Wednesday, December 31, 2008

¡Feliz Año!

Happy New Year! These are my favorites songs to say goodbye to 2008. These songs are played tonight all over Latin America and in all Spanish radio stations in the USA. If you don’t have access to any radio en español, you can have your own La Bloga end of the year party. Hook up your speakers to your computer and begin to dance.

Here is my count down for un feliz año nuevo!

5- El viejo

An old tradition in Latin America is to burn the ‘old year’. Some people construct an old man dressed up with very old clothes and full of gunpowder. They hang up the old man in the streets and when New Year has come, they burn it. Other option is to create an old man piñata. This song is about this tradition.

4- Año nuevo, vida nueva

Yes, for the New Year there has to be a new life. A new year with new resolutions, what are your resolutions for 2009?

3- Vamos a brindar por el ausente

Great song if you are far away from your loved ones. For all the immigrants who are far away from their countries and families, this song is very special.

2- Cinco pa’ las doce

This song is played at 11:55. When it is five minutes to twelve, you will hear this song in all the corners of the Americas.

1- El año viejo

There is not an end of the year fiesta with out “El año viejo”. This song is a must at midnight. There are many versions, but this is the original.

Feliz año 2009

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Michael Sedano

Ancient Latinos subscribed to an educational system based upon what they termed the trivium. Fundamental schooling subjects included rhetoric, grammar, and logic. On the principle that nothing’s as practical as a good theory, I've adapted the ancient trivium into my view that communication competence in our modern society should pursue a trivium of Oracy, Literacy, Numeracy.

Numeracy includes skill with mathematics and electronic devices. Computer operating systems and software, like spreadsheets and multimedia, give the artist-writer, or job holder in post-industrial economies, essential competencies that enhance or determine their productivity and competitiveness.

Ditto the rest of the modern-ancient trivium.

Literacy includes reading and writing. La Bloga and similar places exist because we endorse, support, create things to read. The internet illustrates how numeracy and literacy intertwine. Writers must manage technology to create physical representations of their ideas.

Oracy includes varieties of speaking and listening, such as conversation, storytelling, reading aloud, and performance. Here is the sine qua non of the well-rounded, fully competent modern communicator. I think of speech as thinking made loud. Look back to Aristotle's day, when it was unthinkable a person would be unable to defend oneself in a swordfight. It became equally unthinkable the civilized person would be unable to defend oneself with speech. Is it only ironic, or causal, that the warmongering outgoing U.S. president has an unparalleled reputation for execrable speech and thoughtless wars?

In yet another irony, speaking or reading before an audience creates fearsome obstacles for many an otherwise competent communicator, like a writer reading her or his own stuff. Así es. Yet, a formalized oral presentation requires only a little extra effort--plus confidence and poise--to become suitable for an audience. Fortunately, skillful oral presentations can actually be easily produced: just sit in conversation with friends, hang a microphone around your neck, and share your stories. A public reading is much like that, simply an enlarged conversation. I look forward to the upcoming National Latino Writers Conference where I’ll be conducting a workshop on reading your own stuff. I love Oracy and look forward to seeing literate gente develop an equal regard for the spoken word, both as consumers and producers.

Spoken word consumers find numerous resources. Conversation--the good and the desultory, purposive and phatic--permeates our every waking moment. Too bad we cannot recycle wasted words and hot air. Ni modo. More worthwhile resources abound. Book release parties featuring writers reading their own stuff give opportunities to acquire a warm memory as well as a signed volume. Wondrous recorded resources come to one who seeks them. Calaca Press, for example, is a champion of spoken word performance, offering such precious resources as Raza Spoken Here, parts I & II, or When Skin Peels, among a library of eight spoken word titles. A unique aural resource—it comes with a book—is Poetry Speaks, edited by Elise Paschen and Rebekah Presson Mosby. It includes three CDs with in-their-own-voice poets from Tennyson and Yeats to Langston Hughes and Sylvia Plath. But at fifty bucks, the volume might be out of range of many, unlike a Calaca CD, whose prices run in the $15.00 range. I don't enthusiastically recommend the Poetry Speaks to Children series because parents and friends, not some record player, should be reading aloud to kids. But such a book is a model of what you can do on your own.

Aside from stagefright in public performance, producing spoken word recordings for public uses is relatively easy for someone with access to the internet and a good computer. Such technology may be available free, at a public library.

I used to lament how the internet has become increasingly like television, instead of the text-heavy screens of yesteryear. But there’s a lot of good that comes with this ill wind. In fact, the internet may be today's last bastion of Oracy, provided gente have the skills to produce files that work on PC, Mac, and other devices, and website owners do not take down their sites.

Such a site is Joseph Puentes’ Puentes started the site with high hopes of attracting large numbers of people who would record oral history, cuentos, lectures, any variety of audio material, to make available, free, via the internet. Puentes includes tutorial material on making your own Podcasts, and makes the site freely available to anyone with a voice.

Sadly, the site is not easily perused. Some links go to a text screen where links to Podcasts lie somewhere on the page; other links suffer from lack of bookmarks that force the user to search the screen for the desired result. In every case, navigating the resource would be more convenient with a single mouseclick linked directly to the aural target file.

Such shortcomings are not great, but people, I suspect, desire something that works more efficiently. Owing, perhaps, to these technology deterrents, and despite Puentes’ vision of a public access resource, relatively few contributors emerged to populate the site.

Turnout has been so limited, in fact, that Puentes has turned his energies to environmental causes and has let the Nuestra Familia Unida site go dormant. Via email, I asked if there had been a specific day or event that led to his decision. Puentes responded, “there was a lack of interest and my conviction grew about doing something for the environment. I shifted my energies to what I determined to be a more important project. No critical incident or day. I had been beating my head against the wall to get folks to participate and decided that I wasn't interested in trying to talk folks into doing something that I felt should be something they would jump at the opportunity to do.”

I hope people will jump at the opportunity to browse through Nuestra Familia Unida, and make the added effort of recording Podcasts and depositing them to the site. Every voice has something of value to add, if not a visit with an abuelo, an interview with a three year old about her favorite books, if not a winning contest speech then a collection of poems read at sleepytime to one's child. Think of the memories ten years hence!

One exception to the limited public use of Nuestra Familia Unida has been Frank Sifuentes. One of the organizers of the 1973 Festival de Flor Y Canto (pictured here is Sifuentes greeting poet Juan Felipe Herrera), Sifuentes is producing an extensive collection of cuentos and oral history recordings. A number of other recordings add value to the site; Sifuentes’ is one of several who will provide hours of listening enjoyment.

To find Sifuentes’ work, navigate first to Oral History, where the titles include, “Places Left Unfinished at the Time of Creation,” “Cuentos De Kiko - Frank Moreno Sifuentes,” “Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul (,” “Chamuscando & Abuelita Virginia,” and “1953 Boronda Family History: Francesca Abby & Emma Ambrosia.” Sifuentes is Kiko.

