

My Name is Jorge On Both Sides of the river is a collection of 27 poems in English and Spanish about another Jorge’s immigrant experience in the United States.
Jane Medina starts with the second stage of uprooting, excitement and fear in the adventure of the journey. Every time that Jorge crosses the busy street to go to school, he always remembers the time when he crossed the river. Jane Medina reveals Jorge’s fears during this odyssey in the poem The Busy Street.

I’m holding Mimi’s hand very tight, again
as tight as I held it
When we crossed the river to come here.
I was so afraid.
Mimi and I had to cross first.
while my mamá and my papá waited
on dry, Mexican sand.
Mamá stands under the stop light
making us go first again.
She is pushing the air toward school with one hand.
She is telling us to go fast
-fast across the busy street.
At least we crossed the river only once.
We have to cross this street every day.

Many immigrant children can relate to this poem. Unfortunately, the majority of immigrant children must cross the Rio Grande or big mountains to come to the United States. Children who are not immigrants can read about the hard experience that immigrant children go through in order to be in America and understand them a little better. For immigrant children this experience is always fresh in their minds. It changes their lives. It is an unforgettable experience. Jane Medina concentrates on the fourth stage of uprooting, the culture shock that exhibits as depression and confusion. Jorge’s first culture shock is with his name. Jorge loves his name. But at school the teacher calls him George.

My name is Jorge.
I know that my name is Jorge.
But everyone calls me
What an ugly sound!
Like a sneeze!”
And the worst of all
is thatthis morning
a girl called me
and I turned my head.
I don’t want to turn
into a sneeze!

In this poem Jane Medina is validating Jorge’s name and the name of every immigrant child. Jorge is not a sneeze; he is a child. Even though George is the literal translation for Jorge in English, for the child it is a completely different word not related at all to his name. This is my favorite poem of this book, because I can relate to it. In the United States, Rene is a girl’s name. Everyone that saw my name thought that I was a girl. I could see the expression on their faces when they saw me responding to René, my name.

Immigrant children are very smart. However when they do not speak the language of instruction they cannot do the work. From one moment to another, their self-esteem drops. They are not brilliant anymore. Jane Medina writes:

Why am I dumb?
In my country
I was smart.
All tens!
Never even an eight!
Now I’m here.
They give me
C’s or D’s or F’s
-like fives
or fours…
or ones.
I’m still smart
in math.
Maybe dumb
in reading.
But math-
-all tens,
I mean,

This poem describes the daily reality of immigrant children in schools around the country. I saw my own reflection in all Medina’s poems. For me Math was the safety belt that kept me from falling out of the English car that I tried to drive. Numbers are numbers anywhere.

It is very hard to see smart children struggle at school because they cannot do the work. It is typical for these children to fail a test. It could have been an easy test for any child who spoke the language. However, for immigrant children this strange language is a barrier too high to jump. In the poem The Test, Jane Medina writes:

I felt my black eyes
get blacker as I stared at the test.
Mrs. Roberts took a step.
I turned my head and she was looking at me.
She saw the tears
-like thick glasses stuck to my eyes.
We both tried to ignore them.
I push the paper away.
This test is too hard for me.

This poem can touch the heart of every immigrant child, because “This test is so hard for me,” is a very common phrase for these children. Immigrant students make up a large majority of children who drop out in big cities; children that could not do the work that teachers expected.

Jorge enters into the silent period. His heart jumps every time his teacher asks a question. This is not because Jorge does not know the answer. It is because, he is afraid of speaking English.

If I stay very still
and breathe very quietly,
the Magic happens:
I disappear
-and no one sees me
-and no one hears me
-and no one even thinks about me
And the teacher won’t call on me.
It is very safe being invisible.
I’m perfect!
I can’t make mistakes
-at least nobody sees them,
so nobody laughs.

I have been the invisible student sitting in the last chair at the back of the classroom hoping that the teacher would not call on me. The first time that a teacher asked me to read an English text, I froze. I read the text using my Spanish phonic skills. Everyone laughed, I did not know why. From that day on, I decided to be invisible.

The silent period takes a long time. Especially when there is no support from peers and adults. For immigrant children this period is even harder when their native language is not appreciated. In Dirty Words, Jane Medina writes:

I wish my language didn’t
sound like dirty English words.
The grown-upsfrown
when I speak Spanish,
and the kids laugh.

All immigrant children in the United States can reflect on this poem. Jorge needs the affection from a teacher who can help and support him. When immigrant children see the work of their English-speaking classmates, they feel insecure even if they are doing their best. In the poem Sneaky, Jorge wants to hide his paper.

I hid the paper inside a
big, wavy, white stack of papers
on my teacher’s desk.
I want her to see it
-but not till after school.
I’m scared that it’s not good enough.
I think I spelled too many words wrong,
but I don’t know which ones.
I hope she understands it.
I hope she likes

In this poem Jorge does not care as much about his paper. In the last line, just by using a word, me, Medina reveals what Jorge really needs, the affection of his teacher.

In my high school, at the beginning of the semester in an English Composition class, my English teacher asked the English learner students to raise their hands. Then she told us that most immigrant students failed her class. The teacher said that it would be a good idea to visit our counselors and ask for an easier class. This class was a college requirement. Even though I felt insecure, I decided to stay. A week earlier, I had sent my college applications to three universities. Like Jorge, I needed someone who believed in me. Many times a little affection and love from teachers can do wonders for immigrant children.

Jorge enters the fifth stage of uprooting, assimilation/ acculturation into the mainstream, when his teacher begins to believe in him. Jorge begins to feel proud of his work. He is not dumb anymore. He has hope that he could be smart again. In the poem My Paper, he is excited.

My Paper
She held up my paper
and all the noise stopped.
Everything became still.
Everyone turned their heads
To hear the words she read
-my words.
Then their eyes became a bit wider,
and their pencils moved a bit faster,
and I grew a bit bigger,
when she held up my paper
and all the noise stopped.

Immigrant children need to see more stories and poems like My Paper. They have to see positive role models in literature. When immigrant children read about characters like themselves who are struggling at school and finding ways to resolve their problems, they receive a message of hope.

In this English class, I paid attention, did all the work, and studied for many hours. One afternoon, the teacher was very upset because no one followed her instructions for one composition. She showed the class, the only paper that followed the rules; it was mine. My teacher smiled at me. That simple smile transformed my fears into hopes in that English composition class. I can proudly say that I got a B+ as my final grade in Miss Bass’ class. With effort and perseverance from the students and affection from the teacher, immigrant children can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Now that Jorge is acculturated he is ready to defend and validate his name by himself. Jane Medina presents a proud Jorge that even gives his teacher a lesson in the poem T-Shirt.

