Friday, September 11, 2009

Guest Review - Becky and Her Friends (and more)

by Virginia Alanis

Becky and Her Friends
Rolando Hinojosa

Arte Público Press, 1990

Born in Mercedes, Texas, Rolando Hinojosa knows the Texas-Mexican border and writes intimate accounts of its townspeople. In Becky and Her Friends, Becky Escobar, a prominent heiress, decides to divorce her politician husband and the reverberations from the fallout are felt by the entire community. Rolando Hinojosa uses the frame of a listener who travels through The Valley collecting information from witnesses and informants. The cumulative effect of his interviews gives him new insight into what it means to be human.

Becky and Her Friends goes into overdrive and spares no one; what ensues is a cacophony of monologues by well-meaning opinionated characters. Everyone has something to say in The Valley. The witnesses and informants take sides and make compelling cases regarding Becky’s decision. Becky is judged, not unlike Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a fascinating woman who has captivated the public. This is a chronicle of a political marriage with a glance at the social life in The Valley.

Becky is, in effect, a local celebrity and the townspeople have inquiring minds and strong opinions. Take a listen to one of the opinion givers:

But like I said, Becky was just too much woman for Ira Escobar. And if they lasted as long as they did—I mean, if she put up with that jackass as long as she did, it was due to that eternal stupidity, that so-called tradition. And here’s another truth: Becky’s mother, yes, my cousin Elvira Navarrete, kept that marriage going.

Despite thirty-five-year-old Becky’s privileged upbringing and her many accomplishments as a mother and respected businesswoman, she faces many challenges within the society she lives in. At various points in her life Becky is criticized: (1) for going to college and wanting to make more of herself than just becoming a grade school teacher; (2) for becoming a working woman and wanting to earn a living; (3) for divorcing, a crime against the Catholic church, her husband, children, family, and the community; (4) for remarrying, and to add insult to injury, her second husband is considered a nobody compared to her first husband, a county commissioner; (5) for giving up the charitable clubs to earn a living, and therefore losing her social standing in The Valley.

Becky will not be deterred and she emerges as a modern woman who forges a life for herself despite the gossip. Most important of all, she ceases to care what society thinks and allows happiness to enter her life.

Rolando Hinojosa is one of America’s best kept secrets. Mr. Hinojosa made his literary debut in 1973 and has published over ten books in his thirty-six year writing career. His body of work includes: The Valley (1973, 1983), Klail City (1976, 1987), Fair Gentlemen of Belken County (1981), Rites and Witnesses (1982), Dear Rafe (1985), Partners in Crime (1985), Korean Love Songs (1987), Becky and Her Friends (1990), Useless Servants (1993).

If you’re looking for an illuminated literary road off the beaten path, be one of the first to discover Rolando Hinojosa’s world as he ventures into the domestic fiction territory of Henry James and Edith Wharton. Those who are in-the-know are already aware of him due to his critical acclaim but I think it is high time for the floodgates to open and for Mr. Hinojosa to breakthrough and enjoy wide readership.

Virginia Alanis is a contemporary American writer of Mexican descent, born in Allende, Nuevo Leon, Mexico and raised in Dallas, Texas since the age of five. She has spent most of her life in Dallas, Texas,
where she attended Southern Methodist University and majored in English Literature earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2002 and a Master of Arts degree in 2004. She is at work on her first novel on the romanticizing of the American Dream from the perspective of Mexican-Americans who have lived in the U.S. for generations and Mexican immigrants who must navigate between the cult
ural values of their birthplace and their adopted home.

NOTE: Want more about Rolando Hinojosa? Click here to go to La Bloga's interview with Rolando Hinojosa from earlier this year.



Each year, Colorado Humanities & Center for the Book, in affiliation with The Library of Congress, conducts River of Words (ROW), a free international poetry and art contest for youth on the theme of WATERSHEDS. The contest is designed to help youth explore the natural and cultural history of the place they live, and to express, through poetry and art, what they discover.

The contest is open to any child in the world, from 5-19 years of age. Older students must have not yet completed high school. There is no charge to enter.

Students may enter on their own, or as part of a group (classroom, Girl Scout troop, 4-H, etc.). All entrants receive acknowledgment in the form of a Watershed Explorer certificate. State-level judging is done by Colorado writers and artists, and winners are recognized each spring in Denver at our Student Literary Awards.

About 100 poems and artworks from both US and international entries are selected as finalists each year. Poetry submissions are judged by River of Words co-founders Robert Hass, who served as US Poet Laureate from 1995-1997, and writer Pamela Michael. Art entries are judged by children's book writer and illustrator, Thacher Hurd. All winners receive ribbons, books and/or art supplies, t-shirts and other prizes. Eight Grand Prize winners—four in poetry and four in art, in four different age categories—are chosen from the US entries.

Category I — Kindergarten-Grade 2
Category II — Grades 3-6
Category III — Grades 7-9
Category IV — Grades 10-12

Winners are announced each April at a gala event at the San Francisco Library. The Grand Prize and International winners win an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC to attend the ROW Award Ceremony at The Library of Congress.

Contest entry deadline is December 1, 2009.

Click here for complete contest guidelines, entry forms and the free Poetry of Rivers curriculum authored by award-winning Colorado poet Kathryn Winograd.

