Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Review: The Sun Over Breda.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte. New York : G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2007.
ISBN 9780399153839

Michael Sedano

Abundance is a terrible thing to waste, it seemed to me, as my eyes caught the name Arturo Pérez-Reverte on a book's spine. Remembering the many times people--such as La Bloga's Friday columnist, Manuel Ramos--recommended reading this author's other books, "waste not, want not," I told myself, and took home The Sun Over Breda. In a lucky irony, checking this author off my "to be read" list increases the list by two more titles, now that I discover The Sun Over Breda is the third in a series of historical novels featuring the same character, Captain Diego Alatriste y Tenorio.

Alatriste's third story runs only 273 pages that read very quickly in a lively prose that must be a tribute to putative translator Jean Schalekamp's skill. I say "putative" in that the book is dedicated "For Jean Schalekamp, damned hertic, translator, and friend." The translator of this novel gets no other acknowledgment that I could find. It's an odd omission. Unless Pérez-Reverte wrote this one in English, it's disappointing not seeing the translator’s art acknowledged. When one reads a work in translation, after all, the translator is as much the "real" author as the person named in big letters on the cover. I wonder if the translators of the Spaniard's work into 28 other languages labor in similar anonymity?

Give Pérez-Reverte credit for a great summer read with The Sun Over Breda. The narrator, a man named Íñigo Balboa, is recounting hair-raising war stories dating back to when Balboa was still a child yet experiencing all manner of seventeenth century infantry warfare during the Spanish campaign in Flanders: clashing armies shooting one another with harquebus balls, inevitable defeat by repeated cavalry charges, trench warfare, dagger fighting by feel alone in the depths of a Dutch tunnel. This is exciting action that Pérez-Reverte brings into focus in quick succession, hardly giving the reader pause to catch a breath.

Through calmly bloodthirsty heroics, the narrator’s voice remains a bit of a mystery. Is he nostalgically ticking off a few scars to an old friend? Or has Balboa’s tumultuous career brought him to face a board of inquisitors, telling a story that will save his life? There is a suggestion of the latter.

Íñigo Balboa is fourteen as the novel opens. The boy is not a soldier, he's a spear-carrier. In 1624, an infantryman like Alatriste carries into battle his harquebus and a small supply of munitions, maybe six rounds. His mochilero follows literally in the fighters' footprints, weighted down by all the gunpowder, lead shot, fuse cord, water, and food needed in battle. And he’d best be handy with a blade in heat of battle.

For all his derring-do, Alatriste is less interesting than Balboa. During a foraging run—their war was find your own food or starve—mochilero Balboa comes across a Spaniard and a Dutch clergyman frantically saving books from a flaming library. Íñigo helps, expressing understanding of the treasure he’d preserved, choosing books over food. The boy can read and write, reads Cervantes when he can, and is the informant who helps Diego Velásquez get the details just right in Velásquez’ painting of the victory at Breda.

These facts, however, remain lost in what appear deliberate efforts to cleanse the historical record of Balboa and Alatriste. Pérez-Reverte offers a small selection of literary evidence to establish with some certitude the facts of the conspiracy. Most telling evidence, the book’s Editor says in an afterword, is the painted over face of Captain Alatriste in the famous painting. The spot remains for the world to see behind the horse, though art critics disagree, and Alatriste may have been painted over elsewhere in the background.

A reader is left to wonder what Íñigo Balboa and Captain Alatriste must have done. They seem like good guys, too. To have given so much for Spain, yet to have their existence so permanently emended? This is why we have novels.

February ends, gente, August comes. And here we are, Tuesday, 31 July, 2007, a day like any other day, except, you are here. Thanks for reading. Until next week, early August, te wacho. mvs

Blogmeister’s note: Please leave a comment or observation on today’s, or any day’s, La Bloga. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists. If you have a review or event you’d like to share with La Bloga’s readers, email a Bloguera or Bloguero, or click here.

Monday, July 30, 2007


As my wife, son and I were planning a little summer vacation for later in August, I started to dream about which books to take with me. So, for those of you who are likewise getting ready to take a little time off before the impending end of summer, here are some reading suggestions for adults, teens and children. I note that the following reviews first appeared in the MultiCultural Review (spring and summer 2007 issues). As I mentioned recently on La Bloga, the MultiCultural Review is always looking for talented reviewers; the editors currently have a particular need for those interested in reviewing books with Latino and LGBT themes. In any event, I hope these reviews give you some good ideas about what to pack along. Happy mid-summer reading.

Other Fugitives and Other Strangers: Poems
By Rigoberto González
Tupelo Press
78 pp.

With this his eighth book, award-winning poet, novelist and memoirist Rigoberto González brings us an unapologetically erotic and, at times, brutal homage to Gay relationships in all their permutations. In the title poem, the narrator contemplates the inherent danger—and exhilaration—of meeting a man at a bar: “I dance, I drink, I follow. / I can trust a man without clothes. / Naked he conceals no weapons, no threat / but the blood in his erection.” There’s the surprise of finding a lover who has a button fetish in “Breads That Hunger”: “He yanks each piece of / plastic with his teeth and swallows it, then inserts the / cusp of his tongue into the buttonhole.” And yes, there are unabashed love poems with erotic tributes such as these first lines from “In Praise of the Mouth”: “Your throat, moan-cluttered, opens / like a desert’s flower.” But in “Body, Anti-Body,” there can also be disillusionment when boredom sets in: “His lust became wallpaper- / tame after only a year / in his bed.” In all, González offers us tough, lancing language that celebrates love and sex and loss as nothing less than essential and unified elements of life.

Farmworker’s Daughter:
Growing Up Mexican in America

By Rose Castillo Guilbault
Heyday Books
189 pp.

Guilbault’s moving and wonderfully-detailed memoir grew out of a series of essays first published in the San Francisco Chronicle. She recounts her cultural, emotional and intellectual journey from her youth in the border town of Nogales, Mexico, to growing up in King City nestled in California’s Salinas Valley. Many know Guilbault as an award-winning broadcast and print journalist. Today, she is vice president of corporate affairs at AAA of Northern California. Her memoir helps us understand how a child can fight her way through racism, difficult economic circumstances and a sometimes broken family to obtain the American Dream. María Luisa, Guilbault’s mother, marries a charming traveling salesman, Tito. Tito shows little interest in raising his daughter leaving that to his wife. Eventually, the small Mexican community buzzes with rumors of Tito’s philandering and the existence of second family. With the emotional and economic support of a distant female cousin from California, Guilbault decides to take escape her abusive marriage. One morning, Guilbault and her mother board a Greyhound bus in the hope of finding personal and economic freedom in the United States. Guilbault’s mother eventually marries José García, a moody fieldworker who ultimately proves to be a good husband and father. But all three must work either in the fields or canneries. It is also difficult for this intelligent, college-bound girl to fit in with her mostly white classmates who do not see higher education as a goal. In the end, this is a poignant tribute to one young woman’s unshakeable belief in her own self-worth and potential.

Still Water Saints
By Alex Espinoza
Random House
242 pp.

