Monday, November 30, 2009

Vastly different books shed light on Latino experience

Review by Daniel Olivas

Three new books approach Latino experiences in vastly different ways. But each offers something of interest to readers.

In her debut collection, Crazy Chicana in Catholic City (Ghost Road Press, $13.95 paperback), Juliana Aragón Fatula is unflinchingly honest, even raw, in depicting the experiences of Chicanas and Native American women. In “A Real American Hero,” she begins:

I met my grandson
when he was twelve years old.
His mother was fourteen.
He was born in San Francisco.

The narrator’s unadorned eloquence follows her grandson’s inevitable spiral into a life of pain. Yet, despite it all, he shows a simple and affirming affection for his grandmother: “He threw his arms around my neck / so gently; he looked deep into my eyes / for a long time.” But it is the narrator’s pain we track as she gives form to her grandson’s plight. This collection will get under your skin. But it will also remind you that many of us struggle to find sustenance and meaning from our family and history.

Similarly, Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s new novel, Gringolandia (Curbstone Press, $16.95 hardcover), explores one family’s desire to rebuild after horrific experiences suffered under Chile’s military regime in the early 1980s. Most readers know Miller-Lachmann as the editor-in-chief of the MultiCultural Review and of the well-received anthology of Latino short fiction for young people, Once Upon a Cuento (Curbstone Press). But she is also a ferocious novelist and her new book does not disappoint. Miller-Lachmann tells us of a teenager named Daniel Aguilar who has fled Chile to Wisconsin with his mother and younger sister. He has nightmarish memories of when the military police broke into their home and abducted his father, Marcelo, a journalist who bravely wrote about the abuses of Chile’s regime without much concern for what might happen to him or his family. But then Wisconsin-based political activists succeed in obtaining Marcelo’s release. He is severely damaged, both physically and mentally, after years of torture and deprivation. Complicating matters is Daniel’s girlfriend who wants Marcelo to restart his political writing. Miller-Lachmann’s novel superbly captures the tension between commitment to one’s family and a desire to attack oppressive governments. It is a tension that keeps us reading.

What a wonderfully inventive and (at times) disturbing ride we encounter with the bilingual anthology, Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction (Dalkey Archive Press, $34.95 hardcover; $15.95 paperback), edited by Álvaro Uribe, with Spanish editing by Olivia Sears. (The left page of the open book is in Spanish which faces the English translation.) Uribe notes in his introduction that people often say that “Mexico is a country of poets.” He then posits that “[o]ne could say with equal veracity -- and equal neglect of our estimable novelists, essayists, chroniclers, and playwrights -- that Mexico is a country of short story writers.” He begins the anthology with a hilarious piece by Vivian Abenshushan entitled “Lukin’s Bed” which concerns a man (Lukin) who starts a movement of men who disavow relationships with women. He builds a huge bed where the men in his community could sleep, safe from female companionship. It is a wry commentary on gender roles and human desire. Other stories explore human brutality, sexual desire, cultural hierarchies. The anthology’s narratives steer clear from gentle storytelling; these tales are lean, mean and brilliantly woven depictions of modern life. If Franz Kafka were a contemporary Mexican writer, he’d be included in this collection.

Some many great books, so little time. What a terrific dilemma we find ourselves in, no?

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

The San Antonio Current published essays by some of its staff in honor of Thanksgiving. You must read the piece offered by Gregg Barrios. It’s not only moving, but it also gives a historical snapshot of one Chicano’s journey from Vietnam to college to activism to the writer’s life. The Barrios essay is the seventh one from the top and is entitled, “Canto Y Grito a San Antonio.”


I am honored and delighted that Reyna Grande and I will be doing a joint appearance this Saturday at Tía Chucha's Café Cultural in celebration of the fact that we both published new books within a few weeks of each other. Reyna will read from her wonderful new novel, Dancing with Butterflies (Simon & Schuster), and I will read from my new short story collection, Anywhere But L.A. (Bilingual Press). Q&A and a book signing will follow our reading. Details:

DATE: Saturday, December 5

TIME: 1:00 - 3:00 p.m.

PLACE: Tía Chucha's Café Cultural, 13197-A Gladstone Ave., Sylmar, CA 91342 (phone: 818-528-4511)

◙ The new issue of Somos Primos is now live online. Edited by Mimi Lozano, Somos Primos is "Dedicated to Hispanic Heritage and Diversity Issues" and is published by the Society of Hispanic Historical and Ancestral Research. Check out book news in the new issue.

◙ The Letras Latinas blog has been covering the Guadalajara International Book Fair. I was surprised and very happy to learn that Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press) was featured in the Los Angeles Pavilion! The other book featured was The Art of Exile (Bilingual Press), the poetry collection by William Archila. Thank you Francisco Aragón for being an ambassador of Los Angeles literature at the book fair.

◙ My story, “Kind of Blue,” appears in the debut issue of Antique Children, an online literary journal edited by Jim Lopez.

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Life in Pink

Liz Vega

“To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”--E.E. Cummings

I was shocked to hear about the brutal murder of a Puerto Rican teenager who was killed because of his sexual orientation. I read the newspaper articles describing the cruelty of the act and with disbelief and sadness learned that a police officer said he was asking for it, simply because he was dressed as a woman.

Here in L.A. we may be clear across the country but are not immune from the violence that is perpetrated on those who live in the margins of society. To honor the memory of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado let me introduce you to an organization that seeks for the transsexual/transgender community to succeed in becoming socially accepted with dignity and respect.

One of the primary ways in which raises awareness is by coordinating a Tranny Fashion Show. In December 2008 the transgender Latina community in Los Angeles County decided to have a Christmas Party, at Club Arena with a formal dinner and entertainment in honor of all transgender individuals.