Puentes introduces Sifuentes, noting, “I'm so happy to introduce Frank Moreno Sifuentes to the Nuestra Familia Unida podcast community. In this series of Oral History Cuentos expect to hear about one family, but the experiences are those of an immigrant nation.” Sifuentes adds a biographical note, “Frank Moreno Sifuentes, 74. Born in Austin, Texas when its population was only 38,000 (now around 1,000,000!) In 1950 joined the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. After getting out fell in love with Sarah Diaz; and married in Compton, CA. We had three daughters and three sons; and now have 11 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.”

Frank Sifuentes read his story, “The Bean Contest,” at the 1973 Festival de Flor Y Canto, which I append below for an audiovisual sample whose updated, extended version you can enjoy--ears only--at (Video ©2008 University of Southern California. All rights reserved.)

Click here to view Frank Sifuentes reading "The Bean Contest"

So goes the final Tuesday of the year 2008. ¡Increíble! Here comes 2009, and right around the corner, will be 2010 and the year of El Festival de Flor Y Canto 2010. This year ends with me still searching for those original artists from 1973. Frank Sifuentes, I found. Juan Felipe Herrera, I found. They weren't hard to locate. Last week, I think I located Enrique La Madrid, at UNM (if he'd answer his email). But you / those others? Nothing on the horizon, as far as I can see, even on a clear Califas winter day.

Have a happy new year! Celebrate sensibly and cerebrate with unrestrained abandon! 

Do remember, La Bloga welcomes your comments on this and any column. If you have a lead to those writers who performed back in 1973, email me. Click the Comments counter below, and share your thoughts. Guest columnists make regular posts on La Bloga, too. To inquire about your invitation to be our guest, click here and tell us your idea for a book review, an arts or cultural event critique, some key thoughts from your writer's journal, or something you'd like to share.

See you in 2009.


Monday, December 29, 2008

The Power of Fiction

Daniel Chacón's cutting short stories explore effects of lies on life

Unending Rooms: Stories (Black Lawrence Press, $18 paperback) by Daniel Chacón

Book review by Daniel Olivas

A recurring theme in Daniel Chacón's new short story collection, Unending Rooms: Stories (Black Lawrence Press, $18 paperback), is the manner by which fiction informs our lives, and vice versa.

In the first piece, "John Boyd's Story," the narrator tells us about a graduate seminar in fiction writing at the University of Oregon. He is Chicano, and the only other "brown" person in the seminar is John Boyd, a Native American who was "a skin off the same rez as Sherman Alexie."

The white writers in the group love Boyd's stories -- until he writes one about a Native American who does a bit of violence against a condescending white graduate student doing a study on reservation life. The white writers complain: "What happened to those beautiful stories you used to write? Where are your trees and mystical rivers and schools of metaphysical salmon, slipping between the rocks?"

You can almost hear Chacón chuckling to himself as we read those words.

The power of fiction works its way into "Daniel 13," where two old men attempt to rape the young and beautiful Susana, the wife of an older, wealthy rancher. When Susana reports the attack to the police, the newspapers, at first, report the truth, "but the old men asserted their power, and then some papers reported another version."

In time, the newspapers stop referring to the "attempted rape," instead calling it a "sex scandal" based on the fictional version offered up by her assailants.

Eventually, a reformed "hardcore gangbanger" named Daniel becomes enraged when he learns of these lies. He becomes not only Susana's avenger, but also an avenger for truth over vicious fiction.

Chacón's characters are often obsessed with books and the stories in them, sometimes to an unhealthy degree. In "Page 55," a man enters a rather odd used-book store that resembles a house more than a place of business. He finds an ancient tome, "The Life Expectancy of the Dog," which at first seems boring -- but he suddenly "got this sensation that it was worth more than the bookseller knew." He buys the book and goes to an outdoor café to read it.

A beggar interrupts him but he ignores the request for money. The beggar eventually issues a curse: "May you die reading that book." This malediction turns the man into an obsessive reader, who now believes that he will die at the same age as the number on the page he stops reading. Unfortunately, the book is far from compelling.

Sometimes, books are used by young men to romance the opposite sex, but not always successfully. In the hilarious "The Day They Discovered Rain," the narrator decides to convert one of his spare rooms into a library:

"How nice, I thought, to be able to come home from a long day at work, to plop my half-dead body on a leather armchair and read a good book, something classic ... ."

He spends too much money on magnificent lawyer bookshelves, only to find that he still has piles of books without a place to put them. He subsequently develops a crush on a bookstore clerk who is decidedly unimpressed by his book collection until, one day, he makes up the title of a poem -- which also serves as the title of the story. At the young woman's urging, he "quotes" from it. Word to the wise: Do not woo a woman by making up allegedly famous poems.

The two dozen stories in Chacón's Unending Rooms reveal the sharp insight and cutting humor of a consummate writer who is obsessed by the power of fiction and the way we weave it -- purposefully or inadvertently -- into our lives.

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

◙ Tony Barboza, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, tells us about MacArthur award winner Rueben Martinez’s new gig:

Rueben Martinez is known for his many callings: Barber. Longtime bookstore owner. MacArthur award winner. Speaker at high schools, colleges and universities across the country. Holder of more honorary degrees than he can count.

And now Martinez, 68, is a college professor. A presidential fellow, to be exact.

Starting next month, Martinez will be responsible for Chapman University's efforts to recruit first-generation students, especially Latinos, into science and math programs.

University administrators said the fellowship is part of a twofold strategy of boosting its science enrollment while more aggressively recruiting students from such central Orange County communities as Santa Ana, Anaheim and Orange -- where the 6,000-student campus is located.


[Mike] Pelly, the admissions vice chancellor, said that Chapman plans to commit more scholarship money to math and science students.

But even hiring Martinez was not sure a sure bet. Martinez balked when Cardinal approached him, saying that he lacked the standard credentials. "I have a high school diploma, how am I qualified to do this job?" Martinez recalled asking.

But he has slowly come around to thinking of himself as an educator. When he recently received a letter from Chapman addressing him as Professor Martinez, it was such a source of pride that he showed it to all of his bookstore customers.

"I've walked through campuses all my life but never attended classes," he said. "Who would ever think that people would be calling me professor?"

Read the rest of the story here.

[Photo credit: Robert Lachman for the Los Angeles Times.]


A Daughter's a Daughter

by Nash Candelaria

From the publisher: A Daughter's a Daughter follows three generations of women in a family, beginning with Liberata, the only daughter of the most prosperous farmer in Los Rafas. When she decides to marry a handsome opportunist, Liberata unquestioningly expects to live out a happy life along the traditional course set forth by her forebears, only to discover that her husband is abusive and unfaithful. Liberata communicates her distrust of men to her daughter, María, who does not understand, but instead follows her mother's example and obediently conducts her life with traditional values. The women in the family repeat the lives of their mothers until María's daughter Irene breaks the pattern. In the process, she discovers and learns to value her Chicano roots and rebels against the oppressive gender roles of the previous generations. Finally, as Liberata lies dying, Irene discovers a shocking secret about the origin of the legacy she has been given.