George, please call me “Mrs. Roberts.”
Yes, Teacher.
George, please don’t call me “teacher!”
Yes, T- I mean, Mrs. Roberts.
You see, George, it’s a sign of respect to call me by my last name.
Yes…Mrs. Roberts.
Besides, when you say it, it sounds like “t-shirt.”
I don’t want to be turn into a t-shirt!
Mrs. Roberts?
Yes, George?
Please, call me “Jorge.“

Good for Jorge, he could defend himself. This is another poem that defends the native roots of every immigrant child. I could never defend my name by using words. When people said, “Oh, you are a boy!” I only nodded with pride. As an adult, I had the urge to defend my name. I Am René, the Boy/ Yo soy René, el niño, my second picture book was the way that I found to tell everyone the meaning of my name. I am pleased that it became a picture book with a good role model for immigrant children.
At the end of her book Jane Medina has an acculturation story. Jorge will not lose his roots. He lives and studies in the United States, but he will always be Jorge on both sides of the river.

Jane Medina was born in the United States but her husband immigrated to the United States from Mexico as well as most of her friends and students. In a telephone conversation with the author, she said:

I have lived the immigrant experience through my husband, friends and students. Jorge was one of my students in my fourth grade classroom. One year later, I saw him sitting on a bench. He did not look very happy. He told me that his new teacher called him George. He did not like it at all. It was then and there when I decided to write this book.

The result was this wonderful book that touched me very personally. Jorge is me, a student trying to do his best at school but struggling with his identity and a new language. This book is authentic because it reveals the struggles of immigrant children in Jane Medina’s classroom.

Jane Medina believes that there are many multicultural books that are not authentic. She has read many immigrants stories that go from one extreme to another--either all sweetness or a horrific experience. She says:

An immigration story needs to be three dimensional in order to be authentic. To say that to immigrate to another country is easy and wonderful is a lie. To say that to immigrate to another country is the worst thing that could ever happen to you is a lie too. To be genuine, an author must show the good things, the bad things, and also the ambivalent. The author needs to write a real story.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Guest: Lucha Corpi. Chicana Crime Fiction: Where to?

La Bloga welcomes guest columnist, poet, novelist, essayist, writer Lucha Corpi. Any discussion of notable chicana chicano literature will include references to Corpi's work, including here at La Bloga.

Chicana Crime Fiction: Where to?

Lucha Corpi

The Genre

Since the publication of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Purloined Letter, the detective story has changed little. It is a plot-driven long or short story, leaving room for little more than the solution of the crime. The challenge—the art—for any crime writer is precisely to find ways to offer much more than the unraveling of the plot, or bringing to justice those who have broken the law, thus finally restoring the social order.

Chicana/Chicano crime fiction may follow some, many or all of the conventions, traditions and structural demands of the genre. But it breaks away from them in the treatment of Chicana/Chicano themes and the development of characters steeped and deeply rooted in the culture. Thematically, our crime novels fit perfectly within the confines of Chicana/Chicano literature, exploring themes such as:
• Spirituality, religion and the struggle between good and evil.
• The re-interpretation and re-creation of legend and myth
• The search for social justice and equality, human and civil rights, and as a consequence the socio-economic status of Mexicans and Mexican Americans.
• The history of the Mexican people in Mexico and in the U.S.
• The cultural and linguistic wealth in the various and distinctive Chicano communities in the Southwest.
• The border and La Migra
• The identification and valorization of a Chicana/Mexicana identity both in urban and rural areas.
• Sexism, homophobia and racism, and other gender and gender-preference issues within the culture and in the larger context of a multicultural U.S.

Chicana/Chicano crime fiction offers in some cases the best vehicle to explore many of these themes in a direct, although sometimes shocking, manner. But more than that, it is a blanc-noir socio-cultural mirror that reveals the injustices of which we have been the victims but also the flaws and the contradictions we carry within us as individuals and as a people. It reflects who we are but also who we can be.

The Writers

Some well-known Latin American male writers have penned at least one mystery novel, perhaps intrigued by the possibilities of socio-political commentary offered by the genre, or perhaps for the simple reason that crafting a detective novel or a thriller is good discipline for any writer. But the fact is that in Latin American as in Spanish Literature the noir novel until recently has been the exception—an oddity.

In Mexico, for decades before Paco Ignacio Taibo II began to gain recognition for his very popular detective fiction series and made the writing of crime fiction legitimate, Luis Spota had the dubious honor of being the only crime fiction writer. In Cuba as in Spain the number of crime fiction writers has quadrupled just in the last two decades. But for the most part, the writers of crime fiction in these countries are men.

On the other hand, a quick look at the Sisters in Crime or the Mystery Writers of America directory is sufficient proof that in the United States nearly half of crime fiction writers are women. But the same is not true in the production or publication of Chicano/Chicana crime fiction. Of roughly 14 writers listed below, only two Chicanas write and publish crime fiction. In a group of twelve, five Latinas are published crime fiction writers.

The gauntlet: Answer the Questions or Die!

From time to time during my seventeen years as the only Chicana detective fiction writer, while at a reading or a signing other Chicanas and Latinas have confessed their secret desire to write detective fiction someday. To date, with the exception of Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s exceptional Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders, I have not seen tangible results. And I have often asked myself why.

Seeking answers, I began to take a look at my own upbringing, my experiences as a girl growing up in the small tropical town of Jáltipan, Veracruz. It was in Jáltipan that I developed a taste for murder and mayhem while secretly reading la página roja,** the crime page of the regional newspaper. Later as an adolescent in San Luis Potosí, I found myself in the midst of a super-conservative Catholic community where women—young and old alike—who dared to read crime novels were punished or became social outcasts. Some women did read them pero a escondidas, always making sure their secret was safe if they confided in anyone.

This was Mexico in the fifties and early sixties, I thought. And although the rules have been relaxed and it is no longer such a crime for women to read novelitas de crimen, de monitos o sólo texto, I know the majority of Mexican women do not read them, let alone write them.
I remember a conversation I had with Sandra Cisneros after Eulogy for a Brown Angel and Cactus Blood were published. “I haven’t read any of your novels, because I don’t like reading that kind of novel,” she remarked. I did not give her comment great importance. There are things I will not ask my friends to do for me—like reading or liking my work, attending my presentations, or even buying my books—for us to be friends.

What she said became relevant when I read an interview in which Rolando Hinojosa talks about having read many crime fiction authors to learn the craft before he wrote his police procedurals. Like him, I also read many mystery novels as well as authors’ essays on the writing of crime fiction before I wrote Eulogy. If anyone is going to break the rules/conventions—and break them I do—it is necessary to know first what they are and what the cost personally and professionally will be. But I digress.