The concept grew as other transgender women began sharing their ideas and suggestions and guided by Ms. Cristina Lugo Novelo evolved into a fashion show. Cristina Lugo Novelo was no stranger to the transexual/transgender community. She's been a leader and an activist for several years and knowing that there is always limited funding and a shorfall of social services for this community she founded Tranny Fashion USA.

The 2008 Tranny Fashion Show was a complete success with talented fashion designers such as; Cecilia Martinez, Lupita Amparo, Sonya Elizondo, Adolfo Alvarado, Adan Terriques, Tony Iniquez, Alexis Baldini, ProLine Skateboards, and an amazing group of beautiful transgender models.

This year, Tranny Fashion USA has organized a series of events which will culminate on December 21, 2009 at Club Arena 6655 Santa Monica Blvd. Hollywood, CA 90038. On that night,during the 2nd annual Fashion show a nonprofit organization will be selected to receive part of the proceeds of the event.

I invite you to attend and support this event and help raise awareness. For more information visit the website:

or contact the event coordinator:

Cristina Lugo Novelo
Tel: (818) 450-7100


Mayra Santos-Febres;

Translated by Stephen A. Lytle
Picador, August 2000

ISBN: 978-0-312-25227-4,

ISBN10: 0-312-25227-7, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 224 pages

A tragicomic novel about an abused gay street hustler with a magical voice that enchants and captivates. He is discovered in the slums of San Juan and mentored by Martha Divine. Together they travel to the Dominican Republic where Selena meets and is determined to seduce a rich investor.

For another review of the author's latest work read an earlier post on La bloga:

Descansa en paz,

Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado (1990-2009)

Pride Source

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Denver's Su Teatro finds a good home

An article in Wednesday's Denver Post, "With help from city, Su Teatro buying Denver Civic Theatre" provided great news to area Chicanos, artists, performers and community members who've supported Denver's historic Teatro with time, labor and money over the years.

For those unfamiliar with the area and its history, the theater's location at 721 Santa Fe is in the heart of the old Denver Westside neighborhood, a largely Chicano community that was cut in half by the construction of the Auraria Higher Education Complex encompassing CU and two state colleges. The neighborhood withstood the assault, though more continue in new forms, with the attempted closure of the branch library down the street and the privatization of the neighborhood rec center.

In terms of the arts, the site is also close to CHAC (Chicano Humanities & Arts Council) across the street, a block from the Museo de las Americas and in the midst of the city's principal art gallery district.

While securing this site doesn't guarantee the Chicano theater's future, as noted in the Denver Post article, it brought some to tears, since Su Teatro's former sites have had nowhere near the same visibility or strategic location.

As a longtime though admittedly sporadic supporter of Su Teatro, I too was glad to see this accomplished. Despite great performers, performances and events at their Elyria location, it always felt like the Chicano arts were still confined to an out-of-the-way barrio there under the I-70 overpass, close to the old stockyards.

When the next location was announced at 215 S. Santa Fe and we were told Su Teatro had made it "back to the Westside," I couldn't help feeling a little unexcited by a site ten blocks south of where all the cultural action was going on, especially when the coal trains periodically passed by and rattled us all into silence.

And since Colorado's state government support (sic) of the arts amounts to only something like 25¢ per capita, it was good that Denver's mayor engineered this deal (at least according to news reports).

Lastly, I'm happy for Su Teatro because of a June, 2006 La Blogaposting that among other things said:
"Wait until this overpriced housing market hits near-bottom. . . Don't bid on this one; wait until they're all falling. . . It might mean you're mailing me a case of Maker's Mark [two years from now--2008] because you didn't go into debt for a quarter of a million dollars." That prediction was off by two years: in fact, residential and commercial prices here may not bottom until 2011.

When local and New York entrepreneurs beat out Su Teatro for the site in 2002, with the
avid assistance and myopic omniscience of then-mayor Wellington Webb, Chicano hearts were far from gladdened.

Luckily, U.S. capitalism has brought us into the depths of an extended depressionary economy and among the results are that Su Teatro didn't have to pay as much as the last reported price for the site: the real estate, property and equipment was bought in March 2004 for $1.465 million. Because of the economy, the price now assumedly is $790,000. Good things don't always come to those who sit and wait; sometimes you need a worldwide economic catastrophe to get you there.

I'm not on the Su Teatro board, I don't know that much about real estate, etc., but I encourage La Bloga readers to help as they can to help secure the theater's final, real, great home at 721 Santa Fe Dr. As Su Teatro's website states: " We have to raise between $60,000-$80,000 in the next 2 months to close on this project and a total of $200,000 in the next 6 months to make this project a complete success."

You can do this by going to the Su Teatro website to donate, and by attending some of their upcoming great performances, like the Westside Oratorio, (which I highly recommend) or La Carpa de los Rasquachis--yes, the masterpiece by Luis Valdez who will no doubt be significantly involved in this regional premiere.

To the last naysayers who won't like the limited parking available at this location, I say, remember--you're not paying New York or even Downtown Denver prices to attend a performance. Besides, those who can benefit most will be old Westside residents who already park by their homes and will walk to enjoy their cultural heritage in their own barrio.


I normally don't include or encourage religious references in my posts, but thought some of you might enjoy De que color es la piel de Dios?, a suramericano oldie-but-goodie that's a big hit way south of the border. It's an easy download and lilty playback.


Friday, November 27, 2009

'Tis the Season for Short Story Collections

Black Friday – I’m here to help. You may have been in line today at 5:00 a.m. waiting for your chance to snag the latest hot (and rapidly disappearing from the shelves) gewgaw for your holiday list; or you may be lying low, putting off the inevitable shopping trip until the last possible moment, already suffering from seasonal malaise and credit card shock. In either case, you probably need some suggestions and since La Bloga is first and foremost a literary forum, how about a list of books?