As 2008 comes to an end, we’re seeing many “best of” lists being published. Over at the San Antonio Express-News, staff writer Deborah Martin noted that “[t]here was quite a range of material covered on San Antonio stages this year — the strongest work included a musical that included puppet sex and a bracing Sam Shepard play about embattled brothers.” And here’s one play she includes on her list that we at La Bloga have covered…in Ms. Martin’s words:

"Rancho Pancho" and "The Glass Menagerie," Classic Theatre: The Classic premiered with a sensational one-two punch. "Rancho Pancho," San Antonio playwright Gregg Barrios' piece about the little-known relationship between Tennessee Williams and Texan Pancho Rodriguez, was a dazzling debut. (And, as marvelous as it was at Jump-Start Theater, it was even stronger in Massachusetts, where the troupe performed it as part of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival.) The Classic built on that promise with a truly gorgeous "Menagerie," including Terri Peña Ross' heartbreaking turn as Amanda Wingfield.

Read the entire list here.

[Actors pictured: Benny Briseno as Pancho and Rick Frederick as Tennessee.]

◙ That’s all for this week. So, in the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

Friday, December 26, 2008

He Really Said That? 2008 Quotes

Okay, the reality is that there may be like 6 people reading La Bloga on the day after Christmas, and 3 of them are here in my house. Still, it's my turn, so I had to come up with something. I decided to use someone's else's words. Here are a few quotes from 2008. Seems like an easy way to reflect and look forward at the same time. The reasons I chose these particular quotes are as varied as the snowflakes that did not fall on North Denver on Christmas Day; I'll just say that when I read them I thought they were interesting enough to copy and paste. I avoided the more obvious and infamous quotes from Jesse Jackson and Sarah Palin, for example, but I'm sure you've heard some of these already.

"If Jesus came back today, I think he'd throw up." -- Former Gov. Jesse Ventura.

"I know I'm ugly, but I need love like everyone else." -- Yu Zhenhuan, the world's hairiest man.

"How did Bush go from being an alcoholic bum to the most powerful figure in the world?" -- Oliver Stone.

"I think that, in retrospect, I could have used a different rhetoric. Phrases such as 'bring them on' or 'dead or alive' indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace." -- George W Bush.

"We have to do something about his [Obama's] skinny legs. He has to do squats." -- Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I've been sleeping like a baby: sleep two hours, wake up and cry, sleep two hours, wake up and cry." -- John McCain in his first interview after his electoral defeat.

"Artists have said that New Mexico's biggest asset is the color of the mornings and evenings. It spurs creativity." -- Bill Richardson.

"'Find him,' the alien said. 'Find the man who killed me.' I sat on the alien's bed. We were on the second floor of a cheap motel in Sarasota, Florida. To get up the stairs I had to get past three hookers, their pimp, and a blind man selling pot - for medicinal purposes only, of course." Mario Acevedo, The Undead Kama Sutra.

"While we're still the US sales leader, we acknowledge we have disappointed you." -- General Motors, in full-page ad in Automotive News.

“I remember going to a huge waterfall on a glacier in Iceland. People were there on a rock-platform overlook to see it. They had their kids. There was a place that wasn't sealed off, but it had a cable that stopped anybody from going past a certain point. I said to myself, you know, in the States they'd have that hurricane-fenced off, because they're afraid somebody's gonna fall and some lawyer's going to appear. There, the mentality was like it was in America in the old days: If you fall, you're stupid.” Clint Eastwood.

"I only eat so that I can smoke and stay alive." -- Harry Dean Stanton.

"No anthology can give a complete picture of its theme because that would require a book of infinite pages. This is particularly true with this volume, which draws its stories from a wildly diverse group of people who can be loosely categorized under the umbrella of 'Latinos' and who live in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. But if I had one goal in editing this anthology, it was to bring together some of the best contemporary Latino fiction about my home." Daniel Olivas, Preface to Latinos in Lotusland.

¡Próspero Año Nuevo! Don't let the sum-na-beeches get you down.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Poinsettias

Copyright © by René Colato Laínez

“Today you can make a Christmas card,” said Mrs. Allen, my ESL teacher.

“What is Cris-más?" I asked her.

“¡Navidad!” chanted Carlos and Josue behind me.

I turned around. There they were making funny faces at me. They always did that when I asked the teacher a “dumb” question.

“I can do a tarjeta de Navidad,” I said, and got a pencil and piece of white construction paper. I folded the paper in half. “I know what to do,” I said to myself.

I drew a circle and added long pointed petals around it. I colored the flower with my red marker. I drew two other pascuas and a candle on the card. Looking at my pascuas, I remembered my Mamá and I collecting pascuas in San Salvador.

We did not have a garden but Mamá needed the pascuas to take them to la Virgen de Guadalupe the next day, on December 12th. Mamá promised las pascuas to la Virgen. She was coming to the USA the following month and those pascuas were very important for her. La Virgen would help her on her way to the USA, and she would also protect my brothers, Papá and I who had to stay behind in El Salvador. But she would need to find the pascuas and take them to the Basílica de Guadalupe in San Salvador. Where could we find the pascuas? At el mercado for sure, but we did not have money.

“Let’s go to a rich person's house,” Mamá said. “It is December and for sure they will have some pascuas.”

We climbed down the flight of stairs, crossed the broken bridge, passed some cardboard houses and el mercado. Then we took a bus to Colonia Escalón. In an hour, we were in front of a rico's house. We looked through the iron gate and saw pascuas plants.

“This house looks so pipirisnais, very elegant,” Mamá said. “I am afraid to even knock.”

Soon some dogs were barking at us and a lady peeked through a window.

“¿Qué quieren? Go away or I will call the police,” she cried.

“Vámonos,” Mamá said. “I told you.”

I said, “We need some pascuas to take it to la Virgen de Guadalupe. My mom made a promise and wants to take some pascuas tomorrow to la basilica.”

The woman ran to the gate. “If it is for la Virgen, take as many as you want,” she said.

So, the following morning we took las pascuas to la Virgen. My mother prayed at the altar and asked for protection for her and her children.

“René, René!” Mrs. Allen said touching my shoulder. “Pay attention.”

I jumped from my seat and Carlos and Josue giggled. “René is on the moon!” they chanted together.

“Mrs. Allen, look!” I showed her my card.

“You need to write something inside,” she said.

I rubbed my head. “What should I write? Feliz Navidad? But it must be in English.” I knew that feliz was happy, so I wrote “Happy Christmas.”

Carlos and Josue looked at my card and made dumb faces. “That’s wrong! It is not Happy Christmas. It is Merry Christmas.”

“Mary Christmas! You are crazy. It cannot be María Navidad.”

“No es Mary like María. It is Merry Christmas.”

“Marry Christmas! La Navidad no se va a casar. It is not getting married,” I told them, as the bell rang.

“Believe us!” Carlos and Josue told me on the playground.

I shook my head. I had been in trouble before for listening to Carlos and Josue. When I met them on the first day on the school bus, they wanted to teach me how to say, “Me llamo René” in English.