“She could walk on water,” begins Alex Espinoza’s luminous and heartbreaking debut novel. The “she” is Perla Portillo, 72 years of age and widowed, the proprietor of Botánica Oshún, a strip mall storefront in a Southern California community called Agua Mansa. This is where patrons can be advised by Perla who has a “cure” for everything from heartbreak to business problems: herbs, soaps, teas, religious relics and statues. In truth, Perla cannot walk on water (as many believe) but is as ordinary as her customers except she offers two things missing in their lives: hope and a sympathetic ear. Espinoza adeptly uses Perla and her botánica to introduce fully-realized characters who search for answers and struggle to make sense out of their lives. The novel moves briskly from character to character, creating a mosaic of this predominantly Latino community without ever falling into melodrama. In the process, Espinoza demonstrates an unfailing eye for detail that creates a richly-textured, believable world. Espinoza, who was born in Tijuana, Mexico, and earned his MFA from the University of California (Irvine), has created a world that is as grounded in reality as it is eloquently rendered. Still Water Saints is a beautiful and potent debut.

Mercy on These Chimps
By Gary Soto
147 pp.

“I, Ronaldo Gonzalez, better known as Ronnie, was like any other boy until I turned thirteen and woke up a chimpanzee,” begins Gary Soto’s insightful and hilarious novel for readers aged twelve and up. Is this a Kafkaesque tale for the young folks? Sort of. But instead of turning into a large cockroach, Ronnie finds himself becoming a gangly, big-eared, smelly teenager. His best friend, Joey Rios, also suffers this embarrassing turn of events. Throw into the equation a pretty girl (here, a star gymnast, Jessica), and these chimps’ lives go from bad to worse. The problems start when Joey attempts to show off to Jessica by climbing up a rafter to get her escaped balloon during an awards banquet. Coach “Bear” angrily calls Joey a “monkey” leaving the humiliated teenager no choice of but run off and hide in his tree house. Ronnie, being the good chimp friend that he is, embarks on a comical quest to find Jessica and convince her of Joey’s love. During his search, Ronnie runs into a series of colorful characters and funny situations. The plot is less important than Soto’s skill at creating memorable characters while letting young people know that growing up might be difficult but good friends can help lighten the load.

Tales Our Abuelitas Told: A Hispanic Folktale Collection
By F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada
Illustrated by Felipe Dávalos, Viví Escrivá, Susan Guevara and Leyla Torres
Simon & Schuster
116 pp.

In the introduction to this delightful and informative anthology of Hispanic folktales, the authors remind us that “[w]hen we open our minds and hearts to the words of a story, we enter a world of wonders.” So true. But this is more than a simple recounting of beloved tales handed down one generation to the next. The authors include a generous dose of historical and conceptual context that is, on many levels, as engrossing as the stories themselves. Right up front, they inform us in the introduction that while most of the folktales in this collection have Spanish roots, many other cultures helped these stories evolve because Spain has been a “cultural crossroads throughout history.” Thus, there are influences from the Greeks, Phoenicians, Basques, Celts, Jews, and on and on. The authors also include sections on how to begin a story (“In Grandmother’s time…”), and how to end it (“…this story entered in a silver trail; it came out a golden one”). At the conclusion of each tale, the authors give a little context, explaining how the story evolved throughout the years and where a version of it first appeared in print. The tales themselves are such fun. There’s poor Juan Bobo who cannot obey simple requests from his mother which leads to several hilarious results. And there are lessons to be learned from the shenanigans of all sorts of talking animals that seem to be as competitive and vain as humans. This is an entertaining and educational addition to the folktale tradition.

Come Together, Fall Apart: A Novella and Stories
By Cristina Henríquez
Riverhead Books
306 pp.

Cristina Henríquez’s moving debut collection centers on contemporary Panama where Noriega’s shadow offers a disconcerting backdrop as ordinary people struggle for love and meaning. With eight short stories and a novella, Henríquez demonstrates that such struggle doesn’t always translate to defeat though sometimes it comes perilously close. In “Beautiful,” one of the more disquieting and powerful pieces in this collection, the young protagonist begins her story mid-sentence: “And then that summer when the heart felt like wading through molasses and the streets hummed in a desperate sadness all day and all night, God came down from heaven and paid a visit to our family in two ways: My father returned home and my uncle got rich.” A divine visit, however, does not guarantee happiness: the prodigal father eventually preys on his daughter. But ultimately, she imposes her own kind of justice on the abuser. “Chasing Birds” brings us tourists (a married couple) struggling with their relationship as they visit Panama. The husband is more interested in bird watching than romancing his disaffected wife. The result is not surprising but nonetheless heartbreaking on many levels. The title novella weaves together two strands of narrative: the U.S. invasion of Panama and a young boy’s unrequited love for a girl who is more interested in his best friend. Henríquez’s storytelling is at its most potent in this longer story where she seamlessly blends the political with the personal. Taken together, these stories from the young Henríquez demonstrate a fully-matured and well-honed artistic vision of the human condition.

The King of Things / El rey de las cosas
Written and illustrated by Artemio Rodríguez
Cinco Puntos Press
32 pp.

Born in the city of Tacámbaro in the state of Michoacán, Mexico, Rodríguez came to the United States at the age of twenty and settled in Los Angeles to begin his life making art. He now runs his own studio and gallery, La Mano, and has become an internationally-recognized artist. Rodríguez is probably best known for his highly-detailed and evocative prints (woodcuts and linocuts), twelve of which graced Dagoberto Gilb’s short-story collection, Woodcuts of Women (Grove Press, 2000). Rodríguez now brings us this bilingual picture book inspired by the famous Mexican game of lotería which is similar to the game of bingo but with one major difference: instead of numbers and letters, the Mexican game uses colorful drawings of various characters. Riffing on some of the more popular lotería images, Rodríguez’s book is about a little boy named Lalo who tells us: “I am three years old. I am so strong, I am so smart, look at what I own!” Lalo then recounts the various items in his kingdom: characters from lotería such as the sleepy moon, smiling sun, beautiful mermaid, strutting horse, and others. In each, Lalo plays a part in Rodríguez’s version of Mexico’s beloved images. In the end, the elegant simplicity of this book encourages children to be masters of their imagination, the reigning kings and queens of their playtime.

◙ Alejandro Morales, a novelist and professor of Chicano/Latino studies at the University of California, Irvine, is the recipient of this year's Luis Leal Award for Distinction in Chicano/Latino Literature. The award is presented annually by the University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara City College, and the Santa Barbara Book Council.

Considered one of the country's premier Latino writers of fiction, Morales is the author of several biographical novels in which he tells the fictional story of a character's life using historical events. He has published a total of seven books, including his newest, The Captain of All These Men of Death (forthcoming from Bilingual Review Press). His novels have been published both in the United States and Mexico.

An award-winning author who grew up in East Los Angeles, Morales has said many of his ideas come from real life experiences. For example, The Brick People (Arte Público Press), which tells the story of an immigrant family settling in Simons, California in the early 1900s and going to work for Simons Brick Company, parallels the lives of Morales's parents, who lived in Simons and worked for the same company.

The award is named for Luis Leal, professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UCSB, who is internationally recognized as one of the leading scholars of Chicano and Latino literature. He will celebrate his 100th birthday this year. Morales will receive the Luis Leal Award at the Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival on September 29 at 3:15 p.m. at the Faulkner Gallery in the Santa Barbara Public Library. Previous recipients of the Leal Award include Helena María Viramontes, Oscar Hijuelos, Rudolfo Anaya, and Denise Chávez. For more information, visit the UCSB website.

