Friday, November 14, 2008

Soul-Stirring Words

In this edition of La Bloga:

Words To Stir The Soul

Adiós, La Mano Press

Remembering 1968

A Dozen On Denver

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of participating in Words To Stir The Soul, an annual event (for twelve years now) sponsored by the Center of the American West. This is quite a literary happening. The idea is to bring together a diverse group of people (professors, writers, artists, community leaders, etc.) to read from their favorite literature, usually around a common theme. Each reader gets five minutes only (and a very short amount of time for an introduction and to provide some context), but the reading selections are up to the individual readers. Words To Stir The Soul has always been a multi-hued, multi-layered celebration of literature.

Here's the introduction from the printed program:

Words To Stir The Soul spotlights some of the region's best writing by providing a unique opportunity for both readers and attendees to deepen their appreciation of the region in which we live. In this process, the Center of the American West strives to create dialogue and establish non-partisan relationships that can lift us above the rhetoric that frequently governs public dialogue about the complex issues we face as westerners. When we conceived this event, we did so with the faith that the better angels of our nature would prevail. We hope you enjoy tonight's reading.

This year's event focused on immigration and the intent was to present works that discussed the topic in a creative, artistic fashion, and not necessarily as part of a political debate or polemic.

Patty Limerick, the Faculty Director of the Center, is an enthusiastic host for this event; she's enthusiastic about everything she does and if you ever get a chance to see her you should jump at the opportunity. Read one of her thought-provoking opinion pieces in periodicals such as the Rocky Mountain News, New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She introduced this year's program and the readers by reminding the audience that immigration issues, questions, and concerns are not new topics in the West and that many Western writers have tackled the subject.

I chose for my reading the first few pages of John Phillip Santos' incredible memoir, Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation (Viking, 1999). This book was a finalist for the National Book Award and in 2006 was the One Book, One City selection for San Antonio. I chose it because it faithfully, and beautifully, conveys the duality of the Mexican-American experience - roots in this country that go deep, for hundreds of years, and yet often we are newcomers, fresh from the border, in our own heads and in the eyes of our fellow residents of this contradictory, confusing country.

I'll list here some of the other readers (a complete list is here - heavy on professors this year) and their selections, many of which should be familiar to La Bloga readers:

Steve Burkholder, former Mayor of Lakewood, Colorado, read from Luis Alberto Urrea's The Devil's Highway (Back Bay Books, 2005), one of La Bloga's all-time favorites;

Daryl Maeda, Professor in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, chose No-No Boy by John Okada (University of Washington Press, 1978); this reading made me want to read Okada's classic; it's now on my list;

José Mercado, Asst. Professor in the Department of Theater, Film & Video Production, University of Colorado, Denver, read Federico Peña's speech, We Are America, originally presented by the former Mayor of Denver at the massive Cinco de Mayo immigration rally in Denver in 2006;

John-Michael Rivera, Assoc. Professor in the Department of English, University of Colorado, Boulder, and Director of El Laboratorio, read from The People of Paper, Salvador Plascencia (Harvest Books, 2006); remember the controversy we discussed here about this book and its author?

MaryAnn Villarreal, Asst. Professor in the Department of History, University of Colorado, Boulder, presented selections from Crossing by Manuel Luis Martínez (Bilingual Review Press, 1998); another book added to my list because of this event; a photo of Villarreal from the event is to the right.

William Wei, Professor in the Department of History, University of Colorado, Boulder, read from America is in the Heart: A Personal History by Carlos Bulosan (University of Washington Press, 1974); this book should be on every one's list.

The nature of the event does not leave time for discussion after the readings, but that is certainly something that could be added. I have been thinking that I might try to put together my own version of Words to Stir the Soul. I would invite Latino/a writers, artists, musicians, teachers, entrepreneurs, etc., to read from their favorite book by a Latino/a writer - no set theme. Talk about encouraging literacy. Hook-up with a school, get the students to attend, and it could well be a night to remember, and a night with lasting impact. Don't you think we'd hear everything from Bless Me, Ultima to The Undead Kama Sutra, with a bit of Juan Felipe Herrera and the Hernandez Bros in-between? Now that's literature.