To make it even simpler, allow me to present short story collections that the recipient can savor story-by-story, as long as it takes, without the commitment phobia that a novel sometimes can engender. In my opinion, a good short story provides the ultimate reading experience; these selections strive for that point of perfection. And, even better, each of these collections was highlighted here on La Bloga in 2009 by one of the knowledgeable blogueras or blogueros, often in a review, occasionally a pre-publication notice or other announcement.

The stories in these collections don’t fit any easy category; the authors are from around the world, with world-class imaginations; the themes are as diverse as the multitude of characters; and the writing is universally excellent. They aren’t high tech; they don’t make noise or flash lights. They won’t provide an aerobics workout or urge the user to “jack the perp” for the highest score. These anthologies aren’t for kids (maybe one of La Bloga’s other contributors can compile such a list, I know I’d find it helpful) and some adults won’t be able to handle the mental exercise. But a book never fails as a gift. They always are the right size, the color is perfect, they go with everything else in the house, and there are no batteries to recharge. They can be passed on without offense – literally, the gift that keeps on giving. Do something for the environment - give at least one book this holiday season.

The list, in order of mention on La Bloga:


Vermeer's Milkmaid by Manuel Rivas,Overlook Press, 2008: "Rivas uses abrupt time shifts, diverse points of view, sometimes from inanimate objects, to narrate his tales. Always with a lot of trust that his reader will know where the story is at any particular moment or paragraph. Typically, a story appears as a straightforward narrative but then it ends with a twist. Rivas specializes in twists." Review by Michael Sedano.


Zoetrope: All Story -- The Latin American Issue, edited by Daniel Alarcón and Diego Trelles Paz: "When you start putting together something like this, you never really know what to expect. Any anthology is always a bit arbitrary, a snapshot of the editors’ tastes at any given moment, and this one is no exception. ... [W]e selected these stories because they moved us, they taught us things we didn’t know. They made us laugh, they made the places we recognized seem new and startling and humane. I’m not really much of a literary critic, but it’s easy to note some overlapping sensibilities among the writers, particularly in regards to the influence of film and music and migration. One striking fact: at least half of these writers live outside the country of their birth, and that’s not counting Diego and I, Peruvians by birth who both live in the US. The most pleasant and reassuring surprise was that no single style reigns. There is no unified voice in Latin America, and I don’t believe there ever was—in a region this large and diverse, how could there be?" From Daniel Olivas's interview of Daniel Alarcón.

Latinos in Lotusland, edited by Daniel Olivas, Bilingual Press, 2008. “I'm still flying high from our wonderful Latinos in Lotusland book reading at Librería Martínez this last Saturday. I want to thank our guest authors who wowed the crowd with their writing and thought-provoking comments and answers to audience questions: Manuel Ramos, Lisa Alvarez, Alejandro Morales, Sandra Ramos O'Briant and Victorio Barragán (unfortunately, Conrad Romo couldn't make it but he was there in spirit). Also many thanks to Reuben Martínez for being a fantastic host.” Daniel Olivas posting about an event for the well-received and popular collection of Los Angeles stories that he edited.


San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics, edited by Peter Maravelis, Akashic Books, 2009. “Akashic and Maravelis have put together a worthwhile anthology, despite the less than felicitous subtitle. … an excellent collection.” Review by Michael Sedano.


Hit List: The Best of Latino Mystery, edited by Sarah Cortez and Liz Martínez, Arte Público Press, 2009. “Space constraints do not allow for a description of each story in this landmark anthology. Suffice it to say that the stories in Hit List will engross, entertain and fully satisfy any lover of mystery fiction.” Review by Daniel Olivas.


Live from Fresno y Los: Stories, by Stephen D. Gutierrez, Bear Star Press, 2009. “Stephen D. Gutierrez's new book of short fiction … bears witness to the excitement and pain, exhilaration and disappointments, of growing up Chicano in Fresno and Los Angeles during the 1970s. … He renders his world in honest, eloquent brush strokes, creating stories that are simultaneously grounded in a particular culture while remaining universal in their message. He does this without sacrificing his trademark sense of humor.” Review by Daniel Olivas.

From Here You Can Almost See the End of the Desert, by Aaron Michael Morales, Momotombo Press 2008. “This is subversive and sly work, as knowing in its effect as it is exciting to read. For all its thrilling nature, and for all his hard-edge style, this is a deeply moral effort. Morales wrestles with nothing less than the parameters of the human soul.” From the Introduction by Luis Alberto Urrea posted by Manuel Ramos.

Needles & Bones, Drollerie Press, 2009. “Needles & Bones is a collection of poems and short fiction by a double handful of brilliantly creative artists-with-words. It begins gently, with fairy tales, but its tendrils of surreality spread from the stories of our childhood, into our adult world, and on to places beyond our own. We visit heaven, and hell, and places we might never imagine, peopled by creatures who are only sometimes like us." Publisher’s blurb posted by R. Ch. Garcia, whose short story Memorabilia is in this collection.

Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction, edited by Álvaro Uribe; translation edited by Olivia Sears, Dalkey Archive Press, 2009. “Sixteen of Mexico's finest fiction writers born after 1945 are collected in this compelling bilingual anthology, offering a glimpse of the rich tapestry of Mexican fiction, from small-town dramas to tales of urban savagery. Many of these writers, and most of these stories, have never before appeared in English.” Publisher’s blurb posted by Daniel Olivas.


Cuentos del Centro: Writing from the Heartland, Latino Writers Collective, Scapegoat Press, 2009. "There's a lot to be said for the output from well-funded ventures, editors, and agents. Quality, however, is not exclusive to the big bucks process. Case in point, Kansas City's Latino Writers Collective and its recent anthology of local writers, Cuentos Del Centro [that] features twenty-four stories from fifteen writers. ... You owe yourself and friends the opportunity to enjoy these stories and writers." Review by Michael Sedano.