“You have to say ‘Me llamo René,’ many times today. You better practice,” they said.

“Repeat,” they told me. “I am dumb René.”

“Eso está difícil,” I said, and started to repeat after them.

When we arrived at school, they patted me on my back. “You will learn English very fast with us,” they said.

On my first day of school I was the dumb René. Now Carlos and Josue were lairs, and I did not believe anything they said.

But what if Happy Christmas was not right? Well, I had another option. I could write, “Felices fiestas, Happy parties.” But parties did not sound good. It was not a party like a birthday party. It was an important fiesta. Then I had a great idea. I could write, “Felices pascuas.”

Everyone said "Felices pascuas" at midnight on Christmas Eve in El Salvador.

“Felices pascuas,” and then a kiss.

“Felices pascuas,” and a big hug.

“Felices pascuas,” and a gift from el padrino.

Yes, Felices pascuas, while the midnight sky looked so bright with so many fireworks, when the booming sounds did not scare anybody because everyone knew they were cuetes and not bullets from guns or rifles. I ran to my desk to write “Felices pascuas”.

I wrote “Happy” on the card. “How do I write pascuas?” I asked myself.

I looked at Carlos and Josue. For sure not ask them, for they might say pascuas was a pair of stinky chanclas or an old underwear. I looked in my English/Spanish dictionary but pascua was not in there. Should I write “Happy Flowers?” But flowers were flores and not pascuas. I went to my teacher’s desk to ask her for her fat English/ Spanish dictionary.

“Good for you René, you can take it,” she answered.

Soon enough I had a long word in front of me--poinsettia--a long and strange name for pascua. But I was happy because I had found my word!

I wrote with different colors, “Happy Poinsettias for my teacher Mrs. Allen.”

Then I walked to her desk and told her, “It is for you, Teacher.” She opened it and gave me a hug. “This is the way we say 'Feliz Navidad' in El Salvador--Felices pascuas,” I told her.

“René, you have worked so hard today, and you are right: pascuas are poinsettias,” she said and took a big Santa Claus sticker from her treasure box. “This is for you.”

Carlos and Josue stood up and said at once, “Happy poinsettias, Teacher. Happy poinsettias.”

When the school bell rang, Mrs. Allen told me, “Don’t go yet. Do you know who José Feliciano is?”

I nodded. “He is a singer, un cantante.”

“Yes, he is! Have you heard his Christmas song?”

I shook my head.

She smiled and opened a drawer. “Let’s listen to this song.”

Mrs. Allen played the song, and José Feliciano’s voice filled the classroom. I started singing with Mrs. Allen:

“Feliz Navidad, Feliz Navidad,
Prospero Año y Felicidad.
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas,
I wanna wish you a Merry Christmas
from the bottom of my heart."

“Merry Christmas,” I said to Mrs. Allen.

“Merry Christmas, René,” she said. “You can take the tape home and learn the song. Tomorrow you can teach it to all the students. We will sing it for the Christmas show.”

“Yes, Teacher,” I told her, and ran to catch the school bus.

I waved to the bus driver to stop and sat down behind Carlos and Josue. They started to tease me, but I did not listen. I had extra homework to do, to teach the song to Mamá and Papá and also to my brothers in El Salvador. I would call them and say, “I know a song in English. Listen.”

They would be very proud of me!

Happy Poinsettias to all the La Bloga readers. That’s another way to say Feliz Navidad.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A letter to Santa

Michael Sedano

Dear Santa:

Seems like only yesterday I was writing you, all I wanted was my two front teeth so I could with you merry chrithmath. And here we are today. Several fake teeth and numerous fillings, but my two front teeth are all mine, so thanks for granting me that small wish.

Then there was that bit of trouble, remember? I saw Mommy kissing you underneath the mistletoe that night. How was I to know Dad was wearing your suit? I got sent to my room, but I didn't shout, I didn't pout. I knew about that list you keep and check twice. I did not want a couple lumps of coal instead of that Red Ryder BB Gun. Thank you, I see fine with one eye, it's not your fault. And it got me out of the draft back in '68, so all in all, that was a good Christmas for me.

I don't know what Grandma did to piss you off, or maybe it was just the worst time of the year for such a journey, the ways deep and the weather sharp, the very dead of winter, and all of that. But getting run over by reindeer is a hard way to reaffirm one's belief in myths. Did I say that? I meant the true spirit of X-mas and, of course, your existence, Santa. I shall be glad of another sale.

And now that I know you have a low tolerance for ambiguity—last year I asked for RAM and got a whole herd of Bo-Peep's sheep; I meant computer memory--I am going to keep this short, sweet, and specific, OK?

First of all, I want World Peace. Am I dreaming the impossible dream? Shouldn’t my reach exceed my grasp? Are my arms too short?

Next, all I want is a room somewhere. You know, far away from the cold night air? Make it a big room, and soundproofed because when all the faithful come joyful and triumphant, they make a lot of noise. And no figgy pudding, sheesh.

Please bring You Know Who a puppy. I asked about that doggie in the window, the one with the waggly tail. Its ears were grown a little longish, and its tail cut short. But the price was astronomical, so that little dogie can just git along, that's its misfortune and none of my own. Heah!

And, yes, thank you for Virginia. And Pennsylvania. And Ohio. And Montana, of all places. Yes, Virginia, si se pudo. Now no one will send us to eat in the kitchen.

As I promised, I’m keeping this short and to the point. Here’s hoping all your wishes come true, too. Enjoy the mutton stew.

And to all, a good night.

Do-It-Yourself-Gift from me to you

Here's a 2009 foto calendar, in PDF compressed format. Click the link and your computer will probably automatically expand the PDF. (If not, you can visit Stuffit's site and download a Windows or Mac version. The compressed file is 6.74 mb, the unstuffed calendar is 10.7 mb.)

You can print the calendar on your color printer, or simply browse it on screen. The calendar is laid out in portrait format for 8.5" X 11" paper. If your screen pops up a warning, something like, "This contains an application, are you sure you want to download it?" The application is the set of PDF. Is not to worry.

Here's hoping you get all the books and toys your heart desires, and lots of pleasant surprises! See you next week.


Monday, December 22, 2008

El Robo

Guest essay by Álvaro Huerta

Carmen Mejia was the prettiest girl in her rancho, Sajo Grande. Only 13-years old and the little girl with the sparkling, green eyes already had a boyfriend, an admirer and a stalker.

Mexico in the 1950s was not the safest place for unwed girls, especially in rural states like Michoacan, where men routinely abducted teenage girls with the aim of eventually marrying them. Once taken from her home for several nights, the abducted girl had no choice but to marry her abductor to protect her honor and family name.

Carmen rarely spoke to her boyfriend, Alfredo Ramirez. They only met a few times, under the close supervision of Carmen’s mother, who watched their every move from a safe distance. Carmen and Alfredo never went on a date, kissed or held hands. He was okay with their non-physical relationship since he felt honored that Carmen selected him, a young man with moderate ambition, over others who only dreamed of courting her.