Every road taken in my search for the reason Chicanas do not write mysteries kept leading me back to the reading corner. Sin lectura no hay ni escritura ni literatura. Already suspecting that I was on to something important, I asked Norma Alarcón, who is an avid reader of mysteries by women authors, why she thought Chicanas do not write detective/crime fiction. Without the least bit of hesitation, she answered, “Because they do not read them. No les han tomado el gusto.”

Since then, I have asked many Chicanas and Latinas the same question. To mention a few, their comments range from an “UGH! No way” to
“Ay mujer, es que eso de cargar pistola y andar matando gente”
“Who wants to write about raping and killing?”
“I’m against portraying women constantly as victims. That’s why I don’t watch the Lifetime channel.”
“We’re not like men.”

I have walked away from conversations on the subject with some major questions to ponder: Do we Chicanas really believe
1) that violence has to do mainly with testosterone, therefore has nothing to do with women?
2) that the constant and at times systematic killing of women all over the world, including Mexico and the Chicano microcosmos, is real but it is not in good taste to write or talk about it?
3) that in truth women are victims of injustice but it is not okay to seek justice in the public arenas?
4) Or in general, that writing crime fiction is neither feminine nor feminist?

Other comments have to do with either the creative process or the value given to the crime fiction genre. I’ve been told, for example, “It’s very difficult to write that kind of novel because it is so rigid.” Or “That’s not really a literary novel. It’s formulaic.” And finally, the comment that never fails to get a chuckle from me: “Maybe, to make money, I’ll write a mystery novel someday.”

I do not have the heart to burst these dreamers’ bubbles by telling them that one crime novel will hardly bring in even the five-figure advance royalties in a very competitive field where you need to establish yourself with at least three mystery novels.

I can, however, assure any Chicana who is now contemplating penning a mystery novel that the writing of crime fiction when one respects one’s art is as legitimate as any other kind of writing, that exposing the machinations of a “justice system” which more often than not stacks the deck against women, especially women of color, is not only all right, it is also a way to obtaining justice for those who can’t speak for themselves. If those two reasons are not enough to convince her, I would add that a little killing in black and white can and will do wonders for one’s sleep.

Gracias y abrazos.
Lucha Corpi

** I am often asked why, being a poet, I decided to write crime fiction. In my personal essay “La Pagina Roja” published in The Mystery Readers Journal, The Ethnic Detective I, Volume 23, Number 1-Spring 2007, I tell why I went from rhyme to crime.

Blogmeister's note: following is a three column table that refuses to form itself as Lucha designed it. La Bloga apologizes for the web mishmash.

List of crime fiction writers, Spring 2006
Author Detective Works
Mario Acevedo Félix Gómez (vampire) The Nymphos of Rocky flats

Rudolfo Anaya Sonny Baca Zia Summer
Rio Grande Fall
Shaman Winter
Jemez Spring

Rudy S. Apodaca The Waxen Image
John García Pursuit

Clyde J. Aragón The PC Affair: A comic
Mystery of Murder, Mayhem
and Data Processing

Lucha Corpi Gloria Damasco Eulogy for a Brown Angel
Cactus Blood
Black Widow’s Wardrobe
(forthcoming) Death at Solstice

Justin Escobar and
Dora Saldaña Crimson Moon
Alicia Gaspar de Alba Ivón Villa Desert Blood:
The Juárez Murders
Rolando Hinojosa Rafe Buenrostro Partners in Crime
Ask a Policeman

Martín Limón George Sueño and Jade Lady Burning
Ernie Bason Slicky Boys
Buddha’s Money
The Door to Bitterness

Steve López Alberto LaRosa In the Clear

Max Martínez Joe Blue White Leg

Michael Nava Henry Ríos The Little Death
Golden Boy
The Burning Plain
Rag and Bone
Hidden Law
The Death of Friends

Manuel Ramos Luis Móntez The Ballad of Rocky Ruiz
The Ballad of Gato Guerrero
Blues for the Buffalo
The Last Client of Luis
Brown on Brown

Danny Mora Moony’s Road to Hell

Thomas Sánchez The Zoot-Suit Murders


Alex Abella Charlie Morrell Dead of Night
Final Acts

Carolina García Aguilera Lupe Solano Bloody Shame
Bloody Secrets
A Miracle in Paradise
Havana Heat
Bitter Sugar
One Hot Summer
Carolina García Aguilera Luck of the Draw

Richard Bertematti Tito Rico Project Death

Lidia LoPinto Juliana del Río The Toxic Cruiseline
The Toxic Train
Worst Case Scenario

Michele Martínez Melanie Vargas Most Wanted
The Finishing School

Sheila Ortiz-Taylor Coachella

David Ronquillo Francesca Colón Streets of Fire
Anna Eltera Night Side
Marie Terranova Room 4

Steven Torres Luis Gonzalo Precinct Puerto Rico
Death in Precinct Puerto Rico
Burning in Precinct Puerto
Missing in Precinct Puerto

Marcos McPeek Villatoro Romilia Chacón Home Killings

Gloria White Ronnie Ventana Murder in the Run
Money to Burn
Charged with Guilt
Sunset and Santiago
Death Notes

Note: Works are not necessarily listed in chronological order. I apologize if I misrepresent any of the authors above listed. Please let me know. Also, feel free to add anyone or any works missing from this list. LC

Happy reading!!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Naked Wanting, Raven Eye, and Her Sacred Body

Here's my review of both Naked Wanting and Raven Eye. If you're looking for spun sugar literary confection, and easy comfort, move on. But if you want to encounter poetry that disturbs you in the best possible way, keeps you up at night, demands that you respond with your heart and your mind, read these books.

Margo Tamez is a poet whose work is not easy, clearly born of experience raw and real, making the reader touch that place of pain, of personal wounding far, far, away from the romance of the Southwest and the stereotype of the "stoic noble" on the rez. Her writing forces us to look where the bodies are buried, when we want to turn a blind eye to the violence wreaked upon the individual and environment. Both Naked Wanting and Raven Eye gave me that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach, the tight, clenched first buried in the chest. Bless her for that.

And bless her, too, for somehow still weaving threads of redemption and reemergence in the face of soul breaking sorrow, for offering real mythos and confronting false spirituality. But to put a finer point on it, read what others have written about this singular poet.