Simpáticos: San Miguel Stories, Elva Treviño Hart, Bilingual Press, 2009. "Elva Trevino Hart introduces us to the people of San Miguel de Allende. Nestled in the eastern part of Guanajuato in Mexico's mountainous bajio region, the town has a mild climate and an accommodating culture that attract wealthy Americans and Canadians seeking relaxation and escape. In this picturesque setting, we meet a variety of well-to-do Anglo retirees: some are haunted by ghosts, others by their own pasts, some find renewed meaning and purpose, and still others explore their sexuality. Witnessing it all are the maids of San Miguel, the women charged with making visitors' stays carefree and luxurious.The maids work magic to heal or redeem their employers, but sometimes the sorcery of others trumps their own. Simpáticos movingly describes two extreme socioeconomic conditions and reveals the universal journey we all ultimately share." Publisher's blurb posted by Manuel Ramos.


A Dozen on Denver: Stories, edited by the Rocky Mountain News, Fulcrum Publishing, 2009. "In this original tribute, twelve talented authors celebrate Denver’s 150th anniversary, each creating a unique story based on a different decade in the city’s colorful history. Ranging from the pioneer days to WWII aftermath to a haunting vision of the future, this lively volume offers an eclectic mix of exceptional storytelling, each complemented by contemporary illustrations. Edited by the Rocky Mountain News and featuring twelve Colorado authors: Margaret Coel, Pam Houston, Sandra Dallas, Nick Arvin, Joanne Greenberg, Connie Willis, Manuel Ramos, Arnold Grossman, Robert Greer, Diane Mott Davidson, Laura Pritchett, and Robert Pogue Ziegler. Illustrated by Charles Chamberlin." Publisher's blurb posted by Manuel Ramos. I'll add that this book is nicely done -- a comfortable hardcover with the art work that was published with the stories in the newspaper. A good-looking book.

Anywhere But L.A., by Daniel Olivas, Bilingual Press, 2009. "In this collection of short stories, Olivas gives us a vivid and honest portrait of modern Latinos as they search for their place in the world. Funny yet touching, these skillfully rendered characters remind us of our own vulnerability. Individually, the stories are punchy and sharp; collectively, the stories create a colorful mural of a thriving Latino community." Kathleen de Azevedo blurb posted by Daniel Olivas.


La Ranfla & Other New Mexico Stories, by Martha Egan, Papalote Press, 2009. "Martha Egan and Papalote Press have put together a seven-story collection of enjoyable, readable short fiction. Two of the stories feature automobiles, hence the ranfla title, and all take place in the state of New Mexico, hence the New Mexico stories subtitle. But for the latter add a subtle flavor of insider-outsider seasoning that I find curious. This doesn't diminish the pleasure of reading the collection, it adds an unsettling dimension that, perhaps, is another New Mexico element." Review by Michael Sedano.

Lavanderia: A Mixed Load of Women, Wash, and Word, edited by Donna J. Watson, Michelle Sierra, and Lucia Gbaya-Kanga, San Diego City Works Press, 2009. "This anthology initiates us into one of the most sacred domestic rituals of our mundane world—the purging of physical and psychic stains, or the art and work of doing laundry. The writers' voices rise above the sounds of washing machines, non-televised daytime dramas, and laughter. Removing the clothespins from their mouths, these women reveal their secrets, fears, loves, and regrets in poem and story form. As finely detailed as the vintage sleeve of a rummage sale find, the work in Lavanderia brings the circle closer to home as you find yourself nodding and remembering and thanking every woman who ever sat next to you in a laundromat and made conversation." Publisher's blurb posted by Liz Vega. This collection features the story Goddess of Filth by La Bloga contributor Olga Garcia Echeverria.

Marielitos, Balseros, and Other Exiles, by Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés, Ig Publishing, 2009. "In her debut collection, Milanés tells varied, often heartbreaking tales of Cuban-American exiles. ... Complex and woeful, Milanés's rich ensemble act may remind readers of Junot Diaz's Drown and Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son.” Publishers Weekly review posted by Daniel Olivas.


Phoenix Noir,
edited by Patrick Millikin, Akashic Press, 2009. "Brand-new stories by: Diana Gabaldon, Lee Child, James Sallis, Luis Alberto Urrea, Jon Talton, Megan Abbott, Charles Kelly, Robert Anglen, Patrick Millikin, Laura Tohe, Kurt Reichenbaugh, Gary Phillips, David Corbett, Don Winslow, Dogo Barry Graham, and Stella Pope Duarte. Sunshine is the new noir . . . . From its frontier origins, Phoenix has always had a dark, lawless side. It is a city founded upon shady development deals, good ol' boy politics, police corruption, organized crime, and exploitative use of natural resources. Close proximity to the Mexican border makes the city a natural destination spot for illegal trafficking of all kinds--narcotics, weapons, humans." Publisher's blurb posted by Manuel Ramos.

War Dances, by Sherman Alexie, Grove, 2009. "[A] heartbreaking and hilarious collection of stories that explore the precarious balance between self-preservation and external responsibility in art, family, and the world at large. Brazen, and wise, War Dances takes us to the heart of what it means to be human." Publisher's blurb posted by Manuel Ramos.

Sun, Stone, and Shadows: 20 Great Mexican Short Stories, edited by Jorge Hernández, Tezontle, 2008. "The editor has done a marvelous job of selecting stories that offer snapshot scenes of Mexico’s soul. This slim volume indeed portrays a land and people authentically, with passion, agony, insight, and smooth prose that blisters the heart. ... [T]his book was a revelation ... I recommend it highly and suggest you pick up a copy soon; at $10 it’s more than a bargain." Review by Manuel Ramos.