Salomon Huerta also had his eyes on Carmen. Belonging to a large and respected family, this handsome, young man could wed any girl that he desired. He had already set his eyes on Carmen and nobody could change his mind. It was only a matter of time when he would make his move.

Alcadio Perez was not so patient. What he lacked in good looks, he compensated with determination. He made no secret in the rancho that his main goal in life consisted of making Carmen his wife, at any cost.

While Alfredo played the role of the gentleman and Salomon the confident one, Alcadio behaved like a brute. He never sent Carmen flowers or love notes through her girlfriends. He had a simpler plan. He would stalk Carmen until he found an opportunity to abduct her.

Afraid of being separated by force from her family, Carmen rarely played with her friends or performed chores far from her home. She dreamed of the day when she could play outside like the other girls. Being without running water or electricity, the kids only played outside during daylight. Carmen envied her girlfriends, who played with their raggedy dolls without a worry in the world.

After carefully planning his master plan, Alcadio and his hired thugs stationed themselves inside the cornfields, adjacent to Carmen’s home. After waiting for days with only uncooked corn to eat and mescal drink, Alcadio and his posse made their move.

“The old man left the house for the day,” Alcadio whispered to his accomplices.

“Let’s wait for her to go outside,” one of the thugs responded.

“Sounds good to me,” stated the other one.

A few hours later, Carmen went outside her adobe home with an empty bucket to get water from a neighbor.

“There she is,” Alcadio told the men in a whisper. “I don’t see the old lady. She must be cooking inside.”

Oblivious of the pursuing stalkers, Carmen skipped her way to Margarita’s house for water.

Suddenly, Alcadio ran towards Carmen with the others following right behind him.

“Let me go!” Carmen screamed at the top of her lungs, as Alcadio and his men grabbed her by the arms and legs.

“Shut up!” Alcadio responded. “Your father’s not here to protect you.”

“Somebody help!” Carmen yelled out to her neighbors, who began to gather in a semi-circle after hearing all the commotion.

“Let her go, Alcadio,” a young woman in the crowd intervened.

“Yeah,” stated an older woman. “You can’t take her. She doesn’t belong to you.”

“I’m going to tell your mother that you’re involved,” Carmen’s best friend, Rosa, told one of the thugs, who also happened to be her second cousin.

Fearful of the growing crowd, the hired thugs fled the scene.

“Don’t go,” Alcadio pleaded with them to stay and help. “I’ll throw in an extra 100 pesos.”

Carmen then broke free and headed directly for her house.

Not willing to give up just yet, Alcadio grabbed Carmen from her long, braided hair, forcing her to the ground before she could reach her house. Out of desperation, Carmen reached for a rock and, without looking, hit Alcadio on his forehead, causing him to bleed profusely.

Freed again from his grip, Carmen made her way home. Almost blinded by the blood, Alcadio couldn’t catch up to Carmen.

Alcadio then reached for his silver revolver.

“If I can’t have you, nobody can,” Alcadio yelled out to Carmen, while aimlessly shooting his gun in her direction.

Hearing the sound of bullets ricocheting from the ground all around her, Carmen miraculously reached her home without a scratch.

Alcadio quickly fled the scene before the local militia arrived. As he retreated to the hills, Alcadio held a lock of Carmen’s long in his hand, which brought a smile to his otherwise bloody face.

Once Salomon learned of the incident, he wasted no time in asking Carmen to be his girlfriend, especially since Alfredo, who left to el norte for work, could not protect her from the Alcadios of the world.

Seeking justice, Salomon notified his father, Martin Huerta, who commanded the local militia, to arrest Alcadio and his men at once.

Witnesses told Martin that Alcadio headed north, yet the militia commander decided to head south in pursuit of Alcadio. Carmen later learned that Martin, her future father-in-law, had no intention of capturing Alcadio, especially since the brute’s father, Ramiro, just happened to be Martin’s first cousin.

While Martin purposefully avoided capturing Alcadio and his men, Salomon realized that Alcadio paid off his neighbor, Raul, to preoccupy Salomon while Alcadio executed his foiled master plan.

“How could you betray me?” asked Salomon, while pistol-whipping Raul.

“That’s enough!” said Martin, commanding his son to stop.

“Okay,” responded Salomon. “Now, let’s get that bastard, Alcadio.”

“Don’t worry about Alcadio,” said Martin. “He gave it his best shot, but failed. He won’t be coming around the rancho anymore, now that you and Carmen are together.”

Fortunately for my seven siblings and me, my mother, Carmen Mejia, eventually married my father, Salomon Huerta.

Throughout her life in Mexico and the United States, my mother, like her encounter with Alcadio, overcame great obstacles to make sure that she and her children had a better life.

Now, if only she could talk and walk again from her life-threatening stroke so she can tell us, once again, the story of how she prevailed against her abductor in the rancho.

[Pictured: Salomon and Carmen Huerta, circa 1954, Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico.]

Sunday, December 21, 2008

La Tienda

“Let’s see if I can find a little gift for you.” During my childhood visits to Puerto Rico those words always sparked excitement in my heart because they meant a visit to what I called “Anatia’s Store.” It started out as an armoire in a back room that my great Aunt filled with things she picked up in her travels to Europe, or bargains that she encountered while shopping in her Bayamón neighborhood.

I remember my first visit to the “store” when I was five years old. After Anatia uttered those magic words, she started walking towards the room, motioning for me to follow. I skipped joyously behind her, listening to the swish, swish of her nylon stockings and then mimicking her determined footfalls. What did she have in that closet? I thought I would burst with curiosity when, as she turned the handle on the armoire door, she looked back at me with a mischievous smile and lifted eyebrows behind her horn-rimmed glasses, intentionally prolonging my agony. I remember feeling privileged to be able to view her worldly treasures. When she finally spread wide the doors I gasped at what appeared to my young eyes as a pirate’s chest brimming with retail booty. Dolls with eyes that opened and closed looking out at me from behind plastic. White table cloths with colorful and intricate designs. Religious figurines and paraphernalia galore. And suitcases. Tons of suitcases. I was never sure why she needed so many, but I assumed they were for “restocking” and that each time she traveled she had to buy another one to hold her purchases. But I would always walk out with some trinket that I would clutch to my chest as if it were the Holy Grail, playing with it continually until I got home and the lure of the more modern Barbie townhouse proved irresistible.

Eventually her trips abroad slowed with the coming of old age, but by then the “store” had taken over the surrounding dressers, eventually covering the bed and making the room unusable as a guest room. But that made it even more exciting to visit, like digging for buried treasure.
Looking back on these trips to La Tienda de Anatia I’ve realized that nothing in her vast collection had much monetary value. She was a fierce bargain hunter with a wartime frugality and all of her possessions reflected this. But I remember so clearly the feeling that she had everything one needed in life in that room, and I would arrive on my mother’s island every summer brimming with anticipation of my adventure with Anatia and her treasure. The value of each and every item was immeasurable to me, not because of whatever it happened to be that year, but because of the visit with her, spending hours sometimes, sifting through every item. Feeling the textures, admiring the shine, absorbing the colors. Hearing the story behind every purchase (and there was always a story). How she had bought the statue of San Martin in a small shop near the park of pigeons in Spain and had successfully bargained with the storekeeper. How she purchased the doll from an old student of hers who has a stand in the main square downtown. “I paid too much, but you know, she needs the money.” This was what gave her gifts their worth.

