Monday, May 11, 2009

The Bully

A children's story by Álvaro Huerta
Illustrated by Andrew Huerta

Tomás wasn't born a bully. He simply made bad choices.

When his mother dropped Tomás off on the first day of school at Murchison Elementary, he cried uncontrollably. When the teacher wasn't looking, he walked home all by himself.

"Why aren't you at school?" his mother asked, puzzled to see him.

"I'm scared," said the 5-year-old, chubby kid. "I don't want to go to school. I want to stay with you, Mommy."

"Why can't you be tough like your older sister?" his mother responded. "Remember, you're a Gomez and we don't cry."

Not saying a word, Tomás shrugged his shoulders and went straight to the TV to watch his favorite Nickelodeon cartoons.

While most kids in East Los Angeles' Ramona Gardens Housing Project had a nickname, like Peanut Butter, Smiley and Fat Ritchie, no one bothered to give one to Tomás.

Since Tomás cried almost every day in kindergarten, he could've easily been nicknamed Cry Baby, Big Baby or Mommy's Boy. But he came from a family of bullies and the kids were afraid. No one dared to make fun of him.

He had a hard time with his reading at school. His first-grade teacher told his mother he had a learning disability, but he had to get on a waiting list for special help since his overcrowded school didn't have enough therapists.

One day, while in the fourth grade, a new kid at Murchison made fun of Tomás during reading aloud time.

"Hey, Tomás," said the kid, "you sound like a giant robot. Didn't you learn to read in third grade?"

Although Tomás was bigger than the other kid, he started to cry. Before he knew it, the entire class laughed in unison. Not saying a word, Tomás ran home.

His dad laughed at him too. Then he gave him a lecture he would never forget. "You need to defend yourself. If you don't, they're going to keep making fun of you," his dad told him with a stern look.

"Yes," said Tomás, feeling ashamed. Something happened inside of Tomás that day. He felt anger welling up inside of him. Anger he didn't understand.

The next day, he went on a rampage, taking lunch tickets from the other kids at school, making kids fight against each other and taking away the big, red handball from the girls during recess. All of a sudden, Tomás became the kid who controlled the playground.

He also told the kids in the neighborhood what to do. While he wasn't good in sports, he always wanted to be the pitcher in baseball, the quarterback in football and the point guard in basketball. It got to the point that the kids would stop playing when he showed up.

Deep down inside he was lonely. He was confused. At first the kids didn't respect him because he cried a lot, now they feared him because he told them what to do.

Not knowing what to do one day, Tomás locked himself in his mother's room and cried all alone while watching his favorite Saturday morning cartoons.

Concerned about Tomás' mood, his mother offered him his favorite cereal, Frosted Flakes, until he eventually opened the door.

"What's the matter, Tomás?" his mother asked. "Did someone hit you?"

"No," he responded.

"Did someone call you a name?" she asked.

"No," he responded, again.

"Then why are you crying?" she asked with a look of worry.

"Because no one wants to be my friend," he said.

"Well," she said, "maybe you should think about why nobody wants to play with you."

"The kids start to run when they see me just because I tell them what to do," he responded.

"Well, how would you like it if another kid bossed you around?" she asked him.

"I don't know," he said, feeling a little confused. "But Dad said that I needed to be tough and protect myself."

"Protecting yourself and being a bully are two different things," she clarified. "You should never take advantage of other kids."

"Maybe it's not cool to be a bully, after all," he said to his mother.

Guest writer Álvaro Huerta is a visiting scholar at UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center, and a doctoral student in city and urban planning at UC Berkeley. His story, "Los Dos Smileys," is featured in Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press, 2008). "The Bully" first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

◙ On March 23, La Bloga ran an interview with Daniel Alarcón who co-edited with Diego Trelles Paz a special Latin American issue of Zoetrope: All-Story. If you haven’t purchased it yet, you must. The stories are wonderfully strange and beautiful, brutal and honest, on the cutting edge of contemporary short-story writing. You may learn more about Zoetrope: All-Story including the authors featured in the special Latin American issue, subscription rates, and submission guidelines by visiting here. Well, the New Yorker has just posted an interview with Alarcón about this special issue. Here’s a little taste of that interview:

NEW YORKER: All the writers you chose for this issue were born after the publication of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” a point you mention in your introduction. Do you think there are barriers standing between young Latin American writers and a larger, more international audience?

DANIEL ALARCÓN: To be clear, the problem is not García Márquez — Diego [Trelles Paz] and I noted the publication of that book simply because it is so iconic, so well-known that at times it seems that’s the only Latin American novel many in the United States have bothered read. And, of course, it’s one of those books everyone absolutely should read, a perfect, transcendent novel, but an unfortunate consequence of its critical and commercial success, especially in the American literary marketplace, has been to spawn dozens of imitators, who by sheer numbers crowd out other significant and original voices.

Honestly, I don’t understand why these books keep getting published. For years we’ve seen bookstore shelves lined with warmed-over copies of Gabo, formulaic representations of a continent that doesn’t exist anymore. If Americans are still picturing Macondo when they think of Latin America, they will misunderstand a great deal of what is happening now. The demographic shifts of the last forty years have been stark, and naturally the literature reflects those changes. The frustrating thing about it is that in Latin America, the literary conversation has long since moved beyond magical realism—it’s only in the U.S. that the dialogue hasn’t progressed. And this isn’t just a literary problem—it’s a political, cultural, and economic issue as well.

You may read the entire New Yorker interview here.