Muchisimas gracias to the Center of the American West for the invitation to participate.

I pass on this message:

"After five great years at La Mano Press we have decided to say goodbye to LA. For me it has been about 14 years of learning experiences, accomplishments, many good moments and many great friends. We, Silvia, myself and all the friends who
have collaborated with us, have done all our best to try to promote the arts in our communities. I hope we have at least left some mark along our way. We can no longer afford the expense of having La Mano Press open while we live and work in Mexico. I am already working on a nice project down there: EL HUERTO, a center for ecology and arts, a botanical garden with an adobe building
dedicated to the arts. To see it:

"This Saturday November 15, join us for the GRAFICOMOVIL party, a traveling mural, mobile cinema, gallery and print studio.

"After two years of a lot of hard work, Oscar Duardo and myself, have transformed the old and rusty 1947 delivery truck into this great piece of art. Now we want to take it to the streets and hopefully travel across country with it. In this
event we will be asking for your cooperation, to make this a reality. Almost forgot, we have designed and produced 2 new skate decks. In this event you will also get a chance to see them, as they are hot off the press.

"Our last event will be our Christmas sale on Dec. 5,6,7. As usual many artists
will be here to share their wonderful work. I hope to see you here so we can toast together for La Mano Press's past history and the hope of a great future for all of us. Invite friends.

Artemio Rodriguez"
La Mano Press - 1749 N. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90031

From forty years later, the events of 1968 appear as fantastic images caught in a strobe light, pulsing to the beat of countryfied rock music. Unreal, sometimes unbelievable, the people and passions of 1968 shine directly on what we have experienced in the very political year of 2008.

I've been thinking a lot about 1968. I recently wrote about that year in a novel I'm working on, and only a few weeks ago I watched the excellent animated documentary Chicago 10, which details the notorious trial of the men accused of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. I remember the big events of that year, of course - all around the world, revolution was on the agenda, revolution was in the air, as the poet said. From Mexico City to Paris, from Czechoslovakia to Northern Ireland. South Africa to Vietnam. Here in this country, student takeovers of university buildings ; the San Francisco State College student strike. Riots in the cities, antiwar marches and civil rights demonstrations. The hippie counter-culture, psychedelic music and drugs, free love and free form jazz. Chávez fasted for the farm workers. Chicano teachers and students in Los Angeles walked out of the classrooms for eight days. The assassinations: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The murders of progressive leaders, Black Panthers, Chicano activists, and many others. A year of conflict and climax; the year I grew up.

And I remember the not-so big events.

I worked in construction that summer, with my father, trying to earn enough to stay in school and save for a student life style that I hoped would be more than cheese and crackers, condensed soup and cheap wine. My Dad worked me to death but that made it easy for me to understand why I had to stay in school. I would come home totally exhausted, not able to do more than collapse on the living room floor and watch the news. I saw the city of Chicago hunt its own children, I heard the politicians call for the blood of the peace-mongers, and I knew which side I had to be on. It's been forty years since a group of very young Chicano students came back to the Colorado State University campus radicalized and "incited" by events that happened that summer, including the brutal attacks on the antiwar protesters in Grant Park, the same site where Barack Obama would acknowledge his election as President of the U.S. In 1968 that group of very young students created one of the first Chicano student organizations in the state - the Mexican American Committee for Equality (MACE). They made demands on the CSU administration for more students and teachers of color; for more relevant classes and degrees; for less of a university involvement in the U.S. war machine. MACE eventually formed a coalition with the Black Student Alliance; they protested, marched, disrupted, and worried through candlelight vigils. They were gassed, arrested, threatened with expulsion and violent injury. They lived what we now trivialize with the throw-away tag of "the Sixties."

Bottom line - MACE and the BSA created a recruitment, scholarship and mentoring program at CSU that has changed over the years, but it still functions and has provided assistance for thousands of students.