I’m sure it was a nightmare for my cousins to deal with after her death, but this collection said so much about the lady who put it together. She was always thinking about other people and wanted to help them. These knick-knacks were her way of showing affection and generosity. They were diverse, like her interests, and carefully chosen as she did everything with much thought. Yes, the store was Anatia. So much to give. So appealing. So colorful.

The other day I had a revelation. The image of the closet in my home office came to mind, filled to the brim with dolls and toys that I purchased when there was a sale or when the local department store went out of business. And the chest filled with miles and miles of yarns with which to knit baby shower gifts or Christmas scarves. I thought of how my friends come to me when they need last minute birthday party gifts for a 5-year old boy or a baby’s gift basket. We go to the closet and sift through the superhero figures and baby rattles, coming up with just the right item for the occasion. It always seems to fill up again when it starts to get depleted and I’ve hit it more than once this holiday season already.

The contents of my closet are more reflective of my time than hers, but I realize that I have unconsciously recreated Anatia’s store. My mother always said that I seemed to possess much of Anatia’s qualities: an obsessive concern with etiquette, a generosity of spirit, and an unfailing belief that I am always right. I am proud to share these traits with that remarkable and uncommon woman. And I will carry on with my own tienda in her honor.

Oh, I’m sure my son is going to curse me when I’m gone and he has to deal with a room full of Xena dolls and boxes and boxes of chenille yarn, but I find great comfort in carrying on the tradition started by my Great Aunt Ana. Or maybe it began even earlier and she was the recipient of an earlier generation’s treasure trove. But either way, you never know when you’ll need a little something to make a young girl’s visit complete.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The heat is on who?

"How many of you ever had your lights, heat or water turned off in your house?" Almost every hand goes up.

I'm starting a lesson with my second graders to combine the economic recession, their upcoming Christmas that may not be as bountiful as last year's, and addition problems using what their list to Santa might cost their parents.

I got the idea for the lesson from one of the boys walking up to me last month and saying, "We don't have any water." At first I thought he meant we were out of the bottled water in our room. (Bottled water delivered to a high-poverty school classroom?--that's a story for another day.) But then I realized he meant his water at home.

I wasn't surprised at the raised hands; it's almost as many as got raised when I ask who had parents or relatives lose their jobs this year. Such is common knowledge among teachers who work in poverty/working class neighborhoods.

Anyway, out of the lesson we learned that most kids' lists came to a few hundred dollars. By the time we were done, I'd led them a little way down the path of harsh reality, maybe preparing them some for a leaner set of gifts under their tree. I'm their teacher, it's some of what I need to do so they know, rather than worry.

When I was growing up in San Antonio, I remember we occasionally got our lights, heat turned off for FTP. It's a cyclical poverty thing where poor people get physically and financially punished for not having the finances to keep up with the crucial bills. Sometimes it meant warmth became more crucial than nutrition, so we starved so we wouldn't freeze.

As I started this piece, my knees still had not regained most sensation, and my breathing was still short and shallow. It was 50 degrees in here and kept plunging trying to match the 20-degree temperature outside, which will be the high for today.

Because I mostly pay my bills on time, I ignored the notice stuck in my door when I got home last night, the one that said the gas had been turned off. Ignored it because it was about a house on the next block, not mine. I knew nobody could possibly confuse my block with the next one over.

Later when I noticed the house getting chilly, I assumed the worst--that my furnace was out. Naturally I couldn't get a hold of my favorite repairman: I was told he was out drinking in some bar that no doubt had nice-warm heating.

When I tried to use the oven at 3:30 this morning to get some of the same, and I found the dog had moved from his usual pillow to a nice-warmer one on our couch, the stove wouldn't work, and that's when I remembered the note stuck in the door, the same note I'd so nonchalantly scoffed at.

I immediately called Xcel Energy, not realizing it would take 3 calls, all the way until 10:30--not 8:00am like they promised--and my threat of filing a complaint with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) before nice-warm heat started coming out of my heat registers again.

"On Saturdays, the only trucks that are out are answering reports of gas leaks, and your problem will be taken care of after that. No, I can't guarantee your service will be on before the afternoon." That's the gist of what the Xcel 800-number people told me. Turned out not to be true. The threat of a PUC complaint put me at the front of the line, the guy showing up not 20 min. later.

I realize that in the middle of this recession-not-yet-a-depression my situation pales against what some families are enduring. I'm at least not some homebound old lady who doesn't know about the PUC. I at least don't have a newborn infant that would have been endangered. I at least have the money to keep my heat turned on or the credit to get it turned back on, if need be.

Nevertheless, I thought it ironic how my temporary predicament coincided with the math lesson. For a few hours I got to be a little like one of my seven-year-old students, I got to remember what it's like not knowing when I'd be nice-warm again.

The furnace has now been blasting for almost an hour trying to get the house back to such a temperature. My knees are still shocked but my breathing's improved. The dog's decided even though the heat's returned, the sofa's a preferable nice-warm place to lay his smelly self on. If the dog smell doesn't come out of the couch, I'm sending the bill for a new one to Xcel Energy, possibly along with an aromatic piece of the evidence.

As you rush out to maybe blow money on stuff no one really needs, keep in mind you should set aside money to pay today's heating bill. And if there's a note stuck in your door when you get back, do read the whole thing and assume the worst.

I won't end this with some doleful attempt at "please remember the cold, shivering children." For one thing, you might have been one of those once, will probably never forget it, and don't need me to remind you. For another thing, it might make you want to give money to the "energy assistance program" in your area, the one to help people struggling to keep the lights and heat on. Literally, that wouldn't help any of my kids who next January inform me their heat's been turned off. What we need is turn off the system that physically tortures kids born to poor or unemployed parents.

But I will end this on something more in keeping with the season. Relish the warmth around you--the wool blanket you so wisely bought, the spouse, family who occasionally show up, the two cats (one for each foot), that money in the savings account you left untouched, and that furnace you can afford to have checked every so often. Then l
ike Ramos said yesterday, "Let the tunes fill the room as you wrap that last minute gift, trim the tree, suck down the eggnog,… a warm tamal, a cold beverage."

[NB: I did file a complaint with the PUC. Suggested new regulations penalizing erroneous disconnections and providing aggrieved customers like myself some sort of justice. Maybe the heat's on them now.]


Friday, December 19, 2008

Music For The Holidays

How about a few holiday musical gems? Let the tunes fill the room as you wrap that last minute gift - trim the tree - suck down the eggnog. Nothin' like a warm tamal, a cold beverage, and a Native American blues band jammin' on the Christmas spirit to get you in the right mood.