◙ Ana Castillo will be reading and signing her new book, The Guardians (Random House), at IMIX Bookstore, 5052 Eagle Rock Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 91114. Website: http://www.imixbooks.com/.

WHEN: Wednesday, August 1, 2007
TIME: 7:00 p.m.

Ana Castillo is the author of Peel My Love Like an Onion, So Far From God (a New York Times Notable Book), Sapogonia, and The Mixquiahuala Letters (winner of the American Book Award), as well as the short story collection, Loverboys. Her books of poetry include My Father Was a Toltec, I Ask the Impossible, and Watercolor Women Opaque Men (a novel in verse). She is the recipient of a Carl Sandburg Prize and a Southwestern Booksellers Award. She lives in New Mexico.

Praise for The Guardians:

“Ana Castillo is a formidable presence on the American scene… The characters are as real and quirky as your own neighbors, though you start to realize they are also people you have probably never met before. A vital work of healing and astonishment from a medicine-woman at full power. America needs to read this story.” –Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird’s Daughter

“Ana Castillo is a fearless storyteller… This brave, unflinching novel shows the tragic consequences that come from not facing what is happening in our communities to those without true guardians to protect them.” –Julia Alvarez, author of Once Upon a Quinceañera

For a complete schedule of Castillo's upcoming book appearances, go here.

◙ In yesterday’s El Paso Times, Rigoberto González tells us of a new bilingual short-story project:

“Tameme, a now-defunct journal, courageously produced and published English-to-Spanish and Spanish-to-English literary translations from 1999 to 2003. A new series of chapbooks -- starting with Mexican writer Agustín Cadena's An Avocado from Michoacán (Tameme Inc., $6.95 paperback) -- keeps the spirit of the nonprofit Tameme foundation alive. Translator and editor C.M. Mayo is issuing the single-author chapbooks. They include a story in its original language along with a face-to-face translation, valuable translator's process notes and a brief interview that adds insight to the author's vision and also provides a glimpse into the author's cultural and literary environment.”

Go here to read the entire El Paso Times piece. You can learn more about Mayo, her writing and this new series by visiting Mayo’s blog. And for La Bloga’s coverage of this new bilingual series, go here.

◙ Also in yesterday’s El Paso Times is my profile of the novelist Salvador Plascencia, author of The People of Paper now available in paperback from Harvest books. My full interview of Plascencia (which was the basis for this profile) appeared last December in The Elegant Variation.

◙ SEX IN THE CIUDAD: The new issue of Tu Ciudad focuses on La Bloga's second favorite topic: S-E-X. To subscribe, visit here. It's also available at many bookstores and markets near you.

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

Sunday, July 29, 2007

La Bloga is unlike other sites

Spending much time checking out the Internet, sifting through all the chaff could make you senile. So, when we started La Bloga we intended it not only to focus on Chicano literary themes, but also to strive for higher standards than a typical blog, by our "passionate" (see Laínez's post from yesterday) understanding of cultural distinctions. As example of the type of site we didn't want, one recently came to our attention and warrants comment, given its topic.

On 12/15/06 Manuel Ramos's post introduced Rudolfo Anaya's The First Tortilla: A Bilingual Story. The blurb quoted publisher UNM Press: "She [Jade] has made the first tortilla." It also mentions a Mountain Spirit and talking hummingbirds. Sounds like a fantasy, folktale or leyenda, right?

In our 7/18/07 review of The First Tortilla, Bloguista Gina MarySol Ruiz wrote: "Rudolfo Anaya has written a magical and lovely folktale about the origins of that favorite of us mexicanos/Chicanos, the delicious tortilla." Note her use of "folktale" and "the origins of the tortilla."

When the editors of Guanabee read our review, they remarked: "Finally, a role model for young Mexican girls that doesn’t ask them to sell out so damn hard… but make tortillas instead?" While their first remark may or may not be commendable, it is the "make tortillas instead" that begs literary interpretation.

That anyone, Latino-oriented or otherwise, could misconstrue a folktale about the first tortilla as somehow advocating that contemporary, young Mexican girls should make tortillas instead of aspiring to other (unnamed) activities, indicates either a low level of vocabulary or deliberate misinterpretation.

Using Guanabee logic, we'd expect their editors to review Little Red Hen and the Grains of Wheat and vilify its author(s) for advocating that young females take up bread making instead of other (unnamed) activities. Or perhaps they think the authors of another old story, about Adam and Eve, didn't want 21st century females eating apples.

A folktale about the distant past or a fantasy world, with talking hummingbirds or hens (or serpents), should not be interpreted as providing lessons or role models, solely based on the plot. Guanabee editors seemed to understand part of that. It's the part they didn't that separates Guanabee from La Bloga.

If we read further into the post: "Bless Me, Ultima, the novel that taught us Mexicans/vomiting can be literary motifs", one wonders what they consider to be rational critique. Characterizing Anaya's recognized classic in this fashion seems like a shallow way to artificially create controversy. In their own words, "Guanabee is commentary on media, pop culture and entertainment, spicy coverage for the Latino in you."

Now, I don't know about you, but the Latino in me prefers that spicy coverage not approach the abyss of Fox-TV standards of verity. Guanabee is a commercially supported site, filled with "ads by Google" and other business interests, including Fox (by chance?), so perhaps the "spicy" in Guanabee is simply intended to generate more hits-per-month to support their bottom line. That it generated my hit, indicates outrageous deviations from common sense can make money. This is another aspect where La Bloga separates from other Internet sites in that we deliberately avoid commercial interests.

Comments to the Guanabee post likewise reflect more grasping at straw men and low-level bursts of supposedly smart remarks like, "The highly-anticipated sequel to [The First Tortilla] will have Jade pushing Qdoba burritos in central Los Angeles. . ." That my post may generate more Guanabee hits is only unfortunate in that at times you need to know what a bad tortilla tastes like to better appreciate homemade ones. While we know La Bloga's "cooking" doesn't always reach what we strive for, be assured we won't go commercial on you and forsake the literary for the North American corporate dollar.

* * *

Due to popular demand I decided to pull the second part of this post until I read The Confessional. I will leave the Comments, though.

As I said in that part, "I've had to eat my words before." In this case readers let me know they felt I do need to to set the table and gorge on some of my own masa. I'm going for the masa.

Rudy Ch. Garcia

Saturday, July 28, 2007


René Colato Laínez

Writing Outside the Culture

There are many opinions and controversies about writing multicultural literature:

*Authentic books include only those written by a member of an ethnic group about that ethnic group, its cultural traditions, and its people.

*The most accurate portrayal of a culture will come from authors who have lived within the culture they are writing about all or most of their lives regardless of their race.

*Authors can write authentic books if their writing is based on experience and a growing awareness in our society of other cultures and provided an accurate representation of the culture being portrayed.

If you are writing outside your culture, you must never write off the top of your head. If you have never lived in Mexico, China or Morocco and want to write a story about these cultures, you will have to do extensive research in libraries, archives, and museums. But the best way to research is to meet the people you want to write about. Talk to them, participate in their games, visit the country, eat their food, become one of them while you are writing your story. Remember, it is better to overdo your research, later you can pick what is important for your story. When you finished your manuscript show it to organizations and people it is written for and ask them to look for stereotypes and misconceptions.