This book is a challenging cartography of colonialism, poverty, and issues of Native identity and demonstrates these as threats to the environment, both ecological and social, in the borderlands. Each poem is crafted as if it were a minute prayer, dense with compassion and unerring optimism. But the hope that Tamez serves is not blind. In poem after poem, she draws us into a space ruled by mythic symbolism and the ebb and flow of the landscape—a place where comfort is compromised and where we must work to relearn the nature of existence and the value of life. —Norman Dubie

Margo Tamez’s poetry is an emotional journey, and I find myself softly invoking a line from her book: ‘may the way be in peace.’ Read it; you’ll know what I mean! —Simon J. Ortiz

Margo Tamez’s poetry works like a heartsong, it makes us brave. Her alive response to what kills makes us want to stand up with her and sing in the face of the enemy. She shows how hard it is to fight oppression and reminds us what is at stake: living beauty. . . Margo Tamez’s call to battle both instills fear and thrills us. —Heidi E. Erdrich

In Naked Wanting, Tamez' lens tightly frames the direct links between miscarriages among indigenous women in the Mexico-U.S. borderlands and environmental racism, when damage inflicted on the environment by herbicides comes back to haunt us all at the level of women's reproduction. These are the bombs ticking within these astute and subtle lyrical narratives rendering the pierce of "the chemical cocktail seeping into the air ducts."

This poet speaks as someone who has experienced first-hand the body, literally re-structured by chemical invasions in air, water, soil and food, exposes the consequences and implications when our land and water are compromised.

For Margo Tamez, earth, food, and community are the essentials of life, our deepest wants, beyond human 'rights'--our responsibilities. She brings all of them together in these cautionary and lyrical poems that inspire us to move through compassion and, more concretely, to actions for a more sure footing on earth. Below is a sample that beautifully illustrates just that.

My Mother Returns to Calaboz

"The Lower Rio Grande, known as the Seno Mexicano (the Mexican hollow or Recess), was a refuge for rebellious Indians from the Spanish presidios, who preferred outlawry to life under Spanish rule." -- Americo Paredes, With Pistol in his Hand

The fragmented jawbones
and comblike teeth of seagulls
sometimes wash up from the gulf
to the levee of the river
and gather straited along the berms
where my grandfather irrigated sugarcane.

My mother, returned after forty years
working away from Calaboz,
walks there often now,
hassled by INS agents
when she jogs by the river
where her ancestors planted, hunted,
prayed and resisted invasions.

The INS think she runs away from them,
that she is an 'illegal', a 'savage'
'trespassing' from Mexico.

Used to the invasion,
she asks them how they assume,
exactly do they know
if she came from here, or there?
When she tells me this story
she exaggeratedly points to the spot
she stands on (here) and the land
I stand on (there) which means:
you idiot...we indigenous don't recognize
your violent settler borders

I am an an indigenous woman,
born in El Calaboz, you understand?
she says loudly, in mixed Spanish and Lipan-Nahuatl,
and they tear out,
the truck wheels spinning furiously,
sand sprayed into the humid air.

When I was a girl walking on the levee with my grandfather,
I thought I saw gull teeth
chomping at the soil wall.
The air was dank steam,
the scent of sand, roots,
and something alive beneath the soil,
deeper and older than memory.
when I immersed my hand inside
the cloudy water,
it became a fluid form,
soft, something becoming,
something ancient.

The air is still heavy with heat and damp,
and smells like diesel and herbicides.
the scent reminds me of failed gestations.
My reproduction, the plants', and the water's,
each struggling in the same web of resistance
and survival.

When I was a girl, my grandfather taught me
to put a small clump of soil in my mouth,
and to swallow it. I watched him.
Then I did.
I used to watch the gliding and swerves
of uprooted reeds in the river's unhurried flow
to the Gulf.
I reached with all my body,
stomach on the bank of the levee,
hands and arms stretched out like an acrobat
to touch and grasp their slender stems.
Once, my feet pressed into the soupy bog,
and stepping up was heavy, yet with the sound of gurgles,
puckering, a mouth opening,
like seaweed and millennium of soil, my ancestors and water breathing.

Now, I think I'd like to be,
that I will be
running with my mother
when she tells of la migra.
Listen to the bubbling duet of water and plant life,
listen to the sound of grandmothers and grandfathers
Again and again.

This is a visceral longing for home, for groundedness in the deepest and most literal sense. It reflects an abiding love for la tierra, but not the convenient, fantasy laden Southwest. It is a personal, damaged homeland, smelling of chemicals, shot through with run-off that is still somehow, unquestionably sacred. Tamez writes of border dwellers unbowed, unabsorbed, defiant, and ultimately triumphant---not noble, but stubbornly flawed and human.


In her second collection, Raven Eye, Tamez explores desire and the construction of indigenous identity, while imploring readers to unite against oppression in all its forms.

Written from thirteen years of journals, psychic and earthly, this poetry maps an uprising of a borderland indigenous woman battling forces of racism and sexual violence against Native women and children. This lyric collection breaks new ground, skillfully revealing an unseen narrative of resistance on the Mexico–U.S. border. A powerful blend of the oral and long poem, and speaking into the realm of global movements, these poems explore environmental injustice, sexualized violence, and indigenous women’s lives.

Ceremony of Peyote

A snakebird sinuous dim form silhouetted
On the porchroof of the hogan--

Comes out of a monsoon sky
Banded thickly red and flint

Snakebird in me curves slowly
Over my bed

the sinew of what can't be said

Nine months full of ocean and yolk
Scents of beautifully made starmatter

A smell of tongue and lip
Of moisture a scent of Snaketown's Gila clay

I'm a brown and black puddle a scent I know


You spent hours in the heat of midday fidgeting with rage
I'm unpredictable not the kind of Indian you can present to

Men all wrapped up behind panIndian shawls eagle fans
Who never bring their women to pray
Whose diabetic eyes devour
My pregnant belly
Full of a bird boy raven boy
Ripe with beautiful worlds

Corn meat and berries
You say the order
Morning food for the relatives
always like that you say
The look in your eyes
don't mess up don't embarrass me
don't talk too long when you pray for the water

Can't risk my prayers to the morning star
Risk what I can say about
This medicine a Mexican Indian woman brought
North got Christianized by subjugated men

My morning prayers only suitable
For waterbirds
Anhingas and herons
Not men or women
In shawls
Fanning and chanting
In chorus of what they deny

My body
The yolks of my body
Stories we must tell to undo
What has been done

There is no easy, pro forma way to reconnect, no perfect prayer that can be prayed. Colonialism and racism have taken their tolls both in daily life and spiritual practice. But this poem reclaims and reframes ritual with a frank, and unvarnished fervor. Tamez refuses to shirk from the distorted in herself, or in her people. But in the boldest move, Tamez' poetry reveals that Spirit still lives, lives deeply for her in the body, in the process of birth and renewal and in the threads of communion that emerge despite everything.