Here Come's Santa Claus - Conjunto Style

Please Come Home For Christmas - Los Plateros

Tex-Mex Rudolph - Los Krayolas With Augie Meyer

Feliz Navidad - José Feliciano

The Christmas Song - Nat King Cole

Happy Christmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon

YouTube is a wonderful thing. Hope you all have a peaceful and happy holiday.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Soy Judia: Soul Food, Pomegranates, and Finding My Way Home

I'm not only Chicana, I'm what was formerly referred to as marrano or converso. What I am is Anusim, a descendant of my mother, her mother, and her mother before her, and on and on, spiraling toward a distant past. Anusim, an unbroken chain of Jews hiding in plain sight en Mexico, con sudor y corazón, con shabbat candles lit in secrecy.

My family had many secrets, but these were ones of joy, ones that braided me to four generations of women living under one roof. They bound me to a great-grandmother and grandmother who taught me to take challah, to have a house sparkling clean by sunset every Friday, to kill chickens in a proscribed way, to a mother who would have been delighted to hear my friends calling me Leila Shulamit.

It's been a long trip, weaving my way through a childhood difficult and full of well-meaning Catholics, yet remaining unclaimed and untouched. It was years of attending shabbat services alone from the time I was sixteen, unable to speak, but able to let the swirling words of yet another tongue talk to me in the ways beyond language. And it's only recently that I fully gave birth to myself, living purposefully and clearly as a Jew.

I keep shabbat now, in the open, and sit with loved ones and allow the sacred of Friday night. I set my own table, light my own candles and recite the bruchas, las bendiciones. I attend shul, although not as often as my rabbi would like. And I have started on the next leg of this journey, finding other people like me, with my past, with my joy.


New Mexico's Crypto-Jews: Image and Memory
Cary Herz , Photographer
Essays by Ori Z. Soltes and Mona Hernandez
University of New Mexico Press ISBN
( hardcover ) 978-0-8263-4289-8
( paperback ) 978-0-8263-4290-4

While photographing the Congregation Montefiore Cemetery in Las Vegas, New Mexico, in 1985, Cary Herz first heard whispers about "the other people." Thus began a twenty-year search for descendants of crypto-Jews, the Sephardic Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions centuries ago. Many openly professed Catholicism, but continued to practice the Jewish faith privately. Herz's photographs and the accompanying essays honor the people whose ancestors, through families' oral histories and genealogical records, knew about their heritage. Other New Mexican Hispanics have recently begun to explore their families' customs and are only beginning to examine their possible blended lineage.

To help complete her exploration, Herz sought out symbols--gravesites, artifacts, and icons--that might point toward the presence of the descendants of crypto-Jews who came to the New World. There has recently been a renewed interest in crypto-Jews, as DNA tests have revealed the Jewish heritage of a number of Hispanic New Mexicans.

New Mexico's Crypto-Jews was named Best Nonfiction Book--Religion for 2008 by the National Federation of Press Women. Cary Herz was also presented with the New Mexico Press Women's Communicator of Achievement Award, 2008, for exceptional achievement in the communications field and service to the community.

". . . New Mexico's Crypto-Jews is a work that merits a special place on every bookshelf of New Mexico history."--La Herencia

"If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Herz's photos speak volumes on a neglected and shadowy aspect of New Mexican history. Her book is a visual feast that will be of interest to specialists and general readers alike."--Catholic Southwest

"In New Mexico's Crypto-Jews, Herz has accomplished her goal: 'to put a face on the invisible ones, the Anusim, to open a small window into their world, to show their pride and diversity.'"--Hadassah Magazine

"The photographs and essays herein exhibit the strength, passion, and devotion that move the pride of Jews throughout the world."--Jewish Book World

"[New Mexico's Crypto-Jews] is a book rich in images, memory, and longing for connection, as well as thoughtful text. . . ."--Taos Horse-Fly

"[New Mexico's Crypto-Jews] is a welcome prize. . . . The fact that Herz is a descendant of Holocaust survivors means that she brings a rare and poignant Jewish sensitivity to a subject that is more often examined through Hispanic lenses. . . . Concise essays and commentaries accompany Herz's striking photographs of modern residents of New Mexico and Colorado who retain tatters and shards of Jewish religiosity and custom."--Intermountain Jewish Times

"[A] compelling book of photos. . . ."--NA'AMAT WOMAN Magazine "[A] fascinating book . . . handsome and empowering. . . ."--Bloomsbury Review

"[Cary] Herz's photography book is the first visual exploration of the descendants of Jews who fled the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition and traveled with Spanish colonial settlers to what is today New Mexico. [New Mexico's Crypto-Jews] introduces a unique community whose Jewish identity is grounded in the Catholicism that characterizes the traditions of the American Southwest."

Cary Herz, 1947-2008, was an award-winning professional photographer specializing in corporate and editorial photography. She was a New Mexico photo correspondent for the New York Times and worked with a variety of editorial clients, including TIME, PC World, People, Ms., Garden Design, Hispanic Business, The Discovery Channel, The Dallas Morning News, and The Houston Chronicle's Texas Magazine. 9 x 9 176 pages 115 duotones, 1 map

To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico
Stanley M. Hordes
Columbia University Press
Paper, 376 pages, 12 maps; 16 photos
ISBN: 978-0-231-12937-4
Cloth 376 pages, 12 maps; 16 photos
ISBN: 978-0-231-12936-7

In 1981, while working as New Mexico State Historian, Stanley M. Hordes began to hear stories of Hispanos who lit candles on Friday night and abstained from eating pork. Puzzling over the matter, Hordes realized that these practices might very well have been passed down through the centuries from early crypto-Jewish settlers in New Spain. After extensive research and hundreds of interviews, Hordes concluded that there was, in New Mexico and the Southwest, a Sephardic legacy derived from the converso community of Spanish Jews.

In To the End of the Earth, Hordes explores the remarkable story of crypto-Jews and the tenuous preservation of Jewish rituals and traditions in Mexico and New Mexico over the past five hundred years. He follows the crypto-Jews from their Jewish origins in medieval Spain and Portugal to their efforts to escape persecution by migrating to the New World and settling in the far reaches of the northern Mexican frontier.
Drawing on individual biographies (including those of colonial officials accused of secretly practicing Judaism), family histories, Inquisition records, letters, and other primary sources, Hordes provides a richly detailed account of the economic, social and religious lives of crypto-Jews during the colonial period and after the annexation of New Mexico by the United States in 1846.

While the American government offered more religious freedom than had the Spanish colonial rulers, cultural assimilation into Anglo-American society weakened many elements of the crypto-Jewish tradition.
Hordes concludes with a discussion of the reemergence of crypto-Jewish culture and the reclamation of Jewish ancestry within the Hispano community in the late twentieth century. He examines the publicity surrounding the rediscovery of the crypto-Jewish community and explores the challenges inherent in a study that attempts to reconstruct the history of a people who tried to leave no documentary record.