The people most passionate and involved in a culture are typically the best ones to write about a multicultural story. With the passion comes the desire to spend hours and hours in a library or most important with the people you are writing for. If there is no passion, there will be no desire to write an authentic story.

I need this passion to research and spend hours with people I am writing for. Being Hispanic does not make me the right person to write about the Mayans or the Aztecs, or to write about the people in El Salvador that made rubber from the trees, or to write about the artisans who create and paint great ceramic in Oaxaca, Mexico. My knowledge about these topics is very limited. I did some research to write my picture book PLAYING LOTERIA/ EL JUEGO DE LA LOTERÍA. Lotería was my favorite game when I was growing up in El Salvador. I did not know that this game arrived all the way from Europe to Mexico more than two hundreds years ago. It was Don Clemente, a man from France, who created the images of the games using Mexican colors, flavors and traditions. I did not use all this research in my picture book but by knowing the history of la lotería, I feel more secure that I was writing an authentic story.

Most important, keep in mind that the same criterion for authenticity in multicultural literature is the same in any good book: strong characters, good plot, great climax, convincing ending plus no stereotypes and misconceptions.
The following is a criteria developed by teachers to choose authentic literature for the classroom. I believe that the same criteria can be use as a checklist for writers of multicultural books.

*No distortions or omissions of history. Look for various perspectives to be represented.

*Authenticity. Look for books with accurate representations of the cultural attitudes, feelings, and perspectives, both visually and literally.

*Stereotyping. There are no negative or inaccurate stereotypes of the ethnic group being portrayed.

*Loaded words. There are no derogatory overtones to the words used to describe the characters and culture, such as savage," primitive," "lazy," and "backward."

*Historical Representation. Look for books that dispel misconceptions by reflecting truths.

*Lifestyles. The lifestyles of the characters are genuine and complex, not oversimplified or generalized.

*Dialogue. The characters use speech that accurately represents their oral tradition.

*Standards of success. The characters are strong and independent, not helpless or in need of the assistance of a white authority figure. Characters do not have to exhibit extraordinary qualities, or do more than a white character to gain acceptance and approval.

*The role of females, elders, and family. Women and the elderly are portrayed accurately within their culture. The significance of family is portrayed accurately for the culture.

*Possible effects on a child's self-image. There is nothing in the story that would embarrass or offend a child whose culture is being portrayed. A good rule of thumb: would you be willing to share this book with a mixed-race group of children?

* Author's and/or illustrator's background. The author and/or illustrator have the qualifications needed to deal with the cultural group accurately and respectfully.

*Illustrations. The illustrations do not generalize about or include stereotypes of a cultural group and it's people. The characters are depicted as genuine individuals. Characters of the same ethnic group do not all look alike, but show a variety of physical attributes.

*Relationships between characters from different cultures. Minority characters are leaders within their community and solve their own problems. Whites do not possess the power while cultural minorities play a supporting or subservient role.

*Heroines and Heroes. Heroines and heroes are accurately defined according to the concepts of and struggles for justice appropriate to their cultural group. They are not those who avoid conflict with and thus benefit the white majority.

*Become Proactive. Read and recommend quality multicultural literature to students, teachers, librarians, curriculum committees, administrators, and student’s parents.

In conclusion, the writer who wants to write about any specific group, must research, read, visit, meet and have personal connections with members of that group. By doing this, the writer will be less likely to have stereotypes in the story. When the author finishes the story, it would be a great idea to show it to members of the specific group. In this way, the author will have an authentic story. A story that depicts the variety of ethnic, racial, and cultural groups within U.S. society and allows young children opportunities to develop their understanding of others, while affirming children of diverse backgrounds. Good luck and have fun writing a multicultural story or any story that you have the passion for.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Aaron A. Abeyta ... y más

Manuel Ramos

Aaron A. Abeyta is a Colorado native and professor of English at Adams State College. For his collection, Colcha (University Press of Colorado, 2000), Abeyta received an American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award. Abeyta's other titles, both from Ghost Road Press, are a collection of poetry, As Orion Falls (2005) and a novel, Rise, Do Not Be Afraid (2007). Abeyta is also the recipient of a Colorado Council on the Arts fellowship for poetry. He lives in Southern Colorado where he can remain close to his family and culture, both of which greatly influence his work. Abeyta was born in 1971.

I recently met Aaron through the auspices of El Laboratorio, an exciting new literary project featuring several Colorado-based writers, and he agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga. Now that I have read his novel I am even more pleased that I was able to do this interview. I think Aaron is a talented writer and that his voice is unique and adventurous: very much Southern Colorado (El Valle de San Luis, actually), and very much in touch with the passions of the Valley gente.

One reviewer of your novel said that the prose is "beautifully rendered" and that each chapter stands alone as a long poem. I agree about the beautiful prose. Do you think of your book as poetry? And I guess I am curious about why a poet would write a novel.

I never considered the book to be poetry, but I did make a very conscious effort to make the book image driven and lyrical, both of which are two of the building blocks of poems (and fiction too, at least the fiction I like to read). So, in that regard, I guess the book has qualities of poetry.

I think it’s a bit odd, however, that the reviewer stated that each chapter was a long poem; that was not my intent at all, but I can’t say that I was upset by those comments; I took it as a compliment.

As for why a poet would write a novel, that’s a very good question. I don’t really know, definitively that is. I do know that I sat down to write one day and it came out as prose (which is typically the way I begin all my poems, i.e. long hand, full margins, get all the ideas down and then go back and cut and cut). The difference this time was that I pretty much left the cuts out of it and went back the next day and wrote another chapter. All in all, I wrote a chapter each day and the novel actually wrote itself, sort of consuming my every thought. I literally dreamed about sequences and characters. I just followed the impulses that came to me. The reviewer mentioned that the village was the character; she alluded to Faulkner in this regard. It was the village of Santa Rita that got me writing in the first place. It is a real place that I loved as a kid; you can’t go there now without permission. The place is completely private and the road in is locked shut by an iron gate. When I saw the gate I knew what I wanted to write about, but the particulars seemed to somehow take care of themselves.

Another reviewer compared your novel, favorably, to Gabríel Garcia Márquez,noting that Santa Rita, the setting for your book, reminds one of Macondo, García Márquez's fictional Colombian town. I was taken by the elaborate levels of characterization, the creative imagery, and the non-linear approach to the narrative. Where did all this come from? In other words, what is the inspiration for your style of writing?

I learned early on, mostly from my abuelo, that a story is a living thing. I don’t ever remember hearing a story that began at A and ended at Z. I didn’t grow up with typical plot structures as a model. My mom didn’t read Mother Goose to me, or anything of the sort. I tell people that and they look at me like I was abused, as if to say that my parents not reading to me was some sort of 20th century crime. I never felt deprived, however. Everyone around me told great stories, and those were my bedtime stories. For example, my abuelito would tell a story and then a few weeks later I would hear the same story from the sheepherder and they were remarkably different, yet essentially the same. The teller of the story was always the heart, the information the blood and the listener the soul. I try and remain true to this model, not only in the novel but in all my writing. I guess my people were born of circles because that’s the way we still communicate.