Naked Wanting ISBN-10: 0816522480
Raven Eye ISBN-10: 081652565X

My own words seem pale as I try to end this piece. Let me use last words of her interview last week -- gonya'a' golkizhzhi' (it has come a colorful place)

Margo, for truth's sake, in Her Name, thank you.


In the "It's so good it bears repeating" department, I was able to attend the Victor Hernandez Cruz reading last week, and was also lucky enough to be part of a intimate welcoming dinner just before the event, hosted by Palabra Pura.

A memorable gathering, with Francisco Aragón, Mike Puican, Mary Hawley, and Ellen Wadey pulling together a salon-like experience for a small group of local poets and writers. We broke bread, exchanged ideas and met with Victor in a relaxed, vibrant atmosphere. And on a personal note, Hernández himself could not have been more open and engaging, talking with us about all things poetry, the love of good food, and his time spent between both Puerto Rico and Morocco.

Things just got better with the reading at HotHouse. Introduced by nationally known writer, Achy Obejas, we were treated to poetry brimming with musicality, resonant imagery and a lyrical sensibility. In a set that contained both material from the beginning of his career and his new book, The Mountain in the Sea, Hernández spoke eloquently to issues of Puerto Rican identity, the Afro Caribbean diaspora and urban culture. Achy also held a brief Q & A for the audience, where a larger group could also connect, discuss, and exchange ideas with a seminal poet and his work. Bravo to Palabra Pura!

And for those who are unfamiliar, Palabra Pura features Chicano and Latino poets reading work in Spanish, English and a combination of the two languages. The series offers Chicago’s large Spanish-speaking population, the third largest in the United States, a venue to read their poetry as originally composed and helps audiences learn more about the strong tradition of poetry in Spanish. A special emphasis is placed on poets who have recently published books or won recognition for their work.

Palabra Pura is a collaborative project between the Guild Complex, Letra Latinas of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, the Rafael Cintron-Ortiz Latino Cultural Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Arena Cultural and contratiempo. Co-sponsors for this special presentation are The Poetry Foundation and HotHouse, the center for International Performance & Exhibition. This series is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council.

And to further entice you, The Poetry Foundation's website posted an interview conducted by Francisco Aragón with Victor Hernández Cruz, plus five poems with commentary by local poets.

Get a glimpse of this spare and evocative poetry:
5 poets comment on 5 Victor Hernández Cruz poems

Francisco Aragóninterviews VHC:

Lisa Alvarado

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Textbook explores chicana chicano image in pop media

Not quite a review of

Seductive Hallucinations of the "Mexican" in America

William Anthony Nericcio.

Michael Sedano

I have never liked "cute" books, nor been tolerant of attempts to make difficult subject matter palatable by spinning the matter in a "cute" manner, so I found myself surprised to be enjoying Memo Nericcio’s textbook in film criticism with the ee cummings-like title, Tex[t]-Mex.

The publisher, the University of Texas press, presents the text in the staid, straight-forward manner befitting a university
press. The text, however, is anything but a staid academic publication--witness the author's "Memo" website--a fact Nericcio takes note of in one of his many personal divagations away from his learned critique of stereotypes of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. UT Press, however, has generously shared the book's introduction at the link above.

Nericcio takes on a deeply serious subject, declaring:

And lest we, through some momentary brain lapse or some incipient flash of collective Alzheimer's, underestimate the capacity of pictures to "infect" the masses against particular ethnic groups, we might do well to pause here and go back a few decades to consider the successes of Adolf Hitler. At one point, this diminutive homicidal imagineer, one of the more important m/ad executives of the twentieth century, is recorded to have ordered his media industry to create a mass of common visionaries who will "obey a law they [do] not even know but which they [can] recite in their dreams."

When one thinks of the relative status of the term "Mexican," how it is manifest in the textual record available to us as a register of the collective American unconscious, one realizes that some latter-day inheritors of Hitler's visual ideological mandate are still hard at work. One need not be a devotee of the failed European artist/Nazi potentate to suspect that the rules of the semiotic m/adman game still hold true when it comes to the representation of Mexicans and Latinos in mass culture.

Nericcio writes in an oral style. I can imagine being an undergraduate walking into a class where you look at movies and talk about them and getting hit with Nericcio's demanding words. What the heck is a "Dasein", or "scoptophiliac"? The writer-lecturer demands familiarity with a wide-ranging base of writers, and if you don't have the background, the ever-teaching lecturer explains and contextualizes his resources:

to retell the story of Rita Hayworth I have brought together extracts from Frantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks, Rosario Castellano's "Woman and Her Image," Jacques Derrida's Limited Inc., Gayatri Spivak's "Who Claims Alterity," and Sandra Cisneros' House on Mango Street so as to provide points of entry (some mutually exclusive) for our reexamination of the life of Rita Hayworth. Our magnicent psychiatrist from Martinique; Latin-spewing, word-wizard diva from Mexico; departed, dashing philosophical diety from France; sari- / mini-skirt festooned fashionista and polyglot costcolonial Bengali-Ivy Leaguer; and nasty, sharp Chicana eccentric from Chicago (though of late Cisneros has been cross-dressing as a Tejana from San Antonio) all have generously agreed, through the magic of citation and the occasional footnote, to assist us on our quest. (82-83)

Text[t]-Mex is not one of those page turners to keep by the nightstand, but something to keep by your television, or wherever you think about pop culture. After reading Nericcio's chapter on the Orson Welle's movie, Touch of Evil, I want to view it and share Nericcio's delight in the dated imagery. And I'm wondering if NBC is selling a tape of A Very Retail Christmas, which I missed back on Christmas eve, 1990.

Nericcio's at his narrative best describing a world where a marketing genius with nothing but war toys is cornering the toy market. To ensure the mission, the marketing guy infiltrates Santa's workshop with an elf-troll halfbreed named Freddy Lopez. After dropping that on the reader in a wonderful climactic paragraph, the teacher reiterates the lesson:

Latino name, Latino physiognomy: unshaved, accented, and duplicitous--Iago is his spiritual godfather, Caliban his great-uncle; Othello is somewhere there, too, given the Lopez puppet's 'skin' color. This mixed-blooded creature's shrewd, greasy evilness is palpable; he is nothing more and nothing less than a shadowy bandido [sic] running amok in the pristine, white, snowy confines of the North Pole.