The Man Who Could Fly and Other Stories, Rudolfo Anaya, University of Oklahoma Press, 2006. "The stories in The Man…, some previously published in the ever elusive and long out of print, The Silence of the Llano, may very well showcase Anaya at his finest. Intermingled with poignant folklore, religion, magic, and spirituality, readers of all walks of life now have an opportunity to join Anaya as he travels among people and places not often found in his novels. Undeniably influenced by the cuentos of his youth, Anaya’s stories cease to be merely words in print, but rather voices which will echo long after the book is shelved." Review by Jesse Tijerina.


Lorraine M. López, Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories, BkMk Press, 2009. "A reader gets what the title proposes, a dank dark collection mirroring the debilitating heat and humidity of Southern weather. Unexpected will be the characters. Lopez’ central characters--many of them women-- are struggling everyday gente surrounded by, or engaged with losers. ... I’m raising my index finger in Lorraine López’ direction--not the bird nor a Packer's foam rubber prop, but the “you’re number one” finger--in appreciation of a finely honed collection of short fiction any reader will find absorbing." Review by Michael Sedano.

There you have it - a list of 20 short story collections guaranteed not to disappoint. Click on the links above and you will find the information you need to order the books; or take a walk over to the independent book store and pick up a few copies firsthand. If you get behind and are still looking for gifts after the New Year, let me suggest Mexico City Noir, edited by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, coming from Akashic Press in early 2010. I'm reading it now, and it's killer. Just right for the holidays, maybe even Valentine's Day.


Six word story contest: thanks to the excellent few who submitted a six word story last week; they were great. The winner of a fresh copy of The King of the Chicanos is Liz Vega for this poignant word play:

Saddest sun set when they married.

Congratulations, Liz - the book is yours when it comes out in the spring.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Baca's First Novel Floats Like a Butterfly and Stings Like a Bee

Since finding a worn copy of "Immigrants in Our Own Land," Jimmy Santiago Baca has been one of my favorite Chicano poets, but with the publication of his first novel Baca has leapfrogged a handful of Chicano authors and broken into my mythical (in my own mind of course) pound for pound list of active Chicano scribes. Baca's novel, "A Glass of Water," is such a fitting title for such a refreshing work of literature. In a recent article in Publishers Weekly, Baca was asked about his novel and to complete the prompt, "Why I Write..." and in his response of 400 plus words Baca alluded to the intimacy he developed with the characters he had stored in his mind, and how they'd matured and ripened over time in the telling and retelling of their stories.

Without question Baca's fruits have matured and ripened as, "A Glass of Water," reads much more like a poem than a novel. The tale is about the tragedies, comedies, and histories of a family borne by Casimiro and Nopal, both of whom as a young couple survived the often perishing journey of crossing the Mexican border.

What followed were the birth of two sons, and violent death of a mother. In Nopal's absence, Lorenzo and Vito begin their search for balance in a world in flux; the latter realizing a hint of solace and fame as a pugilist while the former befriends the labors of a field worker and the heart of a beautiful young lady. And through it all, through Vito's bobbing and weaving of punches and giving punches, through Lorenzo's sun battered days in dust beaten fields, through Casimiro's stroke that struck his life, the brothers' tale had only begun.

"When I left you, all you had was a name, hugging it with your lips, my name shattering the silence of your sorrow, savoring it on your tongue because you thought I was going to return," writes Baca. "Flying through the night like an angel to sweep you up in my arms but I was taken away forever and became more of a presence to you in death than in life." How right she was, Nopal's death unraveled the lives of her boys, but in each of their twisted journeys she was never more present and alive as they would fortunately discover in the championship rounds of their brotherhood.

Jimmy Santiago Baca by KO!!!

A Glass of Water by Jimmy Santiago Baca; Grove Press, 2009
Have a Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

René Has Two Last Names Virtual Book Tour

Bienvenidos to the first René Has Two Last Names Virtual Book Tour. Next week, the book and the author will visit several blogs. Make sure to leave your comments to have the chance to get a free copy of the book. If you don't get it one day, keep leaving your comments the next day. Everyday a book will be giveaway. ¡Pasa la voz! Tell your friends!

Muchas gracias to Jo Ann Hernández at BronzeWord Latino Virtual Book Tour for organize this tour.

Latino Children's Literacy Conference

National 3rd Annual Celebration of 
Latino Children's Literature Conference
 Connecting Cultures & Celebrating Cuentos

Save the Date for the Third Annual Celebration of Latino Children’s Literature conference to be held in Tuscaloosa, AL on April 23rd and 24th, 2010. This exciting, two day conference includes performances and appearances by several award-winning Latin@authors/illustrators including Monica Brown, Rafael López, and Carmen Tafolla. The keynote address will be delivered by a nationally-recognized, scholar of Latino Children’s Literature and Multicultural Education.

Conference participants will have a choice of over a dozen breakout sessions on topics related to Latino children’s literature and literacy. As part of the theme “Connecting Cultures and Celebrating Cuentos,” we will host an El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day) family and community event on the evening of April 23rd at the local public library. Festivities will include storytelling and free books for the niños.

Registration for this premiere National Latino Children’s Literature Conference is limited and begins January 2010. The call for presentation proposals will be issued in November 2009. For additional information, please contact:

Dr. Jamie C. Naidoo; (205)348-1518 

Sponsored by the 
School of Library and Information Studies
 @ the University of Alabama

For more information visit

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review: The Cat in the Coffin

Marika Koike. Translated Deborah Boliver Boehm. NY: Vertical, 2009.
ISBN: 978-1-932234-12-1 (1-932234-12-8)

Michael Sedano

Masayo, a simple country girl who grows up wanting to be a painter gets a dream job, nanny to a renowned artist's girl, ten year old Momoko. The little girl suffers her mother's recent death with stony silence. The child's only friend is a cat named Lala. Gradually, Masayo finds a way to build a grudging bond with her charge, a strange triangle of Momoko, Lala the cat, and Masayo against the world.