As for the imagery and characterization, the imagery has always been a matter of paying attention to things around me, little things. I specifically look for things that most people wouldn’t notice and make a mental note to somehow use that somewhere in my writing. The characters, many of them, were based on real people, but a lot of them were dreamt or hybrids of classical literary figures and real people. For example, and I hope I don’t tip my hand too much with this, Nomio is based on some very real people in my life, but the name Nomios is another name for Hermes. Apollonio is Apollo, but he is also human in that some of his characteristics are based on people I grew up around. All in all, every name, well most of them anyway, are allusions to real, literary, religious or historical figures. The names were my way of developing characters that were already familiar but without making them too obvious; they were also a way of paying tribute to all of my influences. Sorry for the long answer. I got carried away.

I think the novel is complicated in the sense that the layers of characterization and interwoven stories require a reader's undivided attention and a commitment to pay attention to the details. This is not a criticism. I think your cast of characters at the beginning of the novel hints that you may agree with me. Do you?

The cast of characters at the beginning was not really my idea, per se. My publishers wanted a family tree, like the one that Gabriel García Márquez used at the beginning of 100 Years of Solitude. The problem, however, was that the characters weren’t from the same family. There would have been about 6 or 7 family trees. As a compromise we decided on the cast of characters option. If it would have been up to me, and in the end I guess it was, I think I would have left the character list out, but since the names of the characters are very traditional and therefore not common we (the publishers and myself) agreed that we should provide some sort of assistance to the reader. I know that one reviewer took exception with this and even hinted at there being too many characters for such a “thin” book.

To answer your question though, I really did want the book to be accessible on a lot of levels. I wanted each story to stand on its own but also to be part of a bigger whole. I wanted allusion to play a major role in the book, but I didn’t want the reader to feel obligated to look everything up. Therefore, yes, I suppose the book is complicated, but I would also hope that on the most basic level it is also as simple as listening to a story being told.
Aaron's website is www.aaronabeyta.com. He wanted me to make sure folks know that his books can be found at bookstores, through Ghost Road Press, and at online outlets such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thank you, Aaron.

... y más
Abiquiú Studio Tour
There’s a nice article (Georgia On Their Minds) in Lexus Magazine (yes, that Lexus) about the annual Abiquiú Studio Tour, a unique art festival in the heart of New Mexico. Each October for the past 13 years the collective of more than 60 artists opens its work spaces and homes to visitors who are bound to be charmed by the wide-ranging vision and diverse mix of painting, etching, sculpture, weaving, and many other formats. Included in the article are short interviews with several of the artists such as Leopoldo Garcia, described as “a ponytailed Vietnam veteran with a linebacker’s build and a voice that rasps and burbles like a cabin-cruiser at low tide,” and Barbara Manzanares, a weaver who says that her mother always told her “if you learn to weave you’ll never be hungry.” October is one of the best months to spend time in New Mexico and this festival sounds like a perfect way to spend that time. Abiquiú and the Ghost Ranch are indelibly linked to Georgia O’Keeffe as the places where she found inspiration and solace. You can read more by jumping to this link.

José Latour on Selling Culture
The International Association of Crime Writers’ website now offers articles by members. Included in the lineup is an article by José Latour, entitled The Influence of Promotion on the Entertainment and Cultural Markets. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the article:

“Ninety- and one-hundred-year-old copies of newspapers and magazines from the U.S., France and Spain prove that books were reviewed frequently, but publicity and advertising were almost nonexistent. Until the 1910s, perhaps the 1920s, the number of copies a book sold and the attendance at cultural events were mostly the result of reviews and word of mouth. Most publishers saw themselves as purveyors of culture; they didn't want to lose money, but making money was not their raison d'être. Bookselling was considered a very dignified way of making a living.

“A hundred years later books are merchandise in the marketplace. In fiction and non-fiction alike, publicity and advertising are determinant. In mass-market fiction, promotion is indispensable. The big chain stores have a single purpose: to make money. Independent publishers and booksellers, among whom, it seems, many idealists continue to exist, also depend on good- and best-sellers to survive.”

The entire article is here.

Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair
The 23d Annual Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair will be held at the Merchandise Mart in Denver on August 3 and 4. Over 75 dealers will have on hand “an outstanding collection of books and vintage ephemera for sale” including maps, art and photographs. The press release notes that some of the items on display or for sale include first editions of John C. Fremont’s report of his first three expeditions and his role in the conquest of California (sounds like right up your alley, Sol); L. Frank Baum’s Glinda of Oz; John Arrowsmith’s map of the Republic of Texas, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men; and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Get many more details here.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Alina Troyano/Camelita Tropicana

I, Carmelita Tropicana: Performance Between Cultures

Hello people, you know me, I know you.
I am Carmelita Tropicana.

I say Loisaida is the place to be. It is multicultural, multinational, multigenerational, mucho multi.
And like myself , you've got to be multilingual.

I am very good with the tongue.

"This book makes you cry in one eye and laugh in the other."
-John Leguizamo, author of Freak

"Alina Troyano's one-woman shows, plays, and essays have astonished audiences and readers with their creativity, humor, and crackling political energy. I, Carmelita Tropicana offers the first comprehensive collection of her work, from "Memorias de la Revolución" (with Uzi Parnes) to "Your Kunst is Your Waffen" (with Ela Troyano).

"The writing in this wonderful book is like café Cubano: rich, strong, satisfying." -Steve Buscemi

"Dwellers of the Lower East Side have long known of the magic they call Carmelita Tropicana. Carmelita and her comrades-in-arms teach us that humor can have a subversive edge and that politicized performance can be hilarious. This book is a triumphantly tacky treasure trove of tropical delights." -José Esteban Muñoz, author of Disidentifications

"The inimitable Carmelita Tropicana is one of the queer world's wonders: sexy, outrageous, and insightful, her performances transform rooms full of strangers into communities of lovers, friends, and admirers."-Jill Dolan, author of Presence and Desire

"Laughter is Troyano's weapon, and she wields it expertly to send up stereotypes like the Latina spitfire and to push the limits of rigid identities. This long-awaited book will be a boon in any classroom studying performance, as well as in racially and gender-inflected queer and cultural studies." -Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, editor of Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985

Alina Troyano, Cuban-born writer and performance artist, is the recipient of a 1999 Obie award for Sustained Excellence of Performance, and named by el Diario as "una de las mujeres mas destacadas de 1998." She has presented her work nationally and internationally in both English and Spanish.

As a writer she has distinguished herself since 1985, when she was selected to participate in Intars musical Theatre Labs under the direction of Graciela Daniele and George Ferrencz.

She has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts for Performance Art, as well as for screenwriting and playwriting. She has received a CINTAS Foundation fellowship for her literary work, as well as a 2001 writing fellowship from The Mark Taper Forum, a 2002 writing fellowship from the Cuban Arts Foundation, and in 2003 the Plumed Warrior writing award from LLEGO, a National Latin Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Organization.

In 2000, Beacon Press published I, Carmelita Tropicana: Performing Between Cultures, a Lambda Award nominee for theatre. In the opening quote in this article, Alina is speaking as her Latin-bombshell persona, Carmelita. Troyano has sampled the 'exotic other' archetype of Carmen Miranda, and put a queer, radical aesthetic spin to her. Hardly the palatable fantasy of the easy-conquered, not-too-bright Carmen.