Nericcio teaches at San Diego State. I imagine his classes are heavily enrolled until the drop deadline when a certain ethnography of student declines the analysis. Nericcio does tend to overstate his case, but then, in an oral context--the University lecture--it's a style that likely engenders many a lively discussion and some serious collateral learning. At semester's end, when their revels have ended, students who listened, took notes, and thought about stuff, pop culture will have fused into the cultural canon will have fused into chicano studies will have given students some tools for looking at images in popular media. Not a bad trade-off for being required to buy and read a work that, admittedly, gets a bit precious from time to time:

But I was not writing a book about Tex-Mex; I was writing a book about Tex[t]-Mex, so I turned to that annoying and cloying but necessary bracketed [t] in the neologism "Tex[t]-Mex," which is, I admit, a tad precious and so very 1980s, but I can make no apologies for that, as that was the time when I came of age as a cultural critic and a theorist, and the intrusion of the brackets foregrounds the constructedness of "Mexicans" in movies, advertising, photography, and everything else in a way I pray my reader won't forget.

And that is Tuesday, April 24th, 2007. A good week to read a textbook and put it somewhere for frequent reference, maybe remember a favorite lecturer who infused the schooling experience into something akin to education.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Monday's post from Daniel Olivas...

It’s that time of year again when UCLA’s magnificent Westwood campus becomes one, big world of books. Visit the Festival’s webpage for details on obtaining free tickets to panels, directions, parking, etc. Many friends of La Bloga will be participating on panels and signing books. Though it can be a bit daunting at times because of the huge number of folks who show up, it's worth the effort to spend a day or two meeting and listening to your favorite authors. There's also plenty of good comida and lots of activities for the children. Here are a few of the panels that you might be interested in attending (in no particular order, but Chicano/Latino authors are highlighted for your convenience...feel free to post a comment regarding any interesting panels or appearances that I might have missed):

Saturday Panels:

Panel 1093 - 1:00 PM
Fiction: Hopes and Disappointments in the Promised Land
Moderator: Ariel Swartley
Panelists: Richard Rayner, Luis J. Rodriguez and Carolyn See

Panel 1102 - 11:30 AM
Fiction: Writing Across Genres
Moderator: Denise Hamilton
Panelists: Francesca Lia Block, S.E. Hinton, Cynthia Kadohata and Demetria Martinez

Sunday Panels:

Panel 2034 - 2:30 PM
Crossing the Border: Immigrant Lives
Moderator: William Deverell
Panelists: Gustavo Arellano, Sam Quiñones and Gabriel Thompson

Panel 2111 - 10:30 AM
Inland Empire Fiction: The Other California
Moderator: Tod Goldberg
Panelists: Gayle Brandeis, Michael Jaime-Becerra and Susan Straight

Panel 2074 - 2:30 PM
Fiction: Taking On the World
Moderator: Yxta Maya Murray
Panelists: Chris Abani, Bruce Bauman, Tony D'Souza and Cristina Garcia

Panel 2061 - 10:30 AM
The Power of Fiction
Moderator: Ellen Slezak
Panelists: Liam Callanan, Alex Espinoza and James D. Houston

Panel 2063 - 1:30 PM
Fiction: Outside the Margins
Moderator: Michael Silverblatt
Panelists: Tom Drury, Brad Kessler and Helena María Viramontes

And there will be many other fine authors signing books including Max Benavidez who will appear with the artist Gronk at the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center's booth (Booth # 630) on Saturday where they will sign Benavidez’s book on Gronk.

◙ In addition to appearing at the Festival of Books, Gustavo Arellano, OC Weekly columnist and author of ¡Ask a Mexican! (Scribner), which is based on his nationally syndicated column of the same name, will be out promoting his book in May at the following venues:

May 3: Libreria Martinez, 1110 N. Main St., Santa Ana, 714-973-7900, 7 pm

May 7: Borders Pico Rivera, 8852 Washington Blvd., Pico Rivera, (562) 942-9919

May 9: Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande NW, Albuquerque, (505) 344-8139, 7pm

May 10: Barnes & Noble Webster, 1441 W. Webster Ave., Chicago, (773) 871-3610, 7pm

May 13: Third Place Books, 17171 Bothell Way NE, Lake View (near Seattle), 206-366-3333, 5:30 pm

May 16: Barnes & Noble Westheimer, 7626 Westheimer, Houston, (713) 783-6016

I hope to have a little interview with Arellano soon.

◙ In conjunction with the recent release of his novel, Lost City Radio (HarperCollins), Daniel Alarcón will be appearing in the following venues with other writers sponsored by PEN American Center:

April 24, 8:30 p.m.
Granta’s Best of the Young American Novelists
Panel with Nell Freudenberger, Olga Grushin, Gary Shteyngart, Uzodinma Iweala, Gabe Hudson, Jess Row, and Akhil Sharma
Tischman Auditorium, The New School
Additional Information

April 27, 1:30 p. m.
Gritty Realism
Panel with Francisco Goldman, Guillermo Arriaga, Jorge Franco, and Patricio Mello
Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center
Additional Information

April 27, 3:00 p.m.
Imaginary Geographies
Panel with Arthur Japin, Tatyana Tolstaya, and Deborah Treisman
Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center
Additional Information

Rigoberto González reviews Alex Espinoza’s debut novel, Still Water Saints (Random House) in the El Paso Times. González notes: “Espinoza's strength is in giving each voice its individuality and in painting a durable portrait of the contemporary multifaceted American town. This is an excellent novel.” My review of Espinoza's novel will come out in the next issue of the MultiCultural Review.

◙ Belinda Acosta interviews Helena María Viramontes for The Austin Chronicle regarding her new novel, Their Dogs Came With Them (Atria Books). Of the novel, Acosta observes:

“[T]o fully appreciate it, approach it like a mural. While the grandness of a mural is what first commands attention, the viewer enters through its image details. After which, the viewer can then step back and reflect on the whole. The same is true of Viramontes' startling second novel. Twenty-five characters take turns standing in relief, written with extraordinary precision and profound compassion.”

If you missed it, you can read La Bloga’s interview with Viramontes here. I also note that Viramontes graces the cover of the new issue of Poets & Writers magazine with a profile by Renee Shea.

◙ Over at Poetry Foundation, Francisco Aragón interviews Victor Hernández Cruz. Hernández Cruz has published nine books, including his most recent collection, this year’s The Mountain in the Sea (Coffee House Press), and currently divides his time between Morocco and Puerto Rico. The interview touches on the interests most vital to the poet—the history of the Caribbean, stories of migration, and encounters between cultures.

◙ The new issue of the MultiCultural Review is out and I have several reviews featured of the following books: Come Together, Fall Apart (Riverhead) by Cristina Henríquez; The King of Things / El rey de las cosas (Cinco Puntos Press) by Artemio Rodríguez; Farmworker’s Daughter (Heyday Books) by Rose Castillo Guilbault; and Tales Our Abuelitas Told (Simon & Schuster/Atheneum) by F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada.