You got stuff from 1968?

This November, the city of Denver celebrates its 150th anniversary. In April, the Rocky Mountain News follows with its own 150th. To commemorate both, the News is running a special series titled A Dozen on Denver: Stories to Celebrate the City at 150. For the series, the News commissioned 11 Colorado authors to write original fiction. The authors were asked to choose a different decade of Denver's history, to mention Larimer Street at least once in their stories and to keep it all to 2,500 words.

The News has featured a new story each Tuesday since the beginning of the se
ries. Coming Friday (November 14 - today), look for a special section in print compiling all the stories, plus one additional piece: the winner of the News' story contest.

Also Friday, stop by the Denver Newspaper Agency lobby at 5 p.m. to meet some of the featured authors and help kick off the Rocky's 150th anniversary.
The public is invited to mix and mingle with many of the 12 Dozen on Denver authors, plus enjoy a beverage and light appetizers from 5 to 7 pm.

The party will be in the Denver Newspaper Agency lobby, 101 W. Colfax Ave., in downtown Denver. Rocky Publisher John Temple, Denver author Sandra Dallas and Rocky Books Editor Patti Thorn will share comments about the series and attendees are welcome to bring items for authors to autograph.

I'll see you there.



msedano said...

One day we'll reminisce about 2008, the last year of Artemio Rodriguez' gallery presence. The last year that Self Help Graphics occupied the corner of Chavez (née Brooklyn) & Gage. The year Obama was elected. The year a Chicana won the Nobel Prize for Literature. OK, so maybe the memory ain't what it used to be.

Corina said...

A wonderful post. I particularly like the info on the Words To Stir the Soul event. This year topic evoked a number of personal memoir on the subject of immigration.

Thanks for the inspiring post.

Ben O. said...

It was wonderful to stand alongside so many interesting and impressive local writers on Friday at the Dozen on Denver reception. The stories were excellent and the party was appropriate. A good time was certainly had by all.

Ben O.

norma landa flores said...

I remember 1968. That was the year my mother, Ruth Ochoa was recruited by Sal Castro, to be a Bilingual Teacher's Aide for the Los Angeles Unified School District. In the midst of the Chicano walk-outs and blow-outs, students were conducting, my mama met a Chicano poet, Guadalupe De Saavedra. He read my poetry and got me involved with the Brown Beréts. My initial meeting was at the Five Points Memorial Café in Boyle Heights. I met all of the Chicano movement's leaders that day and was appointed 'Minister of Education' for the Southeast Los Angeles District.

I conducted poetry and literature workshops for our Chicano youth and wrote a poem for 'El Malcriado', The Voice Of the Farm Worker which was published by the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee in Delano, California. The poem was published on Saturday, June 15, 1968 and I send it to you, with vivid memories of the days of our struggles:


In many towns of our southwest
Now, in the year of 1968,
Americanos who know they can do best,
Still treat their workers with prejudiced hate.
They pay meager wages and they detest
UFWOC leaders out by their gate.
Mexicans, Pilipinos, poor whites too,
Through scab labor, farmers make up their crew.

Black workers, yellow, brown and white alike
Call Cesar Chavez, the poor people's man.
Tell him your longing your wages to hike.
He'll help you, I know it, if anyone can.
Start a "Huelga," people, "Huelga" means "Strike,"
Non-violent pleading, profit will yield.

Once you have won and you're feeling so great,
You don't just "ease up," and leave it to fate.
Teach what you've learned to some less fortunate.
Pass on shared wisdom, and never forget:
"Teacher must move on to help other fights,
Pupils stay put and secure your won rights."

N.L. de Flores, 1968
Norma Landa Flores, 2008

Under the poem, the editor printed a photo of Cesar Chavez, surrounded by farm workers as he was being interviewed by the media. The caption reads, "Teach what you have learned..."

Norma Landa Flores,
Assoc. Professor, Retired
Department of Speech Communication
Golden West College
Huntington Beach, California