This is a book that made me laugh out loud. It is part “diary”, part monologue, part cultural commentary by one Carmelita Tropicana, a.k.a. Alina Troyano. Troyano is a Cuban lesbian performance artist whose work skewers racial, cultural, and sexual stereotypes. Carmelita is my new patron saint.

In the preface there is a reference to Troyano's use of 'innuendo, bilingual puns, double entendre, burlesque, parody, political farce, biographical revisionism, and an irreverent appropriation and collaging of popular culture.' She draws text from popular movies, past stereotypical icons, and popular music. While the style is irreverent, her themes are hardly light. In placing expropriated material in another context, it becomes reinvented, with layers of new meaning and ultimately a critique of the original manifestation itself.

In a piece entitled Your kunst ist your waffen, Carmelita/Alina pokes fun at performance art and sexual stereotyping. In a monologue to the audience, she explains how a “fairy” godmother told her it was her destiny to sing and dance in the tradition of Carmen Miranda. The vaguely sexual title of the piece conjures up images of lesbian sex. In reality, it translates to ”Your art is your weapon.”

She goes on, in a fictitious diary, to satirize Castro, boat people, Catholicism, traditional ideas of Latina femininity and family life. In her “diary”, Carmelita/Alina reveals that as as prison entertainer, she saw a group of nuns behind bars singing a rancher song entitled: Prisoneros de Amor/Prisoners of Love. I admired and enjoyed Troyano’s brashness, her satiric wit, and her willingness to take the starch out of some of our (Latin) sacred icons. There is also an inherent political act in lifting, deconstructing and revisioning elements of popular culture in this way.

To better illustrate her work and style, I want to close with an excerpt from her performance at New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art.

Recipe for Carmelita's Bad Girls Show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

1/3 Pingalito (Carmelita in male drag) recites
"Ode to the Cuban Man" from Milk of Amnesia
1/3 Carmelita delivers Performance Art Manifesto (which varies based on the audience, how Carmelita feels at any given moment, and the venue.)
1/3 The Art Quiz Show

Sprinkle clues for the audience to guess the artwork
or artist recreated in live tableaux.
Add pinch of art commentary to taste and blend with 1 generous dollop of modern dancer Jennifer Monson (collaborator) whisked rapidly for Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase. Set aside.

1/2 cup Jennifer as Cupid with piercing arrow and 1/2 cup Carmelita moaning, hanging on museum fire escape.
Simmer to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and stir until both harden into Bernini's sculpture The Agony of St. Theresa.

For skewering performance art's often ponderous images and general pomposity, and for giving queer aesthetics a decidedly Latina sabor....Que Viva Camelita!

ISBN: 0807066036

Lisa Alvarado

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A story: Within the Limits of My Post

Medical journal article abstract:
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an important source of morbidity in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Although penetrating brain injuries are more readily identified, closed brain injuries occur more commonly. Explosion or blast injury is the most common cause of war injuries. The contribution of the primary blast wave (primary blast injury) in brain injury is an area of active research. Individuals with TBI and posttraumatic stress disorder require treatment of both conditions. Families and communities need to be cognizant of the needs of these returning veterans.
Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.
Highlights From the 2nd Federal TBI Interagency Conference.
21(5):398-402, September/October 2006.
Warden, Deborah MD

Within the Limits of My Post

Michael Sedano

"No tienes hambre, Mi'jo?"

Irma Vigil looks at her son, Ernesto, with battered hope and a lot of fear. Ernesto doesn't even pick at his breakfast. She's prepared his favorite food, cocido and hand made tortillas de harina, hot off Mama's comal. Now he isn't answering, gives no indication he's heard. Six months now out of the Army, Ernesto’s affections remain out of reach. The silence is new.

Bloodshot eyes stare absently into the bowl of cocido. Ernesto sleeps only a few hours a night. He spends the silent predawn hours smoking mota, drinking tequilazos. Some nights, Irma wakes to listen to her son's side of long phone calls to his asshole buddy Ro. It is the only time her son grows animated again. Then he sounds like the laughing high school boy who'd volunteered the week after graduation. Now he stares at his breakfast and struggles to find the word in English for helote. And what's cabbage in Spanish? Does he butter, or salt, the tortilla?

Irma has learned not to move suddenly nor speak loudly, that emotions upset him. She gently probes, "Mi'jo?" She struggles for neutrality, to keep her mother's concern out of her speech, but she gets the kind of answer she feared would come from the empty shell of her son.

"It's too fucking hot, puta!"

Ernesto stands, screaming "Aaaaa" at the top of his lungs. He sweeps his right arm across the table, lofting the bowl of cocido into the air. Hot soup backsplashes onto Ernesto's furious arm, the rest of the soup and all of the steaming vegetables arc onto his mother's apron in a glistening cascade. The bowl shatters against the porcelain stove.

The tears in Mrs. Vigil's face come from puro fear at what has become of her little boy. Since his first day back—here, not home she thinks--Irma spends hours alternating between wondering where her sweet little boy has disappeared and wishing he was still in Iraq. He’d signed up straight out of high school. He came home on leave after AIT, when he’d hung around town with his buddies until he left for Iraq. He was still the same old Mr. Happy-go-lucky high school debater full of opinions and fancy talk talk talk. What the Army sent back to her is an impostor. There isn’t enough of the real Ernesto left to make this house a home.

The president did this to her son. She curses herself not for the first time, for being such a taruga, believing his lies both times. He said he cared about the soldiers but ran from his own duties. And the "other priorities" vice president handing out medals. Irma didn't say anything about that when she took her concerns to the recruiting office after Ernesto's first week back. The gigantic Marine referred her coldly to the Veterans Administration. “Three concussions,” the recruiter told her, meant she’d been lucky to “get him back in one piece.” Then the clerks at the VA told her at first that PTSD was for cowards and schemers, that what Irma read in the paper was yellow journalism. But they sent him for an interview and group counseling meetings. Last week Ernesto’s file was closed. The VA concluded Ernesto’s moodiness and problems were from drug and alcohol abuse.

Irma bends at the waist and pulls her apron away from her body. Steaming cabbage leaves slough off her garment and flop onto the bare wood floor. She grabs the broom and starts sweeping the mess toward the back door. Outdoors, the chickens recognize the sound of food coming their way and set off a cackle in their rush to the screen door. Ernesto’s head swivels from his mother's sweeping to the noise coming from the back door then back to the sweeper.

His mother's tears spark a flash of guilt. He starts to apologize but he bites off the words, the emotion turns back on itself. Anger wells but this time he recognizes it. He draws in his lips tightly, pushes his tongue against his teeth. He starts to chant in a low mumble, "Control, troop, control." The sound of Piolín, doing an irritating silly voice on the radio melds into the racket the gallinas make clamoring for their sweepings, melds into the "clack clack" of the broom hitting the stove, the rush of a passing car. Everything comes at Ernesto as one undifferentiated roar. His vision blurs, he sees his mother as a silhouette, a moving target. "Control, troop, control," he chants, "Control, troop, control." It had been his calming mantra during his 22 months in country.