◙ In the Los Angeles Times, Agustin Gurza writes about comedian Cheech Marin donating 50 sets of high-quality digital prints of Chicano works to museums and universities. Gurza observes:

“For a time, Marin, 60, was sounding like the Rodney Dangerfield of the art world, always complaining that he can't get no respect from the arts establishment. Nobody's laughing nowadays. For the past five years, the actor has taken his personal art collection on tour in an exhibition titled ‘Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge,’ which appeared at major galleries, drew strong attendance and garnered generally positive reviews.”

◙ The El Paso Times informs us that the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Study Center, which teaches the lessons of the Holocaust, needs your help. Founded in 1984 by a Holocaust survivor, Henry Kellen, the museum will open its new facility before the end of the summer. Temporarily at 101 S. Kansas in the Centre Court building, the Center relies on a small, dedicated group of volunteers to lead visitors through the galleries. For information on volunteering as a docent, or as a worker in the store or library, drop an e-mail to Leslie Novick, the Center’s executive director.

◙ Espresso Mi Cultura will be opening its doors in Montebello, California this summer, so they are searching for a part time Coffeehouse Manager (the full time position has a been filled). This position requires coffeehouse experience. For more information on qualifications, please visit here and click on "jobs available" to view the job description. On a personal note, I had one of my first book readings at EMC. Happy to see that they will continue to offer coffee, culture and literature.

◙ Gregg Barrios interviews Oscar Hijuelos over at the San Antonio Current. After his critically praised debut novel Our House in the Last World, Hijuelos wrote his masterpiece, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. Hijuelos, a New York City native of Cuban heritage, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1989 for Mambo Kings. He was the first Latino to receive that honor.

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

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Living To Tell the Story: The Authentic Latino Immigrant Experience in Picture Books (Part 3)

René Colato Laínez

A Movie in My Pillow/ Una película en mi almohada is a collection of 21 poems written by Salvadoran author Jorge Argueta. In these poems Jorge Argueta evokes the wonder of his childhood in rural El Salvador, his experiences of being an immigrant, and his confusion and delight in his new urban home in San Francisco’s Mission District.

Argueta comes from a war torn country. Bombings, shootings and danger of being killed in the streets are common fears and anxieties that immigrant children from war torn countries have in common. In his poem With the War, he writes:

became so lonely.
were made of metal.
kept on howling.
And we never
went out to play.

What little Jorge really wants is a place where he could go out and play. Unfortunately, during a war kidnappings, bombs, and shootings occur on a daily basis. There is no secure place for anybody. Children in war torn countries have to play inside their houses. I can relate to Argueta’s experience because I was a child during the civil war in El Salvador. The only place I felt secure during the long and dangerous shootings was under my bed.

Argueta combines the first two stages of uprooting, mixed emotions and excitement or fear in the adventure of the journey, in the poem When We Left El Salvador.

When we left El Salvador
to come to the United States.
Papá and I left in a hurry
one early morning in December.
We left without saying goodbye
to relatives, friends, or neighbors.
I didn’t say goodbye to Neto
my best friend.
I didn’t say goodbye to Koki
my happy talking parakeet.
I didn’t say goodbye to
Miss Sha-sha-she-sha
my very dear doggie.
When we left El Salvador
In a bus I couldn’t stop crying
because I had left my mamá
my brothers and my grandma behind.

Little Jorge like many immigrant children does not have time to get used to the idea that he is leaving his country. He does not even have an opportunity to say good-bye to his loved ones. Separation from family members is a terrible fact in war torn countries. Immigrant children do not know if it will be the last time they will be able to see their family alive. It is a double separation. The hope to be together again is in the heart of immigrant children but reality is telling them that this hope could become a nightmare if the family they left behind dies in the war. This poem touches the heart of immigrant children from countries in war.

Little Jorge comes to the United States and enters the third stage of uprooting, curiosity. In Wonders of the City Argueta writes:

Here in the city there are
wonders everywhere.
Here mangoes
come in cans.
In El Salvador
they grew up on the trees
Here chickens come
in plastic bags.
Over there
they slept beside me.

For little Jorge living in a modern city was like a fairy tale scene. When my mother and I went to the shoe store for the first time, I was amazed when I saw the door open by itself. It was like magic.

Little Jorge enters into the fourth stage, culture shock that exhibits as depression and confusion. It does not happen at school; it happens at his house. In Sidewalk Snakes he is afraid of losing his father.

Don’t step on the snakes Papi.
Don’t step on the sidewalk snakes.
Can’t you see that they are cobras?
If you step on them
they will wake up and tangle
around your legs.
Then they will sting you.
They will bite you
and you will be very sleepy.

Jorge’s father is the only loved one living with him. If something happens to his father, Jorge will be alone. For immigrant children who are separated from their loved ones, this stage is crucial and painful. When I knew that my older brothers were coming, I marked the date on the calendar. If everything went fine, they would arrive in ten days. On the 11th day, I could not sleep. On the 12th day, I prayed to all the saints in heaven. That same day, we received a call from an immigration detention center. My brothers had been caught when they were crossing the border.
Immigrant children deal not only with problems at school, but also with their internal feelings about missing their relatives. In Voice from Home Argueta describes his relationship with his grandmother.

From my uncle Alfredo
I received a great surprise-
a packet in the mail
from El Salvador.
Inside I found a tape
with my grandma’s voice
talking and singing to me
In Nahuatl and Spanish:
“Jorge, Jorge, maybe
you will never come back.
Remember when you sat
next to me in the river bank?”
“Jorge, Jorge, don’t forget
that in Nahualt ‘tetl’
means ‘stone’ and ‘niyollotl’
means ‘my heart’ ”

This poem reminded me of my grandmother who died a month after I arrived in United States. My mother and I did not have a chance to attend her funeral. I never even had the chance to say good bye.

Little Jorge is in the last stage of uprooting, assimilation/ acculturation into the mainstream, when he reunites with his family. For immigrant children, this event is wonderful. There will always be problems in the new country but now they have the support of their families. Together everything will be easier. In Family Nest Argueta writes:

Today my mamá
and my little brothers
arrived from El Salvador.
I hardly recognized them
but when we hug each other
we feel like a big nest
with all the birds inside.

This is a wonderful poem of family reunion and every immigrant child can relate to it. My parents hired an immigration lawyer to defend my brothers. They got a temporary visa to stay in the United States for six months. We celebrated our reunion for many days.

Jorge acculturates. He is ready to become whatever he wants. His family gave him the hope that he was longing for. Argueta concludes the book with A Band of Parakeets.

Every Saturday morning
Mamá and Papá
my little brothers
and I walk
on 24th Street.
We are like a band
of parakeets flying
from San Francisco
to El Salvador
and back again.