Enter papa's new love interest, the fatuously westernized Chinatsu, divorcée of a US officer in the first decades after occupation. Jealous of the cat's hold on the child's affection, Chinatsu drowns Lala in a particularly gruesome scene.

Marika Koike / Deborah Boliver Boehm have a way of stringing the reader along as Koike builds her narrator. Masayo comes off at first as a simple country girl-awestruck art student, but as she patters about one thing or another, a more complicated woman emerges, coldly calculating in some ways, humbly flexible in others. Early in the story, for example, Masayo's breathless account of Goro's critiques of her work goes on and on when she says, "I trusted Goro, and his his words meant everything to me. That would have been true even if I hadn't been in love with him."

After a number of such revelations, it's clear Masayo's got a bit of a twist to her. Which makes her ideal company for the sad, intense little girl. When the darker side of Masayo's temperament leads her to inform the child of the cat in the pond story, the results come both as predicted from an early scene near an abandoned well, and the darker aftermath. You won't be as tough on Chinatsu as you felt earlier.

Not everything works, but The Cat in the Coffin makes a good day or evening's reading, for sure near a glowing fireplace. It's a story within a story but that hardly matters in the dual ironies that turn the story around at the end.

There's the United States theme. Goro lives like the "Americans" in the nearby enclave. Koike highlights the U.S. presence in Tokyo in a side story that doesn't connect with the Lala - Chinatsu nexus. Perhaps some element disappears in translation in those segments dealing with non-Japanese culture, on Goro's Western ways and lifestyle, the "Americans" firing off firecrackers at Christmas and other occasions. Is Momoko's emotional emptiness somehow linked into her father's Western lifestyle, in Chinatsu's glamorous gaijin-ness?

The Cat in the Coffin makes a fun addition to holiday stockings, that less-than-well-known gem. Japanese noir? For sure, why not?

That's the penultimate Tuesday of the penultimate month of the year. The holiday season officially kicks off Thursday. Eat. Drink. Be Merry, I dare you. Thank you for visiting La Bloga on this Tuesday like any other Tuesday, except You Are Here.


La Bloga welcomes your comment on this, or any, column. Click the comments counter below to share your views. La Bloga welcomes guest columnists. If you have a book, arts, or cultural event review to share--perhaps some material from your writer's notebook--click here for information on how you can be our guest.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The right to a great public education

Guest essay by Álvaro Huerta

We've got to stop cutting public education. To ease the budget crisis, one state after another is taking an ax to higher education. This is cruel and shortsighted.

Cruel because it denies students the right to a decent education. Shortsighted because how will this generation of students get prepared to compete globally or even to clean up the financial mess brought about by Wall Street?

I'm a product of the worst and best public education California has to offer. I grew up in an East Los Angeles housing project in the 1970s and 1980s. I attended overcrowded public schools in the inner city. Like many racial minorities from America's barrios and ghettos, I received an inadequate education.

While I excelled in mathematics, I was never taught to read or write at a competent level throughout my K-12 schooling. To complicate matters, the longest paper assigned to me in high school was two pages long.

I taught myself how to properly read and write while going through college to compensate for my poorly funded K-12 education. But what will happen to those without this same self-drive that I learned from my Mexican immigrant mother? Fortunately, I also benefited from affirmative action and from numerous educational outreach programs and policies like Occident College's Upward Bound - a preparatory program for students from disadvantaged communities.

If not for such programs, I wouldn't have made it to UCLA as an undergraduate. I wouldn't have earned a master's degree in urban planning there. And I wouldn't be pursuing my doctorate at Berkeley.

So I worry about those who grow up in poor neighborhoods without the same educational safety nets that allowed for me to attend some of the best universities in this country. I can't help but be concerned about the plight of my wife's elementary school students in East Los Angeles today.

Those who fight affirmative action and against government-sponsored early educational outreach programs conveniently wash their hands of any responsibility toward those who lack the financial resources and access to human capital to go to college.

And fewer and fewer have those resources, with one state after another raising tuition and other fees. These fee hikes couldn't come at a worse time.

If we care about equality of opportunity, if we are concerned about our ability to compete in the global economy, it's time to give everyone, including those from America's barrios and ghettos, a shot at a great public education.

[Álvaro Huerta is a doctoral student at the University of California at Berkeley and a visiting scholar at UCLA's Chicano Studies Research Center. His fiction is featured in Latinos in Lotusland: An Anthology of Contemporary Southern California Literature (Bilingual Press, 2008). Huerta wrote this essay for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. This essay first appeared in the Sacramento Bee.]

◙ What a wonderful event we had yesterday for my new short story collection, Anywhere But L.A. at ChimMaya, 5283 E. Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles. Many thanks to Steven and Daniel for inviting me to their gallery which features some of the most beautiful Chicano/a art around. You should definitely pay a visit to their gallery during the holidays. Also, ChimMaya carries autographed copies of my book in case you missed the reading. For my upcoming book appearances, visit here.

◙ Unbridled Books is thrilled to announce that C.M. Mayo's debut novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, has been named A Library Journal Best Book of the Year! For more information, click here.

◙ That’s all for now. Please have a fun and safe Thanksgiving. In the meantime, enjoy the intervening posts from mis compadres y comadres here on La Bloga. And remember: ¡Lea un libro!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Re-educate [some of] the idiots, while there's still time

[Today's regular columnist Tatiana de la tierra will return after dealing with personal matters. We wish her well.]

If events depicted in the movie 2012 ever really happen, and aliens land here a thousand years from now, consider how they might analyze the constructs and actions of us norteamericanos.