BOOM! Ernesto sees the cloud of smoke and dust first, then a few seconds delay follow until the sound of the explosion reaches him. The timing, flames, dense black smoke, locate who took the hit. The third deuce and a half in convoy, the new girl’s truck. Now the point of highest danger, when the locals open up on anyone rushing to the rescue. "Bring 'em on," Ernesto thinks, "I'll nail them before they can duck for cover." He takes a breath, holds it, and exhales slowly. Concentrating on the feeling of his breath passing across his lips centers his focus. "Control, troop, control," Ernesto chants. From his position in the machine gun turret, Ernesto has a clear view of the landscape, sweeping his sights steadily from left to right, right to left, his eyes fixed forward to catch the slightest movement in off-axis vision. Anyone running--in any direction--anyone moving too fast, anyone poking their head out a window or the top of a building, squinty-eyed Ernesto knows he will spot them and squeeze the trigger on them. Sometimes he’s right, sometimes he’s wrong. But he never misses. "Control, troop, control." Then clouds of dust obscure his target. Sometimes Ernesto hears them scream.

"Control, troop, control." The first time Irma hears the phrase, Ernesto has called in the early morning, the end of his first month in Iraq. Ernesto is telling her not to worry about him. He explains how the most experienced soldiers are scared when they see action, and how most of the rookies fire wildly and hit nothing. "Ma, it's magic," he laughs. "Hincho mis ojos then
I just tell myself, 'control, troop, control' and just like that I'm all steady and sure.”

“Oh, Mi’jo, I’m so glad,” Irma interrupts.

“Then someone dies." He says this with dramatic effect in this teevee announcer voice. It’s a game they’ve played for years. In synch they sing their version of television teaser music, “tan tan tan tan.” Irma smiles knowing Ernesto is smiling with her, that miles and miles away, where it’s already tomorrow, she shares a smile with her son.

“It's them or me, Ma, and it ain't gonna be me. Relax, Ma, calma calma." Sure, she can relax now, knowing her baby boy has a sure-fire killing prayer. Irma crosses herself and kisses her hand five times.

Now Ernesto keeps his mother in his sights, ojos hinchados staring straight ahead, alert for movement at the periphery. Irma sweeps slowly, moving gingerly toward the door and the safety of her back yard. Ernesto's arm stings from the hot cocido so he wants to cry but men don’t cry. His fingers find the butter knife. He runs his thumb along the dull edge. "If she moves toward me, it'll have to do," he thinks. He watches the broom sweep and waits for the enemy to make a sudden move. "Control, troop, control," Irma hears him chanting and breathing, knowing what it means to him, knowing he means it for her.

The phone surprises him--an intrusive ring instead of a soft click. Ernesto presses the handset hard against his ear, listening for the alert. A call means some forward outpost has spotted movement "out there," heading his way so be on guard.

"Bravo niner niner, Specialist Vigil, Sir" he answers sotto voce.

"Bueno, Ernie, no 'sta tu 'ama?"

Ernesto's eye grow wide with alarm, then he slams the phone into the cradle. "Raghead trick," he says, "something's up." Training kicks in. He squinches his eyes into slits. It's supposed to cut the glare, takes the details out of a landscape and you look for movement alone. Anything that moves needs to be dead. Ernesto's eyes sweep the field of fire in a 180 degree pattern. The target moves out of vision, that's OK. Ro has his back.

"Ro?" he whispers, "Ro, you got it? Ro?"

Last Thanksgiving Robledo stormed through the transit barracks, screaming. "Goddamned headquarters bullshit! Goddamned headquarters bullshit!"

"What's up, bro?" There was so much Hq B.S. Ernesto wanted clarification on Ro's most recent revelation. Ro would magnify it into something hilarious that would be another highlight of Ro’s novel. The unit had been assigned for R&R in the green zone, and they'd taken up residence in the EM transit barracks, AKA Paradise: Lights, electricity, air conditioning. Hot running water. 24 hours a day. Vending machines with refrigerated water, unmelted candy bars, microwave popcorn. Hot chow. And now a great big Thanksgiving Day dinner that couldn't be beat. They would rotate home from here.

"Put on your fuckin' dress uniform. No uniform, no turkey!" Robledo declared.

"Says who?" demanded Ernesto.

"Sergeant Major. BeeCee's order."

"What total bullshit!" Ernesto was on his feet now. There was nothing hilarious in this total Lifer bullshit. "We're out there every day in the dirt and sun, no chow, no baths, no PX, and the fuckin BeeCee 24/7 basks in all this cushy luxury. Now he wants us to dress up for Thanksgiving or we don't get to eat? Fuck that shit, just fuck him all to hell and back, and the pinche white horse he rode in on!"

Ernesto thought about digging through his duffel for the dress uniform he'd rolled tight and stuffed into the bottom of the heavy canvas bag. He had to do it anyhow, to process out. Torn between thoughts of turkey cranberry sauce mashed papas gravy pie, the works, and the total bullshit of being forced to put on the dress uniform, Thanksgiving lost and bullshit won.

"Let's get some kabobs from Falafel Freddy, Ro. We’ll eat turkey when we get back to the world, man!" And that's what they would have done. Everything would have been hunky dory, as Sergeant Major liked to say, except some asshole drew a bead on Robledo and shot Robledo in the head. Ro hadn't even tasted Falafel Freddy's chicken, "Famous from Boston to Baghdad" the sign read. Three days later, Ernesto walked into his mother’s front door.

"Ma," Ernesto cries, "Ro was a good guy. The best. Ma, how come Ro had to die? How come they wouldn't let us have any cocono, Ma?" Ernesto buries his face into both hands, then drags his fingernails deep across his forehead and cheeks. He slaps his face to rub off the tears and the palm comes back bloody. He holds them out to his mother. "Ma, Ro didn't have a face, he didn't have any face left, Ma."

Mrs. Vigil slips out the door and listens to the misery overwhelm the son she'd lost in Iraq, and decides what has to be done. The medical review board has declared Ernesto's problems "unrelated to military service," so there is no money, no help. The counselor told her not to appeal, still, he said it was urgent to get the veteran into private medical treatment. "Arnie is in a world of hurt, Ma'am, and there’s no way the VA can help."

"His name is Ernesto," Irma declared, "Ernesto, after his grandfather." The man stared through her. He didn't understand her point and waited quietly for the woman to vacate his space.

Irma climbs to the garage rafters to bring down her father's memento box. Ernesto Grande, she thinks proudly, the neighborhood called her father Ernesto Grande. Not because Dad was tall-- he was a short indio-- but because he merited so much respect. Her son was Ernesto Chiquito, a name he wore proudly.

The boy worked hard to earn money, mowing lawns in the Anglo part of town, delivering free newspapers for whatever he could collect, picking aluminum and bottles out of trashcans, walking across town to the scrap yard because they paid more per pound. The boy wanted money not for himself but to help his mom pay the bills. Ernesto Chiquito was a good son, everyone said so.