After my brothers arrived in the United States, I felt more secure at home and school. Now I had someone to talk to after school. They helped with my math and I helped them with their English. Like Jorge’s family we were a band of parakeets.

The pensive yet playful character of Jorge in A Movie in My Pillow/ Una película en mi almohada voices Argueta's own challenges and joys in adjusting to a drastically different landscape. Also, he is reflecting the voices of other Central American immigrants that he worked with in a homeless shelter. Jorge Argueta is writing from these personal experiences. He is one of the estimated 500,000 Salvadorans who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s due to a cruel civil war. In an interview with Criticas Magazine, Argueta said:

To write an authentic and realistic story, you have to live it, suffer it, and learn from it. El Salvador is in everything I write. My books are not only my stories but also the stories of thousands of Salvadoran children who left their country during the civil war in the 80’s. I believe that immigrant kids and adults from El Salvador as well as those from other countries and cultures, will see themselves reflected in this book because its main theme is immigration.

A Movie in My Pillow/ Una película en mi almohada is one of my favorite bilingual books. When I discovered this book, I jumped with joy. This was the first picture book about a Salvadoran boy published in the United States. As a Salvadoran, I felt proud of this book. Jorge Argueta tells my immigration story.

Jorge Argueta wants to be a role model to immigrant children. He visits school classrooms all around the United States.

"I stand in front of the children who look like me and say, “I am an author, and these are my books.” That makes children feel good. They want to write books too. Children are natural poets; I simply show them a word game and explain that poetry helps us to express happiness, anger, beauty, pain, and all the other amazing feelings life offers. Words make us fly I tell them, and indeed, we fly."

Argueta inspired me to fly and to tell my Salvadoran stories. To this day, there are only two Salvadoran authors writing picture books for children in the United States: Jorge Argueta and me.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Guest columnist: Jesse Tijerina

Jesse Tijerina is a high school English and Chicano literature teacher who is presently attending grad school at the University of Denver. A variety of his book reviews have appeared online and in small periodicals throughout Colorado. Tijerina’s interest in literature goes far beyond simply teaching and reading. He has been researching and collecting books and ephemera relating to Chicano/Latino literature for nearly a decade.

First published in Mexico in 1955, Pedro Paramo begins as the story of Juan Preciado attempting to fulfill a promise he had given his mother shortly before her death. “I came to Comala because I had been told that my father, a man named Pedro Paramo, lived there. It was my mother who told me,” utters Juan Preciado. “And I had promised her that after she died I would go see him.”

With a language blended of reality and fantasy, Juan Rulfo crafts Comala into a dust ridden and desolate village haunted by phantoms and souls gone astray; it is a place in which Juan Preciado will ultimately realize the horrific secret that everyone there is dead. Although the novel may be a slim 124 pages, it does not fail to provide its share of memorable characters. Upon entering the village of his father, Juan’s lingering uncertainty of his path persuades him to ask a wanderer along the road for directions, adding that he is searching for his father, Pedro Paramo. Gesturing toward Comala, the traveler eerily reveals that Pedro Paraomo is also his father. Following this enigmatic encounter, Juan, on the suggestion of the traveler seeks shelter and advice from Eduviges, a woman he soon discovers had befriended his mother years before. Desperately needing rest, Juan struggles to parry the shrieks and budgeoned images which fill his dreams and eventually wake him from Eduviges’ floor. While captivated by an ensuing conversation with his mother’s friend, the secret begins to unravel. At the realization that she is dead, Juan gathers himself and moves onward into Comala, a place en nepantla where ghosts become his guide. Along his journey, Juan realizes his identity, his heritage, and the legend of his father through a weave of testimonies revealed by the wisdom of the deceased.

El Mismo Cariño
Exerpt from a short story by Jesse Tijerina

Round One

On the eve of his farewell fight, I walked with the champ beneath the glow of the Las Vegas strip. And though I had known the rhythms of his voice for nearly three decades, I struggled to make sense of our conversation as each syllable seemed to braid itself into the drone of the boulevard’s clatter. As was his nature, Jaime walked half a step behind me, on occasion bumping into my right shoulder and nearly toppling me over at each sudden stop. It was as if he lived each second of his life inside the ropes; by nature he gave angles in his gait, in turn controlling the distance among others, as had been his trademark when facing quicker and slicker fighters gifted with better footwork than his own. Jaime had gained his nickname because of this technique; he would cut off every inch of the canvas, leaving it Pelon, bald by the end of the fight.

He had exhibited this skillfulness early on in his career; it was in his first title shot versus Lenny “Left Hook” Cook. Pelon was moving up four pounds in an attempt to claim the vacant WBA super bantamweight title. Left Hook was a lanky brother from Texas who had gained much of his acclaim after his viscous dismantling of Mexico’s very own, Cepillo Sanchez, who, in the midst of the championship rounds, had failed to answer the bell; sitting there slouched on his stool as if God had snipped the strings and left him a retired marionette.

The sure money was on the kid from Dallas by early stoppage. In the days leading up to the fight, three of the sport’s most respected scribes had penned Cook inside their fabled pound-for-pound ratings, one with enough gumption of placing him #3. Those in the know knew if there was any chance to get by Left’s hook, Pelon would have to control the ring by cutting it off, by taking Cook’s legs deep into the night. Pelon’s plan was to attack at the sound each bell and keep him on the move, walk him down with lateral movement, apply pressure, give him as little room as possible to box, all while keeping him at bay with a stiff jab and methodical bodywork in hopes of finishing him off in the later rounds.

Much to the surprise of the fans, even the Chicano loyalist’s waving the flags of their raza, Left Hook’s style had been made to order for Pelon. Like Pryor had done against Arguello in the early eighties, Pelon willed himself deep into the gut of the brawl by adapting to Left’s unorthodox style of feints and pinpoint four and five punch combinations. By the seventh stanza, Pelon’s right cheek bone had fallen prey to Cook’s moniker; his left hook. No amount of end swell would have made a difference. His peripheral vision was lost, but in its absence he had found his timing. He knew that in the wake of his opponent’s hook, Cook left himself exposed to an overhand right. By round nine the bodywork had paid dividends and Left’s hands were drowning after every punch. With what was left of my voice, I yelled, “Body shot, body shot.” I wailed, “Jab, jab, duck.” “You’re on the mark,” In awe, I whispered beneath my breath a few last words and I knew, without knowing, what was to follow.

La Bloga thanks Jesse Tijerina for a solid combination of criticism and literature. Las Blogueras Los Blogueros look forward to Jesse's ongoing guest columns. Seconds out...

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