What will they think of remnants of the Border Wall built to keep out southern, dark-skinned immigrants, while no such wall exists to the north where live, largely, lighter skinned neighbors? Will they wonder why Mexican illegal immigration was just called the spade that it is--an informal system of slave labor?

We seem to be more turning into a nation of idiots (with some exceptions).

the Taos village idiot

Last summer the new owner of a Taos hotel decided to forbid his Hispanic employees from speaking Spanish in his presence, and even went so far as to tell them to Anglicize their names, for the sake of customers who couldn't understand the accent. If this entrepreneur knows no German or Japanese, people from those countries can only hope he never takes over businesses there, either.

Understand: the owner is in the tourism business, planning to make money off an area that's been occupied for at least 12,000 years by indigenous Americans, for nearly 500 years by Spanish speakers, and draws tourists from throughout the world looking for New Mexican food, art, history, culture, archaeology (and, yes, beautiful sunsets).

You can go here to read about the trouble he came up against, but, hopefully, those future aliens won't find a trace of him when they arrive. After all, they might think we ceased to exist because of some genetic brain disorder that made some try to erase cultural history.

Denver cowtown idiots

Those of you in the Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Kansas and Denver area might want to hope the aliens don't find remnants of this billboard out front of Wolf Automotive Group in Wheat Ridge, Colo., a Denver suburb.

Perpetuating the racist propaganda of the freakish Limbaugh-types, Wolf Automotive repeats the Big Lie about President Obama's birthplace, while at the same time comparing him to Osama Bin Laden.

If the aliens find evidence of 9/11, they might well assume that the U.S. disappeared after we turned our 9/11-paranoia-hate inwards, even against our own President.

Palin, the national idiot phenomenon

And when the aliens do land, hopefully all the 1.5 million copies of the Sarah Palin book will have long since crumbled into dust. Her idiocy is not to be found only within the pages of that book. The greater idiocy is that despite seemingly having no chance of being considered a viable national candidate, even by the Republicans, her appeal to the "evangelical subculture" might influence this country's headlong rush into a 2012 of its own making.

As President Obama plods in policy directions that make his second term doubtful, consider Max Blumenthal's words:
"If [Palin] doesn't prove to be the Party's future queen, she may have positioned herself to be its future king-maker. . ."

And what kind of idiot might she pick? In a thousand years, there might only be aliens around to rue the outcome.

But in the meantime, you still have the chance to boycott some of these idiots, and others who seem to abound and multiply in concert with the unemployment and home foreclosure rates. Or, if you want to try a re-educating route, you can send E-mails to the establishments mentioned to make your views and worries known.

For the Taos idiot, go here. Indications from this article are that he'd begun to see the error of his ways, so read it before you E-mail him an opinion.

For the Denver idiots, go here.

The address for the Palin idiocy is www.saveyourbreath,don'tbother, since what holds for teaching pigs to sing, holds for this group as well.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Michael Jackson’s This Is It

reviewed by Deborah Garcia

You’ve been hit by, you’ve been struck by a smooth criminal … and so, I was. My initial curiosity to see the last footage of Michael Jackson’s final concert rehearsals became utter fascination and inspiration within seconds after the film began.

Throughout my life, I hadn’t ever gotten overwhelmed with fandom for Michael’s music, even if it played in the backdrop to many of my formative years. This Is It has changed that and offers the same potential to others like me who never thought they’d fall under Michael’s spell.

Never-ending streams and pulses of dance energy shoot, pop and break out from Michael Jackson’s lithe frame with every breakbeat and syncopated rhythm. For a neophyte like me, it would have been easy to think he couldn’t contain his energy or, rather, what was so integral to his artistic depth: his chi and vital source of creativity. The truth is he contained and channeled his artistic creativity in measured and tempered song filled with long-drawn breaths, shouts, polished musicality and the art of motion.

This Is It provides such a complex view of Michael and all his talents: the film has a multidimensional focus, much like a faceted cube. There's a 3-D effect this documentary achieves and captures as MJ works, performs, directs and perfects what was so uniquely his—his own art form represented in the marriage of dance, song and feeling.

The viewer should pay a keen eye to his dance ticks and highly-tuned ear. Michael Bearden, credited as Michael’s music director, states, “Michael knows all the tempos, key signatures, key changes of each of his songs.” Michael could hear when the pitch and rhythm were off, too fast, and notes were thudded or being ham-fisted.

Directed by Kenny Ortega, Michael was given regal control while rehearsals went on. It didn’t end there. Michael’s own music seemed to never fail in inspiring him or translating into the infectious calls and responses his dancers carried through in moves and shouts while offstage. In every measured beat and note landed, one can hear a delicacy achieved and seamlessly delivered.

Ortega nurtured tremendous verve among the tour cast, resulting in sets where Michael powered through rehearsals with unstoppable skip and free-form dancing. Astoundingly, Michael mostly held his singing back during each rehearsal—a feat attributable to years spent mastering his music and from raw, unending depth of feeling. Michael said, “It’s all for love.” I finally believed him.

A studious understanding of his anthology of hits and his eras of cumulative success is lacking in my review. However, This Is It takes on a reprise to the indicting and unforgettable Martin Beshear interviews. With each hit performed in the film, it’s palpable how personal Michael intended to be with his fans. Each song is sung for you. So, when he opens with the softly-landed lyrics, “You and I must make a pact,” that artistic pact is most definitely alive with fans in every dance burst, extended vocals, and political message.

Michael certainly was on a different plane of creativity. The heightened sense he had for every performance detail amazes. He had an ear for the sounds, pitch, subtleties and nuances his music could take on--jazz rhythms, pop and rock beats. He heard notes others couldn’t and easily projected his vision for choreographed moves and precise musicality. In fact, Michael demanded the film’s musicians let the music breathe and come to a full rise without rushing—he wanted his fans to be “nourished” by it.