Each year, Colorado Humanities & Center for the Book, in affiliation with the Library of Congress and in partnership with Target stores, presents Letters About Literature (LAL) a national reading and writing competition for readers in grades 4 through 12. To enter, readers write a personal letter to an author, living or dead, from any genre-- fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or classic, explaining how that author's work changed the student's way of thinking about the world or themselves.

There are three competition levels:
Level I - grades 4 through 6
Level II - grades 7 and 8
Level III - grades 9 - 12

Winners, announced in the spring of each year, receive cash awards at the national and state levels. State winners are recognized in Denver at a Student Literary Awards ceremony.

In addition to prizes for children, LAL is also awarding thousands of dollars in library grants as a way to promote literacy and reader response among all young readers. The national winners themselves help to select the libraries that will receive the grants.

Visit the website for guidelines and required entry coupon, plus take some time to explore the free lesson plans and winning letters from past years. Each year more than 55,000 young people from across the country enter LAL and what they write to authors is amazing!

Deadline for entry is December 12, 2009.

Click here for new guidelines and required entry coupon.

Zuni farmer, museum director, and interrupted artist Jim Enote will speak at the University of Colorado at Boulder September 17 as part of the Center of the American West's Modern Indian Identity series.

The talk, Stranger than Paradise: Is There a Medicine Man in the House? will examine the paradoxes present in living on Indian reservations. The lecture is free and open to the public and will take place at 7:00 p.m. on the University of Colorado campus, Boulder, in Benson Earth Sciences room 180.

As Enote explains it, indigenous people are on a fulcrum of truths. Life on a Southwestern reservation with wireless internet and outhouses makes me think I should write a book and title it, Keep It Simple for Me. Enote feels he is constantly out on a limb. Whether it's debating the difference between science and indigenous wisdom or challenging Zuni farmers to relearn ancient farming methods, Enote has plenty to say about the meaning of resurrection and the art of double talk.

Jim Enote has explored to a large degree such varied subjects as cultural pattern languages, Zuni architecture as fluxus art, Japanese art after 1945, and, since 1999, creating map art. Born in Zuni, New Mexico, Enote considers his career an odyssey of hitchhiking, watermelon picking, and writing. Besides currently serving as director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, he is also a Senior Advisor for Mountain Cultures at the Mountain Institute, a New Mexico Community Luminaria, and E.F. Shumacher Society Fellow.

Professor Charles Wilkinson of the University of Colorado at Boulder remarked, "Farmer, scientist, philosopher, and cultural elder, Jim Enote at once tends his corn and chili on his fields at Zuni; directs the tribal cultural center and its extraordinary mapping project; and keeps up with colleagues around the world in his quest for global sustainability. What a rare, valuable person."

The Center of the American West's Modern Indian Identity series features contemporary Indian speakers telling their stories in ways that confirm the compatibility of tradition with innovation. The speakers have a profound tie to their peoples' pasts, and they have also adapted with agility and enterprise to the conditions of our times. For more information on this series and for a list of past speakers, visit

This event is made possible by the generosity of Nancy and Gary Carlston.


The sudden passing of Jeffrey Nickelson was a shock and a blow to Colorado's cultural life. The Board of Directors of El Centro Su Teatro released a statement that said, in part:
Su Teatro’s kinship with Shadow Theatre goes back many years, and includes performances of Sweet Corner Symphony at El Centro Su Teatro and Bless Me, Ultima at Shadow Theatre. We have appreciated our special relationship, knowing that the commonalities that we have as sister organizations gave us a bond that was deep and important. We always looked forward to interacting with Shadow’s audiences and knew that our audiences loved their work.

There are so many of our supporters that also attend Shadow Theatre, it is clear that Shadow serves the entire metropolitan community. The work that Jeffrey Nickelson did to cultivate and nurture an appetite for African American theater has made Shadow an artistic jewel.

We are deeply saddened by Shadow’s loss, and want you to know that we share in the loss. We want to publicly express that Jeffrey Nickelson’s death is a tragedy for the Latino community as well. His alliance with Su Teatro was based on his desire to bring our two communities closer together.

Click here to read more about this man. Here's the notice about his memorial services:

September 5, 2009, Jeffrey Nickelson passed away at the age of 53. Jeffrey was a devoted father, an extraordinary performer, an inspiring friend, and all around phenomenal man. He was the Founder of Shadow Theater Company and has affected thousands of people in the community. He will be greatly missed by his family and friends. It is requested that no one wears black and to dress in vibrant colors as we will be celebrating his life just as his wishes were. Floral tributes may be sent to his beautiful daughter ShaShauna Staton, 907 S. Yampa Street #201, Aurora, CO 80017. Donations can be made to the Jeffrey Nickelson Memorial Fund and sent to 18963 E. 58th Avenue, Denver, CO 80249.

The Shadow Theatre, 1468 Dayton Street, Aurora, CO Saturday, September 12, 2009 10:00am

Please contact Tim Johnson on behalf of The Jeffrey Nickelson Fund to make contributions or bring them to the memorial.



msedano said...

excellent review, Virginia. Wouldn't it be great to see Hinojosa get the kind of coverage Wharton or James receive?


Anonymous said...

Your post was very informative, covering a wide spectrum - even though La Bloga focuses primarily on Chicano/Latino literature, it truly is multicultural! thank you