But now the neighbors call her son "Ernesto loco," and cross the street when they spot mother or son walking to the bus. The memento box holds Ernesto Grande's World War II stuff. Three pieces of shrapnel that he'd carried in his body from Normandy to Paris. "I'm saving them for Private Ryan," Ernesto Grande had laughed. She didn't like touching the Nazi paraphernalia, buttons, medals, leather cases Big Ernie had taken from the bodies of men he'd killed on the road to Leipzig. Irma finds what she is looking for, wrapped in one of Ernesto Chiquito's tie-dyed diapers. Mother holds baby’s diaper to her nose. She breathes in desperately to catch the lost scent of that precious infant. The smell of gun oil drags her back to the moment. She cries as she unwraps the pistol, a Walther PPK. "James Bond's gun", her Dad always laughed. She chambers a round, flicks off the safety, and waits at the top of the ladder for night.

It is dark in the kitchen where Ernesto still sits at the table, talking to himself. "Sir, my first general order is, 'I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.'" Irma stands outside the back door, listening to Ernesto repeat the words over and over. "Sir, my first general order is, 'I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.’ Sir, 'I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.’ Sir..."

Irma coughs to alert her son she is near. Silence blares from the kitchen. He resumes the chant. Irma pulls the screen door slowly, hoping to stifle the noisy hinges and slip quickly into the shadows. Ernesto stops with the sound, then resumes his chant where he'd left off.

"... will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.’ Sir..."

Tiptoeing slowly forward, she approaches the kitchen table where her lost little boy sits. Her fingers guide her slow progress around the unseen table where step by step brings her pistol hand within touching distance of the hollowed source of the empty voice that repeats its first general order with meaningless precision.

"...I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.’ Sir..."

The shadows are darker where Ernesto fills the chair. He stops chanting, slumps forward in the chair, his face hits the table, he is silent. His mother inches her way forward until she feels the heat her suffering child’s body gives off. The pistol feels like an angel's feather in her hand. Her thumb finds the safety. It sets with a click.

“Ma?” Ernesto asks out of the dark, “What are we gonna do, Ma?”

Mother’s arms find child’s shoulders, child’s arms find Mama’s waist. They tremble together like that until the dark turns to daylight.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Manuel Muñoz Shortlisted For Frank O'Connor Prize

Authors from five countries, including two from the United States, have been shortlisted for this year's Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize. This is the third year of the prize, which is funded by Cork City Council, administered by the Munster Literature Centre in Cork, and is awarded in association with The Irish Times.

The €35,000 prize will be presented during the closing ceremony of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Festival in Cork this September. The award was originally established as part of Cork's year as European Capital of Culture in 2005 and is the most valuable prize in the world for a short story collection.

The authors shortlisted for the 2007 prize include two filmmakers, an actor and the erstwhile chief executive of two of the world's largest digital media companies.

They are: British writer Simon Robson for The Separate Heart (Jonathan Cape); Olaf Olafsson, from Iceland, for Valentines (Pantheon Books); Etgar Keret, from Israel, for Missing Kissinger (Chatto & Windus); Miranda July, from the United States, for No One Belongs Here More Than You (Canongate); Charlotte Grimshaw, from New Zealand, for Opportunity (Random House); and Manuel Muñoz, from the United States, for The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue (Algonquin Books).

The judges this year are authors Rick Moody, Segun Afolabi and Nuala Ní Chonchúir, and the chairman of the panel is Munster Literature Centre director Pat Cotter.

If you missed it, La Bloga recently interviewed Muñoz.

◙ Ramón Rentaría, book editor for the El Paso Times, discusses Ana Castillo’s forthcoming novel, The Guardians (Random House). He notes that advance industry reviews have been positive for this new book which officially arrives on the bookshelves July 31. He also notes: “Castillo will introduce the novel Friday at a Border Book Festival book release party in Mesilla. She will then launch a major book tour, which will take her to various cities in New Mexico, Colorado and California and later to the East Coast and her native Chicago.” Also in the El Paso Times, Sergio Troncoso offers a review of the same novel stating, in part: "This is a wonderful novel that does justice to life on the Mexican-American border."

◙ The new issue of Beltway Poetry Review features five poets including Francisco Aragón, director of Letras Latinas at the University of Notre Dame. Check out Aragón’s piece in PoetryFoundation on six poets featured in his anthology, The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry (University of Arizona Press).

Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural – the renowned bookstore/cultural center from the Northeast San Fernando Valley – will be holding its first annual “Celebration of Community & Culture – Si Se Puede! / Yes We Can!” benefit on July 29, 2007, at 6 p.m. sharp, at the beautiful, historic Ford Amphitheatre.

The artists uniting to benefit Tía Chucha's include: the comedy and social commentary of nationally acclaimed Chicano/Latino theater troupe Culture Clash (Zorro in Hell, Water & Power, Chavez Ravine), Latin Jazz/R&B by East L.A. legends Tierra featuring the Salas Brothers(Together), poetry by award winning author and founder of Tía Chucha's Luis J. Rodriguez(Always Running, The Republic of East L.A.), spoken word by founding member and drummer of The Doors, John Densmore, world punk by genre bending upstarts Ollin (San Patricios), foot shaking ska/funk/cumbia by new Eastside sensations Upground, electrifying consciousness hip hop by Xela and El Vuh, ceremonial danza azteca by Tem achtía Quetzalcoatl, and hosted by the hilarious new comedian Ernie G. (Comedy Central).

Tía Chucha’s was part of a cultural complex that included a café, bookstore, art gallery, cyber café, performance space, and workshop center in the community of Sylmar for more than five years. In that time, writers such as Sandra Cisneros and Victor Villaseñor performed there along with the talents of Cultural Clash, Lalo Alcaraz, Quetzal, the Blues Project, Chusma Theater, Bill Santiago, the late Lalo Guerrero, and many other musicians, theater groups, comedians, artists, writers, and community leaders. Unfortunately, last January, their landlords served Tía Chucha’s with a notice to vacate – to be replaced by a multi-million dollar laundry operation. The community rallied behind this vital cultural space, which now has a smaller location in the Lake View Terrace community.

For tickets and additional information, click here.

◙ Alvaro Huerta’s story, “Petty Hustling Is Not So Easily Picked Up By Amateurs,” appeared last week in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine. Huerta is a writer, social activist and doctoral student at UC Berkeley's department of city and regional planning. Raised in East Los Angeles, he lives in Albany with his wife, Antonia, and son, Joaquin. His short story, “Los Dos Smileys,” is featured in the forthcoming Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press).

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

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Aracelis Girmay/Teeth

Aracelis Girmay makes me want to be a better writer. In TEETH, poetry rises de sudor y socorro, spun from ancestral bones and living blood. Girmay's been fortunate to have Martín Espada as a mentor, and their work is kindred, drawing you down, drawing you in, and reflecting a world view where the personal and the political are one. But make no mistake, she is absolutely and clearly her own woman, fully articulate in her own voice and subject matter.

Girmay's writing dances on the razor's edge, sharp, glittering, precise. She skillfully celebrates culture, yet bares the thousand cuts of injustices large and small. Her work reminds me of an indelible scene in Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior. In the scene, the heroine's parents make knife cuts along the whole of her back, inscribing the harm done to them and the villagers at the hands of the overlord. It is a wound and stunning beauty, an indelible branding of history, the deepest possible oath.

But TEETH is not a mere recitation of oppression. Again, like Espada, the writing holds triumph and resilience, a faith rooted in the goodness and perseverance of working people. Girmay is also a teacher and her work with young people feeds and informs her work in specific and at the soul level.