This Is It, the tour, would have delivered a highly designed narrative with pyrotechnics, growling and sizzling sound effects, and such a personalized message of Michael’s aesthetic that one can’t help thinking they were on the forefront of witnessing a new multigenre of concert, musical, acrobatics and video-making come to life. God bless Kenny Ortega and his talent for knowing how to capture and portray Michael’s musical legacy. This Is It kicked off and caught me up on long overdue respect for the King of Pop.

Deborah Garcia is a publishing and writing professional born and raised in San Antonio, Texas. Continuing to straddle cultural fronteras, she moved back to her hometown in 2008 after having spent half of her life on the East Coast.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mexico City Noir and the Six Word Story

Mexico City Noir
edited by Paco Ignacio Taibo II
Akashic Books - February, 2010

I recently learned about this upcoming book - here's the publisher's announcement:

Launched by the summer '04 award-winning, best-seller Brooklyn Noir, Akashic Books continues its groundbreaking series of original noir anthologies. Each book is comprised of all-new stories, each one set in a distinct neighborhood or location within the respective city.

Mexico City enters the Noir Series arena, edited by one of Mexico's most revered novelists.

Brand-new stories by: Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Eugenio Aguirre, Eduardo Antonia Parra, Bernardo Fernandez Bef, Oscar de la Borbolla, Rolo Diez, Victor Luiz Gonzalez, F.G. Haghenbeck, Juan Hernandez Luna, Myriam Laurini, Eduardo Monteverde, and Julia Rodriguez.

It's hard to get much more noir than Mexico City, and after several years' effort, Akashic was finally able to rope Paco I. Taibo into curating this dramatic, chilling, and frequently hilarious volume.

Paco I. Taibo II was born in Gijon, Spain and has lived in Mexico since 1958. He is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, which have been published in many languages around the world, including a mystery series starring Mexican Private Investigator Hector Belascoaran Shayne. He is a professor of history at the Metropolitan University of Mexico City.

This is the first book on my TBR file for 2010.

Six Word Story

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway thought his best story had only six words:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

That's a very good story but Hemingway probably didn't write it, and I can't find a reliable source that says he took credit for the six words. At this point in time, it doesn't really matter, does it? The six words have a beginning, middle and end; a set-up, tension, a twist, and climactic finish; all wrapped in admirable brevity and poignancy. We want to believe the legend because the story fits with what we want to believe about Hemingway. In any event, the idea that short is good (those of us under 6 feet already know this to be true) has caught on and there are numerous six word story contests online. Just search six word story and read any of the 65,900,000 results.

You know what's next. Let's see your six word stories. Post them in a comment to La Bloga. So far there are only two rules: six words, no more, no less; and the six words have to be a story, not a wise saying, not a dicho, not a line of poetry. Other than that, the field is wide open.

The deadline for posting your story as a comment to this post is November 23, by midnight (MST). I'll pick the winner but I will take into consideration any comments that praise particular entries, so, in a sense, you get to be a judge, too. The winner will get a copy of my new book, King of the Chicanos, when it is published in the spring of 2010.

This is harder than it sounds and since I know you can do better than I, here are a few six word stories to set up the challenge:

Late night affair, early morning heartbreak.

He died; they discovered the medal.

She stood her ground, he fired.

Letters torn, photos burned, locks changed.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just finished reading...

...Demasiados Héroes (Too Many Heroes) by Laura Restrepo. Inspired by her own experiences as an activist in Buenos Aires during the military dictatorship, Restrepo's latest novel revisits the legacy of the conflict, especially for the children of those who opposed it. It revolves around Lorenza, a Colombian native who, like Restrepo, lived in Argentina during the 70s and actively opposed Videla's regime of terror. There she meets Ramón, a comrade in the movement, and together they have a child, Mateo. Circumstances force the couple to emigrate to Colombia, where Lorenza soon falls back into her comfortable bourgeois existence, creating an irreparable breach in their relationship. The novel actually starts years later, when an almost-adult Mateo demands to know the real story of his father and what they call "el episodio oscuro..."

While the novel is good read, it lacks the resonance of some of Restrepo's earlier novels (such as Delirio and La isla de la pasión). This is perhaps owing to how close the story parallels Restrepo's biography, having experienced in her own family many of the challenges exposed in this novel. The challenge to extract universal value out of a personal experience that has been fictionalized is a monumental one, even for a writer of Restrepo's caliber. Perhaps a memoir would've been more effective... In any case, Demasiados Héroes has many moments of intense lyricism and enticing suspense, making a satisfying, if ultimately self-effacing, read.

ALSO... Check out this bilingual version of Cinderella (NYC this weekend!)

Transparent Img


Only 1 performance!
Saturday, November 21, 2009 @ 3:00pm

A bilingual musical of the classic fairytale about a humble girl who works very hard to realize her dreams. With a little bit of magic and, not to mention that she is the best “Tango” dancer in the kingdom, she discovers her self-esteem and Prince Charming.

La clásica historia de amor sobre una joven honesta y trabajadora, que sueña con un mañana mejor. Ven y conoce a Cenicienta, el Principe y a la malvada Madrastra, en un espectáculo lleno de magia, colorido y mucho Tango!

Written by Manuel A. Morán
Music by Iván Alexander Bautista & Manuel A. Morán
Set & Costumes by José López
Directed by Manuel A. Morán

Featuring: Jesús Martínez, Lina Sarrapochiello, Ana Campos,
Paola Poucel, Jorge Castilla, Yaremis Felix,
Tom Schubert
& Blanca Vásquez as "Cenicienta"

"New York's LATINO Theatre for Children"

Clemente Soto Velez Cultural & Educational Center (CSV)
107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor, NYC
(Bet. Delancey and Rivington Street)

Tickets: $12.50 children/$15.00 adults
Call for reservations: (212) 529-1545

<>For more information on upcoming shows