Remnants of Crypto-Jews Among Hispanic Americans
Gloria Golden,
Edited by Andrea Alessandra Cabello and Sohaib Raihan
Floricanto Press ISBN: 0-915745-56-9

Hidden deep in the heart of the American Southwest among the larger Hispanic population are descendants of the Sephardim, Jews from Spain and Portugal. Five hundred years after their expulsion from Spain remnants of Judaism are still practiced within Southwestern Hispanic communities.

Often unaware of their origins, conversos have revealed, through oral history, how the ancestral faith of the Crypto-Jews has been passed on from generation to generation.
"Five hundred years after the Inquisition, Gloria Golden manages to turn the little-known subject of crypto-Jews into an inspiring tale of identity. The rich portraiture and captivating oral histories offer a poignant view of what it means to discover and embrace one's Judaism." Elana Harris, Managing Editor, B'nai B'rith Magazine "Gloria Golden's images and text provide a valuable insight into the Crypto-Judaic world.

All who are drawn to this fascinating subject will find great rewards in this volume." Rabbi Joshua Stampfer, Founder and First President of the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies
"The impact of these photographs and related interviews cannot be measured. Surely, through their existence, we touch a part of our past, and preserve it for our children's children. It is another piece in the great puzzle of our scattered people." Flora Sussely, Director, Adult Programs, Mittleman Jewish Community Center

Pomegranate Seeds: Latin American Jewish Tales
Editor, Nadia Grosser Nagarajan
Introduction by Ilan Stavans
University Of New Mexico Press
( paperback ) ISBN 978-0-8263-2391-0

Pomegranate Seeds is the first collection of the oral tradition of Latin American Jews to be presented in English. These thirty-four tales span the 500 years of Jewish presence in Latin America and the Caribbean. The folktales and cultural oral narratives were often based on actual events, recorded not only from the Ashkenazi perspective but from the Sephardic and Oriental as well. Like dispersed pomegranate seeds, all the stories come from a common cluster, yet each is a separate kernel.

The stories are short, between five and fifteen pages, and each is carefully annotated. In addition to gathering stories from eleven Latin American countries, the author found material in the United States and Israel. Regardless of their origin, several tales have to do with personal feelings, emotional insights, and interpretation of the protagonists, while others deal with happy or traumatic events that cannot be forgotten and dreams that have not been fulfilled.

Not surprisingly, trauma and bigotry are common threads through some of the stories. These are tales, as Nadia Grosser Nagarajan says, "concealed by tropical greenery, encircled by vast jungles and flowing majestic rivers that echo many voices and reflect many views and visions."

From "Seeking Wisdom,"
a tale in Pomegranate Seeds

"Many years ago, when the forests south of the river Bio-Bio were still impenetrable, there lived in the beautiful lake district of Chile a very poor family. The father and mother had two children, a girl and a boy, who helped them to fish in the lakes and gather pine nuts in the woods, and thus they had a very simple yet happy existence. . . ."

National Jewish Book Awards, 2006, 2nd place in Sephardic Culture category.

"Pomegranate Seeds is a fascinating book filled with rich oral narratives of wisdom, experiences, folk imagination, journeys, history, folktales, customs and traditions--and adventures. . .This splendid collection will never stand on a shelf after a first reading--but rather it will become a favorite travel companion."--Jewish Book World

"This collection of folk tales, legends, and true stories that have been handed down by generations of Jews of Latin America are not only of great interest and humor, but also of great inspiration. In addition, through these tales the reader gains an insight into the lives and customs of Jews from Latin American countries."--Multicultural Review

"[Nadia Grosser Nagarajan] has created a rich and important cultural history of Jews and Jewish life in Latin America."--Hadassah Magazine

Nadia Grosser Nagarajan is also the author of Jewish Tales from Eastern Europe. She lives in San Jose, California.

5.5 x 8.5 207 pages

Lisa Alvarado

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More Picture Books for Navidad

René Colato Laínez

Here is my list of books for navidad for this year. Enjoy them and feliz navidad y año nuevo.

Merry Navidad!: Christmas Carols in Spanish and English/Villancicos en español e ingles by Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy. Illustrated by Vivi Escriva.

This illustrated book for children introduces and organizes Christmas songs into the following categories: on the road to Bethlehem, the posadas, Christmas eve, the shepherds, Christmas lullabies, Saint Joseph, the Christmas tree, aguinaldos, and the Three Wise Kings. Musical notations of six of the songs are included at the end.

The Miracle of the First Poinsettia by Joanne Oppenheim. Illustrated by Fabian Negrin.

A retelling of a Mexican legend that describes the origin of the Poinsettia plant. In this version, a young girl has nothing to give the Christ child, but when the weeds she carries in her hands miraculously transform into red flowers, she now has the perfect gift.

Celebra La Navidad Y El Dia De Los Reyes Magos Con Pablo Y Carlitos / Celebrate Christmas and Three Kings Day With Pablo and by F. Isabel Campoy Isabel and Alma Flor Ada. Illustrated by Walter Torres.

Brothers Pablo and Carlitos write letters to the three kings, telling them the gifts they want to receive on Three Kings' Day. Includes facts about Christmas and Three Kings' Day.

Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto. Illustrated by Ed Martinez.

Maria tries on her mother's wedding ring while helping make tamales for a Christmas family get-together, but panic ensues when hours later, she realizes the ring is missing.

The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos by Lucia Gonzalez. Illustrated by Lulu Delacre.

During the early days of the Great Depression, New York City's first Puerto Rican librarian, Pura Belpré, introduces the public library to immigrants living in El Barrio and hosts the neighborhood's first Three Kings' Day fiesta.

Miracle of the Poinsettia/Milagro de la Flor de Nochebuena: A Retelling by Brian Cavanaugh. Illustrated by Dennis Rockhill. Translated by Carmen Lopez-Platek.

The Miracle of the Poinsettia is a retelling of a traditional Mexican legend--a small girl has no gift to give the Christ child at the Christmas Eve procession. She gathers up weeds from the roadside and because she give them from her heart, they are miraculously topped with glorious red flowers.

The Christmas Gift: El regalo de Navidad by Francisco Jiménez. Illustrated by Claire B. Cotts.

When his family has to move again a few days before Christmas in order to find work, Panchito worries that he will not get the ball he has been wanting.

Charro Claus and the Tejas Kid written and illustrated by Xavier Garza.

One night Santa Claus transformed his cousin Pancho into the resplendent Charro Claus with his incredible Flying Burritos. And Charro Claus, it turns out, even had his own surprise elf-his nephew Vincente! All Christmas Eve, Vincente and Pancho deliver toys to the boys and girls on the border.

Farolitos for Abuelo by Rudolfo Anaya. Illustrated by Edward Gonzales.

When Luz's beloved grandfather dies, she places luminaria around his grave on Christmas Eve as a way of remembering him.

Humphrey's First Christmas written and illustrated by Carol Heyer.

We have all hear the story of the three wise men, who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. But what about the camels who carried them? Here is the imaginative story of Humphrey the camel and his long, cold journey to Bethlehem. This story reminds readers of the importance of Christmas and the true meaning of gift-giving.

To view last year Picture Books for Navidad click here.