◙ Over at The Rumpus, Ellisa Bassist happily allows herself to get transfixed by the phobias in Roberto Bolaño’s masterwork, 2666 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

Rigoberto González, an award-winning writer living in New York City, reviews Maurice Kilwein Guevara's newest collection, Poema (University of Arizona Press), for the El Paso Times. He observes, in part:

History books about the 20th century will highlight the key players in wars, politics, science and economics. The poets -- those who express their view of the world through art -- might end up mere footnotes.

But writers receive their due in Maurice Kilwein Guevara's newest collection, Poema (University of Arizona Press, $15.95 paperback).

"I'm greedy for the entire Pacific Ocean and whales," admits the speaker in the opening poem. "I cross the border for roasted iguana and onion. Tremors at Momotombo. Where are you?" he asks, invoking Eunice Odio, the Costa Rican poet.

That poem is closely followed by a portrait of Catalonian visual poet Joan Brossa as the "Emerald Moth Discharging Energy." Next comes Elizabeth Bishop weeding the garden in a sienna blouse and John Berryman putting a fire out with his foot.

Each poem embeds a poet into life's everyday urgencies, because the world must have poetry to survive. Without it, "ours would be a history of chronic needs."

To read the entire review, go here.

◙ Abelardo de la Peña, Jr., editor of LatinoLA, lets us know about a few of the many new stories now available for your reading pleasure:

How Manny Broke Every Dominican's Heart by Claudio E. Cabrera

News from the Brown Side of Town, May 7 by Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor

Eviscerating Immigrant=Criminal Logic by Roberto Lovato

Letter to Mamita by Edie J. Adler, Contributing Writer

Prejudice and Ignorance are Nothing to Sneeze At by Andy Porras

A Latina Supreme Court Judge? by Gebe Martinez

A Soldier's Father by Abelardo de la Pena Jr.

Latinos on a Star Trek

Hispanic PR Association Announces 2009 Scholarships by Anai Ibarra

Summer Paid Internships at Tia Chuchas


May 26th - Librería Martinez presents Creative Writing Workshop taught by Reyna Grande. Through in-class exercises, weekly assignments, group interaction, and peer and instructor feedback, Reyna will motivate and cultivate the writer within you in a fun and supportive environment. Topics include the ABCs of the elements of fiction and the 123s of publication.

Location: Librería Martinez (Lynwood Location) at 11221 Long Beach Blvd., Lynwood, CA 90262

Time: Tuesdays at 7:00 p.m.

To register, contact Reyna Grande or call Librería Martinez at 310-637-9484.

May 28th - Librería Martinez presents its new BOOK CLUB. Join us for a meet-and-greet hosted by Reyna Grande. There will be beverages and snacks provided and the first book club selection will be revealed.

Location: Libreria Martinez (Lynwood Location) at 11221 Long Beach Blvd., Lynwood, CA 90262

Time: 7:00 p.m.

[NOTE: Photo of Reyna Grande is by Ibarionex R. Perello. He was a 2003 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Rosenthal Fellow. His first published piece of fiction is entitled "1952" and appeared in the Boston Review in 2005. It will form a part of his novel, Memories of Flesh and Bone.]

◙ Every so often a wonderful writerly gift comes my way that just makes me smile. I recently found out that one of my stories was selected for the forthcoming Sudden Fiction Latino: Short-Short Stories from the United States and Latin America (W. W. Norton, March 2010). There are several things that make this particularly nice. First, I didn’t have to submit, my story was chosen by the editors. Second, as an English major, it is a dream to be included in a Norton anthology. Third, I am honored to be in some pretty remarkable literary company (if you're a La Bloga reader and also will appear in this anthology, drop a comment below and let us know the good news). And finally, I am pleased to see sudden fiction anthologies continue to be published. In any event, here’s what Norton says about Sudden Fiction Latino:

For readers who love great short-short stories, this bountiful anthology is the best of Latin American and U.S. Latino writers. Following on the success of the Flash Fiction and Sudden Fiction series, Robert Shapard and James Thomas join with Ray Gonzalez in selecting works that each present a complete story in less than 1,500 words. Luisa Valenzuela, one of Latin America’s most lauded writers, provides the introduction. Readers will delight in finding stars such as Junot Díaz, Sandra Cisneros, and Roberto Bolaño alongside recognized masters like Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, and Jorge Luis Borges. They will discover work from Andrea Saenz, Daniel Alarcón, and Alicita Rodriguez, as well as other writers on the rise.

In Julio Ortega’s “Migrations,” a Peruvian writer explores how immigrant speech and ethnic origins are a force of meaning that evolves beyond language. In “Hair,” by Hilma Contreras, a Caribbean pharmacist is driven mad by a young woman’s luxuriant tresses. These stories stretch from gritty reality to the fantastical in a mix that is moving, challenging, humorous, artful, sometimes political, and altogether spectacular.

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


Stella said...

I feel like I bought a brand new book that I can't wait to open it and start reading. That's how I feel about finding your blog! I found the link to your blog through Children's Book Press. I can't wait to start immersing myself in your blog and learn from you all. Thanks for this amazing contribution!

Daniel A. Olivas said...

Stella, welcome! We're happy you found us. Enjoy.

Francisco Aragón said...

Congratulations on getting into a Norton anthology. What story are they going to publish?

Daniel A. Olivas said...

Gracia, Francisco. The story is "La Guaca" from my collection, "Devil Talk" and which first appeared in the Vestal Review.